Item description for The Faiths of Our Fathers: What America's Founders Really Believed by Alf J. Mapp...
Overview In this book, the author cuts through historical uncertainty to accurately portray the religious beliefs of 11 of America's founding fathers. (Motivation)
Publishers Description Throughout our nation's history, the religious beliefs of America's founders have been contested and misunderstood. Did our founders advocate Christianity or atheism? In The Faiths of Our Fathers, widely acclaimed historian Alf J. Mapp, Jr. cuts through the historical uncertainty to accurately portray the religious beliefs of eleven of America's founding fathers, including John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison. He discovers men with religious beliefs as diverse as their political opinions. These profiles shed light on not only the lives and times of the revolutionary generation but also the role of religion in public life throughout American history.
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Studio: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.
Est. Packaging Dimensions: Length: 8.72" Width: 5.92" Height: 0.56" Weight: 0.65 lbs.
Release Date Sep 28, 2005
Publisher Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.
ISBN 0742531155 ISBN13 9780742531154
Availability 0 units.
More About Alf J. Mapp
Alf J. Mapp, Jr., has written several works on America's founding and its founders including a widely acclaimed two-volume biography of Thomas Jefferson, Thomas Jefferson: A Strange Case of Mistaken Identity and Thomas Jefferson: Passionate Pilgrim, both Book-of-the-Month Club featured selections. He resides in Portsmouth, Virginia.
Reviews - What do customers think about The Faiths of Our Fathers: What America's Founders Really Believed?
What our founding fathers really believed in. Apr 2, 2008
A nice addition to the biographies of our founding fathers. Many of these individuals were great thinkers who came to their faith in latter years. Even people like Franklin and Jefferson believed in God, although their insightful minds looked at all elements of religion. We learn that there were a smattering of Catholics and Jews in leadership positions, and they guaranteed that religious freedom was allowed for all people. In fact, they guaranteed that people also had the right to not believe if they so wished. Some born agains might not like this aspect of the guiding principles of our founding fathers. Freedom of thought and religion were pushed as elemental rights to all people.
Ten people were detailed in this book. They included Jefferson, Adams, Mason, Franklin, Washington, Madison, and others. This is an OK book about a little known aspect of our founding fathers.
A great idea, poorly executed Sep 2, 2007
Mapp's The Faith of our Fathers is a light read, appropriate for high school students perhaps. But the editing is poor, factual assertions are inaccurate, and all too often the analysis is weak and deep understanding absent.
The book opens on a note both strong and true: "There was no monolithic national faith acknowledged by all Founding Fathers. Their religious attitudes were as varied as their political opinions." (pp. 1-2). Yet Mapp does not quite deliver on the promise of clearly explaining the Founding Fathers' many heterodoxies.
Consider Thomas Jefferson. Mapp observes that one of Thomas Jefferson's "dearest friends was Joseph Priestley, a liberal clergyman as well as a distinguished scientist," (p. 14), but he fails to note that Jefferson attributed to Priestley's Unitarian theology the foundations of his own religious faith. Mapp acknowledges that "Jefferson rejected the trinitarian concept of Father, Son, and Holy Ghost (Spirit)." (p. 11). But the word "Unitarian" appears not even once in the chapter of the faith of our nation's third President, who earnestly expressed hope that Unitarianism would soon become our nation's the general religion.
Mapp's chapter on John Adams opens by giving the impression that Adams was bound by "Puritan and Calvinist doctrines," (p. 56), though what Mapp means to say is far from clear, as his discussion of Adams's religious beliefs quickly demonstrates that our nation's second President - rejecting such fundamental doctrines as eternal hell and the divinity of Christ - was anything but a Calvinist.
Mapp tells us that Adams declared: "An incarnate God!!! An eternal, self-existent, omnipotent, omniscient author of this stupendous universe, suffering on a cross!!! My soul starts with horror at the idea, and it has stupefied the Christian world. It has been the source of almost all the corruptions of Christianity." (p. 62). Many of today's evangelicals - who insist that only those who believe Jesus was God can call themselves Christians - would have to deny that Adams was a Christian. By their standard, three of our nation's first six presidents - John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and John Quincy Adams - were not Christians. One can only wonder why Mapp never points this out.
Mapp says that Adams also "declared his disbelief in demoniacal possession," and then "[a]nticipating the anger his declaration would provoke in some quarters, he wrote, 'Howl, snarl, bite, ye Calvinistic, ye Athanasian divines, if ye will. Ye will say I am no Christian. I say year are not Christians, and there the account is balanced.'" (p. 61). In context, however, the quoted phrase - which appears in a September 14, 1813, letter to Thomas Jefferson - relates not to Adams's disbelief in demoniacal possession, but to his rejection of the Calvinists' doctrine of eternal damnation. Yet Mapp does adequately convey Adams's inability to believe that a loving God would consign human beings to eternal hell: "My adoration of the author of the universe is too profound and too sincere." (p. 61).
