Thursday, May 14, 2009

Peter Lillback on Washington's Religion

The following is author and Christian Nation apologist Peter Lillback on the religion of George Washington.

Part I:

Part II:

Lillback states, "There is not one place in 37 volumes of Washington's letters where ever once he says he is a deist." And he would be right. There is a flip side to that coin, however. As I have mentioned before, Lillback tries to prove Washington's Christianity by citing his "written prayers." The problem is that NOT ONE of those "written prayers" contains a reference to Jesus.

Lillback also states, "All the evidence suggests that Washington was an 18th cntury Anglican." Ok. And??? This isn't a big claim to make. Of course he was! He was baptised an Anglican at birth. It's his adulthood that we must look at. And what did he do? Avoided confirmation, communion, etc.

The door swings both ways, Mr. Lillback.

I think this video explains perfectly the agenda of the Christian Nationalists. Lillback says, "Where you begin is where you end." Is it any wonder why people like Lillback are working so hard to "reclaim America for Christ," and why they look to a revision of history to do so?


Tom Van Dyke said...

Oh, How I wish you'd addressed Dr. Lillback's claims in the second video, Brad.

I have no idea if they're accurate, but that's why videos suck. Donkeys. Plus posting so many videos is now slowing down our website, at least for those of us who are content with early-21st century computers.

As you can see, this has sparked zero discussion. What of that 70-page document Washington wrote but never sent to Congress? "Holy writ?"

I have no idea. I haven't heard argument and counterargument. Nothing is to be learned here.


Brad Hart said...

That's not my only goal. The more posts = more recognition on the WWW.

We've gotta work on widening the fish net as well.

Jonathan Rowe said...


That 70 page document, I do believe, (if I am not mistaken) was NOT written in GW's hand. Ray Soller, if you search back here, dealt with it on these threads. It was a proposed address that GW DIDN'T use, most likely because it was totally out of his character.

It was SO out of his character that Jared Sparks felt free to tear it up into pieces and give those pieces to his friends. That's why the piece from which Lillback quotes is officially a "fragment."

Likewise the 1783 Circular to the States was not written in GW's hand. It speaks of the "benign light of revelation" and refers informally to JC as the "divine author of our holy religion." Though, I think it is characteristic of the thought of the age (it got props from the Arian Richard Price).

The Circular and one other address to Del. Indians (also not written in GW's hand) where he refers to "the religion of Jesus Christ" are the ONLY TWO places in GW's public or private writings where he refers to JC by name OR person. And in his private letters (replete with "Providence" talk) GW NEVER refers to JC by NAME OR PERSON.

Brad Hart said...

Jon is right about the 70 page document. In fact, I believe it was Waldman who noted this in his book. In addition, (and I don't have the source with me) Lillback actually recanted this claim later on.

Tom Van Dyke said...

So we're putting up work that Lillback has withdrawn then criticizing him for it? I don't get it, fellas.

Now, it appears that as an amateur historian, Lillback made some sourcing mistakes. However, when he writes:

The definitive change in scholarly attitude seems to have occurred in 1963 when Professor Paul Boller wrote his book entitled George Washington and Religion. Professor Boller wrote, “Broadly speaking, of course, Washington can be classified as a Deist.”...the Lillbacks of the world would never have started if not for the poor and contentious work of the professional academy. It seems that regardless of Dr. Lillback's overreaching, Professor Boller---a professional historian---is in for some criticism, as Washington was clearly not a deist.

If the door is to swing both ways, of course.

Brad Hart said...

Remember, it's just a blog.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Just trying to find diamonds in the dunghill, Brad. Since I don't know Lillback's work, I wanted to ask what the point of all this was.

It seems the "scholars" are as bad as the advocates sometimes.

Brad Hart said...

Like I mentioned before, my main purpose for the videos is to widen American Creation's net...bring in more readers, etc. I think we need a mix of the "scholarly" and the "mindless." An appeal to all levels of readership on this issue is important. We shouldn't assume that everyone is an "expert" or even has a working knowledge of this topic. I welcome the intellectually challenging pieces, but also hope to embrace the simple.

Jonathan Rowe said...

