A few months ago, I was involved in a little debate on Worldmag's blog on the religious beliefs of our Founders. Readers know that I endorse the work of Gregg Frazer whose research sheds much light on the "Christian v. Deist" controversy and offers a sort of nuanced, middle ground of Truth.
I just noticed that Frazer left a comment on the thread. Here is what he wrote:
I saw my name and dissertation mentioned in your discussion and thought I should weigh in.
First -- I am an evangelical, born-again Christian and probably about as conservative theologically as you could imagine. I believe in the literal interpretation of Scripture -- including, for example, a literal six-day creation.
Second -- Having studied in depth the stated beliefs of eight key Founders, I have concluded that they were not Christians OR DEISTS, but "theistic rationalists." Theistic rationalism is a kind of mean between Christianity and deism. It is a hybrid belief system mixing Protestant Christianity with natural religion and rationalism -- with rationalism as the trumping element when the other two disagree. The eight men I studied were: John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, George Washington, James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, James Wilson, and Gouverneur Morris.
Third -- I plan to write an article this summer demonstrating that Jefferson & Franklin were not, as is routinely believed, deists. The problem we encounter is that the only two categories or "niches" that have been used are "Christian" or "deist." So, everyone is crammed into one of those categories whether or not he fits. Another significant problem comes from categorizing someone based simply upon his denominational affiliation.
Fourth -- As I said, I only studied the eight listed above, but I became convinced through tangential study that John Jay and John Witherspoon were Christians. There may be others. My point was that those most responsible for the Declaration (Jefferson, Adams, and Franklin) and for the Constitution were theistic rationalists and neither Christians nor deists. The Right and the Left are both wrong.
I am glad that Professor Rowe is planning to order my dissertation, as all of the primary evidence one could want is there. Mine is the first comprehensive study (as far as I know) of all that these eight said about their beliefs. Most "studies" pick and choose convenient quotes in order to advance a pre-determined agenda. Since theistic rationalism is a mixture of Christian and natural religion tenets, one can find isolated quotes to support either side of the Christianity vs. deism argument. Taken in total, though, they don't add up to either.
None of my dissertation committee members believed my thesis when I began -- after my defense, they said the evidence was "overwhelming."
Well, that's enough from me as an introduction.