Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Founders Did Believe God Favored America:

Referring to the events in the American Revolution, George Washington once said:

“The hand of Providence has been so conspicuous in all this, that he must be worse than an infidel that lacks faith, and more than wicked, that has not gratitude enough to acknowledge his obligations….”

Indeed, I can demonstrate quotations from the other "Deists" Founding Fathers -- Adams, Jefferson, Madison & Franklin -- where they say pretty much the same thing. The reason why I put "Deist" in quotation marks, is because Deists aren't supposed to believe things like God favors nations and intervenes in worldly affairs to help them win military victories.

What brings this to mind is a comment left by Ben Abbott:

I find these kind of comments troubling. Especially the implication that these men believed god favored them or our nation. The words of these men are inconsistent regarding such. It is improper, imo, to posit such a confident conclusion.

For example,

"The United States of America have exhibited, perhaps, the first example of governments erected on the simple principles of nature; and if men are now sufficiently enlightened to disabuse themselves of artifice, imposture, hypocrisy, and superstition, they will consider this event as an era in their history. Although the detail of the formation of the American governments is at present little known or regarded either in Europe or in America, it may hereafter become an object of curiosity. It will never be pretended that any persons employed in that service had interviews with the gods, or were in any degree under the influence of Heaven, more than those at work upon ships or houses, or laboring in merchandise or agriculture; it will forever be acknowledged that these governments were contrived merely by the use of reason and the senses."

– John Adams, “A Defence of the Constitutions of Government of the United States of America” (1787-88)

To be honest, I don’t see how it is congruent with the underlying theme of the revolutionary period to conclude that any of these men embraced the idea that god favor(ed/s) our nation over others.

America's rationalist Founders apparently believed God intervening in the affairs of man was "rational," reason, not infallible scripture being the ultimate test of theological truth including which parts of the Bible were legitimately revealed. Indeed some of these unitarian rationalists believed in Jesus' Resurrection (one big difference between Adams & Jefferson; Adams did, Jefferson didn't) as a "rational" miracle. Even Jefferson's spiritual mentor Joseph Priestley believed this. However, the Trinity still flunked the test of reason. And therefore, Jesus' Resurrection was God doing for the most perfect man what He one day will do for all good men, perhaps all men.

Though the notion that God favored America against Great Britain may have been "theistic," it was hardly “Christian” or "biblical." The nation against whom America rebelled arguably was more “Christian” than America was. They had an officially established church and King George III was officially referred to as “His Christian Majesty.” And the issues over which America rebelled had little to do with Christian theology. So why would God favor one demographically Christian nation over another? If the reason is God loves political liberty and hates tyranny, that’s all well and good; it’s just not biblical. Further, 1/3 of the American populace remained loyalist, many of whom were devout Christian Tories and did so based on a very reasonable, traditionalist reading of Romans 13 that instructed believers to submit to civil leaders, not rebel. And King George III was far more of a “godly” or “Christian” leader than was Nero, the pagan psychopath to whom Paul instructed believers to submit.

1 comment:

bpabbott said...

Jonathan, I'm honored to have my comment become the subject of a post. While I've spent a few years of my spare time studying this period, you're studies easily exceed mine.

That said, I'm still not convinced. Regarding your words,

:America’s rationalist Founders apparently believed God intervening in the affairs of man was “rational,” reason, not infallible scripture being the ultimate test of theological truth including which parts of the Bible were legitimately revealed."

The founders you mentioned each had different perspectives on religion, faith, and god. However, I do agree they all relied heavily on reason, and rejected the thought that god could be anything but a rational and reasoned entity.

While I find it certain that these men believed god to favor reasoned and rational action, I do not find the conclusion that god favored (by divine action) one nation or another, or that he would act in favor on one nation against another.

Regarding Washington's quote, that GW reflected upon the good fortune/luck of the new nation is not a point that any reasonable individual can argue with. However, what evidence is there that he thought the creator of the universe would favor one of its children over another? ... much less that he would make pass such judgement upon imagined national borders?

While I find the spirit of the revolution to be incongruent with claims that god favors one nation/man over another, it is still possible that Washington favored such a position.

However, if he did, I do not see the evidence.