Beliefnet
Founding Faith book cover

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"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.

If asked to recommend the best book on this controversial topic, I would now choose Founding Faith."
—Joseph Ellis, author of American Creation

"As we wrestle with the role of religion in our society and the world, it's useful to understand the great gift of our Founders. They were able to balance their religious beliefs with the virtue of tolerance necessary for a pluralistic society. Steven Waldman does a great job describing the nuances of their beliefs and the balances they struck, thus rescuing the Founders 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.

"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"

"An unusually well-balanced book on an 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

"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

"This is a history every American should know, and Waldman masterfully tells it."
—Jim Wallis, author of The Great Awakening

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A sophisticated discussion of the role of religion in the American Republic's early years.

Waldman, co-founder and editor-in-chief of the religion website Beliefnet.com, offers a book sure to displease partisans on both sides of an increasingly intense debate that features candidates making obeisance to faith while anti-religious diatribes crowd the bookstore shelves. Rather than taking an "either/or" approach to the historic role of religion in the public sphere, the author argues for "both/and" thinking. Secularists and religionists alike cherry-pick the record in their respective takes on American history, he demonstrates. For example, the former neglect to note that the anti-establishment clause was intended for the federal government only and had no bearing on the states, while the latter fail to understand how deeply skeptical of religion the Founding Fathers were.

Waldman traces his story from the days before the Revolution, when many colonies maintained official religions in order to keep Catholics, Baptists and other religious minorities in check. Colonies with more open policies, such as Pennsylvania, benefited economically as well as ecclesiastically by encouraging religious diversity, he argues. One of the book's best sections shows that legislative coalitions and compromises shaped much of what is now considered sacred in the Constitution. Interspersed chapters detailing the spiritual beliefs of Washington, Jefferson, Franklin, Adams and Madison delineate each Founder's thoughts about the role government should play in religious life and that religion should play in civic life.

Well-wrought, well-written and well-reasoned—a welcome infusion of calm good sense into a perennially controversial and relevant subject.

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Various American evangelicals have claimed the founding fathers as believing and practicing Protestants who intended America to be a Christian nation. Secularists, on the other hand, see in the same historical record evidence that the founders were often Deists at best. Both views are grossly oversimplified, argues Waldman, cofounder and editor-in-chief of Beliefnet.com. In this engaging, well-researched study, Waldman focuses on the five founding fathers who had the most influence on religion's role in the state—Franklin, Jefferson, Washington, Adams and Madison—and untangles their complex legacy.

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