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The American Bible

Religion professor Stephen Prothero’s “The American Bible” looks at the books, speeches and songs that carry the American spirit.

The American Bible (Harper Collins)

The American Bible (Harper Collins)


Stephen Prothero, a professor in the Department of Religion at Boston University and the author of numerous books, including The American Bible: How Our Words Unite, Divide, and Define a Nation.

From Tom’s Reading List

CNN “In July 1846, while living in his Walden Pond cabin, Transcendentalist Henry David Thoreau was arrested and jailed for refusing to pay a poll tax. This classic essay explains and justifies his refusal, arguing that each citizen has a duty to resist a government whose actions — in this case, supporting slavery, mistreating Indians and prosecuting the Mexican-American War — offend the higher law of conscience.”

Excerpt: The American Bible

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  • Ed

    The importance of the Bible in American history can’t be overestimated, as a Protestant country: see ‘The Civil War as a theological crisis’ Mark Noll, 2006, where the argument is how those on each side interpreted the Bible.

    • Terry Tree Tree

      The importance that HYPOCRITES put on the Bible, while using it to their OWN uses, exposes abuses? 
        IF you don’t follow your own teachings, why should anyone follow you?

      • notafeminista

        Hey speaking of, have you whittled down to food, fuel and shelter yet?

        • Terry Tree Tree

          FAR closer than Mitt, Koch brothers, Newt, Al Gore, Bill Clinton, ‘W’, and such!
             Republicans claim the moral-highground, so they should LEAD in helping their fellow man!
             HOW MANY of the above, and other rich Republicans have risked their lives, at ANY time, day or night, ANY weather, including tornado warnings, to help their fellow man?  HYPOCRITES?    GREEDY rich HYPOCRITES?
             And YOU?

          • notafeminista

            I’ll take that as a “no”.

          • Terry Tree Tree

            You sure can obsess for months about one phrase!  My original use of it, was about the ‘cost of living’, that EXCLUDES those, as HYPOCRITICAL!

          • Terry Tree Tree

            You didn’t answer my questions?  ASHAMED?

    • Daniel

      The use of the word “bible” here is the definition of bible as a collection of sacred writings or authoritative texts, in this case documents that illuminate the American experience. The word “bible” can refer to more than just the sacred writings of the Jews and Christians, and whether that collection of books has been influential or not in American history does not seem to really be the point of the program.

  • ElfmanNW

    The author is an educated man so I must
    assume that he is aware that the phrase “city on the hill” did
    not enter AMERICAN political lexicon until at earliest JFK; Reagan
    though is best known for its use. That and the “under God”
    clause in the Pledge of Allegiance was not added until 1954, and was
    contrary to the wishes of the original pledge author. “Phrases
    down through generations?” I don’t think so!

    The American Constitution and system of
    government owes more to the writings of John Locke and Rousseau than
    to the Bible. The founders did intend separation of church and state
    consistent with the views and writing of Roger Williams. No matter
    how much modern Christian Talibanists what to argue that the United
    States was founded as a Christian nation it is just not so.


    • http://onpoint.wbur.org/about-on-point/sam-gale-rosen Sam Gale Rosen

      I don’t know if it counts as “political lexicon,” but John Winthrop used “city upon a hill” to talk about America back in 1630.

    • John

      The phrase “city upon a hill” was used by John Winthrop (definitely a political figure) in the early seventeenth century to refer to the mission of the Puritans to create a perfect community, a shining example to all who would behold it. It was both a political and a religious endeavor (those two things were never separate in the orthodox Puritan mind).

      • Jehane

        yes the Wordy Shipmates talks about this instance where Winthrop delivers that phrase that haunts us still

    • Prufer

       Elfman is 100% correct — people need to read more before they talk or write.

  • Gemli

    It’s ironic to see the Bible used as a metaphor of the American experience when the founders made special efforts to keep religion from gumming up the gears of government.  

    The nation tore itself apart in a battle to free the slaves, yet the Bible’s wisdom says that one should not beat one’s slaves so severely that we injure their eyes or their teeth, while Exodus 21:7-11 describes how a father may sell his daughter into sexual slavery.  1-Timothy 6:1-4 says “Let all who are under the yoke of slavery regard their masters as worthy of all honor.”

