Friday, August 31, 2007

My 2 Cents on Craig:

What interests me most about the Craig affair is the disconnect between his social identity and his sexual orientation. When Senator Larry Craig announced to the world that he is not and never has been gay, I don't think he was trying to purposefully deceive the public. And yes, I do believe that he attempted to do what he was accused of doing. Nor do I believe Craig's sexual orientation to be "heterosexual" in the sense that Mark Olson and Joe Carter intimate.

Carter cites an interesting research paper on the matter which finds:

[M]ost tearoom participants (a) communicate through non-verbal gestures and seldom speak, (b) do not associate outside the tearoom or attempt to learn one another’s identity or exchange biographical information, (c) do not use force or coercion or attempt to involve youths or children, (d) are primarily heterosexual and married…

I haven't looked over the paper in detail; but I can pretty safely assert that the majority of men who seek anonymous homosexual encounters in public places like men's bathrooms are not "primarily heterosexual" in their sexual orientations. No doubt there are men who are "primarily heterosexual" who have the capacity to enjoy and do partake in homosexual behavior. Richard Posner philosophizes about such men in his book Sex and Reason. And he notes that some rational reason in a cost/benefit sense invariably exists for men to engage in this behavior (like, for instance, women aren't available on a navy boat, prison, all boys school, or in a culture where women are sequestered and horny men are in need of release). Huge risks attach to engaging in anonymous sex in public restrooms. Perhaps a primarily heterosexually oriented man who is a "loser" with no reputation to protect and otherwise can't find women for sexual release, but has some incidental homosexual orientation, might participate in such tearoom behavior. Given the costs associated with Craig's behavior -- in his case huge costs, including loss of a Senate seat and destruction of valuable public reputation -- it makes no sense whatsoever that to conclude Craig is more attracted to women than men and would engage in such behavior.

But it may well be true that most men (I think certainly a huge percentage of them) who engage in tearoom behavior are married and have a "straight" social identity, but a primarily homosexual orientation.

My own suspicions tell me there are two types of homosexual men who engage in this behavior. The first is really sleazy types for whom I have no sympathy, out gay men perfectly comfortable in their homosexual identity -- the types who brag about such behavior on cruising websites. If you are promiscuous, you can always go to a privately owned gay bath-house or hook up online and have sex in the privacy of someone's home.

However, the other type -- the profile which Larry Craig perfectly fits and so did Gov. McGreevy before he came out -- are homosexually oriented men who are so far in the psychological closet that they haven't even admitted to themselves they are homosexual. It's psychologically easier for them to cruise in public toilets. Stepping foot in a gay bar is a mental step towards embracing a gay identity, or admitting to yourself that you have a homosexual orientation; you are pretty much signaling you are gay to other gays in a social venue where the gay subculture congregates. The public toilets make it easier on your mind to pretend you are still straight and live a double life.

I do feel sympathy for these people and think they are victims of the type of society the Family Research Council or Concerned Women for America want to implement or bring back.

It helps here to distinguish between identity and orientation, and the terms "gay" and "homosexual." Craig is one of many homosexually oriented men who are not "gay" in terms of chosen identity. To some extent, being "gay," as an identity, is a matter of choice. A homosexual orientation, however, is not a matter of choice; it is a state of being.

That Mr. Craig purposefully chose a "straight" identity yet for all these years and at the age of 62 well after a man's libido has waned, couldn't help himself in the tearoom I think is damn compelling evidence of the unchosen, unchangeable nature of the homosexual orientation. If you don't give male sexuality a healthy outlet for release (like marriage) it will rear its head in ugly places.

That said, I also endorse the notion that sexual orientation (still unchosen and unchangeable) exists on a continuum. Whatever the problems with Kinsey's research, he was right in this regard. The existence of say a Kinsey 5 (a man who is fully attracted to men, but slightly attracted to women) or a Kinsey 1 (a man who is fully attracted to women but slightly to men) may give the appearance of "fluidity," or meaningful choice, in sexual orientation and identity; but such is, in my opinion, illusory. A Kinsey 5 (probably McGreevy and the other gay men who have married women and fathered children) may be able to "get it up" in the short term with a woman, but cannot flourish in the long run in such relationships.
Romans 13 Means Christians Have to Obey Only Good Government?

For those Christians who want to weasel out of Romans 13's sometimes difficult command to live up to, they often claim Romans 13 means Christians have to obey only good government. The problem is Paul doesn't say this in Romans 13. And the leader whom Paul admonished believers to obey -- Nero -- was not a godly leader and did not have a "good" government. He was an unelected tyrant who never sought sought consent to rule over believers. If Nero's government qualified as "good," that's a pretty low standard for tyrannical leaders to meet.

Plain and simple, the Bible tells believers, in no uncertain terms, to obey government as it commands children to obey their parents. The Bible doesn't say children obey only "good" parents. And indeed, for over fifteen hundred years after Christ that's the exact analogy Christians literally interpreting their Bibles would use to describe the proper relationship between man and government: Men have no more rightful control over who their civil leaders are than children do over who their parents are.

The notion of republican self-government is extra-biblical. It's not necessarily inconsistent with the Bible, but it certainly does not derive from the good book. Republican self government, especially the metaphysical justifications for such, derives from the Enlightenment. It is an a-biblical, not necessarily an anti-biblical concept.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

How the Christian Nation Thesis Hurts Religious Conservatives...Again:

Ed Brayton notes an op-ed article by Idaho Rep. Bill Sali who stated how terrible it was to have a Muslim Congressman and a Hindu prayer in Washington DC. If that's what he wants to believe, fine; but he makes a fool out of himself when he tries to invoke the Founding Fathers on his behalf.

And again, to those who criticize me on my focusing on certain "key Founders" look at the men whom he invokes: Washington, Adams, Madison, and Franklin. These, along with Jefferson, are the names of the figures who invariably will be cited in appeals to the Founders.

Sali starts off his op-ed with quoting one of David Barton's phony quotations.

The Founders recognized that “it is impossible to rightly govern the without God and the Bible.” It is unfortunate those words, which come directly from George Washington, would be deemed narrow-minded or bigoted if they were spoken today.

Sorry, Washington didn't say it. And David Barton, the one most responsible for spreading the quotation, admitted it was "unconfirmed" and admonished followers not to spread it. But, alas, most of them haven't gotten the message (Sali is not an exception, do a google search on the Internet of that and the other "unconfirmed" quotations and they are presently constantly spread by the Christian Nation crowd).

All of the Founders Sali invokes were syncretic universalists who believed most or all world religions were valid ways to God. Franklin and Adams both explicitly identified Islam as a sound religion. And I've noted Adams claimed Hindus worship the same "Providence" Jews and Christians do. Washington and Madison, likewise, referred to God as "The Great Spirit" when speaking to unconverted Indians.

It's not Christianity, or even "Judeo-Christianity" that is America's implicit public religion. Rather America's Founding political theology is theistic rationalism which prefers to speak of God in generic philosophical terms and encompasses religions outside of the "Judeo-Christian" tradition like Islam, Hinduism, Native American and pagan Greco-Roman spirituality.

The Hindu prayer in Congress and Muslim Congressman swearing on the Koran, plain and simple, reap what the key Founders sowed.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Exodus Does Not Support Political Liberty:

Commenter Charles instructed me to "re-read the Book of Exodus, and then tell me there was no 'political' liberty for the NATION of Israel." Since I'm discussing Dr. Robert Kraynak's work, I've already noted his answer for this, filtered through Dr. Gregg Frazer's Ph.D. thesis:

First, as Kraynak pointed out, “the biblical covenant is undemocratic: God is not bound by the covenant and keeps His promises solely out of His own divine self-limitation.” Second, “(t)he element of voluntary consent is missing from the covenant with Israel….There is nothing voluntary or consensual about the biblical covenant; and the most severe punishments are threatened by God for disobedience.” Third, “insofar as the covenant with Israel sanctions specific forms of government, the main ones are illiberal and undemocratic;” including patriarchy, theocracy, and kingships established by divine right. Fourth, “the Bible shows that God delivers the people from slavery in Egypt and supports national liberation, not for the purpose of enjoying their political and economic rights, but for the purpose of putting on the yoke of the law in the polity of Moses.” Fifth, “the content of the divine law revealed to Moses consists, in the first place, of the Ten Commandments rather than the Ten Bill of Rights, commanding duties to God, family, and neighbors rather than establishing protections for personal freedom.” Finally, the combination of judicial, civil, ceremonial, and dietary laws imposed on the people “regulate all aspects of religious, personal, and social life.” The history of Israel, therefore, had to be radically rewritten to provide support for the demands of political liberty and for republican self-government.

– Kraynak, 46-49 quoted in Frazer, “The Political Theology of the American Founding,” Ph.D. dissertation, 18-19.

Speaking of such radical rewriting, the same folks, mainly minsters, who argued Israel's history supports political liberty and republican self government also "creatively" intrepreted Romans 13 to justify revolution. Two recent articles, in fact, from WorldNutDaily, one by Farah, and the other by Bob Unruh, deal with this theological problem for folks who think it's okay to arm against a tyrannical government on the one hand, and be a good Christian on the other.

Farah appeals to the Founding and wrongly assumes that the Revolution's key principles were put forth by good Christians like himself.

I hardly know where to begin in addressing such a fundamental issue. But let me start by asking all Americans who subscribe to this principle as an absolute how our founding fathers, many of them devout Christians, justified breaking the bonds with their rulers in Great Britain. Were they not under a scriptural obligation to render unto King George? Have you read the Declaration of Independence?

I strongly suggest that my dear misguided Christian friends spend a little time reading the great debates that precipitated the War for Independence – all of which took place among men far more learned in the scriptures than the average modern Christian. The revolution that created America has often been called a war that began in the pulpits of the colonies.

And, more importantly than earthly examples, such as John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and George Washington, are the words of Jesus in context.

Farah needs to consider seriously that 1) the principal leaders of the American Revolution -- the "key Founders," whom he invoked -- were not particularly orthodox Christians (arguably not Christians at all) and 2) perhaps the Tory ministers who argued America's revolt violated Romans 13 were theologically in the right. I'd argue that devout Christians like George Washington's friend Reverend Brian Fairfax, one of the many American Tories who stayed loyal to Great Britain, and thought the American Revolution was a sin because it violated Romans 13 stood on at least as strong, if not stronger theological grounds as the patriotic Whig ministers.

For the sake of conciliation to my Christian friends who want to think of themselves as both good Christians and good Americans, I'll concede that whether the American Revolution violated Romans 13 is a debatable proposition over which traditionally minded Christian can reasonably disagree.

Some of those patriotic ministers, like John Witherspoon, were indeed devout orthodox Christians. Most other notable ones, however, like Jonathan Mayhew, Charles Chauncy, and Samuel West, as unitarians, arguably weren't Christians but theistic rationalists who elevated man's reason over revelation as the ultimate arbiter of truth. Some sermons from the Founding era that attempted to justify revolution by explaining away Romans 13 read like pro-gay ministers attempting to explain away the scriptural injunctions against homosexuality.

The ministers would typically look first to nature or reason to find the right to revolt. And indeed, they had to look outside the Bible because there is no right to rebel against tyrannical government contained therein. It's like looking for a right to engage in homosexual sex; it's not in the Bible. But those verses which forbid revolt can be "explained away" in context as not applying to present day or founding era circumstances (which is again, exactly what pro-gay Christians do with the parts of the Bible which forbid homosexuality).

I've blogged about this before where I examine a popular pro-revolt sermon from unitarian minister Samuel West. West finds right to revolt from "reason," and then proceeds to explain away "revelation" which forbids revolt -- Romans 13. When you consider that the leader Paul told believers to obey was not some "godly" ruler, but an unelected tyrant and a pagan psychopath to boot -- Nero -- we should see the difficulty in explaining such text away.

Samuel West made two points. The first was the epistle was supposedly written during the beginning of Nero's reign when he was "nicer," not towards the end when he was a tyrant. Even if true (I don't think history confirms West's assertion), this strikes me as invoking hair splitting context to reach a desired result, like concluding 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 West made was if Paul said this when Nero was indeed acting tyrannical, he must not have meant it! This shows West's willingness disregard scripture which disagrees with what his reason concludes. (Maybe Paul didn't mean it either when he condemned homosexuality.) Again, this is "cafeteria" not orthodox Christianity, if it's fair to call West's theology Christianity at all.

And West's arguments were typical of a great deal of the patriotic sermons which attempted to justify America's revolt against Great Britain on theological grounds.

Saturday, August 25, 2007

Kraynak on Why Republicanism is not "Biblical":

It seems the only time the Family Research Council features anything worth reading -- that is seriously contemplating as opposed to criticizing as extremist crankery -- is when they feature Straussian scholars. For the other side arguing contra Kraynak, see this article by Thomas West.

Robert Kraynak, a doctrinaire conservative Catholic and professor of political science at Colgate University, summarizes for the FRC the thesis of his book Christian Faith and Modern Democracy. The whole article (and book) are worth reading. I'll highlight some key points. [Note, I more or less sympathize with his point on the disconnect between Christian principles and founding-era republican principles; however, as my readers can guess, I don't sympathize with his ideal ruling political system.]

First, as Kraynak points out, the notion of "rights" -- unalienable, natural, political, or human -- are not authentically Christian or Biblical concepts:

Problems with Rights

Let us turn first to theories of "rights" and ask if they are compatible with Christianity. As a preliminary observation, I would note that most of the Christian theologians of the past did not develop theories of rights. The greatest of them--St. Augustine, St. Thomas Aquinas, Martin Luther, John Calvin, Richard Hooker, and the American Puritans--had strong notions of justice, derived from natural law and divine law, which enabled them to oppose tyranny, oppression, and exploitation. But their notions of justice and higher law were not the same things as theories of rights. Nor am I convinced by the scholarly work of Brian Tierney that "natural rights" can be found in twelfth-century canon law doctrines of "subjective right."[1] Why not?

The answer, I believe, is that rights are basically claims against authority, either for protections for personal freedom from the arbitrary power of the state or for entitlements from the state for social welfare benefits. Neither of these senses of rights--protections or entitlements--is easily squared with Christian doctrine. Let me offer five reasons why.

In the first place, Christianity puts duties to God and neighbor before claims of rights; and it cannot easily accept the proposition that a right to pursue happiness as one sees fit takes precedence over duties to God and man. After all, the Bible uses the language of divine law rather than the language of rights to express morality and justice; it gives us the Ten Commandments rather than the Bill of (Ten) Rights, and the commands not to kill and not to steal do not necessarily mean that others have a right to self-preservation or to own property. Even the command to love one's neighbor as one's self is not necessarily the same as respecting the rights of others--if, for example, loving one's neighbors means imposing on them for their own good in order to save their souls or to steer them away from sin (as we would wish for ourselves). In other words, divine law commands duties to others and reciprocal obligations, and those commands do not necessarily entail respecting others' rights and may even require subordinating rights to higher duties.

In the second place, Christianity's foundation on divine revelation implies a duty to accept transcendent truth, and Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy require acceptance of authoritative pronouncements about truth by the hierarchical Church. This is crucial for Catholics and Orthodox churches, but even Protestants who allow individuals to interpret Scripture for themselves have developed means for promoting orthodoxy and suppressing heresy. It is not easy for any devout Christian to accept a blanket right of individual conscience, especially if it leads to a society indifferent to God or to a society in which cults proliferate and the true faith is marginalized. While defending orthodoxy does not automatically imply theocracy or a confessional Christian state, it is not easy to square with religious liberty either.

Third, the Christian notion of original sin implies distrust of weak and fallible human beings to use their rights properly. Belief in original sin instills in Christians a keen sense of how freedom can go awry and implies that any notion of political freedom must be a conditional good rather than an absolute good. Original sin means weak and corruptible human beings need curbs on freedom by social and political institutions, including the legislation of morality by the state. Of course, many Christian theologians maintain that the corruption of man by original sin does not obliterate his rational nature, but this implies even greater responsibilities for the state--not only to suppress vice and sin, but also to perfect the rational souls of citizens by inculcating moral and intellectual virtues. Such political responsibilities are hard to reconcile with protections for individual rights.

Kraynak then highlights a point I've often noted: The Bible never speaks of political liberty, but whenever it uses terms liberty/freedom, it speaks of spiritual liberty, or freedom from sin:

They also provide insight into why traditional Christianity places more emphasis on "inner freedom"--the freedom of the soul from sinful desires--rather than "external freedom"--the freedom from external political controls, including the controls of a repressive state or the institution of slavery. Thus, when St. Paul spoke of Christian freedom, he meant inner freedom, not the external freedom from the state protected by natural rights. Thus, Paul could say (without contradicting himself) "for freedom Christ has set us free ... do not submit to the yoke of slavery" (Gal. 5:1) and "slaves, obey ... your earthly masters" (Col. 3:22). Paul is not endorsing slavery in his admonitions to obedience; but he is saying something that is hard for modern Christians to understand: Inner freedom from sin is more important than external freedom from oppression, making spiritual freedom a higher priority than claiming one's rights.

Importantly, Kraynak articulates why the Enlightenment philosophy, particularly that of the "state of nature," central to American Founding republican thought, is not Biblical:

Furthermore, Christians (especially Catholics) cannot accept the premise of the natural freedom of the autonomous self that underlies most doctrines of rights. The most influential doctrines of rights emerged from the philosophers of Enlightenment Liberalism (Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau, Kant, Mill, Dewey, and Rawls). They argue that human beings are "born free," and they posit the existence of a state of nature or an "original position" that proclaims human autonomy at the expense of human dependence on God or on fellow human beings and denies natural sociality as well as naturally given or divinely ordained hierarchies. Natural freedom is antithetical to the notion of divinely ordained religious hierarchy in the Church or a natural hierarchy in the family or claims that those who are more wise and virtuous have some legitimate title to rule over those who are less wise and virtuous. Since these notions are inherent in Christian teachings, a Christian doctrine of natural or human rights cannot begin from the assumption of an autonomous self in a state of nature or an original position. The rights must be derived from duties, hierarchies, and prior human goods--a fact that raises the question if they are still rights at all, rather than conditional grants from a higher authority to use one's freedom for the specified ends of man as a creature of God living in the fallen world.

