Mike Clawson here again. I honestly hesitate to post this. Who knows what nefarious ulterior motives will be imputed to me because of it. Nonetheless, I though some of you might be interested in this.
Jon Meacham in Newsweek just had an interesting review of a new book by Steven Waldman (editor-in-chief of Beliefnet), Founding Faith: Providence, Politics, and the Birth of Religious Freedom in America. 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.
From the Publisher’s Weekly blurb on Amazon:
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. They were certainly diverse in religiosity, with Jefferson a self-diagnosed heretic, for instance, and Washington a churchgoing Anglican who was silent on points of doctrine and refrained from taking communion. All, however, were committed to the creation of religious freedom in the new nation.
In the article Meacham also highlighted several of the myths that Waldman corrects. Such as:
“The Founding Fathers wanted religious freedom because they were devout Christians. Most of them disliked much about organized Christianity, the clerical class, and its theology, especially the common Calvinist doctrine that salvation came only from expressed faith in Jesus—or from being among God’s elect—rather than through good works.” And: “Evangelical Christians invariably want more government support for religion and less separation of church and state. In fact, separation of church and state would not exist if not for the efforts of eighteenth-century evangelicals.” And: “The First Amendment was designed to separate church and state throughout the land. Actually, the Founders only intended it to apply to the federal government, not the local governments that regulate schools, local courthouses and town squares.”
Sounds like one I’ll need to add to my reading list. It’s always good to replace culture wars rhetoric with actual history.