Friday, September 29, 2006

Romans 13:

I don't mean to revive the debate between Jim Babka and Dr. Gregg Frazer over whether the principles of our Founding are consistent with the Bible and orthodox Christianity. But I have uncovered a couple of interesting sites which might shed light on this issue.

I am debating a fundamentalist from the Caribbean named Gordon Mullings, infamously known on the Evangelical Outpost comments section for writing book length posts.

In Mr. Mullings's world, everything in America's Founding principles matches up perfectly with his fundamentalism. I pointed out that arguably the American Revolution was un-Biblical because Romans 13 seems to state that revolt is never justified. After all, that's what John Calvin taught. Further, I noted that our key Founders and the Unitarian ministers from Founding era New England like Mayhew, West, Chauncy and Gay who preached pro-revolutionary sermons, were Enlightenment rationalists who took a cafeteria like approach to the Bible and elevated man's reason over revelation. Their unorthodox theology and reliance on reason is relevant because it made it easier to "explain away" controlling Biblical texts, like Romans 13.

Mullings disagreed and wrote "MAYHEW ETC ARE WITHIN THE BIBLICAL, REFORMATION ERA TEACHING ON THE MATTER ON THIS POINT." Jim Babka raised a similar point which deserves answering. Though our key Founders and the Unitarian minister whom they followed were not "orthodox" in their theology, there was a pro-Revolutionary sentiment that had developed (which may or may not have influenced our Founders) in Protestantism among thinkers who seemingly were orthodox, some of them Calvinist, in their theology. Works like, for instance, Samuel Rutherford's Lex Rex, the Vindiciae Contra Tyrannos (English title: A Vindication Against Tyrants), and the Dutch Plakkaat van Verlatinge (a.k.a., the Dutch Declaration of Independence)(1581).

Mr. Mullings argues that, though the Unitarian ministers' entire theology may not have been orthodox, the pro-revolutionary messages of Mayhew et al. were Biblical. I replied that one could view it conversely -- that even Christians who claim/seem to be orthodox (or evangelical/fundamentalist/inerrantist, whatever term is proper) also use the "cafeteria" method when it suits them. Samuel Rutherford et al., like the Unitarian clergy in New England, sought to "explain away" what is clearly written in Romans 13.

When researching this issue, I discovered this post by Brad Delong from 2002 which references this article in First Things by Justice Scalia directly on the subject.

While Scalia doesn't speak of the American Revolution, the thesis of his article is that Romans 13 demands that Christians obey the civil magistrate. Delong rightly concludes that according to Scalia's "literal" reading of Romans 13, the American Revolution would be un-Biblical.

In a speech last May--"God's Justice and Ours"--published in First Things, Scalia--approvingly--quotes St. Paul on the Principate, the form of government of the Roman Empire in its first two centuries: "Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God. Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation. For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? Do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same: for he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil. Wherefore ye must needs be subject, not only for wrath, but also for conscience sake. (Romans 13:1-5)"

Notice that what Scalia approves of is not praise of a healthy representative democracy. It is not praise of a wise, merciful, and saintly king. What is praised by Saul of Tarsus and Antonin Scalia--what is "ordained of God" and is "the minister of God... for good... [and] to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil"--is the Principate, the government of the Roman Empire under the Julio-Claudian dynasty, than lurching its downward progress from Augustus to Nero. Yet Saul--and Antonin--tell us that even this government must be obeyed: "Ye must needs be subject... for conscience sake." To fail to obey the government is (as long as the government is not more tyrannical than Tiberius, Caligula, or Nero) morally blameworthy, and contrary to the will of God. As Scalia says later on, this prohibition extends not just to revolt or secret transgression but even to open civil disobedience, which is, in Scalia's view based on the false assumption that "what the individual citizen considers an unjust law... need not be obeyed."

My first reaction upon reading this was to think, "Whoa!" And then to think, "What about the American Revolution?" Wasn't the moral obligation to obey George III and his ministers, not very tyrannical compared to Tiberius and Nero, much stronger than the moral obligation to obey Nero and his proconsuls? Does Antonin Scalia really think that George Washington and Thomas Jefferson were moral cretins, whose deeds of rebellion against the ordained-by-God George III were unholy, immoral, cursed by God? Is Antonin Scalia about to abjure his oath of allegiance to the Constitution of the United States, swear allegiance to Elizabeth II Windsor as the rightful heir-general of George III Hanover, and fall under the tyrannical sway of the handbag of monarchy? We know that Scalia condemns Martin Luther King, Jr. as a moral cretin for failing to obey the segregation laws of his day. But how much further does he go? There seems to be no stopping point before the equivalent of Nero. Thus Charles de Gaulle for his rebellion against the collaborationist French government of Philippe Petain and Pierre Laval stands, in Scalia's eyes, condemned as an enemy of God. The milestones of English liberty--the barons' rebellion that brought us Magna Carta, the Long Parliament claiming powers of right rather than privileges of grace, the Glorious Revolution of 1688--all of them, all of them much worse than the acts of civil disobedience that Scalia condemns expressly, and all of them revolts against God's will.

Of course, one can explain away Romans 13 with context. But almost any text, including the prohibitions on things such as homosexuality, can be explained away by context. I have nothing against such "cafeteria Christianity"; such is, from my perspective, a more desirable form of the faith than the "fundamentalist" strain, one better suited to modern "liberal democracies." But when fundamentalists invoke "context" -- and then proceed to explain away inconvenient Biblical texts -- it seems to me that they try to have their cake and eat it too; that is, they engage in cafeteria Christianity and at the same time deny that they so do.

In any event, whatever the context, Romans 13 offers no support to the "Christian Nation" myth. If Romans 13 really stands for the proposition, as Mr. Mullings argues, of "just government under God," then psychopathic Pagan Tyrants like Nero and Caligula had "just government[s] under God." With a standard that low, it's hard to imagine what wouldn't qualify as a "just government under God."
Worst...German Accent...Ever:

Baron Von Raschke

Although, I do find his scientific explication of how "the brain claw" works to be quite illuminating.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Barton Explains his Partisan Hackery:

David Barton, one of the foremost perpetrators of the "Christian Nation" myth explains his partisan hackery here.

Here is an excerpt:

David Barton of Wallbuilders may be the pre-eminent historian on the role of religion in the founding and history of the United States of America. That makes him a natural for an interview with this blog. Lowell and I recently interviewed him and are happy to present the transcript of that interview here. There were some technical difficulties in the both the call conferencing and the recording that we will skip over that and get to the meat of matters.

John: ... So, David, my next question would be, You worked for the RNC in '04, is that correct?

David Barton: That's correct -- in 2004 as well as in earlier cycles; and they have approached me to help in this cycle as well. So I guess that makes four cycles that I have worked with them.

John: Could you describe your activities.

David Barton: The activities I do for the RNC are not a lot different from what I do in any other setting. The audience is slightly different, but the message I deliver remains largely the same. What I did for the RNC was particularly talk to the constituency that included people of faith and social conservatives (there's a lot of overlap between the two). I would essentially show the historical and Biblical reasons for people of faith to be involved politically. We also did a number of pastors' conferences giving that same information but also distributing a four page letter from the IRS laying out exactly what churches can and cannot do as 501(c)(3) organizations. I try to clarify a lot of the confusion in this area, because there are several groups on the left that aggressively attempt to intimidate and silence pastors. However, unbeknownst to most of them, there is much that pastors legally can do and still be within the law, since those activities are related to civic engagement. They cannot endorse candidates; they cannot endorse parties; but they can endorse the concept of parishioners being active citizens.

Contrary to the interviewer's assertion, Barton is most certainly not "the pre-eminent historian on the role of religion in the founding and history of the United States of America." He is not a trained historian but rather has a BA from Oral Roberts University in "Christian Education."

And his lack of training shows. Readers of this blog know that he notoriously passed phony quotations from our Founding Fathers trying to "prove" they were evangelical like him who intended to "found" the nation in public sense on fundamentalist Christianity. For instance, this phony quotation by Patrick Henry:

"It cannot be emphasized too strongly or too often that this great nation was founded, not by religionists, but by Christians; not on religions, but on the Gospel of Jesus Christ. For this very reason peoples of other faith have been afforded asylum, prosperity and freedom of worship here."

