Saturday, December 30, 2006

The Biblical Covenant is Undemocratic:

Robert P. Kraynak's Christian Faith and Modern Democracy is another book (there are many) written by a conservative Christian (he's a Catholic) that debunks the "Christian Nation" thesis.

Dr. Gregg Frazer heavily relies on this work in his Ph.D. thesis. Kraynak's work is important in illustrating the context which neither the Christian right nor the secular left well understand. Though the Bible was not cited in our Founding documents (Declaration, Constitution, and Federalist Papers), many orthodox Christians existed in the population and the American Revolution was a common subject in the pulpits. Indeed pamphlets reproducing such sermons abounded back then. Yet, much about our Revolution could seem to conflict with the Bible and the traditional understanding of Christianity. Most notably, Romans 13 where Paul tells believers in no uncertain terms to obey the civil rulers. And not just "Godly" rulers -- the ruler to whom Paul refers was the Pagan psychopath Nero. Thus, propagandistic arguments had to be made arguing that the principles of the Revolution really were consistent with the Bible and Christianity. Hence, many citations to the Bible and Christianity arguing their compatibility with the principles of the Revolution, the Constitution, and Republicanism. But in making this case, the history of Israel especially had to be radically rewritten. And this is why the "Christian Nation" crowd can offer quotations, taken out of context, which seem to show that the Founders based their claims on liberty on the Bible.

For a recent example, Don Feder writes:

Our form of government is based on the Bible. At the dedication of the Bunker Hill Monument (1843), Daniel Webster declared that the Bible "is also a book which teaches man his own individual responsibility, and his equality with his fellow-man."


The Bible contains the seeds of our current conception of equality under the law and human rights. (The American Revolution was preached from colonial pulpits. The anti-slavery movement started in the churches of New England.) That's why the Western world pioneered the abolition of slavery. That's why the Islamic world still has it.

And the Christian Nation crowd loves to point out how the Liberty Bell quotes Leviticus.

But they fail to understand a) that the people often making the claims were not Christians and rejected much written in the Bible and contained in orthodox Christianity, and b) that the Bible in general and those quotations in particular, understood in context, arguably don't specifically support the Declaration, the Constitution, or founding republican ideals. In short, one could argue that the patriotic preachers and republican Whigs actually abused the Bible in service of their cause, because hey, desperate times called for desperate measures.

Kraynak's book is one of the few places that well-understands this historical context. The following quotes from Dr. Frazer's thesis quoting Kraynak's book:

First, as Kraynak pointed out, "the biblical covenant is undemocratic: God is not bound by the covenant and keeps His promises solely out of His own divine self-limitation." Second, "(t)he element of voluntary consent is missing from the covenant with Israel....There is nothing voluntary or consensual about the biblical covenant; and the most severe punishments are threatened by God for disobedience." Third, "insofar as the covenant with Israel sanctions specific forms of government, the main ones are illiberal and undemocratic;" including patriarchy, theocracy, and kingships established by divine right. Fourth, "the Bible shows that God delivers the people from slavery in Egypt and supports national liberation, not for the purpose of enjoying their political and economic rights, but for the purpose of putting on the yoke of the law in the polity of Moses." Fifth, "the content of the divine law revealed to Moses consists, in the first place, of the Ten Commandments rather than the Ten Bill of Rights, commanding duties to God, family, and neighbors rather than establishing protections for personal freedom." Finally, the combination of judicial, civil, ceremonial, and dietary laws imposed on the people "regulate all aspects of religious, personal, and social life." The history of Israel, therefore, had to be radically rewritten to provide support for the demands of political liberty and for republican self-government.

-- Kraynak, 46-49 quoted in Frazer, "The Political Theology of the American Founding," Ph.D. dissertation, 18-19.

So when, for instance, John Adams stated about the Bible, "It is the most Republican Book in the World, and therefore I will still revere it," keep what you have just read in mind as well as how Adams' theology -- his unitarianism, universalism, and rejection of Biblical inerrancy -- otherwise conflicted with orthodox Christianity.

The colonies did indeed invoke the Biblical Covenant when founded in an earlier era. But since that concept didn't work for the "Novus Ordo Seclorum," such was replaced by the Lockean social contract. This isn't to say that covenant theology and colonial charters had nothing to do with our Founding from 1776-1789. Those colonial charters were to some extent, experiments with self government and did anticipate some of the ideas of our national founding. Even Bernard Bailyn recognizes that Biblical principles/Covenant theology were one of the sources from which our Founders drew when positing the principles of the Declaration/Constitution. However, as men of the Enlightenment, our Founders approached the colonial charters and the Bible in a cafeteria manner, picking and choosing what they thought "rational" and discarding the rest. So when it came time to pick and choose from "covenant theology," they left out the very heart -- the covenants themselves (neither the Constitution, nor the Declaration or Federalist Papers contain or call for the Biblical Covenant!) -- and replaced them the with the social contract and Art. VI of the Constitution's "no religious test" clause.
D. James Kennedy Suffers Major Heart Attack:

Let's hope he gets well. He's one of the major perpetrators of the "Christian Nation" myth. What would this blog do without him?

