Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Ben Franklin v. Dennis Prager:

Ben Franklin was friendly with George Whitefield of the "Great Awakening" fame. Franklin, though, didn't share Whitefield's orthodox Christian beliefs. As a theistic rationalist, Franklin supported "religion" in general (thought society was better off with it than without it), but thought most if not all world religious were valid ways to God. Franklin was involved in building a church in Philadelphia for public worship and offered Whitefield this venue to preach when others were not available. Here is how Franklin described the experience.

Both house and ground were vested in trustees, 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, but the inhabitants in general; 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.

To Franklin, apparently, Whitefield's orthodox Christianity was equivalent to the Mufti of Constantinople's Mohammedanism.
The Founders' Universalism...Sound Theology?

Great post by Ed Brayton on the little understood theological universalism of our key Founding Fathers. One Dispatches' commenters aptly termed the Founders' religious terminology as "pure syncretism."

Dr. Gregg Frazer addresses the Founders' universalism in his Ph.D. thesis. He argues that Joseph Priestly influenced the Founders in this regard as well. His section on Priestly questions the soundness of the Founders' theistic rationalist theology. Given that Frazer is an orthodox Christian, one should expect such criticisms. Such criticisms, though, are only slightly peppered throughout his thesis, the overall tone of which simply describes the Founders' belief system without "judging" it. Anyway Frazer writes:

Priestly...reflects a level of naivete also exhibited by the key Founders. Namely, everyone should simply be able to set aside their fundamental beliefs about the particular identity and nature of God and accept the Unitarian vision of God as a sort of universal supernatural entity who appears in various forms to those of various traditions.

I'll let the theologians debate the soundness of the Founders' theology. Their religion appeals to my sentiments more so than orthodox Christianity. But both orthodox Christians and atheists would remind me here that just because something sounds nice doesn't make it true. Certainly though, the Founders' theological universalism is not consonant with orthodox Christianity, which believes there is just one way to God.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Jefferson, Neither Atheist Nor Outlier:

Regarding Christopher Hitchens' assertion, I don't see anything in the historical record to indicate Thomas Jefferson was an atheist. The Straussian argument for Jefferson's atheism -- that he had to publicly proclaim belief in God, else his reputation be ruined, but didn't really believe it -- is, as Ed Brayton notes, contradicted by the fact that Jefferson claimed to firmly believe in God even in his private letters which contain the harshest anti-clerical rants, rants which, if publicly known, would have ruined his reputation.

I disagree with Sandefur that Jefferson may have written in code in his private letters to John Adams. I interpret their correspondence as showing that the two were almost entirely agreed on their personal religious creed. Call it "unitarianism," call it "theistic rationalism," you could even call them "Priestlians" because Joseph Priestly -- the discoverer of oxygen -- was probably the most important influence on both Adams' and Jefferson's (and other key Founders') religious beliefs. Both Adams and Jefferson (and Franklin) commonly referred to "the corruptions of Christianity." Priestly coined that phrase and it had very specific meaning. Priestly wrote a book entitled A History of the Corruptions of Christianity which caused masses of Trinitarian Christians to burn his house down in England, where he then fled to America for refuge.

Priestly was thought to be so "notorious" as deserving to have his house burned because the "corruptions of Christianity" turned out to be the heart and soul of orthodox Christian doctrine: "a trinity of persons in the godhead, original sin, arbitrary predestination, atonement for the sins of men by the death of Christ, and ... the doctrine of the plenary inspiration of the scriptures." (That quotation by the way, is sourced by both Gregg Frazer and Brooke Allen). So when Jefferson, Adams and Franklin referred to the "corruptions of Christianity" -- as they often did -- they signified they disbelieved these doctrines central to Christianity. Both Jefferson and Adams, let's not forget, called themselves "Christian." But this is not unlike Mormons calling themselves Christian, and then explaining, "but here is what we believe...," and upon hearing the details, evangelical Protestants and Catholics react, "no, you aren't Christians."

Finally, while it may be true that Jefferson (and Madison) were outliers in the way they desired Church and State to be separate, Jefferson was not an outlier regarding his personal religious beliefs. Jefferson, Adams, Franklin, Madison, Washington, Wilson, G. Morris, and Hamilton (before his end of life conversion to orthodox Christianity) were all likely agreed on the central tenets of their personal religious beliefs.

Update: Before any of you call me on this, many websites state that whereas Priestly's book, "A History of the Corruptions of Christianity," was official burned in 1785, his house and church were burned in 1791 because of his support for the American and French Revolutions.

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Liars for Jesus:

That's the title of Chris Rodda's new book. I don't have the book but have read some of its excerpts at the book's website (indeed, much of it is excerpted, including a whole chapter on The Northwest Ordinance. Currently, I am reading Brooke Allen's "Moral Minority: Our Skeptical Founding Fathers," which is a great book, eloquently written and meticulously researched. I do have a few problems with Allen's analysis. Mainly, she lumps the key Founders -- Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Madison, Franklin, and Hamilton -- in with Thomas Paine and Ethan Allen as "Deists." Unlike David Holmes' book which notes that deism had many varieties and the key founders were more deistic than strict deists, Allen goes so far as to assert that the key Founders believed the same as Paine and Allen. This is a common mistake that secular leftist scholars make, even the very good ones like Allen. I've got a few other issues with her analysis that perhaps I'll mention in a subsequent post.