    The things which have made this country great include not only the abolition of slavery, but valuing education, science, women’s rights, and rights for gays and lesbians, any of which could get you stoned to death in the retrograde mindset of biblical wisdom.  Yet we are battling political forces today that would drag us back to that sort of primitive parochial thinking.  No society ever suffered because it didn’t take the Bible literally enough.  The idea of the American Bible seems benign, but it conflates biblical “wisdom” with the hard fought struggle to extricate ourselves from ignorance and intolerance.

    • Daniel

      The use of the word “bible” here is not metaphorical, but literal: the literal definition of “bible” as a collection of sacred writings or authoritative texts, in this case documents that illuminate the American experience. The word “bible” can refer to more than just the sacred writings of the Jews and Christians.

  • JGC

    It is my understanding that one of the great voices of the Civil Rights Era, Mr. Eugene C. Patterson, is working on a shortened interpretation of the New Testament. He is a winner of the Pulitzer Prize and a hero of World War II in Patton’s army. He is close to 90 years of age, and still his work is not done.  It will be interesting to see how these religious writings are interpreted through his life experiences and ringside seat on the stage of American history. 

  • Kestral

    Nothing makes me feel more deeply connected to my country than its music, especially African-American spirituals, Appalachian mountain music, the songs we learned in childhood and American classical composers such as William Grant Still, Aaron Copland and Amy Beach.

  • Victor Vito

    Define “The American Spirit”.  has this spirit been a constant throughout our history, or is it evolving?

  • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

    The American spirit is a combination of cooperation and liberty.  We haven’t been perfect in its realization, but that’s the ideal that we try to live up to.

  • Michael Congdon

    An empty tide rises all boats, Horatio Alger, protestant work ethic, look how bad you could have it, …..all are arrows in the quiver of the have’s to convince the have not’s that thay are have’s also.

  • Greyman

    Sounds like intellectual or curricular categories are leaching into each other here. Does the professor’s approach debase our sense of “sacredness” or does it enhance the value of (secular) works deemed “sacred”? Without provision of a specific definition of “the sacred” or “the holy” (which the professor may supply elsewhere, or in his interview), and one connected to the insurmountably traditional view of the separateness (or: distinction) of the sacred from the profane, much skepticism will attend reception of this work, and rightly so. The excerpt given above certainly shows no appreciation for the attenuation and diminution of the concept “holy” that has colored the modern era.  

  • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

    The American understanding of equality is equal opportunity and equal treatment under the law, not equal abilities or results.  Again, we aren’t perfect in expressing this understanding, but that’s the guide that we’re trying to follow.

  • Prufer

    Symptomatic of the multitude of special interests that have evolved to become who we are.  We are a collective — yes , we borrow from each to make the whole, but at the same time, we are not respectful on large, of the individual parts — rather, we mock, distort, interpret, reinterpret, sound-bite, spin and otherwise selectively cull words from the plethora to make our own point — and could care less about the others.

  • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

    What Harold Bloom called the map of misreading?

  • Damian Musello

    More than ever we need to heed Lincoln’s vision of an America with a “government of the people, by the people, for the people.”

  • Robin Hood

    I believe the most fitting written words to who and what we are is Monster, by Steppenwolf

    Words and music by John Kay, Jerry Edmonton, Nick St. Nicholas and Larry Byrom(Monster)Once the religious, the hunted and wearyChasing the promise of freedom and hopeCame to this country to build a new visionFar from the reaches of kingdom and popeLike good Christians, some would burn the witchesLater some got slaves to gather richesBut still from near and far to seek AmericaThey came by thousands to court the wildAnd she just patiently smiled and bore a childTo be their spirit and guiding lightAnd once the ties with the crown had been brokenWestward in saddle and wagon it wentAnd ’til the railroad linked ocean to oceanMany the lives which had come to an endWhile we bullied, stole and bought our a homelandWe began the slaughter of the red manBut still from near and far to seek AmericaThey came by thousands to court the wildAnd she just patiently smiled and bore a childTo be their spirit and guiding lightThe blue and grey they stomped itThey kicked it just like a dogAnd when the war overThey stuffed it just like a hogAnd though the past has it’s share of injusticeKind was the spirit in many a wayBut it’s protectors and friends have been sleepingNow it’s a monster and will not obey

