Tuesday, February 27, 2007

The Novaks on Ellis on the Founders:

Michael and Jana Novak have responded to Joseph Ellis' thoughts on the Founders and Religion on the Encyclopedia Britannica Blog. (See my thoughts on Ellis' post.) In particular, they don't like Ellis' use of the phrase, "pantheistic sense of providential destiny," to describe Washington's God. They write:

Finally, it is really not possible to demonstrate from Washington's public decrees that the Providence to whom he asked his army and fellow citizens to pray was "pantheistic." On the contrary, his public prayers as commanding General and as President expected Providence to favor liberty and thus, though both prayed to the same Providence, the American cause over the British. He expected his God -- and the nation -- to "interpose" his divine action in the course of the war, and in the later course of American history.

And just as the American Founders held that the natural rights they declared belonged not solely to them but to all humankind, so the God to whom they prayed did not belong solely to them, but is the Almighty Lord of all, who sits in judgment over this nation and others. President Washington did not scruple, in his eloquent message to the Hebrew Congregation of Savannah, to identify the God "Jehovah" who led the Jewish people in Israel, with the Providence who led Americans through their founding period.

I think "pantheistic" aptly describes not just Washington's, but the other key Founders' God. Though It was, as the Novaks' note, a particular type of pantheistic Providence; theirs was an active personal God, indeed one who favored political liberty and frowned upon tyrannical leaders (not exactly attributes of the Biblical God, who doesn't seem concerned with political -- as opposed to spiritual -- liberty; and Paul admonishes Christians to follow civil magistrates, even secular, pagan, and arguably tyrannical ones like Nero, the leader to whom Paul told Christians to obey in Romans 13).

The Founders' God was, however, universalistic. Various peoples of various religious traditions, even those outside the "Judeo-Christian" one, worshipped the same God who goes by many different proper names. And it was customary for the Founders to use the proper name for God with which the addressees would feel most comfortable. The only time Washington ever, to my knowledge, named God "Jehovah" was in one address to the Hebrew Congregation of Savannah. Twice however, I have counted Washington used the proper name "the Great Spirit" -- here and here -- for God, but only when addressing American Indians.

In sum, if "pantheistic" can mean an active, personal, universalistic God, then such a term accurately describes the God the key Founders like Washington worshipped.

Sunday, February 25, 2007

The Founders on Scripture:

The key Founders, you know them -- Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Madison, Franklin and a few others -- had a particularly nuanced view of Scripture that differed from that of the "Deists" on the one hand and the "Christians" on the other. Their view of Scripture perfectly illustrates how their religion was a hybrid of the two systems -- in between Deism and Christianity -- with rationalism as the trumping element.

The strict Deist point of view, ala Thomas Paine and Ethan Allen, categorically rejected all revelation in favor of man's reason. Orthodox Christians, on the other hand, viewed Scripture as inerrant and infallible. And though some in the orthodox Christian tradition accepted natural theology -- or what man can discover from reason -- Christians elevated revelation over reason. See Luther calling man's reason "the devil's whore," or Aquinas, who argued the findings of man's reason must perfectly coincide with all of Scripture, or else man, as fallible, must have erred.

The key Founders believed in the truth of both man's reason and biblical revelation. Yet, they thought only parts of the Bible were legitimately revealed by God. They elevated man's reason over revelation as the final arbiter of what revelation was legitimately given by God. Only those legitimate parts of the Bible provided support for man's reason which was supreme.

Without understanding this nuanced hybrid position, both sides -- the secular left and religious right -- can easily claim these Founders as their own, misunderstanding them while quoting them out of context. For instance, a strict Deist believes in no Scripture. Jefferson and Franklin, two Founders often accused of being "Deists," often made Biblical allusions and otherwise suggested that they believed in parts of the Bible. Why would someone who believed Scripture was false seem to hold parts of it in high regard? Reacting to these quotations, some secularists assert Jefferson and Franklin manipulated the masses or the moment, pretending to believe in something that they didn't.

The religious right, on the other hand, jump on such opportunities to assert these Founders as "men of the Bible," just like they are. They should realize that just because a particular Founder seemed to accept parts of Scripture doesn't mean he accepted the whole thing. Only if a Founder clearly and unequivocally stated that he accepted the Bible as inerrant and infallible should he be claimed as believing in such.

I assert, controversially, that Franklin and Jefferson actually thought some Scripture was legitimately revealed by God. This post by no means will exhaust quotations from them which could be offered to support this notion. Rather, I'll submit just a few. First in his letter to John Calder Aug. 21, 1784, Franklin wrote:

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.

Note how Franklin does not "renounce" the entire Old Testament or Bible, just "that the[re are] several Things in the old Testament impossible to be given by divine Inspiration." This suggests that parts of the Bible possibly have been given by Divine Inspiration. Also, the context of the letter is that it is to a like minded Unitarian who likewise disagreed with the religious test in PA's Constitution of 1776 which required "the Members of Assembly to declare their belief that the whole of [the Bible] was given by divine Inspiration." In other words, Franklin didn't need to "beat around the bush" or write in code because he was speaking to another "infidel."

Peter Lillback constantly shows in his 1200 page tome on Washington's religion how GW made Biblical allusions, tracing Washington's words back to scriptural passages. While this may show that Washington held revelation in higher regard than the strict Deists did, Jefferson and Franklin likewise alluded to the Bible in their writings every bit as much. And both of them clearly rejected parts of the Bible as illegitimate.

This letter of GW's to the Hebrew Congregation of Savannah is stressed by Lillback, the Novaks' and any scholar who would like to believe Washington's God was "Biblical":

May the same wonder-working Deity, who long since delivered the Hebrews from their Egyptian oppressors, planted them in a promised land, whose providential agency has lately been conspicuous in establishing these United States as an independent nation, still continue to water them with the dews of heaven and make the inhabitants of every denomination participate in the temporal and spiritual blessings of that people whose God is Jehovah.

Yet, Thomas Jefferson says something remarkably similar in his Second Inaugural Address: "I shall need, too, the favor of that Being in whose hands we are, who led our fathers, as Israel of old, from their native land and planted them in a country flowing with all the necessaries and comforts of life...."

Or consider Franklin's call to prayer during the Constitutional Convention:

I have lived, Sir, a long time, and the longer I live, the more convincing proof I see of this truth that God Governs in the affairs of men. And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without his notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without his aid? We have been assured, Sir, in the sacred writings, that "except the Lord build the House they labour in vain that build it." I firmly believe this; and I also believe that without his concurring aid we shall succeed in this political building no better, than the Builders of Babel:

Though here Franklin alluded to and quoted from the Bible, elsewhere he claimed the Bible was errant, and he probably thought much of it (like the story of the Tower of Babel) was metaphorical. But he seemed open to the notion that some of it was legitimately revealed by God.

Franklin, I would argue, believed slightly closer to conventional Christianity than Jefferson, because he accepted certain supernatural things which Jefferson would have dismissed as "irrational." For instance, he accepted the turning of water into wine at cana. Franklin wrote:

We hear of the conversion of water into wine at the marriage in Cana as of a miracle. But this conversion is, through the goodness of God, made every day before our eyes. Behold the rain which descends from heaven upon our vineyards; there it enters the roots of the vines, to be changed into wine; a constant proof that God loves us, and loves to see us happy. The miracle in question was only performed to hasten the operation, under circumstances of present necessity, which required it.

He also apparently believed in bodily resurrection:

The Body of B. Franklin, Printer; like the Cover of an old Book, Its Contents torn out, And stript of its Lettering and Gilding, Lies here, Food for Worms. But the Work shall not be wholly lost; For it will, as he believ'd, appear once more, In a new & more perfect Edition, Corrected and amended By the Author.

Again, though, Franklin still wasn't a "Christian" because, among other reasons, he denied the Trinity, Incarnation, Atonement, Eternal Damnation, and inerrancy of Scripture. He also held man's reason as the ultimate determiner of truth and thought men were saved through their works not faith.

Jefferson too seemed to believe parts of the Bible were genuinely revealed. In his letter to John Adams Jan. 24, 1814 he criticizes much of Scripture as "defective and doubtful" in its history and asserts "we have a right from that cause to entertain much doubt what parts of them are genuine." This suggests he thought that parts of them are genuine. (A point first made on p. 79 in Dr. Gregg Frazer's Ph.D. dissertation; this entire post though tracks parts of his thesis). Jefferson then stated, "It is as easy to separate those parts, as to pick out diamonds from dunghills." The "diamonds" referred to what parts of Scripture are legitimately revealed, the "dunghills," the error in the Bible.

