America, Protestants, Atheists

“America is the first great experiment in Protestant social formation. Protestantism in Europe always assumed and depended on the cultural habits that had been created by Catholic Christianity. America is the first place Protestantism did not have to define itself over against a previous Catholic culture. So America is the exemplification of a constructive Protestant social imagination.

Again, these are very complex matters, but I believe— as Mark Noll rightly suggests in his magisterial book America’s God— America is a synthesis of evangelical Protestantism, republican political ideology, and commonsense moral reasoning. Americans were able to synthesize these antithetical traditions by making their faith in God indistinguishable from their loyalty to a country that ensured them that they had the right to choose which god they would or would not believe in. That is why Bonhoeffer accurately characterized American Protestantism as “Protestantism without Reformation.”

American Protestants do not have to believe in God because they believe in belief. That is why we have never been able to produce interesting atheists in America. The god most Americans say they believe in is just not interesting enough to deny. Thus the only kind of atheism that counts in America is to call into question the proposition that everyone has a right to life, liberty, and happiness.”

—Stanley Hauerwas (p.15 in War And The American Difference: Theological Reflections on Violence and National Identity)

(swearing in video)

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