Saturday, June 30, 2007

The Theism of the French Revolution:

In Europe, charters of liberty have been granted by power. America has set the example and France has followed it [emphasis mine], of charters of power granted by liberty. This revolution in the practice of the world, may, with an honest praise, be pronounced the most triumphant epoch of its history, and the most consoling presage of its happiness. We look back, already, with astonishment, at the daring outrages committed by despotism, on the reason and the rights of man; We look forward with joy, to the period, when it shall be despoiled of all its usurpations, and bound for ever in the chains, with which it had loaded its miserable victims.

-- James Madison, 1792

Another title to this post could have been Robespierre Creationist!

American Vision produced a comical video attempting to slam atheists Dawkins and Harris with the horrors of atheistic regimes the French Revolution, Nazism, and Communism. One main problem with their notion is that neither Nazism nor the French Revolution were atheistic.

The video singles out Maximilien Robespierre as the poster boy for Enlightenment influenced atheistic slaughter. But Robespierre was not an atheist but a firm believer in God. And, as I pointed out in this much read post, the French Revolution was declared according to a strikingly parallel set of principles/ideals as the American.

The French Revolution, like the US Revolution, appealed to a generically defined God. This shouldn't surprise us given that Jefferson, the author of the US's Declaration, was in France right before their revolution, helping to lay the philosophical grounds for it, assisting in writing the French's Declaration of the Rights of Man.

The two documents, and hence the two revolutions, appealed, at base, to the same Enlightenment principles of God-given rights to liberty and equality. As the French document begins:

Therefore the National Assembly recognizes and proclaims, in the presence and under the auspices of the Supreme Being, the following rights of man and of the citizen:


1. Men are born and remain free and equal in rights. Social distinctions may be founded only upon the general good.

2. The aim of all political association is the preservation of the natural and imprescriptible rights of man. These rights are liberty, property, security, and resistance to oppression.

As noted, Maximilien Robespierre was not an atheist but a devout worshipper of "the Supreme Being." And Robespierre's Supreme Being was, like the God of the US Founding, one who loved political liberty and hated tyranny. As he wrote in his "Cult of the Supreme Being":

"The day forever fortunate has arrived, which the French people have consecrated to the Supreme Being. Never has the world which He created offered to Him a spectacle so worthy of His notice. He has seen reigning on the earth tyranny, crime, and imposture. He sees at this moment a whole nation, grappling with all the oppressions of the human race, suspend the course of its heroic labors to elevate its thoughts and vows toward the great Being who has given it the mission it has undertaken and the strength to accomplish it."

Jefferson and Franklin coined the "motto" "Rebellion to Tyrants is Obedience to God." Dave Kopel traces it to an earlier Protestant thinker. However, such motto also perfectly describes Robespierre's "Supreme Being." And by the way, the "Supreme Being" was also one of George Washington's many generic terms for God. He once said:

“No Man has a more perfect Reliance on the alwise, and powerful dispensations of the Supreme Being than I have nor thinks his aid more necessary.”

The Biblical God, on the other hand, seems wholly unconcerned with political liberty, but rather SPIRITUAL liberty.

This isn't to say the two revolutions were identical events. No two historical events are identical. And there were some notable differences in ideology. For instance, the US was more influenced by the Scottish Enlightenment and less by the French Enlightenment. Rousseau's "fingers" were more present in the French Revolution.

The ideological origins of the US Founding have been studied in great detail and seriously argued over. If we view the US Founding as a unique historical nexus, and look back in hindsight, we see many ideological tributaries flowing to and from it. Certainly there were tributaries of Christian thought flowing into that point. Jim Babka once detailed all of the Protestant historical documents that recognized subjects' rights to resist tyrannical kings. And Tom Van Dyke has stressed the idea of inherent natural rights can also be traced from our Founders, through various Christian natural law scholars to Aquinas. And Aquinas of course, traces back to the non-Christian Aristotle who was explicitly listed by our Founders (Jefferson in particular) as inspiration.

Yet, the Declaration is a generically theistic document with no discernible "Christian" content. That's not to say it is incompatible with Christianity. Just that it is "a-Biblical," not necessarily "anti-Biblical." Indeed, given America's Declaration of Independence so greatly influenced the French Revolution, the principles contained therein must have been compatible with the original principles of the French Revolution. Indeed, as noted, the French's Declaration of the Rights of Man was modeled after America's DOI, with Jefferson, America's Declaration's author, helping to write the French's original Declaration.

When arguing over the ideological origins of America's Founding, other historical events and documents are often offered as analogies. I therefore stress the closest historical analogy to the American Revolution is the French Revolution. And the most analogous document to America's DOI is the French's Declaration of the Rights of Man. That is, the ideas contained within the US's Declaration of Independence may bear *some* resemblance to, for instance, Philippe Duplessis-Mornay's Vindiciae Contra Tyrannos, published in 1579 and the other documents of Protestant origin Jim Babka discussed here. But the US's Declaration's ideas are most similar to those in the French's Declaration of the Rights of Man.

Plus, the events which triggered the writing of those Protestant documents occurred some hundreds of years prior to the American Revolution. Even the Glorious Revolution in Great Britain occurred in 1688 almost one hundred years prior to America's Revolution. The French Revolution began in 1789, right when the US was ratifying its Constitution.

So those who want to contrast America's Revolution with the French's and then attempt to, by way of historical analogy, credit "Christian" sources with America's Founding ought to tread very carefully. An honest examination of the historical record shows the American and French Revolutions to be the closest historical analogies. At least, that's the way James Madison -- the father of America's Constitution -- saw it. (See above quotation.)

Thus, if we view the US's Founding as a historical nexus with ideological tributaries flowing to and fro, my point is simply the French Revolution took place slightly down river to the left. And then the waters got real rough over there, whereas in America, there was smooth sailing along the least until 1861.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Color Blindness, Originalism, and the Equal Protection Clause:

In, Parents Involved in Community Schools v. Seattle School District, the Court, with minor qualifications, upholds the "color blind" ideal approach to the 14th Amendment's Equal Protection Clause. Good for them. Some lefty-liberals criticize such "originalist" approach, while signaling out "color-blind originalists" Scalia and Thomas, noting that, under the original expected application of the EPC's text, "the 'race neutral' interpretation...has no basis whatsoever in originalism."

Well, not exactly. The original expected application of the EPC's text permitted some, arguably many forms of racial discrimination against blacks (and logic therefore suggests against whites). However, at the very least, the original meaning of the Clause required equal application of whatever general rules of law happened to be on the books, be they statutes against murder or theft, the legal ability to enter contracts, give evidence, sue or be sued, or even take advantage of substantive legal rules that come from court decisions.

If constitutional law holds that all purposeful government discrimination against blacks violates the EPC (something perhaps not within the original meaning but that all liberals and conservatives and everyone on the Court now agrees on), then the original meaning of the EPC likewise requires such expanded meaning of the text equally protect whites and other races.

In other words, whatever degree of protection "the law" decides to give, the original meaning of the EPC requires it be given equally to all persons without regard to race. When the EPC was originally ratified, "the law" simply granted a lower level of protection. It didn't grant blacks (or whites) rights against government policies which took race into account; but now "the law" does, at least for blacks, it does. Government must, therefore, protect all races within this general rule against racial discrimination. Otherwise, the way the leftists would have it, we end up with a norm where blacks receive greater constitutional protection under the EPC than whites or other races, which is impossible to square with the original meaning of the EPC's text.

No one wants to "go back" to the original expected application of the EPC's text, which arguably permitted racial segregation and without question permitted bans on miscegenation. But given that is out of the realm of possibilities, the "color blind" interpretation of the EPC requiring race neutrality is the next closest thing to an originalist outcome. Such outcome also avoids constitutional double standards on racial grounds which ought to be unacceptable in modern liberal democratic societies.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Why Didn't George Washington Commune?

"I cannot consider any man as a real Christian who uniformly disregards an ordinance so solemnly enjoined by the divine Author of our holy religion, and considered as a channel of divine grace."

-- Dr. James Abercrombie, George Washington's minister in Philadelphia, commenting on the fact that George Washington systematically refused to take communion in his church. Indeed, from the revolution until his death, the best evidence shows that Washington wasn't a communicant, either in the Anglican Church or after the Revolution when said church became the Protestant Episcopal Church.

The exact answer is, because Washington never so explained, we really don't know. That's the answer Richard Brookhiser gave me when I asked him. However, some answers are more probable than others.

Peter Lillback constructs a "political reason" as to why Washington didn't commune. The problem is Lillback has to construct two different, wholly unrelated theories to explain this because the first theory -- GW didn't want to commune with the Anglican Church because we were rebelling against Great Britain, whose head of state was also head of Church -- doesn't explain why he didn't commune in Philadelphia after the Anglican Church became the Protestant Episcopal Church. So he makes up some cockamamie political dispute between Washington and Abercrombie et al., who was quoted above.

More importantly, communion at heart, is not a social or a political act anyway, but theological. Christians don't commune with their fellow Church members but with Christ.

The logic of Occam's Razor therefore suggests that GW didn't commune because he didn't believe in what the act represents -- the atonement. This theological explanation certainly "fits." Indeed, Lillback claims we must look for some non-theological explanation because a plethora facts Lillback already produced in his book show that Washington wasn't a "Deist." Indeed, invoking Johnny Cochran, Lillback claims, since the "Deist" charge doesn't "fit," we must "acquit," and thus look for a different explanation. Lillback fails to see that one doesn't have to be a "Deist" like Thomas Paine to disbelieve in the Trinity, Incarnation, Atonement, etc. Adams, Franklin, and Jefferson certainly didn't believe in these, what they called "corruptions of Christianity." And neither likely did Madison. Further, nearly all evidence Lillback offers showing Washington wasn't "Deist" -- that he believed in an active personal God, that he prayed, that he somewhat regularly attended Church, that he was a Vestryman in the Anglican Church, indeed that he may have understood himself to be "Christian" rather than "Deist," -- could also have been said of Jefferson. And yet Jefferson disbelieved in the following doctrines:

The immaculate conception of Jesus, his deification, the creation of the world by him, his miraculous powers, his resurrection and visible ascension, his corporeal presence in the Eucharist, the Trinity; original sin, atonement, regeneration, election, orders of Hierarchy, &c.

Indeed, Washington never affirmed these doctrines. The best Lillback can do is take Washington's general words and attempt to "read in" such beliefs. For instance, Washington says something about man having an imperfect nature, well he must be referring to "original sin." Though, Washington doesn't deny these doctrines either. He simply doesn't discuss them.

When it comes down to it, Lillback's strongest claim that Washington believed in the creeds of orthodoxy is that as both a vestryman and a Godfather, Washington had to take the following oath:

I, A B, do declare that I will be conformable to the Doctrine and Discipline of the Church of England, as by law established.,

That's the closest Washington ever came to explicitly affirming the creeds of orthodoxy, which are not specifically mentioned in the oath, but are implicit in it.

Yet, we could also view this as perfunctory -- necessarily said as a means to an end. Indeed, Jefferson, who clearly didn't believe in the doctrines of his Church, took those oaths to become a Vestryman, which back then in Anglican Virginia was more of a political than a religious position anyway.

Those same oaths are required to be a Godfather in the Church. And here is one of the few instances where we see a difference between Washington and Jefferson on their personal religious beliefs: Jefferson refused to be a Godfather, whereas Washington did so numerous times.

In what was probably a painful letter to write, Jefferson gave the explicit reason why he refused to be a Godfather. In his July 25, 1788 letter to J.P.P. Derieux, Jefferson laments that he could not be Godfather to his child because he did not want to take an oath to articles in which he did not believe.

Someone once suggested to me if Washington, unlike Jefferson, assented to articles in which he didn't believe, that shows Jefferson to be a greater man of honor and that is highly unlikely. I think common sense can still explain why Jefferson would refuse and Washington assent to creeds in which neither of them were sure to be true. Jefferson, from his writings and testimony thought quite a bit about those creeds and the arguments for and against them. After such ponderous deliberation Jefferson bitterly rejected and often directed harsh words of criticism against them. Washington's writings, on the other hand, reveal no such deliberation on those creeds -- no assent to them, no rejection of them, no thought about them at all.

Indeed, when asked to pontificate about Washington's religious beliefs, James Madison (through Jared Sparks) gave what seemed an ambiguous answer. And that's because, on many of the doctrines of Christianity, Washington's public words (and private letters) reveal an ambiguous (or agnostic) faith. Madison claimed he had

"not suppose that Washington had ever attended to the arguments for Christianity, and for the different systems of religion, or in fact that he had formed definite opinions on the subject. But he took these things as he found them existing, and was constant in his observances of worship according to the received forms of the Episcopal Church, in which he was brought up."

Washington's words reveal him to be a devout theist who believed in a warm-personal God. Evidence lacks from Washington's own mouth that he believed (or actively disbelieved) the following creeds which Jefferson rejected:

The immaculate conception of Jesus, his deification, the creation of the world by him, his miraculous powers, his resurrection and visible ascension, his corporeal presence in the Eucharist, the Trinity; original sin, atonement, regeneration, election, orders of Hierarchy, &c.

Yet, if Washington were agnostic on these specifics, they clearly did not irritate him like they did Jefferson and that explains why Washington would be willing to assent to a set of creeds in which he really weren't sure to be true, and Jefferson would refuse to assent to a set of beliefs which he actively rejected.

Though, all that certainly can be gleaned from the historical record is that Washington was a devout theist. I cannot assent to Washington being any more than agnostic on the tenets of orthodox Christianity which Jefferson rejected. And Washington's refusal to take communion is highly suggestive of the fact that he didn't believed in what that act represents -- Christ's atonement. Thus, the historical record most strongly points towards Washington being a theistic rationalist as opposed to an orthodox Christian or a strict Deist.
Here Madison Sounds Downright Deist:

God is hardly mentioned at all in Madison's notes on the debates that took place during the Constitutional Convention. And this shouldn't surprise us given that the Constitution is a "Godless" document. Ben Franklin at one point called for prayer. But his proposal was ignored as they did not pray.

The following is from Madison's notes, one of the few times that they discuss God and the Constitutional Convention.

"Reason tells us we are but men: and we are not to expect any particular interference of Heaven in our favor."

Though, at other times Madison expressed belief in a warm-personal God -- though, more of a benevolent unitarian deity, as opposed to the God of Scripture. That is why Madison, like the other key Founders ought to be understood as a "theistic rationalist" as opposed to a "Christian" or a "Deist."

Sunday, June 24, 2007


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.
Founding Compromises & Ideals Again:

"Without the distinction between the principles of the Constitution and the compromises of the Constitution no moral case for originalism is possible, nor is any case possible against the living constitution."

-- Harry V. Jaffa

Over at Balkinization, guest blogger Malla Pollack makes the leftist case against originalism exactly on the grounds to which Jaffa refers. She writes:

Originalism is symbolically unacceptable. Insisting on original meaning implicitly endorses the exclusions practiced by this country’s acknowledged founders. Slavery, attempted genocide of the earlier inhabitants, Justice Story’s Christians-only reading of religious liberty, property and gender requirements for voting or holding office--- none of these positions can be adequately dealt with by blithely claiming that the framing white males were moral enough by the beliefs of their own time. We are not discussing judging them as men. We are considering using them as shared paradigms of the past. How dare anyone ask the descendants of those the founders despised to voluntarily adopt these men as honored ancestors. Originalism has the same emphatic symbolism of hatred as flying the Confederate Flag over a court house. To fulfill Professor Balkin’s (and my) goal of joining the entire citizenry of the United States into a single community aiming at shared redemption, we need to loosen our hold on the past.

Those compromises to which Pollack speaks are serious issues; she is right that no theory which gives them moral legitimacy can take the moral high ground in constitutional debate. Jaffa's solution, to read the constitution through its ideals not compromises with those ideals is, I would argue, the only way for originalists to preserve that moral high ground.

And indeed, there is a philosophical connection between almost every evil she invokes and the ideals of the Founding: Those "compromises" are only able to be judged as "evil" by using the same moral standards which gave rise to the Declaration and the Constitution in the first place. These are the abstract ideals of the Western Enlightenment -- the unalienable rights of "liberty" and "equality" -- upon which both the United States and France declared independence and built (or in the case of the French -- attempted to build) their new orders.

But I also agree with Jack Balkin that viewing the Constitution through its abstract ideals (what I support), as opposed to the (morally unacceptable) compromises with those ideals (slavery, etc.) opens the door to plenty of "results" with which social conservatives would disagree.

And the case of the failure of the French Revolution demonstrates that allowing compromises with those ideas, but with society changing gradually over time, consistent with those ideals, may be the more practical solution. Indeed, such may be the only way to sucessfully implement those ideals.

For instance, it may well be that the abstract notion of Equality (which is textually supported by both the Equal Protection Clause, and "all men are created equal" in the Declaration) demands a Supreme Court decision guaranteeing gay marriage throughout the nation. But, if that is at all appropriate, for practical reasons it ought not be done until, as with Loving and Lawrence, the overwhelming majority of states are in line with that policy.

What if say, tomorrow, the Supreme Court constitutionalized gay marriage? Well, think...what is one of the main rhetorical points in favor of the FMA? We need this otherwise the Supreme Court will inevitably give us gay marriage. Indeed, until recently, Robert Bork was assuring the public that we will soon get gay marriage through a Supreme Court decision (though with two new conservative confirmations, that prospect looks less likely).

National Gay marriage in 2007 means the FMA in 2008, which, like the French Revolution means the failure to successfully implement Founding ideals of liberty and equality.

If we want the Supreme Court to successfully "settle" the case of gay marriage as it did with miscegenation and sodomy, we will have to wait, just like with those two cases, until the majority of states are in line.
Sunday Music:

"Ophelia," by the band, with a little "Chest Fever," tease in the beginning. In the middle, we hear Robbie explain how, early on, they had to pay Garth -- the "educated" musician among them -- money for music lessons if they wanted him in The Band.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

The Founders and Higher Law, Redux:

Okay, after this post noting that parts of the PBS special (which I haven't yet seen -- when is it going to be broadcast?) perhaps look fair, Ed Brayton posts on something biased. Brayton quotes the the narration:

"The United States is a society based on the rule of law. And our Founding Fathers believed that if they did not base their laws on a higher authority, then whoever was in power would determine what the law said. They called this `tyranny.' Their higher authority was the Law of God - the Ten Commandments."

This fundamentally misrepresents the Founders' notion of "higher law." Yes, even though the Constitution does not invoke a higher law, the Founders, I'd argue, did believe in such because the Declaration invokes higher law. But, as I noted here, that higher law was not -- or predominantly not --revelation, but reason.

Our Founders who wrote the Declaration -- Adams, Jefferson, and Franklin -- believed only revelation which could meet the test of reason was part of that "higher law." Those three believed the Trinity flunked such test and hence wasn't part of that higher law. And the Ten Commandments -- as a whole -- couldn't meet that test either. Both Jefferson and Adams doubted the Ten Commandments were legitimately revealed. As Jefferson wrote to Adams in 1824:

Where did we get the ten commandments? [The Bible] itself tells us they were written by the finger of God on tables of stone, which were destroyed by Moses; it specified those on the second set of tables in different form and substance, but still without saying how the other were recovered. But the whole history of these books is so defective and doubtful, that it seems vain to attempt minute inquiry into it; and such tricks have been played with their text, and with the other texts of other books relating to them, that we have a right from the cause to entertain much doubt what parts of them are genuine.

And as Adams wrote to Jefferson Nov. 14, 1813:

When and where originated our Ten Commandments? The Tables and The Ark were lost. Authentic copies, in few, if any hands; the ten Precepts could not be observed, and were little remembered.

If the Book of Deuteronomy was compiled, during of after the Babilonian Captivity, from Traditions, the Error or Amendment might come in there.

So, the "Nature's God" who grants men natural rights is not necessarily the God of the Bible (but perhaps is). Consider, that higher law which no man made law can contradict grants men the unalienable right to break the first tablet of the Ten Commandments. Though they disagreed on proper establishment policy, all of the key Founders -- Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Madison, Franklin, et al. -- believed men of all religions had the unalienable right to worship as they chose. So whereas the God of Scripture, in the very first command, forbids the worship of any false gods, the Founders' Nature's God grants men an unalienable right to worship no God or false gods.

When the Ten Commandments were incorporated in the pre-Founding colonial civil laws, the results were laws meriting the death penalty for worshipping "any God but the lord God." Contrast that with the Founding Fathers debating Church/State law in VA. George Washington, arguing contra Jefferson and Madison, noted he believed it fine to use tax dollars to support teachers of the Christian religion provided folks who "declare[d] themselves Jews, Mahomitans or otherwise, [could] thereby obtain proper relief." If we were back in colonial VA or MA (most colonies I believe) folks who declared themselves Muslims or Jews, or non-Christians would be facing execution (or if lucky, banishment) because they publicly declared themselves breakers of the First Command (and no, back then the fundamentalist Churches did not believed that Jews, Christians, and Muslims worshipped the same God; to them, if you weren't Trinitarian, you worshipped a false God).

In sum, if the higher law grants all men unalienable rights of conscience, to worship as they please -- and all key Founders believed it did -- it is impossible that the Ten Commandments, as a whole, are part of the "higher law" which no man made law can contradict.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Natural Law and Public Reason:

This is an old post of which I am proud. It discusses the irony that many of America's Protestant Founders (even and especially the "enlightened" ones) were suspicious of if not downright bigoted towards Roman Catholics. Yet, when these Protestants made their public arguments and invoked that "higher law" which governs us, they tended not to open their Bibles, but rather spoke in the language of "natural law," which is what man discovers from reason not scripture. And Catholics, mainly through Aquinas, are the ones responsible for incorporating such a pagan notion (natural law is pagan because it originated with that pagan philosopher Aristotle) into Western Christian society. Indeed, if John Locke truly did believe in natural law compatible with orthodox Christianity, then he absolutely owes a debt to Aquinas, because Hooker -- the natural law philosopher whom Locke invoked -- operated squarely in the tradition of Thomism and indeed was scolded by his fellow Protestants for sounding too Roman Catholic.

Yet, Locke's approach to the natural law looks different than both Aquinas' and Hooker's. For one, Locke incorporated Hobbes' wholly a-Biblical "state of nature" notion into his natural law teachings and indeed, made such central to his political philosophy. And Jefferson's and Madison's "understanding" of natural law/natural rights -- a tweaked version of Locke's -- was less seemingly "Christian," and more enlighted and rationalistic than Locke's.

Indeed, proponents of the "Christian America" thesis are fond of tracing the phrase "the laws of nature and nature's God" to Blackstone. He argued for the compatibility and cooperation of reason and revelation, and seemed to hold them at the same level as "higher law" which no man made positive law could contradict. Blackstone once said:

"Upon these two foundations, the law of nature and the law of revelation, depend all human laws; that is to say, no human laws should be suffered to contradict these."

A few things should be noted. First Blackstone, like our Founders, was a Lockean. Our Founders were more influenced by Locke than Blackstone and both our Founders' and Blackstone's ideas about the natural law and government trace to Locke. Second, Blackstone was a Tory, who believed in absolute parliamentary sovereignty and our Founders were American Whigs. The Declaration of Independence is, in many ways, an anti-Blackstonian document, since it argues for a right to revolt against Parliament, the exactly opposite of what Blackstone believed.

Most importantly, look at the exact language that Jefferson adopted in the Declaration. He could have invoked, after Blackstone, "the law of nature and the law of revelation," as that "higher law" which all man made positive law should conform. But he didn't. Instead he invoked "the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God," or "reason" and jettisoned “the law of revelation” or "scripture."

Our Founders were rational theists, that is they believed reason demonstrated the existence of a "Nature's God." But "Nature's God" is, first and foremost, what man can know of God's existence and attributes from "reason" and not scripture or faith. Nature's God may well be the God of the Bible, but only if reason so proves. To Adams, Jefferson, and Franklin -- the men who wrote the Declaration -- reason proved Nature's God to be unitarian not trinitarian in His attributes.

That’s why the Declaration arguably supports an Enlightenment or "theistic rationalist" worldview over an orthodox Christian one. Though perhaps, the Declaration, Constitution and other Founding documents, to which both orthodox and heterodox thinkers approved, can be viewed as a lowest-common-denominator compromise between the two systems of thought.

There was a "common language" that both the orthodox and heterodox did speak in -- a "lingua Franca" (as Tom Van Dyke put it) -- and that language was "nature" or "reason" not scripture. Thus, the Protestant notion of sola scriptura is completely anathema to our Founding Principles of public truths. That is, sola scriptura is fine for the Churches and private consciences. But when making public arguments, our Founders so believed, one must translate those convictions into the language of "nature" and "reason."

And this is why the arguments of the Catholic theocons better resonate with Founding Principles than those of Protestant "Christianists" do. Yet, I think, we must respect thinkers like Father Neuhaus and Robbie George for making such naturalistic arguments, because those argument can be answered or reasoned with (whereas bald appeals to scripture cannot).

