Monday, December 31, 2007

Schwartz on Reed:

Via Boing Boing lots of sites have linked to my post on Robert Reed. Some of them found this which recounts Sherwood Schwartz's take on Reed:

Sherwood Schwartz - who conceived of the series after reading a newspaper item about blended families, and quickly pounded out a script out of fear that someone else would come up with the idea of a comedy about two families merging into one (only to watch the development process take a whopping four years before the show made it to the air) - still shakes his head over some of Reed's complaints.

``He was such a stickler, he used to read with the script in one hand and the other he had in the Encyclopedia Britannica,'' Schwartz remembers. ``Every day of every week, he was a pain in the neck, and you can go a little further south of that. If something didn't ring the truth bell with him, he'd walk off the set and not tell you why.

``I would visit him in his dressing room and say, 'What's wrong?' and he'd say, 'If you don't know, I can't explain to you.' He would say, 'Did you see the last script?' Well, that was a direct insult - it was my script. He'd say, 'Do you know what scene we're doing now?' Again, a direct insult, I was the executive producer, I should sure as hell know what scene we're shooting.''

One time, Reed took offense to Mike entering the kitchen, seeing his wife and maid cooking up some strawberries for a baking contest, and uttering the line ``This smells like strawberry heaven.''

``It's not a joke, but it's a cute way to get into the scene,'' Schwartz says. ``And Robert says, 'It just so happens that strawberries, while cooking, have no odor.' Minutes and dollars are flying away while we're sitting there discussing this. I said, 'Can you say, ``This looks like strawberry heaven?'' Fifty thousand dollars later, I changed one word.''

Reed also balked when the script called for him to slip on some eggs that fell out of the refrigerator. ``Robert said, 'The truth of the matter is, contrary to popular belief, when your shoes hit eggs, they're sticky. You don't slide at all.' This one cost $150,000. I told him, let's rehearse the scene and get to your point later. So he opens the refrigerator, the eggs fall out, and he just by accident steps on them and falls on his ass. So I'm standing there, looking down at him, and he's wagging his finger in my face, saying, 'That doesn't prove a thing!' ''

Schwartz soon learned to do his homework before handing Reed a script. He contacted the Federal Communications Commission over an episode in which the Bradys install a pay phone in their house for the kids, knowing that Reed would declare such an act was illegal. Schwartz found his loophole - they were legal in Santa Monica - and toyed with Reed when the actor demanded to know where the Bradys lived.

Schwartz recalls, ``I told him, 'California.' He said, ``I know that - where in California?'' 'Oh, Southern California.' He said, ``I know that, too, given that we see all these palm trees. But where in Southern California?'' Schwartz hemmed and hawed for a while longer before telling Reed the Bradys lived in Santa Monica. ``I heard him yell, 'S---!' and slam the phone down. That was one of the best phone calls of my life. It wasn't very nice of me, but since he had caused me enough sleepless nights and caused Paramount enough money, I thought he deserved that.''

Reed stormed off the set of the last episode of the series and was summarily written out of it. Nonetheless, he returned for all the sundry Brady spinoffs, from variety shows to dramas.

``Years later, when we were doing 'The Brady Girls Get Married,' he was in a play in New York at that time and had another week to go, but he bought himself out of the show, flew himself out here and showed up, saying, 'No one is going to marry off my two oldest daughters but me,' '' Schwartz remembers.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Thanks to Boing Boing:

For the link on the Robert Reed post.
Dio Doesn't Mince Words:

On Vivian Campbell, his former guitarist who now plays for Def Leppard.

Like a lot of great rockers, Dio has somewhat of an attitude. But he is one of the greats. In his mid-60s, he still has his voice! I'd much rather see him with Sabbath live than Ozzy because Dio as a superior vocalist (from a purely technical sense) tends to give more professional performances in his old age (Ozzy tends to "phone in" his performances).

Ozzy has produced some great music -- and the formula that's made him millions is 1) having a cool sounding voice, even if not great from a technical sense; 2) having an ear for good songs and good performers; 3) surrounding himself those great musicians who write and perform great songs for him (notably Tony Iommi, Geezer Butler, Bob Daisley, Randy Rhodes and Zakk Wylde); and 4) having a very shrewd business sense that comes from his wife. He's not a musical genius and has hardly written any of the songs for which he is notable. It's ironic; not writing his songs contributed to Osbourne's longevity. Most songwriters, for instance Paul McCartney, have only so many great songs in them. If you constantly rely on other folks for your songs, have the eye and ear to seek them out and the $$ to attract them, you can almost guarantee not running out of decent material.

Back to Dio. Here is a great performance he did with Deep Purple and an Orchestra, Sitting in a Dream:

And for the Christians who read my work, here is Dio singing about Jesus. He did that for Kansas' Kerry Livgren after Livgren became a born-again Christian and released an inspirational solo album. Not an official video:

Ignatius on Jefferson, Adams and Romney:

Interesting column by David Ignatius of the Washington Post entitled Wisdom From The Founding Rationalists, What Jefferson and Adams Might Tell Mitt Romney.

Here is the first paragraph:

A bracing text for this Christmas week is the famous correspondence between John Adams and Thomas Jefferson. Their letters are a reminder that the Founders were men of the Enlightenment -- supreme rationalists who would have found the religiosity of much of our modern political life quite abhorrent.

Here is the last paragraph:

One theme in this year's political campaign has been whether the United States will move from the faith-based policies the Bush administration has celebrated to a more rationalist and secular approach. In this debate, religious conservatives like to stress their connection to the Founders and to the republic's birth as "one nation under God." But a rereading of the Adams-Jefferson letters is a reminder that in this debate, the Founders -- as men of the Enlightenment -- would surely have sided with the party of Reason.

For the middle, read the whole thing.

And also read Ramesh Ponnuru's critique, the valid part with which I agree is that one can be a rationalist -- that is one who believes in discovering Truth chiefly through reason -- and still be devoutly religious, something that Ignatius' column doesn't really challenge. Yet Ponnuru goes further and asserts such rationalism is not incompatible with traditional Christian dogma. And he points to a few books written by Robert P. George, and one written by himself. Ponnuru, George, John Finnis, and others operating in the tradition of Aquinas are devout, traditional, conservative Christians who accept the natural law which defines as what man discovers from reason unaided by scripture.

These rubrics of "reason" and "nature" originated with the pagan philosopher Aristotle, were incorporated into Christendom by Aquinas, and then were embraced by Enlightenment philosophers whose religious beliefs varied from the conventionally religious to the mildly heterodox, to out and out mockers of Christianity. America was indeed founded chiefly under the rubrics of "nature" and "reason" and what's distinctive about such rationalism is that thought man's reason trumped. Whether such rationalism perfectly complements traditional Christianity, is "the Devil's Whore," or something in between is the subject of a lively and fascinating debate. But man's reason is the chief device under which America's Founders believed they constructed America's civil order.
The Lutz Study, the Bible, and the Constitution:

Given that the historical record shows little connection between the principles of the Constitution and the principles of the Bible, what about the oft-cited study by Donald S. Lutz that supposedly shows the Bible as the most cited source from the Founding era? Lutz is a reputable scholar and the "Christian America" crowd have shamelessly misrepresented his study. Chris Rodda has the goods. She writes:

Of all the findings in Lutz's study ignored by Barton and the NCBCPS, however, none are as important as those found in the section of his article entitled "The Pattern of Citations from 1787 to 1788." As seen in the earlier chart, Lutz broke down the number of citations by decade. In addition to this, he singled out the writings from 1787 and 1788, and then further separated these writings into those written by Federalists and those by Anti-federalists. Lutz found few biblical citations during these two years, and, very interestingly, not a single one in any of the Federalist writings. The following is from what Lutz wrote about this two year period in which the Constitution was written and debated in the press.

Quoting Lutz, this passage from the original study destroys the conclusion the Christian America crowd draws from his work:

The Bible's prominence disappears, which is not surprising since the debate centered upon specific institutions about which the Bible has little to say. The Anti-Federalists do drag it in with respect to basic principles of government, but the Federalists' inclination to Enlightenment rationalism is most evident here in their failure to consider the Bible relevant.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Old Book Blows Smoke...:

About America's "Christian" Foundations. Conservative websites such as Townhall, American Vision, and WorldNetDaily promote or sell this book, written in 1864, Christian Life and Character of the Civil Institutions of the United States ... By Benjamin Franklin Morris, which supposedly settled the fact of American government's Christian heritage before the secularists came along and stole that history by revising it. I'm sure many have bought the book (which, given that it's in the public domain, they didn't have to; they could have legally downloaded it for free); but probably few have read it.

History, like science, given both involve acquiring knowledge, tends to improve with time and experience. Seriously, this is like appealing to a science book written in 1864 to settle a factual matter. I haven't even scratched the surface of this book and have found it riddled with factual errors. The book immediately begins citing the phony quotations most notably associated with David Barton and it sources many of the myths for which serious historians ridicule the "Christian Nation" crowd.

For instance on page 520 Morris repeats Parson Mason Weems' fraudulent account of Washington's "Christian" death. (For the real story see the following).

Great as he was in life, he was also great in death. He had fought the good fight, and death to him had no terrors." His death was worthy of his Christian faith and character. " I die hard," said he; "but I am not afraid to die. I should have been glad, had it pleased God, to die a little easier; but I doubt not it is for my good. 'Tis well! Father of mercies, take me to thyself." On his dying bed lay an open Bible, the book of God, which he had read in the family circle and in his private devotions, and in the light of its heavenly truths his great soul passed, doubtless, into the light and immortality of heaven.

From what I've been able to garner, this book's historiography is laughable.
The Bible as a Source for Founding Documents:

This post features commentary by Dr. Gregg Frazer on the Bible as an intellectual source of republicanism. I'd count the Bible/Christian principles as one source of many from which America's Founders believed man's reason could select the "rational" parts. But it was by no means the chief source. Pagan Greco-Roman principles, the interest in which had been recently rekindled during the Renaissance, received far more attention in the Federalist Papers. Given Christianity is compatible with a variety of different political systems, Christianity is arguably perfectly compatible with republicanism. But the principles of republicanism are for the most part a-biblical.

The fact that some parts of the Declaration and/or Constitution are not in conflict with verses in the Bible does not mean that the Bible was the source. This is especially important when — as in the case of the Declaration and the Constitution — the authors claim other sources, but do not claim the Bible as a source!

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.

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.

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.

As for freedom and liberty in the Bible, it is always SPIRITUAL freedom/liberty — as a look at the verses you’ve listed IN CONTEXT shows. That is NOT to say that political liberty is an anti-biblical concept — it’s just not a biblical one. Arguing that it is a “Calvinist” concept does not make it a biblical one, either. The “disciples” of Calvin did not write inspired revelation.

The key Founders (J. Adams, Washington, Jefferson, Franklin, Madison, Hamilton, Wilson, & G. Morris) — those most responsible for the founding documents — were religious, but not Christians. They believed that religion was essential to produce the morality that a free society required, but that any religion would suffice. Their religious belief was a mixture of Protestantism, natural religion, and rationalism — with rationalism as the trump card and decisive factor. They retained elements of Christianity, but rejected the elements of Christianity (and of natural religion) that they considered irrational. However: of the ten CORE beliefs of Christianity (those shared by all of the major Protestant denominations of the day (and by the Catholics), they held to only one (or two, in some cases). Their belief system was, as I have termed it, theistic rationalism.

If the view of Adams, Jefferson, and Franklin that any/all religions were valid paths to God and that any/all religions would suffice to produce the morality needed was a “minority opinion” among the Founders, why were they chosen to write the philosophical (you say religious) document (Declaration)?
John Adams, Unitarian, Universalist, Rationalist, Syncretist:

The following reproduces a post on John Adams' religion after I got the Adams-Jefferson correspondence where there is a plethora of evidence of John Adams' religious heterodoxy, that indeed he and Jefferson were virtually agreed on God's attributes. And, surprisingly, it was not "Deism" that was the driver of their creed but a warmer faith whose elements included unitarianism, universalism, rationalism, and syncretism, one that believed in a God who intervened in man's affairs and to whom men ought to pray and oft-presented itself under the auspices of "Christianity." This has led to the "Christian Nation" crowd easily taking quotations out of context which seem to demonstrate Adams and Jefferson were "Christians"; but if this is "Christianity" (arguably it is not) it certainly isn't "Christianity" as evangelicals or Catholics understand that term. According to Jefferson, Adams et al. all good men are "Christians," no matter what faith they profess. Accordingly, these men found "Christianity" in such places as Hinduism and pagan-Greco-Romanism. A set of laws supposedly revealed by Athena 600 years before Christ qualified as "Christian" according to their creed.

After a post about one pedantic gay conservative (Allan Bloom), here is another, on Robert Reed. Reed was a self described 1950s style conservative and a trained Shakespearean actor. After reading his memo, now you know how it felt to be Sherwood Schwartz in the 1970s.
Mental Break:

In case you haven't noticed, I'm on mental vacation as well as physical. But in the meantime I might as well feature some good old posts that would otherwise be lost in the scroll. This one got me my first link from Andrew Sullivan and it was on Allan Bloom and Alan Keyes. The context of the post was Keyes referred to Mary Cheney as a "selfish hedonist" for being a lesbian. I pointed out that Keyes' own intellectual mentor was homosexual. This was before it came out that Keyes' own daughter was lesbian. Perhaps God is trying to send Keyes a message which apparently he hasn't yet gotten.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Ten Commandments and the Civil Law:

Ed Brayton once again debunks the myth that the Ten Commandments are the basis of America's civil law. To the contrary, under the old, pre-Enlightened order when Church & State were not separated, the Ten Commandments were part of the civil law in Western Christian societies, complete with laws meriting the death penalty for breaking the First Command or worshipping false gods or heresy in attempting to worship the "true" God.

Fast forward to America's Founding, the organic law of which holds parts of the Ten Commandments could be part of the civil law (don't steal, don't kill), parts have nothing properly to do with the civil law (don't worship false gods). Accordingly, Nature's God grants men an unalienable right to break the First Commandment -- arguably at least the first four -- and rules announced in other parts of the Bible. If one believes in God granted unalienable rights as instructive of America's Founding order, one must begin with the premise that Nature's God grants men a right not just to do what the Bible forbids but that for which the Bible demands the death penalty (worship false gods).
My Christmas Post:

I reproduce this every Christmas. The point is to show that Christmas historically is just as much a secular and pagan holiday as it is a Christian one. Money quote:

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.

Merry Christmas fellow secularists, freethinkers, and pagans. You "own" Christmas as much as the Christians do. And to my Christian readers: Merry Christmas as well.
Jefferson the Religious Softie:

Tom Van Dyke noted Jefferson's surprising softness when talking of death and the afterlife with John Adams. Peter Henriques' article on Washington and the afterlife to which my original post discussed notes the following:

Thomas Jefferson comforted John Adams following the death of his beloved Abigail with the thought that Adams should look forward to that “ecstatic meeting with friends we have loved and lost and whom we shall still love and never lose again.”

Here is the softest I've ever seen Jefferson discuss God and religion. To his namesake:


Monticello, Jan. 10, ’24

Your affectionate mother requests that I would address to you, as a namesake, something which might have a favorable influence on the course of life you have to run. Few words are necessary, with good dispositions on your part. Adore God; reverence and cherish your parents; love your neighbor as yourself, and your country more than life. Be just; be true; murmur not at the ways of Providence—and the life into which you have entered will be one of eternal and ineffable bliss. And if to the dead it is permitted to care for the things of this world, every action of your life will be under my regard. Farewell.

This passage perfectly illustrates Jefferson's theistic rationalism and why such is neither Christianity nor Deism. Deism is too cold. The God of theistic rationalism is warm and benevolent. Jefferson's and John Adams' correspondence revealed they believed in a benevolent God and such a God wouldn't create the world and turn His back on man by never intervening when man might be in need. On the other hand, the theistic rationalists rejected the jealous, wrathful, judgmental, and holy nature of the orthodox Christian God. A rational, benevolent God would not damn anyone to Hell for all of eternity. Rather, such a God was more concerned that men be just and good rather than figure the "right" theological answers as regards Unity v. Trinity, the nature of Jesus [whether he were God, just man, or something in between], etc. All that was needed was belief in an overriding Providence and future state of rewards and punishments; the tenets of orthodox Christianity (original sin, trinity, incarnation, atonement, infallibility of the bible) were debatable at best, harmless irrationalities at medium, and pernicious corruptions of Christianity at worst.

Friday, December 21, 2007

George Washington & Death:

George Mason University historian Peter Henriques has an article online about George Washington and death. Henriques by the way wrote an outstanding biography on Washington, Realistic Visionary, with a superb chapter on Washington's religion.

As the article notes, Washington didn’t seem to die a “Christian” death, but a “Stoic” one. He clearly believed in an afterlife, but his view of it was arguably not Christian. The theistic rationalists of whom I count Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Madison, and Franklin as ones, thought, contra Christianity, that good people merit Heaven via works as opposed to faith, and as such non-Christians may be saved (the bad would be temporarily punished eventually redeemed).

Determining Washington's exact religious beliefs from the historical record requires connecting some dots. But the record strongly points in this direction. For instance, when Washington’s niece died he stated: “She is now no more! But she must be happy, because her virtue has a claim to it.” No orthodox Christian would state that someone’s “virtue” or works gives them a “claim” to eternal happiness.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Fun Pic:

Family pic. 5 lawyers here. Only Mom, Dog, and Baby (my nephew) aren't lawyers so don't mess with this family!

Enlightening Discussion on Religion & the First Amendment:

By four of the finest scholarly minds in this field of research:

• Christopher Eisgruber, University provost and the Laurance S. Rockefeller Professor of Public Affairs in the Woodrow Wilson School and the University Center for Human Values. Eisgruber is the co-author, with Lawrence Sager, of "Religious Freedom and the Constitution."

• Richard Garnett, associate professor at the University of Notre Dame Law School. Garnett teaches courses in criminal and constitutional law and served as a clerk to former Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist.

• Holly Hollman, general counsel for the Baptist Joint Committee, an organization serving 14 Baptist denominations that advocates free exercise of religion and minimal state connection to religious institutions.

• Michael McConnell, a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit and one of the country's foremost constitutional law scholars.

Hosted by Dan Rather at Princeton University.
Ed Rollins Steps in it:

He repeats the falsehood that 26 of the singers of the Declaration were "ministers." Actually, it's only one -- John Witherspoon.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Lamplight Symphony:

Kansas song with a killer instrumental section in the middle. When it came to composing and arranging instrumental passages, Kansas were second to no progressive rock band, not Rush, Genesis, Yes, or ELP.

The song is the studio version from Song For America with a YouTuber's homemade video.

America's Founders, Mormons, & Religious Secrets:

Joel Belz talks about Mitt Romney's Mormonism and notes the secrecy and beating around the bush that oft-accompanies Mormonism.

So it's not bigotry for Americans to ask of Mormons they know: "Why so secretive? Why the necessity to hide so much?" One of the hallmarks of the historic Christian faith—as opposed to some of the cults it has spun off—is its eagerness to say: "Check us out! We may have embarrassing moments in our past, but we have no secrets." We're like Jesus saying to Thomas: "Feel the nail prints. Thrust your hand into my side!"

And that’s one reason why America’s first 4-6 Presidents, because they weren’t Christians, kept religious secrets. Here is Thomas Jefferson speaking of Washington’s:

Dr. Rush tells me that he had it from Asa Green that when the clergy addressed Genl. Washington on his departure from the govmt, it was observed in their consultation that he had never on any occasion said a word to the public which showed a belief in the Xn religion and they thot they should so pen their address as to force him at length to declare publicly whether he was a Christian or not. They did so. However he observed the old fox was too cunning for them. He answered every article of their address particularly except that, which he passed over without notice. Rush observes he never did say a word on the subject in any of his public papers except in his valedictory letter to the Governors of the states when he resigned his commission in the army, wherein he speaks of the benign influence of the Christian religion.

I know that Gouverneur Morris, who pretended to be in his secrets & believed himself to be so, has often told me that Genl. Washington believed no more of that system than he himself did.

As I've noted many time before, Jefferson, Franklin, and John Adams, without question, because they explicitly detailed such in their private letters, were not Christians but theological unitarians/theistic rationalists. The evidence also strongly points towards Washington, Madison, Wilson, G. Morris, and Hamilton (before his end of life "born again" experience, after his son was killed) being such. But there are gaps. When searching the record for "smoking gun" quotations, we see lots of evidence they believed in God, indeed an active personal God, but little if any that they were orthodox Trinitarian Christians. And this takes place during a time when orthodox Churches had much more social (and at the state level legal) power and expected public figures to be orthodox. Jefferson, Franklin, and Adams we know denied orthodox Christianity, only by examining their private writings. Like Washington, Madison, et al. publicly they spoke in generic philosophical terms about God and did not come out of the closet, so to speak, as rationalist unitarians. Even in the absence of smoking gun evidence that Washington, Madison, Hamilton et al. denied orthodox Christianity like Jefferson, Franklin, and Adams clearly did, their systematic refusal to specifically affirm orthodoxy Christianity strongly points in the direction of their theistic rationalism.

If you want to do an interesting experiment on Washington via search engines, go to this page which catalogues over 20,000 pages of his known public and private writings and speeches and search for "Jesus Christ." You'll find only one match in a speech to Delaware Indians that wasn't even written in Washington's hand, and point by point restated what they wanted (a pattern that Washington often used in his speeches and letters). The Indians wanted to study the religion of Jesus Christ and Washington states, "You do well to wish to learn our arts and ways of life, and above all, the religion of Jesus Christ." Elsewhere when speaking to Indians who had no desire to convert Washington referred to God as "The Great Spirit," exactly as the Indians did. Indeed he did so twice, one time crossing out the word "God" and writing in "The Great Spirit above." On the other hand Washington uses the generic term "Providence" hundreds of times.
Wills on Quakers & Slavery:

I'm reading Garry Wills' Head and Heart, on "American Christianities," a good read but a slanted and provocative polemic. It's slanted against traditional conservative orthodox Christianity and in favor of what Wills calls "Enlightened religion," which is any theologically or socially liberal religion.

Consider his treatment of the Quakers -- one of the first Christian sects to oppose the practice -- and slavery.

The Quakers made possible all later forms of abolition by proving that one can be a sincere Christian and yet defy the scriptural endorsement of slavery. If reason says slavery is wrong, then it is wrong no matter what the Bible says. They also proved that Enlightened religion is indeed a religion. They are stellar exemplars of both religion and Enlightenment. p 152.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Alan Keyes, What an Ass:

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Led Zeppelin:

The magic is still there.

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Simple Simon:

One of my favorite tunes from the Steve Morse Band:

Mormonism & Politics at Princeton:

I missed the conference but it's archived online through ForaTv. Some great stuff from heavyweight intellectuals here.

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Romney's Speech:

I agree with Andrew Sullivan. The biggest problem I have with his speech is Romney seems to try and form an alliance with other religious conservatives, mainly orthodox Christians -- find common ground between them -- and gang up on secularists, atheists, and agnostics, in an us versus them mentality. America belongs to everyone, not just religious folks.

That said, I think Romney well-positioned himself by appealing to America's Founders and their inclusive civil religion. Now, they weren't Mormons; but neither were they "Christians" as orthodox Trinitarians understand their faith. In other words, the political theology of America’s Founding is every bit as inclusive of Christian heresies like Mormonism (indeed, it was established by unitarian heretics!) as it is of orthodox Christianity. And it also arguably includes non-Christian faiths like Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Native American Spirituality, and pagan Greco-Romanism as well. (If you haven't noticed, I use that list because each religion mentioned qualifies as one that America's Founders identified as "sound religion" or valid paths to God that could, like Christianity, support republican governments.)