Allen's book doesn't tend to name the "Christian Nation" figures against whom she argues. Rather she (accurately) takes note of their thesis. And then meticulously researches the historical record -- letting the Founders do the talking -- and shows that they (the key figures) were not pious orthodox Christians seeking to "found" the nation on "Biblical principles," but rather were Enlightenment rationalists, cut from the philosophical elite. And it was their Enlightenment worldwiew which provided most of the ideas for the Declaration of Independence and US Constitution.

As I said, her book is excellently researched and is worth buying for the wealth of quotations and detail of primary sources she unearths.

Chris Rodda's book takes a different approach. She specifically targets the "Christian Nation" crowd by name. It's mainly David Barton, William Federer, D. James Kennedy, and Tim Lahaye (who, many folks don't know, wrote a really bad book on The Faith of the Founding Fathers). Her book specially examines what they have written and (again from what I have seen on her site) refutes it in detail. (Similar to what I do on my blogs).

Given that the title of her book is "Liars for Jesus," it has the tone of a polemical attack and at times seems unduly harsh. But given the abysmal level of scholarship that has come from the above mentioned "Christian Nation" figures, her attacks are duly harsh.

As I have noted before, there are plenty of serious scholars who question modern Supreme Court Establishment Clause jurisprudence and the ACLU's ideal interpretation of it -- Philip Hamburger, Daniel Dreisbach, Phillip Muñoz, James H. Hutson, Mark Noll, to name a few. At times, going after Barton, Kennedy and Federer may seem like knocking down straw-men when there are serious arguments on the matter to be engaged. But, as long as millions of people believe their twaddle (and they do) scholars like Chris Rodda (and myself) have a legitimate job to do.
The Real Michael Richards:

The inspiration for the Kramer character -- Kenny Kramer -- speaks out on the Michael Richards controversy. I found this part interesting:

The real Kramer, who initially lobbied to play himself on the program, subsequently met with Richards on several occasions. His insight after the actor's meltdown during a stand-up comedy appearance: Richards had little in common with his off-kilter "Seinfeld" persona.

"I know the guy," the real Kramer said of the faux Kramer. "He's not this outgoing ball of fun that people would expect Kramer to be. They think he's be exciting, lovable, laughable. But he's quiet, introspective, even paranoid. He's a very wound-up guy. But I don't think he's a racist."

If you remember, in season four, they parodied what actually happened to Jerry Seinfeld (and Larry David) -- NBC planned on making a show about Jerry's real life, with actors who would play his friends. And Kramer insisted on playing himself. Apparently, that happened in real life, and they wrote it into the episode.

But also remember the actor who actually got the part of Kramer. He wasn't some laid back kinda guy, but a real uptight, moody prick who threatened to beat the crap out of George, after he stole a box of raisins and George noticed. Maybe Larry and Jerry were hinting on the persona of the real Michael Richards.

Just a thought.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Did George Washington Say, So Help Me God?

This is one of those things about Washington I thought clearly established by the historical record -- that he said "so help me God" before being inaugurated. The "Christian Nation" crowd points out that Washington went so far as to kiss the Bible before uttering these words, apparently not realizing that this is a Freemasonic, not a Christian ritual. Indeed, according to the story, the Bible Washington used was borrowed from a Masonic lodge.

But it may not turn out to be true after all. See this post on Boston 1775, a great historical blog which documents American Revolution era Massachusetts.

Ongoing research has found the earliest statements that Washington added "So help me God" after taking his presidential oath of office date from the late 1850s, almost seventy years after the event. Oddly enough, that's also decades before Chester A. Arthur was first noted as doing so by a contemporary. (It might be noteworthy that he did not have a formal inauguration, but succeeded to office after James A. Garfield's death.) The Washingon Area Secular Humanists offer a little more info.

Also see this post which reproduces an email from Dr. Juretta Jordan Heckscher, an official with the Library of Congress:

This is in reply to Barbara Clark Smith's very interesting inquiry about Smithsonian NMAH [National Museum of American History] curators' attempts to find out when and by whom the phrase "so help me, God" was added the presidential oath of office prescribed by the Constitution.

Reference specialists on the Library of Congress's Digital Reference Team have done some research on this topic. In particular, my colleague Kenneth Drexler reports the following information:

"The question was whether or not there is primary-source evidence that Washington said 'so help me, God' in 1789. The short answer is that I could find no evidence that he did.

[Also,] according to a Washington Post article from [January 20,] 2001,'Whether Washington actually added "So help me God" to the oath is not supported by any eyewitness accounts, according to Philander D. Chase, editor of the Papers of George Washington project at the University of Virginia. "He may have said those words," Chase said.'

During my research I did obtain a copy of a letter by Tobias Lear to George Augustine Washington dated May 3, 1789 in which he described the inauguration.

I got the letter from Duke University. The letter makes no mention of 'so help me, God.'"

It's likely that the "so help me God" tradition didn't originate until Chester A. Arthur.

Update: Michael Newdow is on this and has a funny video about it. Brian Tubbs correctly notes that "Washington was most certainly a devout monotheist, who believed that the United States of America should indeed be under God." And it was for that reason, I had no problem believing Washington said "So Help Me God." However, an important point that Newdow's video raises is that Washington was very "rule oriented," and it's not likely that he would have just casually added words to an oath specified in the US Constitution, but rather would just recite the oath as written in the US Constitution, which, let us remember, does not have the words "so help me God."

