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On Two Wings: Humble Faith and Common Sense at the American Founding Paperback – August 1, 2003
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"In one key respect, the way the story of the United States has been told for the past one hundred years is wrong," writes Michael Novak. "To read most philosophers and historians of the American polity today is to learn that America is an historical embodiment of secular philosophy, the Enlightenment." Nothing could be further from the truth, says Novak, who sets out to demonstrate just how important religious faith was to the founders. He makes a spirited case, noting, for example, that the very first act of the First Continental Congress, in 1774, was to make a public prayer. Of the 3,154 "citations in the writings of the founders," 34 percent are to the Bible. He provides dozens of similar examples. On Two Wings does not proceed as a traditional narrative; Novak favors extensive block quotations from his sources and conveys a whole chapter in question-and-answer format. In addition, a major part of the book is an appendix that provides brief sketches of the lesser-known founders. What the book lacks in narrative elegance it makes up for in forceful argument-- it pulls off the trick of being both brief and thorough. Readers who admire Founding Brothers by Joseph Ellis will appreciate this book, especially if they are religiously inclined. --John Miller --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Library Journal
Novak (religion and public policy, American Enterprise Inst.; Belief and Disbelief) argues that religion played a central role in the lives of, and the documents by, the founders of the American republic. He further attempts to show how Washington, Jefferson, Madison, and others had in common a "humble faith." He is most convincing when presenting evidence that biblical language and allusions permeated the writings of these leaders but is less successful in showing that the religion they thought useful for others also held personal importance for them. The book is weakened by a definition of religious faith so broad that "humble faith" becomes merely religious sensibility. Novak is clearly passionate about his topic, but he relies heavily on secondary works, so that at times this is more of a summary than an addition to the topic. Useful for collections seeking differing viewpoints on American history. Jan Blodgett, Davidson Coll., NC
Copyright 2001 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
Top customer reviews
When examining the founders, many fail to recognize what life was like under the Anglican Establishment, which the founders sought to end. While being against the national establishment of a secular religion, the founder's went so far as to support the state establishment of such.
While the first half of the book examines the intent of the founders, the second half takes a look at some of the founders who have been often overlooked by historians for their religious views.
Overall, this book is clear and accurate. I was thoroughly impressed by the authors' research. The book reads extremely well. I only had two complaints about the book, I wished it were another thousand pages, as I absolutely did not want this book to end, and the font size was a little small, making it difficult for us old codgers.
This is a book I will keep on the bookshelf by my desk, as I am sure I will reference this magnificent work often. I cannot recommend this book highly enough to anyone interested in learning the true intent behind the separation of church and state.
To begin with, it's clear Novak has either "fallen for" or else is trying to promote the "Great Non sequitur" that if America's Founders were "religious", they wanted the GOVERNMENT of America to be "religious" as well. Nothing could be further from the truth. The Constitution clearly creates a government where religion is kept separate. Far from insuring a religious government, the No Religious Test Clause of Article 6, Paragraph 3 insures the opposite: that anyone can be a member of our government REGARDLESS OF THEIR RELIGIOUS BELIEFS OR LACK THEREOF!
Second, his initial premise (that anyone believes the Founders "set out to erase religion") is nonsense. (Except, perhaps, for those Anti-Theists whose views are a mirror-image of his own.)
Third, it's clear that Novak is "cherry picking" his sources and providing "snippets" taken out-of-context to support his views. For example, it matters not a whit what the CONTINENTAL Congress did. It existed BEFORE the Constitution was enacted. Ditto for Ben Franklin's suggestion as to what the National Motto should be: since it was NEVER adopted I fail to see the relevance. (Besides "proving" Franklin may have been somewhat religious - something no one can deny.) I wonder if he similarly sites the famous (and frequently misused) incident where Franklin suggested the Constitutional Convention should begin its daily activities with prayer. This is often cited as "proof" for the "religious origin" of our nation. Too bad the people invoking this event leave out the "punch line" to the story: Franklin's proposal was rejected on the grounds that it was too divisive!
For far better books on the subject of America's founding, and the part religion plays in the Constitution, I suggest the works of Edwin S. Gaustad, particularly "Faith of the Founders".
Or "Founding Faith" by Stephan Waldman.