Kudos to Andrew Sullivan for quoting Jefferson on Religion and appreciating Jefferson's radical iconoclasm on religious questions.
I recommend anyone with a serious interest to delve into the Founders and Religion question. Both "the Founders were Deists" and "the Founders were Christians" sides are wrong; the Truth is far more nuanced and interesting.
Readers of this blog know that the key Founders, while they believed in a warm intervening Providence (thus, not what we typically think of as "Deists") seriously questioned and outright rejected the traditional dogmas of orthodox Christianity.
Were I to described the God of the Founders (Jefferson, Adams, Franklin, most likely Washington, Madison and some other key Founders) in one word, it would be: Benevolent.
Here is, once again, John Adams, whose religious beliefs I find far more appealing than the religious right who often invoke him. In a letter to Lousia Catherine Adams, November 11, 1821:
Question 1. Is this stupendous and immeasurable universe governed by eternal fate? 2. Is it governed by chance? Is it governed by caprice anger resentment and vengeance? 4. Is it governed by intelligence wisdom and benevolence? The three first of these questions I have examined with as close attention as I am capable of & have decided them all forever in the negative. The 4th I have meditated with much more satisfaction & comfort to myself & decided unequivocally in the affirmative & from this last decision I have derived all my system of divinity.
Note Adams and the other key Founders categorically rejected eternal damnation, (though they did believe that bad people would be punished temporarily) because a benevolent God wouldn't damn anyone, much less the majority of the human race to Hell for eternity.
Calvin's God could not be the real God because our Founders presupposed God's benevolence. And Calvin appeared to worship a malevolent Deity.
Now, an Internet colleague of mine (a Harvard PhD in astronomy), in his 80s and a militant atheist would state that Adams (or I) am wrong to presuppose God's benevolence? Who is to say that if God exists, he isn't malevolent?
Should we presuppose God's benevolence? It's only by doing so that I reject the possibility that Bin Laden's God is the true God. And it's for that very same reason I reject the God of the Christian fundamentalists. Yet millions of people, many of them very smart and well educated, believe in both Bin Laden's God and Calvin's.
Me, I'm with Adams, Jefferson and the others. If God exists, He(/She/It) is benevolent, and any attribute of Him in which I might believe will be guided by that premise.