Monday, February 20, 2017

George Washington's faith

Mark Tooley republishes his review, "George Washington's God," "in honor of Washington’s Birthday and of Michael Novak, who died Friday, February 17, 2017." Michael Novak and his daughter, Jana Novak, were authors of Washington’s God: Religion, Liberty, and the Father of Our Country, published in 2006; it was written at the request of the Mount Vernon Ladies Association. From Tooley's review:
.... The assumption of the last century’s scholarship that Washington was irreligious is partly his fault. Reserved and emotionally reticent, he left no extant theological treatises on his personal religious beliefs. The clues must be extracted from Washington’s ecclesial habits, his family life, his character, and the numerous references to the Almighty in his public writings and personal letters. ....

Most of Washington’s family, friends, and associates assumed he had at least conventional if not necessarily expressive Christian faith. “He took these things [religion] as he found them existing, and was constant in his observance of worship according to the received forms of the Episcopal Church in which he was brought up,” James Madison matter-of-factly observed of his fellow Virginian. ....

Washington was indeed tight-lipped about the specifics of his theology. But he was surprisingly frequent in his references to the Deity. His God was not remote or impersonal. Washington’s God, as he described Him in his public declarations and personal letters, was quite active and quite personal. This deity saved the young Washington several times from French and Indian bullets, saved Washington’s army from near destruction by the far larger British army, and saved the young republic from chaos and division. ....

Washington’s few specific references to Jesus Christ and his lack of Trinitarian language helped fuel the assumption that he was a deist. The Novaks devote a whole chapter to deism, which they explain as a rationalization of Christianity. The deist God is a creator whose world is governed by natural laws and who desires moral living by humanity, whose conduct will be judged in the afterlife.

Much of early Protestantism initially rejected Catholicism’s use of human reason, choosing instead to focus on faith alone. Deism, the Novaks suggest, allowed Protestants to incorporate the language of reason during the Enlightenment. Some deists remained Christians, while others would follow the European model of strict rationalism. Washington, as he related the many interventions of his God, clearly believed in a continuously active deity who was more than the detached “clockmaker” of strict deism. ....

The Washingtons usually attended Pohick Church near Mount Vernon and sometimes Christ Church in Alexandria. Either trip by carriage involved a couple hours of travel round trip. Washington financially supported both churches and gave considerable personal time over the decades to his work on the church vestry. Throughout his presidency he regularly attended churches in New York and Philadelphia. ....

Washington’s spiritual life within his family appears to have been conventionally orthodox. He prayed before meals, read sermons out loud to Martha, and bought devotional material for his stepchildren. When stepdaughter Patsy was dying, he prayed audibly while on his knees at her bedside. ....

.... Washington’s public utterances about God were unifying rather than divisive and were admired by Anglicans, Congregationalists, Presbyterians, Baptists, Methodists, Lutherans, Roman Catholics, and even Jews. He carefully wrote to their congregations, visited their places of worship, and received their delegations, commending their faith and urging their loyalty to the new republic and its promise of religious liberty to all. .... [more]
From 10 George Washington Quotes Pointing to God's Providence":
“Whereas it becomes us humbly to approach the throne of Almighty God, with gratitude and praise for the wonders which his goodness has wrought in conducting our fore-fathers to this western world…and above all, that he hath diffused the glorious light of the gospel, whereby, through the merits of our gracious Redeemer, we may become the heirs of his eternal glory.” — Washington’s General Orders, November 27, 1779
 George Washington's God - Juicy Ecumenism, 10 George Washington Quotes Pointing to God's Providence - Juicy Ecumenism