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March 18, 2006



One thing that I have learned since 9-11 -- as we have more contact and become more and more aware of non-Western cultures and peoples, it is clear that, at least in the West, even the athiests and agnostics are Christian to a certain degree. Certainly they have been Christianized.

That is to say, athiests and agnostics in the West tend to share Christian ideas and philosophies concerning truth and morality, right and wrong, good and evil. And it is clear that these are, indeed, Christian ideas and philosophies, not and not universal ideas and philosophies because we see that many non-Western cultures and peoples do not share them.

I would think that, although certain of the Founders were not technically "Christian," they were certainly Christianized in their thinking and beliefs.

Jon W

Amen, Bender. The Faith may not yet have conquered the world, but the ideals of the Faith have. All we are going to see from here on out are distortions of Christian principles, in which a subordinate principle is raised above its proper place.

It was the 18th-century evangelicals who provided the political shock troops for Jefferson and Madison in their efforts to keep government from strong involvement with religion. Modern evangelicals are certainly free to take a different course, but they should realize that in doing so they have dramatically departed from the tradition of their spiritual forefathers.

Having a government without a state church does not mean having to suffer the dismissal of any of your attempts to establish true justice and good laws as "getting government involved with religion" just because you happen to be a religious person.

chris K

I had read various versions of this and found the following from Pro Ecclesia blog:

from the text of President Washington's "Letter to the Roman Catholics":

[March 15], 1790


As mankind become more liberal they will be more apt to allow that all those who conduct themselves as worthy members of the community are equally entitled to the protection of civil government. I hope ever to see America among the foremost nations in examples of justice and liberality. And I presume that your fellow-citizens will not forget the patriotic part which you took in the accomplishment of their Revolution, and the establishment of their government; or the important assistance which they received from a nation in which the Roman Catholic faith is professed.

I thank you, gentlemen, for your kind concern for me. While my life and my health shall continue, in whatever situation I may be, it shall be my constant endeavor to justify the favorable sentiments which you are pleased to express of my conduct. And may the members of your society in America, animated alone by the pure spirit of Christianity, and still conducting themselves as the faithful subjects of our free government, enjoy every temporal and spiritual felicity.

G. Washington

It appears then that "liberality" in his day meant something quite different from the liberal view of today which isolates Catholics for persecution.

There is some speculation that George Washington converted to Roman Catholicism while on his deathbed:

From the Denver Register, May 11, 1952:

A picture of the Blessed Virgin Mary and one of St. John were among the effects found in an inventory of the articles at Mount Vernon at the death of George Washington, first president of the U.S.A. The Rev. W.C. Repetti, S.J., archivist at Georgetown University, reports he has discovered this information in an appendix to a biography of Washington. The book is a Life of George Washington by Edward Everett, published by Sheldon & Co. in New York in 1860. "The fact that he had a picture of the Blessed Virgin is rather unexpected, and, to the best of my knowledge, has not been brought out," says Fr. Repetti.

The long report among slaves of Mount Vernon as to Washington's deathbed conversion would be odd unless based on truth. These were not Catholic Negroes; it is part of the tradition that weeping and wailing occurred in the quarters that Massa Washington had been snared by the Scarlet Woman of Rome, whom they had been taught to fear and hate. Supposedly, Father Neale was rowed across the Piscatawney by Negro oarsmen; and men often talked freely when slaves were nearby, confidently ignoring their presence.

From the Denver Register, February 24, 1957:

It was a long tradition among both the Maryland Province Jesuit Fathers and the Negro slaves of the Washington plantation and those of the surrounding area that the first President died a Catholic. These and other facts about George Washington are reported in the Paulist Information magazine by Doran Hurley.

The story is that Father Leonard Neale, S.J., was called to Mount Vernon from St. Mary's Mission across the Piscatawney River four hours before Washington's death. Washington's body servant, Juba, is authority for the fact that the General made the Sign of the Cross at meals. He may have learned this from his Catholic lieutenants, Stephen Moylan or John Fitzgerald. At Valley Forge, Washington forbade the burning in effigy of the Pontiff on "Pope's Day." Several times as President he is reported to have slipped into a Catholic church to hear Sunday Mass.


I guess I don't feel as triumphant as the first two posters. Someone should have told such fine, caring post-Christian atheists as Lenin and Stalin about their debt to Christian ideals. Or people in this country who reject Christian doctrine as retrograde or damaging. One might argue that their beliefs might have drawn some elements from some Christian teachings, but the results haven't exactly made me want to high-five my neighbor in the pew to celebrate the win.

