Believers, Thinkers, and Founders, by Kevin Seamus Hasson New York: Image, 2016, 240 pp, hardcover, ISBN: 978-0307718181.
What is the difference of pledging allegiance to “one nation under God,” versus “one nation under Jesus Christ?” Is liberty, as the framers of the Constitution understood it, possible without an acknowledgment of a divine authority which bestows such liberty? These are just two of the questions that Kevin Seamus Hasson addresses in his 2016 book, Believers, Thinkers, and Founders.
I had the pleasure the past few days of reading this book, and interviewing Seamus, as he prefers to be called, before writing this review. The author was pleasant and engaging, and his passion for his work shines through both in his writing and in conversation. Seamus is a retired attorney who, in 1993, founded the now famous Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, “a non-profit, public-interest legal and educational institute with a mission to protect the free expression of all faiths.” He served as the organization’s president until his retirement in 2011, and continues to serve on the Board of Directors as President Emeritus. He received a B.S. in Theology and Economics, an M.A. in Theology, and a Juris Doctorate from Notre Dame, and holds three honorary doctorate degrees.
Believers, Thinkers, and Founders is an easy-to-read book that tackles some very big issues. The book was written with the goal that “people without degrees would be able to engage the arguments around religious liberty in America.”
Beginning with the story of atheist activist Michael Newdow’s court battle to remove “under God” from the Pledge of Allegiance,” the book then takes an excursus into a discussion of two groups commonly found in debates over the relationship between the state and religion. These groups, called “pilgrims” and “park rangers,” represent the two extremes that would either “permit only their faith to be practiced publicly” (Pilgrims), or contend that “truth claims about God – no matter how harmless – have no place in public culture.” (9-13) He then proceeds to offer a middle-road between the two extremes – one that argues of the basis of historical court cases, the basic idea of liberty and its source (Chapter 4), the history of the Founders and the framing of the Constitution (Chapters 7 and 10), and the philosophical approaches that influenced those early founders and proto-founders (Chapters 6, 8 and 9).
There is an over-arching idea that really stuck with me after reading the book:
This is the distinction between making a philosophical statement and making a religious statement. Seamus contends that national statements, such as “In God we trust” or “one nation under God” or “endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights” are philosophical statements which not only are appropriate in the public sphere of a nation founded on the idea of religious liberty, but are essential for a right understanding and protection of that very liberty.
When asked what he wanted readers to know about his book, Seamus wanted to encourage that the book not be misread as his putting up a “golden-calf” in his arguments for what he refers to as the “philosopher’s God.” This idea that an understanding of the existence of a good God who endows men with liberty could be taken by some (especially the “pilgrims”) as a watering-down of Christian truth. However, Seamus contends, and I agree, that this has always been the position of Christian (and much secular) scholarship, reaching clear back to the apostle Paul’s preaching in Athens, where he engaged the philosophers of his day on their own terms.
Believers, Thinkers, and Founders is an excellent book with enough scholarship to make it a formidable tool in discussions of faith in the public square, and enough simple clarity to make it accessible to those outside formal academia. I highly recommend it.
 http://www.becketfund.org/our-mission, (accessed June 22, 2016).
 http://www.becketfund.org/staff-members/kevin-j-seamus-hasson, (accessed June 22, 2016).
 Kevin Seamus Hasson, interview (conducted June 22, 2016.)
 The terms “pilgrims” and “park rangers” are taken from Hasson’s earlier book, The Right to Be Wrong, (New York, Image, 2012).
 The idea of the philosopher’s God is explored in depth in Chapter 6, then referenced throughout the remainder of the book.
 Acts 17.
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