Monday, September 04, 2006

Bad Article Misunderstands Founding Principles:

But what else would you expect from WorldnutDaily? The culprit is Tom Flannery. Let's take this line by line.

At the end of the 18th century, Founding Fathers like John Adams and Alexander Hamilton were becoming increasingly troubled by the revolution that was unfolding in France.

Unlike the American Revolution, which was founded on the Christian principles delineated in the Declaration of Independence, the French version was virulently anti-religious (particularly in regard to Christianity). The revolutionaries sought to replace religion with human reason, even going so far as suggesting that Notre Dame be renamed the "Cathedral of Reason."

First, it's ironic that Flannery begins by citing John Adams and Alexander Hamilton, both of whom were theistic rationalists (Hamilton converted to orthodox Christianity only towards the end of his life, after he did his work founding the nation); that is they elevated man's reason over revelation as the ultimate arbiter of Truth.

Next, he claims that "Christian principles delineated...the Declaration of Independence." Funny, I don't see one citation to Scripture or reference to God in Biblical terms at all in America's Declaration. And Flannery draws a faux distinction between the ideology of the American and French Revolutions (indeed, I wrote this post exposing the way Christian Nationalists often make this error). It's true that the French Revolution became hostile to religion in a way that the American never did (and keep in mind, they had a national Church to disestablish -- one that was very illiberal at the time, the RCC -- and we didn't). But both revolutions, in their founding documents, make parallel ideological assertions. This shouldn't surprise given that Thomas Jefferson, the author of America's Declaration, was in France helping to spur on their Revolution and assisted in writing their Founding document, the French's Declaration of the Rights of Man.

Perhaps he should read both documents and see for himself. If "Christian principles" delineate the Declaration of Independence, they likewise delineate the French's Declaration of the Rights of Man. That document was done "under the auspices of the Supreme Being," and actually refers to property as "an inviolable and sacred right." That's about as "Christian" language as you will find in America's DOI.

Back to the article:

Well, don't look now, but a move is afoot by leftists in media and government today -- having learned nothing from the horrors of the French Revolution or the Soviet experiment or other such examples throughout history -- to once again enshrine human reason, with the twin engine of scientific discovery, as man's guiding light. They hope that by doing so they can do away once and for all with what they view as the "superstition" of religion.

Again, I note with further irony that our Founding Fathers, like Adams and Hamilton, were rationalists who believed man's reason and scientific discovery were indeed man's guiding light. Here is John Adams's in his own words on the matter:

"The United States of America have exhibited, perhaps, the first example of governments erected on the simple principles of nature; and if men are now sufficiently enlightened to disabuse themselves of artifice, imposture, hypocrisy, and superstition, they will consider this event as an era in their history. Although the detail of the formation of the American governments is at present little known or regarded either in Europe or in America, it may hereafter become an object of curiosity. It will never be pretended that any persons employed in that service had interviews with the gods, or were in any degree under the influence of Heaven, more than those at work upon ships or houses, or laboring in merchandise or agriculture; it will forever be acknowledged that these governments were contrived merely by the use of reason and the senses.

". . . Thirteen governments [of the original states] thus founded on the natural authority of the people alone, without a pretence of miracle or mystery, and which are destined to spread over the northern part of that whole quarter of the globe, are a great point gained in favor of the rights of mankind."

John Adams, A Defense of the Constitutions of Government of the United States of America, 1788

Likewise Adams and company, in 1797, ratified a treaty (making it part of "the law of the land") which explicitly stated, "the Government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian religion."

And while our Founders supported religion generally and had no desire to "do away with it," they did believe man's reason superseded Biblical revelation, and they disdained much of what they regarded as "superstition" coming from orthodox Christianity -- doctrines like the Trinity, the Incarnation, the atonement, eternal damnation, and others. See this post for John Adams's quotations on those matters.

Finally, one last error to point out in Flannery's article:

The experimental method known as science, you see, was founded by Christians who wanted to explore the universe for the glory of God and the benefit of mankind. But when you remove God from that equation, then man is the final arbiter of what is good and what is bad, what is morally acceptable and what is not. The result of this is the embrace of godless concepts like evolution and communism....

Ah no, Aristotle, of Pagan Ancient Greece, "founded" the "experimental method known as science." Christians learned science from the West's Pagan Greco-Roman heritage.

When will they ever learn?


Anonymous said...

For a so-called "enlightened rationalist" of the kind whom daily rants hysterically against Christians that we are hypocrites who shouldn't "judge", you sure are JUDGMENTAL about other people's spirituality!

What do you know about George Washington's "real beliefs" that he held in the privacy of his own heart? All we have to go on are the record of his written words and the FACT of his church affiliation. You cannot dispute THOSE.

So practice what you preach and quit being the judge of his faith, because from over here you sound like you have deified yourself into some kind of all knowing god.

As to Franklin's suggestion, the record states and everyone knows that what he suggested is that they SEPARATE for three days to pray ...... privately.. and then REASSEMBLE. Again, what do you know of what those men did in the privacy of their own hearts?

All we have is the written record of what Ben Franklin SUGGESTED, that they did Reassemble and they did reach an agreement: the United States Constitution.

You sure are amazingly udgmental, assumming gnostic knowledge about people's hearts of which you know absolutely Nothing. Truly, Jesus must have had you in mind when He told us not to cast our pearls before swine.

