Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Fea: "Southern Baptist Historians and Intellectual Leaders: Where Do You Stand on David Barton?"

From John Fea here. A taste:
Warren Throckmorton is right.  It is time for more Southern Baptist historians to call attention to the way David Barton uses the past to promote his culture-war agenda.  I don't know much about this event called The Summit, but it looks like a big deal.  Barton is one of the speakers.  Once again, his problematic views of the past are being promoted as the truth.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Commentary: "Chip off the New Block"

Check it out here. A taste:
Walter Isaacson, most recently the biographer of Steve Jobs, tells the story in The Innovators. Technologies such as moveable type, the steam engine, and the microprocessor remake the world because they radically reduce the cost of a fundamental input to the economy. Transforming the economy, they soon transform society and thus politics as well.
In 1450, there were about 50,000 books in all of Europe, almost all of them held in monasteries and universities under the control of the Church. And then moveable type made books cheap. By 1500, there were 10 million books in Europe, almost none of them under Church control—and the Church soon faced the Protestant Reformation.

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Reading the Repubic

I found this video embedded below featuring Allan Bloom, Hans-Georg Gadamer, Eric Voegelin, and Frederick Lawrence.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Berns v. Jaffa

From Commentary Magazine here. A taste:
Harry V. Jaffa wonders “where in the world” I got my ideas about the founding principles. Well, I do not mind saying that I got them from, among others, the Harry V. Jaffa who wrote The Crisis of the House Divided. There he taught me that all the Founders “read the Declaration [of Independence] as an expression of the sentiments of Locke’s Second Treatise of Civil Government”; that in “Locke’s state of nature” men have rights but only “embryonic [rather than] genuine duties”; which means that “no man . . . is under an obligation to respect any other man’s unalienable rights until that other man is necessary to the security of his own rights”; that this priority of rights over duties gives rise to a political problem for which Jefferson (whose attempted remedy was “vitiated by his Lockean horizon”) had no solution ....

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Harry Jaffa & Walter Berns, RIP

Check out The American Spectator's observations here. It begins:
People here in D.C. who remember Walter will recall a witty and learned scholar, but they also remember an indefatigable dancer who, well into his 80s, energetically twirled his lovely wife, Irene, around an AEI ballroom. I recall a talk he gave about Jefferson. “Nature’s God,” said Walter. “What kind of a God do you think that was?”
Walter Berns did tell us what he thought of "Nature's God." I believed it when around 10 years ago I wrote an article quoting him that got published in "Liberty" Magazine (not the libertarian journal, where I've also published, but the one run by the Seventh Day Adventists).

This is what I quoted from Berns' book "Making Patriots":
The God invoked there is 'nature's God,' not, or arguably not, the God of the Bible, not the God whom, today, 43 percent of Americans . . . claim regularly to worship on the Sabbath. Nature's God issues no commands. No one can fall from his grace, and, therefore, no one has reason to pray to him asking for his forgiveness. He makes no promises. On the contrary, he endowed us with 'certain inalienable rights,' then left us alone, and with the knowledge, or at least the confidence, that he will never interfere in our affairs. Moreover, he is not a jealous God; he allows us—in fact, he endows us with the right—to worship other gods or even no god at all.
I've since modified my understanding. I do not believe the "Nature's God" of the DOI is necessarily the "God of the Bible." I also don't necessarily believe we have to ascribe Jefferson's personal theology to this "Nature's God." Jefferson's god, by the way, did not have the following attributes (which Jefferson personally rejected):
The immaculate conception of Jesus, his deification, the creation of the world by him, his miraculous powers, his resurrection and visible ascension, his corporeal presence in the Eucharist, the Trinity; original sin, atonement, regeneration, election, orders of Hierarchy, &c.
Rather, I see "Nature's God" as more of a lowest common denominator between and among Jefferson, the other writers of the Declaration (two who were unitarians, leaving an arguably majority of the DOI's writers unitarian), and the Continental Congress who took responsibility for it.

"Nature" means understood by reason unassisted by special revelation. As it were, "Nature's God" is what we can understand about God from reason unassisted by special revelation.

My conclusion then is "Nature's God" defines as a Providential God whose attributes we can understand by reason alone. This is a God to whom among others, Jews, Christians, Unitarians, Universalists, Muslims, Mormons, unconverted Great Spirit worshipping Native Americans, and self understood Deists (yes, there were self understood "Deists" who believed in Providence) could imagine they believe.

This God is, as much as possible the one who could be "all things to all people," the uniter, not the divider.

The God of generic monotheism, understood by reason, unassisted by the Bible.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Franklin Provides Key Support For Lindsey's Original Unitarian Church in England

Check the details here.
...Theophilus Lindsey (1723–1808), a clergyman who had deserted the Church of England a few months before, was opening a chapel to house what proved to be the first enduring Unitarian congregation in England. Lindsey had been one of the latitudinarian Anglicans who had petitioned Parliament to abolish subscription to the Thirty-Nine Articles as a requirement for holy orders and university degrees.5 After the petition was rejected and the reform movement lost headway, he resigned his living and in November, 1773, came to London to organize a congregation on Unitarian principles “to celebrate and perpetuate the worship of the one only God of the universe.”6 Priestley, Price, and other friends helped him engage a room in Essex House and convert it into a temporary chapel; and Franklin and Le Despencer contributed to the cost.7...

