Random House, 2008 (2008)
Reviewed by Tim Davis
f you have listened to the political pundits, cultural critics, and prominent religious figures during the past several decades, you could have become easily confused about whether or not the 18th century founding fathers of America had intended their new nation to be one that was founded on the principles of the Christian faith.
ere is the problem stated as an overly simplified dichotomy:
ecular humanists (for lack of a better label) would have us all believe that the United States of America was founded on a dominant secular principle: the absolute and essential separation of church and state. Such a view fuels the arguments for a rigid and unassailable demarcation between anything religious and anything governmental in American society.
n the other hand, evangelical Christians (again, for lack of a better label) would have us all believe instead that the United States of America was founded on a quite different principle: a divinely ordained (and therefore irrefutable) alliance between government and religion, especially in the form of Divine Providence and protection, which made the nation a
who would be (or should be) guided by God in all matters of importance.
he problem with the so-called debate between secular humanists and evangelical Christians is one of absolute polarization, which contributes to an ongoing and intensifying opposition to either compromise or clarity.
s a remedy for that counter-productive impasse, consider the singular contribution of
, written by Steven Waldman (co-founder, CEO, and editor in chief of
, the largest interfaith website in America; former national editor of
U.S. News and World Report
; and former national correspondent for
). Through careful analysis of the historical facts - especially 18th century documents - Waldman takes a well-reasoned look at the real reasons English men, women, and children (and Europeans) originally came to the colonies in the 17th and 18th centuries, and he focuses closely on the interesting transformations of religious attitudes among early colonists during the early generations in the colonies; those often overlooked transformations set the stage for the radically rebellious impulses, culminating in the Declaration of Independence and the Revolutionary War. Waldman goes on to briefly but cogently analyze the religious attitudes of several key
: Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison.
y reexamining the facts (with an emphasis on verifiable, objective standards for those facts), Waldman strips away many common myths, including the following:
1. America was settled as a bastion for religious freedom.
2. The Founding Fathers were mostly rebelling against the religious tyranny in Europe.
3. The Founding Fathers wanted religious freedom because they were Deists.
4. The Founding Fathers wanted religious freedom because they were devout Christians.
4. Evangelical Christians invariably want more government support for religion and less separation of church and state.
5. The American Revolution was fought solely over economic and philosophical issues.
6. The United States was founded as a Christian nation.
7. The First Amendment was designed to separate church and state throughout the land.
o find out why all of the foregoing assertions are wrong and to find out the facts about religion and America's origins (and the nation's Constitutional heritage with respect to church and state), readers should turn to the keen insights, engaging narrative, and myth-busting analysis offered by Steven Waldman in the highly recommended
Founding Faith: Providence, Politics, and the Birth of Religious Freedom in America
. Responsible readers interested in this controversial topic simply must read Waldman's refreshing, objective, and informative book.
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