In his lifetime an unyielding critic of priestcraft and superstition, Thomas Jefferson (1743-1826) stands today at the heart of a cult which has been variously described as America’s ‘civil religion’, ‘the religion of the Republic’ and ‘American Shinto’. As individuals and families, Americans worship their own gods, or, more commonly, God in their own way: but collectively, as citizens, they learn the creed, and participate in the rituals of a sacralised American Way of Life. Thanksgiving, the Fourth of July, the Constitution, the Founding Fathers and the reverence which attends the life and utterances of the atoning Christman, Abraham Lincoln, together represent a universal drama of exodus, freedom, inherited sin and deliverance which binds this ‘nation with the soul of a church’. A legion of commentators now wonders whether the American Way of Life will survive ethnic fragmentation. However, this sense of an impending crisis is itself integral to the civil religion, which wallows in the Puritan rhetoric of jeremiad and backsliding.