Published Humanitas, Volume IX, No. 2, 1996

The Godless Constitution: The Case Against Religious Correctness, by Isaac Kramnick and R. Laurence Moore. New York and London: Norton, 1996. 166 pp. $22, cloth.

When Admiral Jeremy Boorda’s suicide became known to President William Clinton, the president made a point of expressing his sympathy for the family of the deceased. Among the comments he made was the assertion that Boorda had gone to heaven, and those who had loved and respected him on earth could take some solace in that.

Clinton’s public evaluation of the spiritual lot of the admiral, while perhaps understandable in light of his concern for the admiral’s grieving widow and children, raises an interesting historical question: when did the idea that everyone goes directly to heaven at his death come to be so common in American culture? Ruminations similar to Clinton’s in the aftermath of Boorda’s death were elicited only a few weeks earlier by the death in Yugoslavia of Secretary of Commerce Ron Brown. Left or right, conservative or liberal, it seemed that politicians and commentators of all major American tendencies could agree on the basic proposition that Brown was in the presence of God.

The Boorda and Brown episodes clarify the theology (understood in the vernacular, not the theological,sense) of the American intelligentsia…

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