REVIEWSrnUnbaptized Americarnby Philip JenkinsrnThe Godless Constitution: The CasernAgainst Rehgious Correctnessrnby Isaac Kramnick andrnR. Laurence MoorernNew York: W.W. Norton;rn191pp.,$22.00rnThe Godless Constitution is a selfdescribedrnpolemic against thosernwho believe that the United States was,rnis, or should be a “Christian nation.” Essentiallyrna historical analysis of the religiousrninfluences on the Kramers of thernConstitution, the book explores the superficiallyrncurious omission of God, evenrnthe simplest and most formal invocation,rnfrom that document. Religion is mentionedrnin the text of the Constitutionrnonly negatively, in the celebrated prohibitionrnagainst demanding religious testsrnfor officeholders. The authors concludernthat this sparse treatment reflected arndeep conviction about the proper placernof religion within the new society: by nornmeans a hostility to God, but a determinationrnto institute a rigid separationrnof church and state. The Constitution isrnindeed godless, and by design.rnIt is a sad commentary on the presentrncultural climate that such a historicallyrnobvious argument should appear so controversial,rnand even partisan. In the lastrntwo decades, a whole literary subculturernhas emerged with the intent of demonstratingrnthe “Christian nation” hypothesis,rnand its works proliferate in evangelicalrnbookstores across the country.rnCommonly, these books offer a catena ofrnquotations from the Founding Fathers,rnnoting that on given occasions variousrnleaders spoke of God or Christianity, andrnassuming that these terms were used in arnsense not too far removed from contemporaryrnevangelical Protestantism. At itsrnmost extreme, this literature proceeds tornChristian Reconstructionist conclusions,rnarguing that the United States shouldrnfulfill its “Christian” mission by implementingrnthe stern decrees of Old Testamentrncriminal law. However, even moderaternreligious conservatives share thernassumption that the United States wasrnsomehow hijacked by secularists at somernmoment in its history, in an act that betrayedrnan original mission or covenant.rnLeading the nation “back to God” is thernagenda that undedies controversies overrnissues like school prayer, gay rights, andrnabortion.rnFor Kramnick and Moore, this widelyrnheld belief is a myth, and contributes torna general attitude that they term “religiousrncorrectness.” Unlike many moralrndebates, this issue is reconcilable oncernand for all by scholarship, and the authorsrnhave performed the service withrndevastating effect. They trace the oppositionrnto church establishment throughrnAmerican history, focusing on such figuresrnas Roger Williams, Thomas Jefferson,rnand the 18th-century Baptists, andrndescribe the constitutional debates overrnwhether a formal nod might be made tornthe deity in the new frame of government.rnIn this context, they make thernpoint that in 1787, only two of the staternconstitutions lacked formal recognitionrnof the Christian religion, but these twornwere Virginia and New York, the homesrnof Madison, Jefferson, and Hamilton.rnIt was chiefly under their influencernthat the federal government was bornrngodless, and the other states followedrnthis lead in the following decades.rnThe “Christian America” debate isrnbrought to the present through a historyrnof recurrent controversies over suchrntopics as the appropriateness of Sundayrnmail delivery and the passage of an explicitlyrnChristian amendment to thernConstitution. Whether or not one acceptsrnthe basic argument of the authors,rnthe book offers a rich mine of thoughtprovokingrninformation that should bernvaluable for any future disputes aboutrnthe religious and moral underpinnings ofrnthis society.rnIn view of current controversies, perhapsrnthe oddest factor about the secularismrnof the Constitution is the degree tornwhich it grew from Christian roots, andrnespecially that radical sectarian Protestantismrnwhich found its noblest andrnmost cantankerous representatives in thernBaptist church. The authors have therngreat virtue of lifting the veil of retrospectivernmythology that has surroundedrnmany leading figures in American history.rnOf Roger Williams, for example,rnthey note that his rigid opposition to thernreligious establishment had nothing inrncommon with a soggy indifferentism,rnbut rather was a logical extrapolation ofrnCalvinism. Government was a creationrnnot of God but of depraved humanity,rnand for Williams, “Government existedrnbecause God did not rule the wodd.”rnThe Godless Constitution is strong onrnthe European, particulady the English,rnbackground to the separationist idea,rnand correctly places the foundation ofrnthe United States in a particular historicalrnera when “orthodox” religion wasrnat an absolute low point in terms of itsrnappeal among social and political elites.rnWe can only speculate how much morernexplicitly Christian or evangelical wouldrnLIBERAL ARTSrnJAILHOUSE CONSUMERSrn”According to the British government’s public affairs office, ‘inmates of British prisonsrnwill soon be able to consult a consumer’s guide on the conditions, regimes andrnfacilities they should have and the best jail to which to seek a transfer.'”rn—Alberta Report, May 15, 1995rnMAY 1996/25rnrnrn