[In his book “One Nation without God?” David] Aikman prefers to sketch the religious character of the colonial, Revolutionary, and early national periods, letting readers see the good and the bad, the religious and the worldly, and decide for themselves whether it all amounted to a “Christian nation.” Jamestown, the first enduring English colony, was clearly founded for business reasons, yet faith played a strong role there. The Pilgrims and Puritans, however, self-consciously created covenant-based societies, fully devoted to biblical principles in matters of both church and state. The Great Awakening reinvigorated the lagging Puritan ethos, setting the stage for a revolution that was religiously diverse, yet undergirded by powerful religious principles.
Aikman maintains that, despite the quote-bending contortions of popular Christian writers, key figures such as Franklin and Jefferson were Deists, not Christians. While rejecting many tenets of biblical orthodoxy, including the divinity of Christ, they affirmed belief in a Creator God who endowed his creatures with a range of rights and liberties. They were not, then, atheists or secularists, and they helped frame some of the essential religious principles that animated the Revolution. Among those principles were religious liberty, God’s providential role in history, and the need for moral virtue to sustain the republic.