Massive Massachusetts Monument Mangles Church/State Misrepresentation

Written by Steve Pauwels on November 29, 2013

If factually spurious theories about America’s founding were turkey? Thanksgiving Day tables would groan under overcooked piles of them. You know: stuff that everybody knows to be true, but which isn’t. 

Then there’s the history of the nation as it actually unspooled. 

Eighty miles from my front door, situated in an affluent but otherwise unprepossessing Massachusetts neighborhood overlooking Plymouth (as in “Plymouth Rock”) Harbor, towers the massive but obscure “National Monument to the Forefathers” (NMTF). It’s an 180 ton, eighty-one foot high, one-hundred-twenty-four-year-old monolith that honors 1620’s hardy,Mayflower settlers; in the process, bearing exuberant testimony to the nation’s Judeo-Christian roots. More and more, Americans are distressingly unaware of those roots — just as so few know about this majestic stone carving. 

Kirk Cameron’s excellent 2012 documentary Monumental brought it some long overdue attention, but too often this Forefathers Monument remains like America’s actual, historical record: For those bothering to pay attention it offers overwhelming evidence of the spiritual — yes, religious! — principles which molded the Republic for centuries; but, more likely, it’s obliviously — even studiously — disregarded. 

As John Pototschnik has reasoned, memorials like the NMTF “represent and remind us of things we want to forget, things we want completely erased from our true history.” 

Initially conceptualized around 1820 and commissioned by the Pilgrim Society, the monolith’s cornerstone was laid in 1859, it was completed in 1888 and ceremonially dedicated in the fall of 1889. Significantly the work of Boston artist/sculptor Hammett Billings — with help from brother Joseph and a handful of other craftsmen — it was shaped from blocks of Maine stone and looms the world’s largest solid-granite monument, the United States’ third-tallest statue.

The NMTF is comprised chiefly of assorted chiseled figures, each emblematic of principles which inspired the Pilgrim’s establishment of their original commonwealth; the seed material which was to become the most formidable, dynamic country on earth.   Rising from its main pedestal — and doubtless giving indigestion to dues-paying ACLU members who, taking a wrong turn, accidentally motor past this megalith — a female representation of “Faith” dominates the structure, forefinger gesturing portentously heavenward (gasp!), the other hand clasping a Bible (gasp, again! And grab the smelling salts!!)

Enthroned on four buttresses surrounding this brash, Bible-thumping belle are fifteen-foot-tall allegorical characters embodying, respectively, “Morality”, “Law”, “Education” and “Liberty” — and not fuzzy, generic versions of these ideals, but explicitly Christian ones. The “Morality” figure, for instance,  clutches in her left hand a tablet exemplifying Exodus’ Ten Commandments; in her right a scroll of the New Testament’s Book of the Revelation. Beneath her are carven iterations of “The Prophet” and “The Evangelist”. 

“Law”, meanwhile, is a male persona, flanked by smaller depictions of “Justice” and “Mercy”.The Monument’s sculpted incarnation of  “Education”, clearly envisages not the mere gaining of information — it is accompanied by a statuette of the biblically celebrated virtue “Wisdom”. 

In our jaded day, widely giggled at and much derided though each of these stellar notions might be, they were central to the eventual success of Plymouth Plantation’s pioneers. Notions anchored unalterably in their ardent, Christ-centered faith. 

From the NMTF’s granite emerges a distilled microcosm, not only of that Mayflower crew’s adventuresome experiment, but of the subsequent American experiment, as well. The nation’s unfolding has been punctuated by religious — make that, biblical — make that, Christian — influences; marbled relentlessly with nods toward God, the Savior, Hebrew/Christian Holy Writ, pointedly theological observations. 

— Judeo-Christian principles animated the revolutionary generation: Remember those references to “rights” “endowed by our Creator” and “firm reliance on Divine Providence” [emphases mine]? For those sourpusses whose heart’s go pitter-patter at fantasies of an overpoweringly Deist, God-shunning early America, I’ll paraphrase the Washington Times‘ Bob Knight: Real history can be so annoying.

— From our Republic’s maiden years, up until the Civil War, literal church services were held regularly in the U.S. Capitol and Treasury Building. Note: those would be inescapably religious activities operating within “governmental” structures. Approved by both House and Senate. Attended by many presidents, John and John Quincy Adams, Jefferson, Madison and Lincoln among them; and by members of Congress. Is it still too late for Barry Lynn to bring suit?

— Washington, DC long has been studded with Christian-friendly optics: Scripturally-themed statuary, inscriptions and memorials. A visit to the Washington Monument and Lincoln or Jefferson Memorials alone will promptly confirm this: their august stonework is etched prominently with a feast of theologically-freighted references.

— Starting with our first president, United States’ Chief Executives, functioning in their formal capacity, have prayed aloud, cited Scripture, encouraged citizens’ religious observances. (There’s no account of their having turned beet-faced with embarrassment while doing so.) 

Allow me to mention, that would include — and pardon the biblical language — FDR, the modern Democrats’ Moses (check out his for-the-ages D-Day Prayer); and, at least when it’s politically advantageous for him, the Oval Office’s current occupant/Messiah. Both of these, and many/most (?) of our other presidents, openly have done the “religious” thing. And it wasn’t ever much of a problem until, a few decades back, “secularist” troublemakers started agitating, foisting on society their God-free-America fiction. 

All of the above, and a nearly bottomless store of other, authentic, faith-favorable statements made and occurrences transpired pose a bitter predicament for those demanding “the State” and all-things-Christian must never stand in the same room. America’s trustworthy, historical annals pound into Indian pudding the God-phobic mythology which presently has gained the narrative high-ground.  They illustrate unassailably our founders, leaders and general culture, at least until relatively recently, never envisioned banishing all things “religious” from the public sphere. 

The genuine record, truth be told, manifests the exact opposite. 

The National Monument to the Forefathers, then, really oughtn’t be ignored. Even more so, the history it incarnates mustn’t be. 

Image: Courtesy of: The National Monument to the Forefathers in Plymouth, MA; author: Raime; Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

Steve Pauwels is pastor of Church of the King, Londonderry, NH and host of Striker Radio with Steve Pauwels on the Red State Talk Radio Network. He's also husband to the lovely Maureen and proud father of three fine sons: Mike, Sam and Jake.