Many have noted the role that religion has played in objections to the institution of slavery. Of James Madison, our federal Constitution's principal author, Mapp writes: "His determined, lifelong opposition to slavery also cost him support and perhaps some personal friendships. But, though a master of compromise in negotiation, he would not compromise on what he regarded as a major moral issue." (p.50). Yet Madison did compromise on precisely this issue. The Constitution that he did so much to frame, that he signed, and whose ratification he vigorously promoted, included both a clause protecting the slave trade from federal regulation (Article I, sec. 9, cl. 1), and also the notorious fugitive-slave clause, mandating that escaped slaves be returned to their owners: "No Person held to Service or Labour in one State, under the Laws thereof, escaping into another, shall, in Consequence of any Law or Regulation therein, be discharged from such Service or Labour, But shall be delivered up on Claim of the Party to whom such Service or Labour may be due." (Article 4, sec. 2, cl. 3).
As Mapp tries to outline the religious beliefs of eleven Founding Fathers, he unfortunately gets many points of American religious history dead wrong. He confuses two distinct groups, the Pilgrims and the Puritans, for example, when he writes: "At home in England and during their self-imposed exile in Holland, the Puritans had been rebels. But in Massachusetts they had built their own society, which they were confident was ordained by God." (p. 26). In fact, the Puritans who would dominate the government of Massachusetts came direct from England. And although lay people are apt to confuse the Puritans with the Pilgrims, those Separatist "rebels" who spent some time in Holland, it is surprising to find such confusion in a book about the religious background of our nation's Founding Fathers.
This is by no means the only confusion in Mapp's book. Mapp tells us, for example, that by George Washington's time, "Anglicans constituted the established church of England and its colonies." (p. 66). That, of course, is gross overstatement. For Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, and Delaware had no established churches while throughout New England - excepting establishment-free Rhode Island - the established churches were Congregationalist, not Anglican.
Discussing Benjamin Franklin's beliefs, Mapp even confuses polytheism and pantheism. (p.32).
Poor editing causes problems throughout. When Mapp purports to quote the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, for example, he adds to the Statute's text lines coming instead from Thomas Jefferson's 1787 Notes on Virginia, to the effect that "it does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods or no god. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg." (p. 8). The title of the landmark 1947 Supreme Court opinion, Everson v. Board of Education, so influenced by Jefferson's wall of separation between church and state, is given as "Emerson." Mapp is off by two decades when he writes: "In 1775, following Braddock's defeat and the experience of remaining unharmed when several bullets pierced his coat, Washington exclaimed in a personal letter: 'See the wondrous works of providence!'" (p.73). The year was 1755, not 1775.
And if I, as a casual reader, can spot these errors, there must be many more.
In all, this is a book based on a great idea that opens with great promise, but that falls short of its potential.
Eric Alan Isaacson
Muddle assessment of our major founding fathers Feb 7, 2007
I read this book along with David L. Holmes' Faiths of our Founding Fathers and I realized that the author of this book really have a hard time dealing with the concept of Deism which was a popular theological thought among the well educated during the 18th century. Mapp's inability to truly understand how Deism influenced many of his subjects like Franklin, Adams, Madison and Washington proves to be a major failing of this book. While the author went through the motion of describing Deism, he never really explained how this theological thought effected the actions, behavior and political beliefs of these founding fathers of our nation. But what is so surprising is how the author muddled Deism belief of Thomas Jefferson considering that the author wrote several books on Jefferson so he must be well aware of the fact that Jefferson was a die-hard Deist for most of his adult life. Still, its ironic that the reader will put down this book with a muddled understanding that these five men were not exactly following the Christian faith for most of their adult lives. This muddle effort by the author is the main reason why I gave this book only two stars.
While the first five chapters dealt with the most important of our founding fathers, the next six chapters dealt with the supporting players of our founding fathers (John Marshall, Alexander Hamilton, Patrick Henry, George Mason and Charles Carroll. Hymn Solomon was Jew). In most cases, these men were more closer to the orthodox religious faiths of their time and they were easier to assess on how faiths and their politics interlaced with each other.
The book is short and easy to read but I cannot say that it was well reseached or well written. The author blew it on the five most important subjects of this book who were the most difficult to understand due to their Deist belief.
I would recommended David Holmes' The Faiths of the Founding Fathers as the more ideal and far more superior book on this subject.
will not please the evangelicals Apr 3, 2006
This book decisively shows that many of the Founding Fathers were not Christians, and even some of those who were members of a church in fact did not conform to Christian orthodoxy. A better book on the same subject is David Holmes' The Faiths of the Founding Fathers, Oxford UP.
Well researched and presented. Apr 29, 2005
This book presents an excellent look at the extent to which faith played a role in the lives, beliefs and actions of eleven of our founding fathers. The author appears to have no preconceived notions concerning the faith of these men, nor does he attempt to persuade the reader that any religion or single faith was necessary at all. Indeed, the title speaks for itself in that it is "Faiths" plural. The beliefs of these men varied widely as did the extent to which they exercised their faiths. Having read numerous, lengthy biographies of our founding fathers, I found this book to be factually consistent with what others have researched and written -- and best of all it is set forth in a concise, easy to read manner that permits the reader to consider the evidence and reach his or her own decision concerning the founders faiths and how, if at all, their faiths influenced the founding of our nation.