Why George Washington Embraced the Idea of a ‘Nondescript’ God

The First President Wanted to Unite Americans of All Religions Without Alienating Catholics, Freethinkers, and Jews

George Washington issued what might be considered the first executive order. To commemorate the end of a bloody Revolutionary War, Washington set aside the last Thursday of November as a day of thanksgiving and prayer. His 1789 Thanksgiving Proclamation was short, a mere 456 words, punctuated by references—“Almighty God,” “the Lord and Ruler of Nations,” “the great and glorious Being,” “the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be”—to a Supreme Being.

Pointing to sources like the proclamation, today’s religious leaders often count Washington as …

Religious Belief Was a 17th-Century Invention

Once Tightly Guarded by Church Authorities, John Locke Redefined Faith as Personal Choice

Until very recently, atheism was neither widespread nor respectable, but today 11 percent of Americans claim not to believe in God. Many people have speculated on where all these atheists …

Why George Bailey Is the American Jesus

Reflecting a Postwar Religious Revival, the Long-Suffering Hero Played by Jimmy Stewart Lives a Life of Self-Sacrifice and Resists Temptation

In the 15 years after World War II, a religious revival swept through America. Records were set for church attendance and new church construction, a succession of religious books …

Our Favorite Christmas Classic Is Really a Study in American Suicide

It’s a Wonderful Life Delivers a Haunting Treatise on the Religious, Legal, and Economic Implications of Taking One’s Life

Isn’t it a little odd that our most cherished Christmas film is about a man seeking to end his life by jumping off a bridge? Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful …

The Voodoo Priestess Whose Celebrity Foretold America’s Future

Marie Laveau, the Self-Invented New Orleans Prophetess, Blurred the Sacred and Profane While Presiding Over a Multiracial Following 

Any tourist who rolls into New Orleans’s French Quarter eventually finds themselves standing before a Bourbon Street botanica called Marie Laveau’s House of Voodoo. It’s a small shop, and …

How Jewish Was Stanley Kubrick?

The Director of 2001 and Eyes Wide Shut Had the 'Aura of a Talmudic Scholar' and Favored Plots Dealing With Cultural Outsiders

Many people are surprised to discover that legendary director Stanley Kubrick—whose masterpiece 2001: A Space Odyssey is 50 years old this year—was Jewish. He rarely spoke of it, his films …