Romney's appeal to America’s Founding political theology can show how Mormonism fits well with authentically American politics; indeed, given that Mormonism incorporated, after the fact, some of America's Founders' eccentric a-biblical theology, arguably Mormonism better complements America's Founding republican constitutional order than does orthodox Trinitarian Christianity. No orthodox Christian should believe the Constitution and Declaration are divinely inspired as is the Bible. Yet, this is exactly what Mormons believe. And if one believes the Constitution is divinely inspired, one is less likely to violate it.

[Some other eccentric non-biblical beliefs Mormonism incorporated from America's Founding include Jefferson's belief that God is a material being; Franklin's belief that each solar system has its own more personal, knowable God, the one he would worship, with some unknown creator/creation as the first cause; and Elias Boudinat's belief that American Indians were the lost tribe of Israel.]

However well Romney's Mormonism situates with American political theology, stressing such fact is not likely to score points with conservative evangelicals, mainly because too many of them have bought into the Christian Nation myth. Evangelicals may perhaps feel perfectly comfortable with a President who doesn’t have a real orthodox Christian faith, because, after all, neither did the first 5 or 6 American Presidents. But realizing so many early Presidents/key Founders were not really Christians, instead of making them feel better about Mitt, might actually leave a bad taste in their mouth and make them feel worse about America's Founders. For that, I would put the blame squarely on the "Christian Nation" crowd and the myth they've managed to peddle to too many conservative evangelicals.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

This is Fun:

Guy explains his top 5 crazy religions.

Think I'm going to change my named to Love Israel. Ooops. Been done.
Munoz on James Madison & Religion:

A very thorough and balanced view examining James Madison's religious creed from Tufts University political science professor Vincent Phillip Munoz. Given Madison's reticence to explicate his specific creed, Munoz is hesitant to give a "for sure" answer; however what he writes supports the theistic rationalist view.

Among many other primary sourced quotations, Munoz notes Federalist 37, where "Madison seems to question the certainty with which man can apprehend the meaning of divine revelation." As Madison wrote:

When the Almighty himself condescends to address mankind in their own language, his meaning, luminous as it may be, is rendered dim and doubtful by the cloudy medium through which it is communicated.20

Munoz's conclusion: "On theological matters, Madison was first and foremost a rationalist." And:

Did Madison’s philosophical speculations, then, ultimately lead him to embrace religious faith? The evidence from Madison’s personal writings does not lead to a definitive conclusion. Madison’s natural theology suggests that he certainly was not an atheist—he never intimates that reason disproves God’s existence—yet it also does not definitively confirm a firm belief in the precepts of Christianity or in any sectarian religious faith.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

The Founders on Original Sin & Human Nature:

America's Key Founders (you know them, Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Madison, Franklin, et al.) either outright rejected original sin, or if they believed in it at all had a more positive, Arminian view of human nature, and rejected Calvin's total depravity.

First, Thomas Jefferson, in his October 31, 1819 letter to William Short, listed original sin with every other tenet of orthodox Christianity as things he rejected. Quoting him:

* e. g. The immaculate conception of Jesus, his deification, the creation of the world by him, his miraculous powers, his resurrection and visible ascension, his corporeal presence in the Eucharist, the Trinity; original sin, atonement, regeneration, election, orders of Hierarchy, &c.

Franklin rejected original sin in his 1735 A Defense of Mr. Hemphill’s Observations:

But lest they shou’d imagine that one of their strongest Objections hinted at here, and elsewhere, is designedly overlook’d, as being unanswerable, viz. our lost and undone State by Nature, as it is commonly call’d, proceeding undoubtedly from the Imputation of old Father Adam’s first Guilt. To this I answer once for all, that I look upon this Opinion every whit as ridiculous as that of Imputed Righteousness. ’Tis a Notion invented, a Bugbear set up by Priests (whether Popish or Presbyterian I know not) to fright and scare an unthinking Populace out of their Senses, and inspire them with Terror, to answer the little selfish Ends of the Inventors and Propagators. ’Tis absurd in it self, and therefore cannot be father’d upon the Christian Religion as deliver’d in the Gospel. Moral Guilt is so personal a Thing, that it cannot possibly in the Nature of Things be transferr’d from one Man to Myriads of others, that were no way accessary to it. And to suppose a Man liable to Punishment upon account of the Guilt of another, is unreasonable; and actually to punish him for it, is unjust and cruel.

John Adams likewise rejected original sin:

The origin of mal moral [moral evil -- Ed.] is liberty, the self determining power of free agents, endowed with reason & conscience & consequently accountable for their conduct....I have read the Holy Fathers of the Hindus, of the disciples of Pythagoras of Frederick of Prussia of Soame Jenings of Dr. Edwards & many others and am no more satisfied than with Eve's apple. I have no difficulty about it. I am answerable for my own sins because I know they were my own fault; and that is enough for me to know.

-- John Adams to Francis van der Kemp, February 23, 1815. Taken from James H. Hutson, The Founders on Religion, pp. 200-01.

James Madison, in Federalist 10, did not, as some argue, endorse the notion of Calvinist total depravity, but rather Arminian partial depravity, believing man's nature capable of great good or great evil. As he wrote:

As there is a degree of depravity in mankind which requires a certain degree of circumspection and distrust: So there are other qualities in human nature, which justify a certain portion of esteem and confidence. Republican government presupposes the existence of these qualities in a higher degree than any other form.

Alexander Hamilton, whom some have termed the Rousseau of the right, sounds positively humanistic in Federalist 22 when he notes the people not God form the solid basis of America's Constitution:

The fabric of American Empire ought to rest on the solid basis of THE CONSENT OF THE PEOPLE. The streams of national power ought to flow immediately from that pure original fountain of all legitimate authority.

This neatly comports with Rousseau's notion of "the general will." Hamilton's confidence in humanity is also decidedly anti-Calvinistic, and, if Christian at all, clearly Arminian influenced. As George Willis Cooke aptly noted:

The doctrine of degrees, as taught by the Calvinists, was the spiritual side of the assertion of the divine right of kings. On the other hand, when the people claim the right to rule, they modify their theology into Arminianism. From an age of the absolute rule of the king comes the doctrine of human depravity; and with the establishment of democracy appears the doctrine of man's moral capacity.

Though some Arminians remained Trinitarian, they had a tendency to "slip" into unitarianism and rationalism. Indeed when studying Founding era literature one frequently sees unitarian rationalists like Jonathan Mayhew also referred to as "Arminians."

Barry Shain refers to these Arminian/unitarian/rationalist types as "Christian humanists," because they often presented their ideas under the auspices of "Christianity." Notice how Franklin's above quoted passages argues true Christianity rejects original sin! Most evangelicals and Catholics, however, would argue, like Mormonism, this isn't Christianity, regardless of what it terms itself. Dr. Gregg Frazer, an evangelical, terms this belief system of America's key Founders not Christianity but theistic rationalism. In other words if that these "Christian humanists" rejected nearly every single tenet of traditional Christianity (see Jefferson's above quoted remarks) doesn't separate them from "Christianity" then what does?

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Abstract Ideals, Time Bound Practices, and Historical Context:

In trying to get a handle on America's Founding -- an historical event which in part because of the authority of the US Constitution, many sides want to claim -- those three interacting factors necessarily yield unresolved disagreements over how to properly understand said event. Two things got me thinking about this recently. The first was my coblogger, D.A. Ridgely's opinion on the culture war over America's Founding and religion:

Thus, while Prof. Herzog might have wanted to analyze and critique on rational grounds the 2004 Texas Republican party platform’s assertion that “the United States of America is a Christian nation, and the public acknowledgment of God is undeniable in our history [and that] our nation was founded on fundamental Judeo-Christian principles based on the Holy Bible,” I am increasingly inclined to suspect that such approach misses the real point. Campaign verbiage of this sort simply is the sort of rhetoric one hears in the Bible Belt just as one is likely to encounter equally emotional but nearly substance-free economic and political rhetoric in the environs of Ann Arbor. In other words, understanding such phenomena is more properly the work of sociology or social psychology than of political theory, let alone philosophy.

