Thursday, November 29, 2007

Abstract Ideals, Time Bound Practices, and Historical Context:

In trying to get a handle on America's Founding -- an historical event which in part because of the authority of the US Constitution, many sides want to claim -- those three interacting factors necessarily yield unresolved disagreements over how to properly understand said event. Two things got me thinking about this recently. The first was my coblogger, D.A. Ridgely's opinion on the culture war over America's Founding and religion:

Thus, while Prof. Herzog might have wanted to analyze and critique on rational grounds the 2004 Texas Republican party platform’s assertion that “the United States of America is a Christian nation, and the public acknowledgment of God is undeniable in our history [and that] our nation was founded on fundamental Judeo-Christian principles based on the Holy Bible,” I am increasingly inclined to suspect that such approach misses the real point. Campaign verbiage of this sort simply is the sort of rhetoric one hears in the Bible Belt just as one is likely to encounter equally emotional but nearly substance-free economic and political rhetoric in the environs of Ann Arbor. In other words, understanding such phenomena is more properly the work of sociology or social psychology than of political theory, let alone philosophy.

He's right in a sense. Because political philosophy involves asserting moral claims, political theorists of one stripe or another are inclined to give historical events politicized readings. Sociologists, or perhaps historians may claim some type of more objective analysis, something less "political" than how political theorists likely view events. Though, the social constructionists or legal realists are likely to note all of these disciplines are ideological and hence political.

Dr. Barry Shain makes a similar point -- and this is the second thing that got me thinking about abstract ideals, time bound practices and historical context. Shain is one of the few notable paleoconservative professors of political science at a reputable university -- Colgate. He also argues something close to the Christian America thesis, or in his case, the Protestant Christian America thesis, although in a much more learned and nuanced manner than do the Bartons and Federers of the world. Although I'm not much more impressed with the case he makes. He's hard on the Straussians who argue for more of an Enlightenment America thesis (oddly enough, he works with one of them -- Robert Kraynak), and argues their history is politicized (and indeed, this is in part because they are political scientists, not historians). Shain notes:

I think the current state of American history is a troubling problem and, sadly, among the causes, is too great a reliance on the historiography of political scientists. Because of the shift of attention by professional historians away from subjects of importance and interest, the dissemination of historical learning has been turned over to political scientists, most particularly Straussians, whose skills, interests, and professional competence leads readers and students away from a serious exploration of historical subjects and, the appropriate humility that hopefully follows.


The strangest thing today in American history is that the only group that supports a decidedly liberal reading of the Founding is one that is on the right, that is Straussian political theorists. How odd is this? The far left, that I assume dominate many departments of history, is too concerned with the particular fate of women and oppressed peoples to have the time to defend American historical liberalism. So who does? Well, those most frequently lauded by conservatives and supported by conservative organizations, that is, Straussians. I suppose, for me, that they are often poor historians is less frustrating, though not necessarily less dangerous, than that their history marginalizes conservatives and yet is supported and feted by the same people it marginalizes....So those who are viewed by many as authentic conservative voices, for example Charles Kessler, regularly lecture and describe America as an enlightened nation. I am sorry to disagree, but America, in the eighteenth century and still today, is a Christian country. If you are dubious and would prefer to travel in space rather than in time, take a quick trip to Europe so that you can see and feel what post-Christian enlightened nations actually feel and look like. It is incomprehensible to me why conservative donors support those who relegate them to the position of some kind of afterthought in the history of a nation that is authentically Christian and conservative. Is it some kind of self-loathing? I have yet to make sense of this strange anomaly. Indeed, American history is not only Christian, but at least until the end of the eighteenth century, it was Reform Protestant.

I would submit that whether one concludes as Shain does -- that the American Founding ought to be understood as a "Reform Protestant Christian" event, and not an Enlightenment event depends on whether one views said event though its abstract ideals or time bound practices. Shain clearly chooses the latter:

Isn’t it possible that most contemporary readers have little idea what happiness meant when used in the Declaration or, more broadly, in the context of eighteenth-century political and moral thought? Too often, English readers assume that the eighteenth-century meanings of key concepts have remained unchanged over the course of 200 hundred years. This is an illusion...and, I fear, does far more harm than good....Almost every word in the Declaration, but particularly in the second paragraph that has been given so much attention, is regularly misread. It is frightening to me that people read the Declaration and claim that “it means that the authors held that all people were equal in society.” Everyone writing at the time was aware that no married woman could own property and that most people in the Western hinterlands were politically dispossessed. Most of the population in the coastal South or in large Northern towns owned or engaged in commerce involving slaves. Do most people think that the Declaration’s authors were terrible hypocrites or simply liars?

