Thursday, May 31, 2007

Pennsylvania's Theistic Rationalist Religious Test:

In the comments section, James J. Goswick has repeated the following dubious information numerous times.

James Wilson, who later became a Justice on the U.S. Supreme Court, joined Thomas Mifflin in signing the U.S. Constitution, including Article VI, yet returned home to Pennsylvania to help draft the state constitution in 1790, which required that each member of the legislature, before he takes his seat, shall make and subscribe the following declaration, viz,

“I do believe in one God, the Creator and Governor of the universe, the rewarder of the good and the punisher of the wicked, and I do acknowledge the Scriptures of the Old and New Testament to be given by Divine Inspiration.”

Pennsylvania Frame of Government, Sec 10, in The Constitutions of the Several Independent States of America, Boston: Norman and Bowen, 1795, p. 81

If Mr. Goswick indeed got that information from the cited book, he should burn it, because it is sending him down the wrong road. The religious test reproduced above was from Pennsylvania's Constitution of 1776 which document Ben Franklin helped to write. Yet, as I noted here, Franklin was against such provision, in part because he couldn't pass it! Soon thereafter, as acting governor, Franklin helped repeal such illiberal test. And indeed, Franklin and Benjamin Rush thought the test violated the Declaration of Independence which grants men "unalienable rights," the most important of which is "conscience." And all men, according to such theory, regardless of whether they are Christian, possess unalienable rights of conscience.

So what was James Wilson's relation to such Constitution? As this site notes,

Wilson opposed the popular new plan of government on the grounds that its unicameral legislature and its lack of a system of checks and balances would lead to mob rule rather than to ordered government. Because of this opposition, the leaders of the state government removed Wilson from Congress and relieved him of his militia commission. Wilson now took up residence in Annapolis, Maryland (1777-78), but this move only intensified the scandal since he was now charged with abandoning his state. As news of his opposition to the Pennsylvania constitution spread, his popularity continued to wane. In 1779, after he moved back to Pennsylvania, a mob attacked Wilson and a number of conservative state legislators barricaded in Wilson's Philadelphia home. The skirmish that ensued resulted in casualties on both sides. Thereafter, the citizens of Philadelphia dubbed the old house "Fort Wilson."

Wilson did ultimately return to PA and help to write their new constitution of 1790. And indeed, it did contain a religious test. Though, it was not a Christian religious test, but a theistic rationalist one. This is all the religious test required:

That no person, who acknowledges the being of a God and a future state of rewards and punishments, shall, on account of his religious sentiments, be disqualified to hold any office or place of trust or profit under this commonwealth.

This perfectly confirms what I wrote in this past post about our Founders desire for a religious citizenry -- anything but atheists. Or, as the theistic rationalist Ben Franklin put it:

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.

Though, I prefer Art. VI of the US Constitution's approach: No religious tests period. If the people want to elect an atheist, so be it.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

Dershowitz's Blasphemy:

I was thumbing through this yesterday at Barnes & Noble; it's definitely on my summer reading list. The book is sort of a repackaging of a book he wrote just four years ago in 2003 called America Declares Independence.

So why did he need to write a new one? Back then as today, the religious right has been "revising" history, arguing America was founded on "Christian principles" to be a "Christian Nation." Though he already debunked such notion in the past book, presently, books with similar themes are quite hot. So Dershowitz wants back in the game.

To support his argument from his last book, Dershowitz draws from Brooke Allen's and Jon Meacham's recent books on the matter. And, to make the book timely, he incorporates some recent controversies such as the Rep. Keith Ellison's swearing in on the Koran, and the Stephen Williams brouhaha, where it was falsely claimed that this public school teacher couldn't teach his students the Declaration of Independence, when, in reality, he was teaching them fraudulent history, complete with David Barton's phony quotations.

As a work of serious scholarship, from what I have read, I'd give it a mixed review. Dershowitz is quite brilliant and has no problem demolishing the Christian Nation fraud. But it doesn't take someone of his intellect to destroy such a straw man.

Parts of the book dig deep into the primary sources (those parts are strong). Huge parts of the book, though, simply reiterate what other experts conclude. In an area as disputed as what the Founding Fathers personally believed on religion, simply turning to what some expert concludes isn't good enough.

And, he categorizes Washington, Jefferson, Madison, and Franklin as "deists." This is problematic because 1) they didn't call themselves deists. And 2) each of them invoked an active personal God and Dershowitz himself defines deism as belief in a non-interventionist God. Now, they may well have been deists. But if they were, one has to explain why they oft-talked of a warm personal God, not a cold distant watchmaker. And Dershowitz, from what I've been able to glean (I spent about an hour with it yesterday, but still haven't bought it), doesn't.

It's more of a "fun," informative read than a work that seriously breaks new ground in scholarly research.

The book's site generously offers some excerpts, and the blurbs from some very prominent folks are entertaining as well (I especially like Pete Stark's).

"This is an engaging refutation of an insidious form of 'political correctness' of the right—the nonsensical idea that our country was founded on Christian principles. Anyone, left or right, who admires the foundations of American democracy will enjoy this spirited reminder of the Founding Fathers' true genius."
—Steven Pinker, Johnstone Professor, Harvard University author of The Language Instinct, The Blank Slate, and The Stuff of Thought

"The wall of separation between church and state is one of the great barriers to religious tyranny. Among the wall's most articulate defenders is Dershowitz, who shows in this readable book why the authors of our Declaration feared theocracy and favored democracy."
—Nadine Strossen, Professor of Law at New York Law School and President of the American Civil Liberties Union

"Blasphemy proves that many Christians are as deliberately bewildered about the history of our nation as they are about the evolution of life on this planet. Dershowitz has done a great service in rescuing Jefferson, Adams, and the other Founding Fathers from the religious delusions of the Christian Right. This book will strike a great blow to the forces of theocracy in the United States."
—Sam Harris, author of the New York Times bestsellers The End of Faith and Letter to a Christian Nation

"Right wing Christian zealots don't know Thomas Jefferson from Jefferson Starship. The assertion that our Declaration of Independence is a Christian document is absurd. Colonists fled Europe to escape religious persecution, not to be controlled by a different religion. Dershowitz proves that Jefferson and his compatriots purposely built a wall between Church and State that the Religious Right is now attempting to destroy. If conservative Christians are successful at shoving God down our throats, the end of democracy as we know it will soon follow."
—U.S. Congressman Pete Stark (D-CA)

"Blasphemy is a brilliant, well-researched critique of the Religious Right's 'Christian Nation' mythology and its misuse of the American historical record. Just as significant, Professor Dershowitz illuminates the open hostility and vitriol this movement routinely exhibits toward all, religious or secular, who dare to challenge its faulty conclusions."
—Barry W. Lynn, Executive Director, Americans United for Separation of Church and State
Kind of Funny:

Now that James J. Goswick is starting to see that Madison was not a Christian just like him, he seeks to minimize his importance as a Founder and attack his character, both physical and personal. He calls Madison "a little fish compared to the other framer’s [sic]" and concludes:

In the end, Madison was a contradiction, who was weak in character as well as physically, changing his friends as well as views at the whim of a hat. No comment should be made about his faith....

Mr. Goswick claims I should pay more attention to Hamilton, G. Morris and Wilson. Well, from what I have studied, they are, like Madison, key Founders (though not as important as him). They, like Madison, played pivotal roles at the Constitutional Convention. And Hamilton, like Madison, was one of three primary authors of the federalist papers. They were all, also, like Madison, theistic rationalists, not orthodox Trinitarian Christians. Hamilton did convert to orthodox Christianity, but not till towards the end of his life.

Moreover, whatever personal problems Madison might have had -- he was, through no fault of his own a physically small man, a hypochondriac, thinking he would die an early death (little did he know), and may have suffered a nervous breakdown -- the other three had personal character issues which put Madison's to shame.

G. Morris had a more active sex life than Bill Clinton’s; he was an avid fornicator and adulterer, going so far as to purposefully try to impregnate a married woman. Hamilton too was an adulterer and died in a very “un-Christian” duel, leaving his family behind. And Wilson was a deadbeat who lived the end of his life running from creditors and finally died a pauper after serving time in debtors’ prison.

Tuesday, May 29, 2007

This is not Islam Properly Understood:

Not the Lockean version for which I argued here.

This figure, the American Al Qaeda propaganda chief, Adam Gadahn, sounds as comically maniacal as Fred Phelps. The frightening thing is whereas the Phelps family are hated and marginalized (honestly, I wonder if anyone outside of the fifty or so people in their church supports their message), Mr. Gadahn speaks the Al Qaeda party line. Some small but significant percentage of Muslims actually support this vile evil. Even if it's only 5%, 5% of a billion people is still large enough that it constitutes an ongoing problem that won't go away unless we destroy (hopefully) or otherwise contain them (which in the real world, we might have to settle for).

