Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Kerby Anderson Engages in Historical Revisionism...:

while trying to give a lesson on historical revisionism. Reproducing a letter, he writes:

Dear Kerby,

I have heard you discuss the topic of historical revisionism on radio. I told my son about this, and he doesn't believe it. Do you have some examples of how our history has been revised from the original?


Many historians have wanted to secularize our founders. Take this quote from W.E. Woodward. He wrote that "The name of Jesus Christ is not mentioned even once in the vast collection of Washington's published letters."{1}

Anyone who has read some of Washington's writing knows he mentions God and divine providence. But it isn't too difficult to also find times in which he mentions Jesus Christ. For example, when George Washington wrote to the Delaware Indian Chiefs (June 12, 1779) he said: "You do well to wish to learn our arts and ways of life, and above all, the religion of Jesus Christ. These will make you a greater and happier people than you are. Congress will do every thing they can to assist you in this wise intention."{2}

Other examples are also available. For example, a well-worn, handwritten prayer book found among Washington's personal writings after his death had the name "Jesus Christ" used sixteen times. {3}


The actual facts: In over 20,000 pages of Washington's known writings, there is only one reference to "Jesus Christ" by name, which Anderson above cited. And a second taken from Washington's Circular to the States which refers to Jesus as "the Divine Author of our blessed religion." And that is it.

The prayer book to which Anderson refers is not written in Washington's hand has been debunked as at best, inauthentic, at worst, a fraud.

And according to Gregg Frazer's Ph.D. dissertation, there is reason to doubt those two references as expressing Washington's personal belief in Christianity. First, although both documents appear to be authentic, "neither is written in Washington's hand." These were the kinds of documents which, as with politicians today, aides write for officials to sign. It's conceivable that Washington, pressed for time, signed the documents without making revisions.

I might add that his communication to the Delaware Indian Chiefs seems to be done in the context of giving advice on how best to assimilate into American culture. And at other times Washington (and Jefferson and Madison) was remarkably accepting of Native American spirituality. These Presidents, when addressing Native Americans, systematically referred to God on their terms, as "the Great Spirit," suggesting that they worshipped the same God.

Finally, even if Washington believed that Jesus was "the Divine Author," that still wouldn't necessarily make him a Trinitarian because the theological unitarians differed on whether Jesus was just a "man" (Socinians) or some kind of "divine" being, separate from and inferior to God (Arians). In fact, Madison was probably an Arian because he seemed to follow Samuel Clarke, an Anglican Divine who was also an Arian nearly defrocked for peddling his unitarian doctrines in the Church.

If Washington, by referencing Jesus as "the Divine Author," was "hinting" at anything, he could just as easily have been signifying his Arianism as his Trinitarianism.

The case for Washington's belief in orthodox Christianity just isn't there. His public references to God fit just as easily with those of the other key Founders who were theistic/unitarian rationalists (Adams, Jefferson, Madison, and Franklin) as they do with those of the orthodox Christians.

3 comments:

Tim (Random Observations) said...

I agree.

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