Religion and the founding fathers

George Will:

Not since the medieval church baptized, as it were, Aristotle as some sort of early — very early — church father has there been an intellectual hijacking as audacious as the attempt to present America’s principal founders as devout Christians. Such an attempt is now in high gear among people who argue that the founders were kindred spirits with today’s evangelicals, and that they founded a “Christian nation.”

This irritates Brooke Allen, an author and critic who has distilled her annoyance into “Moral Minority: Our Skeptical Founding Fathers.” It is a wonderfully high-spirited and informative polemic that, as polemics often do, occasionally goes too far. Her thesis is that the six most important founders — Franklin, Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Madison and Hamilton — subscribed, in different ways, to the watery and undemanding Enlightenment faith called deism. That doctrine appealed to rationalists by being explanatory but not inciting: it made the universe intelligible without arousing dangerous zeal.


Allen’s challenge is to square the six founders’ often pious public words and behavior with her conviction that their real beliefs placed all six far from Christianity. Her conviction is well documented, exuberantly argued and quite persuasive.

Oh really? The following quote is taken from David McCullough's John Adams.

One day, as he (John Adams) and Benjamin Rush sat together in Congress, Rush asked Adams in a whisper if he thought America would succeed in the struggle (for independence). "Yes," Adams replied, "if we fear God and repent our sins."
Note, this was not "pious public words." It was a whispered conversation among friends in the Continental Congress after some military setbacks in the war for independence. Abigail, Adams wife, was the daughter of a minister and Adams himself considered the ministry before becoming a lawyer according to McCullough. I think the author is attempting a thesis to support her irrational fears of the US becoming a theocracy.

More commentary here.


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