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The culture wars have distorted the dramatic story of how Americans came to worship freely. Many activists on the right maintain that the United States was founded as a "Christian nation." Many on the left contend that the Founders were secular or Deist and that the First Amendment was designed to boldly separate church and state throughout the land. None of these claims a The culture wars have distorted the dramatic story of how Americans came to worship freely. Many activists on the right maintain that the United States was founded as a "Christian nation." Many on the left contend that the Founders were secular or Deist and that the First Amendment was designed to boldly separate church and state throughout the land. None of these claims are true, argues Beliefnet.com editor in chief Steven Waldman. With refreshing objectivity, Waldman narrates the real story of how our nation's Founders forged a new approach to religious liberty, a revolutionary formula that promoted faith . . . by leaving it alone. This fast-paced narrative begins with earlier settlers' stunningly unsuccessful efforts to create a Christian paradise, and concludes with the presidencies of Washington, Adams, Jefferson, and Madison, during which the men who had devised lofty principles regarding the proper relationship between church and state struggled to practice what they'd preached. We see how religion helped cause, and fuel, the Revolutionary War, and how the surprising alliance between Enlightenment philosophers such as Jefferson and Madison and evangelical Christians resulted in separation of church and state. As the drama unfolds, "Founding Faith "vividly describes the religious development of five Founders. Benjamin Franklin melded the morality-focused Puritan theology of his youth and the reason-based Enlightenment philosophy of his adulthood. John Adams's pungent views on religion-hatred of the Church of England and Roman Catholics-stoked his revolutionary fervor and shaped his political strategy. George Washington came to view religious tolerance as a military necessity. Thomas Jefferson pursued a dramatic quest to "rescue" Jesus, in part by editing the Bible. Finally, it was James Madison-the tactical leader of the battle for religious freedom-who crafted an integrated vision of how to prevent tyranny while encouraging religious vibrancy. The spiritual custody battle over the Founding Fathers and the role of religion in America continues today. Waldman provocatively argues that neither side in the culture war has accurately depicted the true origins of the First Amendment. He sets the record straight, revealing the real history of religious freedom to be dramatic, unexpected, paradoxical, and inspiring. An interactive library of the key writings by the Founding Father, on separation of church and state, personal faith, and religious liberty can be found at www.beliefnet.com/foundingfaith. Praise for Founding Faith "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 " ""Founding Faith" 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"


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The culture wars have distorted the dramatic story of how Americans came to worship freely. Many activists on the right maintain that the United States was founded as a "Christian nation." Many on the left contend that the Founders were secular or Deist and that the First Amendment was designed to boldly separate church and state throughout the land. None of these claims a The culture wars have distorted the dramatic story of how Americans came to worship freely. Many activists on the right maintain that the United States was founded as a "Christian nation." Many on the left contend that the Founders were secular or Deist and that the First Amendment was designed to boldly separate church and state throughout the land. None of these claims are true, argues Beliefnet.com editor in chief Steven Waldman. With refreshing objectivity, Waldman narrates the real story of how our nation's Founders forged a new approach to religious liberty, a revolutionary formula that promoted faith . . . by leaving it alone. This fast-paced narrative begins with earlier settlers' stunningly unsuccessful efforts to create a Christian paradise, and concludes with the presidencies of Washington, Adams, Jefferson, and Madison, during which the men who had devised lofty principles regarding the proper relationship between church and state struggled to practice what they'd preached. We see how religion helped cause, and fuel, the Revolutionary War, and how the surprising alliance between Enlightenment philosophers such as Jefferson and Madison and evangelical Christians resulted in separation of church and state. As the drama unfolds, "Founding Faith "vividly describes the religious development of five Founders. Benjamin Franklin melded the morality-focused Puritan theology of his youth and the reason-based Enlightenment philosophy of his adulthood. John Adams's pungent views on religion-hatred of the Church of England and Roman Catholics-stoked his revolutionary fervor and shaped his political strategy. George Washington came to view religious tolerance as a military necessity. Thomas Jefferson pursued a dramatic quest to "rescue" Jesus, in part by editing the Bible. Finally, it was James Madison-the tactical leader of the battle for religious freedom-who crafted an integrated vision of how to prevent tyranny while encouraging religious vibrancy. The spiritual custody battle over the Founding Fathers and the role of religion in America continues today. Waldman provocatively argues that neither side in the culture war has accurately depicted the true origins of the First Amendment. He sets the record straight, revealing the real history of religious freedom to be dramatic, unexpected, paradoxical, and inspiring. An interactive library of the key writings by the Founding Father, on separation of church and state, personal faith, and religious liberty can be found at www.beliefnet.com/foundingfaith. Praise for Founding Faith "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 " ""Founding Faith" 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"

