Dennis Prager is fond of saying he values clarity over agreement. Words to live by.
Only my second post for this splendid little blog, so where to start?
Instapundit today links [approvingly, we'd think] to another bland assertion of the "common knowledge" that Thomas Jefferson was a Deist. He was not, or at least probably not, as I argue here. The LA Times---which printed the same "fact"---hasn't responded either, unsurprisingly. But Deists believe(d) that the Creator did his creating watchmaker-like, then took a powder on human history, closing his shop for returns or repairs.
The discussion below the post Instapundit links is what's truly problematic, full of people expressing little but opinion, emotion, and drawing lines in the sand. Whatever substantive arguments are made (few) are ignored.
All of which is emblematic of America 2008: what passes for dialogue is merely the firing of salvos between ships passing in the night, each using their Founding myths trying to get home to a home that never was, either a Christian Nation or a rigorously secular one. But America wasn't founded on either Jonathan Edwards or Jean-Jacques Rousseau, although they're both prowling about in there someplace.
The Christian Nation thesis, which implies some level of theocracy or at least Biblical authority, is fairly easy to pick apart, starting with the non-establishment clause of the First Amendment and the rather soggy religious beliefs of the first four presidents. No one sect agreed 100% with another's interpretation of the Bible, so sogginess was a desirable republican virtue. In fact, John Adams attributed his loss to Jefferson in the 1800 presidential election to Adams being seen as too closely allied with the Presbyterians. Better an atheist, or Jefferson!
Yes, folks, they had their doubts about Jefferson's religiosity even back then. It was pretty obvious he was no orthodox Christian. What, do we think these Founder guys were stupid? [Jefferson's VP Aaron Burr was the grandson of Jonathan Edwards, by the way. Call it what you will, but I call it a balanced ticket.]
So we come to the modern Rousseau crowd, who want to reduce the Founding landscape to the sum of the articles of the Constitution, as if America is no more and no less than a social contract. The legalists, the empiricists.
As if the Continental Congress that invoked not only God but Christ the Redeemer in their 1779 proclamation of thanks when war started going well was replaced by a whole new crew who signed the Constitution 8 years later. Thanks for risking your lives and fortunes, here are your gold watches, and we Enlightenment types will take over now.
The young America---virtually without exception---thought that Divine Providence smiled on the rightness of its cause, and even Jefferson wondered whether it was "probable" that "supernatural interference" would one day punish America for its sin of slavery. See, Deism does not acknowledge a God who "interferes" in human history, either to favor a young nation's cause or punish its wickedness. Neither do social contracts.
So, can we put the "Jefferson was a Deist thing" to bed? I'm counting on the gentle reader to spread the news or at least spread a shred of doubt. I mean, the "Jefferson Bible," after cutting out the miracles and Son of God stuff, still left The Lord's Prayer in. Deists don't pray. There's no point. The hotline to God is disconnected.
Which brings us to George Washington, and a merciful end to this post. I quite agree with Jonathan Rowe that there is no "smoking gun" to make Washington anything resembling an orthodox Christian. I strongly doubt he was, based on the evidence, although I remain unsure. Even his contemporaries had no certainty; we 21st Centurians have no chance.
However, it is a fact that in birthing the new American republic, George Washington grabbed a Bible and swore on it as its first president. Whether or not this was merely a symbolic gesture, it is in such symbols and myths that history is made. What Washington believed in his heart of hearts is secondary, perhaps even irrelevant.
Because anyone who thinks men fight and die over taxation without representation or start a Great Civil War over tariffs misses the point not only of what it is to be American, but to be human.
The "Christian" part can wait, as I believe we have bigger fish to fry in this day and age.