Enlightened Faith: On March 2, 2012 the Metro West Daily News printed an article entitled “Islamic Center in Wayland hosted talk on Founding Fathers.” It discussed the lecture given by Rev. Gary Kowalski, a graduate of Harvard College, the Harvard Divinity School and minister at the First Parish Church in Sudbury. I attended that discussion.
Rev. Kowalski gave an extraordinarily informative and riveting lecture on the connection between our Founding Fathers, their acceptance (or rejection) of faith and its place within the founding constitutional document of the American republic. He understood the historical etiology of the Founders’ experience and its relation to the constitutionally-constructed mandate of the church/state separation clause. He did not say that the Founders had no religion but he DID say that the Founders’ religion was a personal one wrapped in the cocoon of self separate from the political sphere except that the state could not interfere with any man’s freedom to believe (or not) as he chooses. That foundational edict is significantly different from government requiring specific religious mandates to which every person must subscribe.
The Founders, as he said and I know, were men of the Enlightenment who, while not eschewing the belief in a supreme Creator, wrapped that religious belief in their own sphere which was NOT a part of the larger governing body politic. Some Founders had religious doubts, some were not Christian, some were Deists, some loved science and were uncannily prescient about it. Most knew the lethal difficulty religious belief presented to a nation that fused it with the state. They saw and understood the wars it engendered in the European experience the embers of which branded fear and scars upon their consciousness. There would be in our nation’s founding document NO religious litmus test for citizenship or for the acquiescence of power.
Our Founders, I believe, would wax aghast at the religious nearly Puritanical irrational frenzy creating a new Scarlet Letter for those, in present time, who do not subscribe to one particular faith. The Republican Party has now become, to the detriment of this nation which usually rejects extremism, a party constructed mainly of right wing extremists where religious subscription, particularly Christian, is mandatory doctrine for entrance into this political club. Our Founders did not mean this to be so. Many would be dismayed at how anti-science, anti intellectual and supremely ruinous the country has become because of issues of faith. They would, though, not be surprised at the toxicity religious belief can engender and knew the discord it could sow.
Religion, uncompromising and extreme, is destroying the very fabric of church/state separation from which this nation was stitched. Rev. Kowalski's book is a scholarly examination of the nature of what our Founders believed and what they envisioned for a new nation. Our Founders did not want to pound religious doctrinal faith into the republic’s sinew but to extricate religious doctrine from the marrow of its governing bones. Rev. Kowolski’s book Revolutionary Spirits: The Enlightened Faith of America's Founding Fathers is an excellent read.