In his Farewell Address of 1796, George Washington laid out the essentials for the rise and prosperity of America:
[“]Let it simply be asked, where is the security for property, for reputation, for life, if the sense of religious obligation desert the oaths, which are the instruments of investigation in Courts of Justice? And let us with caution indulge the supposition, that morality can be maintained without religion. Whatever may [due to] influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect, that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.[“]
This passage stood out to me because I am an Objectivist. Here’s why.
The vast majority of thinkers† on the topics of morality and ethics reject outright the idea that morality can exist in the absence of religious faith. Thus, they reject Ayn Rand and Objectivism due to its explicit irreligiousity.
This has always irked me because Objectivism has a fully explicated ethics so this rejection is, at the same time, both dogmatic and uneducated, while, sadly, largely true for the population at large.
Thus, the extremely nuanced position espoused by President Washington – when translated from the original 18th century American English – shows how the idea was accepted by the thinkers of the Founding era as a fact of life. By focusing on the added emphasis, it is clear that Washington’s view is that it is, in fact, possible for people with minds of certain structure and educated [in the ways of critical thinking, I assert] can be moral without that morality being religion based.‡
He concludes, however, that the above is rare and therefore an electorate with a morality based on religious values is necessary in order to elect a government protect the natural rights of the individuals.*
I believe he nailed it. Religion for the masses is a good thing because it provides for a common morality that requires neither “refined education” nor “a mind of peculiar structure” to understand – its obvious appeal to authority, nothwithstanding.