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Revolutionary Spirits: The Enlightened Faith of America's Founding Fathers Hardcover – February 1, 2008

4.3 out of 5 stars 15 customer reviews

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From Publishers Weekly

What did the founding fathers believe about God and the Bible? Unitarian Universalist minister Kowalski (The Souls of Animals) joins the chorus of answers with this elegantly written book, which clearly situates the founders in an Enlightenment tradition that privileged reason. Charting a middle ground between those who claim the founders either as orthodox Christians or total skeptics, Kowalski argues that they were religious liberals who believed in a Creator and in moral law. Benjamin Franklin was more interested in solving scientific riddles than in otherworldly mysteries; nonetheless, he became friendly with revivalist George Whitefield. For George Washington, who harbored some doubts about Christian doctrine, Christianity was more about right behavior than belief. Thomas Jefferson believed in Providence and remained an Episcopalian all his life, but was more at home with classical learning than faith. James Madison, Thomas Paine and John Adams receive similarly nuanced treatments. Kowalski illustrates his arguments with just the right quotations from the founders themselves, and his economy of prose is to be commended: he never belabors his points. This slim volume will sit nicely on the shelf with similar offerings by Forrest Church, Jon Meacham and David Holmes. (Feb.)
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Review

"An interesting and valuable contribution to the growing literature of the Founders and their precious legacy of freedom of religion."  —Willard Sterne Randall, author, Thomas Jefferson: A Life


“Imaginatively conceived and very well-written.”  —Jon Roberts, author, Darwinism and the Divine in America


"A masterful synthesis of the founding fathers' spiritual inclinations."  —James E. McWilliams, author, A Revolution in Eating: How the Quest for Food Shaped America


"To the ongoing debate over the place of religion in the early Republic, Gary Kowalski has made a vigorous, thoughtful, and eminently readable contribution."  —Forrest Church, author, So Help Me God: The Founding Fathers and the First Great Battle over Church and State


"Should be read for the sheer joy of the read, certainly; but more to the point, it should be required reading for every voting American."  —Phyllis Tickle, author, The Shaping of a Life



"A well written look at the beliefs held by America's founding fathers, this readable book will appeal to anyone interested in learning what drove the authors of the Constitution."  —MonstersandCritics.com

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Bluebridge (February 1, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1933346094
  • ISBN-13: 978-1933346090
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 0.9 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (15 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #593,401 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Patricia R. Dunlap on April 24, 2008
Format: Hardcover
Although historians of the Enlightenment will miss the cultural environment that drove religion (and nearly every human endeavor) toward scientific methodology in the 18th-century West, Revolutionary Spirits makes its point clearly. This nation was deliberately established on a secular foundation, a point the author, a Unitarian minister, argues effectively using biographical data.

The biographies are based on the everyday lives of men such as Franklin, Adams, and Jefferson as they relate to religious practice and concepts. Quotations from statements and writings, the usual Sunday activities of these men, and unexpected practices such as Washington's refusal to mix government with theology as president help to explain why this nation separates church and state and insists upon religious tolerance.

It is the absence of the ideas emerging from Europe in the preceding century -- the ideas that drove this natural law version of religion that was so popular among intellectuals -- that makes this book so readable. If the author had ventured into the 17th-century to explore the roots of these concepts known as Deism, he might well have lost the very audience that needs to read this book.

The average American needs to understand that our nation has a secular (not a Judeo-Christian) foundation and that this is true because our founders were advocates of a rational religion devoid of miracles, superstition, and revelation, and tolerant of every other religion as well as no religion.

I strongly recommend Revolutionary Spirits to all who wonder about these issues.
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I borrowed Revolutionary Spirits from my local library and after the first two chapters I went online and ordered a copy to keep on my bookcase at home. This volume is wonderfully researched and the writing is a pleasure to read. Anybody who is interested in really understanding the theological culture of this time period should consult this book. Anybody who is interested in understanding the political culture of this time period should consult Forest Church's "So Help Me God".
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Format: Hardcover
With the election of 2008 looming close, there are several new books on the market revisiting the early years of the American Experiment. One of the classics of an earlier era was a little paperback titled America's Real Religion written by A. Powell Davies, minister of All Souls in Washington DC, published back in 1949. It was a historical look at several key Founding Fathers noting their progressive philosophical and political leanings. I view Gary Kowalski's book Revolutionary Spirits in this same tradition. Nothing is quite so interesting and helpful as seeing the actual words of what someone said. Like any good interviewer, the author of this new work knows what questions to ask and finds plenty of solid material in his research to share with the reader. As you read this book these revolutionary spirits seem just as relevant to our times as they were to theirs. Go out and buy the book.
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Format: Hardcover
I have always enjoyed Gary Kowalski's work. It is both scholarly and readable and its message is always humanistic. Revolutionary Spirits continues that style; it introduces some little-known facts about our founding fathers: Benjamin Franklin, George Washington, Thomas Paine, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison. All highly intelligent and creative men, their religious and spiritual lives ran the gamut of church affiliation or lack thereof. Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin, in particular, were highly influenced by the natural world. They were all "religious liberals" and believed that diversity was a national treasure.
In this time of conservative thought and political action, it would do anyone good to read about what our founding fathers believed, what influenced their thoughts and actions, and how they established this country's government and set of core precepts and values.
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Format: Hardcover
Revolutionary Spirits: The Enlightened Faith of America's Founding Fathers reveals the truth about the religious and spiritual sides of America's founders, many of whom had belief systems that were much more complicated than the mainstream Christianity of the era. Thomas Jefferson performed mathematical calculations to disprove the alleged great flood of Noah's era; James Madison researched the theory that life evolved through natural causes without divine assistance; George Washington deliberately refrained from using the word "God" in his public statements; and Benjamin Franklin created his own private liturgy, to provide just a few examples. Dispelling myths about what the founders believed, Revolutionary Spirits explores their faiths in Nature's God and their quest for inspiration in Creation rather than through traditional religious dogma. A fascinating portrait of Franklin, Washington, Paine, Adams, Jefferson and Madison that sheds light on their efforts as religious reformers and freethinkers, a side to them often overlooked in history's study of them as political rebels. Highly recommended.
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This is one of a handful of exceptional books on the true faith (Deism) of many of the Founding Fathers (and most of the key ones).

Others would include:

- "Moral Minority: Our Skeptical Founding Fathers"

- "The Faiths of the Founding Fathers"

- "Revolutionary Deists: Early America's Rational Infidels"

- "Nature's God: The Heretical Origins of the American Republic"

And everything that you can get your hands on by Thomas Paine!
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