George F. Will kinda likes Brooke Allens new book on religion and the Founding. Its hard to dispute her judgments about the figures she chooses, though Michael Novak might at some point give it a try.
I wish that Will had made a couple of relatively simple points in his review. He should have reminded us, first, that the First Amendment originally applied to the federal government and not to the states. Politically, the concern was with a national religion, not with state establishments. The Constitution is silent about religion, not because the Founders thought religion was unimportant, but because they thought that national uniformity was unattainable and undesirable.
The other thing I wish Will had said is that focusing on any small group of leaders is misleading, both about the tenor of the country, and about the meaning of the Constitution. Shouldnt we be concerned with the thoughts and understandings of those who voted to adopt the Constitution? Were they more "orthodox" in their views?
If the point is to distinguish American religiosity of the Founding Era from its contemporary counterpart, I have little or no quarrel, so long as one also recognizes that the self-presentation of rationalism has also changed a good bit.
I deal with these matters here.