Sunday, December 27, 2020

From 2018, Gier reviews Lillback's GWSF

I missed this in 2018. The notable Unitarian Universalist scholar Nick Gier reviewed Peter Lillback's "George Washington's Sacred Fire," a massive tome which attempts to prove George Washington was an orthodox Trinitarian Christian. 

From Dr. Gier's review:

Washington and Jefferson: Both Nominal Anglicans

Lillback really has to stretch the evidence and indulge in a lot speculation to make Washington an orthodox, trinitarian Christian. Lillback likes to use syllogistic reasoning to refute previous Washington scholars. Here is the essence of his argument in the form of a syllogism: major premise: Anglicans are orthodox Christians; minor premise: Washington was an Anglican; therefore, Washington was an orthodox Christian.

Thomas Jefferson was also a vestryman in the Anglican church and attended church regularly throughout his life, but Lillback would never draw the conclusion that Jefferson was an orthodox Christian. This fact leads us to believe that the major premise is obviously false.

Washington was a nominal Episcopalian (the Anglicans renamed after the Revolution) who attended church irregularly, ceasing after his retirement. His diaries show that he frequently dishonored the Sabbath. We learn from one entry that he would have collected his rents on Sundays, but he declined because the people living on his land were “apparently very religious.” 

No Evidence for Belief in the Trinity or the Deity of Christ

The weakest arguments in the book are the ones devoted to proving that Washington believed in the deity of Christ and the Trinity. In all of his voluminous writing only once does he speak of Jesus and this single incident, a speech to the Delaware Indians, most likely written by an aide more orthodox than he. On the manuscript of another speech to Indian leaders, we can clearly see the word “God” crossed out and the phrase “Great Spirit” written in Washington’s own hand.


Tom Van Dyke said...

Washington was a nominal Episcopalian (the Anglicans renamed after the Revolution) who attended church irregularly, ceasing after his retirement. His diaries show that he frequently dishonored the Sabbath.

This does not convey enough truth. As I recall from reading his presidential diaries, Washington also attended more than one service on at least one Sunday. He particularly enjoyed listening to sermons and indeed kept an extensive collection of printed ones.

IMO Washington remained the truest type of agnostic on theology and dogma--accepting little but rejecting little either. One might call that an "Enlightenment" attitude but I would describe it as a noncreedal Protestantism of the Stone-Campbell type that would come along a few decades later.

Mt Vernon website [Mary V Thompson, we presume]

"While rather private about his religious or Christian beliefs, George Washington was an Anglican. The Washingtons attended services about once a month at two churches near Mount Vernon. During the Revolutionary War, Washington regularly attended services held by military chaplains and local civilian congregations. Often when he was traveling, Washington would stop for services at whatever church was nearby, regardless of its denomination.”



Washington collected sermons and had them bound for his library. For example, Rev. Isaac Lewis preached a sermon entitled, “The Divine Mission of Jesus Christ Evident from His life and the Nature and Tendency of His Doctrines.”

In his sermon, Isaac Lewis said: “Either Jesus Christ was what he professed to be, the (One) Sent (by) God and the Savior of the Word; or he was a deluded enthusiast, who thought himself the subject of a divine mission and divine revelation when in fact he was not; or he was the grossest and most designing impostor who ever lived. One of the other of these must have been the truth.

If then his life and doctrines were such, as it is impossible to suppose they should have been having he has acted the part either of an enthusiast or a deceiver, it must follow that he was the person he calmed be and that the religion he taught is of God. And if Christ received his mission from God, Christianity is established on an immovable basis. The nations may rage, and the people imagine a vain thing, but the counsel of God shall stand, and He will do all His pleasure. The church rests on an unshakable foundation, and the gates of hell shall never finally prevail against it.”

He wrote a letter back to Isaac Lewis, and he said, “For the Sermons, you had the goodness to send me, I pray you to accept my thanks. The doctrine in them is sound and does credit to its Author.”

Our Founding Truth said...

Spurgeon and Wesley applied the "Great Spirit" to God.