We are quickly heading into another presidential election season, and with that a whole lot of use and abuse of Christianity and its place in politics and the founding of the nation. So it seems appropriate to attempt to separate fact from fiction and extract nuance from simplicity. So, every Tuesday 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 and evangelical 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, what kind of Christianity was it that played such a role, and what did each Founder think about Christianity's place in public and its implications?
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 Tuesday's post.