30 review for Founding Faith: Providence, Politics, and the Birth of Religious Freedom in America

  1. 4 out of 5

    Lauren Albert

    An intelligent and well-researched look at the thoughts, feelings and beliefs about religion of the Founding Fathers. When it comes down to it, there is no hard and fast "truth" about their intent. Not only did each of them have different positions, but, as Waldman shows, they often tempered them for political reasons. Better a partial win than a total loss: “I believe there’s ample evidence that Madison wanted a strict separation of church and state. He wanted it locally; he wanted it nationall An intelligent and well-researched look at the thoughts, feelings and beliefs about religion of the Founding Fathers. When it comes down to it, there is no hard and fast "truth" about their intent. Not only did each of them have different positions, but, as Waldman shows, they often tempered them for political reasons. Better a partial win than a total loss: “I believe there’s ample evidence that Madison wanted a strict separation of church and state. He wanted it locally; he wanted it nationally. But here’s a point that all of us Founding Father Lovers forget: It is not only their views that matter. Madison was in the business of building a political majority. We today may not pay attention to the other members of his legislative majority, but Madison sure did.” 154 Madison comes out as the hero in this book. He believed that religion would best flourish if left alone by the government: “[Madison] and his Baptist allies would be mystified by the assumption that being pro-separation means being anti-God. How on earth does it follow that if you treasure religion, you’d want government touching it? Church and state, when married, bring out the worst in each other, Madison would say. If God is powerful, he does not need the support of the Treasury.” 201 Until the Civil War led to the passing of the Fourteenth Amendment, in 1866, the legal separation of church and state was only mandated for the federal government. It was a concession made necessary by the greater urgency of getting the Constitution passed. Side bar: One interesting fact--George Washington forbade persecution of Catholics--they had been victimized by some soldiers. He knew the religious diversity of the troops of the Continental army and didn't want to alienate any of them.

  2. 4 out of 5

    R.M. Archer

    Waldman takes a balanced view of the religious beliefs of the Founding Fathers, through the proper lens of the culture of the time, and addresses misused quotes on both sides of the culture wars. Balance is hard to find these days, so I greatly appreciated Waldman's approach. Waldman takes a balanced view of the religious beliefs of the Founding Fathers, through the proper lens of the culture of the time, and addresses misused quotes on both sides of the culture wars. Balance is hard to find these days, so I greatly appreciated Waldman's approach.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Clinton

    Interesting and lucid history of religious liberty in the US by the editor-in-chief of Beliefnet.com. The book has two purposes: 1. Providing a layman's overview of the evolution of religious freedom, mostly focusing on the founding fathers, esp. Washington, Adams, Franklin, Jefferson, and Madison and 2. debunking the myths used most frequently by the contemporary secularist left and Christian right. One key idea that gets lost with distance and revision is that 18th century evangelicals--especi Interesting and lucid history of religious liberty in the US by the editor-in-chief of Beliefnet.com. The book has two purposes: 1. Providing a layman's overview of the evolution of religious freedom, mostly focusing on the founding fathers, esp. Washington, Adams, Franklin, Jefferson, and Madison and 2. debunking the myths used most frequently by the contemporary secularist left and Christian right. One key idea that gets lost with distance and revision is that 18th century evangelicals--especially Virginia Baptists--were some of the most fervent advocates of the separation of church and state. Also debunks the idea that all of the founders were Deists. In Waldman's view, not one was purely Deist. Rather, all those featured had life-long spiritual evolutions that they thought (and wrote, with the exception of Washington) long and hard about. Features short, fast-paced chapters with extensive footnotes. Further complicates (for the better, this time) recent things I've read about Thomas Jefferson. That guy was like an onion. If you like Joseph J. Ellis' brand of American history, you'll probably like this.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Jon

