Johnny Cash and the Great American Contradiction: Christianity and the Battle for the Soul of the Nation
By Rodney Clapp
Westminster John Knox, February 2008
192 pp., $16.95

Very few figures in recent history are seen as more representative of American identity than Cash. His music was included in a space capsule the United States shot into outer space. He played Abraham Lincoln in a television miniseries and was a major player in the celebration of the country's bicentennial. His has often been suggested as the face that should be added to the select pantheon on Mt. Rushmore. But in addition to his profound Americanness, the late and still celebrated country singer and songwriter, in his life and work, provides several lamps to shine into the neglected, shadowy twists and crevices of the caverns of America's current religious, cultural, and political predicaments.

Johnny Cash was a lifelong Christian. Raised in the Baptist church, particularly impressed by his mother (who sometimes baked "Scripture cakes" using ingredients listed in the Bible), Cash held deep Christian convictions from childhood to his death. Like America in general and the South in particular, he was God-haunted. He did not always live up to his convictions but, even at his drug-addled and beastly worst, he never relinquished them. Christian convictions and practices profoundly mark his work, which still rings out across the country and the world—in radio, films, and television commercials. Cash's famous sympathy for the outsider and the underdog, represented through frequent prison concerts and his customary funereal black attire, sprang from the soil of faith. In the turbulent late '60s and early '70s, some accused him of becoming a "political ...

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