    The spirit was freedom and justiceAnd it’s keepers seem generous and kindIt’s leaders were supposed to serve the countryBut now they won’t pay it no mind’Cause the people grew fat and got lazyAnd now their vote is a meaningless jokeThey babble about law and orderBut it’s all just an echo of what they’ve been toldYeah, there’s a monster on the looseIt’s got our heads into a nooseAnd it just sits there watchin’Our cities have turned into junglesAnd corruption is stranglin’ the landThe police force is watching the peopleAnd the people just can’t understandWe don’t know how to mind our own business’Cause the whole worlds got to be just like usNow we are fighting a war over thereNo matter who’s the winnerWe can’t pay the cost’Cause there’s a monster on the looseIt’s got our heads into a nooseAnd it just sits there watching(America)America where are you now?Don’t you care about your sons and daughters?Don’t you know we need you nowWe can’t fight alone against the monster© Copyright MCA Music (BMI)

    • Greyman

      Well, there’s nostalgia, then there’s decrepit nostalgia. You might as well be expecting (Sir) Mick Jagger (personal wealth well over 100 million pounds at last report) to lead the Revolution from the stage of SNL with a stirring rendition of “Street-Fightin’ Man”. Rock ‘n’ roll was never about revolution, it was about making money: we have the rock ‘n’ roll royalty to prove it, too.

  • AC

    Ben Franklin is my idea of America – i pasted this quote before, but it’s awesome to me…..

    In these sentiments, Sir, I agree to this Constitution with all its faults, if they are such; because I think a general Government necessary for us, and there is no form of Government but what may be a blessing to the people if well administered, and believe farther that this is likely to be well administered for a course of years, and can only end in Despotism, as other forms have done before it, when the people shall become so corrupted as to need despotic Government, being incapable of any other. I doubt too whether any other Convention we can obtain, may be able to make a better Constitution. For when you assemble a number of men to have the advantage of their joint wisdom, you inevitably assemble with those men, all their prejudices, their passions, their errors of opinion, their local interests, and their selfish views. From such an assembly can a perfect production be expected? It therefore astonishes me, Sir, to find this system approaching so near to perfection as it does; and I think it will astonish our enemies, who are waiting with confidence to hear that our councils are confounded like those of the Builders of Babel; and that our States are on the point of separation, only to meet hereafter for the purpose of cutting one another’s throats. Thus I consent, Sir, to this Constitution because I expect no better, and because I am not sure, that it is not the best. The opinions I have had of its errors, I sacrifice to the public good. I have never whispered a syllable of them abroad. Within these walls they were born, and here they shall die. If every one of us in returning to our Constituents were to report the objections he has had to it, and endeavor to gain partizans in support of them, we might prevent its being generally received, and thereby lose all the salutary effects & great advantages resulting naturally in our favor among foreign Nations as well as among ourselves, from our real or apparent unanimity. Much of the strength & efficiency of any Government in procuring and securing happiness to the people, depends, on opinion, on the general opinion of the goodness of the Government, as well as of the wisdom and integrity of its Governors. I hope therefore that for our own sakes as a part of the people, and for the sake of posterity, we shall act heartily and unanimously in recommending this Constitution (if approved by Congress & confirmed by the Conventions) wherever our influence may extend, and turn our future thoughts & endeavors to the means of having it well administred.
    On the whole, Sir, I can not help expressing a wish that every member of the Convention who may still have objections to it, would with me, on this occasion doubt a little of his own infallibility, and to make manifest our unanimity, put his name to this instrument.

    • Terry Tree Tree

      WOW!  Just WOW!

    • guest

      AC, this is the best post I have read in a while. Thank you and like Terry Tree Tree said, WOW! Just WOW!

    • Anton Deque

      As the compiler of the Dictionary of the English Language wrote “Who are these that shout of liberty that are all slave owners?”

  • Brad

    Does steven prothrow’s book include such quotes as Gov. George Wallace’s “segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever”? How does this fit into the american canon?

    • J__o__h__n

      It was even more influential than Rand. 

