Saturday, July 01, 2006

Historical Revisionism from WorldNutDaily:

Hey, what else would you expect from them? First this article by Greg Laurie. Laurie, apparently can't face up to the historical truth that the Declaration of Independence is an Enlightenment document, and speaks of God in rationalistic or Enlightenment terms. So he has to support his revisionist theory with phony quotations. For instance, this one from Thomas Jefferson: ''The Bible is the cornerstone for American liberty.'' He then quotes Lincoln as stating:

''All the good Savior gave to the World was communicated through this Book. But for this Book we could not know right from wrong. All the things most desirable for man's welfare, here and hereafter, are to be found in it.''

Now, admittedly, I'm less familiar with Lincoln's work than the Founders; but based on the limited research I've done so far, it seems to be another phony quotation. Lincoln, operating in the tradition of our key Whig Founders, seemed to be a "Theistic Rationalist" -- that is, he believed in and invoked a warm-intervening Providence, but otherwise didn't believe in Scripture or the God of the Bible. Though, Lincoln did quote from or otherwise invoked the Bible and the Christian religion for political purposes. But clearly, he didn't believe in that system.

Here Laurie makes the critical error which I've spent so much time on my blogs debunking:

The same God our Founding Fathers invoked when they established this nation. The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. The God who gave us Jesus Christ as His Son to die on the Cross in our place. The God who gave us the Bible as our guide and manual for living. The only God who can save America and us as individuals.

Funny, as I pointed out in my last post, our Founding Fathers almost never identified God in those terms when they invoked Him in their public supplications. Rather they spoke of a generic, amorphous "Nature's God" who could be the God of the Bible or rather some heterodox Providence. And they certainly disbelieved in and often viciously ridiculed some of the Christian doctrines implied in Laurie's above quoted paragraph, like the Trinity and the Incarnation.

Next, we have Pat Boone (a man who almost personally ruined Rock 'N Roll until the Beatles saved it), making nearly the same error. Boone apparently doesn't realize how the two halves of this following paragraph contain an utterly ironic contradiction.

American pride in its institutions is rooted and grounded in this fundamental belief [in God]. George Washington believed it. Ben Franklin believed it. Thomas Jefferson declared it. John Adams and James Monroe and all the signers of the Constitution devoutly believed it. The first Supreme Court Chief Justice, John Jay, stated on October 12, 1816: ''Providence has given to our people the choice of their rulers, and it is the duty, as well as the privilege and interest of our Christian nation, to select and prefer Christians for their rulers!''

Yes, certainly Washington, Franklin, Jefferson, Adams, and Monroe were monotheists who believed in God. Yet, they all were (or likely were) theological Unitarians who therefore could not be classified as "Christians," at least as many understand that term. So if the "Christian people," exercising their Providentially given right to vote, heeded Jay's advice, they could not vote for a single historical figure that Boone invoked!

Here is founding era preacher Bird Wilson (James Wilson's son) on the matter: "[A]mong all our presidents from Washington downward, not one was a professor of religion, at least not of more than Unitarianism."

He went on to say (I'm copying from Farrell Till's linked article, though this is a direct quotation from Wilson's sermon):

"[T]he founders of our nation were nearly all Infidels, and that of the presidents who had thus far been elected [George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, James Monroe, John Quincy Adams, and Andrew Jackson] _not a one had professed a belief in Christianity_" (Remsberg, p. 120, emphasis added).


Tom Van Dyke said...

A quick google indicates Lincoln did indeed say that. Not to say he was a mainstream Christian.

The Deist view of the Bible, I'd say, is that Deism is in harmony with it, in a natural law sort of way. The laws of nature and nature's God. Messiah stuff optional.

Anonymous said...

Is that right? I couldn't find a primary source for it.

Jon Rowe, blogging from the beach.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Ah. There are a couple I think are OK, none conclusive, but I'm swung by the lack of disputes about it as well. (The anti-theists have been quite thorough at debunking.)

But I see why you're dissatisfied.

I think it squares with Lincoln though: he wasn't a dogma guy, but was very much down with the vibe of the Bible, in a natural right/natural law sort of way. The remarks in question can be taken as politician-speak (he was being presented with the gift of a Bible), not a blanket endorsement of everything contained therein.

You will probably not be swayed by this essay, but I am, as again it squares with my understanding of early American cultural theism, Deism, if you will.

Recall that I'm largely in agreement that we were not founded as a "Christian" nation, but I do hold as a Judeo-Christian ethic nation. I think Novak does a good job at separating the philosophic roots from the church and dogma part of it.

