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Adding to the Endless Debate
on May 24, 2014
Where to begin is a difficult choice. The title, perhaps! I would like to have it explained to me. If, as Allen states on page 180, there is “no reason an atheist should not be just as moral as anyone else”, who indeed is in the minority? Religious people are moral; atheists are moral. Who is left to make up the minority? If it’s an allusion to Jerry Falwell, then I don’t get it.
Most of the reviewers agree with the author and believe she did her research thoroughly. I find her research to be not at all comprehensive. If this is the only book one reads on the topic, one doesn’t have all the facts. It’s only 183 pages, plus appendixes. The author clearly has an agenda that makes the research rather slanted.
A careful reading reveals that the author has scant understanding of part of her subject matter. She knows about the Enlightenment and philosophy. But having never been around the Church, she has no clear understanding of religious terms and concepts. In discussing Franklin’s preference to hear and not read Whitefield’s sermons, Allen seems to not acknowledge the right of ministers to perfect the sermons they deliver. It is natural for a speaker to want his address to be as effective as possible. Beginning preachers often give embarrassing accounts of their first efforts at preaching. If a speaker doesn’t appear nervous and doesn’t stumble over words, listeners will be able to focus on the message more than the delivery. Why does a polished sermon necessarily take away from the “divine inspiration”, as Allen implies?
Franklin’s father’s library consisted only of books on divinity, and after realizing he would not become a preacher, Franklin wished there had been more for him to read. Fine, but why does the author label his parents as having a “narrower mental world” simply because their interests were different from her own? The impact of his upbringing did not leave Franklin. At age 22, he wrote his own Articles of Belief and Acts of Religion. In it he stated that God was worthy of being the object of his praise and adoration, that God was pleased with our praise, that God cared for us and was offended when slighted, that God was Franklin’s friend, etc. (LaHaye, Tim. Faith of Our Founding Fathers. Master Books, 1996.)
That the term “Providence” is “a force hardly distinguishable from the pagan idea of “Fortuna” is something that never occurred to me. We see it regularly in the writings of the Pilgrims, who were undeniably a religious people. Because we don’t use the term today as much does not mean that those early users of it meant something less than “God”, or that they wanted to be vague. Other terms the author seems to think effectively water down the religiosity of what is being written are “Superintending Power”, “Great Ruler of Events”, “Higher Cause” and “Grand Architect of the Universe”, all of which she attributes to Washington, whom, she believes, avoids using “God”. On the contrary, Washington’s writings are full of references specifically to God and Jesus. His farewell circular letter to the governors on June 8, 1783, included a prayer for the United States, which he concludes, “Grant our supplication, we beseech Thee, through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.” (LaHaye, Tim. Faith of Our Founding Fathers. Master Books, 1996.) The author believes that Washington used religious language only to placate the religious citizenry of the day. Yet his personal prayer book has been found, full of prayers that were not meant for anyone to see. Washington’s nephew, Robert Lewis, was his private secretary during the first part of his presidency. Lewis often accidentally witnessed Washington having private devotions in his library twice a day, often kneeling with an open Bible before him.
Another term one never hears in the true Church is “religious genius”, which term Allen gives to George Whitefield. I guess it’s fascinating for nonbelievers to see how a godly, effective preacher can persuade his audience of their need for repentance. A righteous preacher would credit God, and not himself, with this ability. I can’t imagine Billy Graham or Billy Sunday or D.L. Moody or Whitefield being comfortable with the term being applied to themselves.
The author often quotes one of the founding fathers without giving a source for the quotation. This naturally serves to cause the reader to question the authenticity.
As one of the reviewers stated, this debate will go on and on. Part of it is the “separation of church and state” thing. Nonbelievers don’t seem to get it that the founding fathers desperately wanted a government that would not tell them what church to worship in or what religion to follow. They did not forbid Christians from impacting the government. Why should secularists have any more influence on the government than Christians? Secularism is a religion, just as Christianity and Judaism are. It takes more faith to believe in some of the tenets of secularism than it does to believe in aspects in Christianity.
A letter from Jefferson to Alexander Smith is quoted. It contains Jefferson’s opinions on the book of Revelation. Again, someone in the Church would realize that Revelation is avoided or misunderstood or found puzzling to many people who otherwise cherish the written Word of God. There is nothing shocking about what Jefferson felt about the last book of the Bible. The book has much advice that is practical, and quotable. Many dwell on these and not on the parts they don’t understand.
The book would have been better with more balanced research. But that’s the nature of authors with an agenda. Her opinions are loud and clear. She feels it is a bad thing that we haven’t recovered from the Second Great Awakening. Indeed, she feels that it appealed “largely to the poor and the unlettered.” That opinion is not unique to her. We still hear it today, and throughout history, that only the uneducated adhere to the teachings of the Church. Yet Christians have succeeded in all endeavors and careers imaginable. Indeed, this country wouldn’t have gotten colleges going without Christianity. All 126 of the colleges organized during the first century of the colonial period were established by religious groups or denominations. Secularists need to work on improving this argument that Christians are stupid. They’re not convincing.
This book was given to me. I wouldn’t have chosen to read it, but I’m glad that I did. I was really rather surprised that almost all of the reviewers found the research to be quite well done and the book to be quite well written and what the author had to say ever so accurate. I learned in a reading class many years ago that we tend to read things that will confirm what we already believe to be true. The reviews of this book prove that that is the case.