The bottom line, which Kraynak posits in the beginning of the article, is that he wants to dispel the notion that traditional Christianity is naturally allied to republicanism/liberal democracy, in a way that it isn't to other illiberal undemocratic, non-republican forms of government:

This idea of an essential harmony, of course, goes back to the American founders, including John Witherspoon, as well as to Alexis de Tocqueville in the nineteenth century, and especially to the great Christian theologians of the last generation--Jacques Maritain, John Courtney Murray, Reinhold Niebuhr, and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The political teaching of the last generation of theologians is especially clear: Christianity is naturally allied to liberal democracy in a way that it is not to monarchy or theocracy or communism.

As Kraynak notes, if Christians really wanted to rule nations to more effectively inculcate "Biblical principles" into society, they ought to choose a form of government that is less democratic, less republican, less "rights-oriented" (if the concept of "rights" should exist at all under such system), more hierarchical -- that is either monarchical or theocratic.

I would note under the system of liberal democracy/constitutional republicanism that America's Founders established, men like Kraynak or his evangelical Protestant counterparts have (or ought to have) every right to live their lives as conservative Christians. The concept of unalienable natural rights and republican government invariably frustrates their ability to use politics to force their vision of "the good" on pagans. And that's the way I prefer it.

Hearkening back to my post on the difference between "a-biblical" and "anti-biblical," the way I read Christianity and politics, an orthodox reading of the faith does not require Christians to use the political organs of the state try to force their vision of "the good" on pagans (though it doesn't prevent believers from doing so either). Indeed, the Bible seems focused almost entirely on spiritual, and little on political issues. That's why Christianity is compatible with a variety of forms of liberal and illiberal governments. That's why John Calvin who believed heretics should be executed and Roger Williams, who didn't, could both have teachings in line with the Bible, while supporting radically different concepts of religious liberty. And that's why the republican form of government that America's Founders established is more "a-biblical" than it is "anti-biblical."

Thursday, August 23, 2007

George Washington Praised Infidel Church:

George Washington corresponded with many churches, the strong majority of which were orthodox Trinitarian Christian, and he invariably praised them with polite words. Peter A. Lillback argues this as strong evidence that Washington himself was orthodox Christian. However, the larger picture viewed in overall context casts doubt on such notion. The theistic rationalists supported "Christianity" because they supported "religion" in general. Ben Franklin, for instance, was involved in the building of churches which, I think, were used solely by orthodox Trinitarian Christians (like Franklin's friend, the uber-orthodox Christian, George Whitfield). However, Franklin was so creedally indifferent that he asserted it would be entirely appropriate for "the Mufti of send a missionary to preach Mohammedanism" in those churches.

Likewise, George Washington's praise for the Christians with whom he often corresponded was not limited to orthodox Trinitarian Christians, but was done with the same cavalier creedal indifference which Franklin displayed. In short, Washington and the other theistic rationalists praised a variety of "religions" which preached incompatible claims, as "sound."

Read Washington's words carefully; when he praises the Christian Churches, he never so much insinuates that one must be a Christian to be saved, but only that Christianity makes men moral. And as Franklin once said, if the "ends" (virtue) are achieved, the "means" (which religion you believe in) really don't matter. As such, they believed all religions about which they were aware taught the morality necessary to support republican government and were valid ways to God. So ultimately, what theistic rationalists like Washington valued in Christianity and all other religions was the existence of an overridding Providence, the obligations of moral virtue, and the doctrine of a future state of rewards and punishments.

The key Founders believed Christianity, Judaism, Deism, Unitarianism, Hinduism, Islam, Native American Spirituality, and Pagan-Greco-Roman spirituality all taught the "theistic" minimum that made religion "sound." Things like the Trinity, Incarnation, and Atonement were at best harmless irrationalities, at worst, corruptions which detracted from Christianity's "purity" or "simplicity." Christianity might be "better" than the other religions, but only because of Jesus of Nazareth's superior moral teachings, not because of His claim as second person in the Godhead or His atoning death. The key Founders' creed could be viewed as both a broader form of Deism and a more liberal, rationalistic form of Christianity. Or, it could be viewed as neither strict Deism, nor orthodox Christianity.

Washington and Madison are tricky because whereas Jefferson, Adams, and Franklin leave no doubt in their writings that they believed what I've just described, Washington and Madison invariably spoke in generic terms about God and religion and left some gaps that require detective work to fill in.

So when I see Washington give an infidel church the same praise that he gives orthodox Churches (indeed, the orthodox ministers, with their strict theological teachings are the ones who term such non-orthodoxy, "infidelity") to me this is just one more piece of evidence that strongly points towards Washington being a theistic rationalist like Franklin, Adams, and Jefferson, not an orthodox Christian.

The "infidel" church Washington praised was the Universalist Church in Philadelphia. This Church was Trinitarian -- it was "orthodox" in its Christology -- however, it denied eternal damnation, believing all would be saved. Benjamin Rush eventually converted to such Trinitarian Universalism. Orthodox Christians commonly termed deists "infidels." However, they also termed unitarians, and universalists "infidels" as well (unitarianism and universalism are both elements of theistic rationalism.)

For instance, Bishop Meade was a very distinguished Episcopal Bishop and scholar in the early 19th Century. In his classic, Old Churches, Ministers and Families of Virginia, Bishop Meade warns of "infidelity" being preached from the pulpit of Christian Churches in Virginia. He notes: "I have other reasons for knowing that infidelity, under the specious garb of Universalism, was then finding its way into the pulpit." He then names a few notable Virginia politicians who were on the legislature's Committee on Religion, who supposedly fought the good fight against "infidelity." [Eventually, "infidels" Jefferson and Madison served on that Committee where they introduced Jefferson's historic Virginia Bill on Religious Freedom which separated Church & State there.] George Washington also served on such committee.

As Peter Lillback interprets Meade's passage, "the names of those openly defending historic Christianity against Deism in Virginia are Washington's fellow members of the Committee on Religion." The irony that escapes Lillback is that Washington, in no uncertain terms, praised the very infidelity that Meade condemned. As he wrote to the Universalist Church in Philadelphia:


I thank you cordially for the congratulations, which you offer on my appointment to the office I have the honor to hold in the government of the United States.

It gives me the most sensible pleasure to find, that, in our nation, however different are the sentiments of citizens on religious doctrines, they generally concur in one thing; for their political professions and practices are almost universally friendly to the order and happiness of our civil institutions. I am also happy in finding this disposition particularly evinced by your society. It is, moreover, my earnest desire, that all the members of every association or community, throughout the United States, may make such use of the auspicious years of peace, liberty, and free inquiry, with which they are now favored, as they shall hereafter find occasion to rejoice for having done.

With great satisfaction I embrace this opportunity to express my acknowledgments for the interest my affectionate fellow-citizens have taken in my recovery from a late dangerous indisposition; and I assure you, Gentlemen, that, in mentioning my obligations for the effusions of your benevolent wishes in my behalf, I feel animated with new zeal, that my conduct may ever be worthy of your favorable opinion, as well as such as shall, m every respect, best comport with the character of an intelligent and accountable being.

Washington made it clear that whatever it was he valued about religion, the "infidel" Universalists had it. Further, Washington's line about "however different are the sentiments of citizens on religious doctrines...their political professions and practices are almost universally friendly to the order and happiness of our civil institutions," expresses the radical creedal indifference of theistic rationalism. Not all of these churches were orthodox Trinitarian, even if most of them were. Again, keep in mind the context is he writes this while praising a church whose distinguishing tenet is that it denies eternal damnation and gets called "infidel" for doing so. Washington also defended a Universalist chaplain named John Murray when other chaplains demanded he be forbidden from serving. And Washington also made clear the purpose of the chaplaincy was not to promote the Christian religion to help save men's souls, but rather to accommodate the religious sentiments of the people serving (whatever "religion" they may be) and to take advantage of "religion's" salutary effect on society.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Alexander Hamilton Died a Newbie Christian:

Before his son Philip died in in 1801, Hamilton was, for all the years he did his work "Founding" America, like the other key Founders, a theistic rationalist.

Douglas Adair and Marvin Harvey wrote an excellent article in the William & Mary Quarterly in 1955 entitled Was Alexander Hamilton a Christian Statesman? Adair and Harvey identify four religious phases in Hamilton's life: He had a conventionally religious youth. From 1777 to 1792, he seemed totally indifferent to religion. From the period of the French Revolution onward, he had an "opportunistic religiosity", seeking to use Christianity for political ends, and then after the death of his son Philip in 1801, truly became a repentant orthodox Christian. The first three phases of his life were consistent with theistic rationalism.