Liars no. Perhaps hypocrites. They posited various ideals and oft-did not live in accord with those ideals, like a rich leftist who takes advantages of tax shelters with which he in principle disagrees or a black conservative who takes advantage of an affirmative action program with which he disagrees. Jefferson said all men were created equal but owned slaves. Were those black slaves not human? The only way to get a "Protestant Christian America" reading out of the US Founding is to read it through those time bound practices, as opposed to abstracting any timeless ideals from the Founding. If one views Founding era practice as dispositive in determining Founding principles, one could aptly conclude that "all men are created equal" meant all white propertied Protestant males are created equal. As Robert Locke put it:

Crucial facts about what America was founded on are deliberately hushed up by both liberals and conservatives and admitted only by the non-respectable Left and the non-respectable Right. Namely, that this country was founded upon conquest, slavery, sexism, and class rule. The Constitution, as originally written, holds that our ownership of this land by conquest is just, that Indians are savages, that blacks may be enslaved, that women have no fit role in government, and that the (little-remembered) restriction of suffrage to men of property by state governments is valid.

Shain is one of those members of the "non-respectable Right," and appeals for authority to a prominent member of the "non-respectable Left" -- Mark Tushnet:

Critical legal theorist Mark Tushnet further observes “it was not ‘religion in general’ that the framers saw as the basis of secular order. Rather, it was Christianity and, more specifically, Protestant Christianity.”

Yes, it's those critical legal theorists, deconstructionists and trashers of America's Founding that they are, who without hesitation inform us that America was founded on racism, sexism, and class rule, and therefore, originalism is not a viable theory of constitutional interpretation because it is morally indefensible. And if America was founded on slavery, sexism, stealing land from Indians and class rule, then the crits are right, America's Founding is morally indefensible and only important to study from an historical or sociological perspective, but can yield no moral authority whatsoever. Citing a bunch of slaveholding, racists, sexist bigots for moral might as well ask what would Hitler do?

The problem for Shain is his case for a Protestant Christian America is indissolubly linked to this racist, sexist, morally indefensible view of America's Founding. As Shain noted:

...Marty Diamond and Herb Storing...were both dedicated scholars and sought the truth and followed it wherever it led, be the outcome convenient or not....[T]hose scholars who came to prominence after them have not followed them in their work habits and in their commitment to the truth. Their prominence among American conservatives, I fear, has been bad for history and, quite likely, bad for America and American conservatism. I remember, when still in grad school, an exchange that I had with Tom Pangle in which he accused me of exposing myths that were needed to protect American democracy, and in so doing, of writing in the tradition of Carl Schmitt. It was pretty clear to me that what Tom was accusing me of was describing, truthfully and faithfully, central features of early American history. More particularly, what warranted his attack was my demonstrating that American political thought and practices was importantly shaped by Reform Protestantism and not some idealized enlightenment.

I would note Pangle et al. have damn good reason for accusing Shain of positing something that could destroy American democracy. Those "central features of early American history" are not just America's Protestant Christian foundations but that "ownership of this land by conquest is just, that Indians are savages, that blacks may be enslaved, that women have no fit role in government, and that the (little-remembered) restriction of suffrage to men of property by state governments is valid." Given that such ideas have been rightly consigned to the dustbin of history, those who would appeal to America's Founding for any kind of moral authority have no choice but to look for an alternative approach.

What those who defend America's Enlightenment liberal foundations do is abstract ideals from America's Founding and focus on them as opposed to practices inconsistent with those ideals like slavery or state established Protestantism. If one looks to Founding era practice, "all men are created equal" means all white, propertied, Protestant males. Abstracting ideals from the Declaration, one could conclude that since blacks and women are human beings -- the term "men" meaning "mankind" or "human kind" includes blacks and women -- racism and sexism violate the Declaration regardless of Founding era practice. Likewise, the same Founding era natural rights theory holds all men have unalienable rights of conscience and Christians take those rights on an equal footing with "the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and Mahometan, the Hindoo, and Infidel of every denomination," regardless of Founding era practice or laws to the contrary. America founded on slavery or anti-slavery? America founded on privileging Protestant Christianity or an enlightened equal rights among religions? It all depends on the perspective from which one looks. The meaningful difference being one of those perspectives (the "non-respectable one") is morally indefensible, the other is not.

I'll let you be the judge as to the proper one.
Watch Bob Larson:

Criticize Mormons for their "kooky" beliefs:

And then psychologically abuse an attractive young couple from York, PA under the auspices of giving them an exorcism. Pot...the Kettle calls.

Monday, November 26, 2007

This Guy is Mean:

You might not want to watch this is you are a Mormon. The orthodox Christian doesn't, in my opinion, well represent his side. He's a bully who scares the young Mormons who come across as naive and more innocent. He's got a hell of a lot of nerve to accuse them of trying to cut him off and not letting him get in a word edgewise when all he does is cut them off and insult them. At the very end he says he does the same thing to the Black Israelites and that's fine. If you've ever heard their poison, they deserve an encounter with a loud, obnoxious, arrogant bully. These kids didn't.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Sunday Music:

Changes in rock singers' voices. Many rock singers' voices change (usually for the worse) as they age. There are many reasons for this, one of which is that all parts of our bodies deteriorate as we age. Rock singers also tend not to be trained vocalists (and consequently don't do the things that trained vocalists do to preserve the voice) and do a lot of screaming and shouting. Screaming and shouting -- and damaging one's vocal chords -- may actually yield a desired effect in rock if one values a raspy voice. The more screaming he does the better Brian Johnson sounds. However, such raspiness acquired with age is also usually accompanies by a loss of range. What brings this to mind is rumors that Robert Plant, for Led Zeppelin's up coming reunion, is demanding to have some of their classic tunes transposed to a lower key so he can hit all of the right notes in the melody.

Such change also happened to Steve Walsh's masterful voice, and the change was due to more than just age but drug and alcohol abuse, screaming and otherwise not taking care of his voice during the years he wasn't clean. Compare his voice in his prime:

To what it became in the early 90s.

For Walsh, now in his 50s, the glass is now half full half empty as he regained some of what he lost but his voice will never sound as it did in the 70s. He also projects a much better demeanor, shy and reserved behind his keyboard, than what he did when not clean.

Biblical Unitarian-Universalism:

One reason why Dr. Gregg Frazer suggests "theistic rationalism" instead of "Unitarianism" in labeling the beliefs of America's Key Founders is not only can such term be confused with the Unitarian Congregational Church (of which only John Adams and his son were members), even worse it can be confused with today's Unitarian-Universalist Church which significantly differs from the the Unitarianism of America's Founding in a number of meaningful ways. For one, today's Unitarian-Universalists aren't very "biblical" and there was a strain of Founding era Unitarianism that was. Men like Joseph Story, John Marshall, Jared Sparks, and William Ellering Channing believed the Bible infallible and argued unitarian doctrines from Scripture alone.

Today such groups as the Jehovah's Witnesses and Roy Masters' sect follow a sort of Biblical Arianism, named after Arius who first argued Jesus was a divine but created and subordinate being, but whose views lost out in the Council of Nicea. This website also argues for Biblical Unitarian-Universalism -- the notion that Jesus is not God and that salvation is universal -- from Scripture alone. John Milton and Isaac Newton certainly were biblical Arians. Locke was a unitarian most likely of the Arian variety, though some scholars argue he was Socinian, believing Jesus just a man and not any kind of divine being. And scholars also dispute how "biblical" Locke's beliefs were as well.

However, America's key Founders -- Jefferson, Adams, Franklin, Madison, Washington and others -- since they believed God primary revealed Himself through nature and secondarily inspired the Bible had no problem editing from the Bible that which they believed inconsistent with "reason." Just how biblical their unitarianism was likewise is a matter of debate. Today's Unitarian-Universalist Church is more of the tradition of these key Founders than it is of the Biblical Unitarianism of Story, Marshall et al. However, given that today's Unitarians are squarely on the Left's side in culture war issues that were not at all issues during America's Founding, it might not be fair to label the Founders "Unitarian" and suggest some kind of connection between the two. And it's certainly not right to label the Founders "Christian" in a way that would suggest a connection with today's Christian right.

Is the "theistic rationalist" label (given that it uses not Christian, Deist, or Unitarian) the fairest label of the bunch?
Garry Wills on the Founders on Religion:

Garry Wills writes interesting, readable works, even if I often disagree with his perspective. This book -- Head and Heart -- is no different. Much of what he's written parallels the research I've done for the past few years on my blogs. The book has some minor factual mistakes and typos (as most books do) -- for instance, Timothy Dwight was from Yale, not Harvard (p. 134), and it was Dr. Abercrombie, not Bishop White who publicly complained of George Washington's refusal to take communion which led Washington to stop attending on communion Sundays (p. 169).

The book rightly focuses on theological unitarianism as an Enlightenment religion and a precursor to the more radical deism that would come later. The book properly notes denial of the Trinity as an important heterodox tenet of more Enlightened liberal religious minds of America's Founding era, naming Mayhew, Chauncy, Gay as Unitarian American preachers who so influenced America's Founders and their rational religion. He also notes America's Founders' philosophical heroes in England -- Milton, Newton, Locke, Clarke, Priestley and others -- as enlightened Unitarians. Some of these passages look like they could have been written by me -- not accusing him of anything, just noting that we draw from many of the same sources seem to think along the same track.