    Fascinating and readable account of the role played by religion in the founding of the United States and how both liberals and conservatives are partly wrong in cherry picking the founding fathers for support in their separation of church and state arguments. Makes a good case for the Revolutionary War as being a religious conflict (the participants certainly thought so)--as various religious factions fought to keep the Anglican church from becoming the established (tax supported) church through Fascinating and readable account of the role played by religion in the founding of the United States and how both liberals and conservatives are partly wrong in cherry picking the founding fathers for support in their separation of church and state arguments. Makes a good case for the Revolutionary War as being a religious conflict (the participants certainly thought so)--as various religious factions fought to keep the Anglican church from becoming the established (tax supported) church throughout the colonies. The personal religious views of Franklin, Washington, Jefferson, Adams, and Madison are carefully discussed and distinguished. The account of Benjamin Franklin rewriting the Lord's Prayer to suit himself was particularly surprising to me. Not a single phrase suited him, and he explained step by step why the King James version seemed inadequate to him. His rationale for his changes would make a good start for any discussion of what the prayer means. Somewhat repetitious, but overall full of fascinating detail I've never seen before. (But then, I'm not a student of the subject.)

  5. 4 out of 5

    Kris

    Some useful ideas, but nothing spectacular. He goes through some historical facts, analyzes the personal faith of some Founding Fathers, and debunks some common “church vs. state” myths. He intentionally picks apart weaknesses on both sides of the debate, in an attempt to remain impartial, which is a nice effort. I don’t regret reading it, but would not recommend this as a perfect go-to book on religion in early America. Instead, I would recommend If You Can Keep It: The Forgotten Promise of Amer Some useful ideas, but nothing spectacular. He goes through some historical facts, analyzes the personal faith of some Founding Fathers, and debunks some common “church vs. state” myths. He intentionally picks apart weaknesses on both sides of the debate, in an attempt to remain impartial, which is a nice effort. I don’t regret reading it, but would not recommend this as a perfect go-to book on religion in early America. Instead, I would recommend If You Can Keep It: The Forgotten Promise of American Liberty, or even Written Out of History: The Forgotten Founders Who Fought Big Government. I think these books are similar: America's God: From Jonathan Edwards to Abraham Lincoln Vindicating the Founders: Race, Sex, Class, and Justice in the Origins of America

  6. 4 out of 5

    Murray

    Well written treatise that looks at the contributions of Franklin, Washington, Adams, Jefferson, and Madison to the separation of church and state in this country. Both liberal and conservative myths are debunked in this treatment. Madison, who comes off being the guiding spirit of religious liberty, was able to capitalize on the local politics in his state of Baptists feeling persecuted by the Episcopalian establishment. Washington realized that his troops and this country were too disparate to Well written treatise that looks at the contributions of Franklin, Washington, Adams, Jefferson, and Madison to the separation of church and state in this country. Both liberal and conservative myths are debunked in this treatment. Madison, who comes off being the guiding spirit of religious liberty, was able to capitalize on the local politics in his state of Baptists feeling persecuted by the Episcopalian establishment. Washington realized that his troops and this country were too disparate to permit religious hegemony as was practiced in the several states to that time. Jefferson, ever the questioning firebrand and critical of organized Christianity still had a deep and abiding faith in Providence. Adams evolves into a much more tolerant president than he was when he fostered the Congregational Church in Massachusetts. Fear of Catholicism impelled many of their decisions. One sees these men as the fallible conflicted living humans they were rather than spiritually pure philosophers.

