A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life

A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life
I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand. For this also I believe, –that unless I believed, I should not understand.-- St. Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109)

Monday, July 05, 2010

The Faith of Our Founders #1: Introduction

Since today is the Monday holiday in which we Americans celebrate the Fourth of July, I begin a series on the faith of our Founders. I have been wanting to do this series for a couple of years now, but it has never seemed quite right until now. Each Monday for the next few weeks, I will highlight the faith of one of the Founders of the United States. My purpose will not be to evaluate each individual's faith commitments and beliefs, although I am happy to have that discussion in the comments, but rather to demonstrate the variety of faith views that were held by the various Founders of the United States. Why am I interested in posting this series?

First, those on one extreme have proffered the perspective that all of the Founders were devoutly orthodox Christians who were clearly motivated to found the nation on explicitly Christian principles. But as is often the case, the truth is more complex than such an over-generalized reading of history.

Second, those on the other extreme argue that the Founders were clear that they were birthing a nation without any appeal to Christian principles of any kind. Their project was truly a "secular" one. But as is often the case, the truth is more complex than such an over-generalized reading of history.

Christian religion did play a role in public life in the early years of the nation, but the question is to what extent and what did each Founder think about Christianity's place in public and its implications?

Each post will draw heavily on Alf Mapp's important book, The Faith of our Fathers with reference to other sources as appropriate. As we will come to see, the religion, like the politics of the Founders, cannot simply be summarized in neat fashion and utilized cleanly as an agenda that will serve either the political or religious right or the left.

Before we post on our first Founder, George Washington, some introductory words must be said about the fashionable faith of the colonial intelligentsia of the eighteenth century-- deism. That will be the subject of next Monday's post.


Mitch said...

Allan - I look forward to the series.

I'm not sure how this fits with where you are going, but how one defines "founders" has a big influence on how one understand the topic. A variety of Pennsylvania sects, confessional Old Lights and evangelical New Lights among the Congregationalists, the Scots-Irish Presbyterians migrating along the Appalachian spine, the children of the Great Awakening, and the nascent Baptist and Methodist groups that would come to dominate to the religious landscape of the 19th century - in their own way they too were "founders".


Allan R. Bevere said...


An excellent point. My series will likely be limited to the "major" Founders we all tend to think about, but there is no doubt that we must not limit the category "Founder," to these "major" figures.

One of the things that should not be missed as well is the influence of the Founding Mothers(e.g. Abigail Adams, Dolly Madison), but, unfortunately so little is written of their religious convictions. I suppose one could, for example, go through the voluminous letters that Abigail wrote, but that is beyond what I can devote my time to. And how much she speaks of her faith in such correspondence is something I do not know.

Ted M. Gossard said...

I look forward to learning, a lot, Allan.