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on March 28, 2015
As a life-long student of history and a teacher of both history and political science for the last 25 years, I found Waldman's book very enlightening. There are no easy answers to the question "Was America founded as a Christian nation"? and Waldman points that out without beating you over the head or leading you to one answer or the other. The answer is complicated, which is exactly the point, and anyone who says that they know what the founders intended is either lying, a fool, or both since the term "founders" cannot be easily defined. These were men from varied backgrounds, religious backgrounds and political philosophies. Yes, there were over-arching similarities, but there were still enough differences that required compromise among them when it came to the phrasing of the First Amendment. This book is an easy read. If anything, it has whet my appetite to delve into a more intricate examination of the topic.
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on December 17, 2014
Any Religion that needs to be affirmed or endorsed by a particular worldly empire or nation's government in order to thrive is likely a weak religion using the government as a crutch. The laws of men forced upon the Kingdom of Christ is an intrusion the church can do without. If you don't believe that to be true then you might feel differently after reading this book. Religious liberty in the United States has thrived not in spite of the separation of church and state but rather because of it. In this book you will discover how that actually is the case and how our country went from being a Protestant Christian nation that was intolerant of all other faiths and denominations, to one of religious freedom where all faiths can thrive. This is an extremely important book for all people of every faith to read in order to understand why the Separation of Church and State is essential to healthy religion, free of Government encroachment.
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on January 16, 2012
I'm an attorney and politically very liberal. I regularly study First Amendment law. I found this book to quite well written and very thorough in citing sources. It was one of the most honest books I've read on the subject and have recommended it to Tea Party conservatives as well as my socialist friends. It's well written because it it honest in its approach does not hesitate to agree with one side or the other. I recommend it because (like any good teacher/author), after reading it, one still does not know what the author actually thinks or believes. The author's biases do not shine through in the writing. I was very impressed - though not always liking or agreeing with what I was reading - the historical accuracy seems very convincing given the solid authority and historical text it cites. I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in American History, religious liberty in the U.S., or understanding the Founding Fathers' religious backgrounds.
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on July 14, 2010
To get a good understanding what kind of book Mr. Waldman wrote can be best shown by the tone of the following excerpt. "If the Founders who wrote the Constitution or witnessed its creation disagreed about what it meant, then we should all cut each other some slack. When we argue that our adversaries are wrong, we should remember that mostly they are likely wrong (or right) at the margins. They are inaccurate, not corrupt; mistaken, not evil." The author's book is not some screed cherry-picking passages to support his political agenda. It is a well thought out review of the time and various attitudes of the major players in colonial America. As the late Neil Postman wrote, "The Constitution is not a catechism. It's a hypothesis." We childishly believe that the Founding Fathers were all like-minded when it comes to religions place in our new republic. It is an amazing document but was also constructed through political machinations. Many aspects of the Constitution are vague because it was the only way to get it approved. Mr. Waldman takes great pains to show how the novel approach of allowing broadbased religious freedom was truly a remarkable confluence of events and people. Ignore the political and religious windbags and read this educational, interesting book. This is great history.
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Highly useful book on the religion of the Founding Fathers, and their intent concerning religious freedom and the separation of church and state. Founding Faith is a fair and balanced book, puncturing liberal and conservative myths about the topic with equal cheer, and more importantly, placing the discussion squarely within the historical context of what the Founders were doing and what it was possible for them to accomplish.

So were the colonies Christian? Yes, of course, and more, predominantly Protestant with considerable anti-Catholic bias. Most colonies did have an established church, mostly Anglican or Congregationalist, yet, after the revivalism of the Great Awakening period in the mid-1700s, the colonies were more religiously diverse than ever. The fear that the British Crown would force all the colonists to be Anglican was a factor in the Revolution.

Some of the factors leading the young nation into religious tolerance were pragmatic. George Washington, for example, was trying to forge a unified fighting force out of a religiously diverse group of soldiers. He had to quell the level of anti-Catholicism because he was trying to persuade the French Catholics in Canada to join in the Revolution.

Were the Founders Deists? No, they weren't, as even Jefferson and Franklin acknowledged the hand of Providence in the affairs of men. But neither were the five Founding Fathers that Waldman profiles orthodox Christians. Franklin flirted with a variety of religions, including Deism (the philosophy that God created the Universe like a watchmaker creates a watch, and then retreated from participation in his creation), but he also was was interested in the Great Awakening and thought the influence of Christianity upon the morals of people was a good one. Adams was more likely than the others to support government involvement in religion, but he moved more towards Unitarianism the older he got and rejected much of orthodox Christianity, thinking that the much that was good in it had been corrupted, but that its founding principles were still the best. Jefferson was similar but more so. Like Adams, he despised the influence of clerics throughout history. He rejected the divinity of Jesus and the miracles, but was so enthralled by the moral teachings of Jesus he twice cut apart Bibles and pasted the parts he thought uncorrupt into new documents and apparently read them often. Washington was the most silent about religion, rarely attended church, yet often used the religious rhetoric of his day. He did, though, speak of religious equality (for Jews specifically) . Most important of all was James Madison, who was the primary writer of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

Madison did not leave behind a clear record of his religious views, but from what there is, he seems to have been more orthodox than the others. He was, however, of all of them, the most devoted to the idea of religious toleration. One of the factors that shaped this was his knowledge of the Baptist preachers in Virginia who were often jailed and beaten, and who had to go through lots of hoops to even be able to perform marriages. Madison believed that religious support for one church over others was BAD FOR RELIGION, as well as the state, that it oppressed some religions while making the dominant one lazy. He also thought it a weak faith than needed government support, as well as believing it was bad to force anyone to profess and be taxed to support a religion in which they did not believe. The original language of what is now the First Amendment refers to the "rights of conscience", an even broader formulation than what is in the current amendment.