In the Farmer Refuted he spoke the following like a true theistic rationalist:

The sacred rights of mankind are not to be rummaged for, among old parchments, or musty records. They are written, as with a sun beam, in the whole volume of human nature, by the hand of the divinity itself; and can never be erased or obscured by mortal power.

During the period from 1777 to 1792 is supposedly when he made two wisecracks about God. When asked why God wasn't mentioned in the US Constitution Hamilton supposedly said, "We forgot." The other was Hamilton supposedly didn't agree to Franklin's call for prayer because he didn't think the Constitutional Convention needed "foreign aid." Both of these may turn out be apocryphal. They are, as David Barton would put it, "unconfirmed" in the primary source record.

However, during that period, he said something arguably much worse. From 1777 to 1792 there are, according to Adair and Harvey, only two letters where Hamilton mentions God or religion at all. One of them, a letter to Anthony Wayne July 6, 1780, he discusses a military chaplain:

“He is just what I should like for a military parson except that he does not whore or drink. He will fight, and he will not insist upon your going to heaven whether you will or not."

[Here is Ron Chernow discussing the quotation in his award winning book on Hamilton.]

I've been challenged with a version of that letter that didn't include the "whore" part. Adair and Harvey inform us exactly of the whereabouts of the original and that the Henry Cabot Lodge version from 1904 had been "bowdlerized" probably to make Hamilton look not so creepy. I've uploaded the page from Adair's and Harvey's article with the information about the quotation in question:

Is this the kind of thing a "Christian Statesman" says? Hamilton had a reputation for being a rake among other Founders as well. John Adams called Alexander Hamilton a “bastard brat of a Scotch pedlar,” who had a “superabundance of secretions which he could not find whores enough to draw off.” Finally Adams decried “the profligacy of his life; his fornications, adulteries and his incests.”

Abigail wasn’t much nicer. “Oh, I have read his heart in his wicked eyes. The very devil is in them. They are lasciviousness itself.”

And of course Hamilton was caught having an affair with Maria Reynolds, a grifter. And he made a self-serving, less than forthcoming apology about the matter.

Hamilton's only other reference to religion in the period from 1777-92 concerned what he desired in a wife. As he wrote to John Laurens in Dec. 1779: "As to religion, a moderate streak will satisfy me. She must believe in god and hate a saint." Certainly not the words of a devout orthodox Christian. (Ironically, the woman he ended up marrying, Eliza Schuyler, was devoutly religious.)

As noted, after his son died in 1801 Hamilton did begin to display, for the first time in his public career true humility and a likely then became orthodox Trinitarian Christian. I say there is evidence that he was a Christian because instead of talking about "the Deity" in generic or philosophical sense, for the first time in his public life he uses actual specific Christian language about God. Though, he was refused communion at his death, which he begged for, because he hadn't yet joined a Church -- more evidence of his being a "newbie" Christian at the end of his life.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Alexander Hamilton Hated Republican Government:

Strong words, but they aren't mine. Rather they are Gouverneur Morris'. I knew Hamilton was a sort of proto-monarchist, but never would I have put it in such stark terms as did Morris. Bottom line according to Morris: Hamilton hated republican government because it was too democratic. This may help illustrate the inanity of the line "The Founders gave America republic not a democracy." There is certainly a kernel of truth in the line; but the problem is most folks who utter it don't know what they are talking about. The notion of republican government, rightly understood, is contained within the broader rubric of the concept of "liberal democracy." The Founders didn't like mob rule (neither do I), and as such wanted republican checks on the democratic process, one of which was limiting what the federal government could do with enumerated powers and the second, indissolubly linked to the first, was making certain individual rights antecedent to majority rule. Anyway here is Morris on Hamilton:

“Speaking of General Hamilton, he had little share in forming the Constitution. He disliked it, believing all republican government to be radically defective. He admired, nevertheless, the British constitution, which I consider as an aristocracy in fact, though a monarchy in name. General Hamilton hated republican government, because he confounded it with democratical government; and he detested the latter, because he believed it must end in despotism, and, be in the mean time, destructive to public morality. He believed that our administration would be enfeebled progressively at every new election, and become at last contemptible. He apprehended that the minions of faction would sell themselves and their country as soon as foreign powers should think it worth while to make the purchase. In short, his study of ancient history impressed on his mind a conviction that democracy, ending in tyranny, is, while it lasts, a cruel and oppressing domination. One marked trait of the General’s character was the pertinacious adherence to opinions he had once formed. From his situation in early life, it was not to be expected that he should have a fellow-feeling with those who idly supposed themselves to be the natural aristocracy of this country. In maturer age, his observation and good sense demonstrated that the materials for an aristocracy do not exist in America; wherefore, taking the people as a mass in which there was nothing of family, wealth, prejudice, or habit to raise a permanent mound of distinction—in which, moreover, the torrent of opinion had already washed away every mole-hill of respect raised by the industry of individual pride, he considered the fate of Rome in her meridian splendor, and that of Athens from the dawn to the sunset of her glory, as the portraits of our future fortune. Moreover, the extent of the United States led him to fear a defect of national sentiment. That which, at the time our Constitution was formed, had been generated by friendship in the Revolutionary War, was sinking under the pressure of State interest, commercial rivalry, the pursuit of wealth, and those thousand giddy projects which the intoxication of independence, an extravagant idea of our own importance, a profound ignorance of other nations, the prostration of public credit, and the paucity of our resources had engendered. He heartily assented, nevertheless, to the Constitution, because he considered it as a band which might hold us together for some time, and he knew that national sentiment is the off-spring of national existence. He trusted, moreover, that in the chances and changes of time we should be involved in some war which might strengthen our union and nerve the Executive. He was not (as some have supposed) so blind as not to see that the President could purchase power, and shelter himself from responsibility by sacrificing the rights and duties of his office at the shrine of influence; but he was too proud, and, let me add, too virtuous to recommend or tolerate measures eventually fatal to liberty and honor."
Future Prospects For Dominionism:

I take a moderate view on Dominionism. One the one hand there is the view of ordinary religious conservatives like Clayton Cramer who argue all warnings of such are paranoia:

If all the "dominionist Christians" in the United States got together and organized a coup d'etat, there wouldn't be enough of them to take over Horseshoe Bend. I'm pretty sure that I've never met one. The only place that I have ever seen a "dominionist Christian" is being interviewed on some Bill Moyers documentary.

Then there are folks like Bill Moyers and Michelle Goldberg who argue that, if we don't keep our guard up, we are on the verge of a Dominionist theocracy.

My opinion is that more Dominionists exist than for what Cramer et al. give credit. They do have strong influence in religious right and Republican circles; yet, that's all they are, one of many competing political interests, who are often disappointed by conservative Republicans in general, and GW Bush in particular. D. James Kennedy's Reclaiming America group and David Barton are probably the biggest influences in Domionism which have a Republican connection. Here is Kennedy at one of his conferences explaining his Dominionist agenda:

As I've noted many times on my blogs, I think Barton and Kennedy are sadly mistaken on the history of America; they have nothing to reclaim because they didn't "own" its Founding from 1776-1787. And further, I think religious passions in politics can be a dangerous thing, and as such I want to see them quelled.

Yet, Kennedy's Reclaiming America group has closed its doors. And that makes me happy.

In short, they exist; those who are wary of the Christian Nationalist agenda are right to stay concerned. Yet, let's not overestimate their threat. In politics, they are not exactly on the winning side of most of the issues about which they are concerned. And the future prospects for Dominionism seem presently, at best, dim.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Proper Names for God, and more on Mormons & the Founding:

I agree with my co-blogger Jason that Allah arguably is a proper name for the scriptural God. This is for two reasons: 1) “Allah” is simply the Arabic translation for the word "God." And 2) The Muslims' Allah claims to be the God of Abraham. That doesn't necessarily mean that Christians and Muslims worship the same God. Though the strongest argument they don't is that the Christians' God is Triune in nature, the Muslim's isn't. But neither is the Jews'. It's therefore possible reasonably to argue that Jews, Christians and Muslims either all worship the same God -- the God of Abraham -- or all worship different gods. Some may attempt to do so, but it is not possible to convincingly argue that Jews and Christians worship the same God, Muslims a different one; they rise and fall together.

On a related note, I’ve pointed out the irony that many proponents of the Christian America thesis insist that Allah is not the God of the Bible and also insist America’s Founders invoked the Biblical God, not Allah. Washington, Jefferson and Madison repeatedly called God “The Great Spirit” when speaking to unconverted Native Americans. To the Christian Nation perspective, that should be viewed as even worse than calling God Allah because Allah at least claims to be the God of Abraham but “The Great Spirit” makes no such claim.

