Book Review: George Washington’s Sacred Fire

Kunk Fu Zoby Kung Fu Zu8/17/13
By Peter A. Lillback with Jerry Newcombe. For most of the first one hundred and fifty years after his death, George Washington’s biographers portrayed him as a Christian gentleman. Then during the early to mid-twentieth century this began to change. Especially within the last sixty years, progressive scholars have claimed George Washington was a Deist along with others of the founding period such as Thomas Jefferson and Thomas Paine.

The authors’ purpose in writing this book was to find out which thesis is true. They have a produced a long summer’s read in coming to their conclusion.

The book starts by explaining in what ways the authors believe the views on Washington’s religion have changed over the years. They then list the specific points used by modern historians as proof that Washington was not a Christian. These points include Washington’s “rare use of the word God” or the mention of “Jesus,” his “reticence in speaking about religion,” his “neglect in taking the Eucharist,” his “sporadic church attendance,” and his membership in the Masons. Then, for clarity’s sake, the authors give a detailed definition of Deism, particularly as it was understood in eighteenth century America and England.

SacredFireThumbAfter this, the authors give an abbreviated review Washington’s life and times. They then address the specific points on which Washington’s modern biographers have based their claim of Washington’s Deism. In the endeavor to do this, they have used a mountain of primary source materials including writings and interviews of Washington’s family, friends, subordinates, military comrades, government colleagues, as well as his personal and private papers and speeches.

The authors conclude that Washington was indeed a Christian gentleman, and specifically say he was what would be called a low Church Anglican typical of his time and place. They further maintain that given the amount of primary source material available, it is hard to understand how modern biographers could come to any other conclusion. After plowing though this book, I have to agree with them.

While the book does a great service by getting to the truth, and demolishes the modern progressive theme of Washington’s Deism, there are some things which I find could be improved.

The single largest fault of the book is its repetitiveness. In order to insure there is no question about the accuracy and veracity of their information and conclusions, the authors use and re-use certain material in a number of different chapters. Given this fact, I believe the authors could have presented their case just as convincingly using many less pages. Finally, the book has a certain cut-and-paste feel about it and the writing does not exactly remind one of Dickens.

Washington’s Sacred Fire is not a casual read. The book is a best seller, but I suspect it has been more bought than read. The body of the book is about seven hundred pages and there are over four hundred pages of appendices and notes. It is not easy to read, but if you love history, George Washington, and are the type who reads footnotes, this might be a book for you. • (1626 views)

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9 Responses to Book Review: George Washington’s Sacred Fire

  1. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    That’s a darn fine review. I like how you didn’t sugarcoat it. It’s very important for me to know the pros and cons going in. I think I have a very good idea now what to expect from this book. This was like one of those good reviews that gets to the point, no sugarcoating, and is explained by someone with experience so that you know you can trust the details, pro and con.

    • Kung Fu Zu says:

      Thanks Brad. I calls um like I sees um.

      In the penultimate paragraph I wrote “many less pages.” It would have been more proper to write “many fewer pages.” My mistake.

  2. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    Here’s an interesting and well-written review/commentary of Nathaniel Philbrick’s book about Benedict Arnold: Valiant Ambition: George Washington, Benedict Arnold, and the Fate of the American Revolution. Here’s a choice quote:

    Philbrick writes that Arnold considered himself “the leading personage in the drama that was his life” and that, in contrast, “Washington’s sense of right and wrong existed outside the impulsive demands of his own self-interest.” Washington believed that to break the rules or fail in his duty would, in his own words, render himself “lost to my own character.” Arnold, says Philbrick, was “not lost to his own character, but lost in it.”

    One might say that Arnold was the Donald Trump of his age but even Arnold doesn’t deserve that kind of insult. He did, after all, fight for the creation of this country and had some major successes. What he didn’t have was Washington’s good character. Few did. Or do.

    Many of us here have read Philbrick’s Mayflower. This might be another one to add to your reading list. Also, read this review (along with Mr. Kung’s) as a good model for concise and relevant reviews. If this particular book just sucks, then it’s not a good review, per se. But my guess he’s captured the draw-interest of the book and has connected it with potential readers…always the task of a well-written review.

    • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

      One might say that Arnold was the Donald Trump of his age but even Arnold doesn’t deserve that kind of insult. He did, after all, fight for the creation of this country and had some major successes. What he didn’t have was Washington’s good character. Few did. Or do.

      “Does the man have character?” This is perhaps the single most important question which should be asked in our dealings with others. But it is especially important in considering the choice of our leaders.

    • Timothy Lane says:

      Glenn Beck in his study of Washington came to a similar conclusion. There’s good reason to believe his wife played a major role in his decision to betray his chosen country. Beck notes that Arnold was the sort of guy who would marry a Peggy Shippen — and Washington wasn’t.

      • Kung Fu Zu Kung Fu Zu says:

        There’s good reason to believe his wife played a major role in his decision to betray his chosen country.

        A good example of why we should carefully consider our choices in life.

        As I recall, Arnold’s wife was a shallow, flirtatious young woman who sought attention and status. Superficial things appeared to be very important to her.

  3. Brad Nelson Brad Nelson says:

    I just noticed that you had published this almost 3 years ago to the day. Have we really been around that long? I updated this post to add the date and to match the stylesheet of “drop shadow” thumbnails and photos. And I still haven’t read the damn book.

    Reading Davidson’s book review (and yours) has made me even more comfortable with my own Benedict Arnold stance regarding Donald Trump and the sheer pointlessness of the mental masturbation that is most of the conservative media. I think a good book and a good book review are something very worthy of spending time on and certainly supplies all the grist one needs for a substantive political discussion, if that is what one is itching for. But I won’t miss the countless articles that simply said “Ain’t Hillary a monster? Isn’t the Left driving us toward Hell?” Yes, and yes but how many times do we need to write that? With the elevation of a conman such as Trump to Republican standard-bearers, it’s obviously time for “shit or get off the pot.” Either do something substantive (or report on those who are) or (as I suggest) read a good book or watch a good movie and submit a review.

    Or do a little creative writing (which I think is inherent to writing reviews of any kind, making it half the fun). But, yes, we get it now: The Left is taking us over the edge like Thelma and Louise. So either build a bridge, rip the distributor cap out of the car, or take control of the wheel. What we don’t need are the literary equivalents of lookie-loos.

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