  • Greyman

    How is the professor’s approach any different, or much different, from Comte’s “religion of humanity”?

  • Prufer

    The great American novel is a concept where America is refreshed through novel words.  The best inspire all Americans in undeniable truthful ways, the worst divide us through hatred, bigotry and unexamined ideology.

    • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

      What are your examples for each?

      • Prufer

         I think Grapes of Wrath is a good example of the best.  An example of unexamined ideology would have to be the persistent selectivity that people constantly have of both the Old and New testaments of the Bible and the US Constitution.  Less than the documents themselves, rather the way that they are selectively quoted or misquoted to found otherwise unfounded ideology.

        • guest

          Thanks for your good discourse, which is rare today, as this site shows. For example, Greg.

          • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

             Is your vitriol directed at me solely because we disagree on matters, or are you just crabby by nature?

  • Pancake Rankin

     The possibility of an American Dream has been discredited, so now we flail in the dark for empty ghostly ideals. You can’t eat vouchers or buy gas with marriage licenses. This is voodoo. Kardasians test $300 reinforced bras in the mall that hide fat rolls. Women carry babies while poisoning their lawns wearing backpack sprayers. Our military still visits exotic locales, meets intriguing  people, and kills them. We still bet on professional sports. Pornography leads the web. Churches are insane asylums. These are pastimes. We are all caged on death row. This blog is scratchings on the wall, messages for the next victims.

    • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

      Discredited in your view, but not in the view of everyone.

    • Flapjack Johnson

      Oh nonsense.   If we want to stand around and gnash our teeth and rend our garments about the hopelessness and futility of it all, we would be giving short shrift to one-half of human existence.  Beautiful and worthy things occur every day despite the paranoid fantasies of the Left.  People thrive and survive in wondrous and amazing ways despite the dire predictions of the Left. 

      Try walking on the sunny side of the street sometime – life is about balance Grasshopper.

      • Ray in VT

        Is your message, then, that we should have a “what, me worry” view concerning actual and visible problems that plague our communities, nation and planet?

        • Flapjack Johnson

          Which part of my post suggested to you that I think we should ignore anything?

    • Zing

       Oh please…..go back where you were.

  • Wiljam64

    Sounds like an interesting new book- thought provoking especially during an election year and with the debates on who can and can not marry, what schools kids can attend, who can work in our country, and how best to be an American. What is the value of liberty if some citizens aspire for equal rights but are denied because of orientation? And so our nation continues to evolve and I hope always for the higher good for all citizens.

  • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

    William Faulkner?

  • Drew (GA)

    Rand was taught the error of her beliefs during her lifetime, she came to depend on that which she despised. History will repeat itself over, and over, and over again. Romney needs to wake up on welfare, that’s about the only way he (and many others) will wake up.

  • Deb

    Going through my son’s high school yearbook, I noticed that American “scripture” most quoted by 2012 seniors from Lexington Ma. are Bill Gates and Homer Simpson. Do these figures make an appearance in Prothero’s books? Are they the ‘folk heros’ for today’s teenagers?

  • MadMarkTheCodeWarrior

    Rand was in love with reading her own words as though she never wrote a word she could not delete – she was a poor writer by my standards. Atlas Shrugged was about an America that never existed, an economic malady which had no basis in reality, and a cure for that malady which has no historical basis in fact. Rubbish.

    • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

      I found her to be obvious in the small (Anthem) and unreadable in the large (Atlas Shrugged).  Her popularity is not due to her literary skill, that’s for sure.

      • MadMarkTheCodeWarrior

        And when confronted with the 2008 reality of the failure of Rand’s theories upon which Alan Greenspan based his stewardship of the Fed, Greenspan stated before congress “I made a mistake in presuming that the self-interests of organizations, specifically banks and others, were such that they were best capable of protecting their own shareholders and their equity in the firms.”

        • Terry Tree Tree

          HOW MUCH did Greenspan get for this stupidity?  Un-regulated power will almost always become corrupt.

    • Zing

       Rubbish, perhaps, but rubbish that made more money than you ever will.  Your jealousy is showing.

  • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

    I don’t care if you eat hot dogs or tacos.  I do care that you support individual liberty.

