Under God: Religion and American Politics

Wills, Garry

Simon & Schuster, 1990

pp. 86-88

Wills discusses the strange blindness of Michael Dukakis (former governor of Massachusetts and Democratic candidate for President of the U.S. in 1988), his hero Henry Steele Commager (The American Mind) and Arthur Schlesinger (speech at Brown U. printed in New York Times Book Review, July 23, 1989)–a blindness to the importance of religion in American life. To Commager, the American mind is “pragmatic, optimistic, and secular.” Anything opposed is ipso facto un-American. Religion is “as irrational as modern art.” Oddly, it persists in otherwise rational and secular people! Commager decides, to his relief, that people do not really mean it when they say they believe in the old creeds: “For three hundred years Calvinism has taught the depravity of man without any perceptible effect on the cheerfulness, kindliness, or optimism of Americans.” Schlesinger claims that secularity is the leading trait of Americans: “Relativism is the American way.” Americans in his view have no truck with reverence. Schlesinger “is an American historian for whom much of American history simply does not exist. If religious figures pop up here and there, from the time of Jonathan Edwards to that of Flannery O’Connor, they are freaks . . . .”