Monday, May 19, 2008

Will the Real Deist/Christian Please Stand Up: James Madison

In recent years, a fierce battle over the religious views of our Founding Fathers has created a rift between right-wing religious zealots and left-wing secularists. Both sides have engaged in a virtual tug-o-war over the legacy of America’s founding, which is likely to continue for years to come, or as historian Joseph Ellis puts it, “There is a fierce custody battle going on out there for ownership of the Founding Fathers…with no end in site.” In defense of their beliefs, both factions are able to successfully site various quotations from our Founding Fathers, which they believe accurately support their respective claims. For religious conservatives in general, the only acceptable truth, when it comes to our Founding Fathers, is that they were stalwart men of God, who remained steadfast in their orthodox devotion to Christianity. In contrast, those of the secular persuasion maintain that the Founding Fathers were anything but orthodox, and that many key founders actually adopted a deistic approach in their understanding of religion.

With the political, religious and historical mess that has ensued, both the left and right wing persuasions have lost a key component in understanding the spiritual persuasions of our founders: perspective. As Steven Waldman, author of the book Founding Faith stated, “in the heat of this custody battle over the spiritual lives of the Founding Fathers, both sides distort history…the culture wars have so warped our sense of history that we typically have a very limited understanding of how we came to have religious liberty.”

Over the past couple of weeks, this blog has engaged in some wonderful discussions on religion and the Founding Fathers. With this in mind, I thought it would be beneficial to continue our inquiry into the religious nature of our key Founding Fathers, which will hopefully provide us with the needed perspective into their respective spiritual beliefs.

With this in mind, I have decided to devote my next few postings to a more detailed analysis of our individual Founding Fathers. I hope that each of you will add your insight, since I am anything but an expert on the topic. I hope that with everyone’s participation we will be able to better understand the religion of our Founders. It is my belief that this project will reveal the fact that the Founding Fathers - in a general sense - embraced the following ideas of religion:

1.) They personally disliked organized religion, but were for cultivating an individualistic understanding and relationship with God.
2.) They were anti-faith, but pro-rational belief
3.) They were anti-orthodox Christianity, but pro-Jesus, at least in terms of his doctrine, which they felt had been altered from its original design.
4.) None of the "major" Founding Fathers were either purely Diests or Orthodox Christians.

So, let us begin. The first victim up for debate...JAMES MADISON

To begin our inquiry into the religious sentiments of James Madison, we need to travel back to his childhood years. From his youth, James Madison was raised in an orthodox Anglican home, where his father, James Madison Sr., was a vestryman in the church. When Madison was able to attend college, he and his family chose to send young James to the College of New Jersey (later Princeton). Instead of attending nearby William and Mary College, Madison chose to travel north and attend the College of New Jersey, because of its reputation for being “the principle training ground for American Presbyterian clergy” (Holmes, Faith of Founding Fathers, 92).

While attending college in New Jersey, Madison witnessed two evangelical revivals, which split the student body into two groups. Steven Waldman, author of Founding Faith, notes that these two groups (known as the Cliosophical Society and the American Whig Society) differed in how they perceived religion. The “Cliosophes” were ]more evangelical in their sentiments, while the American Whigs were more cerebral. Madison took part in the latter (Founding Faith, 96).

The fact that Madison favored an intellectual perspective on religion may suggest that the orthodox teachings of his youth were beginning to change. After all, Madison had begun to investigate the teachings of Deism while under the tutelage of Donald Robertson and Alexander Martin. Regardless of what he may have learned from many of his Enlightenment-centered instructors, it appears that Madison still maintained at least a part of his orthodoxy. As he stated in a letter to his friend, William Bradford, Madison found Deism to be “loose in their principles, encouragers of free enquiry even such as destroys the most essential truths, enemies to serious religion” (JM to WB: December 1, 1773). Regardless of what he may have learned in college, it appears that Madison was still unwilling to part with his orthodox upbringing.

Upon his return home, Madison continued to study the Bible with great regularity and even conducted family worship (what David Holmes calls a sign of orthodoxy). At the age of twenty-two, however, Madison became a first-hand witness to a violent wave of religious persecution, which emanated from the very church that Madison embraced. The recipients of the persecution – who were primarily Baptists – were often arrested on bogus charges of disturbing the peace. Since Virginia had a government-sanctioned church – the Anglican Church – Baptists were often esteemed as a lesser faith. This unfortunate turn of events had a deep impact on Madison. As Steven Waldman points out, “Madison’s sympathy for the Baptists translated into an increasing disgust with the Anglican hierarchy” (Founding Faith, 105).

Contrary to popular belief, the American victory over the British during the American Revolution did not instantly bring about religious freedom. In fact, most colonies – now officially states – continued to support the idea of a state religion. In Virginia, Patrick Henry hoped to continue this practice by proposing to tax Virginians to support Christian churches and clergy. Though the act did not specifically favor one religion in particular, Madison stood defiant to the proposal. In one of the most celebrated documents on religious freedom, the Memorial and Remonstrance against Religious Assessments, Madison argued that religion and government ought to be completely separate from one another:

“experience witnesseth that eccelsiastical establishments, instead of maintaining the purity and efficacy of Religion, have had a contrary operation.During almost fifteen centuries has the legal establishment of Christianity been on trial. What have been its fruits? More or less in all places, pride and indolence in the Clergy, ignorance and servility in the laity, in both, superstition, bigotry and persecution. Enquire of the Teachers of Christianity for the ages in which it appeared in its greatest lustre; those of every sect, point to the ages prior to its incorporation with Civil policy. Propose a restoration of this primitive State in which its Teachers depended on the voluntary rewards of their flocks, many of them predict its downfall. On which Side ought their testimony to have greatest weight, when for or when against their interest?”

For a man who was raised to be an orthodox supporter of the Anglican faith, these harsh words against “eccelsiastical establishments” signify a clear change in Madison’s spiritual leanings.

In addition, Madison’s notes, which he used as a reference during his debates with Patrick Henry and to write his Remonstrance Against Religious Assessments, reveal the fact that Madison was beginning to contemplate his spiritual leanings. In these notes, Madison asks, “What is Xnty” (Christianity), and, “What clue is to guide [a] Judge thro’ this labyrinth when ye question comes before them whether any particular society is a Xn society?” Clearly, Madison was beginning to distance himself from his previous orthodoxy.

In addition to these attacks on religious freedom, James Madison’s religious sentiments were further shaped as a result of his friendship with Thomas Jefferson (a known critic of orthodox Christianity), and his wife, Dolley (a Quaker from birth). As Madison biographer, Ralph Ketcham, stated “Madison’s Christianity came to have an exceedingly individualistic tone…especially as he distanced himself from the Anglican Faith” (Madison, 47-48).