  • Linda

    I want to cast another vote for “Grapes of Wrath.”. Without a doubt this book made me understand that sometimes people do not have the ability to control their future or their prosperity. In many ways over many years, it underpins the economic/social discussions we have as a nation.

  • L. M. Lim

    Words do matter. So does the context. Words can be used to serve one’s end, and consequently, stray from the intent of the original thinker and assembler of those set of words. Words can unite, divide, and twist ideas. Equal Rights – the right to vote – my vote is as good as anybody else’s. Participation. That is what defines USA.

  • Drew (GA)

    Is the worship of money and material wealth a culture? The caller who bemoaned the lack of Hispanic influence in American Society is delusional. Poor Latinos, if you think you’re getting the shaft because of your heritage you should go talk to a Native American.

    • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

      It should be anyone’s right to practice a culture and to express ideas, so long as no one else is compelled to participate.  If the caller is upset that his way of doing things isn’t universally applied, I say, too bad.

      • Drew (GA)

        That was my sentiment exactly. I realize it may have come across as harsh but reality is often abrasive.

  • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

    What Prothero says about Jewish tradition is one of my reasons for respecting Jewish culture and religion.

  • Mark

    Why would anyone be surprised that the American Bible consist of writings that seem to run against each other?  After all, many of us follow the same book that in one part, it’s an “eye for an eye”, and later it is about turning the cheek.

    • Drew (GA)

      And that always winds up being the problem doesn’t it? We profess to subscribe to Religions whose core principles revolve around treating others better than ourselves, then we pick out a single passage that will allow us to stone our neighbor to death because they don’t agree with us. Talk about missing the point.

    • ElfmanNW

      Religion, and in the US specifically
      Christianity, is just a means for people to give a divine, a higher
      supposed moral justification, to the prejudices they hold and to
      justify acting in their own self interests. This is easily
      accomplished by being selective in what passages in the Bible to
      treat as important and how to interpret these. Religion does not
      come from God, it comes from people to justify what they wish to do
      anyway in the name of God.

  • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

    Life, liberty, and property comes from John Locke.

  • W bradford

    We are less and less a nation.. and just more and more a marketplace.

    • Pointpanic

      well put, W bradford.Thank you.

  • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

    Oh, great, here we go with artificial inclusiveness.

  • Greyman

    Again: what differentiates the professor’s views from Comte’s “religion of humanity”? The dominant value emerging from the interview and discussion is all horizontal: no vertical dimension of the sacred or the holy is seriously being invoked. 

  • Guest

    I have often thought about the question of what binds us as a nation. What is the belief that we might have in common? I think that Mr. Prothero’s idea that it is the debate that binds us is a refreshing idea. Thanks for this show.

  • Drew (GA)

    Ugh, Beyonce? Seriously? It would have been much better (just my opinion) to play the FULL version of Woody Guthrie’s “This Land Is Your Land”, or at the very least the frequently omitted lines of the song. Many don’t even realize that the version of “This Land Is Your Land” they know is a castrated rendition of Guthrie’s original intentions when he wrote this brilliant piece of music.

    • J__o__h__n

      Unfortunately, This Land is Your Land loses verses and the Star Spangled Banner gains syllables. 

      • Drew (GA)

        Perhaps I’m wrong but to me “God Bless America” is a demonstration of Nationalism while “This Land Is Your Land” is demonstrative of Patriotism. If only we could have more of the latter and less of the former. Most of us seem to believe that Nationalism IS Patriotism. We need only look to Germany prior to WWII to observe the results of unfettered Nationalism.

    • nj_v2

      I had a similar, “ugh” reaction.

      If they had to play the Star Strangled Banana (hard to sing, laden with war images), at least they could have used Hendrix’s version. Or Ray Charles’ America the Beautiful.



      Off-topic, but since music came up, this is a real punch in the gut.


      “(AP) WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. – Doc Watson, the Grammy-award winning folk musician whose lightning-fast style of flatpicking influenced guitarists around the world for more than a half-century, died Tuesday at a hospital in Winston-Salem, according to a hospital spokeswoman and his manager. He was 89.”

      If On Point can give an hour to Raphael Saadiq and Kat Emonson, they darn well better have a show on Doc.

