Tuesday, December 14, 2004

Founding Fathers On Religion: George Washington

Our first president could never be considered a "fundamentalist Christian." This from Virginia Places.org:

"As noted by Franklin Steiner in "The Religious Beliefs Of Our Presidents" (1936), Washington commented on sermons only twice. In his writings, he never referred to "Jesus Christ." He attended church rarely, and did not take communion - though Martha did, requiring the family carriage to return back to the church to get her later.

When trying to arrange for workmen in 1784 at Mount Vernon, Washington made clear that he would accept "Mohometans, Jews or Christians of any Sect, or they may be Atheists."

"Washington was an inclusive, "big tent" political leader seeking support from the large numbers of Anglicans, Baptists, Presbyterians, and Quakers in Virginia, and even more groups on a national level. He did not enhance his standing in some areas by advocating support for a particular theology, and certainly did not identify "wedge issues" based on religious differences. Instead, in late 1775, Washington banned the Protestant celebration of the Pope's Day (a traditional mocking of the Catholic leader) by the Continental Army."

Go here for historic quotes on Washington's religious activities:
"Gen. Washington never received the communion in the churches of which I am the parochial minister." -- Bishop White.

"On sacramental Sundays, Gen. Washington, immediately after the desk and pulpit services, went out with the greater part of the Congregation." -- Rev. Dr. Abercromble.

"After that, [Dr. Abercrombie's reproof,] upon communion days, he absented himself altogether from the church." -- Rev. Dr. Wilson.

"The General was accustomed, on communion Sundays, to leave the church with her [Nelly Custis], sending the carriage back for Mrs. Washington. " -- Rev. Dr. Beverly Tucker.

"But if Bishop White cherished a faint hope that Washington had some faith in the religion of Christ, Dr. Abercrombie did not. Long after Washington's death, in reply to Dr. Wilson, who had interrogated him as to his illustrious auditor's religious views, Dr. Abercrombie's brief but emphatic answer was:

"Sir, Washington was a Deist."

"The Rev. Dr. Wilson, who was almost a contemporary of our earlier statesmen and presidents, and who thoroughly investigated the subject of their religious beliefs, in his sermon already mentioned affirmed that the founders of our nation were nearly all Infidels, and that of the presidents who had thus far been elected -- George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, James Monroe, John Quincy Adams, and Andrew Jackson -- not one had professed a belief in Christianity." This from the Rev. Wilson himself, "... Washington was a man of valor and wisdom. He was esteemed by the whole world as a great and good man; but he was not a professing Christian."

So the question that begs being answered is this, "what is Deism?" "Deism is defined in Webster's Encyclopedic Dictionary, 1941, as: "[From Latin Deus, God.Deity] The doctrine or creed of a Deist." And Deist is defined in the same dictionary as: "One who believes in the existence of a God or supreme being but denies revealed religion, basing his belief on the light of nature and reason."

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mynym said...

A more balanced view:

"Richard Brookhiser, in his Founding Father: Rediscovering George Washington, wrote, “No aspect of his life has been more distorted than his religion.” But Brookhiser presents so clues and reaches at least one striking conclusion: “Besides the literature of American political theory, Washington was influenced by two coherent sys tems of thought—Christianity and Freemasonry.”

Brookhiser notes that the first president, following his inaugura tion, walked to a church service at St. Paul’s Chapel on Broadway but “seems not to have taken communion.” The first lady, he notes, “invariably did.” Contemporary sources mention other occasions on which Washington abstained from communion. One wonders why. ‘Whatever the reason, it must have been a matter of conscience. A less scrupulous political leader would have taken refuge in conformity to have presented an appealing image to his constituents. Certainly he was not averse to worship.

The phraseology of Washington’s farewell address owes more to James Madison and Alexander Hamilton than to the first president himself. But Washington insisted that their writing express his own convictions. The man who would not participate in communion simply to win public favor would not at the conclusion of his political career have endorsed popular views merely to win public ap proval. He declared in this final message as president:

“Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of patriotism, who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness, these finest props of the duties of men and citizens. The mere politician, equally with the pious man, ought to respect and cherish them.” "
(The Faith of Our Fathers, by Alf J. Mapp :72-73)

In thinking about it, someone might say that since I am not the member of any church, therefore I am not a Christian.

They would have to overlook everything I've written, but it could be done.

This will go against your pattern of thought:
Judging JudgmentSee what you think. I think I see what you think.

james said...

I do not have a problem with saying that GW was a Christian, I just think that he would not support church and state merging together.

james said...

By the way, I tried to check out that "Judging judgement" link but it didn't work. :(