Listen to his list of demands. There is no way in Hell America or the West should or will make these concessions. And as long as Islamofascists demand them, and are willing to commit terror in furtherance thereof, there will be war. As he notes, Iraq is just one small piece. Even if all of our troops were out tomorrow, Islamofascists like this still abound. And unlike Iraq, they directly threaten freedoms, for which not just the military but ordinary citizens ought to be willing to die. (He says American citizens deserve death simply for criticizing Islam or sending out anti-Islamic messages from our shores. One demands is that the American government gag its citizens from disseminating these messages else we deserve terrorist attacks.)

The big mistake of Iraq, from my perspective, is that it will make the war against Al Qaeda/terrorism more difficult.

And I hate to say this, as much as I like Ron Paul's libertarian message (I know he has no chance anyway) I don't trust him against Al Qaeda. As much as I dislike Rudy Guiliani's authoritarianism and statism, I'd rather have him in charge to fight the terrorists like Gadahn and Bin Laden.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

Sunday Music:

Kansas at their best. Icarus Borne on Wings of Steel.

It's too bad Steve Walsh doesn't sound like that anymore. Geddy Lee and Jon Anderson have done a much better job preserving their high, piercing prog-rock voices. Out of those three, Walsh, in his prime was my favorite.

Update: If you want to see how Walsh's voice has changed, the following is "Icarus II," recorded a few years ago. As you can see, he can still sing and phrase, but he has lost some tone and range. The lyrics to the first Icarus are about aviation and flying. The sequel's lyrics are about World War II fighter pilots, very apt for Memorial Day.

Update II: I found a link which accesses the entire song Byzantium, which like, Icarus II, was recorded on their year 2000 album Somewhere to Elsewhere, and I think is the best song from that release. As you can hear, Walsh's voice, though not what it used to be, still haunts in a way that few can.

Friday, May 25, 2007

Who is The Great Spirit?

Reader James J. Goswick responded to my post addressing James Madison's alleged Christianity. I will admit with Madison and Washington, because of their reticence to explicate their specific creed, until we find more of their writings (if we ever do), there will always be some question. As James H. Hutson put it,

Seeking evidence of his faith quickly leads to the conclusion that there is, in the words of the poet, no there there, that in the mature Madison's writings there is no trace, no clue as to his personal religious convictions....With Madison, unlike Jefferson or any of the other principal founding fathers with the possible exception of Washington, one peers into a void when trying to discern evidence of personal religious belief.

And because of the level of generality about which Madison spoke on God, Hutson notes, "[t]he very paucity of evidence has permitted a latitude of interpretation in which writers have created Madison in the image of their own religious convictions."

Madison oft-used generic, philosophical lowest-common-denominator terms for God. However, "The Great Spirit" is not one of those terms, as Mr. Goswick asserts. Terms like "Providence," "Nature's God," "Deity," "Almighty," "Supreme Being,"...these are the generic terms which Jews, Deists, Unitarians, Trinitarians, and even Muslims could speak pretending such is the same God they all worshipped. All of these groups (even Deists and Unitarians) could, in some sense, claim to worship "The God of Abraham" as a generic lowest-common-denominator. Jefferson, Adams, and Franklin, in a sense believed they worshipped such God, except with all of His "unreasonable" attributes edited out from the Bible, so that only those parts which showed God's warmth and benevolence remained.

"The Great Spirit," on the other hand, like the term "Allah," is a specific title that the Native Americans have given to God. Just google that term and see. The Founding Fathers never used the term "The Great Spirit," except when speaking to Native Americans, intimating that their pagan Deity was the same God they worshipped. I have counted Washington, Madison, and Jefferson each doing this numerous times. Adams probably did as well (after all, he believed Hindu and pagan Greek and Roman worship was "Christian"), but I haven't yet found his quotations. For a taste, see Washington here, Jefferson here, and Madison here.

Finally, Madison almost certainly did not mean, as Mr. Goswick asserts "that the 'Great Spirit' is the Holy Spirit who is the third person of the triune God that is the same God of us all." I understand how, because of the similarity of words, one might first grasp on to this notion. But upon further reflection this theory fails. These are different terms -- "Great Spirit," and "Holy Spirit." The "Holy Spirit" it seems to me is the much neglected personality of the Triune Godhead, with most folks either discussing God the Father or the Son (so Trinitarians finally get around to discussing the Holy Spirit when talking to the Indians?). But most importantly, when Madison discusses The Great Spirit, his context refutes Mr. Goswick's notion. Madison stated: "The Great Spirit who is the father of us all, approves them." The Holy Spirit is not "the father of us all." That utterly confuses the distinct personalities of the Triune Godhead. It makes no more sense than to say Jesus is God the Father. Jehovah/Yahweh, not Jesus Christ or the Holy Spirit, are proper names for God the Father.

Moreover, because Allah at least purports to be the God of Abraham (the Native American's "Great Spirit" does not), referring to God as "The Great Spirit" is even less orthodox than referring to God as Allah.

All of this, it seems to me, confirms my thesis that according to the key Founders, including Madison,

God is Jehovah to the Jews, Allah to the Muslims, the Great Spirit to the Native Americans. And these are different names for the same generic “Providence” they worshipped. Though, as theological unitarians, they didn’t believe that Jesus was God, rather that he was a great moral teacher who may have been a man (Socinian) or some kind of divine being created by and subordinate to God (Arian).
Links to Post on Rational Islam:

I want to thank everyone for the links and discussion to my post on enlightening Christianity and Islam. First Ed; then Chris Ho-Stuart, then PZ Meyers; and finally Andrew Sullivan. Also see Jason's and others.

PZ notes something that should be stressed: Even though the US, revolutionary for its time, disestablished religion at the national level when founded, other liberal democracies retained their established Churches which likewise enlightened. Indeed, Western Europe and its established Christian Churches became even more liberal and secular. He writes:

I'll add, though, that other countries did set up state religions, and then seem to have modified that institution into similarly benign forms that have had a more lasting effect. The unofficial position of America's founding fathers may have been wonderfully positive in the beginning, but we can see now that they flopped mightily at building enduring institutions that would maintain any kind of religious rationalism. I tend to think that if they had, for instance, declared Unitarianism the official US religion (with the same strong statements that religion was not to be a prerequisite for holding office, etc., and that it was not a declaration of exclusivity) we'd be better off today. There'd at least be one officially sanctioned brake on the excesses of our wildly proliferating looney-tunes churches.

Based on my meticulous study of Jefferson, Adams, and Franklin, they probably desired Unitarianism as the "official" religion of the US. The same thing, however, that prevented the Founders from abolishing slavery in the original Constitution, prevented this desire -- the states would never have ratified the Constitution were this to be done. Though, the Founders may have secretly intended to "de-facto" establish unitarianism or "theistic rationalism" as the US's Founding creed.

The US Constitution makes no mention of God, Christ, or Christianity and only recognizes "religion" in terms of granting it rights (free exercise) and imposing restrictions (i.e., no establishment or religious tests) which ultimately relate to securing the unalienable rights of conscience. If any kind of creed can be gleaned from the US Constitution, it is latitudinarianism. Arguably though, no creed can be gleaned at all.

While we have a "godless" Constitution, based on other founding documents, (the Declaration et al.) and the public supplications and privately recorded beliefs of our key Founding Fathers, they did believe America to be a nation "under God." However, as I've noted many times, such conception of a "civil religion" or "public creed" for the United States isn't, or arguably isn't Christianity, but a form of theological unitarianism which Dr. Gregg Frazer has dubbed "theistic rationalism."

The responses which atheists (who don't like any conception of God), or conservative Christians (who don't care for "unitarianism") can invoke is that we aren't governed by the secret intentions of our Founding Fathers but the original public meaning of the text of the Constitution. And the Constitution a) is Godless (something atheists will point out), and b) allowed the states to establish and promote Christianity over other world religions or non-belief (something conservative Christians will point out).

Still, ideas have consequences. The fact that America is a religiously pluralistic nation which still favors religious oaths in courts of law but guarantees its citizens the right to use "any religious text, not just the Bible," directly traces back to our Founding Fathers' widely latitudinarian religious ideals.

Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Theological Unitarianism v. Ecclesiastical Unitarianism:

Eric Alan Isaacson, a member of the Unitarian Universalist Church, unsuccessfully tried to leave this message at Positive Liberty. He was responding to my comment about the difference between theological unitarianism and creedal Unitarianism (or lower case "u" unitarianism v. capital "U" Unitarianism). That is, while some ministers in the Congregational Church (and other Protestant denominations as well) preached theological unitarianism, mid-18th century in churches which heretofore had orthodox Trinitarian creeds, I noted that the Congregational Churches in Massachusetts really didn't begin to change their creeds to "Unitarian" until the early 19th century. This has led many folks to mistake unitarianism as a 19th Century phenomenon, when it was really an 18th Century one.