Barton acknowledged this and other quotations have no basis in the historical record, but that doesn't stop plenty of believers in the "Christian Nation" myth to continue citing them.

When Barton manages to quote the Founders accurately, he takes their words so grossly out of context that the result is, in Mark Lilla's words, a "bizarre pastiche."

According to the Star Tribune, Barton claimed "the Bible condemns not only homosexuality but also capital-gains taxes, progressive income taxes, estate taxes and minimum-wage laws." This article seems to support the Tribune's assertion.

Likewise, Barton argues the Bible supported the American Revolution, when the actual text -- Romans 13 -- seems to state that revolt is never justified.

Barton's scholarship is a bizarre mix of Republican partisanship and Christian Reconstructionism (note to Joe Carter, not all of the theocrats voted for Michael Peroutka). He "literally" reads the Bible to condemn homosexuality, but then engages in a twisted hermeneutic to "prove" the Bible teaches the rest of the Republican party platform. And he certainly doesn't "literally" read Romans 13 which would suggest that the American Revolution was unbiblical.

In order to try and attract more blacks to the Republican Party, Barton now "specializes" in the history of race and Civil Rights, and uses the same shoddy historical method. One understands the desire of conservative Republicans to try and attract more blacks, many of whom are very religious and socially conservative in their worldview. But Barton pretends that the "Democrats" of the Civil War era and the racists Dixiecrats of Jim Crow have some sort of connection to the modern Democratic Party, and that the Republicans have always been on the side of the Angels on race issues. Never mind that the white-southern Christian conservatives who are the heirs to the Confederates and Dixiecrats are all now solid Republicans. But wait, Barton is a southern, conservative white Christian....

My favorite example of Bizzaro-Bartonland is his affidavit submitted in the Ten Commandments cases. Barton waxes nostalgic about the colonial era when the Ten Commandments were incorporated into the civil laws. Barton notes that only Roger Williams's Rhode Island distinguished between the (his words) "so-called" first and second tablets, "every other early American colony incorporated the entire Decalogue into its own civil code of laws."

And he gives examples of laws based on the first four commands of the "so-called" first tablet.

A subsequent 1641 Massachusetts legal code also incorporated the thrust of this command of the Decalogue into its statutes. Significantly, the very first law in that State code was based on the very first command of the Decalogue, declaring:

1. If any man after legal conviction shall have or worship any other god but the Lord God, he shall be put to death. Deut. 13.6, 10, Deut. 17.2, 6, Ex. 22.20.


Have no idols.

24. Typical of the civil laws prohibiting idolatry was a 1680 New Hampshire idolatry law that declared:

Idolatry. It is enacted by ye Assembly and ye authority thereof, yet if any person having had the knowledge of the true God openly and manifestly have or worship any other god but the Lord God, he shall be put to death. Ex. 22.20, Deut. 13.6 and 10.

Putting people to death for worshipping false gods and having idols. Ah, the good old days.

Roger Williams, whom Barton seems to disparage for distinguishing between the first and second tablets of the Decalogue and incorporating only the more secular oriented commands like "do not kill" and "do not steal," was the first Christian leader in America to establish religious liberty, separation of church and state (he actually coined a similar term), government that was secular in its essential functions, and Williams stated, "No civil state or country can be truly called Christian, although the Christians be in it."

In other words, he rejected Barton's notion of a "Christian Nation." Well, Williams actually rejected Puritan Massachusetts John Winthrop's (and John Calvin's) notion of a "Christian Commonwealth" where people were put to death for among other things, heresy and worshipping false gods. For that, lucky he wasn't executed, Williams was banished to found Rhode Island, where he made his vision of religious liberty and secular government a new experiment (and our Founders, in establishing our national government followed Williams's vision, not Winthrop's).

But, according to Barton, I guess Williams was wrong to distinguish between the "so-called" first and second tablets and not execute people for worshipping false gods and having idols. Such is, I suppose, what is demanded in a "Christian Nation." After all, that's the way it was in Puritan Massachusetts's "Christian Commonwealth."

Monday, September 25, 2006

John Adams, Zionist Unitarian Universalist:

This week's quotation of John Adams is quite interesting:

I really wish the Jews again in Judea an independent nation. For as I believe the most enlightened men of it have participated in the amelioration of the philosophy of the age, once restored to an independent government & no longer persecuted they would soon wear away some of the asperities and peculiarities of their character [and] possibly in time become liberal unitarian Christians for your Jehovah is our Jehovah & your God of Abraham Isaac & Jacob is our God.

John Adams to Mordecai Noah, March 15, 1819. Adams Papers (microfilm), reel 123. Quoted from James H. Hutson's The Founders on Religion, p. 127.

It's interesting that Adams thought it would be a good idea for Jews to convert not just to Christianity, but to "liberal unitarian Christianity," which arguably isn't Christianity at all, but what Gregg Frazer has termed Theistic Rationalism. The Theistic Rationalists believed that all religions, even those outside of the "Judeo-Christian" tradition, contained the same basic Truth as Christianity, and were thus valid ways to God. They believed all religions, especially orthodox-Trinitarian Christianity, had been corrupted. Once you stripped away the "corruptions" from all world religions, the same Truth would be revealed. And that Truth was, conveniently, the tenets of Theistic Rationalism (or as Adams terms it here, "liberal unitarian Christianity").

Dr. Frazer, an orthodox Christian himself, though he approaches the Founders' religion with fairness, notes from the perspective of an evangelical, the Founders' theological assertions at times seem quite arrogant.

Regarding the fact that Adams states he and the Jews worshipped the same God -- the God of "Abraham Isaac & Jacob" -- two things should be noted. First, Adams didn't mean this in an exclusivist way, but an inclusivist. Washington likewise said similar things when he addressed the Jews. And Michael Novak, in his book on Washington's faith, misreads Washington's remarks and notes that the proper name for Washington's God was "Jehovah" and that Washington's God was "Judeo-Christian." Well, no. The God of Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Madison, and Franklin was actually universalist, and though It encompassed the Judeo-Christian religions, It also extended beyond such systems to the pagan, Eastern, Muslim, and Native American religious systems. These Founders believed all these religions worshipped the same God, who came to different peoples through different names. This may not be sound theology, but it is what they believed.

Second, 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 if we want to say Adams et al. worshipped the God of the Bible, we could say yes they did minus everything written in the Bible that didn't comport with their notion of man's reason, like God's irrational wrath and jealousy. The parts of the Bible that showed God's benevolence remained.

Saturday, September 23, 2006


See Joe Carter's post criticizing the rhetoric directed against the religious right as wanting to impose "theocracy" and arguing that what the religious right wants to do -- impose religious values through the secular laws -- is not theocracy.

Two points. First, I agree with Carter that some of the theocracy rhetoric is overblown. For instance, I don't think George Bush wants to impose theocracy in the United States. And I don't think the theocrats -- "the Christian Nationalists" -- represent mainstream conservative or even Christian conservative thought.

But I disagree in that contrary to Carter's assertions, they didn't all vote for Michael Peroutka. And it's simply not true that "Their actual numbers, however, are rather negligible and their political influence almost non-existence." These "dominists" who make up the right wing of the "religious right," number in the millions and do have some significant influence in the Republican Party. I'm referring to men like D. James Kennedy's Center for Reclaiming America for Christ and David Barton's Wallbuilders, and many other lesser groups.

Now, onto whether they technically qualify as a "theocracy." One could argue that technically they don't. As Carter notes, "After all, more than half of American evangelicals are either Baptists or non-denominational. We don't even want a centralized church government much less a central government controlled by the church." Further, a commenter answers what these folks are really all about:

Conservative Christians do want a say in the democratic process, as is our right. If we want to preserve traditional marriage and other Christian values, that is also our democratic right, just as it is the democratic right of secularists to oppose that. Excersing our democratic right to have views that are different, even "offensive", and to advance our views in democratically voted legislation, has nothing at all to do with theocracy. A conservative Christian government that is democratically elected is a democracy, not a theocracy. A theocracy only exists when it is imposed by force on a majority population that does not want it.

