Sunday, May 21, 2017

Islam & the American Founding

John Fea points to a symposium on Denise Spellberg’s Thomas Jefferson’s Qur’an: Islam and the Founders taking place at the Immanent Frame.

A number of years ago, a co-author and I tackled this issue which you can view here.

America's Founders often used the term "religion" and when they did it's a mistake to conclude they meant "Christianity" to the exclusion of other religions like Islam. So if "religion" is granted rights and has restrictions placed on it, such applies to "religion" in general. Islam as a religion therefore gets equally protected under such principles as any form of Christianity.

Below is a quote from one of the authors at the Immanent Frame:
Today we often refer to “Judeo-Christian civilization” but, as Spellberg points out, this term excludes Muslims from that shared history. Spellberg’s book reminds us of the strong tradition of tolerance in the United States, but also of how it is easy to fall short of that goal. . . .
This is true. However, the actual history including both laws and social institutions is a bit more complicated. Yes, there was a remarkable degree of theoretical liberality and ecumenicism that saw Islam being given equal rights under the auspices of protecting "religion." Judaism and all of the various forms of Christianity, orthodox, unorthodox, whatever we might debate qualifies as "real Christianity" were with Islam, "religions."

There were also at the state level different ways of dealing with religion that varied by state. Roman Catholics, for instance, might have their full religious rights in one state, but not another.

If there was some kind of institutional zeitgeist, it was a preference for social Protestant Christianity as the "in" group. All others -- Roman Catholics, Jews, Muslims -- in the "out" group.

For instance, militant unitarians John Adams and Thomas Jefferson as formally and nominally connected to respectively the Congregational (Adams) and Anglican-Episcopal (Jefferson) Churches received cover under the auspices of Protestant Christianity's privileged social standing, along with those who actually devoutly believed in the orthodox creeds and doctrines to which those churches were grounded.

TGC: "Christian History: How David Barton Is Doing It Wrong"

Check it out here. A taste:
To reiterate: our answers will only be as good as our questions, so it’s important that we come to this study with an open mind, seeking to ask the best questions so that we can arrive at answers that correspond with reality.

Here is some further recommended reading for those who are interested:
For religious biographies of the Founding Fathers, you could start with:
For introductory guides on how to do responsible history—that is, how not to do history like David Barton—you could start with
Finally, here is a sit-down conversation with historians Mark Noll and George Marsden—co-authors with Nathan Hatch of The Search for Christian America (1983; revised in 1989). After the video, I’ve added rough time-stamps for their dialogue.


Friday, May 05, 2017

Benjamin Franklin: The Religious Life of a Founding Father

Details on Thomas Kidd's new book here. It looks to be a "standard bearer" on Franklin's faith. A taste:
My new biography of Benjamin Franklin is now ‘in stock’ at Amazon and other retailers! As I was writing my 2014 biography of George Whitefield, and I dug deeper into Whitefield’s relationship with Franklin, I became convinced that there was more to the story of Franklin’s religious life than his simple description of himself as a ‘deist.’

It turns out that Franklin published more on religious topics than any other layperson in eighteenth-century America. He knew the Bible intimately, because of his immersion in the Puritan milieu of his parents. And though he clearly doubted essential doctrines of Christianity, such as Christ’s divinity, he maintained vital relationships with evangelical friends and relatives including Whitefield and his sister Jane Mecom, his closest sibling.


Some endorsements and reviews of the book:

“A convincing portrait of Franklin’s religion as ambiguous, elusive, enigmatic, and whimsical.  He appears in the pages of this welcome book as a forerunner of many later Americans who believe in God, trust in providence, but cannot embrace any particular Christian creed.”—Mark A. Noll, author of In the Beginning Was the Word


“This illuminating and absorbing biography of Benjamin Franklin is the work of a perceptive historian and master storyteller. Thomas Kidd argues compellingly that Franklin’s religious experiences, from his Calvinist upbringing to adult relationships with Christians, are essential to understanding this man of science and reason.”Daniel L. Dreisbach, author of Reading the Bible with the Founding Fathers

Tuesday, May 02, 2017

Peter Thiel on Straussian Jesus

Why I find Thiel fascinating. I don't know if "mislead" is the right word; Jesus did "hide the ball" which is how law students refer to the professor's "Socratic" method. Now I need to track down the John Locke quote Thiel refers to.

