Readers of The Way of Improvement Leads Home know the name Randall Stephens for his historian’s baseball cards and Christian Right photo-shops of Library of America covers. Check out the Randall Stephens Collection here.
Randall is also an excellent historian of American evangelicalism. Some of you may recall our interview with him in Episode 38 of The Way of Improvement Leads Home Podcast. We talked about his book The Devil’s Music: How Christians Inspired, Condemned, and Embraced Rock ‘n’ Roll. Stephens currently teaches American and British Studies at the University of Oslo.
Over at The Washington Post, Stephens reviews God’s Hand on America: Divine Providence in the Modern Era, the latest book by conservative pundit, film critic, and radio host Michael Medved. Here is a taste:
It’s one thing to appreciate how religion or ideas about providence inspired Americans in the 1860s or the 1890s. It’s quite something else to say that modern Americans should read the distant past as confirmation of the nation’s divine appointment. Medved wonders why Americans are not more thankful “for winning life’s lottery through your American birth or upbringing.” America being blessed by God, he writes, may defy “the ordinary odds but conforms to our lived experience.” That perspective, while full of hope and optimism, amounts to a selective reading of the past. It ignores a large swath of the U.S. population such as African Americans and Native Americans whose lived experience often has not felt like winning a lottery.
Medved’s style of popular conservative history is in large measure defined by what he leaves out. The shameful, racist, violent aspects of the American narrative are swept away or excused. He gives little attention to the treatment of Native Americans, the crucial role slavery played in the country’s development, wars of imperial expansion and colonial acquisition, and the horrors and follies of the Vietnam and Iraq wars.
In his celebration of the glories of the Transcontinental Railroad, Medved makes little or no room for discussion of the exploitation of workers, unfair and criminal business practices, the destruction of wildlife and natural habitats, or discrimination against Chinese immigrants. Those, too, are essential parts of the story. The racist Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, which banned immigration of Chinese laborers, is not even mentioned. How should modern Americans read these episodes, which earlier Americans explained and justified in explicitly religious terms?
Read the entire review here.