Steven Waldman adds to this assertion when he writes, “there are signs that his affection for orthodox Christianity faded, too, as the years went on. Although his wife, Dolley, and his mother, Nelly, were both confirmed, Madison himself never was” (Founding Faith, 183-184). In addition, Madison eventually quit following a strict observance of the Sabbath and – like Washington – quit kneeling in prayer (See Meade’s account here and here). In addition, Meade states that Madison affirmed his belief in Christianity, as the best form of religion on earth. Despite this account – which is hotly debated in terms of its authenticity – Madison seems to have completely severed all of the orthodox attachments of his youth. In addition, Madison conveyed his “high regard for Unitarian principles,” which were completely incompatible with Christian orthodoxy.

So where does Madison fall? According to David Holmes, author of the book Faiths of the Founding Fathers, Madison is either a closet Unitarian or a moderate Christian Deist. I think this is a pretty good assessment of the man, since it is clear that Madison never returned to his orthodox views of his youth. In addition, Madison’s desire for a strict separation between church and state – which was made evident during the Constitutional Convention and the ratification of the Bill of Rights – serves as ample evidence of Madison’s Unitarian leanings.

30 comments:

Lori Stokes said...

Refreshing even-handedness! Thanks for beginning this series. I look forward to future installments.

Jonathan said...

Very nice. I wrote a long comment post that got lost in the Internet ether. Perhaps I'll recreate it as a blog post on my personal blog.

Hercules Mulligan said...

Hi Brad. This looks like a great and interesting series. I am looking forward to the discussion. I will participate when I can, since my schedule (especially right now) centers around different things which demand my attention.

If I may begin by commenting on a few things?

If I may comment on your expectations on what will be uncovered in the course of ensuing discussion, I would like to throw in my two cents, while asking all readers not simply to take my word for it, but to judge the evidence that will gradually be presented with an open mind.

These expectations in general I think are born out of a good understanding of the works of Jefferson, Franklin, and maybe Madison and John Adams. But they are only FOUR of a large number of influential Founders. And given that these four men found themselves at political and philosophical odds with many other Founders, I think that it would be unfair to judge the Founders in general by the beliefs of these four. Other influential Founders, which are not usually listed or discussed, don't line up with the four listed criteria. These Founders were crucial, and yet it has not been until the 20th century that they have been so much allowed to fade into obscurity. The names I have in mind are: Rev. John Witherspoon (President of Princeton, mentor of several Constitution-Framers, most notably Madison, signer of the Declaration, and [according to the Journal of Founder Elias Boudinot] the principle character who influenced New Jersey to become independent from Great Britain), Roger Sherman (framer and signer of the Declaration of Independence, the Articles of Confederation, and the US Constitution), George Mason (author of the Virginia Declaration of Rights, one of the "ancestral documents" of the Declaration, important Framer of the Constitution, and "The Father of the Bill of Rights"), Samuel Adams ("The Father of the American Revolution," signer of the Declaration of Independence), and the list could go on. The ones I mentioned were unquestionably orthodox Christians.

Again, I would like to make something clear about that word "orthodox." When I say that a Founder, or a certain other person, was "orthodox," I mean that they believed what the Bible teaches, and I think that a good summary of biblical tenets can be found in "The Apostle's Creed." Now, when other historians, like the ones you refer to in your post, say "orthodox," I get the impression (please correct me if I am wrong) that they define "orthodoxy" as "officially belonging to a particular Christian denomination." The reason for my impression, is that whenever I read other historians, and they present evidence to suggest the orthodoxy or heterodoxy of the person in question, they look for church confirmation, church attendance, participation in communion, and the like. They don't always explore that person's philosophy directly, by examining their writings on Christianity.

Now, as far as Madison is concerned (I'll admit I don't have an expert's understanding of his religious beliefs), I think you are right in saying that Jefferson was a key influence toward Madison's unorthodoxy, or at least Madison's discomfort with talking about his religious beliefs. But Madison's writings prior to that time, seem to indicate that he believed in the fundamental tenets of Christianity. A blogger friend of mine wrote two posts (part one and part two) on Madison's Memorial and Remonstrance, explaining that Madison's argument in this text reveals that Madison believed in Christianity, but that by combining the institutions of church and state, Christianity would suffer in the process. I don't think his insistence upon keeping the institutions of church and state make Madison more unorthodox than not; real Christians (even those like David Barton, who believes that America was founded upon principles based in biblical beliefs) have always insisted for the same, saying that the Bible implies that the institutions of church and state have different functions to perform, and are to remain separate institutions.

Well, I think my comment is a big bite to chew, so I will end with that. I hope the information was helpful.

I am looking forward to studying and discussion future posts, when I have the opportunity.

Hercules Mulligan said...

Oh, one more thought.

I would like to address something that I think will be essential to understand in order to discuss the faith of the Founders on an equal level.

"2.) They were anti-faith, but pro-rational belief"

In Christianity, faith is never blind or anti-logic. Faith is a conviction based in reasonable trust when one is presented with evidence. So for the Founders to appeal to, or emphasis, reason and logic is not unChristian. If they refer to Christianity, or "religion," as "reasonable," they are not rejecting its divine authority by default.

I wrote three posts some time ago on the subject of how reason and revelation go together, and how the Founders appealed to the Scriptures and to God as divine authority.

I also wrote a post on how Alexander Hamilton, in The Federalist #31, seemed to subscribe to the logic I use in my posts (about reason, presuppositions, and "the mysteries of religion"), although his point was to discuss law.

Thanks again for this post, and for inviting me to join the discussion.

Hercules Mulligan said...

OK, so it is getting late. "Emphasis" is supposed to be spelled "emphasize"! My apologies. I hope there are no picky spellers joining the discussion!

Jonathan said...

Let me clarify that when the historians whom Brad invokes use the term "orthodox" they define it exactly as Herc. does. However they look to things like church attendance, membership, confirmation and communion as indicative of orthodox belief, when they don't have more explicit things to go on. They do NOT ignore their explicit writings on religious philosophy. If for instance Washington and Madison had smoking guns in their writings and sayings to show they believed in orthodox doctrines like those in the Apostle's Creed, those would be determinative. The problem is they don't. And Hamilton's writings are entirely devoid of such until after his son died, after 1800. That's why I conclude, after Douglas Adair, the foremost authority on Hamilton's religion, that he didn't become an orthodox Christian until after his son died and his life came crashing down on him (indeed, a time when many turn away from generic religion into a belief system that is more comprehensive).