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Van Dyke on the Declaration:

Tom Van Dyke, who blogs with some heavy hitters at The Reform Club, leaves a comment on my blog about the Declaration of Independence's "Civil Religion." He notes he's become "quite unsentimental about the Founding" and indeed his post illustrates some of the critiques of the founding that come from both the left and the right. The right, when they critique the founding -- indeed, those rightist intellectuals who actually understand that some founding principles are the furthest thing from their social conservatism -- tend to be more critical of the Declaration than the Constitution, because the former contains more of the philosophical "liberalism" against which they stand. I've reproduced his comment below:

I'm not sure the laws of nature and of nature's God are pluralistic. To the contrary, and by definition.

The Founders (and we really must include the Signers as well as the Framers to paint a picture of the theologico-philosophical landscape of the Founding) recognized certain basic principles on which they largely agreed, and that formed the American "civil religion."

The rest, they either ignored or postponed (i.e., slavery). But without that underlayment of shared values, I don't see how they could have got past the Articles of Confereration.

But I do think you're on to something here: I don't know a lot about Murray Rothbard, but I gather he was an atheist/Thomist, that is, a natural law advocate who rejected the Bible. Not too different than the Jeffersons and Madisons, altho their embrace of Providence would go further than Rothbard.

And the more I learn about Jefferson and the fundamentally autocratic nature of the Founding, the more I'm prepared to dismiss the D of I formulation as mere self-serving claptrap and the less I can view it as fundamental or even relevant to the Constitution. Rights were guaranteed only to those who could stand as an obstacle to a United States (free white males), and the social contract that is the constitution reflects this. I've become quite unsentimental about the Founding (and not in small part because of the delving that your blog drives me to).

The issue of slavery is instructive here, I think: each state had its own mores and conventions that made its society cohesive; some were more religiously oriented than others, and some held slaves. They did not and would not sign over that internal cohesion to the mores of a federal government. They ended up fighting a war over that question. (Some 140 years later, it appears that per the emancipation of black folk, one hopes, that war is just now drawing to a conclusion.)

On what I think is your true agenda in this entire inquiry, the justification of gay marriage (perhaps I'm wrong, Jon), I think perhaps your historical precedent is to be found after the Civil War, which spelled the end of federalism. I do not think that the Founders' "civil religion" would in any way countenance gay marriage, as opposition to such things would have fallen into that non-Biblical "civil religion," which was not merely a set of principles, but a series of shared prejudices and conventions as well.

On the other hand, perhaps you're coming around to what I perceive is a growing view among gay marriage advocates, that the war for it should be fought state-by-state, swaying the sentiments of the denizens thereof. It does seem more practical to change the minds of 2 or 10 or 50 million people at a time, rather than go for the kit-and-kaboodle of 300 million.

Perhaps, unlike the civil rights movement, whose greatest opposition came from quite legitimate legalistic arguments of "states' rights", federalism is the best way to your goal, if Mr. Lincoln didn't kill it.

The pluralism per federalism you might (correctly) see as the avenue for gay marriage was, in my view, not a product of sufferance or fallibilism or any principle whatsoever, but of expedience. But that's OK---altho the equation of race and gay issues has proven to be a loser, the issue can be won person by person and state by state---not on the ground of "facts," but of values, which is a perfectly legitimate battleground.

I should have clarified what I meant by "pluralism." Founding era liberalism is indeed, I think "pluralistic," but at a secondary level. The principles behind the Declaration -- unalienable rights to liberty and equality and legitimacy of government via the social contract, democratic vetting, and of course, securing unalienable rights -- are indeed, not pluralistic; they are primary, fundamental, non-negotiable. If you don't accept these ideals -- as a militant Islamist would not -- you ought to rightly feel anathematized by our system. But once those basic ideals are accepted, liberal democracy leaves a lot of room for different peoples and lifestyles, who can come together on those ideals. As our Founders put it, "out of many, one." That's what I meant by the pluralism of liberal democracy. E. Pluribus Unum. We must not confuse "pluralism" with "relativism." Pluralists yes, relativists, no.

And our Founders believed that you need not be a "Christian" or a "Judeo-Christian" to be a good liberal democrat. They believed that more or less all world religions contained the same basic Truth as Christianity and were thus valid ways to God. This, I think, illustrates the pluralism to which I referred. And Dr. Kuznicki, in his original post, accurately noted such pluralism when he wrote:

Nature's God was present wherever religionists of any faith showed decency and kindness toward their fellow man; nature's God was absent when the faithful were cruel, intolerant, or uncharitable. Nature's God demanded that every one of us come to Him on our own terms, not under threat of compulsion. Why not? Because it is impossible to imagine a God who wanted compelled, inauthentic, grudgingly given prayers.

As the founders meant it, nature's God can be the deity of anyone who believes in God. Even atheists can believe that human nature, stripped of the deity, still demands a sincere conscience, free of all compulsion, as the foundation of any legitimate faith, or civil society, or government. Even atheists can believe, as it were, in nature's God. It's the one thing we all can agree on, because sincere dialogue, with no imposture or compulsion, is the prerequisite to any good spiritual aim we might have, and because a religion based on force cannot possibly be a good one.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Kuznicki on "The Conservative Soul":

I'd be remiss if I didn't note Dr. Kuznicki's post which Andrew Sullivan noticed and described as "very elegant." I especially liked where Dr. Kuznicki informs on the attributes of Nature's God:

To the founders, nature's God was the deity of every religion -- and of none. Nature's God was present wherever religionists of any faith showed decency and kindness toward their fellow man; nature's God was absent when the faithful were cruel, intolerant, or uncharitable. Nature's God demanded that every one of us come to Him on our own terms, not under threat of compulsion. Why not? Because it is impossible to imagine a God who wanted compelled, inauthentic, grudgingly given prayers.

