Book Review - The Faith of Barack Obama by Stephen Mansfield
For better or worse (depending on what your particular viewpoint is), a candidate's religious views always come into play during a Presidential election. Stephen Mansfield sets out to examine exactly what "faith" means to the Democratic candidate in the book The Faith of Barack Obama. I'll admit when I was offered the chance to read and review this, I was expecting a bit of a puff piece trying to paint him as highly acceptable to the evangelical conservative group of voters. Instead, it was an honest look at his background and upbringing, explaining how all those elements play into his definition of faith in God. While I know I don't quite agree on all his particular slants, I feel more comfortable with where he is coming from, and what that might mean if he is elected as President of the United States.
The Life of Barack Obama - A Chronology; Introduction; To Walk Between Worlds; My House, Too; Faith Fit for the Age; The Alters of State; Four Faces of Faith; A Time to Heal; Acknowledgments; Notes; Bibliography; About the Author; Index
Using a number of speeches and excerpts from prior writings, Mansfield constructs what Obama says about his own faith, his own brand of religious thought. Placing those views against his life background gives a much clearer picture of exactly what Obama means when he uses words that are interpreted differently by people of varying religious viewpoints. Being raised in a mixed-race family, he had trouble figuring out where he fit in society and culture. His mother had her own views of religion (mainly secularism), while his biological father had problems with alcohol abuse. After the breakup of that marriage, his mother remarried and moved to Indonesia, where Obama was exposed to the teachings of Islam. Coming back to the States, he continued his education and also became involved in social causes in Chicago. This led him to Trinity United Church of Christ and the Rev. Jeremiah Wright. Unless you understand the black church and black liberation theology, it's very difficult to understand Rev. Wright and the influence he had in Obama's life, as well as the life of the community there. Mix all of these influences together in the mind of a very well-educated, deliberate person, and you start to understand the gist of Obama's faith. It's reflective of what the author calls the Religious Left, a group that places more emphasis on social responsibility as part of their doctrine, as well as blending in elements of truth from various sources.
Mansfield also takes a chapter at the end to compare the religious backgrounds of Obama, Clinton, Bush, and McCain. It becomes evident that McCain comes from an older generation where faith is something that is done but not talked about. Bush is more "open" about his religious conversion coming from his alcoholic background. Clinton professes more of a traditional religious faith, while Obama is representative of what some would call "post-modern Christianity". The chapter also tends to point out how each end of the religious spectrum has problems with whatever level of faith is professed. Welcome to the age of cynicism in America... :)
Personally, I found the book interesting and useful in terms of understanding Obama more than I did before. I've tended to be more "right-wing" in my views and thinking, but this last eight years has left a dent in my political leanings. Instead of buying into the "all good/all evil" extremes that tend to dominate the media, I now can make choices based on actual evidence rather than rumored innuendoes and accusations. Being how short the book is (165 pages), I'd recommend it as useful reading to anyone who wants to give more than a passing thought on who they should vote for in the next election.