Religion's Influence on Diplomacy; Opinions about Faith-Based Morals Emerged as Soon as Washington Became President; NONFICTION - BOOKS

Article excerpt

Historians love to assert that their works shed light on matters previously uncovered. In this case author Andrew Preston pushes that envelope mighty far in "Sword of the Spirit, Shield of Faith."

He writes: "I discovered something very interesting: religious historians examined diplomacy just as infrequently and unsystematically as diplomatic historians examined religion."

That left a big gap in between, so "I set out to write a book that would answer my students' questions - and my own."

The result is this long book (more than 600 pages of text and almost 100 pages of notes) intended to remedy that oversight. Preston begins with the struggle between French Catholics and English Protestants to convert the "pagan" Amerindians to their brand of Christianity, and soldiers on to the Obama administration. And "soldier" is the apt word, for this is a book about war as well as diplomacy, with a bit of politics thrown in.

Of course, our nation was built from the start with a Bill of Rights that mandated a separation of church and state, but, as Preston points out, that meant that the state should not meddle with religion, not that religion should not influence the state. On the contrary, opinions about faith-based morals were highly present as soon as Washington became president. Jefferson, to be sure, was a deist, but even he and Madison could not ignore the strong religious currents that had existed before the Revolution (a sort of "liberation theology" conflict, the author insists) and continued thereafter - the specter of French revolutionary iconoclasm and federalist fury saw to that. From 1789 to now, the almost total belief in a supreme deity was the national standard. In times of stress, especially, the chief executive is expected to call upon our creator to inform our spirit and promote our cause. Lincoln was a particularly fervent proponent of that effort, although his declarations in that pursuit (most notably in his magnificent second inaugural address) were guarded and highly sophisticated. …