He's right in a sense. Because political philosophy involves asserting moral claims, political theorists of one stripe or another are inclined to give historical events politicized readings. Sociologists, or perhaps historians may claim some type of more objective analysis, something less "political" than how political theorists likely view events. Though, the social constructionists or legal realists are likely to note all of these disciplines are ideological and hence political.

Dr. Barry Shain makes a similar point -- and this is the second thing that got me thinking about abstract ideals, time bound practices and historical context. Shain is one of the few notable paleoconservative professors of political science at a reputable university -- Colgate. He also argues something close to the Christian America thesis, or in his case, the Protestant Christian America thesis, although in a much more learned and nuanced manner than do the Bartons and Federers of the world. Although I'm not much more impressed with the case he makes. He's hard on the Straussians who argue for more of an Enlightenment America thesis (oddly enough, he works with one of them -- Robert Kraynak), and argues their history is politicized (and indeed, this is in part because they are political scientists, not historians). Shain notes:

I think the current state of American history is a troubling problem and, sadly, among the causes, is too great a reliance on the historiography of political scientists. Because of the shift of attention by professional historians away from subjects of importance and interest, the dissemination of historical learning has been turned over to political scientists, most particularly Straussians, whose skills, interests, and professional competence leads readers and students away from a serious exploration of historical subjects and, the appropriate humility that hopefully follows.


The strangest thing today in American history is that the only group that supports a decidedly liberal reading of the Founding is one that is on the right, that is Straussian political theorists. How odd is this? The far left, that I assume dominate many departments of history, is too concerned with the particular fate of women and oppressed peoples to have the time to defend American historical liberalism. So who does? Well, those most frequently lauded by conservatives and supported by conservative organizations, that is, Straussians. I suppose, for me, that they are often poor historians is less frustrating, though not necessarily less dangerous, than that their history marginalizes conservatives and yet is supported and feted by the same people it marginalizes....So those who are viewed by many as authentic conservative voices, for example Charles Kessler, regularly lecture and describe America as an enlightened nation. I am sorry to disagree, but America, in the eighteenth century and still today, is a Christian country. If you are dubious and would prefer to travel in space rather than in time, take a quick trip to Europe so that you can see and feel what post-Christian enlightened nations actually feel and look like. It is incomprehensible to me why conservative donors support those who relegate them to the position of some kind of afterthought in the history of a nation that is authentically Christian and conservative. Is it some kind of self-loathing? I have yet to make sense of this strange anomaly. Indeed, American history is not only Christian, but at least until the end of the eighteenth century, it was Reform Protestant.

I would submit that whether one concludes as Shain does -- that the American Founding ought to be understood as a "Reform Protestant Christian" event, and not an Enlightenment event depends on whether one views said event though its abstract ideals or time bound practices. Shain clearly chooses the latter:

Isn’t it possible that most contemporary readers have little idea what happiness meant when used in the Declaration or, more broadly, in the context of eighteenth-century political and moral thought? Too often, English readers assume that the eighteenth-century meanings of key concepts have remained unchanged over the course of 200 hundred years. This is an illusion...and, I fear, does far more harm than good....Almost every word in the Declaration, but particularly in the second paragraph that has been given so much attention, is regularly misread. It is frightening to me that people read the Declaration and claim that “it means that the authors held that all people were equal in society.” Everyone writing at the time was aware that no married woman could own property and that most people in the Western hinterlands were politically dispossessed. Most of the population in the coastal South or in large Northern towns owned or engaged in commerce involving slaves. Do most people think that the Declaration’s authors were terrible hypocrites or simply liars?

Liars no. Perhaps hypocrites. They posited various ideals and oft-did not live in accord with those ideals, like a rich leftist who takes advantages of tax shelters with which he in principle disagrees or a black conservative who takes advantage of an affirmative action program with which he disagrees. Jefferson said all men were created equal but owned slaves. Were those black slaves not human? The only way to get a "Protestant Christian America" reading out of the US Founding is to read it through those time bound practices, as opposed to abstracting any timeless ideals from the Founding. If one views Founding era practice as dispositive in determining Founding principles, one could aptly conclude that "all men are created equal" meant all white propertied Protestant males are created equal. As Robert Locke put it:

Crucial facts about what America was founded on are deliberately hushed up by both liberals and conservatives and admitted only by the non-respectable Left and the non-respectable Right. Namely, that this country was founded upon conquest, slavery, sexism, and class rule. The Constitution, as originally written, holds that our ownership of this land by conquest is just, that Indians are savages, that blacks may be enslaved, that women have no fit role in government, and that the (little-remembered) restriction of suffrage to men of property by state governments is valid.

Shain is one of those members of the "non-respectable Right," and appeals for authority to a prominent member of the "non-respectable Left" -- Mark Tushnet:

Critical legal theorist Mark Tushnet further observes “it was not ‘religion in general’ that the framers saw as the basis of secular order. Rather, it was Christianity and, more specifically, Protestant Christianity.”

Yes, it's those critical legal theorists, deconstructionists and trashers of America's Founding that they are, who without hesitation inform us that America was founded on racism, sexism, and class rule, and therefore, originalism is not a viable theory of constitutional interpretation because it is morally indefensible. And if America was founded on slavery, sexism, stealing land from Indians and class rule, then the crits are right, America's Founding is morally indefensible and only important to study from an historical or sociological perspective, but can yield no moral authority whatsoever. Citing a bunch of slaveholding, racists, sexist bigots for moral might as well ask what would Hitler do?

The problem for Shain is his case for a Protestant Christian America is indissolubly linked to this racist, sexist, morally indefensible view of America's Founding. As Shain noted:

...Marty Diamond and Herb Storing...were both dedicated scholars and sought the truth and followed it wherever it led, be the outcome convenient or not....[T]hose scholars who came to prominence after them have not followed them in their work habits and in their commitment to the truth. Their prominence among American conservatives, I fear, has been bad for history and, quite likely, bad for America and American conservatism. I remember, when still in grad school, an exchange that I had with Tom Pangle in which he accused me of exposing myths that were needed to protect American democracy, and in so doing, of writing in the tradition of Carl Schmitt. It was pretty clear to me that what Tom was accusing me of was describing, truthfully and faithfully, central features of early American history. More particularly, what warranted his attack was my demonstrating that American political thought and practices was importantly shaped by Reform Protestantism and not some idealized enlightenment.

I would note Pangle et al. have damn good reason for accusing Shain of positing something that could destroy American democracy. Those "central features of early American history" are not just America's Protestant Christian foundations but that "ownership of this land by conquest is just, that Indians are savages, that blacks may be enslaved, that women have no fit role in government, and that the (little-remembered) restriction of suffrage to men of property by state governments is valid." Given that such ideas have been rightly consigned to the dustbin of history, those who would appeal to America's Founding for any kind of moral authority have no choice but to look for an alternative approach.

What those who defend America's Enlightenment liberal foundations do is abstract ideals from America's Founding and focus on them as opposed to practices inconsistent with those ideals like slavery or state established Protestantism. If one looks to Founding era practice, "all men are created equal" means all white, propertied, Protestant males. Abstracting ideals from the Declaration, one could conclude that since blacks and women are human beings -- the term "men" meaning "mankind" or "human kind" includes blacks and women -- racism and sexism violate the Declaration regardless of Founding era practice. Likewise, the same Founding era natural rights theory holds all men have unalienable rights of conscience and Christians take those rights on an equal footing with "the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and Mahometan, the Hindoo, and Infidel of every denomination," regardless of Founding era practice or laws to the contrary. America founded on slavery or anti-slavery? America founded on privileging Protestant Christianity or an enlightened equal rights among religions? It all depends on the perspective from which one looks. The meaningful difference being one of those perspectives (the "non-respectable one") is morally indefensible, the other is not.

I'll let you be the judge as to the proper one.
Watch Bob Larson:

Criticize Mormons for their "kooky" beliefs:

And then psychologically abuse an attractive young couple from York, PA under the auspices of giving them an exorcism. Pot...the Kettle calls.