Ed Feser, natural law thinker, recognizes this ability to translate but still defends bald appeals to scripture:

Now, some liberals might object that it is one thing for religious intellectuals to weigh in on matters of public policy, but quite another for redneck Bible thumpers to do so. Yet why should the educational level of a person supporting a particular policy matter to the evaluation of the policy itself? If a policy can be supported with serious arguments made by serious thinkers, what does it matter whether someone who is uneducated also supports it for less sophisticated reasons? Do liberals and secularists think twice about supporting their own favored policies simply because some uninformed and inarticulate rock star or Hollywood starlet might favor them too?

My answer: it is not the education level that matters; it's the way in which the point is argued. Not all arguments are to be taken seriously. If some inarticulate rock star had a political epiphany during an acid trip, I'd write it off as nonsense and wait until I heard the "serious argument" by the "serious thinker." Likewise, we should write off bald appeals to scripture by the Bible thumpers and the like, that is until folks like Robbie George and Gerard Bradley come forth with reason based arguments. And then they can be answered with reason based arguments.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Perfect Solution to Public Display of Ten Commandments Controversy:

Ed Brayton's got the goods. Just put up next to the Ten Commandment's display words taken from a Founding Era Treaty -- 1796 Treaty with Tripoli: "The government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian religion."

Speaking of Founding Era treaties, that statement is actually in the body of the Treaty -- Article 11. Contrast that with the 1783 peace treaty between US and Great Britain which preamble begins, "In the name of the Most Holy and Undivided Trinity. It having pleased the Divine Providence to dispose the hearts...." That language is not in the body of the treaty, but in the preamble. As Chris Rodda put it:

This reference to the trinity was not an acknowledgement by the government of the United States that America was a Christian nation. It was an acknowledgement by the government of Great Britain that England was a Christian nation. "In the name of the Most Holy and Undivided Trinity" was the customary way that England, like most of the Christian nations of Europe, began their treaties and other documents. The agents of the United States had no control over this wording.

Further, consider that the three diplomats who signed this treaty for the US were John Adams, John Jay, and Benjamin Franklin. Adams and Franklin were fervent theological unitarians, and Jay, at least in one letter, doubted the Trinity's "orthodoxy."

Those three, as a group, were the furthest thing from "orthodox Trinitarian Christians."

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Excerpt of PBS Wall of Separation:

Though I don't entirely agree with its perspective, I see nothing outrageous or even objectionable about the following excerpt taken from the producers' website. So far, it features Daniel Dreisbach and James H. Hutson, who are among the respectable scholars to go to for the "lowering the wall of separation" perspective (were I producing the special, others I might choose for that perspective might include Phillip Muñoz, Philip Hamburger, Gerard Bradley, and Rick Garnett).

Obviously, because I haven't seen the entire thing, I can't make a judgment. The minute they pull out hacks like David Barton or William Federer, or God-forbid actual Reconstructionists, then there will be something to decry. (And who knows? They may. Coral Ridge's specials typically include a few respectable scholars among a group of hacks.)

But so far, all I see is a scholarly documentary which tilts to the right. And God knows PBS has tons of such programs which tilt to the left.
"I am both Muslim and Christian":

So said the Rev. Ann Holmes, an Episcopal priest. As an outsider to both faiths, this really doesn't bother me. But there may well be some doctrinal issues that have to be worked out.

This whole affair reminds me of what Ben Franklin once said, which illustrates the interesting context of a unitarian (Franklin) supporting Trinitarian churches (which he did). Here Franklin describes the "purpose" of the church that he helped see built:

Both house and ground were vested in trustees, expressly for the use of any preacher of any religious persuasion who might desire to say something to the people at Philadelphia; the design in building not being to accommodate any particular sect, but the inhabitants in general; so that even if the Mufti of Constantinople were to send a missionary to preach Mohammedanism to us, he would find a pulpit at his service.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Lenni Brenner on Jefferson and Madison on Religion:

Here Lenni Brenner talks about his book "Jefferson And Madison On Separation Of Church And State." This is a great book; it catalogues virtually everything Jefferson and Madison said on religion. I strongly recommend it.

Brenner is on the far left. However, in the book, he keeps his editorial comments to a minimum and simply catalogues what they said and, for the most part, lets the readers draw their own conclusions.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Jefferson on the Freemasons:

Thomas Jefferson was not a Freemason (as some mistakenly believe). Though he had no problem with them and in the following letter to Bishop James Madison (cousin to the Founding Father of the same name), praised an "Illuminated" Mason named Adam Weishaupt (see number 8 in the below link) (hat tip Tom Van Dyke):

Barruel’s own parts of the book are perfectly the ravings of a Bedlamite. But he quotes largely from Wishaupt whom he considers as the founder of what he calls the order. As you may not have had an opportunity of forming a judgment of this cry of 'mad dog' which has been raised against his doctrines, I will give you the idea I have formed from only an hour’s reading of Barruel’s quotations from him, which you may be sure are not the most favorable. Wishaupt seems to be an enthusiastic Philanthropist.

He is among those (as you know the excellent Price and Priestley also are) who believe in the indefinite perfectibility of man.

Indeed, Jefferson saw in such Freemasons folks who preached the same kind of religious principles in which he believed. He even compared "Wishaupt" to his spiritual mentor, Joseph Priestly, and Richard Price, another British unitarian who strongly influenced Jefferson and America's key Whig Founders. Note, they believed "in the indefinite perfectibility of man," which is not consistent with orthodox Christianity because it denies original sin. Neither is Locke's notion of a tabla rasa or "blank state" for human nature (or at least for the human mind).

Jefferson continues on "Wishaupt":

Wishaupt believes that to promote this perfection of the human character was the object of Jesus Christ. That his intention was simply to reinstate natural religion, & by diffusing the light of his morality, to teach us to govern ourselves. His precepts are the love of god & love of our neighbor. And by teaching innocence of conduct, he expected to place men in their natural state of liberty & equality. He says, no one ever laid a surer foundation for liberty than our grand master, Jesus of Nazareth. He believes the Free Masons were originally possessed of the true principles & objects of Christianity, & have still preserved some of them by tradition, but much disfigured.

Though I've never read Adam Weishaupt's work, this is exactly what Jefferson, after Joseph Priestly, believed about Jesus and Christianity freed from its "corruptions" (i.e., the tenets of orthodoxy that distinguish it). Jesus was a man, not God, and a great moral teacher who preached "natural religion," -- a sort of universalistic ethical monotheism that man can discover from reason.

This also shows that when Madison, for instance, referred to Christianity as the "best & purest religion," it by no means pointed towards his belief in orthodox Christianity as such contention perfectly parallels Jefferson's above quoted heterodox thoughts. This is why James H. Hutson noted about that quotation:

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.

Jefferson continues on Weishaupt:

The means he proposes to effect this improvement of human nature are 'to enlighten men, to correct their morals & inspire them with benevolence. Secure of our success, sais he, we abstain from violent commotions. To have foreseen the happiness of posterity & to have prepared it by irreproachable means, suffices for our felicity. The tranquility of our consciences is not troubled by the reproach of aiming at the ruin or overthrow of states or thrones.'

As Wishaupt lived under the tyranny of a despot & priests, he knew that caution was necessary even in spreading information, & the principles of pure morality. He proposed therefore to lead the Free masons to adopt this object & to make the objects of their institution the diffusion of science & virtue. He proposed to initiate new members into his body by gradations proportioned to his fears of the thunderbolts of tyranny.

This has given an air of mystery to his views, was the foundation of his banishment, the subversion of the masonic order, & is the colour for the ravings against him of Robinson, Barruel & Morse, whose real fears are that the craft would be endangered by the spreading of information, reason, & natural morality among men.

It's a wonder why Jefferson never joined the Freemasons as he saw them as teaching exactly what he believed in.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Lillback's Answer to Washington's Freemasonry:

Chapter 25 in George Washington's Sacred Fire. What's laudable about how Dr. Lillback deals with George Washington's membership in the Masonic Order is that he doesn't try to downplay it as some orthodox Christians do. Lillback recognizes that Washington was intimately involved with the Freemasons, though notes during the last 30 years of Washington's life, he didn't actively participate much, mainly because of time constraints; he was busy founding the nation and running the country.

Washington answered a letter by one GW Snyder

The fact is, I preside over none, nor have I been in one more than once or twice, within the last thirty years. I believe notwithstanding, that none of the Lodges in this Country are contaminated with the principles ascribed to the Society of the Illuminati. With respect I am &c.

GW Snyder, a Founding era version of a conspiracy nut, feared the Illuminati and their nefarious agenda.

