By Gary DeMar
There are six prevalent myths taught about American history over pivotal matters of importance. Call them humanist tall tales, if you wish. They’re as fictional and sensational as the wild stories of Pecos Bill and Paul Bunyan with his big, blue ox, but unlike those American myths, these have long been presented as historical fact by the academic institutions of our fair land.
These myths have duped far too many Christians in our day, leading them to devote their efforts to combat the wrong things, or to give up the fight altogether. The purpose of this article is not to document, detail, and defend the historicity of these six myths, but rather to introduce and summarize them, and to point you to other resources that flesh out these myths more thoroughly and biblically answer them.
Myth 1: The Founding Fathers were deistsA deist is a person who believes in an absentee God. A deists believes that God created the world and then abandoned it for man to shape into whatever he liked (provided he didn’t violate certain “natural laws). While many schools and universities have taught for decades now that many or most of the founding fathers were deists, we are hard-pressed to find any clear example of a founding father who was a genuine deist. For quite a while Franklin and Jefferson were given this designation especially, but each of these men have been quoted in ways that clearly contradict the tenants of deism.
For example, Benjamin Franklin gave this famous quote at the constitutional convention which expressly contradictions the notion of an absentee God: “In the beginning of the Contest with G. Britain, when we were sensible of danger we had daily prayer in this room for the divine protection.- Our prayers, Sir, were heard, & they were graciously answered. All of us who were engaged in the struggle must have observed frequent instances of a superintending providence in our favor.
“To that kind providence we owe this happy opportunity of consulting in peace on the means of establishing our future national felicity. And have we now forgotten that powerful friend? or do we imagine that we no longer need his assistance? I have lived, Sir, a long time, and the longer I live, the more convincing proofs I see of this truth- that God Governs in the affairs of men. And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without his notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without his aid? We have been assured, Sir, in the sacred writings, that “except the Lord build the House they labour in vain that build it.” I firmly believe this; and I also believe that without his concurring aid we shall succeed in this political building no better, than the Builders of Babel.”Likewise, Jefferson made this statement concerning the continuance of slavery in America:
“Can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are of the gift of God? That they are not to be violated but with his wrath? Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just: that his justice cannot sleep for ever…”These are not the professions of men who believed God is absent from the scene, does not have a revealed standard of morality, and that He will not take action to judge men by that standard. Thus, the two most popular candidates for deists among the founding fathers cannot accurately be considered deists.
For more on this subject, I recommend reading Gary DeMar’s God & Government, Benjamin Morris’ Christian Life & Character of the Civil Institutions of the U.S., and Gary DeMar’s America’s Christian History: The Untold Story.
Myth 2: The Founding Fathers were all orthodox ChristiansDemonstrating that the founders were not deists does not necessarily mean that they were therefore all Christians. Many false religions are not deistic. The founding fathers can be divided into three camps: (1) The blatantly orthodox Christians; (2) The blatantly unorthodox who still highly esteemed the Bible; (3) The ambiguous. No hard-line humanists, deists, or atheists can easily be found among them in the historical account. We should remember that David Hume, who was a philosophical skeptic and blatant atheist, was considered something of an anomaly in his day. (See R.C. Sproul Sr.’s book The Consequences of Ideas.)
Among the orthodox of the first category you have men like John Witherspoon and Samuel Adams, who made many numerous and bold statements affirming their beliefs in the essential Christian doctrines (what some call the “fundamentals of the faith”) and who generally lived consistent with that profession. George Washington is not the most obvious member of this category, but I have made a case in a previous article, which you can read here, for why I believe history shows he does fit this category.
Among the blatantly unorthodox you have men like Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson, who as my cohort Dr. Joel McDurmon documented in his recent article, appeared to profess a type of Unitarianism late in his life. Of the three camps, this group is clearly the smallest, but that could have been because it was so looked down upon in the society of that time to not profess all of the essential doctrines of the faith that men were very reluctant to do it publicly.
Among the ambiguous you have men either who made so few statements publicly about their faith which are documented or who made seemingly contradictory statements.
It is important to understand that these three camps existed when we are writing about the founding fathers and their appreciation of the Bible. It’s also important for us to distinguish between the question of whether a founding father was orthodox from whether he had a biblical worldview.
Myth 3: The Founding Fathers did not have a biblical worldviewIt is very clear-cut to determine that someone is not an orthodox Christian when they deny certain essential doctrines of the Christian faith, such as the trinity, for example. But it is not quite so clear-cut when we are evaluating a founding father for a biblical worldview. A biblical worldview is not measured by a few essential criteria but rather by how closely one’s thinking about every area of life conforms to the whole of the Word of God. It’s comprehensive.