Friday, December 29, 2006

Good Riddance:

See ya' Saddam. We hardly knew ye.
This Guy is Good:

Wright and Sullivan on Religion:

Robert Wright and Andrew Sullivan talk some fascinating stuff on religion. Their dialogue pretty much illustrates my reasons for why I am not an atheist. Though, I am not, like Sullivan, a Christian. (I accept Sullivan as a Christian because he accepts the Nicene Creed.)

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Faith of the Free:

Check out this blog by a present day Unitarian Universalist blogger. His blog promises to have a strong historical bent. And that history interests me; the Congregational Church, which started to go Unitarian by the middle of the 18th Century, was the home to many thinkers and preachers who played a vital role in arguing the theoretical case for the Revolution. In fact, the most notable pro-revolutionary preachers -- Mayhew, Chauncey, Gay, and West to name a few -- were theological unitarians and universalists. They have a rich history indeed.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Why the Trinity?

After sharing John Adams' quotation on a thread where many orthodox Christians participate, I got the question: Why the Trinity? What was it about that particular doctrine that so irked Adams and Jefferson? She raised a point to which I think fervent atheists like Richard Dawkins could assent: If one can believe in a God Himself, as these Founders did, what is so much more mysterious or irrational about the Trinity that it should be a deal breaker?

The answer, which I will reveal shortly, reminds me of the scholarly value of Gary North's ebook, "Conspiracy in Philadelphia."

Our Founders were influenced by literally hundreds of prominent thinkers who came before them often rattling off a plethora of names at once when explaining their ideas. Given so many citations to past authorities, scholars disagree on the level of importance to attach to each. Most agree on the primacy of Locke's influence, and disagree over how seriously other figures impacted our Founders. North has convinced me (what I think this book seriously contributes to the scholarly debate) that scholars underappreciate Isaac Newton's influence.

The Founders did cite him by name and otherwise greatly admired him; but they "lifted" far more from John Locke, Montesquieu, and others. Newton's influence was mainly in their worldview that he helped to shape. Like them, Newton was a unitarian, not a Christian. Why did he/they reject the Trinity? The Newtonian worldview believed that all Truth -- the natural law, scientific truth, moral truth, etc. -- could be "discovered" in the same way that mathematical formulas were "discovered." Hence theirs was a worldview dominated by math, geometry and architecture. One "built," if you will, nations and governments as one built physical structures. And indeed, their writings are replete with geometric and architectural metaphors; this also explains why Freemasonry with its "Great Architect of the Universe" God appealed to so many of them. Thus, with mathematical proofs like 2+2 = 4 playing such a prominent role in discovering "self-evident" Truths, anything that appeared to violate simple math (like 1+1+1 = 1) was likely to be held suspect or worse.
Adams on the Mysteries of the Trinity & Incarnation:

Joshua Claybourn reproduces the following in his Christmas Meditation:

"The really staggering Christian claim is that Jesus of Nazareth was God made man -- that the second person of the Godhead became the 'second man' (I Cor. 15:47), determining human destiny, the second representative head of the race, and that He took humanity without loss of deity, so that Jesus of Nazareth was as truly and fully divine as He was human. Here are two mysteries for the price of one -- the plurality of persons within the unity of God, and the union of Godhead and manhood in the person of Jesus. It is here, in the thing that happened at the first Christmas, that the profoundest and most unfathomable depths of the Christian revelation lie. 'The Word was made flesh' (John 1:14); God became man; the divine Son became a Jew; the Almighty appeared on earth as a helpless human baby, unable to do more than lie and stare and wriggle and make noises, needing to be fed and changed and taught to talk like any other child. And there was no illusion or deception in this: the babyhood of the Son of God was a reality. The more you think about it, the more staggering it gets. Nothing in fiction is so fantastic as is this truth of the incarnation."

-- J.I. Packer, "Knowing God"

John Adams reacts to the sentiment:

If I understand the Doctrine, it is, that if God the first second or third or all three together are united with or in a Man, the whole Animal becomes a God and his Mother is the Mother of God.

It grieves me: it shocks me to write in this stile upon a subject the most adorable that any finite Intelligence can contemplate or embrace: but if ever Mankind are to be superior to the Brutes, sacerdotal Impostures must be exposed.

-- John Adams to Francis van der Kemp, October 23, 1816. Adams Papers (microfilm), reel 122, Library of Congress. Taken from Hutson, The Founders on Religion, p. 223.
John Adams, Straussian:

Like Leo Strauss and his followers, Adams apparently thought Plato must have been joking. Bernard Bailyn writes about Adams that "in 1774 had cited Plato as an advocate of equality and self-government but who was so shocked when he finally studied the philosopher that he concluded that the Republic must have been meant as a satire." The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution, pp. 24-25.

