Searching for God in America

Book Notice

Searching for God in America, by Hugh Hewitt (Word Publishing, 1996)

Through interviews, writings, hymns, and brief histories of individuals who have shaped Americans’ religious lives, this book showcases many “spiritualities” from such figures as Jonathan Edwards, Joseph Smith Jr., Samuel Clements, William James, Black Elk, Dalai Lama, George S. Patton, and Albert Einstein.

Hewitt first presents transcriptions of a series of interviews he conducted for PBS with Chuck Colson (who tells the story of his psychological rebirth and his committed love in service to prisoners), Harold Kushner (who suggests that we must substitute service for an absent God, that freedom includes random tragedy, and that functional truth is higher than factual truth), Roberta Hestenes (who proclaims a Presbyterian social gospel in the third world as well personal peace gained from the Word and Spirit), Seyyed Hossein Nasr (in whose philosophy the secular fades, the Truth remains, and, in the alternative “science” of Islam, Sufism, world forms allow the true “hidden” to appear), and Cecil Murray (an African Methodist Episcopal pastor in Watts, who believes that social salvation is the only real salvation and presents a “Marshall Plan” for American cities).

His sixth interview is with Neal Maxwell, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve, who teaches us that “recognizing the Spirit” is learned behavior, that the ultimate challenge is loving our enemies, that secularism is our major social problem, and that freedom costs security. He also bears a Latter-day Saint testimony about meekness. The final interviews are with Thomas Keating (a Benedictine mystic and monastic who believes that meditative prayer effects social change, teaches that the “false self” hungers for security, control, affection, and esteem, and affirms that freedom requires God’s absence), and Dalai Lama (whose Tibetan Buddhism teaches interrelatedness, reincarnation, the risk of violence creating violence, and the virtue of compassion, which is analogous to Christian love).

The interviewer’s two questions for all his selected participants were, How did you come to your faith? and Why do you think there is so much innocent suffering in the world? They answered with sincerity and verve.

Elder Maxwell’s touchingly personal interview displayed how the articulate Apostle developed faith and courage at a young age by meekly facing embarrassing acne problems in his teens. He discloses his feelings of inadequacy about giving apostolic blessings to the sick, when many are healed and many not, and about his responsibility to witness to all the world: “It is overwhelming. One cannot be in an Islamic country and not be conscious of the tremendous challenge it is to bear a witness of Jesus’ name in a nation where there may be hostility towards Jesus, per se.”

Regarding agnostic divine children, Elder Maxwell states, “They don’t know who they are, but I do: and I must learn to love them, even if . . . they are critical of me, because they are my brothers and sisters.” Regarding government and social ills: “I’d rather have ten commandments than ten thousand federal regulations. . . . And unless we rebuild marriages and families, we are really straightening deck chairs on the Titanic.” Regarding the hardest thing of all: “The act of loving one’s enemies and submissiveness are the greatest and the crowning things in discipleship. It shouldn’t surprise us that they don’t come early in one’s discipleship. Instead they come near the end of the trail when we are less caught up with ego, so I don’t think we should expect to arrive there quickly.”

The book next presents historical writings with many riveting testimonies. Hymns end the compilation as beautiful witnesses to less effable spirituality. This beautiful book of saintly testimonies should be read by anyone feeling cynical or alone.


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