Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Washington's Religion on the Blogsphere:

As Washington's birthday approaches, his religion is being discussed online. I'm glad there is an interest in the topic. Michael and Jana Novak have two articles. One in USA Today and the other in First Things. As I've noted before, they show that Washington was not a "Deist" in the strict non-interventionist sense of the term but do not show he was an orthodox Christian. Indeed, the following paragraph of theirs from their First Things post shows why it is likely that Washington was not an orthodox Christian:

Most historians of the last hundred years have said the Father of Our Nation was a deist (in his excellent recent biography, Joseph Ellis called Washington a "lukewarm Episcopalian and quasi-Deist") and suggest, along the way, that his virtues were Stoic rather than Christian, and his appeals to Providence rather more Greek and Roman than biblical. Since Washington speaks seldom of Jesus Christ, and almost never invokes the Savior or Redeemer or Trinity but prefers to use philosophical names for God ("Beneficent Author of all good," "Divine Providence," "Almighty Ruler of the Universe"), it is easy to think he was a deist.

However, the Novaks really show no interest in understanding how Washington's more moderate middle ground between Deism and Christianity, might, like Deism, also conflict with the tenets of orthodox Christianity. Steven Waldman (hat tip Brayton) well understands Washington's middle ground beliefs:

By the definition of Christianity offered by modern-day liberal Christians, Washington would pass muster. He believed in God, attended church, endorsed the golden rule, and valued the behavioral benefits of religion. But for those who define being a Christian as requiring the acceptance of Christ as personal savior and the Bible as God's revelation, Washington, based on what we know, probably was not "Christian."

This poses a delicious challenge for culture warriors: if you want to treasure Washington as he truly was, you'll be forced to hail someone who's behavior doesn't comport with your own. He was neither evangelical nor secularist - just a great man. Washington was able to tolerate people of faiths vastly different from his own. The question for modern culture warriors is: can we treasure Washington as he was, rather than what we might want him to be?

1 comment:

Tom Van Dyke said...

In this respect, I don't see how we can say anything more about Ronald Reagan than we can about George Washington.

Where that leaves us, I don't know, but it's worth a thought.