Friday, April 12, 2013

Barber Passes on Muhlenberg Myth

Ed Brayton informs us here.

5 comments:

Tom Van Dyke said...

"It’s hardly surprising that Barber would repeat a well-worn myth, of course; his entire religion is based upon one."

I don't think we need to link to crap like this.

wsforten said...

The article by Chris Rodda that Brayton links to is very intriguing. She seems to have the following objections to the Muhlenberg account. She claims that:

1. Muhlenberg did not take his robe off to reveal a uniform underneath.
2. The disrobing account originated in 1849.
3. There is not contemporaneous source for the disrobing account.
4. Kercheval did not mention disrobing.
5. Thacher did not mention disrobing.
6. Men of the 8th Virginia regiment did not enlist on the same day as the sermon.
7. The sermon was not preached in January.

Now, let's say that Ms. Rodda is correct in all of these statements. What does that leave us with? The facts which Ms. Rodda has not challenged are:

1. Muhlenberg left pastoring in order to fight in the Revolutionary War.
2. Before leaving, he preached a well attended farewell sermon.
3. He wore his military uniform in the pulpit.
4. He gathered many volunteers from the churches in the area.
5. His volunteers formed the 8th Virginia regiment.

I assume that it is obvious to everyone that Mr. Barber could have used just these five facts that are not disputed and still made the exact same point that he made in his article. I've not read Barton's comments on Muhlenberg, but I would imagine that his point could also be supported with just these five facts. This means that Ms. Rodda's complaints are not about any of the critical components of the account. She is merely objecting to the references to some of the minutiae that may or may not have occurred alongside the main event of a pastor leaving his church in order to fight in the continental army and encouraging a large number of his congregants to join him.

If we consider this account further, however, we will discover that Ms. Rodda is on much less secure footing than Barber and Barton. For starters, it is important to note that while Ms. Rodda insists that there is no contemporaneous account of Muhlenberg removing his robes to reveal his uniform, yet she has not been able to produce a single account which contradicts this claim. There is no record anywhere of someone noting how odd it was that Muhlenberg was not wearing his robe during his farewell address. The clerical robe was required attire for Anglican ministers at that time(1), and for a pastor to preach without it would have been scandalous. Surely this would have been mentioned in the newspapers of the time, but there is no such account anywhere in the historical record. The only thing that we find is Thracher's casual statement that Muhlenberg wore his uniform in the pulpit. Given that the robe was required attire and that there is no record of Muhlenberg causing a scandal by preaching without a robe, it seems only reasonable to conclude that he donned his robe over his uniform.

Once we reach the conclusion that it is likely that Muhlenberg wore his robe over his uniform, then it becomes very reasonable to follow that conclusion with the idea that he probably took off his robe as soon as he finished his address and abdicated the pulpit of his church for the last time. Granted, this is not an airtight historical proof that the 1849 account is correct, but it does demonstrate that this account is consistent with the uncontested facts recorded in 1778.

Tom Van Dyke said...

The facts which Ms. Rodda has not challenged are:

1. Muhlenberg left pastoring in order to fight in the Revolutionary War.
2. Before leaving, he preached a well attended farewell sermon.
3. He wore his military uniform in the pulpit.
4. He gathered many volunteers from the churches in the area.
5. His volunteers formed the 8th Virginia regiment.


I had the same thoughts, Mr. Fortenberry. The problem with reading left-wing critics of the "Christian America" thesis is that people end up even more ignorant than before they read the "debunking"--in this case being left with the impression that there's "no there there."

There certainly is a "there there" in the case of Muhlenberg, who did leave the pulpit and did form a regiment that fought in the American Revolution.

As wsforten shows us here, it's a shame that one half-truth gets replaced by another.

We watch too damn much Law & Order.

Chris Rodda said...

Actually, I do contest that Muhlenberg wore his uniform at his farewell sermon. A Lutheran minister (he was Lutheran, not Anglican) just would not have done that, and there is no contemporaneous account saying that he did. The Lutheran historian in PBS's "History Detectives" investigation of this story was in agreement with this. The argument that I haven't been able to produce a single account which contradicts this claim is ridiculous. Is that how you do historical research? Anything is true unless you find something saying it wasn't? OK ... Thomas Jefferson and George Washington sat around snorting coke ... prove that they didn't.

And the fact that the regiment Muhlenberg formed contained soldiers who happened to be members of other churches in the area means nothing. Every military unit was full of soldiers who happened to be members of churches in whatever area they came from. This had nothing to do with Muhlenberg's preaching.

The Muhlenberg myth is nothing more than a story made up in the 1840s, most likely to combat the prejudice against German immigrants.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Another debate over trivia. Muhlenberg left his pastorship to command a regiment, many raised from his hometown, and during the course of the war became a rallying point for ethnic German support.