Monday, February 20, 2006

Happy Presidents Day:

On this President's Day, Michael & Jana Novak have more to say on their book about George Washington's God, which I'm looking forward to reading. Off the bat, I see one factual point which I'd like to dispute. It's a theme that we will see coming up again, not just from Novak, but from others as well.

Q: Was Washington a Deist, or not?

A Washington's names for God sometimes sounded deist, but the actions his prayers asked God to perform belong to the biblical God, not the god of the philosophers. Washington believed that God favored the cause of liberty, and should be beseeched to "interpose" his actions on behalf of the Americans- and he often called for public thanksgiving for the many ways in which Americans "experienced" God's hand in events. He believed God could inspire thoughts and courage in human hearts, and give men fortitude to persevere in extreme difficulties. He held that praying for favors imposed duties on him who prayed.

Washington's reflections on the workings of Providence were deep, and hardened by the crucible of experience. On these matters, he was a Christian, not a deist.


There is, though, a dividing line between Deist and Christian. Strict Deists cannot accept that God intervenes in history on one side or the other. Their God is more remote and impersonal than that. By contrast, Washington acted as though God can intervene. In this spirit Washington and his men implored God's aid, often experienced it, and thanked Him for it again and again. He acted as a Christian, not a Deist.

I disagree with the notion that Washington's God was "the biblical God, not the god of the philosophers." The warm-intervening attributes of God which Novak describes was consistent with "the god of the philosophers." One thinks of both Jefferson and Franklin as the most philosophically minded Founders and the God whom they invoked was, like Washington's, a warm-intervening Providence. Whatever we choose to call such a belief system, the notion of a warm-intervening Providence is consistent with the attributes of the God in whom many of the Enlightenment philosophers believed.

See also, my original reaction to Novak's thesis.

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