The Man in the Street: The Impact of American Public Opinion on Foreign Policy

By Thomas A. Bailey | Go to book overview

CHAPTER SEVENTEEN
THE ROLE OF RELIGION
"Render to Cæsar the things that are Cæsar's, and to God the things that are God's."-- MARK 12:17

1

RELIGION has always played a profoundly important part in American life. Our devotion to things of the spirit has become less intense over the years, and even though many of us are only Easter Day churchgoers, about three fourths of us belong to some denomination. Franklin Roosevelt included freedom of religion among his famed four freedoms, and in October, 1941, when seeking to arouse our people to the Nazi peril, he referred with sure instinct to a secret document which revealed that Hitler planned "to abolish existing religions."

If religion is important to us, and if foreign policy is also important to us, each is bound to have some influence on the other, for the two cannot be compartmented in our thinking. This has been true from the earliest days of the Republic. The irreligion of the French Revolution, with its obeisance to the Goddess of Reason, scandalized devout American Christians, especially those of the pro-British Federalist party, and they sought to orient our foreign policy behind the British and against the atheistical French.

A solicitor for missionary funds once asked the irascible Horace Greeley for a contribution to save millions of his "fellow creatures from going to hell." His memorable snort was: "I won't give you a damned cent. There don't half enough of them go there now." Yet this irreverent reply was not representative of our better self. The American people, with more than ordinary reforming zeal, have long interested themselves in salvation abroad. For well over a century the activities of the church in foreign fields have been of vital importance in partially offsetting our isolationist introspection, and consequently in altering the course of American diplomatic history. A few noteworthy examples will illustrate the point.

In 1820 the first contingent of New England missionaries arrived in the Polynesian paradise of Hawaii. They saved the souls of the natives from perdition by teaching them the Christian faith, and their loins from shame by clothing them with calico, which incidentally benefited the New England textile factories. Some cynic has remarked that the missionaries went out to Hawaii to do good--and did well. There is a measure of truth in this witticism, but it would be fairer to say that their sons did well. In any event the missionary enterprise flourished, aroused much interest in the Sandwich Islands ( Hawaii) at home, and played a vital part in the Americanization of the archipelago. This in turn meant that eventual annexation was facili-

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