A problem with my assessment is that Unitarianism, back then as today, was defined by such wide latitudinarianism that it adopted no official creeds. So "creedal" Unitarianism is sort of an oxymoron. Yet, churches in Massachusetts did become, in the 19th Century, officially "Unitarian" Churches.

Mr. Isaacson elaborates the details:

Hi Jonathan,

I guess the word "creed" has a multiplicity of meanings - - ranging from the formal statements of faith (generally rejected by Unitarians) to rather informal and general summaries of people's beliefs.

If you're looking for legal precedent, I think you'll find that the New Hampshire Supreme Court insisted that Unitarians have a creed when, in 1868, it disqualified Dover's First Unitarian Society of Christians' chosen minister - - as insufficiently "Christian." See Hale v. Everett, 53 N.H. 9, 16 Am. Rep. 82, 1868 N.H. LEXIS 47 (1868).

My understanding is that Congregationalist churches in Eastern Massachusetts were by the mid-eighteenth century very liberal in their theology - - but that their ministers had little interest in making an issue of that liberal theology.

It was Calvinist conservatives who made an issue of the urban churches' theological drift, charging early in the nineteenth century that the liberal ministers were Unitarians, and refusing to exchange pulpits with them.

It's hard to peg a specific date for the schism between Unitarian and Trinitarian Congregationalists. Some might point to the 1801 split in the Plymouth Congregation as the schism's beginning. Others may point to the 1805 appointment of Henry Ware to the Hollis Chair of Divinity at Harvard - - which induced orthodox Calvinists to organize the Andover Theological Seminary in 1808. Still others might point to 1815, when the Calvinist Rev. Jedidiah Morse published an excerpt from Thomas Belsham's 1812 "Life of Theophilus Lindsey," outing New England's liberal ministers as heretical Unitarians.

Disfellowshipped by conservative Calvinists, the liberal ministers and their congregations eventually embraced the Unitarian designation, with William Ellery Channing preaching his sermon on "Unitarian Christianity" in 1819.

The conservatives' efforts to ensure orthodoxy had backfired. When all was said and done, New England's oldest and most historic Protestant churches were in the Unitarian Camp - - including the Mayflower Pilgrims' First Parish Church in Plymouth, and John Winthrop's First Church in Boston, the spiritual beacon for his "city on a hill." All but one of Boston's historic Congregationalist churches landed firmly in the Unitarian camp.

Here's a link to a Unitarian Universalist explanation of the "Unitarian Controversy," which I believe owes much to George Willis Cooke's book.

Please note that the Unitarian congregations never tried to exclude Trinitarians on doctrinal or creedal grounds. Rather, Calvinist Trinitarians systematically disfellowshipped and shunned the religious liberals, condemning and isolating them as Unitarian heretics - - and the liberals eventually responded by embracing the name.

Today the liberal congregations are members of a denomination that celebrates human diversity and spiritual freedom within and among its religious communities.

As for the conservative churches in the Congregationalists' nineteenth-century schism - - they today are members of the United Church of Christ, perhaps the most liberal of America's "mainline" Trinitarian denominations.

And despite our little family squabble, most Unitarian Universalists today regard the United Church of Christ with considerable pride, as our sibling denomination.

Eric Alan Isaacson
Cowgirl in the Sand:

One of Neil Young's best.

Gay Species on Priestly:

Gay Species tried to comment on this thread. But since Positive Liberty has been having problems with our comments section, it didn't go through. I have reproduced it here.

The Question

Unitarian or Trinitarian? Christ’s Dual Natures? Is Priestly Corrupting Christianity?

The Sources of Revelation

Dei verbum: Sacred Tradition and sacred Scripture, then, are bound closely together, and communicate one with the other . . . and make up a single deposit of the Word of God, which is entrusted to the Church.

2 Th 2:15: So then, brothers and sisters, stand firm and hold fast to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by our letter.

Act 2:42: They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.

The Epiphany & Trinity

Matt 3:13-17: Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented him, saying, ‘I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?’ But Jesus answered him, ‘Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfil all righteousness.’ Then he consented. And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.’ (See also, Mark 1:9-11 & Luke 3:21-22)

Philippians 2:5-11:
Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death—
even death on a cross.
Therefore God also highly exalted him
and gave him the name
that is above every name,
so that at the name of Jesus
every knee should bend,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue should confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.

The Logos

1 Jn 1:2-3: His life was revealed, and we have seen it and testify to it, and declare to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us— we declare to you what we have seen and heard so that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ

Ephesians 2:18: for through him both of us have access in one Spirit to the Father.

Col 1:15: He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation;

Heb 1:1-4:Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, 2but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom he also created the worlds. 3He is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being, and he sustains all things by his powerful word. When he had made purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, 4having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.

John 3:34: He whom God has sent speaks the words of God, for he gives the Spirit without measure.

John 17:4: I glorified you on earth by finishing the work that you gave me to do.

2 Cor 1:20: For in him every one of God’s promises is a ‘Yes.’ For this reason it is through him that we say the ‘Amen’, to the glory of God.

2 Cor 3:17-18, 4:4-6: Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And all of us, with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another; for this comes from the Lord, the Spirit. I n their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. For we do not proclaim ourselves; we proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord and ourselves as your slaves for Jesus’ sake. For it is the God who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness’, who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

Ignatius of Antioch (112): There is one physican, fleshly and spiritual, begotten and unbegotten, God in Man, true life in death, both of Mary and of God, first passable then impassible, Jesus Christ (Incarnation)


Clement of Rome (100): The Apostles for our sakes received the gospel from the Lord Jesus Christ; Jesus Christ was sent from God. Christ then is from God, and the Apostles from Christ . . . and through the Spirit they appointed their first fruits to be bishops and deacons [overseers and ministers] of them that should believe.

The Vincentian Canon (Catholicity)

Vincent of Lerins (434): Now, in the Catholic Church itself we take greatest care to hold that which has been believed everywhere, always, and by all. One must compare the opinions of the Fathers and inquire of their meaning, provided always that, though they belonged to diverse times and places, they yet continued steadfast in the faith and communion of the one Catholic Church.


Priestly's work omits all these passages, in what can only be considered "selective" reading. The Baptism of Jesus is the Epiphany of his Divine-Human Sonship, testified by both the Father and the Holy Spirit, and becomes the Theophany of the Trinity. After Easter, the Feast of the Epiphany is the second oldest and most important feast of the Christian Church. As Jesus commands, "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit" (Mt 28:19). The Council of Chalcedon (451) defined de fide the dual natures of Jesus. In long, Priestly is the corruption.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Jefferson the Saxonist and the Proposed Great Seal:

Wayne Dynes, a retired art history professor, always has interesting historical nuggets to offer on his blogs. Dynes argues Jefferson may have tried to peddle the "Saxonist myth." I know Jefferson attempted to debunk the notion that Christianity is part of the common law, suggesting that since the common law predated Christianity in England, it is by nature pagan, part of England's Saxon not Christian heritage.

Though Christian Nationalists often note Jefferson's and Franklin's proposed Great Seal featuring "a pillar of fire leading the Chosen People into the Promised Land," Dynes reminds us what was to be on the other side of Jefferson's, "the images of Hengist and Horsa." And this is bad because:

The racial character of this combination is unmistakable. Those of English heritage must predominate on the new continent because of the primordial excellence of the Anglo-Saxons, personified by Hengist and Horsa. The pillar of fire designates the collective side. It belongs to what is termed the theory of manifest destiny, the idea that the original settlers of British North America were entitled to exercise supremacy over the whole continent--and beyond.

I think this concludes too far. Jefferson's greatest accomplishments, what he wished to be remembered for, were his great works of abstract philosophy -- his authorship of the Declaration of Independence and the Virginia Statute on Religious Freedom, and his establishing the University of Virginia. These principles transcend “'roots,' the idea that ethnicity plays a special role in one’s identity." Indeed, Jefferson thought such natural rights belonged to "the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and Mahometan, the Hindoo, and Infidel of every denomination."

If he did flirt with such ideas of Saxonism, ethnic conquest, they certainly weren't central to his philosophy and ought not be remembered as anything other than an interesting footnote in his history.

On a side note, the history of the original proposals for The Great Seal by Jefferson, Franklin and Adams, are quite interesting in and of themselves. Again, what we usually hear is the part about one side featuring Moses challenging Pharaoh. But that was proposed along side pagan imagery:

Benjamin Franklin's proposal is preserved in a note of his own handwriting:

"Moses standing on the Shore, and extending his Hand over the Sea, thereby causing the same to overwhelm Pharaoh who is sitting in an open Chariot, a Crown on his Head and a Sword in his Hand. Rays from a Pillar of Fire in the Clouds reaching to Moses, to express that he acts by Command of the Deity.