  7. 4 out of 5

    LindaJ^

    This book examines how religious freedom was woven into the US Constitution. To do this, the author focuses on the religious beliefs and contributions of five of the "founding fathers" -- Benjamin Franklin, George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison. He also explores religious bigotry and intolerance in the colonies, the diversity of religious belief in the members of the Continental Congress and Constitutional Convention, and why and how the First Amendment freedom of re This book examines how religious freedom was woven into the US Constitution. To do this, the author focuses on the religious beliefs and contributions of five of the "founding fathers" -- Benjamin Franklin, George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison. He also explores religious bigotry and intolerance in the colonies, the diversity of religious belief in the members of the Continental Congress and Constitutional Convention, and why and how the First Amendment freedom of religion came about. While doing this, he shows how current "liberals" and "conservatives" cherry pick the quotes of the five to support their position. It is an interesting look religion in American from 1608 (Jamestown) through the last of the five to die (Madison). At the end, the author provides his own opinions. Good book if you enjoy American history and ever wondered why the US Constitution has an Amendment guaranteeing freedom of religion and how that amendment should be interpreted. The author is relatively unbiased.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Andrew

    When it comes to the role of religion in politics, modern conservatives and liberals are talking past each other. Both groups get some aspects of the history of faith in politics right, and both distort certain aspects of this history to appear more advantageous to their argument. Founding Faith shows that appealing to the founders as the last word on the role of faith in politics and civic life doesn't answer the questions. There was considerable disagreement among the founders about the extent When it comes to the role of religion in politics, modern conservatives and liberals are talking past each other. Both groups get some aspects of the history of faith in politics right, and both distort certain aspects of this history to appear more advantageous to their argument. Founding Faith shows that appealing to the founders as the last word on the role of faith in politics and civic life doesn't answer the questions. There was considerable disagreement among the founders about the extent of separation, and whether the First Amendment only applied at the federal level or at the state level. This is a fascinating read (and an easy one, too!). Anyone interested in U.S. history, politics, and/or religion will enjoy this book. It ought to be required reading for secular liberals and religious conservatives. And it ought to bring some peace of mind to religious liberals and non-religious conservatives.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Albert

    I urgently believe this book is a must-read for the present generation -- not just for evangelicals (who, sadly, might be too closed-minded to read it) but also for secular humanists. A refreshingly objective review of the importance of the separation of church and state in this country, addressed to a generation that has already forgotten, by attacking myths perpetrated by both sides of the debate. It is so interesting that evangelicals pushed so hard for the creation of the church-state separa I urgently believe this book is a must-read for the present generation -- not just for evangelicals (who, sadly, might be too closed-minded to read it) but also for secular humanists. A refreshingly objective review of the importance of the separation of church and state in this country, addressed to a generation that has already forgotten, by attacking myths perpetrated by both sides of the debate. It is so interesting that evangelicals pushed so hard for the creation of the church-state separation in order to escape persecution from other Christian groups in the US. Now, two centuries later, now that they have become the new persecutors, they don't need it the clause anymore, so they want to get rid of it. This is either hypocrisy on a grand scale or breath-taking ignorance. I come away from this book feeling greatly edified.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Thad

    Wow! I love it when a historian tries to show that everything is not just black and white. This was a great book, and showed how the Founding Father's ideas were developed both out of a personal spirituality as well as a pragmatic view of the need for society to be governed by the social order that religion creates, while not allowing religion to compete with government, or vice versa. Well-researched, with arguments that were well thought out and expressed to suggest what Jefferson, Madison and Wow! I love it when a historian tries to show that everything is not just black and white. This was a great book, and showed how the Founding Father's ideas were developed both out of a personal spirituality as well as a pragmatic view of the need for society to be governed by the social order that religion creates, while not allowing religion to compete with government, or vice versa. Well-researched, with arguments that were well thought out and expressed to suggest what Jefferson, Madison and others thought about religion and its place in the public sphere. An immensely rewarding read.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Matt Hession

    Great unbiased look at the founding fathers, their faith, and its impact on our country.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Denny

    Founding Faith is by far the best, most balanced book on the subject of the American Founding Fathers and their beliefs about religion and religious freedom and how both should be exercised by citizens and government. Waldman works hard to debunk claims made by writers and thinkers on the left and right of the Culture Wars and to restore the Founders' original meaning and context to the process of creating the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. He succeeds spectacularly. As soon as I have a li Founding Faith is by far the best, most balanced book on the subject of the American Founding Fathers and their beliefs about religion and religious freedom and how both should be exercised by citizens and government. Waldman works hard to debunk claims made by writers and thinkers on the left and right of the Culture Wars and to restore the Founders' original meaning and context to the process of creating the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. He succeeds spectacularly. As soon as I have a little extra money, I'll be adding this one to my shelf!

