We are a commune of inquiring, skeptical, politically centrist, capitalist, anglophile, traditionalist New England Yankee humans, humanoids, and animals with many interests beyond and above politics. Each of us has had a high-school education (or GED), but all had ADD so didn't pay attention very well, especially the dogs. Each one of us does "try my best to be just like I am," and none of us enjoys working for others, including for Maggie, from whom we receive neither a nickel nor a dime. Freedom from nags, cranks, government, do-gooders, control-freaks and idiots is all that we ask for.
The most interesting book I've read this year - George Marsden's recent biography of Jonathan Edwards. I am about halfway through it, but find it difficult to put down. (It won the Bancroft Prize.)
Marsden weaves late colonial history, theology, Edward's complex life (his struggles with faith, struggles with temptation, struggles with character flaws, his depressions, his never-resting intelligence), and the daily life of the times into a darn good tale. And Marsden does know his theology.
Connecticut's Edwards (1703-1758) is one of the most compelling and important figures in American history - probably more important than the Founding Fathers: he helped lay the cultural foundation on which the national institutions were constructed. I see him as the evolutionary link between the Puritan Pilgrims and the world of the Founders. His view of the world was far better known in the colonies in 1776 than were the works of John Locke - or of anyone else: sermons were best-sellers in those days. Isolated: not really.
Did Edwards read Locke? You bet. Locke was his great inspiration (except for scripture), at Yale (then a divinity school). Newton and Rousseau too: these New Englanders were plugged into the latest European thinking.
His life and preaching remain a part of America's national DNA. As theologian, theological logician, preacher, and the preeminant evangelist of the Great Awakening, he has been and remains the dominant figure in the history of American religious life - and a major international figure, too, because of his role in the worldwide movement that puritan Reform (Calvinism) represented.
So he is well worth reading about.
From the Booklist review:
In the first full critical biography of Edwards in 60 years, a distinguished Notre Dame scholar humanizes America's greatest colonial clergyman, a man highly esteemed in his own time but since singled out for decades of abuse by Puritan-bashers. To be sure, Edwards' brimstone pulpit rhetoric (most famously deployed in his 1741 sermon "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God") offends modern sensibilities. But Marsden--drawing heavily on recent scholarship--restores Edwards to an eighteenth-century New England where most shared his doctrines, though few could rival him in the power with which he preached them. Exceptional insight shines through a felicitous style as Marsden recounts how Edwards acquired that power, the intellectual rigor of his Yale studies gradually lending force to his intense spiritual vision. His rare gifts enabled Edwards to kindle the Great Awakening, emblazoning his name on the pages of American history.
A quote from Marsden's excellent Introduction:
Historians of the United States have been prone to give much more attention to Benjamin Franklin than to Edwards as a progenitor of modern America. That is understandable because Franklin seems so congenially to represent tendencies that triumph in mainstream American life and politics. Yet a good case can be made that stories of America are deficient if they do not at least temper emphasis on the Franklins of the heritage with a serious reckoning with its Edwardses. Most strikingly, the modern narratives fail to account for why levels of religious practice came to be so much higher in the United States than in other modernized nations. They also do little to explain why evangelical Christianity flourished in America and why its revivalist style became one of America's leading exports.