Just read George Will’s review of “Moral Minority: Our Skeptical Founding Fathers” in the New York Times. I don’t know why I take so much comfort from Conservatives Who Make Sense (Brooks, Sullivan and Will foremost among them). Perhaps it is just the contrast with mainstream conservativism or perhaps it is the contrast with recent years where those same conservatives were saying things that were far from comforting.
When I recently cancelled my subscription to Newsweek about the only part of the magazine that I remotely missed was the opinion piece on the last page which was shared between George Will and Anna Quindlen. Between them they wrote a good deal of sense.
A book review is always more valuable if it is written by someone you know because you can cross-reference their biases with your own and calibrate their praise or their condemnation. And praise for a book that criticises the idea that the USA was founded as a Christian nation – from a prominent conservative writer – is high praise indeed.
I have added the book to my wishlist so, for now, I’ll limit myself to quoting a few snippets from the review that caught my eye.
When Franklin was given some books written to refute deism, the deistsâ€™ arguments â€œappeared to me much stronger than the refutations; in short, I soon became a thorough deist.â€
He would not kneel to pray, and when his pastor rebuked him for setting a bad example by leaving services before communion, Washington mended his ways in his austere manner: he stayed away from church on communion Sundays.
Madison, always common-sensical, briskly explained â€” essentially, explained away â€” religion as an innate appetite: â€œThe mind prefers at once the idea of a self-existing cause to that of an infinite series of cause & effect.â€ When Congress hired a chaplain, he said â€œit was not with my approbation.â€
In 1781, the Articles of Confederation acknowledged â€œthe Great Governor of the World,â€ but six years later the Constitution made no mention of God. When Hamilton was asked why, he jauntily said, â€œWe forgot.â€ Ten years after the Constitutional Convention, the Senate unanimously ratified a treaty with Islamic Tripoli that declared the United States government â€œis not in any sense founded on the Christian religion.â€
Jefferson, writing as a laconic utilitarian, urged his nephew to inquire into the truthfulness of Christianity without fear of consequences: â€œIf it ends in a belief that there is no god, you will find incitements to virtue in the comforts and pleasantness you feel in its exercise, and the love of others which it will procure you.â€
Adams declared that â€œphylosophy looks with an impartial Eye on all terrestrial religions,â€ and told a correspondent that if they had been on Mount Sinai with Moses and had been told the doctrine of the Trinity, â€œWe might not have had courage to deny it, but We could not have believed it.â€
I wonder which of these men would get elected if they were running for office today.