Dr. Frazer, a professor at a Christian college, has written an analysis of the religious beliefs of many prominent members of the founding generation of the United States of America: Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Madison, Franklin, Hamilton, Gouverneur Morris, and James Wilson. He also discusses influential theologians and clergymen. Theological questions were important to eighteenth century intellectuals and were thought to be intertwined with moral and political issues. Dr. Frazer’s thesis is that the most prominent theological position of the founding generation was what he calls theistic rationalism. The term is his own, but he argues it reflects a reality: that the republic was founded neither on secularistic nor Christian principles and he places theistic rationalism somewhere between Christianity and Deism.
Theistic rationalism shares Deism’s high regard for human reason and natural religion. Like Deism, it makes human rationality the final arbiter in religious matters not any purported revelation. While Deism—at least as Dr. Frazer sees is—disallows the possibility of revelation and miracles and posits a God who does not intervene in the universe, theistic rationalism believes in a God who has a providential interest in human beings and allows for the possibility of revelation and miracles.
Though its adherents tend not to adopt the hostile tone to Christianity and Jesus evident in many Deists, theistic rationalism is non-trinitarian, with Jesus regarded as a mere human being or, at most, a demi-god.
Theistic rationalism is an optimistic philosophy with little mystery about it. Dr. Frazer goes so far as to argue, pretty convincingly to this reader, that theistic rationalism has transformed much of American Christianity from its Biblical and Calvinistic roots. It is anthropocentric. It is a religion made for liberal democracy, republicanism, and the ideology of human rights. It is almost as if God exists for the sake of human happiness rather that man existing for the sake of serving the Creator., although it must be acknowledged that theistic rationalists see religion as providing invaluable encouragement for human beings to cultivate virtue.
At the end, the book accuses theistic rationalists of creating “a god in their own image.” I suppose this means theistic rationalism is a sort of idolatry. Perhaps paradoxically, Dr. Frazer also seems to think theistic rationalism may have a lesson for today’s United States in the way it united Deists and various sorts of Christians and asks, “Is it too much to imagine that statesmen of today might fashion a similar bridge that unites the ‘secular’ and the ‘religious’ for political purposes?”
I would not say all of Dr. Frazer’s arguments are equally convincing. For example, i think he may make the differences between Deists and his theistic rationalists a bit too sharp. In any case, as I think he acknowledges, for present purposes, the more important difference is between theistic rationalism and the secularist ideology of a strict separation between religion and the state, a separation theistic rationalists in no way advocated, while, at the same time they eschewed using Christianity or the Bible as the foundation for the republic.