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Head and Heart: A History of Christianity in America [Paperback]

By Garry Wills (Author)
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Item description for Head and Heart: A History of Christianity in America by Garry Wills...

A historical examination of what led to modern religious tensions addresses such topics as the Enlightenment era of the eighteenth century, the separation of church and state, and the free-market environment that has enabled religion to flourish.

Publishers Description
Gary Wills has won significant acclaim for his bestselling works of religion and history. Here, for the first time, he combines both disciplines in a sweeping examination of Christianity in America throughout the last 400 years. Wills argues that the struggle now?as throughout our nation's history?is between the head and the heart, reason and emotion, enlightenment and Evangelism. A landmark volume for anyone interested in either politics or religion, "Head and Heart" concludes that, while religion is a fertile and enduring force in American politics, the tension between the two is necessary, inevitable, and unending.

Citations And Professional Reviews
Head and Heart: A History of Christianity in America by Garry Wills has been reviewed by professional book reviewers and journalists at the following establishments -
  • New York Times Book Review - 11/02/2008 page 24

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Item Specifications...

Studio: Penguin (Non-Classics)
Pages   626
Est. Packaging Dimensions:   Length: 8.38" Width: 5.46" Height: 1.4"
Weight:   1.2 lbs.
Binding  Softcover
Release Date   Oct 1, 2008
Publisher   Penguin (Non-Classics)
Age  18
ISBN  0143114077  
ISBN13  9780143114079  

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More About Garry Wills

Register your artisan biography and upload your photo! Garry Wills is a historian and the author of the New York Times bestsellers What Jesus Meant, Papal Sin, Why I Am a Catholic, and Why Priests?, among others. A frequent contributor to the New York Review of Books and other publications, Wills is a Pulitzer Prize winner and a professor emeritus at Northwestern University. He lives in Evanston, Illinois.

Garry Wills was born in 1934 and has an academic affiliation as follows - Northwestern University.

Garry Wills has published or released items in the following series...
  1. Emblems of Antiquity
  2. Penguin Classics

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Product Categories

1Books > Subjects > History > Americas > United States > General
2Books > Subjects > Religion & Spirituality > Christianity > Church History > General

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Reviews - What do customers think about Head and Heart: A History of Christianity in America?

An outstanding and innovative survey of American religious history  Aug 5, 2009
Near the beginning of RENEGERATION THROUGH VIOLENCE: THE MYTHOLOGY OF THE AMERICA FRONTIER 1600-1860, the first volume of Richard Slotkin's monumental three-volume work, he writes of the paradox that America was founded by secular deists who envisioned a future America that embraced the principles of Jeffersonian democracy, but that instead within a few decades we had become a nation that rejected Jefferson's rationalism to embrace a distinctly emotional form of religion epitomized by Jacksonian democracy. I've yet to work through Slotkin's depiction of the shift, but there are obvious parallels with Wills's subject matter. As Wills points out, American religious history has consisted largely of a tension between religious traditions that are rational and those that are far more emotional. Our national religious history is that of the struggle between the head and heart.

There is a wealth of information in this book and although I've read fairly extensively on American religious history in the past I learned a great deal. Wills illumines nearly every religious epoch that he discusses, from the Puritans to the Enlightenment Deists who founded the country to the crucial figures of the Second Great Awakening to the Transcendentalists to the Civil War to the beginnings of the evangelical movement to the Social Gospel to today's religious right. My own position to all this is complex. While Wills is a Roman Catholic who seems, to my Protestant eyes, indistinguishable from any mainstream Protestant in his religious belief, I am a former Southern Baptist (I left the Convention when they started approving such absurdities as insisting that women be subservient to men) who still believes in traditional Baptist beliefs (including separation of Church and State, something that Baptists have traditionally been avid supporters of), though I also am leery of emotionalism in religion (I find it is generally effective for evangelists in the short run, but bad for churches in the long run). I'm a paradox, a member of a religious tradition that emphasizes the heart, while I personally see more value in a religion of the head, orthodox theologically but rational about my spirituality. But I suppose in a way that this typifies many of the tensions in American history.

I think this book will be of enormous help to anyone wanting to understand many of the stresses in American religious and political life. For instance, he helps us understand why evangelicals are today politically conservative, even though historically they were quite progressive. His sections on William Jennings Bryan are instructive, a political progressive, unquestionably one of the most left-leaning presidential candidates in history, yet remembered today as a right-winger due to his involvement in the Scopes trial.

In the short run I hope his book has some influence on the ongoing nonsense generated by many fundamentalists (including, alas, many of my former fellow Southern Baptists, who have been abandoning the central tenets of their tradition with something akin to savage glee in recent decades), namely that America was founded as a Christian nation. One even finds immensely intelligent people like the Canadian philosopher Charles Taylor stating that the Founders intended a larger role for religion than many now believe. This is just nonsense. It is blatant nonsense. While some states continued to establish religion for several decades following the ratification of the constitution, the intentions of the Founders -- especially Jefferson and Madison -- is crystal clear. One can only imagine them as believing that America was in any conceivable sense a Christian nation by completely ignoring their writings, which some unquestionably do. For instance, in the past year both a fellow Baptist and a Catholic have told me in conversations that talk of a wall separating church and state only arose in the 20th century (!). Of course, any student of the period knows that Jefferson, drawing on similar expressions by a number of 18th century writers, originated the phrase in his famous letter to the Baptist Church in Danbury. Wills takes on all the recent myths and counterfactual assertions that the founders intended America to be a Christian if nonsectarian nation and simply demolishes them. As both a deeply religious man and one of America's foremost constitutional historians he is uniquely qualified to undertake this task. My only quibble (and it is a minor one) is that he doesn't emphasize quite strongly enough (though he does bring it up briefly) what I have always considered to be the foremost proof that no one imagined that our constitution left any room for America as a Christian nation: the extremely widespread perception by clergy and laity in late 18th century America that the constitution was "godless." If, as many contemporary members of the Religious Right (as well as a few Catholics on the political right) fantasize, the Founders meant for America in some vague sense to be either a religious or Christian nation, why did no one at the time pick up on this? Instead, why did Madison, Jefferson, and even Adams defend the idea of a constitution that was steadfastly indifferent to religion? Why are there no contemporary accounts of ministers celebrating the establishment of religion by the Constitution? The answer is obvious: no one at the time had any such perception. And neither should anyone today at the beginning of the 21st century.