Though he claimed to have infrequently attended lodges in the latter years of life, Washington was nonetheless intimately involved with the Masons. Indeed, he was a Master Mason who was buried with full Masonic rites and participated in the Masonic ceremony of laying the cornerstone at the capitol. Moreover, Washington never renounced his affiliation with the Masons and, as President, defended and approved of their organization while frequently corresponding with them. For instance, in 1792 he wrote:

While I beg your acceptance of my thanks for the "Book of Constitutions" you have sent me, and the honor you have done me in the dedication, permit me to assure you that I feel all those emotions of gratitude which your affectionate address & cordial wishes are calculated to inspire: and I sincerely pray that the Great Architect of the Universe may bless you and receive you hereafter into his immortal Temple.

Lillback's response is that the Masons at that time preached nothing inconsistent with orthodox Christianity. He notes there were "Christian Masons," of which Washington was one. And that some Masonic Christians of Washington's day actually forbade strict Deism. One such document, for instance, reads that Masons were not to "tread in the irreligious paths of the...Deist nor stupid Atheist." (p. 505)

As he does over and over in his book, Lillback raises up a strict Deist strawman. It wasn't the Deism that Masonry allegedly promoted which made it inconsistent with Christianity, but its syncretism or universalism. Freemasonry, even the so called "Christian" kind in which Washington was involved arose out of the zeitgeist of Enlightenment rationalism. And, it promoted the religion of rationalism -- natural religion. Deism, of course, is a species of natural religion. However, unitarianism and some versions of orthodox Christianity likewise incorporate natural religion. Natural religion is what reason, not scripture, reveals about God and the universe. For Christians, natural religion sees its fullest expression in the works of natural law philosophers Aquinas or Hooker.

Lillback quotes the founding era Presbyterian minister Samuel Miller explaining Freemasonry and natural religion:

Masonry, as such, and according to its original plan, appears to be founded on natural religion. Hence the institution is found among all nations, who believe in one God, and the accountableness of man to him, as a moral Agent, and an immortal being. (Ibid)

In other words, Masonry emphasises "reason" or natural religion and embraces all religions which believe in one God which would include Judaism, Islam, Christianity, Unitarianism, and Deism (even though some Christian Masons might not have approved of strict Deism). It's already starting to sound like what Gregg Frazer terms "theistic rationalism."

As far as its inconsistency with Deism, Thomas Paine was a Deist and a Freemason. But let's not make Deism a red herring. It's Freemasonry's universalism or syncretism which is relevant. Paine wrote that Freemasonry "transcends the bounds of Christian and Western civilization; it includes the Moslem, the Hindoo, the Buddhist, and the Jew."

So strong was the appeal of such syncretism or universalism that when the Founders "squinted" hard enough they could "find" monotheism, or the worship of one god in Hinduism or Pagan Greco-Roman worship. Indeed, Freemasonry may have influenced many non-Masons, for instance Jefferson and Adams, both of whose beliefs on all world religions worshipping the same one God perfectly paralleled the Masons'.

As noted, Freemasonry arose in an Enlightenment zeitgeist -- a subculture that the elite Whig Founding Founders were disproportionately members of, but the common man of the Founding era was not. Such "circles" or "associations" were the likely conduit for spreading ideas.

This website puts its finger on why Freemasonry, even the kind GW was involved with, is incompatible with orthodox Christianity (without getting into the conspiracy nonsense):

Freemasonry is incompatible with Christianity because it promotes indifferentism. Indifferentism is the heretical belief that all religions are equally legitimate attempts to explain the truth about God which, but for the truth of His existence, are unexplainable. Such a view makes all truths relative and holds that God can be equally pleased with truth and error. Because Christians believe that God has definitively revealed Himself in the person of Jesus Christ, and desires that all men come to the knowledge of this truth, indifferentism is incompatible with Christian faith. Jesus said, "I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but by me." (John 14:6).

Freemasonry's teachings and practices also result in syncretism which is the blending of different religious beliefs into a unified whole. This is evidenced most especially by Masonry's religious rituals which gather men of all faiths around a common altar, and place all religious writings along side the Bible on the Masonic altar. This is also demonstrated by the Lodge's prayers and its unique names and symbols for God and heaven. Syncretism is the logical consequence of indifferentism.

The Lodge's practice of requiring its members to swear immoral oaths is also incompatible with Christianity. These oaths require a Christian to swear on the Holy Bible that he will uphold a code of moral conduct that prefers Masons over non-Masons, and to preserve secret passwords and handshakes. Such oaths are gravely immoral because their subject matter is trivial or does not give rise to the necessity of an oath. These oaths are also sworn under symbolic, blood-curdling penalties of physical torture and death called self-curses (e.g., having my throat cut across, and my tongue torn out by its roots). These penalties show a lack of respect for God and amount to blasphemy which is a serious sin.

In other words, Freemasonry tries to be all things to all people. Now if one were both a Freemason and a member of an orthodox Christian Church, one would have to resolve the conflict by picking a side. And there probably were orthodox Christians, who were also Masons, and who believed in their orthodox Christian Church's teachings over Freemasonry's. (Apparently Parson Weems was a Freemason.) Yet, little if anything in the historical record indicates Washington was one such Christian.

In his public speeches and private writings, Washington was invariably "latitudinarian," used generic, philosophical terms for God, and promoted natural and enlightened religion. Like the Freemasons, he too tried to be all things to all people and systematically spoke to various individuals and groups in "their language." Indeed when he spoke to Native Americans who were uninterested in converting to Christianity, he referred to God as "The Great Spirit," exactly as they did (see here and here). Washington's words rarely if ever seemed to indicate he believed there was "just one way" to God, but the opposite.

Hence Washington's affiliation with the Freemasons and its impact on his thinking is just one more clue pointing in the direction of Washington's not being an orthodox Christian, but a theistic rationalist.
The Bible and Underaged Sex:

I'm not sure if I should give this crank any more attention than he's already gotten from Positive Liberty and Dispatches from the Culture Wars. However, I will note, with irony, that this "Christian Libertarian Theocrat" apparently doesn't even know the Bible as he reads things into it that aren't there.

Mr. Craig seems to enjoy "grouping" homosexuality, bestiality, and pedophilia together in an effort to show that he'd treat all three of these behaviors, explicitly condemned in the Bible, equally (that is, he'd decriminalize all of them).

Jason is intelligent enough to realize that I believe child molestation, besitality, and homosexuality are grossly sinful (the Bible calls them an "abomination") and should never be allowed to occur on this planet.


I spent quite some time describing these efforts in my post to Jason, with links to other sources, which made clear, I think, that I want to eliminate child molestation, bestiality, and homosexuality, but not by passively waiting for "the government"....


When our society departs from Christian teachings regarding homosexuality, bestiality and "intergenerational sex," we lose the possibility of sustaining a free market economy and the rule of law.

The problem is nowhere does the Bible forbid pedophilia as it explicitly does with homosexuality and bestiality. Indeed, according to Ancient Jewish tradition men become adults -- hence "marriageable" and ready for sex -- at 13 and girls at 12.

Indeed, Mr. Craig fondly notes that cross-culturally (Ancient Greece, Rome, etc.) homosexuality often involved pederasty. But most of that pederasty involved boys no younger than 12 of 13, the very age the "Judeo-Christian" tradition set for consent until modern post-1960s sexual morality started to demand age for consent more uniformly rise closer to 18.

(I should also note that cross-culturally, much homosexual pederasty is committed by heterosexual men -- indeed, men who get married, sire families, and flourish in heterosexual relationships. And a boy at the age of 13 is physically about the closet substitute for a woman there is other than a convincing transvestite. Hence they are straight men using teenage boys as substitutes for women. This isn't common in Western culture anymore, but was the dominant form in Ancient Greece where a huge percentage of the male citizen class engaged in such behaviors but still married and raised families. And this also aptly describes most of the homosexual pederasty that currently takes place in Arab cultures, where because of polygamy and sequestration of women, heterosexual males abuse teenage boys for sexual release because no women are available.)

The following from Mark E. Pietrzyk shows that almost every behavior featured on the notorious Dateline NBC's To Catch a Predator series is biblically justified, at least in the age sense (not in the sense that they promote fornication).

