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The Faiths of the Founding Fathers

3.83 of 5 stars 3.83  ·  rating details  ·  300 ratings  ·  56 reviews
It is not uncommon to hear Christians argue that America was founded as a Christian nation. But how true is this claim?
In this compact book, David L. Holmes offers a clear, concise and illuminating look at the spiritual beliefs of our founding fathers. He begins with an informative account of the religious culture of the late colonial era, surveying the religious groups
Hardcover, 225 pages
Published March 1st 2006 by Oxford University Press, USA (first published January 1st 2006)
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Because I'm interested in both religion and history, I'm always struck by comments in contemporary America about the religious views and values of the Founding Fathers. The conversation often indicates that many Americans today believe that the Founding Fathers share their views of Jesus, the Bible, and religious doctrines and that after a change of clothes, any of the Founding Fathers would be comfortable sliding into a pew beside them, sharing a hymn book, and discussing the morning's message. ...more
This fine book shows the religious landscape in the colonies in the late 18th century, demonstrates where the Founding Fathers' beliefs fit into that landscape, and counters claims that the Founders created a "Christian nation." Holmes arguments about Founders' beliefs rest both on what they wrote and on their behavior - when they went to church, what churches they attended, their recorded habits of prayer and sacraments - thus avoiding relying on later authors' assessments of Founding Fathers' ...more
Bill Main
I have set out to study the Constitution and its period especially in mind of currently and past amendment discussions. Upon doing so, I found that this particular topic needed clarification. I read this book at the same time as "Was America Founded as a Christian Nation" by John Fea. By reading them both I hoped to get an idea of both sides of the topic. I got so much more. I had to put that particular study aside and read again "Jesus and the Rise of Early Christianity" by Paul Barnett. This a ...more
I came to this book after becoming familiar with Holmes's volume on the faiths of the postwar presidents. In this volume, Holmes discusses the religious beliefs of the first five presidents of the United States, as well as a set of others responsible for the foundation of our nation. He also gives background to the state of religion in the United States and the colonies during the Revolutionary period. In all, he aims to be debunk myths that have sprung up around the founding fathers with regard ...more
A reasonablly accurate history of religion in American politics. Sorely needed in this age of David Barton's insanity and revisionist history.
Very good summary of the founders thoughts and beliefs about religion. He does a good job of breaking their beliefs down into three categories - Deist, Deist Christian, and Christian - and then pointing out that these are not discrete categories but rather points along a spectrum of beliefs. I especially liked the section where Holmes went over how they can distinguish between a founder who has deistic beliefs and one who has more traditional Christian beliefs. Also informative was his section c ...more
Robert Justice
This took me a while to get through, but it was worth it!
Going through each individual father (Washington, Jefferson, Adams, etc) Holmes traces the evidence for each founding father's individual belief.
The main thesis Holmes is driving at is that the vas majority of the founding fathers were not necessarily orthodox Christians as many modern-day Americans tend to believe, but rather a form of religious thought known as deism. As such, the vast majority of the fathers, while believing in a dei
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Paul Bassett

Professor David Holmes has given us a jewel in his book “The Faiths of the Founding Fathers”. Other reviewers have given very capable overviews so I won’t repeat what has already been written. But what surprised me, and pleasantly so, was the author’s exposition of how little Deism played in the overall life of the colonies. That is an idea which is refreshing because it flies in the face of the modernist humanist evaluations of the period which would like to see Deism as having been the dominan
An overview of the religious environment in Colonial America, and the views of many of the key figures. Shatters many of the myths we've been taught: while Christianity (in its various forms) was the predominate religion, many of the Founding Fathers were Deist, and were adamant about separation of Church and State.

Fairly academic is in approach, it's pretty readable and makes a very strong case for the author's views. Some excellent ideas on why men of the era were Deist while their wives were

This book is a balanced look at the religious views of the Founding Fathers (and Mothers) of the USA. It takes the view that while the founders clearly intended the separation of church and state, they were not all of one mind about religion in their private lives. The author roughly groups them in several categories: non-Christian Deists, Christian Deists, Unitarians, and Orthodox Christians of varying degrees of liberality/conservatism.

The first chapter is an overview of the religious climate
I thought this was an interesting book. A pretty easy read, given the topic and overall academic writing style. I learned a great deal and was fascinated by how many religions existed in the United States 200 years ago. It was also very intersting to hear the roots of Unitarianism, how the split between Roman Catholicism and Luther/Protestant religions emerged and morphed in the Americas, and the influence of the Enlightenment and France on a religion called "Deism". For history and religious bu ...more
David Holmes argues in this book that George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, James Madison, James Monroe, and Benjamin Franklin were Deists and not orthodox Christians. At most this is a summary with very little supporting evidence to his argument. I would have thought the book was better if he had argued the case using the founding father's own words. Very little of that was done. Of course, I have no trouble believing Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson were Deists, I've read enou ...more
Assigned for a class on religion in the US, this book was meant to educate on the founding fathers and did not disappoint.

