Friday, January 19, 2007

John Adams Quotation of the Week:

"It has pleased the Providence of the first Cause, the Universal Cause, that Abraham should give religion not only to Hebrews but to Christians and Mahomitans, the greatest part of the modern civilized world."

-- John Adams to M.M. Noah, July 31, 1818.

This should put to rest the notion that the Founders, even after bad experiences with the Muslim Barbary Pirates, viewed Islam as an enemy, when in fact they believed Muslims worshipped the same God they did. But as theological universalists, Adams and company, from what I have researched, believed that Hindus, Native Americans, and Pagan Greco-Romans (and let us not forget Deists and Unitarians) all worshipped the same "Providence of the first Cause" too. So keep in mind when they used the term "religion" in a generic sense (as when Adams said "Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other." Or when Washington said "Of all the dispositions and habits, which lead to political prosperity, Religion and Morality are indispensable supports...And let us with caution indulge the supposition, that morality can be maintained without religion.") all of these world religions, in their mind, fit the bill.

On a related note, regarding monotheism and drawing lowest common denominators, it's clear that our Founders were radically inclusive for their day and ours in their religious universalism. It's possible to narrow the claim and state that while Jews, Christians, and Muslims all worship the same God -- the God of Abraham, some Founders clearly erred in adding Hindus, Native Americans, and Greco-Romanism into their LCD, because they follow non-Abrahamic religions. It's also possible to argue, as folks like Joe Carter do, that Jews, Christians, and Muslims all worship different gods with incompatible attributes. One cannot, however, coherently argue (some try!) that while Jews and Christians worship the same God, Muslims worship a different one. They either all worship the same or different gods.

And our key Founders believed they all worshipped the same God.

1 comment:

Tom Van Dyke said...

It may be true that the Abrahamic G-d is the same for Jews, Christians, and Muslims, and as amateur theologians, it was fine for them to engage in such happytalk. But for political or any practical purpose whatsoever, it is puzzling that Jefferson and Adams learned so little in their first face-to-face meeting with Islam.

"Take, for example, the 1786 meeting in London of Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and Sidi Haji Abdul Rahman Adja, the Tripolitan ambassador to Britain. As American ambassadors to France and Britain respectively, Jefferson and Adams met with Ambassador Adja to negotiate a peace treaty and protect the United States from the threat of Barbary piracy.

These future United States presidents questioned the ambassador as to why his government was so hostile to the new American republic even though America had done nothing to provoke any such animosity. Ambassador Adja answered them, as they reported to the Continental Congress, “that it was founded on the Laws of their Prophet, that it was written in their Koran, that all nations who should not have acknowledged their authority were sinners, that it was their right and duty to make war upon them wherever they could be found, and to make slaves of all they could take as Prisoners, and that every Musselman who should be slain in Battle was sure to go to Paradise.”

Or as the Lincoln story goes, if you call a tail a leg, how many legs does a dog have?

The answer is still four. Calling a tail a leg does not make it a leg. (This was Dennis Prager's point. I don't fully support it, but it was not meritless.)