Friday, June 03, 2011

Peter Marshall RIP:

I didn't know he passed. His death wasn't well publicized. (John Fea, hat tip.) He was, like the late D. James Kennedy, a key figure in Christian Nationalist history revisionism.

Dr. Gregg Frazer, in his PhD thesis, was quite harsh on Peter Marshall's historical revisionism contained in "The Light and the Glory." Dr. Frazer wrote of that book:

It became the classic text of [the "Christian America"] camp. Its historiography is abominable; it is a collection of speculations, suppositions, personal musings, and "insights" with little or no proof or documentation for extraordinary claims. PhD thesis, p. 38.

I once debated a Christian Americanist who, without me knowing, maintained correspondence with Marshall. When he cited Marshall's book for authority, I cited Frazer. And he unilaterally sent to Marshall Dr. Frazer's criticisms of him (I want to note I didn't egg him on or encourage this). Understandably upset, Marshall emailed back an angry response which I didn't reproduce for civility's sake. Since he's dead, I'll reproduce it now.

I believe in, though I don't always live up to this ideal, respecting the privacy of the living and treating them civilly, that is not subjecting them to harsh criticism that may hurt their feelings. I try to avoid the personal ad hominem. Once folks are dead, they belong to history. And yeah, I understand they may have family and loved ones with feelings too. And that conflicts me somewhat. If they are long dead -- like the Founding Fathers -- they are totally fair game. But I feel now the time is right to report Marshall's response to Frazer's criticism.

This links to Peter Marshall's response after being emailed with the short quotation from Gregg Frazer criticizing him.

"Well, it’s nothing but an attack of flying garbage – no specific references, nothing but personal slams – typical of people who disagree with the ideas and conclusions, but have nothing with which to refute them. We stand by the historical accuracy of the book. You’ll be interested to know that there is a major revision of the book coming out early next year, published by Baker, who published the original edition. We added material (Roanoke, Jamestown is completely rewritten, added Samuel Adams, more on Patrick Henry, more on Washington’s Christian faith – and corrected a few minor historical errors: removed supposed Washington prayers (they were not in his handwriting), changed a few dates we had gotten wrong, added an appendix on Washington’s Christianity, and another on the Christianity of a number of Founding Fathers). Most importantly, we edited the entire book and focused our points more clearly, making it clear that we were not in any way promoting a “my country, right or wrong” philosophy. I’m not surprised this guy is a John MacArthur disciple. I’m not a fan of his – I have serious problems with some of his theology – he’s not nearly as Biblically orthodox as he thinks he is. And he’s always been wrong about the Founding Fathers – still maintains in the face of plenteous evidence to the contrary that they were all Deists, which is simply spouting the secularist baloney that he must have swallowed in college. But that’s neither here nor there. A major point for you to remember is that we are interested in what the truth is – if we had found that the Pilgrims were hypocrites, or the Founding Fathers were Deists, we would either have said so, or would not have written the book we did. As a historian, I reject totally any attempts to shoe-horn historical evidence to fit one’s thesis – that has no moral integrity whatsoever, and I refuse to ever indulge in it, despite Frazer’s ignorant accusations".

Update: Dr. Frazer responds:

Interesting. He clearly knew nothing about my work (e.g. claiming that I maintain that they were all deists), but felt free to criticize it – at least my criticisms were based on having read his book. He also, apparently, did not have much confidence in his ability to communicate, since he declared me to be in ignorance, despite having read his book. Amazingly, he was, in his view, in a position to attack my work without having read it – perhaps the ignorance label was misplaced? It is also interesting that, having blasted me for criticizing the historiography of the book, he proceeded to explain all of the changes that he found to be necessary in the new edition – including factual errors and the removal of supposed prayers of Washington which he was forced to admit were not genuine. Finally, his recourse to an ad hominem attack which was, as he admitted, “neither here nor there” is also telling. For the record, I am not a “John MacArthur disciple” – I am a disciple of Jesus Christ. While I am a member of his church and agree with him on all of the fundamental issues, I disagree with John on more than one issue and base my views on the Bible, not John.

I must agree that my little blurb in the dissertation gave “no specific references” – but my purpose was not to review his book, but merely to comment on its place in the literature of the Christian America movement. I do not agree that I made “personal slams” as I criticized the book and its historiography, but I can see how he would take it that way.

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