Now get off my blog, will you? I'm not publishing any more of your poison or I'd have to keep insulting you. Take your bilge to some bloodthirsty Islamic jihadist who really needs for you to confuse him, before he beheads you for being an "infidel".


Sorry Lizze, but the LOC doesn't attest to the phony George
Washington quotations from his mythical prayer book. I never
disputed that Washington was a Vestryman in the Episcopal Church.
But so too was Jefferson. Being a Vestryman, like Church attendance
itself in those days (and in some respect today), was a social duty
(as opposed to evidence of real belief), especially for established

"Franklin even suggested the First Constitutional Convention break
for PRAYER and quoted SCRIPTURE when they had reached an impassse.
-Unless the Lord build the house, they labor in vain who build it.'"

Yes, and they did not pray, but rather dismissed Franklin's

And you are helping to prove my point. There is simply no evidence
that Washington was any more pious or personally believed in
Christianity than there is for Jefferson or Franklin (and Adams and
Madison, I might add). All of them were Theistic Rationalists.

As to the rest, you are attacking things which I did not say, and
positions which I do not hold, so I'll just ignore them as


Jon Rowe

Jonathan said...

Actually, Washington never publicly affirmed his belief in the Christian faith. His "words" are exclusively invocations to a warm intervening undefined Providence, just as Jefferson, Adams, Franklin and Madison.

As far as his Church affiliation is concerned, it was the same Church to which Jefferson, Madison, and many other Enlightenment rationalists belonged. His behavior at Church was also quite unorthodox, as his own ministers thought he was a Deist or Unitarian because he systematically refused to take communion. You may want to read this post of mine in further detail (or watch the lecture). You may learn something. This has nothing to do with me judging anyone's "heart" but rather rationally looking at the evidence. Real evidence, not the made up stuff pushed by groups like Wallbuilders.

Regarding Franklin's call to pray. James Madison testified in his private letters that they didn't pray. Would you like me to point you to the primary source?

Tom Van Dyke said...

Well I'll steer clear of the above, Jon. You're always welcome at my place, and never made me feel less than welcome here.

Adams: "The United States of America have exhibited, perhaps, the first example of governments erected on the simple principles of nature..."

I do think you, on the whole, skate past the natural law acknowledgements that seem to recur with alarming frequency in the Founders' (and Adams', as above, for one) musings. Natural law (ooops, Aquinas again, sorry) does not expect its arguments to defy reason.

I realize the use of "Christian" by the less nuanced opponents of today's rather pronounced anti-theism sets off alarm bells of Trinitarianism and Leviticus, but it must also be admitted that the Founders were not Aristotelians or today's Unitarian Universalists, whose G-d is some mushy unconcerned Ultimate Out There Somewhere, either.

PS---I found it interesting that the French Rights of Man used a locution for human rights as "ineffable" rather than Jefferson's "unalienable." Just an FYI---it may be significant, perhaps not.

PPS---Added a notion or two a few posts below this one.


Jonathan said...

And by the way Lizzy, "The convention notes of Madison, Robert Yates, Rufus King and William Patterson all indicate that there was no three-day recess. The record is clear that the Convention took no action on Franklin's motion and, as Herbert Storing aptly put it: 'Human Wisdom proceeded unassisted.' Even Franklin himself commented that 'the convention, except for three or four persons, thought prayers unnecessary.'" Quoting Dr. Gregg Frazer's Ph.D. Thesis, pp. 124-25.

So please stop pushing phony made up "Christian Nation" twaddle on my blog.

Jonathan said...

Thanks Tom. You may want to check out my link to the post entitled "Catholics, Natural Law, and the Founding," where I discuss the Natural Law thing in further detail (it was inspired by a visit to a Natural Law symposium put on by Robbie George's James Madison Institute).

I don't know what Lizzy's problem is. I tried to engage her in civil dialogue. But her forte, like many others in the blogsphere (alas) seems to be nasty and venomous. How "Christian" of her. I guess she studies at the Ann Coulter school of Christianity.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Well, we're all human, JR. Surely Lizzy mistook you for one of those bombthrowing anti-theists who, let's say, vitiated the French Revolution. Or for one of those internet clowns who throw anything handy, no matter how specious, at the wall, and not the principled inquirer that you've proven yourself (to me, at least) to be.

Surely the thought of deconsecrating Notre-Dame de Paris into the Cathedral of Reason would give any embattled theist pause. (Perhaps even a Muslim---the Qur'an seems to like her.)

---Link? What link?

---I think your research and attempt to clarify the religious climate at the time of the Founding is very useful. I've learned a lot, and it's inspired me to locate the SOURCE DOCUMENTS (sorry for yelling, Lizzy) of the time for further research of my own, so I can make up my own mind.

---I do think Franklin's attempt to pray, even though it was quashed by popular demand, is fascinating. I would not expected that of him. Perhaps if they all had prayed back then, they wouldn't have made the three-fifths compromise, and instead eradicated slavery from this great land, instead of leaving it for a Great Civil War to resolve some eighty years later.

Jonathan said...

Sorry. The link was in the body of the post where I said "here is," (I linked to it because that post also contains the John Adams quotation in question). But you can access it here.

Credit Repair After Bankruptcy said...

I've been learning about history lately and have been embarrassed how little I know. I don't want to be an average american that doesn't know anything about our county. Thanks for this tidbit about John Adams.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Thanks for the link, Jon.

Well writ, and worth a little of the casual observer's time.