Review: Founding Faith–Providence, Politics, and the Birth of Religious Freedom in America

5 Star, America (Founders, Current Situation), Culture, Research, Democracy, Religion & Politics of Religion

Founding FaithExtraordinary–Elegant in Concise Inisights and a Holistic Appraisal, March 18, 2008

Steven Waldman

This is a very special book. The author has done an utterly superb job of original research and elegant concise representation of the nuances in belief, practice, and circumstances with respect to the matter of religion as confronted by the Founding Fathers, and especially Ben Franklin, John Adams, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison.

We learn early on that freedom of religion was originally designed to apply only at the federal level–only later, when the North pushed through the Fourteenth amendment, did this get grandfathered upon the states.

We learn throughout the book that the original evangelicals wanted separation of the church and state, and made common cause with the rationalists, both groups believing that individual liberty and freedom of personal conscience were the core values.

Midway through the book we are confronted by the author with the reality that the diversity of faiths existent today in the USA render meaningless and unachievable any thought of America being a Christian or even a Protestant nation–pluralism rules.

Religion was appreciated by the Founding Fathers for its generally good impact on civic morals. George Washington especially, in the Continental Army, demanded religious tolerance, authorized chaplains, encouraged officers and men to attend religious services, and generally communicated a sense that the American Revolution was a “holy war” with God standing firmly with the colonies against England and the Church of England.

The author provides concise but no less shocking accounts of the early religious wars in America, with torture and execution and jail being imposed on Quakers and Baptists, Protestants against Jews and Catholics.

We learn that both Jefferson and Franklin doubted divinity but respected Jesus for his moral code.

Adams considered Catholics the “whore of Babylon” and this resonates with more than one modern US evangelical who has endorsed John McCain.

We larn that the Great Awakening and the revivals spawned a general practice of questioning authority.

The author draws a clear connection between political liberty and religious freedom–the two were intertwined from the beginning of the revolutionary impulse.

George Washington was spiritual but not theological.

There are many gifted turns of phrase throughout the book. One that stayed with me: Jefferson saw God not as devine, but as a “brilliant wise reformer offering a benevolent code of morals.”

Madison held a dispassionate faith in contrast to the others. He also felt that one should err on the side of separation.

From page 192 the author lists and discuonts four liberal and four conservative falacies. Buy the book.

The conclusion is as elegant as the rest of the book: Separation is the root condition for nurturing the fullest possible religious diversity and vitality.

I put this book down with an intellectual, spiritual, and civic “WOW” in mind. Truly an extraordinary work, a very important work, a lovely piece of scholarship that is meaningful to every American and every immigrant would would be an American citizen.

Other books that are faith-related that I recommend:
God’s Politics LP
The Left Hand of God: Taking Back Our Country from the Religious Right
Faith-Based Diplomacy: Trumping Realpolitik
The Complete Conversations with God (Boxed Set)
American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War On America
Tempting Faith: An Inside Story of Political Seduction
Dogs of God: Columbus, the Inquisition, and the Defeat of the Moors

DVDs I recommend:
Gandhi (Widescreen Two-Disc Special Edition)
Bonhoeffer
Tibet – Cry of the Snow Lion

Review: Being Right Is Not Enough–What Progressives Must Learn from Conservative Success (Hardcover)

4 Star, Politics

Amazon Page
Amazon Page

Useful High-End Book on Strategy for the Center-Left,

June 26, 2006
Paul Waldman
I bought this book together with “The Good Fight” by Peter Beinart. While both books have their utility, neither is as good as Joe Klein in “Politics Lost.” Waldman gets five stars to Beinart’s four mostly because he is much more readable, has many useful tables including an analysis of the states where extremist Republicans as well as extremist Democrats are weak, and his book is generally focused on the left of center middle and the caring citizen as opposed to policy wonks that Beinart addresses in his book.

Page 111 is a very fine diagram of the issue columns that the Democratic Party simply does not address responsibly nor–a theme throughout the book–courageously. Over-all the book does a very fine job of defining the distinctions between conservatives and progressives, as well as the distinctions between what conservatives stand for and what they say, and what progressives stand for and do not say.

The author spends most of his time comparing conservatives to progressives (code for left of center liberals) which is something of a pity because he appears to have a very well developed sense of the issues and what the center and left-center can and should stand for.

There are two bottom lines in this book, and both of them make eminent sense to me:

1) Don’t bring a knife to a gun-fight. The author points out in detail how inept and weak and unfocused the Democrats are at every stage of the political game beginning with high school and collage political clubs.

2) Stand for the public, for the individual taxpayer, for the blue-collar worker, the working poor, the lower middle class. The author stresses that this is a fight between those who respresent special interests and believe the government role is to liberate the marketplace (code for allow the looting of the Commonwealth) and those who should be representing the masses of individual workers and taxpayers.

The author takes a long view and believes that it will take a great deal of time to recover from the total abdication to the extremist Republicans. While this nice in principle, the book does not focus as well on what it will take to win over-whelmingly; for that we recommend Joe Klein’s “Politics Lost.” On the issues, Matthew Miller’s “The Two-Percent Solution.”

On a personal note, I would add that the author’s focus on “Being Right is Not Enough” is perfectly consistent with my own view that “Vote Democratic Is Not Enough.” Rove and Cheney have demonstrated, twice, that they can steal Presidential elections that are close–through Florida in 2000, through Ohio is 2004. Even if every liberal-progressive adopted the ideas in this book, they would not be enough. We need a multi-party focus on electoral reform and crushing the extremist Republican thieves (I am a moderate Republican), crushing the special interests, and restoring the Republic to the public—a Republic of, by, and for the People, not Corporations.

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