“Matthew Stewart’s brilliant new book breathes fresh life into our understanding of the American Revolution. Beautifully written and lucidly argued, Nature’s God recovers the lost voices and original intentions of the thoughtful men who made America. Sure to stir controversy on all fronts, Nature’s God will set the agenda for serious discussion of the American Revolution’s significance in world history.”
— Peter S. Onuf, author of The Mind of Thomas Jefferson
“Splendid . . . imaginative but never fanciful, even at its most surprising. What lends Nature’s God a good deal of its verve is Matthew Stewart’s unabashed attachment not only to the revolutionaries as they really were, but to the skeptical rationalism they embodied. This is partisan scholarship as it should be written, and much needed service to the public.”
— Alan Ryan, author of The Making of Modern Liberalism
“In a book that offers you a chance to rethink much of what you thought you knew about America’s founders, Matthew Stewart traces the little-known influence of secular philosophers, from Epicurus through Spinoza, on the revolutionary generation and offers a lively, powerful, and erudite refutation of the myth that the framers of our secular Constitution had any intention of founding an orthodox Christian nation.”
— Susan Jacoby, author of Freethinkers: A History of American Secularism
(Starred Review) “Stewart … delivers a penetrating history of an American Revolution not yet finished and a stirring reassertion of the power of ideas unbound by the shackles of superstition. Meticulously annotated and informed by imposing erudition, the book is a lively chronicle of the years leading up to the signing of the Declaration of Independence, especially noteworthy for detailing the unsung contributions (in word and deed) of such revolutionary figures as Ethan Allen and Thomas Young. It is also an admirably lucid survey of radical philosophical thought on the nature of man and the cosmos, a guiding principle grounded in reason and transmitted from Epicurus via the poet Lucretius, further developed by the great philosophical minds of the 17th century and embraced by the Founding Fathers. Stewart’s capacity to render undiluted the complex deliberations of these thinkers glows on the page, notwithstanding the occasional Mobius strip of esoterica. The author locates these ideas in the heterodox, deist origins of the Republic, with a focus on corporeal reality, not spiritual mysteries. In doing so, he reveals the true and enduring significance of the American experiment: not merely as a revolt against an imperial monarch, but against the global reach and oppressive artifice of supernatural religion. Stewart gives the simplistic “common religious consciousness” and much presumed wisdom a fair hearing, then demolishes them utterly, though not dismissing what is useful in faith. By closely analyzing the writings of Jefferson, Young, Franklin, Paine et al., he quashes the delusion that America was established as a “Christian” nation. In affording a fresh perspective on the difficult but exhilarating birth of this country, Stewart shows that the often superficially misunderstood words of the Declaration of Independence are even more profound than they appear.
— KIRKUS REVIEWS
“Yes, such forbidding terms as monism and creation ex nihilo are bandied about, but don’t be daunted. As in “The Courtier and the Heretic,” his earlier book about Spinoza and Gottfried Leibniz, Stewart does his intellectual heavy lifting in graceful prose that makes lucid the main thrust of dense arguments…. Stewart’s eloquently argued book makes a strong case that freedom from religion is precisely what America’s founders had in mind.
— Wendy Smith, The Los Angeles Times, June 29, 2014
“Nature’s God is an enormous, ambitious philosophical history that works to redefine the very building blocks of our American society. That’s exactly what the religious right has been up to for decades now: redefining the terms of the debate. For those of us terrified by the resulting perversion of the idea of “religious liberty” … Stewart’s efforts are impassioned, noble, and necessary.”
— Brook Wilensky-Lanford, “American Independence Myths,” The New Republic, July 4, 2014
“Stewart examines the philosophical mind-sets of the Founding Fathers in this sprawling, ambitious, and ultimately rather compelling paean to the role of reason in the American Republic … To support his argument, he provides deep context, describing the philosophical climate of the late eighteenth century, but also probing the various philosophical writings of key founders, including a few who do not get the attention they deserve. The result is a deeply felt and richly argued polemic that will challenge readers to reexamine the philosophical basis of American thought.”
“…[a] splendidly polemical account of the philosophy of the founding fathers … If this vigorous book wins the converts it deserves, then a new generation of patriots may rise up to celebrate the US not as God’s own country but as the oldest and greatest atheist nation.”
— Jonathan Ree, Prospect, August 2014
“Matthew Stewart’s enthralling and important new book … argues that we misremember the philosophical and religious origins of the American Revolution. Stewart … happily rips into the original sources of Enlightenment thought, this time discovering a radical and profoundly humanistic worldview underlying the American Revolution. The book is a pleasure to read, its often surprising conclusions supported by elegant prose and more than 1,000 footnotes. Stewart’s erudite analysis confidently rebuts the creeping campaign of Christian nationalism to “‘take back’ the nation and make it what it never in fact was.” The next time someone like Jerry Falwell asserts that the United States is “a Christian nation,” he’ll have to answer to Nature’s God.”