Jonathan said...

I would also agree with Herc.'s point (as Waldman does) here:

I don't think his insistence upon keeping the institutions of church and state make Madison more unorthodox than not;

One key point that Waldman wants to stress in his book is that it was evangelicals -- the Baptists -- who were the most zealous in supporting separation of Church & State in the Early American Republic. This was the party to whom Madison directed his Remonstrance, and he and Jefferson went hand in hand with them in VA in separating Church & State and bringing religious liberty there.

Madison's Remonstrance does have a few words about Christianity being a precious gift, other religions being false. Though it says nothing about orthodox doctrines and is entirely consistent with Unitarian Christianity which also appealed to the Bible as authority, thought Christianity true, other religions false.

Garry Wills sees the Remonstrance as Madison's affirmation of his Unitarian Christianity. But if that is so, since the document was directed towards a predominately Trinitarian audience, it would try to make a lowest-common-denominator with them, which is how the Unitarian ministers used to operate the Congregational Churches in New England in the 18th Century when their Congregations had an audience mixed with Trinitarian Calvinists, Arminians, and Unitarians: They just didn't discuss the Trinity and orthodox doctrines, one way or the other. That kept the factions at bay for a couple decades; but the Trinitarians knew something was up when those doctrines kept on being swept under the rug and when they started being edited from official Church catechisms.

Jonathan said...

Let me finally point out that when Madison wrote his Memorial and Remonstrance, he was FULLY involved in his intimate relationship with the "infidel" Mr. Jefferson.

Brad Hart said...

Thanks for the comments.

First off, I want to comment on what Herc. mentioned in regards to my "four points." Herc., your are right when you mentioned that there are a number of founders who don't fit those categories. I should have clarified which founders I was referring to when I wrote those four points (Washington, Franklin, Madison, Adams, Jefferson, Hamilton, and maybe a few others).

As far as the orthodoxy question, I have to agree with Jon. It is important that we define 18th century orthodoxy by how its contemporaries saw it. Orthodoxy today is different from the orthodoxy of the 18th century.

In regards to the "Memorial and Remonstrance," there is no indication that Madison was embracing the fundamental tenants of Christianity when he wrote it. In fact, Madison and Jefferson were in constant contact (via letters) at this period. Several of their letters indicate that Madison was beginning to embrace the deistic teachings of Jefferson.

Jonathan said...

I have to slightly disagree with your contention here Brad:

"Orthodoxy today is different from the orthodoxy of the 18th century."

I think you are confusing "orthodoxy" with "social respectability." The standards of orthodoxy really haven't changed since the Council of Nicea defined them in 325AD! In the 18th Century, it was not socially respectable to be a deist or a unitarian. Even though unitarians tended to think of themselves as "Christians," the orthodox did not think of them as "real Christians." And even today, I'd imagine that many orthodox would say if you disbelieve in a Triune God, you aren't a Christian, regardless of what you call yourself. See how the orthodox presently deal with Mormons!

In the 19th Century, Unitarianism started to become a socially respectable form of liberal Protestant Christianity. And since then all sorts of groups have been able to get away with publicly calling themselves "Christian" even though they don't believe in orthodox doctrine.

Hercules Mulligan said...

OK, thanks for clarifying their definition of "orthodox"; that is helpful.

You say that if "Washington and Madison had smoking guns in their writings and sayings to show they believed in orthodox doctrines ... those would be determinative." Exactly. And their writings are much more determinative than speculations over whether they were confirmed Anglicans or whatever else, because we are looking for what they believed concerning the Bible, not how religious they were or weren't. I am not a confirmed member of any denomination, but I am still a Christian, because I believe and obey the Bible.

This is why I think speculating over why so-and-so didn't regularly participate in communion services, be a confirmed member of a certain church or denomination, etc etc. is futile. We should look at their writings. If we don't have anything conclusive from their writings, we should look to the writings of close contemporaries, and examine their insight into the people they personally knew. They, and not contemporary scholars (though I respect scholarship), are the top authorities on the Founders' religion.

Just because their writings can be explained away (based on what OTHER people believed) to mean that they were theistic rationalists, Unitarians, etc., even though they said that the CHRISTIAN religion was true and the Bible was inspired, does not mean that they were theistic rationalists, Unitarians, or whatever else! They are only Unitarians, theistic rationalists, etc, if their wrtings affirm that. Madison's might, but Washington's don't. So how can you be so sure that Washington was not a Christian, when there are no smoking guns that prove his family and close friends wrong about his Christian faith?

In other words, those who knew him personally, knew his reasons for saying and doing (and not saying and not doing) certain things, and what he believed, said Washington was a Christian. Only until recent decades has that belief been challenged. But all that we have been given is the argument from silence. "He didn't affirm his belief in the Trinity, etc. He didn't take communion (not completely accurate). There are no smoking guns either way." Then how do you know that you are right in saying that Washington was definitely not a Christian???

I have much to say concerning your denial that Hamilton's writings were devoid of any indication of his Christian belief until after the death of his son (see quotations here, and here and here; I will add more to these pages soon, for my continued research has uncovered more details). But since this post is about Madison, I'll stick to him, and wait for Hamilton's time in the discussion, to add any evidence(if anything should need to be added).

Next, I will post some interesting quotes from Madison's work.

Jonathan said...

even though they said that the CHRISTIAN religion was true and the Bible was inspired, does not mean that they were theistic rationalists, Unitarians, or whatever else!

Again, where is the evidence that Washington, Madison, and Hamilton before 1800 said even this?

Historians want to look at a comprehensive picture. I realize that there are few bits and pieces from each of them that could be interpreted this way; (for instance, Washington's Circular to the States or the fragment discussing the "blessed religion revealed in the word of God"). I can point to just as many bits and pieces of evidence that point the other way (for instance, calling God "The Great Spirit" twice when speaking to Natives belies the notion that GW believed Christianity the only way to God; telling the Universalists their religion possessed the quality that supports republican government suggests sympathy with theological liberalism; that Washington never publicly prayed in Jesus name or hardly talked about Jesus at all suggests he didn't believe in Him as a part of Triune Godhead, etc.).

Re his family, I know of one letter by Nelly Custis that was done in the context of protecting his public reputation, where even she notes that Washington didn't discuss these things with her, that she never witnessed nor inquired about his private devotions.

Also in reading extensively from earlier historical eras, I see how often wrong their opinions are about a whole slew of things. How our knowledge is far superior and more accurate than theirs and how all eras -- past, PRESENT, and future, eras are caught up in social myths and taboos that are not easy to discuss. And it's often the taboo breakers who are first that are "onto things."

Our present era has plenty of these "sacred cow" taboos -- most of them having to do with political correctness. A few hundred years in the future, historians might not get an honest assessment of these issues by looking at folks try to dance around taboo social issues.

For instance, even though I think that Brown v. Bd. of Edu. was properly decided, no Federal Judge can get confirmed if he says he believes the opinion was wrongly decided. And it's now the liberals like Jack Balkin who are pointing out that there is strong support in the record for an originalist anti-Brown reading. He makes this point to try to debunk this kind of "original expectation originalism" as not viable.

Likewise if Nelly Custis has to respond to the notion that GW was a "heretic" or an "infidel" I don't think her assertions that GW was a Christian (again while noting that he didn't commune and didn't discuss his religion with her; that she never inquired about or witnesses his private devotions) are determinative.

You also have lots of evidence -- even if they were a minority -- of GW's contemporaries DOUBTING his orthodoxy as well.

It's also not true that belief that GW wasn't a "real Christian" is a modern invention. It may have been a minority or a dissent belief; but the primary sources show folks doubting GW's orthodoxy since day one. Religion was much more of a social taboo back then. Parson Weems helped "embellish" the record and "comfort" the public's mind that GW really was a devout Christian when many folks secretly new better.

In 1831 a minister named James Renwick Willson -- a Presbyterian Covenanter, and a member of the "non-respectable" Right, broke that taboo and asserted (similar to the way left wing historians do today) that GW and the early American Presidents were all infidels, not more than Unitarians. (See my recent blog posts for more discussion on JR Willson and how he has been misidentified as "Bird Wilson").

And they rioted in Albany and burned him in effigy for it. That shows you how hard it was to honestly discuss these things back the earlier era, that the record is tainted with a religion taboo, much in the same way that the record of today's era will be seen as tainted with a "political correctness" taboo.

Historians' role is to get to the bottom of things, not perpetuate social myths in which we'd like to believe.

Jonathan said...

Two other points I want to stress: One is the Founders were "in the closet" so to speak about their heterodoxy. If one did believe in these "infidel principles," the closeted nature of this belief system suggests that many contemporaries weren't fully aware of what the Founders really believed. That counts against looking to contemporaries for determinative conclusions.

It's only AFTER THEIR DEATHS, looking back many years, that the full picture emerges.

Take for instance, the Jefferson/Adams election. Religion was BIG issue then and the orthodox turned against Jefferson terming him an "infidel" and decided to vote for the "Christian" Adams. Because some evangelicals were aligned with Jefferson's party, a few of them, notably Tunis Wortman, stepped up to defend Jefferson as a "Christian."

What neither side realizes is that Jefferson and Adams were virtually agreed on their specific religious beliefs. And they couldn't publicly "clarify" them because though not "strict Deists," their unitarian heresy could still ruin their public reputations.

Personally I know much more about Jefferson's and Adams' religion than Tunis Wortman or Timothy Dwight (President of Yale and one of Jefferson's biggest enemies who label him an "infidel") ever did because I've read all of their private letters.

The second point is: With both Madison AND Washington, though there might not be smoking guns affirming their heterodoxy, I think Herc. is absolutely wrong if he intimates that their writings affirm their orthodoxy. Anyone honestly looking at both of their writings for determinative conclusions with conclude after James H. Hutson, that you look into a void, that there is no there there.

Jonathan said...

Finally: I just want to reproduce one paragraph from James Hutson's article on looking for smoking guns either way in Washington's or Madison's faith, because I think it's so spot on. Keep in mind that Hutson, head of the manuscript division at the Library of Congress, is known as a prestigious scholars who is most friendly to religious conservatives.

Madison, on the other hand, defies definition or description. Seeking evidence of his faith quickly leads to the conclusion that there is, in the words of the poet, no there there, that in the mature Madison's writings there is no trace, no clue as to his personal religious convictions. Educated by Presbyterian clergymen, Madison, as a student at Princeton (1769-1772), seems to have developed a "transient inclination" to enter the ministry. In a 1773 letter to a college friend he made the zealous proposal that the rising stars of his generation renounce their secular prospects and "publicly . . . declare their unsatisfactoriness by becoming fervent advocates in the cause of Christ." Two months later Madison renounced his spiritual prospects and began the study of law. The next year he entered the political arena, serving as a member of the Orange County Committee of Safety. Public service seems to have crowded out of his consciousness the previous imprints of faith. For the rest of his life there is no mention in his writings of Jesus Christ nor of any of the issues that might concern a practicing Christian. Late in retirement there are a few enigmatic references to religion, but nothing else. With Madison, unlike Jefferson or any of the other principal founding fathers with the possible exception of Washington, one peers into a void when trying to discern evidence of personal religious belief.

Brad Hart said...

This is why I think speculating over why so-and-so didn't regularly participate in communion services, be a confirmed member of a certain church or denomination, etc etc. is futile. We should look at their writings. If we don't have anything conclusive from their writings, we should look to the writings of close contemporaries, and examine their insight into the people they personally knew.

Herc., you may be right when you point out the fact that these men considered themselves to be Christian, but the fact that they did NOT participate in Communion and Confirmation is a HUGE clue to our understanding of their religious beliefs. I too consider myself to be Christian, but do not believe in the Trinity, perfectability of the Bible, etc. My beliefs, however, do land me in trouble with ORTHODOX principles, just as they would land many of the founders in the same trouble with the orthodoxy of their day.

Jon, you are right about orthodoxy being the same today as it was back then. I guess I never thought of it that way, but it makes perfect sense. Great quote from Hutson by the way!

Hercules Mulligan said...

Hello everyone. I must apologize for delaying my reply, for I have had little opportunity to get on my computer and write a detailed response, though I have much to say in reply to what has already been said.

I hope to get back to this discussion soon. Again, I am sorry for the delay.

Jonathan said...

I look forward to reading it and continuing the conversation. If I may offer a word of apology -- and this also has to do with time constraints -- sometimes I write these things in a hurry and they are very "first draft" oriented. I'd love to be able to edit them over and over again (like I sometimes do with blogposts and absolutely do when I submit a piece for publication) but that would take up too much time I don't have.

Sometimes when I look over these posts I see things I write that I want to "fix" that make me cringe.

Jonathan said...

I know I've written (more) than enough; but since Herc. is preparing a response, perhaps I can get him, Brian, or whomever else wants to defend the "Christian Heritage" side to respond to this.

I think much of the problem here deals with presumptions. No matter what your presumption, when you have smoking gun quotations (like for instance when Jefferson explicitly rejected EVERY single tenet of orthodox Christianity as he did in his October 31, 1819 letter to William Short) then usually one concedes.

If there aren't smoking gun quotations but rather "pieces" of the puzzle to put together, each side tends to resolve the ambiguities in favor of a particular presumption.

At bottom of this "Christian Nation" idea, I see a presumption -- one I find to be an utter historical myth with no foundation in the record, and no foundation in how orthodox Christians interpret the Bible -- that just about all of the "Founding Fathers" were devout, regenerate, orthodox Trinitarian Christians (some even go so far and state "evangelical" or "born-again") and only if it can be shown beyond a reasonable doubt with smoking guns (like Jefferson's letter to William Short) should that presumption be overcome.

What the record actually shows is that virtually all of the Founding Fathers had some type of formal or nominal association with a "Christian Church" (like the Anglican, Congregational, etc.) all of which in the 18th Century professed orthodoxy in their creeds. Likewise almost all of the population considered themselves "Protestant Christian" in some nominal sense, even if many or most of them were un-churched.

In that broad way, nominal-Christian sense, I would concede all of the "key" Founding Fathers -- Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Madison, Franklin -- to be "Christians."

Indeed, I consider nominal or broad-way Protestant Christianity (that which encompasses all sorts of theologically liberal heresies) to be a key component of America's public Founding (and a key component of "theistic rationalism").

But that's not how Brian, Herc. David Barton, or traditional orthodox Christians understand "Christianity."

As as I read the Bible, and understand the traditional orthodox Christian understanding of the creed, true Christianity is a narrow path and in every single country in all ages (including America's Founding era) the presumption should be AGAINST any particular person being a "real" or orthodox Trinitarian person who believes the Bible infallible, is regenerate, etc.

America was never filled with a majority of such folks, as arguably no country ever has been.

What is defined as "theistic rationalism"/"unitarianism"/"Christian-Deism" is just a highly intellectualized version of the generic, nominal Christianity that has probably always dominated the pews of Christian Churches.

John Derbyshire once said something along the lines of the lazy Christian mind is reflexively Deist. Studies today show that the dominant belief among young people in Christian Churches is not orthodox Christianity but Moralistic Therapeutic Deism. Likewise Jefferson, once said Priestley told him that if the people of England in the Founding Era really sat down and examined what they really believed in, almost all would conclude they were really Unitarians, even if they were "unthinkingly" so and didn't identify as such. Madison said something similar about George Washington when he noted, he did "not suppose that Washington had ever attended to the arguments for Christianity, and for the different systems of religion, or in fact that he had formed definite opinions on the subject."

Likewise in that era when orthodox Christian Churches and figures possessed far more social power, the nominal Christians in positions of power oft-had to, as Gary North put it, (describing Blackstone) "tip[] the brim of their epistemological caps to God and the Bible, but they did not take off their caps in the presence of God."

Likewise when these nominal Christians make nominal references to Christianity and scripture, I see Herc., James J. Goswick (aka "Our Founding Truth") and others, use this as an opportunity to "read in" orthodox Trinitarianism, the Bible is infallible, regeneration, evangelicalism, being "born-again" and all sorts of other things they associate with being "real Christians." For instance, if Jefferson hadn't told us what he really believed in in his private letters, could you imagine what Herc., Goswick, et al. would have done with the following quotation of his from his Second Inaugural Address:

"I shall need, too, the favor of that Being in whose hands we are, who led our forefathers, as Israel of old, from their native land, and planted them in a country flowing with all the necessaries and comforts of life; who has covered our infancy with his providence, and our riper years with his wisdom and power; and to whose goodness I ask you to join with me in supplications, that he will so enlighten the minds of your servants, guide their councils, and prosper their measures, that whatsoever they do, shall result in your good, and shall secure to you the peace, friendship, and approbation of all nations."

This was coming from the mouth of a man who was a Vestryman in the Anglican Church and rejected "[t]he immaculate conception of Jesus, his deification, the creation of the world by him, his miraculous powers, his resurrection and visible ascension, his corporeal presence in the Eucharist, the Trinity; original sin, atonement, regeneration, election, orders of Hierarchy, &c."

Hopefully this explains why it is that I will not give Washington, Madison, Hamilton, Wilson the "benefit of the doubt" and presume ANY kind of orthodox Trinitarianism, regeneration, belief that the Bible is infallible because I think those arguing for such have the burden of so demonstrating.

Brad Hart said...

Jon:

Excellent post! I think you are right when you mention where the burden of proof rests.

For the sake of argument, however, I will attempt to play devil's advocate, though I think you've done a great job in presenting your argument. I will try and take a very pro-Christian stance in this argument. Sorry for not including any evidence in this argument. I simply do not have the time.

Here it goes...

At bottom of this "Christian Nation" idea, I see a presumption -- one I find to be an utter historical myth with no foundation in the record, and no foundation in how orthodox Christians interpret the Bible -- that just about all of the "Founding Fathers" were devout, regenerate, orthodox Trinitarian Christians (some even go so far and state "evangelical" or "born-again") and only if it can be shown beyond a reasonable doubt with smoking guns (like Jefferson's letter to William Short) should that presumption be overcome.

Your assertion that those who believe in a "Christian Nation" embrace certain presumptions about the founders and religion only tells half of the story. Secularists also hold to these same presumptions whenever there is a lack of "smoking gun" evidence. For years, scholars have been on a crusade to portray our founders as nominal Christians at best. Such an assertion negates the TRUE underlying principles of the faith of our founders.

While it may be true that some founders (Jefferson and Franklin) regularly denied the divinity of Christ and Christianity in general, other founders (Washington, Madison, etc) embraced Christian principles throughout their lives. Your assertion that the founders were strictly "theistic rationalists" only tells part of the story. These were men who both feared and glorified God throughout the course of their lives. Getting into mundane specifics (like did Washington pray on his knees, take communion, confirmation, etc) obscure the fact that these men were devout Christian supporters.

For you to say that the burden of proof rests with the "Christian right" is completely false. I could just as easily say that you have absolutely no "smoking gun" proof that Madison, Washington, or many other key founders were Deists or "theistic rationalists." The evidence is simply not there.

If you consider the totality of circumstances that surround the lives of our key founders, I think the evidence is clear that the majority maintained a strong devotion to Christianity. With examples of regular church attendance, regular prayer, etc., I think it is quite obvious where our founders stood.

Again, the burden of proof does not rest exclusively with those who favor the Christian heritage of our founders.

Jonathan said...

Brad,

Very good. By the way I expanded upon my argument in this most recent post
. I explore a little more the concept of "unthinking unitarianism," that is someone who might qualify as a unitarian without identifying as or even being consciously aware that he is one. For instance, Alexander Hamilton evinces this unthinking unitarianism when he describes what he was looking for in a wife: “As to religion, a moderate streak will satisfy me. She must believe in god and hate a saint.” Again, this is not a smoking gun; he still could have been an orthodox Trinitarian Christian and said such a thing; but in my opinion it's just another piece of the puzzle that strongly points in the direction of Hamilton's NOT being an orthodox Trinitarian Christian until the end of his life.

Hercules Mulligan said...

Hello everyone. Unfortunately, I am too busy to address everything that has been brought up. But I renew my promise that I shall respond, in response to what has been said. But I have so much to say and present in response, that I have not been able to find time for it now.

But if I may add something really quickly, in response to what Jon said about Hamilton's faith. He presented a portion of a letter that Hamilton wrote during the Revolution, to a friend, giving a description of the qualifications for a wife. Jon admits that this is no smoking gun, or in any way explained only by Hamilton's possible unitarianism. But he goes on to say that it strongly points in that direction.

I have considered this portion of this letter in the light of this discussion. But I am clueless as to how it would point to Hamilton's rejection of orthodoxy. There is no question that Hamilton was a devout Christian in his youth. The hurricane letter which he wrote in 1772 to his father is much like Hamilton's own record of a conversion experience. Not only does Hamilton plead to God for forgiveness, but says "O Lord help! Jesus be merciful!" as if he believed in the deity and atonement of Christ.

The poem "Soul Ascending into Bliss" which he wrote shortly after this letter, is full of orthodoxy. He mentions "Saviour" and "Lamb of God! thrice gracious Lord!"

While he was in America receiving an education, he was under the mentoring of William Livingston, Elias Boudinot, Revds. John Rodgers and John M. Mason, Sr. -- all of whom were either converted by George Whitefield in the Great Awakening and/or lent the Awakening their support. And even Harvey and Adair in their essay on Hamilton (Jon says Adair is the top authority on Hamilton's religion, but I disagree; Hamilton's writings, and those who knew him closely, are greater authorities), say that these men would not have supported Hamilton (as they did throughout life) if he had shown any sign of unorthodoxy.

While in King's College, he not only knelt in fervent prayer by his bedside morning and evening, but zealously studied and defended the "fundamental doctrines of the Christian religion." His friends said that his arguments strengthened their faith in "revealed religion." He continued his prayer habits into at least 1776, when he commanded a NY artillery unit.

To say then, that Hamilton's beliefs took such a turn away from orthodoxy (without any known or certain reasonable cause), just because he said that "a moderate stock in religion" would satisfy him, or that his wife should "believe in God but hate a saint," suggests this, is quite a stretch of logic.

P.S. I'm very glad that Jon brought up presumptions. This is, I think, very important to address. I will prepare a response when I have more leisure.

Jonathan said...

Of course the quotation points to his belief in theistic rationalism or unitarianism. The creed for which he looks in a wife is a close description of such; simple belief in God is satisfactory -- doctrines like original sin, the trinity, incarnation, atonement, infallibility of the Bible are utterly unimportant.

People tend to look for mates who possess similar characteristics on religion (but who knows who one ultimately ends up with). Plus his "hate a saint" remark reflects Hamilton's loose personal morals he had during the era in which he was a big time political mover and shaker.

If Hamilton were a Christian looking for a Christian wife, you'd expect him to say something like my wife should be a devout Christian who believes in Christ's blood atonement.

Plus in the letter Hamilton writes he knew he was smart enough that he could convert his wife's political principles to his. He expresses no concern about converting such a "religious moderate" who simply believes in God to orthodox Christianity.

Steve-O said...

I must say that I am greatly enjoying the recent comments on religion and the founders. It has been an extremely enlightening conversation. I hate to admit the fact that I am terribly ignorant on this topic. Keep them coming everyone!

Hercules Mulligan said...

You are very arbitrarily determining Hamilton's definition of "moderate stock in religion" and "saint."

He didn't add any context in this letter to define those terms. But the context of his life and character seems to say something else. Let me point a few things out:

He didn't say that Christian doctrines like the atonment, etc., were unnecessary. You are just supposing that he said that, arbitrarily defining his words.

You say that if he were a Christian, he would require likewise Christian belief in his wife. How do you know that his word "moderate" meant something less than or other than Christianity? The "moderate stock of religion" may have been totally different than that of today. So don't make the mistake of defining words used 2 centuries ago by modern standards. The 18th century America was much more religious (in a Christian sense) than today.


And when Hamilton says, "she must believe in God and hate a saint" how do you know that he means that she must despise piety? There is no evidence that Hamilton did. I will soon cover this on my blog Alexander Hamilton Patriot, because I will be addressing in "Alexander Hamilton's Religion: Part 4" this period in his life, but right now, other priorities have detracted from my blogging (and participating in this discussion extensively, but I will resume). And by golly, he married a "saint"! Remember that Elizabeth Schuyler was nick-named "the little saint" for her piety and chastity, about the time of her engagment to Hamilton. Of all the promising young ladies he could have picked, he picked one who stood out, not for her appearance or similar charms, but for the quality of her character. And I don't think that this marriage was on a whim. Only a few years after their marriage, Hamilton said that as he observed the character of other women, and compared them to his wife, the more he was satisfied with "the judiciousness of my choice." And throughout his life he addressed her as "best of wives, best of mothers, best of women." He cherished her character (and his letters reveal that he realized that the sources of her good virtues was her good piety) more and more as the years went by. After intensely studying Hamilton's writings for over 4 years, I can say with certainty (though I have not read every last letter he wrote) that Hamilton relied upon the piety and virtue, he didn't regret his marriage later.


You say that his "hate a saint" phrase indicates that Hamilton was immoral during this time. Hamilton's close contemporaries didn't think so. And if anyone was picky about the character of their own son-in-laws, it was Philip Schuyler. He wrote to Hamilton not long after Hamilton's marriage that Schuyler, before approving the match, had reflected and researched Hamilton's character and virtues, and had become sufficiently satisfied. Gen. Washington, who was a man of strict morals and demanded such of his staff members, not only held high regard for Hamilton (Hamilton was Washington's favorite aide-de-camp) but gave this testimony of Hamilton -- ironically -- after Hamilton had resigned his position as aide-de-camp in a huff:

"I can venture to advance from a thorough knowledge of him, that there are few men to be found, of his age, ...who exceeds him in probity and Sterling virtue."

