JF: What led you to write The Founders and the Bible?
CR: I had previously published two books about the influence of the Greek and Roman classics on the American founders (The Founders and the Classics, Harvard, 1994; Greeks and Romans Bearing Gifts, Rowman & Littlefield, 2008), so I decided to investigate the other ancient tradition that influenced the founders, the biblical one.
JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of The Founders and the Bible?
CR: The thesis of the book is that when one studies a large group of Founding Fathers (in the case of this book, thirty)—as opposed to the half dozen or so typically studied—one finds that the ratio of biblically orthodox to biblically unorthodox founders was around six to one. Furthermore, even the biblically unorthodox founders were not “deists” in the usual sense of that term because every one of them (even Thomas Paine, who wrote a book attacking the Bible) believed in a God who had not only created the universe but who also intervened in it regularly to endow and enforce natural rights and to promote other goods conducive to human happiness.
JF: Why do we need to read The Founders and the Bible?
CR: Reading the book helps one to understand the profound nature of biblical influence on the society that produced the founders. Even the unorthodox founders could not escape this influence. Like their more orthodox brethren, they were powerfully impacted by biblical concepts and stories. Biblical references filled their private correspondence as well as their public rhetoric. They studied and grappled with the Bible in a way that few modern secularists do.
JF: When and why did you decide to become an American historian?
CR: I initially wanted to be an ancient historian, but the field required four languages. I had only the Greek and the French, not the Latin and the German, and I was too impatient to spend years studying languages before I could get into the historical research. From childhood on, I had always possessed a strong interest in the American Revolution, so I decided to study the influence of the Greek and Roman classics on the founders as a way of combining my two interests.
JF: What is your next project?
CR: For my next project I am researching and writing a brief history of humor in the Western world, beginning with the comedies of Aristophanes (c. 400 BC) and ending today. It is a large but enjoyable project, and not as frivolous as it sounds to some people, because many important ideas have been conveyed effectively through humor.
JF: Thanks, Carl!