Thursday, August 21, 2008
Book Review--The Faith of Barack Obama
You won't typically find me in my spot on the couch with this kind of book, and I found myself skeptical as I began to read it. But that's not Mansfield's fault. I don't watch the news, I read occasional articles in the Sunday paper, catch some stories on line and on the radio. But I definitely steer clear of Hannity, Limbaugh, Beck, Matthews, Colmes, etc., etc. I'm suspicious of all of them. They tell me spun versions of what they want me to hear, and how can I ever form my own opinion? So, I feel I must fess up to the attitude I had going into the reading of The Faith of Barack Obama.
This seems like a brave book to write, in that telling the story of anyone's faith--one who's living, that it is--is like trying to 'catch a moonbeam in your hand.' Our faith is a fluid, hopefully growing, active, moving thing. It isn't easily pinned down. Can you think of what "The Faith of (insert your name here)" would say? How would it end? But Stephen Mansfield tackled the brave task, in writing this book that is part biography, part sociological examination, and part US History lesson.
Mansfield asserts that Obama's faith, like everyone's, "is a work in progress, and no man can be accurately portrayed by a portrait frozen in time."(p.58) I agree with that, and it was interesting to get a picture of where Obama came from, where he might be now, and what he might be after--faith-wise. It helps me understand the appeal, and how people are so drawn to him. And I think I've gained understanding into why Obama's faith should be of any concern to me, and that is because Obama himself insists that our faith can't be held separately from how we govern, so we need to find a way to make it pleasing or acceptable to all. Mansfield describes this as a civil religion, "using social justice concerns as a call to religious neutrality in honor of the secular American way."(p.95)
This scares me, but a book review isn't the place to go on about that. I recommend you read the book yourself and see what you think. It comes across as a pretty objective look at Obama and sheds light on the black church in America, as well as the opportunity that sits before us to move toward healing in this country.