As the founders meant it, nature's God can be the deity of anyone who believes in God. Even atheists can believe that human nature, stripped of the deity, still demands a sincere conscience, free of all compulsion, as the foundation of any legitimate faith, or civil society, or government. Even atheists can believe, as it were, in nature's God. It's the one thing we all can agree on, because sincere dialogue, with no imposture or compulsion, is the prerequisite to any good spiritual aim we might have, and because a religion based on force cannot possibly be a good one.

This importantly understands how the principles liberalism connect with "the civil religion." Many on the secular left don't take any metaphysical underpinnings of civil government seriously, dismissing the Declaration as mere "rhetoric." And the religious right tries to "co-opt" its theological principles as "Christian" or "Biblical." (Jon Meacham's book discusses this in detail).

The Declaration and its metaphysical claims were remarkably pluralistic for the time, as were the Founders. This shouldn't surprise given the Founders' personal "theistic rationalist" creed posited that most if not all religions, even the Pagan and Eastern ones, taught the same basic Truth as Christianity and were thus valid paths to God (The end of Gregg Frazer's Ph.D. thesis notes how the personal faith of the Founders connects with the ideas of our Founding documents). Indeed I can quote John Adams and company where they note Nature's God is found within not only Christianity, but Hinduism, Pagan Greco-Romanism, Native American spirituality, etc. (See this post where Dr. Frazer examines one of John Adams's letters to Jefferson.)

Now, as some have pointed out, their theology may not have been sound (do all world religions really teach the same Truth?) and the metaphysic behind the Declaration may be unprovable, but the Founders' formulation did lay very solid ground for the Founding of liberal democracy in general, the United States in particular. Given that liberal democracies produce for those nations which embrace its ideals, an abundance of, in Allan Bloom's words, "peace, gentleness, prosperity, productivity" and, I might add, "pluralism," I believe such ideals, in the abstract, are worth defending with a religious zeal, as though they were the Gospel, regardless of whether they can be falsified in a scientific hypothesis as such.

Saturday, November 18, 2006


I've seen Kansas at the Keswick Theater twice before and they never sold out at the last minute when I bought my ticket. That is, until today....Well, good for them that they are selling out shows again.

Guess I'll have to wait until next time. In the meantime, I hope Steve Morse and the Dixie Dregs tour near me soon. Last time I saw them was in April, 2005.

Here is a clip from Kansas' prime, one of their best tunes "Icarus, Borne on Wings of Steel."

Stone on Legislating Morality:

I agree with what Geoff Stone writes in this post.

I have no problem with individuals leading their lives according to their own religious beliefs. If one person needs to wear a yarmulke during the Star Spangled Banner, so be it. If another disdains pork, good for her. If a third has to use peyote as part of his religious observance, fine. If a fourth believes her religion forbids her to marry a woman, I support her right not to do so. But why should our government officially impose one group’s religious faith on others. Should the law require all people to wear a yarmulke, refrain from eating pork, and not marry a person of the same sex? In a highly diverse society that celebrates both its homogeneity and the separation of church and state, government imposition of one faith’s religious practice on others should be unthinkable.

I would caution fellow secularists, though, from thinking the Establishment Clause is the proper mechanism which forbids government from imposing laws which reflect religiously based morality. No doubt our Founders established the US Constitution as a secular document which separates church from state, much in the same way that the Constitution separates powers. But it was not that one little clause in the First Amendment which states "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion..." that magically separated Church from State and transformed the Constitution into a secular document. Art VI's "No Religious Tests" Clause, the Free Exercise Clause, the 9th Amendment's and the 14th Amendment's Privileges or Immunities Clause's natural liberty rights, Equal Protection other words, broad substantive guarantees of liberty and equality contained in the Declaration of Independence (the organic law which founds the nation) are encapsulated in the entire document of the US Constitution, not just one little clause. And, ultimately, it is those broad guarantees of liberty and equality which forbid civil government from imposing sectarian dogma on individuals. Case in point -- Lawrence v. Texas was not decided on Establishment Clause grounds, nor should it have been. But that case certainly prevented government from enacting sectarian anti-sodomy dogmas through the civil law, as it should have.

Friday, November 17, 2006

No More Need to Buy Guitar Tuners:

Check it out.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Jazz as it Ought to be Played:

I really don't get into the "straight ahead" traditional jazz music. But I dig this. I like music that's either rock/blues. OR if it's country or jazz, it's got to be mixed with rock or blues in a "fusion" of styles like Weather Report.

Jefferson & Christian Heritage:

WorldNutDaily is reporting on how our "Christian Heritage" is being erased from certain official tours. Some pious minister doesn't like the way Jefferson is being represented.

Here are some excerpts:

A similar situation developed at Monticello, Thomas Jefferson's home.

"Again, while our guide was cordial and informative about many matters, when asked about the religious faith of Thomas Jefferson, he abruptly and actually quite arrogantly said, 'We all know Jefferson was a strict deist [a person who believes in a Creator who does not involve Himself in the daily affairs of men], who ardently fought for the separation of Church and State,'" DeBord wrote.


The facts are that Jefferson used his political position to establish churches and distribute Bibles, DeBord found. "For example, in an 1803 federal Indian treaty, Jefferson willingly agreed to provide $300 to 'assist the said Kaskaskia tribe in the erection of a church' and to provide 'annually for seven years $100 towards the support of a Catholic priest.'"

