Book Review – The American Bible

By: Terresa Monroe-Hamilton

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Already this election season is one of the most brutal on record that I can remember. One thing is for sure, there will never be a true meeting of the minds between Constitutional Conservatives and Progressives. No way, no how.

In Steven Prothero’s new book: The American Bible – How Our Words Unite, Divide, And Define A Nation, he makes that point eloquently. America is not a country of conformists or at least, it shouldn’t be. We are mavericks and our discourse is impassioned and heated at times. This is the true American spirit of debate. It should not be about parties and partisan politics, but ideals: right and wrong, good and evil.

Prothero puts forth that we thrive as Americans when we argue in a vigorous, but civil way about the core ideas we share. You do not win hearts, souls and minds by fire and brimstone preaching but by reasoned debate. We learn and come to conclusions by sparring over ideals and premises and by reaching those sought for conclusions through a series of logical battles. His book covers the writings and teachings of our founding fathers and leaders composing The American Bible of our core beliefs. It’s an incredible piece of workmanship and a stunning book. If you care to learn about American values, this is THE book for you – an absolute must have and should be on every Conservative’s bookshelf. In it you will find American scripture so-to-speak: the hallowed documents of our country’s history, speeches, literature, song and letters. Prothero looks at the words that make up these items that form the beating heart of the greatest nation on earth. He brings civil debate back into the political discourse of our time and shows the true depth of the American spirit.

The book is organized as a bible would be and it is a brilliant collaboration of all that is comprised in the lineage of the ‘shining city on the hill.’

  • Genesis
    The Exodus Story
    John Winthrop, “A Model of Christian Charity (1630)
    Thomas Paine, Common Sense (1776)
    The Declaration of Independence (1776)
    Noah Webster, The Blue-Back Speller (1783-)
  • Law
    The Constitution (1787)
    Brown v. Board of Education (1954)
    Roe v. Wade (1973)
  • Chronicles
    Harriet Beecher Stowe, Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1852)
    Mark Twain, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884)
    Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged (1957)
  • Psalms
    Francis Scott Key, “The Star-Spangled Banner” (1814)
    Irving Berlin, “God Bless America” (1938)
    Woody Guthrie, “This Land Is Your Land” (1940)
  • Proverbs
    Benjamin Franklin, “Remember that time is money” (1748)
    Benjamin Franklin, “God helps those who help themselves” (1758)
    Patrick Henry, “Give me liberty or give me death” (1775)
    Abigail Adams, “Remember the ladies” (1776)
    Sojourner Truth, “Ain’t I a woman?” (1851)
    Abraham Lincoln, “With malice toward none, with charity for all” (1865)
    Chief Joseph, “I will fight no more forever” (1877)
    Calvin Coolidge, ” The business of America is business” (1925)
    Franklin Delano Roosevelt, “I pledge you, I pledge myself, to a new deal for the American people” (1932)
    John F. Kennedy, “Ask not what your country can do for you – ask what you can do for your country” (1961)
    Ronald Reagan, “Evil empire” (1983)
  • Prophets
    Henry David Thoreau, “Civil Disobedience” (1849)
    Dwight Eisenhower, Farwell Address (1961)
    Marin Luther King Jr., “I Have a Dream” (1963)
    Malcolm X, The Autobiography of Malcolm X (1965)
  • Lamentations
    Abraham Lincoln, Gettysburg Address (1863)
    Maya Lin, Vietnam Veterans Memorial (1982)
  • Gospels
    Thomas Jefferson, First Inaugural Adress (1801)
    Franklin Delano Roosevelt, First Inaugural Address (1933)
    Ronald Reagan, “The Speech” (1964)
  • Acts
    The Pledge of Allegiance (1892, 1954)
  • Epistles
    George Washington, Farewell Address (1796)
    Thomas Jefferson, “Letter to the Danbury Baptists” (1802)
    Martin Luther King, Jr., “Letter from Birmingham Jail” (1963)

Not all of the above names are heroes of mine, but I choose to take the good and the worthy from them and adhere to the best of what those who came before put forth. That is survival – that is the American lesson. You can voice dissent with our leaders of the past or heatedly espouse with conviction the ideals that they stood for. But one thing we must do is learn from our history – study it and pass it on. Because if we don’t learn from it, we are doomed to repeat the mistakes others have thrust upon us generation to generation. That leads to slavery and death, not freedom and enlightenment.

From The American Bible:

WORDS MATTER. They move individuals to tears and to action. They make or break communities. In Israel and the Palestinian territories, India and Pakistan, Great Britain and the United States, words tie people together and tear them apart. Socrates lives because of Plato’s dialogues. The world remembers Jesus because of the words of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. And what Americans recall of Paul Revere we owe to the poetry of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.

In his Gettysburg Address, probably the greatest American speech ever, President Lincoln said, “The world will little note nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here.” He was wrong. Americans have largely forgotten what Union and Confederate soldiers did at Gettysburg during three bloody days in July 1863, but we have not forgotten Lincoln’s words, which continue to be quoted and misquoted, interpreted and misinterpreted for all sorts of purposes. In the few minutes Lincoln spoke at Gettysburg, he explained why the Civil War was being waged, why the Union was worth preserving, and why the United States was founded. His words—“conceived in liberty … dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal … a new birth of freedom”—are now part of our lexicon. They live not because Americans agree with everything Lincoln said, but because they agree that everything he said is worth debating. What does it mean to affirm “government of the people, by the people, for the people”? It depends on whom you ask. And if you ask enough Americans you will see that the nation rests not on agreement about its core ideas and values, but on a willingness to continue to debate them. …

Americans agree to a surprising degree about which symbols and ideas are central to our national life, but we disagree profoundly about what these symbols and ideas mean and how they ought to be translated into public policies. …

The American Bible is a record of this ongoing conversation. It presents the books held sacred by the American people—the core texts to which Americans are forever returning as they reflect on what it means to be an American. … The American Bible also includes commentaries on these core texts—interpretations that keep America’s scriptures vibrant by applying their time-tested truths to contemporary circumstances.

The book is a treasure and I firmly believe that it is a text you should give your children and grandchildren. It contains something more precious than gold – our heritage of freedom and independence. It is what sets us apart from Europe and other countries. Our individualism and the strength of character to debate and disagree with one another, but allow others to have their own ideas, beliefs and convictions is what truly sets Americans apart. The American Bible as written by Stephen Prothero is truly the American legacy.

2 thoughts on “Book Review – The American Bible

  1. You’ve left me speechless. “Our individualism and the strength of character to debate and disagree with one another, but allow others to have their own idea, beliefs and convictions is what truly sets Americans apart.”

    As we continue to debate, we continue to make this country a better place. I firmly believe that.

    Thanks for being on the tour!

  2. Pingback: Stephen Prothero, author of The American Bible, on tour June/July 2012 | TLC Book Tours

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