An honest examination of the historical record indicates that Biblical law and the Judeo-Christian tradition, far from condemning pedophilia, often condoned sexual relations between adults and children. The contemporary social and legal taboo against sex with children developed only gradually over the centuries, and did not become firmly established until the late nineteenth/early twentieth centuries. The very concepts of age of consent and statutory rape did not derive from Biblical orthodoxy and ancient tradition, but rather evolved out of the same modernist conceptions of individual rights and equality which underlie the contemporary struggle for gay rights. Thus, if the slippery slope argument has any validity at all, it more aptly applies to contemporary proponents of Biblical orthodoxy and “traditional family values” than to proponents of gay rights.


More detailed information on the sexual ethics of ancient Judaism can be found in the Talmud. The Talmud is the record of oral law and commentaries which supplements the written law of Scripture; in Jewish tradition, the oral law is part of the divine revelation received by Moses on Mount Sinai.

According to the Talmud, the recommended age for marriage is sometime after twelve for females, and thirteen for males. Marriage below these ages was generally frowned upon.

Strangely (and previously unbeknownst to me), the Talmud outright endorses pedophilia:

However, a father was allowed to betroth his daughter to another man at an earlier age, and sexual intercourse was regarded as a valid means of sealing a betrothal. The age limit for betrothal through sexual intercourse was shockingly low. According to the Talmud, “A girl of the age of three years and one day may be betrothed by intercourse.”42

This age limit was apparently chosen because, according to Rabbinical discussion, the features of virginity in the young female (the hymen, which breaks and bleeds the first time after intercourse) did not finish developing until the age of three years and one day. Intercourse with a female younger than this was like “putting a finger in the eye,”43 that is, as putting a finger in the eye causes it to tear and tear again, intercourse with a female younger than three causes the hymen to initially bleed but then to grow back again, restoring the sign of virginity. Thus intercourse with a female younger than three years and one day was not a crime; it was simply invalid as a means of sealing betrothal by ending her virgin status, since the signs of virginity would eventually reappear. According to the Talmud, “When a grown-up man has intercourse with a little girl it is nothing, for when a girl is less than [three years], it is as if one puts the finger into the eye.”44

Of course, none of this is meant to endorse these biblically justified practices of underaged sex, but rather to show that as a book of comprehensive morality, the Bible is woefully inadequate.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Pro-Religious Pluralism:

Ilya Somin has an interesting post defending majority atheist societies. He writes:

There are numerous majority-atheist nations that show no signs of falling prey to communism or other similar ideologies. Consider the cases of Japan, the Czech Republic, and Denmark, among others - in all of which atheists are the majority of the population (for detailed stats, see here).

Indeed, those "atheistic" and more secular societies in Japan and Western Europe have fewer social problems than the US. And in the US, atheists, as a group, have more positive social indicators -- less likely to commit crimes, go to prison, or be poor.

Atheists' better social indicators, though, may not be a consequence of atheism; but rather both the atheism and positive social indicators may result from the same underlying cause -- well-educated, brighter people are both more likely to be atheists and less likely to commit crimes or be poor.

Indeed, I wonder if, like controlled socialism, atheism works well only among small homogeneous groups. I don't think if America became majority atheist, society would improve; indeed, we'd probably get a lot less interesting.

Though I am not a "multiculturalist," I think, after our Founders, that religious factionalism can be a socially positive thing -- so long as those factions are properly balanced in the right way with the right set of laws guaranteeing equal rights for all. More importantly, all factions ultimately must conform to the tenets of liberal democracy.

I like a society with atheists, agnostics, liberal Christians, traditional Christians, Catholics, Protestants, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, Wiccans, etc., all of them respecting liberal democratic norms.

If any social group doesn't respect the over arching principles of liberal democracy -- i.e., the Declaration of Independence -- then multiculturalism or multireligionism could be quite harmful.

As the Founders believed, "out of many, one" -- the right way to do pluralism. On religious matters, they didn't just embrace pluralism, but the key Founders thought nearly all world religions (including many non-biblical ones) were valid ways to God. Indeed, sometimes they oddly intimated that polytheistic religions worshipped the same one God -- Nature's God -- they worshipped. For instance, John Adams wrote the following to Jefferson, Oct. 4, 1813:

[BTW: Could someone check my Greek. I did the best I could with it. If anyone owns the Cappon ed. of the Jefferson-Adams Letters, it's on pp. 380-82.]

θέμίς was the Goddess of honesty, Justice, Decency, and right; the Wife of Jove, another name for Juno. She presided over all oracles, deliberations and Counsells. She commanded all Mortals to pray to Jupiter, for all lawful Benefits and Blessings.

Now, is not this, (so far forth) the Essence of Christian devotion? Is not this Christian Piety? Is it not an Acknonowledgement [sic] of the existence of a Supream Being? of his universal Providence? of a righteous Administration of the Government of the Universe? And what can Jews, Christians, or Mahometans do more?


Moses says, Genesis. I. 27. ["]God created man in his own image.” What then is the difference between Cleanthes and Moses? Are not the Being and Attributes of the Supream Being: The Resemblance, the Image the Shadow of God in the Intelligence, and the moral qualities of Man, and the Lawfulness and duty of Prayer, as clear[l]y asserted by Cleanthes as by Moses? And did not the Chaldeans, the Egyptians the Persians the Indians, the Chinese, believe all this, as well as the Jews and Greeks?…I believe Cleanthes to be as good a Christian as Priestley.

[For more of Adams' thoughts like this see the following.]

Joseph Priestly was, by the way, Jefferson's and Adams' spiritual mentor. Calling someone "as good a Christian as Priestley," is probably as high a complement you can get from Adams on religion.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Idea for Thesis:

As I noted in this past post, "religion" in the original Constitution meant and still means "religion" not "the Christian religion." Thus whatever rights or restrictions attach to "religion" in the Constitution attach to Islam, Hinduism, Christianity, or whatever qualifies as a "religion." This is uncontroversial among both liberal and conservative scholars. As far as I know, every single member of the Supreme Court believes this. When I saw Gerard V. Bradley, one of the most notable religious conservative law professors, speak at Princeton and someone asked whether "lowering the wall of separation" (what he argues for) would mean Islamic schools could get voucher $$, his reply was simple: Yes. Islam is a "religion," therefore such schools would be entitled to government aid which can go to religious schools. Period. (For his exact words, see the lecture to which I am referring.)

I will argue that the original meaning of the Constitution protected "religion" not the Christian religion, just as the text says, and as the framers and ratifiers so understood. And, as expected, I'd show that when the key Founders (Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Madison, and Franklin, et al.) spoke of "religion," in the generic sense, they meant all religions (even non-biblical ones) not the Christian religion.

In addition, I will explore how the key Framers' unitarian/theistic rationalist religious beliefs -- the notion that most or all religions, even those outside of the "Judeo-Christian" tradition are "sound" -- may have especially influenced the novel notion of granting religious rights to all religions.

Finally, I will examine how, in so protecting religion generically, refutes the notion that we are a "Christian Nation" in a public sense. Indeed, as I will note below, one of the dubious claims of the "Christian Nation" crowd is that "religion" meant the "Christian Religion" as it would have to were America truly founded to be a "Christian Nation" in a public sense.

That would be the narrow claim. The thesis would not, for instance, touch how broadly or narrowly the Establishment or Free Exercise Clauses should be interpreted. Indeed, my theory is entirely consistent with an ultra-conservative reading of the religion clauses. For instance, someone could argue, consistent with this theory, it's constitutional for government to endorse, in its speech, any religious point of view, so long as it doesn't constitutionally grant more protection to one religion over another. So government could post the Ten Commandments in a court house. Or Utah could say "we are the Mormon state," or a town in Vermont could say "we are under no God," or San Francisco could proclaim "we are under the flying green spaghetti monster." Whatever degree of constitutional protection/restrictions government grants "religion," it must grant to all religions equally. (And the way to enable governments, through the democratic process, to endorse one religious point of view over others, is to grant very narrow constitutional restrictions under the Establishment Clause.)

So what the Supreme Court could not say is that the Establishment Clause forbids government from endorsing one Christian sect over another, but may endorse Christianity (or the Christian sects) over non-Christianity (or the non-Christian sects). If government, pursuant to the Establishment Clause, can't discriminate between the Christian sects, it also can't discriminate between the Christian and non-Christian religions.


1) Is this novel? I know all sorts of articles have covered how broadly or narrowly the religion clauses be interpreted, but have any examined this specific claim?

2) Is it non-obvious? As I noted, most religious conservative scholars and every Supreme Court Justice probably already believes this. The conservatives just want to drastically lower the so-called "Wall of Separation," which can be done without granting greater constitutional protection to some religions over others.

