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Founding Faith: How Our Founding Fathers Forged a Radical New Approach to Religious Liberty

4.04  ·  Rating Details ·  619 Ratings  ·  119 Reviews
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 First Amendment was designed to boldly separate church and state. Neither of these claims is true, argues editor in chief Steven Waldman. ...more
Paperback, 280 pages
Published March 10th 2009 by Random House Trade Paperbacks (first published 2008)
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Jun 12, 2014 Murray rated it really liked it
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 ...more
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
Dec 19, 2008 Clinton rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Interesting and lucid history of religious liberty in the US by the editor-in-chief of 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 ...more
Apr 30, 2009 Jon rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 ...more
Jan 24, 2009 Andrew rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Jul 28, 2011 Albert rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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 ...more
May 31, 2011 Thad rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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 ...more
Aug 06, 2011 Paul rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Rick Lee James
Dec 17, 2014 Rick Lee James rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Extremely Important Book For People of Faith

Any Religion that needs to be affirmed or endorsed by a particular worldly empire or nation's government in order to thrive is likely a weak religion using the government as a crutch. The laws of men forced upon the Kingdom of Christ is an intrusion the church can do without. If you don't believe that to be true then you might feel differently after reading this book. Religious liberty in the United States has thrived not in spite of the separation of
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 __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 ...more
There are three categories of people I want to force to read Waldman’s Founding Faith. Each one is tied to a specific phrase that I have heard uttered before; thus, anyone who has ever said any of the following is in one of the categories:

“The Founding Fathers intended to create a Christian nation.”
“The Founding Fathers were not Christians, so this isn’t supposed to be a Christian nation.”
“The persecution of religion has been caused by the cultural wars; religion used to be valued.”

Those three p
I enjoyed listening to this book on audio. I was impressed by Waldman's approach to explaining how religious freedom came to be in America and the crucial part that separation of church and state played in securing that freedom. He gives a well balanced argument taking into account both conservative and liberal viewpoints and misconceptions. It was very informative and enlightening. It made me greater appreciate the founding fathers and the freedom that they secured for this country, which we st ...more
Nov 27, 2010 Wade rated it it was amazing
Waldman claims that America’s founding faith was not Christianity or Secularism as many assert, but rather Religious Liberty.

I very much enjoyed his evenhanded approach in describing the Founding Fathers' goal of establishing religious freedom. The experiment continues today, and Waldman feels confident that the founders would be pleased with the journey it has taken: “[James] Madison had it right. Were he alive today, he would conclude, with awesome pride, that we are the most religiously vibra
***Dave Hill
(Original review:

Overall: Faboo
Writing: Good
Info: Faboo
Re-Readability: Faboo
Audio: Good

Waldman studies the issues around religious freedom in the pre- and post-Revolutionary period, disposing of myths both Left and Right (the Founders to the dubious extent that they can be generalized in their religious beliefs, were neither a gang of radical secularists and Deists, nor were they fervent Christians of the sort that today’s Religious Right would be like
Apr 10, 2010 Ernie rated it it was amazing
This book was recommended by a local religion columnist (Paul Prather)on the topic of whether the founding fathers intended the US to be a Christian nation. WWJD. WWFFD. Not surprisingly, the views of the Founding Fathers (identified as Franklin, Washington, Adams, Jefferson and Madison) and the views of the other hundreds of state representatives who also decided these questions were diverse. Early in the book the author points out that many Americans fled Europe in order to have the freedom to ...more
May 09, 2008 Tripp rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Founding Faith is BeliefNet founder Steve Waldman's cry of Time Out in the culture wars. Using a wide of scholarly and original sources, Waldman stakes a middle ground between the hardcore secularists and the theocrats, aruguing that the Founders, on the whole, did want separation between church and state, but they were also not, on the whole, Deists, but were people of varying degrees of spirituality.

He also describes the role that faith played in colonial and revolutionary America, showing tha
Bob Price
Nov 28, 2012 Bob Price rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
In light of the culture wars, recent election and all the arguments about the Founding Fathers, Founding Faith is a must read book. It helps clarify the arguments...and raise more questions...about the the nature of religious freedom in the United States.

Were the Founding Father's all deists? Was America founded as a Christian nation?

The answer to these questions might surprise you?

To be clear, the author, Steven Waldman is a believer of sorts. He is the manager of and is active i
I suppose one's feelings toward this book depends on one's vision on the founding fathers and religion. I am not sure who the actual audience is for this book, as it is written as if it is supposed to be read by those participating in the "culture wars" (side note: it has always seemed like if we on the outside keep referring to disagreements as wars we are not really helping keep down the animosity inherent in the arguments). But would those people really pick up and read a book that disagreed ...more
Feb 11, 2010 Phillip rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Anyone
The basic premise as stated from the introduction forward is, and I’ll the author’s language throughout this posting, that liberals work entirely too hard to prove that the Founders were “irreligious or secular” deists, while conservatives work entirely too hard to prove that the Founders were “very religious.” Both sides distort history and Waldman does an excellent job of presenting the Founders’ words and deeds as it pertained to the highly charged separation of church & state issues we s ...more
Justin Lonas
May 18, 2012 Justin Lonas rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Most believers would argue that the United States of America was founded as an intentionally and expressly Christian nation by a group of men who, for the most part, believed in God and His Word. Many secularists, on the other hand, contend that the Constitution’s general silence on matters of faith shows that the country was founded as a secular republic by Founding Fathers who were highly skeptical of organized religion.

