Under God: George Washington and the Question
of Church and State is a non-fiction book about George
Washington and his views on the roles that church and state
should play in the U.S. Government. The authors, Tara Ross
and Joseph C. Smith Jr., use Washington's
own words to explain what he thought about this issue.
This book is broken into two parts. Part one explains the
context in which Washington writes his letters. It gives
the history of who he was writing to and why he was writing
to them. Part one is separated into chapters by the different
roles of his public service. For instance, one chapter
covers when his was in the Virginia Regiment (1777-1758),
and another chapter covers when he was President of the
USA before the First Amendment (1789-1791). This section
concludes with a chapter about the Jeffersonian view ("separation of church and state") and how it came to be popularized in the judicial system, thus ignoring the Founding Father's
view on church and state related issues.
Part two has the whole letters and speeches given by Washington
in regards to church and state matters. It is strictly
George Washington's own words-no commentary. These letters
cover the years 1755-1797, and are not exhaustive on the
matter, but it does take up more than half the book. There
is also an extensive list of notes in the back of the book.
The book is easy to understand, well-organized, includes
many references, and was well researched. I can't begin
to explain how enlightening this book was. It sheds light
on an important subject many do not write about, yet it
is something we should all know.
I was impressed in how they took a complicated topic and
broke it into understandable parts. First, they set the
book in a timeline to Washington's major public services.
Then they put into context what he was doing, what he may
have been going through, why he was writing, and to whom
he was writing. As the reader progresses they get the sense
of history/context of why he thought the way he did.
I was also impressed by the content they wrote about. The
authors have complied just a sampling of the letters and
speeches given by Washington and even those are amazingly
obvious that he did not view the state and church as needing
to be separated. In fact, it is obvious that he thought
religion and government supported each other, as he states
in his farewell address...
"Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political
prosperity, Religion and morality are indispensable supports.
In vain would that man claim the tribute of patriotism,
who should labour to subvert these great pillars of human
By far, I was impressed with how
the writers approached this subject. Most writers have
a view and it shows not through their writing, but
through their reasoning, by ignoring facts or the opposing sides.
These kinds of writers present their reasoning as the
correct way to think (I find this in many writers,
Christian and non-Christian). This was not the case with these
writers. I felt that they were genuinely trying to
be fair in their analysis of the subject matter. They conceded
at times that no one knows for sure his stance on certain
issues because he never wrote an opinion about them.
At other times they would deduce what he may have thought,
but always reminded the reader that they did not know
for sure. This honesty was refreshing.
When I got to the chapter about the Jeffersonian view
on church and state and how that one statement has
become the major influence over our modern courts,
I was amazed. The authors give the historical context
in which that statement was written, and to whom it
was given written, and why it was written to them.
The book gives the results of the letter then and now-truly
When the reader buys this book, they get the added
bonus of having the whole letters the authors refer
to in this book, and more. I am so happy to have these
great references on my bookshelf. Now, to be sure,
most of the letters are not riveting and some of it
is down-right hard to understand, but most of it is
Some may wonder if they dealt with whether Washington
was a Christian or not, or about his being a Mason.
The authors deal with both matters very honestly and
let the readers understand that the book is not about
but about how he thought religion and the government should interact
with each other.
In conclusion, I really enjoyed this book, my husband enjoyed this
book, and my two older kids liked it (my youngest was too young
for it). Every high-school child, every political science major,
every law student, every ACLU member, every seminary student, and
every church member should to read this book. We have been mislead
and it shows. This book helps to reveal where we got off course. Under
God: George Washington and the Question of Church and State is
worth every minute you spend reading it. I highly recommend it.