Jefferson also set aside government lands so that Moravian missionaries might be helped in "promoting Christianity." And Jefferson once was chairman of the American Bible Society.


"Of all the systems of morality, ancient or modern which have come under my observation, none appears to me so pure as that of Jesus....I am a real Christian, that is to say, a disciple of the doctrines of Jesus," Jefferson said.

"While it is true that Jefferson was an advocate for the separation of the State from the Church, he was not attempting to neuter the government from any or all religious or even Christian influence," DuBord said history shows. "Religiously speaking, Jefferson was raised Anglican (Church of England), which is partially why he (as well as others) opposed the tyranny of king, priest, or whomever."


"If Jefferson intended to utterly void religion from national laws and legislatures, then why would he have attended church services in the Capitol Building? (Which there were back in his day). And why would he warn our country from abandoning God with these convicting words to our nation (words now also inscribed on the wall of the Jefferson Memorial):" DuBord wrote.

"The God who gave us life gave us liberty. And can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are a gift from God? That they are not to be violated but with His wrath? Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just, and that His justice cannot sleep forever."

That, DuBord noted, "sounds to me more like a preacher than a politician!"

"No one can say these things and be a strict deist at the same time, because Jesus' doctrines included in the belief in the immanency of a God who will never leave us or forsake us, always willing to intervene and help us in our times of need," he said.

Some comments. First the factual error: Jefferson was not chairman of the American Bible Society.

Re: Jefferson's religion. I agree that Jefferson probably wasn't a "strict Deist," and in my article on George Washington I quote that very passage from "Notes on the State of Virginia" to show that Jefferson believed in a warm personal, as opposed to a distant clockmaker God.

But the "Christian Nation" crowd invariably misleads when they refuse to investigate how Jefferson's religious creed might conflict with their orthodox Christianity. To me, statements like the above quoted ones, taken out of context, leave the impression that while Jefferson may have had some [unidentified] differences with the clergy of the day, he was a "Christian" as evangelicals understand that term. To the contrary, like the other key Whig Founders, Jefferson 1) believed in an intervening God; but also 2) rejected the Trinity: he thought this doctrine, central to Christianity, was a metaphysical insanity; 3) elevated man's reason over biblical revelation; 4) thought the Bible was errant, thus, using man's reason as the ultimate guide, cut out from the Bible what he thought the "error" with his razor; and this included many of the key miracles and prophesies contained therein; 5) denied eternal damnation; and 6) thought most if not all world religions contained the same Truth as Christianity and were thus valid ways to God. It's true that Jefferson said those very nice things about Jesus. But this was in the context of noting Jesus was a great moral teacher and not the Incarnate God.

Now, it's true as Michael Novak [citing Gordon Wood] noted, that on Church/State matters Jefferson [and Madison] may have been outliers, believing in the ideal, far greater strict separation than the other Founders desired [Madison for instance, thought Congressional Chaplains were unconstitutional]. However, on his personal religious creed, Jefferson was not an outlier but should be viewed as the most explicit spokesman for what other Founders, like Madison and Washington, were more reticent to discuss. As I note in my article, on matters of personal faith, no practical inconsistencies are evident in the letters, proclamations, and practices of Jefferson, Washington, and Madison, all members of that coterie of elite Virginia Whigs who nominally belonged to the Anglican/Episcopalian Church but secretly adhered to "infidel" principles. Even though Adams and Franklin were not Anglican/Episcopalians (or from Virginia), they too were almost entirely agreed with Jefferson in their personal religious faith.

On the Indians and Churches/Ministers (apparently true) this was done not because Jefferson or the other Founders thought Christianity should be promoted over non-Christianity, but most likely to accommodate, in the form of a negotiated treaty, the Indians' desire to convert to Christianity. Something else I note in my article, when Jefferson, Madison, and Washington spoke to [unconverted] Indians, they commonly referred to God as "The Great Spirit" exactly as they did and indicating they thought the Indians' native religion was, like Christianity, a valid way to God.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Mike Adams Argues Badly on Behalf of "Legislating Morality":

Or at least, the book that he shucks, Legislating Morality, by Norm Geisler and Frank Turek, does. Adams makes his case here and here. Let's look at one of the blurbs for the book:

"This is a powerful message for these feeble times. Geisler and Turek have mapped out how we can get real answers to long-perplexing questions: Should morality be legislated? And if so, how and by whom? This book is the new standard for resolving debates over the nature and necessity of legislated morality among civilized societies." D. James Kennedy, Ph.D., best-selling author and speaker

From that, I think we could predict the quality of the book's content. The book apparently relies on, you got it, both David Barton's phony quotations from our Founding Fathers, and Paul Cameron's shoddy, debunked social science on homosexuality.

From Adams's first article:

Needless to say, I can't take on all of the myths you will encounter every semester at UNC-Wilmington. In fact, each semester I design a project that focuses on just one of those myths. This semester I will focus on the myth that society "can't legislate morality."

But before I deliver my first lecture on the topic, I have decided to give you a little homework assignment. Please take the time to a) read all of the following questions, and b) write a short paragraph in response to each. I'll collect your answers before the next lecture on Monday.


Have you ever read the 1802 letter from which the phrase "wall of separation of church and state" was taken? Is there any truth to the assertion that the letter was written to a group of Baptists in Connecticut ensuring that their church would be protected from the government by a one way wall of protection?