This relates to a major dilemma in bringing "democracy" to the Middle East. We don't just want to bring "democracy" that is majority rule, but rather liberal democracy, meaning that certain rights exist antecedent to majority rule. We know that in many of these nations, they will "democratically" vote Sharia into law. Indeed, one reason why Israel, though it is a "Western" democracy, can't do what the norms of liberal democracy logically dictate it do to "solve" its problem with the Palestinians -- a one state solution where Palestinians have equal rights including voting with Jewish Israelis -- is that Palestinians will likely use the democratic process to take over the government, implement Sharia, and then cleanse the area of Jews. (Note: I'm open to the notion that I am wrong as I haven't studied this issue in detail. If I am, then I would support a one state liberal democratic solution for the Israel problem.) Indeed, much of Islamofascism can be and has been vetted by democratic majority rule.

So what do these "dominists" want to do? Like their Muslim counterparts, they want to use the democratic process (or whatever process they could) to write the Bible wholesale, or at least entire parts of it, into the civil law. And they justify such actions by remarks like "if it's in the Bible, it should be part of the civil law." Now, technically, that might not be "theocracy," but it sure looks something like it. Perhaps we could call it "neo-theocracy."

Now, I also believe that the Constitution, properly understood, prevents this. Though, I would disagree that the Establishment Clause is the sole or even primary device which makes such "neo-theocracy" unconstitutional. Consider, the Lawrence v. Texas decision prevents the dominists from writing the Biblical prohibitions against "sodomy" into the civil law. And Lawrence was not decided on Establishment Clause grounds. Nor should it have been. The fact that we have a foundational unalienable right to liberty, that is part of the Declaration of Independence, the 9th Amendment, and Privileges or Immunities Clause of the 14th, and that we have a federal government of limited enumerated powers that doesn't even mention God and concerns itself entirely with earthly secular matters is actually far more important than the Establishment Clause in preventing such "neo-theocracy."
The Messiah Will Come Again:

No, I haven't converted. It's the title to a blues track, first done by Roy Buchanan, and below is Gary Moore's beautiful cover of the tune. A while ago I posted a clip of Gary Moore from YouTube and remarked I thought he was one of the few up there with SRV. Matt Kuznicki disagreed. If this doesn't convince you that Moore is in the same league with Stevie Ray, then nothing will.

Friday, September 22, 2006

The Nicene Creed and Christianity:

Those labels and boxes. Sometimes coming forth with proper criteria for "line-drawing" can be difficult. Indeed, the "deconstructionist" left specializes in using that difficulty to argue that all categories and consequently all Truth are simply social constructs, decided by those in power. The following is an email I received from a Mormon reader. We discussed the criteria for "what is a Christian?" The discussion started because of my labeling the key Founders as "not Christian" (even though many of them like Adams and Jefferson claimed to be) because they rejected creeds central to orthodox Christianity, most notably the Nicene Creed, which Jefferson and Adams bitterly ridiculed as the ultimate "corruption" of Christianity. An interesting parallel thus can be drawn between our "Unitarian" Founders and Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses who likewise reject the Nicene Creed (and therefore some would say reject Christianity even though they call themselves "Christian").

I gave the reader, as examples of orthodox Christian bloggers defining Christianity according to the Nicene creed one of Clayton Cramer's posts (I also mentioned a few of Joe Carter's). The reader's email responds to Clayton Cramer.

In Mr. Cramer's blog, he sets out to show that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is not a Christian religion. That's interesting given the name of the church. Bit I digress. During a meeting Mr. Cramer explained that all faiths are defined by core values.

"I explained that are certain core values that define various faiths, and trying to gloss over those differences is silly. I gave as an example of a core value of Christianity--really, a lowest common denominator definition-- the Nicene Creed."

I think what Mr. Cramer meant was faiths have core tenets not values. A tenet is "the fundamental tenet of Marxism principle, belief, doctrine, precept, creed, credo, article of faith, axiom, dogma, canon; theory, thesis, premise, conviction, idea, view, opinion, position; (tenets) ideology, code of belief, teaching(s)." (Oxford American Dictionary)

It is interesting that he chose the Nicene Creed as the basic tenet of Christianity. The Creed wasn't created until 325 when Constantine, Emperor of Rome, told the Christians church leaders to get their act together and settle the issue of the nature of God. There were several groups all proclaiming their understanding of the nature of God. Each claimed their understanding correct. The upshot was dissentions within Christian community. This was unsettling for the Empire and the emperor wanted it to stop. The problem facing Christian leaders was trying to reconcile the Old Testament doctrine of one God with the New Testament's Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. For quite some time there was no universally accepted way of reconciling these two statements about God. The issue revolved around two questions: Was Jesus subordinate to the Father and if not how do you describe such a union.

The councils who decided the issue were packed with those who rejected the subordination of Jesus. For them, the challenge was how to describe the nature of such a union. People had tried for a very long time to come up with a formula but all failed. Finally through the use of Greek philosophical terms hypostases and ousia a formula was created to describe the Trinity. They had to turn to Greek philosophy because the concepts did not exist in either the Old Testament or the New Testament. So, under the direction of the Roman Emperor and using Greek concepts rather than Christian these councils were able to hammer out a definition of the Trinity the Emperor could enforce. And the rest, they say, is history.

Now proponents of the Nicene Creed say the creed only formalized what had been taught in the Bible. If that is so, why couldn't the councils simply take these concepts rather than importing Greek philosophical concepts? Take out the Greek terms and the whole thing falls apart. There is another problem with using the creed as a benchmark of orthodoxy. If you claim that all those who don't believe in the Nicene Creed are not Christians, what of those members of the Church which lived prior to the creation of the Nicene Creed? They couldn't have believed in the creed because it hadn't been created yet. So do you stamp all the early Church fathers living before 300 AD non-Christians because this creed wasn't around to be accepted?

However, Mr. Cramers assertion that the Nicene Creed is the lowest common denominator definition of what it meant to be a Christian runs into a far more serious problem. If Mr. Cramer's assertion was true, then we should be called Trinitarians rather than Christians. Christians are not termed Christians because they accept the Nicene Creed. They are defined as Christians because of their faith in Jesus Christ as the promised Messiah. The common denominator which defines what it means to be a Christian is the belief that Jesus is the promised messiah and redeemer of the world. This was the good news of the New Testament. It was this that the Apostles preached to the world after His death and resurrection. It seems to me that those who have accepted Christ as their messiah and their redeemer and follow his example should properly be called Christians, even if they believe in the Nicene Creed. :)

As for my thoughts, as an outsider to the label "Christian," on the matter....When I "literally" read the Bible I see it as an "open-ended" text full of potential contradictions and alternate interpretations. I would agree that the Bible absolutely supports theological unitarianism as much as it supports trinitarianism. There are some passages which clearly seem to say that Jesus is inferior to God the Father (Proverbs 8:22, Colossians 1:15, and John 14:28), and others which support the concept of the Trinity (2 Corinthians 13:13, Jude 20-21, and Matthew 28:19). See David Holmes, The Faiths of the Founding Fathers, pp. 74-5. Likewise, I see as much Biblical support for the concept of theological universalism (that all will eventually be saved) as for eternal damnation. (See this website by a Princeton theological seminary student making the Biblical case for universalism).

And theological unitarianism and universalism were central tenets to our key Founders' (Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Madison, Franklin, and a few others) theistic rationalist creed. These founders were influenced by unitarian and universalist ministers (many of them from the Congregational Church, some Episcopalian though) who made Biblical arguments for these doctrines. See for instance, Samuel Clarke, an Anglican unitarian who was nearly defrocked for peddling his unitarianism within the Church, and whom James Madison lauded. Founding era universalist ministers were so numerous and influential in making Biblical arguments for universalism that they converted Benjamin Rush, an other-wise orthodox Trinitarian, to the doctrine.

Rush claimed:

I then read for the first time Fletcher’s controversy with the Calvinists in favor of the Universality of the atonement. This prepared my mind to admit the doctrine of Universal salvation, which was then preached in our city by the Revd. Mr. Winchester. It embraced and reconciled my ancient calvinistical, and newly adopted Armenian principles. From that time I have never doubted upon the subject of the salvation of all men. My conviction of the truth of this doctrine was derived from reading the works of Stonehouse, Seigvolk, White,Chauncey, and Winchester, and afterwards from an attentive perusal of the Scriptures. I always admitted with each of these authors future punishment, and of long, long duration.