      • Drew (GA)

        I’m sure OP will have a show on Doc, it might take a little while though. Scruggs and now Watson, it’s been a tough year for musical innovators. I hope the rule of three decides not to apply itself this go round.

  • brettearle

    Came to the program late and missed the context.

    Can someone explain what Professor Prothero meant–if it was clear what he meant–when he spoke (and I am not quoting him) of how his Jewish friends didn’t believe in God.

    Does that mean his Chrisitan, Islamic and Hindi friends, for example, do?

    Not sure I understand.

    If you are Jewish, by definition, you believe in God. 

    If you are Christian, by definition, you believe in God.


    One can be born into a family where there was a specific kind of religion and then renounce it.

    If you renounce Christianity, but you were born into a family that practiced Christianity, does that still mean you’re Christian?

    • Ray in VT

      I guess that I missed that bit.  Maybe he was referring to friends who identified themselves as Jewish as an ethnic or cultural group but who are not religious.  Like Messianic Jews:  Jews who believe that Jesus was the Savior.  Doesn’t that make them Christians?

      • brettearle

        He may indeed have been implying your first idea.

        And that’s a good point.

        However, in the forum of public discourse–where there is so much controversy around religion, race, and politics–one ought to be clearer.

        I mean, why should any idea, in a public forum be left in doubt, wherein we need to discuss it, for the purposes of clarification, when there are so many issues and ideas that indeed are worth debating, where we know where everyone stands, more crisply? 

        As to your second point–if one is a Messianic Jew (by your definition, which may, indeed, be accurate, that such adherents believe that Jesus was the savior)–I am not sure I understand why you raised it.

        In itself, being a Messianic Jew is interesting and intriguing–when thinking of the two Bibles; the chronology of history and religious history; and how the Judeo-Christian traditions are linked.

        But if one is a Messianic Jew, one believes in God.  Professor Prospero was apparently referring to Jewish friends of his who didn’t believe in God.

        But I’m glad you brought up Messianic Jews–because such devotees conjure great ideas and notions to discuss:

        Why do men and women change their relgious minds?

        How do they come to such transformations?

        What does it say about the veracity of our traditional religious beliefs and practices?

        • Ray in VT

          I just brought up Messianic Jews to point out a group that seems to identify their Jewishness more in terms of their ethnic heritage rather than their religious practice.  At least that is how I see them based upon my conversations with a few of them.

    • Terry Tree Tree

      With an attitude like that, you assume he has Christian, Islamic, and Hindi friends?

      • brettearle

        I was illustrating a theoretical example to make a point–and I actually think you already knew it, before you entered your comment.

        Or perhaps you were being facetious.

        Why would the Professor only have Jewish friends–and, for that matter, ones that don’t believe in God? 

    • http://gregorycamp.wordpress.com/ Greg Camp

      Being Jewish means belonging to an ethnic group in one sense and to a religion in another sense.  One can be an atheist Jew.  Christianity is an example of a religion that isn’t associated with a particular group.

      • brettearle


        Ray, in VT, made a similar comment earlier, and I agreed that it was a good point.

  • brettearle

    A Romney Presidency….

    Based on what we were reminded of, today, regarding Mormonism and American Exceptionalism….

    What sort of foreign policy would a Romney administration pursue?

    The kind of policy that suggests America is right, self-righteously right, morally right, justified no matter what in every single measure it follows….be it covert assassination; targeted air and ground attacks without official war sanction; invasion; all-out war; or overt or subtle economic pressures on other countries?

    To suggest that the US Constitution was divinely inspired–while ignoring the constitutions and the religious belief systems of others around the world (and the religious belief systems of many Americans who do not follow Mormonism or, for example, Evangelistic Christianity) is troubling and does not augur well for a complex and dangerous world.    

    • Pointpanic

      right on brettearle. And I think many Chriiistians better think twice about the Constitution being “divinely inspired” givern how it was originally intended only for white land owning males. The rest of us had to fight for those rights.

      • brettearle

        And back atya…..

        Let’s expand that a bit, shall we?

        White land owning males, whose economic engine was often dependent on slavery, and whose own version of American Exceptionalism resulted in the genocide of American Indians.

      • Flapjack Johnson

        Which article or amendment says so?

