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Thursday, March 31, 2011

Wood/Hitchens on Religion and America's Founding

Sorry for my absence from blogging. Life has just been busy. In an effort to return to my blogging roots I have decided to post the following videos. The first is of renowned early American historian Gordon Wood (my favorite American historian). In the video, Dr. Wood discusses the role that religion played during the founding of America. The second video is of well-know atheist Christopher Hitchens, who discusses the same thing.

What I find interesting in these two videos is that both men draw some of the same conclusions but from different angles. Wood makes it clear, from a historical perspective, that religion was a big deal for the American masses, but that the key Founding Fathers (Jefferson, Madison, etc.) held reservations as to how religion was to be treated in a republic. Essentially Wood makes it clear that though skeptical of organized religion, the Founders understood that religion (in the general sense) was necessary for a republic to survive. On the other hand, Hitchens argues that the founders saw religion as a threat to any free society, and endeavored to have its power and influence put in check. Take a look:



Now it might be our nature to give Wood more credit than Hitchens, since he's a historical juggenraut and doesn't have the disdain for religion that Hitchens exhibits on a regular basis. I myself admit that I agree more with Wood's synopsis. However, Hitchens does make some valid points that Wood himself makes from a different angle. Hitchens is right when he points out that the founders saw organized, government-sanctioned religion as a terrible threat to the infant republic. But Hitchens' assumption that the key founders detested religion in the general sense just isn't true. As Wood points out, religion was still a big deal to the masses of colonial America, and as the infant U.S. became more democratic, their religious zeal found new outlets, hense the massive Evangelical explosion of the early 1800s (not to forget the explosion by other groups like the Mormons, Shakers, etc.).

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