However, to tie this to my last post on Mormonism and the American Founding, because Mormons believe that Indians are the lost tribes of Israel, they do believe that the Native Americans' "The Great Spirit" is the God of the Bible. Indeed, the only way to reconcile referring to "The Great Spirit" as God with Christianity is to incorporate the teaching that Native Americans are, in reality, a lost Israeli tribe. And just as I've discovered Ben Franklin flirted with the proto-Mormon belief that some larger God created the cosmos, and each solar system had its own lesser, more “knowable” God, the lost tribes of Israel thesis likewise traces to a Founding Father -- Elias Boudinat. Boudinat, unlike Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Madison, and Franklin, was, or appeared to be a genuine orthodox Trinitarian Christian. And I've seen no evidence whatsoever that those five key Founders believed Indians were the lost tribe of Israel. However, Boudinat did. He even wrote a book on the matter. And Boudinat argued that Indians' God was the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

This is further evidence that Mormon theology, odd as it may seem to some, is closer to what the Founding Fathers believed than is orthodox Trinitarian Christianity. But again, that's only because, in my opinion, Joseph Smith looked to the Founding Fathers and some of their eccentric theological beliefs for inspiration when creating the Mormon religion.

Friday, August 17, 2007

Blasphemy Laws and the Founding:

Some folks are surprised to learn that blasphemy laws and some prosecutions under them persisted after the ratification of the Bill of Rights. I don't interpret that to mean blasphemy laws are consistent with Free Speech; clearly they are not. Rather, their persistence was more a function of the original federalist understanding of the First Amendment where none of the Bill of Rights, including the First Amendment's religion clauses, applied against state and local governments.

Walter Berns, a brilliant scholar with whom I often disagree (for instance, he has notably called for reinstituting censorship and believes Free Speech forbids prior restraints only, not after the fact prosecutions), explained the secular rational for blasphemy laws. He discussed a founding era blasphemy case, which as I will show, I think, he either partially misunderstood or "found" a controversial "Straussian" meaning; but he nonetheless accurately explained how blasphemy laws might properly exist in a nation like the United States which was founded to be a secular commercial republic. As he writes in Making Patriots:

Liberty of conscience was widely accepted at the time of the Founding, but this did not prevent some jurists and legislatures from insisting, at least for a while (and given our principles it could be only for a while), that Christianity was part of the law, meaning the common law. So it had been in England, and so, it was assumed by some (but not Jefferson), it would continue to be in America. But there was no disagreement about the place of the common law. Indeed one of the first things done by the states after independence was to declare (here in the words of the New Jersey constitution of 1776) that “the common law of England, as well as so much of the statute law, as have been heretofore practiced in this Colony, shall remain in force, until they shall be altered by a future law of the Legislature; such parts only excepted, as are repugnant to the rights and privileges contained in this Charter [or constitution].”

But if the “rights and privileges” contained in the various state charters or constitutions included the right of liberty of conscience, and if, in turn, this right required, in Madison’s words, “a perfect separation between ecclesiastical and civil matters,” what did it mean to say that Christianity was part of the common law? Very little, as it turned out; and it turned out as it had to turn out. Consider, for example, the case of blasphemy in America…. pp. 32-33.

Berns then notes how blasphemy laws remained on the books, but in post-Founding America, the judges, in maintaining their consistency with the rights of conscience, had to “redefine the offense” to include utterances against any religion that would tend to cause a breach of the peace. In other words, the policy behind the offense was now to protect the peace, not the Christian or any religion. These state courts had effectively “stripped blasphemy of its religious character.” Leading Berns to ask, rhetorically, “who can quarrel over a blasphemy law that protects one and all [religions] alike”?

Under the old understanding of blasphemy laws, the purpose was to protect the Christian religion from harm. As such, a Christian commonwealth would be charged with protecting the Christian religion only. Under the principles of modern republicanism, on the other hand, blasphemy laws protect breaches of the peace and as such, the law has a duty to protect whatever is the dominant religion of the people.

[My understanding is that founding era republicanism views Free Speech as a natural right, and therefore, government has no right to proscribe any kind of "blasphemy"; elsewhere Berns has argued that because citizens surrender their natural rights when leaving the state of nature, they surrender their right to speak freely, in exchange for living in an orderly society; however, many scholars differ with Berns on whether founding theory teaches that man surrenders his natural rights when leaving the state of nature. And that's probably because the Founders themselves and philosophers they followed differed on what exactly is surrendered, what is retained.]

However, when I go back and look at the original case, People v. Ruggles, Berns' reports doesn't seem quite right. Rather, Judge Kent himself seems to invoke both rationales, protecting the Christian religion from harm and protecting from breaches of the peace, in upholding the blasphemy convictions. It's interesting to see Judge Kent struggle with the seeming conflict between blasphemy laws and liberty of conscience.

It will be fully satisfied by a free and universal toleration, without any of the tests, disabilities, or discriminations, incident to a religious establishment. To construe it as breaking down the common law barriers against licentious, wanton, and impious attacks upon christianity itself, would be an enormous perversion of its meaning. The proviso guards the article from such dangerous latitude of construction, when it declares, the "the liberty of conscience hereby granted, shall not be so construed as to excuse acts of licentiousness, or justify practices inconsistent with the peace and safety of this state."

What he quotes from NY's Constitution justifies the secular rationale for blasphemy laws, but not protecting the Christian religion from harm. However, Kent makes it clear that he believed (and that's all it is, one judge's opinion) under New York law, Christianity receives special protection from harm:

Nor are we bound, by any expressions in the constitution, as some have strangely supposed, either not to punish at all, or to punish indiscriminately the like attacks upon the religion of Mahomet or of the grand Lama; and for this plain reason, that the case assumes that we are a christian people, and the morality of the country is deeply ingrafted upon christianity, and not upon the doctrines or worship of those impostors.

Two interesting things to note. First, Kent's opinion on how to reconcile liberty of conscience with blasphemy laws that protect Christianity was not uncontroversial. At the New State Convention in 1821 Erastus Root attempted to amend the Constitution to overturn the Ruggles opinion, arguing that it violated the letter and spirit of New York's Constitution. His amendment failed though.

More importantly, I'm sure many lesser known Founding Fathers believed as Judge Kent did -- that the law should protect the Christian religion and not that of "imposter" religions. It has not been determined what the two hundred and some odd men who, as a group, comprised the "Founders" believed in this and many disputed areas, which is one reason why they probably settled on broad language limiting what the federal government could do, and left most matters up to the states.

But I do know, in studying what the key Founders -- the men whose faces grace US currency -- believed and it is nothing like Kent's opinion. They believed "religion" meant all religions and as such the law would equally protect Islam and Hinduism with Christianity. Madison and Jefferson believed it violated natural right for tax dollars to support the Christian religion (or any religion). Washington differed. Yet, because Judaism and Islam -- two religions he mentioned by named -- had equal rights with Christianity, such believers, Washington noted were by right entitled to exemptions or accommodations from laws which would take their tax dollars to support Christianity. As he wrote:

I am not amongst the number of those who are so much alarmed at the thoughts of making people pay towards the support of that which they profess, if of the denomination of Christians; or declare themselves Jews, Mahomitans or otherwise, and thereby obtain proper relief. As the matter now stands, I wish an assessment had never been agitated, and as it has gone so far, that the Bill could die an easy death; because I think it will be productive of more quiet to the State, than by enacting it into a Law; which, in my opinion, would be impolitic, admitting there is a decided majority for it, to the disquiet of a respectable minority. [My emphasis.]

As I've written elsewhere, these Founders seemed to go even further than merely believing all religions should be equally protected by the law, but that they all lead to the same God. They made clear that the organic, or "higher law" that founds America -- the spirit of founding era republicanism -- is not Christianity, but rather reason, or some kind of natural theism ("the laws of Nature and Nature's God") which endows all religions with equal rights. Thus, if Christianity is protected under blasphemy laws, the spirit of republicanism demands all religions, or whatever religion the people may be, likewise be protected, for the sole rationale of protecting the public order from breaches of the peace, not protecting any particular religion from harm. Arguably, the spirit of republicanism holds all blasphemy laws to violate the natural right to free speech.
Ain't Nothin' Better:

Than puppets making prank phone calls:

Thursday, August 16, 2007

How Mormons View America's Founding:

There is an interesting conversation occurring here on this thread. Someone makes an interesting point: since Mormons view America's founding as divinely inspired, Mitt Romney, as a Mormon, may do a better job defending the US Constitution since he'll view it as a divinely inspired document.

I think the key Founders -- Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Madison, Franklin, et al. -- did believe God intervened on their behalf in the Revolution and subsequently in constructing the Constitution (though the Declaration is far more theistic than the Constitution).

However, the ideas contained in the Founding documents -- the Declaration, Constitution, and Federalist Papers -- are hardly biblical. Indeed, some notable scholars have made the case that some key Founding ideas actually conflict with the Bible; for instance, Romans 13 seems to categorically forbid revolt, arguably making America's war for independence a sin according to the Bible.

George Washington believed God was pro-political liberty. That's well and good; the problem is, the Bible doesn't teach this. The Bible never mentions political liberty; every time it uses the word "liberty," it refers to spiritual not political liberty.

