November 11th, 2013

agent

Founding Faith, by Steven Waldman

A splendid book by one of the founders of beliefnet.com

It fits in well with Ye Will Say I Am No Christian and Moral Minority. Founding Faith follows a neat approach interleaving bios of the principal FF's with relevant history pertaining to church-state issues. It works really well, and provides great context. One of his main theses is that both sides of the current 'culture war' on church/state separation misunderstand (willfully or not) the founding fathers. I think he's largely right, and the reason is that the culture has changed so much. When Madison wrote his Memorial and Remonstrance against Virginia using public moneys to fund religious teachers, his most numerous supporters were not secularish people like him, or Deists, but rather the evangelical Baptists of his time, who circulated and signed copies of Madison's document.

Madison championed individual liberty of conscience, while most religious denominations were largely worried about what would happen if those heretics over there got their hooks into government. And so the First Amendment is something of an interesting compromise. It didn't make the US government secular at all levels (as Madison would have preferred). And most of the states at that time did have established churches, and they didn't want the federal government tinkering with them or forbidding them. So the establishment clause was protecting the state churches from the federal government, while also ensuring there would never be a national church. Waldman also goes to great pains to show that Madison and other FF's considered 'establishment' quite broadly to include any state support of religion, not just the establishment of a preferred denomination.

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