Finally, the rise of a culturally influential evangelicalism conjoined with republicanism and commonsense ethics is a surprise because of the religious views of the American founding fathers. Not only do the best demographic surveys record a declining evangelical presence in the 1770s; and not only did the publication of religious works decline dramatically during the War for Independence; but the religious dispositions of the new country's most visible leaders were anything but evangelical. A few of them, like Sam Adams of Massachusetts, John Jay of New York, Patrick Henry of Virginia, John Witherspoon and Elias Boudinot of New Jersey, and Roger Sherman of Connecticut, were more or less evangelical, but the founders who mattered most—George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, John [sic] Madison, John Adams, Alexander Hamilton, Benjamin Franklin—were not. Whereas the faith of these founders did lean in a generally Christian direction, the unitarian, deistical, moralistic, and antienthusiastic religions they practiced hardly anticipated an evangelical surge. And although it is possible to find in both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution echoes of more traditional Christian attitudes toward human nature, government, and the ends of society, these crucial documents depended much more directly on secular sources, whether from the classics, John Locke, the Scottish Enlightenment, or the pragmatic circumstances of the period. These founders may have preserved some of the Puritans' moral earnestness and may have borrowed rhetorical strategies from the mid-century revivals, but otherwise their politics were secular.That Noll writes "John" Madison shows that even the great ones aren't immune from typos.
Tuesday, August 4, 2009
Noll on Evangelicalism & The American Founding
One of Mark Noll's articles on the American Revolution and evangelical Protestantism is available in its entirely here. It's always a treat to read his work. A taste: