Monday, August 04, 2008

HISTORY IN THE MAKING

First published as Of Myths and Men in the Jan./Feb. 2007 issue Of Touchstone, A Journal of Mere Christianity.

By Robert Hart

An archeological find from the future is rare. I don’t know how, but one day pages 343 and 344 of a book called The Washington Myth, apparently written in the fortieth century, appeared on my desk. The middle of the first page is damaged and we can only read the top and bottom and a footnote. The second page is intact and contains a footnote also, of which we do not have the ending, as it appears to have been continued on the next page.


THE DEITY WASHINGTON


We begin with excerpt one from the first page, in the middle of a sentence:

“theory, that George Washington was not regarded as an actual deity by the ancient Americans, but only as their patriarch, is, we admit, plausible at first glance. Perhaps his ability to sprout wooden teeth, mentioned in many but not all ancient sources, developed from a story that originally contained no supernatural element: however, this theory is thinly supported, and must be weighed against the almost certain consensus that the story was, from the first, a tale about Washington’s divine or magical powers.


“The assertion that ancient Americans were Monotheists and would not be inclined to worship a god like Washington overlooks the presence of Chinese immigrants, who, building the massive railroads in the Nineteenth Century which connected the whole country, would have been the most important cultural influence in the spread of the American nation. They would have brought ancestor worship into the American experience, transforming George Washington’s patriarchal status into divinity.”16


The second excerpt from page 345 begins about halfway down the page:

“and so it is clear that a multi ethnic nation, needing to have a psychological and spiritual oneness, first created the myth of a common ancestor, as the Romans had believed in Romulus and Remas. The creation of George Washington, no doubt a synthesis of various legends (the most important of which we shall mention), met a great need for a national patriarch for a new nation with no natural source of common identity. Later, the influence of the dominant oriental culture led to the worship of this ancestor, as father of the country.


“Although we do not doubt that George Washington was real as a felt force for unity and a sense of national identity — a reality possessing great spiritual power — it is nonetheless certain, because it is agreed upon by scholars, that George Washington did not actually exist, nor did he need to exist, as a real man in history.”


The footnote reads:

16 Regarding the subject of Washington as a real patriarch to the mind of the ancient Americans, and not a merely symbolic one, much extensive research by the Austrian scholar, Barbara Teehrignen (in Das Wahramericanischergeschictegrossbuch, published in 3907) reveals an obelisk to Washington’s honor in the Capital city named for him. The meaning of the obelisk is clear, as the male organ was so revered that whole communities called themselves ‘Penal colonies,’ no doubt to invoke the blessing of fertility. The symbolic connection with the idea of Washington as ‘the father of our country’ is clear.”


THE REAL GEORGE


On to the next page:

“In order to find the root of the George Washington myth, we need to look across the ocean, from America to England, the ancestral home of the colonists of the first 13 states. There we see that the king against whom they rebelled was named George. It helps to be aware of an old English phrase, ‘The Real George.’ It refers, ultimately, to the legendary Saint George who slew a dragon.


“Consider first the dragon, a word that was used in an altered form by the British military when fighting against the American rebels, Dragoon. (Those soldiers would later be called by Americans “the Goons,” or “the Goon squad,” first used by a man now known to have been a real historical figure, a Naval hero named Popeye. He was also noted for the creation of some stimulant containing spinach and olive oil).


“The Dragoons, being defeated by the American army and various state militias, must have come to symbolize the country over which the Americans triumphed, as ‘the Real George’ symbolized America. Thus the idea that their George, that is the Real George, slew the dragon began as a slang expression that came to be taken literally as the memory of the real events was lost.


“Washington is a name that comes also, no doubt, from the idea of the Real George, the symbol of the American fighters, washing or cleansing the land of the British enemy. When the Capital city was later built, the use of “ton” — commonly used in England and America as a short version of “town” — was added to the word, making it Washing Town, or Washington. The original ‘washing’ was owed to this Real George (as opposed to the less than real George of England) who slew the Dragoons or the dragon, cleansing the land of oppression and enmity. So went the myth.


“In the Washington Studies Seminar, that still meets regularly, some of my colleagues have objected the many records about the President of the Constitutional Convention, ‘first President,’ and General all rolled into one, purport to be eye witness accounts. Here we must consider that these have become, for purposes of our consideration, hear-say evidence.


“That is, they are set forth as eye-witness accounts, but by the time they have been transmitted to us (which is the key point for the professional scholar of American Mythology) they become mere hear-say. The earliest copies we have date from several decades after the events described, other than some documents whose authenticity cannot be verified, but which so exactly express the Washington myth as we have come to understand it, that we are safe in treating them as examples of the ideological development of a culturally necessary mythology. As such, their evidentiary value is greatly diminished.


