Friday, June 15, 2012

Comment I left Categorizing Religious Beliefs of Founding Fathers

Co-blogger Tom Van Dyke is arguing the controversy at Warren Throckmorton's blog here. This is a long comment I left:

You might want to check out American Creation where we feature news about Dr. Gregg Frazer's new book (and other things as well, including news on Drs. Throckmorton and Fea).

The "key Founders" -- the first 4 Presidents, Ben Franklin, James Wilson, G. Morris and A. Hamilton -- were not "strict Deists" in the absentee Landlord sense.  Yet, they weren't "Christians" in the orthodox sense either.  They were, as Dr. Frazer categorizes them, "theistic rationalists" which is somewhere in between.  The theistic rationalists were theological unitarians.  So others might term them "unitarians."  There are smoking guns that prove this the case with Jefferson, J. Adams and Franklin.  The others rely more on circumstantial evidence.  They were all theists (that is believed in an active personal God).  Hamilton was not provably an orthodox Christian until the end of his life (after his son died in a duel).  The other FFs were not provably orthodox Christians during any time in their adult life when they did the work "Founding" the nation.  I'm not aware of other key Founder than Hamilton having an end of life conversion to orthodox Christianity.  George Washington, for instance, died a Stoic death where he asked for no ministers and said no prayers.  But you never know what's going on in someone's head and heart before they take their last breath.

David Holmes prefers to term the key Founders "Christian-Deists," as opposed to the non-Christian deism of Ethan Allen, Thomas Paine and Elihu Palmer.  But those three were the only notable "strict Deists" among the Founders.  (It's debatable whether Palmer was a notable Founder).

There were a lot of orthodox Christians among the 2nd and lower tier Founders.  They include John Witherspoon, John Jay, Roger Sherman, Samuel Adams and Patrick Henry.

With regards to the rest, well, we just don't know.  Proving they had some kind of formal affiliation with an orthodox Church -- which THEY ALL DID -- really proves nothing other than they had some kind of formal affiliation with an orthodox Church.

It would be error to assume, as some do, the rest were "all" something.  Elias Boudinot and Fisher Ames were probably orthodox Christians.  Benjamin Rush was an orthodox Christian Universalist who believed in the doctrine of universal salvation, believing all would be saved through Christ's universal, as opposed to limited Atonement.  Timothy Pickering was a unitarian, and William Livingston may have been.  John Marshall was a unitarian who converted to orthodoxy shortly before he died.  Joel Barlow was either a strict deist or perhaps an atheist.

No comments: