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.
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.
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..."
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.