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

Front Cover
Random House Publishing Group, Mar 11, 2008 - Religion - 304 pages

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 Beliefnet.com 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 www.beliefnet.com/foundingfaith.

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FOUNDING FAITH: Providence, Politics, and the Birth of Religious Freedom in America

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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 ... Read full review

Founding faith: providence, politics, and the birth of religious freedom in America

User Review  - Not Available - Book Verdict

Beliefnet.comThe Founders on God and Government or Jon Meacham's American Gospel: God, the Founding Fathers, and the Making of a Nation will find a similar approach here. What makes this a priority ... Read full review

Selected pages

Contents

Iames Madison
94
The Mighty Current of Freedom T107
107
Forgetting the Powerful Friend
117
The First Amendment Compromise
141
Practicing VVhat They Preached
159
Friends in Heaven
182
They VVere Right
188
Acknowledgments
207
Notes
217
Index
265
Copyright

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Page 45 - ... we mean not basely to abandon the noble struggle in which we have been so long engaged, and which we have pledged ourselves never to abandon until the glorious object of our contest shall be obtained, we must fight! I repeat it, sir, we must fight! An appeal to arms and to the God of Hosts is all that is left us.
Page 124 - Whilst we assert for ourselves a freedom to embrace, to profess, and to observe the Religion which we believe to be of divine origin, we cannot deny an equal freedom to those whose minds have not yet yielded to the evidence which has convinced us.
Page 131 - I have lived, sir, a long time, and the longer I live the more convincing proofs I see of this truth, that God governs in the affairs of men. And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without His notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without His aid ? We have been assured, 'sir, in the sacred writings, that, 'except the Lord build the house, they labor in vain that build it.
Page 189 - Adore God. Reverence and cherish your parents. Love your neighbor as yourself, and your country more than yourself. Be just. Be true. Murmur not at the ways of Providence. So shall the life into which you have entered be the portal to one of eternal and ineffable bliss. And if to the dead it is permitted to care for the things of this world, every action of your life will be under my regard. Farewell.
Page 84 - ... enlightened by a benign religion, professed, indeed, and practiced in various forms, yet all of them inculcating honesty, truth, temperance, gratitude, and the love of man, acknowledging and adoring an overruling Providence, which, by all its dispensations, proves that it delights in the happiness of man here and his greater happiness hereafter; with all these blessings, what more is necessary to make us a happy and a prosperous people?
Page 114 - God, and for the support and maintenance of public Protestant teachers of piety, religion, and morality, in all cases where such provision shall not be made voluntarily.
Page 45 - Government by kings was first introduced into the world by the heathens, from whom the children of Israel copied the custom. It was the most prosperous invention the devil ever set on foot for the promotion of idolatry.
Page 124 - The first wish of those who enjoy this precious gift ought to be that it may be imparted to the whole race of mankind. Compare the number of those who have as yet received it with the number still remaining under the dominion of false Religions; and how small is the former! Does the policy of the Bill tend to lessen the disproportion?

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About the author (2008)

Steven Waldman is co-founder, CEO, and editor in chief of Beliefnet.com, 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.

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