Monday, March 03, 2008

Smith on Washington's Faith:

Gary Scott Smith of Grove City College has a new op-ed on the faith of Washington, which, as expected, is on point.

Although the religious convictions and practices of many presidents have been ignored, Washington’s have been closely scrutinized and endlessly debated. Some authors have portrayed the Virginian as the epitome of piety, and others have depicted him as the patron saint of skepticism. The fact that Washington said almost nothing publicly or privately about the precise nature of his beliefs has evoked competing claims that he was a devout Christian, a Unitarian, a “warm deist,” and a “theistic rationalist.”

One point, however, is not debatable: Washington strongly believed that Providence played a major role in creating and sustaining the United States. In public pronouncements as commander in chief and president, he repeatedly thanked God for directing and protecting Americans in their struggle to obtain independence and create a successful republic.


Washington firmly believed that God controlled human events. In both his public and private writings, he repeatedly discussed how God providentially helped the United States win its independence against incredible odds, create a unified country out of diverse and competing interests, establish a remarkable constitution, and avoid war with European powers that still had territorial ambitions in North America.

Because God created and actively ruled the universe, Washington insisted, people must revere, worship, and obey him. Although members of his staff wrote most of Washington’s public statements, he oversaw the process, and therefore they expressed what he wanted to convey. Furthermore, Washington routinely used similar language in private letters he wrote.

I've personally done a search for various terms in Washington's archives and you never see Washington use the words "deist," "unitarian," "trinitarian," "the trinity," "holy spirit," "savior" or like terms which would shed light on what he likely specifically believed. Washington only one time ever used the words "Jesus Christ" whose religion he approved a group of Delaware Indians desiring to learn. Washington never uses the word "redeemer"; although his writings reproduce an address from Congress that Washington had delivered to his troops that do. In only one letter does Washington refer to himself as a "Christian," and in more he referred to "Christians" in the third person as though he weren't part of that group. Washington often approvingly mentions "Christianity"; but invariably he seems to equate Christianity and religion with morality itself and stresses the utilitarian effect that such has on society. He never so much suggests that Christianity is the only way to God or that one must become one to be saved.

Accordingly, when Washington approves of Indians converting to Christianity, he explains because it helped to civilize or assimilate them into American society. On two occasions when speaking to Indians who had no desire to convert, Washington referred to God as "the Great Spirit" suggesting their pagan God was the same one he worshipped. Washington may have contradicted himself; however, if one equates Christianity with mere morality and believes all religions are valid ways to God (the test of "sound" religion being that it makes men moral), then Washington's approval of Indians converting to Christianity for utilitarian purposes does not contradict his intimation that the Indians' pagan "Great Spirit" God is the same Providence all religions worship.

Anyway, you can test my claims by searching for these terms yourself.


Our Founding Truth said...

above all, that he hath diffused the glorious light of the gospel, whereby, through the merits of our gracious Redeemer, WE may become the heirs of his eternal glory: therefore, be a day of public and solemn thanksgiving to Almighty God for his mercies, and of prayer for the continuance of his favor and protection to these United States...that he would go forth with our hosts and crown our arms with victory; that he would grant to his church the plentiful effusions of divine grace, and pour out his holy spirit on all ministers of the gospel; that he would bless and prosper the means of education, and spread the light of christian knowledge through the remotest corners of the earth>

Very interesting. There are some goodies in here. I'll have to take a longer look at it. Boy, he sounds like Witherspoon here; he acknowledges The Redeemer is his, nice.

He may have changed his views like Adams did. Let's look at the dates.

Jonathan said...

These weren't Washington's words, but Congress'.

Our Founding Truth said...

That's what I thought. Anyway, his prayer book seems authentic, the authentic genealogical records have Potts residing at Valley Forge in 1777-1778.

As well as Rev. Nathaniel Randolph Snowden personal interview of Pott's testimony, in his own handwriting. We also have proof of Washington taking communion. I will write a post on it.

Our Founding Truth said...

The kicker on the prayer book may be the words themselves, are they generic or not.

Jonathan said...

The prayer book is not authentic; it has been proven that it was not written in GW's hand. And it's likewise been proven that Potts was nowhere near Valley Forge when he supposedly saw GW praying in the snow. The evidence for GW's taking communion is likewise not reliable. More serious scholars than you have already looked into these things and convinced me. You will not convince me otherwise as I have already vetted the primary source record.

Our Founding Truth said...

My bad, I mixed up the prayer book with the Valley Forge Prayer. I agree, that has been rebuked. What I meant, was the prayer at Valley Forge, seems legitimate.

And it's likewise been proven that Potts was nowhere near Valley Forge when he supposedly saw GW praying in the snow.>

Not true.
"The Potts Memorial" a worthy genealogical-historical account of the Potts family compiled in 1874 by Mrs. Thomas Potts (Isabella) James, after eleven years of painstaking work. In Mrs. James' record Isaac Potts is shown as marrying Martha Bolton at Plymouth Meeting December 6, 1770, that she lived with Isaac at Valley Forge in 1777 and 1778 and died April 39, 1798 at Cheltenham, Montgomery County.

The evidence for GW's taking communion is likewise not reliable.>

Those scholars are wrong as usual, the same as anyone who claims the Law of Nature is not the Redeemer as the Congress affirmed in Washington's General Order. His family genealogist, however, says he remained at Valley Forge during its occupation by the American forces and superintended the grinding of the grain which Washington ordered neighboring farmers to bring to his army.

The nearest to an authentication of the Potts story of Washington's prayer in the woods seems to be supplied by the "Diary and Remembrances" of the Rev. Nathaniel Randolph Snowden, an ordained Presbyterian minister, graduate of Princeton with a degree from Dickinson College. The original is owned by the Historical Society of Pennsylvania. Mr. Snowden was born in Philadelphia January 17, 1770 and died November 12, 1851. His writings cover a period from youth to 1846. In his records may be found these observations, in Mr. Snowden's own handwriting:

Mr. Snowden, as if to emphasize the piety of Washington sets forth in his records that he often saw Washington, that he accompanied seventy other clergymen to visit him on the anniversary of his birth February 22, 1792. Then Mr. Snowden adds:

"When the army lay at Morristown, the Rev. Dr. Jones, administered the sacrament of ye Lord's supper. Washington came forward at ye head of all his officers and took his seat at ye 1st table, & took of ye bread and wine, the Symbols of Christ's broken body and shed blood, to do this in remembrance of ye L J C & thus professed himself a Christian & a disciple of the blessed Jesus."

It's an authentic first hand account in the Historical Society of Pennsylvania.

It depends what the actual words are that was recited. It could be just generic, do you have a copy of it?