Sunday, November 14, 2010;
From private houses to statehouses, Americans have very different views about religion and how it should affect civic life. Here are three books that suggest answers.
1America's Four Gods: What We Say About God - & What That Says About Us by Paul Froese and Christopher Bader (Oxford Univ., $24.95). The authors, both associate professors of sociology at Baylor University, undertook a daunting task: to unearth what Americans believe about God by crisscrossing the country, canvassing thousands, joining worship services and speaking with religious communities. The study found correlations between what people think of God and how they live their lives. Is He authoritative, benevolent, critical or distant? (Or is He a She?) The authors conclude that "our picture of God is worth a thousand queries into the substance of our moral and philosophical beliefs."
2The Amish Way: Patient Faith in a Perilous World, by Donald B. Kraybill, Steven M. Nolt and David L. Weaver-Zercher (Jossey-Bass, $24.95). For most Americans, the Amish call to mind black buggies, unusual clothing and masterfully crafted furniture. Tack on the "no electricity" edict, and you've painted a picture of a reclusive society. That picture was complicated, however, by the horrific slaying of five Amish schoolchildren in Lancaster County, Pa., in October of 2006 and what happened soon after - the Amish forgave the killer. How could they? Why would they? In addressing those questions, the authors point out that there are over 40 subgroups of Amish and no central governing body. But they are all bound by a central tenet: patience.
3A Cheerful & Comfortable Faith: Anglican Religious Practice in the Elite Households of Eighteenth-Century Virginia, by Lauren F. Winner (Yale Univ., $45). Those with a keen interest in the role of religion in early America will find a wealth of informed scholarship and evocative descriptions in this volume. Winner, an assistant professor at Duke Divinity School, takes the novel approach of using domestic items (from needlework to silver to cookbooks) to reveal how Anglicanism was ingrained in the daily lives of the landed gentry, shaping their world view on everything from slavery to baptism.