Kevin M. Kruse, “One Nation Under God: How Corporate America Invented Christian America.” Basic Books, a member of the Perseus Books Group. www.perseusbooks.com.
A professor of history and a member of the executive committee of the Center for the Study of Religion at Princeton University, Kevin Kruse earned his bachelor’s in history in 1994 from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and his doctorate in 2000 from Cornell. Though the focus of his latest book begins about 80 years ago, with businessmen joining religious activists to oppose the New Deal, Kruse has personally witnessed a prime example of how religious language becomes embedded in American culture.
Kruse recalls when going to a baseball game meant singing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” in the middle of the seventh inning. But since 9/11 fans are now treated to “God Bless America,” complete with a “please rise and remove your caps.” That observance at Yankee Stadium, shortly after the attacks on the World Trade Center, launched a new tradition across the Major Leagues that isn’t going away.
“Once a tradition gets started, you can’t undo it,” Kruse says. “It becomes sanctified.”
Of course, it also takes some energy to maintain such a tradition. In his book Kruse recounts the religious revival-like atmosphere of the Eisenhower presidency of the 1950s. It was at that time that Congress added the phrase “under God” to the Pledge of Allegiance and made “In God We Trust” the country’s first official motto. It was also when Eisenhower decreed that the cabinet meetings should begin with a prayer.
As Kruse recounts in his book, “It took some time before this innovation became a natural habit. His secretary recalled Eisenhower emerging from a cabinet session only to exclaim: ‘Jesus Christ, we forgot the prayer!’”