And in a marginal note in Joseph Priestly's The Doctrines of Heathen Philosophy Compared with those of Revelation, Adams writes, "Was there ever a country, in which philosophers, politicians, and theologians believed what they taught to the vulgar?"

Haraszti, Prophets of Progress, 290, quoted in James H. Hutson's The Founders on Religion, p. 66.

Now that's positively Straussian.

Monday, December 25, 2006

More on the Bohemian Grove:

David Swindle writes to recommend a book, "Them: Adventures with Extremists" and it's by a British journalist named Jon Ronson.

In the book he tags along with various people labeled extremists -- Radical Muslims, Neo-Nazis, wild conspiracy theorists like Alex Jones and David Icke, KKK leaders, etc. -- and finds that all of them share a similar view: that there is an elite group running the world, specifically, the Bilderbergers. The last chapter of the book reports on what Ronson found when he visited Bohemian Grove -- he literally walked right in. What he discovered is, unfortunately, less interesting than the conspiracy nuts would like to believe. It's a fun, humorous, quick read.

On a related note, I got two comments, here and here by people who want me to take the claims of Jones and Connor seriously. Sorry, that is something I will not do.
Merry Christmas:

It's time for me to recycle one of my old posts on the meaning of Christmas. Here it is. Some highlights:

Christmas perfectly exemplifies the larger phenomenon of the unique culture that is the West which has a religious (Jerusalem) and a Secular-Pagan (Athens) origin. Culturally, the West presently is and always has been every bit as much of a Pagan society as it is Christian.

And what makes the West special is this unique combination, this tension between Athens and Jerusalem. The orthodox and the Pagan agree on some matters, vehemently disagree on others, borrow from one another and create separately and together. Indeed, this tension enabled the West to be the greatest creative force there ever was.

Were I to write this passage today, I think I'd use fewer words. I'd describe the West as an evolving conversation between our religious (Judeo-Christian) and secular-pagan (Greco-Roman) roots.

In last year's post, I jokingly put forth this line: "Merry Christmas fellow Secular Pagans. It's our freakin' holiday too." Sometimes religious conservatives freak out when you point out that secularism and paganism have as much ownership rights over the heritage of the West in general and the United States in particular as Judeo-Christianity. That line led to one religious conservative to describe me as "a militant secular pagan." I don't think he understood that the line was a joke, and that I don't place the term "secular pagan" as part of my personal identity. However, it is an important term for understanding the vital non-Judeo-Christian roots of Western Culture.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Bohemian Grove:

Now, to me, that sounds like a great name for a rock band. I had never heard of it before. It's one of those "buzzwords" -- in fact the latest one -- that the right wing, black helicopter crowd, conspiracy freaks throw out. Add that name to the Trilateral Commission, the Council on Foreign Relations, the Bilderbergers, the Freemasons, the Illuminati, the New World Order, etc.

Apparently it's an elite old boys club with a lot of prominent members. George Bush is a member, and the conspiracy nuts believe this so called conservative Christian President is a secret devil worshipper, that his group practices mock human sacrifices to the god Moloch and engages in homosexual behavior.

Oh, and they also believe 9-11 was a government conspiracy.

I often hear these nuts call C-SPAN (and Brian Lamb frequently takes note of the high volume of conspiracy nut calls). I used to think there must be a lot of them out there. Now, after doing entertaining research on John Connor -- one of the head nuts in the movement -- I'm convinced that there are about three or four of them...and all they do, all day is repeatedly call talk shows. It's the same three or four people. This guy Connor documents his obsession on the Internet.

I first found out about him when Technorati linked to an interview Connor did with Danny Bonaduce (it's great to see Bonaduce put him in his place):

Then from links, we see this guy make obsessive, repeated phone calls to Michael Savage, Sean Hannity, Bill O'Reilly, Alan Colmes, and others.

It's fun to listen to the rightwing talk radio guys make mince meat of this conspiracy wingnut. I guess talk radio is good for something.

Oh, and he hates Freemasons and Mormons as well.

Finally, here is where wingnut Alex Jones confronts David Gergen a member of the Bohemian Grove. It's funny, after the interview concludes, Jones yells to Gergen "say hi to Moloch for me."

Last Chance:

Soon the January edition of Liberty Magazine will be out. So now is the last chance to buy December's issue which has my article on George Washington's religion. Below is a pic of the issue taken by my friend Jay.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Pat Boone's Ignorance of America's Founding:

I guess I shouldn't expect any better from the man who almost single handedly ruined rock and roll until the Beatles came along to save it. But his article shows one more reason why it's important to continue to debunk the Christian Nation myth. Such, myth, alas, invariably leads to religiously bigoted positions. So here goes. Boone writes:

Pop quiz: What was the primary source of the principles on which our Declaration of Independence and our Constitution, and our Bill of Rights, were based?

Answer: the Judeo-Christian Bible.