Similarly, when Jefferson took his razor to the Bible and cut out what he regarded as untruth, this suggests what remained he believed legitimate revelation. A strict Deist would just cut up the whole book.

Finally, when Jefferson argued against the Deity of Jesus, he seemingly claimed to believe John 1:1-3 was legitimate revelation, but his interpretation of that passage rejected a central tenet of Christianity: That Jesus was both man and God. This comes from his same letter to John Adams where he bitterly attacked Calvinism as "Daemonism" and stated "the day will come when the mystical generation of Jesus, by the supreme being as his father in the womb of a virgin will be classed with the fable of the generation of Minerva in the brain of Jupiter." While denying the Trinity, Jefferson wrote of John 1:1-3:

and his doctrine of the Cosmogony of the world is very clearly laid down in the 3 first verses of the 1st. chapter of John, in these words, `{en arche en o logos, kai o logos en pros ton Theon kai Theos en o logos. `otos en en arche pros ton Theon. Panta de ayto egeneto, kai choris ayto egeneto ode en, o gegonen}. Which truly translated means `in the beginning God existed, and reason (or mind) was with God, and that mind was God. This was in the beginning with God. All things were created by it, and without it was made not one thing which was made'. Yet this text, so plainly declaring the doctrine of Jesus that the world was created by the supreme, intelligent being, has been perverted by modern Christians to build up a second person of their tritheism by a mistranslation of the word {logos}. One of it's legitimate meanings indeed is `a word.' But, in that sense, it makes an unmeaning jargon: while the other meaning `reason', equally legitimate, explains rationally the eternal preexistence of God, and his creation of the world. Knowing how incomprehensible it was that `a word,' the mere action or articulation of the voice and organs of speech could create a world, they undertake to make of this articulation a second preexisting being, and ascribe to him, and not to God, the creation of the universe.

Yet, by understanding "logos" as "reason" or God's mind as opposed to a second person in the Trinity, Jefferson's interpretation of the Bible is not Christian, but rationalist.

Finally, I will offer a bit on Washington. As Peter Lillback shows, Washington often suggested that he believed in some revelation. But nowhere did he clearly assert that the Bible is inerrant or infallible. Moreover, Washington also clearly trumpeted Enlightenment rationality and liberality. So Washington's beliefs on revelation do indeed, as Lillback argues, show that he was not a strict Deist (they didn't believe in any revelation). But everything that Washington said on revelation is consistent with Jefferson's and Franklin's hybrid religion, as described above. The following from Washington's 1788 letter to MARQUIS DE CHASTELLUX is typical of a passage Dr. Lillback quotes to prove Washington wasn't a Deist: "For certainly it is more consonant to all the principles of reason and religion (natural and revealed) to replenish the earth with inhabitants, rather than to depopulate it by killing those already in existence."

Again statements like this are just as consonant with Jefferson's and Franklin's rational theism as with orthodox Christianity.

(And, to end on a lighter note, check out Washington's words to DE CHASTELLUX just before the quoted passage: They are semi-pornographic.)

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Princeton University Press Features My Blurb:

On James H. Hutson's The Founders on Religion: A Book of Quotations.

"The book . . . represents, with great balance, the Founders' differing religious viewpoints. . . . All in all, this is the most balanced collection of quotations representing the Founders' religious views published thus far."--Jonathan Rowe, First Things

To see my entire review, scroll down here to the eighth book review.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Christopher Hitchens Does it Again:

Christopher Hitchens tries to claim another Founding Father as an atheist. First he did this with Jefferson. Now Franklin. Hitchens' review of Brooke Allen's book isn't all bad. And Allen's book is well written and researched even if it does have a few moderate gaffes (which one day, maybe I'll discuss). Here is the offending passage:

Of Franklin it seems almost certainly right to say that he was an atheist (Jerry Weinberger's excellent recent study Benjamin Franklin Unmasked being the best reference here), but the master tacticians of church-state separation, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, were somewhat more opaque about their beliefs.

Compare that with Franklin's own words, shortly before his death:

Here is my Creed: I believe in one God, Creator of the Universe. That He governs it by his Providence. That he ought to be worshipped. That the most acceptable Service we can render to him, is doing Good to his other Children. That the Soul of Man is immortal, and will be treated with Justice in another Life respecting its Conduct in this. These I take to be the fundamental Principles of all sound Religion, and I regard them as you do, in whatever Sect I meet with them. As to Jesus of Nazareth, my Opinion of whom you particularly desire, I think the System of Morals and his Religion as he left them to us, the best the World ever saw, or is likely to see; but I apprehend it has received various corrupting Changes, and I have with most of the present Dissenters in England, some Doubts as to his Divinity: tho' it is a Question I do not dogmatise upon, having never studied it, and think it needless to busy myself with it now, when I expect soon an Opportunity of knowing the Truth with less Trouble. I see no harm however in its being believed, if that Belief has the good Consequence as probably it has, of making his Doctrines more respected and better observed, especially as I do not perceive that the Supreme takes it amiss, by distinguishing the Believers, in his Government of the World, with any particular Marks of his Displeasure.

I wonder if Hitchens believes that Franklin and others were some kind of Straussians -- atheists who repeatedly lied about believing in God in their public and private statements.

Note also, when Franklin says that Jesus' teachings have "received various corrupting Changes," that term has specific meaning. It was coined by Franklin's friend Joseph Priestly and those corruptions were the Trinity, Incarnation, Atonement, and Plenary Inspiration of Scripture. These were central creeds of orthodox Christian Churches in which almost all founding fathers were raised and to which most -- like Jefferson, Madison, and Washington -- belonged in adult life. Religious conservatives are apt to note Washington et al. regulary attended the Anglican/Episcopal Church where he/they would hear orthodox doctrines -- the Trinity, Incarnation, the Atonement, etc. -- being preached. If he didn't believe these things, the argument goes, why would he subject himself to hearing this? Well, Jefferson and Madison, both, without question, theological unitarians, likewise attended the Anglican/Episcopal Church in whose orthodox doctrines they did not believe.

Franklin here resolves this paradox: It's because the orthodox Trinitarian Churches, like "all sound Religion," even the non-Judeo-Christian ones, teach that there is "one God, Creator of the Universe. That He governs it by his Providence. That he ought to be worshipped. That the most acceptable Service we can render to him, is doing Good to his other Children. That the Soul of Man is immortal, and will be treated with Justice in another Life respecting its Conduct in this." As long as this theistic minimum is met, it matters not that church members are taught to believe in such harmless irrationalities as the Trinity, Incarnation, and the Atonement.

While Adams and Jefferson can be quite harsh on such "corruptions of Christianity" in their letters -- indeed Jefferson in a fit of anger once wrote it would be better to be an atheist than believe in Calvin's God -- judging by Jefferson's behavior going to and never formally renouncing his membership in the Anglican/Episcopal Church, he too probably would rather see people believe in irrational Trinitarianism than in no God at all.

I have not seen in any of Washington's letters the rants against Trinitarianism that we see in Jefferson's and Adams'. Though he never endorses Trinitarianism or speaks in Trinitarian terms. Like Franklin, he probably dismissed the Trinity, Incarnation, and Atonement as harmless irrationalities.
Ellis on the Religion of the Founding Fathers:

The eminent scholar Joseph Ellis has been posting this week about the Founders at the Encyclopaedia Britannica blog. Today he posts on the Founders and their religious beliefs. My biggest problem with his analysis is that he finds "diversity" of belief where, in fact, little diversity exists. Now, there was a split between the strict Deists, the orthodox Christians, and the "theistic rationalists" (a middle ground between strict Deism and orthodox Christianity with "rationalism" as the trumping element). But the key Founders -- the ones that everyone thinks of when we say the term "Founding Fathers" -- indeed the only ones that Ellis mentions here -- all believed the same: They were the "theistic rationalists." Ellis writes:

In recent decades Christian advocacy groups, prompted by motives that have been questioned by some, have felt a powerful urge to enlist the Founding Fathers in their respective congregations. But recovering the spiritual convictions of the Founders, in all their messy integrity, is not an easy task. Once again, diversity is the dominant pattern. Franklin and Jefferson were deists, Washington harbored a pantheistic sense of providential destiny, John Adams began a Congregationalist and ended a Unitarian, Hamilton was a lukewarm Anglican for most of his life but embraced a more actively Christian posture after his son died in a duel.

Jefferson and Franklin Deists? Neither of them referred to themselves as Deists in their adult life. Franklin embraced Deism as a teenager but rejected Deism his entire adult life. Both Franklin and Jefferson, contra the Deists, invoked an active, personal God. Ellis apparently is unaware that Adams' Congregation preached Unitarianism as of 1750 and Adams testified being one since a teenager.

When one examines the specific doctrines in which each of the five key Founders Ellis invokes believed, it turns out that little difference can be found between Jefferson's and Franklin's "Deism," Adams' "Unitarianism," Washington's "pantheistic sense of providential destiny," and Hamilton's "lukewarm Anglicanism."

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Reactions to Natural Rights and Fusionism Topic:

Thanks to Julian Sanchez for linking to my post on Locke and Natural Rights. Sanchez's post seeks to answer every other point that Feser made in his article, while he "outsources" the point on Locke to me.

Feser replied to my post in the comments here, to which I replied here.

Finally, Sandefur has a great take on Locke and liberty. I agree with the overall point that he makes which I take to be that what Locke was arguing in 1689 context is different than where libertarians have taken his ideas. And I think he would agree with me, contra Feser, that there is no inherent problem with how libertarians -- indeed our Founders themselves -- have tweaked/built upon Locke's ideas to allow man more liberty to do things which Locke himself would not agree with.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

I'm Not Sure Whom Medved Insults More:

...in this article: gays or "profoundly unattractive, morbidly obese women." The offending passage:

The much better analogy for discomfort at gay teammates involves the widespread (and generally accepted) idea that women and men shouldn't share locker rooms. Making gay males unwelcome in the intimate circumstances of an NBA team makes just as much sense as making straight males unwelcome in the showers for a women's team at the WNBA. Most female athletes would prefer not to shower together with men not because they hate males (though some of them no doubt do), but because they hope to avoid the tension, distraction and complication that prove inevitable when issues of sexual attraction (and even arousal) intrude into the arena of competitive sports.

Tim Hardaway (and most of his former NBA teammates) wouldn't welcome openly gay players into the locker room any more than they'd welcome profoundly unattractive, morbidly obese women. I specify unattractive females because if a young lady is attractive (or, even better, downright "hot") most guys, very much including the notorious love machines of the National Basketball Association, would probably welcome her joining their showers. The ill-favored, grossly overweight female is the right counterpart to a gay male because, like the homosexual, she causes discomfort due to the fact that attraction can only operate in one direction. She might well feel drawn to the straight guys with whom she's grouped, while they feel downright repulsed at the very idea of sex with her.

Many gay activists suggest that this near-universal straight male repulsion at the idea of sex with another man is merely the product of cultural conditioning: a learned prejudice that ought to be unlearned. This represents the core message of gay pride parades and even the drive for same-sex marriage: an effort to persuade all of society that gay sex is as beautiful as straight sex, and to "cure" men of their visceral disgust at the very thought of what two (or more) male homosexuals do with one another.

I'm not going to tackle all of this, just a few points. First, I don't doubt that some significant percentage of heterosexual men, through no fault of their own, find all homosexual acts to be "icky." Though, as I will explain in more detail, to suggest that these feelings are "near-universal" in the straight male population is false. The reason why Medved seeks to overstate this innate distaste that many straight men (not straight women, who usually feel quite comfortable in gay male bars and with gay male friends) is the same reason why gays stress their innate homosexuality: "If I feel this way through no choice and no fault of my own, then acting on these feelings must be okay." Therefore, it must be okay for straight men to act homophobic. But, this simply commits the same "naturalistic fallacy" that anti-gay opponents argue the pro-gay side commits: just because you didn't choose those feelings doesn't mean acting on them is "right" or that they come from a "good place" within. Consider, most of those men would have an innate sexual arousal at the thought of two attractive women having sex with one another. Female homosexuality is every bit as homosexual as male homosexuality. That fact alone suggests no reason or rhyme for the guttural feelings that straight men may have at the thought of homosexual acts.

Second, as I noted above it is absolutely false to suggest that revulsion to all acts homosexual is near-universal for straight males. Anyone aware of cross cultural history knows this to be laughable. It is possible that a majority of males in any given population do indeed have an innate revulsion to homosexual acts. Further the thought of being the "feminine" partner in a homosexual sex act may be revolting to almost all straight men. But some huge, unknown percentage (certainly in the double digits) of self-defining, self-understanding heterosexual men...men who are without a doubt fully attracted to the opposite sex in a way they never could be to the same sex, nonetheless have the capacity to enjoy homosexual sex acts using other males -- usually smaller, prettier, younger, and more feminine, -- as substitutes for women. If that means that these men are really "some" kind of bisexual, then a huge percentage of the self-defining heterosexual population are or have the capacity to be some kind of bisexual.

Take for instance, Tim Hardaway's basketball team. Throw them all in a prison, take the women away, and I'm estimate that 1/3 of the team would just love to shower with Leonardo DiCaprio or Matt Damon.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Washington's Religion on the Blogsphere:

As Washington's birthday approaches, his religion is being discussed online. I'm glad there is an interest in the topic. Michael and Jana Novak have two articles. One in USA Today and the other in First Things. As I've noted before, they show that Washington was not a "Deist" in the strict non-interventionist sense of the term but do not show he was an orthodox Christian. Indeed, the following paragraph of theirs from their First Things post shows why it is likely that Washington was not an orthodox Christian:

Most historians of the last hundred years have said the Father of Our Nation was a deist (in his excellent recent biography, Joseph Ellis called Washington a "lukewarm Episcopalian and quasi-Deist") and suggest, along the way, that his virtues were Stoic rather than Christian, and his appeals to Providence rather more Greek and Roman than biblical. Since Washington speaks seldom of Jesus Christ, and almost never invokes the Savior or Redeemer or Trinity but prefers to use philosophical names for God ("Beneficent Author of all good," "Divine Providence," "Almighty Ruler of the Universe"), it is easy to think he was a deist.

However, the Novaks really show no interest in understanding how Washington's more moderate middle ground between Deism and Christianity, might, like Deism, also conflict with the tenets of orthodox Christianity. Steven Waldman (hat tip Brayton) well understands Washington's middle ground beliefs:

By the definition of Christianity offered by modern-day liberal Christians, Washington would pass muster. He believed in God, attended church, endorsed the golden rule, and valued the behavioral benefits of religion. But for those who define being a Christian as requiring the acceptance of Christ as personal savior and the Bible as God's revelation, Washington, based on what we know, probably was not "Christian."

This poses a delicious challenge for culture warriors: if you want to treasure Washington as he truly was, you'll be forced to hail someone who's behavior doesn't comport with your own. He was neither evangelical nor secularist - just a great man. Washington was able to tolerate people of faiths vastly different from his own. The question for modern culture warriors is: can we treasure Washington as he was, rather than what we might want him to be?

Sunday, February 18, 2007

A Natural Right to Do Wrong:

That, I would suggest is part of Founding natural law-natural rights theory as put forth by Jefferson and Madison and encapsulated in the Declaration of Independence: We have a natural right -- under our unalienable rights to liberty, pursuit of happiness and the property that each man has in himself -- to do what is arguably immoral conduct.

Ed Feser addresses some of these issues in his new article on TCS. The thesis of the article is that Hayek was more of a traditional conservative than libertarians would desire (but that his ideas will also leave traditional conservatives wanting). I don't know enough about Hayek to respond. I'm more interested in what Feser has to say on Locke and Aquinas and how that might relate to the natural law/natural rights theory which founds America's public order.

First Feser on Aquinas' classical natural law theory:

On the classical sort of natural law theory deriving from thinkers like Thomas Aquinas - the kind often appealed to in support of traditional morality - rights are grounded in moral duties. What I have a right to do is just whatever I am obliged to do under natural law, or to what is a necessary prerequisite of performing my obligations. That is the reason rights exist at all - they are safeguards of our ability to fulfill the natural law and flourish as the kinds of beings we are. Hence there can be no such thing as a right to do wrong; the very idea is incoherent. Yet that is exactly what libertarians claim we have - they say, for example, that a person has, all things being equal, a moral right to inject heroin into his veins even if it would be immoral for him to exercise this right. From a classical natural law point of view, this is just muddleheaded. There may well be reasons for government to tolerate certain immoral activities - classical natural law thinkers do not necessarily endorse paternalism, and in fact are often wary of it - but rights per se can have nothing to do with the matter.

Now, this may be true. But as I will show, Founding natural law/natural rights theory does indeed hold that individuals, in principle, have a natural right to do wrong. Therefore, if this contradicts the classical natural law understanding of "rights" (I put that in quotes because Allan Bloom et al. would point out that there are no "rights" under the classical theory of nature, only duties), this simply informs that the theory of natural rights in the Declaration broke with the traditional classical understanding of nature via Aquinas.

