Tuesday, January 2, 2007

The faiths of the Founding Fathers

The Evangelical Outpost reviews a book about the religious beliefs of the founders of our political system. Few of them were orthodox Christians. None of them were atheists.
...Countless arguments are centered on claims that the founders were either God-fearing Christians or Deistically-inclined secularists. But while historical documents are often mined for justifying quotes, few people bother to muster historical evidence to shore up their claims.

In his new book, The Faiths of the Founding Fathers, historian David Holmes fills that void by providing a useful methodology for examining the relevant evidence. Holmes outlines four areas that can help us laymen determine whether the founding father was a Deist, an orthodox Christian, or somewhere in between:
  1. Examine the actions of the founding father in the area of religion (e.g., Did they attend church regularly?).
  2. Examine the participation of the founding father in a church's ordinances or sacraments (e.g., Did they have their children baptized? Did they take Holy Communion?).
  3. Comparison of inactivity versus activity in regards to religious involvement.
  4. Examine the religious language used by the founding father.
Using these criteria, Holmes claims that the religious beliefs of the founding fathers can be broadly classified as:
Non-Christian Deists: Deists who rejected all sacraments and rarely attended church services.
Deistic Christians/Unitarians: Held Deistic beliefs, attended church regularly, but rejected the Lord's Supper and confirmation.
Orthodox Christians: Accepted orthodox Christian beliefs, attended church regularly, participated in the sacraments and ordinances. [...]
 Applied to [the] founding fathers, the list could be roughly delineated as:
  • Non-Christian Deists: Thomas Paine, Ethan Allen
  • Deistic Christians/Unitarians: Ben Franklin, George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, James Monroe
  • Orthodox Christians: Patrick Henry, Samuel Adams, John Jay, Elias Boudinot, John Witherspoon
[...] While we Christians can claim few founding fathers as fellow believers, the atheistic secularist can claim none. Not one of the significant leaders was an atheist, much less subscribed to the modern idea of secularism. Most appear to have been held to the classic “five points of Deism”:
  1. There is a God.
  2. He ought to be worshiped.
  3. Virtue is the principle element in this worship.
  4. Humans should repent of their sins.
  5. There is life after death, where the evil will be punished and the good rewarded.
The views of the Deistically-inclined founding fathers would have been as repugnant to the modern secularist as those of the “Christian Right.”....
the evangelical outpost: Founding Believers: Examining the Faiths of the Founding Fathers

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