For the last fifty years or so, there has been an ongoing debate on whether our founding fathers actually believed in Judeo-Christian creeds and inculcated them in both our Declaration of Independence and our national constitution because they were uncertain as to an active, and not passive, intervention of the almighty; whether they believed in both an omniscient and compassionate God who could be appealed to and prayed to for divine assistance in times of peril, or dismissed the idea, because the eternal “clockmaker,” who was, certainly, the creator of the universe, yet who left us to our own designs to fend for ourselves, never to lift a finger to help us in desperate times despite desperate appeals. In short, Deism, as it has been proclaimed, denied providential emergency rescue and left us to our own wits. Thus, the separation between heaven and earth would be more like a stone wall than a thin veil of tears.
“In the beginning…”
He should have been shot. At Brandywine, and again at the Battle of Monmouth, George Washington, by all rights, should have been killed because he led from the front and not behind the lines. This is well documented in historical fact. One British officer, at the Battle of Brandywine, described how he had an American officer perfectly within the sights of his rifle. For some inane reason he refused to fire. It was Washington. Was this Providence or just dereliction of duty?
And, there are many reports of bullet holes in Washington’s cloak and clothing throughout the war. Here’s how, in his own words, our first Commander-in-Chief described it:
“By the all-powerful dispensations of Providence, I have been protected beyond all human probability or expectation.”
Did he think he was just lucky? Or did he know that divine protection kept him alive to finish the work he was born to do?
No, he knew then, as we know now that God kept him alive to fulfill his destiny. Again, in his own words at his “Farewell Address” to his officers after the war:
“Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity; religion and morality are indispensable supports… And let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion. Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.”
And, this must pang our conscious today, as we prod along, blinded as we are, in the obscure and opaqueness of political correctness which rules our day without any sense of yesterday and any thought of what tomorrow might bring.
But, we didn’t begin this way. We began with truth. Truth that defied probability despite overwhelming odds. Some, today, might think this just a coincidence, a mere matter of luck, whatever that means, but history proves that without Washington there would not be a United States of America.
Of all our presidents, George Washington’s faith shines through in history as the most enduring and real. One we can all identify with, like his officers and men did who served under him through bitter cold and undeniable adversity during our War for Independence. Why? Because it was emblematic of the faith of a simple soldier.
Whether it was during this war or any war for that matter, the common soldiers and their commanders, facing the unknown and possible or perhaps certain death, turn their face and their trust beseeching a benevolent and higher power. This is documented back to the times of Plato, written about by Shakespeare in Henry V, and was Washington’s constant source of refuge during the trying times at Valley Forge.
No one knows who exactly coined the phrase “there are no atheists in foxholes.” Some say it was World War II war correspondent Ernie Pyle, others claim it was U.S. Military Chaplain William Thomas Cummings, in a sermon to the troops during the Battle of Bataan in 1942.
It doesn’t matter who said it. When you have the courage to stand up to superior forces in defense of the freedoms you cherish, not just for yourself, but for your loved ones and the nation you serve, and are prepared to give your life for these very freedoms to survive, you exhibit, not just bravery, but the very essence of faith.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church puts it this way: “In faith, the human intellect and will cooperate with divine grace. ‘Believing is an act of the intellect assenting to the divine truth by command of the will moved by God through grace’” (CCC: 155, citing St. Thomas Aquinas). In other words: “Father, if you are willing, take this cup away from me; still, not my will but yours be done” (Luke 22:42).
Deism or Not
George Washington, our first Commander-in-Chief, our first president, certainly and appropriately named “the Father of our Country” was not a Deist, he was a Christian. A man of faith who continuously and prayerfully put his faith on the line – on the front line.
Did he kneel on the ground at Valley Forge beside his trusted steed and pray to God as the eye witness testimony of Isaac Potts claimed? Does it really matter?
Washington’s words at his first inauguration in 1789 sums this up completely:
“We ought to be no less persuaded that the propitious smiles of Heaven can never be expected on a nation that disregards the eternal rules of order and right which Heaven itself has ordained, and since the preservation of sacred fire of liberty and the destiny of the republican model of government are justly considered as deeply, perhaps finally, staked of the experiment.
“I shall take my present leave; but not without resorting once more to the Benign Parent of the Human Race, in humble supplication that, since He has been pleased to favor the American people with opportunities for deliberating in perfect tranquility, and disposition for deciding with unparalleled unanimity on a form of government for the security of their union and the advancement of their happiness, so His divine blessings may be equally conspicuous in the enlarged views, the temperate consultations and the wise measures on which the success of this Government must depend.”
Yes, George Washington was either an eternal optimist, a complete fool, or he knew exactly what he was doing and challenged mere men to rise above petty bickering and get down on their knees to implore God’s divine intervention. Perhaps, in his mind, there was no other way. After all, it was a political experiment, full of danger and fraught with pitfalls. He knew this. He also knew and believed with all his heart that only with God’s intervention, once more, as he had truly experienced in the field of battle, could this nation possibly hope to establish itself among the nations of the world.
The simple fact is Washington prayed, believed in God and accredited Him for not only his survival, but the incredible survival of his army and the establishment of the American Republic. “Clockmakers” don’t do this.