I was sent an advance copy to review for American Creation, Ron Chernow's 800 plus page, "Washington: A Life."
I thank the publishers for this.
We are part of an online book tour.
I constrain my review to Chapter 12, "Providence," because that's where I'm most interested and useful.
Chernow begins by noting GW's formal and nominal affiliation with the Anglican (later Episcopalian) Church, but that "mysteries have surrounded George Washington's religious beliefs." He relays the Ashbel Green affair and Thomas Jefferson's interpretation of it (click on my links to see what I'm talking about).
That leads readers to wonder, ... hmm, maybe GW was a traditional Christian of the Anglican bent; but maybe, like a lot of today's politicians and church attendees, he was something more nominal.
To support the "nominal" thesis, Chernow relates that GW's church attendance was irregular, that he never took communion, that he prayed while standing, (as opposed to the Anglican custom of kneeling) and that his public and private God words were invariably generic, not specifically orthodox Trinitarian.
Chernow rightly understands that GW believed in an active Providence, but was not identifiably or provably someone who believed Jesus Christ was God in the flesh or the Bible the inerrant infallible Word of God.
Chernow also properly notes the active Providence in which GW believed was not consistent with most understandings of "Deism," that, indeed, GW's God "evince[d] a keen interest in North American politics." (In short, GW's God was a Whig, not a Tory.)
Importantly, Chernow mentions that although most of GW's contemporaries would have categorized him as a "sincere" and "devout" Christian, he was religiously shy, and displayed no religious zeal on matters of Hellfire or damnation. (Hence GW was, if anything, NOT an evangelical or "born again" Christian.) I would have gone further and explored the probability that Washington disbelieved in eternal damnation (as opposed to temporary punishments in the afterlife) given his support for the Universalist Church.
Chernow also identifies GW's religious non-sectarianism and ecumenicism and, Enlightenment rejection of "religious fanaticism." Here Chernow includes one of my favorite quotations of Washington's, given to the Swedenborgians, a group whose beliefs today and when Washington wrote that note, the "orthodox" term (like the Mormons) "heretical" and "cultic."
"We have abundant reason to rejoice that in this Land the light of truth & reason has triumphed over the power of bigotry and superstition,..."
[Washington wrote that quotation in the context of assuring the Swedenborgs that they possessed the full rights under the US Constitution's guarantee of religious rights.]
Finally, Chernow notes Washington's oft-cited "Farewell Address" where GW connects the importance of "religion" (generally speaking, not necessarily "Christianity") as the foundation for republican morality.
I see Chernow's chapter on Washington's religion fair, informed and generally correct. He properly avoided the politicized historical-culture war, false dichotomy categorization of GW as either a "secular Deist" or "devout (orthodox) Christian."