“The problem also remains of tracing the origins that led to the myth of George Washington, since scholars have come to believe that what we really have is four separate traditions that later came together as one.17 The four traditions are the agricultural, the military, and the two political traditions. In these various traditions George Washington is a Plantation owner in Northern Virginia, the Army General, the President of the Constitutional Convention, and the President of the United States.


“Although it is possible (though highly unlikely) that one man, in his lifetime, may have fulfilled all of these roles, it seems much more plausible that a combination of legends about different heroes in ancient America were combined over a long period of time in the already dominant myth of George Washington.”


EMBARRASSING TEXTS


Finally the incomplete footnote from the second page:

17. The military version of the myth is further complicated by recent discoveries of lost texts. In these George Washington appears as an officer fighting under British command instead of fighting against the British. In this version the entire war is completely different, apparently one of defense against an invading coalition from France and India. Could it be that these texts were seen as an embarrassment and challenge to American orthodoxy? If so, it is small wonder that they were concealed deliberately rather than allowing the risk”

That is all that we have from this future work. I was forced to rethink everything I had ever learned about American History.

12 comments:

John said...

Ok did the same worm hole that the book came in on carry away the ++Hepworth interview?
Hope it was not banned.

Fr. Robert Hart said...

Since you ask, Archbishop Hepworth decided to ask for its removal. I don't agree with his surprise request at all.

An Anglican housewife said...

Thanks for the laugh this a.m.

John said...

Well I suppose he had hoped that the commentary would not drift with the currents back downstream in the general direction of Deerfield Beach, etc.

Canon Tallis said...

There are real myths about American history which unfortunately distort almost everything which we think and do. But the story of George Washington is not one of them. If anything, Washington is less appreciated than he should be while another and more popular president has had to have his own words and plans completely ignored because they would destroy his myth.

There is something about our English and American ability to re-write history and make the bad guys heroes that has always astounded me. It is like we have to find an excuse, even if it is completely fictitious for why we allowed completely evil men (and women) rise to positions of power and abuse those over whom they rule.

There is a good deal of what we think of as history that needs to be fact checked before we open our schools in the fall, just as Anglicans need to realize that many of those pretending to be so have no intention of keeping the "doctrine, discipline and worship . . . of the Church" as it is to be found in the historic prayer books (yes, including the rubrics), the canons, the Articles, the Creeds and the General Councils. They prefer to re-invent themselves as they go along and "the truth is not in them."

Fr. Robert Hart said...

The target of my satire was everyone from Elaine Pagels to the Jesus Seminar to Dan Brown, etc.

Millo Shaw said...

Just like the "historical Jesus" eh?!?

Fr. Dcn. Steve said...

LOL... I have not laughed so loud in a while. History was my major in college, and to see it twisted like this is just too funny.

Canon Tallis said...

And they, and we, Father Hart, all deserve it. But on the whole it reminded me only too much of an inquiry I made to a friend in the sixties about when the professors at Seabury-Western were saying that the gospel according to John had been written. He told me that according to them the established date was late second century.

Now I have to admit that I was quite astonished at this because Justin Martyr whose floriat was c. 150 anno Domini and whose death was probably around 160 quote St John in one of his works. And there was also the matter of the Rylands fragment which at that time was dated between 108 and 115 ad. How was it I wondered that St Justin could quote from a gospel yet to be written or a frament written almost fifty years before that exist. But modern academic scholarship must be served.

I am quite sorry that Archbishop Hepworth asked for the removal of what I thought was an excellent interview. It leaves me very conflicted about the motives for his request. On the other hand, I always rejoice that this blog takes such effort to serve the truth even when the truth does not always serve the Continuum. It makes me value my favorite "Gang of Four" all the more.

Fr. Robert Hart said...

Now I have to admit that I was quite astonished at this because Justin Martyr whose floriat was c. 150 anno Domini and whose death was probably around 160 quote St John in one of his works.

Golly, I explained how this is possible in my opening paragraph. Perhaps an archaeological find from the future was not unique, but merely rare as I said.

Alice C. Linsley said...

Wonderful. Such fun!

I've read less credible commentaries on Genesis. : )

John A. Hollister said...

I, too, thoroughly enjoyed Fr. Hart's "taking the mickey out of" what all too often passes for academic scholarship.

However, I do hope that even in another 2,000 years they'll still understand the difference between "penal" and "penile" (though the way education in general is going, perhaps they won't).

The disappearance of the Hepworth interview is unfortunate because it just lends an air of "now you see it, now you don't" to the whole Rome/TAC affair.

John A. Hollister+