"Motto, Rebellion to Tyrants is Obedience to God."

Thomas Jefferson also suggested allegorical scenes. For the front of the seal: children of Israel in the wilderness, led by a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. For the reverse: Hengist and Horsa, the two brothers who were the legendary leaders of the first Anglo-Saxon settlers in Britain.

John Adams chose the allegorical painting known as the "Judgment of Hercules" where the young Hercules must choose to travel either on the flowery path of self-indulgence or ascend the rugged, uphill way of duty to others and honor to himself.

This seems not unlike the Supreme Court Frieze featuring Moses and the Ten Commandments surrounded by such pagan lawgivers Hammurabi, Muhammad, Menes, Lycurgus, Solon, Confucius, and others.

As they would tell the story, the Founders, from 1776-1789, "constructed" our public order using the tools of "reason" and "the senses," enlighted men drawing from a variety of philosophical sources, as many pagan as "Judeo-Christian." Believing man's reason supreme, they could "extract" only those rational parts from the classical Greco-Roman democracies and republics of old, the Bible, the Christian religion and the pagan pantheon.

In reality, they "rewrote," or "reimagined" much of the history of these ancient sources. Certainly, having some affinity for some Biblical narratives, the classic being Moses' and the Jews' liberation from Egypt, they conveniently interpreted the Bible to suit their modern Whig-Enlightenment beliefs. They stressed the Ancient Jews' liberation, "explained away" Romans 13 (where Paul states rebellion against civil leaders is out of the question), and pretended the Ancient Israelites had a "Republic," when clearly, they did not, as such concept entirely derives from the West's pagan Greco-Roman heritage. Accordingly, more inspired by their pagan heritage, they adopted pseudonyms from the pagan past like Publius, Cato, and Brutus, when they wrote anonymously. Yet, as with the Bible, they viewed the history of the pagan Greeks and Romans through their modern Whig Enlightenment lens and similarly, took liberties with the past.

Whether their reason really "discovered" principles true everywhere, every time (something I'd like to believe), the ideas with which they came forth -- liberty, equality, property, conscience, science, progress, the rights of man -- are the best the world has ever seen and thus ought to be preserved.
Summer Reading:

Google has digitized Joseph Priestly's A History of the Corruptions of Christianity. This book gives explicit detailed insight into the unitarian theology of Jefferson, Adams, and Franklin who explicitly credited Priestly as their spiritual mentor. These men also used the term "corruptions of Christianity" to explain what it was about modern Christianity with which they disagreed. In short, those corruptions as defined by Priestly were the Trinity, Incarnation, Atonement, and plenary inspiration of scripture. In long, read the book.

Sunday, May 20, 2007

While Europe Slept:

This is a book I am going to try to read this summer. Check out Bruce Bawer, one of the finest essayists of the modern era, discussing Europe and Islam on Bill Moyers' show. The book is about how tolerant Europe has become too tolerant of intolerant Muslims, and how they, in turn, threaten Europe's live and let live lifestyle.

Moyers seemed to stress over and over again -- but this isn't the way most Muslims are, right? In my community college classes, I usually have at least one (sometimes more) Muslim in a class of 25+. I also have plenty of traditional Christians, liberal Christians, Jewish students, atheists, agnostics, and so on and so forth. Whenever I criticize the more extreme elements of Islam, I always stress that most Muslims say this doesn't represent the authentic version of their faith. Now, in truth, I have no idea whether I'm right and may well be engaging in a Straussian lie. But, if Islam, as a faith, isn't going away -- and I don't think it is -- Muslims must be convinced that a more liberal, sober and rational understanding of their faith is the authentic one. This is exactly what Madison tried to do with Christians in his Memorial and Remonstrance.

Indeed, how we deal with intolerant religions reflects a paradox in Founding thought. Rick Garnett discussed it here and I responded with my thoughts. The paradox is, the rights of conscience are so profound government has no business saying what is true or false religion. Yet, government indeed does have an interest in promoting the "right" kind of religion, that is religion compatible with liberal democratic, secular, pluralistic norms.

Our Founders did to Christianity what the modern liberal governments and institutions, are, or ought to be doing to Islam (like telling folks extreme Islam doesn't represent authentic Islam).

Almost all of the most notable Christian thinkers from the pre-Founding era differed with our Founders on tolerance and the freedom to worship. John Calvin knew the Bible as well as anyone but thought it entirely proper to see see Servetus burned at the stake simply for publicly denying the Trinity. Likewise, Calvinist Samuel Rutherford, who purportedly influenced our revolution, too thought it just for Servetus to be executed in that manner. All of the early colonies except Rhode Island didn't grant freedom to worship and often imposed brutal punishments sometimes executions, for worshipping the "wrong" way. And they all justified such with textual appeals to the Bible.

To our Founders (the most notable of whom, like Servetus, weren't even "real Christians" but unitarians) this was not authentic Christianity, or Christianity properly understood. Our Founders had a vested interest in convincing Christians that most notable past Christian thinkers from Augustine to Aquinas to Luther to Calvin to John Winthrop erred on tolerance and religious liberty. And though the government ultimately granted (and still grants) free exercise of religion to any religious thought, no matter how extreme, the Founders still endorsed, mainly through their supplications to God, a version of religion that was kinder and gentler than what came before. As Rick Garnett put it:

Secular, liberal, democratic governments like ours not only take cognizance of, but also and in many ways seek to assimilate—that is, to transform—religion and religious teaching.

The early Presidents did do a lot of "God talk," and most of it was not even particularly Christian, but spoken in generic or philosophical language, purposefully worded to include religions outside of Christianity. Sometimes though, they did speak of Christianity or revelation and they often used particular adjectives and qualifiers to describe such: "Benevolent", "benign" and even "liberal" and "enlightened."

For instance Thomas Jefferson's First Inaugural Address I have emphasized those terms:

Let us, then, with courage and confidence pursue our own Federal and Republican principles, our attachment to union and representative government. Kindly separated by nature and a wide ocean from the exterminating havoc of one quarter of the globe; too high-minded to endure the degradations of the others; possessing a chosen country, with room enough for our descendants to the thousandth and thousandth generation; entertaining a due sense of our equal right to the use of our own faculties, to the acquisitions of our own industry, to honor and confidence from our fellow-citizens, resulting not from birth, but from our actions and their sense of them; enlightened by a benign religion, professed, indeed, and practiced in various forms, yet all of them inculcating honesty, truth, temperance, gratitude, and the love of man; acknowledging and adoring an overruling Providence, which by all its dispensations proves that it delights in the happiness of man here and his greater happiness hereafter -- with all these blessings, what more is necessary to make us a happy and a prosperous people?

Or George Washington's Circular to the States:

The foundation of our Empire was not laid in the gloomy age of Ignorance and Superstition, but at an Epocha when the rights of mankind were better understood and more clearly defined, than at any former period, the researches of the human mind, after social happiness, have been carried to a great extent, the Treasures of knowledge, acquired by the labours of Philosophers, Sages and Legislatures, through a long succession of years, are laid open for our use, and their collected wisdom may be happily applied in the Establishment of our forms of Government; the free cultivation of Letters, the unbounded extension of Commerce, the progressive refinement of Manners, the growing liberality of sentiment, and above all, the pure and benign light of Revelation, have had a meliorating influence on mankind and increased the blessings of Society.

These Founders were not simply "taking" the Christian religion as they found it; they were actively involved in a project to make such kinder, gentler, more sober and rational.

We should do the same with Islam.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

Falwell in Hell:

I'm sorry, but I just can't do anything but laugh hard at Phelps' lunatic rants.

Friday, May 18, 2007

James Madison Still Wasn't Christian

Reader James J. Goswick doesn't agree with my contention that Madison wasn't Christian, but a theistic rationalist. He writes:

Now for the truth. The blogger will never find a quote by Madison denying the trinity or Christianity. That Madison later changed his views and believed in not supporting Christianity is irrelevant to Madison’s faith. Hi faith never changed, only his application of it towards govt.

“[A]lways keep the Ministry obliquely in View whatever your profession be. This will lead you to cultivate an acquaintance occasionally with the most sublime of all Sciences and will qualify you for a change of public character if you should hereafter desire it. I have sometimes thought there could not be a stronger testimony in favor of Religion or against temporal Enjoyments even the most rational and manly than for men who occupy the most honorable and gainful departments and are rising in reputation and wealth, publicly to declare their unsatisfactoriness by becoming fervent Advocates in the cause of Christ, and I wish you may give in your Evidence in this way.”–

James Madison, in a letter Sept. 25, 1773 to William Bradford, reprinted in The Papers of James Madison, eds. William T. Hutchinson and William M.E. Rachal (Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1962), vol. 1, p. 96.