The trick is that we all have fallacies in our worldview. The best Christian men in history and even Bible times had inconsistencies in their worldview. If we were to thoroughly scrutinize through every great Christian’s life in history, we would find examples of inconsistencies in the worldview of virtually every single one of them (especially when we have a good deal of historical documentation about them). So every single one of us could be found guilty of not having a biblical worldview at one point or another.
Thus, evaluating a “biblical worldview” is much more relative than evaluating orthodoxy. When we look at the founders, we find that compared to people in the modern day, nearly all of the founders had a much more biblical worldview. Even the unorthodox founders such as Jefferson and Franklin had a strong biblical worldview when compared to even many orthodox Christians living today. That is because they lived in a time and culture much more permeated with the Christianity inherited from the Puritans and Covenanters, and rekindled by the Great Awakening of the 1740’s.
There are some founding fathers who had comparatively poor worldviews. Alexander Hamilton with his centralized banking and vision for a federal military police state is the most obvious example. Some of the founders like Madison and Jay worked together with Hamilton for a time to institute the new Constitution, but thereafter it became increasingly clear that their views on the role of civil government were very different from Hamilton’s. Washington and Adams both considered Hamilton a colleague for a time, a fellow Federalist. Washington generally deferred to Hamilton’s knowledge of financial affairs and he agreed with Hamilton that militia were inferior to a professional military, but that was about as far as the Washington-Hamilton viewpoints appear to coalesce. Washington deliberately wanted men like Jefferson on his cabinet as well to balance out the strong centralized philosophy of Hamilton. John Adams personally fired Hamilton’s cronies from the cabinet he inherited from Washington due to the strong disagreements he had with Hamilton and he ultimately prevented Hamilton from raising a standing professional army in the U.S. with himself as commander.
However, John Adams, who overall exhibited a stronger biblical worldview than Hamilton, had his own fallacies, seen most apparently in the Alien and Sedition Acts.
Therefore, much could be written to document and demonstrate how the founding fathers fell short on several points in their applications of the biblical principles for civil government. That does not change the fact, however, that the extent to which the founders did faithfully apply the biblical principles of civil government have not been surpassed by any other government since the Hebrew Republic.
For more on the various political disagreements of the founding fathers, I would recommend the book Founding Brothers by Joseph J. Ellis. For more on the biblical worldview of the founders, I again recommend reading Gary DeMar’s God & Government, Benjamin Morris’ Christian Life & Character of the Civil Institutions of the U.S., and Gary DeMar’s America’s Christian History: The Untold Story.
Myth 4: The “Second Great Awakening” was ChristianThe so-called “Second Great Awakening” led by Charles Finney is becoming increasingly notorious as more Christian theologians, scholars, and historians study the event. As Joel noted in his recent Jefferson article, David Barton’s book even suggests that the reason Jefferson and many of his contemporaries became Unitarians was because of the influence of this pseudo-Second Great Awakening.
The alleged “Second Great Awakening” in fact served to pull America away from orthodox Christianity and toward cultism. It is no coincidence that after this event we see an explosion of cults in America from Mormonism, to Unitarianism, Jehovah Witnesses, Radical Abolitionists, and Christian Science. The “Second Great Awakening” conceded to the rationalists of the Enlightenment that the Word of God could not be logically and philosophically defended, and thus resorted to emotionalism, romanticism, and Christianized Machiavellianism. It was likely due in large part to a failure of the Church in America to train up capable new preachers and elders for planting churches and teaching congregations in the frontier communities of the Mid-West.
For more on the problems with the “Second Great Awakening” and its negative impact on the development of early America, I would recommend Dr. R.J. Rushdoony’s audio lectures entitled American History to 1865 and Dr. R.C. Sproul Sr.’s book Willing to Believe.
Myth 5: The “Civil War” was primarily about slaveryIt is undeniable that chattel slavery was a key issue that led to the War Between the States during the period from 1861 to 1865. But it is a gross oversimplification to characterize that war as one in which all those who fought on the South were doing so to continue to impose slavery and all those who fought on the North were doing so to end slavery.
The fact is that President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation was not released until the war had been going on for two years. Moreover, that proclamation was handed down by the President in violation of Article 3, Section 1 of the Constitution, and its own language only freed slaves in states that were, at that time, not a part of the Union. So it had no effect on the slaves owned by General Ulysses Grant of Ohio, for example.
