Thursday, January 17, 2019

Kidd on GW's Faith

From this post in 2017, Thomas Kidd examines "Ron Chernow’s extraordinary 2010 biography of Washington" and makes some observations about George Washington's faith. A taste:
For his own part, Washington’s Anglican faith was moderate and utterly reserved. That is how we should account for Washington’s irregular church attendance and his failure to take communion, Chernow explains. He never liked to make a public show of his own faith. This is also the reason why Chernow doubts that Washington was ever seen praying as depicted in the popular painting “George Washington in Prayer at Valley Forge.”
“The reason to doubt the story’s veracity is not Washington’s lack of faith,” Chernow writes, “but the typically private nature of his devotions.” Chernow’s portrayal of Washington’s near-secretive faith seems quite plausible, although it would still not account for Washington’s strange decision hardly ever to utter or write the name of Jesus Christ in his thousands of surviving letters and public statements.
Yes this is true. In the perhaps 20,000 pages of words that George Washington left us, the name "Jesus Christ" is mentioned only once by name and one other time by example. Both in public addresses written by aides, but given under Washington's hand. In none of Washington's private letters is the name or example of Jesus Christ invoked. Though more generic God words are replete throughout Washington's recorded public and private words.

Sunday, January 6, 2019

What Was Unique About the American Founding and Religion

The American founding had a number of novel things to it. Though it wasn't entirely novel. For instance, the American Revolution wasn't quite as novel as say, the French Revolution which it inspired. On religion (correct me if I am mistaken), every single modern Western European nation state at the time was in some way formally connected to an official Christian sect.

At the state level, America post founding still retained some "state established" churches, which were on their way out.

But at the federal level, there was nothing. George Washington, America's first President, was like many founders, formally/nominally affiliated with the Anglican then Episcopalian Church. "The Church of England" against which America had then separated.

When Washington spoke to the different religious "factions," he had a method of seeming to be all things to all people. For instance, recent events remind of us of Islam's place in the mind of America's founders. With the assistance of his Secretary of State, Thomas Jefferson, Washington delivered remarks to Morocco where he claimed to "adore" (his word) the same God as the Muslim leader.

Now, one could write this off as something "diplomatic." Perhaps it was. It's certainly the kind of sentiment today that leaders in pluralistic societies use. But back then, before America, every single head of state was connected to an official church. And it was expected that in their public utterances, they would endorse that particular brand of faith. Not generic, bridge building, monotheism.

That's something that arguably Washington and the other early American Presidents invented. And perhaps they were so effective at it because such a sentiment mirrored their privately held religious convictions which focused more on commonly held doctrines of monotheism and virtue, while if not downplaying, outright removing other more divisive sectarian "doctrine."

Friday, January 4, 2019

On "Jefferson's Qur'an"


Missing from the current "happy face" reporting on new congresspersons swearing in on "Jefferson's Qur'an" is that his 1734 translation by George Sale is accompanied by a preface that is highly critical of Islam as serious religion.



Image result for jefferson's koran



The Protestants alone are able to attack the Koran with success; and for them, I trust, Providence has reserved the glory of its overthrow.


and


...for how criminal soever Mohammed may have been in imposing a false religion on mankind...





The Qur'an of course, borrows liberally from the stories of the Bible and indeed contains many common sense truths of its own; thus the cover page itself quotes St. Augustine, "Nulla falsa doctrina est quae non aliquid veri permisceat," that is, “There is no false doctrine that does not contain some truth.”

So the front page of the very "Jefferson Qur'an" these folks are swearing upon calls its contents "false doctrine" mixed with some truth. The irony is complete. And so it goes also in our current world of "news": We may get the truth, but seldom the whole truth.

Full text here, courtesy of Gutenberg.org.





Jefferson's Koran

So Rep.-elect Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) will be sworn in using Thomas Jefferson's copy of the Koran. There is a myth going around that Jefferson owned a copy of that book because he wanted to better understand the enemy.

The problem with this claim is that it is not true. I've studied the Founding record meticulously and found NO evidence that Jefferson was interested in the Koran because he saw Islam as an ENEMY faith or to better understand a threat.

That's not to say that certain Islamic forces didn't cause threats and other problems for Jefferson and other Founders. The best someone like Robert Spencer could argue is that the Founding Fathers were naive for NOT concluding Islam qua Islam was a threat.

Read the Treaty of Tripoli where the Founders conceded the American government was not in any sense founded on the Christian religion and as such they sought peaceful relations with Muslims.

Jefferson, J. Adams, Franklin and Washington all thought Jews, Christians and Muslims worshipped the same God. The Founding Fathers arguably saw Roman Catholicism as more of a threat than Islam. And they were far more concerned with the persecution and bloodshed that in-fights among Christian sects had been causing than from Islam.