Americans have long imagined that their nation is good and has a profound role to play in the world. Such expressions as ""God Bless America,"" and ""One Nation under God"" reflect this popular view. In God and War, Raymond Haberski Jr. argues that unlike any previous period, the era since 1945 has seen the common moral assumptions guiding our nation-its civil religion-become increasingly defined by the nation's power and might.
Haberski traces the way three great postwar ""trials""-the Cold War, the Vietnam War, and the War on Terror-created a popular understanding of American moral authority that grew dangerously beholden to calls for martial sacrifice. During the early Cold War, faith in God and faith in nation combined to rally Americans against communism. The Vietnam War, rather ironically, both tested this faith as many Americans questioned the great sacrifices made in a war that nearly broke the nation's moral compass and inspired many religious groups to push for a civil religious awakening to save the soul of the nation. With the tenth anniversary of 9/11 behind us and the subsequent wars in Iraq and Afghanistan winding down, America now assesses whether there still exists a viable civil religion to unify its people and attract admirers abroad in the absence of military conflict.
Americans cannot assume that the nation stands for a fool proof transcendental concept. Haberski argues that politicians and preachers and theorists and theologians must revisit the idea of civil religion as a way to critique rather than affirm the nation's will to power and frequent resort to war.
RAYMOND HABERSKI JR. is an associate professor of history at Marian University. He is the author of several books, including It's Only a Movie: Films and Critics in American Culture, The Miracle Case: Film Censorship and the Supreme Court, and Freedom to Offend: How New York Remade Movie Culture.