  13. 5 out of 5

    Paul

    Few things are more divisive than the role of religion in American society, and particularly so when it comes to what what part the Founding Fathers "intended" it to play during the nation's birth. "Founding Faith" was an extremely well-balanced and informative work on a topic that's willfully misrepresented by probably about 85% of those discussing it in our public discourse. While liberals and conservatives both selectively cite quotations in order to claim the Jeffersons, Washingtons, and Madi Few things are more divisive than the role of religion in American society, and particularly so when it comes to what what part the Founding Fathers "intended" it to play during the nation's birth. "Founding Faith" was an extremely well-balanced and informative work on a topic that's willfully misrepresented by probably about 85% of those discussing it in our public discourse. While liberals and conservatives both selectively cite quotations in order to claim the Jeffersons, Washingtons, and Madisons as their own when it comes to the separation of church and state, talking about what "the Founding Fathers believed about religion" is something akin to talking about what the American people feel about religion: There's no singular answer. Waldman does an excellent job making clear just how unclear the Founders views were, both at the time and within the context of contemporary discussions on religion and society. Readers across the political and faith spectrum will find this a valuable read as it shows them how little they actually know about what "everyone knows" about our forefathers.

  14. 4 out of 5

    RJ Stewart

    FOUNDING FAITH: Providence, Politics, and the Birth of Religious Freedom in America by Steven Waldman. Had I read this wonderfully researched book before now, say, six or so decades or ago, I might have saved myself from foolish statements when any of those several conversations came along about "what the founding fathers thought." Faith in America inevitably comes to questions of school prayer, abortion, or Nativity scenes at the courthouse, and the rhetoric and volume soon escalate. The left a FOUNDING FAITH: Providence, Politics, and the Birth of Religious Freedom in America by Steven Waldman. Had I read this wonderfully researched book before now, say, six or so decades or ago, I might have saved myself from foolish statements when any of those several conversations came along about "what the founding fathers thought." Faith in America inevitably comes to questions of school prayer, abortion, or Nativity scenes at the courthouse, and the rhetoric and volume soon escalate. The left asserts that, etc etc etc. Conservatives say absolutely not, etc etc etc. Before long the Constitutional questions are debated as in many a high school debate class, with enthusiastic appeals to authority. What did the Founding Fathers think? If we can just crawl into their head (note the singularity) we can figure out what to do right now to avoid straying away from our Christian (or secular) roots! What Steven Waldman has done in this book is to dive very deeply into the history. He sets out to display in quite readable prose what the founders wrote, argued, or said regarding the Constitution and the subsequently legislated Bill of Rights. Neither was the result, as some would have it, of a uniform mindset of Deists, or a uniform mindset of "Christians." Rather, the founders had different views on religion. There were Anglicans, Quakers, Baptists, Puritans, Trinitarians, Unitarians and a handful of lesser known faiths and non-faiths. Each tended to group together such that regions (states) were comfortable with some beliefs and prohibitive of others. For some of the Founders, faith was even fluid; Adams, Jefferson and Franklin modified their beliefs as time wore on. What's more, the adoption of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights were political developments that necessitated compromise. Nobody got everything they wanted when it came to separation of church and state. Especially important politically was the leadership of Washington in the Revolution because he could not expect to win if he alienated or excluded important allies. Catholics, especially loathed among colonists, were impressively welcomed by Washington's army, for example. What Waldman expertly does is take his readers on a fair-handed examination of history. To illustrate, here's a quote from near the end of Waldman's book, when he discusses fallacies on both sides of the "liberal" or "conservative" arguments about what the Founding Fathers believed: "...on other points the founders disagreed. Some believed that government could and should support religion because a vibrant faith sector was essential to a functioning democracy. Others -- most notably James Madison and Thomas Jefferson -- believed that government support for, or use of, religion would invariably harm both, and that the safest route was to always err on the side of strict separation." Central to the crafting of the First Amendment and the ideas of separation was, of course, James Madison. It was his mind that seemed to foresee the difficulties in language, what one author has called "Madison's Music." He is the one deserving much of the credit (or the blame) for the First Amendment, and an examination of his thinking is essential in understanding what the Founders intended. In fact, there is a book with the title "Madison's Music," and it's next on my reading list. For now, I highly recommend Waldman's book and give it the highest marks for fair, even-handed and historically based background on the notion of separation of church and state. In a way, it's too bad Waldman's book was published in 2008. It would be very interesting to have his thoughts on the recent use of force to clear a pathway so that the president could be photographed holding the bible (upside down), in an apparent attempt to bolster his support among modern-day Christians. Separation is not an issue we can correctly say has been decided.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Kai Palchikoff