Bzzt. Wrong. At best, one could argue that the Founders drew from a variety of sources including pagan Greco-Romanism, common-law rights of Englishmen, Enlightenment philosophy, and include the Bible/Christian principles into the ideological synthesis of sources which produced our Founding documents. It is flat out false, however, to assert that the Bible is the "primary source of the principles on which our Declaration of Independence and our Constitution, and our Bill of Rights, were based." Every serious Ivy League scholar who has studied this issue, most notably Bernard Bailyn, agrees that it was Enlightenment philosophy which dominated.

Why don't we listen to Jefferson's testimony -- after all, he wrote the darn thing -- on the ideas behind the Declaration. As Dr. Gregg Frazer noted:

In a May 8, 1825 letter to Henry Lee, Jefferson identifies his sources for the Declaration's principles. He names as sources: Aristotle, Cicero, Locke, and (Algernon) Sidney -- he does not mention the Bible. Then again, the terminology in the Declaration is not specifically Christian -- or even biblical, with the exception of "Creator." The term "providence" is never used of God in the Bible, nor are "nature's God" or "Supreme Judge of the world" ever used in the Bible.

What about the Constitution and Bill of Rights? More from Frazer:

In the hundreds of pages comprising Madison's notes on the constitutional convention (and those of the others who kept notes), there is no mention of biblical passages/verses in the debates/discussions on the various parts and principles of the Constitution. They mention Rome, Sparta, German confederacies, Montesquieu, and a number of other sources -- but no Scripture verses.

Boone's column gets worse:

Question: From what religious writing did our Founding Fathers derive their concepts of individual liberty, equality and unalienable rights?

Answer: the Quran.


No, Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration, didn't credit the Quran. Nor did James Madison and John Jay, who wrote most of the Constitution. Instead, they openly credited two main sources: the Holy Bible and Sir William Blackstone.

As was shown, Jefferson and Madison never explicitly credit the "Holy Bible" for the principles of the Declaration or the Constitution. I challenge Pat Boone or anyone to show me one accurate quotation from Jefferson or Madison explaining that the principles of the Declaration or Constitution are derived from the Bible. Moreover, as I have repeatedly mentioned, nowhere does the Bible express concern for the concept of political (as opposed to spiritual) liberty or state that man possesses "unalienable" rights. Such were Enlightenment concepts put forth by John Locke.

But what about Blackstone's influence? Boone continues:

As Madison and Jay and Hamilton composed the Federalist Papers, which led directly to the Constitution itself, they were greatly influenced by Sir William Blackstone and his "Commentaries." Thus, the precious documents on which our very existence as a nation depend are informed by the renowned jurist who wrote: "The belief of a future state of rewards and punishments, the entertaining just ideas of the main attributes of the Supreme Being, and a firm persuasion that He superintends and will finally compensate every action in human life (all which are revealed in the doctrines of our Savior, Christ), these are the grand foundations of all judicial oaths, which call God to witness the truth of those facts which perhaps may be only known to him and the party attesting; all moral evidences, therefore, all confidence in human veracity, must be weakened by apostasy, and overthrown by total infidelity. Wherefore, all affronts to Christianity, or endeavors to depreciate its efficacy, in those who have once professed it, are highly deserving of censure."

There are a number of problems with this. First, almost as bad as his claim that Jefferson and Madison cited the Bible as the principle source behind our Founding documents is the claim that Blackstone was the "other" main source. Though, Blackstone, unlike the Bible, does get at least some mention in the Federalist Papers. But this is still irrelevant to Boone's point. Our Founders were very selective about the sources from which they drew, picking and choosing various ideas and modifying them along the way. Nothing about Blackstone's endorsement of a connection between Christianity and judicial oaths made it into the Federalist Papers. Again, as Dr. Frazer puts it:

In The Federalist Papers, there is no mention of biblical sources for any of the Constitution's principles, either -- one would think they could squeeze them in among the 85 essays if they were, indeed, the sources; especially since the audience was common men who were familiar with, and had respect for, the Bible. The word "God" is used twice -- and one of those is a reference to the pagan gods of ancient Greece. "Almighty" is used twice and "providence" three times -- but neither is ever used in connection with any constitutional principle or influence. The Bible is not mentioned.

Blackstone was an English Tory. Our Founders were Whigs, and as such were far more influenced by the Whig tradition in England. John Locke was without question the most important philosopher behind America's Founding. After him, British Whigs like James Burgh, Joseph Priestly, and Richard Price exerted far greater influence than Blackstone regarding the ideas contained in our Founding documents. (Priestly and Burgh, by the way, called for and used the phrase "separation of church and state," which is where Jefferson likely got it from.)

Where Blackstone's influence was greatest, his expertise, was in the English common law. But again, English common law was one source among many from which our Founders drew and such principles were, in the minds of our Founders, subservient to Enlightenment Whig principles. Indeed, the one area where Founders like Jefferson and Madison were least likely to agree with Blackstone was in the area of religion and government! Blackstone was famous for asserting that Christianity was part of the common law. And Jefferson vehemently disagreed and remonstrated at great length contra Blackstone as to why "Christianity neither is, nor ever was a part of the common law."

