Rich Lowry

Excerpted from a public-school history textbook sometime in the future:

... so the Pilgrims came to America, motivated by a religious vision. As the Mayflower Compact put it, they undertook their voyage "for the glory of [deity reference deleted], and advancement of the Christian faith." They agreed to "solemnly and mutually in the presence of [deity reference deleted], and one another, covenant and combine ourselves together into a civil body politic."

Later, the Great Awakening in the first half of the 18th century was, in the words of historian Paul Johnson, a "proto-revolutionary event," helping to create an American national consciousness. The minister Jonathan Edwards was a seminal figure in the awakening. He could preach fire and brimstone, as in his famous sermon "Sinners in the Hands of an [angry deity reference deleted]." But he also taught that [deity reference deleted]'s love was available to all in such tracts as "[deity reference deleted] Glorified in Man's Dependence."

In the revolutionary generation, America had such gifted leaders and events transpired in such a felicitous way that one writer concluded "an [heavenly body reference deleted] rides in the whirlwind and directs this storm." At Valley Forge, George Washington exhorted his troops: "The signal instances of providential [word deleted, due to unnecessary capitalization] which we have experienced and which have now almost crowned our labors with complete success, demand from us in a peculiar manner the warmest returns of gratitude and piety to the [indirect deity reference deleted] of all Good."

The founders were by no means all traditional Christians. Thomas Jefferson famously was a [Deist reference deleted], believing only in a vague [deity reference deleted]. But Christianity crucially informed their views on freedom of conscience. The separation of church and state in the Constitution was meant to prevent the establishment of a state religion, not to erase faith from the public square entirely. Indeed, for the longest time such a project was unthinkable, so intertwined was religion in the American experience.

Rich Lowry

Rich Lowry is author of Legacy: Paying the Price for the Clinton Years .
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