Garry Wills: Religion & American Democracy



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Contrary to a popularly held view, the United States was NOT founded as a “Christian nation.” The historical uniqueness of the American experiment lay in the sovereignty of the people rather than of a monarch or a god. It was the English enlightenment which provided the intellectual and political foundation for the governing process created by the United States Constitution. Religious scholar, historian and author Garry Wills has studied and written deeply on the role of religion in America.

Pulitzer prize-winning historian author and journalist Gary wills has been called perhaps the most distinguished Catholic intellectual in America over the last 50 years his lucid view of religions role in America is unexpected and instructive one of the things though that's good about being a Nestorian is that when you look back things have always been bad but in American history especially we've had enlightened religion that respects the laws of nature of nature's God it takes a very rational approach to even religion and luckily that was ascendant at the time of the foundation of our government the deists written but we have had three really outbreaks of evangelical opposition to science and reason and enlightenment and they occurred by an accident at the beginning of three successive centuries 19th 20th 21st the 19th the beginning of the 19th was was not bad it was the second great enlightenment it was the explosion of Methodism etc and it came about largely because separation of church and state and the foundation of the government had given free play to religion and it did introduce Aguila terian elements into our culture it depended on government practically not at all it was self starting there was a much government to depend on it did itself in over slavery the tore itself apart over the people saying in the Bible defend slavery and people saying no it doesn't so it ran about 30 years and ended the second one was the beginning of the 20th century the fundamentalists and they depended on government much more they said let's get the government to impose morality let's say you can't drink alcohol you can't teach the evolution of theories you can't deliver the mail on Sunday blue laws so that one on Tran O'Neill had its peak about 20 years largely because they tried to use the government and there was a reaction against that especially over throw a mission and the third one was at the beginning of our century and it has run its course I think in about ten years and it went way beyond the others in terms of using the government so that we had things like the religious right telling the president and the Republican Congress over Terry Schiavo jump and they said how high do you want us to jump and so Congress rushed through a resolution to intervene in the situation and Bush rushed back from vacation got up in the middle and I and signed it well 81% of the people in America said that was inappropriate so they overreached faster than the other ones and I think I think we're seeing the end for practical reasons why I think it's ending is that the mechanics of this last surge of religiosity have been interesting homeschooling Christian colleges and the thing is the Bush administration plugged into these this and appointed people out of these Christian colleges to the regulatory agencies to congressional staffs so that even the civilian people who are set over to Iraq were recruited by Cato burns husband and the test was are you a Republican religious person you know new are you opposed to abortion it's so people said over there to restore banking we're asked whether they believed in well once you get a Democratic Congress and a Democratic administration in that flow well will we cut off their you won't stock the regulatory agencies and the congressional staffs