Civil Discourse Now

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Despite Beckwith's vehemence, Washington was a deist

This past Tuesday, during my debate with Micah Beckwith, a minister of churches north of Indy, on the topic “separation of church and State, Mr Beckwith insisted the “founders” of this country were (1) Christian and (2) intended there be no “wall” between church and state.

Mr Beckwith was vehement that Washington was not “just,” but a devout Christian. That point is important because: (1) Washington chaired The Constitutional Convention and was first President and (2) It illustrates how people embroider history with falsehoods.

David Holmes was a professor of Religious Studies at the College of William and Mary when he wrote The Faiths of The Founding Fathers, Oxford Univ Press, 2006. He said to look at four points to determine the religion of one of the Framers (a/ka “founders”):

(1) Participation in “sacraments”; (2) Dimensions of activity versus inactivity; (3) The person’s religious language; and (4) Actions in the area of religion. Homes, pp. 134-39. These factors are reasonable because they can be observed and are less prone to subjectivity.

In “the fashion of the Deists ... [Washington] was never confirmed. ... [M]ore significantly, [he] apparently avoided the sacrament of Holy Communion.” Holmes, p. 62. The “bread and wine become the body and blood of Christ.” Campbell, The Masks of God, 1991 ed., p. 24. A Deist therefore would have seen communion as the part of Christian worship “least connected with reason.” Holmes, p. 134. Also, Washington did not kneel for prayer, “as was usual for Anglicans.” Holmes, p. 62.

With few exceptions his “speeches, orders, official letters and other public communications on religion ... seem clearly to display the outlook of a Deist ... They omit such words a ‘Father, ‘Lord,’ ‘Redeemer,” and ‘Savior.’...
“In their place, they use such Deistic terms as ‘Providence,’ ‘Heaven,’ ‘the Deity,’ ‘the Supreme Being’...They refer infrequently to Christianity and rarely to Jesus Christ.” Hobbes, p. 65. Mr Beckwith sees is the word “god” and demands everyone see the reference as his “god.”

Mr Beckwith’s spiteful(and smiteful) deity of the Old Testament is embraced by a minority, and among Christians. The Framers did not embrace Mr Beckwith’s deity. Most historians who believe depictions of Washington as a model of Christian orthodoxy have no more basis in fact than the story of the cherry tree.” Hobbes, p. 70.

Despite Mr Beckwith’s wishes, The Framers did not create a theocracy, or a government absent a wall between church and State. I look forward to a debate with him on a topic with which he is more familiar. American history, the Constitution and religious freedom are not amongst those.

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Comment by pogden297 on April 18, 2021 at 7:35pm

I think to conclude that Washington was a "deist" and not a Christian requires one to ignore a lot of evidence to the contrary.  From the Mt. Vernon historical website:

George Washington and Religion · George Washington's Mount Vernon

"Washington was the great, great grandson of Lawrence Washington, an Anglican pastor. Difficulties between Lawrence Washington and the Church may have ultimately resulted in his heirs moving to Virginia. ....An Anglian family headed by a mother who was devoted to personal spirituality raised George Washington, which may have had an influence on Washington's own sense of religion.

Regarding direct church participation, Washington was a devoted member of the Anglican Church. In 1762, Washington became a vestryman in Truro Parish, overseeing the affairs at Pohick Church. He served as a churchwarden for three terms, helping to care for the poor. Washington's church attendance varied throughout his life, with his attendance becoming sporadic for periods of time and then picking up again during his presidency. However, one former pastor at Pohick did state that "I never knew so constant an attendant at church as Washington."1 In general, Washington's religious life was filled with many seemingly contradictory positions.

In regard to personal spirituality, Washington was generally private about his religious life. Washington is reported to have had regular private prayer sessions, and personal prayer was a large part of his life. One well-known report stated that Washington's nephew witnessed him doing personal devotions with an open Bible while kneeling, in both the morning and evening. It is clear that when it came to religion, Washington was a private man, more so than with other aspects of his life."

The website also disputes the claim that Washington didn't take communion.

Just because one is private about his or her religion doesn't mean one doesn't believe.

Washington presided over the Constitutional Convention which started off each day with a prayer.  Of course, that was suggested by Ben Franklin who more probably a deist than Washington.

Oh, and Washington was not the first President.   That honor goes to John Hanson. 

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