So when Pat Boone writes -- "All this, and so much more, is why we expect men and women we've elected to place their hands on a copy of the Holy Bible as they take their oaths of office." -- he misunderstands history and thus, should not be taken seriously.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Not a Mystery Man, but a "Possum":

I'm sorry. I have absolutely no interest in the life of Britney Spears and truly despise her genre of music. It's just when I found out whom she was dating, it brought back memories of the summer of '95. Her producer, and now apparently, her boyfriend, Jonathan Rotem was a constant fixture in the apartment I rented with two other roommates. He attended Berklee College of Music the same time I did. We knew him as "Possum" back then. In terms of personality, appearance, and demeanor, he was sort of like Screech from Saved by the Bell, only weirder. And, let's just put it this way, even though I remember that summer quite well, I doubt he would. We did know him as a great jazz pianist, though.

My friend Trevor was also friends with Possum and when our friend bassist Matt Rubano (now of Taking Back Sunday) was a freshman and asked Trevor who the great jazz players were, Possum was one of the first names he mentioned.

My one distinct memory of Possum and that summer was walking with him to Tower Records to rent Basic Instinct on video. I think it was about 3 dollars and he chipped in his one dollar, but it was on my card. I teased him and threatened to at the last minute change my mind and get something else. He told me he would go ballistic and steal something from the apartment worth at least one dollar, or something along those lines. I think he was obsessed with seeing that scene with Sharon Stone.

And now look at how Britney is behaving! Coincidence?

Anyway here is a video of the two of them.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Roy Moore's Latest Abuse of our Founding Fathers:

Roy Moore continues to abuse the Founders in trying to make them fit his religiously bigoted agenda. I'll try to make this brief. Ed Brayton's got a great post on the matter in the works. Moore writes:

Last month Keith (Hakim Mohammad) Ellison of Minnesota became the first Muslim elected to serve in the United States Congress and shocked many Americans by declaring that he would take his oath of office by placing his hand on the Quran rather than the Bible. Can a true believer in the Islamic doctrine found in the Quran swear allegiance to our Constitution? Those who profess a sincere belief in Allah say "no!"

In 1789, George Washington, our first president under the Constitution, took his oath to "preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States. So help me God." Placing his hand on the Holy Scriptures, Washington recognized the God who had led our Pilgrim fathers on their journey across the Atlantic in 1620 and who gave our Founding Fathers the impetus to begin a new nation in 1776.


Thus began a long tradition that extended both to state and federal government of acknowledging the Judeo-Christian God as the source of our law and liberty.

First, George Washington, like the other key Founders and unlike Roy Moore was a religious universalist who believed Muslims worshipped the same God as Jews and Christians. Washington's "so help me God" addendum to his oath of office (which historians doubt Washington ever said) was done while placing his hand on a Masonic Bible, which group Washington, a Master Mason, was intimately involved with. And Freemasonry was/is theologically universalistic. As Thomas Paine put it, Freemasonry "transcends the bounds of Christian and Western civilization; it includes the Moslem, the Hindoo, the Buddhist, and the Jew."

As a universalist, Washington frequently referred to God in terms customarily used by the addressees. When speaking to Jews he referred to God as "Jehovah." Likewise, when Washington addressed his fellow Freemasons, he referred to God as "The Great Architect of the Universe." And when he addressed the Cherokee Indians, Washington referred to God as "The Great Spirit," exactly as they did.

Moore also posits an inconsistent, indefensible partial univeralism when he describes the Founders' God as the "Judeo-Christian" God. Honest fundamentalists like Joe Carter would note there is no such thing as the "Judeo-Christian" God, as Jews, Christians, and Muslims worship different Gods. If one replies that Jews and Christians both worship the God of the Old Testament ("Jehovah"), Muslims claim to do so too. If we are going to attempt to be somewhat inclusive and use the OT as a lowest common denominator, no coherent argument can be made that Jews and Christians worship the same God, but Muslims a different one. They all claim to worship the God of Abraham.

Finally Roy Moore relies on an extra-Biblical source -- Thomas Jefferson's Bill for Religious Freedom -- to try to prove that the Judeo-Christian [sic] God possesses different attributes than the Muslims'. He writes:

Thomas Jefferson in his Bill for Religious Freedom in 1777 in which he stated that "Almighty God" (El Shaddai in Hebrew) "hath created the mind free and manifested His supreme will that free it shall remain by making it altogether insusceptible of restraint." It was a specific God who endowed us with a freedom of conscience with which government could not interfere.

Note Jefferson never identified God as "El Shaddai" in any of the drafts of his bill. This is simply Moore's attempt to mislead his readers that Jefferson had some "Judeo-Christian" Biblical deity in mind when he invoked God. Indeed, Jefferson purposefully was vague and generic and refused to identify such God as the "Christian" one, lest the public get the message that only Christians have rights. As Jefferson wrote in his autobiography:

Where the preamble declares, that coercion is a departure from the plan of the holy author of our religion, an amendment was proposed, by inserting the word "Jesus Christ," so that it should read, "a departure from the plan of Jesus Christ, the holy author of our religion;" the insertion was rejected by a great majority, in proof that they meant to comprehend, within the mantle of its protection, the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and Mahometan, the Hindoo, and Infidel of every denomination.