A number of things. First, this is the only reference you'll see Madison using the word "Christ," and he wasn't even stating that he believed, rather that he supported someone else's religious fervor. Sorry, but if one is a Trinitarian and Christ central to one's life, such utter lack of mentioning of His name raises suspicions.

James H. Hutson, one of the most notable anti-secularist scholars, answers almost all of Mr. Goswick's objections in this classic paper here. Madison, for a brief period of time around when his letter to Bradford was written, may have briefly flirted with Christian orthodoxy. However, such was short lived. Hutson writes:

Educated by Presbyterian clergymen, Madison, as a student at Princeton (1769-1772), seems to have developed a "transient inclination" to enter the ministry. In a 1773 letter to a college friend he made the zealous proposal that the rising stars of his generation renounce their secular prospects and "publicly . . . declare their unsatisfactoriness by becoming fervent advocates in the cause of Christ." Two months later Madison renounced his spiritual prospects and began the study of law. The next year he entered the political arena, serving as a member of the Orange County Committee of Safety. Public service seems to have crowded out of his consciousness the previous imprints of faith. For the rest of his life there is no mention in his writings of Jesus Christ nor of any of the issues that might concern a practicing Christian. Late in retirement there are a few enigmatic references to religion, but nothing else. With Madison, unlike Jefferson or any of the other principal founding fathers with the possible exception of Washington, one peers into a void when trying to discern evidence of personal religious belief.

Mr. Goswick also objects by pointing out part of Madison's Memorial and Remonstrance implies the Christian religion true over others. Indeed, John Noonan, a Catholic intellectual and jurist bases his case for Madison's Christianity on this. Hutson writes Noonan

insist[ed] that Madison was "a pious Christian," a "true follower" of Jesus and that he was guided by a "faith . . . palpably alive, a faith stupendous in modern eyes, a faith that God in us speaks to us." He spoke, Noonan concluded, "as a believer in Christianity's special light," as one who "looks to the evangelization of the world."

The relevant part of the Memorial and Remonstrance is as follows:

12. Because the policy of the Bill is adverse to the diffusion of the light of Christianity. The first wish of those who enjoy this precious gift ought to be that it may be imparted to the whole race of mankind. Compare the number of those who have as yet received it with the number still remaining under the dominion of false Religions; and how small is the former! Does the policy of the Bill tend to lessen the disproportion? No; it at once discourages those who are strangers to the light of revelation from coming into the Region of it; and countenances by example the nations who continue in darkness, in shutting out those who might convey it to them. Instead of Levelling as far as possible, every obstacle to the victorious progress of Truth, the Bill with an ignoble and unchristian timidity would circumscribe it with a wall of defence against the encroachments of error.

Though, as Hutson notes, this document was "written to appeal to evangelical forces during a petition campaign in 1785" to support his notion of separation of church and state (or "no-cognizance" -- some scholars, notably Philip Hamburger, think them two different concepts; I don't). Madison argued that a true Christian would reject any kind of government support for Christianity. And indeed, in that document, he rails against Christian establishments and, in particular, remonstrates against Patrick Henry's bill which would have provided aid to Christian religions on a non-discriminatory basis (but the bill specified aid go to Christian religions only).

Hutson also notes

a statement in 1833 in which the aged ex-president lauded Christianity as the "best & purest religion." This last assertion, however, sounds very much like the deistical maxim, frequently indulged by Jefferson, that the "pure" religion of Jesus had been unconscionably corrupted by the apostle Paul and the early church fathers.

I have also noted that use of comparative terms like "better" or "best" to describe Christianity is not orthodox. Christianity is not "better" than other religions, according to such thought. Christianity is true; other religions are false. The following is evidence that Madison did not believe non-Christian religions are false, that his statements in the Remonstrance, rather, spoke to persons who believed such and tried to convince them that the no-cognizance/no aid standard is consistent with their orthodox views. When addressing the Native Americans, like Washington, Jefferson (and probably Adams, though I haven't found his quotations yet), Madison referred to God as "The Great Spirit" exactly as the Indians did. I blogged about that here. The following is from his To My Red Children, August 1812. I have emphasized his use of the term "The Great Spirit":

“I have a further advice of my Red children. You see how the country of the eighteen fires is filled with people. They increase like the corn they put into the ground. They all have good houses to shelter them from all weathers, good clothes suitable to all seasons; and as for food, of all sorts, you see they have enough and to spare. No man, woman, or child, of the eighteen fires, ever perished of hunger. Compare all this with the condition of the Red people. They are scattered here and there in handfulls. Their lodges are cold, leak, and smoky. They have hard fare, and often not enough of it.

“Why this mighty difference? The reason, my Red children, is plain. The white people breed cattle and sheep. They spin and weave. Their heads and their hands make all the elements and productions of nature useful to them.

“It is in your power to be like them. The ground that feeds one lodge by hunting, would feed a great band by the plough & the hoe. The Great Spirit has given you, like your white brethren, good heads to contrive, and strong arms, and active bodies. Use them like your white brethren of the eighteen fires, and like them, your little sparks will grow into great fires. You will be well fed, dwell in good houses, and enjoy the happiness for which you, like them, were created. These are the words of your father to his red children. The Great Spirit who is the father of us all, approves them. Let them pass through the ear in to the heart. Carry them home to your people; and as long as you remember this visit to your father of the eighteen fires, remember these are his last and best words to you!”

If Madison were an orthodox Christian concerned with the souls of Native Americans he would not have used this language but admonished them to come to Christ. Instead, he told them their pagan God they worshipped was "the father of us all," the same God he worshipped. This unmistakably affirms my contention that the Founders believed

all religions about which they were aware were valid ways to God and that included not just Christianity, but Judaism, Deism, Unitarianism, Islam, Hinduism, Native American Spirituality, and Pagan Greco-Romanism. God is Jehovah to the Jews, Allah to the Muslims, the Great Spirit to the Native Americans. And these are different names for the same generic “Providence” they worshipped. Though, as theological unitarians, they didn’t believe that Jesus was God, rather that he was a great moral teacher who may have been a man (Socinian) or some kind of divine being created by and subordinate to God (Arian).

On denying the Trinity, it's tough to find quotations from Madison doing so because back then such could ruin one's public reputation (until recently before the founding, it could get you killed by the "Christian Commonwealths"). Neither did Madison ever publicly affirm the doctrine, and he invariably used generic, philosophical titles for God (like "Nature's God"). Two strong pieces of evidence show that Madison was a theological unitarian. First, there is eyewitness accounts of Madison professing such. As Hutson reported, Madison biographer, Irving Brant quoted "a Bostonian's account of an 1815 dinner table conversation with Madison:

He talked of religious sects and parties and was curious to know how the cause of liberal Christianity stood with us, and if the Athanasian creed was well received by our Episcopalians. He pretty distinctly intimated to me his own regard for the Unitarian doctrines."

And this is entirely confirmed by Madison's letter to Frederick Beasley where for authority on God's attributes he appeals to a notorious theological unitarian and religious rationalist -- Samuel Clarke -- who was nearly defrocked from his position as an Anglican minister for peddling such heresy within the Church.

Also note that Madison did not turn to John Witherspoon, as some mistakenly believe was his spiritual mentor. No evidence exists that Witherspoon led Madison to Christ other than the fact that Madison may have briefly flirted with orthodox Christianity in his college days. But if he were Christian then, as Bishop Meade, a notable Episcopalian of the post-founding era, noted:

His religious feeling, however, seems to have been short-lived. His political associations with those of infidel principles, of whom there were many in his day, if they did not actually change his creed, yet subjected him to the general suspicion of it....

Many of those elite Virginia Anglican Whigs secretly held to "infidel principles." Indeed, after graduation, Madison's mentor was Jefferson, who may well have brought Madison to unitarian infidelity. As James Renwick Willson, a minister who preached against the Constitution for its godlessness and lack of covenant with God, noted in 1832:

Mr. Jefferson’s successor, Mr. Madison, was educated by godly parents, with a view to the Ministry of reconciliation. He commenced the study of Theology, under the care of Dr. Witherspoon, President of Princeton College, where he attended a prayer meeting of the pious youth of that Seminary, who were preparing for the Holy Ministry.

When he returned from Princeton to his fathers house in Virginia, Mr. Jefferson was a young village lawyer, who had attracted the notice of the neighborhood, by his regular business habits, in collecting debts, drawing indentures, &c.