On the flip side, look at the growth of the Church in many African and Asian countries, especially China. Those Christians are "non-Western", right?

chris K

And then there is THAT "vision" of Washington:


and of the "mystical" man:


James Kabala

It certainly would be cool if Washington had become a Catholic on his deathbed, but I would need more evidence than these articles, the alleged facts contained wherein seem to have evaded scholarly biographers. Unlike with some other persons who may or may not have been Catholics (e.g., Shakespeare), I'm not aware of any reliable evidence from Washington's life that would indicate an attraction to Catholicism. But who knows? Secret Catholicism would certainly provide an interesting explanation for some of the behavior that has caused many historians to regard Washington as a Deist (e.g., his refusal to kneel or receive Communion at Episcopalian services, and his refusal to give a statement of faith to a group of clergymen who asked him for one when he left office, which led the undoubted Deist Jefferson to say, "The old fox was too cunning for them"), but there is other behavior leading historians to the same inference which would not admit of such an explanation (e.g., his general use of "Providence" and similar euphemisms instead of the word "God" and his very rare mentions of Jesus in writings. The frequently made claim that he never mentioned Jesus at all is an exaggeration, but not by much.)

chris K

This is a good link to enlarge this topic which could have had its origins with Washington's "vision":


This has been already partially approved with a medal having been approved and made. The large statue has traveled to the World Youth Days, blessed by the pope, and this year a couple of bishops have had solemn processions in honor of, while it has also participated in the yearly annual Week of Prayer and Fasting held in Washington, D.C. at the Catholic Cathedral and processed in. It's a good cause to enlist one's efforts.

James Kabala

The vision of Washington and some of the other claims made by Reverse Spins, including even the prayer at Valley Forge, are almost certainly myths.


BTW, GW's password on March 17, 1776, was "Saint Patrick." "Sister Mary Agnes was right all along."

Donald R. McClarey

George Washington was a model of tolerance. He banned the celebration of Guy Fawkes day in the Continental Army, attended mass with French officers during the Revolutionary War, as President contributed his personal funds to the building of Olde Saint Augustine Church in Philadelphia and throughout his life displayed no hostility towards the Church or to Catholics. In his lack of religious prejudice, as in so much else, the Father of our country remains an example for all Americans.


There is a large monument here in VA from the Masons dedicated to George Washington...he apparently was a Mason. Doesn't mean he couldn't have converted at his deathbed but cunning indeed if he was a Mason and a secret Catholic.


James Kabala

That's true; he was a Mason, and an ardent one.


Waldman, Washington Monthly: "prevent the “establishment” of an official state church, like the ones that had been prevalent in the colonies up until the time of the revolution."

Inexcusably inaccurate. AFTER the revolution & AFTER the 1st Continental Congress & AFTER the 2nd Continental Congress (establishing our present government), some states continued to have established religions. This continued into the 1830s, I believe.
As for the Federal government, Sunday religious services were held in the House of Representatives and Thomas Jefferson attended them, even when he was President.
See Philip Hamburger's "Separation of Church and State", Harvard University Press, 2002.


On a side note. The only American State churches to survive into the 19th century were those of Connecticut and Massachusetts. Connecticut disestablished the Congregationalist Church in 1818. In Massachusetts, the state religion was only abolished in 1833; it had been the Congregationalist Church (Trinitarian), but after the schism of 1803, the majority party got the right to state support. So the Unitarian Church became the state religion until the disestablishment.


The Washington Monthly piece is such a painfully stupid example of cocoon liberalism. It simply assumes that modern evangelicals favor a close relationship between "church and state."

In fact, evangelicals (along with Catholics and other religious or tradition-minded Americans) merely advocate (1) laws that are consistent with the traditional American moral principles and (2) broad freedom for religious groups of all kinds to operate in society, including public life.

All of what modern evangelicals advocate would have been taken for granted by 18th century "proto"-evangelicals -- and for that matter by 18th century Deists such as Thos. Jefferson as well.

Unless, of course, one fantasizes that anyone in 18th century America favored homosexual marriage, opposed prayer in school or public displays of the Commandments, or advocated legal abortion as a "constitutional right". None of those issues even presented a "church-state" issue in the minds of the Framers, and until the latter half of the 20th century no one else thought they did either.


...it is clear that, at least in the West, even the athiests and agnostics are Christian to a certain degree. Certainly they have been Christianized. -- Bender

This is something I have talked about regarding neo-Pagans (fairly well-represented in F&SF fandom). They are not "Pagans", they are "NEO-Pagans", coming out of what was a Christian-based culture; even their "revived paganisms" show distinct Christian influences and cross-fertilizations.

Even todays neo-pagans have forgotten what their Old Gods were originally like; they see the Old Gods "baptized" through the filter of a Christian past.

William Tighe

Thomist (above) forgot New Hampshire: its Congregationalist establishment was disestablished in 1819.

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