The beliefs of John Adams

Daily Reading for July 6

“The Christian religion, as I understand it,” John Adams declared to Benjamin Rush in 1810, “is the brightness of the glory and the express portrait of the eternal, self-existent independent, benevolent, all-powerful and all-merciful Creator, Preserver and Father of the Universe. . . . Neither savage nor civilized man without a revelation could ever have discovered or invented it.”

Like other Deists, however, Adams substituted a simpler, less mysterious form of Christianity for the Christianity he had inherited. Reading and reflection caused him to discard such beliefs as the Trinity, the divinity of Christ, total depravity, and predestination. God, he declared, “has given us Reason, to find out the Truth, and the real Design and true End of our Existence.” Thus he asserted that humans should study nature and use reason to learn about God and his creation.

Above all, Adams opposed religious oppression and narrow-mindedness. All of this displays the blend of Unitarian Christianity and rational thought that was the religion of John Adams. Like many of his contemporaries, he brought the religion in which he was raised into the court of his reason and common sense and judged it by what he found.

From The Faiths of the Founding Fathers by David L. Holmes (Oxford University Press, 2006).

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