About Corazon

Sunday, July 10, 2011

The God of George Washington's Prayers

And The Historical Revisionism
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.

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.


Brian Tubbs said...


I love ya, man. I have a great deal of respect for you and your writings, but I'm very disappointed in the tone of this piece.

I don't blame you for bashing Glenn Beck. Peter Lillback deserves better. But even if I'm wrong about Lillback, Christians in general deserve better.

Most Christians who read and follow the likes of Barton and Lillback do so, because they genuinely believe (like John Adams) that the United States was founded "on the general principles of Christianity" and that, today, our nation is moving away from those principles.

And they are alarmed that, due to political correctness (yes, there is some censorship going on - how you can seem to deny that boggles my imagination) and the shallow nature of our over-commercialized, over-entertained culture (something you address very well in your space shuttle article), we are losing touch with some of the most important aspects of our history. George Washington, for example, said that "religion and morality" were "indispensable supports to political prosperity." Indispensable!

Again, I think the world of you, but occasionally, you get on these rants where you bash evangelical Christians who believe in Creationism or who believe in a Christian foundation to our nation - and you come off as very bitter, very mean-spirited. It's unbecoming.

Brad Hart said...

I will have to respectfully disagree, Brian. I think very highly of you as well, but I don't believe that there is a censorship...at least not of the historical record. The problem I have with the "Christian Nation" idea is that it is so very anti-Christian. Did the founders want a religious nation? Absolutely. But it is arrogant presumption on the part of Chrisitans (of all denominations) to insist upon a fiction that simply isn't supported by history. This is the problem I have with men like Barton, Lillback, Beck, etc. I agree 100% with you that our founders were religious, God-fearing men but they were also smart enough to protect America from overzealous Christianity.

Lindsey Shuman said...

The problem, Brian, is that most Christian fundamentalists don't like it when historians destroy and reveal the absurdity of their arguments. They end up resorting to the timeless, "quit picking on us for being Christians" argument, which is precicely what you have done here.

No offense.

Brad Hart said...

I think it's a bit more complex than that, Lindsey. Brian has never been one of those "quit picking on us poor Christians" types. You know that as well as I do. Yeah, I don't buy into the Christian Nation stuff and probably never will but I didn't want my post to sound like a diss on Christians in general. If that is the case, you have my apologies, Brian. I agree that historians have pretty much debunked the "Christian Nation" argument, Lindsey, but I still think religion was extremely important to our founders.

And thankfully they set up a system where ALL religions could be protected.

Scott said...

"The government of the United States is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion."
-John Adams


Brian Tubbs said...

@Lindsey - It's been a while. How have you been? I don't have a problem with you or Brad or anyone else attacking or criticizing arguments made by folks like Beck, Barton, or Lillback. And, in some cases, when individuals turn themselves into essentially a cartoon like Beck, pointing that out is fair game as well. But there's an insinuation in Brad's piece that Peter Lillback and those who like Lillback are either ignorant or dishonest. And, frankly, I've seen that same tone (even more so) in your posts in the past. No offense. :-)

But, frankly, it isn't just you and Brad. It's the way our society is going right now. We just try to out-slam and out-denounce one another. The tone and tenor of public discourse on talk radio, television, and the Internet stinks.

Brian Tubbs said...

@Scott - Nice to make your acquaintance. The quote you have selected is, if I'm not mistaken, lifted from the Treaty of Tripoli. If you want to enter that quote into evidence, that's fine. And, frankly, strictly speaking, I agree with it. The GOVERNMENT of the United States is NOT Christian. I agree. It's not possible for a government to BE Christian, unless it's ruled directly by Jesus Christ!

Brian Tubbs said...

The bottom line in all this, and it's been said numerous times over at "American Creation"...

One of the main reasons (and I would say THE main reason) why we continue to hear the "Christian nation" claim is NOT that people are stupid, dishonest, blah, blah, blah. It's that people mean different things when they say "Christian nation."

Some people, when they describe the United States as a "Christian nation," are referring to the fact that a majority of the U.S. population (for pretty much all of its history) has professed Christianity to one degree or another.

Some are referring to the fact that it was founded on Christian principles. Rather than say "a nation founded on Christian principles," they just say "Christian nation."

In some cases, they simply mean "Christian" nation in a very broad, socio-cultural-political manner in which colonial America was an extension of European Christendom - and has thus inherited those values, traditions, etc.

And, yes, in some cases, people are misguided or incorrect in assuming that the Founders intentionally founded the United States (from its culture to its government) to be explicitly and exclusively "Christian."

My point is that we can't paint a broad brush. And we need to be a lot more kind, graceful, and humble in discussing all this.

If we're ticked off at the antics of Glenn Beck, then for crying out loud, let's not stoop to his level. Two wrongs don't make a right!

If the objective is to teach, persuade, inform, then you catch more bees with honey. Right?

Brad Hart said...

You make a valid point, Brian. I have always believed that so much of the ilk found in the culture wars stems from semantics. What do we mean when we say "liberal", "conservative" and "Christian." You are absolutely right.

I also agree that my tone could have been a bit kinder. My bad and you are 100% right. I stand corrected.

But in fairness, the door swings both ways here. You see Lillback, Barton, Beck, etc. take their little jabs at the "evil, fascist, socialist, Marxist, godless" liberals all the time. And as a non-liberal I hate it when I get lumped in with that. It's as if they only accept a person if you fall in step with EVERY SINGLE thing they believe, and and deviation must mean you are a godless, hopeless progressive.

There's no doubt that they could use some of the honey you speak of.

Brad Hart said...

Oh, and by the way, I am sure glad that you are back on the "blogosphere." It has been a while. Stick around this time, ok! =)