Madison, to the grief of his parents, abandoned the study of Theology, and entered the office of the infidel and libertine Jefferson, as a student of law. Though Mr. Madison has pledged himself neither in public nor private, to the belief of Christianity, yet he is not known to have employed his influence, like Jefferson, in attempts to abolish the Christian Faith. The value of a religious education is strikingly illustrated the private character of James Madison. Jefferson probably made him a deist, and yet his moral deportment, as it regards the second table of the law, has been respectable. All the influence of the infidel creed, and the profligacy of morals about court, have not been of sufficient force to demolish utterly the fabric of a religious education. For the honor of the country, we may hope that he will not contrive to die on the 4th of July.

Hutson also notes that Madison's views evolved to reject Calvinism and embraced enlightenment rationality:

Two bits of evidence, heretofore overlooked, seem to corroborate the claims of those who assume that the mature Madison either lost interest in religion or migrated spiritually into one of the many mansions of deism. First, there is the curious episode of the publication in 1802 of the sermons of the Reverend John Witherspoon, Madison's mentor at Princeton and, subsequently, his friend and political comrade. As was customary in Madison's day, Witherspoon's writings were published by public subscription. The list of subscribers was so extensive that the promoters of the publication must have scoured the nation to obtain support. The subscribers were a veritable who's who of the nation's political elite; Jefferson, John Adams, John Jay, John Dickinson and many other luminaries. Also included were many of Madison's friends and classmates at Princeton. But Madison's own name was absent. Was the omission accidental? Or had Madison refused to sponsor a theological opus because of disenchantment with its orthodox pieties?

Perhaps a better clue to Madison's outlook is a letter to Jefferson, December 31, 1824, in which he complained about Presbyterian "Sectarian Seminaries," armed with charters of incorporation, disseminating obsolete religious doctrines, by which he clearly meant Calvinism.

Unassailable charters allowed a "creed however absurd or contrary to that of a more enlightened Age" to be perpetuated indefinitely. The Reformation itself, Madison continued, must be considered the "greatest of abuses," if legal impediments could prevent its doctrines from being brought up to date. The idea that Madison was espousing, that religious truth must evolve to incorporate the discoveries of science and other branches of modern learning, was far from the theological orthodoxy of most 19th century American churches. It can be inferred that his own religious views had evolved from the verities he had learned at Princeton, but how and in what direction neither this nor other writings disclose.

Finally, though Mr. Goswick objects to my assertion that John Witherspoon may not have even taught his students Calvinism, no evidence shows he so did; though Witherspoon did preach Calvinism from the pulpit. What most folks don't understand is that Witherspoon had a metaphorically schizophrenic or split personality when it came to his religious teachings on the one hand, and government teachings on the other. What Witherspoon taught his student at Princeton were his Lectures on Moral Philosophy. And in them, there is an utter lack of Calvinist teachings. As Dr. Gregg Frazer, in his dissertation, points out, "[i]t was not Witherspoon the Calvinist, but Witherspoon the rationalist and naturalist, who influenced a generation of American political leaders -- and Madison in particular." p. 278.

It is ironic that in Scotland, Witherspoon defended orthodoxy against the thought of Enlightenment rationalists Hume and Hutcheson. But when he prepared his Lectures, he turned to those very infidel sources for content! (Ibid). Indeed it was Witherspoon who first introduced Madison to Samuel Clarke -- that Arian heretic/philosophical rationalist. Like the Enlightenment rationalists, Witherspoon believed one can discover God's attributes from reason alone. In fact, he elevated reason to the same level as revelation. But ultimately, like Aquinas, he believed the two would always perfectly agree. Though, he grounded his political teachings in Locke's "state of nature" theory which is wholly alien to the Bible. Thus, when he taught government and moral philosophy to his students at Princeton, Witherspoon spoke as an Enlightenment rationalist, not a Calvinist.

The historical record thus fails to show that Madison was a Christian in the orthodox sense and strongly points in the direction of his theistic rationalism, what Hutson calls "one of the many mansions of deism," but is actually a version of theological unitarianism/universalism that posits an active personal god and elevates reason over revelation.
Founding Thought in Action:

World Magazine Blog links to a story on the increasingly generic benedictions given at college campus graduations. Some orthodox Christian ministers refuse to play ball and won't deliver such addresses when invited. For instance, John Parker and the Medical University of South Carolina. Parker believes such inclusive prayers dishonest and nauseating.

If the prayers are offered at a private religious college, it makes sense that they would be doctrinally specific depending on the school's creed, i.e., Jewish prayers at Jewish schools, Catholic prayers at Catholic colleges, etc. etc. However, if the schools are public and secular and if they are to have prayers at all, they should be as generic and inclusive as possible.

This is exactly what our key Founders did when they made public supplications to God. After all, they weren't speaking for a particular Church, but for the entire country/federal government. If you look at the systematic way that the first four Presidents spoke of God, it was invariably generic and philosophical. Even Justice Scalia recognized this. And indeed, they believed that all religions about which they were aware were valid ways to God and that included not just Christianity, but Judaism, Deism, Unitarianism, Islam, Hinduism, Native American Spirituality, and Pagan Greco-Romanism. God is Jehovah to the Jews, Allah to the Muslims, the Great Spirit to the Native Americans. And these are different names for the same generic "Providence" they worshipped. Though, as theological unitarians, they didn't believe that Jesus was God, rather that he was a great moral teacher who may have been a man (Socinian) or some kind of divine being created by and subordinate to God (Arian).

This may not be sound theology, but it is what the key Founders believed. As Tom Van Dyke pointed out, their benevolent rational unitarian deity is closer to the Biblical conception of God than to the Muslim, Hindu, Native American, or the Gods that the Greeks and Romans worshipped. That makes sense given they were brought up in and lived in a Protestant context.

Their untarian deity may have been closer to the Biblical conception, but they still changed Him enough that He was arguably a different creature, notably unitarian, not Trinitarian, and more sober and rational, less wrathful and vengeant.

Plus, apt to the above story, I think their conception of God, helped:

1) Make religious freedom for non-Christian religious easier psychologically for them to deliver. While certainly one can be an orthodox Christian, believing just one way to God, and desire full civil religious rights for non-Christians, if all religions lead to the same God, since they are all "sound," they are easier to tolerate. After all, if we tolerate a religion that will lead people down the wrong path, how many souls could be lost forever? And this is exactly the logic that kept the sects persecuting one another from the very beginning of Christendom until the Founders and philosophers they followed shifted the paradigm. This is exactly, for instance, why Rutherford believed it was just for Servetus to be burned at the stake.

2) Lead America to being a haven for all sorts of non-Christian religions. "Jews Turks and Infidels" abound in America precisely because of what our key Founders personally believed about religion and the national public policy they originally set forth.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Huff Po on Rush:

Steven Horwitz sent me the following link.

Bob Cesca writes:

Rush's drummer and lyricist, Neil Peart, has always been an intelligent and outspoken proponent of secularism. In the song Faithless, Peart describes himself as not having "faith in faith." But it was his series of cross-continental motorcycle journeys -- first, his Ghost Rider exile following the deaths of his wife and daughter; then his road trips during the Rush 30th anniversary tour, documented in his book Roadshow: Landscape With Drums -- which motivated the construction of an album around the themes of religious fundamentalism and its symptomatic penchant for misguided warfare. Peart defiantly stands for his cause and even though he, also in Faithless, says that he's "quietly resisting," he and the band are far from quiet about the way the winds are blowing.

Peart describes this album as his "lover's quarrel with the world," and as such, it offers both dire and insightful observations, as well as reasons for hope. It's not necessarily a protest album, but more of a sympathetic mouthpiece for those of us who are seeking some fashion of light in this dark place: "a refuge from the coming night," as Geddy Lee sings in the album's second track, Armor And Sword.

This is important. The Ayn Rand-influenced Peart is, I think, an atheist, or something quite close to it. Yet, for all of his luck in life's cards -- rock star combined with being one of the world's best, well-respected drummers -- he has suffered losses of Jobian proportions: within the span of a year or two he lost both his wife and his daughter. In spite of that, he learned to cope without relying on or finding faith as atheists must do. I've learned on these threads not to say: There are no atheists in foxholes. There are.

Can't wait to get the album and I'm going to try to see them this summer.

D. James Kennedy hospitalized with ill health. Jerry Falwell now passes. Hopefully these events forshadow the waning of the religious right's influence in politics. That's all I have to say on Falwell. Well...I do wonder if Larry Flynt will make it to the funeral. The two did claim to have become "friends."

