Thursday, November 27, 2008

Thanksgiving Proclamation & Civil Religion:

At American Creation Brad Hart reproduces George Washington's first Thanksgiving Proclamation.

Whereas it is the duty of all Nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly to implore his protection and favor-- and whereas both Houses of Congress have by their joint Committee requested me to recommend to the People of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many signal favors of Almighty God especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness.

Now therefore I do recommend and assign Thursday the 26th day of November next to be devoted by the People of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being, who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be-- That we may then all unite in rendering unto him our sincere and humble thanks--for his kind care and protection of the People of this Country previous to their becoming a Nation--for the signal and manifold mercies, and the favorable interpositions of his Providence which we experienced in the course and conclusion of the late war--for the great degree of tranquility, union, and plenty, which we have since enjoyed--for the peaceable and rational manner, in which we have been enabled to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national One now lately instituted--for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed; and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; and in general for all the great and various favors which he hath been pleased to confer upon us.

and also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech him to pardon our national and other transgressions-- to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually--to render our national government a blessing to all the people, by constantly being a Government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed--to protect and guide all Sovereigns and Nations (especially such as have shewn kindness unto us) and to bless them with good government, peace, and concord--To promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the encrease of science among them and us--and generally to grant unto all Mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as he alone knows to be best.

Hart aptly notes that the God words in the address are consistently generic and philosophical -- "inclusive" if you will -- and not specifically orthodox Trinitarian in their character. This was notable and precedent setting. Under the "old" political orders, governments were connected to specific sectarian theologies and it would be expected that political leaders' "God talk" endorsed the official state theology, be it Roman Catholicism, Anglicanism, Presbyterian or whatnot. Well there was no "official" theology for Washington and company to endorse. But they, through their public God talk established an "unofficial theology" or a "civil religion." And that civil religion specifically avoided invoking orthodox Trinitarian doctrine or Jesus Christ.

Why is this important? David Barton and the other Christian Nationalists are sympathetic to the notion that the organic law of the United States is "Christianity generally." Well that begs the question, what is Christianity? To most evangelicals, Roman Catholics and capital O Orthodox Christians, Christianity is synonymous with orthodoxy (Christ's divine nature as God the Son, second person in the Trinity, the Atonement, etc.) A theological system that rejects these tenets is "not Christianity" whatever it calls itself.

Well, it would follow then, if Washington intended to establish "Christianity generally" -- which defines as orthodox Trinitarian doctrines under which the different Christian sects were united -- as the "civil religion" of America, his public God talk would often be done in the name of the "Father, Son, and Holy Spirit," the infallibility of the Bible and would cite verses and chapters of scripture as "trumping" authority.

But Washington's public God talk [for instance what was reproduced in his Thanksgiving Proclamation] does none of this. Now, it could be that Washington was an orthodox Trinitarian Christian, privately, but publicly didn't want that specific form of Christianity to be the "de facto" civil religion and avoided mentioning these doctrines to make America seem more inclusive and welcoming of diverse faiths. Certainly Presidents who have been orthodox in their personal theology like Jimmy Carter or George Bush opt for this message of public inclusive God talk while remaining privately orthodox.

However, if Washington were privately orthodox, we would expect to see his private writings, especially communication with orthodox figures, peppered with orthodox Trinitarian theology, but we don't. Indeed Brad Hart uses Peter Lillback's research against his thesis that Washington was an orthodox Trinitarian Christian. Lillback has two theses, one -- that Washington wasn't a Deist (which he proves) -- and two -- that Washington was orthodox (which he doesn't). Drawing from Lillback's research, Hart reproduces "the actual phrases that Washington used in his 'written prayers' to describe divinity, along with the number of times they were used:"

"Providence" - 26 times
"Heaven" -25 times
"God" - 16 times
"Almighty God" - 8 times
"Lord" - 5 times
"Almighty" - 5 times
"Author of all Blessings" - 3 times
"Author of the Universe" - 3 times
"God of Armies" - 3 times
"Giver of Victory" - 3 times
"Great Ruler of the Universe" - 2 times
"Divine Protector" - 2 times
"Ruler of Nations" - 2 times
"Particular Favor of Heaven" - 2 times
"Divine Author of Life and Felicity" - 2 times
"Author of Nations" - 1 time
"Divine Being" - 1 time
"Allwise Dispenser of Human Blessings" - 1 time
"Supreme giver of all good Gifts" - 1 time
"Sovereign Dispenser of Life and Health" - 1 time
"Source and Benevolent Bestower of all good" - 1 time
"Power which has Sustained American arms" - 1 time
"Allwise Providence" - 1 time
"Infinite Wisdom" - 1 time
"Eye of Omnipotence" - 1 time
"Divine Author of our Blessed Religion" - 1 time
"Omnipotent being" - 1 time
"Great Spirit" - 1 time
"Glorious being" - 1 time
"Supreme being" - 1 time
"Almighty being" - 1 time
"Creator" - 1 time
"Jesus Christ" - 0
"Salvation" - 0
"Messiah" - 0
"Savior" - 0
"Redeemer" - 0
"Jehovah" - 0

Not once is Washington recorded as praying "in Jesus' name." This is why Christian Nationalists are so desperate to use Washington's spurious "Daily Sacrifice" prayerbook, because that contains orthodox theology.

The profound insight that Dr. Gregg Frazer posits in his PhD thesis is that the private theology of the key Founders [Washington, J. Adams, Jefferson, Madison, Franklin, etc.] was indeed the public civil religion which they established in their public God talk and was the ideological theology behind the Declaration of Independence and US Constitution.

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