Booklist | Andrew Preston explores religion’s influence in U.S. foreign policy

Highlights from an NPR interview with Andrew Preston, today’s Book of the Semester speaker at BYU’s Kennedy Center for International Studies:

On religion providing some of the core ideas for the founders of the United States“Even people like Thomas Jefferson or George Washington, who werent very religious … saw religion as the source of conscious morality, and therefore you had to protect religion almost at all costs. And Thomas Jefferson … who certainly didnt have any faith in the divinity of Christ, even he believed that you had to protect individual conscience and therefore you had to protect religion. But in order to protect that, and to prevent ecclesiastical tyranny, you had to separate church and state — and thats where these early ideas emerged.”

On the separation of church and state“The First Amendment has the free exercise clause and the establishment clause, and thats pretty much it. And how that was interpreted for the first 150 years was that religion had a role in public life, religion had a role in politics. It just meant that the government couldnt regulate religion; it couldnt set up a national church, and it couldnt interfere with the way people worshipped. Essentially what it did was make Protestantism the unofficial religion. That only changed after World War II, when our nation became more religiously pluralistic and other groups like Catholics and Jews started challenging the Protestant domination. The Supreme Court decided to make things more simple for a modern era by hardening what Jefferson called the wall of separation between church and state. The best thing to do was to try and remove religion from public life as best as people could.”

On FDR and foreign policy“FDR by 1937 wanted the United States to play a more active role in world affairs and a much more active role in resisting Nazis – maybe not to go to war, but certainly to take a more active role in resisting Nazism. And he constantly evoked both the sword of the spirit and the shield of faith in overtly religious language – speaking of religion by name and quoting from the Bible, and especially pointing to the threat the Nazis posed to all religions. And he used the sword of the spirit to call for a robust American foreign policy. But he also used the shield of faith to couch it in terms that were very much about implementing world peace and spreading democracy.”

On American exceptionalism“To most people it means that America is exceptional in that its not only different, but its better. And often its better because of those differences. And America is a unique force of good in the world, a unique force for virtue. And exceptionalism usually applies to people who believe that America should spread this virtue or should share it in the rest of the rest of the world, and often that results in conflict and/or war.”

via The Religious Language In U.S. Foreign Policy : NPR.




2 thoughts on “Booklist | Andrew Preston explores religion’s influence in U.S. foreign policy”

  1. Is America really that much better? Our unemployment rate, although declining, is still extremely high. We have a huge obesity problem. Our education system needs dire assistance, and in 2010, 16.3% of Americans were without health insurance. So is there any factual backing for American exceptionalism, or is it an attitude we have that is based purely off emotional appeals?

  2. Interesting synopsis. I think that that exceptionalism is prevalent in parts of the U.S and should be dealt with carefully. It’s one thing to be proud of your country, but since religion is a big part of this we all know how being prideful works out for people. I also thought it was really interesting how he talked about the founding fathers and that even though they weren’t all “religious” people, they still recognized how important it was to protect it.

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