Moreover, nowhere in the Bible does it state that God created the mind free, that He grants unalienable rights of conscience, or that all should have the right to worship as we choose. In the Ten Commandments, the very first one, God demands the worship of no other Gods but Him, and elsewhere in the Old Testament, God demands the immediate execution of those proselytizing for false Gods. Indeed, one reason why Muslim fundamentalists are so brutal to Christians and those who practice other religions is because they, unlike today's Christians and Jews, are doing exactly what the God of the Old Testament commands: executing infidels, heretics and those who worship false gods.

To repeat, the doctrine of liberty of conscience is nowhere to be found within the explicit text of the Bible. Rather such a doctrine was created only after bloody religious persecution and struggle between the Christian sects taught that it was dangerous for the state to be in the business of enforcing religious orthodoxy. Consequently, the notion that man possesses God-given unalienable rights of conscience is a Lockean-Enlightenment, not a Biblical teaching.

Given that Jews and Christians used to have as bad a track-record as Muslims in the way they drew no distinction between Church and State and persecuted religious dissidents, there is no reason to suppose Islam cannot likewise be reformed and enlightened. We need to encourage Muslims to so change, not tell them that the authentic understanding of their religion is the brutal, bloodthirsty, intolerant version against which we are at war.

Shame on Roy Moore. Stop abusing our Founders.
Gary Smith on George Washington's Faith:

Though I don't often see eye-to-eye with Grove City College on many cultural issues, I agree with what Dr. Gary S. Smith of that college concludes on Washington's faith:

I conclude therefore that Washington’s faith is better explained by the label “theistic rationalism” than by deism, Unitarianism, or Christianity. This theoretical construct combines elements of natural religion, Christianity, and rationalism, with rationalism predominating. It holds that God is unitary and active in the world and asserts that revelation complements reason. Since he directs human affairs, prayer is effectual. Because deists deny God’s active involvement in the world, the value of prayer, and the Bible as God’s revelation, the concept of theistic rationalism better describes Washington’s views than does the term deist, Unitarian, or Christian.

Smith, no doubt has been influenced by Dr. Gregg Frazer.
Responses to are Mormons Christian?

At Positive Liberty, an interesting discussion ensued on the question whether Mormons are Christian. Also check out this post on The Gay Species which explores similar issues.

Monday, December 11, 2006

An Invocation Against Rock Music:

From a right wing new age cult. This group reminds us that not all new agers are warm and fuzzy like Deepak Chopra. Some of them are to the right of Robertson and Falwell. As the person who put this up on YouTube said, "It would be safe to assume that this will be one of the more weirder things you've ever heard."

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Are Mormons Christian?

Some Mormons get very offended when you assert they aren't Christians. Reader Doug Davidson, a Mormon, posted a comment of reprimand directed at me. It's reproduced below:

Mr. Rowe,

I realize that it was not your intention, in writing this article, to falsely represent the "Mormon" religion as being "non-Christian". In fact, the correct title of the "Mormon" church is, "The Church of JESUS CHRIST of Latter Day Saints".

Now, what person, driving down the street, reading that sign on the side of a building could come to any other conclusion but that they were looking at a CHRISTIAN house of worship. The primary book of the religion is the very same Bible that is read and studied throughout Christianity. No doubt, your false conception (and that of the "evangelical Protestant and Catholic" critics [who, of course, are completely objective observers] arises from the fact that "Mormons" also hold as sacred another volume of Scripture entitled, "The Book of Mormon". Have you ever taken the opportunity to open up the pages of this book? If so, you either have a significant deficiency in your powers of observation and/or your ability to read and comprehend the simplest of phrases. If you have not, I ask you what right (morally or scholarly) you have to make such a demonstrably false assertion in a publicly circulated article in which you purport to be learned and scholarly on the subject of religion. If you'd bother to take the time to educate yourself, you'd notice, that the full title of the book is, "The Book of Mormon; Another Testament of Jesus Christ" and on the TITLE PAGE of the Book of Mormon, the purpose of that book is clearly stated. Is it to glorify a personage by the name of "Mormon"? Is it to to deify Joseph Smith, the 'earthly founder' of the religion? Let me quote, ..
.."Which is to show unto the remnant of the House of Israel what great things the Lord hath done for their fathers; and that they may know the covenants of the Lord, that they are not cast off forever -- And also to the convincing of the Jew and Gentile that JESUS is the CHRIST, the ETERNAL God, manifesting himself unto all nations..." That is the stated purpose of the book, and, upon reading it, you would find the divinity of Jesus Christ to be its central theme, cover to cover. Its sole purpose is to promote Faith in and Obedience to Jesus Christ and the principles he taught. It testifies that He is the Savior of all Mankind, on all continents, all lands, and even the isles of the sea, not just the Jews in Israel. It fulfills the prohecy uttered from His own lips, "And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd." (John 10:16) It tells of how, after His resurrection, he appeared to His disciples on the American continent,showed them the wounds in his hands and feet, taught them His Gospel, healed the sick, and basically re-enacted the same things He did during His ministry in Isreal. So, if the Protestants and Catholics have one book that teaches and testifies of Christ, and that qualifies them as "Christians", then you might be able to argue that Mormons have TWICE the reason to call themselves Christians as others who profess to be, but you would have a difficult time supporting the argument that "Mormons" are not Christians !!!