The Mormon religion, and the book of Mormon, on the other hand, do indeed make Founding-era republican ideals part and parcel of their religion. But that's not because there is anything magically or divinely true about the Mormon religion; rather, because when Joseph Smith et al. created the religion, they incorporated some of the Founders' republican ideals, enlightenment teachings, and eccentric theological beliefs into their religion. For instance, Ben Franklin flirted with the proto-Mormon belief that some larger God created the cosmos, and each solar system had its own lesser God -- a more "knowable" God -- which he would worship.

I don't think that Mormonism is entirely consistent with the theology of the key Founders (for instance, Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Madison, and Franklin thought the Bible to be only partially inspired and that man's reason supersedes biblical revelation as the final arbiter of truth -- do Mormon's believe this?); but Mormon theology is closer to what the Founders believed than is orthodox Trinitarian Christianity.

The Book of Mormon is, by its very nature, extra-biblical, and that's where Founding era republican ideals are officially incorporated into Mormon theology. What Mormons officially did parallels what some Christians and Unitarians who called themselves Christians did during the Founding era: They incorporated extra-biblical republican principles into their "Christian" theology to make God over in a way more in accord with liberal democratic ideals. Whenever you see buzzwords like "state of nature" in Founding era sermons, or if any of those sermons argued God was on the side of the Americans in the Revolutionary war, God grants unalienable natural rights, God is pro-political liberty, you can be sure this is what was going on.
Hagiography in Action, Part II:

Commenter AMW thought my response to a hagiographic reading of George Washington's religion was weak. I tried to make the post brief. The conversation which gave rise to my post ensued where I detailed more why Washington's creed probably doesn't quite comport with orthodox Christianity. Here is the latest reply followed up by my response:


Thank you for the links. As to the spurious nature of Washington's prayer that I cited in #87, I am befuddled. I did not get that from any internet source, but copied it word for word from a document that I got many years ago at Mt. Vernon. If any place could be trusted for authenticity regarding Washington, that was it, I thought.

I went to your link and then to the University of Virginia Press digitized collection of Washington's papers. I must concede that the phrase "…through Jesus Christ our Lord" appears to have been added at some later time, for I could not find it in any of the more authentic sources. My turn to eat humble pie. You are correct on this point and I should have been less caustic in my related remarks — my apologies.

As I searched through Washington's papers, I was disappointed in the scarcity of specific references to Christ. I can see how many scholars thus characterize him as a deist. Yet, it is notoriously difficult, if not impossible, to prove a negative through lack of evidence. In my opinion, for them to be convincing with the claim that Washington was not a Christian, they would have to find statements from Washington where he denounced or specifically disclaimed Christianity. Apparently those cannot be found, anymore than specific statements of allegiance to Christ.

On the other hand, we find large amounts of circumstantial evidence of his allegiance to Christianity — evidence that would also be consistent with the reluctance of some people to publicly discuss their private religious sentiments, especially when in a position of public office.

He attended a Christian church even though he disagreed with the pastor on certain aspects of communion. If he had been a deist I should think he would have attended some kind of universalist church, or no church at all.

If he had been a deist he would not have fought so hard for a Christian chaplaincy for the military, specifically referring to the need for Christian soldiers to attend religious services.

In a letter to the German Reformed Church in Jun of 1789, he appealed to the Throne of Grace, a distinctly Christian, Christ oriented term.

In a letter to Savannah Hebrews in May of 1790 he spoke in admiration of Jehovah God. Even though the Jews disagree about Jesus Christ, our Jehovah God is one and the same.

In a letter from Countess Huntingdon to Washington in Mar of 1784, she called him a Christian and a soldier.

In a letter to the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in 1789, Washington speaks of a "true Christian" from the perspective of being one himself.

In the inventory of Washington's library at Mt. Vernon we find many volumes of sermon collections and commentaries from prominent Christian pastors of his day: Blair, South, the Bishop of Bath, Yorrick, Sherlock, Brady, and Foster. By seeing this collection of the works of Christians he obviously admired, I am convinced he was of like mind.

On top of this, Washington makes many more general references to Almighty God, Providence, Author of our blessed Religion, etc., all of which can be considered supportive of and complimentary to Christianity.

Absent specific Christ oriented mini-sermons from Washington's own lips, all of this is very strong circumstantial evidence of his allegiance to Jesus Christ. It is considerably stronger on the positive side than the non-evidence advanced by the deist camp.

My reply:


Thank you for your reply. I'll repeat, I don't argue GW was a "Deist." My research has found that not just Washington, but other "key" Founding Fathers (the men who grace US currency) including Jefferson, seem to fit neatly into neither box: strict Deism or orthodox Christianity.

I'm working on a publication on Washington where I deal with a few of the points you cite. They want the bio to be factual, not argumentative in nature, so here is how I conclude on GW's faith:

A man of mystery, Washington refused to put his explicit religious cards on the table leaving generations to come wondering exactly what it was he believed beyond the "few and simple" tenets he identified in his speeches and writings.

GW once stated: "In religion my tenets are few and simple."

On the letter to the Hebrews, he used the term "Jehovah" for God only once, when speaking to Jews. Twice when speaking to unconverted Native Americans, he referred to God as "The Great Spirit," exactly as they did. Putting these together suggests not exclusive belief in the God of Scripture, but a syncretic universalism which views many world religions as valid ways to God.

(It's telling that he used "Jehovah" when talking to Jews, "The Great Spirit" when talking to Indians, but didn't use either of those terms when talking to non-Jews or Indians; a pattern of GW using the addressee's terms for God.)

Regarding his letter to the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in 1789, I've carefully examined it -- and this also relates to his support of the chaplaincy, and promoting "morality" through the auspices of Christianity to his soldiers -- Washington, like Adams, Jefferson, Madison, and Franklin probably believed the key factor of religion was to make men moral, not to save men's souls through the blood Atonement of Christ. Or to put it another way, men would be saved through works and not grace. If you look at Washington's praise for the Christian religion -- and you are right, he does this in a way that a strict deist would not -- it almost invariably is done in the context of equating Christianity with character or virtue. This is exactly what Adams, Franklin, Madison and Jefferson believed. And, as Franklin once put it (see the quotation below), if the "ends" (virtue) are achieved the "means" (which religion you are) really don't matter, you could see how they might draw an equivalence between Christianity and other world religions, as long as they promoted the morality necessary to support our republic. I did a big post on this months ago with quotations from the key Founders where I showed Washington's opinion about Christianity in this regard exactly paralleled Jefferson's, Adams', and Franklin's.

As Washington put it in that very letter to which you refer:

"[F]or no man, who is profligate in his morals, or a bad member of the civil community, can possibly be a true Christian, or a credit to his own religious society."

Notice the words, "a credit to his own religious society...," which implies as long as your religion promotes the necessary virtue, whether it is Christian or not, it is "sound" or "valid." Washington clearly had no problem with the orthodox evangelical sects of his day and thought they did great work for society in promoting morality; but he didn't seem to have problems with non-Christian religions either, as long as their religions likewise promoted morality.

Here are some quotations from other key Founding Fathers which shed light on this belief which does not neatly comport with orthodox Christian notions of salvation (the supposed "Deist" Ben Franklin actually refers to Jesus as "Savior" something Washington never did; yet, as is shown, Franklin believed men were saved through works, not grace):

"My fundamental principle would be the reverse of Calvin's, that we are to be saved by our good works which are within our power, and not by our faith which is not within our power."

-- Thomas Jefferson to Thomas B. Parker, May 15, 1819.

"No point of Faith is so plain, as that Morality is our Duty; for all Sides agree in that. A virtuous Heretick shall be saved before a wicked Christian."

-- Benjamin Franklin, "Dialogue between Two Presbyterians," April 10, 1735.

"Faith is recommended as a Means of producing Morality: Our Saviour was a Teacher of Morality or Virtue, and they that were deficient and desired to be taught, ought first to believe in him as an able and faithful Teacher. Thus Faith would be a Means of producing Morality, and Morality of Salvation. But that from such Faith alone Salvation may be expected, appears to me to be neither a Christian Doctrine nor a reasonable one....Morality or Virtue is the End, Faith only a Means to obtain that End: And if the End be obtained, it is no matter by what Means."

-- Ibid.

"...the design of Christianity was not to make men good Riddle Solvers or good mystery mongers, but good men, good magestrates and good Subjects...."

-- John Adams, Dairy, Feb. 18, 1756

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Why the "Christian America" Thesis Hurts Religious Conservatives:

Ed Brayton points to this article by Al Bedrosian, former political candidate for the Virginia General Assembly arguing against the notion of religious freedom.

If devout Christians honestly want to argue against religious freedom for non-Christian faiths, that's fine; but religious conservatives make fools of themselves when they try to drag the Founding Fathers as on their side. If they understood history better, they wouldn't do this. But they've been misled by the likes of David Barton, D. James Kennedy, and William Federer into believing the Christian Nation nonsense, where a central part of the myth is the Founders intended the religious rights to protect Christian sects only. As he writes:

When reading the writings of our Founding Founders, there was never any reference to freedom of religion referring to a choice between Islam, Hindu, Satanism, Wicca and whatever other religions or cults you would like to dream up. It was very clear that freedom to worship meant the freedom to worship the God of the Bible in the way you wanted, and not to have a government church denomination dictate how you would worship.

