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Holy Smoke: How Christianity Smothered the American Dream
It wasn’t what the Founding Fathers intended. Their greatest achievement, the US Constitution, promised citizens secular government. All Americans would have the right to practice any religious belief – or no religious belief – as they chose. The wall between church and state would be both high and strong. It hasn’t exactly turned out that way.
In this cogent and comprehensive work, Snedeker (3,001 Arabian Days) chronicles the influence of Christianity on the United States, from the earliest European settlements to the present day. He recounts decisions made throughout the nation’s history that were heavily based on religion, often in the guise of religious freedom. After detailing various Christian sects and their emigration in search of religious freedom, Snedeker chronicles laws rooted in Christian scriptural beliefs; how the faith deeply affected Native Americans, the institution of slavery, and the slaves themselves; and government and educational choices made with a Christian bias. He concludes with a plea to teach children to be more open, critical thinkers and a hope that humankind will eventually become “more rational, less religious.”

The book’s title and description give an unfortunate impression that the work attacks Christians or Christianity, but the text is straightforwardly factual and even deeply devout readers will find most of it unobjectionable. Very little of the author’s personal opinion is incorporated until the concluding chapters, and he suggests that lessons in critical thinking can complement religious beliefs, noting that “There are mortal dangers to being unaware that our myths can seamlessly masquerade as reality.” Snedeker is also sympathetic to how deeply rooted Christian beliefs can be and how difficult it is for leaders to completely separate church and state.

Clearly heavily researched, Snedeker’s work is both informative and entertaining. Readers may be surprised to learn how many Christian elements go unnoticed in today’s American culture: Christian references are imprinted on currency, visible in national holidays, displayed on government vehicles and buildings, and widely present in school buildings and the curriculum. The book immerses the reader in an examination of American history from a perspective that most textbooks omit (or incorporate without acknowledging it). This clear and factual work will intrigue a wide variety of readers and encourage them to see familiar elements of American culture in new ways.

Takeaway: Readers interested in religious history and American history fans will be captivated by this informative view of Christianity’s influence on America.

Great for fans of Jon Butler, Grant Wacker, and Randall Balmer’s Religion in American Life: A Short History, Thomas S. Kidd’s America’s Religious History: Faith, Politics, and the Shaping of a Nation.

Production grades
Cover: B
Design and typography: A
Illustrations: -
Editing: A
Marketing copy: B-


“Erudite … readable” historical look at why America remains so religious

“The US is a bizarre outlier among prosperous and educated nations. On the one hand it is the greatest scientific powerhouse in the world, boasting more than its fair share of the world’s top universities. On the other hand it is a quagmire of religious fanaticism no less ridiculous than the worst that Iran or Pakistan have to offer. The explanation for this strange incongruity must surely be sought in the religious history of the republic. Rick Snedeker’s erudite yet readable book gives us just such a history. And very illuminating it is.” — Richard Dawkins, British evolutionary biologist and author (“The God Delusion”) on “Holy Smoke”

An excellent crash course on how America's Christian legacy

Snedeker has done a great job going through our nation's history and showing readers how Christianity has shaped it... not for the better. Instead of inundating us with too many historical details, these chapters are brief and get right to the point. There are many religious people who falsely think we're a Christian Nation, but even if there's any truth to that, Snedeker shows that religion has hurt our society. But he leaves us with some hope, reminding us that religion continues to be on the decline. Christians have overstepped their boundaries so often and so harmfully that younger people want less and less to do with it. Even if their influence shaped us, it's thankfully on the path to fading away. — Hemant Mehta, American blogger (“The Friendly Atheist”), nonfiction author (“I Sold My Soul on E-Bay”)

Absolutely fantastic!

Somewhat less antagonistic than the title would suggest, retired journalist Rick Snedeker's meticulously researched 'Holy Smoke' is both a history and an indictment of American fundamentalism. Spanning over 500 years (1492 - 2020), Snedeker chronicles the ebb and flow of religious fervor in America and its impact on social and political institutions. … Snedeker goes on to chronicle the role sanctimonious entities and pious underpinnings played in the course of American history. The Salem Witch Trials. Nat Turner's slave rebellion. The Ghost Dance movement. The massacre at Wounded Knee. The standoff at Ruby Ridge. All pieces of the complicated mosaic that is our collective identity. With so many skeletons in our closet, it's no wonder we're so screwed up. Are we hopelessly lost? Snedeker doesn't think so, but he admits the climb out of the abyss will be slow and perilous. He has suggestions, good ones, but I won't spoil the surprise here. Just go read it for yourself.  Kevin Shepherd, South Dakota, USA

Challenged my beliefs and cultural awareness

“Holy Smoke” challenged my beliefs, awareness and knowledge of our American systems. I’m a practicing – albeit “cafeteria” – Catholic. I expected this book to be preachy and probably offensive to me and those like me. Rather, it was well-researched, logical, and eye-opening. … I have watched my own Millennial children move away from organized religion with some sadness. Not because I think they must be Catholic, but because I think faith adds a depth to the human experience that is unique and special, even if supernatural. What “Holy Smoke” caused me to realize is that their critical thinking skills may be more evolved than mine (I’m a product of parochial education, after all), as mine are more evolved than my devout, non-Catholics-are-going-to-hell grandparents. Teach philosophy and critical thinking, yes, but allow me to find comfort and hope in my beliefs as well. I appreciate that Snedeker does not really disparage those who profess faith, but effectively challenges its place in our government and public education. I highly recommend this book. Regardless of where you are on the faith continuum, “Holy Smoke” will make you think.  LJ, South Dakota, USA