A few points lead me to believe that the thesis is not entirely non-obvious. First, millions of people (those misled by Wallbuilders and D. James Kennedy) believe the Christian Nation fraud which peddles the notion that "religion" as generically defined in the original Constitution actually meant, the Christian religion. See for instance, this page which erroneously claims:

Modern secularists have problems understanding the American relationship between religion and government because they do not understand that the Founders believed that

1. Christianity was the true religion, others were "false religions." It would be suicidal to base a commonwealth on a false religion.

2. Forming a civil government was a religious duty imposed by the God of the Bible, and hence all governments must be "under God."

3. The God of the Bible answered the prayers of the colonists by directly and supernaturally intervening in human history, aiding their revolution against the British Empire to ensure American victory. Not a single "deist" ("clockmaker god") signed the Constitution.

4. It is the duty of all governments to endorse and promote the true religion, and make sure the statutes they pass conform to the Bible.

Every single person who signed the Constitution agreed with these four premises, and they agreed that the true religion was Christianity.

Yet, though many non-academics do believe this, in the academic realm, such is likely to be written off as extremist, uninformed crankery. Even though the author targets "modern secularists," few if any notable conservative academics, religious or otherwise, would endorse such a notion. So we are still in "straw man" land. (And no, I do not count the professors at Regent or Liberty Universities as "notable academics.")

And indeed, though they are sort of "staw manish" in their arguments, presently books knocking down such claims are very popular, with Alan Dershowitz being the latest intellectual to offer one.

More importantly, Justice Rehnquist, on one occasion, and Justice Scalia, on another sympathized with similar notions; but both ultimately rejected, or otherwise didn't seem to endorse "religion means Christianity" as a constitutional standard. First Justice Scalia in McCreary wrote:

Besides appealing to the demonstrably false principle that the government cannot favor religion over irreligion, today's opinion suggests that the posting of the Ten Commandments violates the principle that the government cannot favor one religion over another....That is indeed a valid principle where public aid or assistance to religion is concerned...or where the free exercise of religion is at issue...but it necessarily applies in a more limited sense to public acknowledgment of the Creator.

If religion in the public forum had to be entirely nondenominational, there could be no religion in the public forum at all. One cannot say the word "God," or "the Almighty," one cannot offer public supplication or thanksgiving, without contradicting the beliefs of some people that there are many gods, or that God or the gods pay no attention to human affairs. With respect to public acknowledgment of religious belief, it is entirely clear from our Nation's historical practices that the Establishment Clause permits this disregard of polytheists and believers in unconcerned deities, just as it permits the disregard of devout atheists. The Thanksgiving Proclamation issued by George Washington at the instance of the First Congress was scrupulously nondenominational, but it was monotheistic.

Now, Justice Scalia's words may not violates my thesis. Indeed, regarding free exercise and public aid or assistance to religion, Scalia endorses the notion that all religions are all equally protected. Regarding the permissibility of "public acknowledgment of religious belief," he simply could have said government can make whatever supplications it wants. Scalia may even believe that's the proper way to deal with the question of the constitutionality of government's religious speech.

But instead Scalia went off on a big tangent, while citing the God-talk of our key Founders, on how "the Establishment Clause permits this disregard of polytheists and believers in unconcerned deities, just as it permits the disregard of devout atheists." To be consistent with my thesis, Scalia would have to note "the Establishment Clause permits this disregard of the Christian, or any religion." That he didn't, even though, ultimately, he may believe so, suggests that Justice Scalia might believe in granting some religions more protection than others under the Establishment Clause. Though he didn't limit such protection to Christianity, but to the "monotheistic" religions of Christianity, Judaism and Islam.

Justice Rehnquist in his dissent in Wallace v. Jaffree suggested that the Establishment Clause originally may have been understood to protect the Protestant sects only. Though, he never explicitly endorsed that the Christian religion ought to receive any greater constitutional protection than any other religious "sect." His quoting Joseph Story, however, could lead one to believe that's how to properly interpret the religion clauses.

"Probably at the time of the adoption of the Constitution, and of the amendment to it now under consideration [First Amendment], the general if not the universal sentiment in America was, that Christianity ought to receive encouragement from the State so far as was not incompatible with the private rights of conscience and the freedom of religious worship. An attempt to level all religions, and to make it a matter of state policy to hold all in utter indifference, would have created universal disapprobation, if not universal indignation.

. . . .

"The real object of the [First] [Amendment] was not to countenance, much less to advance, Mahometanism, or Judaism, or infidelity, by prostrating Christianity; but to exclude all rivalry among Christian sects, and to prevent any national ecclesiastical establishment which should give to a hierarchy the exclusive patronage of the national government. It thus cut off the means of religious persecution (the vice and pest of former ages), and of the subversion of the rights of conscience in matters of religion, which had been trampled upon almost from the days of the Apostles to the present age. . . ." (Footnotes omitted.)

Story's sentiments might shed light on one of the "underlying purposes" of the religion clauses. But we aren't ruled by "underlying purposes" but rather the original meaning of the Constitution's text which on its face protects "religion," not the "Christian sects."

But Story's thoughts show that, historically speaking, it was not always so "obvious" to everyone that "religion" meant "religion," not "the Christian religion." Indeed, the Supreme Court in The Holy Trinity case declared the US a "Christian Nation," and could read as endorsing the notion that "religion" meant "Christianity." Now, their dicta really proves nothing. After all, the Supreme Court is capable of getting it drastically wrong, as Dred Scott illustrates. And indeed, a few years after Holy Trinity that Court gave us Plessy v. Ferguson. Even Justice Scalia has scolded the Holy Trinity case as a textbook example of poor legal reasoning.

State courts too, historically, have grappled with the notion of whether "religion" means religion or Christianity. See for instance, this opinion by the Ohio's State Supreme Court, from 1872. They held:

The real claim here is, that by "religion," in this clause of the constitution, is meant "Christian religion," and that by "religious denomination" in the same clause is meant "Christian denomination." If this claim is well founded, I do not see how we can consistently avoid giving a like meaning to the same words and their cognates, "worship," "religious society," "sect," "conscience," "religious belief," throughout the entire section.


I do not say that such a reading of the sections in question is literally contended for; and yet I see no fair escape from it, if the word "Christianity," or the words "Christian religion," or "the religion of the Bible," are to be interpolated or substituted for the word "religion," at the place indicated.

If, by this generic word "religion," was really meant "the Christian religion," or "Bible religion," why was it not plainly so written?...The same word "religion," and in much the same connection is found on the Constitution of United States. The latter constitution, at least, if not our own also, in a sense, speaks to mankind and speaks to the rights of man. Neither the word "Christianity," "Christian," nor "Bible," is to be found in either. When they speak of "religion," they must mean the religion of man, and not the religion of any class of men. When they speak of "all men" having certain rights, they cannot mean merely "all Christian" men.

I will argue that this opinion gets it right, but also explore the historical dispute over the claim that "religion" really meant the "Christian religion." The thesis would be a law review article (or a series) and then perhaps a book. If part of a book, this may not be the main thesis but a sub-thesis.

Though I don't plan on going back to school until I get tenure (and probably my next promotion in rank), I could always use this as a thesis for an SJD (a PhD would be way too onerous). I already have JD, MBA, and LL.M. degrees from Temple. Though JDs can technically call themselves "Dr." most of us don't. But with the SJD, I would be "Dr."

If any law review editors actually read my posts and are interested, drop me a line. And, if any book publishers are interested, do the same.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Words of Wisdom From Alexander Hamilton:

These are the words that Hamilton had when recommending a military chaplain:

“He is just what I should like for a military parson except that he does not whore or drink,...”

-- July 6, 1780 letter to General Anthony Wayne.

Hamilton, as you could probably tell, was not an orthodox Christian during the time he helped "found" the nation. Rather, like the other key Founders, he was a theistic rationalist. He didn't become an orthodox Christian until after 1801 after his son died in a duel.

Friday, June 08, 2007

Founding Fathers and Islam:

This page from the Library of Congress shows that many of the Founding Fathers were quite tolerant of Islam. The page also demonstrates the concept of the US being "founded" on "Judeo-Christianity" (that is, some type of special status given to Christians and Jews, but excluding other religions) is without historical merit.

Many believed Protestant Trinitarian Christianity only ought to have "rights." And the folks who tolerated/granted rights to Jews, tended to tolerate/grant rights to Muslims, Hindus, Catholics, Deists and Unitarians along with them (with a whole variety of opinions in between -- for instance the link notes that Locke believed in tolerating Islam, but wouldn't extend toleration to atheists or Catholics).