Monday, November 26, 2007

This Guy is Mean:

You might not want to watch this is you are a Mormon. The orthodox Christian doesn't, in my opinion, well represent his side. He's a bully who scares the young Mormons who come across as naive and more innocent. He's got a hell of a lot of nerve to accuse them of trying to cut him off and not letting him get in a word edgewise when all he does is cut them off and insult them. At the very end he says he does the same thing to the Black Israelites and that's fine. If you've ever heard their poison, they deserve an encounter with a loud, obnoxious, arrogant bully. These kids didn't.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Sunday Music:

Changes in rock singers' voices. Many rock singers' voices change (usually for the worse) as they age. There are many reasons for this, one of which is that all parts of our bodies deteriorate as we age. Rock singers also tend not to be trained vocalists (and consequently don't do the things that trained vocalists do to preserve the voice) and do a lot of screaming and shouting. Screaming and shouting -- and damaging one's vocal chords -- may actually yield a desired effect in rock if one values a raspy voice. The more screaming he does the better Brian Johnson sounds. However, such raspiness acquired with age is also usually accompanies by a loss of range. What brings this to mind is rumors that Robert Plant, for Led Zeppelin's up coming reunion, is demanding to have some of their classic tunes transposed to a lower key so he can hit all of the right notes in the melody.

Such change also happened to Steve Walsh's masterful voice, and the change was due to more than just age but drug and alcohol abuse, screaming and otherwise not taking care of his voice during the years he wasn't clean. Compare his voice in his prime:

To what it became in the early 90s.

For Walsh, now in his 50s, the glass is now half full half empty as he regained some of what he lost but his voice will never sound as it did in the 70s. He also projects a much better demeanor, shy and reserved behind his keyboard, than what he did when not clean.

Biblical Unitarian-Universalism:

One reason why Dr. Gregg Frazer suggests "theistic rationalism" instead of "Unitarianism" in labeling the beliefs of America's Key Founders is not only can such term be confused with the Unitarian Congregational Church (of which only John Adams and his son were members), even worse it can be confused with today's Unitarian-Universalist Church which significantly differs from the the Unitarianism of America's Founding in a number of meaningful ways. For one, today's Unitarian-Universalists aren't very "biblical" and there was a strain of Founding era Unitarianism that was. Men like Joseph Story, John Marshall, Jared Sparks, and William Ellering Channing believed the Bible infallible and argued unitarian doctrines from Scripture alone.

Today such groups as the Jehovah's Witnesses and Roy Masters' sect follow a sort of Biblical Arianism, named after Arius who first argued Jesus was a divine but created and subordinate being, but whose views lost out in the Council of Nicea. This website also argues for Biblical Unitarian-Universalism -- the notion that Jesus is not God and that salvation is universal -- from Scripture alone. John Milton and Isaac Newton certainly were biblical Arians. Locke was a unitarian most likely of the Arian variety, though some scholars argue he was Socinian, believing Jesus just a man and not any kind of divine being. And scholars also dispute how "biblical" Locke's beliefs were as well.

However, America's key Founders -- Jefferson, Adams, Franklin, Madison, Washington and others -- since they believed God primary revealed Himself through nature and secondarily inspired the Bible had no problem editing from the Bible that which they believed inconsistent with "reason." Just how biblical their unitarianism was likewise is a matter of debate. Today's Unitarian-Universalist Church is more of the tradition of these key Founders than it is of the Biblical Unitarianism of Story, Marshall et al. However, given that today's Unitarians are squarely on the Left's side in culture war issues that were not at all issues during America's Founding, it might not be fair to label the Founders "Unitarian" and suggest some kind of connection between the two. And it's certainly not right to label the Founders "Christian" in a way that would suggest a connection with today's Christian right.

Is the "theistic rationalist" label (given that it uses not Christian, Deist, or Unitarian) the fairest label of the bunch?
Garry Wills on the Founders on Religion:

Garry Wills writes interesting, readable works, even if I often disagree with his perspective. This book -- Head and Heart -- is no different. Much of what he's written parallels the research I've done for the past few years on my blogs. The book has some minor factual mistakes and typos (as most books do) -- for instance, Timothy Dwight was from Yale, not Harvard (p. 134), and it was Dr. Abercrombie, not Bishop White who publicly complained of George Washington's refusal to take communion which led Washington to stop attending on communion Sundays (p. 169).

The book rightly focuses on theological unitarianism as an Enlightenment religion and a precursor to the more radical deism that would come later. The book properly notes denial of the Trinity as an important heterodox tenet of more Enlightened liberal religious minds of America's Founding era, naming Mayhew, Chauncy, Gay as Unitarian American preachers who so influenced America's Founders and their rational religion. He also notes America's Founders' philosophical heroes in England -- Milton, Newton, Locke, Clarke, Priestley and others -- as enlightened Unitarians. Some of these passages look like they could have been written by me -- not accusing him of anything, just noting that we draw from many of the same sources seem to think along the same track.

And so it is that I must offer my biggest criticism of the book: Wills is a political liberal and a secular leftist -- nothing wrong with that. Though, this book, like much of his work, is ideological (as some might argue all history is). The secular left are too quick to categorize too many of America's Founders as "Deists" (just as the religious right are too quick to take them as "Christians") and Wills falls prey to the same error. This article summarizes the relevant part of the book I would dispute. As Tim Rutten writes:

The reaction of the Great Awakening provided an American Unitarian boost that made Deism the religion of the educated class by the middle of the 18th century. Legal scholar William Lee Miller writes that the chief founders of the nation were all Deists -- he lists Washington, Franklin, John Adams, Jefferson, Madison, Hamilton and Paine, though many more leaders of the founding era could be added (Benjamin Rush, John Witherspoon, David Rittenhouse, Philip Freneau, Joel Barlow, Aaron Burr, James Wilson, Gouverneur Morris, Tench Coxe, to name some). Their agreement on the question of God crossed political and geographic lines. Federalist and Republican, North and South, an Adams and a Jefferson, a Hamilton and a Madison -- all were professed Deists.

Those names only qualify as "Deist" if we read the term "Deist" very broadly. (And no they didn't tend to call themselves "Deist."). John Witherspoon clearly was an orthodox Christian of the Calvinist Presbyterian bent. The kernel of truth to the claim he was "Deist" is that Witherspoon was a naturalist and a philosophical rationalist who promoted many non-Christian Scottish Enlightenment ideas. This flirtation with Enlightenment theory and philosophical rationalism could have led Witherspoon down the road to unitarianism, theistic rationalism or deistic beliefs, but it didn't; he remained orthodox.

And if we are going to read "Deism" in such a broad way, to be fair, we ought to read "Christianity" just as broadly, and if we did, all mentioned except for Paine and maybe a few others could be understood as "Christian." Tit for tat. The key Founders -- Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Madison, Franklin, Wilson, G. Morris, and Hamilton (before his end of like conversion to orthodox Christianity) were either, if read broadly, both Christians and Deists (or "Christian-Deists" as David L. Holmes puts it) or, if read narrowly, neither, but somewhere in between with rationalism as the trumping element. Witherspoon, as noted, remained orthodox. Benjamin Rush was a Trinitarian Universalist believing all would eventually be saved through Christ's universal Atonement. Paine was a strict Deist. I'm not sure about the others.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

The God of America's Founding...Christian...Biblical?

The answer to this question is it depends. I'm going to answer Kristo Miettinen's response in a series of posts. One of Jim Babka's friends also takes issue via email on the identity of the God of the American Founding:

As for Rowe’s claim that the proclamations were made to a “generic God.” What God pray tell could they have possibly been referring to other than the God of the Bible? Now there may have been a difference of opinion about the deity of Christ, but that difference did not lead America’s leaders to a God other than the one of the Holy Scriptures.

Miettinen puts it this way:

To your claim that “the God to whom the founders appealed – the individual rights granting nature’s God – arguably was not the biblical or Christian God” I have this query: how many, among the founders, ignored the bible in seeking God? After all, even the squishy theist Jefferson was obsessed with the biblical accounts of Christ (you may be able to find the references faster than I can, but TJ was reputed to study his highly heterodox biblical compilation every night). And if you acknowledge that a biblical God was the majority (if not consensus) view, then in what sense are we not talking about a Christian God, keeping in mind as we must that Christianity in America was, then especially but largely even today, bible-based rather than creedal, and also that the bible in question was not the Tanakh or Qu’ran but the good old KJV.

