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Putting God Back Into American History
New York Times ^ | 2/27/05 | DAVID D. KIRKPATRICK

Posted on 02/26/2005 12:51:02 PM PST by wagglebee

WASHINGTON — On a recent evening, David Barton, a leading conservative Christian advocate for emphasizing religion in American history, stood barefoot on a bench in the rotunda of the United States Capitol Building with a congressman by his side and about a hundred students from Oral Roberts University at his feet.

"Isn't it interesting that we have all been trained to recognize the two least religious founding fathers?" Mr. Barton asked, pointing to Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin in a painting on the wall. "And compared to today's secularists these two guys look like a couple of Bible-thumping evangelicals!" Even Jefferson signed letters "in the year of Our Lord Christ," Mr. Barton told the group. "What would happen if George Bush did that? They'd rip his head off!"

Mr. Barton, who is also the vice chairman of the Texas Republican Party, is a point man in a growing movement to call attention to the open Christianity of America's great leaders and founding documents. The goal is to reverse what many evangelical Christians claim is a secularist revision of history, to defend displays of religion in public life and to make room for God in public school classrooms.

Their campaign and the liberal resistance have turned even the slightest clues about the souls of the Republic's great leaders - that Washington left church before communion and almost never referred to Jesus, that the famously skeptical Jefferson attended Sunday services in the House of Representatives, or that Lincoln never joined a church at all - into hotly contested turf in the battle over the place of religion in public life. In a sign of his influence, the California and Texas school boards have consulted Mr. Barton on their curriculums. And sympathetic legislators in a dozen states have passed American Heritage Education Acts intended to protect teachers who discuss religion's role in history_- measures liberals call unnecessary.

Mr. Barton, an expert witness in a case about the public display of the Ten Commandments that is coming before the Supreme Court this week, said he has given his "spiritual heritage" tour of the Capitol more than a hundred times, for scores of Congressmen and thousands of visitors. The contents of articles, books and videos produced by his organization, WallBuilders, about the religious underpinnings of American history have echoed through Christian cable networks, magazines and pulpits around the country.

Custodians of historical sites testify to the currency of similar ideas. When the Mount Vernon Estate and Museum sent out a recent fund-raising letter, for example, "We got more calls on the subject of religion than any other topic," mostly from evangelical Protestants encouraging more discussion of Washington's faith, said James C. Rees, the museum's executive director.

In response to the frequent questions, he said, the museum is installing a replica of Washington's church pew and a video about his church attendance. It is also asking the conservative thinker Michael Novak to write a book about Washington and religion.

But academic historians, including some conservative and evangelical scholars, give the Christian conservative veneration of this history about a B-minus. They say that Mr. Barton is more or less right, as far as it goes, that the founders never guessed that courts would construe the First Amendment to forbid public displays of religion like prayer in the schools. But the 18th-century religious views of the founders hardly fit into contemporary categories like evangelical Protestant or secular humanist. Nor, historians say, do the great leaders' public expressions of faith necessarily tell us much about how their notion of an ideal relationship between religion and government.

"Barton is a very hard-working researcher, but what I guess I worry about is the collapsing of historical distance, and the effort to make really anybody fit directly into the category of the early 21st century evangelicals," said Mark A. Noll, a prominent historian at Wheaton College, a prestigious evangelical school.

But, Professor Noll added, "I would say he is no worse than some of the Ivy League types who do the same thing, who say the founding fathers believed in separation of church and state and therefore we do, too."

Gordon Wood, a professor at Brown and historian of early America, agreed that the founders never imagined a culture as secular as ours. After all, many states had tax-supported churches well into the 19th century. "They definitely did not contemplate this kind of what we might call 'extreme,' where a minister or a rabbi at a public school graduation is considered to be a violation of separation of church and state," Professor Wood said. "We have built that wall much higher than any of them, even Jefferson, would have anticipated."

But he said educated colonials like the founders also took a dim view of religious fervor. "They just were not in favor of religious 'enthusiasms' - that is the word they would have used for what we would call evangelical," he said.

Richard Brookhiser, a biographer of Washington and a senior editor at the conservative National Review, put it differently. "The temperature of a lot of 18th century religion was just a lot lower," he said.

