A religious scholar’s compendium of essential American texts.
Prothero (Religion/Boston Univ.; God Is Not One: The Eight Rival Religions that Run the World—and Why Their Differences Matter, 2010, etc.) assembles a canon of what he suggests are the nation’s most sacred documents and a selection of Talmud-like commentary on them over history. Few would challenge his inclusion of the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, Washington’s Farewell, Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address or King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, but some might question the presence of Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged (the only “scripture” not actually quoted because the author’s estate denied permission) or Malcolm X’s Autobiography, among others, for having been most influential only to narrow interests. Others may wish for more women, Native American or Latino voices, even among the commentators. But it is difficult to fault Prothero for selecting texts that, as his subtitle indicates, may unite or divide us according to our party, race or class, but remain central to the ongoing discussion of what it means to be American. The book should be required reading just for putting in one place so many historic pieces that are more opined over than actually read. Perhaps frustratingly for some, Prothero declines to hint about where he stands on any of the controversies—slavery, race, abortion, the proper role of government in the economy, the proper role of religion in politics—his “scriptures” engender. But his object is not to settle these difficult questions, but to bring Americans “together to argue” about them.
Awesome scholarship to an admirable purpose.