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)

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

The Faith of Our Founders #1: Introduction

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.


Ron said...

Looking forward to this series - mostly because you are doing the research and I get to sit back and benefit from your hard work. Blessings, Allan.

Anonymous said...

George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and Ben Franklin were hardly what you would call hard core Christians. However the founding fathers understood that God had a role in society beyond the churchyard. Our Constitution separated church from state but we must remember that the states were considered the real governments with the federal government taking a limited role. Office holders in the states had to take oaths of office that often included Christian beliefs.
Delaware- do profess faith in God the Father, and in Jesus Christ His only Son, and in the Holy Ghost, one God, blessed for evermore
Maryland- I do not hold myself bound in allegiance to the King of Great Britain, and that I will be faithful, and bear true allegiance to the State of Maryland;' and shall also subscribe a declaration of his belief in the Christian religion
North Carolina- That no person, who shall deny the being of God or the truth of the Protestant religion, or the divine authority either of the Old or New Testaments, or who shall hold religious principles incompatible with the freedom and safety of the State, shall be capable of holding any office or place of trust or profit in the civil department within this State.
Penn- I do believe in one God, the creator and governor of the universe, the rewarder of the good and the punisher of the wicked. And I do acknowledge the Scriptures of the Old and New Testament to be given by Divine inspiration.
Virginia- that it is the mutual duty of all to practice Christian forbearance, love, and charity towards each other
Georgia, South Carolina, Massachusetts and New Hampshire restricted office holders to Protestants.

I think we can safely say that our nation was founded as a Christian nation.