Sunday, March 18, 2012

Book Review: Founding Faith by Steven Waldman

Okay, so any book that is endorsed on the back by both Jim Wallis and Bill Bennett gets my immediate respect. It's pretty tough to write a book that pleases both sides of the political aisle, especially when that book is about the sometimes mythical "founding fathers" of the United States of America. They are our gods on Mt. Olympus, invoked by political and religious leaders on multiple sides of virtually every issue at the forefront (or even middlefront) of society in the US.

I found this book at Half Price Bookstores, originally written in 2008, and I was sad that I hadn't seen it before. Let's just get this out of the way early--I give this book my coveted 5 bellybutton rating. It is a must-read for anyone who wants to see a balanced and historically accurate (not to mention relevant) rendering of some of our favorite founders, like Ben Franklin, George Washington, John Adams and Thomas Jefferson.

Here's the premise of the book, stated well in the last sentence of the introduction:

The Founding Faith, then, was not Christianity, and it was not secularism. It was religious liberty--a revolutionary formula for promoting faith by leaving it alone.

Waldman does a fantastic job quoting fully from the founders, and works to outline the meanings of their writings within their context, not pulling out quotes to justify something in our context. The book is full of quotable stuff (my favorite may be this jewel from Franklin: "Our frontier people call themselves Christians! They [the Indians] would have been safer, if they had submitted to the Turks."

It's a great book, and I hope you'll find it and read it. If you live in North Texas and want my copy, just let me know and it's yours. Without giving too much away, I'm just going to share Waldman's fallacies from his last chapter, entitled "They Were Right."

Liberal Fallacy #1: Most Founding Fathers were Deists or secular.

Conservative Fallacy #1: Most Founding Fathers were serious Christians.

Liberal Fallacy #2: The Constitution demanded strict separation of church and state throughout the land.

Conservative Fallacy #2: Separation of church and state is a twentieth-century invention of the courts.

Liberal Fallacy #3: Separation of church and state was designed mostly to protect religious minorities.

Conservative Fallacy #3: Advocates of separation are anti-religion.

Common Fallacy #4: The Founders had figured this all out.

Waldman goes to great lengths to point out all of these fallacies. So the 3.5 faithful readers of this blog know why I like it so much: it works to be in a middle ground, accurately reflecting the information available, as opposed to demonizing an opponent and painting him/her into an extreme position by only quoting the favorable founders' stuff, often plucked out of context.

Great read. OOOOO 5 bellybuttons in the Phatter than O book club.