Sunday, October 01, 2006

Some Problems with the Concept of the "Judeo-Christian Worldview":

Other problems I'd like to point out in Gordon Mullings's assertions. A commenter on the Evangelical Outpost thread mentioned that constant references to the amorphous concept of a "Christian" or "Judeo-Christian worldview" is problematic absent further clarification of what this really means. Mullings so clarified:

As to the idea that the biblical, Judaeo-Christian worldview is ill-defined or hard to outline, that is laughable. Yes there are disputes or debates over relatively narrow points of doctrine [we are here speaking of worldviews not theologies and schools of thought within a worldview], or because of ignorance and twisting of the scriptures, but the core of that worldview is long since on public record as bith NT documents and subsequent easily accessible creedal statements, regularly publicly recited, e.g. the Nicene creed - which aptly summarises the faith once for all delivered unto the saints.

Mullings's reply, it seems to me, is laughable. Note Jews, presumably the "Judeo" part of the "Judeo-Christian" worldview, explicitly reject the Nicene Creed as they reject that Jesus is Messiah. Further, as I constantly point out, our key Founders (Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Madison, Franklin, and some others) were theological unitarians who rejected the Nicene Creed and rationalists who elevated man's reason over Biblical revelation.

Here is Mullings's response -- a common one among the "Christian Nation" crowd -- to the notion that our key Founders weren't orthodox Christians:

Mr Eidsmoe, as onlookers can easily verify, showed that the overwhelming majority of the founding circle were Christian in their public worldview commitments and engagements. In remarking on that, I noted: of the 55 signers of the US DOI, all but a few were traceably Christian theists in their worldviews and social engagements -- not necessarily the same as being born again, committed Christians -- of one stripe or another. Even Jefferson wrote as an attorney for a client, the Congress and People of the nascent USA, who were overwhelmingly Christian in their worldviews.

But if the Nicene Creed is central to the "Christian worldview" as Mullings argues, what are we to make of the fact that these key Founders rejected the Nicene creed, some of them like Jefferson and Adams bitterly so? John Adams, in a private letter to Jefferson, goes so far as to say that "the laws of Nature" reveal Nature's God to be unitarian, not trinitarian in His attributes! There, Adams also elevates man's reason so far over Biblical revelation that he tells Jefferson had God Himself revealed the doctrine of the Trinity to him on Mt. Sinai, Adams still would not have believed it because one was not three period. So much for the "Nicene Creed" being part of the "Christian Worldview" central to our founding principles!

Further, let me note the converse of the notion that "even our non-Christian Founders like Jefferson were influenced by the Christian worldview." And that is, when it came to their articulation of founding principles, even the orthodox Christians like Patrick Henry, John Witherspoon, and John Jay were influenced by Enlightenment rationalism because the Bible and traditional Christianity were not sufficient to give us the ideas upon which our Declaration and Constitution are based. That's why the Bible isn't quoted in either of those two documents or the Federalist papers which explicate the ideas behind our Founding in detail.

Regarding Christianity's influence, I've never denied it. Rather, I assert that the Bible and Christianity had a qualified influence on our Founding. Our key Founding Fathers sought to take from Christianity what was rational and useful and thought they could discard the rest. It was the Bible put through the lens of man's reason, with all of the "unreasonable" parts fit to be cut out. This following quotation of John Adams's, often cited by the Christian Nation crowd as proof of their contention, when understood in context, actually perfectly illustrates the Founding's Enlightenment rationalistic reading of the Bible.

"The general principles on which the fathers achieved independence were...the general principles of Christianity...I will avow that I then believed, and now believe, that those general principles of Christianity are as eternal and immutable as the existence and attributes of God; and that those principles of liberty are as unalterable as human nature."

That's usually where the "Christian Nation" crowd ends the quotation. But there's more:

Now I will avow, that I then believed, and now believe, that those general Principles of Christianity, are as eternal and immutable, as the Existence and Attributes of God; and that those Principles of Liberty, are as unalterable as human Nature and our terrestrial, mundane System. I could therefore safely say, consistently with all my then and present Information, that I believed they would never make Discoveries in contradiction to these general Principles. In favour of these general Principles in Phylosophy, Religion and Government, I could fill Sheets of quotations from Frederick of Prussia, from Hume, Gibbon, Bolingbroke, Reausseau and Voltaire, as well as Neuton and Locke: not to mention thousands of Divines and Philosophers of inferiour Fame.

Finding Christianity in the works of atheist Hume or French philosophes, Rousseau and Voltaire? And keep in mind that Adams's Christianity was theologically unitarian and universalist. One could arguably assert that the Founders' Enlightenment rationalistic reading of Christianity sacrificed so many of its orthodox tenets that it ceased to be "Christian."


Gordon Mullings said...


I have no intention of engaging Mr Rowe on details here, as it is plain that he is resorting to the rhetorical rather than fully and fairly addressing the substantial on the merits of fact and logic.

I will note that first I have used the descriptive term the JudaeoCHRISTIAN (= biblical [i.e. OT + NT, Jewish and Jewish-Christian respectively]) worldview, to highlight that the Christian faith has Hebraic roots [a notorious fact], and to emphasise the equally well known commonalities with Judaism.

If Mr Rowe had had done the common courtesy of pausing to reflect [and following up links] before committing himself to the record dismissively in another context than the one in which the remarks were made, it would have been plain that there is ample justification for so describing the hisoric Christian view, and for thereby also embracing the worldview level commonalities with Judaism. [For instance, observe that Judaism circa C1 was predominantly and even militantly messianic, the debate being over whether Jesus was that messiah or not. That is also why in quite recent years we have had at least two messianic Jewish movements, one of which is Christian.]

Now as regards the matter which Mr Rowe excerpted from his post at the head of this comment and commented on at EO, I simply link to my own blog, where I have put up an excerpt from my response on points this morning at EO. In essence, sadly, Mr Rowe shows no better understanding of the inextricable intertwining of faith and rationality in general, or in the case of the Judaeo-Christian worldview in particular, than, sadly, he shows in understanding why this descriptive term is a useful one to describe the biblical worldview.

Daniel said...

I think the term Judeo-Christian was originally used to refer to a worldview that was common to Christians and Jews. Francis Schaeffer, for one example, pointed out the role of rhetoric invoking a fairly generic God as well as the role of rational theology in establishing some of the basic principles of American self-government. "Judeo-Christian" seems an odd term for it, but there certainly was a common view among the Founders that a deity played some role in the progress of civilization.

Schaeffer then took it a step farther and argued that abolition of prayer in public schools and the teaching of evolution were betrayals of the founding principles. Enlightenment thought without the influence of religion is difficult to imagine, but, as you have pointed out in this blog, it is not clear that the Founders really approved of civil religion. As for evolution, it is hard to see how Darwin's theory conflicts with the rational theology even of the more orthodox of the Patriots.