        • Ray in VT

          Certainly the 4/5s compromise and the protection of the Transatlantic Slave Trade enshrined slavery in inequality in the Constitution.  I don’t think that the Constitution addressed issues such as women’s voting rights.  That was left to the states, where some women were allowed to vote in the early days of the 19th century.  While the Constitution perhaps did not specify that only (largely) white men could vote, it allowed that to often be the reality by leaving those decisions in state hands, where change only occurred after a protracted effort.

          • Flapjack Johnson

            It was the 2/3s compromise not the 4/5s and it was demanded by geographically (but more populous) smaller colonies to prevent the already geographically larger colonies from counting the slaves in their population. 

            Nowhere in the Constitution does it separate men from women, and in fact the wording utilizes “people” not “men” or “women”. Additionally the 14th amendment provides whatever so-called equality anyone thinks might be lacking.

          • J__o__h__n


          • brettearle

            Regardless of what’s in the Constitution, or not, were slaves chattel and were women treated as second class citizens?

            I asked you that, in an above comment–but you don’t wish to answer the question.

            You don’t wish to answer the question–because you want to deny that the Framers were, essentially, racially bigoted and gender-bigoted.

            Do you really believe that the United States has always conducted its official matters and its cultural affairs–according to what is. literally, in the Constitution?

            I don’t think so.

            And my rhetorical question goes beyond differences in interpretation of the Constitution.

        • brettearle

          Do you believe that white land owning males needed to include, in the Consititution, that slaves, from Africa, were considered chattel and women were recognized as second class citizens?

          The reason why I ask is because those statements, I made, in the above paragraph, are true–even though such declarations were not in the Constitution?

          Now, just why do you suppose that was? 

  • Terry Tree Tree

    Isn’t MOST of the important parts of the Bible, and MOST other religions, covered by treating others as you want to be treated?
       If YOU don’t want others stealing from you, your best bet is to not steal?  And so forth?

    • brettearle

      You’re suggesting, in a way, the concept of Karma or an eye-for-an-eye?

      I am not sure it fully works that way.

      Do you think that major religious leaders who supported the Crusades, or those who turned a blind eye from the Holocausts of WWII, judged before death, or after death, for their severe negligence?

      • Michele

         Karma and the Code of Hammurabi are two very different things.  An eye-for-an-eye is part of legal code expressed by Hammurabi to define punishments befitting certain crimes.  Karma is more about personal will and the decision to do, right, wrong, or be indifferent.  All actions carry a Karmic weight. 

        I don’t think that “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” is a bad way to conduct a life.  It works better than “It’s not my problem so I don’t have to think about it”.  Which seems to be the attitude most people take…

        • brettearle

          Terry said that the best way for people not to steal from you, is not to steal, yourself.

          She did not claim her comment about stealing was actually an example of the golden rule–but one could likely imply that from her first comment….about treating others the way you want to be treated.  

          But, indeed, I do not believe that her words, about stealing, were ACTUALLY an example of the golden rule.

          If you do NOT do unto others, as you want them to do unto you, it doesn’t mean that those others will NOT do unto you, the way that you would want them to do unto you, anyway.

          And it does not mean that they WILL do unto you, the way that you would want them to, regardless of what you have done.

          That was my point.

          If you steal from others, others, indeed, might not steal from you.

          If you don’t steal from others, others might still steal from you.

          I believe that you have misunderstood the freedom, the capacity, and the flexibility of the golden rule.

          If one thinks of having the same thing happen to you that you do to others, then that is a concept close to either karma or Hammurabi’s code–in my opinion.

          If Terry had set it differently, then I might not have made my comment.

          I was NOT trying to trap her or trip her up; I was trying to open the issue up for debate.

          But I thank you for your lesson, anyway. 

          Oh, one other thing:

          In no way did I imply, in my comments, that I support the attitude, “it’s not my problem so I don’t have to think about it.”

          So not only did you seriously misinterpret my comments
          –but by indirect, or even direct, implication, you ascribed a somewhat decadent position and severe attitude to me, by making a rather fierce presumption.

          If you ask me, you ought to be the one exploring what the golden rule means, for yourself.   

    • Zing

       You’re wrong as usual; the MOST important part of the Bible tell us to love God.