And so it is that I must offer my biggest criticism of the book: Wills is a political liberal and a secular leftist -- nothing wrong with that. Though, this book, like much of his work, is ideological (as some might argue all history is). The secular left are too quick to categorize too many of America's Founders as "Deists" (just as the religious right are too quick to take them as "Christians") and Wills falls prey to the same error. This article summarizes the relevant part of the book I would dispute. As Tim Rutten writes:

The reaction of the Great Awakening provided an American Unitarian boost that made Deism the religion of the educated class by the middle of the 18th century. Legal scholar William Lee Miller writes that the chief founders of the nation were all Deists -- he lists Washington, Franklin, John Adams, Jefferson, Madison, Hamilton and Paine, though many more leaders of the founding era could be added (Benjamin Rush, John Witherspoon, David Rittenhouse, Philip Freneau, Joel Barlow, Aaron Burr, James Wilson, Gouverneur Morris, Tench Coxe, to name some). Their agreement on the question of God crossed political and geographic lines. Federalist and Republican, North and South, an Adams and a Jefferson, a Hamilton and a Madison -- all were professed Deists.

Those names only qualify as "Deist" if we read the term "Deist" very broadly. (And no they didn't tend to call themselves "Deist."). John Witherspoon clearly was an orthodox Christian of the Calvinist Presbyterian bent. The kernel of truth to the claim he was "Deist" is that Witherspoon was a naturalist and a philosophical rationalist who promoted many non-Christian Scottish Enlightenment ideas. This flirtation with Enlightenment theory and philosophical rationalism could have led Witherspoon down the road to unitarianism, theistic rationalism or deistic beliefs, but it didn't; he remained orthodox.

And if we are going to read "Deism" in such a broad way, to be fair, we ought to read "Christianity" just as broadly, and if we did, all mentioned except for Paine and maybe a few others could be understood as "Christian." Tit for tat. The key Founders -- Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Madison, Franklin, Wilson, G. Morris, and Hamilton (before his end of like conversion to orthodox Christianity) were either, if read broadly, both Christians and Deists (or "Christian-Deists" as David L. Holmes puts it) or, if read narrowly, neither, but somewhere in between with rationalism as the trumping element. Witherspoon, as noted, remained orthodox. Benjamin Rush was a Trinitarian Universalist believing all would eventually be saved through Christ's universal Atonement. Paine was a strict Deist. I'm not sure about the others.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

The God of America's Founding...Christian...Biblical?

The answer to this question is it depends. I'm going to answer Kristo Miettinen's response in a series of posts. One of Jim Babka's friends also takes issue via email on the identity of the God of the American Founding:

As for Rowe’s claim that the proclamations were made to a “generic God.” What God pray tell could they have possibly been referring to other than the God of the Bible? Now there may have been a difference of opinion about the deity of Christ, but that difference did not lead America’s leaders to a God other than the one of the Holy Scriptures.

Miettinen puts it this way:

To your claim that “the God to whom the founders appealed – the individual rights granting nature’s God – arguably was not the biblical or Christian God” I have this query: how many, among the founders, ignored the bible in seeking God? After all, even the squishy theist Jefferson was obsessed with the biblical accounts of Christ (you may be able to find the references faster than I can, but TJ was reputed to study his highly heterodox biblical compilation every night). And if you acknowledge that a biblical God was the majority (if not consensus) view, then in what sense are we not talking about a Christian God, keeping in mind as we must that Christianity in America was, then especially but largely even today, bible-based rather than creedal, and also that the bible in question was not the Tanakh or Qu’ran but the good old KJV.

My answer: Conclusions about the key Founders' view on the biblical nature of God depends on from which perspective one looks, because the glass is half full/half empty, as it were. Secularists want America's Founders to be Deists who categorically rejected Biblical Revelation and the Christian America crowd wants them Christians who accepted the Bible as infallible. But they were neither; they believed the Bible was partially inspired; parts of Scripture were legitimately revealed, parts weren't. God primarily revealed Himself through Nature, secondarily inspired the Bible, and, as Dr. Gregg Frazer put it "[r]eason was the ultimate standard for learning and evaluating truth and for determining legitimate revelation from God." So in a sense yes, this was the Biblical God, minus everything man's reason [or the key Founders' reason] deemed His irrational attributes recorded in Scripture. This is why some folks might argue, yes because they turned to the Bible [not the Koran or other holy books] for some of God's nature, it was the Biblical God, while others might note, since they edited parts of His nature from the Bible, it wasn't really the Biblical God.

In this past post on the key Founders and Scripture I noted evidence for this in the primary sources some of which I'll reproduce here. As Ben Franklin wrote to John Calder Aug. 21, 1784, he believed the Bible is not infallible:

To which I may now add, that the[re are] several Things in the old Testament impossible to be given by divine Inspiration, such as the Approbation ascrib’d to the Angel of the Lord, of that abominably wicked and detestable Action of Jael the Wife of Heber the Kenite. If the rest of the Book were like that, I should rather suppose it given by Inspiration from another Quarter, and renounce the whole.