    The culture wars have distorted the dramatic story of how Americans came to worship freely. Many activists on the right maintain that the United States was founded as a Ì_Ì_ÌÂChristian nation.Ì_Ì_å Many on the left contend that the Founders were secular or Deist and that the First Amendment was designed to boldly separate church and state throughout the land. None of these claims are true, argues Beliefnet.com editor in chief Steven Waldman. With refreshing objectivity, Waldman narrates the real The culture wars have distorted the dramatic story of how Americans came to worship freely. Many activists on the right maintain that the United States was founded as a Ì_Ì_ÌÂChristian nation.Ì_Ì_å Many on the left contend that the Founders were secular or Deist and that the First Amendment was designed to boldly separate church and state throughout the land. None of these claims are true, argues Beliefnet.com editor in chief Steven Waldman. With refreshing objectivity, Waldman narrates the real story of how our nationÌ_Ì_åÈs Founders forged a new approach to religious liberty, a revolutionary formula that promoted faith . . . by leaving it alone.This fast-paced narrative begins with earlier settlersÌ_Ì_åÈ stunningly unsuccessful efforts to create a Christian paradise, and concludes with the presidencies of Washington, Adams, Jefferson, and Madison, during which the men who had devised lofty principles regarding the proper relationship between church and state struggled to practice what theyÌ_Ì_åÈd preached. We see how religion helped cause, and fuel, the Revolutionary War, and how the surprising alliance between Enlightenment philosophers such as Jefferson and Madison and evangelical Christians resulted in separation of church and state.As the drama unfolds, Founding Faith vividly describes the religious development of five Founders. Benjamin Franklin melded the morality-focused Puritan theology of his youth and the reason-based Enlightenment philosophy of his adulthood. John AdamsÌ_Ì_åÈs pungent views on religionÌ_Ì_̱hatred of the Church of England and Roman CatholicsÌ_Ì_̱stoked his revolutionary fervor and shaped his political strategy. George Washington came to view religious tolerance as a military necessity. Thomas Jefferson pursued a dramatic quest to Ì_Ì_ÌÂrescueÌ_Ì_å Jesus, in part by editing the Bible. Finally, it was James MadisonÌ_Ì_̱the tactical leader of the battle for religious freedomÌ_Ì_̱who crafted an integrated vision of how to prevent tyranny while encouraging religious vibrancy.The spiritual custody battle over the Founding Fathers and the role of religion in America continues today. Waldman provocatively argues that neither side in the culture war has accurately depicted the true origins of the First Amendment. He sets the record straight, revealing the real history of religious freedom to be dramatic, unexpected, paradoxical, and inspiring.An interactive library of the key writings by the Founding Father, on separation of church and state, personal faith, and religious liberty can be found at www.beliefnet.com/foundingfaith.Praise for Founding FaithÌ_Ì_ÌÂSteven 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.Ì_Ì_åÌ_Ì_̨New York Times Book ReviewÌ_Ì_ÌÂWaldman ends by encouraging us to be like the founders. We should understand their principles, learn from their experience, then have at it ourselves. Ì_Ì_ÌÂWe must pick up the argument that they began and do as they instructed Ì_Ì_̱ use our reason to determine our views.Ì_Ì_å A good place to start is this entertaining, provocative book.Ì_Ì_åÌ_Ì_̨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 longÌ_Ì__.'Founding Faith' is an excellent book about an important subject: the inescapableÌ_Ì_̨but manageableÌ_Ì_̨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.'Ì_Ì_̱Newsweek'Well-wrought, well-written and well-reasonedÌ_Ì_̨a welcome infusion of calm good sense into a perennially controversial and relevant subject.'Ì_Ì_̱Kirkus'Founding Faith 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.' Ì_Ì_̱Washington PostÌ_Ì_ÌÂThere 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 FoundersÌ_Ì_åÈ religious convictions defy our current categories.Ì_Ì_åÌ_Ì_̱Joseph Ellis, author of American CreationÌ_Ì_ÌÂSteven Waldman does a great job describing the nuances of the FoundersÌ_Ì_åÈ beliefs and the balances they struck, thus rescuing them from those on both sides who would oversimplify their ideas.Ì_Ì_å Ì_Ì_̱Walter Isaacson, president of the Aspen Institute and author of Benjamin Franklin: An American Life.Ì_Ì_ÌÂThis is a history every American should know, and Waldman masterfully tells it.Ì_Ì_åÌ_Ì_̱Jim Wallis, author of The Great AwakeningÌ_Ì_ÌÂSteven Waldman recovers the foundersÌ_Ì_åÈ true beliefs with an insightful and truly original argument. It will change the way you think about the separation of church and state.Ì_Ì_å Ì_Ì_̱George Stephanopoulos, chief Washington correspondent, ABC News, and anchor of This Week Ì_Ì_ÌÂSteve 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 storyÌ_Ì_̱the extraordinary birth story of freedom of religion.Ì_Ì_åÌ_Ì_̱William J. Bennett, author of America: The Last Best HopeÌ_Ì_ÌÂAn unusually well-balanced book on an unusually controversial subject. Not every reader will agree with Waldman that, of the Founding Fathers, James MadisonÌ_Ì_åÈs 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.Ì_Ì_åÌ_Ì_̱Mark A. Noll, University of Notre Dame, author of AmericaÌ_Ì_åÈs God