My answer: Conclusions about the key Founders' view on the biblical nature of God depends on from which perspective one looks, because the glass is half full/half empty, as it were. Secularists want America's Founders to be Deists who categorically rejected Biblical Revelation and the Christian America crowd wants them Christians who accepted the Bible as infallible. But they were neither; they believed the Bible was partially inspired; parts of Scripture were legitimately revealed, parts weren't. God primarily revealed Himself through Nature, secondarily inspired the Bible, and, as Dr. Gregg Frazer put it "[r]eason was the ultimate standard for learning and evaluating truth and for determining legitimate revelation from God." So in a sense yes, this was the Biblical God, minus everything man's reason [or the key Founders' reason] deemed His irrational attributes recorded in Scripture. This is why some folks might argue, yes because they turned to the Bible [not the Koran or other holy books] for some of God's nature, it was the Biblical God, while others might note, since they edited parts of His nature from the Bible, it wasn't really the Biblical God.

In this past post on the key Founders and Scripture I noted evidence for this in the primary sources some of which I'll reproduce here. As Ben Franklin wrote to John Calder Aug. 21, 1784, he believed the Bible is not infallible:

To which I may now add, that the[re are] several Things in the old Testament impossible to be given by divine Inspiration, such as the Approbation ascrib’d to the Angel of the Lord, of that abominably wicked and detestable Action of Jael the Wife of Heber the Kenite. If the rest of the Book were like that, I should rather suppose it given by Inspiration from another Quarter, and renounce the whole.

And earlier in his life, Franklin stated the Christian revelation was secondary to what God already revealed in Nature:

Now, that to promote the Practice of the great Laws of Morality and Virtue both with Respect to God and Man, is the main End and Design of the christian Revelation has been already prov'd from the Revelation itself. And indeed as just now hinted at, it is obvious to the Reason of every thinking Person, that, if God almighty gives a Revelation at all, it must be for this End; nor is the Truth of the christian Revelation, or of any other that ever was made, to be defended upon any other Footing. But quitting these things; if the above Observations be true, then where lies the Absurdity of Hemphill's asserting,

Article I.

That Christianity, [as to it’s most essential and necessary Parts,] is plainly Nothing else, but a second Revelation of God’s Will founded upon the first Revelation, which God made to us by the Light of Nature.

John Adams likewise believed what man discovers about God from reason is primary all other sources of revelation, including the Bible, are secondary. From his letter to Jefferson Dec. 25, 1813:

Philosophy, which is the result of reason, is the first, the original revelation of the Creator to his creature, man. … no subsequent revelation, supported by prophecies or miracles, can supersede it.

Adams also made clear he believed the Bible was errant, and doubted the Bible contained the right version of the Ten Commandments:

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.

Adams further expressed his skepticism of the accuracy of the Bible's text when he wrote:

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.

To Adams, Jefferson, and Franklin, Christianity had been "corrupted," -- "the corruptions of Christianity" was a phrase coined by their spiritual mentor Joseph Priestley which he defined as the Trinity, Incarnation, Atonement, and plenary inspiration of the Bible. Miettinen mentions the King James Bible as central to American Christianity. But Adams named that version of the Bible as particularly corrupted:

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 Hutson, The Founders on Religion, p. 143.

And of course we have Jefferson notoriously taking his razor to the Bible using his reason to judge which parts were genuine, which parts were corrupted. I focus on Adams by the way, to show just how mainstream these views were among the elite Whigs from which America's Founders were disproportionately drawn (but probably not mainstream among the general population). Jefferson has gained a reputation as some sort of outlier. And in many senses, he was: his politics were more radical; his intelligence was exceptional; he, along with Madison, would separate church and state more so than would most other Founders. Adams is rightly thought of as more politically conservative than Jefferson. However, on God's attributes, Jefferson and Adams were virtually agreed.

So when an air of mystery surrounds other key Founders, a strong reticence to explicate their religious specifics at a time when the institutional Churches expected public figures to profess orthodoxy, but many of them secretly believed in heterodoxy, absent evidence to the contrary, they probably believed as Jefferson, Adams, and Franklin did. James Madison was one such Founder. And in his notes preparing for the Memorial and Remonstrance he mentioned there are different kinds of Christianities, including Trinitarian and Unitarian, and that which believes the entire Bible is inspired, and that which believes only certain "essential parts" are divinely inspired.

The question is whether this unitarianism that held God primarily revealed Himself through Nature and that only parts of the Bible were inspired can be legitimately termed "Christianity," and whether its God is legitimately termed "the Christian God." So when Mr. Miettinen asks "in what sense are we not talking about a Christian God," I think I've outlined a very meaningful sense, and have strong grounds for claiming in my original essay that the key Founders posited a "rational, benevolent, unitarian deity who fit their republican ideals much better than the Biblical God could."
If They Weren't So Evil...:

They'd be funny. Fred Phelps with Rick Sanchez:

Friday, November 23, 2007

Don't Ever Say...:

I'm not willing to let the other side have its say. Chess master Kristo Miettinen reacts to my essay on American political theology reproduced by the Cato Institute. He sent me this via email. I'll respond later.

Hi Jon!

OK, here we go. I didn't put much time into looking up references, as I suspect that you know the quotables better than I do, even those supporting the points I'm trying to make. But if there is a specific point I make that you think is unsupportable, I'll go see what I can find.

I’m going to start my reply at the end of your essay, because understanding where you miss what to me is a relevant point at the end may indicate how you neglect the things along the way that I would draw your attention to.

At your conclusion, you confront “traditional believers” (among whom I count myself) with two choices: (a) America is a republican democracy, and therefore should not be a Christian nation; (b) America is a Christian nation, and therefore should not be a republican democracy (you cast this option in the future tense, anticipating a revolution). You miss the two other logical options expressible in the form of material implication: (c) America is a republican democracy, and therefore should be a Christian nation; (d) America is a Christian nation, and therefore should be a republican democracy.

By omitting options (c) and (d) you not only overlook healthy choices for America today, you also (in my view) overlook the two dominant two views of the (pre) Revolutionary generation. Option (c) is characteristic of the “left-wing” revolutionaries like Jefferson, with his public obeisance despite private reservations; Option (d) is characteristic of the “right-wing” revolutionaries with their reservations about how far to push their religious agenda whenever they found themselves in charge. Options (a) and (b) were strictly minority views then, however popular (a) may be today.

To understand the interplay between the four options, you could return to Tocqueville. One way to summarize his observations on America (not the only one by any means) is that he marveled at how Americans could find democracy and Christianity inseparable, while continental Europeans found them irreconcilable. Americans were divided between (c) and (d), and therefore agreed upon the practical questions of what to do: promote Christianity (as it was then understood in America) and build a republican democracy. The French were divided between (a) and (b), and therefore suffered one revolution (against divine-right monarchy, or political Christianity as it was then understood in France), and were on the eve of another revolution.

To understand how Americans and French could not perceive the same choices despite (I would argue) fairly compatible notions of democracy and republicanism, I think it is necessary to understand the radical exceptionalism of American Christianity then (and to a lesser degree still today). America is not an orthodox Christian nation, though Christianity in America (as distinct from America itself) has become more orthodox over the past 400 years. But America began, in no small part, as a haven for religious misfits, a place where those who were persecuted in Europe could come to be free, and also where in pre-Revolutionary times they themselves could persecute the orthodox, or at least make them uncomfortable enough to keep their orthodoxy low-key. As a simple sign of this I would offer the complete absence of bishops (Catholic, Orthodox, Anglican, or Lutheran) on American soil until after the revolution, despite large enough populations in episcopally organized denominations to warrant ecclesiastical oversight. Clericalism was just not comme il faut, despite ecclesiology being one aspect (the others being Christology, mystagogy, and anthropology) of what Pelikan calls “The Orthodox Consensus” (Jaroslav Pelikan, “The Emergence of the Catholic Tradition (100-600)”, Chicago UP 1971, p. 332). By the most traditional standards, orthodoxy in American Christianity is a strictly post-revolutionary phenomenon.