The book goes through a brief history of Colonial religious life, laws, and belief before delving into the founding fathers. David L. Holmes focuses on five "unorthodox" founding fathers including Washington and Benjamin Franklin as those who weren't of the mold that the Christian Right would have us believe. He also discusses their wives, some orthodox Christians, and then d
Interesting book that seems well researched and cited. My only issue is that the author seemed desperate to place all the major characters into the Deist camp. I have no problem with them being Deist, or not, but it seemed clear early on that there was an agenda here. He highlighted three "founding fathers" that he felt were orthodox, but seemed to be deliberately attempting to have those be some of the less well known actors. All of the most famous, Washington, Adams, Jefferson, etc. were lumpe ...more
Keith Davis
Dozens of books have been written arguing either that the American founders were born-again Bible-believing Christians or that they were skeptical secularists. Holmes' detailed research looks at each founder as an individual, examining their personal writings on religion as well as their religious behavior as recorded by their friends and family or by their own journals. What is revealed is that some founders were devout Christians (Samuel Adams, Patrick Henry) some were anti-religious rationali ...more
It was cool to see how similar, yet how different, the founding fathers' faiths were. I was confused by the last section describing Regan, Clinton, and the Bushs' religions, though--I expected this book to be specifically about the founding fathers' & their families' beliefs.
A must-read for all politicos who use the founding father documents as a basis for orthodox religion-based justifications for all manner of issues...Deists unite. And thanks to the William and Mary professor who researched and wrote the book. And just for the record, if you have an opportunity to visit Highland (owned by the College of William and Mary) near Charlottesville, please do so to learn more about Monroe and his daughter Eliza and their French connections.

One quote to consider:
"When Ha
Jeremiah Parker
This easy read begins with an overview of religious life in the American colonies in 1770. The Fathers he focuses on are Franklin, Washington, John Adams, Jefferson, Madison, Monroe, Samuel Adams, Elias Boudinot, and John Jay. Holmes proposes a three category rubric for describing their religious beliefs: Non-Christian Deism, Christian Deism, and orthodox Christianity. His analysis of the Fathers in view is that only Samuel Adams (whose father was a brewer), Boudinot, and Jay were clearly orthod ...more
Stephen Twelker
Effectively pokes dozens of holes in the concept that the founding fathers somehow intended the United States to be a Christian nation. Although a handful of the framers were orthodox Christians, the tendency of most was toward Deism, Unitarianism or simply non-religious philosophy. While many of the teachings of Jesus and Christianity were broadly respected, and the founding documents contain some of that language and spirit, there's little support for the claim that the earliest Americans some ...more
A nice little intro to the religious concerns and perspectives of the Founders by one of my undergraduate professors.
At the beginning the book seemed to ramble a bit, but by the time Holmes gets to the individuals and their beliefs he becomes more focused and the prose is tighter.
So far it seems to be a well researched work and is very informative.

In response to reviews saying that the author paints too broadly with the Deism brush, realize that when a seemingly new philosophy is introduced to a relatively small, tight knit society, the younger members often take it up with some fervor.

Disappointed that mor
Kyle Bunkers
Good book giving a very balanced view of what many of the founding fathers' views on religion and faith were.
I had just joined a book club and this was the book they picked. They decided to do a history book because they just got done reading "A Reliable Wife" and "The Help." I didn't mind the book, but to me it read as if I had to read it for an assignment in college. I just wasn't into it and I felt as though I need to push through it that way I would be prepared for the meeting. This was my first book club, so I wasn't sure what to expect. Interestingly enough, we never met to discussed it. It wasn' ...more
Ahmad Nazeri
Great book that discusses the believes of the founding fathers individually. Pretty insightful
Chris Cooper
A fairly comprehensive book on the founding fathers religious beliefs, religious beliefs in the US at time, & their family's religious beliefs. The author bases his fact/views on the actions, letters, & speech of the early presidents, not just on what church they were a member of.
Mr. Adams was probably the most religious & Christian president of the bunch, Thomas Jefferson was the least religious. While most of the founding fathers attended church at least every now & then, a lot
While not a great book to read cover to cover, it is a fine summary of the historical arguments for how Deism influenced (in various degrees) many of the Founding Fathers, and how this differs from what we know today as a more evangelical Christianity. Balanced and rooted in what facts are known, the author tries to categorize the Founders along the spectrum of pure Deist to orthodox Christian. This is a fine book for the student or those with an interest for the facts rather than the arguments ...more
throughly enjoyable
Derek Royal
A well-written, even-handed, and persuasive book. Although Holmes does point out that the founders were a religious mixed bag and that Christianity influenced them, his book works against those conservative critics who claim unreservedly that this nation was without question founded on Christian values. The Glenn Becks of this world would do well to spend less time iconicizing Samuel Adams and educate themselves on the diversity of non-orthodoxy in the late eighteenth century.
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“Finally, none of the founding fathers knew anything of the churches that became so large in the United States in the twentieth century—the Pentecostals (or charismatics) and the nondenominational evangelicals. What the six founding fathers did know were the churches in which they had been raised—and in all cases those churches were the established churches of their colonies. But the founders were also very familiar with a radical religious outlook called Deism, to which this study now turns.” 0 likes
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