Monday, May 14, 2007

PSA Pot Leads to Gay Incest Ad:

From Julian Sanchez. Though I wonder if this ad is for real or whether MTV is making fun of the often stupid logic that goes into anti-drug PSAs.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

James Madison and Samuel Clarke:

See this past post where I noted that James Madison was not a Christian, but a theistic rationalist. While very reticent to give the personal details of his creed, his most explicit discussion on the matter comes from his letter TO FREDERICK BEASLEY, November 20, 1825. Madison noted that in order to fully do justice to a theological work he'd have to "resort to the celebrated work of Dr. Clarke," which he "read fifty years ago...." Madison's philosophical argument for God is as follows:

The finiteness of the human understanding betrays itself on all subjects, but more especially when it contemplates such as involve infinity. What may safely be said seems to be, that the infinity of time & space forces itself on our conception, a limitation of either being inconceivable; that the mind prefers at once the idea of a self-existing cause to that of an infinite series of cause & effect, which augments, instead of avoiding the difficulty; and that it finds more facility in assenting to the self-existence of an invisible cause possessing infinite power, wisdom & goodness, than to the self-existence of the universe, visibly destitute of those attributes, and which may be the effect of them. In this comparative facility of conception & belief, all philosophical Reasoning on the subject must perhaps terminate.

Even at an old age, his mind is still very lucid. Though he read it 50 years prior, he still follows Clarke's argument quite closely. From Stanford's Encyclopedia of Philosophy:

The main lines of Clarke's argument are as follows. Since something exists now, something has always existed, otherwise nothing would exist now because nothing comes from nothing. What has existed from eternity can only be either an independent being, that is, one having in itself the reason of its existence, or an infinite series of dependent beings. However, such a series cannot be the being that has existed from eternity because by hypothesis it can have no external cause, and no internal cause (no dependent being in it) can cause the whole series. Hence, an independent being exists.

Clarke was an Anglican Divine, an Arian heretic, and a philosophical rationalist. Here is the Encyclopedia on his Arian heresy:

In 1712, apparently against the advice of some of Queen Anne's ministers, Clarke published The Scripture Doctrine of the Trinity, which was accused of Arianism, the view that Christ is divine but created. The ensuing controversy culminated two years later in his humiliating promise to the Upper House of Convocation not to preach or write on the topic any longer. However, this act of submission did not silence the correct rumors that he, like Newton himself, was still an Arian. How much these suspicions of heterodoxy damaged his ecclesiastical career is unclear. However, Voltaire reports that Bishop Gibson effectively prevented Clarke's elevation to the see of Canterbury by pointing out that Clarke was indeed the most learned and honest man in the kingdom, but had one defect: he was not a Christian.

I should note too that John Witherspoon, though a Calvinist/orthodox Christian, actually introduced Madison and his other students to Samuel Clarke's work at Princeton. Witherspoon was greatly influenced by Locke and the religious rationalists of the Enlightenment who were disproportionately non-Trinitarians. Witherspoon was not, contrary to misperceptions, teaching his students to be good orthodox Trinitarian Christians at Princeton, though that is what he preached from the pulpit. On matters of government, Witherspoon, first and foremost, taught his students to be good Whig-republicans.
Sam Kinison on Pat Robertson:

From Brayton.


Saturday, May 12, 2007

I Make Sacrifices!

Because I am busy finishing up grading papers, I had to miss Heaven & Hell, who came to Philadelphia May 10. Here is a clip from March.

Update: This age dispute on Dio caught my eye. In all likelihood, Dio is 65 years old! If that's the case, he has done a spectacular job preserving his voice.
Book on Unitarianism:

If so interested, check out this book, Unitarianism in America, by George Willis Cooke, the entire thing available free, online. It shows how, as an ecclesiastical matter, Unitarianism really took off in New England only. Most New England churches which preached theological unitarianism, some for over fifty years, didn't change their creeds until around the 19th Century. This has led many to mistake unitarianism as a 19th century phenomenon. While ecclesiastical Unitarianism may have been, theological unitarianism had been believed in by dissenters all over the nation from the mid-18th century onward.

One reason why theological unitarianism may have appealed to so many of our key Whig founders is that so many of their Whig counterparts from England were likewise theological unitarians. Indeed, many of the big "Christian" names from England were actually Arian heretics -- for instance Milton, Newton, and Locke. Some lesser well known but still very influential English rationalist Whigs, also Arians, who influenced our founders include Samuel Clarke, and Shaftesbury. Of course, many British unitarian Whigs were Socinians, most notably Joseph Priestly, whose religious thought probably more than any other British Divine influenced our key Founders.

One reason why these unitarians were "dissenters" in England was because it didn't become legal there to deny the Trinity publicly until 1813. Doing so, in some Christian Commonwealths, for instance Calvin's Geneva, could get one burned at the stake, see Servetus.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Center For Reclaiming America Closes:

This is big news. The political arm of D. James Kennedy's Coral Ridge has closed. As their name indicates, they are a "dominionist" group; they want to "reclaim" America as though they -- conservative fundamentalist Christians -- once "owned" it. According to their mythological view of history, America was founded by fundamentalist Christians for fundamentalist Christians and the Declaration of Independence and Constitution are Biblical documents. (Perhaps they did "own" many of the colonies, but not the Founding from 1776-1791 which, in many ways, repudiated the dominionist colonial charters.)

I'm not sure what to make of this. On the one hand, I think much of the fear of "dominionism" is overblown. It's true that a great many of them -- most of the followers of RJ Rushdoony -- have given up on the GOP entirely and vote for the inaptly named "Constitution Party" candidates. On the other hand, the right wing of the politically viable religious right are both dominionists and GOP stalwarts. I've typically used David Barton's Wallbuilders and D. James Kennedy as poster boys for GOP dominionist types. And one of those poster boys has just gone under.

Christian conservatives who simply want their values reflected in the civil laws and who would have no problem voting for Romney or someone not of their religion probably don't meet the definition of a "dominionist." Though many of them do believe in the Christian Nation fraud, which misunderstanding of history inspires their political activism.

This development may signify a softening of the GOP's religious right base; we can only hope.

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

The Minimoog:

They don't build synths like they used to. The site calls it "perhaps the most beautiful, beautiful sounding, and functional synthesizer ever produced." These were "monophonic," meaning you could only play one note at a time. But the sound was so "fat," that's all you needed.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Theistic Rationalism From the Pulpit:

That's the title to one of the chapters in Dr. Gregg Frazer's Ph.D. thesis. It refers to the not too well understood fact that many of the most notable pro-Revolutionary preachers didn't preach "Christian" principles from the pulpit in support of the Revolution, but rather theistic rationalist principles. Indeed, with the exception of John Witherspoon, the most notable and influential pro-Revolutionary preachers arguably weren't even Christians but Unitarians (or, they were what John Adams described himself -- "liberal Unitarian Christians"). They were, moreover, explicit theological adversaries of John Edwards and his "Great Awakening."

Of late, I've been reading a number of Thomas West's pieces on Locke, theology, and the Founding (see here, here and here). In order to show that Locke and the principles of the American Revolution were, at the very least consistent with and complementary towards Christianity, at best, authentic "Christian principles" themselves, he cites some of the key pro-Revolutionary preachers, and his favorite seems to be Samuel West. Thomas West writes:

In colonial America, we see the success of Locke's teaching, in religion no less than in politics. The transformation of public opinion in the years leading up to 1776 was not the result of a secular political theory divorced from Christian theology. Above all, the clergy of America, especially in New England, adopted Locke's theology and taught it relentlessly. My personal favorite is the Reverend Samuel West, whose fiery 1776 sermon on liberty is a classic of the Massachusetts pulpit of the American Revolution.[21] Men like Jefferson who considered themselves Enlightenment rationalists probably had far less influence on the general public than the multitude of now-forgotten preachers who taught that the Bible teaches the same truth--that all men are created equal, that they have duties as well as rights--that reason discovers on its own.

The most influential of that multitude from New England included not only Samuel West, but also Jonathan Mayhew, Charles Chauncy, Ebenezer Gay, and Simeon Howard. They were all theological unitarians and universalists who had already broken from Puritanism and, as mentioned, were theological enemies of John Edwards and his Great Awakening. What they preached was, for the most part, consistent with Jefferson's "enlightenment rationalism"; and as theological unitarians, it was not consistent with orthodox Christianity.

These preachers were not "strict deists." Their unitarian rationalism incorporated enough of the Bible that they looked to scripture to support their beliefs more so than a deist would. Though their terming themselves "Christian" and use of scripture, should not, I would argue, lead one to conclude that they were Christians or, as Thomas West asserts, that they spoke for "most Christians of the founding generation." He writes:

The idea of an autonomous conscience, unbound by reason, was rejected by the American Founders. It was rejected also by most Christians of the founding generation, who believed that "A revelation, pretending to be from God, that contradicts any part of natural law, ought immediately to be rejected as an imposture" (Samuel West, A Sermon, 1776). For founding-era Christians, not only revelation but "reason . . . is the voice of God" (Samuel West). That was their foundation for natural law, natural rights, and therefore for constitutional and statute law.

