Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Distorting the American Founding: Lying or just confused? And Who Cares?

Another great American periodical publishes
propaganda vs. historical truth

by Tom Van Dyke


No wonder
the great magazines are dying. If you want propaganda, you can get it somewheres else for free. Who would pay for it?

Case in point, a recent article in the Saturday Evening Post
that knows nothing about nothing, but it gets published anyway.

As way of background,

Once upon a time the Saturday Evening Post was an essential American publication, bought by many and read by "everybody." Covers by Norman Rockwell, trying to represent the America of the folks who bought it. The everyday people, the non-famous folks of Middle America who went to work every day, paid their taxes, and raised the next generation of Americans.

And they prayed, at least sometimes.




In 2009, the Saturday Evening Post, publishes once every two months these days.

Why?

Surely one reason for its fall is stuff like the recent article called "Faith in America," by a writer named Jack Feerick, that spits on those people praying in the Norman Rockwell painting.

It's hard to tell if Feerick is a liar or just ignorant about the facts of the American Founding, but he is wrongwrongwrong regardless.

Feerick starts out well enough:

By guaranteeing freedom of worship as a basic Constitutional right for all Americans, Jefferson and the rest of the Framers were attempting something entirely new. Almost miraculous, in fact.


Quite true. Many American colonists fled Britain seeking freedom of worship. Many of their descendants sought freedom from worship. Fair enough.

But Feerick's first and most appalling factual error as a journalist is this:

The Declaration of Independence, then, served not just as the founding document of the American Revolution, but as a balance of the influences of the Founders and the average citizen. It asserted our unalienable rights, endowed by our Creator. But this truth was not handed down in a mystical vision; rather it was self-evident, revealed by rational observation.

The declaration makes no further mention of God.


Oy.

The Declaration of Independence has four references to God, "endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights," plus:


"...the laws of nature and of nature's God"

"...Supreme Judge of the world..."

" firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence..."


Feerick continues:

The declaration makes no further mention of God. The Founders strove to emphasize that separation from England was an expression of human rights, rather than Divine Right.


Here Feerick makes an attempt to decouple rights from God, [and the colonists' actions from accountability to the "Supreme Judge of the world"] as if Jefferson never wrote

"...that these liberties are of the gift of God? That they are not to be violated but with His wrath?"


I'm not trying to catch the author Jack Feerick in a minor error of fact and performing a victory dance. What I am saying is that this guy has no idea of what he's talking about, and he's spreading his ignorance of the facts of the Founding to whatever readers are left of the storied Saturday Evening Post. He's building his case on a blatant error of fact.

The rest is garbage too:

"The time was ripe for change. This was the Age of Enlightenment, when advances in the sciences forced philosophers to reconsider humanity’s place in the universe. Educated men of the day, including Jefferson and other Founding Fathers, were attracted to Enlightenment ideals and beliefs, including Deism: the notion of a Creator whose existence could be deduced from His handiwork, but who took no active part in human affairs — God as absentee landlord."


Outside of General Ethan Allen and Thomas Paine, whose Age of Reason outraged the Founding generation, virtually nobody, not Jefferson nor John Adams nor George Washington nor Ben Franklin nor any other of the 100 or so Founders believed that God was an "absentee landlord."

Contra Feerick, the time was ripe for change certainly, but it didn't include exiling God from human affairs. In their near-universal belief in Divine Providence, the Founders were far more religious about the Founding of America than we as a whole are in 2009. George Washington, no Holy Roller, said in his first inaugural address, founding the USA:


Such being the impressions under which I have, in obedience to the public summons, repaired to the present station, it 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.


Compliments and hat-tip to Gary Kowalski, who was quoted in the article:

“The Founders believed that religion could be a healthy force in society — if it were exercised within a zone of personal autonomy,” says Kowalski.


Oh, I think Mr. Kowalski is not quite right in his phrasing of the question. Religious conscience was never exiled to the ghetto of "personal autonomy." From the Declaration of Independence to Washington's first inaugural address to Lincoln's second inaugural address, America has always hoped not that God was on our side, but that we were on God's side.