You may have guessed, that I AM a "Mormon", and I testify to you, that Jesus Christ is the literal Son of God; that He was concieved as the son of Mary and the Son of God; that He lived a perfect life, as an example to us and to qualify as the one and only worthy to take away my sins; that He suffered in Gethsemane and on the cross to pay for my sins; that, as the mortal son of Mary, He had the ability to die, and as the immortal Son of God, He had the ability to resurrect himself, breaking the bonds of Death and making the ressurection of my corrupt body into an eternal and incorruptible one, possible.

I testify that I accept Jesus Christ as my personal Savior; that there is NONE OTHER through whom I can receive eternal salvation and exaltation. I testify of these things IN THE NAME OF JESUS CHRIST.

If you still have any lingering doubts, please go to and do some more research.

Please, in the future, should you have the opportunity, make it clear to your readers, listeners, etc., that "Mormons" are members of the Church of Jesus Christ, and are, in fact and in deed, Christians.

Thank you for your time.

Doug Davidson

Though I am a baptized Catholic and not an atheist, I don't consider myself "Christian," hence I'm an "outsider" to this theological debate. I've dealt with this issue before. I'm not trying to insult Mormons, but rather give a very specific understanding to the term "Christian."

My particular interest is religion and the Founding, specifically the "Christian Nation" (or "Christian America") claim. America is demographically strongly Christian and almost all of the Founders had some sort of at least formal or nominal connection to a "Christian" Church (for instance, Jefferson, Madison and Washington were all Episcopalian/Anglican). In a very broad sense, they were "Christian" as is anyone who identifies as Christian (as Jefferson and Adams did) or is nominally connected to a Christian Church. Given that I'm baptized Catholic (my final stop in that Church), one could plausibly categorize me as a Christian. John Shelby Spong, who is not only pro-gay, but like our key Founders denies much of the theology of the Bible (the miracles and prophesies), is likewise a "Christian Bishop" under this broad understanding.

Since I reject, on historical grounds, the "Christian Nation" claim, I am obviously dealing with a much narrower definition of the term "Christian," indeed one defined by the orthodox Trinitarians who put forth such claim. And according to such historically defined standards one much accept certain basic creeds -- most notably the Nicene Creed -- to qualify as a "Christian." I was simply noting if that is how one defines "Christian," then our key Founders like Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Madison, and Franklin weren't "Christians," just as Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses are similarly disqualified under this narrow historical understanding.

That is the perspective from which I am looking when I make such a claim. Of course, it's possible to look at this issue from different perspectives and define Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses and our key Founders (even though they were theological unitarians and universalists) as "Christians," just as it's possible to define theological and social liberals like Gene Robinson and John Shelbly Spong as "Christians." Certainly, to an outsider to Western-Christian culture looking in, like one from the Islamic nations, all of these qualify as "Christian" because all have evolved out of historic Christian Churches and the Judeo-Christian tradition.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

My Favorites:

Given the other three Positive Liberty bloggers have done this, I guess it's my turn.

1) Leftoverture by Kansas. Kansas are the most underrated progressive rock band. At their best, they are on par with the best of Rush, Yes, Genesis and ELP. Kerry Livgren is a brilliant prog-rock writer and Steve Walsh had one of the best voices (Genesis guitarist Steve Hackett once said Walsh had the "perfect white rock voice." Walsh sang "Narnia" on Hackett's solo album Please Don't Touch). While Walsh also wrote some of their songs (most of them not as good as Livgren's), he was going through a "dry spell" during Leftoverture. So Kerry pretty much wrote the whole thing, which turned out to be their best written album. It spawned their commercial hit "Carry On Wayward Son," but has so many other gems, like "The Wall." Here is a recent performance of that tune.

2) & 3) Jeff Beck's Blow by Blow and Wired. Jeff Beck once said of his music that it complicated rock but simplified John McLaughlin. Today, instrumental rock guitar ala Satriani and Vai, and jazz-fusion ala McLaughlin and Dimeola are sort of "sister styles" and have produced monsters like Andy Timmons whose styles draw equally from both schools. Jeff Beck was one of the first (and best) guitarists to straddle the line between instrumental rock guitar and jazz-fusion and these are the two albums where he broke such ground.

