Darrin M McMahon

Faith of the Founders

Nature’s God: The Heretical Origins of the American Republic


W W Norton 566pp £17.99 order from our bookshop

Sometime in the second half of the 18th century, Benjamin Franklin wrote to an acquaintance with advice on the subject of attacking religion in North America: ‘He that spits against the wind, spits in his own face.’ The acquaintance in question may or may not have been Thomas Paine, whose provocative tract The Age of Reason elicited similar responses from those of America’s Founding Fathers who knew which way the wind blew. John Adams was arguably the most direct, though he was hardly an anomaly. ‘The Christian religion’, he noted in his diary in 1796, ‘is, above all the religions that ever prevailed or existed in ancient or modern times, the religion of wisdom, virtue, equity and humanity, let the Blackguard Paine say what he will.’

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