Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Old Tyme Religion

Much as I try to tune it out, the "culture wars" keep creeping into my consciousness from time to time. And frankly, I find most of them to be utter bullshit.

Take the separation of church and state. Basically, there's a custody battle going on over the founding fathers, and just what their intentions were as they framed the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights. Were they god-fearing Christians, hoping to settle a new Christian nation, and achieve the ideal City on a Hill, or were they ardent rationalists or deists?

Steven Waldman attempts to answer these questions in Founding Faith: Providence, Politics, and the Birth of Religious Freedom in America, which he largely does.

I think it's very easy to view historical figures as static portraits on a canvas. They don't move, they don't change, and they always remain the same, so it becomes very easy to not look at the founding fathers as actual people, with the same strengths and weaknesses. Take Thomas Jefferson, someone the right wing loves to take out of context. Jefferson believed in Jesus - but as a philosopher. He utterly rejected the divinity of Christ. In his spare time, Jefferson wrote his own version of the Bible, one that contained no references to the supernatural: no miracles, no healing, only Jesus teaching his followers. In fact, Jefferson had little use for organized religion.

Madison actually wanted even more separation between church and state, but political realities and necessities forced him to compromise. Washington frequently used religion to rally his troops, but he rarely attended church himself (as did most citizens in the early years of the nation).

Waldman does a fine job researching the views of several founders, and he comes to the conclusion that the truth lies somewhere in between the two sides of today. While some founders weren't comfortable with the idea of state-supported religion, others saw little or no problem with it. However, Madison and Jefferson were firmly in support of a strict separation between the two.

While the book is a little dry and academic at times, it is still an interesting topic and well worth the time.

77 (out of 100).

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