But whatever the Biblical support for unitarianism and universalism, our key Founders made it clear that man's reason superseded biblical revelation, that man's reason ultimately determined that Jesus was not God and that people don't burn in Hell forever, and therefore they could "cut out" those passages of the Bible which contradicted unitarianism and universalism, and focus on those passages which support their unitarian-universalist doctrines. Revelation was designed to support Reason, not the other way around.

Now, after reminding of all this, we ask the question: Were they Christians? They were members of Christian Churches. Many of them (Jefferson and Adams) claimed to be Christians. And perhaps unitarianism and universalism have as much "right" to the name "Christian" as trinitarianism and eternal damnation. David Holmes's comments, I think, help: "Since the late fourth century, the doctrine of the Trinity has been synonymous with orthodox Christianity." Like it or not, that's the way it is.

Look, we can define these labels like "Christian" however we want to. The problem is, we need some definite criteria or else a label like "Christian" defines so broadly that it loses much of its meaning. In its broadest sense, the term "Christian" can mean anyone with any kind of connection to a Christian Church. In that sense, virtually all of our Founders were Christians. And, as Catholic who never went beyond baptism and doesn't go to Church and rejects Catholic dogma, I could too. I don't call myself "Christian." So what about any person who calls himself a "Christian"? That would include not only Founders like Jefferson and Adams, but also present day figures, gays like Andrew Sullivan and Gene Robinson, and liberals like Howard Dean, Gary Wills, and Phil Donahue -- cafeteria Christians who believed God created gays as gays and would like to see them married in Christian Churches. Certainly, those who thunder we are a "Christian Nation" don't want the word "Christian" defined that broadly.

I think judging purely by historical standards, the Nicene Creed (as well as some of the lesser creeds) is a "reasonable" place to define the faith. Defining Christianity by these creeds does lead to some odd "categorizing" results though. For instance, because Andrew Sullivan accepts the basic creeds, according to Joe Carter, one of the most influential conservative Christian bloggers, Sullivan gets to be a Christian; but because Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses and our key Founding Fathers reject the Trinity, they do not. In all fairness though, I know many evangelicals who would claim that liberal Christians like Sullivan et al. along with the non-Trinitarians aren't real Christians either.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Property Rights are Fundamental:

One of the most important lessons that 20th Century geopolitics teach is that property rights are vital human rights, as important as liberty, equality, conscience and speech. My colleague at Positive Liberty and blogfather, Timothy Sandefur, has written a book to help remind us of this.

The dispute over property rights is not new. As Sandefur notes, Marx didn't invent the egalitarian critique of property. Even though Western thinkers, like Locke, have philosophically defended property in the most effective and persuasive ways, ever since the beginning of Western thought, property rights were both defended and critiqued.

Aristotle defended the concept of private property; Plato critiqued it. In the 18th Century, Locke initiated a theory of private property which Rousseau critiqued. As Allan Bloom wrote in The Closing of the American Mind:

"More serious for us are the arguments of the revolutionaries who accepted our principles of freedom and equality. Many believed we had not thought through these cherished ideals. Can equality really only mean equal opportunity for unequal talents to acquire private property?...Can private property and equality sit so easily together when even Plato required communism among equals?"

Bloom's point was that Western philosophers raised serious theoretical questions which were to be played out in historical practice. In particular, because the Enlightenment created liberal democracy, hence the United States and because Rousseau was such an influential and talented Enlightenment philosopher, it shouldn't surprise us that Marxism and socialism arose in some "enlightened" Western societies. And given the propensity of Western ideas to be "spread" to the non-Western world, in non-Western societies as well. After reading Sandefur's book -- which strongly examines property rights, in theory and practice including their historical and present day violations -- everyone should answer Bloom's question in the affirmative. Plato, Rousseau, and Marx were wrong. Aristotle and Locke were right. Equality is certainly a noble and foundational liberal democratic ideal. But Equality without property rights has led to mass slaughter in the name of egalitarian leveling (see Communism's utterly appalling historical record). All of these rights -- liberty, equality, property, privacy and conscience -- are correlated. Property is, as Sandefur puts it, "the cornerstone of liberty."

Sandefur's book also importantly notes that legal positivism endangers individual rights in general, property rights in particular. Positivism is the notion that we only have rights that government decides to grant us. The philosophy of pragmatism and the progressive movement to which it spawned were grounded in legal positivism. In addition to laying the groundwork for gutting property rights in the 20th and 21st centuries, many of the things that the Progressive Era did were far from "progressive." From Sandefur's book:

[T]he Progressive Era witnessed the birth of intrusive government programs that violated property rights in many ways, as well as other kinds of rights closely related to property rights. Progressives imposed a military draft and censored those who opposed it; implemented eugenics programs, including forced sterilization; and instituted racial segregation, Prohibition, a government monopoly on education, and even requirements that children recite the Pledge of Allegiance. The Progressive Era also saw a vast expansion of government's power of eminent domain. p. 68.

Indeed, while the term "judicial activism" today is associated with left-wing jurisprudence, the Supreme Court, before it embraced legal positivism, often actively struck down legislation enacted by "democratic majorities." And the notion of "judicial restraint" -- that judges should play a very limited role in striking down majority will -- was argued for and pioneered by the Progressive liberal Justice Holmes!

Surprisingly, Sandefur also reminds us that an earlier form of legal positivism was advanced by a philosopher who had a qualified influence on our Founding Fathers and whom many conservatives today laud, William Blackstone.

But for Blackstone, government was subject to no such limitations. Parliament had "absolute despotic power" and "supreme, irresistible, absolute, uncontrolled authority." It "can, in short, do every thing that is not naturally impossible." Blackstone explicitly rejected the views of "Mr. Locke, and other theoretical writers" regarding the moral limits on government. In his view, government could do anything not specifically prohibited by the Bills of Rights that Parliament had issued, and it could even repeal those. p. 65.

The book notes that Founders such as Thomas Jefferson, James Wilson, and St. George Tucker had all criticized Blackstone in this regard. Blackstone may have been a learned commentator on the common law of England; but for the founding principles regarding what government may, of right, do, one must turn to Locke, not Blackstone.

And one must also accept, contra the legal positivists, that fundamental rights, property included, have a moral basis to them, that they are prepolitical -- antecedent to majority rule. This is, after all, what our Founding Fathers believed. The Declaration of Independence used the word "unalienable" to describe such rights. Even the French's Declaration of the Rights of Man refers to property as "an inviolable and sacred right." Proving that such rights have such a, we could say, "metaphysical-like" basis is no easy task. But modern research and philosophy shows some arguable basis for unalienable rights being grounded in human nature. As Sandefur informs, even the works of such modernists like Dr. Spock and fervent atheist Daniel Dennett show that human nature exists and certain things are objectively necessarily for human flourishing. Property rights, unquestionably, are one of those things. Timothy Sandefur's book so demonstrates. Get it to see the case made in detail.

Monday, September 18, 2006

The Sin of Being Rich:

Personally, I don't think there is anything wrong with being rich. As a capitalist libertarian, I believe enlightened self interest -- including the desire to get rich in business -- leaves most of us better off in the long run; indeed, it makes our economic world go round. But if one believes in a literal interpretation of the Bible, one cannot help but notice the tension between our Lockean-Smithean philosophy which founds America's economic system, and what the Bible requires of believers. Capitalism essentially is a system based on coveting.

Kudos to Ben Witherington for taking note of this in this post.

Now, I've heard it said that, nonetheless, the Bible doesn't endorse a system of government redistribution of wealth. And that's fine. I don't want that. And I don't want the many Christians in this nation to push for a socialist economy. However, such believers, according to the Bible, would still have to voluntarily give up all of their surplus to charity and live modest lifestyles.

Let me also add that by following this logic, we could say the Bible doesn't demand government enforce any Biblical morality, other than in a very limited sense; but at the very least should leave Christians alone, free to be good practicing Christians. This is why libertarianism is the one system where we all just may be able to get along if we decide to leave one another alone and strip government down to its few essential functions. This requires though, a government that is secular in its essential functions, one not committed to enforcing Christian or any kind of a comprehensive system of morality. The basic morality of enforcing individual rights to life, liberty, and property is enough.