Ed Brayton points to the irony that this man is from Virginia and ran for Virginia General Assembly. That state, in 1786, passed Jefferson's landmark statute establishing religious liberty, a statute which claims to be based on "natural right," which is shorthand for "the laws of nature and nature's God." And Jefferson, in no uncertain terms, told which "religions" were protected under the statute:

Where the preamble declares, that coercion is a departure from the plan of the holy author of our religion, an amendment was proposed by inserting "Jesus Christ," so that it would read "A departure from the plan of Jesus Christ, the holy author of our religion;" the insertion was rejected by the great majority, in proof that they meant to comprehend, within the mantle of its protection, the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and Mohammedan, the Hindoo and Infidel of every denomination.

Further not only did the key Founders -- Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Madison, and Franklin -- believe all religions were protected under the "unalienable rights of conscience," they also believed practically all of these religions were valid ways to God. As John Adams put it discussing how Hindus worship the same God Christians and Jews do:

Where is to be found Theology more orthodox or Phylosophy more profound than in the Introduction to the Shast[r]a [a Hindu Treatise]? “God is one, creator of all, Universal Sphere, without beginning, without End. God Governs all the Creation by a General Providence, resulting from his eternal designs. --- Search not the Essence and the nature of the Eternal, who is one; Your research will be vain and presumptuous. It is enough that, day by day, and night by night, You adore his Power, his Wisdom and his Goodness, in his Works.”

-- John Adams to Thomas Jefferson, December 25, 1813.

As I've shown in the past, Ben Franklin thought it appropriate for Muslims to preach Mohammedanism in Christian Churches. And Washington, Jefferson, and Madison, when they spoke to unconverted Native Americans used the term "The Great Spirit" for God, suggesting the Indians' Pagan God was the same one they worshipped.

The notion that all religions worship the same God and that all religions ought be endowed with equal rights sort of connects their theology with their politics; if all religions lead to the same God, it makes sense that all religions should have equal rights.

Indeed, as Mr. Bedrosian informs:

Christianity, by its own definition, does not allow freedom of religion. A Christian is defined as a follower of Jesus Christ.

Jesus clearly states all through Scripture that he is the way and the only way to God the father. The Bible is clear in teaching us that we should have no other gods before him. Our God is a jealous God.

I've read the Bible carefully and I'd say Mr. Bedrosian's interpretation is fair and reasonable. The problem, for him, is that it's not what our Founders believed. Their nature's God granted men the unalienable right to freedom of religion, not just to worship the God of the Bible, but to worship false gods or even no God at all. Indeed Mr. Bedrosian's view illustrates how Christians viewed the proper relationship between government and religion before America's Founders changed things.

How Christians like Bedrosian might want to reconcile the Founders' view of a nature's God who grants men the right to worship false gods with traditional Christianity is their dilemma. Students of political philosophy know this as "the theological-political problem." And, I think that the Bible can be reconciled with the notion of freedom of religion for all. Certainly nothing in the New Testament requires (or forbids, I might add) Christians to persecute non-believers if they should be in charge of government.

This information also helps demonstrates the extra-biblical character of "the laws of nature and nature's God." Whether Christians can permit non-believers to worship as they please, nothing in the Bible requires them to do so. The notion of a nature's God who grants men the unalienable right to break His First Command seems, to me, entirely extra-biblical, more characteristic of a benevolent, non-jealous, unitarian Deity, not the God of Scripture.

Finally, religious conservatives have legitimate arguments to make in terms of how to properly interpret religion clauses of the Constitution. I'd suggest the works of Daniel Dreisbach, Philip Hamburger, and Phillip Muñoz, or even some of Justice Thomas' thoughtful Church-State opinions.

Commentaries, like Mr. Bedrosian's, which rely on an abominable understanding of the history and political philosophy of America's Founding certainly do nothing to advance religious conservatism. I wonder what are the politics of the The Roanoke Times. Could it be that they featured this op-ed to make religious conservatives look bad?

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Does this Make Me Cool By Association?

I had no clue. Since Jerry Garcia died, Phish have been the cool "head" band by default. After graduating high school, I attended Mercer County Community College for a year, headed off to Berklee College of Music (btw, one of our notable professors, jazz great Herb Pomery recently passed), and three graduate degrees from Temple University later, now teach full time at Mercer.

I didn't know that Trey Anastasio guitarist for Phish is an alum of Mercer County Community College. At least one or more Phish members (I need to brush up) are Berklee alums as well.

Every time a student of mine wears a Phish shirt, I'm going to have to inform him/her that Trey is an alum.
Hagiography in Action:

In long debating George Washington's religion and arguing he wasn't a Christian in the orthodox Trinitarian sense, I've noticed a sort of strange anger from the "Christian Heritage" crowd when you try to show them Washington wasn't a "real Christian" like them. Such anger permeates Peter Lillback's book (but not Michael and Jana Novak's). Here is one such example from WorldMagBlog's thread (a place I go, with many thoughtful and some not so thoughtful evangelicals, to test some of my arguments). The commenter informs me:

You present his pastor as the defining arbiter of Washington's Christianity. Why do you prefer the pastor's opinion to Washington's? It is because it is convenient to your argument and to your bias, not necessarily because it is true. I disagree with my pastor on aspects of our congregational communion practice. But that does not make me a generic deist. You must look at the whole man, the totality of his witness over the years, not isolated quotes or incidents that are convenient to your biased view.

George Washington, April 30th, 1789

Almighty GOD; we make our earnest prayer that Thou wilt keep the United States in Thy holy protection, that thou wilt incline the hearts of the citizens to cultivate a spirit of subordination and obedience to government; and entertain a brotherly affection and love for one another and for their fellow citizens of the United States of America at large. And finally that Thou wilt most graciously be pleased to dispose us all to do justice, to love mercy and to demean ourselves with that charity, humility and pacific temper of mind which were the characteristics of The Divine Author of our blessed religion, and without whose example in these things we can never hope to be a happy nation. Grant our supplication, we beseech thee, through Jesus Christ Our Lord. Amen

Beyond quotes come many significant deeds over the years such as Washington's establishment of the military chaplaincy — in his day, a Christian chaplaincy.

During the French and Indian war, Washington for two years repeatedly tried to persuade Governor Dinwiddie of Virginia to authorize a chaplain for his command, which was then guarding the Virginia frontier. He wrote:

The want of a chaplain does, I humbly conceive, reflect dishonor upon the regiment, as all other officers are allowed. The gentlemen of the corps are sensible to this, and did propose to support one at their private expense. But I think it would have a more graceful appearance were he appointed as others are.

This would have been a Christian chaplaincy, since those who did serve in other units were mostly Congregationalists, Presbyterians and Episcopalians.

Finally, when Washington took command of the Continental Army he issued this order, thus establishing the United States Army chaplaincy:

New York, July 9th, l776

The Honorable Continental Congress having been pleased to allow a Chaplain to each Regiment, with the pay of Thirty-Three Dollars and one third dollars pr month - The Colonels or commanding officers of each regiment are directed to procure Chaplains accordingly; persons of good Characters and exemplary lives - To see that all inferior officers and soldiers pay them a suitable respect and attend carefully upon religious exercises. The blessing and protection of Heaven are at all times necessary but especially so in times of public distress and danger -The General hopes and trusts, that every officer and man, will endeavor so to live, and act as becomes a Christian Soldier defending the dearest Rights and Liberties of his country.

Jon Rowe, this was not the act of some generic deist as you contend. It was the act of a faithful and committed Christian. Washington's entire career gives evidence of that. It is a dishonor to his memory to twist his life and witness to conform to your bias.

You further contend that he "rejected nearly all of the tenets of orthodox Trinitarian Christianity. You provide no evidence to support that statement. I do not believe you. Considering the biased weakness of your general argument, you are going to have to provide more that just an unsupported statement before this additional claim can receive any credibility.

Here is my response:


In [post number] 87, the prayer you reproduce is spurious (do you want me to reproduce the original of the Circular to the States, from which it is based?). That he did so little talking about Jesus is one reason why most scholars don't think Washington was Christian.

Washington, in his talks of chaplaincy, made it clear that he wanted them to be of the religion of the soldiers, most of whom were Christians. He had no problem with John Murray, a Universalist who denied eternal damnation. According to such logic, he would have wanted Muslim chaplains for Muslim soldiers, if we had any.

Washington also invariably spoke of "Christianity" in the context of morality or virtue; he believed religion's prime purpose was not to save souls but to make men moral. As such if the ends are achieved, the means don't matter. He could just have easily told a bunch of Muslim soldiers to display the character of good Muslims.

You can say what you want about me twisting whatever, the bottom line is the majority of scholars and historians are more or less on my side and not yours.

