Not everyone in my family is an avid reader. With only the exception of my youngest daughter, however, we are all avid readers of Yale’s Professor David Gelernter. In fact, each of us has at least one favorite book by him. For me, it’s 1939: The Lost World of the Fair. For my wife, it’s Drawing Life: Surviving the Unabomber. For my oldest daughter, it’s Drawing Life and The Muse in the Machine: Computerizing the Poetry of Human Thought. My second oldest daughter also has two favorites by him, Machine Beauty: Elegance and the Heart of Computing and Mirror Worlds.
As one can infer from the breadth and the depth of his interests, Professor Gelernter is something of a Renaissance man. Earlier this week John mentioned Professor Gelernter’s new book, Americanism: The Fourth Great Western Religion. The new book isn’t formally published until next week, but I invited Professor Gelernter to preview it for Power Line readers. Professor Gelernter graciously responded:
My book defines Americanism as a creed (liberty, equality and democracy for all mankind) in the context of “American Zionism” (which asserts that, having been blessed far beyond what it deserves, America has an obligation to promote this creed within in its borders and throughout the world). The book explains why the Bible and Christianity (especially the Old Testament and Puritan Christianity) were fundamental to the creation and shaping of Americanism.
It tries to explain why Americanism arouses such passionate love and hate–because it is no mere “civic religion”; it is a biblical religion in the Judeo-Christian tradition. (For Jews and Christians, Americanism is merely an extension of Judaism or Christianity–an application of old principles to new problems, in no sense a separate and competing religion. But many others, devout atheists included, have been passionate believers in Americanism too; for them it is a religion in its own right.)
Many secularists believe that this sort of talk is a form of intolerance or a call to theocracy. This is nonsense; they should give it up. Practicing Jews and Christians invented religious tolerance. (The great novelist Tolstoy wrote: “The Jew is the pioneer of liberty…. The Jew is the emblem of civil and religious toleration. `Love the stranger and the sojourner,’ Moses commands, `because you have been strangers in the land of Egypt.'”) And the Bible is firmly opposed to theocracy, and so are Judaism and Christianity–and Americanism.
When secularism merely seeks to sweep the public square free of religion, to drive it (like smoking) into places where the unwary are guaranteed not to stumble into it, it’s merely intolerant. But when it treats the creation of Americanism as a purely (or mainly) secular event, it warps the truth and seeks to replace history with propaganda. We ought not to let it succeed.
I believe that it’s an important book with an important message and that it warrants your attention.
JOHN demurs: I share Scott’s enthusiasm for Gelernter’s work and agree with all of the above, except that–as an intimate friend of all of the Johnsons, down to the youngest daughter–I simply deny that “Not everyone in [Scott’s] family is an avid reader.” “Avid” describes them all.
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