March 22, 2007

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Moral Minority: Our Skeptical Founding Fathers, by Brooke Allen (Ivan R. Dee, 2006, 256 pages)
Reviewed by Erica Febre efebre@hippopress.com

I heard a few days back there were some quarters that made it into circulation without the long-debated “In God We Trust” on them.

Coin collectors were in a frenzy buying the quarters. Then they found that more of the quarters had made it into circulation than initially thought. So, the quarters ended up not being as valuable.

I heard this all on the news within the time span of reading Brooke Allen’s Moral Minority: Our Skeptical Founding Fathers, which is like a history book about the religious views of some of America’s founding fathers.

But back to the quarter: based on Allen’s book, the founding fathers wouldn’t have even wanted that quarter to say “In God We Trust” in the first place.

According to Allen, “this nation was not founded on Christian principles” or even religious principles.

The idea was independence, or freedom, to choose any and all religions or even no religion, as Allen shows by pointing to the possible deist and atheist beliefs of some of the founding fathers.

Although there were 56 different signatures on the Declaration of Independence, Allen focuses specifically on the writings and religious concerns of just five of America’s founding fathers: the first president, George Washington (lived 1732-1799, president 1789-1797); the second president, John Adams (lived 1735-1826, president 1797-1801); the third president, Thomas Jefferson (lived 1743-1826, president 1801-1809); the fourth president, James Madison (lived 1751-1836, president 1809-1817), and Alexander Hamilton (1755-1804), who became the first Secretary of the Treasury, under President Washington.

Allen’s subject is much more sensitive than I had realized. After telling others about some of Allen’s concepts, I was told by most that I was reading “propaganda” and “brain-washing” material.

My mother, who I guess raised me in Christian belief, refused to even consider Allen’s book as anything that could have some truth to it: God love you and Jesus saves.

But really, “conspiracy theory” or not, Allen does present an interesting collection of some of the writings of these founding fathers, which do make for a bit of a history and philosophy lesson.

Allen states “Franklin, like Jefferson, regarded Christ as a philosopher rather than a divine being, or divinely inspired figure: a great philosopher, certainly, at or above the level of Socrates, but entirely human.”

It’s a bit of a history lesson on the English language as well. Reading through the spelling barrier is interesting enough and also evidence of whom among these six founding fathers had the highest education and widest vocabulary.

Obviously someone like my mother, with strong Christian beliefs, wouldn’t want to pick up this book and start reading it. But, for the seekers or the philosophers or the skeptics, Allen presents a hefty dose of dated and original writings that you won’t find in the regular high school or college history book. B-