An energetic presentation of our complicated relationship with God, whom we have welcomed with “open arms, congressional...

OUR GREAT BIG AMERICAN GOD

A SHORT HISTORY OF OUR EVER-GROWING DEITY

Turner (Hear No Evil: My Story of Innocence, Music, and the Holy Ghost, 2010, etc.) surveys the American molding and remolding of God to fit our often curious convictions, a tradition as natively ingrained as “playing baseball, cruising strip mall parking lots, and popping antidepressants.”

God is ambiguous and protean, meaning many things to many people—“Jehovah, Jesus, or Allah to believing in Nature, a ‘Spirit Mother,’ or some other grand presence that usually enjoys silence and book clubs”—writes the author in this engaging history that turns a penetrating eye on how God has been shaped to fit the varieties of faith in America, a land in which nearly 80 percent of us identify with a God. This brand of the divine began with the Puritans and their sui generis God—“a sovereign, doctrinally stout, damnation-prone deity”—celebrating a Calvinist embrace of our personal roles in education and enterprise (namely, worldly goods), which spawned Roger Williams’ reactive take on the protection under law of all religious sects. Jonathan Edwards promoted for his followers a God of glory, beauty and divinity, though also one “ready to toss their meaningless sin-ridden souls into a black hole of fiery torment.” Thomas Jefferson, unsurprisingly, magnified God’s ethical wisdom, yet there was also a God of slavery, as well as a Quaker abolitionist God. Turner’s writing has the quality of a primer, with clear language and ideas that are bandied about without getting bogged down in agnostic and atheistic approaches. The author also displays a playfulness that doesn’t obscure where he falls on doctrinal issues: “Evangelicals are quick to give Jesus the glory when your plan succeeds, but it is never Jesus’s fault when your plan fails. Because Jesus never fails. You do. Somehow, a large portion of America’s evangelicals have become convinced that this process is the ideal Christian life.”

An energetic presentation of our complicated relationship with God, whom we have welcomed with “open arms, congressional protection, free speech, and tax-exempt status.”

Pub Date: Aug. 19, 2014

ISBN: 978-1455547340

Page Count: 256

Publisher: Jericho Books/Hachette

Review Posted Online: June 12, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1, 2014

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A Churchill-ian view of native history—Ward, that is, not Winston—its facts filtered through a dense screen of ideology.

AN INDIGENOUS PEOPLES' HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES

Custer died for your sins. And so, this book would seem to suggest, did every other native victim of colonialism.

Inducing guilt in non-native readers would seem to be the guiding idea behind Dunbar-Ortiz’s (Emerita, Ethnic Studies/California State Univ., Hayward; Blood on the Border: A Memoir of the Contra War, 2005, etc.) survey, which is hardly a new strategy. Indeed, the author says little that hasn’t been said before, but she packs a trove of ideological assumptions into nearly every page. For one thing, while “Indian” isn’t bad, since “[i]ndigenous individuals and peoples in North America on the whole do not consider ‘Indian’ a slur,” “American” is due to the fact that it’s “blatantly imperialistic.” Just so, indigenous peoples were overwhelmed by a “colonialist settler-state” (the very language broadly applied to Israelis vis-à-vis the Palestinians today) and then “displaced to fragmented reservations and economically decimated”—after, that is, having been forced to live in “concentration camps.” Were he around today, Vine Deloria Jr., the always-indignant champion of bias-puncturing in defense of native history, would disavow such tidily packaged, ready-made, reflexive language. As it is, the readers who are likely to come to this book—undergraduates, mostly, in survey courses—probably won’t question Dunbar-Ortiz’s inaccurate assertion that the military phrase “in country” derives from the military phrase “Indian country” or her insistence that all Spanish people in the New World were “gold-obsessed.” Furthermore, most readers won’t likely know that some Ancestral Pueblo (for whom Dunbar-Ortiz uses the long-abandoned term “Anasazi”) sites show evidence of cannibalism and torture, which in turn points to the inconvenient fact that North America wasn’t entirely an Eden before the arrival of Europe.

A Churchill-ian view of native history—Ward, that is, not Winston—its facts filtered through a dense screen of ideology.

Pub Date: Sept. 16, 2014

ISBN: 978-0-8070-0040-3

Page Count: 296

Publisher: Beacon Press

Review Posted Online: Aug. 18, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2014

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A PEOPLE'S HISTORY OF THE UNITED STATES

For Howard Zinn, long-time civil rights and anti-war activist, history and ideology have a lot in common. Since he thinks that everything is in someone's interest, the historian—Zinn posits—has to figure out whose interests he or she is defining/defending/reconstructing (hence one of his previous books, The Politics of History). Zinn has no doubts about where he stands in this "people's history": "it is a history disrespectful of governments and respectful of people's movements of resistance." So what we get here, instead of the usual survey of wars, presidents, and institutions, is a survey of the usual rebellions, strikes, and protest movements. Zinn starts out by depicting the arrival of Columbus in North America from the standpoint of the Indians (which amounts to their standpoint as constructed from the observations of the Europeans); and, after easily establishing the cultural disharmony that ensued, he goes on to the importation of slaves into the colonies. Add the laborers and indentured servants that followed, plus women and later immigrants, and you have Zinn's amorphous constituency. To hear Zinn tell it, all anyone did in America at any time was to oppress or be oppressed; and so he obscures as much as his hated mainstream historical foes do—only in Zinn's case there is that absurd presumption that virtually everything that came to pass was the work of ruling-class planning: this amounts to one great indictment for conspiracy. Despite surface similarities, this is not a social history, since we get no sense of the fabric of life. Instead of negating the one-sided histories he detests, Zinn has merely reversed the image; the distortion remains.

Pub Date: Jan. 1, 1979

ISBN: 0061965588

Page Count: 772

Publisher: Harper & Row

Review Posted Online: May 26, 2012

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1979

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