Reviewing The Bible in American Law and Politics, a new 700-page reference work on the subject, Daniel Dreisbach asks a straightforward question: “Why has so little scholarship focused specifically on the Bible’s influence on American politics and law?”
The Bible, after all, was the most venerated, authoritative, and accessible book for much of American history; and few observers would deny its prodigious influence more generally on the nation’s life and culture.
The biblical illiteracy of our age may explain the failure of some scholars to recognize its presence in public life. Also, scholars trained in the modern academy with its emphasis on the strictly rational and the secular may discount biblical themes because they find them less noteworthy or sophisticated than other intellectual contributions. There may even be a discomfort with or, perhaps, hostility toward explicitly religious material and themes. Some commentators object to the mere acknowledgment of biblical influences on civic life, viewing it as a betrayal of a commitment to church-state separation. Some fear that acknowledging biblical influences will fortify the alleged theocratic impulses of some 21st-century citizens.
Some commentators find a focus on God, religion, and the Bible divisive or even offensive 21st-century, secular sensibilities. In an admonition seldom mentioned in the scholarly literature, for example, George Washington warned in his Farewell Address (1796) that one who labors to subvert a public role for religion and morality cannot claim the mantle of patriotism. Such rhetoric, unexceptional in its time, is discordant with the secular ethos of our time.