Sunday, December 30, 2007

Ignatius on Jefferson, Adams and Romney:

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

Here is the first paragraph:

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

Here is the last paragraph:

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

For the middle, read the whole thing.

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

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

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