In Founding Faith, Steven Waldman attempts to show that both groups are on
Daniel Lopez
Sep 18, 2013 Daniel Lopez rated it really liked it
The Succinct manner in which Steven Waldman presents historical facts made this book a very easy and enjoyable resource. Waldman seeks to explain some of the historical issues behind two of the political extremes typical among evangelical conservatives and political liberals. While the conservative would claim that most if not all the founding fathers were christians, the liberal will wave their "Thomas Jefferson Bible" in the air to support that our country is not founded upon christianity but ...more
Aug 24, 2009 Jeff rated it really liked it
Shelves: american-history
Normally can't get enough of this controversial topic anyway, but the several laudatory reviews, particularly Ellis's recommendation of this book over all others on the topic, prompted me to move it up in my queue. Particularly enjoyed the close examination of the theological and religious preferences (or non-) of Adams and Washington on one hand, Franklin something of an enigma, and Madison and Jefferson on the other end. I've been disabused of the notion of the Founders as deists, likewise as ...more
This is a solid overview of what the larger group of Founding Fathers in general and five particular founders of note - Franklin, Washington, Adams, Jefferson and Madison - had in the way of persona l beliefs and how this influenced their take on church-state issues.

Per the blurb, no, the book won't satisfy either fundies or Gnu Atheists, but it is overall pretty well-reasoned and I find its conclusions agreeable.

Per Madison, who had wanted all along, from the start, to "federalize" any US Const
Jan 10, 2009 Jeff rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I learned that religious discrimination in the 13 colonies was much more rampant, pervasive, and even violent than I thought. I also learned that the First Amendment separating church and state was meant only to apply to the federal government, state governments could do whatever they wanted (indeed, 11 of the 13 states had religious tests for representatives as well as other laws that were very Christian in nature even when the first amendment was ratified). Even back then, however, it was conf ...more
I'm very glad I read this book because it better equips me to argue in favor of strict separation of church and state. I confess that I had misunderstood the religion of the founders, but, as it turns out, so have conservatives. The history of religious conflict in the colonies and the advocacy of separation by, especially, James Madison and Thomas Jefferson, is fascinating.

If I have one quibble it's that the author doesn't seem to have a firm grasp of the doctrine of incorporation, the principl
Aug 14, 2008 Rebecca rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: every resident of the United States
Recommended to Rebecca by: NPR
Shelves: favorites
Heard an interview with the author on NPR. He had a lot of interesting, little-known historical information to share, so the book should be pretty interesting too.

Every USian should be required to read this book. It presents a well-researched historical perspective on the founding fathers, their religious views and how those views shaped the constitution and early direction of the United States. It is about as un-biased as you can get. The author gives the historical inforamtion, backed up with
Apr 03, 2008 randy rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: john b
Having heard the author on NPR discussing this topic, I had anticipated its publication. The invocation of faith as a guiding principle in the establishment of American democracy has long been a point of departure for some in the on-going "culture wars" which have politically driven much discourse in recent years. Since I sometimes find myself with a foot in both camps, at least metaphorically, I looked forward to a coherent explanation of exactly what that faith looked like, and meant, to the f ...more
Sep 05, 2010 Russell rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This refreshingly nuanced book is the best I have read on the early religious history of the U.S. and the Church/State debate. Waldman takes on the so-called culture wars by showing that both sides of the debate frequently distort the truth in order the argue for their own agendas.

My only major criticism of the book is that Waldman probably underestimates the influence of Deism on many of the founding fathers. This is because he insists on a strict (orthodox?) definition of Deism that holds that
He tries to draw attention by centering on a few famous founding father's backgrounds and words, but I think this discussion would have been much more enlightening and interesting if a broader lens had been used.

I would have liked to hear more of the instructive successes and failures of the individual colonies prior to the "founding." The author glosses over these conflicts in favor of a more biographical view of Jefferson, Washington, Adams, and Madison.

If the biographical approach w
Aug 02, 2011 Tchadensis rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
When it comes to the Founding Fathers, religion, and how people relate to the aforementioned relationship there seems to be two camps. One camp seems to believe that the Founding Fathers was largely deists or atheists. The other camp seems to believe that the Founding Fathers were hard core god fearing christians, oddly enough the truth is far more complex. As the early United States was religious but not in a way that individuals would recognize now. As there violent conflicts between various C ...more
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“The Founding Faith, then, was not Christianity, and it was not secularism. It was religious liberty—a revolutionary formula for promoting faith by leaving it alone.” 0 likes
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