Friday, December 21, 2007

George Washington & Death:

George Mason University historian Peter Henriques has an article online about George Washington and death. Henriques by the way wrote an outstanding biography on Washington, Realistic Visionary, with a superb chapter on Washington's religion.

As the article notes, Washington didn’t seem to die a “Christian” death, but a “Stoic” one. He clearly believed in an afterlife, but his view of it was arguably not Christian. The theistic rationalists of whom I count Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Madison, and Franklin as ones, thought, contra Christianity, that good people merit Heaven via works as opposed to faith, and as such non-Christians may be saved (the bad would be temporarily punished eventually redeemed).

Determining Washington's exact religious beliefs from the historical record requires connecting some dots. But the record strongly points in this direction. For instance, when Washington’s niece died he stated: “She is now no more! But she must be happy, because her virtue has a claim to it.” No orthodox Christian would state that someone’s “virtue” or works gives them a “claim” to eternal happiness.

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