Monday, March 9, 2009

Was America Founded on the "Works" of Man?

Or by the Grace of God?
by Tom Van Dyke


My blogbrother Jonathan Rowe offers this interesting proposition:

The bottom line [in] America's Founding political theology is a Unitarian theology of works, not an orthodox theology of grace.


The more I think on this proposition, the less agreeable it becomes. But thank you, Jon, for offering the proposition. We should discuss everything.

There is no doubt that virtually all the Founding Fathers, including Thomas Jefferson his own anti-orthodox-religion self, believed in "the firm reliance on the protection of divine providence," the aid of God's hand to win the American Revolution.

What I notice in the Founding literature is a near-total lack of self-congratulation over winning the Revolutionary War [the "works" of men] and the near-universal giving thanks to Divine Providence.


Because when we [some of us, anyway] routinely use the phrase "by the grace of God," we're referring to Divine Providence, are we not?


We might fairly say that after man is given God's grace, God expects him to something good with it, per the Bible [Matthew 25:14-30].

The Founders believed America was the result of Divine Providence, as George Washington---a notorious "unorthodox Christian," if a "Christian" at all---noted in his First Inaugural Address.

But further, Washington "prayed" [and "prayed" is not too
strong a word---he uses the word "supplication" and expresses a desire that "His benediction may consecrate"] America going forward with the continuing hand of Divine Providence and guidance. If that is not "grace," I don't know what is.

" [I]t would be peculiarly improper to omit in this first official act my fervent supplications to that Almighty Being who rules over the universe, who presides in the councils of nations, and whose providential aids can supply every human defect, that His benediction may consecrate to the liberties and happiness of the people of the United States a Government instituted by themselves for these essential purposes, and may enable every instrument employed in its administration to execute with success the functions allotted to his charge. In tendering this homage to the Great Author of every public and private good, I assure myself that it expresses your sentiments not less than my own, nor those of my fellow-citizens at large less than either. No people can be bound to acknowledge and adore the Invisible Hand which conducts the affairs of men more than those of the United States. Every step by which they have advanced to the character of an independent nation seems to have been distinguished by some token of providential agency; and in the important revolution just accomplished in the system of their united government the tranquil deliberations and voluntary consent of so many distinct communities from which the event has resulted can not be compared with the means by which most governments have been established without some return of pious gratitude, along with an humble anticipation of the future blessings which the past seem to presage. These reflections, arising out of the present crisis, have forced themselves too strongly on my mind to be suppressed. You will join with me, I trust, in thinking that there are none under the influence of which the proceedings of a new and free government can more auspiciously commence."


Not only was America won and founded on God's grace---Divine Providence---but Washington begs for its commencement under the same Divine Hand. That's the Big Picture. But we must read Washington carefully on this point---

"a Government instituted by themselves for these essential purposes..."


Man---America---is supposed to do something right and proper with God's grace. Man---America---institutes his government, not God. By all accounts, the American Constitution is the work of man, not God, even if enabled by God's grace.

That would still be the God-centric vision of liberty---it's man, not God, who gets his way in the Bible, especially in the Old Testament. God pulls, but man pushes. But I digress into orthodox theology...

We the living, in this 21st century, the modern age, think sentiments like George Washington's are outmoded and quaint. "Pious gratitude." How laughable. The continuation of Divine Providence smiling on America? Washington places his faith---or at least his hope in it---"an humble anticipation of the future blessings which the past seem[s] to presage..."

Contra The Founders, our 21st Century message seems to be this:

Thanks for the leg up on the Founding of America and all, God, but You can sit back now. We don't need Your grace anymore, we've got a Constitution. Man will take it from here.


God help us. [optional]

12 comments:

Pinky said...

George Washington was Worshipful Master of the main Masonic Lodge in the colonies.
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One of the peculiarities of lodge work and thinking has to do with the way the members see the world in which they live. More so that was true than it is today when Free Masonry has fallen so far off its original tracking. The very room in which lodge meetings are held is seen as the world in which men live.

The prayer George Washington gives in the out take sounds like something a worshipful master would have given.
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It seems that a strong case could be made that the U.S.A. was founded to be a Masonic Nation more so than a Christian Nation. There IS a big difference.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Oh?

Pinky said...

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One of the main problems that comes up when we look to Masonry for answers about history has to do with the way information is handed down from one generation to the next. It's all oral and, even then, represented in secret ritual.
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My "knowledge" comes from my masonic affiliations which would be considered hearsay. But, it must be possible to get some masonic history more readily than having to join the local masonic lodge in your community.
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As long as any person is familiar with seeking out original source material, there must be a place where F.&.A.M. history can be found in secular accounts.
.

Brad Hart said...

Thanks for the info on masonry, Pinky. Would you by chance be willing to make a post on masonry and the founding? It's a topic that we discuss very little of, and I would love to have your insight on the issue. Please consider it.

As for the oft-repeated argument of how religious were the founders, etc. I have considered the following: I DO NOT believe the founders (or the founding) to have been CHRISTIAN at their core, but perhaps they were CHRIST-LIKE.

Pinky said...

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Yes, Brad.
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I just ordered a book on Masonry and the Founding. When I have a chance to get into the book, I'll do a report for you.
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I know that Masonry claims it had a major role in America's Founding and, in particular, as a result of its secret nature.
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Without any reference material, it would be almost impossible to say much of anything.

Brad Hart said...

Ok then. We will look forward to your future post!

Tom Van Dyke said...

Well, I'm sure glad I wrote this post on the Freemasons. Thx for the comments!

Jonathan Rowe said...

Even if I don't see exactly eye to eye with the point, the post was very well written nonetheless.

Raven said...

Oh Tom...don't get your panties in a knot!

Tom Van Dyke said...

Well, Jon, my core counterargument is that grace is synonymous with Providence, and Lord knows the Founders spoke of Providence endlessly.

[The closing argument about today's America is admittedly gratuitous opinion.]

Pinky said...

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Seeing as we've brought the F&AM into this discussion, it might be of itnerest to note that American Masons set themselves apart from the Loyalists according to some oral history.
.

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Pinky said...

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How dumb can I get.
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I bought a book on the Founding and Free Masonry and didn't check it out first.

When the book arrived, I saw that David Barton is the author!

In spite of that, I am satisfied with it..

Why? Because it shows Barton up to be a person who twists the truth to say what he wants to be said.

As a 32nd degree Mason, a Noble of the Mystic Shrine, and a Knight Templar, I know that some of foundations on which he bases his "truths" is false.

Yet, he creates a perspective that helps us understand just how much Masonry was involved in the thinking of many of the Founders.

I have gained greater disrespect for Barton than ever before. The man is a charlatan.

I'll work on my paper.