An aside, this song by Kansas, Diamonds and Pearls, written after Kerry Livgren became a born-again Christian and Steve Walsh quit the band, strikes a theme similar to Witherington's post (like most of their tunes, it's got a great instrumental section in the middle).

John Adams on the King James Bible and Accuracy of the Bible's Text:

Time to bring back the John Adams quotation of the week feature. This set of quotations is to illustrate that Adams thought the Bible was errant.

We have now, it seems a National Bible Society, to propagate King James's Bible, through all Nations. Would it not be better, to apply these pious subscriptions, to purify Christendom from the corruptions of Christianity, than to propagate these corruptions in Europe, Asia, Africa, and America!

John Adams to Thomas Jefferson, November 4, 1816. Taken from James H. Hutson, The Founders on Religion, p. 143.

Elsewhere Adams makes it clear that he thought the Bible, as profound a book that it was, contained "error[s]," "amendment[s]" and suspected "fabrication[s]."

What suspicions of interpolation, and indeed fabrication, might not be confuted if we had the originals! In an age or in ages when fraud, forgery, and perjury were considered as lawful means of propagating truth by philosophers, legislators, and theologians, what may not be suspected?

John Adams, marginal note in John Disney's Memoirs (1785) of Arthur Sykes. Haraszti, Prophets of Progress, 296. Taken from James H. Hutson, The Founders on Religion, p. 26.

Finally, Adams's suspicion of the accuracy of the Bible's text lead him to doubt that we had the right version of the Ten Commandments in the first place.

When and where originated our Ten Commandments? The Tables and The Ark were lost. Authentic copies, in few, if any hands; the ten Precepts could not be observed, and were little remembered.

If the Book of Deuteronomy was compiled, during of after the Babilonian Captivity, from Traditions, the Error or Amendment might come in there.

John Adams to Thomas Jefferson, Nov. 14, 1813.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

David Kupelian, Member of Roy Masters's Sect?

D. James Kennedy just featured David Kupelian and his book The Marketing of Evil on his Coral Ridge show.

Kupelian sounds like a fundamentalist Christian, but he may be part of Roy Masters's sect, whose teachings qualify it as a "cult" and "heresy" in the eyes evangelical Christians. I've written about Masters here, where I noted:

His teachings are a mixture of Judeo-Christian fundamentalism, Eastern-New Age philosophy, Freudian psychology with the fundamentalist element coming out dominant. He sounds, at times, like a Protestant fundamentalist. But they regard him as a heretic and a cult leader. For instance, he denies the Trinity and teaches reliance on a New-Agey meditation exercise which Masters dubs "Judeo-Christian" meditation as essential for salvation.

Masters and his group are also long time associates of Joe Farah's WorldNutDaily. Farah is a fundamentalist Christian, but has long featured a number of prominent right-wing figures associated with Roy Masters's group including Jesse Lee Peterson, Michael Savage, Bob Just, and David Kupelian -- who appears to be the most important link between the two groups. See this post detailing the link between Masters, Kupelian, and WorldNetDaily.

Incidentally, Matt Drudge is also rumored to be a follower of Masters, and supposedly, so was the late John Wayne.

Masters's group in Oregon is relatively small time, and most people have never heard of him. But he has managed to gain some significant influence in certain right-wing circles.

Masters may have become even more influential, but, a number of years ago, the Christian right helped to quash the success of Masters's up and coming conservative journal, New Dimensions. Basically, they said, we don't need another Rev. Moon. See this article for the story, which quotes John Lofton: "But as John Lofton of the Conservative Digest stated, 'Masters is a false prophet and theological fraud' and was critical of Christians who embraced the magazine (Ibid)." Keep in mind Lofton wrote for Rev. Moon's Washington Times. As the above link notes, "In the early 1990s, Kupelian was managing editor of a Masters-published magazine called New Dimensions" which is the magazine to which Lofton refers.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Gay Species Finds a Way to Make the UCC Interesting:

This is a great post. Stephen, as a professional, had to work with the Uniform Commercial Code (from reading his post, he had to work with Article 9, the heart of the Secured Transactions class that we so dreaded in law school).

The UCC is a code written by experts in the field of commercial law and adopted by all of the 50 states. Louisiana, our only state which because of its French heritage doesn't have a common law tradition, was the last to adopt the code (which they did only in part). And indeed, the UCC was based a great deal on the common law. It sought to take what was most efficient about the common law, codify it, and then modify parts of the common law to make things even more "commerce friendly" if you will. As a Business Law professor, one general theme I see running in the UCC v. the Common Law is the UCC wants the deal to happen even more so than the common law. That is, there are many factual circumstances which will flunk the common law -- that is: no contract -- where under the UCC, a contract exists nonetheless.

One area where I might disagree with what Stephen wrote where he said: "The Code is long on generalities, and only when needed does it get specific." I'm not sure if I would have written the sentence this way. Earlier in the blog he seems to contradict this sentiment, which more accurately describes the UCC:

When matters became more complex, business and lawyers came together in 1952 to write the Uniform Commercial Code, a brilliant piece of mutual understanding in all phases of commercial and business transactions. Instead of each business writing every nuance into every contract, the U.C.C. became "understood" as already incorporated into the contract and business proposal. Any breach of the contract or U.C.C. was one in the same. All business people had to do was study the Code. Sections either applied or not, but there was no point in rehearsing what was or was not included, it was all presumed to be included. Everyone was on the same page, and everyone understood the rules of the game.

I understand the UCC to be a pretty detailed code. Though, it does -- like the common law -- understand that the heart of contract law is "freedom of contract," that is the freedom of each party to formulate the terms of the contract. So both the UCC and the common law are "general" in the sense that they tend to keep their hands off what terms may properly go into a contract and both generously grant the parties the freedom to write those terms themselves.

Often though, parties don't write or anticipate every term when they make a contract. A contract could derive from a simple exchange of letters, each a few sentences long. And in that case, the UCC seems to be a pretty detailed code in explicating "if you didn't otherwise agree and such and such happens, the following will result."

This is important because it sheds light on what's real judicial activism, and what is meaningless demagoguery. If you are dealing with a thick code which clearly answers the question in specific language and the judge ignores such specific language, then we would have real judicial activism. Our statutory codes, like the UCC, or especially the tax or immigration codes, are replete with such specific language. Even the Constitution itself has some specific language where a judge would have no discretion whatsoever in the ruling -- the classic example being the Constitution's mandate that the President be at least 35 years of age.

Stephen gives an example of a real case of judicial activism because the code clearly seems to say X and the judge ruled Y.

The U.C.C. and every conditional sales contract gives the lender the right to repossess the goods to which the contract corresponds under the terms of default. Non-payment is a notorious marker of default. My staff decided to repossess a vehicle for which no payment had been made for 120 days. At the time, the laws allowed the delinquent to cure the loan once, and regain his vehicle. The same situation recurred 12 months later, and again his vehicle was repossessed. When the borrower became outraged at having forfeited his car, he came to my staff with a sawed-off shotgun. The idiot was apparently unaware of the security cameras and the guards in tow after his shiny weapon. Since it was the lender's option to cure the loan again, and since the borrower had changed jobs and residences more often than not, coupled with the gun incident, I supported my manager's decision to disallow the cure. The deadbeat took us to court, and a municipal S.F. judge ruled in the deadbeat's favor. Indeed, she rescinded the rest of the debt (with 3 years to go). That is not in the U.C.C. But I think she qualifies as an "activist judge." Attorneys and staff were dumbfounded beyond consolation.

Now, compared to such codes, the Constitution is an astonishingly brief document, replete with broad general terms. And indeed, some of the most fundamental rights like the First Eight Amendments, and the Privileges or Immunities Clause, are some of the briefest and most general.

