'The American Bible'
Author, Stephen Prothero, on how our words unite, divide, and define a nation
- Duration 8:28
- Date Jun 8, 2012
Author, Stephen Prothero, on how our words unite, divide, and define a nation
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-- you know very interesting how this book is really organized like the Bible like the Judeo Christian Bible you've got proverbs and got a book of Genesis alms but instead of these -- and -- that we know from the Bible they are now part of the American.
Landscape of historical documents.
First -- why did you do that.
Well I you know I was trying to figure out what holds us together this is kind of an ancient preoccupation in America because we have so much diversity here from the beginning in terms that ethnicity and race and religion.
And up political -- CNN.
-- I was trying to explore that and it seems to me what held us together was not a common create our common idea -- really.
These court tax that we sort of argue about and so there's a ritual I think.
That we have a argument and debate and just be patient around -- central -- -- -- figure out what those what those text Warren answered reintroduce them to the American public.
You know you let fascinating because you look at the book of songs which it means songs and you actually chose songs.
That are part of our you know -- cultural landscape is the star spangled banner.
God bless America.
And Woody -- is the land this land is your land.
While only forty songs.
Well you know I had to keep the book at 500 pages so if I could if I could go through volumes and a lot more songs but.
You know the god bless America songs means really it's really -- -- I was written by Irving Berlin -- Jewish of course and it was criticized by Woody Guthrie for being.
Too saccharine and Woody Guthrie then when you Rhode.
Wrote this land is your land but Irving Berlin song has become a sort of tagline that we now expect that the end of any presidential.
Address or even any presidential candidate until they say god bless America we don't really know that this -- is over so that's really made its way into our cultural conversation.
You know a lot of other things as the end the out of the idea is there's some kind of collective unconscious that we you know that we're looking to create with these songs or -- -- these all of the words.
Is it the sort of one of those achieve goals out there.
-- I think what's what's collected here again is these core tax that if we want to make an argument.
In our society about affirmative action -- about gay marriage.
We can't just sort of say it off the top of our heads we have to refer back to some cultural touchdowns and again.
In many cases where we refer back to is to Lincoln's Gettysburg address -- to the declaration of independence.
Or to Thomas Jefferson's letter to the Danbury -- if we're talking about.
Church state separation and -- function in American society the way that scripture sort of functions in the Christian tradition that we use them to prove things to use them.
She really did what I noticed that too about me and it's good choice you have very very good documents that are in the latter half.
Of the twentieth century and -- why is that it is it that we are not.
Creating these kinds of -- -- mean even the the one of the documents have been one of the gospels.
You have is -- -- Ronald Reagan but it's from his 1964 speech I mean really -- kind of mid range between sentry.
Right well as they tried to figure out which were in the Canon which of these biblical books as I call them in.
Our Canon -- the collection of American.
For our public life.
You know I had to criteria really one wise does -- create controversy commentary so if it if it's a great work but it doesn't really resonate with us we don't really get it.
Upset about it either way.
They're facing an account for me in the second was that it was really about America.
-- in about Americans so those are the text I was looking for and it's hard for more recent tax.
To have a real history.
Controversy of saturated it's sort it takes a little bit of -- test of time and it seems to me that Reagan speech from 1964 really had done that that had become.
A touchstone for obviously for conservative Republicans but also for many.
Many Americans so yes most of attacks.
Are from before on 19161950.
Yourself when they go back to seventeen under.
-- -- the largest.
Book of this American Bible are proverbs you have a lot of things -- Benjamin Franklin Patrick Henry.
Sojourner Truth Abraham Lincoln and of course the famous speech by JFK about ask not what you use your country can do for you but what you can do for your country.
Why -- -- of the largest.
Section of this Bible.
Well when I first thought of -- I was thinking -- -- a little bit as an American talent you know mentality in the Jewish tradition.
Is this text of rabbis were they put a scripture in the center of the tax and then around it there's all these arguments across the generations with no real effort to kind of decide.
You know what's really true you know that's kind of the argument is the scripture in a way.
And so I yet I wanted to do that but it really was going to be confusing we thought on my editor and I for American -- so the place that god is preserved is in the proverbs we have.
The proverb in the center of the business of America's business.
And encircling that on the page is going to be people saying -- wait a minute the business of America should be democracy -- the business of America.
Should be -- capitalism or what are what else the business of America might be so that's the place that we see in this book.
People talking back at these famous.
Tax and telling us you know what -- direction America should be going what is the -- -- to which we should be that we should be using to guide us as we move forward.
You do you even bring them the perfect segue into this 2012 election what is about what is the direction America should be going -- mean all of these Texans.
And documents that you site really are part of the jury that America has -- -- since its inception since it began you know we're not done yet so aware of how gonna help us in you know it as we look toward November 2012.
Well that's a great question Lauren I think one of the ways it helps us is first of -- to reconnect the chain of memory that we have.
-- these great heroes in American life whether there Washington Lincoln Jefferson Martin Luther King.
And then to look not only at what they said but how they set it I think -- -- have a large agreement that we are there any kind of epidemic of petty partisanship and American culture now.
If you look back at these great figures you'll find that they always put the nation.
Ahead of themselves and put the nation ahead of their party and this is something that I think we've lost I think we kind of got it got into a situation where we just want to kind of win the argument.
Instead of trying to figure out what's the best way forward for our country if you look at people like George Washington in his farewell address the 1796.
He talks about the spirit of party as a kind of create mischief maker an American American culture and he says.
Don't put your party ahead of your country put your country out of your party I think that's a lesson -- -- here today as we move forward to the election.
You know and I put on the spot here you know -- this question because it is there any party is either one of the party -- Democrat -- Republican and have they are they closer to this idea -- your mind.
I don't think so you know I really made an effort in the book to have the voices from all over the political spectrum and I think part of what makes this function as an American Bible.
Is it it isn't a partisan.
-- it isn't just for the conservatives it isn't just.
For the Democrats if you see for example Martin Luther King's Speech you gonna see commentaries.
That -- his I have a dream speech legacy -- -- take us toward affirmative action any innocent people who are using that exact same speech.
To argue against affirmative action and I think that's part of what makes this scripture.
For all of us is that it isn't taking us necessarily into the voting -- to say yes Romney or into the voting Booth and say yes Obama.
But it provides the kind of complaint in which the arguments about -- is the best candidate or what should our policy be about your agency which that -- -- can go forward.
You know it's just like that video video Christian Bible people kind of you know use it -- -- for their own benefit I mean it's the same thing really.
Well it's the same thing in the sense that it's it's someone open ended you know -- did you -- Christian Bible isn't gonna tell us.
What to do about Internet security or even what to do it necessarily about gay marriage.
And me and neither is near the words of Washington or Lincoln so we're always trying to adapt to these scripture whether they're kind of real -- American scripture.
To contemporary circumstances that are rising -- new.
And that's the job of us the people who are living.
And I think what I'm trying to do is to remember some of these great voices from the American past and what I see as a great tradition of conciliation -- -- to move forward in conversation with them.
Well it's great book the book is called the American Bible how our words unite or divide and define a nations Steve -- -- I was the author.
Wonderful wonderful book thank you very much for being with us thanks line right.