Monday, August 02, 2010

Note to Evangelical on George Washington's Religion:

I was prompted to enter this discussion forum because my work was being cited there. Here is one of the notes I left:

Matthew,

... [M]y point about Glenn Beck wasn't to poison the well but rather get folks to think what is it that Beck, insofar as he fully understands what Lillback wrote (like most folks I doubt he read all 1200 pages), probably values about the book.

That GW was more religious and religion friendly, less deistic than most scholar conclude? Sure, most Mormons would value that. But that GW believed in orthodox Trinitarian doctrine? No, because Mormons reject that.

Re labels, David Holmes in his book "The Faiths of the Founding Fathers" (published by Oxford) labels the creed of the "key Founders" (the first 4 Presidents and Franklin) "Christian-Deism" as distinguished from the "non-Christian Deism" of Paine and Allen.

That is, all of the "Christian-Deists" were affiliated with Churches that professed orthodoxy, and these "Deists" believed in an active Providence, and seemed comfortable with the "Christian" label. Paine, Allen and Palmer were the ones who probably didn't consider themselves "Christians" and wanted nothing to do with the Bible. But even with them, there are instances to doubt their pure "Deism." They were all raised in a Christian culture and to an outsider looking in, most Muslims or Buddhists for instance, would label all of them from Washington to Witherspoon to Jefferson to Paine, Allen and Palmer, "Christians." Much in the same way that we look at someone like Saddam Hussein and conclude he was a "Muslim" when best that I can tell, he was a "Muslim-Deist" and a secular tyrant. (Hussein believed in religious pluralism, sadly, precisely because he didn't take his Muslim religion as seriously as for instance, Bin Laden does.)

The reason why, I think, we go thru these distinctions is when evangelical mega-churches and orthodox theologians get in the "history," culture-war game they see these issues thru their strict theological standards. Was Washington (and Jefferson, and J. Adams, etc.) a "Christian" according to certain cultural, historical and sociological standards? Yes, of course. Did he meet the minimal standards of "Christian" according to the strict test that evangelicals require? I seriously doubt it for the reason I lay out in my original article.