  16. 5 out of 5

    Spectre

    Steven Waldman, one time CEO of 'Beliefnet.com', explores the impact of religion as the founders of the United States struggle to develop a national constitutional policy regarding government and religious freedom. A short summary might be that since there were so many varied interests and beliefs that these leaders, in order to agree, compromise, and pass a Constitution, decided to be relatively "silent" regarding federal religious laws leaving the subject to the states. That does not mean that Steven Waldman, one time CEO of 'Beliefnet.com', explores the impact of religion as the founders of the United States struggle to develop a national constitutional policy regarding government and religious freedom. A short summary might be that since there were so many varied interests and beliefs that these leaders, in order to agree, compromise, and pass a Constitution, decided to be relatively "silent" regarding federal religious laws leaving the subject to the states. That does not mean that those leaders were bereft of personal religious beliefs- far from it. The author examines the personal religious beliefs and public behaviors of Benjamin Franklin, George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison and their influence on the ongoing public debate of today with emphasis on the 1st and 14th Amendments. My impression is that this book was well written, thorough, and a politically neutral historical study of a very important issue which is anything but neutral then or now.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Kim Dennis

    4.5 stars...the last couple of chapters weren't quite as interesting as the rest of the book. However, I found most of the book fascinating. Years ago I wanted to do a study of the religious views of the Founding Fathers. In this book, Waldman took care of that for me. One of the things that I really liked is that he examined both sides of the issue. He talked about things other historians have written to try to prove a certain viewpoint one way or the other and then talked about how they only u 4.5 stars...the last couple of chapters weren't quite as interesting as the rest of the book. However, I found most of the book fascinating. Years ago I wanted to do a study of the religious views of the Founding Fathers. In this book, Waldman took care of that for me. One of the things that I really liked is that he examined both sides of the issue. He talked about things other historians have written to try to prove a certain viewpoint one way or the other and then talked about how they only used certain parts of the quote and left out a part that would disprove what they were trying to say. I came to understand the Fathers a lot better -- especially the religious views of Thomas Jefferson. Great book.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Bob Peason

