With (And Without) God on Our Side: Religion in American War and Foreign Policy
IN THE FOURTH century, the Roman emperor Constantine laid the foundations for a remarkably durable venture. This was the spread of Christian empire. Constantine’s own empire would divide into Eastern and Western halves, from which multiple Christian empires emerged. One was Byzantium, and another was the Holy Roman Empire. Later European empires were legion: the Spanish, the Portuguese, the French, the Russian, the Austro-Hungarian, and the British empire, with its many claims on modern geopolitics. “Christianity is an inherently expansive faith,” Andrew Preston writes, and this faith has often accompanied imperial expansion. Church and empire were inclined to march together. Or so it must have seemed in Europe until World War I—“Christendom’s ultimate civil war,” in Preston’s words.
All the great Christian empires are now dead. France, Spain, Portugal, Austria, Russia, and Britain are no longer empires, and these diminished modern states currently do little to align their foreign policy with Christian causes. If the European Union is a federation of states, and one to which only Christians need apply, it is no empire, and its official language is studiously un-Christian.
Preston’s new book on religion and foreign policy is not about Europe. It is about America and Americans. In over six hundred pages, Preston charts the scope and the centrality of religion in American politics, from the seventeenth century to the present. This book merges American history with the history of Christianity, and in doing so it qualifies the story of Christian empire. Unlike the Christian empires of the past, America has never had an established church. Nor did the American Revolution result in empire. The animating spirit behind much of Preston’s narrative is Christian republicanism, and no Christian republic has ever had the territory or the influence or the power that the United States would come to possess.