Thursday, November 26, 2015

NPR: "Reconsidering The Pilgrims, Piety And America's Founding Principles"

Here. A taste:
Historians, however, have disputed the extent to which the Pilgrims can be counted as among America's founding fathers.

"This is one little pocket of colonial America," says John Fea of Messiah College in Mechanicsburg, Penn. He has written widely on America's early religious history.

"It's hard to make the same argument if you're studying Virginia or Pennsylvania or the Carolinas or Georgia," Fea says. "We've taken that New England model and extrapolated from it over the last 200 or 300 years into some kind of view of the nation as a whole."

Fea notes the absence of any reference to the Bible in either the Declaration of Independence or the U.S. Constitution.

"There are a lot of arguments that say, 'This was just in the air. The Bible would have influenced their construction, even though it's never mentioned,'" he says. "But as a historian, I need a smoking gun. Maybe they left it out because they deliberately wanted to leave it out."

George Makari Publishes Long Article about John Locke

In Salon here. A taste:
John Locke didn’t quite fit the Deist mold, for he fully believed in miracles and biblical revelation. Furthermore, while Deists argued that the rational soul with its heavenly heritage could unveil God’s work, Locke’s mind had no such power. Worse, his rejection of innate ideas actually undermined Deism. For if the mind was a net of imperfect associations, prone to prejudice, superstition, and delusion, then it was hardly dominated by a universally endowed right reason, but rather pedestrian, often wrong, reason. Nonetheless, Locke’s ethics echoed some Deist views and attracted its advocates, since he also believed God’s desire was encoded in His design and could be found in natural law.

Among the most prominent of Deists was the Irishman John Toland. In 1696, he penned his Christianity Not Mysterious, a book deeply indebted to Locke’s Essay on Human Understanding. Reason, though deeply vulnerable to deception, was still the only grounds for certitude. Matters of faith should always be rational. Even biblical commandments must stand up to logic before becoming law. Hauled before a grand jury, Toland became notorious. Shunned as a pariah, he ended up homeless and destitute. Thirty years later, incensed believers, still bitter, assaulted his idea that God was an analogy.

In 1707, Locke’s pupil Anthony Collins dared to publish An Essay Concerning the Use of Reason, which denied religious mysteries and revelations, and argued that all morality rested on logic. Another Lockean, John Trenchard, used the master to debunk superstitions, noting how easily the mind could be fooled to worship shadows and clouds as gods. The deistic Matthew Tindal wielded Locke like a whip to demand that reason test all Christian beliefs.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Late 19th Cen. Book on Essex Street Unitarian Church in England

The book is entitled "Centenary of Unitarism in England," Charles H. Brigham - 1874.

I've long written about unitarianism and its impact on the political theology of the American Founding. It's important to distinguish between theological unitarianism and Unitarianism as an "official denomination." Theological unitarianism is old and became en vogue during the Enlightenment, leading to official Unitarianism presenting itself at that later time.

The opening of the Essex Street Chapel in England in 1774 marked the first of its kind: They called themselves Unitarian. The preacher was Theophilus Lindsey. In attendance that day were among others Ben Franklin and Joseph Priestley.

A taste:
Various obstacles had been placed in the way of opening a Chapel with so odious a name. It was intimated that the State would interfere to prevent such sacrilege. The enemies of the Chapel tried to hinder the judges at Westminster from granting license to a house in which the Godhead of Jesus would be denied and the scheme of his Atonement be explained away. Vexatious delays were interposed, and the judges were urged to pause before they authorized a form of Dissent that denied the foundations of dogma as well as the rules of church discipline. When the Chapel was opened, it was really opened without a license, without any written warrant from the authorities of the State. Its preacher might have been arrested, and its doors summarily closed. This fact, nevertheless, did not hinder nearly two hundred persons from coming together in the Upper Room; and it is mentioned that there were about ten coaches at the door; “which I was glad of,” says John Lee, the friend of the modest and glad preacher, “because it gave a degree of respectableness to the congregation in the eyes of the people living thereabouts.” There was a nobleman in the congregation, Lord Despenser, Dr. Franklin was there; and the famous Dr. Priestley; and Dr. Chambers and Dr. Hinchley, and other clergymen of the Establishment.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

WND/Charles: "Was Benjamin Franklin a Christian?"

