Sunday, October 08, 2006

More From Frazer on the Political Theology of the Founding:

Dr. Frazer leaves another very informative comment on this thread at the Evangelical Outpost. I always welcome the opportunity to feature his work:


OK, now we're getting somewhere! Thanx for interacting with my comments.

Re terminology in the Declaration:
Yes, the terms (except for "nature's God," which places God in a secondary, subvervient position to nature) can be "deduce(d)" to be "consistent with the characteristics of God described in the Bible" -- but that isn't the claim. The claim is that the terms for God are biblical -- not simply consistent with what the Bible says generally. Also, whereas they may not be consistent with Hinduism or Buddhism, they are VERY consistent with deism and natural religion. They are, in fact, very normal usage terms for deists -- not just consistent with deist teaching. I agree that Jefferson, Adams, and Franklin carefully chose their terminology "in order to appeal to both secular and non-secular audiences." That is why Jews and Muslims and deists and secularists are as comfortable with the Declaration as are Christians. This is the point: as theistic rationalists, Jefferson et al. were not committed to Christianity; nor they expressing specifically Christian concepts -- simply "religious" concepts which served as a moral basis for a free state.

Re "Almighty": my purpose was not to deny that Almighty referred to the God of the Bible -- MY PURPOSE WAS TO SHOW THAT THEY DID NOT CONNECT THE GOD OF THE BIBLE TO ANY CONSTITUTIONAL PRINCIPLES OR INFLUENCE.

Having said that, I do deny that the "Almighty" to which they referred was the God of the Bible because they rejected the "wrathful" God of the Old Testament and rejected the deity of Christ -- so they did not believe in the OT God or in the triune God of the Bible. By "Almighty," they meant the rather generic God who is (by their account) the subject of worship in different ways by different religions. If you can point me to a case (as you did the JW) in which the key Founders expressed belief in the triune God of the Bible, I'm "all ears."

Being biblically literate, I know Who I refer to as the Almighty -- but I do not project my understanding onto writers who believed something else. This is a recurring problem with Christians reading the founding documents. We know what WE mean by certain terms and we read OUR understanding into them. This is, I believe, precisely what Jefferson wanted to accomplish in the Declaration -- to write it in such a way that any and all who read it would feel comfortable and say, "yeah, I agree with that."

Re liberty in the Bible: regardless of what kind of political system the NT saints would have constructed, the point is that all of the biblical passages about liberty/freedom are about SPIRITUAL liberty/freedom -- not political freedom. Perhaps western "democracies" are a reflection of what they believed about political freedom -- BUT WE DON'T KNOW BECAUSE THEY DIDN'T SAY WHAT THEY BELIEVED ABOUT POLITICAL FREEDOM. They (under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit) spoke only about spiritual freedom -- e.g. freedom from the bondage of sin.

Re traces of other religions in documents: I would not expect "traces of other religions" in the US documents -- not because they didn't see them as good, but because the Founders were raised as Protestants. Theistic rationalism is a mixture of Protestantism, natural religion, and rationalism and they were most familiar with Protestantism. Either way, traces of Christianity are not codified in the documents, either -- rather, generic, nonsectarian, non-specific "religion" is codified.

Re rationalism as prevailing element: they believed that revelation and reason would generally agree with one another. But if and when there was a perceived conflict between them, REASON trumps revelation. Their view was exactly opposite that of Aquinas, for example. For him, reason was a supplement to revelation and bowed to its superiority; for them, revelation was a supplement to reason and bowed to its superiority. THEY WERE NOT DEISTS! They believed in a present, active, intervening God -- just not the God of the Bible in general or Christianity in particular. Hence, they had no problem with references to the Almighty.

Re many religions producing morality: Mr. Rowe is correct that the issue is what the Founders believed -- not whether they were right.

As for "their own words," hopefully a few quotes will suffice (I don't want to re-type my 440-page dissertation):

Adams: "I have attended public worship in all countries and with all sects and believe them all much better than no religion .... Religion I hold to be essential to morals. I never read of an irreligious character in Greek or Roman history, nor in any other history, nor have I known one in life, who was not a rascal." [April 18, 1808 letter to Benjamin Rush]

"... moral liberty resides in Hindoos and Mahometans, as well as in Christians." [letter no. 13 to John Taylor in 1814]

"Where is to be found theology more orthodox, or philosophy more profound, than in the introduction to the Shastra [Hindu text]?" [Dec. 15, 1913 letter to Jefferson]

"... the interests of society require the observation of those moral precepts only in which all religions agree ... and we should not intermeddle with the particular dogmas in which all religions differ, and which are totally unconnected with morality." [Sep. 27, 1809 letter to James Fishback]

Regarding Unitarianism and Trinitarianism, he said: "Both religions, I find, make honest men, and that is the only point society has any right to look to." [Dec. 8, 1822 letter to James Smith]

"The moral branch of religion ... instructs us how to live well and worthily in society, while dogmas" exist only for the benefit of "the teachers who inculcate them." [Jan. 21, 1809 letter to Thomas Leiper]

"History will also afford frequent Opportunities of showing the Necessity of a Publick Religion, from its Usefulness to the Publick" to "the Advantage of a Religious Character among private persons." [Proposals Relating to the Education of Youth in Pensilvania, 1749]

"If Men are so wicked as we now see them WITH RELIGION, what would they be if WITHOUT it?" [Dec. 13, 1757 letter to an unknown person]

He complained about a local minister's sermons that "their aim seeming to be rather to make us Presbyterians than good citizens." [Autobiography]

He identified "the essentials of every religion" and "being found in all the religions we had in our country, I respected them all, though with different degrees of respect, as I found them more or less mixed with other articles, which, without any tendency to inspire, promote or confirm morality, served principally to divide us ...." [March 9, 1790 letter to Ezra Stiles]

At his urging, a meeting house was constructed "expressly for the use of any preacher of any religious persuasion who might desire to say something to the people at Philadelphia; the design in building not being to accommodate any particular sect ... so that even if the Mufti of Constantinople were to send a missionary to preach Mohammedanism to us, he would find a pulpit at his service." [Autobiography]

"I think Opinions should be judg'd of by their Influences and Effects; and if a Man holds none that tend to make him less Virtuous or more vicious, it may be concluded he holds none that are dangerous." [April 13, 1738 letter to Josiah & Abiah Franklin]

{misspellings are in the originals}

Hopefully, these suffice to support my claim.

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