Kengor Writes . . .
Paul Kengor is a professor of political science and the executive director of The Institute for Faith and Freedom at Grove City College, in Grove City, Pennsylvania, and he is the editor of The American Spectator. These essays are republished from The Institute for Faith and Freedom, an online publication of Grove City College, and The American Spectator. Paul Kengor is the author of God and Ronald Reagan: A Spiritual Life (2004); The Crusader: Ronald Reagan and the Fall of Communism (2007); The Judge: William P. Clark, Ronald Reagan’s Top Hand (Ignatius Press, 2007); and The Communist — Frank Marshall Davis: The Untold Story of Barack Obama’s Mentor (Threshold Editions / Mercury Ink 2012).
Mary Ball Washington, America’s First Mother
“My great age, and the disease which is fast approaching my vitals, warn me that I shall not be long in this world. I trust in God that I may be somewhat prepared for a better.”
So said a weak Mary Ball Washington, mother of America’s first president, George Washington, to her son in March 1789, as she lay dying from cancer at roughly age 80 (her exact age unknown). Her son had come to bid America’s First Mother a final goodbye. He told her about this significant new office that he was assuming for his country — to which all 69 electors had unanimously chosen him on Jan. 7. He was only president ever selected unanimously.
“But before I can assume the functions of my office,” he told the frail old woman, “I have come to bid you an affectionate farewell.”
The 57-year-old Washington continued, “So soon as the weight of public business, which must necessarily attend the outset of a new government, can be disposed of, I shall hasten to Virginia, and . . .” here, the mother interrupted the son “. . . you will see me no more.”
The mother sensed this was the end, the final time she would glimpse the son before he went out to fulfill the destiny that she had helped raise him to one day accept. “But go, George,” she urged, “fulfill the high destinies which Heaven appears to have intended you for; go, my son, and may that Heaven’s and a mother’s blessing be with you always.”
It was a touching motherly benediction, and yet, the old woman held on months longer, not succumbing until August 25, 1789, taking her final breath around 3 o’clock that afternoon. The son was not there to see it. He was fulfilling that destiny, one that he likewise believed was Providential.
This incident is one of many dramatic moments related in Craig Shirley’s superbly done biography, Mary Ball Washington: The Untold Story of George Washington’s Mother. Published in 2019, well over two centuries after the death of the First Mother and first president, Shirley’s book received critical acclaim from historians like Douglas Brinkley, Michael Barone, and Jon Meacham, but it hasn’t been enough. It’s a book that should be read by millions of Americans, especially in public schools. And it should be read for Mother’s Day.
Mary Ball Washington’s Son, Her Legacy — Think about the significance of this singular woman.
George Washington is, of course, the Father of our country. He was the hero of the American Revolution, who pulled off a stunning victory against the British empire, one that his countrymen considered nothing short of miraculous. It was no surprise when Washington was the Founders’ choice not only for military general but later as their new nation’s first president.
That first president was admired for not only his brawn but his brain. He helped establish his young nation by both his victories on the battlefield and his capabilities of mind. That first president fully understood the “great experiment” (as he and other Founders put it) being entrusted to them and the American people, namely, whether human beings were indeed genuinely capable of self-governing. Think about that more deeply, because Washington did: He averred that the people of this nation needed to be able to genuinely self-govern themselves before they could self-govern their country. For that self-governance, he said in his Farewell Address, “religion and morality are indispensable supports.”
George Washington was so beloved, even revered, by his countrymen that many wanted him to become king. He knew, however, that such would have gone against everything he and his people had fought for. Such had been the way of Napoleon, Caesar, Cromwell — of so many, but not of Washington. Napoleon was selfish, a narcissist, an egomaniac. Washington was selfless, humble, a role model.
After his military victory in the American Revolution, Washington returned his commission — his “sword” — to Congress. This overture electrified not only the country but the world. As noted by Gordon Wood, preeminent historian of the American Revolution, most such military heroes expected in return some type of significant political reward commensurate with their military achievement. But not George Washington. His selfless action, noted Wood, “captivated the world.”
