Friday, July 07, 2006

James Madison's God...:

is the God of the Cherokee Indians: "The Great Spirit." The following is excerpted from James Madison's To My Red Children, August 1812.

"I have a further advice of my Red children. You see how the country of the eighteen fires is filled with people. They increase like the corn they put into the ground. They all have good houses to shelter them from all weathers, good clothes suitable to all seasons; and as for food, of all sorts, you see they have enough and to spare. No man, woman, or child, of the eighteen fires, ever perished of hunger. Compare all this with the condition of the Red people. They are scattered here and there in handfulls. Their lodges are cold, leak, and smoky. They have hard fare, and often not enough of it.

"Why this mighty difference? The reason, my Red children, is plain. The white people breed cattle and sheep. They spin and weave. Their heads and their hands make all the elements and productions of nature useful to them.

"It is in your power to be like them. The ground that feeds one lodge by hunting, would feed a great band by the plough & the hoe. The Great Spirit has given you, like your white brethren, good heads to contrive, and strong arms, and active bodies. Use them like your white brethren of the eighteen fires, and like them, your little sparks will grow into great fires. You will be well fed, dwell in good houses, and enjoy the happiness for which you, like them, were created. These are the words of your father to his red children. The Great Spirit who is the father of us all, approves them. Let them pass through the ear in to the heart. Carry them home to your people; and as long as you remember this visit to your father of the eighteen fires, remember these are his last and best words to you!"


Am I saying that Madison followed the religion of the Cherokees? Of course not. Madison's usage is evidence however, that his religion (like Washington's) was universalistic; that is he thought all religions more or less were valid paths to God. And as I said before, to the extent that orthodox Christianity makes exclusive claims about God is the extent to which our key Founders' religion conflicts with orthodox Christianity.

3 comments:

Tom Van Dyke said...

the extent to which our key Founders' religion conflicts with orthodox Christianity.

Aside from all that Messiah business, I don't see the conflict, Jon.

In fact, the Judeo-Christianism of "be fruitful and multiply" seems to be just what Madison was trying to pump into/onto the Cherokees, to whom it seemed an alien concept.

There was obviously a philosophical difference between the children of the land and the invaders with the firesticks and funny hats.

Jonathan said...

I think your reading is a fair one. But what about the fact that Madison explicitly spoke in their terms referring to God as "the Great Spirit," whom the Cherokees worship.

By way of analogy, what if today a religious leader (Bush has sort of done this) explicitly used the word "Allah" when speaking to a Muslim group and stating that this is the same God that he (the non-Muslim) worshipped.

I know a lot of Christians who don't approve of this.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Well, they vote for him anyway.

I think we're in agreement that politicians use the language of their audience for God, which is why Lincoln's quote about the "Savior" (he was being given a Bible at the time) is not to be taken that he was an orthodox Christian. (All other evidence indicates otherwise.)

Still, I dunno if it's fair to just look at Madison and Jefferson (or Franklin) as "the Founders." I think they, as not-orthodox Christians, might have served more as honest brokers between the sects/denominations, to which most of the Signers belonged.

Washington had an interesting quote in his Farewell Adress that although very philosophical men might be capable of the self-restraint necessary for a republic, most men need religion.