Let's explore just how "Christian" these sermons were. According to viable religious thought during the Founding era, there were four ways to view the relationship between reason and revelation. The first two are consistent with orthodox Christianity, the second two are not:

1) The first is traditional orthodox Christian/Protestant view ala Luther and Calvin: Scripture is infallible, man's reason, while perhaps useful in support of revelation, is clearly subservient to it; indeed Luther once called man's reason, "the Devil's whore."

2) The second is Aquinas': Scripture is still infallible; yet, man, by the use of his reason can discover truths that are equal to scripture; this is the natural law. Such discoveries, however, will never contradict revelation because reason and revelation always perfectly agree.

3) The third is the theistic rationalists': Scripture is not infallible; yet some scripture was legitimately revealed by God. As Dr. Frazer puts it, "revelation was designed to complement reason (not vice versa). Reason was the ultimate standard for learning and evaluating truth and for determining legitimate revelation from God." This is the view of our key Founders including Adams, Jefferson, Madison, Franklin, and I would argue Washington as well.

4) The fourth is the strict deists': Revelation is useless. Truth is only to be found from man's reason/nature.

In analyzing the sermons of those patriotic preachers, they seem to fall between two and three. And this is important because while two is consistent with orthodox Christianity, three isn't. Yet, all those I mentioned were unitarians, which puts them outside the bounds of orthodox Christianity anyway. And indeed, some of those who fell in category number two (Charles Chauncy, for instance) fervently argued that the Bible as the infallible source of authority vets theological unitarianism and universalism.

Thomas West linked to his favorite sermon by Samuel West, found here. The relationship that Samuel West views reason and revelation is either two or three. In the following West makes it clear that discoveries of reason are at least as viable as scripture:

Now, whatever right reason requires as necessary to be done is as much the will and law of God as though it were enjoined us by an immediate revelation from heaven, or commanded in the sacred Scriptures.

And here, his sentiments tread dangerously on denying the infallibility of the Bible and elevating reason over revelation:

A revelation, pretending to be from God, that contradicts any part of natural law, ought immediately to be rejected as an imposture; for the Deity cannot make a law contrary to the law of nature without acting contrary to himself,--a thing in the strictest sense impossible, for that which implies contradiction is not an object of the divine power.

What does he mean by this? What "revelation[s], pretending to be from God?" Things written in the Bible? Or perhaps a-biblical theories, doctrines, or interpretations added by priests and rulers.

The context of the sermon is quite interesting and may shed light: The question is whether subjects must obey civil magistrates (indeed, it's about whether the Christian citizens may engage in political rebellion against Great Britain). West first establishes that truth may be found from reason/nature alone and seeks to answer such question using that mechanism. He then imports wholly a-biblical Lockean "state of nature" teachings as decisive on the matter:

That we may understand the nature and design of civil government, and discover the foundation of the magistrate's authority to command, and the duty of subjects to obey, it is necessary to derive civil government from its original, in order to which we must consider what “state all men are naturally in, and that is (as Mr. Locke observes) a state of perfect freedom to order all their actions, and dispose of their possessions and persons as they think fit, within the bounds of the law of nature, without asking leave or depending upon the will of any man.” It is a state wherein all are equal,--no one having a right to control another, or oppose him in what he does, unless it be in his own defence, or in the defence of those that, being injured, stand in need of his assistance.

Had men persevered in a state of moral rectitude, every one would have been disposed to follow the law of nature, and pursue the general good. In such a state, the wisest and most experienced would undoubtedly be chosen to guide and direct those of less wisdom and experience than themselves,--there being nothing else that could afford the least show or appearance of any one's having the superiority or precedency over another; for the dictates of conscience and the precepts of natural law being uniformly and regularly obeyed, men would only need to be informed what things were most fit and prudent to be done in those cases where their inexperience or want of acquaintance left their minds in doubt what was the wisest and most regular method for them to pursue. In such cases it would be necessary for them to advise with those who were wiser and more experienced than themselves. But these advisers could claim no authority to compel or to use any forcible measures to oblige any one to comply with their direction or advice. There could be no occasion for the exertion of such a power; for every man, being under the government of right reason, would immediately feel himself constrained to comply with everything that appeared reasonable or fit to be done, or that would any way tend to promote the general good. This would have been the happy state of mankind had they closely adhered to the law of nature, and persevered in their primitive state.

Thus we see that a state of nature, though it be a state of perfect freedom, yet is very far from a state of licentiousness....

After establishing the state of nature/man's reason as the decisive standard to which any truth must conform, West concludes:

The doctrine of nonresistance and unlimited passive obedience to the worst of tyrants could never have found credit among mankind had the voice of reason been hearkened to for a guide, because such a doctrine would immediately have been discerned to be contrary to natural law.

After answering the question using reason and Lockean theories, Samuel West then looks to the scriptures for support, already having his mind made up as to what the final outcome must be. The proof texts are Romans 13 and Titus iii which tell believers, in no uncertain terms, to obey the civil magistrates:

This account of the nature and design of civil government, which is so clearly suggested to us by the plain principles of common sense and reason, is abundantly confirmed by the sacred Rom. xiii., the first six verses: “Let every soul be subject to the higher powers; for there is no power but of God. The powers that be are ordained of God. Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God; and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation; for rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? Do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same: for he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doth evil. Wherefore ye must needs be subject not only for wrath, but also for conscience' sake. For, for this cause pay you tribute also; for they are God's ministers, attending continually upon this very thing.” A very little attention, I apprehend, will be sufficient to show that this text is so far from favoring arbitrary government, that, on the contrary, it strongly holds forth the principles of true liberty. Subjection to the higher powers is enjoined by the apostle because there is no power but of God; the powers that be are ordained of God; consequently, to resist the power is to resist the ordinance of God: and he repeatedly declares that the ruler is the minister of God. Now, before we can say whether this text makes for or against the doctrine of unlimited passive obedience, we must find out in what sense the apostle affirms that magistracy is the ordinance of God, and what he intends when he calls the ruler the minister of God.

We see West using "context," and his a-biblical presumptions to explain away these proof texts. He ends up concluding "that the apostle Paul, instead of being a friend to tyranny and arbitrary government, turns out to be a strong advocate for the just rights of mankind...." Or in other words, Paul really meant we do have a right to revolt against the magistrate, the opposite of what he said. Do keep in mind that the ruler to whom Paul told believers to obey was not some "godly" ruler, but the pagan psychopath Nero. West addresses that point:

I know it is said that the magistrates were, at the time when the apostle wrote, heathens, and that Nero, that monster of tyranny, was then Emperor of Rome; that therefore the apostle, by enjoining submission to the powers that then were, does require unlimited obedience to be yielded to the worst of tyrants. Now, not to insist upon what has been often observed, viz., that this epistle was written most probably about the beginning of Nero's reign, at which time he was a very humane and merciful prince, did everything that was generous and benevolent to the public, and showed every act of mercy and tenderness to particulars, and therefore might at that time justly deserve the character of the minister of God for good to the people,-- I say, waiving this, we will suppose that this epistle was written after that Nero was become a monster of tyranny and wickedness; it will by no means follow from thence that the apostle meant to enjoin unlimited subjection to such an authority, or that he intended to affirm that such a cruel, despotic authority was the ordinance of God. The plain, obvious sense of his words, as we have already seen, forbids such a construction to be put upon them, for they plainly imply a strong abhorrence and disapprobation of such a character, and clearly prove that Nero, so far forth as he was a tyrant, could not be the minister of God, nor have a right to claim submission from the people; so that this ought, perhaps, rather to be viewed as a severe satire upon Nero, than as enjoining any submission to him.

The first point -- the epistle was written during the beginning of Nero's reign when he was "nicer," not towards the end when he was a tyrant -- strikes me as invoking hair splitting context to reach a desired result, not unlike the way some gay Christians and Jews, who claim the Bible really isn't against homosexuality, conclude things like the Bible permits gay men to have oral sex because that is not "lying with a man," or that even if they did "lie with mankind," and commit an "abomination," that term means "ritual impurity," and is more like eating shellfish or the mixing of fabrics.

The second point -- if Paul said this when Nero was indeed acting tyrannical, he must not have meant it! -- shows West's willingness disregard scripture which disagrees with reason.

In sum, these "Christian" sermons seem "cafeteria" in their approach in that they used "reason" to explain away scripture which conflicts with their a-biblical notions. "The natural law," contrary to supporting scripture as Luther, Calvin, and Aquinas would have it, was used to import such a-biblical concepts as Locke's "state of nature." These were not Christian principles, but theistic rationalist principles.