“He could have been king,” wrote presidential historian Richard Norton Smith. “Congress, in effect, offered him a crown. He spurned it. And in the process, he gave us a whole new definition of greatness: the renunciation of power, not the embrace of it. It was no accident that on his deathbed Napoleon said, ‘They wanted me to be another Washington.’”
Who Was Mary Ball Washington? All of which brings us back to Mary Ball Washington. Where did a man of such character come from? Who forged the boy that rose to become this kind of man and leader?
The answer, of course, was his mother. That was especially so because the young George lost his father, Augustine (Gus), on April 12, 1743, when the boy was only 11 years old. Thereafter, it was mother Mary, now widowed in her late 30s, who had to raise six children by herself. Not just that, but she ran the property, the farm, and the business, and, yes, she supervised slaves as well. She never remarried.
In the process, she raised a president — the nation’s first.
“His devout mother played a key role in the development of his character,” writes Craig Shirley. “While he was sometimes described as having little genuine affection for Mary, the reserved Washington still credited her with his principled and moral upbringing.”
And as Shirley shows, the relationship between the two was “laden with difficulty” for both of them. It was a struggle for anyone to have much affection for Mary. Shirley describes Mary Ball Washington as “self-centered and acquisitive,” “tutoring and fashioning” her son but also “driving and admonishing” him. She was not a warm lady and, frankly, was hard to feel warm about. She was not easy to like. She was a cold woman, austere, and herself quite a character — an odd one. And Craig Shirley’s book provides far more than a history of her and her son. He provides a character study that fascinates.
But whatever her personal shortcomings, this woman raised a president, our nation’s first. He was our first president and Mary Ball Washington was our First Mother — one who needs to be remembered, and perhaps particularly so for America’s annual celebration of Mothers’ Day. Get this book and read and learn and remember.
The Book of Acts Is Not Communism
“This is not communism. It is pure Christianity.”
Yes, even Pope Francis, a man often accused of being soft on Communism, understands. He offered that succinct assessment in a homily on Divine Mercy given Sunday, April 11, 2021 at St. Peter’s Square, when speaking on the Book of Acts, specifically Acts 4:32, which states of the apostles that “no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common.”
Francis paused to explain in the very next line, lest anyone had any misconceptions: “This is not Communism. It is pure Christianity.”
I mention this now because the Lectionary readings from last weekend and throughout the past week include the passages from Acts that many Religious Left Christians often sloppily assume advocates for “Communism.” The passage last Sunday was from Acts 2:42-47, which includes this line: “All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their property and possessions and divide them among all according to their needs.”
Karl Marx, an atheist and evolutionary racist who hated religion and referred to Christianity as a “hypocritical” faith that preaches “cowardice, self-contempt, abasement, submission, humility,” pulled from that line to develop one of his most famous maxims: “From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs.”
The other passage from Acts that is frequently invoked by “social justice” Christians is Acts 4:32-35, which states:
“The community of believers was of one heart and mind, and no one claimed that any of his possessions was his own, but they had everything in common. With great power the apostles bore witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great favor was accorded them all. There was no needy person among them, for those who owned property or houses would sell them, bring the proceeds of the sale, and put them at the feet of the apostles, and they were distributed to each according to need.”
I’ve written about that passage before in articles with titles like, “The Early Church Was Not Socialist,” and in other writings. I can’t begin to convey how many times I’ve been asked about it over the years, and not always from opponents. Here’s the reality:
The fact that certain passages of Scripture, or certain religious orders, express forms of communalism — look closely at that word, communalism, not Communism — or pooled together resources to help one another certainly does not mean they were practicing the 19th century militantly atheistic ideology known as Communism. There is plainly no comparison between the first century apostles or Saint Francis and his followers to Vladimir Lenin and the Bolsheviks. If you think the teachings of Karl Marx are analogous to the teachings of Jesus Christ then, well, I’m frankly speechless.
The likes of the early apostles and Franciscans were first and foremost forged on a Christian model; religion served as their rudder, their guiding, inspiring, animating force — the very spiritual force that Communism seeks to abolish. Marx called religion “the heart of a heartless world,” “the soul of soulless conditions,” “the opium of the masses.” Lenin called it “spiritual booze,” “Medieval mildew,” “a necrophilia,” and said “there is nothing more abominable than religion.”
