Steven Waldman

Steven Waldman

John Adams: God Damn America

As we mull Jeremiah Wright’s “God Damn America” theory, it’s worth remembering that in an earlier era, politicians routinely talked in these terms. During the revolutionary era, there was an assumption that God was paying attention and, thanks to the nobility of our cause, intervening on the side of the Americans. But when things were not going well, speculation would bubble up that perhaps God was damning America because of our bad behavior.
At some points during the war, John Adams feared that the cause would fail because he saw too much greed and commercialism in the colonies. “I have seen all my life such selfishness and littleness even in New England, that I sometimes tremble to think that, although we are engaged in the best cause that ever employed the human heart, yet the prospect of success is doubtful not for want of power or wisdom but of virtue.” During the revolution, Adams – evoking the manner of his Puritan ancestors – told his friend Benjamin Rush that the colonials would only have a chance of winning, “if we fear God and repent our sins.” He even speculated that God might intend for America to be defeated so that its “vicious and luxurious and effeminate appetites, passion and habits” would be cleansed, laying the foundation for a more-deserved victory in the future. Adams wasn’t alone in seeing the events on the ground as a reflection – positive and negative – of God’s assessment. One minister ascribed the Continental Army’s difficulties to the presence of slavery. Noting the brutal winter, the poor crops, the loss of cattle, and the seemingly imminent collapse of the army, a Quaker farmer speculated that it was part of a divinely-ordained set of plagues. When on July 20, 1775 the Continental Congress called for a day of prayer, it was accompanied by a call for fasting, self-reflection and a unified effort to “unfeignedly confess and deplore our many sins.”

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posted March 20, 2008 at 6:04 pm

The thing about the “God damn America” thing that really, really angers me is, he wasn’t saying “America is sinful, so God WILL damn it;” this is the kind of thing Falwell and others have already done (with much less understanding from liberals). What makes me mad about Wright was that he said, in effect, “I WANT God to damn America.”
When Adams suggested that America’s sinfulness may doom it, he was hoping for a change, and that people should be praying that God will bless us, hoping for His Mercy. This is not what I think Wright is saying at all. From the way he said it, it sounds like he WANTS God to curse America. This is, in effect, what Fred Phelps does, except that Rev. Wright does it from a more PC position.
God bless.

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John Lauria

posted March 20, 2008 at 6:41 pm

I have been a christian my whole life I am sixty years young.Whether God blesses us or dams us for our good points and are bad points it only someones opinion. whateveris going to happen not only in America but the whole world as well is all part of God’s plan.One thing we all need to do is realize that why we are here is to love each other and respect each others differences and learn from each other.God Bless.Everytime one person persues peace we are that much closer to the reality.

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Reaganite in NYC

posted March 21, 2008 at 1:41 am

Steven, I was disappointed by the headline, “John Adams: God Damn America.” It may have served to draw attention. But it was a cheap shot.
Judging by the quotes you provided, our 2nd President never said, “God damn America.” What he did say (as quoted in your post) was radically different from the meaning, tone and purpose of Wright’s rants. Mentioning the two in the same sentence let alone in the same post is an insult to the memory of Adams and it is beneath you.
By the way, your “Founding Faith” archive is great. I recommended it just yesterday to a friend who teaches at the college level — both for her and her students.

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Today's child

posted March 21, 2008 at 9:00 am

When you look at the Gomorrah-like morality of the new englanders, it should come as no surprise that “damn” should be an applicable word.

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Old Testaament Style

posted March 21, 2008 at 3:14 pm

I’m sick of the blatant misrepresentations of Wright’s sermon. Mr. Waldman, your column here puts Wright’s comments in the context to which they belong.
Anyone who thinks Wright WASN’T speaking in the same vein as Adams didn’t listen to his whole sermon.
That would include most people.

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posted March 22, 2008 at 1:22 am

Wright was crying about a nation that is great,but sin has taken it’s toll. Greed ,murder,false politic,hatred,unfairness,glass ceilings,the good ole boy club etc. All of these evils has overtaken the moral of a bless nation. America no longer fear God or love their fellow man. The news media feed on hatred. Race baiting has become the talk show mantra. Obam cry for America to unify,and talk about their differences are the only time a Presidential candidate will ask for this. This should good time for christians to share the love,and of Christ doing these discussions. Christian are wasting to much time acting like right wing sinners. Get up! and fulfill the Great Commission.

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Umm, a question...

posted March 23, 2008 at 12:18 pm

If it were not for Fox News, Wright’s hatred of all things white wouldn’t have gotten so much as a peep from the news media in general. Wright preaches Kwanzaa. Kwanzaa has nothing to do with the Gospel. Kwanzaa was invented by a racist that hated white people. Do the necessary study to find out for yourself.

