Founding Faith by Steven Waldman
Providence, Politics, and the Birth of Religious Freedom in America

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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 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.


About Steven Waldman

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Steven Waldman is co-founder, CEO, and editor in chief of, 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.From the Hardcover edition.
Published March 11, 2008 by Random House. 304 pages
Genres: History, Political & Social Sciences, Religion & Spirituality, Professional & Technical, Law & Philosophy. Non-fiction

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Kirkus Reviews

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

May 20 2010 | Read Full Review of Founding Faith: Providence, P...

The New York Times

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A Christian America? A secular America? Steven Waldman argues the founders had in mind something else entirely.

Apr 13 2008 | Read Full Review of Founding Faith: Providence, P...

BC Books

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Where did the American idea of religious tolerance come from? An unexpected source.

May 05 2008 | Read Full Review of Founding Faith: Providence, P...


While the review highlights the books emphasis on lesser known Founding Father James Madison, the book as a whole aims to clarify some of the more persistent myths about the relation of church and state in the early days of our nation and how the Founding Fathers tended to think about it.

Mar 13 2008 | Read Full Review of Founding Faith: Providence, P...

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