I do hope that we will be entering a new age in American religious history. I am a member of the political left because of my own reading of the New Testament as a teenager. You simply can't read the Sermon on the Mount or the Gospel of Luke and take them seriously and come away calloused toward the poor or oblivious to the sufferings of others. Yet evangelicals for the past few decades have done precisely that. Instead, they have been obsessed with a host of cultural issues that are contrary to the spirit of the New Testament. Just as Jesus spent all his time with social outcasts, I believe were he among us today he would spend all his time with the very groups that evangelicals seem most intent to criticize. He would still spend his time with the poor, but he would also be constantly among homosexuals. And I think he would outrage religious leaders by the same kind of tolerance he showed during his life (except his intolerance for the intolerant - the only group Jesus really didn't seem to like was religious zealots). I would like to see my fellow evangelicals become more concerned with helping the poor than condemning sexuality. And to finally get away from the abortion issue (which as Wills correctly points out was never referred to in the Bible - and contrary to what many suppose, there were abortive techniques at the time in addition to the infanticide that was also practiced - if abortion is the paramount religious issue that evangelicals bizarrely assume it to be, why was the widely practiced abortion and infanticide of the time never mentioned once?). There are signs already of political splits in the evangelical movement over the poor (why support the GOP and its outrageous economic policy of favoring the very rich, a political tenet that is as anti-Christian as it is possible to imagine) and the environment. I hope that this continues.

Finally, I would like to add that the book is, as is always the case with a book by Wills, exceptionally clear and very finely written. He is about as close as one can get in our time to being a polymath. If it is no longer possible to master every field of knowledge as was the case with Aristotle, Leibniz, and Goethe, Wills nonetheless manages to master a great many fields.
Wills' Thesis Questionable  Apr 20, 2009
Wills should not be attacking the Puritan heritage of America with such undifferentiated broad strokes and without providing the whole picture. He is disingenuous by not citing 1000+ years of Roman Catholic Christianity which is surely the Mother also of much of what he criticizes one-sidedly and anachronistically in Evangelical Christianity.

This is not to justify Puritan attitudes and actions. But, it also is not historically accurate to paint everybody and every colony with the same brush. Wills is especially egregious in implying that Puritan Christianity is an example of pre-Enlightenment religious intolerance remaining completely silent about Catholic Christianity, which was religiously intolerant first, and even counter-reformational (18).

Examples at the beginning of his thesis:
18 "But here we see the King championing tolerance and the colonists engaging in repression. . . . not an anomaly but part of a pattern, one to be found in New England's treatment not only of Quakers but of Presbyterians and Baptists, of Roger Williams and Anne Hutchinson . . . . If we are to trace the rise of Enlightened religion in America, we must see first what pre-Enlightenment religion looked like . . . ."

His dual implicit thesis is tainted from the start: (1) the Puritan founding fathers of our country were uniformly intolerant [and therefore much like today's Evangelicals]; (2) only religion informed by the Enlightenment is worthy to be called [and tolerated as] the true American religion.

21 "It would be a mistake to look for tolerance in seventeenth century New England. Toleration, when it did come, was forced on the Puritans from the very authorities they had fled." While the later may be true, it is only part of the story, and the first part is an outright attempt at dis/mis information. In fact, it is rebutted by the very tolerance of Rhode Island, as much a part of New England as Massachusetts, which he later cites (25).

37 "Protestants had rejected all of these ["Roman Catholic practices (which) supplied believers with many shields against devils and their evil powers--guardian angels, patron saints, exorcisms, sacramental confession, holy water, priestly blessings, crucifixes and other sacred images"] as superstitions, but had retained the dark magic they were meant to counter." "Retained" implies that they received a religious heritage from the Medieval Church and had not yet dropped all erroneous beliefs and practices; it may have been a tactical error on the part of the Reformation to suppress the practices without first dealing with the belief in magic because "dark magic" has a stronger hold than even long-held practices and talismans.

41 "Admittedly, all forms of Christianity were poisoned with anti-Semitism, and Protestant settlers brought that poison with them to America." Is it not egregiously written? It cannot be proven historically that the Reformation invented anti-Semitism and thus passed that horror on to the rest of Christianity, including Catholic. If this is indisputable, then, is it not disingenuous to not make it clear that it is part of the religious heritage passed on to Reformed churches from their Medieval forebearers? In other words: anti-Semitism, dark magic, and many other errors were part of the woof and warp of at least forty generations of Catholic Christianity, and part of the error against which the Reformers rebelled. That they did not see all the error, or at least assign all error the same priority, and that they were not able to eradicate all error from the people, does not negate its true roots in Mother Church. Wills is entirely silent on this point.

50ff Wills is disingenuous to cite only Catholic sources in criticizing the anti-papist sentiment of the Puritans.

This kind of one-sidedness is not up to scholarly standards, and so pronounced at the foundations of his thesis, that it can only reflect an agenda of dis/mis information, and so contaminates his whole thesis. It is a sham in the guise of an academic work. Mark Noll and others who supposedly reviewed have done almost as much a disservice to the American public as has Wills.

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