Monday, March 25, 2013

FAITH & FREEDOM In the American Revolution: George Washington, Providential view of history or something else?

Whose world view?
I was asked to speak at the Alexander Hamilton Chapter of the Sons of the American Revolution meeting, March 16, 2013, Tacoma, WA. Bob O'Neal contacted me based on discovering my book GUNS OF PROVIDENCE, set in the American War for Independence era (the culmination of 6 books following the fortunes of the M'Kethe clan from Stuart oppression in Scotland, Duncan's War to 1779). Though we had never met in person, he recognized me from the web when we bumped into into each other at the grocery story. He was reading Guns of Providence and commented, "I was amazed at how you were able to bring religion so naturally into the history of the Revolution." I replied that I would have had to make a concerted effort to remove mere Christianity as a significant factor in the history. What a privilege to be asked to talk on "Faith & Freedom in the American Revolution." I was not, shall we say, speaking only to the choir on this topic. Here is the opening part of my talk.

Greetings! Thank you Bob O’Neal for inviting me to come and chat about one of my favorite moments in history with the Alexander Hamilton Chapter of the Sons of the American Revolution. [TJ loved liberty and feared tyranny, while AH loved order and feared anarchy, right?] I’m going to operate on the assumption that if you are a member of SAM you already know heaps about the American War for Independence; some of you may know heaps more than I do, maybe all of you do. So I’m not going to retell the blow-by-blows of that history.

Somehow along the way I began writing historical fiction, which some people think is an oxymoron; history or fiction: it must be one or the other but can scarcely be both at the same time, right? There may be men in this room who on principle don’t read historical fiction; you want to get your history straight, without the unscrupulous tampering of some hack novelist (you like your history the way CS Lewis says he liked his Bible and his whiskey—straight).

I’m not here to sell you on the legitimacy of historical fiction, but it is a long and illustrious genre appreciated by many (thankfully or I’d be out of job). That said, I thought it might be useful for me to let you on the inside of how a writer goes about writing about history and creating fiction set in a particular context—in this case, exploring the roles of the faith and freedom in the American Revolutionary War....

My providential view of history (shared with GW and his contemporaries), in no way means that I think all patriots shared his view to the extent that he did, but so much was it the majority view that the Am Rev got nicknames:
“The Presbyterian Parsons’ War” for a number of reasons:
1. John Witherspoon, president of Princeton and devout minister of the gospel of Jesus Christ signed the Declaration of Independence (the only minister to do so); he also famously affirmed about freedom: “There is not a single instance in history in which civil liberty was lost, and religious liberty preserved entire. If, therefore, we yield up our temporal property, we at the same time deliver the conscience into bondage.”
2. James Caldwell, soldier parson at the Battle of Springfield (NJ, 1780), the day his wife and children were killed by a redcoat sniper, supported the troops, providing wadding for muskets from the Isaac Watts hymnals at the local church, “Give ‘em Watts, boys!”
3. Timothy Dwight, grandson of Jonathan Edwards, chaplain in GW’s army, and later president of Yale, was an earnest minister of the gospel, his preaching in chapel at Yale sparked a revival of the gospel of grace in Christ, and he wrote a wonderful hymn (c. 1800),
I love Thy kingdom, Lord,
The place of Thine abode,
The church our blest Redeemer saved
With His own precious blood. 

I love Thy church, O God;
Her walls before Thee stand,
Dear as the apple of Thine eye,
And graven on Thy hand.
          4. And “Presbyterian Parsons War” because of central influence of Presbyterianism on the US Constitution, with its checks and balances, separation of powers (yes, Montesquieu helped here), mirrors almost exactly the order of church government of Scottish Presbyterianism, developed from the Bible and from Stuart, Divine Right of Kings tyranny in the 17th century (including 1st and 2nd amendments, et al)
          5. And the favorite taunt of the British toward our army was “Psalm-singing Yankees,” singing of Psalms and hymns (as in Presbyterian worship) so central to GW’s leadership.
When GW arrived summer of 1775 at the encampment outside of Boston, he immediately instituted daily prayers, Bible reading, and Psalm singing after morning gun—odd thing for a Deist to do....

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