American Christianity was bible-based in a way far more radical than European Protestantism has ever been. American Christians had further developed their originally European schismatic sects, and invented wholly new American denominations, based on extensive bible study with minimal clerical supervision, resulting in theological disputes in America that had no parallels in Europe. Whereas American Christianity today has come much further into alignment with traditional European Christianity, the disputes of pre-revolutionary America are difficult for us to appreciate, and the inapplicability of our adjectives (like “Christian” or “orthodox” as we today understand those terms) is difficult for many to accept. Furthermore, the American Christian roots of political ideas that would not seem Christian in a European context become hard for us to recognize.

The key to American Christian exceptionalism (including its political dimensions) lies precisely in those heated disputes that make so little sense to us today. And the big ones, as far as the earliest American colonial experience goes, were disputes over covenant theology. Roger Williams, the left-wing radical of his day, established what would become the right-wing position of later generations: in order to convert people to Christianity in a way that established a binding covenant with God (thereby effecting salvation), it was necessary that they be totally free and sovereign to enter the covenant in the first place. Without freedom first, there could be no conversion to Christ. In order to evangelize effectively, America needed to be a democratic republic.

I have digressed, but covenant theology is relevant to my main comment on your essay, namely that you uncritically accept the etiological (rather than ex post facto explicatory) relevance of Hobbes and Locke to American political thought. To what extent they really were relevant is difficult to ascertain today, since the very generation whom we might claim were imbibing Locke (and perhaps Hobbes through him) were also the ones actively engaging in historical revisionism, rewriting American history in Lockean terms. To take a simple example, consider what we today call the “Mayflower compact”, a Lockean (or Rousseauan) term unknown in America before 1793 (earlier references are to a covenant, or a combination). The revolutionary generation was engaging in some jingoistic chest-thumping, poking a stick in the eye of European intellectuals both by declaring that what was mere theory in Europe was reality in America, and also by claiming priority: the Mayflower covenant predates both Locke and Hobbes, so that renaming it in Lockean terms drives home the point that we not only implemented the ideas here first, we actually invented the ideas too.

This is the point: the revolutionary generation is guilty of historical revisionism in favor of reinterpreting pre-Lockean events in Lockean terms, and therefore is not trustworthy in claiming Lockean influence upon themselves. On the other hand, Lockean ideas by other names were manifestly ubiquitous in America from the beginning (there were hundreds of American collective covenants following the Mayflower), and therefore Lockean influence is both unnecessary and unable to explain what was a natural American development of English Puritan/Scots Presbyterian covenant theology. Williams is a bridge figure here: his Providence covenant corresponded to Puritan forms was but not in their theological tradition.

Incidentally, erasing the memory of Puritan/Presbyterian covenant theology through Lockean revisionism would have been politically desirable for the revolutionary generation, who had little nostalgia for Winthrop, the Bay colony, and the religious oppression that it stood for. The oppression of the Bay colony was rooted precisely in their view of covenant theology (differing from Williams’), namely that God covenanted with communities rather than with individuals, and that therefore it was necessary for salvation first to form groups eligible for divine covenant (hence the communal covenants binding members to each other), and then for the groups to maintain collective purity (hence the oppression). By reinterpreting the collective-covenant elements of American history in Lockean terms, the founders got a twofer: respectability abroad (or else one-upsmanship and a sharp stick in the eye to Europe), and erasure of a bad memory at home.

All of which is to suggest that modern historians may be the ones duped, and the founders (JQ Adams at the helm in the case of the Mayflower) the ones doing the duping. In the alternative, of course, modern historians may not be duped, but may find the founders’ reinterpretations expedient.

To your claim that “the God to whom the founders appealed – the individual rights granting nature’s God – arguably was not the biblical or Christian God” I have this query: how many, among the founders, ignored the bible in seeking God? After all, even the squishy theist Jefferson was obsessed with the biblical accounts of Christ (you may be able to find the references faster than I can, but TJ was reputed to study his highly heterodox biblical compilation every night). And if you acknowledge that a biblical God was the majority (if not consensus) view, then in what sense are we not talking about a Christian God, keeping in mind as we must that Christianity in America was, then especially but largely even today, bible-based rather than creedal, and also that the bible in question was not the Tanakh or Qu’ran but the good old KJV.

I agree with you that America has a political theology. I just think that you are working too hard to avoid admitting that whatever it is today, in the founders' time it was Christianity, albeit of a uniquely American bibliocentric denominationally fragmented and generally unorthodox form; it was at best tolerant of orthodoxy, hesitantly at first, more confidently later.

Odds and ends at the end: to the extent that anyone was outraged when my man GWB acknowledged that Muslims worship the same God as we do, they weren’t confused about “America’s civic religion”, they were confused about Islam and its relation to Christianity (Luther went so far as to consider Mohammed a Christian heretic). GWB was right even in the strictly Christian sense; his critics were wrong in any sense. Whether the consensus of founders would have extended the same acknowledgment to Hindus is another matter; whether they knew enough about Hinduism to really have an informed opinion on the matter is also questionable.

Of course, none of this is relevant to what, if any, interpretation we give today (possibly differing from the founders) to what I in the opening labeled option (c), which would seem perfectly compatible with having pulpit fellowship in our political institutions extended to all faiths, even atheists, though in the case of an atheist chaplain we might have to have a separate discussion on the necessity of such a chaplain having a moral perspective, since we haven’t yet discussed why the left-wing founders thought that Christianity was necessary for a democratic republic. They inferred the need for Christianity from the need for moral order, and we might therefore under option (c) today admit into the ecumenical “civic religion” any faith system that has a moral dimension conducive to civil society. Satan worshippers need not apply, even today.

You would seem to imply that Barton and his crew opt for what I call option (b), and therefore plot revolution. Now I’m a conceited Christian conservative, and therefore cannot imagine that the vast right-wing conspiracy could be planning such a thing without recruiting me at an early stage, but I just took advantage of ridiculously low online used-book prices to order Barton’s older book (the one with the Henry citation that so steams you). I will wear my Reagan/Bush secret society decoder ring while I read it, to make sure I get every revolutionary nuance, and report back on what I find.


Thursday, November 22, 2007

John Adams on Thanksgiving Proclamations:

[I'm going to reproduce this post in its entirety which shows that even though Adams issued a Thanksgiving Proclamation as President -- which the Christian America crowd often cites trying to prove Adams was one of them and thought the country rightly belonged to "them" -- Adams later regretted doing so because he actually thought the country belonged to everyone regardless of his religion.]

This may surprise some folks. It's well known that Washington, Adams, and Madison issued Thanksgiving proclamations (to a generic God), while Jefferson refused. And Madison, in his Detached Memoranda seemed to indicate it's improper for the federal government to do this (thus giving support to the notion that Founding-era practice is not dispositive, that indeed, it's entirely possible to raise a constitutional ideal one minute, then break it the next).

Before seeing this quotation in James H. Hutson's fine book, I didn't know that Adams too regretted issuing the Thanksgiving Proclamation. His words are quite interesting:

The National Fast, recommended by me turned me out of office. It was connected with the general assembly of the Presbyterian Church, which I had no concern in. That assembly has allarmed and alienated Quakers, Anabaptists, Mennonists, Moravians, Swedenborgians, Methodists, Catholicks, protestant Episcopalians, Arians, Socinians, Armenians, & & &, Atheists and Deists might be added. A general Suspicon prevailed that the Presbyterian Church was ambitious and aimed at an Establishment of a National Church. I was represented as a Presbyterian and at the head of this political and ecclesiastical Project. The secret whisper ran through them "Let us have Jefferson, Madison, Burr, any body, whether they be Philosophers, Deists, or even Atheists, rather than a Presbyterian President." This principle is at the bottom of the unpopularity of national Fasts and Thanksgivings. Nothing is more dreaded than the National Government meddling with Religion.

-- John Adams to Benjamin Rush, June 12, 1812. Old Family Letters, 392-93; taken from Hutson's The Founders on Religion, 101-02.