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Founding Faith: Providence, Politics, and the Birth of Religious Freedom in America [Hardcover]

By Steven Waldman (Author)
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Item description for Founding Faith: Providence, Politics, and the Birth of Religious Freedom in America by Steven Waldman...

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 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

Praise for Founding Faith
"Steven Waldman, a veteran journalist and co-founder of, 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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Item Specifications...

Studio: Random House
Pages   304
Est. Packaging Dimensions:   Length: 9.13" Width: 5.98" Height: 1.18"
Weight:   1.1 lbs.
Binding  Hardcover
Release Date   Mar 11, 2008
Publisher   RANDOM HOUSE #22
ISBN  1400064376  
ISBN13  9781400064373  

Availability  0 units.

More About Steven Waldman

Register your artisan biography and upload your photo! Steven Waldman is co-founder, CEO, and editor in chief of, the largest faith and spirituality website. Previously, Waldman was the national editor of U.S. News & World Report and a national correspondent for Newsweek. His writings have also appeared in The Atlantic, The Washington Post, The New York Times, Slate, The Washington Monthly, National Review, and elsewhere. He appears frequently on television and radio to discuss religion and politics. He is also the author of The Bill, a book about the creation of AmeriCorps. Waldman lives in New York with his wife, the writer Amy Cunningham, and their children, Joseph and Gordon.

From the Hardcover edition.

Steven Waldman was born in 1962.

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Product Categories

1Books > Special Features > New & Used Textbooks > Humanities > History > United States
2Books > Special Features > New & Used Textbooks > Humanities > Religious Studies > History
3Books > Subjects > History > Americas > General
4Books > Subjects > History > Americas > United States > Colonial Period > General
5Books > Subjects > History > Americas > United States > General
6Books > Subjects > History > Americas > United States > Revolution & Founding > General
7Books > Subjects > Nonfiction > Current Events > Civil Rights & Liberties
9Books > Subjects > Religion & Spirituality > Religious Studies > Church & State
10Books > Subjects > Religion & Spirituality > Religious Studies > History

Christian Product Categories
Books > Christian Living > Practical Life > Politics

Reviews - What do customers think about Founding Faith: Providence, Politics, and the Birth of Religious Freedom in America?

Well supported  Dec 12, 2009
I have read a couple books on the faith of our founding fathers searching for solid evidence either way to answer the question Was America founded on Christian principles or not. I tried "The Light and the Glory" and found it to be significantly lacking. Only true believers would be empowered by the supporting evidence. Then I read Founding Faith and found a more convincing argument. I had never heard of Waldman but found he is an editor for [...]. This fact encouraged me to try this book and I was not disappointed. The author describes the faith of specific fathers such as Washington, Jefferson, Franklin, Adams and Madison. He explains how each of these monumental figures differed in their beliefs on religion and why the Constitution is so vague in reference to freedom of religion. Waldman continues to show how the faith of these men changed or was adjusted as time and experience influenced them. By the end, I felt as if I could confidently discuss this subject and support my conclusions with a high level of certainty. While religious believers will appreciate the points made in this book, agnostics and atheists will continue to scoff at any argument which shows any positive argument for religion. Either way, it is an informative work which should be read by both sides.
Slice and Dice Separation of Church and State  Dec 7, 2009
Read this book to cut through the hype from all sides on "separation" of church and state.
As with virtually all of history, neither the questions nor the answers are linear - but Waldman does a great job of giving
perspectives of time, geography, and key players. There would likely be far more fact-based arguments, and
James Madison would surely gain a lot of "street cred," if people read this book.
Highly recommended!
good points  Oct 12, 2009
The left and right fight over the founding fathers. This is a great discussion about how neither have it right. Very interesting read.
Very informative but too conciliatory towards Constitutional mischief makers  Sep 24, 2009
This book is, on the whole, a very good study of the Founding Fathers' attitudes about church and state. As always, with this issue there are a lot of misconceptions that need clearing up, and Waldman does so, to wit: the 1st Amendment to the Constitution only applied to the federal government but not the states, several of which had official churches; contrary to the feel-good assertion that "America was founded as a Christian nation" or was "founded on tolerance" most of the colonies were founded by partisans of one or another specifically Protestant sect and ruthlessly persecuted all others; church/state separation wasn't necessarily a secular cause- some of the most religious people, having experienced state-sponsored religious persecution, were the most zealous supporters of a religiously neutral government, etc.