Update: Reader Daniel found the quotation:
"This concealment of himself will seem strange, in one who was come to bring light into the world, and was to suffer death for the testimony of the truth. This reservedness will be thought to look, as if he had a mind to conceal himself, and not to be known to the world for the Messiah, nor to be believed on as such. But we shall be of another mind, and conclude this proceeding of his according to divine wisdom, and suited to a fuller manifestation and evidence of his being the Messiah; when we consider that he was to fill out the time foretold of his ministry; and after a life illustrious in miracles and good works, attended with humility, meekness, patience, and sufferings, and every way conformable to the prophecies of him; should be led as a sheep to the slaughter, and with all quiet and submission be brought to the cross, though there were no guilt, nor fault found in him. This could not have been, if, as soon as he appeared in public, and began to preach, he had presently professed himself to have been the Messiah; the king that owned that kingdom, he published to be at hand. For the sanhedrim would then have laid hold on it, to have got him into their power, and thereby have taken away his life; at least they would have disturbed his ministry, and hindered the work he was about." The Reasonableness of Christianity (1695)

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Resist, Revolt, Reason & Authority in the American Founding

I confess a fault in my friendship duties towards Mark David Hall. He wrote a book about Roger Sherman that goes into meticulous detail about reformation sources that influenced the American Founding. He even thanked me in that book (we featured some of the research at American Creation) but I haven't yet read the book.

But I will, one day. I promise.

I am familiar with the argument about Calvinist reformation sources as the inspiration behind the American resistance during the Founding era, in the face of Romans 13. (This article by David Kopel makes similar points.)

Among others, Daniel Dreisbach and Jeffry Morrison, who have collaborated with Dr. Hall are on the same page regarding the influence of Calvinist thought on America's Founding resistance movement.

Arguments contained in America's Declaration of Independence do seem to strongly parallel those of the reformation resisters, but there is more to the story.

This is the controversy: A plain textual reading of Romans 13 (a fundamentalist reading, if you will) seems to categorically forbid revolt. Yet, other parts of the Bible -- Acts 5:29 -- teach disobedience to man (Earthly government) when necessary to obey God. Other parts of scripture -- I Peter 2 (“honor the king”) -- also play in.

What follows is the doctrine among others orthodox biblicists Drs. Gregg Frazer and Mark Noll have taken from such: Submission to government is absolute; revolt is categorically forbidden; obedience to government is a general rule conditioned on the (obvious) fact that if to obey government means to disobey God, obey God and not man. Yet, submit to the civil legitimacy of the tyranny whose civil law demands disobedience to God. Work within the confines of such system for individual justice and systematic change. But ultimately submit, even if it means being a martyr.

John Calvin in his Institutes of the Christian Religion teaches basically this with one important caveat: To the extent that the positive governing law permits lower magistrates to resist and suppress the lawless tyranny of higher powers, believers who constitute such lower magistrates can and should take advantage of this option.

The examples that Calvin gives are analogous to Congress by virtue of the constitutional process, impeaching and removing a President.

As dissidents, a great many of Calvin's followers had bad experiences with "higher powers" that persecuted them. Hence, they had incentive to, and did in fact flesh out and play up Calvin's teachings on interposition, on resistance through law. Hence Samuel Rutherford's "Lex Rex" (the King is not Law, rather "Law is King.")

And, as noted, a great deal of what America's Founders, in their conflict with Great Britain, said and did resonates with such. According to the doctrine, the extant positive law must be appealed to as the source of remedies. America's Founders did a great deal of remonstrating with the British authorities appealing to their rights as Englishmen. A great deal of the Declaration of Independence details how Great Britain failed to live up to its own standards of guarantee contained in existing British law.

But Great Britain -- King and Parliament ("Parliament" shorthand for the then existing power sharing arrangement) -- disagreed with the colonists' understanding of British law. So when there is disagreement, how is it resolved? Under extant British positive law, Parliament had the final say.

Of Parliament's power, Blackstone famously noted:
It can, in short, do every thing that is not naturally impossible; and therefore some have not scrupled to call it's power, by a figure rather too bold, the omnipotence of parliament. True it is, that what they do, no authority upon earth can undo.
As Gary North acutely observed: "Blackstone was wrong: beginning eleven years later, the American colonies undid a lot of what Parliament had done."

It's above my pay grade to say whether the American Revolution violated Romans 13. That biblical text was discussed quite a bit in Founding era sermons because it obviously had the potential among a nation whose demographic religion was "Christianity" to stand in the way of the revolutionary cause.

