A GREAT HOLIDAY GIFT FOR FAMILY, FRIENDS, AND CASUAL ACQUAINTANCES

Thanksgiving is six weeks away, and it occurred to me that many of you may be looking for some good Thanksgiving-related reading in advance of the holiday.  There are many books that you can choose from, but two in particular come immediately to my mind.  The first–if you’ll forgive me for saying so–is my book The First Thanksgiving: What the Real Story Tells Us about Loving God and Learning from History.

First ThanksgivingThe book came out in the fall of 2013 from Intervarsity Press, and it was a labor of love.  For years I had been gradually developing a new sense of vocation.  I believe that academic historians write too much for each other, leaving the public to learn about the past from pastors, talk-show hosts, rap musicians, and other public celebrities.  As a Christian historian, I have come to believe that part of my calling is to be a historian for Christians outside the Academy.  If you are a Christian who is interested in American history, I want to be in conversation with you about what it means to think Christianly and historically about the American past.  That is why I started this blog two years ago, and that is why, about seven years ago, I began my research on the Pilgrims and the First Thanksgiving.

I didn’t write The First Thanksgiving primarily because I was enamored with the story and wanted to re-tell it accurately (although I hoped to do so).  Rather, it gradually dawned on me that this familiar story provided the perfect framework for exploring what it means, from a Christian perspective, to remember the past faithfully.  The story of the First Thanksgiving is central to how we, as Americans, remember our origins. The subsequent development of the Thanksgiving holiday speaks volumes about how we have defined our identity across the centuries. As Christians, our challenge is to “take every thought captive in obedience to Christ” (II Corinthians 10:5), including our thinking about our national heritage.  Thanksgiving is a good place to start.

Go over to Amazon.com, however, and you’ll find a lot more buzz about a different Thanksgiving title.  In what I can only attribute to God’s determination to keep me humble, the month after The First Thanksgiving was released, Rush Limbaugh came out with a book on the same topic: Rush Revere and the Brave Pilgrims.  The book follows a middle-school history teacher named Rush Revere and his time-traveling, talking horse named Liberty.  The pair go back to visit the Pilgrims in 1620 and 1621 and discover that they all would have voted Republican and opposed Obamacare.

Rush RevereRush Revere and the Brave Pilgrims has been reviewed more than 4,200 times on Amazon.com, and 95% of reviewers give the work four or five stars.  They praise it as a “factually correct,” “unbiased,” “true history” that will help to combat the “liberal propaganda that the children are being fed today.”  Last Autumn such giddy enthusiasm propelled the book temporarily to #2 on Amazon’s ranking of books, and even a year after its release it still sits comfortably in Amazon’s top 100, coming in at #38 as I write this.  (My book is not far behind, standing at #57,589.  I don’t know precisely how many titles Amazon claims to rank, but the total is well above 12 million–probably much higher.)

I have previously posted two extended essays on Limbaugh’s take on the Pilgrims (see here and here), so I am not going to cover that ground again.  Suffice it to say that the book is pretty much a train wreck.  I consider myself a political conservative, and so I take no pleasure in saying that, but the book has little redeeming value as a work of history, even for children.  For Christian readers, the book should be positively offensive.  In Rush’s revisionist re-telling, the First Thanksgiving had nothing to do with the Pilgrim’s gratitude to God for bringing them through a deadly winter and blessing them with a bountiful harvest.  In fact, it had little religious dimension at all.  The Pilgrims and the Wampanoag were instead celebrating how God had delivered them from the futility of socialism and alerted them to the benefits of free enterprise.

As a historian, I think no good cause is ever served by distorting the past, whether intentionally or accidentally.  And as a Christian historian, I am grieved that the Pilgrims’ timeless example of perseverance and heavenly hope amidst unspeakable hardship has been obscured, their faith in God overshadowed by their purported faith in the free market.

If you listen to Limbaugh’s radio program (I’ll confess that I do occasionally), you know that he encourages his readers to buy his books in order to counteract the lies and half-truths that supposedly mar American history as it is taught in the public schools.  With regard to the Pilgrims and the First Thanksgiving, I have no doubt that the real story is rarely told.  But if you’re hoping to find a more accurate re-telling from a time-traveling talking horse, prepare to be disappointed.

4 responses to “A GREAT HOLIDAY GIFT FOR FAMILY, FRIENDS, AND CASUAL ACQUAINTANCES

  1. Hi Prof. McKenzie,
    I really enjoy reading your posts!
    What is your perspective of the writing of Glenn Beck, specifically his popular book “Being George Washington: The Indispensable Man, as You’ve Never Seen.” ?
    I don’t know if your background includes this era of American History, but I would welcome any comments.
    Feel free to respond here, or if you prefer, email me directly.
    Thank you,
    Trent Nichols

    • Dear Trent:

      I have not read this book, although I think I probably should sometime soon. If any other readers know the work and care to share a reasoned opinion, that would be great.

  2. Thanks again for your blog. I plan to visit Amazon and buy copies of your book to share with family. Over the past 25 years, I have enjoyed finding a Christmas picture book and sending them along with supporting handmade ornaments to family and friends. The Polar Express was the catalyst for this idea and that book is still available on Amazon. This year I thought I might start sending Thanksgiving picture books. There just aren’t that many to choose from – especially when you are looking for a book copyrighted in the same year you are gifting it. Probably a reason so many clamored for Rush’s book. I encourage you to try writing a children’s book from your First Thanksgiving research. Just don’t put a picture of your face on the body of a pilgrim. God bless.

  3. I’m trying to do my part in my little corner of the universe, Prof. McKenzie. I’m throwing up a Facebook post today to encourage my Christians friends to read your book. Then, as possible, I want to commit myself to pointing out the historical balderdash such as the Thanksgiving-as-an-example-of-the-failure-of-socialism angle that will probably start making the rounds among my fellow conservatives around this time of year.

    On a more personal note, maybe I’ll try to get my family to have a “real” Thanksgiving with some of the aspects you mention in your book: no turkey, but probably goose and venison, no tables, no utensils, sitting on the ground, etc.

    What I really want to do is condense some of the “history vs myth” aspects of the book into a “quick reference” to file away and review and use as necessary, either when this issue comes up on Facebook or on some message boards where I engage in various discussions. I really want to reread the book to let it sink it a little deeper, but the idea that the Pilgrims would have found the idea of an annual Thanksgiving dinner spiritually presumptuous was something to “chew on”, yet they would probably have no issue with a “harvest festival” with fun and games (and football!). I think I’m remembering this correctly. If not, all the more reason to read the book again.

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