I. To Lord Le Despencer. 

Craven Street, Sunday morning, 8 o’clock. [April 17, 1774]
Dr. Franklin presents his respects to Lord Le D├ęspencer, and acquaints him, that Mr. Lindsey’s Church opens this Day at 11 o’clock, in Essex House, Essex Street, Strand; and that if his Lordship continues his intention of being there, Dr. F. will be ready to attend him.
Endorsed: 17 April, 1774. Dr. Franklin.
Ten years later, Franklin was still concerned that Lindsey and his church be supported.

Franklin Gently Proselytizes for Unitarianism

In my last post I wrote "[Ben Franklin] seemed to gently proselytize for unitarian sermons and expressed concerned at least one of those ministers was properly supported."

Regarding the latter assertion, I noted Franklin's letter to John Calder (one that denies certain parts of the Bible as divinely inspired) where in 1784 he wrote:
By the way how goes on the Unitarian Church in Essex Street? and the honest Minister of it, is he comfortably supported?
That "honest Minister" was none other than the legendary Theophilus Lindsey.

What about the "gentle proselytizing"? In 1774, when Lindsey started the Unitarian Church in Essex Street, Franklin enclosed, in a letter to an orthodox Christian correspondent, Lindsey's "The Book of Common Prayer Reformed According to the Plan of the Late Dr. Samuel Clarke …[,] the new liturgy that Lindsey devised for his Unitarian congregation in London...."

To which the orthodox Thomas Coombe replied:
Mr. Lindsey’s production was a curiosity that I had for some time been wishing to see. I had heard of his fame, but knew nothing of his particularities, till I saw his book, which appears to me to be the weak effort of a discontented and disordered mind. Dr. Clarke, you remember, proposed some alterations in our Common-Prayer Book; but the dreadful elisions which Lindsey has made, shew that he disapproves of the spirit of the whole.1
In short, the gentle proselytizing failed. 

Fortenberry Self Publishes Book on Franklin

I've spent a great deal of time arguing with Bill Fortenberry on the religion of the American Founders. He's a smart guy who does meticulous research. But, as is often the case, the differences come in how we "understand." How we put facts together and the conclusions we draw.

He wrote a book on Ben Franklin's religion which you can purchase here. I do expect to get through it and provide critical feedback.

(He sent me a free copy.)

I have studied Franklin's writing on religion a great deal. Still, there is a lot out there and a closer and more careful reading of the record can yield new discoveries and understandings. Still, I've seen a lot both from Franklin and from Fortenberry.

As I told Bill in an email I will read what he wrote with an open mind. But given what I've already seen, I strongly doubt he -- by using facts or logic -- will convince me I have it wrong.

Though I do suspect that, if his conclusions differ substantively from mine, there will be lots of sophisticated twists and turns to navigate.

On point of agreement, before reading anything, I may have with Mr. Fortenberry is I think Franklin was a theist who believed in an active personal God. I think he understood himself to be a "Christian" in some sense. I think he believed parts of the biblical canon were divinely inspired in a God speaking to man sense and disbelieved in other parts.

On the other hand, I don't see him as a Trinitarian. Though I do search for more of a smoking gun case like we have with Jefferson and J. Adams of identifying as a unitarian. I would say the preponderance of the evidence demonstrates him to be unitarian. He attended unitarian services when it was controversial to do so; and he seemed to gently proselytize for unitarian sermons and expressed concerned at least one of those ministers was properly supported.

I don't think Franklin had a problem with the orthodox Trinitarian theology in which he didn't believe, provided it yielded virtue or good works, which was his test of whether a religion was laudable.

And I think Franklin rejected "Sola Fide" (that men are saved by faith alone) while accepting some combination of works, faith and grace for salvation.

I also think he believed in purgatory and endorsed some kind of universalistic faith -- one that taught a future state of rewards and punishments -- but where no one suffered anything like what Jonathan Edwards described in "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God."

Friday, January 09, 2015

Right Wing Watch: "Even In Victory, David Barton Misrepresents The Truth"

Check it out here. A taste:
A lot of folks who try to use Barton's materials, he said, have often found themselves dismissed because "oh, you're quoting Barton, he's a discredited historian, he makes up his history. Well, guess what? For those people who have used those quotes and been beat up for it, this now vindicates them as well."
"We don't want people to be drug down because we get beat up," he said. "We want them to be able to use historical quotes and not get their brains beat in and so this really is a vindication for everybody who is concerned about original intent and everybody who wants to quote things about the faith of the Founding Fathers or things like that. Now you've got a way when they said 'oh, that's all made up,' no, no, no, here's a judgment, here's a defamation suit, here's the court judgment that says that stuff was defamatory, that was false and defamatory."
Barton's lawsuit focused solely on the claim that he was known for speaking at white supremacist rallies and had nothing to do with the shoddy nature of the pseudo-history that he regularly produces ....