Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Christian Nation Propaganda:

D. James Kennedy has a one-hour special in the works, on our "Christian Nation" founding, set for broadcast at the end of the month. What's special about this program (he's done this with a few other subjects) is that he is buying airtime for a national broadcast on mainstream stations. In other words he's trying to take this program beyond his usual broadcast "turf" and bombard the mainstream airwaves with this message.

I'm familiar with the arguments that he makes and they full of historical errors, falsehoods, and misrepresentations. I'll watch the broadcast very carefully. If any Internet (or regular) publication wants me to write a critical review of the episode for them, contact me. Otherwise look to this blog for my debunking of his nonsense.

Let me demonstrate some of the distortions that we see in the teaser.

The program examines the intent and purpose of our nation's founding documents, the life and faith of George Washington, whether the Founders were deists or Christians, and the high price the Founders paid to establish our nation....

One of the experts on the program is Dr. James H. Hutson, head of the Manuscript Division at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. While George Washington is often labeled a deist, Hutson said America's first president regularly attended Christian worship services and church vestry meetings. "We have records of his attendance at vestry meetings," Hutson said.

One Nation Under God also talks with Mary Thompson, a research specialist at Mount Vernon, who has carefully investigated Washington's supposed deism. "What I found very early on," she says, "was that this was a man who believed that God took an active part in the founding of the United States, a man who believed that God took an active interest in people's lives, and that the way a person behaved in reference to God could, [and] would influence how God related to him. And that's not the belief of a deist."


Right off the bat, Kennedy establishes two boxes, "Christians" and "Deists." And by "Chrisitans," he means orthodox-fundamentalists like himself and by "Deists," only those who believe in a remote watchmaker God. The problem with these boxes is that many key Founders fit within neither box; many of them, like Washington, Jefferson and Adams could be in some sense categorized as both "Christian" and "Deist." The two terms aren't mutually exclusive. Many of the men we understand to be Deists, again with Jefferson as the quintessential example, were members of mainstream Christian Churches. And just about all of the prominent Founders, including the "Deists" like Jefferson and Franklin, invoked an interventionist God.

So maybe Washington, Jefferson, and Franklin weren't "pure" Deists. So what? What does that make them? Not fundamentalists like Kennedy and his ilk.

There is not a thing about Washington's religious beliefs that couldn't also be said about Jefferson's in terms of the "Christian proof" that we will see offered (at least the credible evidence). Jefferson, like Washington, was an Anglican/Episcopalian. Jefferson, like Washington, was in fact a Vestryman in the Church. And Jefferson, like Washington, "believed that God took an active part in the founding of the United States...that God took an active interest in people's lives, and that the way a person behaved in reference to God could, [and] would influence how God related to him."

So what didn't Jefferson believe?

The immaculate conception of Jesus, his deification, the creation of the world by him, his miraculous powers, his resurrection and visible ascension, his corporeal presence in the Eucharist, the Trinity; original sin, atonement, regeneration, election, orders of Hierarchy....


In other words, the fundamental tenets of orthodox Christianity. And not a shred of credible historical evidence shows that Washington accepted any of these either.

18 comments:

David Weigel said...

James H. Hutson is someone I hadn't heard of, but it looks like he's written a (unpublished?) book on the subject, praised by David McCullough. Looks like up your alley.

Jonathan said...

I'll check the book out, maybe order it.

Kennedy will, no doubt, feature some prominent and credible scholars, like Hutson and Dr. Daniel Dreisbach. But will also feature shlock historians and propagandists like Barton. And Kennedy's overall conclusions will be ones that Dreisbach and Hutson would doubtfully support.

Marty said...

Gee, you make Jefferson sound like your typically modern Episcopalian -- who still insist's he's a "christian", even though he thinks Jesus Christ was just another run-of-the-mill shaman... certainly no better or worse than Mohammad, or David Koresh...

Jonathan said...

Marty,

That's actually quite a profound point. If the key founders like Jefferson, Washington and Adams were *any* kind of Christians, they were similar to today's "liberal" or "cafeteria" Christians.

Now, of course, issues like same-sex marriage and abortion weren't on the table back then.

But it's still the same concept of accepting certain things that the Church says and rejecting others, using reason and rationality as the ultimate judge and the willingness to disregarding traditional teachings when they don't comport with contemporary notions of reason and justice.

CPT_Doom said...

Isn't it also true, Jonathan and Marty, that the Founding Fathers were significantly affected by the ongoing religious wars in England - which had lasted from the time of Henry VIII through the early 18th century? I was taught that one of the key reasons for the First Amendment, and earlier attempts to allow freedom of religion in the colonies (even if it meant different denominations forming their own colonies, like PA for Quakers and MD for Catholics) was the desire not to let in-fighting about what was the "true" religion to damage the country.

Yet one of the key tenets of modern fundamentalist "Christianity" is that it is the ONLY true religion, and only those who have "accepted Jesus Christ as their personal Lord and Savior" - a concept NOT embraced by the mainstream churches - will be saved.

If anything, fundamentalists in this country are acting directly counter to the wishes of the Founding Fathers, in generating religious infighting among the citizens.

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