And earlier in his life, Franklin stated the Christian revelation was secondary to what God already revealed in Nature:

Now, that to promote the Practice of the great Laws of Morality and Virtue both with Respect to God and Man, is the main End and Design of the christian Revelation has been already prov'd from the Revelation itself. And indeed as just now hinted at, it is obvious to the Reason of every thinking Person, that, if God almighty gives a Revelation at all, it must be for this End; nor is the Truth of the christian Revelation, or of any other that ever was made, to be defended upon any other Footing. But quitting these things; if the above Observations be true, then where lies the Absurdity of Hemphill's asserting,

Article I.

That Christianity, [as to it’s most essential and necessary Parts,] is plainly Nothing else, but a second Revelation of God’s Will founded upon the first Revelation, which God made to us by the Light of Nature.

John Adams likewise believed what man discovers about God from reason is primary all other sources of revelation, including the Bible, are secondary. From his letter to Jefferson Dec. 25, 1813:

Philosophy, which is the result of reason, is the first, the original revelation of the Creator to his creature, man. … no subsequent revelation, supported by prophecies or miracles, can supersede it.

Adams also made clear he believed the Bible was errant, and doubted the Bible contained the right version of the Ten Commandments:

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

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

-- John Adams to Thomas Jefferson, Nov. 14, 1813.

Adams further expressed his skepticism of the accuracy of the Bible's text when he wrote:

What suspicions of interpolation, and indeed fabrication, might not be confuted if we had the originals! In an age or in ages when fraud, forgery, and perjury were considered as lawful means of propagating truth by philosophers, legislators, and theologians, what may not be suspected?

-- John Adams, marginal note in John Disney’s Memoirs (1785) of Arthur Sykes. Haraszti, Prophets of Progress, 296. Taken from James H. Hutson, The Founders on Religion, p. 26.

To Adams, Jefferson, and Franklin, Christianity had been "corrupted," -- "the corruptions of Christianity" was a phrase coined by their spiritual mentor Joseph Priestley which he defined as the Trinity, Incarnation, Atonement, and plenary inspiration of the Bible. Miettinen mentions the King James Bible as central to American Christianity. But Adams named that version of the Bible as particularly corrupted:

We have now, it seems a National Bible Society, to propagate King James’s Bible, through all Nations. Would it not be better, to apply these pious subscriptions, to purify Christendom from the corruptions of Christianity, than to propagate these corruptions in Europe, Asia, Africa, and America!

-- John Adams to Thomas Jefferson, November 4, 1816. Taken from Hutson, The Founders on Religion, p. 143.

And of course we have Jefferson notoriously taking his razor to the Bible using his reason to judge which parts were genuine, which parts were corrupted. I focus on Adams by the way, to show just how mainstream these views were among the elite Whigs from which America's Founders were disproportionately drawn (but probably not mainstream among the general population). Jefferson has gained a reputation as some sort of outlier. And in many senses, he was: his politics were more radical; his intelligence was exceptional; he, along with Madison, would separate church and state more so than would most other Founders. Adams is rightly thought of as more politically conservative than Jefferson. However, on God's attributes, Jefferson and Adams were virtually agreed.

So when an air of mystery surrounds other key Founders, a strong reticence to explicate their religious specifics at a time when the institutional Churches expected public figures to profess orthodoxy, but many of them secretly believed in heterodoxy, absent evidence to the contrary, they probably believed as Jefferson, Adams, and Franklin did. James Madison was one such Founder. And in his notes preparing for the Memorial and Remonstrance he mentioned there are different kinds of Christianities, including Trinitarian and Unitarian, and that which believes the entire Bible is inspired, and that which believes only certain "essential parts" are divinely inspired.

The question is whether this unitarianism that held God primarily revealed Himself through Nature and that only parts of the Bible were inspired can be legitimately termed "Christianity," and whether its God is legitimately termed "the Christian God." So when Mr. Miettinen asks "in what sense are we not talking about a Christian God," I think I've outlined a very meaningful sense, and have strong grounds for claiming in my original essay that the key Founders posited a "rational, benevolent, unitarian deity who fit their republican ideals much better than the Biblical God could."
If They Weren't So Evil...:

They'd be funny. Fred Phelps with Rick Sanchez:

Friday, November 23, 2007

Don't Ever Say...:

I'm not willing to let the other side have its say. Chess master Kristo Miettinen reacts to my essay on American political theology reproduced by the Cato Institute. He sent me this via email. I'll respond later.

Hi Jon!

OK, here we go. I didn't put much time into looking up references, as I suspect that you know the quotables better than I do, even those supporting the points I'm trying to make. But if there is a specific point I make that you think is unsupportable, I'll go see what I can find.

I’m going to start my reply at the end of your essay, because understanding where you miss what to me is a relevant point at the end may indicate how you neglect the things along the way that I would draw your attention to.