— Buzzy Jackson, The Boston Globe, July 20, 2014
“Stewart’s probing intelligence … is most impressive … The author reads more deeply and perceptively into texts than writers of lesser ability, extracting more than is customary of irony, cloaked meanings, and intellectual connections … Stewart also makes the circumlocutions of Locke, the complexities of Spinoza, and the work of other philosophers accessible to the layperson–no mean feat. But of greatest importance to our understanding of actual history–not romantic illusion or national myth–is how he locates their powerful ideas in the heterodox, Deist origins of the Republic.”
— Bill Thompson, The Post and Courier, August 3, 2014
“… a detailed and lengthy examination of the history and formation over the millennia of the main ideas of deism, and how those ideas played a role in the formation and continuance of our country … Stewart’s engrossing book is full of insights and warm admiration for the going concern of our nation, as started by the founders.”
— Rob Hardy, The Dispatch, August 9, 2014
“Matthew Stewart has written a brilliant, eye-opening book about the men who influenced and founded our country and wrote the Constitution … This book, which bridges history, human stories and philosophy in over 450 pages, … is a future book award winner.”
— Connie Martinson, Connie Martinson Talks Books, August 6, 2014
National Book Award–Longlist for Nonfiction
The Boston Globe, “enthralling and important”
The Los Angeles Times, “graceful … eloquently argued”
The New Republic, “enormous, ambitious … impassioned, noble, and necessary.”
KIRKUS REVIEW, (Starred Review/ Best Books 2014) “stirring … imposing … admirably lucid”
Booklist, “sprawling, ambitious … compelling … richly argued”
Prospect, “splendidly polemical … vigorous”
The Post and Courier, “probing … impressive”
The Dispatch, “engrossing … full of insights”
Daylight Atheism, “dense … compelling”
Interview/ Presentation Links
Christopher Philips, Socrates Cafe, podcast, April 16, 2017.
“Between Two Revolutions: Nature’s God in America 1776-1865,” Lecture at the Boston Athenaeum, September 21, 2016.
Interview with Barbara Adams (audio), Radio Amerika Now, December 6, 2014
Interview with Stewart Harris (audio), Your Weekly Constitutional, November 14, 2014.
Interview with Barry Kibrick (video), Between the Lines, PBS, First Airing October 4, 2014.
Interview with Dan Barker and Annie Laurie Gaylor (audio), Freethought Radio, September 1, 2014.
Presentation at Politics & Prose (audio), July 21, 2014.
Interview with Connie Martinson (video), Connie Martinson Talks Books, August 6, 2014.
Presentation at the Harvard Book Store (video), BookTV, CSPAN-2, July 2, 2014.
Interview with Leonard Lopate (radio), The Leonard Lopate Show, WNYC, July 30, 2014.
Interview with Coy Barefoot (radio), Inside Charlottesville, July 11, 2014.
Interview with Art Remillard (radio), The Marginalia Review of Books, July 22, 2014.
“Founders Claimed a Subversive Right to ‘Nature’s God’,” Interview with Arun Rath, NPR Weekend Edition Sunday, July 13, 2014.
Interview with Bill Thompson (print), Kirkus Reviews, July 10, 2014.
Interview with Gary Null (radio), The Gary Null Show, July 1, 2014.
“Founding Sources: A New Book Examines the Philosophical Underpinnings of America’s ‘Heretical’ Republic,” Interview with Rob Boston, Church & State, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, July/August 2014.
“Questioning America’s Christian Roots,” Interview with Brook Wilensky-Lanford, The Boston Globe, July 4, 2014.
“The Heterodox Republic Part I: The Religion of Nature” and “The Heterodox Republic Part II: The Two Voices of Liberalism,” in Barbara McGraw, ed., The Wiley Blackwell Companion to Religion and Politics in the U.S., May 2016.
Extraterrestrial Thoughts on Independence Day. salon.com. July 4, 2015.
“The Original Tea Partier Was an Atheist,” Politico Magazine, September 1, 2014.}
“Hobby Lobby and the Separation of Church and Business,” Harvard Business Review, July 21, 2014.
As discussed in the Preface and Notes of Nature’s God, Wim Klever’s provocative paper, Locke’s Disguised Spinozism, can be found here.
Fatwas, Partisan hack-jobs, Evidence of fear & loathing among conservative “intellectuals,” etc.
Robert Tracy McKenzie, Wheaton College, “America’s Founding May Not Have Been Christian, but It Sure Wasn’t Anti-Christian,” Christianity Today, July 3, 2014.
Barton Swaim, “How Radical were the Founders?”, Wall Street Journal, July 26, 2014.
James Hutson, “The Unmasker Unmasked,” Claremont Review of Books, Fall 2015.