But debates over the spirituality of America's most inspirational leaders are as old as the nation itself; in the early Republic, newspapers published accounts of leaders' dying moments in part to assess their readiness to meet their maker.

"People care passionately about the founders because they want the founders to be like them," Mr. Brookhiser said. "So you get this from Christians, and you get it from secularists who say the founders are like them and want them to be 'closet deists.' " His own view: "They probably couldn't conceive that the country could ever change so much. But, look, if they wanted a Christian state they could have done it. They were writing the rules. They could have put God in the rules."

The secularists Mr. Brookhiser refers to - self-described religious skeptics - make the omission of "the Creator" from the Constitution the cornerstone of their view of the Republic. In "Freethinkers: A History of American Secularism" (Metropolitan), Susan Jacoby argued it could hardly have been an accident. The Rev. John M. Mason of New York, a Christian champion of the 1780's, for example, argued that God's absence was "an omission which no pretext can palliate" and warned that if Americans proved equally godless "we have every reason to tremble." But he was unsuccessful.

Each side can find ammunition for its perspective in almost any great historical figure or moment. Newt Gingrich, the former House Speaker, notes in his recently published book "Winning the Future" (Regnery) that the relative skeptic Benjamin Franklin suggested that the Constitutional Convention hire a chaplain. But what Mr. Gingrich leaves out is that the convention declined to do so, in part for lack of funds and in part because the participants worried that turning to prayer in the middle of their debates might signal to the public that they were in trouble.

Forrest McDonald, a professor emeritus at the University of Alabama and a conservative critic of what he sees as liberal political correctness in history departments, said that, all in all, Christians probably outnumbered deists among the founders. Even so, he said, "Just because the founders were a Christian nation and just because they expected it to be a Christian nation doesn't tell us anything about what we should do today."

As Mr. Barton strolled the Capitol with his escort, Representative Bob Beauprez, Republican of Colorado, the first stop on his tour was inside the Capitol dome, where a mural depicts "The Apotheosis of George Washington," in which the first president sits in the clouds surrounded by angels. Representative Rush Holt, Democrat of New Jersey, stopped to listen as he crossed paths with the tour.

"You don't get tour guides like this around here very often, and I had to stop and listen," Mr. Holt told the students. "You all are lucky to get to hear him."

Standing before a painting of Washington with his hand outstretched, Mr. Barton read from the best-known testament that the first president was indeed a heartfelt Christian: his "prayer for America" from his letter of resignation as a general, urging citizens to imitate "the Characteristicks of the Divine Author of our Blessed Religion." "He's saying, hey, we have won the war but if we don't imitate Christ we won't be a happy nation," Mr. Barton said. "That is Washington!"

Other historians, though, say that letter was one of the only times Washington referred to Jesus at all. Instead, he more often spoke of a divine "Providence" that established the laws of nature and deserved thanks for favorable events. He was an active member of the Masons, who emphasized enlightenment ideas about reason and natural law, and swore his oath of office on a Bible borrowed from a Masonic lodge.

Mr. Barton says that after Washington's death, religious members of his family testified in great detail to a personal faith hidden from the public. But Joseph J. Ellis, a professor at Mount Holyoke and Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer whose latest book is "His Excellency: George Washington" (Knopf), calls him "a lukewarm Episcopalian and a quasi-deist." "When he died he really did not know what would happen to his soul, if such a thing existed," he added.

Washington's opposition to establishing or even favoring any religion, though, was clear. In 1790, for example, he wrote to a Jewish synagogue in Rhode Island to say that in America all faiths were not only tolerated but fully equal: "It is now no more that toleration is spoken of as if it was the indulgence of one class of people that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights."

Jefferson's cosmology was a matter of debate in his own lifetime, when his political opponents denounced him as an atheist. But Mr. Barton told his students that "even Jefferson" called himself a Christian. Jefferson approved the use of the Capitol and other public buildings for church services and attended himself, even enlisting the military band to play religious music. And in 1803, Mr. Barton said, he signed a treaty that called for public funds to pay a missionary to the Indians.

