Friday, June 30, 2006

The God of the Civil Religion, an Amorphous, not necessarily a Biblical Deity:

It's important to note, whether countering the claims of the likes of Roy Moore that the God of the civil religion, that is the God to whom the Founders made their public supplications, was a vague, generic and undefined God. And the Founders thought it was absolutely necessary to not define God's attributes too specifically or indentify him as the God of the Bible.

The Founders specifically drew a connection between indentifying God's attributes too specifically and denying the rights of those whose religion denied those specific attributes of God. The Founders faced a dilemma: They posited a conception of individual rights which were both universal and antecedent to majority rule. Moreover, they needed to refute prior claims of right such as Divine Right of Kings which explicitly invoked God to justify such claims. The Founders thus needed to tie their notion of rights to God to make such individual rights unalienable.

Yet, invoking God as the source of political claims had long led to terrible persecution itself (indeed, it was the source of religious persecution which they were trying to solve). If it is claimed that God X grants rights, the Founders feared political forces would deny rights to those who didn't believe God X. But such rights, the Founders believed, applied to everyone regardless of what they believed.

Take for instance, Jefferson's Virginia Statute on Religious Freedom which begins "Whereas Almighty God hath created the mind free...." That natural rights document like all of the other natural rights documents and public supplications to the God of the Founding era invokes a generic monotheistic God as the guarantor of natural rights. Jefferson later explains exactly why such a God was not indentified as the Christian God:

Where the preamble declares, that coercion is a departure from the plan of the holy author of our religion, an amendment was proposed, by inserting the word "Jesus Christ," so that it should read, "a departure from the plan of Jesus Christ, the holy author of our religion;" the insertion was rejected by a great majority, in proof that they meant to comprehend, within the mantle of its protection, the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and Mahometan, the Hindoo, and Infidel of every denomination.

James Madison, who successfully fought for the Bill's passage in Virginia, corroborates Jefferson's account and endorses Jefferson's argument in his Detached Memoranda:

In the course of the opposition to the bill in the House of Delegates, which was warm & strenuous from some of the minority, an experiment was made on the reverence entertained for the name & sactity of the Saviour, by proposing to insert the words "Jesus Christ" after the words "our lord" in the preamble, the object of which, would have been, to imply a restriction of the liberty defined in the Bill, to those professing his religion only. The amendment was discussed, and rejected by a vote of agst (See letter of J. M. to Mr Jefferson dated ) The opponents of the amendment having turned the feeling as well as judgment of the House agst it, by successfully contending that the better proof of reverence for that holy name wd be not to profane it by making it a topic of legisl. discussion, & particularly by making his religion the means of abridging the natural and equal rights of all men, in defiance of his own declaration that his Kingdom was not of this world.

I note all of this because Christian Nationalists are fond of claiming that rights come from God. But they mean rights come from their fundamentalist Christian God and men thus only have the right to do what this God permits in the Bible. This fundamentally misunderstands our Founding principles. But it does contain a half-truth: Our Founders did argue that natural rights come from God. Here is the way one Roy Moore supporter put it in this comment section on World Magazine's blog.

Roy Moore teaches, compellingly, that the founders of America worked from the premise that men are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights. A just government must recognize and protect those rights precisely because they derive from a higher authority whom every human authority is accountable to. When American governments (state and federal) refuse to acknowledge God, they abandon their rationale for identifying and protecting those rights.

Yet, as we have seen, these same Founders never identified God as the God of the Bible or the God that revealed the Ten Commandments to Moses, but rather as an amorphous "Nature's God." Indeed, our freethinking, Theistic Rationalist Founders either disbelieved or strongly doubted that God revealed the Ten Commandments to Moses.

If Roy Moore had simply slapped a ten ton monument of the Declaration of Independence or any one of the Founding Era's natural rights documents with their references to a generic, rights granting Creator, I don't think there would have been a problem (I certainly wouldn't have a problem with that).

By defining, in a public supplication, our rights granting God as the God who revealed the Ten Commandments to Moses, Roy Moore betrayed our Founding Fathers who never did the same.


Brian Tubbs said...

Jon writes: "...the God to whom the Founders made their public supplications, was a vague, generic and undefined God."


"From the Scriptures I learn that there is but one God to whom worship is due. That he is the Creator Preserver and Governor of universal nature. Thou shalt have no other Gods before me is the first command after that of loving God." --Abigail Adams

**Note how she associates "the Governor of universal nature" (a phrase associated by people such as Jon w/ Deism) - note how she associates that same God with that of the Ten Commandments and Hebrew Scripture.

Time will only permit one more - but there are many...

"I shall need, too, the favor of that Being in whose hands we are, who led our fathers, as Israel of old, from their native land and planted them in a country flowing with all the necessaries and comforts of life....." and so on.
-Thomas Jefferson

*Note how Jefferson clearly associates the God who led the Pilgrim fathers to American shores with the God who led "Israel of old" - a very specific reference to the God portrayed in the Scriptures.

I rest my case.

-Brian Tubbs

Jonathan said...


And Abigail also said "There is not any reasoning which can convince me, contrary to my senses, that three is one and one three."

Yes, she also said: "The first commandment forbids the worship of but one God." Which, I take it, she would think that you, by worshipping Jesus Christ as a false God, break the Ten Commandments every time you go to Church or simply by believing what you believe.

Regarding the Jefferson quotation, it's funny, I have a comprehensive review of Novak's book coming out in a publication available at most Barnes & Nobles and Borders in the nation, where I use that very quotation to demonstrate that there really is little in the historical record to distinguish Washington's public supplications to God from Jefferson's.

As I wrote in an earlier post: If you want to say that the Founders' "Nature's God" is the God in the Bible, the best you could argue is yes, He is with one serious caveat: He is the Biblical God except for everything written in the Bible about Him which didn't comport with their understanding of Man's Reason, like His irrational wrath and jealously. These Founders believed the Bible was errant; it contained in Adams's words "errors and amendments" (or in Jefferson's, its history was "defective and doubtful") and Man's Reason was the penultimate tool for determining which parts of the Bible were legitimately revealed by God (as Jefferson put it, Man's Reason could find the "Diamonds" of Truth among the "Dunghill" of error contained in the Bible) and which were not. Everything that didn't passed the "Reason" smell test was thus properly edited from the Bible.

Jefferson, Washington, and Madison (and probably Adams too; I haven't been able to dig up his quotations), likewise referred to God as "The Great Spirit," just as they do, when addressing the Indians.

Question: Is "The Great Spirit" whom the Native Americans worshipped, the God of the Bible?

The point I'm getting at is that they believed most if not all religions, even those outside of the so called Judeo-Christian tradition, were valid ways to God. And that therefore "the one true God" could be worshipped under many different names, whether it be Jehovah, The Great Spirit, Allah, or even by the names of the gods from the Hindu and Greeco-Roman pantheons. Sure they would have had problems with some of the dogmas of all of these religions. Indeed, they, like orthodox Christianity, had "corruptions." But once you excised the "corruptions" from all world religions, you are left with the same thing, or so they, our key Founders, believed.