Saturday, August 23, 2008

Book Review - The Faith of Barack Obama

Okay, first and foremost, a preface and disclaimer. I don't do political talk, argument, debate, convincing, etc. well. At all. Mostly, I steer clear at all costs. I have pretty definitive ideas, and largely can't find a way to express them that doesn't leave me feeling one of two ways:

a) that I think the other person thinks that I feel superior (which I don't),

b) or, I have a huge guilt complex for feeling the way that I do and that I'm not necessarily swayed by other opinions. As if I haven't listened (but I have).

Neither of those is a good option, so like I said, I generally steer clear. As well, this blog has been a very neutral place for me to record my thoughts, remember our family's fun and funny moments, and keep long distance family members up to speed on our comings and goings.

So why, when a couple of weeks ago, Thomas Nelson Publishers, via Michael Hyatt's blog, asked for 100 bloggers to read and review a copy of their new book, did I agree? The book, called The Faith of Barack Obama, is not a "safe" book that will please all my readers. In fact, it's sure to raise strong opinions on all sides. The answer? I don't know. I felt compelled. Interested. Almost unquenchably curious. So I answered the call. Here are my impressions.

The Faith of Barack Obama

Stephen Mansfield

From the very first chapter, I felt like the goal of the author in writing the book was my goal in reading the book. Faith plays the largest of all roles in my voting requirements. With that in mind, whether or not I agree with Barack Obama, am I not inclined (even required) to research and understand his faith position? Should I not, if it's within my power, find any common ground possible with the man Mansfield describes as "a political and religious force to be reckoned with in American society, and both his supporters and his detractors are well served by understanding why."

The first chapter begins where Barack begins - on the island of Hawaii, with his early religious experience shaped by his mother, who was an atheist, his Methodist and Baptist grandparents (later Unitarian), his "folk Islamic" stepfather, a Catholic grade school, and an exposure to many different world religious ceremonies by a mom who "viewed all religion as nothing more than a man-made tool for contending with the mysteries of life." Wow. How would your faith journey read with a beginning like that? What I gained from this chapter - a greater understanding of how Mr. Obama can "sympathize" with such a variety of world views. He's seen most of them first hand.

The second chapter continues with the church where Barack Obama dedicated his life to follow Jesus Christ. It is an amazing look into a culture that I have been completely unaware existed in these United States. It is a church that mixes the blood of the cross with the politics of the day. A church rooted in the African-American heritage in which, during times of oppression, their only allowed avenue for pertinent information was Sunday morning church service. It's easy to see how politics so heavily eclipsed the pulpit. What I gained from this chapter - a glimpse of the slippery slope that led to the YouTube extravaganza of Jeremiah Wright. And, while I can begin to understand the history, I have little understanding of the inability to move on and the ability to sit in a church pew and listen to such hate.

Chapter three was probably the most interesting chapter for me. Describing the shift or descent of the Religious Right on the political spectrum, and the rise of a Religious Left, set to meet the needs of today's drive-through, have it your way, self-esteem driven generation. It describes Mr. Obama's conversion to Christianity, and the climate of a young generation of Christians ready to subscribe to exactly the kind of faith Barack exudes. Agree with this faith or not, this was a great look into the complex religious society that has led millions of Americans to proclaim Barack Obama as their hope for America. My biggest gain from this chapter - I cannot question the validity of Mr. Obama's conversion anymore than I would want mine questioned. Every heart that turns to Christ is still a work in progress. I will steal another reviewers line to wonder, would I be proud of a book called "The Faith of (insert my/your name here)?

The fourth chapter expands on Mr. Obama's view of the place religion plays in politics. According to him, it's place is significant. According to his voting records, many evangelicals question that assertion. Most eye-opening to me in this regard was an excerpt from an Obama speech, in which he argues:

"that the religiously motivated translate their concerns to universal, rather than
religion-specific, values. It requires that their proposals be subject to argument and amenable to reason. I may be opposed to abortion for religious reasons, but if I seek to pass a law banning the practice, I cannot simply point to the teachings of my church or evoke God's will. I have to explain why abortion violates some principal that is accessible to people of all faiths, including those with no faith at all."

What principal, accessible to all people is he trying to reach? Where did these principals, this morality, originate? Is it possible that Buddha, Muhammad, God, and a pop-psychology professor somehow magically "inserted" the same moral values in us all? And all we have to do is "tap in", and everyone will be happy? It is in this chapter that the division widened. The common ground seemed hidden, even unsearchable. His quote summed up the chapter - "Alongside my own deep personal faith, I am a follower, as well, of our civic religion." Maybe that cements it for the other side as well. My takeaway from this chapter - Ugh.

Chapter 5 - Four Faces of Faith, and the final chapter. It included short faith biographies of George W. Bush, John McCain, and Hillary Clinton to compare with the in-depth chapters on Barack Obama. Made me want to read a whole book on each one. The histories of all of these great leaders (argue if you will, about any or all), is fascinating. Takeaway - Put beside the other three, Barack's faith compares, it contrasts, and it is obvious why he is the choice of many.

This has got to be my longest post ever. I went well beyond Mr. Hyatt's requested 200 words paragraphs ago. If you're still reading, thank you. In short, I recommend this book. To supporters and detractors both - it is important to learn all you can about those who may be called to lead this great nation.

Thanks to Thomas Nelson for the opportunity to read the book.

“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” (Isaiah 9:6)

A leader is coming, soon, whom none will question. And the government will be on HIS shoulders. Praise the Lord. No one will question his faith. No one will question his motives. No one will question his politics. They will all be those of his Father. And we will be saved.


Neighbor Jane Payne said...

What a challenge, Heather, and I enjoyed your synopsis. I strongly agree that "it is important to learn all you can about those who may be called to lead this great nation." I also loved your closing paragraph.

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this great review. My brother sent me the link to this post after the election. I guess it wouldn't hurt to know more about this man who will be our president, pray for his leadership rather than just resenting him for where he plans to take this nation. Thank you especially for the last paragraph.
Linda VZ

Pier said...

Great review, I am reading this book for school. I just wish that more leaders would acknowledge reincarnation and/or eastern teachings, since they are becoming mainstream in our culture. I can't imagine the president not having fear of persecution if he dared say he wasn't a Christian? My religion is Eckankar, I am a woman of faith just like any other, and I like Obama's wonderful inclusion of all faiths in his beliefs. This book was awesome and thank you for your wonderful review...

Anonymous said...

I am teaching a Sunday School class this Memorial Day weekend and am trying to establish the need for prayer as believers this day. Looking at the reviews of "The Faith of Barack Obama" sets the stage for what we WANT to do. We want to judge, critique, argue, and esteem ourselves over the leader of this nation. However, found your review, and for the first time ever, felt obligated to comment.
Thank you for your wise words. Christ is still our King and He has all authority. I am glad, with you, that the book was not about me and my faith.
I feel you wrote truth without a political bent, and that is rare. You are refreshing and spoke your opinion without an agenda. Without malice or bitterness, you wrote about the book!
Thank you,
Debbie TN