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Book Review. The Founding Believer

Mark Tooley

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Washington's God: Religion, Liberty, and the Father of Our Country
Michael Novak and Jana Novak
(Basic Books, 256 pages, $26)

At a candlelight dinner on the portico of Mount Vernon, Roman Catholic ethicist Michael Novak was reluctantly persuaded by the Mount Vernon Ladies Association to write a book about George Washington's religious beliefs. Among the over one million visitors each year to Washington's exquisitely preserved estate, the request for such a book is common but largely unrequited, Novak was told.

George Washington's modern biographers are almost uniform in dismissing or minimizing his religious faith. James Flexner, in his famous three-volume work of the 1970s, wrote: "Washington subscribed to the religious faith of the Enlightenment; like Franklin and Jefferson he was a deist... not believing in the doctrines of the churches." Willard Randall's more recent George Washington: A Life similarly asserts, "He was not a deeply religious man. Once he left his Bible thumping mother's household he may never have taken any Anglican communion again, yet he went to church frequently..." Joe Ellis's highly acclaimed His Excellency of last year echoed this theme: "Never a deeply religious man, at least in the traditional Christian sense of the term, Washington thought of God as a distant impersonal force..."

Washington's God by Michael and Jana Novak attempts to clarify the record about the great man's religion. Such clarification is long overdue. The Novaks (who are father and daughter) remind us that for a century after Washington's death, historians, starting with his first biographer John Marshall, described the first president as a devout Christian.

Read the entire article on the American Spectator website (new window will open).

Posted: 04-May-06



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