My co-blogger at American Creation, Tom Van Dyke, has a good post on the Protestantism that prevailed during America's Founding. It reminds me somewhat of the late Avery Cardinal Dulles' outstanding article "The Deist Minimum."
We hear a lot of terms thrown around; America had a “Christian” Founding, an “Enlightenment” Founding, a “Judeo-Christian” Founding, a “Protestant Christian” Founding…everything depends on what those terms mean. My biggest problem with "Christian Nationalists" is that terms like "Christian" or "Protestant Christian" get read as a D. James Kennedy kind of "Christian"...or even worse a John Lofton type of "Protestant."
Sure those kinds of Protestant Christians existed in more than nominal numbers during the Founding era. But they probably didn't form a statistical majority of the population; or if they did, there is no way to prove it (you'll have to ask God that question when you meet him).
But using modern dialog Van Dyke accurately captures what I see as the "Protestant minimum" of America's Founding:
A man [or woman] had the Bible, and they made of it what they would or could, and God help the clergyman who got in the way. If anything, the Founding generation and their ancestors fled Europe's clergy and their politics as much as they fled Europe itself.
No surprise, then, we ended up with the First Amendment, and that's largely what Dr. Shain means by "Protestant"---decidedly not Roman Catholic, but other Protestants too are kindly invited---keep your hands off my religious conscience!
Do you believe Jesus is God?
---I dunno. The Messiah, probably. You know, special.
That Jesus died for our sins?
---Mebbe. But mebbe he died for ALL men's sins. The Bible's a little unclear on whether there's definitely a Hell. My mother didn't believe in God much, but I'd still like to see her in heaven, y'know? Hate to think of Mom burning in Hell.
Is Christ present in the Eucharist?
---I have no idea. Tastes weird to me.
Is the Bible true?
---Sure. But people might have messed it up. People are people. And when it comes to interpreting the Bible, Rev. Smith is an idiot like Rev. Mayhew says---as if Romans 13 says I have to believe Charles II was some sort of saint, and now I have to obey King George III, who's a total bastard.
Look, the wife takes care of religion for the both of us, and I got a field to plow. Whatever. Just Don't Tread on Me, OK?
It went down sorta like that.