I don't see how any sensible person understanding the complexities of life, the limitless factual circumstances that could arise under words such as "the freedom of speech" could not conclude that judges in interpreting the Constitution will have to exercise a quasi-common law like power where rules of law are made on the spot giving more specific meaning to general principles. Hence an "evolving" body of constitutional law. Hopefully, one that evolves consistent with the underlying principles specified in the text of the Constitution. With the First Amendment's Free Speech Clause -- the underlying principle is "government may not censor." The Privileges or Immunities Clause, in addition to incorporating the First Eight Amendments to the Bill of Rights, also grants a substantive general right to liberty, not unlike the Declaration of Independence's claim that men inherently possess an unalienable right to liberty, etc. etc.

The Constitution could not possibly explicate all of the factual circumstances where these rights would apply (and I don't think we would want it to because, given the difficulty in amending it, the Constitution would fast become obsolete). Hence the courts, as they make constitutional law, further explicate how those general principles apply in specific factual circumstances as they arise. And the result is a body of constitutional law as thick as those detailed codes.
The Importance of Religion's Unendowment in the Original Constitution:

There are two sets of myths regarding the Establishment Clause -- there is the left wing myth that the Clause was intended to enact an absolute Separation of Church and State which would prevent any public expression of religion in public life or religious arguments for public laws. And there is the right wing myth that the Clause was only intended to prevent the erection and support of a national church.

The reason why the conservative idea of "the EC prevents the Establishment of one national denomination" misleads is because such a theory presupposes that the federal government has the constitutional power to engage in religious activities, or do whatever it wants in matters of religion, as long as it doesn't violate Free Exercise Rights, and short of establishing a national church.

This is where we the importance of the doctrine of enumerated powers comes in. To our Founding Fathers, such was essential to protecting individual rights. Indeed many of them argued a Bill of Rights was not necessary given that the federal government was endowed with so few powers over so few areas of life to begin with. And specifically, on religious matters, many key Founders argued that the First Amendment's religion clauses were not necessary because the federal government had no power to interfere with religion in the first place.

Indeed, this assumption of government powers over religion seems to be the late Leonard Levy's main problem with Justice Rehnquist's assertions made in his Wallace v. Jaffree dissent, which according to Levy, assumes an empowerment over religion that the federal government originally never had. Levy writes:

"[T]he clearest proposition about the establishment clause is that it limits power by placing an absolute restriction on the United States: 'Congress shall make no law....' Reading an empowerment from that is about as valid as reading the entrails of a chicken for the meaning of the establishment clause or for portents of the future."

In his Wallace v. Jaffree dissent, Rehnquist criticizes Everson's (the case which established "Separation of Church and State" as a constitutional metaphor for the Establishment Clause and its application to state governments) over reliance on James Madison, his Memorial and Remonstrance, and his support for Jefferson's Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom to determine the original meaning of the First Amendment. Rehnquist writes:

On the basis of the record of these proceedings in the House of Representatives, James Madison was undoubtedly the most important architect among the Members of the House of the Amendments which became the Bill of Rights, but it was James Madison speaking as an advocate of sensible legislative compromise, not as an advocate of incorporating the Virginia Statute of Religious Liberty into the United States Constitution.

Some scholars, such as Philip Hamburger, in his Magnum Opus Separation of Church and State (written to debunk the doctrine), likewise argue that when the First Amendment was drafted, it was not understood to enact Madison's "no-cognizance" standard. However, what must be stressed: The unamended Constitution itself -- a document of precisely enumerated powers -- leaves religion entirely unendowed. Indeed, other than Article VI which prohibits religious tests, the US Constitution literally takes no cognizance of religion.

Walter Berns helpfully reminds us of the significance of religion's unendowment, by noting some of the powers that Congress was constitutionally given: "[W] grants Congress the power 'to promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts' (see Article I, section 8[8]), it nowhere gives it the power to promote religious belief. Rather, the First Amendment seems to deny it such a power." Making Patriots, p. 43.

It is no wonder that two Cornell scholars dubbed it, "The Godless Constitution."

Yet, the First Amendment -- indeed, the entire Bill of Rights -- as originally conceived, applied to the federal government only; the states were left free to enact their own establishment, free exercise, and free speech policies (with many Founders such as Jefferson hoping, indeed, expecting that states would do a better job securing natural rights than the federal government; but this was before the 14th Amendment; and as the Civil War demonstrated, Jefferson was wrong in thinking states would be better guarantors of natural rights).

Indeed, knowing all of this, we can understand that the Founders thought the First Amendment to be declaratory in its language: Such was an acknowledgement, a reminder if you will, that the federal government had absolutely no powers over either religion or speech. In James Madison's words, the First Amendment was "a positive denial to Congress of any power whatever on the subject." And regarding "establishment" related issues, according to Madison, Congress's lack of power over religion prohibited it from even having Congressional Chaplains or making religious proclamations.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

This is Really Cool:

Neil Young and The Grateful Dead cover one of Bob Dylan's best songs, Forever Young.

Roy Moore Abuses James Madison:

As expected. Roy Moore invokes James Madison and his Memorial and Remonstrance in order to further his crusade to mix religion and government. How ironic this is given that Madison was the one Founder, even more than Jefferson, who believed in a "perfect separation" between Church and State.

Moore invokes Madison to assert "that liberty of conscience is a central principle of the Christian faith." A couple things need to be said. First, Madison wasn't a Christian, but a Theistic Rationalist. Second, Madison did indeed believe that liberty (and equality) of conscience was an unalienable natural right, universally possessed by all men regardless of their religious beliefs. But this wasn't because of his Christian faith, rather such was an Enlightenment "natural law/natural rights" teaching, discovered by "man's reason." Third, (the kernel of Truth in Moore's distortion), Madison's Remonstrance does indeed argue Christianity (properly understood) is consistent with its ideas. Moreover, Madison had many orthodox Christians -- particularly Baptists -- on his side in his battle. The Memorial and Remonstrance was written, in part, to argue for establishing religious liberty and separating church and state in a way in which both Enlightenment rationalists and (mainly dissident) evangelical Christians could agree.

However, 1) there is nothing I see in the explicit text of the Bible which says "liberty of conscience is a central principle of the Christian faith." Indeed, for some thousand and several hundred years after the Bible was written this idea was totally unknown to Christendom, even as there are many passages in the Bible which specify that God -- as a jealous deity -- demands the worship of no other God but He. 2) More importantly, Moore's Christianity and his belief in its "proper" relationship to government arguably is not the type of Christianity compatible with Madison's Remonstrance, which demands something like a strict separation of church and state. The language states "Religion is wholly exempt from [civil society's] cognizance." Phillip Munoz's masterful article on the subject (and keep in mind Munoz argues for the ultra-conservative position that the Establishment Clause shouldn't be incorporated) notes that in McCreary, the Supreme Court case holding the public display of the Ten Commandments unconstitutional, "Madisonian non-cognizance likely would have reached the same results as Justice Souter's" majority opinion.

Don't get me wrong. Liberty of conscience does indeed have Christian roots. Roger Williams, himself fanatically orthodox, advanced such a notion before the Enlightenment thinkers and in fact influenced the Baptists with whom Jefferson and Madison were aligned. But Williams advanced a very novel understanding of "religion and government," one not at all apparent from the Bible's text. Indeed, his contemporary John Winthrop, of Puritan Massachusetts infamy, didn't "see" liberty of conscience in the Bible's text (neither did John Calvin, Thomas Aquinas, or any other Protestant or Catholic thinker until Williams hit the scene). And Williams tied his notion of liberty of conscience to government that was secular in its essential functions. He coined the phrase (or something similar to it) "Separation of Church and State." And was one of the first rulers in Christendom who "de-incorporated" the Ten Commandments from the civil law, drawing a distinction between the "two tables" -- arguing the first tablet [including the first four commands] had nothing properly to do with the civil law! Compare that to Roy Moore who believes the Ten Commandments form the basis of our civil law. Moreover, Moore constantly cites thinkers like Blackstone and others who argued that the common law incorporates Christianity -- the exact opposite of which Williams, Jefferson, and Madison believed!

No, Roy Moore's Christianity and vision of religion and governments much better fit with Williams's enemies -- the Puritans who banished him from Massachusetts for daring to question their notion of a "Christian Commonwealth" -- and the enemies of Jefferson and Madison -- the ones who wanted to maintain Christian Establishments in Virginia.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Me Improvising:

I just uploaded this to YouTube. I promise the next clip I upload of me playing will be more structured.


