Monday, September 25, 2006

John Adams, Zionist Unitarian Universalist:

This week's quotation of John Adams is quite interesting:

I really wish the Jews again in Judea an independent nation. For as I believe the most enlightened men of it have participated in the amelioration of the philosophy of the age, once restored to an independent government & no longer persecuted they would soon wear away some of the asperities and peculiarities of their character [and] possibly in time become liberal unitarian Christians for your Jehovah is our Jehovah & your God of Abraham Isaac & Jacob is our God.

John Adams to Mordecai Noah, March 15, 1819. Adams Papers (microfilm), reel 123. Quoted from James H. Hutson's The Founders on Religion, p. 127.

It's interesting that Adams thought it would be a good idea for Jews to convert not just to Christianity, but to "liberal unitarian Christianity," which arguably isn't Christianity at all, but what Gregg Frazer has termed Theistic Rationalism. The Theistic Rationalists believed that all religions, even those outside of the "Judeo-Christian" tradition, contained the same basic Truth as Christianity, and were thus valid ways to God. They believed all religions, especially orthodox-Trinitarian Christianity, had been corrupted. Once you stripped away the "corruptions" from all world religions, the same Truth would be revealed. And that Truth was, conveniently, the tenets of Theistic Rationalism (or as Adams terms it here, "liberal unitarian Christianity").

Dr. Frazer, an orthodox Christian himself, though he approaches the Founders' religion with fairness, notes from the perspective of an evangelical, the Founders' theological assertions at times seem quite arrogant.

Regarding the fact that Adams states he and the Jews worshipped the same God -- the God of "Abraham Isaac & Jacob" -- two things should be noted. First, Adams didn't mean this in an exclusivist way, but an inclusivist. Washington likewise said similar things when he addressed the Jews. And Michael Novak, in his book on Washington's faith, misreads Washington's remarks and notes that the proper name for Washington's God was "Jehovah" and that Washington's God was "Judeo-Christian." Well, no. The God of Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Madison, and Franklin was actually universalist, and though It encompassed the Judeo-Christian religions, It also extended beyond such systems to the pagan, Eastern, Muslim, and Native American religious systems. These Founders believed all these religions worshipped the same God, who came to different peoples through different names. This may not be sound theology, but it is what they believed.

Second, Adams and the other rationalist Founders believed in the God of the Bible and Scripture, but only insofar as Scripture was reasonable; to them, parts of it were; parts of it weren't. So if we want to say Adams et al. worshipped the God of the Bible, we could say yes they did minus everything written in the Bible that didn't comport with their notion of man's reason, like God's irrational wrath and jealousy. The parts of the Bible that showed God's benevolence remained.


Daniel said...

I think you overstate your point in attributing the same universalism to Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Madison, and Franklin. You may be correct, but the evidence is a bit too confused. The evidence is good that all shared a "Theistic Rationalism" and that none was an orthodox Christian.

However, there is pleanty of evidence that some, or all, believed the Christian vision had some privileged position. When Jefferson called himself a "Christian," that meant something (although I do not venture to say exactly what it meant). Unitarianism, Theistic Rationalism, and/or Deism can only be understood in their Christian context, and the Founders understood that.

Of course, it is also very significant that Washington referred to Providence, rather than "Jehovah." But it is most likely that he was invoking a universalized and rationalized version of the Christian God.

I do not dispute your wider point. But the complexities of the historical record make it much more interesting.

Jonathan said...

Thanks for your comment.

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