December 1, 2005

Bill Press: How the Republicans Stole Christmas

Filed under: Random Stuff — Bob Gifford @ 8:02 am

In Our Endangered Values, Jimmy Carter writes the way he speaks: in a calm, measured tone, building his case against Bush and the Republicans brick by brick without ever raising his voice. This style makes Carter’s criticisms all the more compelling. In How the Republicans Stole Christmas, Bill Press also writes the way he speaks, and his tone is anything but measured and calm. You can hear him raising his voice, sighing and shaking his head on every page, but without ever being shrill. Press’s style is as effective for Press as Carter’s is for Carter, but fasten your seat belts! For example, when talking about Bob Jones’s letter to Bush after his “election” to the presidency in 2000, Press says:

I don’t know about you, but that letter ticks me off. I’m a liberal. I’m a Christian. I didn’t vote for George W. Bush. How dare that small-time college president—who got his job only because he inherited it—tell me I despise Jesus Christ? From what I read in his letter, he wouldn’t know Jesus Christ if he fell over Him.


Press’s credibility comes from his ten years in Catholic seminary, as well as his career in politics and as a political commentator on cable news. Like Jim Wallis and Jimmy Carter, there is no question regarding the sincerity of his Christian faith, nor how it determines his politics.

Press is strongest in his critique of the breaching of the separation between church and state. He describes the argument made by David Barton, author of The Myth of Separation, that the Founding Fathers were devout Christians who founded the U.S. as a Christian nation based on the Ten Commandments. Press tells us that, in fact, George Washington was a Mason and a deist, Thomas Jefferson created his own version of the Gospels with every reference to the divinity of Jesus removed, James Madison personally made sure God was not mentioned anywhere in the Constitution, and Ben Franklin was a freethinking philanderer. Hardly the kind of people to found a “Christian nation”! He summarizes:

So, if we are not a Christian nation, what are we?

[…]

We are a secular nation, with no official stamp of religion. But that does not mean we are a nation without values. Just the opposite. We are a nation and a people of deep moral values—beginning with the right to be free—but those values are rooted in the intrinsic rights of each individual, and not in some prescribed official religion.

At the same time we are also the most religious nation on earth…

But here’s what should also be obvious: the fact that we are at once the most free and most religious nation on earth didn’t just happen by accident. Nor did it happen because we are God’s chosen people or because he loves us more than citizens of any other country on earth.

The greatness of America happened precisely because our Founding Fathers had the wisdom, foresight, vision, and courage to make us different: to make the United States the first nation on earth with a clear line of demarcation between religion and the state.

[…]

The First Amendment–the separation of church and state–is what makes this country the great country it is. We would be fools to change it.

Press moves on to territory covered by others, such as the Iraq War, the death penalty, abortion, stem cell research, gay rights, intelligent design and the gap between rich and poor. He is never repetitive, though, approaching each of these topics with his own fresh marshalling of facts and logic in his rapid-fire debate-team style.

I have to admit that I had low expectations from Press in How the Republicans Stole Christmas. Having read Wallis’s God’s Politics and Carter’s Endangered Values, I thought it was too much to expect Press to rise to their level. I am happy to say that he has. These three books are a trilogy of manifestos for the Christian left. Each has its own point-of-view: Wallis the Activist, Carter the Statesman, and Press the Debater. Each contributes something unique, but there is a striking consensus across the three regarding the policies and positions demanded of us by the Prince of Peace. They have clearly staked out a mainstream Christianity that is politically left-of-center, and the nation’s political conversation will never be the same.

9 Comments

  1. I haven’t read Press’ book. Wallis’ was long and wordy. I read parts. Carter’s book is brief and reads quickly. You’re absolutely right about his tone. I almost wept a few times. I love that man.

    Comment by wildwest — December 1, 2005 @ 9:07 am

  2. Perceptive review, Bob… and very well written!

    Comment by Tony — December 1, 2005 @ 12:12 pm

  3. I haven’t read Press’ book either, Bob. I can’t say that I disagree with anything in
    particular that you quoted in your blog entry. I think we’d be fools to change what has
    been traditional and historic America too. 🙂 Separation of Church and State is meant
    to protect the State AND the Church, how could not allowing the State to interfere in Church
    affairs or vice versa be any different now than it has always been since the beginning?
    Why was the 10 Commandmants hanging in a courtroom or In God We Trust inscribed on our
    money and on public buildings historically and traditionally fine but currently is causing
    controversy? Like I said I agree with his statement:

    “The First Amendment–the separation of church and state–is what makes this country the great country it is. We would be fools to change it.”

    Comment by Jacke — December 1, 2005 @ 5:13 pm

  4. That WAS a very well written review, btw.

    Comment by Jacke — December 1, 2005 @ 5:15 pm

  5. Whaddya know, Jacke? I agree with you again. Better be careful.

    Comment by wildwest — December 2, 2005 @ 6:29 am

  6. Ewwwww, pffftttt, pffftttt, did I get the cooties off? :0

    Comment by Jacke — December 2, 2005 @ 7:24 pm

  7. I think you’re clear, now.

    Comment by wildwest — December 3, 2005 @ 8:53 am

  8. We named our third child after Carter. Oh to have someone like him back in the White House!

    Comment by Public Theologian — December 3, 2005 @ 3:59 pm

  9. The two best votes I ever registered were the two times I proudly voted for Jimmy Carter for President.

    Comment by Toes — December 16, 2005 @ 4:07 pm

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