Thursday, June 22, 2006

American Destiny and Providentialism:

I saw a representative from American Destiny on the Hannity and Colmes show and he seemed to endorse the "Christian Nation" thesis which I have spent so much time debunking that I thought I'd further look into their website.

I thought I might find David Barton's oft-repeated phony quotations. But to their credit, they aren't featured on the site (although there are many links to Wallbuilders site of historical hackery, and articles written by hack-in-chief, David Barton).

The site also prominently features quotations from among others, Jefferson, Lincoln and Franklin, and in doing so, I think, illustrates a big problem for its ideological mission. If the site simply wants to demonstrate that virtually all of the key historical figures -- early Presidents, Founding Fathers and whatnot -- publicly invoked "God" or some kind of overriding Providence, I have no quibble. The history record is beyond dispute in that regard.

But many of these men were the furthest thing from orthodox Christians and believed in a system that at best could be described as "cafeteria Christianity" and at worst not Christian at all, but theological heresy.

And keeping the heterodox beliefs of so many of the key Founders in mind, we do see some misleading if not outright false assertions, like for instance, "that of the 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence, all but two or three were Christians." Usually this claim is made in regard to the 55 men who attended the constitutional convention. And it was first put forth by the late M.E. Bradford. What Bradford did was look to those who professed open Deism and belonged to no Christian Church and put them into the "Deist" box. And he found only about three of them. The remaining 52 were at least nominally associated with some Christian Church. But the problem with this categorization method is that many of those "Christian" men, especially those Virginia Anglicans, were exactly like Jefferson, members of their Christian Churches, but tending towards deism and Unitarianism in their personal theological beliefs (what Dr. Gregg Frazer terms Theistic Rationalism).

In short, the 52 out of 55 or 56 singers of the Declaration and Framers of the Constitution include men like Jefferson, Adams, Madison, Morris, Wilson, Monroe, and many others, who belonged to Christian Churches but privately possessed beliefs which were described as "infidel principles" by the orthodox Christians of the day. Indeed, Jefferson, Adams, and Franklin comprised a majority of the drafting board of the Declaration, with Jefferson as its author, and these men held textbook cases of "infidel principles." All three were theological Unitarians, with Jefferson and Adams militantly so, sometimes viciously criticizing the Trinity as "a metaphysical insanity" so incomprehensible that it wrecks the mind (Jefferson's description), and an "awful blasphemy" that "has stupified the Christian World" (Adams's description).

The fellow from American Destiny commented along the lines that whereas the Founders disagreed on specific theological matters, they were agreed on certain general principles. I agree. But when we include the radically unorthodox theological beliefs of men like Jefferson, Adams, and Madison into the "general principles" of which all founders agreed, we are left with simple generic Providentialism as our Lowest Common Denominator.

And indeed, in the quotations section of American Destiny, most of those offered simply prove this point, that there is an undefined overriding, generic Providence that is in charge of all things, never speaking in Scriptural, Revealed or Trinitarian language. For instance, one by James Madison:

"No people ought to feel greater obligations to celebrate the goodness of the Great Disposer of events and the Destiny of Nations than the people of the United States...And to the same Divine Author of every good and perfect gift we are indebted for all those privileges and advantages, religious as well as civil, which are so richly enjoyed in this favored land."

Source: James D. Richardson, A Compilation of the Messages and Papers of the Presidents, 1789-1897 ( Published by Authority of Congress,1899),Vol.I,p.561. March 4,1815.

Even the quotations American Destiny offers which, on their surface, seem to prove more -- that there was a "Christian consensus" of generality so to speak -- turn out to be plucked from context in a misleading manner. Take for instance, this quotation by John Adams (who, as we know was, a Unitarian Congregant, a militant anti-Trinitarian, a disbeliever in eternal damnation and many other key tenets of orthodox Christianity):

"The general principles on which the fathers achieved independence were...the general principles of Christianity...I will avow that I then believed, and now believe, that those general principles of Christianity are as eternal and immutable as the existence and attributes of God; and that those principles of liberty are as unalterable as human nature."

Source: John Adams, Works, Vol. X, pp. 45-46, to Thomas Jefferson on June 28,1813.

But they don't show you the rest of the letter where Adams goes on to say:

Now I will avow, that I then believed, and now believe, that those general Principles of Christianity, are as eternal and immutable, as the Existence and Attributes of God; and that those Principles of Liberty, are as unalterable as human Nature and our terrestrial, mundane System. I could therefore safely say, consistently with all my then and present Information, that I believed they would never make Discoveries in contradiction to these general Principles. In favour of these general Principles in Phylosophy, Religion and Government, I could fill Sheets of quotations from Frederick of Prussia, from Hume, Gibbon, Bolingbroke, Reausseau and Voltaire, as well as Neuton and Locke: not to mention thousands of Divines and Philosophers of inferiour Fame.

Finding "general principles of Christianity" in the teachings of Enlightenment philosophers, like Locke, Newton, Hume? Perhaps. But also in the works of French philosophes, Rousseau, and Voltaire?

Somehow I don't think this is what American Destiny or Wallbuilders have in mind when they talk about the "Christian principles" which undergird our Founding.

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