In his usual witty style, Conor Cruise O'Brien illuminates the confusion and conflation of religion and nationalism throughout history, and the enormous tensions produced by interactions between the two. From Old Testament Canaan to Joan of Arc, from Puritan Massachusetts Bay to National Prayer Breakfasts, he points out the pitfalls awaiting any nation that begins to consider itself especially favored by God.
Cruise O'Brien begins his history with the powerful nationalistic forces tied to religion in the Old Testament, which Jesus and St. Paul tried to divert to a more purely spiritual plane in the New Testament. In the Middle Ages, Christianity took on markedly nationalistic forms as homeland loyalities grew strong; by the fifteenth century the two forces were fused in Joan of Arc. With the Reformation and the development of Anglo-Saxon Puritanism, a more literal approach to the Old Testament intensified nationalism in Britain and North America. Moving to the French Revolution, which led to the most dangerous form of "holy nationalism", Cruise O'Brien examines how the nation itself became the object of a cult replacing the Christian God. And finally he relates how, in this century, Cardinal Spellman merged religion with patriotism in an anti-Communist crusade that sent Protestants into retreat and a Catholic into the White House.