Sorry, but I feel it necessary to jump on the bandwagon with everyone else. Never forget what those bastards did to us.

We lost a lot of folks from my town in PA where many people commute from the Trenton, NJ train station (5 minutes away, right across the river) to NYC.

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Sandefur on CSPAN:

Via YouTube.

This is Niles Standish Calling...:

Puppets making prank phone can't beat that for humor.

Carl Verheyen:

One of the best guitarists of whom you've probably never heard.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Great Kansas Clip:

From the mid-90s. This clip features current violinist David Ragsdale who joined and rejoined the band, replacing for the second time original violinist Robby Steinhardt (the songs are excerpts from Mysteries & Mayhem, Lamplight Symphony, and The Wall in its entirety, played as a seamless medley). Ragsdale is a better violinist than Steinhardt so I guess I can't complain about the replacement.

This clip is great because it captures what the band is all about, progressive instrumental rock -- a style that Steve Morse has dubbed "electric chamber music." Walsh's voice, (he was on drugs and alcohol back then), is a little rough (though he still phrases brilliantly). And the keyboards don't sound as fat as they did in the 70s. But Ragsdale sure plays those violin parts phenomenally.

They Should Be Tarred and Feathered:

If we had to bring back tarring and feathering, this couple would be the perfect candidates. As I understand, tarring and feather itself, when used, was the prime punishment. My idea would be to use it as a supplementary punishment. Prison time for the sake of punishment was relatively novel during the Founding era and was supported by our founders, notably Ben Franklin, as an "Enlightened" penal reform. At common law, the penalty for all felonies was death; misdemeanors merited such things as tarring and feathering, the stockades, riding people out of town on a rail, whippings, etc.

Well this couple of subhuman leeches are out on bail awaiting trial and further charges. If folks like this can get bail, they should be tarred and feathered while they await trial.

The following clip (which I'm sure many of you have seen) is one of those things, like the Westboro Baptist Church, that is so bizarre that it becomes comedically entertaining.

Bad Day Yesterday:

The good news is I managed to get to work on time, teach all three of my class, effectively as I normally do.

The bad news, I picked up two flat tires on the way to work. It must have been from a site close to my work because the tires didn't really start losing air until I was parked at work. One of the tires had a nail in it, the other, just a hole. Triple A had to come twice, once to put on a spare and the other to plug the hole and fix the broken tire. Only $20 in addition to what I normally pay Triple A. But I have to fix the spare tomorrow and replace the tire with a hole in it. The tires have about 40,000 miles on it; so it's not like they are new. The headache of dealing with the whole thing was the worst part (I had to do this between classes). But then again, if this is the worst of my luck, it ain't so bad.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Many Orthodox Christians Understand America isn't a "Christian Nation":

As my readers know, I think the Christian Nationalism movement, spearheaded by folks like D. James Kennedy, David Barton, and others, is a dangerous movement with theocratic tendencies. I don't think they represent mainstream Republican or Christian conservative thought. But they do have political influence, as well as millions of followers who believe their distorted and revisionist history.

As I've noted before, my own personal interest, as a libertarian, in debunking the Christian Nation nonsense is simply, if these folks understand they never "owned" our Founding as they have been erroneously taught, they'd be less zealous about trying to "reclaim" it, and consequently adopt a more "live and let live" attitude about government and culture.

When I share my ideas on various threads, sometimes those who believe the "Christian Nation" thesis get angry and attack me. Some of them are quite funny. For instance, one person remarked:

Jon Rowe is a militant secular pagan who specializes in the hapless task of trying to prove that the Founders were deistic-Unitarians. He trolls through correspondence and digs up passages, which, when taken out of context, cast doubt on the Founder's faith. Essentially, he attempts to project his own views on the Founders in a clearly revisionist attempt to distort history. Eighteenth century deism and unitarianism influenced the Founders but with the exception of Paine and Jefferson they retained a mainly devout Christian religion.

Another writes, "Jon: I have absolutely no desire to ever again visit the posts on your blog, because they say the exact things over and over and over and over again. America was founded as a nation based on Christian principles and values, regardless of whether or not you believe that."

However, because I go out of my way to be polite and civil, most people, even if they disagree, are polite and civil in return.

One of the biggest, and most pleasant surprises however, is just how many conservative/orthodox Christians are receptive to what I argue, many of whom never bought into the "Christian Nation" thesis to begin with.

Indeed, one of the most ironic discoveries I've made while researching the nation's ideological origins is some of the most important and cutting edge research that has debunked the "Christian Nation" idea has come not from secularists or liberal Christians like John Shelby Spong, but rather from conservative and orthodox Christians.

It's not just Gary North, who though an extreme Christian Reconstructionist, has an E-book which well understands America's ideological origins. Neither is it only Dr. Gregg Frazer, an orthodox Christian who teaches at a conservative Christian college, and whose work (a comprehensive study of the key Founders' religious beliefs and consequent connection with founding principles which debunks the "Christian America" idea) I have tirelessly trumpeted. It's also Robert Kraynak, a devout conservative Catholic and on whose book Christian Faith and Modern Democracy (Notre Dame Press, 2001) Gregg Frazer's Ph.D. thesis heavily relies. It's also Mark A. Noll, Nathan O. Hatch, George M. Marsden, whose book The Search for Christian America Frazer's thesis also references. See this bloggers description of the three authors:

These three men are regarded as three of the finest historians on American religious history. And all three of them are evangelical Christians. Noll is Professor of History at Wheaton College, Hatch is President-Elect and Professor of History at Wake Forest University and former Provost and Director of Graduate Studies in History at Notre Dame, and Marsden is Professor of History at Calvin College.

Jim Babka, whose radio show featured me, generally supports my ideas on religion and the Founding and is himself a devout evangelical Christian. Jeremy Pierce tipped me to this post of Ben Witherington's. Ben is a conservative Christian and positively reviews David L. Holmes's excellent book, The Faiths of the Founding Fathers which argues that the key Founding Fathers were not orthodox Christians. Witherington writes:

More tellingly, none of the first five presidents would appear to have been orthodox Christians in any modern sense of the term. Indeed most modern Evangelicals would think of them as like either contemporary nominal or very liberal episcopalians (cf. Bishop Spong), if not actual heretics (e.g. in the case of Jefferson who rejected the virgin birth, the bodily resurrection of Jesus the Trinity, the inspiration and authority of the Bible as revealed religion and so on)....In short there is no encouragement here either for the secular humanist theory of America's origins or for that matter for the 'our first leaders were mostly orthodox Christians' theory either. Sorry Timothy La Haye, and other Evangelical revisionist historians, but you need fact check as bad as Dan Brown did.

Finally, even conservative Christian home schooled high school and young college students are beginning to reject the "Christian Nation" thesis. See for instance, Virtue Magazine, which has connections to Patrick Henry College, one of the few places where the "Christian Nation" thesis is still viable in the academy. Oh, they have some writers who endorse the myth. See this column (the writer is only 17; that's why I am not going to browbeat her with my research). But they also have this piece by Derek Wallace which debunks a Christian Nation myth about Jefferson. And Wallace is going to initiate a series of articles challenging the Christian Nation thesis. See the first one where he writes:

The purpose of this series will be to examine The Claim in more detail, and the beliefs that often go hand in hand with it. While the ACLU and any number of other people go too far when it comes to removing religious elements from school or public property, we submit that Christian conservatives go too far in the other direction. We also submit that their main justification or defense ("America was founded as a Christian nation") is not necessarily accurate....

Monday, September 04, 2006

Bad Article Misunderstands Founding Principles:

But what else would you expect from WorldnutDaily? The culprit is Tom Flannery. Let's take this line by line.

At the end of the 18th century, Founding Fathers like John Adams and Alexander Hamilton were becoming increasingly troubled by the revolution that was unfolding in France.

Unlike the American Revolution, which was founded on the Christian principles delineated in the Declaration of Independence, the French version was virulently anti-religious (particularly in regard to Christianity). The revolutionaries sought to replace religion with human reason, even going so far as suggesting that Notre Dame be renamed the "Cathedral of Reason."