Feser moves on to Locke:

Why then do some libertarians claim that natural law supports their view? Some no doubt assume that since John Locke was both a natural law theorist and an influence on libertarians like Robert Nozick, natural law must support libertarianism. But Locke himself was not a "libertarian" as that term is generally understood, and his version of natural law, while very different from the sort that traces its lineage back to Aquinas, hardly leads in a libertarian direction. For Locke, our rights are grounded in God's ownership of us. Strictly speaking, to say that each human being has a right to his life, liberty, and property is just shorthand for saying that we have a duty not to kill, enslave, or steal from others because to do so would be to damage what belongs to God. But by the same token, we have no right to do what is harmful to ourselves either, for this too would damage God's property - hence Locke's explicit denial that we have any right to commit suicide. No libertarian could plausibly make a Lockean case, then, for drug legalization, physician-assisted suicide, or any other such practice on the grounds that it only harms the one doing it.

Now, here is where Feser doesn't give us the entire story. And he is, I would argue, wrong to suggest that no plausible Lockean case can be made for libertarianism. Richard Epstein and Randy Barnett come to mind as folks who do exactly this. Feser takes a jab at Barnett when he next writes:

Other libertarians would appeal to a conception of "natural law" that makes no reference either to God (as Locke does) or to an unchanging metaphysical human essence (as followers of Aquinas do). Instead, it holds only that there are certain empirical facts about the human condition that we ought to keep in mind in our moral and political decision making, "natural laws" about human biology, psychology, and social organization analogous to the laws of nature uncovered by physical science. But this rather banal claim really has nothing particularly to do with natural law theory as it has historically been understood; it is certainly not what Aquinas and other medieval thinkers meant by "natural law."

But Randy Barnett precisely appeals to a branch of Lockean thought in making his claim. Indeed, a very important branch -- the Jeffersonian-Madisonian understanding of Locke that is contained within our natural rights Founding documents.

One thing I've learned in studying various prominent thinkers is that their ideas aren't contained in a vacuum and invariably evolve when put into the hands of their followers. Often their ideas "branch off" in different directions, with opposing schools of thought ultimately tracing their lineage back to the same thinker. Endless examples could be offered for this. To give one, in debating whether Calvinism is consistent with the concept of revolt, I've learned that while Calvin himself seemed to be quite clear that revolt is never permitted, some later followers of his -- "Calvinists" -- were more generous in recognizing a right to revolt against tyranny. Others believed, after Calvin himself, that the Bible, in no uncertain terms, forbade revolt against civil government.

On religious liberty itself, Locke wouldn't extend it to, among others, atheists and Catholics. In Jefferson's notes on Locke, he wrote: "Locke denies toleration to those who entertain op[inio]ns contrary to those moral rules necessary for the preservation of society." Then Jefferson noted, "But where he stopped short, we may go on." Jefferson's and Madison's "Lockeanism" lead them to hold that the unalienable rights of conscience apply equally to all, to "the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and Mahometan, the Hindoo, and Infidel of every denomination."

In his book "Notes on the State of Virginia," Jefferson put it as follows:

"[O]ur rulers can have no authority over such natural rights, only as we have submitted to them. The rights of conscience we never submitted, we could not submit. We are answerable for them to our God. The legitimate powers of government extend to such acts only as are injurious to others. But it does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods or no god. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg."

Now, by holding that men have the natural right to openly worship false gods or profess atheism, Jefferson necessarily held that men have a natural right to do what may be wrong, because the Bible holds these things to be wrong. In fact, they violate the very First Commandment of the Bible, and elsewhere in the Old Testament, public proselytizing for false gods, like sodomy, merits execution. Indeed, for a thousand and some hundred years, before Church and State were separated in the West, in various "Christian Nations" one could be executed for heresy, blasphemy, worshipping false gods, or for generally violating one's duties to God. Now, thanks to Jefferson and Madison, most of these things are protected under the First Amendment's right to Free Exercise of Religion.

To put this into perspective, many of America's Colonies founded under an earlier order, had laws on the books which demanded execution for violating the "First Tablet" of the Ten Commandments. For instance, the Massachusetts Body of Liberties held:

(Deut. 13. 6, 10. Deut. 17. 2, 6. Ex. 22.20)
If any man after legall conviction shall have or worship any other god, but the lord god, he shall be put to death.

Nearly all of the colonies save Rhode Island, when founded, had similar laws. Jefferson and Madison flipped this notion on its head by arguing that men have an unalienable God given right to worship no god or twenty Gods. It shouldn't surprise then that some argue Jefferson's and Madison's rights-granting "Nature's God," because He seems not jealous, is not the Biblical God. Likewise, though many orthodox Christians, mainly dissenters, supported Madison's and Jefferson's project and found ways to reconcile Lockean-Jeffersonian-Madisonian theory with their understanding of the Bible and the Christian religion, other pious Christians, those more sympathetic to the older order, could not.

In reflecting on the above quoted passage from Notes on the State of Virginia, the Reverend John Mason termed Jefferson's idea

the morality of devils, which would break in an instant every link in the chain of human friendship, and transform the globe into one scene of desolation and horror, where fiend would prowl with fiend for plunder and blood -- yet atheism "neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg." I will not abuse you by asking, whether the author of such an opinion can be a Christian?

Clearly then, if one believes that breaking the first tablet of the Decalogue is immoral, then Jefferson and Madison, building upon a Lockean foundation, believed men had a natural right to do wrong.

I also disagree that Locke's notion of self-ownership does not support libertarianism. In fact, when libertarians argue that they have a right to use illegal drugs or commit suicide they do so precisely because of the Lockean notion that an individual belongs to himself. Feser writes that Locke believed "we have no right to do what is harmful to ourselves either, for this too would damage God's property." For one, this ignores the tension, long discussed by serious scholars of Locke -- the Straussians -- between the notion that an individual belongs to himself and that an individual belongs to God. See my past post where I discuss an article that Harvey Mansfield wrote on the matter. As he put it:

Locke gives two descriptions of the character of men in their fundamental relation to liberty. He says that they are the "workmanship" of God, that men are "his [God's] property" and so belong to God; but he also says that "every man has a property in his own person."1 These appear to be directly contrary because the "workmanship argument" (as it is called by Locke's interpreters) would make man a slave of God2 whereas the idea of property in one's own person sets him free to do with himself what he wishes. Thus Locke says, in accordance with the former, that men have no right to commit suicide ("everyone is bound . . . not to quit his Station wilfully"3). But in accordance with the latter, though saying nothing directly about a right of suicide, he pronounces that in the state of nature, man is "absolute lord of his own person and possessions."4

...The difference between belonging to God and belonging to yourself is not a small one....

Indeed, in Bowers v. Hardwick, Justice Blackmun's dissent uses the self-ownership premise to argue for a "right" to commit "sodomy" because he believed, as did Locke, "that a person belongs to himself and not others nor to society as a whole."

It's possible that, in committing "sodomy," men are ultimately doing something wrong because God or nature forbids such activity (personally I don't believe it). Even so, it does not follow that men have no natural right to "sodomy." An analogy, again, can be raised to the rights of conscience. Jefferson was well aware that many thought it gravely immoral to profess atheism, deny the Trinity, worship idols or otherwise violate the first table of the Decalogue. His response: "We are answerable for [how we exercise our rights of conscience] to our God" and not our fellow man in the civil compact. Locke likewise held that "The care, therefore, of every man's soul belongs unto himself," not government.

I don't see how -- according to Lockean thought -- the care for a man's body necessarily must differ from the care for man's soul. Both are, according to Locke, God granted unalienable rights for which we are ultimately responsible to God and not fellow man or government. Therefore, if one harms himself physically as he might harm his soul by breaking the first tablet of the Decalogue, man is still responsible to God only and not fellow man or government.

And again, this is how Jefferson seemed to have interpreted Locke. In the above quoted passage from Notes on the rights of conscience Jefferson seemed to blur the soul/body line in terms of what government, by right, may do:

The legitimate powers of government extend to such acts only as are injurious to others. But it does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods or no god. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.

Similarly, if Jefferson's neighbor does drugs or commits suicide it still neither picks his pocket nor breaks his leg. And while I am not aware of Jefferson ever speaking on drugs (though he was an avowed pleasure-seeking Epicurean), he did apparently oppose criminal sanctions for suicide:

Men are too much attached to this life to exhibit frequent instances of depriving themselves of it. At any rate, the quasi-punishment of confiscation will not prevent it. For if one can be found who can calmly determine to renounce life, who is so weary of his existence here as rather to make experiment of what is beyond the grave, can we suppose him, in such a state of mind, susceptible to influence from the losses to his family by confiscation? That men in general disapprove of this severity is apparent from the constant practice of juries finding the suicide in a state of insanity; because they have no other way of saving the forfeiture.