What I don't see however, from the Founding era sermons is a strong explicit reliance on Samuel Rutherford, et al. I'm sure the influence was there. But John Locke and his ideas were more often cited in the revolutionary pulpit. And Locke is not Rutherford; no evidence we have seen connects Rutherford to Locke and Locke made arguments that were more revolutionary in tone. Locke was also less concerned with answering the Romans 13 challenge and more interested in asserting a right to revolt found in nature discoverable by reason.

Later sermons would then apply Lockean principles to the Romans 13 challenge in more detail. Jefferson and company did not invent the theological arguments contained in the Declaration of Independence. The ideas had been brewing in the pulpit the years prior to the revolution and this 1776 sermon by the unitarian Samuel West best encapsulates theology of the Declaration of Independence and the American Cause. Romans 13 is explicitly dealt with there. Locke is cited; Rutherford and the Calvinist resisters are not. The basis for the right to revolt is found in essences in nature, discoverable by reason.

With that discovery in mind, then go and interpret and understand Romans 13 accordingly. This is how West deals with it:
The doctrine of nonresistance and unlimited passive obedience to the worst of tyrants could never have found credit among mankind had the voice of reason been hearkened to for a guide, because such a doctrine would immediately have been discerned to be contrary to natural law.
 On the explicit text of Romans 13, West asserts:
I know it is said that the magistrates were, at the time when the apostle wrote, heathens, and that Nero, that monster of tyranny, was then Emperor of Rome; that therefore the apostle, by enjoining submission to the powers that then were, does require unlimited obedience to be yielded to the worst of tyrants. Now, not to insist upon what has been often observed, viz., that this epistle was written most probably about the beginning of Nero's reign, at which time he was a very humane and merciful prince, did everything that was generous and benevolent to the public, and showed every act of mercy and tenderness to particulars, and therefore might at that time justly deserve the character of the minister of God for good to the people,-- I say, waiving this, we will suppose that this epistle was written after that Nero was become a monster of tyranny and wickedness; it will by no means follow from thence that the apostle meant to enjoin unlimited subjection to such an authority, or that he intended to affirm that such a cruel, despotic authority was the ordinance of God. The plain, obvious sense of his words, as we have already seen, forbids such a construction to be put upon them, for they plainly imply a strong abhorrence and disapprobation of such a character, and clearly prove that Nero, so far forth as he was a tyrant, could not be the minister of God, nor have a right to claim submission from the people; so that this ought, perhaps, rather to be viewed as a severe satire upon Nero, than as enjoining any submission to him.
Either Nero was "a very humane and merciful prince" when the epistle was written or perhaps the epistle should "be viewed as a severe satire upon Nero, than as enjoining any submission to him."  

Saturday, April 15, 2017

She's BAAACK!!!!

Chris Rodda that is. Doing what she does best. See here. A taste:
The problem with Barton’s so-called Jefferson quote? Well, Jefferson wasn’t talking about immigrants. He wasn’t even talking about ships coming to America from other countries. He was talking about the exact opposite — ships that were sailing from America to Europe!

The quote that Barton butchers so completely to make it say the exact opposite of what Jefferson was actually talking about comes from Jefferson’s 1805 message to Congress (what we today call the State of the Union address).
At the time there was an intense fear of yellow fever in Europe, with recent yellow fever epidemics, particularly devastating in Spain, having killed thousands of people. The obsessive fear of the disease among Europeans, which was causing ships sailing into European ports to be quarantined and their crews and passengers to be subjected to absurd medical tests, was described by Washington Irving in his Notes and journal of travel in Europe, 1804-1805, in which he recounted what he experienced upon his arrival at the Sicilian port of Messina in early 1805:


Thursday, April 13, 2017

Louis Sirico: "Benjamin Franklin, Prayer, and the Constitutional Convention: History as Narrative"

Apparently an entire law review/legal writing article was written on the Ben Franklin, prayer myth. See here. A taste:
This is an article about history and false history and how both shape our laws and our cultural traditions. The article illustrates its point by focusing on a single event at the Constitutional Convention of 1787: a failed proposal by Benjamin Franklin that the Convention hire a chaplain and begin each day with a prayer.

The story of Franklin’s proposal lives on in popular and political history. ...

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

“The Convention, except three or four persons, thought Prayers unnecessary.”

I put that quotation from Ben Franklin in the title. Franklin's words explaining what happened after he made a call to prayer at the Constitutional Convention.

See Warren Throckmorton for the latest Christian Nationalist misstep on it.