According to a writer from the conservative Claremont Institute, Dr. Wood is "the favorite historian of America's liberal establishment." Well, that would actually be Howard Zinn. Be that as it may, Gordon Wood has one advantage---his scholarship is generally thought of as scrupulous and honest.
Wood offers a needed historian's perspective and point of order in our current culture wars and their attending venom, on a panel discussing Michael and Jana Novak's book Washington's God: Religion, Liberty, and the Father of Our Country. [Click here to access the Google Books preview. I do not necessarily endorse the book's conclusions.]
“The important point to make about the late 18th century, and I think Michael's correct about this, the society was very religious, much more religious than we are today. Religion really permeated American life at the end of the 18th century...In that sense we're talking about a very different world. Most ordinary people were more than just deistic or like Washington---they believed in Christianity, and believed in Christ with emotional fervor that I think Washington does not have...
I agree with Michael that it's been the last 100 years of the 20th century, in fact, the last half of the 20th century that our society has become much more secular and as a consequence we've tended to interpret the 18th century in a more secular way. But I think that's just a mistake. That was a very religious world. In fact, ordinary people were far more religious than the leaders. Washington is, among the founders, I think, probably as religious as any of them. Jefferson and Madison were, I think, truly Enlightenment figures in the sense that they had a Voltaire view of organized religion. As far as they were concerned, organized religion was a mess. But they were politicians as well and could not say too much about their views on religion.”
—Gordon Wood, NPR: On Point, February 20, 2006
And that's what we're really doing on this here blog, trying to recapture the truth about the religio-political landscape of the Founding from revision one way or the other, from Christian nationists, and from the secular nationists as well.
In another forum, Michael Novak adds:
"Please understand. We agree that the reason for the unparalleled strength of religion in America is “the separation of church and state,” as every Catholic priest and other clergymen he met, without exception, told Alexis de Tocqueville. Further, the American version of separation is quite different from the French version, which is poisonously anti-religious. (The French Jacobins, for example, placed a prostitute upon the altar of the cathedral of Notre Dame of Paris, as a symbol – of all things — for the goddess Reason.)And that's what it's really all about, in between the shouting, a whisper spoken when all the thunder dies away. The culture wars may now resume; we return to our regular program.
Jana and I do not think the American form of separation – it is accommodation, really — ought to be abridged, for it springs from Christian roots, and has a firm biblical basis. It is undergirded by this text among others: “Give to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” No doubt about it, it took Christians, Catholics especially, too long to see this; but it is undeniably part of their inheritance, which is constantly being plumbed for fresh resources.
Further, Jana and I favor the combination of arguments from faith and reason with both working together (like two wings) in the defense of human liberty. We tend to admire Christian stoics as well as just plain stoics, and skeptical, questioning Christians as well as just plain skeptics. After all, God sends his sun to shine and his rain to fall on all alike.
In actual human beings, we find, there is more overlap, more inter-penetration, of intellectual traditions than conventional wisdom usually portrays. In fact, we note, nearly all Americans draw intellectual nourishment from roots sunk down in traditions of reason and of faith alike. We do. And so – we believe – do women and men of the Enlightenment, such as Ms. Allen and Professor Ellis [Novak critics---TVD]. In this country, persons of the Enlightenment owe much to particular biblical conceptions and traditions; and Jews and Christians owe much inspiration to the Enlightenment."