And while Locke didn't believe man had a right to committ suicide, he did, right after he asserted "[t]he care...of every man's soul belongs unto himself," compare the care for man's soul to care for his physical property and body and made a very libertarian sounding argument:

But what if he neglect the care of his soul? I answer: What if he neglect the care of his health or of his estate, which things are nearlier related to the government of the magistrate than the other? Will the magistrate provide by an express law that such a one shall not become poor or sick? Laws provide, as much as is possible, that the goods and health of subjects be not injured by the fraud and violence of others; they do not guard them from the negligence or ill-husbandry of the possessors themselves. No man can be forced to be rich or healthful whether he will or no.

So it appears that short of suicide, Locke believed that man did indeed have a right to do injury to himself or his estate. And the notion that "[l]aws provide...that the goods and health of subjects be not injured by the fraud and violence of others; they do not guard them from the negligence or ill-husbandry of the possessors themselves" is remarkably close to what today's libertarians argue.

Finally, if I may speculate on Feser's motives in attempting to overstate the difference between Locke's writings and modern libertarianism, it is because Feser, as a political opponent of libertarianism, wants to weaken its theoretical underpinnings. But Locke's words speak for themselves and his principle of self ownership persists as viable, useful, and foundational to American Founding thought, in spite of attacks that fall short.

Saturday, February 17, 2007

Moving Violations:

YouTube has uploaded, in ten minute increments, the entire cult comedy classic from the '80s, Moving Violations. It was a "cult" classic because it never made a big impact like Stripes, Police Academy, Up in Smoke, or Bachelor Party. It came out in 1985 after those movies and was sort of a "knock off" of all of them. But, because it didn't just knock off one movie, it synthesized those movies, using mostly classic 80s "B" actors. The movie was directed by Neal Israel who also directed Bachelor Party.

I watched this movie so many times on Prism (a now defunct cable channel which was like a local Philadelphia HBO) growing up in the 80s.

The movie is about a bunch of bad drivers who get forced to go to "traffic school" which is run by crooked cops and a judge intent failing the violators so they can sell their impounded vehicles and run off with the profits.

The star was John Murray, Bill Murray's other brother. It's not surprising why he, unlike Brian Doyle, hasn't made many movies; he's not that good of an actor, but I thought he was funny here. He's clearly playing a cross between Bill's character in Stripes and "Mahoney" from Police Academy. Stacy Keach's brother James plays the crooked cop/bad guy. He obviously patterned his performance after his brother's brilliant Sgt. Stetenko from Up in Smoke. The late great Wendy Jo Sperber starred in Bosom Buddies with Tom Hanks and then made Bachelor Party with Hanks as well. She gives a great performance (see below) in this flick. The movie also starred Brian Backer who played Mark Ratner in Fast Times at Ridgemont High, Nedra Volz, who played the maid Adelaide Brubaker on Different Strokes. In fact Clara Peller of Wendy's "Where's the Beef?" fame has a cameo. Sally Kellerman plays a crooked judge and Fred Willard plays the owner of an auto-shop. Finally, this was one of Jennifer Tilly's earliest roles.

This movie perfectly typifies 1980s comedy even if it was not a first rate smash. The following scene between Wendy Jo Sperber and Fred Willard is, as one of the commenters on YouTube put it, "one of the funniest, most underrated 'misunderstanding' dialog scenes in comedy film history...." Also look out for the scene with Nedra Volz in the men's room. Priceless!

Why the Historical Academy Doesn't Believe Washington was an Orthodox Christian:

Because of ignorant arguments like the following from one Rees Lloyd which permeate Christian Nation circles. These myths have been circulating since Parson Weems made up out of whole cloth stories about Washington's piety. Scholars who doubt Washington's orthodoxy have exposed the stories that supposedly show Washington's Christianity to be false. Lillback understands this dynamic and here is how he explained it in his last article:

Moreover, historians on all sides of this debate over Washington’s true faith would agree that the sheer greatness of Washington makes him liable to hagiography and exaggeration. The unsubstantiated legends of a previous era had to be subjected to the rigorous canons of critical historiography. While some of the testimony for Washington’s faith falls in the arena of unsupportable legend, there is a temptation simply to dismiss all evidence of his faith by assuming that there is only hagiographical and apocryphal testimony to support it. So self-evident did Washington’s Christian faith seem to prior generations, that they only slightly felt the need to establish a scholarly case. Thus when this earlier case for Washington’s Christian faith was examined under the microscope of serious scholarship, it was unable to withstand the assault.

So Dr. Lillback, as we are about to see, obviously doesn't need the likes of Rees Lloyd defending his work because Lloyd's "evidence" for Washington's orthodoxy is exactly what collapsed when serious scholars examined the evidence under the historical microscope. That, plus Mr. Lloyd engages in ad hominen insults that are completely off the mark.

It has been the conventional wisdom in contemporary academia – dominated by now-aging 1960s Marxists and radicals who fled to the universities when their dreams of being the "vanguard of the revolution" turned out to be (literally) pipe dreams that went up in smoke (also literally) – that Washington, as claimed by historian Paul F. Boller in the leading tome, "Washington & Religion," was not a Christian but was, rather, merely a deist who mouthed Christianity for political purposes.

What Boller actually points out, accurately I might add, is that Washington almost never identified himself as a Christian or spoke in Trinitarian Christian terms. Washington supported Christianity in particular because he supported religion in general. And Boller never claims, from my memory, that this support for "religion" was "political" as opposed to heartfelt.

Lloyd goes on:

This has been the cant of liberals in academia, notwithstanding [1] the many, many statements of Washington himself to the contrary, [2] as well as his conduct as an Anglican vestryman in his church, [3] his writing of a personal prayer book, [4] his collection of sermons, [5] his conduct of biblical studies with his family, [6] his appointment of chaplains in the revolutionary army, [7] his commands that his soldiers attend worship, [8] his putting his hand on the Bible when taking the oath as president, [9] his declarations of days of "Thanksgiving" as president, [10] his crediting "Providence" for his own survival in war and for the success of the American republic, and, [11] among other things, the fact that he was believed , by his contemporaries, to be a Christian and a man of profound religious conviction.

[12] Perhaps the most moving image in the American iconography is George Washington kneeling in the bloodstained snow of Valley Forge, praying. He was to say to the soldiers, who were farmers, workers, ordinary Americans fighting, suffering and dying for freedom in the revolution – when never more than one-third of Americans supported the revolutionary war: "The fate of unborn millions now depends, under God, on the courage of this army. Our cruel and unrelenting enemy leaves us only the choice of brave resistance, or the most abject submission. We have therefore to resolve to conquer or die."

And to respond to each of these claims. The bracketed numbers above are mine.

1] While many of Washington's statements show he was a devout monotheist, rarely did he speak in explicitly "Christian" language. 2] The vestryman position was far more political than religious. Thomas Jefferson and many other elite Virginians who didn't believe in orthodox Christianity also served as vestrymen for the Anglican Church. 3] George Washington wrote no personal prayerbook; this has been debunked as a fraud. 4] Pious clergy sent Washington their sermons for him to read and he didn't throw them away but stashed them in his library next to the works of "infidels" like Thomas Paine and Joseph Priestly; this hardly shows Washington was orthodox. 5] While Washington, as a child, may have received a "Biblical education" and studied with his devout mother, no evidence shows that the adult Washington engaged in "Biblical studies" with his family; this is another Christian Nation myth. 6] He appointed Chaplains in the military much for the same reason why we have Chaplains today: to meet the needs of soldiers. Even Michael Newdow and Barry Lynn, as I understand, support military Chaplains for this reason. 7] True Washington did command his soldiers to attend religious services, but again, it hardly shows Washington to be orthodox, rather that he wanted his soldiers to be "religious" because he thought "religion" was necessary for morality and character. However, like Adams and the other key Founders, he likely thought all of the exotic world religions of which he was aware could serve this function. 8] Washington put his hand on a Freemasonic Bible when taking his oath; Freemasonry is not generally associated with orthodox Christianity; 9] and 10] perfectly illustrate Washington's generic supplications to God and only show that Washington was a devout theist, not an orthodox Christian. 11] About half of his contemporaries believed Washington was a devout Christian, and the other half believed he was either a Deist or not a "real Christian" in the orthodox Trinitarian sense. The half that didn't believe Washington was an orthodox Christian included Jefferson, Madison, G. Morris, three of Washington's own ministers, and some pious figures who knew Washington personally, like the Rev. Samuel Miller, but who unlike Parson Weems didn't see the "evidence" for Washington's orthodoxy.

12] And this too has been debunked as a fraud. The Isaac Potts story has no foundation in the historical record and Washington, when he prayed, was not known to have kneeled.

