Thursday, February 18, 2016

Daniel Dreishbach on GW's approach to Religion

This is a little late for Presidents' Day. Daniel Dreisbach wrote this last year (2015).

I want to focus on a dynamic that often gets missed in this "Christian" v. "Secular" America argument. What was unique to the American Founding. And particularly to George Washington as the chief Founder of the new nation.

Perhaps I'm missing something here, but in forming a new nation that would have no established church at the national level, Washington and America started an entirely new precedent in "liberal democracy" of the head of state no longer being any kind of official "protector of the faith."

The other nations in Christendom all had state established churches where their political leaders as heads of state had to at the very least play a figurehead role defending the "true" expression of the faith. Now, the leader may not have done that job well, but it was still part of the job. So Henry the VIII had, at one time, the job as protecting the Roman Catholic faith. He was so bad at the job that it led to a creation of a new Church which he might be more qualified to serve as figurehead protector of.

George Washington was first in NOT playing that role. Therefore he had to be ecumenical and pluralistic. If one in his personal convictions is indifferent towards doctrine, it helps to play that (new) role.

We see this prominently on display in the addresses Dr. Dreisbach reproduces.


Tom Van Dyke said...

Best to leave 'em guessing. Again, the specter not of religion, but of sectarianism. John Adams:

6. He blamed a day of fasting for his reelection defeat.
In both 1798 and 1799, Adams issued presidential proclamations calling for national days of “solemn humiliation, fasting and prayer.” In an 1812 letter to Dr. Benjamin Rush, Adams wrote, “The National Fast, recommended by me turned me out of office.” Adams argued in the letter that “nothing is more dreaded than the national government meddling with religion,” and he believed that his call for a fast day had become incorrectly viewed as the promotion of the Presbyterian Church (of which Adams was not a member) as a national religion, which caused an electoral backlash. Blaming defeat on a proclamation might seem far-fetched, but as David McCullough pointed out in his Adams biography, a swing of only 250 votes in New York City would have resulted in the president’s reelection.

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