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.


Tom Van Dyke said...

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.

Jonathan said...

Thanks for the comment. It's going to take a day or two for me to respond. Busy with work 'n stuff.