...and let down your nets for a catch. These words from Pope John Paul II illustrate the need to renew culture today and illustrate his extraordinary ability to transform and renew culture. I hope to write not only about culture, but also religion, politics, current events, sports, and entertainment. I also hope this is not only a one-way narrative but the beginning of a dialogue..

Monday, February 15, 2010

Book Review: Washington's God

Michael and Jana Novak's book, Washington's God, is must read for anyone refuting George Washington's Christian heritage. Washington's God, broken into three parts, "The Man," "The Faith," and "The Fruit," portrays the first U.S. President's Christian faith as a major in Virginia's army, through his wisdom and guidance during the Revolutionary War, and by his public reflections on religion's support for a robust and free civil society.

At the beginning of Washington's God, Michael and Jana Novak pose three questions:
  1. Was Washington a deist?
  2. What is the meaning of the term Providence?
  3. Did George Washington use Christianity for political purposes, while secretly being a Deist?
Throughout their book, they meticulously answer them:

1. Was Washington a Deist?
  • The Novak's illustrate that Washington believed God to be more than a purely rational "watchmaker" since He intervened at times in human events: "He [Washington] held as a matter of daily practice and frequent prayer the Jewish and Christian view of God, that is, that God interposes his actions in the affairs of history and all through the daily governance of the universe, not by disrupting the laws of nature but by deftly and artistically using the openings discernible in the dazzling array of life's daily contingencies" (224).
2. What is the meaning of Providence?
  • The Novak's argue that Washington did not believe Providence was fate or fortune but as the source of Truth: "Washington did not think that the outcome of the War of Independence was inexorably fixed in some tragic and inescapable way. [...] Washington distinguished clearly between false gods and the true God. One of the key differences in this distinction is the recognition of full, total, and universal sovereignty even over the existence of all things" (225).
3. Did Washington use Christianity for political reasons or was he a secret Deist?
  • "Anglican Christianity is what he professed. Anglican Christianity is what he acted out. Christian preachers of many faiths recognized him as a model Christian. As we have seen, a family-in-law published much evidence of how the family regarded him as a Christian. [...] His dearest friend, who thought they were two in one soul, his wife, Martha, a quite devout Christian, was certain they were one in mind above all in their mutual confidence in eternal life together. His last words, and her first words on learning that he was gone, were "'Tis well!" - in itself an almost perfect 'Amen'" (226).
Thus, the Novak's explain that Washington's references to "Providence" were not Deist but rather to the Hebrew and Christian "Jehovah." This foundation grounded Washington's understanding of religious freedom since "this new system depends upon the Jewish-Christian conception of a God of spirit and truth, who wishes to be worshipped in freedom. On any other conception of god, the principles of religious liberty lose their point" (118). It is fitting that today, George Washington's birthday, that our first President be properly portrayed for what he was.


  1. "Under God" was also a pretty good book. It was the one presented at the HF Bobby Mo took us to see. Thanks for the review. I'll be sure to check it out if I get the chance!

  2. Have you ever heard of a program called "The Thomas Jefferson Hour?" I don't know very much about George Washington, but on TJH the host explains how Jefferson showed contrasting views on religion: He infamously cut up the Bible - taking out all the parts he found to be disputable, he was a materialist and said that he didn't believe in any human consciousness beyond the body, but when John Adams' wife died, he wrote a beautiful and poetic letter about how they would unite in the afterlife. It seems that the Founders were a diverse and varied group when it came to religion.