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Claude Posella

posted March 23, 2008 at 3:19 pm

Steven, i already mentioned your Founding Faith archive is excellent.
This is certainly making me dwell exactly why you wrote the above blog.
I am not that familiar with your writings, yet. However, if you intended any simile between Adams exhortation and the race-baiting of
Rev. Wright you seem to have missed his political/economic philosophy.
I believe it is referred to as ‘Black Seperatism’-that type of ideology
practiced by Rev. Faracan[?]-American Nation of Islam. Seperate and apart/damn the white man and his devious ways. Fortunatly, this dogma
has never worked in this country. And for the Grace of God will never
in the centuries to come.
If you ared perhaps playing a type of devils role advocate in this issue its inappropiate. This issue has to be taken seriously and not
made jest of and/or reduced to such simplistic theories such as yours.
You do indeed display a ‘screwball’ apologetic attitude. I just do not
know where the hell your coming from. AND i personally do not care for
If you are as ‘youthful’ as your current blog pic shows this might
explain some generational differences-ie, your academic higher education.
Yes, my friend, whatever college/U you had attended indoctrinated you
whether it be a secular/religious, conservative/liberal campus-you are
a product of the input fed to you. Call me a foolish and stupid old
man who had to spoon feed himself his own academic nutrition because
i attended a music school which lacked depth in the humanities. But
these socio/economic/cultural aspects of higher education have prevailed since the ‘Academy’ of Plato up to and beyond the establioshment of William&Mary College. There is a bias in education
K-9 thru postgraduate work. It is up to the young mind to be able to
descriminate. But, i rant on about everything except your blog. Please
try and dwell on your topic more thoroughly-and perhaps amend some
parts of the blog. I feel you did not take enough time formulating
your ideas in a coherrent fashion. Rather, matter of factly. That
attitude should not be taken in dealing with this type of rhetoric
coming from the “pulpit”.
Yes, steven, i did read the entire transcript of Wright’s monologue.
Much of it is defenseable. In the context it was delivered in it was
divesif. It was reminescent of the speech i heard given by Farachan
in L.A., CA some 20 yrs ago.
Bottom line stephen-Wrights commentary on the American Republic really
does not mean sh*t. However, the man who wants Americas top CEO
positiion should not be sitting his butt on those pews listening to
it-that initself is a action of affirmation.
I was well aware about all this many months ago while the mainstream
press sought to ignore it[by design or otherwise is a serious problem
itself]. The fact that Hannity & O’Reaily are pounding away at this
only goes to show the deep anger that still/and always will address
the subject of the Black Mans role in American culture.
You are a good writer. You have a facile mind. Please give more thought
to your more important topical blogs/essays.
Claude Posella []

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Beverly Meredith

posted March 23, 2008 at 7:53 pm

Hi Stephen,
Pastor Wright’s comments disturbed me, but I try to imagine where the anger came from. I don’t think most people, including myself (I’m white) can understand the complexity of feelings of many black Americans toward this country. If my family were forced to come to this country to create wealth for white plantation owners, and only got full civil rights in the sixties, I would have some anger too. I think you can be patriotic and love this country without having blinders on in terms of where problems like racism still exist.
I liked Obama’s response in Philadelphia. It was honest and actually addressed in a compassionate way the divide between people that are hurting, black or white.
I am reading your book “Founding Faith” and love it. Thank you for a great read.

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posted March 24, 2008 at 1:11 am

Thank you, Mr. Waldman.
We need not get angry with Dr. Wright, and if we should, why not sit quietly and read Joel, Amos, Haggai, Jeremiah, Hosea, Obadiah, Micah, etc.,in the Bible. We can learn a lot. God had and still has a lot to say to a nation of people who have turned their backs on His word and His instructions on how we treat Him and each other. We need not judge, but sit and reason with each other. Maybe it is time for us to sit and have our conversations on race in our country, and how we can really solve some of our problems. We do not need to shout at each other, or even agree, but sit and realize that we have one life on this earth to live with each other. Make it a life that will count towards making peace with each other. Would it hurt anything? I really feel that it would actually help us as a nation.
Let us show a little more love toward each other.

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W. R. Everdell

posted April 13, 2008 at 12:36 pm

It’s a pleasure to read Mr. Waldman on the religious beliefs of the Founders because he really has the historical background firmly grasped, something which too many who argue these matters are too present-minded to do. A review of “Founding Faith” by Brookhiser in today’s NY Times Book Review gives him all due credit for this.
As for John Adams, who co-stars in a chapter of my own book (“The End of Kings” 2000), I think the best word both for him and for the Jefferson (with whom Adams famously corresponded on the big issues in the later years of their lives) is “anticlerical.” It’s used more for European history than American, but its meaning is clear: an anticlerical is someone who may have well-defined religious beliefs and even a willingness to indulge religious zeal (“enthusiasm” was the 18th-century term), but who is preemptively mistrustful of all clergy, whatever their denomination.
In 1765 Adams wrote the following about his ancestors the Puritans, who had executed King Charles I in 1649 and established parliamentary sovereignty in England. I think it sounds a lot like Obama condemning Wright while indulging his zeal:
“Religious to some degree of enthusiasm it may be admitted they were; but this can be no peculiar derogation from their character; because it was at that time almost the universal character not only of England, but of Christendom. Had this, however, been otherwise, their enthusiasm, considering the principles on which it was founded and the ends to which it was directed, far from being a reproach to them, was greatly to their honor; for I believe it will be found universally true, that no great enterprise for the honor or happiness of mankind was ever achieved without a large mixture of that noble infirmity.” (Adams, “A Dissertation on the Canon and the Feudal Law,” 1765)
My two favorite observations from Adams are as pessimistic and calvinist as Wright’s, and maybe even Protestant Christian and anticlerical:
“There is Danger from all Men. The only Maxim of a free Government, ought to be to trust no Man living, with Power to endanger the public Liberty.” (Adams, “Diary” 1771-1772)
“There is no special providence for Americans, and their nature is the same with that of others.” (Adams, “Defence of the Constitutions of Government of the United States” 1787)
WE, St. Ann’s School, Brooklyn

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posted August 3, 2008 at 7:11 pm

I think Rev. RIGHT! Has it Right!. Whites should not be concerned about the plight of black citizens they should care for themselves!! And in doing so remember the invlovement of america. America has a problem when it is properly identified for what it is! ” A den of DEMONS” The world see’s that clearly now thanks to bush! There is no complexity of feelings of blacks of america. It is CRYSTAL clear in the mind of Black’s of what america is! Therefore, John Adams and Rev. Right had it Right!! GOD DAMN America!

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