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Captain America and the Crusade against Evil
The Dilemma of Zealous Nationalism
PAPERBACK; Published: 6/14/2004
ISBN: 978-0-8028-2859-0
Price: $ 22.00
408 Pages
Trim Size, in inches: 6.25x9.25
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As immediate and relevant as today's headlines, this book sets forth a bold argument with direct implications for political life in America and around the world. Combining incisive cultural analysis and keen religious insight, Robert Jewett and John Shelton Lawrence maintain that American crusading -- so powerfully embodied in popular entertainments -- has striking parallels with Islamic jihad and Israeli militancy.

According to Jewett and Lawrence, American civil religion has both a humane, constitutional tradition and a violent strand that is now coming to the fore. The crusade to rid the world of evil and "evildoers" derives from the same biblical tradition of zealous warfare and nationalism that spawns Islamic and Israeli radicalism. In America, where this tradition has been popularized by superheroic entertainments, the idea of zealous war is infused with a distinctive sense of mission that draws on secular and religious images. These crusading ideals are visible in such events as the settling of the western frontier, the World Wars, the Cold War, the Gulf War, and America's present war on terrorism.

In exploring the tradition of zealous nationalism, which seeks to redeem the world by destroying enemies, the authors provide a fascinating access to the inner workings of the American psyche. They analyze the phenomenon of zeal -- the term itself is the biblical and cultural counterpart of the Islamic concept of jihad -- and address such consequential topics as the conspiracy theory of evil, the problem of stereotyping enemies, the mystique of violence, the obsession with victory, and the worship of national symbols such as flags.

This critical book, however, is also immensely constructive. As Jewett and Lawrence point out, the same biblical tradition that allows for crusading mentalities also contains a critique of zealous warfare and a profound vision of impartial justice. This tradition of prophetic realism derives from the humane side of the biblical heritage, and the authors trace its manifestations within the American experience, including its supreme embodiment in Abraham Lincoln. Isaiah's "swords into plowshares" image is carved on the walls of the United Nations building, thus standing at the center of a globally focused civil religion. Grasping this vision honored by Judaism, Christianity, and Islam alike includes recognizing the dangers of zealous violence, the illusions of current crusading, and the promise of peaceful coexistence under international law.

Instructive, relevant, and urgent, Captain America and the Crusade against Evil is sure to provoke much soul-searching and wide debate.

Read a blog post about the book on EerdWord.
ForeWord Magazine Book of the Year Awards, Finalist, Political Science (2003)
Perspectives on Political Science
"The great strength of this book is its critique of zeal as idolatry, whether embodied in the conviction that God is on one's side or in the assumption that human power is sufficient to set the world right."
Journal of Beliefs and Values
"A thought-provoking approach to understanding American nationalism and hegemony. Jewett and Lawrence have enticed the reader with an unusual but well-documented and highly readable account of the rise and development of the crusading spirit."
Ethical Perspectives
"President George W. Bush's military campaign against evil, reflected in his 'coalition' invasion and war in Iraq, is hardly a new occurrence in American history. Right from the beginning of the American experience there has been a dark side of the American spirit that periodically breaks out in arrogant military might and sees its justification in the will of God. It is Captain America once again going on crusade. In their book, which I believe is the best published analysis yet of this self-righteously militaristic dimension of the American character, Jewett and Lawrence provide an in-depth assessment of the nature and history of what they call 'zealous American nationalism."
National Catholic Reporter
"Jewett and Lawrence succeed in placing the discussion of American civil religion on a new tack. . . This book is very timely."
Christian Century
"This provocative romp through political history, biblical commentary, and pop culture gives the church much food for thought."
Ronald C. White Jr.
"Three cheers for Robert Jewett and John Shelton Lawrence and the provocative questions they ask of Captain America's crusade against evil. Their deep learning and wide-angle lens have produced a timely study sure to convene many lively conversations."
Journal of American Culture
"Examines the very bone and muscle of American society and in doing so lays bare a psychosis that terrifies. . . This book is one of the most powerful analyses in the bookstore today and should be on the bookshelf of all thoughtful people. It touches the very soul of democracy and liberty."
Library Journal
"Extremely timely and important for all Americans."