and that's just a fact, in his own words
by Tom Van Dyke
Rev. Gary Kowalski ["Revolutionary Spirits"] writes in his post How Christian Were the Founders? below:
They simply believed that faith should be exercised in the private sphere rather than assert its authority through law or tax-funded initiatives.
This is somewhat true, although James Madison lost the battle against publicly-funded chaplains to the US Congress, which voted otherwise. A tradition that continues to this day, and one Madison didn't try to overturn even when he eventually became president.
And of course, religion was left to the states, and many states had religious tests for office and some still have them on the books even today; some even had "official" churches, and the ratification of the Constitution changed none of that.
But most troubling about Gary's riff is this phrase:
that faith should be exercised in the private sphere
What does Rev. Kowalski mean by "faith?" I have no idea.
But "faith"---to me---is the question about whether God even exists, or if He does, whether He guides our lives with an active hand. Maybe He created us, but left us to our own devices, since He had better things to do.
And what does Gary mean by "private sphere?"
Because George Washington, who was no Holy Roller, and indeed he was questionably even "Christian," said in his first inaugural address:
Such being the impressions under which I have, in obedience to the public summons, repaired to the present station, it would be peculiarly improper to omit in this first official act my fervent supplications to that Almighty Being who rules over the universe, who presides in the councils of nations, and whose providential aids can supply every human defect, that His benediction may consecrate to the liberties and happiness of the people of the United States a Government instituted by themselves for these essential purposes, and may enable every instrument employed in its administration to execute with success the functions allotted to his charge.
And Washington felt that he was speaking not just for himself, but for the new American nation:
In tendering this homage to the Great Author of every public and private good, I assure myself that it expresses your sentiments not less than my own, nor those of my fellow-citizens at large less than either.
And Washington continues, not only with the success of the American Revolution, but in crediting the Almighty with a peaceful agreement among men how to govern themselves and each other---the Constitution:
"No people can be bound to acknowledge and adore the Invisible Hand which conducts the affairs of men more than those of the United States. Every step by which they have advanced to the character of an independent nation seems to have been distinguished by some token of providential agency; and in the important revolution just accomplished in the system of their united government the tranquil deliberations and voluntary consent of so many distinct communities from which the event has resulted can not be compared with the means by which most governments have been established without some return of pious gratitude, along with an humble anticipation of the future blessings which the past seem to presage. These reflections, arising out of the present crisis, have forced themselves too strongly on my mind to be suppressed. You will join with me, I trust, in thinking that there are none under the influence of which the proceedings of a new and free government can more auspiciously commence."
And, yeah, if you noticed at the end there, Washington speaks hopefully of "an humble anticipation of the future blessings which the past seem to presage."
So I must humbly submit that's a prayer for America's future. Humble people pray that way. George Washington, even when he felt the presence of The Almighty, as he especially did here on the occasion of being inaugurated as America's first president, remained a humble man.
And so, Gary---Rev. Kowalski---I must strongly disagree that the "Founders" thought religion---at least "the question" of God---was a private matter. Like George Washington,
"These reflections, arising out of the present crisis, have forced themselves too strongly on my mind to be suppressed."