I'm critical enough of World Net Daily when they get their facts wrong as they often do. Joshua Charles seems to get it right here. A taste:
Franklin believed that Jesus had more regard “for the heretical but charitable Samaritan” than for “the uncharitable though orthodox priest and sanctified Levite” (see Luke 10:25–37), and “thought much less of these outward appearances and professions than many of his modern disciples. He preferred the doers of the Word to the mere hearers” (see James 1:22). In response to some of his family members who were concerned about the state of his soul, Franklin responded not by appealing to secular arguments, but like many of the other Founders, to the Bible, which he called “that excellent book.” “I think vital religion has always suffered when orthodoxy is more regarded than virtue; and the Scriptures assure me that at the last day we shall not be examined for what we thought, but what we did; and our recommendation will not be that we said Lord! Lord! but that we did good to our fellow creatures. See Matthew 25.”
That's right, Franklin didn't believe in the Protestant doctrine of "Sola Fide" that men are saved through faith or grace alone. But rather that good works/virtue were at the least a component for salvation.

Franklin also didn't affirm orthodox doctrines like the Trinity and Incarnation. Mr. Charles references Franklin's end of life letter to Ezra Stiles noting this.

Saturday, November 07, 2015

Hall on Religious Liberty Accomodations

Writing at The Daily Signal, Mark David Hall argues for religious accommodations. A taste:
In the midst of World War II, some schoolchildren refused to salute and pledge allegiance to the American flag for religious reasons. In spite of pleas that state laws requiring these practices were necessary to promote national unity, the United States Supreme Court ruled in 1943 that the First Amendment demanded an exemption for these students. America was still able to win the war.

During Prohibition, religious Americans were permitted to use wine for sacramental purposes. Today, Native Americans are allowed to use the narcotic peyote in religious ceremonies. The abuse of alcohol and drugs has caused great harm, but few would attribute this damage to these accommodations.

In Wisconsin v. Yoder (1972), the Supreme Court famously ruled that Amish families could not be forced to violate their religious convictions by sending their children to public schools. Quakers and others are permitted to affirm rather than swear oaths, in spite of concerns that allowing them to do so poses a risk to the integrity of the judicial system.
The short piece mainly argues for such accommodations on policy as opposed to constitutional grounds and that is good because whether the First Amendment's Free Exercise clause, properly understood, guarantees such is a complicated matter contested on grounds that transcend politics. Legal scholars on the Left and Right fall on both sides of this question.

Justice Scalia, Philip Hamburger and Marci Hamilton on the one side (that the Free Exercise Clause doesn't guarantee such accommodations) v.  Justice O'Connor, Douglas Laycock and Michael McConnell on the other (that the FEC does).

I endorse the notion in Smith that the FEC clause does NOT guarantee such accommodations on constitutional grounds. But on policy grounds (statutes, etc.), I support such. Likewise as a libertarian I believe every consenting adult should be able to do peyote regardless of the motivation behind the action.

Friday, November 06, 2015

Tillman: "Justice Jackson’s Biblical Metaphor in Youngstown"

From Seth Barrett Tillman writing at The New Reform Club here. A taste:
Youngstown Sheet & Tube Co. v. Sawyer, 343 U.S. 579 (1952) (Jackson, J., concurring):

Just what our forefathers did envision, or would have envisioned had they foreseen modern conditions, must be divined from materials almost as enigmatic as the dreams Joseph was called upon to interpret for Pharaoh.

Id. at 634 (emphasis added).[1]

As usual, Justice Jackson’s writing is beautiful and engaging. But is his metaphor apt and sensible?