At your conclusion, you confront “traditional believers” (among whom I count myself) with two choices: (a) America is a republican democracy, and therefore should not be a Christian nation; (b) America is a Christian nation, and therefore should not be a republican democracy (you cast this option in the future tense, anticipating a revolution). You miss the two other logical options expressible in the form of material implication: (c) America is a republican democracy, and therefore should be a Christian nation; (d) America is a Christian nation, and therefore should be a republican democracy.

By omitting options (c) and (d) you not only overlook healthy choices for America today, you also (in my view) overlook the two dominant two views of the (pre) Revolutionary generation. Option (c) is characteristic of the “left-wing” revolutionaries like Jefferson, with his public obeisance despite private reservations; Option (d) is characteristic of the “right-wing” revolutionaries with their reservations about how far to push their religious agenda whenever they found themselves in charge. Options (a) and (b) were strictly minority views then, however popular (a) may be today.

To understand the interplay between the four options, you could return to Tocqueville. One way to summarize his observations on America (not the only one by any means) is that he marveled at how Americans could find democracy and Christianity inseparable, while continental Europeans found them irreconcilable. Americans were divided between (c) and (d), and therefore agreed upon the practical questions of what to do: promote Christianity (as it was then understood in America) and build a republican democracy. The French were divided between (a) and (b), and therefore suffered one revolution (against divine-right monarchy, or political Christianity as it was then understood in France), and were on the eve of another revolution.

To understand how Americans and French could not perceive the same choices despite (I would argue) fairly compatible notions of democracy and republicanism, I think it is necessary to understand the radical exceptionalism of American Christianity then (and to a lesser degree still today). America is not an orthodox Christian nation, though Christianity in America (as distinct from America itself) has become more orthodox over the past 400 years. But America began, in no small part, as a haven for religious misfits, a place where those who were persecuted in Europe could come to be free, and also where in pre-Revolutionary times they themselves could persecute the orthodox, or at least make them uncomfortable enough to keep their orthodoxy low-key. As a simple sign of this I would offer the complete absence of bishops (Catholic, Orthodox, Anglican, or Lutheran) on American soil until after the revolution, despite large enough populations in episcopally organized denominations to warrant ecclesiastical oversight. Clericalism was just not comme il faut, despite ecclesiology being one aspect (the others being Christology, mystagogy, and anthropology) of what Pelikan calls “The Orthodox Consensus” (Jaroslav Pelikan, “The Emergence of the Catholic Tradition (100-600)”, Chicago UP 1971, p. 332). By the most traditional standards, orthodoxy in American Christianity is a strictly post-revolutionary phenomenon.

American Christianity was bible-based in a way far more radical than European Protestantism has ever been. American Christians had further developed their originally European schismatic sects, and invented wholly new American denominations, based on extensive bible study with minimal clerical supervision, resulting in theological disputes in America that had no parallels in Europe. Whereas American Christianity today has come much further into alignment with traditional European Christianity, the disputes of pre-revolutionary America are difficult for us to appreciate, and the inapplicability of our adjectives (like “Christian” or “orthodox” as we today understand those terms) is difficult for many to accept. Furthermore, the American Christian roots of political ideas that would not seem Christian in a European context become hard for us to recognize.

The key to American Christian exceptionalism (including its political dimensions) lies precisely in those heated disputes that make so little sense to us today. And the big ones, as far as the earliest American colonial experience goes, were disputes over covenant theology. Roger Williams, the left-wing radical of his day, established what would become the right-wing position of later generations: in order to convert people to Christianity in a way that established a binding covenant with God (thereby effecting salvation), it was necessary that they be totally free and sovereign to enter the covenant in the first place. Without freedom first, there could be no conversion to Christ. In order to evangelize effectively, America needed to be a democratic republic.

I have digressed, but covenant theology is relevant to my main comment on your essay, namely that you uncritically accept the etiological (rather than ex post facto explicatory) relevance of Hobbes and Locke to American political thought. To what extent they really were relevant is difficult to ascertain today, since the very generation whom we might claim were imbibing Locke (and perhaps Hobbes through him) were also the ones actively engaging in historical revisionism, rewriting American history in Lockean terms. To take a simple example, consider what we today call the “Mayflower compact”, a Lockean (or Rousseauan) term unknown in America before 1793 (earlier references are to a covenant, or a combination). The revolutionary generation was engaging in some jingoistic chest-thumping, poking a stick in the eye of European intellectuals both by declaring that what was mere theory in Europe was reality in America, and also by claiming priority: the Mayflower covenant predates both Locke and Hobbes, so that renaming it in Lockean terms drives home the point that we not only implemented the ideas here first, we actually invented the ideas too.

This is the point: the revolutionary generation is guilty of historical revisionism in favor of reinterpreting pre-Lockean events in Lockean terms, and therefore is not trustworthy in claiming Lockean influence upon themselves. On the other hand, Lockean ideas by other names were manifestly ubiquitous in America from the beginning (there were hundreds of American collective covenants following the Mayflower), and therefore Lockean influence is both unnecessary and unable to explain what was a natural American development of English Puritan/Scots Presbyterian covenant theology. Williams is a bridge figure here: his Providence covenant corresponded to Puritan forms was but not in their theological tradition.

