Sunday, October 08, 2006

The Bible's Qualified Influence on our Founding:

Gordon Mullings replied to Dr. Frazer with a number of his typical book-length ponderous posts. In particular, he opened himself to a rhetorical jab by informing us:

In short, to say of the use of Locke that Jefferson was not making use of the biblical context, is flat out false and highly misleading. [Indeed I just had quite a little discussion with my almost 8 YO son by going back and forth between my notes and the Bible regarding the exact above!]

My reply follows:


Maybe you can get your 8-year-old son to explain to you the difference between a "biblical covenant" and a "social contract" because apparently, you don't understand the difference between the two.

There is nothing covenantial about the Declaration of Independence as it makes no "covenant" with God -- either the God of the Bible or the "Nature's God" in which it invokes. It does say that "Nature's God" grants men unalienable rights. But those rights are not secured by a "biblical covenant," but rather by a "social contract." The "social contract"/"the state of nature" theory does not come from the Bible or even Locke himself. Rather, Hobbes created the concept of the "the state of nature/social contract," which gave rise to liberal democracy. And such a theory is, as Leo Strauss put it, "wholly alien to the Bible."

Now, it's true that Locke tried to "dress up" the state of nature/social contract in "Biblical terms" -- after all, he was trying to sell his ideas to a largely Christian audience and in a time when one could be executed for heresy or blasphemy simply for saying the "wrong" things. But one has to ask if something wholly alien to the Bible (the Hobbsean/Lockean social contract/state of nature theory) can be transformed into something "biblical" simply by dressing it up in biblical language.

But this is, in some way, besides the point, as our "Lockean" Founding was not Locke as he understood his ideas, but rather, Locke as our key founders -- Adams, Jefferson, Madison, and Franklin -- understood him. And they made it clear the worldview upon which they operated. And it was as, Dr. Frazer describes it, "Theistic Rationalism."

And this brings us to Mr. Moeller's point: You've created, to use Gordon's favorite term, a rationalist "strawman." Yes, there are certain forms of rationalism which reject the Bible/Revelation, God, or any kind of "supernatural" ideas -- there is atheistic rationalism, deistic rationalism, etc. And the entire point of Dr. Frazer's work is to show that these aren't the kinds rationalism in which our key founders believed!

Rather, their form of rationalism, similar to Aquinas's, believed that reason and revelation by-in-large agreed, that indeed some revelation was legitimately given by God. But it differed from the "older" classical rationalism of the medieval Church because that rationalism sought to use reason to support the Bible and Church Dogma, whereas the newer Enlightenment rationalism of our key Founders saw reason as Supreme, and revelation was designed to support reason, not the other way around.

And indeed, the theistic rationalism of our Founders, unlike the older Christian rationalism of Aquinas, did so seriously break with the traditional Christian view of nature that arguably their natural law ceased to be "Christian" at all.

For instance, according to John Adams, the natural law of the Declaration demonstrates that God is unitarian not trinitarian in his attributes, that God doesn't burn anyone in Hell for eternity, and that entire parts of the Bible are "fit" to be cut out (especially those miracles which seem to defy the laws of nature and science), as unreasonable.

So if one wants to understand the "worldview" behind the Declaration of Independence, one should look to, in detail, the words of the men who actually wrote the document. To say that "Jefferson [made] use of the biblical context," is itself "flat out false and highly misleading" unless one understands how these key Founders viewed the Bible and the consequent relationship between Reason and Revelation. And when one does this one sees that they thought the Bible contained, in John Adams's words "error[s]" and "amendment[s]" or Jefferson's, that its history was "defective" and "doubtful." As I wrote in a previous post, "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 the truth is the Bible did influence our Founders and their ideas, but it was a highly qualified influence. It was the Bible and Christianity, minus everything in the Bible and Christianity which man's reason deemed to be "irrational."


Tom Van Dyke said...

As a point of order, and as an Aquinas apologist, I believe he would say that reason cannot be in conflict with revelation, that such a contradiction would only be an apparent one, due to an insufficiency on the part of man's reason.

Truth cannot contradict truth.

That said, I would not posit that Thomas is incapable of error. He was a man after all---not Jesus, or even a pope.


Jonathan said...

-- I believe he would say that reason cannot be in conflict with revelation, that such a contradiction would only be an apparent one, due to an insufficiency on the part of man's reason. --

Thanks Tom.

I think that mirrors what Dr. Frazer is saying. That is, for Aquinas reason must support revelation.

For our Founders, they believed that revelation contained errors and that reason could expose those errors. Further, once reason determined the Truth, revelation could confirm the findings of man's reason.

The Gay Species said...

Aquinas maintained that revelation and reason must be compatible, not that the one supports the other. Obviously a virgin birth, miracles, and resurrection violate reason and the laws of nature.

The Natural Law flows from the Eternal Law, at least as Aquinas understood it. And the pinnacle of Natural Law is ratiocination. But reason loosed from any empirical considerations can logically deduce anything. Aquinas was a master at doing this.

