Tri-Faith Amer­i­ca: How Catholics and Jews Held Post­war Amer­i­ca to Its Protes­tant Promise

Kevin M. Schultz
  • Review
By – August 24, 2011
In 1942, Pres­i­dent Franklin Delano Roo­sevelt, in a pri­vate con­ver­sa­tion with two high-rank­ing mem­bers of his admin­is­tra­tion, one Catholic and one Jew, remind­ed them that the Unit­ed States is a Protes­tant coun­try” and added that Catholics and Jews are here under suf­fer­ance” and it was up to you” to go along with what I want.” This quote is tak­en from Tri-Faith Amer­i­ca: How Catholics and Jews Held Post­war Amer­i­ca to its Protes­tant Promise by Kevin M. Schultz. It is a vivid illus­tra­tion that Catholic and Jew­ish Amer­i­cans, even those at the very high­est lev­els, were not ful­ly accept­ed until the mid-20th cen­tu­ry. Through the voic­es of key polit­i­cal and reli­gious lead­ers, and inci­sive his­tor­i­cal analy­sis, Schultz takes the read­er on the path lead­ing to America’s increas­ing accep­tance of itself as a tri-faith” coun­try that ful­ly accepts the tra­di­tions of its Protes­tant, Catholic, and Jew­ish coun­try­men.

Accord­ing to Schultz, this tri-faith” plu­ral­ist per­spec­tive laid the foun­da­tion for the Civ­il Rights move­ment in the 1960’s and ush­ered in a pub­lic debate about the role of the state in adju­di­cat­ing reli­gious mat­ters. Jews, some Catholics, and lib­er­al Protes­tants began to pro­mote the idea that the sec­u­lar state was in the best inter­ests of the coun­try. The impor­tance of main­tain­ing a sec­u­lar state became a main­stream belief along with Amer­i­can accep­tance of group rights.”

The increas­ing rise of cul­tur­al plu­ral­ism and sec­u­lar­ism had unfore­seen con­se­quences. There was a decid­ed upsurge of con­ser­v­a­tive belief decry­ing the sec­u­lar­ism of the coun­try. In 1979, Rev­erend Jer­ry Fal­well co-found­ed the orga­ni­za­tion the Moral Major­i­ty,” intend­ed to serve as a plat­form for Amer­i­can con­ser­v­a­tives to enter pol­i­tics. A new schism, the lib­er­al-con­ser­v­a­tive divide,” was devel­op­ing. The pri­ma­ry reli­gious divi­sions were no longer between Protes­tants, Catholics, and Jews but between lib­er­als and con­ser­v­a­tives of all three faiths. This divide” con­tin­ues until this day.

The read­er who rel­ish­es a nuanced view of the forces that have shaped Amer­i­can his­to­ry and the Amer­i­can Jew­ish expe­ri­ence will find this book a delight. It is not an easy read but under­stand­ing the sub­tleties of social and cul­tur­al his­to­ry and events requires com­plex analy­sis. End­notes, index, pho­tos.

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Car­ol Poll, Ph.D., is the retired Chair of the Social Sci­ences Depart­ment and Pro­fes­sor of Soci­ol­o­gy at the Fash­ion Insti­tute of Tech­nol­o­gy of the State Uni­ver­si­ty of New York. Her areas of inter­est include the soci­ol­o­gy of race and eth­nic rela­tions, the soci­ol­o­gy of mar­riage, fam­i­ly and gen­der roles and the soci­ol­o­gy of Jews.

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