Here is his and Jan Hammer's classic tune off of Wired, "Blue Wind."

4) Sabbath Bloody Sabbath by Black Sabbath. I know this is going to sound like a line, but I liked Ozzy/Sabbath before it was "cool" to like them. Growing up, I had all of their stuff on cassette tape and saw Ozzy play when I was 15 (on his 40th Birthday party). Ozzy's/Sabbath's formula is great songwriting and an innovate, dark sound.

This is a really cool song -- "Spiral Architect" -- from that album. The video isn't theirs though.

5) Led Zeppelin's Physical Graffiti. They are another group all of whose albums I owned on cassette growing up. Like the Beatles, they never wrote a bad song. Physical Graffiti is thus my favorite album of theirs because it has the most songs, all of them good. While that album gave us their monster hit, "Kashmir," it also has "Ten Years Gone," my favorite Zeppelin tune. Here they are performing it, courtesy of YouTube.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Dennis Prager, Wrong Again:

Prager tries to defend himself. Ed Brayton has a great takedown. I'll add my two cents. Prager writes:

You don't have to be Christian to acknowledge that the Bible is the source of America's values. Virtually every founder of this country knew that and acknowledged it. The argument that founders such as Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin were deists, even if accurate (it is greatly exaggerated), makes my point, not my opponents'. The founders who were not believing Christians venerated the Bible as the source of America's values just as much as practicing Christians did.

Here's the problem -- the key Founders, including not just Jefferson and Franklin, but also Washington, Adams, and Madison -- did indeed think religious values were necessary for society. But they thought most world religions taught those same moral values as Christianity. Islam and Christianity were thus interchangeable in this respect. Now, they may have been wrong to believe this. But it is what they believed. Here is Jefferson in his September 27, 1809 letter to James Fishback:

Every religion consists of moral precepts, and of dogmas. In the first they all agree. All forbid us to murder, steal, plunder, bear false witness &ca. and these are the articles necessary for the preservation of order, justice, and happiness in society. In their particular dogmas all differ; no two professing the same. These respect vestments, ceremonies, physical opinions, and metaphysical speculations, totally unconnected with morality, and unimportant to the legitimate objects of society....We see good men in all religions, and as many in one as another. It is then a matter of principle with me to avoid disturbing the tranquility of others by the expression of any opinion on the [unimportant points] innocent questions on which we schismatize, and think it enough to hold fast to those moral precepts which are of the essence of Christianity, and of all other religions.

Likewise, Franklin believed all religions were interchangeable with Christianity in this respect. Franklin was theist but not a Christian and made no distinction between George Whitefield's orthodox Christianity and the Mufti of Constantinople's Mohammedanism:

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.

Adams too agreed that all world religions provided the same indispensable morality as Christianity:

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

April 18, 1808 letter to Benjamin Rush.

... moral liberty resides in Hindoos and Mahometans, as well as in Christians.

Letter no. 13 to John Taylor in 1814

Though it's harder to find quotations from Washington that are this specific, virtually everything Washington said on religion is consistent with these above quotations. So for instance, when discussing religious oaths, Washington stated:

Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, Religion and morality are indispensable supports....Let it simply be asked where is the security for property, for reputation, for life, if the sense of religious obligation desert the oaths, which are the instruments of investigation in Courts of Justice? And let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion. Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect that National morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.

He likely believed, as did Adams, Jefferson and Franklin, that most world religions including Islam provided society "indispensable supports" and served the useful function that religious obligation provides for oaths. He certainly chose his words to be inclusive of "religion" in general and not "Christianity" in particular.

Finally, see this post where I discuss Dr. Gregg Frazer making a similar point and using many of these same quotations.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Andy Kaufman's Brilliance:

"Man on the Moon" was a good movie, worth the watch. But it still disappointed me. Jim Carey is tremendously talented and did a great impression of Andy Kaufman. But he still didn't quite capture what it was that made Kaufman so funny. I'm not sure if it was his fault, the fault of the director (Milos Forman, who himself is quite good), or the fact that Kaufman's brilliance is inimitable. Needless to say, Comedy Central produced some documentaries on Kaufman that are funnier than "Man on the Moon" and truly capture what his comedic insanity was all about. The following are some clips.

Here Andy Kaufman wrestles a 327 pound woman:

And here Kaufman brilliantly taunts a Memphis, Tennessee wrestling crowd:

Proving that Rightwingnuts Possess no Monopoly on Stupidity...:

A commenter named Ragerz directs these words against yours truly:

You vote for your Presidential candidates who will appoint racist judges to the bench. I will vote for Democrats.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Professor of Guitar:

Here is a YouTube clip from one of my old professors at Berklee, Jon Finn.

I could never get my private lesson from him because he was too popular and had students waiting in line to sign up for him. I did have a great lab with him and when I performed for the class, he told me I played "smokin' blues licks" and that I really had "blues/string bending" thing down. I could do that stuff much better then than I can now because I practiced so much more. I used to practice Jeff Beck licks every day.