We could demonstrate that the War Between the States had many factors that played into it. State’s rights were an issue. Preserving the Union was an issue. Slavery was an issue. Tariffs were an issue. The Industrialized North’s competing with Industrialized Europe for the Southern market and goods were an issue. The agrarian South’s competing with the Industrialized North’s dominance over America’s wealth was an issue. The matter of government by law vs. government by bullying was an issue. The constitutional balance of power between the three branches of the federal government was an issue.
But the real crux of the war—the most pivotal and significant issue of the war—was the issue over centralization vs. decentralization of power between the federal government and the states. The borderline Southern states understood this best of all. While the deep-south states jumped to secede from the Union shortly after Lincoln’s election out of fear for his professed anti-slavery policies, the borderline Southern states kept their cool until President Lincoln declared war on the deep-south states and ordered the borderline southern states to raise up armies to invade them. The borderline southern states knew that although they might disagree with the deep South states about slavery, that did not give them the right to force the deep-south states to stay in a federal government system they did not trust. They remembered the principle of the Declaration that legitimate governments must have the consent of the governed, and the deep south states at that time did not consent to being governed by the federal government. They had the legal prerogative to check the power of the federal government by leaving, even if they were doing so for a bad reason.
When Lincoln insisted on the borderline southern states invading the deep South, that was the single most pivotal moment of the War, because it was that moment that galvanized America from many different factions, groups, and interests and into simply two sides: North and South. Not all in the South agreed about slavery, and only a minority of them owned slaves, but all in the South agreed that the states had the legal prerogative to secede from the Union and/or that the federal government had no authority to invade them when they did. Likewise, many of the people in the North could not have cared less about slavery, but they all agreed to fight for the notion that the centralized government could force the states to stay in the Union against their will if it elected to do so. The check on the consolidated power of the federal government—the states—was the great casualty of the war. While many justified it for the purpose of ending slavery, it would be used in future contexts to promote other causes entirely wicked.
For more clarifying the history of the so-called “Civil War,” I would recommend the beautifully illustrated book The War Between The States: America’s Uncivil War for starters. The Real Lincoln by Thomas DiLorenzo has also become a favorite among many.
Myth 6: Evolutionism was only introduced as a scientific theoryFrom the earliest years when Darwin’s theories began to be disseminated in the U.S., academics immediately seized it as a doctrine not merely to change the prevailing view of science, but the entire worldview of all areas of study. I have already posted an article introducing how evolutionism was introduced in the law schools of America even while the country was still limping to recover from the War Between the States in the 1860’s. You can read that article The Consequences of the Theology of the Supreme Court Nine.
The generation that grew up in the vulnerable post-“Civil War,” post-Darwinian America was the first to be exposed to and inculcated in a mode of thought that divorced God completely from law and politics. This was done first through the universities, particularly Harvard, so its impact was initially seen primarily on those families who could afford to send their sons to these universities. In God’s place it erected man, specifically man embodied in the state, manipulating the rest of mankind into higher planes of evolution. To some the strings of that manipulation would be economics, for others the strings would be eugenics, and for others still it would be education, but each school of thought began by agreeing that man could control mankind by the power of the state because we were no longer viewed as spiritual beings but merely physical ones responsive only to certain chemical stimuli.
The impact of this event was the single most significant factor in setting the stage for the many downfalls of the twentieth century, from the two World Wars, to the Great Depression, to the legalization of abortion and sodomy, to the overall withdrawal and complacency of the Church.
It was the generation that first first grew up, studied, and came of age after the implementation of this new teaching that was the generation of Teddy Roosevelt and Woodrow Wilson. While they may have still called themselves Christians, they were applying an evolutionist worldview to law and government. They were the generation who characterized this new evolutionist statism as “progressivism” and thus created the Federal Reserve, the League of Nations, the federal income tax, and many other statist changes based on the premise of evolutionary politics and law.
Had it not been for the shockingly bloody Soviet Revolution of 1917, which shook the West quite a bit from its drunken orgy with statism, America may have marched straight into pure Communism or Fascism before the 1930′s. That Revolution at least caused people in the West to begin to reevaluate the merits of their fascination with statism, and twenty-five years later that skepticism would be renewed after the rise and fall of Nazi Germany. But while evolutionary statism’s advance was stalled by these events and others, it has still pressed forward as the most influential philosophy of government in the West today.
For more on this subject, I would recommend reading Herb Titus’ God, Man, & Law: The Biblical Principles, Paul Johnson’s book Modern Times, and Dr. R.J. Rushdoony’s books Intellectual Schizophrenia and The One and the Many.