of Overzealous Christian Nationalists
If you ever followed Glenn Beck's now extinct Fox News program, chances are you have heard of Peter Lillback. Lillback is a Christian fundamentalist and advocate of the "America is a Christian nation" nonsense. And like most of the "historians" quoted by Glenn Beck, Lillback has worked tirelessly in the futile effort to prove that America's Founding Fathers were devout Christian men.
And Lillback's favorite target is none other than America's most important founder, George Washington. In his book, Sacred Fire, Lillback endeavors to show that the father of our fair nation was a devout orthodox Christian, a notion that Glenn Beck gobbles up. Take a look:
Now, aside from all the other garbage Beck and Lillback spew out (i.e. the Declaration of Independence is full of bible verses and the progressive era rewrote the history of America and Washington) both men immerse themselves in a self-indulged fiction regarding our nation's first president. Of course they use the timeless, "liberals are revising history to remove God from all our books" nonsense to help prove their case, but throughout the video (and throughout Lillback's book) not a single shred of evidence is ever presented to help defend their ridiculous conclusions.
Because such evidence doesn't exist.
I first encountered Peter Lillback about 2 years before Glenn Beck made him famous (incidentally, Lillback's book Sacred Fire skyrocketed to the top of Amazon's best seller list after Beck proclaimed him one of America's greatest historians...UGH!). I remember the day I received my copy of Sacred Fire in the mail. I was impressed by its length and the depth of its footnote section. Of course this is something that both he and Beck mention to help add credence to their argument. After all, how could a book be wrong if it is super long and has lots of footnotes, right.
Right from the beginning of his book, Lillback states to the reader that the goal of his book is to prove two things: first that George Washington wasn't a deist and second, that he was in fact a devout orthodox Christian man. But as I began reading I soon discovered why every single major publishing company wanted nothing to do with Lillback's bogus book and why he eventually had to publish it himself. The book is essentially a repeating rant on why today's secularist historians are wrong and he is right, and little actual evidence of his original thesis is ever presented. In essence, Lillback goes on a 2000 page merry-go-round that sounds something like this: "George Washington wasn't a deist but a devout believer in Jesus Christ and I am right because the evil secular historians are revising history in an effort to remove God."
Uh...ok. But hey, I can see why Glenn Beck and his mindless followers would eat that kind of stuff up.
In fairness to Lillback, I will say that I am 100% in agreement with his assessment that George Washington was NOT a Deist. To be honest, those who argue such are about as foolish as Lillback himself. Of course Washington wasn't a deist and the historical record is quite clear on the matter (for a more detailed look at George Washington's religious beliefs click here). And though I am in complete agreement with Lillback's assessment that Washington was far from being a Deist, I still remain unconvinced of his orthodox Christian leanings.
In "Appendix Three" of Sacred Fire, Lillback puts together a collection that he calls "George Washington's Written Prayers." This collection contains an assortment of letters, general orders and presidential declarations, which Lillback believes helps to prove Washington's orthodoxy. As Lillback states at the beginning of this appendix:
One of the elements of the Christian faith that was suspect, and eventually abandoned by Deists, was the practice of prayer. This was logical since there was little purpose in speaking to a Deity who on principle had abandoned all contact and communication with his creation.
Given this understanding, Washington's lifetime practice of prayer, illustrated by these more than one hundred written prayers, is an undeniable refutation of his alleged Deism...The sheer magnitude of the umber of prayers, coupled with the expansive topics included in his prayers, give substantial credence to the universal testimony of Washington's contemporaries of his practice of corporate and private prayer.
This underscores how misplaced contemporary scholars have been in claiming that Washington was a man of lukewarm religious faith. (761).
With this in mind, I decided that it would be worthwhile to dissect the various "written prayers" that Peter Lillback sites in his book. After all, the language that Washington used in these prayers should be a valuable tool in determining Washington's actual beliefs.
Here are the actual phrases that Washington used in his "written prayers" (per Lillback's book) 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
"Christian" - 0
"Christianity" - 0
"Messiah" - 0
"Savior" - 0
"Redeemer" - 0
"Jehovah" - 0
With such a large assortment of phrases, I find it amazing that Lillback does not provide a single example of where Washington prayed to Jesus specifically or directly. Actually, I don't find it amazing. The fact of the matter is that Washington was extremely careful of the words he used to reference God. He was intentionally neutral in his "God talk" because he didn't want to be seen as something he was not. On several occasions, various preachers and ministers tried to get Washington to state his religious views for the record but he never would. In fact, Washington seemed to detest organized Christianity as opposed to what Lillback argues (again, for a more detailed look at Washington's religious beliefs click here).
Despite the obvious discrepancies in Lillback's argument, I must also point out the fact that his book does provide AMPLE evidence to support his claim that Washington was NOT a Deist. The simple fact that these prayers exist is sufficient proof of this. Regardless of who Washington was praying to, the fact remains that he did, in the end, pray regularly.
But he wasn't a devout Christian.
Regardless of what we may insinuate from these various statements, the fact remains that there are NO specific public or private records showing Washington in prayer to the Christian God. This is why men like Beck and Lillback have an impossible mountain to climb. Yes, it sounds good to conservative Christian audiences when we say things like, "our Founding Fathers were all Christian" and "America is a Christian nation". But when the ACTUAL HISTORICAL RECORD shows otherwise all you are left with is a dog and pony show. You rely on the knowledge that 99% of your audience will never EVER research the actual documents to discover the truth for themselves and that if told what they want to hear, they will make your bogus book a best seller on Amazon. Just wrap your message up in God and patriotism and you should be good.