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Washington's God: Religion, Liberty, and the Father of Our Country Paperback – February 12, 2007

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Most modern historians have made three basic assumptions about the religious views of our nation's first president: he was a deist; he was only a marginal Christian who kept up appearances but had no depth of conviction; and he believed only in an impersonal force or destiny that he called "Providence." Michael Novak, the well-known conservative thinker and author of The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism, teams up with his daughter Jana to attempt to debunk all three of these notions about Washington's religious views. Written at the specific request of Mount Vernon and with the assistance of their archives, this book is carefully researched. It is most persuasive when the Novaks show that despite his natural reserve, a depth of religious feeling ran through Washington's public and private speeches and correspondence, disproving the portrait of a tepid, perfunctory Anglicanism. However, they don't succeed as well in disproving Washington's deist sensibility; the Novaks adopt the modern assumption that being a Christian and being a deist were mutually exclusive—a conclusion that few in the late 18th century would have shared. At times, the Novaks' starry-eyed admiration of the man pushes this book over the bounds of biography into hagiography. (Mar. 6)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

Though historians have frequently identified George Washington as a deist rather than a Christian, the Novaks vigorously dispute this characterization. Through careful scrutiny of Washington's religious pronouncements, they establish that the master of Mount Vernon worshipped the God of scripture, not the absentee clockmaker of deism. Like other Christians of his time, Washington recognized the Deity as a living--albeit often inscrutable--influence in his personal life and in the fortunes of his country. Readers even revisit specific events (such as the improbable retreat from New York under cover of a life-saving fog) in which Washington detected the hand of the Almighty. To be sure, the Novaks acknowledge that Washington generally kept his Christian convictions private, but the language and conduct of this Anglican vestryman reflect marks of real devotion, not the mere shell of social conformity. Perhaps more important, we recognize the substance of religious faith informing a military career during which Washington insisted that soldiers attend the sermons of their Christian chaplains and a political career during which he repeatedly summoned the nation to prayers of reverent thanksgiving. Much-needed light on an enigmatic icon. Bryce Christensen
Copyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Basic Books; 1st edition (February 12, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0465051278
  • ISBN-13: 978-0465051274
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.7 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (25 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #164,713 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Michael Novak, retired George Frederick Jewett Scholar in Religion, Philosophy, and Public Policy from the American Enterprise Institute, is an author, philosopher, and theologian. Michael Novak resides in Ave Maria, Florida as a trustee and visiting professor at Ave Maria University.

Ever since The Open Church hit shelves in 1964, Michael Novak has been a voice of insight on American and Catholic culture. Author of more than 45 books on culture, philosophy, and theology, Novak continues to influence and guide right thinking. Winner of the 1994 Templeton Prize, Novak's Westminster Abbey address remains as instructive it was two decades ago. As a founding director of First Things and writer for many publications, Novak has sought to build up our institutions.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

50 of 61 people found the following review helpful By Walter Mitty on July 1, 2006
Format: Hardcover
First off, let me say that I know the author and count the Novaks as friends of our family. Having said that, I am an actual Anglican, born to the old Episcopal church, baptized, confirmed, and married by the traditional Book of Common Prayer. I mention this because contemporary Episcopalianism has veered far off course from the Anglicanism of Washington's day, while I have made a serious study of just that: the Anglicanism of the 17th, 18th and 19th Centuries.

I also state that I am a layman, albeit one with a very keen interest in my Christian heritate. Michael is somewhat hampered in his investigation by his own Roman Catholicism, which of necessity means he comes to Washington not as a coreligionist, and dependent on others for their perspective on the Church of England.

Chrisitanity of the 18th C is not the Christianity of today. Methodism and Evangelicalism as we know them were unheard of and would have been regarded as madness any earlier than they appeared. Until then, Protestants in particular took Christ's admonition to pray in one's closet -- privately -- very seriously. Congregational worship, according to the 1662 edition of hte Book of Common Prayer, left little room for improvisation or personal input. It was formal, elegant, ancient even then, and it was almost unthinkable to fiddle with its carefully considered proscriptions. It necessesarily formed the religous mind of those who worshiped by it in church. In the BCP, the Christian God is often called by "Almighty God", "Father in heaven" and similar Old Testament names. Jesus Christ's name is used, but in specific places in specific prayers, usually only at Holy Communion.
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25 of 31 people found the following review helpful By Jane Porter on April 10, 2006
Format: Hardcover
In quoting the thoughtful review by Al Zambone in Christianity Today, David Vinzant leaves out the favorable parts. Read a sample for yourself:

"The Novaks' central argument, following several chapters recapitulating Washington's life, is based upon Washington's incessant appeals to and observations of the ways of Providence. This is something ignored or dismissed by many biographers, which is foolish; Washington used 'Providence' so often that it can be characterized as one of his three ruling ideas of how the world works or should work (the other two, I believe, are 'West' and 'Union'). His idea of Providence was that it was the intervention of an all-powerful and all-merciful God in the events of mankind. This Providence was often seen as working the near-miraculous, such as in the Continental Army's escape through night and fog from Brooklyn past the British fleet. Washington's 'Providence,' the Novaks convincingly demonstrate, is not impersonal fate; moreover, Washington does not view Providence as always being on his side. While he often describes Providence as benevolent and God as merciful, his favorite description of Providence is 'inscrutable.' Providence is not the leader of America's team; It does what It does, and is not always understood by a humanity that is being done unto. In the face of Providence, Washington is both thankful and resigned. Indeed, Washington's very last words as he died, 'Tis well,' reflect the most important belief of his life."

"For Washington, Providence had a personality. Thus it is difficult, as the Novaks further argue, to describe Washington as a Deist in the classic 18th-century sense.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful By Robert C. Rogers on October 1, 2007
Format: Paperback
Was George Washington a deist or a Christian? It is an important question, as Washington was not only the first president but the most respected of all of America's founding fathers.

In their book, "Washington's God," Michael and Jana Novak investigate Washington's public and private life to answer this question. The evidence is mixed:

Toward the view that Washington was a deist: Washington rarely referred to Jesus Christ (although he did write a letter to the Delaware Indians and recommend the religion of Jesus Christ), but instead he preferred the term "Providence," or generic terms like "the Author of our Blessed Religion." Washington regularly refused to take communion at church. When asked point-blank if he believed in Jesus Christ, he would not answer the question. When he died, he did not ask for a minister, and simply said, "'Tis well."

Toward the view that Washington was a Christian: Washington was a member of the Anglican church, which he attended regularly, including overseeing business of his local church. He agreed to be godfather to eight children, something the less religious Thomas Jefferson refused to do. He spoke of "Providence" in Christian terms, not deist terms. A deist believes God is like a watchmaker who makes the world and then is not involved; Washington instead spoke of divine Providence intervening and bringing together the events that led to his victory in the American Revolution. His reluctance to explicitly state his faith in Jesus Christ can be understood as typical for an Anglican who is more reserved about public expressions of faith. Nevertheless, there are reports of him privately praying during the war, and he insisted on having chaplains in the Continental Army.
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