First, it's ironic that Flannery begins by citing John Adams and Alexander Hamilton, both of whom were theistic rationalists (Hamilton converted to orthodox Christianity only towards the end of his life, after he did his work founding the nation); that is they elevated man's reason over revelation as the ultimate arbiter of Truth.

Next, he claims that "Christian principles delineated...the Declaration of Independence." Funny, I don't see one citation to Scripture or reference to God in Biblical terms at all in America's Declaration. And Flannery draws a faux distinction between the ideology of the American and French Revolutions (indeed, I wrote this post exposing the way Christian Nationalists often make this error). It's true that the French Revolution became hostile to religion in a way that the American never did (and keep in mind, they had a national Church to disestablish -- one that was very illiberal at the time, the RCC -- and we didn't). But both revolutions, in their founding documents, make parallel ideological assertions. This shouldn't surprise given that Thomas Jefferson, the author of America's Declaration, was in France helping to spur on their Revolution and assisted in writing their Founding document, the French's Declaration of the Rights of Man.

Perhaps he should read both documents and see for himself. If "Christian principles" delineate the Declaration of Independence, they likewise delineate the French's Declaration of the Rights of Man. That document was done "under the auspices of the Supreme Being," and actually refers to property as "an inviolable and sacred right." That's about as "Christian" language as you will find in America's DOI.

Back to the article:

Well, don't look now, but a move is afoot by leftists in media and government today -- having learned nothing from the horrors of the French Revolution or the Soviet experiment or other such examples throughout history -- to once again enshrine human reason, with the twin engine of scientific discovery, as man's guiding light. They hope that by doing so they can do away once and for all with what they view as the "superstition" of religion.

Again, I note with further irony that our Founding Fathers, like Adams and Hamilton, were rationalists who believed man's reason and scientific discovery were indeed man's guiding light. Here is John Adams's in his own words on the matter:

"The United States of America have exhibited, perhaps, the first example of governments erected on the simple principles of nature; and if men are now sufficiently enlightened to disabuse themselves of artifice, imposture, hypocrisy, and superstition, they will consider this event as an era in their history. Although the detail of the formation of the American governments is at present little known or regarded either in Europe or in America, it may hereafter become an object of curiosity. It will never be pretended that any persons employed in that service had interviews with the gods, or were in any degree under the influence of Heaven, more than those at work upon ships or houses, or laboring in merchandise or agriculture; it will forever be acknowledged that these governments were contrived merely by the use of reason and the senses.

". . . Thirteen governments [of the original states] thus founded on the natural authority of the people alone, without a pretence of miracle or mystery, and which are destined to spread over the northern part of that whole quarter of the globe, are a great point gained in favor of the rights of mankind."

John Adams, A Defense of the Constitutions of Government of the United States of America, 1788

Likewise Adams and company, in 1797, ratified a treaty (making it part of "the law of the land") which explicitly stated, "the Government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian religion."

And while our Founders supported religion generally and had no desire to "do away with it," they did believe man's reason superseded Biblical revelation, and they disdained much of what they regarded as "superstition" coming from orthodox Christianity -- doctrines like the Trinity, the Incarnation, the atonement, eternal damnation, and others. See this post for John Adams's quotations on those matters.

Finally, one last error to point out in Flannery's article:

The experimental method known as science, you see, was founded by Christians who wanted to explore the universe for the glory of God and the benefit of mankind. But when you remove God from that equation, then man is the final arbiter of what is good and what is bad, what is morally acceptable and what is not. The result of this is the embrace of godless concepts like evolution and communism....

Ah no, Aristotle, of Pagan Ancient Greece, "founded" the "experimental method known as science." Christians learned science from the West's Pagan Greco-Roman heritage.

When will they ever learn?

Friday, September 01, 2006

The Dixie Dregs:

This was recently added to YouTube. Music doesn't get much better than this.

Violinist Jerry Goodman, originally of the Mahavishnu Orchestra, shines in this clip. Goodman was the perfect guy to get after original violinist Allen Sloan (who is quite accomplished himself!) quit the band to become an MD. As I recently noted, when established bands replace original members, they often get even better musicians to fill the shoes. That certainly applies in this instance.
Parableman Stops By:

Parableman Jeremy Pierce (who has great taste in music) leaves a thoughtful comment on my post about Heather Mac Donald and Hermeneutics. He writes:

Paul makes statements to slaves about what their life should look like given that they are slaves and can't do anything about it. That doesn't constitute endorsement of slavery. That Paul tells slaves how to influence those around them by serving those they are slavery to does not mean that he thinks it's morally ok to own those slaves. It's just that what he says to all Christians (to serve others) applies when you happen to be a slave as well. The only place he addresses a slaveowner is in Philemon, where he strongly implies that Philemon should set Onesimus free as his brother in Christ but thinks it will only be a righteous act if Philemon sees why he should do it and thus doesn't command it outright.

I think the slavery issues is more complicated than that, though, and presenting the Bible as simply endorsing slavery without getting into exactly what kind of slavery it's endorsing seems way too quick to me. I've written about this before, so I'll just point you there.

On the more general issue, I don't see why inerrantists have to be seen as minimizing passages arbitrarily to make sense of others. Whether it is arbitrary depends on whether there is a plausible contextual limitation on the passage in question. Boswell has few supporters on his contextual limitations of what seem otherwise to be very clear statements. On the other hand, the New Testament very clearly defines the new covenant in such a way that any sense of a Christian nation with laws based on God's law for the old covenant people is just nuts.

There are difficulties in how to put together old covenant and new covenant teachings if all scripture is supposed to be fulfilled in Jesus, as Jesus says in the Sermon on the Mount. But that doesn't mean that all such ways of putting them together are incoherent. I'll give you one other link for an example of how I've put together some of these issues, including homosexuality, that I don't think involves any arbitrariness is which parts of scripture are interpreting other parts.

I tend to agree with you on revolutions, by the way. I think the Christians involved with the American revolution were violating the clear teachings of scripture. I can't see how a Christian who follows the Sermon on the Mount could endorse such a thing.

Finally, I do want to say one thing about the Phelps/Rankin issue. Phelps is right insofar as there are some (but few) biblical passages that involve someone hating a person for the person's sin. This occurs in one psalm, and there is that nice "Jacob I loved, Esau I hated" that occurs once in the OT and once in Romans. But I'm not convinced at all that the kind of hate in mind is contradictory with love. We see love and hate as mutually exclusive, but I'm not sure the Hebrew mindset worked that way. The Jacob/Esau bit was clearly not about just some inner attitude but was about how God was disposed to act toward Jacob and Esau. The kind of love that wasn't involved was love that chooses someone to provide for and lead. That doesn't mean there wasn't the kind of love that appreciates the goodness of the creation, the image of God, and so on among those God loves in general. Hating someone in the former sense and loving someone in the latter sense could then coexist.

So I'd say that Rankin is right in terms of how he uses the terms for love and hate, and Phelps is thus wrong. But Rankin ought to say something different about the biblical texts to arrive at this view, and he does seem to dismiss hate language too quickly.

Regarding the slavery issue, I think it's an "at best, at worst" scenario. At worst, one could read the Biblical passages as explicitly endorsing slavery -- that is the practice of people owning other people. At best, one could say that the Bible simply recognizes the social institution without endorsing it. But the Bible still does not abolish or forbid slavery. This is no small issue to confront if one is to claim seriously that the Bible is *the* book in which we ought to comprehensively derive our moral system. As Ed Brayton pointed out:

This is one of the primary reasons why I can no longer accept the Bible as the word of God, as I once did. It makes no sense that God could have found the time or interest to inspire men to pass on his commandments regarding the most mundane of things - whether to cut one's hair, whether to wear mixed fabrics, how to dress, and so forth - yet never does he bother to say "don't own slaves". And this even when he had the perfect opportunity to do so when the events regarding Philemon present themselves to Paul. If God was indeed inspring Paul to write, why on earth would he not have Paul condemn slavery as contrary to the teachings of Christ? It simply makes no sense, nor do any of the apologetic rationalizations for it.
No One Does Joan Baez...:

like Judas Priest.

Speaking of Joan Baez, she does a great version of one of Bob Dylan's best tunes, here.