In fact, I'm probably to the right of them. They are likely to categorize him as a "Deist," I don't. Because he believed in an active personal God, and in prayer, I think the term "theistic rationalist" better describes his creed. Think of that as sort of a mean between deism and Christianity with rationalism as the trumping element. The term was coined by a conservative evangelical. And Dr. Gary Smith, chair of the history dept. at Grove City College endorses theistic rationalism, not Christian or Deist as the best descriptor of Washington's creed.
James Wilson, Theistic Rationalist:

James Wilson was (or likely was), like the other key Founders (Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Madison, and Franklin) a theistic rationalist, as opposed to a strict deist or orthodox Christian.

Wilson in his Works expressed a nuanced and often oddly interesting view on reason and revelation which points to his belief in theistic rationalism. While orthodox Christians believe the Bible is infallible and man's reason is subservient to revelation, and while strict deists believed all revelation is false and God revealed Himself only through nature discoverable by man's reason, theistic rationalists believed God revealed Himself primarily (not exclusively) through nature, not scripture, and as such only partially inspired the Bible. As Dr. Frazer put it in his seminal article on the subject, "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."

What follows, some of Wilson's quotations that support theistic rationalism:

Wilson believed God revealed Himself through both nature and scripture. Wilson seemed to view both reason and revelation as, by themselves, incomplete, and put together largely complementary. From his Works, Volume I:

[H]ow shall we, in particular instances, learn the dictates of our duty, and make, with accuracy, the proper distinction between right and wrong; in other words, how shall we, in particular cases, discover the will of God? We discover it by our conscience, by our reason, and by the Holy Scriptures. The law of nature and the law of revelation are both divine: they flow, though in different channels, from the same adorable source. It is, indeed, preposterous to separate them from each other. The object of both is ― to discover the will of God ― and both are necessary for the accomplishment of that end.

However, as a theistic rationalist, he believes reason is primary:

[F]or obligation is nothing more than a restriction of liberty produced by reason. Reason, then, independent of law, is sufficient to impose some obligation on man, and to establish a system of morality and duty.82


Reason, say they, is the first rule of man, the first principle of morality, and the immediate cause of all primitive obligation. But man being necessarily dependent on his Creator, who has formed him with wisdom and design, and who, in creating him, has proposed some particular ends; the will of God is another rule of human actions, another principle of morality, obligation, and duty. On this distinction, the kinds of obligation, external and internal, are founded. These two principles must be united, in order to form a complete system of morality, really founded on the nature and state of man. As a rational being, he is subject to reason: as a creature of God, to his supreme will. Thus, reason and the divine will are perfectly reconciled, are naturally connected, and are strengthened by their junction.85

Wilson then notes why "reason" can establish law is because God has imbued man with a "moral sense."

This moral sense, from its very nature, is intended to regulate and control all our other powers. It governs our passions as well as our actions. Other principles may solicit and allure; but the conscience assumes authority, it must be obeyed. Of this dignity and commanding nature we are immediately conscious, as we are of the power itself. It estimates what it enjoins, not merely as superiour in degree, but as superiour likewise in kind, to what is recommended by our other perceptive powers. Without this controlling faculty, endowed as we are with such a variety of senses and interfering desires, we should appear a fabrick destitute of order but possessed of it, all our powers maybe harmonious and consistent; they may all combine in one uniform and regular direction.

In short; if we had not the faculty of perceiving certain things in conduct to be right, and others to be wrong; and of perceiving our obligation to do what is right, and not to do what is wrong; we should not be moral and accountable beings.

When Wilson discusses revelation, he makes clear Scripture's role is to support reason and conscience, not the other way around. The context makes clear that reason is primary, revelation secondary:

Reason and conscience can do much; but still they stand in need of support and assistance. They are useful and excellent monitors; but, at some times, their admonitions are not sufficiently clear; at other times, they are not sufficiently powerful; at all times, their influence is not sufficiently extensive. Great and sublime truths, indeed, would appear to a few; but the world, at large, would be dark and ignorant. The mass of mankind would resemble a chaos, in which a few sparks, that would diffuse a glimmering light, would serve only to show, in a more striking manner, the thick darkness with which they are surrounded. Their weakness is strengthened, their darkness is illuminated, their influence is enlarged by that heaven-descended science, which has brought life and immortality to light. In compassion to the imperfection of our internal powers, our all-gracious Creator, Preserver, and Ruler has been pleased to discover and enforce his laws, by a revelation given to us immediately and directly from himself. This revelation is contained in the holy scriptures. The moral precepts delivered in the sacred oracles form a part of the law of nature, are of the same origin, and of the same obligation, operating universally and perpetually.

Next, notice what Wilson earmarks as the revelation's most important teachings:

On some important subjects, those in particular, which relate to the Deity, to Providence, and to a future state, our natural knowledge is greatly improved, refined, and exalted by that which is revealed. On these subjects, one who has had the advantage of a common education in a christian country, knows more, and with more certainty, than was known by the wisest of the ancient philosophers.

Not things like the Trinity, Incarnation, Atonement or other creeds central to orthodox Christianity in which Wilson gives no indication that he believes; but rather "the Deity, to Providence, and to a future state," things first knowable from nature or reason, and which revelation's role is to "improve[], refine[], and exalt[]."

Interesting, Wilson next seems to almost elevate the scripture to a level of supremacy: "Thus it is with regard to reason, conscience, and the holy scriptures. Where the latter give instructions, those instructions are supereminently authentick."

But then claims scripture is deficient and repeats his assertion that scripture was not designed as God's primary revelation to man, but as a secondary revelation to man in what he already knows from reason and conscience:

But whoever expects to find, in [Scripture], particular directions for every moral doubt which arises, expects more than he will find. They generally presuppose a knowledge of the principles of morality; and are employed not so much in teaching new rules on this subject, as in enforcing the practice of those already known, by a greater certainty, and by new sanctions. They present the warmest recommendations and the strongest inducements in favour of virtue: they exhibit the most powerful dissuasives from vice. But the origin, the nature, and the extent of the several rights and duties they do not explain; nor do they specify in what instances one right or duty is entitled to preference over another. They are addressed to rational and moral agents, capable of previously knowing the rights of men, and the tendencies of actions; of approving what is good, and of disapproving what is evil.

Wilson then notes, reason and revelation largely operate together, but reason is supreme:

These considerations show, that the scriptures support, confirm, and corroborate, but do not supercede the operations of reason and the moral sense. The information with regard to our duties and obligations, drawn from these different sources, ought not to run in unconnected and diminished channels: it should flow in one united stream, which, by its combined force and just direction, will impel us uniformly and effectually towards our greatest good.

Finally, one reason I don't think Wilson believed the Bible infallible or inerrant is he then denies the possibility of miracles:

The law of nature is immutable; not by the effect of an arbitrary disposition, but because it has its foundation in the nature, constitution, and mutual relations of men and things. While these continue to be the same, it must continue to be the same also. This immutability of nature's laws has nothing in it repugnant to the supreme power of an all-perfect Being. Since he himself is the author of our constitution; he cannot but command or forbid such things as are necessarily agreeable or disagreeable to this very constitution. He is under the glorious necessity of not contradicting himself. This necessity, far from limiting or diminishing his perfections, adds to their external character, and points out their excellency.

Final final comment: Even though Wilson, like Blackstone whom he cites a few times in Works, tips his epistemological hat to scripture in a few places, Wilson and Blackstone hardly ever actually cite scripture in their works. For all of their dithering on reason and revelation and which is supposed to do what, the overwhelming majority of Wilson's and Blackstone's works are not the product of scripture, but rather, of reasoning.

As Gary North provocatively put it when talking about Blackstone in this regard:

[H]e then spent four volumes describing English common law with only a few footnote references to the Bible. In the first three volumes, running almost 500 pages each, each has one footnote reference to the Bible. The fourth volume, on criminal law(Public Wrongs), has ten references. Not one of them is taken by Blackstone as authoritative for civil law; they were seen merely as historical examples. There is not a single reference to “Bible,” “Moses,” or “Revelation” in the set’s index.

...Englishmen commonly tipped the brim of their epistemological caps to God and the Bible, but they did not take off their caps in the presence of God....It was considered sufficient for Blackstone to have formally equated biblical law with natural law. Having done so, he could then safely ignore biblical law.


This raises another question: Was Blackstone in fact deliberately lying? In a perceptive essay by David Berman, we learn of a strategy that had been in use for over a century: combating a position by supporting it with arguments that are so weak that they in fact prove the opposite....If he was not lying, then he was naive beyond description, for his lame defense of biblical revelation greatly assisted the political triumph of the enemies of Christianity in the American colonies.

LOL. In the future, I might do a whole post on North's view on Blackstone entitled "Blackstone's Lame Defense of Scripture." When North states, "the enemies of Christianity in the American," he means they were enemies of theocrats who wanted the Bible to rule America's civil law. And those "enemies" were America's key Founders who enacted its republican constitutional order.