Monday, August 2, 2010

Note to Evangelical on George Washington's Religion

I was prompted to enter this discussion forum because my work was being cited there. Here is one of the notes I left:

Matthew,

... [M]y point about Glenn Beck wasn't to poison the well but rather get folks to think what is it that Beck, insofar as he fully understands what Lillback wrote (like most folks I doubt he read all 1200 pages), probably values about the book.

That GW was more religious and religion friendly, less deistic than most scholar conclude? Sure, most Mormons would value that. But that GW believed in orthodox Trinitarian doctrine? No, because Mormons reject that.

Re labels, David Holmes in his book "The Faiths of the Founding Fathers" (published by Oxford) labels the creed of the "key Founders" (the first 4 Presidents and Franklin) "Christian-Deism" as distinguished from the "non-Christian Deism" of Paine and Allen.

That is, all of the "Christian-Deists" were affiliated with Churches that professed orthodoxy, and these "Deists" believed in an active Providence, and seemed comfortable with the "Christian" label. Paine, Allen and Palmer were the ones who probably didn't consider themselves "Christians" and wanted nothing to do with the Bible. But even with them, there are instances to doubt their pure "Deism." They were all raised in a Christian culture and to an outsider looking in, most Muslims or Buddhists for instance, would label all of them from Washington to Witherspoon to Jefferson to Paine, Allen and Palmer, "Christians." Much in the same way that we look at someone like Saddam Hussein and conclude he was a "Muslim" when best that I can tell, he was a "Muslim-Deist" and a secular tyrant. (Hussein believed in religious pluralism, sadly, precisely because he didn't take his Muslim religion as seriously as for instance, Bin Laden does.)

The reason why, I think, we go thru these distinctions is when evangelical mega-churches and orthodox theologians get in the "history," culture-war game they see these issues thru their strict theological standards. Was Washington (and Jefferson, and J. Adams, etc.) a "Christian" according to certain cultural, historical and sociological standards? Yes, of course. Did he meet the minimal standards of "Christian" according to the strict test that evangelicals require? I seriously doubt it for the reason I lay out in my original article.

9 comments:

Tom Van Dyke said...

What was interesting was the original post. I never heard this one:

In 1774, the Massachusetts Provincial Congress declared, “Resistance to tyranny becomes the Christian and social duty of each individual.”

After that, the larger thrust of the post was ignored, and it fell into the small weeds of Lillback's book on Washington and some hyper-Christian insisting no Trinity, no Christianity.

Perhaps a valid point on Saddam, though.

King of Ireland said...

I know TV history is dangerous but I was watching the series Rome on HBO the other night and Brutus and the other Senators that killed Caesar called it the honorable thing to do and insisted that it had to be done on the Senate floor as a statement to that fact for the people. Ciccero was one of the group.

King of Ireland said...

Jon,

I thought your response was very well put.

Brad Hart said...

King:

Is that the newer series or the older one? I'm debating if its worth getting HBO to watch.

Pinky said...

.
For so-called "orthodox" Christians of the day to judge any of the Founding Fathers one way or the other as Christian really calls for a judgment call on whether or not such "orthodox" Christians qualify as Christian themselves and by whose standards.
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Our unalienable rights give each one of us the authority to make the call.
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Who is to say any of us knows the final answer?
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BTW, L.S. deals with the question.
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Tom Van Dyke said...

I know TV history is dangerous but I was watching the series Rome on HBO the other night and Brutus and the other Senators that killed Caesar called it the honorable thing to do and insisted that it had to be done on the Senate floor as a statement to that fact for the people. Ciccero was one of the group.

You mean vs. the historical facts that Cicero was 62 years old and didn't stab anybody, and that nobody told him of the plot, possibly because the Great Orator was also a blabbermouth?

__________________

For so-called "orthodox" Christians of the day to judge any of the Founding Fathers one way or the other as Christian really calls for a judgment call on whether or not such "orthodox" Christians qualify as Christian themselves and by whose standards.

Mostly, they didn't, although Jefferson took some heat in the election of 1800. Everybody knew Franklin didn't care about doctrine, but he got his place at the table.

As Jon is fond of pointing out, a mouthy clergyman named James Renwick Willson railed against the Founders [especially Washington] being infidels

http://americancreation.blogspot.com/2008/07/correction-in-historic-record-needed-on.html

in 1832. [Willson sounds a lot like the hyper-Christians Jon likes to quote, BTW. Great essay by JR here, though.]

"His most famous sermon, "Prince Messiah," [the same one Jon writes about] brought forth much controversy. The Legislature in Albany, New York, discussed it for a whole sitting and denounced Willson in the most violent terms. His prayers, which they feared, were banished from the Legislature by unanimous vote. The sermon was burned in a public bonfire and Willson was burnt in effigy before the State House door. He died September 29, 1853."

In other words, just another wack job. Normal people didn't start up this theology stuff; it was usually the clergy, which is why the Founding era didn't like clergy. Burning Willson in effigy gives you a good idea of the "American mind."


Our unalienable rights give each one of us the authority to make the call.

Protestantism, by its own tenets, makes that inevitable. Once you pitch the Pope [actaully the Magisterial authority of the Roman Chrurch], there is no magisterium in Protestantism that can dictate orthodoxy.

Who is to say any of us knows the final answer?
.
BTW, L.S. deals with the question.


I had no idea, Pinky. Please share.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Willson:

"Washington was raised up, in the providence of God, like Cyrus of Persia, and qualified for great achievements.—He was an able captain, and an instrument of much temporal good, as a statesman. Few, if any, prominent men, in any nation, have been endowed by the common gifts of the Spirit, with more ennobling qualities than the first President of this nation. His fame fills the civilized world. It is to the honor of the Protestant Religion, that this country produced such a man. What was Bolivar compared with Washington? All this praise may be awarded to one who, like the amiable young man in the gospel, "went away from Jesus sorrowful, because he had great possessions."

There is no satisfactory evidence that Washington was a professor of the Christian religion, or even a speculative believer in its divinity, before he retired from public life.[6] In no state paper, in no private letter, in no conversation, is he known to have declared himself a believer in the Holy Scriptures, as the word of God. General eulogy, by a Weems, or a Ramsey, will not satisfy an enlightened enquirer. The faith of the real believer in the word of God, is a principle so powerfully operative, that you cannot conceal "its light under a bushel."

King of Ireland said...

Brad,

I think it is from 2006 or so. I liked it. If you ever watched the Tudors on Showtime it is about the same. Maybe done a little better though. I love that stuff because it brings the history alive.

King of Ireland said...

"You mean vs. the historical facts that Cicero was 62 years old and didn't stab anybody, and that nobody told him of the plot, possibly because the Great Orator was also a blabbermouth?"

You know what I think looking back that he was not there. He was always complaining to Brutus though. At least in the show. Like I said, not the best place to get historical facts for sure but entertaining.