Friday, July 18, 2014

Lillback v. Boston on Washington's Faith

Peter Lillback takes on Rob Boston on George Washington's faith.

I don't know a whole lot about this dialog, but I wonder if Lillback's paper, which is reproduced on Wallbuilders, was an exclusive to that site. Perhaps merely associating with David Barton's Wallbuilders is enough to damage one's credibility ... or not. (Just a thought.)

Ultimately, I agree with Lillback that the record demonstrates Washington a man of prayer. According to the theory, 1. Washington was a theist; 2. Since the God of theism intervenes in the affairs of man; 3. Praying is a rational activity.

The record does not prove, however, that Washington was a "Christian" according to Lillback's standards. Indeed, as American Creation's Brad Hart has shown, according to Lillback's own evidence, Washington never prays, either publicly or privately, in exclusively Christian language (i.e., in "Jesus' name").

The best Lillback can offer is Washington, unlike fellow Anglican Thomas Jefferson, agreed to be a Godfather where he'd have to go through high church Anglican rituals that required the Godfather to recite orthodox language. (But elsewhere Lillback claims Washington rejected high church Anglicanism, which is the same thing as stating you reject official Anglican doctrine while simultaneously remaining a member of the club.)

Jefferson was obsessively compulsively anti-Trinitarian; Washington didn't appear to be. In what exists of Washington's extant words -- tens of thousands of pages of them, loaded with God talk -- explicit thoughts on the doctrine of the Trinity and cognate orthodox doctrine, are entirely absent.


Tom Van Dyke said...

Washington was always image-conscious, always aware that his every public pronouncement and action would be examined by sectarian types looking to claim him as one of their own.

[Likewise, an examination of Ronald Reagan's record shows precious little commitment to Christian doctrines or sects. Eisenhower, too, I think.]

From Jefferson's diary:

"Feb. 1. Dr. Rush tells me that he had it from Asa Green that when the clergy addressed General Washington on his departure from the Government, it was observed in their consultation that he had never on any occasion said a word to the public which showed a belief in the Christian religion and they thought they should so pen their address as to force him at length to declare publicly whether he was a Christian or not. They did so. However, he observed, the old fox was too cunning for them. He answered every article in their address particularly except that, which he passed over without notice…. "

Jefferson goes on to add

"I know that Gouverneur Morris, who pretended to be in his secrets and believed himself to be so, has often told me that General Washington believed no more in the system (Christianity) than he did."

But that's hearsay and I'm not going to commit to it as truth. but the first story sounds about right.

Good arg:

"Washington has been a screen on which Americans have projected their religious wishes and aversions." ---Richard Brookhiser [a National Review conservative]

Bill Fortenberry said...

Jefferson's account was denied by the ministers who had been present at the time of the address. Here's what Dr. White said when he read Jefferson's statement:

Within a day or two of the above there was another address by many ministers of different persuasions, being prepared by Doctor Green and delivered by me. It has been a subject of opposite statements, owing to a passage in the posthumous works of Mr. Jefferson. He says (giving Doctor Rush for his author, who is said to have it from Doctor Green), that the said address was intended to elicit the opinion of the President on the subject of the Christian religion. Doctor Green has denied this in his periodical work called "The Christian Advocate," and his statement is correct. Doctor Rush may have misunderstood Doctor Green, or the former may have been misunderstood by Mr. Jefferson; or the whole may have originated with some individual of the assembled ministers, who mistook his own conceptions for the sense of the body. The said two documents are in the Philadelphia newspapers of the time.

Bill Fortenberry said...

By the way, the above link is to vol. 12 of Jared Sparks' Writings of George Washington. Pages 399-411 of that book are devoted to the question of Washington's religious beliefs, and I agree with Sparks' conclusion that Washington was a Christian.

Tom Van Dyke said...

1. Name calling: “a bunch of religious rights activists”; “the fundamentalist zealots of
today’s Religious Right”; “their band of would-be theocrats”.
2. Ad hominem attacks: “that great theologian and moral leader Newt Gingrich”; “Bishop
Harry Jackson, a gay-bashing pastor from Maryland”; “anti-abortion activist Lila Rose”;
“Jim Garlow, a California pastor (and Gingrich crony) who seeks to politicize
fundamentalist churches”; “Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council (an
outfit designated a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center)”.
Now these might be relevant considerations if he were evaluating the participants for board
membership of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State. But they have
absolutely nothing to do with the historical question if George Washington was a man of prayer.

Tom Van Dyke said...

NB: the above was from Lillback's paper.

Regardless of Washington's [un?]belief in Christian doctrines such as the Trinity, he was a deep believer in "providential history," which has much more in common with Lillback's religious right than Rob Boston's anti-religious left.

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...GWash, 1st Inaugural

The "homage" is tantamount to "prayer"

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

and if GWash's view of America falls short of a "Christian" nation, it's light years away from the likes of Rob Boston's vision of a "secular" one, that of the "godless" Constitution.

Washington's America is anything but "godless."