Jefferson's 1802 letter, read it for yourself, says nothing about the "Wall of Separation of Church and State" being a "one way wall of protection." This claim was fraudulently spread by David Barton.

Adams also notes:

How many of our Founding Fathers attended seminary? (Hint: It is more than 26 and less than 28).

This is another one of Barton's talking points, which, believe it or not, I haven't yet fully gotten to the bottom of. I'll defer to J. Brent Walker's reaction to it.

Despite the questionable truth of his statement out of context, the answer is "so what?" No doubt most of the signers were religious men. But the function and purpose of the Declaration of Independence was to declare the intent of American to separate itself from its relationship with Britain....It did not in any way set up a legal form of government, Christian or not.

While Walker is right that proving a certain mass of the Founders were "religious" in no way equates with intending to "found" a nation on "Biblical principles" or debunks the notion of "Separation of Church and State," I might add that simply holding a seminary degree doesn't prove religious orthodoxy either. As I note in my article in this month's Liberty Magazine, many of the preachers who most influenced our Founders like Mayhew, West, Gay, and Clarke, adhered to the same "infidel principles" (theological unitarianism/theistic rationalism) that Jefferson, Madison, Adams, Franklin and Washington did and preached them from the pulpit.

From Adams's second article:

Please answer all of the following questions by next week:

James Madison once said that "We have staked the future of all of our political institutions ... upon the capacity of each and all of us to govern ourselves, to control ourselves, to sustain ourselves, according to the Ten Commandments of God." Was this the same James Madison who wrote the First Amendment?

No, it's not the same Madison because Madison never uttered the quotation in question, but rather this was fraudulently spread by again, David Barton, who some years ago noted that such quotation was "unconfirmed," but apparently, it still gets passed on regularly (giving me fodder for my blogs).

Adams continues:

Take a few minutes to re-read the First Amendment. Did Madison include the word "separation" in that Amendment? How about the word "church"? How about the word "state"?

Well Madison did write:

Strongly guarded as is the separation between Religion & Govt in the Constitution of the United States the danger of encroachment by Ecclesiastical Bodies, may be illustrated by precedents already furnished in their short history.

Madison, in that document, then goes on to argue that Congressional Chaplains, among other things, are unconstitutional.

Finally, Adams asks:

Given that homosexuals live about half as long as heterosexuals, is it fair to say that nature rewards with good health those who practice traditional morality?....The truth of the matter is that all laws impose morals on others. Given that obvious truth, should we legislate the morality that kills people around the age of forty or the one that preserves them until seventy-five or eighty?

Adams can only be referring to Paul Cameron's phony social science, which has been debunked for well over a decade. Of course, it's true that many gay men have died too young from AIDS, just as many women have died young in childbirth, but there simply is no credible social science which demonstrates "homosexuals live about half as long as heterosexuals." It would be like me asserting, out of thin air, that women who have children die on average 15 years younger than those who don't. Perhaps Mr. Adams and the authors of the "book" that he shucks should pay attention to the news and learn that groundbreaking AIDS treatment drugs, about a decade old, have led to an 8 year low in AIDS cases in SanFrancisco, that indeed, relatively few people in the United States die young from AIDS anymore, and that those diagnosed with AIDS are expected to live on average 24 years with the disease. Damn that science for interfering with nature's rewards. Next thing you know, we will be vaccinating babies from small pox!

In all seriousness, valid arguments about the legitimacy of legislating religious morality do exist. See for instance, this post by Eugene Volokh. But it does you no good to make what could be an otherwise valid argument with specious claims. It would be akin to Palestinians, who may have a good case that they have been mistreated and deserve an independent state, beginning their argument with "and just as the Jews like to drink the blood of Palestinian children...." Such an argument would be, if anything, counterproductive to the Palestinian cause. Adams, Geisler and Turek likewise did nothing to advance their claim that it is legitimate to "legislate" their religious fundamentalist morality.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

America Vision's Amusing Phone Call:

If one publicly takes strong opinions on controversial matters, one is bound to be contacted by people who strongly disagree, sometimes in ways that could be threatening and harassing.

It rarely happens to me (and my cobloggers at Positive Liberty). But it has happened. I think the more reasonable and civil one is in putting forth his opinions, and the more reasonable those opinions are (something for which I strive) the less likely it is that angry folks will bother you.

Gary Demar's American Vision is a theocratic Christian Reconstructionist group who, in their first best world, would impose literal Old Testament punishments in civil society. Even if one puts forth these ideas using a civil tone, we are already in the land of extremist wingnuttery. Plus, this groups posits the "Christian Nation" myth which I have painstakingly debunked over and over again on my blogs.

So it's no surprise that American Vision gets a phone call like this (listen here). None of this excuses the caller's behavior. Though, when I listen to this, I have a hard time taking it seriously. It almost sounds like a comedic-prank harassing phone call, something that Crank Yankers could animate with their puppets.

Strangely, this phone call amuses me and seems more funny than mean. But as Mark Knopfler (not the guitar player) has shown, pranks can be both funny and mean at the same time.

In my head I could imagine what puppets I would use to reenact American Vision's call.

Friday, November 10, 2006

A Conservative Catholic Chimes in...:

...on my post where I noted Ed Feser's post informing that Thomistic/Catholic teachings allow for oral sex between married couples provided the act in no way frustrates the procreative purpose of sex -- in other words, if it's done as "foreplay" to intercourse, but not as a completed act in itself.

