Monday, December 1, 2008
The Faith of Barak Obama; a Book Review
With the election over, I figure this is the best time if any to review The Faith of Barack Obama by Stephen Mansfield. I think any time an author sets out to write a book about faith and politics it is important to at least know something about the author. It seems as if Stephen Mansfied is writing as more of a journalist point of view, rather then pushing for an agenda in our view of Barack Obama and his faith. As a matter of fact Mansfield has penned a similar book in The Faith of George W Bush.
Avoiding going into his whole biography, I would rather refer you to here for his bio. I think you will find that he seems to not having an agenda in any direction with his writings, but rather he seems to have a high interest in religion and its role in politics.
Now as far as this book is concerned, I feel that people will read this book for a couple reasons. Some of the reasons might include:
1) An attempt to "prove" the legitimacy of Barack Obama's faith.
2) To find reasons to be "concerned" about Barack Obama's faith.
I feel that if one comes from one of these positions, both individuals will leave satisfied, and at the same time, not learning much more then what was previously acknowledged. Right off the bat, one will pick up this book and realize it is fairly short. It comes in at about 190 pages with large font, allowing for a fairly quick read. One also may wonder with grand topics as faith and politics, if this 192 pages can sum up in completion the task at hand. But I think a more important question may be if ANYONE can sum up someones' faith and political aspirations with any length of book. I think that it may be difficult, and in all honestly, I do not think that is what Mansfield is trying to do. It does seem however, that Mansfield sets out to introduce you to the man Barack Obama, and to sum up his public life in politics and religion as well. If you are looking for an in depth look at the personal relationship of Barack Obama with any God, disappointment will sure to follow. I believe that Mansfield's web site best sums up the goal of this book best;
"...intended as an objective look at Obama’s religious life and the controversies that have surrounded it. Stephen believes that just as the archetypical American story of faith five years ago belonged to George W. Bush, now it is Obama’s religious journey that captures many of the religious trends shaping American culture."
With that lens going in, I believe the book to be very informative, and not pushy. I very much found the content in be interesting enough to spark a curiosity to see how Barack Obama's faith will shape his politics. Mansfield divides the book up into 6 different sections:
1. To Walk Between Two Worlds: This is a mini biography of sorts, focusing on Obama's multi- cultured and religious upbringing. This covers everything from his atheist mother, who viewed religion as a good thing that aids all people, to Obama's step father who adopted a Muslim tradition of "folk religion" of sorts. Interesting enough Obama had some Catholic influence largely due to his early childhood education in Indonesia.
2. My House Too: This introduces us to an idea of someone on the "left" being comfortable with discussions on faith. This sections also introduces us to the controversial preacher in Jeremiah Wright. I believe that this is one of the most important pieces in the book. Mansfied puts Wright's preaching in light of "black theology". This does not excuse some of the ideas that Wright preached about that has become the greatest hits on youtube. However, it does bring light and understanding in the birth of such a theology.
3. Faith Fit For the Age: Obama's conversion is retold in this chapter. This section also explains that Obama's "postmodern" faith relates well to a postmodern age, but also leaves the traditional evangelical skeptical. I must admit that I even felt uncomfortable on some things in this chapter, but Mansfield rightly points out time and time again that Obama has always said he is unfinished and is continually evolving as he grows in his Faith.
4. The Alters of State: This is a very interesting about some key moments in Obama's involvement in politics. There is a great description of the debate between Obama and Alan Keys. Also, Obama's view on Abortion is discussed in great detail as well.
5. Four Faces of Faith: This is a fascinating look at 4 political faces that Mansfield says that represent a different sect of Faith. I really enjoyed this chapter, it certainly gives you something to consider.
6. A Time to Heal: Mansfield, in this chapter, explains that Obama represents a "healer" in a time in our country when we are hurting. There seems to be some comparisons to great "healers" of our past as that of Abraham Lincoln.
All in all, I certainly found this book to be informing about the faith of Barack Obama. The length of the book was somewhat disappointing, and some of the points left me asking more questions. However, I feel that this book is a nice introduction in discussions of the faith of Barack Obama, who is controversial with both the left and the right. The left finds Obama too open with his faith, and the right finds him too vague on what he believes. I think both sides should start here with learning who Barack Obama is and how is his faith going to dictate his policies.
You can find Thomas Nelsons page for this book here