    When someone suggested this book to me, I feared it was going to be yet another attempt at justifying either liberal or conservative opinions of "what the Founding Fathers intended when..." It is not. The author takes each of the fathers one at a time and dissects their belief, and the resultant political actions. In his doing so, it becomes clear rapidly that trying to determine the will of the fathers as something unified is not realistic, as there was much variation amongst them. Moving to the When someone suggested this book to me, I feared it was going to be yet another attempt at justifying either liberal or conservative opinions of "what the Founding Fathers intended when..." It is not. The author takes each of the fathers one at a time and dissects their belief, and the resultant political actions. In his doing so, it becomes clear rapidly that trying to determine the will of the fathers as something unified is not realistic, as there was much variation amongst them. Moving to the present day, the author then examines the position of today's extremes, and the myths on which much of today's arguments are based. A great read. Strongly recommended.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Brian

    How did a group of mostly devout men, many of them adherents of established religions supported by colonial governments, decide the federal government shouldn't favor any religion and should disentangle itself from religion as much as possible? A well written and researched answer to that question that is very relevant 200 years later. How did a group of mostly devout men, many of them adherents of established religions supported by colonial governments, decide the federal government shouldn't favor any religion and should disentangle itself from religion as much as possible? A well written and researched answer to that question that is very relevant 200 years later.

  20. 5 out of 5

    John

    Solid, evenhanded treatment of five of the Founding Fathers and how their ideas about religion influenced the Constitution and the early Republic. Waldman tries to dispel conservative and liberal myths about the First Amendment and in the process shows that the Founding Fathers disagreed among themselves about the role religion should play in public life.

  21. 4 out of 5

    J.K. George

    Here's a synopsis from the official review: With refreshing objectivity, Waldman narrates the real story of how our nation's Founders forged a new approach to religious liberty, a revolutionary formula that promoted faith . . . by leaving it alone. I can't say it any better. This book should be required reading in American classrooms studying the development of the founding of the US. Here's a synopsis from the official review: With refreshing objectivity, Waldman narrates the real story of how our nation's Founders forged a new approach to religious liberty, a revolutionary formula that promoted faith . . . by leaving it alone. I can't say it any better. This book should be required reading in American classrooms studying the development of the founding of the US.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Nicole

    Interesting history account, but I was annoyed that the author only highlights the more liberal founding fathers. The author pretty much says-this is as good as it can get, let's just get along. Not my cup of tea. Interesting history account, but I was annoyed that the author only highlights the more liberal founding fathers. The author pretty much says-this is as good as it can get, let's just get along. Not my cup of tea.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Becca Kirkman

    This is a whole new approach to religious liberty, and it is a fascinating read. It frames the Founding Fathers ideas on religious freedom in a new light. I really learn so much from this book and every teacher of American History and civics should read this!

  24. 5 out of 5

    Benjamin

    Interesting for the history, not so much with his conclusion. When liberty is reduced to this or that special interest group, it ends in a loss of freedom, not a gain. We don’t need more religious freedom in this country, we need more freedom.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Nick San Miguel

    A very good book that gave me the answer to the question I was seeking: what were the thoughts of the Founders when it came to religion? A great reminder that there is far more gray and uncertainty than many would have you believe.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Javier

    Excellent. A no-nonsense guide to the war over America's religious heritage and identity. Excellent. A no-nonsense guide to the war over America's religious heritage and identity.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Eric

    It's becoming hard to live as a Christian in a country that has such religious liberty as we do - the only thing harder may be to live where such liberty were not protected. It is complicated, no? It's becoming hard to live as a Christian in a country that has such religious liberty as we do - the only thing harder may be to live where such liberty were not protected. It is complicated, no?

  28. 5 out of 5

    Matthew Werner

    Well written and researched. Topic presented in a clear fair-minded approach. Definitely one if not best book I’ve read on subject

  29. 5 out of 5

    Chad Bunch

    Very interesting material, but presented in a dull way. Definitely not an exciting read...

  30. 4 out of 5

    Gerges Frangieh

    Very rich book which shows how and why it is important government not religion is who rules a country

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