After seeing that the evidence for Washington's orthodoxy simply cannot be gleaned from the historical record and even after seeing everything that Lillback offers in his 1200 page book, Paul F. Boller's summation of the matter still applies:

[I]f to believe in the divinity and resurrection of Christ and his atonement for the sins of man and to participate in the sacrament of the Lord's Supper are requisites for the Christian faith, then Washington, on the evidence which we have examined, can hardly be considered a Christian, except in the most nominal sense.

Finally, it's not surprising that Mr. Lloyd would peddle so many pious frauds about Washington. Among those works he cites for Washington's orthodoxy are: "William J. Federer's indispensable 'America's God & Country; Encyclopedia of Quotations." This book is one of the sources for almost all of David Barton's phony "unconfirmed" quotations which have left the "Christian Nation" crowd with so much egg on their faces.

Friday, February 16, 2007

First Things Book Review Online:

Scroll down to the eighth book review via this link for my review of James H. Hutson's "The Founders on Religion: A Book of Quotations." Not that I really mind that they tweaked a few things. I think, however, that my original wording of the following passage was superior to their change. In First Things, it reads:

Certainly Jefferson, Adams, and Franklin-and very likely Washington and others-possessed unorthodox religious beliefs. This key group comprised the authors of the Declaration, a majority of the board who drafted the Declaration, the first presidents, and the prime architects of the Constitution.

The version that I submitted to them reads:

Certainly Jefferson, Adams, and Franklin -- and very likely Washington, Madison, and a few others too -- possessed unorthodox religious beliefs. This key group comprised the author of the Declaration, a majority of the board who drafted the Declaration, the first four Presidents, and the prime architect of the Constitution.

There is only one "author" of the Declaration and that is Jefferson. The majority of the drafting board of the Declaration included Jefferson, Adams and Franklin. By writing "This key group comprised the authors of the Declaration, a majority of the board who drafted the Declaration" it makes those two phrases seem redundant. Any by "the prime architect of the Constitution," I referred to Madison, whose name they deleted from the Founders who possessed unorthodox religious beliefs. Though, I might add, the evidence that Madison was not an orthodox Christian is even stronger than the evidence for Washington's unorthodoxy. See this past post on the matter.

I don't mind as much that they changed "architect" to "architects" because Franklin and Washington played key roles at the Constitutional Convention (Jefferson and Adams weren't there). And those "others" I had in mind who were not orthodox Christians included Hamilton, Wilson and G. Morris, who, along with Madison did indeed comprise the prime architects of the Constitution.
People Get Ready:

Something cool that Rod Stewart and Jeff Beck did in the 1980s.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Homophobia Dead?

Yeah right.
Peter Lillback's New Article:

Peter A. Lillback has a new article posted on HNN here. Much of it reiterates earlier articles which I've commented on (see here). Lillback does say a few interesting things in the new article. For instance:

"It is tricky business to assign motives to scholars, although the maxim that the living can make the dead do any tricks they find necessary comes to mind."

Like trying to turn Washington into an orthodox Trinitarian Christian, eh?

Here is a passage of Lillback's with which I entirely agree:

His public and political life sought to unite a very diverse group of colonial soldiers in the military and competitive bodies of citizens in early federal America. This process of unification was facilitated by seeking the largest common denominator. This meant that personal religious concerns were normally subordinated in his public life.

However, that "diverse group" didn't consist of only orthodox Christian sects, even if such sects constituted a majority. As John Adams put it, speaking of America's religious demographics during the Founding era, and how that diversity necessitated a separation of Church and State:

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 James H. Hutson's "The Founders on Religion," 101-02.

One explanation why Washington and the other Founders were so generic regarding their public invocations of God is that, as men who denied various doctrines of orthodoxy (most notably the Trinity), if they put their specific cards on the table it would have damaged their reputation with the public. Though, Washington's unitarianism isn't as firmly established in the historical record as Adams', Jefferson's, Franklin's, and Madison's. Another plausible explanation -- one that would explain why a Trinitarian public figure likewise would be generic in his public supplications to God -- is that he recognized such religious diversity included a substantial minority of heterodox believers and Washington wanted to send them the message that it's their country too. Hence the "Lowest Common Denominator" God ultimately is some overriding Providence, about whose specific attributes public figures ought to be silent to include as many as possible into the LCD.

This could explain why Washington, as a Trinitarian, would refuse to speak publicly in Trinitarian terms. However, the "civil religion's" generic God also cuts against the "Christian America" idea because it seeks to include many non-Christian citizens into the LCD.

And, while one could, in theory, still be an orthodox Trinitarian Christian and endorse the notion of a civil religion which embraces deists, unitarians, and other non-Christians, arguably the religion of Adams, Jefferson, Madison, and Franklin, which was theologically unitarian and universalist, "easier fits" with such inclusive "civil religion" idea. After all, whereas a Trinitarian Christian believes only Trinitarian Christians worship the one true God, the theistic rationalists believed Trinitarians, unitarians, deists, Native Americans, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, and Pagan Greeks and Romans all worshipped the same God. They also tended to invoke God in terms with which the addressees would be comfortable. Lillback and the Novaks make a big deal out of the one time Washington ever referenced God as "Jehovah," which was in an address to Jews. However, I counted two instances -- here and here -- where Washington, when speaking to the Native Americans, referenced God as "the Great Spirit," exactly as they did (and I've also uncovered Madison and Jefferson doing the same; Adams might have, I've haven't found his example yet). In fact, in the link dated November 29, 1796, Washington crossed out the word "God" and wrote in "the Great Spirit above." Do orthodox Christians really believe that "the Great Spirit" the Native Americans worshipped is the Triune God of the Bible?

Finally, Lillback writes the following with which I also agree:

The sheer magnitude of Washington's writings and correspondence makes it difficult to get a handle on his faith given that it was not the central point of his daily work. Only recently has this question been made easier to address. The digital revolution now makes searching Washington's vast corpus possible from the comfort of one's personal computer simply by accessing the sources through the University of Virginia and the Library of Congress. Similarly, the letters to which Washington was responding have only recently been published or been put online, finally making them readily accessible to scholarly research. These letters are important for this debate in particular since they give added depth and insight to Washington's words as he expresses his faith and religious concerns.

Almost everything Washington has written is available online. In particular, this link, The Writings of George Washington from the Original Manuscript Sources 1745-1799 Edited by John C. Fitzpatrick (1931-44) from the University of Virginia is where I first check all primary source information on Washington.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

How the Reformation Undermined Orthodoxy:

When debating religion and culture I often hear it claimed by those who laud the religious roots of the West over the secular ones that the Reformation is responsible for the Enlightenment. There are many kernels of truth to this claim. However, one important kernel that few appreciate is how the Reformation in paving the way for Enlightenment ultimately undermined the tenets of Christian orthodoxy and historic Christianity itself.

This is one message I get from an excerpt of Nathan Hatch's The Democratization of American Christianity. Hatch is, by the way, president of Wake Forest University and one of the premier scholars of Religion and the Founding Era.

We see in the writings of our key Founding Fathers support for the Protestant Reformation. However, they also supported Enlightenment and the notion that religion needed to further reform to conform to the tenets of Enlightenment. As George Washington wrote: "I was in hopes, that the enlightened and liberal policy, which has marked the present age, would at least have reconciled Christians of every denomination so far, that we should never again see their religious disputes carried to such a pitch as to endanger the peace of Society."

Hatch's excerpt shows how the notion of sola scriptura and further reform ultimately resulted in denying historic Christian doctrines. This is notable because many of the ministers that he references who did this happened to be the most influential pro-revolutionary preachers and the ones most likely to capture the minds of our key Founders. They were also theological unitarians and universalists. These figures were the most "Enlightened" preachers. They were essentially preaching "infidelity" from their pulpits. As Hatch writes:

Saturday, February 10, 2007

Bob Dylan:

Genius songwriter. I really can't listen to anything he's sung on since about 1980. Rock or folk singers don't necessarily need to be "good" in the technical sense but have to have some kind of cool sounding voice and able to carry a tune (this used to annoy my classical guitar teacher who once remarked to me that rock singers all sound like guitar players filling in for lead vocals). Dylan had this up until about 1980, which, after that, I think his voice got so bad that it's unlistenable. Even in his prime, I'd much rather listen to better musicians -- better players and better singers -- do his material: From Hendrix, to Neil Young, to Joan Baez, to The Byrds to The Band, the list goes on and on of people and groups who have done versions of Bob Dylan songs better than the man himself.

Here is a great, all star version of "I Shall Be Released."

