Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Comparing the Faiths of Presidents Washington and Obama

I posted to my new blog here.

A taste:

I think I wrote my review in harsh terms because Lillback uses the same polemical rhetoric to attack historian Paul F. Boller (and others) when I see Lillback engaging in many of the same scholarly overreaches for which he attacks Boller. It’s kinda strange. I’ve seen Lillback speak publicly (never live) and he usually comes off as a “nice guy.” But in GWSF he comes off as mean when discussing Boller and other historians.

But what Lillback easily proves (where many modern historians go wrong) is that GW was not a “Deist” as strictly defined (one who believes in an absentee landlord God). GW was a theist, believing in a warm, active personal Providence. (I think I understand why some scholars think of GW as a strict Deist; some of his letters do seem to refer to an impersonal Providence; but others clearly don’t.) To prove this, Lillback can simply quote Washington over and over again.

Besides showing that Washington was more “religious” than scholars have argued, he also shows GW was more “religion friendly,” and many of the folks to whom GW was friendly were orthodox Trinitarian Christians. (The problem is GW seemed “friendly” to just about EVERY religion, except Tory Christianity and that which did not produce virtue.)

But Lillback fails to show, at least from the horse’s mouth, that GW was an orthodox Trinitarian Christian. We can study all 20,000 pages of GW’s known recorded utterances (public addresses, private letters). If one puts the words “Jesus Christ” in its search engine we get only ONE result, in an address written by one of GW’s aides, but given under GW’s imprimatur.

My co-blogger at American Creation, Brad Hart, using Lillback’s own research lists the God words GW used in prayer. Orthodox language is conspicuously absent.

To make the case FOR GW’s “mere Christianity” Lillback makes a number of leaps, speculative and for which there are other reasons to doubt, to impute orthodox Trinitarian dogma into GW’s more generic religious talk. (Again, I detail this more in my linked to review.)

1 comment:

Brian Tubbs said...

Jon, I understand that you disagree with Lillback, and that's fine. But you're off on two points here...

1) Lillback does go after Boller in his book, and deservedly so. Boller's work was somewhat groundbreaking and did set a tone for many years in the "mainstream" misunderstanding that GW was a Deist. Lillback felt justified to then attack Boller's case, which he does rather effectively in his book. Even if Lillback is wrong about GW's Christianity, Lillback is 100% right in showing that Boller is wrong in the thesis that GW was a Deist. Boller's "Washington ia a Deist" position deserves to be thoroughly demolished and discredited.

2) One of Lillback's main contentions, that you dismiss as a "leap," is that Washington, as a man of character and integrity, would not have recited oaths with which he disagreed. You may disagree with that argument, but it's a valid, reasonable argument. It's not a leap.