George Washington's Religious Beliefs/Faith

When examining the religious beliefs and practices of George Washington, there is much ambiguity as to what he truly believed. Part of this ambiguity is due to the fact that George Washington was fairly private about his specific religious beliefs, although he was generally considered by those who knew him personally as well as by the general public to be a religious man. In particular, his nephew is recorded as saying that Washington would regularly perform both morning and evening devotions using a Bible.

As a child, Washington grew up in a home where religion and spirituality were both taught and practiced. In fact, his great-great-grandfather was an Anglican minister. Therefore, there were definite religious ties within his immediate family. These ties can be seen in Washington's faithful pattern of church attendance. One of his pastors said of him that "I never knew so constant an attendant at church as Washington." Also, he became both a vestryman and a church warden at local churches in Virginia, the Fairfax Parish and the Truro Parish, early on in his adulthood.

Although he was actively involved in church, eyewitness accounts indicate that George Washington rarely took communion, a spiritual ritual reserved for believing Christians. Perhaps Washington did not personally view himself as a true Christian, for perhaps he did not embrace every major tenet of Christian doctrine. This idea is further supported by the fact that Washington never referred to God as "Jesus" or "Christ" in any of his private correspondence. Instead, he would use words such as "Providence." This has led some to believe that Washington was a Deist, or perhaps held some of the beliefs of the deists. Deists believe in an all-powerful being who designed the world and directs the affairs of people, and who can be learned about by humans through reason and logical analysis of the world and its natural laws. The repeated allusions to "Providence" by Washington in both public addresses and private letters means that George Washington had to have held at least some of the doctrinal beliefs of the Deists. Additionally, Washington was an active humanitarian. Bettering society is another basic tenet of Deism. Nonetheless, others argue that Washington was a "theistic rationalist." This religious view is similar to Deism in that all Biblical accounts of Jesus, the Trinity, and original sin are rejected; however, a theistic rationalist also believes in prayer to God. Washington was observed on more than one occasion to engage in prayer, specifically in order to sway the outcome of an unfortunate situation. In line with his seemingly mixed bag of religious beliefs, George Washington supported religious tolerance, particularly among his troops (most likely to ensure unity).

Since many of the modern-day viewpoints on George Washington's faith and beliefs have been muddied by past political agendas to portray the first President of the United States in a particular light, we may never truly know what this man's personal religious views were.