This is a very impressive testimony for a man with an eye for moral excellence, who observed the conduct of Hamilton on an almost 24/7 basis for the most grueling part of the War.

I am not saying that Hamilton was perfect. But the accusation that his lifestyle during this time has, to my research, no solid foundation. Only speculation, and occasional rumor.

Jonathan said...

Oh brother. I wonder how you would "spin" the Maria Reynolds affair. It's not like I am listening to an historian of Hamilton's but his PR manager meets his attorney.

Hercules Mulligan said...

Why are you curtly dismissing my argument without facing the eyewitness evidence squarely?

And no, I am not Hamilton's "PR manager" -- I am not trying to leap over facts to clean up his image. On the contrary, after studying him for 4 years, I am well-acquainted with his failures, and am ready to admit them. But I don't start my investigation into his character by assuming that he was immoral until he proves, with neon-flashing letters, that he is innocent. The defendant is always considered not guilty until proven guilty.

You can't take a single incident, and apply it to a man's entire lifestyle and character without affirmative evidence. I have discovered none which implies his habitual unfaithfulness in all the years that I have studied the primary sources related to Hamilton's life.

Historian Forrest McDonald once made the observation that the clumsy way in which Hamilton managed the "affair" of which you speak (which I cannot deny or excuse), betrays Hamilton's inexperience and relative unfamiliarity with such slimy ordeals. This and other evidence suggests that Hamilton's lifestyle didn't run along the line of infidelity or immorality.

But I think we are getting off the original subject by talking about Hamilton under a post that was originally intended to discuss Madison.

I will probably gradually leave a long string of comments in response to what you have said, Jon, as I find the leisure.

Hercules Mulligan said...

At bottom of this "Christian Nation" idea, I see a presumption -- one I find to be an utter historical myth with no foundation in the record, and no foundation in how orthodox Christians interpret the Bible -- that just about all of the "Founding Fathers" were devout, regenerate, orthodox Trinitarian Christians (some even go so far and state "evangelical" or "born-again") and only if it can be shown beyond a reasonable doubt with smoking guns (like Jefferson's letter to William Short) should that presumption be overcome.

First of all, on "how orthodox Christian interpret the Bible." Christians do not have to "interpret" the Bible in a certain way in order to be "orthodox." The Bible is not unclear on issues like the deity of Christ, His atonement, the existence of one God in three Persons, etc. "Orthodoxy" is what the Bible teaches. "Unorthodoxy" disagree with what the Bible teaches. Different denominations interpret the Bible differently.

In light of those facts, the ONLY ASSUMPTION I AM MAKING IN OUR EXAMINATION OF THE FOUNDERS is that "Christian" means "Christian" (which is synonymous with "orthodox") in each case of the Founders unless their is smoking gun evidence that proves otherwise. (Also, there is no difference between a regenerate Christian and a born-again Christian.)

Indeed, I consider nominal or broad-way Protestant Christianity (that which encompasses all sorts of theologically liberal heresies) to be a key component of America's public Founding (and a key component of "theistic rationalism").

These "theologically liberal heresies" were just beginning to get their followings during the American Founding Era. But they were largely minorities, and somewhat unpopular. How do I know this? Because one did not openly say that he denied the Godhead of Christ or the inspiration of the Scriptures in America; he might lose public office and credibility for that. In fact, it is on this fact that you seem to have built your theory that Founders like Washington were silent about their specific religious beliefs, although this isn't totally true, because I have already alluded to two writings of his in which he expresses belief in the Bible's divine inspiration and authority, and in the deity of Christ (I'll address the latter statement in a moment).

But then, you turn completely around from describing an American public that viewed orthodoxy as "socially respectable" to the view that they were not orthodox, by-and-large, themselves:

"Likewise almost all of the population considered themselves "Protestant Christian" in some nominal sense, even if many or most of them were un-churched. ... As as I read the Bible, and understand the traditional orthodox Christian understanding of the creed, true Christianity is a narrow path and in every single country in all ages (including America's Founding era) the presumption should be AGAINST any particular person being a "real" or orthodox Trinitarian person who believes the Bible infallible, is regenerate, etc. America was never filled with a majority of such folks, as arguably no country ever has been."

I can't speak for the personal salvation (or, regeneration) of the American populous. But did they, in general, hold orthodox views theologically? If not, than why would they disregard public officials who they knew did not hold orthodox views?

It seems that your theories are inconsistent here.

"For instance, if Jefferson hadn't told us what he really believed in in his private letters, could you imagine what Herc., Goswick, et al. would have done with the following quotation of his from his Second Inaugural Address:"

Knowing the character of Jefferson by and large, even without those smoking gun letters which prove his disagreement with the Bible, I would not automatically assume that Jefferson was a Christian, just from this quotation. Jefferson was a populist, who seemed to hold certain views on things when he spoke in public, but made his true beliefs clearer to his more confidential friends. This dishonesty would call into question his beliefs. I might, with just this quote and no smoking guns, assume that Jefferson was sincere unless I had reason to believe otherwise, but I would not state it with the certainty that I state, say, Hamilton's faith.

"This was coming from the mouth of a man who was a Vestryman in the Anglican Church"

Jefferson, if I remember correctly, was not a vestryman all his life. He was in his early life. I would presume on the side of his honesty (i. e. really believing what your oath says you believe), and say that during the time of his vestryman-ship, he believed that, but changed his beliefs when he went to France in the 1780s and became influenced by the rampant skepticism there.

"Hopefully this explains why it is that I will not give Washington, Madison, Hamilton, Wilson the "benefit of the doubt" and presume ANY kind of orthodox Trinitarianism, regeneration, belief that the Bible is infallible because I think those arguing for such have the burden of so demonstrating. "

I am not giving these men the "benefit of the doubt"! I am citing their writings, with the reasonable assumption that when they say "Christian," they are using the real reference to the word, which is synonymous with "orthodoxy," or, "agreeing with the Bible in what it plainly says," unless their is smoking gun evidence to the contrary. Now, with Madison and Wilson, there may be (honestly, I am not that familiar to state aye or nay with certainty), but with Washington and Hamilton, they make claims in their writings that clearly imply their orthodoxy (that will be in my next posting).

