Sunday, June 24, 2007

Terminology:

A quick google search reveals that Milton, Newton, and Locke (all of whom most of my readers have probably heard) and Samuel Clarke (many readers may not have heard of him, but he, like the other three greatly influenced our Founding Fathers) were "Arians." That is, though they may have called themselves "Christians," they believed Christ was created by and hence subordinate to God the Father. To Arians, Christ may have been some type of Divine Being, but he was not fully God.

Question: According to the standards set by orthodox Christianity, these men were "heretics." Do you think that they may still be called "Christians," or are they not Christians, but something else? For instance, most orthodox Christians say Mormons are not Christians (even though they call themselves "Christian"); rather, they are "Mormons."

Should we likewise say, don't refer Locke, Milton, Newton, and Clarke as "Christians," call them "Arians." If orthodox Christians were consistent, they would say yes.

But what about those of us who don't consider ourselves "Christian"? Outsiders to "Christianity" have no "theological dog in the fight" regarding how narrowly or broadly "Christianity" is defined. However, the overwhelming majority of Christian Nationalists are also devout Trinitarians, who would likely argue, because of their beliefs, Mormons aren't Christians, even if they call themselves Christian.

To be honest, I do have motive in showing that the key Founding Fathers and their philosophical heroes likewise were not Christians as orthodox/evangelical/Catholic Christians define that term. As I've noted before, debunking the "Christian Nation" myth is useful for social libertarians because if Christian Nationalists realized they never "owned" America's Heritage as they've been mistaught, such helps to take away their zeal or the winds out of their sail, as they'd be trying to "reclaim" something they never owned.

2 comments:

Faith of the Free said...

[ Jon, I attempted to post this to the Positive Freedom site, but got a database error. Here's what I was going to say, in comment 12...]

"It may be that the leading Founders, the Framers, the nation’s first presidents, are best understood as religious liberals who had little use for dogmas and creeds, and who would have been deeply offended by the modern fundamentalists’ frankly theocratic social program. "

-- Eric makes a good point. To me, it's about the nature of dogmatic religion, and just how it really fits (if at all) into the core-structures of radical democracy upon which this nation was founded. Not that I would want to "kick anyone out" based on their orthodox beliefs, but I think the distinction between individual freedom and orthodoxy--between personal free-agency (in matters of ultimate truth and conscience) and unquestioned acceptance of pre-determined dogma--is an important one, and really should be made. It deserves to be thoroughly considered and openly debated in the free and open marketplace.

As a minister/author once wrote, "dogma divides, but ultimately freedom alone has the power to unite." To me, that premise and spirit-- of both "e pluribus" and "unum" working together-- and the "Founders," bless their hearts, had the genius to recognize that.

They also understood that radical democracy, in all of its "enlightened liberality" (as I think Washington described it), is an ongoing, unfinished experiment, a process in which the steady flow of fresh ideas and perspectives of future generations was considered vital--but also one in which religious orthodoxy might well, if given the opportunity, try to undercut. Eternal vigilance was urged against such designs-- for very good reason, I think.

Ron
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"The president of the United States has claimed, on more than one occasion, to be in dialogue with God. If he said that he was talking to God through his hairdryer, this would precipitate a national emergency. I fail to see how the addition of a hairdryer makes the claim more ridiculous or offensive."

-- Sam Harris

Jonathan said...

Thanks. I just posted it over there in the comments section.