Robertson Threatens:

I'm not sure I believe this. For some reason it makes my laugh meter go off.

NORFOLK, Va. (Feb. 9) - A Texas bodybuilder suing Pat Robertson contends the religious broadcaster walked into federal court for a legal proceeding and told him: "I am going to kill you and your family."

With those superpowerful legs, I bet Pat threatened to stomp the guy and his family to death.

Update: Upon further reflection, I think I should have named this post: "I will stomp you and your family to death." Jack Kirby actually created a supervillian named Stompa (a female) for DC. Pat could be like a real world Stompa.

Friday, February 09, 2007

George Washington's "Infidel" Worldview:

Peter Lillback's 1200 page book on George Washington's faith probably contains more non-sequiturs than any other book ever written. As I've noted before, he and his assistant do a great job reporting many facts about George Washington's life as it relates to religion; but almost everything they uncover simply does not support the their thesis that he was an orthodox Trinitarian Christian. And it's quite amusing to see how as they uncover every single new fact, they also attempt to weave those facts into an argument that repeats the same mantra over and over again: this shows Washington was a Christian not a Deist.

I've entitled this post George Washington's "Infidel" Worldview to counter a chapter in the book entitled George Washington's Christian Worldview. Now, like the terms "Christian," "Deist," and "Unitarian," the word "Infidel" also has various meanings. George Washington (and the other key Founders, Jefferson, Franklin, etc.) didn't consider themselves infidels and both Washington and Franklin used the word in a pejorative sense. For instance, Washington once said, "The hand of Providence has been so conspicuous in all this, that he must be worse than an infidel that lacks faith, and more than wicked, that has not gratitude enough to acknowledge his obligations...." Yet, Franklin once said, "Atheism is unknown there; Infidelity rare and secret; so that persons may live to a great Age in that Country, without having their Piety shocked by meeting with either an Atheist or an Infidel." However, Franklin himself was a theological unitarian who denied the infallibility of scripture. And indeed, theological unitarianism and universalism were preached openly in various parts of America. Franklin and Washington didn't regard their "hybrid" belief system, which was theologically unitarian and somewhere between Christianity and Deism with rationalism as the trumping element, as "infidelity." The problem, though, is that the orthodox Trinitarian Christians did.

Indeed, even though in one part of the book, Lillback insinuates that "99.8%" of Americans were "professing Christians," elsewhere he notes that pious Christians of that era were concerned with the ever increasing number of "infidels" among not just church members, but church preachers as well. (A surprising number of notable "infidels," including Joseph Priestly and Samuel Clarke in England and Elihu Palmer in America, were ministers in Churches which professed orthodoxy. Indeed, the New England Congregational Clergy was so overrun with unitarian infidels, that these Puritan Congregations eventually adopted "unitarianism" as their official Church doctrine and became "Unitarian" instead of "Puritan" Congregations.) Colleges like William and Mary, Harvard, and Yale likewise were hotbeds of infidelity. And as with many Congregational Churches, Harvard's official creed became Unitarian in the early 19th Century (though theological unitarianism was firmly entrenched at Harvard in the mid to late 18th Century).

And so it was that orthodox Christians in the late 18th Century urged Virginia's Committee on Religion to be concerned with the rising infidelity in that state. George Washington, when serving in Virginia's House of Burgesses, was a member on its Committee on Religion. Lillback intimates that this committee's purpose was to advance Christianity and impede Deism in Virginia, and this, in turn is more evidence Washington was a Christian, not a Deist. In fact, the Committee's purpose was more simply, how Virginia, which at that time had an established church, would deal with Church-State matters. Washington's membership on the Committee on Religion is the ultimate non-sequitur when we consider that fellow "infidels" Jefferson and Madison, when members of Virginia's House of Delegates, were also on the Committee on Religion, and it was there that they initiated Jefferson's revolutionary Virginia Bill for Religious Freedom which, when passed, separated Church and State in Virginia.

Another non-sequitur put forth by Lillback is that Washington was a "collector of sermons." We do know that many ministers sent Washington their sermons for him to read. And he didn't throw them away, but kept them in his library alongside the works of infidels like Thomas Paine and Joseph Priestly. Most of those sermons were from orthodox Christian ministers and many of them preached against Deism and "Infidelity." Washington almost always politely thanked them for this. His thanks and thoughts on the sermons were invariably brief. And where his language is positive, Lillback, again, tries to make the most out of this as evidence that Washington personally believed in the orthodoxy of the ministers.

When one examines, in context, how ministers viewed Washington's religious beliefs, one doesn't get the impression that they firmly believed he was an orthodox Christian. Rather, one gets the message that they hoped he was, but had doubts and wanted him to clarify his specific beliefs. Indeed, that they often sent him sermons preaching doctrines of orthodoxy, was probably one way in which they thought they might get Washington to "open up" about what he really believed. But that is something that Washington did not do. Rather, in letters of response, he invariably gave brief, perfunctory thanks for their thoughts.

When Jefferson noted he believed Washington wasn't an orthodox Christian, he said so in the context of recalling an incident when a group of pious ministers tried to pin Washington down into admitting whether he believed in orthodox Christianity. Those ministers were concerned because Washington was too secretive on the matter:

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 tho[ugh]t 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.

After Washington died, some of those ministers expressed their hopes he died a real Christian. Many of them, however, saw the evidence for this lacking. On his deathbed, Washington asked for no ministers and said no prayers. His final words were "tis well." The Rev. Samuel Miller, a founding era minister, thus commented: "How was it possible...for a true Christian, in the full exercise of his mental faculties, to die without one expression of distinctive belief, or Christian hope?"

Those ministers were concerned that Washington's mind, secretly, had been dominated by "infidel principles." And they had good reason to be so concerned. Though most of them were raised in orthodox Christian homes, our key Founders (including Adams, Jefferson, Madison, and Franklin) ultimately had their minds captured by a different system. But note, they didn't go completely for strict Deism as did Paine and Allen, but rather settled for a hybrid system, that lied somewhere between strict Deism and orthodox Christianity with "rationalism" as the trumping element. This system, which Dr. Gregg Frazer has termed "theistic rationalism," was more Arminian than Calvinist, and was theologically unitarian and universalistic.

This system was so attractive to the elite Whig Founders that even a few of them who were generally understood to be "orthodox Christian" ultimately doubted some tenets of orthodoxy. For instance, Benjamin Rush was an orthodox Christian but ultimately converted to Arminianism and then universalism, believing all will eventually be saved. He wrote:

At Dr. Finley's School, I was more fully instructed in these principles by means of the Westminster Catechism. I retained them but without any affection for them 'till abut the year of 1780. I then read for the first time Fletcher's controversy with the Calvinists in favor of the Universality of the atonement. This prepared my mind to admit the doctrine of Universal salvation, which was then preached in our city by the Revd. Mr. Winchester. It embraced and reconciled my ancient calvinistical, and newly adopted Armenian principles. From that time I have never doubted upon the subject of the salvation of all men. My conviction of the truth of this doctrine was derived from reading the works of Stonehouse, Seigvolk, White,Chauncey, and Winchester, and afterwards from an attentive perusal of the Scriptures. I always admitted with each of these authors future punishment, and of long, long duration.

Likewise, John Jay was also an orthodox Christian but ultimately doubted the Trinity. He wrote in his February 18, 1822 letter to Samuel Miller: "For proof of [the Trinity] I searched the Scriptures diligently -- but without Success. I therefore consider this Position of being at least of questionable Orthodoxy."

And of course Adams, Jefferson, and Franklin are on record as explicitly rejecting the Trinity. And Madison likewise, according to first hand accounts, rejected trinitarianism/the Anathasian creed and accepted theological unitarianism. Thus, given the zeitgeist of the elite Whig subculture to which Washington belonged -- the unitarian, "infidel" worldview that dominated the minds of so many key Founders -- one cannot assume or otherwise read in "orthodox Christianity" to Washington's statements when he himself refused to explicitly put those cards on the table.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Richard Manuel:

Speaking of "Americana," The Band typified this genre (albeit, unlike Kansas, in a non-prog rock way). (And yes, I know Robbie Robertson is Canadian). Anyway the late Richard Manuel is one of the few perhaps the only other person besides Ray Charles who could do justice to "Georgia on My Mind." I think his version is even better than Ray Charles'.


Great blogpost on Kansas from last April complete with a link to a live recording of a 70s concert which I've never heard before. Money quote:

The dual heavy guitar attack of Kerry Livgren & Rich Williams blended with singer Steve Walsh's keys and there was also the lead violin of Robby Steinhardt. While the intricate melodies and odd time signatures certainly put them in the same category as Genesis and Yes, Kansas had a very different flavor. I've always thought of them as being the Aaron Copeland of progressive rock. A song like "Cheyenne Anthem", dealing with the Native American tribe, could never have been done by any of the prog heavyweights across The Pond, for instance.