But Jefferson was also the most forthright deist among the founders, meaning that he believed in a creator who merely set the world in motion according to natural laws. When Thomas Paine wrote "The Age of Reason," an attack on organized religion, Jefferson was virtually the only founder who remained his friend.

Jefferson famously assembled his own Bible by cutting out any passage involving miracles or the supernatural to leave only Jesus's teachings. In a letter to John Adams in 1823, Jefferson defended his faith by arguing that true Christians followed these teachings, while belief in miracles like the virgin birth perverted them.

On the other hand, Mr. Brookhiser noted, Jefferson took time to prepare his own Bible. "A modern secular humanist would not do that," he said.

In a later era, a young Lincoln was pilloried as irreligious too. He was known to have devoured the works of skeptics like Paine, and he was never baptized, never joined a church, and never or rarely mentioned Jesus.

"One would have a very hard time saying he was a believing Christian," said Thomas F. Schwartz, the Illinois state historian and director of research at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, and a member of the theologically conservative Missouri Synod of the Lutheran Church. Christians have sometimes retold stories that Lincoln had a "secret baptism," but "they take you up blind allies or into rabbit holes," Mr. Schwartz said.

"His wife said he was not a technical Christian but he was a man of faith," Mr. Schwartz said.

But Lincoln knew his Bible. His speeches overflowed with Bible verses, including some like "a house divided against itself cannot stand" that are now better known as Lincoln verses than Bible verses. He had "the cadences of the King James Bible in his lungs," as Mr. Brookhiser put it.

After the death of a son, he took comfort from a Presbyterian minister, and during the ravages of the Civil War, he took his questions to God. In 1862 he wrote a private essay, "Meditation on the Divine Will." Some of its ideas ended up in his Second Inaugural Address about an unfathomable God who "gives to both North and South this terrible war."

Professor Noll argued that Lincoln's religious oratory shifted from mere metaphors or window dressing to substantive statements about the will of God. "He moves during his lifetime from being a kind of secular fatalist toward being something closer to a Christian," Professor Noll said.

How such nuances are conveyed in textbooks and popular histories is Mr. Barton's watch. Ever alert to the treatment of religion, he recently posted an article on his group's Web site (wallbuilders.com), "Revisionism: How to Identify It in Your Children's Textbooks," listing some quotations from a best-seller, "Don't Know Much About History," by Kenneth C. Davis. Mr. Barton found what he considered several significant omissions.

For example, Mr. Davis quoted Patrick Henry's famous cry: "Is life so dear or peace so sweet as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take, but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!" But the phrase "Forbid it, Almighty God!" was left out.

Asked about the quotation, Mr. Davis said any such elision was an accident made in the interest of brevity, not to censor religion. He noted that he included a reference to God in another quotation, one from William Bradford, governor of the Plymouth Colony, describing Indians being burned alive after a battle: "horrible was the stincke and sente there of, but the victory seemed a sweet sacrifice, and they gave the prayers thereof to God."

"Sure, God shows up on the bad stuff," Mr. Barton said in an interview. "We don't hear much about the five revivals in American history, but we always hear about the Salem witch trials." Still, he said, he only sought to dust off the fact of the founders' Christianity, not to argue for or against it. "If we are arguing off the premise that we have to be secular today because we have always been secular," he said, "then we are arguing off the wrong premise."


TOPICS: Constitution/Conservatism; Culture/Society; Extended News; Government; News/Current Events; Philosophy
KEYWORDS: abrahamlincoln; america; americanheritage; americanhistory; antitheist; barton; benjaminfranklin; christianheritage; christianity; churchandstate; davidbarton; founders; foundingfathers; georgewashington; god; religion; secularism; thomasjefferson; ushistory
The New York Slimes can try all they want, but they will never be able to make a credible argument that our republic was founded on anything other than Judeo-Christian principles.
1 posted on 02/26/2005 12:51:03 PM PST by wagglebee
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To: wagglebee

The article strikes me as rather fair and balanced.


2 posted on 02/26/2005 12:59:55 PM PST by Torie
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To: Torie

That's because the NYT was unable to find anyone who could make a convincing and factual argument that the Founding Father's were not religious.