Incidentally, erasing the memory of Puritan/Presbyterian covenant theology through Lockean revisionism would have been politically desirable for the revolutionary generation, who had little nostalgia for Winthrop, the Bay colony, and the religious oppression that it stood for. The oppression of the Bay colony was rooted precisely in their view of covenant theology (differing from Williams’), namely that God covenanted with communities rather than with individuals, and that therefore it was necessary for salvation first to form groups eligible for divine covenant (hence the communal covenants binding members to each other), and then for the groups to maintain collective purity (hence the oppression). By reinterpreting the collective-covenant elements of American history in Lockean terms, the founders got a twofer: respectability abroad (or else one-upsmanship and a sharp stick in the eye to Europe), and erasure of a bad memory at home.

All of which is to suggest that modern historians may be the ones duped, and the founders (JQ Adams at the helm in the case of the Mayflower) the ones doing the duping. In the alternative, of course, modern historians may not be duped, but may find the founders’ reinterpretations expedient.

To your claim that “the God to whom the founders appealed – the individual rights granting nature’s God – arguably was not the biblical or Christian God” I have this query: how many, among the founders, ignored the bible in seeking God? After all, even the squishy theist Jefferson was obsessed with the biblical accounts of Christ (you may be able to find the references faster than I can, but TJ was reputed to study his highly heterodox biblical compilation every night). And if you acknowledge that a biblical God was the majority (if not consensus) view, then in what sense are we not talking about a Christian God, keeping in mind as we must that Christianity in America was, then especially but largely even today, bible-based rather than creedal, and also that the bible in question was not the Tanakh or Qu’ran but the good old KJV.

I agree with you that America has a political theology. I just think that you are working too hard to avoid admitting that whatever it is today, in the founders' time it was Christianity, albeit of a uniquely American bibliocentric denominationally fragmented and generally unorthodox form; it was at best tolerant of orthodoxy, hesitantly at first, more confidently later.

Odds and ends at the end: to the extent that anyone was outraged when my man GWB acknowledged that Muslims worship the same God as we do, they weren’t confused about “America’s civic religion”, they were confused about Islam and its relation to Christianity (Luther went so far as to consider Mohammed a Christian heretic). GWB was right even in the strictly Christian sense; his critics were wrong in any sense. Whether the consensus of founders would have extended the same acknowledgment to Hindus is another matter; whether they knew enough about Hinduism to really have an informed opinion on the matter is also questionable.

Of course, none of this is relevant to what, if any, interpretation we give today (possibly differing from the founders) to what I in the opening labeled option (c), which would seem perfectly compatible with having pulpit fellowship in our political institutions extended to all faiths, even atheists, though in the case of an atheist chaplain we might have to have a separate discussion on the necessity of such a chaplain having a moral perspective, since we haven’t yet discussed why the left-wing founders thought that Christianity was necessary for a democratic republic. They inferred the need for Christianity from the need for moral order, and we might therefore under option (c) today admit into the ecumenical “civic religion” any faith system that has a moral dimension conducive to civil society. Satan worshippers need not apply, even today.

You would seem to imply that Barton and his crew opt for what I call option (b), and therefore plot revolution. Now I’m a conceited Christian conservative, and therefore cannot imagine that the vast right-wing conspiracy could be planning such a thing without recruiting me at an early stage, but I just took advantage of ridiculously low online used-book prices to order Barton’s older book (the one with the Henry citation that so steams you). I will wear my Reagan/Bush secret society decoder ring while I read it, to make sure I get every revolutionary nuance, and report back on what I find.


Thursday, November 22, 2007

John Adams on Thanksgiving Proclamations:

[I'm going to reproduce this post in its entirety which shows that even though Adams issued a Thanksgiving Proclamation as President -- which the Christian America crowd often cites trying to prove Adams was one of them and thought the country rightly belonged to "them" -- Adams later regretted doing so because he actually thought the country belonged to everyone regardless of his religion.]

This may surprise some folks. It's well known that Washington, Adams, and Madison issued Thanksgiving proclamations (to a generic God), while Jefferson refused. And Madison, in his Detached Memoranda seemed to indicate it's improper for the federal government to do this (thus giving support to the notion that Founding-era practice is not dispositive, that indeed, it's entirely possible to raise a constitutional ideal one minute, then break it the next).