To theistic rationalists like Jefferson, Adams, Franklin, and I'd argue Washington and Madison as well, Muslims worshipped the same God as Christians and Jews. And since their religion inculcated morality, it was "sound" like Judaism and Christianity. To the theistic rationalists, whether religion produced morality was the test of its validity, not adherence to any kind of "creeds" (like the Nicene or Anathasian) or doctrines like the Trinity, Incarnation, and Atonement. This is why the religion of the key Founders arguably is not "Christianity" even though clearly it was strongly influenced by Christianity.

Hutson's link catches on to this dynamic:

In 1783, the president of Yale College, Ezra Stiles, cited a study showing that "Mohammadan" morals were "far superior to the Christian." Another New Englander believed that the "moral principles that were inculcated by their teachers had a happy tendency to render them good members of society." The reference here, as other commentators made clear, was to Islam's belief, which it shared with Christianity, in a "future state of rewards and punishments," a system of celestial carrots and sticks which the Founding generation considered necessary to guarantee good social conduct.

Indeed, to our key Founders, that's what "sound religion" was all about.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Madison's Notes Discuss Christianity v. Theistic Rationalism:

Check out page 88 of this book collecting James Madison's writings. These notes he took on Patrick Henry's VA Bill which sought to provide financial aid to "teachers of the Christian Religion." In the Memorial and Remonstrance, Madison famously argued against the content of this bill which was subsequently defeated.

In Roman numeral V of his notes, Madison ponders the question "What is Xnty?" This is relevant because only "Christianity" and not other religions were eligible for aid in Henry's bill. In V6 he discusses that some view the entire Bible as divinely inspired, some view only "essential parts" as divinely inspired; in V7 he notes some believe if a creed rejects certain key doctrines it is not Christian even if it calls itself Christian; in V8 he notes Trinitarianism, Arianism, Socinianism, (the latter two are forms of theological unitarianism) asking which of them would qualify as "Christian" under the bill; and in II6 he notes the case of "primitive Christianity," "Reformation" and "Dissenters formerly." He concludes that unless Christianity is specifically defined in the bill, judges might have to answer what is heterodoxy v. what is orthodoxy. And that in turn will "dishonor Christianity."

How this relates to theistic rationalism? As my readers know, I have found that the key Founders (certainly Jefferson, Adams, Franklin, and I would argue Washington and Madison himself) believed in what they sometimes referred to as "primitive Christianity," that was unitarian (either Arian or Socinian), which viewed the Bible as only "partially inspired," and elevated man's reason over revelation as the penultimate tool for determining which parts of the Bible were "essential" or valid. Sometimes scholars refer to this creed as a form of "Deism" (though it is not strict deism ala Thomas Paine). Dr. Gregg Frazer has dubbed it "theistic rationalism" and Madison's notes here seem to anticipate almost all of its elements.

Madison does not, unfortunately, explicitly endorse here, what form of Christianity he might believe in (though looking at his life as a whole I have concluded he was a theistic rationalist). But he did note that he did not want judges deciding whether what we call theistic rationalism is real Christianity.

If judges decided theistic rationalism, because of its heterodoxy, was not "Christianity," then it would ineligible for aid. Madison makes clear in the Remonstrance, that whatever his personal creed, he thought government aid ought to be available to all religions on a non-discriminatory basis.

Who does not see that the same authority which can establish Christianity, in exclusion of all other Religions, may establish with the same ease any particular sect of Christians, in exclusion of all other Sects? that the same authority which can force a citizen to contribute three pence only of his property for the support of any one establishment, may force him to conform to any other establishment in all cases whatsoever?

4. Because the Bill violates that equality which ought to be the basis of every law, and which is more indispensible, in proportion as the validity or expediency of any law is more liable to be impeached. If "all men are by nature equally free and independent," [Virginia Declaration of Rights, art. 1] all men are to be considered as entering into Society on equal conditions; as relinquishing no more, and therefore retaining no less, one than another, of their natural rights. Above all are they to be considered as retaining an "equal title to the free exercise of Religion according to the dictates of Conscience." [Virginia Declaration of Rights, art. 16] Whilst we assert for ourselves a freedom to embrace, to profess and to observe the Religion which we believe to be of divine origin, we cannot deny an equal freedom to those whose minds have not yet yielded to the evidence which has convinced us. If this freedom be abused, it is an offence against God, not against man: To God, therefore, not to man, must an account of it be rendered. As the Bill violates equality by subjecting some to peculiar burdens, so it violates the same principle, by granting to others peculiar exemptions.

Yet, if judges declared theistic rationalism was "Christian" and hence eligible for tax aid, it would have, by force of law, established "heresy" as Christianity. This is exactly what occurred in Massachusetts where Protestant churches received government aid under a mild state establishment. A great deal of those Protestant Congregational Churches (arguably a majority of them in Boston) receiving such aid preached unitarianism/theistic rationalism, not orthodox Trinitarian Christianity.

I'd imagine that orthodox Christians viewed this is a tremendous dignitary harm. Reader Eric Alan Isaacson, Esq., a member of the Unitarian Universalist Church, informed me that conservative Calvinists congregants actively disfellowed themselves from the unitarianian congregants.

To draw a slight parallel to a present controversial issue, also most apt in Massachusetts -- same sex marriage: Religious conservatives are asked "how is it that granting same sex couples the status of marriage harms you?" One common reply is calling something "marriage" that isn't marriage, cheapens the institution. Similarly, calling something "Christianity" (theistic rationalism/theological unitarianism) that isn't Christianity likewise cheapens the institution.

Madison's solution? Not protect Christianity by giving legal privileges to "real Christianity" only -- orthodox Christianity. But separate church and state. Perhaps then, we should separate marriage and state?

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Evolution and the Free Market, Blameless:

In college, a standard line coming from the forces of political correctness is that "the system" in the US is "rigged" in favor of the rich, indeed, that we de facto have an economic caste system.

The kernel of truth to this sentiment is that rich parents tend to produce children who in turn likely will be rich; blue collar parents produce children likely to be blue collar, poor parents produce children likely to be poor. Though, there is proven class mobility.

It seems to me though, the evidence that there ever was any kind of "central planning" that purposefully "rigged" the system to be this way is sorely lacking. Rather, it's the free market that produces such results.

Social science has proven that the market tends to pay more for jobs that are more white collar -- that is jobs that require more education and cognition than physical labor oriented jobs.

This certainly doesn't seem fair. After all, cleaning toilets for a living is probably far less enjoyable than say being a law professor. In a "cosmically just" world, the salaries of those two jobs might be flipped.

But who is responsible for this outcome? Is it the Illuminati?...a group of elite planners "rigging the system" to be like this? No, it's the way the free market works. And like evolution, there is no single identifiable intelligence (or small group of intelligences) that we can hold responsible. For all we know, an intelligent Providence does guide both the evolutionary process and the free market. But such is not scientifically provable.

In terms of pure earthly matters, doctors and lawyers get paid more than ditch diggers for much the same reason why biodiversity is the way it is.

But wait? Just because the market, untrammeled, yields X results, can't human beings do something about it? Yes, just like with evolutionary biology. Scientific progress has taken us to the point where, for good or ill, human beings will be able to manipulate the passages of our genes, something our scientists enthusiastically do in the non-human world. Similarly, human beings, through government regulation can manipulate the results of free market (or, as in Communism, attempt to abolish it altogether).

I'll leave aside the whole changing of our human nature debate and just focus on human beings manipulating the free market. Such manipulations have been, by in large, malign. Or to put it in another way, most times when government interferes with the free market, no evidence shows that macroeconomic social welfare is raised. And much evidence shows social welfare is lowered.

Indeed, that's the larger point of Richard Epstein's Magnum Opus, Takings. Government regulation of the free market may be fine, so long as, in every instance of such, it can be shown that someone is made better off and no one worse off. Or, if a particular party is made worse off, the gains of the better off party must exceed the losses of the worse off.

And most government regulations simply cannot meet this social welfare test. In which case, in terms of sheer utility, the right thing to do is stick with the results the market yields. Indeed, we do so because the market is the only mechanism proven to create wealth, comfort and affluence for the greatest number of any given population.

If you have a problem with the results, like evolution, there is no proven singular or group of planning earthly intelligences that we can hold responsible. If you believe in the hereafter, take it up with the Providence whose Invisible Hand produces such results. Or, if you think your results, which you want government to implement, are "better" than the free market's, show, in an empirical, utilitarian sense, this to be the case.