“Laugh-in” recently presented its “Flying Fickle Finger of Fate” award to state automobile-license bureaus that sell names and addresses for directmail advertising. I have no idea whether this is the source of the vast quantities of junk mail I receive; perhaps such mail simply represents one of the occupational hazards of the ministry. The invitations to join Hefner’s Bunny Clubs at a reduced rate I can stand (they are invariably well printed); what I have great difficulty in tolerating is the not inconsiderable quantity of politically rightist propaganda misdirected to me. Behind it seems to lie the thoroughly fallacious assumption that anyone who is “conservative” theologically must of course believe that the United States is “God’s country” and must join the crusade to “bring America back to the Christian political philosophy of the Founding Fathers.”

That this viewpoint is by no means limited to pamphleteers was evident when I received as a Christmas gift from an evangelical publisher Benjamin Weiss’s book, God in American History, whose preface sets the tone of the entire volume: “The purpose of this book is to present documentary evidence that the source of our nation’s strength from its beginning has been faith in God.… Schools, colleges, charitable institutions, hospitals, orphanages, and other institutions are monumental proof of the Christian character of the United States.”

Now there is an element of truth in these claims. As the dean of American church historians, William Warren Sweet, pointed out in his epochal work Religion in Colonial America, the biblical orthodoxy of seventeenth-century colonists cannot ...

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