3 posted on 02/26/2005 1:06:10 PM PST by wagglebee ("We are ready for the greatest achievements in the history of freedom." -- President Bush, 1/20/05)
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To: Torie
Presidential proclamations are signed "In the year of our Lord". See here, for example.
4 posted on 02/26/2005 1:06:59 PM PST by SedVictaCatoni (<><)
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To: wagglebee
I remember hearing Mr. Barton speak several years ago. He had said that the first Bible ever published in the United States, was published by Congress (1800's) with the statement on the inside cover "For the use of schools". Apparently he has one of the few Bibles still in existence.

It is because of the secularization of our schools that our children attend school at home... where they should be.

Someday, we would like to take that tour with him...
5 posted on 02/26/2005 1:14:15 PM PST by Conservativehomeschoolmama
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To: wagglebee
The postmodernist seculars have to eradicate God from our history as well as every other aspect of life. Why?

Because without a higher moral source, they are free to enact any immoral code they wish.

To them, Neitzche was right.

6 posted on 02/26/2005 1:17:04 PM PST by Joe.E.Sixpack
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To: Conservativehomeschoolmama
It is because of the secularization of our schools that our children attend school at home... where they should be.

There were some Christian schools too. That is what Horace Mann was determined to do with public edumacation, take it out of the hands of Christians. John Dewey continued that work, and on it goes until we have the mess we have now.

But I'm preaching to the choir, huh. :-)

7 posted on 02/26/2005 1:20:57 PM PST by Joe.E.Sixpack
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To: wagglebee
One of my favorite paintings of George Washington is the painting of him on the battle field.
Right before going into battle, it had George kneeling in prayer and looking up to GOD for guidance.
One can only imagine the horror and sorrow our founding fathers would have had, if they were to see how far our country has stray away from GOD.
8 posted on 02/26/2005 1:21:51 PM PST by Prophet in the wilderness (PSALM 53 : 1 The ( FOOL ) hath said in his heart , There is no GOD .)
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To: Prophet in the wilderness

9 posted on 02/26/2005 1:28:23 PM PST by wagglebee ("We are ready for the greatest achievements in the history of freedom." -- President Bush, 1/20/05)
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To: wagglebee
Bill of Rights
Amendment I

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

Does anybody read this stuff anymore? /sarcasm

10 posted on 02/26/2005 1:34:54 PM PST by He Rides A White Horse (unite)
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To: wagglebee
I suppose the Constitution is a document that needs solemn faced people in robes to interpret for us.

You know, like liberal activist judges.

Secular humanism, heroin for the masses.

11 posted on 02/26/2005 1:37:06 PM PST by He Rides A White Horse (unite)
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To: He Rides A White Horse

No they don't read the US Constitution anymore. The left would prefer we read the one below (be sure to pay close attention to "Article 52").
http://www.oefre.unibe.ch/law/icl/r100000_.html


12 posted on 02/26/2005 1:41:19 PM PST by wagglebee ("We are ready for the greatest achievements in the history of freedom." -- President Bush, 1/20/05)
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To: wagglebee
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion

Last time I checked, Roman Catholicism, Lutheranism, Judaism, whatever ism hasn't been designated "the official religion of the United States".

or prohibiting the free exercise thereof

It's obvious that the first amendment was geared towards protecting religious freedom, not suppressing it.

The Michael Newdows et al are what the first admendment was written for. A bunch of religion-policing Nazis telling everybody else what to believe or what is "acceptable" conduct.

13 posted on 02/26/2005 1:53:36 PM PST by He Rides A White Horse (unite)
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To: wagglebee

Your link is very interesting, to say the least.


14 posted on 02/26/2005 1:54:08 PM PST by He Rides A White Horse (unite)
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To: He Rides A White Horse

Article 53 doesn't much impress today's leftist though.


15 posted on 02/26/2005 1:58:17 PM PST by wagglebee ("We are ready for the greatest achievements in the history of freedom." -- President Bush, 1/20/05)
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To: wagglebee
....or in other words, to be trite, our black robed friends have shifted "freedom of religion" to "freedom from religion.
16 posted on 02/26/2005 1:58:48 PM PST by He Rides A White Horse (unite)
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To: wagglebee

......something tells me that people fleeing Europe to freely practice their beliefs weren't looking for the protective embrace of ACLU lawyers. Just a wild guess.