Do you want to defend Feerick's thesis, Gary? It didn't even get the facts of Declaration of Independence right. Me, I'd be sending an angry email to Mr. Feerick or a Letter to the Editor of the Saturday Evening Post distancing myself and my professional reputation from this stank as much as would be possible.
_________

15 comments:

Angie Van De Merwe said...

I like the way you said that ..."God was not on our side, but we were one God's side." Do you mean that our form of government is the best?

As has been said before, the Founder were not evangelicals, or "born again". The Puritans didn't even believe in "born again" experiential faith, as the Puritans had a 'form" and way of living that was their "christianity'. This is what some of the Restorationists want to "go back to". Do we want 'witch trials" or as you said, "religios tests" to be full citizens?

CybrgnX said...

Although we were not and are not a Christian nation, the founders were religious and deist at a minimum. But they left the religious pressures in europe and wanted the state NOT to dictate the religion and give as much freedom of or from religion as possible. Too bad their dream is collapsing around are ears today.

Jonathan Rowe said...

Well I would agree that Tom is being a bit hard on the article.

The Deist/DOI is certainly not correct; but it's a common misconception.

The reference to the God being mentioned once instead of 4 times in the DOI is a mistake too. But it could have been pointed out without the harsh ad hom.

Though I admit Chris Rodda, for whose work I have a great deal of respect, more or less does the same thing to David Barton.

jimmiraybob said...

I noticed that there's a comments section following the on-line article. Why not take it there?

Tom Van Dyke said...

For the record, I was quite hard on Jack Feerick, the article's author, for contributing to the miseducation of the American public.

And I'm quite angry about such bending of the facts, especially in mainstream publications. This article was crap, and what wasn't blatantly in error was misleading.

Crap.

However, I was quite easy on American Creation contributor Gary Kowalski, unless "Oh, I think Mr. Kowalski is not quite right in his phrasing of the question" is not gentle enough.

As for driving people off, I imagine I do drive off the ones who don't like my positions but can't defend their own with fact or honest argument.

People like Jack Feerick, I imagine. Heh.

Nice to hear from you again, Lindsey.

Revolutionary Spirits said...

Yes, I'd defend the generalization that the framers felt religion should be exercised within the zone of personal autonomy. Within this zone, where the individual was enjoined to heed the dictates of conscience, the individual should be held sacrosanct against intrusions by government. Of course, this did not mean that faith should be privatized. Organized religion could be a constructive force in promoting public virtue, and citizens were at liberty to bring their views into the public square. But in the United States, there would be no official creed or national church. Matters of faith, belief and doubt were, in this sense, considered to be entirely personal.

One's religious identity--whether Catholic, Quaker, Jew or skeptic--was distinct from one's national identity as an American, where all enjoyed freedom of worship in the private domain and equal rights as citizens within the public sphere.

I don't think these should be controversial statements at all, and I'm not sure why Mr. Van Dyke takes such exception to them.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Thank you, Gary, and that's fine. I did feel that your quote, taken in the greater context of Feerick's article didn't leave that impression, since the article minimized religion at the Founding [which is why his mischaracterization of God in the D of I was so important---"only one" mention is quite different than four.

The declaration makes no further mention of God. The Founders strove to emphasize that separation from England was an expression of human rights, rather than Divine Right. “The Founders believed that religion could be a healthy force in society — if it were exercised within a zone of personal autonomy,” says Kowalski.

Feerick made a bunk attempt to decouple rights from God, [and the colonists' actions from accountability to the "Supreme Judge of the world"] as if Jefferson never wrote

"...that these liberties are of the gift of God? That they are not to be violated but with His wrath?"

Your longer form is ace, and he should have used it.

Of course, this did not mean that faith should be privatized. Organized religion could be a constructive force in promoting public virtue, and citizens were at liberty to bring their views into the public square. But in the United States, there would be no official creed or national church. Matters of faith, belief and doubt were, in this sense, considered to be entirely personal.

is spot-on, and indeed is relevant to the discussion we've been having about Marci Hamilton

http://writ.news.findlaw.com/hamilton/20091112.html

You explicated your thesis well here, although my question was whether you wanted to defend Feerick's. I submit it's built on bad facts and therefore a false premise. I would not want to be associated with his errors.

Thx for the reply. My anger was directed at him, not you, and I apologize for what seems to some as hitting you with some of the shrapnel.