But the earth was flat and the center of the universe with teleological features according to Aquinas, too. Once physical features of the world are understood empirically, not metaphysically, Aquinas conflates into patent absurdities, and the jarring reality that revelation violates positivist reason becomes obvious.

Extracting the physical from reason in order to ratiocinate only metaphysically proved that one would come to error after error. The same mistake in different clothing occurred with the German Idealists, who knew better. Since the early 20th C., no one engages in metaphysics unless forced to (e.g., mind, free will, time, etc.) and no one reasons unless one foot is placed firmly on the ground. Reason opposed to experience is not reason at all.

Tom Van Dyke said...

That changes nothing. Aquinas, of was an a posteriori kinda guy.

"When an effect is better known to us than its cause, from the effect we proceed to the knowledge of the cause. And from every effect the existence of its proper cause can be demonstrated..."

Aquinas would be fine with the world being round. Experience cannot be wished away.

Jon, it is fair to ask whether the Signers, many of whom were quite orthodox, would have signed on to anything that was in conflict with their biblical faith.

Most accurate, in attempting to discern original intent, is that both the Framers and the Signers were the Founders.

Otherwise, as one of your correspondents once posited, we were indeed sold a bill of goods by those sneaky Deists.

Jonathan said...

"Jon, it is fair to ask whether the Signers, many of whom were quite orthodox, would have signed on to anything that was in conflict with their biblical faith.

"Most accurate, in attempting to discern original intent, is that both the Framers and the Signers were the Founders.

"Otherwise, as one of your correspondents once posited, we were indeed sold a bill of goods by those sneaky Deists."

Gary North clearly seems to think so. And although he's kind of a crank (in his first best world, he does want to execute adulterers, homosexuals, and everyone else the OT says should be executed), some very serious scholars have said similar things. For instance Thomas West quoting Michael Zuckert, a serious and well-respected scholar if there ever were.

-- It is easy enough to quote founding-era documents to bring out the consistent concern of that generation for the moral conditions of freedom. But the objection can be made, and often is made, that this only shows that the Founders did not really understand the radical implications of their own Enlightenment principles. In this view, the Founders were, in Michael Zuckert's words, "victims of bait-and-switch marketing." Zuckert means that the Founders were dupes of a radically modern project in which Locke, along with Machiavelli, Bacon, Hobbes, and others, succeeded in overthrowing the classical understanding of man as a being whose perfection and happiness can only be found in moral and intellectual virtue. "Modernity," in this light, may be said to be an enterprise that was ultimately intended to destroy Christianity and replace it with the anthropocentric principle that man's will is the source of all meaning and value in life. In Pierre Manent's formulation, "Modern democracy . . . is founded on the emancipation of the will." The modern state "wants to institutionalize the sovereignty of the human will. If there is a God, the human will cannot be 'autonomous.'" Modern man, says Manent, concludes that there is no God. This, then, would be the ultimate meaning of the principles of Locke and the Founders.[6] --

Although, one need not view things this way. I think Dr. Frazer's interpretation is very fair. And that is that the Declaration, Constitution, etc. are not necessarily in conflict with the Bible or orthodox Christianity (although one could argue that the whole revolt thing violates Romans 13), the ideas simply do not derive from the Bible, but from outside source. They are "a-biblical" not "anti-biblical."

That's a great question Tom.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Well, Jon, you've spent a lot of time on this subject, so all I have are questions, and guesses. In fact, as I keep looking things up to explore this notion or that, Google quite disgustingly often shows you've already been there on this very blog. :-)

My compliments.

As previously noted, the Framing might have well been left to the secularists because who would want to deal with parsing the theology of Romans 13? That's the sort of thing they left Europe to get away from.

(Altho it would seem that anyone who took the "divine right of kings" interpretation had remained a Loyalist and so already fled to Canada after the revolution.)

I do think that we (and they) are so steeped in convention that it becomes unnoticable, like the air we breathe. (Unless you live in Houston.) That the Founders shared certain unquestioned assumptions on social convention is not a bridge too far, I think, even if it's debatable that they were "culturally Judeo-Christian." But I would say there's ample quotage from them to say that even if some idiosyncratically rejected various Trinitarian notions, or even the OT miracles, they all saw the Bible as not only philosophically true, but in harmony with the laws of "nature's God."

As to "rights," part of my own inquiry has been in tracing back the origins of the D of I formulation. That I can't find much before Aquinas is one reason I pop him in so often, altho of course I just like the guy.

That, as in the link you thoughtfully provided, the Deist mafia cleverly elided the word "sacred" on several occasions does not alter the fact that it was very much at the forefront of their reasoning. (Substitutions like "self-evident" are of course ersatz space-fillers for the real meaning. That is politics, not philosophy.)

In fact, concept of human rights fails without a foundation in the sacred. (I do give Richard Rorty and the non-foundationalists credit for admitting this.)

That the Constitution is untethered to the D of I leaves it no more than a social contract, and as we know, contracts are written to be rewritten.

Unless they're sacred, of course.