Sunday, June 06, 2010

Book Note: Founding Faith

Knowing my interests in history and church-state issues, a friend of mine recommend a book to me recently. I will share some thoughts about the book, Founding Faith: How Our Founding Fathers Forged a Radical New Approach to Religious Liberty, in this post.

The author, Steven Waldman, a co-founder of Belief.Net, took a fairly evenhanded approach in his examination of
       
  • the role of religion in the lives of several American Founding Fathers (Franklin, Washington, Adams, Jefferson and Madison),
  •    
  • the role of religion in the American Revolution and the formation of the USA, and
  •    
  • the role of politics in shaping the USA's fundamental legal documents, the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

Waldman's evidence led him to conclude:
       
  • The five men underwent religious transformations throughout their lives. They didn't receive their youthful catechisms and tuck them away to be drawn upon as needed for future reference; they questioned religious precepts all of their lives and, in some cases, ended at positions strikingly different from those they'd held as young men.
  •    
  • All five of them felt that some religion was necessary to protect the common folks from moral corruption and equip them to be good citizens; enlightened people could handle the truth about religious fables and live responsibly, but the common folks couldn't be trusted to do the same. Yes, the founding fathers were elitists (but you already knew that).
  •    
  • All of them accepted the premise that the universe was created; this is not surprising when one remembers that their lifespans pre-dated the discoveries of Darwin and later scientists.
  •    
  • None of them held beliefs that conservative Christians today would consider suitably Christian; today's Christian Right would excoriate the lot of them as heretics.
  •    
  • None of them ever intended that the USA would be a theocratic Christian Nation. They were thoroughly committed to religious pluralism, equality and complete freedom of conscience.

Waldman, reminding us that these five men did not found the country alone, provides some fascinating insights into the negotiating processes that went into shaping the nation's founding documents, particularly the First Amendment. The Constitution and Bill of Rights were hammered out - word by word - by representatives from thirteen disparate states, and then sent to those states for ratification by hundreds, perhaps thousands, of people. Not only was it the will of most Founding Fathers that the USA be a religiously neutral, pluralistic nation, it was the will of many ordinary Americans.

Waldman also notes the importance of remembering that the founding generation could not imagine the ways in which their visions would be realized. For example, since most states did not develop public school systems until the middle and late 19th century, the founders would never have imagined wrangling over school prayer. I suggest that, rather than trying to imagine what Washington or Jefferson would think about such issues, contemporary Americans could better spend our time pondering how the Constitutional principle of pluralism, to take one example, can best be expressed in our contemporary context. The fact is, the USA is no longer the founders' country, it's ours. We need to respect the founders and be grateful for what they gave us, but it's now up to us to use the tools in our hands. Fortunately, for us, the founders gave us good ones, so let's use them wisely.

Near the end of the book, Waldman discusses what he sees as fallacies that contemporary Americans commit when discussing church-state issues. These are:

Conservative Fallacy 1: Most Founding Fathers were serious Christians
Conservative Fallacy 2: Separation of church and state is a 20th century invention of the courts
Conservative Fallacy 3: Advocates of separation are anti-religious

Liberal Fallacy 1: Most founding fathers were Deists or secular
Liberal Fallacy 2: The Constitution demanded strict separation of church and state throughout the land
Liberal Fallacy 3: Separation of church and state was designed mostly to protect religious minorities 

Common Fallacy 4: The founders figured this all out. (Many of them disagreed vehemently, even after the ink was dry, as we still do today, after the pages have yellowed).

In closing, I'll say that I enjoyed Waldman's book. I appreciated the care he took in delineating the theological evolutions of the five founders he examined. I also enjoyed his discussion of the political contexts of the revolution and formation of a new nation based on what were, at the time, radical beliefs and principles. His bias toward religious belief is evident at times, such as when he frames the thinking of the founders as "spiritual journeys," but this doesn't prevent him from reaching the right conclusion regarding the Christian Nation verbiage that today's religious right keeps hurling at our heads: it's bunk (my paraphrase). I can't help wondering, though, if his religious bias led him to downplay the influences of Deism and Enlightenment philosophy on the founders. His discussions of the religious and political contexts of the founders were thorough, but he did not discuss Enlightenment philosophy at all. While I'll concede that secularists may be prone to over-emphasizing the philosophical trends of that era and downplaying the theology, that shortcoming is not best countered by emphasizing the theological contexts at the expense of the philosophy. The theological and philosophical contexts both need to be examined critically and thoroughly if we are to have any hope of understanding the ideas and ideals that motivated America's founders. Notwithstanding this weakness, if you're interested in reading about the religious and political contexts of the American Revolution and early republic, you'll probably enjoy this book.

27 comments:

琬真 said...

一個人最大的敵人常是自己。......................................................

batesda said...

愛情不是慈善事業,不能隨便施捨。............................................................

judyrod said...

春宮性愛教學taiwan sex大奶子台灣情色論壇台灣av女優一夜情留言板女生裸體色情電話a網情色片美女裸照成人笑話巨乳學院裸體寫真av寫真走光照巨奶做愛技巧a圖片淫亂撫摸情色聊天少婦自拍淫娃一夜情聊天av情色本土av女生高潮色情av成人情色貼圖一夜情留言成人圖庫亞洲成人口交技巧性經驗成人18三點全露蕩婦情色自拍貼圖成人漫畫成人漫畫

雲亨 said...

I guess I will need a lot..................................................

林奕廷 said...

這麼好的部落格,以後看不到怎麼辦啊!!......................................................................

王邦鈺 said...

河水永遠是相同的,可是每一剎那又都是新的。......................................................................

嘉惠 said...

來給你加油打氣!!!保重!!!.................................................................                           

彥妏彥妏 said...

成熟,就是有能力適應生活中的模糊。.................................................................

陳韋夏陳韋夏益東富益東富 said...

Hello~Nice meet you~~............................................................

賢林 said...

與其期盼別人疼你,不如自己疼自己。..................................................

宥妃宥妃 said...

期待你的下次更新喔^____^..................................................................

志張sf夏康如皓志gfg志 said...

今夜星光多美好~祝你快樂~~~~............................................................

佳皓佳皓 said...

A liar is not believed when he speaks the truth...................................................................

莊雅和莊雅和莊雅和 said...

好熱鬧的部落格 我也支持你繼續加油 好文不寂寞 ^^..................................................................

陳佑發 said...

有用的才華若不用,便如同日晷儀放在陰暗之中............................................................

淑娟淑娟淑娟 said...

你的文章給我力量!感謝您!!!............................................................

a云c2v吳c9f8文sagd1 said...

Learn wisdom by the follies of others.............................................................

許志蘇昶哲宏 said...

Many a true word is spoken in jest.......................................................................

家唐銘 said...

第一忠誠,第二勤奮,第三專心工作。..................................................

燕明中延 said...

Learning makes a good man better and ill man worse.............................................................

彤彤 said...

人生中最好的禮物就是屬於自己的一部份............................................................

姿宥美岑軒英 said...

may the blessing be always with you!!............................................................

淑梁梁梁娟 said...

寫文章需要心情~~期待你再一次的好文章...............................................................

熙筠銘筠銘筠銘辰 said...

缺少智慧,就是缺少一切..................................................

佳張張張張燕張張張張張 said...

看著你的BLOG 好多朋友都回應 真厲害............................................................

蕾蕾 said...

keep update, please..bless you!!............................................................

王怡迪 said...

you got it!i like it!!!.................................................................