Saturday, August 20, 2005

What Other People Take for a Given (sort of my daily post about religion)

I don't particularly recommend Radical Religion in American: Millenarian Movements from the Far Right to the Children of Noah to anyone looking for a light read. More than anything it reads like a PhD thesis, although the use of "!" in various places would indicate a very forgiving doctoral advisor/committee. But his encompassing thesis regarding the Children of Noah, various groups on the radical right, and a look at how watchdog groups both monitor and shape other groups (perhaps the most interesting ideas he presents), are very interesting. There are a few surprising bits of information that were new to me that are worth sharing. In this post I'd like to address "The Vision of Washington." This isn't a vision of the state of Washington, nor a vision of Washington, D.C., but rather a vision of Washington the President and a vision by Washington the President if you believe he appeared to a revolutionary war solider in a dream with an apocalyptic warning, like some strange Virgil in Dante's Divine Comedy. The best summary of the actual dream can be found at Snopes, but I'll regurgitate and summarize based on Snopes and Radical Religion. Actually, why not quote - it's easier. Keep in mind, the point here is that there is a segment of society that believes not only that this is fact, but that it is such incontrovertible fact that it can be quoted to support portions of the Bible.

"Perhaps no better example of the process by which a specific doctrine is offered to the Identity community by a particular leader, considered through the diverse world of the Identity faithful, and then either rejected or forgotten or accepted as dogma can be given than the strange case of George Washington's prophetic vision for America. Washington's vision came to be widely accepted, an unquestioned tenet of belief among Identity adherents, only after a complex process of selection, hermeneutics, and dissemination. The actual origin of the story is impossible to reconstruct. According to the tale itself, the vision was related by one Anthony Sherman to Wesley Bradshaw on 4 July 1859. Mr. Sherman was at the time 99 years old—the precice age of Abraham when God bestowed upon him the Covenant in Gen. 17--and in 1777 was with George Washington at Valley Forge. The vision itself took the form of a dream, which Washington described to Sherman. In highly allusive language, Washington recounted that a singularly beautiful female came to him in his sleep, and addressing him as 'Son of the Republic,' guided him through a
series of apocalyptic visions whose central motif involved the American republic engulfed in the tribulations of war and famine. The cause of these fearful scenes was suggested by 'a shadowy angel,' who placed a trumpet to his mouth and blew three distinct blasts; and taking water form the ocean, he sprinkled it upon Europe, Asia and Africa.' From these continents arose a black and terrible cloud, which settled to earth and resolved into armed men 'who moving with the cloud, marched by land and sailed by sea to America, which...was enveloped by the volume of the cloud.' America is fated to survive this tribulation, according to the vision, only so long as the Republic keeps faith in God, the land, and the union." (p. 52-3)

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