17 posted on 02/26/2005 2:01:25 PM PST by He Rides A White Horse (unite)
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To: He Rides A White Horse

When the Bill of Rights was enacted, the individual states were allowed to establish an official religion. However, when the Fourteenth Amendment ("equal protection of the laws") was passed in response to the Confederacy's secession, a Constitutional "back door" was opened that allows activist courts to adjudicate "laws." This was NEVER the intent of this Amendment, but the courts have used it to destroy the foundation of our republic.


18 posted on 02/26/2005 2:06:16 PM PST by wagglebee ("We are ready for the greatest achievements in the history of freedom." -- President Bush, 1/20/05)
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To: He Rides A White Horse

When the Bill of Rights was enacted, the individual states were allowed to establish an official religion. However, when the Fourteenth Amendment ("equal protection of the laws") was passed in response to the Confederacy's secession, a Constitutional "back door" was opened that allows activist courts to adjudicate "laws." This was NEVER the intent of this Amendment, but the courts have used it to destroy the foundation of our republic.


19 posted on 02/26/2005 2:06:58 PM PST by wagglebee ("We are ready for the greatest achievements in the history of freedom." -- President Bush, 1/20/05)
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To: He Rides A White Horse
......something tells me that people fleeing Europe to freely practice their beliefs weren't looking for the protective embrace of ACLU lawyers. Just a wild guess.

Something tells me that the colonists who fled Europe would have rather drowned on the boat ride over than live under the Godless socialism the left is trying to create.

20 posted on 02/26/2005 2:09:15 PM PST by wagglebee ("We are ready for the greatest achievements in the history of freedom." -- President Bush, 1/20/05)
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To: wagglebee
Why is it that the more I read the former Soviet Constitution, the more I think of this:

"Open the pod bay doors please, Hal."

HAL: "I'm sorry Dave, I'm afraid I can't do that."

21 posted on 02/26/2005 2:20:02 PM PST by He Rides A White Horse (unite)
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To: He Rides A White Horse
This part of the movie seems far more appropriate to me!


22 posted on 02/26/2005 2:27:35 PM PST by wagglebee ("We are ready for the greatest achievements in the history of freedom." -- President Bush, 1/20/05)
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To: wagglebee
Maybe there is a case for evolution..........how about retro-evolution; being active on FR today I think there might be a case for mankind reverting to animalistic behavior.
23 posted on 02/26/2005 2:36:03 PM PST by He Rides A White Horse (unite)
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To: wagglebee

I think the weapon thrown turning into a boomerang and hitting the ape on the head would have been more accurate.


24 posted on 02/26/2005 2:38:53 PM PST by He Rides A White Horse (unite)
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To: He Rides A White Horse
I think the weapon thrown turning into a boomerang and hitting the ape on the head would have been more accurate.

I couldn't find the picture I wanted, so used the closest one I could find.

25 posted on 02/26/2005 2:45:06 PM PST by wagglebee ("We are ready for the greatest achievements in the history of freedom." -- President Bush, 1/20/05)
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To: Torie
Fair and balanced? Perhaps. "The temperature of a lot of 18th century religion was just a lot lower," he said.
Much has changed over the 250+ years since. Social norms of the time didn't forbid your depth of feeling for your beliefs, just the public display of emotional extremes. The leaders of our country at its founding were gentlemen to the extreme. Decorum, manners and breeding were very important to them and delving into the personal beliefs of another was considered "none of your business." Being a Christian at their time frame was a basic, that was your starting point. Yes, the founders would definitely not approve of this country's present attitude toward religion.
26 posted on 02/26/2005 2:47:15 PM PST by elephantlips
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To: wagglebee

It worked for me.(g)


27 posted on 02/26/2005 2:47:22 PM PST by He Rides A White Horse (unite)
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To: jan in Colorado

Ping for later


28 posted on 02/26/2005 2:47:41 PM PST by jan in Colorado (Finally, be strong in the Lord, and in the strength of His might. Ephesians 6:10)
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To: wagglebee

Interesting posting. For those who homeschool, are there history books which have such a cirriculum?