Lillback's book has lots of great stuff; it just shoots too far in trying to claim GW as an orthodox Trinitarian or otherwise imply that he thought the Bible the inerrant, infallible Word of God.

Lindsey Shuman said...

I have an idea, Tom. If you don't like videos then don't comment on them. I for one enjoy them. It adds a different dimension to the blog.

Tom Van Dyke said...

If we're to have these videos, and it seems inescapable, I prefer to provide the viewer some background of our video "guests," so that the non-"expert" can tell the "scholarly" from the "mindless," the principled disagreement from the driveby attack. Since time and place seldom afford me the joy of sitting through the actual videos, I share what I know or discover about their principals, so that the viewer has a better idea of what he or she is viewing. But thx for your idea, Lindsey.


Jon, the claim of Washington as orthodox Trinitarian is certainly too circumstantial [and indeed problematic---GW not taking communion, not asking for last rites], but is it asserted one way or the other that Washington believed the Bible inerrant?

It would certainly be good to dispute such claims if Lillback or others make them; on the other hand, it would be equally unfounded to claim the GW found the Bible errant.

It would be dishonest to claim all uncertainties for one's own POV. Negative inference is a helpful tool, but the absence of x does not prove y.

[Let us recall that even if GW rejected the Trinity, many unitarian arguments against the Trinity in that era that were based on scripture.]

Lindsey Shuman said...

Just don't worry about the videos. The rest of us can take care of that.

Tom Van Dyke said...

I'm not worried, Lindsey. It's just a blog, or so I'm told...

Jonathan Rowe said...


Are you sure Lillback recanted on the "fragment"? From what I have studied, he did not.

That Lillback (and a few other Christian Nationalist) stress that fragment (even though Jared Sparks tore it up because it was so "not Washington") I think is clear evidence of cherry picking.

Though I give them the benefit of the doubt with the Circular. GW RARELY spoke in terms of "revelation"; but what I glean from the Circular is that GW believed in a "benign" and "enlightened" revelation from the Bible; that is, he -- or the aid who wrote the address for him -- speaking for the nation, endorses the Judeo-Christian Bible as "revelation" in a general sense WITHOUT taking a position on whether the Bible was inerrant or infallible. This is consistent with the more orthodox idoea that the Bible is infallible, or the less orthodox idea that the Bible is partially (or not entirely) inspired. Even though the Circular was written by an aid, I still see it as a lowest-common-denominator abstraction, one that is more reflective of GW's political philosophy than the 70 page document that Sparks tore up.

Also as I noted above, the Circular in terming Jesus "divine" is consistent with Arianism and Trinitarianism (maybe GW was an Arian?). And -- I know this might be a stretch -- perhaps Socianism which views Jesus as 100% man but on a "divine mission." Referring to Jesus as "divine" MIGHT refer to his mission, not his person. And in that sense perhaps even Jefferson could agree with it.

Tom Van Dyke said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Tom Van Dyke said...

Jared Sparks [a rather militant unitarian, as I recall], was entitled to his opinion, but Lillback is not obliged to accept it, nor are we.

"Divine author of our blessed religion" is not to be sneezed at, either.

Not that I'm a big GW-was-a-Christian guy. I just question the analytical method here.

[I deleted the second half of this post to insert it on our mainpage.---TVD]

Jonathan Rowe said...

Perhaps we need to revisit Mr. Soller's old post. It wasn't just Sparks, it was Madison (another probably unitarian) who bad mouthed the 70 page document as not characteristic of GW.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Well, this gets curiouser and curiouser. I want to hear more. But I have no problem rejecting Sparks' and Madison's editing, as all men have agendas, eh?

But using my own method, I would submit the following:

a) That if authentic, although it might be viewed as Washington, the "sly old fox," finally revealing his heart after keeping quiet as the unifier of the nation, the Father of Our Country---it would be a post-presidential document, and less valuable in viewing the public Washington, who is the truly important Washington.

b) That Madison's rejection might tell us more about the private Madison than almost all of his own "sly fox" writings.

Jonathan Rowe said...

Here is Ray's post which discusses the fragment.

Brian Tubbs said...

I'm probably going to do a formal post on this soon, but I think we need to be careful in assigning pejorative labels like "Christian Nationalist." The term "Christian nation" means different things to different people.