Starred Review. Various American evangelicals have claimed the founding fathers as believing and practicing Protestants who intended America to be a Christian nation. Secularists, on the other hand, see in the same historical record evidence that the founders were often Deists at best. Both views are grossly oversimplified, argues Waldman, cofounder and editor-in-chief of Beliefnet.com. In this engaging, well-researched study, Waldman focuses on the five founding fathers who had the most influence on religion's role in the state—Franklin, Jefferson, Washington, Adams and Madison—and untangles their complex legacy. They were certainly diverse in religiosity, with Jefferson a self-diagnosed heretic, for instance, and Washington a churchgoing Anglican who was silent on points of doctrine and refrained from taking communion. All, however, were committed to the creation of religious freedom in the new nation. Waldman deserves kudos for systematically debunking popular myths: America was not primarily settled by people seeking religious freedom; the separation of church and state did not result from the activism of secularists, but, paradoxically, from the efforts of 18th-century evangelicals; and the American Revolution was as much a reaction against European theocracy as a struggle for economic or political freedom. Waldman produces a thoughtful and remarkably balanced account of religion in early America. (Mar. 18)
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“Steven Waldman, a veteran journalist and co-founder of Beliefnet.com, a religious web site, surveys the convictions and legacy of the founders clearly and fairly, with a light touch but a careful eye.”—New York Times Book Review
“Waldman ends by encouraging us to be like the founders. We should understand their principles, learn from their experience, then have at it ourselves. 'We must pick up the argument that they began and do as they instructed – use our reason to determine our views.' A good place to start is this entertaining, provocative book.”—New York Times Book Review
"Steven Waldman's enlightening new book, Founding Faith
, is wise and engaging on many levels, but Waldman has done a particular service in detailing Madison's role in creating a culture of religious freedom that has served America so well for so long….Founding Faith
is an excellent book about an important subject: the inescapable—but manageable—intersection of religious belief and public life. With a grasp of history and an understanding of the exigencies of the moment, Waldman finds a middle ground between those who think of the Founders as apostles in powdered wigs and those who assert, equally inaccurately, that the Founders believed religion had no place in politics."–Newsweek
"Well-wrought, well-written and well-reasoned—a welcome infusion of calm good sense into a perennially controversial and relevant subject."–Kirkus Reviews
takes up two central questions about religion in early America. First, what did such Founding Fathers as Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison usually believe? And second, how did it come about that the First Amendment to the Constitution guarantees that 'Congress shall make no laws respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof'? The answers to these questions carry implications for our lives today, since at stake is the flash-point principle of the separation of church and state." –Washington Post
“There is a fierce custody battle going on out there for ownership of the Founding Fathers. Founding Faith
strikes me as a major contribution to that debate, a sensible and sophisticated argument that the Founders’ religious convictions defy our current categories.”
–Joseph Ellis, author of American Creation
“Steven Waldman does a great job describing the nuances of the Founders’ beliefs and the balances they struck, thus rescuing them from those on both sides who would oversimplify their ideas.” –Walter Isaacson, president of the Aspen Institute and author of Benjamin Franklin: An American Life.
“This is a history every American should know, and Waldman masterfully tells it.”–Jim Wallis, author of The Great Awakening
“Steven Waldman recovers the founders’ true beliefs with an insightful and truly original argument. It will change the way you think about the separation of church and state.” –George Stephanopoulos, chief Washington correspondent, ABC News, and anchor of This Week
“Steve Waldman makes the strong case that the culture wars have distorted how and why we have religious freedom in America. Americans can be inspired by this story–the extraordinary birth story of freedom of religion.”–William J. Bennett, author of America: The Last Best Hope
“An unusually well-balanced book on an unusually controversial subject. Not every reader will agree with Waldman that, of the Founding Fathers, James Madison’s conclusions about religion and society were best. But all should be grateful for the way Waldman replaces myths with facts, clarifies the complexity in making the Founders speak to present-day problems, and allows the Founders who differed with Madison a full and sympathetic hearing. An exceptionally fair, well-researched, and insightful book.”–Mark A. Noll, University of Notre Dame, author of America’s God