Someone named "Ken" left the following comment. When Dr. Kuznicki, in an email, alerted me to this comment, I replied that I worried this post wasn't for real, but done to make Catholics look bad. Anyway, here it is:

Catholic marriage is not license for “anything goes”. We are bound by the limits of marital chastity. The Holy Sacrament of Marriage between a Man and a Woman does NOT and cannot validate gravely immoral unnatural sexual acts - i.e. oral sex, anal sex and mutual masturbation etc.

Oral sex for a married couple is a gravely disordered abominable act. It does nothing but defile the Holy Sacrament of Marriage, darken the soul and block the Grace of God.

Do not be deceived by the argument that these acts – borrowed from the disordered and diabolical behavior of homosexuals – serve to strengthen the bond between husband and wife. Allowing these insidious acts into your marriage creates a fissure, which ultimately will severely damage your marriage or completely destroy it altogether.

Advice to follow one’s conscience on the subject is permissible provided one’s conscience has been properly formed in accordance with the truths of the Catholic Church. Anything less is spiritual suicide.

“Deep within his conscience man discovers a law which he has not laid upon himself but which he must obey. Its voice, ever calling him to love and to do what is good and to avoid evil, sounds in his heart at the right moment. . . . For man has in his heart a law inscribed by God. . . . His conscience is man’s most secret core and his sanctuary. There he is alone with God whose voice echoes in his depths.”
Is Sullivan going to become a Villain in Professional Wrestling?

Reading Southern Appeal's reaction to this post by Andrew Sullivan taking a swipe at the "conservative South," reminded me of the comedic genius of Andy Kaufman. Who is being harder on the South, Sullivan or Kaufman?

Wednesday, November 08, 2006


Wednesday night. 8:00pm. Off to the gym!

The Elections:

Divided government again. Good. Gridlock, here we come baby. GW, get that veto pen out.

Other good news: Santorum is gone. Bad news: That ghastly anti-gay measure seems to have passed in Virginia, as did two others in Colorado and more elsewhere.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Forrest McDonald Reviews Brookhiser's What Would the Founders Do?

Nuff said.
Yes -- Sound Chaser (Live 1975):

The audio mix isn't the best. But this is from their Relayer album, one of their best. And the only one they did with keyboardist Patrick Moraz, who despite not being as legendary as Rick Wakeman, got some brilliant sounds out the those keys.
Sandefur on CNBC:

It's amazing what you can find on YouTube. Sandefur wipes the floor with this guy.

Friday, November 03, 2006

Published Finally:

Check out my article on George Washington's faith in Liberty's December issue, which should hit the stands (at Borders and Barnes and Nobles across the country) any day. Unfortunately, it's not linked online. But then again, I'm just glad to get something in print.

So now two Positive Liberty bloggers have been published by Liberty.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Our Founders' Religion is More Common Than You Think:

Especially among the young. Those on both sides of the battle over "The Faiths of the Founding Fathers" are likely to note that the 18th Century Deism and Unitarianism to which the Founders ascribed are anachronisms, products of that era, dead in ours.

While their specific "Priestlian" beliefs probably aren't held by many folks, many freethinking or unorthodox theists today do believe in something quite similar to what the key Founders believed.

Back then Deism had no official Church. And neither does it today. Unitarianism did take over the Congregational Churches. So when Jefferson wrote, in 1822, "there is not a young man now living in the US who will not die an Unitarian," he was certainly being overoptimistic; but Unitarianism had already made a serious mark in New England, and would grow throughout the 19th Century. The Unitarian-Universalists, though around today (indeed, one of the few churches I would consider joining) never became serious players. And theological unitarianism had never overtaken, as an official doctrine, the other orthodox Churches as Jefferson and Adams had hoped it would.

Jefferson was an Episcopalian. And much to his chagrin, that church never replaced Trinitarianism with Unitarianism (though, few realize that, just as with the Congregational Churches in New England, the Anglican/Episcopalian Church had many Unitarians and Deists, many who indeed tried to reform the Church in that direction, but ultimately failed). Today's masses who follow a creed similar to our Founders', like them, are nominally connected to Churches with orthodox creeds. Like our Founders, they are, "cafeteria Christians" of sort. (This is why some scholars use the term "Christian-Deism" to describe the deistic beliefs of our Founders.)

See this article from the Christian Post by R. Albert Mohler, Jr. discussing a survey of younger folks, and notes their creed, in the title, "Moralistic Therapeutic Deism--the New American Religion." In reading the article, I noted nothing new about this creed, as it looked very similar to what our key Founders believed. Indeed, that this religion was termed a type of "Deism" -- a religion associated with the 18th Century -- contradicts its description as "new." (Mohler though seems to realize this when he writes, "Smith and his colleagues recognize that the deity behind Moralistic Therapeutic Deism is very much like the deistic God of the 18th-century philosophers.")

The article reports:

When Christian Smith and his fellow researchers with the National Study of Youth and Religion at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill took a close look at the religious beliefs held by American teenagers, they found that the faith held and described by most adolescents came down to something the researchers identified as "Moralistic Therapeutic Deism."

As described by Smith and his team, Moralistic Therapeutic Deism consists of beliefs like these: 1. "A god exists who created and ordered the world and watches over human life on earth." 2. "God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and by most world religions." 3. "The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself." 4. "God does not need to be particularly involved in one's life except when God is needed to resolve a problem." 5. "Good people go to heaven when they die."