  • Pointpanic

    “carry the American spirit”? Oh please I’m tired of such jingoistic pablum. THe so -called “American spirit” could use a buit of humility and learn to be a team player. I’m a bit suspicious of Porthero’s attempt to compile a” canon” of American writings.

    • Flapjack Johnson


      • Pointpanic

        because….  What?

    • Flapjack Johnson

      Because without “American spirit” …this man is still in Mexico eking out whatever existence he can find.


      • Pointpanic

         awonderful personal story to be sure, but it’s hardly true for the majority of mexicans and others who migrate here. And for the richest country in the world we still have countless thousands sleeping on the streets of our major cities. Iwish that Reader’s Digest narrative were true but…

        • Ben

          I think the American Spirit is more of an immigrant spirit than a domestic one.  The people living on the streets are all native english speakers.  People who struggle to come to this country are hungry for success and work their fingers to the bones to make a better life for their kids.

          • Pointpanic

            Ben, if I’m reading you right, you seem to be implying that the homeless’natives” are to blame for their own plight because they don’t have the “work ethic” of the immigrants “hungry for success” . First of all how do you know the demographics of the hmeless? Second of all you’re buying into the Reader’s Digest narrative mentioned above.THirdly, most of thehomeless are not to blame for the larger forces at work thatcreate unemployment and inequality.

          • notafeminista

            So, why are there homeless here in America?  Dr. Quinones story clearly illustrates (and quite impessively) that a so-called “have not”  facing incredible challenges can absolutely make a smashing success of himself.      Then there’s Chris Gardner’s story (recounted in “Pursuit of Happyness” a few years ago) – again an individual with more than a few strikes against him rising up to make a better life for himself.  One an immigrant, one a citizen.  Tell us Pointpanic, what advantage did these two men have that say, your average homeless person (or even your average underemployed person) does not?

          • notafeminista
          • Pointpanic

            Nota , good for those two but if those stories are true they are as rare as people winning lotteries. THis “if they can do it anyone can do it” attitude is misleading rhetoric often employed by business and political elites, to rationalize cutbacks on welfare and other badly needed social services. Given the tax breaks and subsidies enjoyed by many corporations at taxpayer expense , there’s no mean element of hypocrisy in such rhetoric.

  • ElfmanNW

    To reflect the current state of USA the song I would suggest is It’s Money That I Love by Randy Newman.


  • Marion

    Why does he keep talking about the Bible as something used only or mainly by Christians?!   Jews have been the People of the Book since long before Christians were around.  Why focus on Peter, Paul, & all those New Testament folks?  How about Moses, David, Elijah…?

    • Pointpanic

      That’s his bias ,Marion

  • Guest

    I studied the Bible in college and that’s it. I would much rather read the Bahagavad Gita or Autobiography of a Yogi, or something older than the recent Bible. Not to mention, that some books were written 100s of years later. Sounds like a political book to me.

    • notafeminista


    • http://profile.yahoo.com/PQOCSU3NJ5J6SSQBEM5YBFCPZY Jason__A

      You will get more beneficial information reading the Yellow Pages than all this crap called a Bible…any version, or any other so called religious texts. So many lies and BS.

  • Ed

    I would vote for Leaves of Grass and for Catch-22 as the most American books.

    In regard to the Bible below, two points. There are other sacred writings, but only the Bible has God as it’s primary author, this included the Jewish Bible. Other sacred writings have elements of truth in them.

    Second, Christians are not people of the book – though they wrote the New Testament. Christians are people of the Word, who is a Person.

    • J__o__h__n

      They were written by men.  Wouldn’t you think that a god wouldn’t contradict itself? 

  • Kiven

    American bible? o please. another book on the propaganda of  re-branding America’s identity. you forgot about the native Americans(18% of this country’s population), Spanish American (20% of this country’s population) and the Asian Americans (10% of this country’s population) but hey the Jew are all over the place in this book!..they are only 10% of american population!! guess we know who is controlling the American’s propaganda machine hun!.

  • Pingback: You go, girl | runningonjava

  • Elapab

    It is really very funny that the Holy book is branded in the name of America with some goof people? Why not goat is branded in the name of American goat?

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