To take a single Marxist exhortation to share wealth and then in turn argue that Communism is thus comparable to Christianity is the height of folly. And yet, I shudder to think how many pastors right now are saying just that from the pulpit as they interpret the Book of Acts this Easter season.
The reality is that individuals who opt for communal life in a religious order, which is a miniscule, rare portion of the population, do so voluntarily to serve God. Under atheistic Communism, a totalitarian regime forces 100 percent of society to bend to its will. It confiscates their property, contrary to the Bible’s vigorous defenses of property rights, as rudimentary as the understanding implicit in the 10 Commandments: thou shalt not steal. In the New Testament, individuals like the Good Samaritan or the vineyard owner voluntarily give their own earnings as free-will acts of benevolence, not as forced responses to state fiat.
Let’s get back to the Book of Acts:
Read further on in that section. A colleague of mine often urges, “Never read a single Bible verse.” Context is crucial. The full section of Acts 4:32-37, plus the start of Acts 5, makes clear that these believers owned property. In most Bibles, the heading for that section states, “The Believers Share Their Possessions.” Look closely at those last two words: “Their Possessions.”
To the contrary, possessions are not permitted under Communism. Marx and Engels in the Communist Manifesto stated: “The entire Communist theory may be summed up in the single sentence: abolition of private property.” Throughout Acts, these believers have private property. It has not been abolished.
Acts 4:36 notes that Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus whom the apostles called Barnabas, “sold a field he owned” and brought the proceeds to the apostles. Barnabas was permitted property. He sold not all of it, but a field.
In Acts 5, the same is true of Ananias, who “also sold a piece of property.”
Both Barnabas and Ananias owned property and chose to sell a portion to share.
The apostles willingly could choose to sell their property (or some of it) and share it. They were not compelled at knifepoint by a government regime to forcibly give up all possessions or be carted off to a labor camp.
Above all, this mere sharing of some property by these early apostles is light years away from the teachings of Marx and Engels and Lenin and more. If you doubt me, then please, read. Educate yourself! The Manifesto talks about the abolition of not only property, but of family, religion, “all morality,” “eternal truths,” capital, classes, states, societies, and much more. Almost hilariously, Marx and Engels in the Manifesto explain that Communism seeks nothing less than to “abolish the present state of things.”
Gee, is that all?
Marx and Engels declared that Communism represents “the most radical rupture in traditional relations.” They closed their Manifesto by stating that, “They [Communists] openly declare that their ends can be attained only by the forcible overthrow of all existing social conditions.” As for Marx, he had a favorite quote from Goethe’s Faust: “Everything that exists deserves to perish.”
That was Karl Marx and his ideology. It is a radical transformation of human nature. Read the Communist Manifesto and then read the Book of Acts and then try to argue that Acts is Communism. Read the 10-point plan in the Communist Manifesto. Does it sound like a plan of the apostles?
Beyond the Manifesto, read other Communist classics, such as Marx’s “A Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right” (the “opiate of the masses” essay); Friedrich Engels’ The Origin of the Family, Private Property and the State; Marx’s literally devilish poetry and plays, such as “The Pale Maiden” and Oulanem; Lenin’s opus The State and Revolution, and his elucidation of “Communist ethics” vs. Christian ethics in his shocking 1920 speech to the Russian Young Communist League; Nikolai Bukharin on “Communism and Religion” in his The ABC of Communism.
Note how these men stated, repeatedly, that their Communism is incompatible with your “idiotic” Christianity. To quote Bukharin: “Religion and Communism are incompatible, both theoretically and practically. . . . Communism is incompatible with religious faith.” He urged Communists everywhere: “A fight to the death must be declared upon religion. Take on religion at the tip of the bayonet.”
I could go on and on.
The lesson for Christians ought to be clear: Please become better informed about Communism before outrageously linking it to the Christian faith. The glorious, redeeming teachings of Christ and his apostles bear no comparison to the deadliest ideology in human history. Communism kills people; Christ saves people.
No, folks, the Book of Acts is not Communism. Anyone who makes such an assertion immediately conveys a profound ignorance. They are showing you that they have no idea what Communism is.
Communism is the antithesis and enemy of Christianity. The Book of Acts, as even Pope Francis said, is Christianity, not Communism. *