One of the important historical points that Waldman made is that Madison was a politician, who had to be able to get the votes of other Congressmen to get the Bill of Rights passed. Madison did not get everything he wanted, and what was passed enabled those who wanted some religion in politics to interpret the result their way, as well as those who wanted a strict separation to interpret it their way. Most importantly, Madison did not get a law that applied the Bill of Rights to the states. This meant, for example, that states were perfectly free to establish churches, which most did, though they gradually disappeared during the first half of the nineteenth century. It wasn't until the 14th Amendment was passed after the Civil War that the Bill of Rights did apply to the states.

Waldman's most important point, perhaps, is that many religious people did then and do now support religious toleration. "He [Madison] and his Baptist allies would be mystified by the assumption that being pro-separation means being anti-God." (p. 201). It seems no coincidence that the United Sates is one of the most religiously free, religiously diverse, and religiously flourishing nations on earth.
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on July 27, 2012
The book was recommended by a friend. It was a revelation and an all important analysis of events in American history that I didn't know. Comming from a European background, it helped me understand the enormous influence of religion in present day American and the origin of religious freedom. Its history and struggles, as revealed in the book, are much different than the twist given by the general public and in particular by politicians who are all too prone to distort it in order to promote their own agenda. It is a must reading for anyone interested in understanding this phase of American history. Highschool students would profit most from this profound analysis. It is well written and clearly well-researched. The author goes through considerable effort to remain as impartial as possible. Even when he expresses an opinion it is frequently accompanied with objective alternatives. I highly recommend the book!!!
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on December 14, 2010
This book provides an excellent description of not only what the founding fathers did but also why they did it and how they arrived at that point in their lives. It included quite a bit of information that I had never been exposed to in history classes, such as the religious persecution that took place in several colonies before independence. I came away with a new perspective on church and state. This book will not totally please those who want to see more religion in public life or those who want to see religion removed from our lives. The point of the "wall of separation between church and state" (Thomas Jefferson's words) was not to protect the state from religion but to protect religion from the state. The more that government meddled in religion or supported one religion over others, the more the freedom of religion was likely to be lost. That's what our nation was founded on: not on a particular religion and not on no religion but on the principle that each of us has the freedom to choose our spiritual path according to our own conscience.
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on February 9, 2014
Waldman makes excellent points in trying to discern what five founders--Franklin, Washington, Adams, Jefferson, and Madison--intended by religious freedom. Of course they did not agree on many points, but what is fascinating is to see the inanity of trying to foist modern-day matters on a First Amendment severely limited in scope. So even though Madison and Jefferson were strict separationists, they understood that states had the authority to regulate religion without federal interference. All that changed with ratification of the Fourteenth Amendment, which Waldman maintains supercedes the First Amendment as ratified in 1791. He makes a cogent argument for recognizing the validity of viewpoints from both sides of the "culture wars" debate. This is a well-balanced, insightful, and smartly written analysis. If a longer tome with all the major players, it would be one of the defining works on the topic.
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on July 7, 2014
This book was a pleasure from beginning to end. So much so, I bought it as gifts for two other people. This book refutes much of the rhetoric from what we see as "both sides" regarding the involvement of religion in our nation's origin: the country was founded as a secular institution, the country was founded as a Christian nation. This book does not disappoint.
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on April 19, 2008
"Founding Faith" makes an excellent contribution to our understanding of the origins and development of religious liberty in the United States. Nevertheless, I believe that Mr. Waldman places too much emphasis on the views and writings of just a handful of individuals, especially James Madison. His affection for Madison is palpable, but the truth of the matter is--a reality that Waldman grudgingly concedes--that Madison had to compromise his principles in order to secure adoption of what, for him, was a watered-down First Amendment.

Waldman also exaggerates the extent to which the views of Jefferson and Madison regarding the separation of church and state subsequently prevailed in this country. He applauds President Madison for abandoning his predecessors' practice of periodically calling for a national day of prayer and fasting, suggesting that Madison had seen the wisdom of not using his high office to encourage religious practices. But Mr. Waldman fails to note that Abraham Lincoln on no fewer than three occasions called for national days of fasting, humiliation and prayer. Lincoln, like Washington, believed that the country could not survive the current crisis without divine assistance and a willingness on the part of the citizenry to acknowledge and correct their misdeeds. No one at the time suggested that Lincoln had inappropriately breached the "wall" separating church from state, nor should they today.

In addition, Waldman, in his final chapter openly acknowledges the extent to which government and religion overlap and offer each other mutual support. Government pays for chaplains in the military, references God on its currency, and commences its legislative sessions with a word of prayer (though, given Congress' recent performance, I'm not sure the Almighty has been listening). The federal treasury also provides tremendous financial subsidies to churches: they don't pay taxes and all tithes and donations are fully deductible by church members--deductions that reduce the tax revenue the government ultimately receives. Although such an arrangement unquestionably constitutes government support of religion, it is one that redounds to the benefit of both parties. Because of these tax breaks, the Catholic Relief Services has the resources it needs to provide services to needy individuals who would otherwise be seeking assistance from the government. And just ask the folks in New Orleans who did a better job of providing emergency aid after Hurricane Katrina: FEMA or the tax-exempt Mormon Church?

Yes, as Mr. Waldman notes, we should not be wasting our time over matters such as prayers in public schools, but, by the same token, we should not deny that the "wall" that separates church and state has a lot of doors in it--doors that swing both ways to the benefit of all.
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