One of Waldman's purposes in this book was to impartially dispel the myths on both sides of the modern debate. For instance, he says right wingers are wrong when they say that the Founding Fathers were Christians and the concept of church/state separation is a 20th century invention. He says the liberals are wrong when they claim the Founding Fathers were deists who despised religion. Those 2 assertions are correct, but I think his pox-on-both-their-houses even-handedness goes too far. Both of the preceding positions may be wrong, but one side is a lot more wrong than the other.

What I mean is that the evangelicals' position is blatantly false. The Founding Fathers, or at least the ones we think of when we use that phrase, were no sort of Christians that today's evangelicals would recognize. Jefferson edited the Bible and thought Jesus to be merely a wise man. Franklin was an admitted polytheist at at least one point of his life. Adams was an anti-clerical Unitarian. Washington, although a church member, attended infrequently, refused to receive Communion and hardly ever mentioned Jesus. Similarly, the assertion that church-state separation is a modern liberal invention is demonstrably untrue.

Waldman also takes the liberals to task, although their error is one of mere nuance. They usually say that the Founders were deists while technically that is not true. A Deist believed that God did not intervene in man's affairs, while the Founding Fathers often made statements indicating that they believed "God" had provided this or that benefit to the American cause. Along the same lines, the Founders were mostly very religious, contrary to liberal belief. They may have used Masonic or Deistic language when referring to "Providence" or "Nature's God", and they may have disliked organized Christianity, and they may not have believed in the central tenets of orthodox Christianity, but they thought deeply about spiritual matters and considered religion extremely important.

It's that equating of a position that is 100% false with one that is semantically incorrect that bugged me about this book. Church/state admixture is not only a bad idea but it is un-American. I say that as a man of faith and a conservative. Evangelicals who want to overturn our 220 year old consensus are either ignorant of the dangers of state involvement in religion, or they deliberately aim at sectarian tyranny. They would do well to read the Founding Fathers' writings on this subject. I too am uncomfortable with the more extreme forms of opposition to public religious expression. But that is our law and our tradition. If previous generations of a homogeneously Christian nation found no problem with certain acts of religious favoritism by government, it was still contrary to the spirit of the First Amendment and is impracticable today in our pluralistic society. I would rather have a religiously neutral government than one in which I'm forced to endure, or subsidize, religious ideas I oppose. Evangelicals seem to think their particular faith would triumph if the 1st Amendment were "reinterpreted". But I would love to see how they'd cite the Constitution if their bugaboo, Barack Hussein Obama, called for Allah's blessings during the State of the Union!

One last issue I had with this book was the author's repeated use of the word "evangelical" to describe various figures and denominations from the 18th century. Such a description is an anachronism that those 18th century figures would not recognize. The Evangelical movement began after WWII in reaction to fundamentalist close-mindedness. However, they would love to claim a historical lineage from such major figures as Jonathan Edwards, and Waldman plays right into their hands for some reason.
good even handed and detailed view  Jul 27, 2009
A good even handed and detailed view of the evolution of the doctrine of freedom of religion in America from colonial days, through the revolution and Constitution, Bill of Rights and the first four score years of the republic. Interesting that the 1st amendment originally did not guarantee freedom of religion, but was mainly a compromise to guarantee that each state could do what it wanted with regards to religion (including establishing a religion, excluding catholics and jews, etc.). It wasn't until the 14th amendment which eliminated states rights in that regard (along with eliminating slavery), that full rights were guaranteed. Explains some of the apparently contradictory quotes from founding fathers such as Franklin, Washington, Jefferson, Adams, and particularly Madison, who is the prime leader for full separation to protect religion and government from the corrupting influences they have on each other. One lack is the establishment of context of European religious wars, Divine right of kings, and the competition of French and Spanish Catholic colonies in America, and the French and Napoleonic influence on religion government relations in the 1800's. Would like to have seen more on Fisher Ames to balance Madison and Jefferson. The interaction of todays religious freedom with fundamentalist Christian and Islam which again try to tie the state tightly to religion makes this books content important information.

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