Saturday, July 28, 2012
Founders’ Faith: None of the Above
by Gregg L. Frazer; University Press of Kansas, 2012; 296 pp., $35.
by GARY SCOTT SMITH
The religious views of America’s founders have been fiercely contested in the public arena for many years. The principal battle is between those who claim that most founders were devout Christians and those who assert that they were deists. This debate has important ramifications for arguments that the United States was founded as a distinctively Christian nation, or as an essentially secular one, and for how to interpret the First Amendment.
Into the fray has stepped Gregg L. Frazer, a professor of history and political studies at The Master’s College in Santa Clarita, California. In The Religious Beliefs of America’s Founders: Reason, Revelation, Revolution, he argues that the nation’s most prominent founders—George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and Benjamin Franklin—and key framers (of the Declaration and the Constitution)—Gouverneur Morris, James Wilson, James Madison, and Alexander Hamilton—were neither Christians nor deists.
Frazer aims to correct the “severely flawed” arguments of popularizers (primarily pastors, lawyers, and armchair historians) such as David Barton (The Jefferson Lies: Exposing the Myths You’ve Always Believed About Thomas Jefferson) who portray most of the founders as committed Christians, if not evangelical Protestants, and others, including Americans United for the Separation of Church and State spokesperson Barry Lynn and journalist Brooke Allen (Moral Minority: Our Skeptical Founding Fathers), who depict the founders as “rank secularists.”