Those five points are very close to what Franklin, Jefferson, Adams, and the other key Founders believed. Indeed, even though Washington and Madison weren't quite as explicit in giving the details of their creed, they both spoke in the language of a "benevolent" Deity who leads people to happiness. Here Mohler identifies ways of telling whether young Church goers have accepted "real Christianity" or this "new form of paganism."

They argue that this distortion of Christianity has taken root not only in the minds of individuals, but also "within the structures of at least some Christian organizations and institutions."

How can you tell? "The language, and therefore experience, of Trinity, holiness, sin, grace, justification, sanctification, church, . . . and heaven and hell appear, among most Christian teenagers in the United States at the very least, to be supplanted by the language of happiness, niceness, and an earned heavenly reward."

Funny, the exact same things -- "The language, and therefore experience, of Trinity, holiness, sin, grace, justification, sanctification, church, . . . and heaven and hell..." -- are almost entirely absent from Madison's and Washington's "God talk" and instead replaced by a fundamentally benevolent Almighty Being of infinite "wisdom, goodness, and power," (which is also, by the way, how Jefferson, Adams, and Franklin described God). And this, in turn, is why, even though we don't have "smoking gun" quotations from Washington and Madison that show they rejected orthodoxy like Franklin, Adams, and Jefferson did (and neither did they explicitly affirm orthodoxy), scholars like Paul Boller and David Holmes nonetheless conclude Washington (and Madison) was, like them, a "Deist" of sort.

Now, some significant differences in circumstances exist between our Founders' "deistic" (or "theistic") beliefs, and that of these contemporary young folks. First, our key Founders were obsessed with debunking the Trinity and understanding God on rational terms, and that is entirely absent from this modern belief system (though, they don't claim to believe in or much less understand, the Trinity). More importantly, Jefferson, Adams, Franklin and the others were very familiar with the Bible, and only came to these conclusions after exhaustive study and could rationally explain exactly what their beliefs were and why they rejected orthodox Christianity (don't get Jefferson started on this!). As the article notes, today's younger folks are pretty ignorant of the Bible and have trouble articulating what they really believe in beyond these basics.

But, Jefferson, Adams, and Franklin, often noted how "Christianity" stripped of all its "corruptions" was "simple" or "basic," something say, simple minded younger persons could understand. Not like the Trinity, which they thought "incomprehensible."

One last thing to note, Albert Mohler, in this context understands that this belief system is "not Christian" and "seriously challenges" Biblical Christianity. Now, if what our key Founders believed likewise conflicts with Biblical Christianity, indeed, if it was a "form of paganism" as Mohler below puts it, contrast his sentiment with contemporary religious conservative scholars like Michael Novak who attempt to reconcile what our Founders believed with historic Christianity, or those who argue that the "Deism" and "Unitarianism" of the 18th Century were really a lot like Biblical Christianity.

We must now look at the United States of America as missiologists once viewed nations that had never heard the gospel. Indeed, our missiological challenge may be even greater than the confrontation with paganism, for we face a succession of generations who have transformed Christianity into something that bears no resemblance to the faith revealed in the Bible. The faith "once delivered to the saints" is no longer even known, not only by American teenagers, but by most of their parents. Millions of Americans believe they are Christians, simply because they have some historic tie to a Christian denomination or identity.

We now face the challenge of evangelizing a nation that largely considers itself Christian, overwhelmingly believes in some deity, considers itself fervently religious, but has virtually no connection to historic Christianity. Christian Smith and his colleagues have performed an enormous service for the church of the Lord Jesus Christ in identifying Moralistic Therapeutic Deism as the dominant religion of this American age. Our responsibility is to prepare the church to respond to this new religion, understanding that it represents the greatest competitor to biblical Christianity. More urgently, this study should warn us all that our failure to teach this generation of teenagers the realities and convictions of biblical Christianity will mean that their children will know even less and will be even more readily seduced by this new form of paganism. This study offers irrefutable evidence of the challenge we now face. As the motto reminds us, "Knowledge is power."

I think Jefferson and company are in Heaven smiling. Finally, in a way, their heterodox faith has caught on with the masses.
Learn Something New Every Day:

This was something I was unsure of, but I'm glad Ed Feser clarified. Or maybe some Roman Catholics disagree. I'll have more to say on the entirety of Feser's post, which replies to Andrew Sullivan's discussion of his work in The Conservative Soul, later. But for now, I note, I was unsure whether doctrinaire Catholicism ever permitted oral sex between married couples. According to Feser, it does.

For example, Sullivan describes a “Catholic married couple who live their lives according to natural law in every respect” as one who “never engage in any sexual act that does not result in the penis depositing semen in a vagina” (p. 84). If what he means by this is that the Catholic Church or natural law theory forbids acts like fellatio and cunnilingus even between married people, he is mistaken. What is forbidden is taking fellatio to the point of orgasm, or taking cunnilingus to orgasm outside the overall context of a completed act of intercourse; it is not necessarily forbidden to indulge in them as foreplay to an act of intercourse that results in ejaculation within the vagina. Perhaps Sullivan realizes this, but if so he should have expressed himself more clearly, since he is bound to give unwary readers the impression that natural law and Catholic teaching are more restrictive than they really are.

Is there an official Catholic document on this? I would think that fellatio would still be forbidden. It really depends on the man, and his "trigger." But wouldn't allowing a married couple to engage in fellatio greatly "risk" seed spilling outside a woman's vagina? Perhaps fellatio to the point of erection would be okay. But fellating an erect penis? I would think a Thomistic Catholic would say: "No way."