First, Pharoah’s dreams were only enigmatic to Pharoah’s courtiers; Joseph—if we take the text at face value—knew precisely what the dreams meant. Thus, the dreams were not inherently “enigmatic”. Rather, they were only enigmatic to some people. Second, whether Pharoah had dreams (to use the plural) was the core issue being contested. Joseph’s position was that Pharoah only had a “single” dream, not dreams. [Genesis 41:25.] In both these ways, Jackson was wilfully rejecting the plain meaning of the text.

Furthermore, Jackson’s point of view is odd. It was Joseph’s position which (at the time) was adopted by Pharoah’s courtiers: his court. [Genesis 41:37.] In other words, not only is Jackson rejecting plain meaning, Jackson is wilfully choosing to restate the story—not through Joseph’s eyes—but through Pharoah’s courtier’s eyes prior to the time they consented to adopt Joseph’s interpretation. Only in this limited way can Jackson make his biblical metaphor work.

Welcome to modernity.
Yes, this -- "modernity" -- is part of the Whig-Enlightenment history that can revise the biblical narrative to "fit" proper outcomes, like the revisionist notion that the Hebrews had a "republic." (When in actuality, they did not; the idea of a "republic" originated in the Greco-Roman tradition and was eventually adopted into the Judeo-Christian one, with an interesting revisionist tale that sold the idea.)

The Latest Notable Piece Criticizing David Barton

Is found at Salon here. A taste:
David Barton is a self-styled historical revisionist who has made it his life’s work to instill in doctrinaire conservative Evangelicals and fundamentalists that America was founded as an explicitly Christian nation — that, in fact, it was designed to be a theocracy. (The formal term for his belief system is Christian reconstructionist.) He has written books, given speeches, traveled around the world giving advice on history and government, and he is close to many prominent conservative politicians, preachers, pundits and thought leaders. He runs an organization called Wallbuilders which is “dedicated to presenting America’s forgotten history and heroes, with an emphasis on the moral, religious, and constitutional foundation on which America was built.” He is one of the most influential “thinkers” in the conservative movement.
The boldface is mine. 

If what is written in boldface is true, then God forbid.  

Tuesday, November 03, 2015

Just When I Thought ....

The World Net Daily was getting honest in its approach to religion and the American Founding, they pull me back in. See Drs. John Fea and Warren Throckmorton for the details.

A taste from Throckmorton:
First, [you know who] said Simon & Schuster was going to publish it. They declined.

Today, World Net Daily announced plans to publish a new edition in 2016.

I am looking forward to learning the identity of the “academic endorsements.” Why not just post them now on the WND page promoting the book?

Michael and I are up for another round. We have a few academic endorsements of our own.

WND: "John Adams: Unorthodox Christian"

Glad to see they have finally noticed. The comments are also interesting. A taste:
John Adams was a bit more nuanced and definitely more philosophical than Washington in his approach. Without a doubt he always considered himself a Christian, even though he did not believe in the Trinity, placing him by default in the category of an unorthodox Christian (with orthodox for our purposes being defined by the Nicene Creed, which affirms the Trinity). “The human understanding is a revelation from its maker, which can never be disputed or doubted. … No prophecies, no miracles are necessary to prove this celestial communication. This revelation has made it certain that two and one make three, and that one is not three nor can three be one,” he once argued. And while he considered Christianity itself a divinely revealed religion, he harbored grave doubts as to the divinity of Jesus, registering his consternation with his much more orthodox son: “An incarnate God!!! An eternal, self-existent, omnipotent omnipresent omniscient Author of this Stupendous Universe, Suffering on a Cross!!! My soul starts with horror at the idea, and it has stupefied the Christian world. It has been the source of almost all the corruptions of Christianity.”

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Hamburger, Laycock, Hamilton and McConnell at the Constitution Center

To top yesterday's post, below is Philip Hamburger, Douglas Laycock, Marci Hamilton and Michael McConnell speaking at the Constitution Center on religious liberty issues. They are arguably the four leading scholars of religion and the US Constitution.