29 posted on 02/26/2005 6:17:23 PM PST by Clintonfatigued
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To: Clintonfatigued

Try history textbooks by ABeka or Bob Jones University textbooks.


30 posted on 02/26/2005 8:38:57 PM PST by DeweyCA
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To: wagglebee

Thank you for the picture.


31 posted on 02/27/2005 2:08:34 AM PST by Prophet in the wilderness (PSALM 53 : 1 The ( FOOL ) hath said in his heart , There is no GOD .)
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To: wagglebee
Now I know were the radical feminist and Gay activist get their inpireration, from a MONKEY , lol.
32 posted on 02/27/2005 2:12:18 AM PST by Prophet in the wilderness (PSALM 53 : 1 The ( FOOL ) hath said in his heart , There is no GOD .)
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To: Torie

Are you kidding? It has significant omissions on the true status of the faith of the founders that you could drive a truck through, as always with the worshipers of the Leviathan State. They seek to impose their view upon another time, a common fallacy that historians criticize except when it supports their "progressive" views. Particularly noteworthy is the usual distortion of Deism, as if it were some sort of religious sect rather than the Whig gentleman's philosophy of historical truth.


33 posted on 02/27/2005 2:39:32 AM PST by AmericanVictory (Should we be more like them, or they like us?)
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To: wagglebee
From the same article...


34 posted on 02/27/2005 2:53:54 AM PST by Pharmboy ("Rebellion to tyrants is obedience to God")
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To: wagglebee; Torie
I agree with Torie--ESPECIALLY for the NY Times, this WAS a fair and balanced article.

I am an amateur Washington historian and can say that their depiction of the General's religious orientation is accurate. I have gone to mass in three churches that he attended with some regularity (Christ Church in Philadelphia, Christ Church in Alexandria and St. Paul's Chapel in NYC) to get a feel for what he saw as he attended church. And though Martha invariably took communion, the General never did.

He also was a founding member of the Pohick Church in Virginia, so he was indeed an active churchgoer. But, he was not the type to drop to his knees in prayer and that famous painting at Valley Forge is based on imagination and not history.

He attitude was based on a melding of Christian teaching (the Rules of Civility that he dutifully copied at the age of 16 and lived by were of Jesuitical origin) and the principles of the Enlightenment--a combination that seemed to work quite well for him, and through him, this great nation.

35 posted on 02/27/2005 3:24:51 AM PST by Pharmboy ("Rebellion to tyrants is obedience to God")
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To: wagglebee
Mr. Barton, who is also the vice chairman of the Texas Republican Party, is a point man in a growing movement to call attention to the open Christianity of America's great leaders and founding documents.

Barton is a snakeoil salesman and a pseudo-historian fraud. He tries to pass off the founding fathers as if they were evangelical Baptists like he is, when in reality most of them were high church Episcopalians or Presbyterians. Many of his writings are also latently anti-Catholic and he's known for using questionable sources and quotes in his books. This guy does our cause no good, and the real tragedy of this article is not that the New York Times smeared his soiled name but rather that they associated it with legitimate views of the conservative movement.

36 posted on 03/15/2005 12:55:07 AM PST by GOPcapitalist ("Marxism finds it easy to ally with Islamic zealotism" - Ludwig von Mises)
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To: wagglebee
Political correctness has upended even our view of American history. Credit goes to the ACLU for the idea we live in a God-free, secular republic.

(Denny Crane: "Sometimes you can only look for answers from God and failing that... and Fox News".)
37 posted on 03/15/2005 12:59:20 AM PST by goldstategop (In Memory Of A Dearly Beloved Friend Who Lives On In My Heart Forever)
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To: YCTHouston
"Barton is a very hard-working researcher, but what I guess I worry about is the collapsing of historical distance, and the effort to make really anybody fit directly into the category of the early 21st century evangelicals," said Mark A. Noll, a prominent historian at Wheaton College, a prestigious evangelical school.

That more or less sums of the problems of David Barton's pseudo-histories: he tries to remake the founders so that they fit neatly into his own 21st century evangelical theology.

38 posted on 03/15/2005 1:00:12 AM PST by GOPcapitalist ("Marxism finds it easy to ally with Islamic zealotism" - Ludwig von Mises)
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