Jonathan Rowe said...

The thing that disappoints me the most about the blog -- and it's not that I am disappointed with the people because I know we have busy lives -- is that we try to get new blood, it's mainly Tom, Brad and I who post most regularly.

Generally speaking, in order to be widely read, blogs need to keep moving with regular posts by the day.

But do let me note that I appreciate Rev. Kowalski's contributions and the fact that he tries to make something like one post a week, or more than one a month.

Magpie and Mark in Spokane also get notable mention; though I wish they'd post more.

If would be nice if Jared, Kristo, Ray, Brian, Paul (who have made great contributions in the past) and others posted more.

Perhaps we need to find even more new blood.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Well, I brought in a PhD historian as a contributor recently, but one of the contributors [not me] drove him off.

But so be it. To hang with a blog as diverse as this one, with atheists, agnostics, Catholics, Calvinists and even Mormons all well-represented, well, it takes a special kind of person. Those who can't tolerate other points of view can find one more to their liking elsewhere.

Cheers to all those here gathered. Quality, if not quantity.

Brad Hart said...

Gee Tom, I thought he left because he "didn't have the time."

Bringing up the past, eh! At least we're not diving back into the "epitome of worthlessness" pool.

Right?

And Lindsey, I'm not deleting your posts. Talk to your friend.

Gee, we are a dysfunctional family!

Tom Van Dyke said...

Actually, Brad, that was a tickle, and as far as I'll go in self-defense from attacks that are nothing short of troll behavior. [I'd have wished for a little more back, though. It was a crap article and the attacks on me personally were unfounded.]

All I was saying is that if the PhD in question couldn't handle it, goodbye and good luck. This blog does very well, and the courtesy, civility, and downright good and productive conversation in this 80-comment [and still going] thread

http://americancreation.blogspot.com/2009/11/testing-christian-nation-thesis-with.html

proves what a great blog this is, with a diversity seldom matched elsewhere on the internet.

It was his loss, not ours.

OK, me brother?

;-)

Brad Hart said...

Touche!

And I agree...the diversity is our greatest strength...to hell with those who can't accept that.

And for the record, I do believe I had your back in the above exchange...at least to a degree...I'm not going to meddle anymore in these lame-ass blog family fights. I get enough domestic calls at my real job.

Tom Van Dyke said...

The troll in question isn't part of the family. Members of the family take part in the discussions, with real ideas, facts and arguments.

And if they post on our mainpage, they return to the comments sections to answer challenges and disagreements. It was Mr. Rowe who recommended I go mainpage when a contributor refused or declined to engage in the combox.

But I consciously backed off of "epitome of worthlessness" type rhetoric this time around. In fact, I left several things unsaid. Hey, I'm tryin'---this was kid gloves.

And as previously noted, my anger was at Jack Feerick's article, especially appearing in a mainstream [presumably neutral] publication. I don't troll the internet for the lefty or atheist equivalents of World Net Daily. Let them all tell each other their same old lies if that's what floats their boat.

Such places [WND included] are partisan ghettos, and if people want to isolate themselves in their ideological ghettos, where never is heard a discouraging word, that's their choice.

By contrast, American Creation is the public square, and I'm proud of that, but it takes a lotta work to keep it clean.

This thread was mostly ruined by trollishness. If I'm going to take the time to write a post, and take the time to return to the comments section to defend my ideas, we gotta keep the riffraff out, messin' up my thread.

King of Ireland said...

I thought at first you were calling Gary a no nothing. Then I re-read it and realized you were calling the article no nothing. All you stated was that he should take his name from it.

I think in fairness if Barton is going to get blasted that others that do the same thing on the other end should be too. I think that is all Tom is trying to do here.

The most widely read and commented on threads are the ones that stir the pot. I also personally learn the most from them. Frazer and I went at it pretty heated at times but it was a productive discussion in the end. I even brought up Hitler and it did not turn bad. In fact it was one of the best discussions I have seen on the internet that ensued.

Tom Van Dyke said...

I've gone back and made some minor corrections for clarity in the original post, getting Gary Kowalski more out of the line of fire.

Again, my apologies to him for my imprecision of phrasing.

I have also removed the trollish ad hom comments [and the responses to them] in the discussion section. It reads just fine now.