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23 November 2007


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Christy P

There was an article in either Smithsonian or National Geographic (in order of probability) recently about the founding fathers and religion. How they wouldn't have called themselves Christian, but would have accepted a label of deist. So rather than tantalize you, I just quick searched the archives of both magazines and came up empty. It was in some mag that I read in the pumping room though, so the only other options are Mother Jones (low probability), Nat Geog Traveler (lower), The Nation (definitely not, as I have sense-memory of glossy pages), and if it was longer ago than I think, The New Yorker. I'll pass it on if and when found.


Christy, I'm trying to remember if that was true of Washington specifically -- I know Franklin and Jefferson were famously Deist, but I thought Washington was a garden-variety Anglican. Could be bad memory on my part.

That being said, though, Washington's actual religion is sort of beside the point when it comes to that passage. It could have been written by a member of almost any established religion, by a "cult of one" as I seem to remember Jefferson describing himself, or (less plausibly but still possibly) by a practical-minded atheist outlining the characteristics likely to lead to favorable politicians.

What I'm wondering is if Washington has any specific contemporary interest groups or movements in mind when he alludes to people who say morality is possible without religion, or to people who undermine morality and religion together. Is he thinking of a particular political opponent? I'm just wondering if there was anybody openly opposing religion per se, or anyone Washington wanted to accuse of same, in the immediate postrevolutionary period.

Christy P

The same article that I irritatingly can't find talked about how Washington resisted speaking of God in speeches and didn't attend church - this could qualify at garden variety Anglican, but I don't know. It's not really something that I thought much about. I'll keep looking though!

Ray from MN

Probably the principle threat to "religion" would have been the ideas and personages of the Enlightenment that contributed to the French Revolution.

Storming of the Bastille July 14, 1789.

Declaration of the Rights of Man

Suppression of the Church and religious orders; confiscation of property

Execution of the King; Reign of Terror


At the end of Washington's term of office in 1797, the king was dead, the nobility was on the run, the Church was disestablished and all its property owned by the state, the numbers and names of months were changed and Napoleon was the strongest man in Europe.

England, Prussia, Austria and Spain just cowered.


*slaps forehead*

I didn't even think to look outside the U. S. for a possible candidate. Obviously the leaders of the young United States would have been watching events in France very closely. And there was a huge movement to throw out the established religion in France as part of the French revolution.

Thanks, Ray, that sounds very plausible.

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