But you insist on saying that because two ministers (Revds. Wilson and Ambercrombie), who didn't even know Washington, thought that Washington wasn't a Christian, than he must not have been. They made their claim, not because they had affirmative evidence to prove it, but because they saw Washington a few Sundays while he was President, and he didn't fit their idea of what a Christian should do (based on their denominational creeds, not necessarily the Bible). And so their view, which represents a minority, should trump the views of Washington's family and close friends?!?!? Who is assuming too much in this case?

You answer to this, that, even though this was the view of his family, they said this because it was "taboo" and "unpopular" to say otherwise. (!) You use that as your reason for dismissing the closest eyewitness accounts for those of a fringe minority. With all due respect, this is very faulty analysis.

Historians, and indeed anyone examining evidence to arrive at a conclusion, has employed a maxim (of Aristotle's, I believe) that eyewitness testimony should be regarded as trustworthy unless their is good evidence to the contrary. The burden of proof rests on the side opposing that testimony to disprove its credibility. One is not supposed to assume that eyewitnesses are ignorant or dishonest because in their day it was unpopular to tell an uncomfortable truth about an esteemed public figure.

I have more to say about the unreliability of Wilson and Ambercrombie as sources for this argument, but this post is long enough, and I am short on time. Shortly after their claims were made public, someone who was still alive when they were, did some serious investigating to see if the common view of the Founding, or their view, was correct. Among the activities this man did to investigate, he wrote a letter to Wilson for more information, asking him to back up his claims that three atheists dominated the Constitution Convention. Wilson never sent a reply. His refusal to reply, along with the fact that there were no atheists in the Convention, detracts from his credibility. I will give the details later.

Jonathan said...

First of all, on "how orthodox Christian interpret the Bible." Christians do not have to "interpret" the Bible in a certain way in order to be "orthodox." The Bible is not unclear on issues like the deity of Christ, His atonement, the existence of one God in three Persons, etc. "Orthodoxy" is what the Bible teaches. "Unorthodoxy" disagree with what the Bible teaches. Different denominations interpret the Bible differently.

It is your opinion that the Bible, in no uncertain terms, teaches orthodoxy; it's also the opinion of those in power in Christendom who settled the issue in 325 AD and has been the dominant strain in "orthodox" Christendom since then. This was not the opinion of virtually all of America's Founders who were disproportionately influenced by the unitarian heresies.

There were two strains of unitarianism during the Founding, both popular among the elite Whigs who founded America: Biblical unitarianism (those folks who denied the Trinity based on the authority of scripture) and rationalists unitarians (those who denied the Trinity because the doctrine was "unreasonable" regardless of what the Bible says).

This is important because two notable figures who testified on behalf of Washington's "Christianity" -- John Marshall and Jared Sparks -- were such "biblical unitarians" and would not have considered disbelief in the Trinity to disqualify one from the label "Christian." Hence their testimony that Washington was a Christian was not necessarily testimony of his orthodox Trinitarianism.

Jared Sparks and Joseph Story -- unitarians who could afford to be open because they operated in early 19th Century New England -- absolutely would balk at the notion that scripture, in no uncertain terms, teaches orthodox Trinitarianism. My point is that the secret unitarians (America's key Founders) in establishing "freedom of conscience," paved the way so that those who came shortly thereafter (Story, Sparks, et al.) could be "open" about their heresy.

Theological unitarianism was so strongly influential that it caused otherwise orthodox Christians to doubt the Bible really teaches the Trinity. I haven't included John Jay as one of the "theistic rationalists" or "unitarians," but the following quotation from him destroys your claim that we should just simply "impute" orthodox Trinitarianism into nominal references the Founding Fathers make to "scripture" and the "Christian Religion." This also illustrates how unitarianism was so influential among the elite Whigs that it caused many Christians to doubt that the Bible really teaches the Trinity.

"It appeared to me that the Trinity was a Fact fully revealed and substantiated, but that the quo modo was incomprehensible by human Ingenuity. According to sundry Creeds, the divine Being whom we denominate the second Person in the Trinity had before all worlds been so generated or begotten by the first Person in the Trinity, as to be his coeval, coequal and coeternal Son. For proof of this I searched the Scriptures diligently -- but without Success. I therefore consider the Position of being at least of questionable Orthodoxy."

-- John Jay to Samuel Miller, February 18, 1822. Jay Papers, Columbia University Library.

What was John Jay stupid? Could he not read if the Trinity is right there, indisputably, in the Bible's pages? He certainly acts as though he didn't have such an easy time finding it.

I copied this directly from James H. Hutson's book of quotations p. 217, Princeton University Press (the paperback has my name on the back, by the way). Right above on the same page is a quotation from John Dickinson, again, someone who I am willing to put in the "orthodox Christian" box, discussing his difficulty with the Trinity.

So no, nominal references to Christianity from the Founding era are not necessarily references to orthodox Trinitarianism and it was certainly not the case that all of these men who understood themselves to be "Christians" were as confident that the Bible teaches the Trinity as you are.

Jonathan said...

"But you insist on saying that because two ministers (Revds. Wilson and Ambercrombie), who didn't even know Washington,..."

Rev. Wilson may not have known Washington but Rev. Abercrombie was his minister for all the time Washington spent in Philadelphia? How could you say that he didn't "know" Washington? Does your Reverend not "know" you?

Jonathan said...

They made their claim, not because they had affirmative evidence to prove it, but because they saw Washington a few Sundays while he was President, and he didn't fit their idea of what a Christian should do (based on their denominational creeds, not necessarily the Bible). And so their view, which represents a minority, should trump the views of Washington's family and close friends?!?!? Who is assuming too much in this case?

Rev. Abercrombie (and Bishop White) witnessed Washington avoid communion over and over again for years when he was President in Philadelphia. Who are the other close family members besides Nelly Custis who testified GW was a Christian (who again said she assumed he was "Christian" because of his deeds, and that he never discussed these things with her, that she never witnessed nor inquired about his public devotions)?

Most folks here are probably aware of Jefferson's statement that Governor Morris told him that GW, like Morris himself, didn't believe in the Christian religion. They knew him pretty well. What about Madison's thoughts about GW's lukewarm "Christianity."?

Madison relayed through Jared Sparks that he did "not suppose that Washington had ever attended to the arguments for Christianity, and for the different systems of religion, or in fact that he had formed definite opinions on the subject."

These are others. Rev. Samuel Miller was an important orthodox Trinitarian contemporary of GW's and other Founders' and here is his reaction to GW's Stoic death:

"How was it possible...for a true Christian, in the full exercise of his mental faculties, to die without one expression of distinctive belief, or Christian hope?"

Jefferson, Madison, Morris, Samuel Miller (and still not everyone). These are hardly nobodies or a "fringe" minority.