How a little-known editor made God a bestseller by helping Americans let go of religion

by | Mar 13, 2023 | Religion

(RNS) — Boston University religion professor Stephen Prothero doesn’t believe in fate. Or in divine providence.But about a decade ago, the universe tapped him on the shoulder and gave him a job to do.
Prothero, who lives on Cape Cod, was at a Labor Day party when Judy Kaess, who lived nearby, asked him a favor. She’d inherited some old religion books from her father and wondered if he’d come by and look at them. By the time he’d arrived at Kaess’ house a few months later, she’d passed away of cancer. But her husband welcomed Prothero and led him to the family’s library.
Prothero thought he spend an hour looking at the books.
Ten years, later he’s still at it.
Those books — from legendary authors like Harry Emerson Fosdick, Dorothy Day, Howard Thurman, Albert Schweitzer, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr and Bill Wilson, one of the co-founders of Alcoholics Anonymous — traced a history of American religion from the heyday of mainline Protestantism to the rise of the spiritual but not religious. The man who connected them all together was Eugene Exman, Kaess’ father and the longtime religion editor for Harper & Row, who had published them all.
Prothero knew he was on to something when he opened up a copy of “Strive Toward Freedom,” King’s 1958 account of the Montgomery bus boycott, and found a handwritten note from King’s wife, Coret …

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