Jonathan said...

Oh yes, I've read that article many times. In fact, I've read that in lieu of reading his book.

I'm probably closer to Berns's view, except Berns and the other East Coast Straussians have a pretty idiosyncratic way of viewing philosophers -- especially Enlightenment philosophers like Locke -- and the messages they were trying to impart. I can't fully endorse the Strauss/ Bloom/ Mansfield/ Berns/ Pangle/ Zuckert argument.

From what I know of Novak's work on the Founders & God, I have two disagreements.

First, just because Judaism and Christianity posit the notion of a warm intervening God that takes an interest in man's affairs, doesn't therefore mean the God of the civil religion (the founding natural rights documents) is the God of the Bible, or as Novak likes to put it, the God who gave the Ten Commandments to Moses.

(Novak is right that these Founders in question weren't strict Deists who endorsed a cold-distant clockmaker, but rather a warm-intervening Providence.)

In fact, our rationalistic Founders doubted much of Revelation, specifically they doubted that God revealed the Ten Commandments to Moses.

And secondly, I don't think Novak is fully honest about categorizing the religion of our key Founders.

I think Gregg Frazer is far closer to the truth. Novak seems to recognize that Franklin, Jefferson, and Adams, were Unitarians, what Frazer calls "Theistic Rationalists."

I think the evidence strongly points in the direction of Washington, Madison, Monroe, Wilson, Morris, and the others as having beliefs that differed little if anyt from Jefferson's and Franklin's.

Even though I come at this from more of the secular side, I want to get to the Truth. And I am a classical liberal first, a secularist second.

I'm not even sure if "secularist" is the right label for what I believe on religion & public policy. But Susan Jacoby, in her book on secularism, seems to group the free-thinking classical liberals and documents like the Jefferson's Virginia Statute and Madison's Memorial and Remonstrance as the original secular documents (or "secular scripture"). If that's the case, then that's the kind of secularism, -- call it "classical secularism" to go along with "classical liberalism" -- that I would endorse.

Jonathan said...

Let me make one more comment re: Novak and his idea of who the God of the Founding is. This is something that Gregg Frazer stresses in his work. I wrote the Founders believed in a warm intervening God and the God of the Bible, unlike the God of the strict Deists, is one who intervenes.

That's clearly something that moves our Founders' God closer to the Biblical God, and distances it from strict Deism.

HOWEVER, what Frazer stresses and what Novak totally avoids is our Founders likewise attempted to strip certain key "Judeo-Christian" aspects of God away from their Deity.

Reconsidering the language, I'm not even sure if "warm" is a good descriptor of the Biblical God (though it certainly is of our Founders' God).

And that's because "warmth" as a term, nicely nicely corresponds with "benevolence." And our Founders believed in, above all else, a Benevolent God. The God of the Bible, on the other hand, clearly is, or at times is a jealous and vengeful God. And that's something about God that absolutely didn't square with our Founders' conception of Him.

Thus, the Founders edited from His attributes everything about the Biblical God which didn't seem to square with the notion of Benevolence.

Tom Van Dyke said...

"Earnestly [we pray], as we are in duty bound, that the Supreme Lawgiver of the Universe, by illuminating those to whom it is addressed, may on the one hand, turn their Councils from every act which would affront His holy prerogative, or violate the trust committed to them; and on the other, guide them into every measure which may be worthy of His blessing, may redound to their own praise, and may establish more firmly the liberties, the prosperity, and the happiness of the Commonwealth." ---Madison

Now, this is pretty much natural law. Bible-ers believe that scripture is (by definition) in harmony with natural law.

If the secular legalities conflict with a large part of the nation's understanding of natural law, we got problems.

The nation's history until the 20th century found little tension between them after they (wisely) stripped the dogma and church parts out.

Not so much lately.

Just keep in mind that natural law requires loyalty to the government only as long as it's in accord with natural law. The Founders recognized that people believe there is a law higher than the secular one and to which they give first loyalty. This freedom via consent and self-governance is a fragile thing.

And neither would the Founders think Providence smiles on those who sniff at the natural law.

You are familiar with Aquinas and Strauss, I see. I do agree with the latter that the question of rights is central to political philosophy.

The modern view of rights, disconnected from their natural law foundations, is that they are intrinsically good; the aforementioned folks disagree: rights are a means, not an end.

(I don't quite agree with your view of the Old Testament. The vengeful part is way overblown, and the Rabbinic tradition tames it into something far more resembling justice. Those from the Christian tradition have like zip idea what the Torah's about, and I say this as one of them.)