How Christian were the founders?

Posted on 2010-02-15 09:39

Great article in the NY Times magazine today examining the question of Christianity in education as the Texas State Board of Education weighs various petitions for modifying the curriculum. On the one hand arguments are made that the 'separation' clause has been misused to totally remove any discussion of religion as a motivation in the founding of the US, while on the other that Christian factions are attempting to rewrite history and cast the founders as Christian fundamentalists. Why should we care, it's only Texas? Simple, schoolbooks get rewritten based on how this very populous state decides to portray American history.

In fact, the founders were rooted in Christianity — they were inheritors of the entire European Christian tradition — and at the same time they were steeped in an Enlightenment rationalism that was, if not opposed to religion, determined to establish separate spheres for faith and reason. “I don’t think the founders would have said they were applying Christian principles to government,” says Richard Brookhiser, the conservative columnist and author of books on Alexander Hamilton, Gouverneur Morris and George Washington. “What they said was ‘the laws of nature and nature’s God.’ They didn’t say, ‘We put our faith in Jesus Christ.’ ” Martin Marty says: “They had to invent a new, broad way. Washington, in his writings, makes scores of different references to God, but not one is biblical. He talks instead about a ‘Grand Architect,’ deliberately avoiding the Christian terms, because it had to be a religious language that was accessible to all people.”

I can't help but point out the Masonic tone of G. Washington's references to God. To be a Mason, members are required to acknowledge that there exists an 'Almighty Architect' of heaven and earth but no other specifics - a very Deist, and inclusive stance.

Or, as Brookhiser rather succinctly summarizes the point: “The founders were not as Christian as those people would like them to be, though they weren’t as secularist as Christopher Hitchens would like them to be.”