One thing I like about Kansas is they weren't just a second rate "rip off" of the British prog rockers who created this genre, but rather mixed in a strong element of "Americana" (hence the Aaron Copeland comparison) that was absent from British prog rock.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Terrible Event for Gary North:

Dr. Gary North -- the Christian Reconstructionist who runs in libertarian circles and has written a provocative book on the Founding and Religion -- has had a terrible occurrence in his life. Even though his Reconstructionism frightens and repels me, you still have to feel for someone who has to go through this. I offer my sincerest condolences to him and his family.

Monday, February 05, 2007

George Washington's Sacred Fire, First Thoughts:

The book by Peter A. Lillback with Jerry Newcombe has just arrived in the mail and at 1200 pages, obviously I haven't finished it. This book attempts to overturn the conventional wisdom in scholarly circles that George Washington was a Deist, but rather argues that Washington was an orthodox Trinitarian Christian. I'm sure I'll have plenty to say about it over the next few months, but some initial reactions.

First, It's impressive to see the list of distinguished scholars who write blurbs for it: Rodney Stark (Baylor), Robert P. George (Princeton), James Kurth (Swarthmore) and Walter McDougall (Penn). Lillback and his assistant, Jerry Newcombe are not really part of the "academy." Lillback is a Calvinist-Presbyterian minister and President of Westminster Theological Seminary, and Newcombe works for D. James Kennedy's The Coral Ridge Hour and has co-written books with Kennedy. This book has been heavily promoted by The Coral Ridge Hour.

This book essentially is coming from the "Christian Nation" circle (a circle, my readers know, I often criticize). And indeed, authors like David Barton, William Federer, and D. James Kennedy himself have put forth shoddy scholarship which deserves harsh criticism.

This book is different, however. Though it claims to be accessible to ordinary readers (perhaps why they brought Newcombe in), and though many ordinary readers are buying the book through various "Christian America" outlets, most ordinary folks will not finish or even read a fraction of a 1200 page book with 200 pages of footnotes in fineprint. (Indeed, see the comments section where evangelicals-intellectuals Joe Carter and John Rabe both admit not being able to make it through this "doorstopper," as Carter puts it.) No, this book is squarely aimed at the scholars, notably those scholars who are experts on Washington's life, from Paul F. Boller to James Flexner, who claim Washington was some kind of Deist. Paul F. Boller's George Washington & Religion, among the community of historical scholars, is generally accepted as the standard work of scholarship on the matter. And Boller claims that Washington was some kind of "Deist" and that the evidence for his Christian orthodoxy is lacking. One of the virtues of Lillback's book is that he is familiar with almost every claim that Boller makes and seeks to answer them. Most "Christian Nation" scholars asserting Washington was a devout Christian simply ignore such evidence, like for instance that Washington refused to take communion and that his own ministers termed him a "Deist" or "not a real Christian" for this.

Indeed, much in the historical record suggests that Washington was not an orthodox Christian, and Lillback puts these facts on the table for his readers to see even as he tries to explain them away. In a sense, Lillback acts as a "Johnny Cochran" defending Washington against the charge that he wasn't an orthodox Christian. Cochran, of course, had mountains of evidence indicating OJ's guilt (even if presented by Prosecutors in not the most effective manner) which he had to explain away. Likewise, many of Lillback's proposed explanations are about as tenable as Cochran's arguments for OJ. In a chapter, Lillback puts Washington's Deism on trial and actually writes, "if it doesn't fit, you must acquit!"

Another virtue of the book is how deeply it digs into the primary source record; Lillback has been working on this for 15 years. However, as impressive as his factual reporting is, his analysis, the lens through which he views the facts, is about as biased as one can imagine. Lillback strives as mightily as possible to "read in" orthodox Trinitarian Christianity to Washington's statements, and otherwise explain away evidence which casts doubt on that notion.

Washington was not a "strict Deist" like Thomas Paine, one who believes in a non-intervening God and it doesn't take 1200 pages to demonstrate this. However, aside from showing that Washington believed in an active Providence (and that he, unlike Paine was not at all hostile to Christianity) the evidence for Washington's orthodoxy/Trinitarianism is still lacking. Washington never admitted to being an orthodox Trinitarian Christian and simply refused to answer the question when a group of pious ministers asked him to put his explicit religious cards on the table. As Joe Carter put it, speaking as an evangelical to another evangelical:

No serious historian would claim that Washington was an "orthodox, Trinitarian Christian." If he was it cannot be gleaned from the historical evidence. We simply should not claim for the man what he refused to claim of himself.

Finally, the size of Lillback's book is a drawback. Lillback's case could have been made using a few hundred less pages and there is much redundancy in what I have read so far.

Anyway those are my thoughts so far.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

It's a Good Thing I am not Broadcasting the Superbowl:

The prankster in me wouldn't be able to help but refer to Chicago's coach as "Lovie Howell." And then he would do to me what Jim Everett did to Jim Rome.

Putting things into Perspective:

We truly live in a different era (thank God) than the pre-founding colonial orders. Christian fundamentalists tend to take umbrage at the comparison to Islamic fundamentalists. And indeed, in today's day and age, the overwhelming majority of evangelicals and Catholics no longer believe that the state should use the sword to enforce religious orthodoxy or that Old Testament style punishments should be implemented. But, before the Enlightenment, many "Christian Nations" did exactly this. And an amazing achievement of the Enlightenment was that it helped the West transgress Christian theocracy. However, I must also credit Protestant dissidents like Roger Williams, who anticipated these Enlightenment ideals and called for separation of Church and State and religious liberty before Enlightenment. Indeed, it was out of this experience of dissent -- being on the receiving end of persecution as many Protestants were -- that made Protestants realize tolerance, and then ultimately granting full and equal rights of citizenship regardless of religious creed, were good ideas.

However, before these ideas crystallized, many Protestants (behaving like their Catholic oppressors) set up theocratic orders that looked very similar to what we see today in the Islamic world. And much of this occurred in America at the colonial level. The order that Jefferson, Madison, et al. ushered in 1776-1789 was truly 180 degrees opposed to what we see in Puritan Massachusetts. The Massachusetts Body of Liberties established by the Puritans seems almost Orwellian in its title when you consider there seems to be no liberties contained therein. Scroll down to where it states Capitall Laws. Murder isn't even addressed till #4 and check out the first three.

(Deut. 13. 6, 10. Deut. 17. 2, 6. Ex. 22.20)
If any man after legall conviction shall have or worship any other god, but the lord god, he shall be put to death.

(Ex. 22. 18. Lev. 20. 27. Dut. 18. 10.)
If any man or woeman be a witch, (that is hath or consulteth with a familiar spirit,) They shall be put to death.

(Lev. 24. 15,16.)
If any person shall Blaspheme the name of god, the father, Sonne or Holie Ghost, with direct, expresse, presumptuous or high handed blasphemie, or shall curse god in the like manner, he shall be put to death.

Jefferson and Madison brilliantly dealt with this notion by turning it on its head. Whereas these passages reflect the Biblical God's jealousy and His demand that men worship no other God but Him, our Founders' "Nature's God" granted men an unalienable right to worship no God or twenty Gods. In Jefferson's exact words, the rights of conscience apply to "the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and Mahometan, the Hindoo, and Infidel of every denomination." The Founders Nature's God doesn't seem to be quite as "jealous" as the Biblical God.

Likewise beastiality, sodomy, and adultery are capital crimes under the Massachusetts document:

(Lev. 20. 15,16.)
If any man or woeman shall lye with any beaste or bruite creature by Carnall Copulation, They shall surely be put to death. And the beast shall be slaine, and buried and not eaten.

(Lev. 20. 13.)
If any man lyeth with mankinde as he lyeth with a woeman, both of them have committed abhomination, they both shall surely be put to death.

Lev. 20. 19. and 18, 20. Dut. 22. 23, 24.)
If any person committeth Adultery with a maried or espoused wife, the Adulterer and Adulteresse shall surely be put to death.

Finally, it shouldn't surprise us that Jefferson and company would give us an order that radically differed from what we see here given what they attempted to do in 1776 also made the list of capital crimes (and indeed, had Britain won, they may have been hanged).

If any man shall conspire and attempt any invasion, insurrection, or publique rebellion against our commonwealth, or shall [Page 275] indeavour to surprize any Towne or Townes, fort or forts therein, or shall treacherously and perfediouslie attempt the alteration and subversion of our frame of politie or Government fundamentallie, he shall be put to death.