A good book about the religious beliefs of the “founding fathers”

A good book about the religious beliefs of the “founding fathers” May 25, 2012

A person promoting revisionist history here recently declared that no honest person can deny that the U.S.’s founding fathers were Christians. I don’t know anyone who denies they (at least most of them) were formally Christians in the sense of being baptized members of nominally Christian churches. The issue is their real beliefs.

Yesterday I visited the largest Half Price Bookstore in the world–a veritable Costco (if that’s the right analogy) of books. It would take someone many hours to peruse every shelf. Even the “Religion” section is amazingly large.

I saw many copies of this book and bought one for my own library: David L. Holmes, The Faiths of the Founding Fathers (Oxford, 2006). Holmes is Walter G. Mason Professor of Religious Studies at the College of William and Mary–the alma mater of some of the founding fathers.

(In case you wonder if I read it over night. Well, the fact is that I read it IN Half Price Bookstore months ago and intended to buy it. Just before going to the cashier to purchase it, after reading it, I laid it down outside the restroom. When I came out it was gone! I then could not find any other copies. I figured there would be another copy or copies next time I visited the store and I was right. This time many copies were on an end cap display.)

Here is a gem from the book that rings true with everything I have read and studied (of a scholarly nature) about the founding fathers:

“Deism influenced, in one way or another, most of the political leaders who designed the new American government. Since the founding fathers did not hold identical views on religion, they should not be lumped together. But if census takers trained in Christian theology had set up broad categories in 1790 labeled ‘Atheism,’ ‘Deism and Unitarianism,’ ‘Orthodox Protestantism,’ ‘Orthodox Roman Catholicism,’ and ‘Other,’ and if they had interviewed Franklin, Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Madison, and Monroe, they would undoubtedly have placed every one of these six founding fathers in some way under the category of ‘Deism and Unitarianism’.” (pp. 50-51)

Holmes doesn’t just assert it; he gives plenty of evidence to support it.

Holmes’ chapter 12 is “A Layperson’s Guide to Distinguishing a Deist from an Orthodox Christian.” Very helpful.

Chapter 13 is “Three Orthodox Christians.” They are: Samuel Adams (after whom the popular beer is named!), Elias Boudinot and John Jay.

Anyone tempted to buy into the current flood of revisionism about the religious beliefs and practices of the founding fathers (I say “current” because, again, nothing under the sun is new) ought to read this book. Together with similar ones (e.g., Frank Lambert’s that I recommended the other day) it absolutely blows away (as in a wind, not an explosion) the whole idea that most of the founding fathers of the American Republic were orthodox Christians.

One noted revisionist has publicly stated (on Christian TV) that Thomas Jefferson created his truncated New Testament (“The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth” otherwise known as “Jefferson’s Bible”) as a tool for evangelizing the Native Americans. That is so bogus it boggles the mind. Jefferson explained his reasons for creating it in letters to friends including to John Adams. He explained that he did not agree with much that the apostles wrote and even with much that Jesus taught. But he admired some of Jesus’ teachings and actions.

My response to the commenter here is that no  truly educated person can honestly claim that the majority of the founding fathers were orthodox Christians.

If you live near a Half Price Bookstore, get over there and buy Holmes’ book. Or, just order it from your local bookstore or on line. It’s not dry as dust scholarly stuff. It is written for lay people, not scholars.

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