Introduction by Derrick Peterson
"America has never produced an interesting atheist," Stanley Hauerwas once quipped. Not being a man satisfied with angering one side of a debate when more fun could be had angering two, he continues by adding that no interesting atheist has emerged "because America has never had an interesting enough God to deny."
President Dwight D. Eisenhower of course infamously noted at his address to the Freedom Foundation in 1952 "Our form of government has no form of sense unless it is founded in a deeply felt religious faith -- and I don't care what it is." This was two years before "One nation, under God" was added to the Pledge of Allegiance, as urged by Eisenhower himself. But which God? What is his (her?) Name? One might suspect that as in his earlier address the answer might be "I don't care" perhaps with the addition "as long as it keeps the communists at bay, and big business booming."
Like Paul wandering through the Areopagus in Acts 17 and noticing an altar designated "To The Unknown God," one might say the American way of life for good or ill is in many ways one giant, complex monument to much the same. One can certainly point to many aspects of the specifically Christian heritage of America, and yet the suspicion lingers that to make these strands identical with the notion of "one nation under God" is more of a parlor trick than a specific reality. We fill the Nameless with our names, and they parade in cycles before an empty throne.
Kendall Soulen argues that the Named God of Judeo-Christian scripture can be helpfully contrasted to the god of the pagan states of Rome (and America?) precisely because YHWH does not share His Name. As such, this Named God helps resist commodification as His identity cannot be traded, is no cipher, and cannot be filled with alternative content of the logic of the market or the empire.
Interested in a subscription to Cultural Encounters? Email email@example.com for more information!