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

4.05  ·  Rating details ·  723 ratings  ·  133 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 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 ...more
Hardcover, 304 pages
Published March 26th 2008 by Random House (NY) (first published January 1st 2008)
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Jul 28, 2008 rated it it was amazing
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 rated it really liked it
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
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
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
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 ...more
Jan 13, 2009 rated it really liked it
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 rated it it was amazing
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 rated it it was amazing
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
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 ...more
Aug 06, 2011 rated it liked it
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
Kai Palchikoff
Nov 12, 2016 is currently reading it
Shelves: history
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 editor in chief Steven Waldman. With refreshing objectivity, Waldman narrates the real ...more
Jul 20, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Steven Waldman, one time CEO of '', 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 ...more
Bob Peason
May 10, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Mar 18, 2018 rated it liked it
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.
Sep 24, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
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.
Becca Kirkman
Jun 19, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: history
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!
May 15, 2018 rated it liked it
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.
Jul 25, 2018 rated it liked it
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.
Andrew Peterson
Jul 01, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Sep 07, 2017 rated it really liked it
Excellent. A no-nonsense guide to the war over America's religious heritage and identity.
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
Jan 15, 2010 rated it it was amazing
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
Nov 07, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Dec 14, 2011 rated it it was amazing
(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 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Apr 24, 2008 rated it really liked it
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
Justin Lonas
May 18, 2012 rated it really liked it
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
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
Aug 24, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Bob Price
Nov 28, 2012 rated it really liked it
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
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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.” 1 likes
“In light of the unbroken record of invoking God's name in foundational documents throughout the world, throughout the colonies, and throughout history, the stubborn refusal of the US Constitution to invoke the Almighty is abnormal, historic, radical, and not accidental. But liberals miss a basic point, too: The framers of the Constitution were not contemplating the role of "government" in religion. They were debating the role of the national government in religion.” 0 likes
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