Friday, May 25, 2007

Who is The Great Spirit?

Reader James J. Goswick responded to my post addressing James Madison's alleged Christianity. I will admit with Madison and Washington, because of their reticence to explicate their specific creed, until we find more of their writings (if we ever do), there will always be some question. As James H. Hutson put it,

Seeking evidence of his faith quickly leads to the conclusion that there is, in the words of the poet, no there there, that in the mature Madison's writings there is no trace, no clue as to his personal religious convictions....With Madison, unlike Jefferson or any of the other principal founding fathers with the possible exception of Washington, one peers into a void when trying to discern evidence of personal religious belief.

And because of the level of generality about which Madison spoke on God, Hutson notes, "[t]he very paucity of evidence has permitted a latitude of interpretation in which writers have created Madison in the image of their own religious convictions."

Madison oft-used generic, philosophical lowest-common-denominator terms for God. However, "The Great Spirit" is not one of those terms, as Mr. Goswick asserts. Terms like "Providence," "Nature's God," "Deity," "Almighty," "Supreme Being,"...these are the generic terms which Jews, Deists, Unitarians, Trinitarians, and even Muslims could speak pretending such is the same God they all worshipped. All of these groups (even Deists and Unitarians) could, in some sense, claim to worship "The God of Abraham" as a generic lowest-common-denominator. Jefferson, Adams, and Franklin, in a sense believed they worshipped such God, except with all of His "unreasonable" attributes edited out from the Bible, so that only those parts which showed God's warmth and benevolence remained.

"The Great Spirit," on the other hand, like the term "Allah," is a specific title that the Native Americans have given to God. Just google that term and see. The Founding Fathers never used the term "The Great Spirit," except when speaking to Native Americans, intimating that their pagan Deity was the same God they worshipped. I have counted Washington, Madison, and Jefferson each doing this numerous times. Adams probably did as well (after all, he believed Hindu and pagan Greek and Roman worship was "Christian"), but I haven't yet found his quotations. For a taste, see Washington here, Jefferson here, and Madison here.

Finally, Madison almost certainly did not mean, as Mr. Goswick asserts "that the 'Great Spirit' is the Holy Spirit who is the third person of the triune God that is the same God of us all." I understand how, because of the similarity of words, one might first grasp on to this notion. But upon further reflection this theory fails. These are different terms -- "Great Spirit," and "Holy Spirit." The "Holy Spirit" it seems to me is the much neglected personality of the Triune Godhead, with most folks either discussing God the Father or the Son (so Trinitarians finally get around to discussing the Holy Spirit when talking to the Indians?). But most importantly, when Madison discusses The Great Spirit, his context refutes Mr. Goswick's notion. Madison stated: "The Great Spirit who is the father of us all, approves them." The Holy Spirit is not "the father of us all." That utterly confuses the distinct personalities of the Triune Godhead. It makes no more sense than to say Jesus is God the Father. Jehovah/Yahweh, not Jesus Christ or the Holy Spirit, are proper names for God the Father.

Moreover, because Allah at least purports to be the God of Abraham (the Native American's "Great Spirit" does not), referring to God as "The Great Spirit" is even less orthodox than referring to God as Allah.

All of this, it seems to me, confirms my thesis that according to the key Founders, including Madison,

God is Jehovah to the Jews, Allah to the Muslims, the Great Spirit to the Native Americans. And these are different names for the same generic “Providence” they worshipped. Though, as theological unitarians, they didn’t believe that Jesus was God, rather that he was a great moral teacher who may have been a man (Socinian) or some kind of divine being created by and subordinate to God (Arian).


Starfire said...

Here I believe lies the basis of true religious freedom- an underlying recognition of respect to the various conceptions/names for God of humanity (of course, this word being a similarly culturally specific term for something stretching beyond our powers of comprehension). This is how for centuries India had much religious harmony and today the same is enjoyed in places like Malaysia, where people visit one another's places of worship in a community spirit.

Tom Van Dyke said...

For your consideration, and relevant to the post below on Islam as well.

(That Malaysia was ruled for a time by the British is not a coincidence, I think...)