Stephen Prothero is a professor of religion at Boston University and senior fellow at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History in Washington D.C. In addition, he blogs for CNN’s Belief Blog and writes for the New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Newsweek, USA Today and The Washington Post. He is also the author of several books. His most recent one is The American Bible: How Our Words Unite, Divide and Define A Nation.
As a historian, Prothero has spent a lot of time examining whether we in the United States have a common creed. And if we do, whether it comes from revered texts such as the Bible, the U.S. Constitution, the Declaration of Independence or perhaps the opinions of the founding fathers and other statesmen through the ages.
Prothero’s conclusion is that throughout history, there is no evidence of a common creed. But what holds us together is conversation and argument about what our common creed is and about the texts we hold sacred. “That conversation, that argument is the ritual of our republic,” he says. “And what worries me is that we’ve forgotten how to do that thing that holds us together. I don’t think we need a common creed; what we need is a manner of talking about disagreeing about those things we hold dear.”
Prothero suggests that we need to look into history to resurrect the tradition of conciliation. There are numerous examples of statesmen who have cautioned against thinking of oneself as a member of a region or a political party, but instead, a member of the United States. George Washington said we should put the U.S. above our political parties. John F. Kennedy maintained that civility is not a sign of weakness. In his 2004 speech at the Democratic National Convention, Barack Obama cautioned against thinking about being a member of a red state or a blue state, but instead, a member of the U.S. After the Gore vs Bush decision, George W. Bush encouraged the parties to come together.
“We have a great tradition of conciliation to draw on,” says Prothero, “not just today’s secular left or religious right.”
Prothero was in St. Louis to speak at Ladue Chapel’s Lee Institute Speakers Series on the topic Our Uncommon Creed: Reflections on the World’s Religions and American Politics. He was Don Marsh’s guest on St. Louis on the Air to discuss the issue of a common creed as well as what we can take from revered texts such as the Bible and Constitution.
Ladue Chapel's Lee Institute Presents Stephen Prothero
Monday, April 15, 2013
Ladue Chapel Presbyterian Church, 9450 Clayton Road
Ladue Chapel Website