|Volume LV||August 2008||Number 3|
Providence, Politics, and the Birth of Religious Freedom in America"
By Steven Waldman Reviewed by Cathy Giaimo, Assistant Librarian
Faith is an integral part of Freemasonry, but as any Mason will tell you, it is also very personal and not subject to dispute within the lodge. It is also one of the freedoms, protected by the Constitution, which citizens of this country enjoy. "Founding Faith" by Steven Waldman tells how this freedom came to be in the United States.
Mr. Waldman starts with a brief early religious history of this country and reminds us that not all colonists enjoyed such freedoms. The Puritans of New England and the Anglicans of the colonial South had the power, both religiously and politically. The religious leaders were supported by the people through taxes, whether they belonged to that church or not. Only members of that church could hold public office. Pennsylvania fared somewhat better, being founded by Quakers. Various Protestant denominations were tolerated and were not taxed to support the meeting houses. Many of the Founding Fathers believed that the diversity of religious beliefs was beneficial to Pennsylvania's economic and cultural life.
What interests Mr. Waldman, is ferreting out the religious beliefs of five of the most prominent Founding Fathers and the questions of separation of church and state as they saw it: Benjamin Franklin, George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison. This is no simple task, while trying to determine their beliefs through the lens of 21st century faith. They all believed in God, but the religious politics of the day and the Enlightenment philosophy influenced their thinking. Of the five, only Franklin and Washington were Masons. Bro. Franklin had little time for church services, though he wrote prayers for himself; John Adams disliked the Calvinistic propensities of the day and belonged to a church that would eventually be recognized as Unitarian. Bro. Washington was a member of the Anglican Church but never took communion and, as Commanderin- Chief of the Continental Army, he was tolerant of the many different faiths that his soldiers brought with them. Mr. Waldman isn't sure whether Bro. Washington's involvement with Freemasonry influenced his acceptance of various religions or if his already tolerant nature attracted him to the fraternity, but he feels it helped form a cohesive military. Jefferson had no time for organized religion and wrote his own bible, taking out the parts he did not like. Madison, an Anglican by birth, attended the College of New Jersey (now Princeton University) founded by evangelical Presbyterians. He was never a part of that group, but he did have great respect for them and would eventually work as a state legislator for more religious tolerance in Virginia.
"Founding Faith" shows how even these men, who were at the very formation of our country's government, still weren't quite sure how separate the two should be. Bro. Washington and Adams were comfortable with a little intermingling of the two, while Jefferson and Madison had stricter ideas. What they all desired was a way to allow all faiths to flourish freely without government intervention.
The question of religion and Freemasonry is always a topic of discussion, and the Circulating Library has plenty of resources to try and answer some of your questions. Check out our Web site at www.pagrandlodge.org or call (800) 462-0430, ext. 1933.
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