Before seeing this quotation in James H. Hutson's fine book, I didn't know that Adams too regretted issuing the Thanksgiving Proclamation. His words are quite interesting:

The National Fast, recommended by me turned me out of office. It was connected with the general assembly of the Presbyterian Church, which I had no concern in. That assembly has allarmed and alienated Quakers, Anabaptists, Mennonists, Moravians, Swedenborgians, Methodists, Catholicks, protestant Episcopalians, Arians, Socinians, Armenians, & & &, Atheists and Deists might be added. A general Suspicon prevailed that the Presbyterian Church was ambitious and aimed at an Establishment of a National Church. I was represented as a Presbyterian and at the head of this political and ecclesiastical Project. The secret whisper ran through them "Let us have Jefferson, Madison, Burr, any body, whether they be Philosophers, Deists, or even Atheists, rather than a Presbyterian President." This principle is at the bottom of the unpopularity of national Fasts and Thanksgivings. Nothing is more dreaded than the National Government meddling with Religion.

-- John Adams to Benjamin Rush, June 12, 1812. Old Family Letters, 392-93; taken from Hutson's The Founders on Religion, 101-02.

Monday, November 19, 2007

Giving Credit Where Credit is Due:

I'm not much familiar with the work of Harold Berman, the late Harvard Law Professor who just recently passed. He seems to have been a giant in the field of legal history, doing ground breaking work on the evolution of the common law. He also sympathized with the lowering the wall of separation view of the Constitution. And he did much work showing the influence of religion on law.

Though I approach these issues with more of a bias towards the secular side, a case can be made that religion, and yes, the Christian religion, has significantly influenced the civil law. However, the problem is those most notable for making such claims are clowns, not real scholars. Historian Mark Noll, one of the most distinguished scholars of the history of religion, and himself a conservative evangelical, wrote a book entitled The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind. The premise of the book is that it's a scandal that televangelists and pseudo scholars with mail order degrees like David Barton, Grant Jeffries, and Kent Hovid are the most prominently known faces of evangelical Christianity making public arguments. Roman Catholics don't seem to have this problem (although there are a few RC clowns). For instance, as a libertarian, I might disagree with the socially conservative politics of First Things magazine; but they keep their intellectual standards at the highest level (as far as I know, they've stayed away from the Robert Dornan, Alan Keyes types).

Berman became an evangelical Christian (I do believe) sometime late in his life. And though I would probably disagree on the emphasis he gave to religious sources in the development of law, from him you were likely to get a genuine scholarly, meticulously researched, and properly nuanced argument. (Something you don't get from the "resources" pushed by the televangelists, and used by the home schooled crowd.)

Though, that he coauthored a brief for the American Center For Law and Justice with Jay Sekulow defending the public display of the Ten Commandments in Texas gives me a little bit of pause. I completely understand the argument that such a display would be constitutional; one can plausibly argue that the First Amendment, properly understood, ought not forbid government from posting any religious messages, including "under Allah" or "under no God." However, whether the Ten Commandments is "foundational" to American (or Texas) law, what the brief in part argues, is highly debatable.

In fact, how the Ten Commandments relate to American law is instructive of how America's Founders and the Protestant and Enlightenment reformers they followed dramatically secularized the civil law. As Berman and a few others would note, arguments over "separation of Church and State" or what belongs to Ceaser and what belongs to God didn't begin with the Protestant Reformation or the Enlightenment. However, America's Founders did something dramatic: They posited an unalienable natural right to religious liberty, not just for orthodox Christians, but for all. And this in turn necessarily demanded the privatization of a great deal of -- but not all -- religiously based laws.

Previously, under the old order, the entire Ten Commandments were incorporated into the civil law. At least that's how it was in all American colonies except Rhode Island. For instance, the Massachusetts Body of Liberties states:

Deut. 13. 6, 10. Deut. 17. 2, 6. Ex. 22.20)
If any man after legall conviction shall have or worship any other god, but the lord god, he shall be put to death.

(Ex. 22. 18. Lev. 20. 27. Dut. 18. 10.)
If any man or woeman be a witch, (that is hath or consulteth with a familiar spirit,) They shall be put to death.

(Lev. 24. 15,16.)
If any person shall Blaspheme the name of god, the father, Sonne or Holie Ghost, with direct, expresse, presumptuous or high handed blasphemie, or shall curse god in the like manner, he shall be put to death.

Roger Williams' experiment in Rhode Island was the first that distinguished between the two tablets of the Ten Commandments. Certain commands are properly part of the civil law (don't steal, don't kill, etc.). Indeed, almost all other non-Judeo-Christian cultures also have these legal or social norms, arguably making them part of the "natural law" discovered by reason, that men of any or no religion can understand. Other commands absolutely must be consigned to the private sector. The first command, indeed the first four, properly have nothing to do civil law. Indeed, according to America's Founders, men have an unalienable natural right to break them. Men who, in Jefferson's words, worship no God or twenty Gods necessarily break the first four of the Ten Commandments.

All other key Founders from Washington to John Adams to Madison to Franklin, expressed similar sentiments. As Presidents Washington, Adams, and Madison themselves arguably broke these commands when they prayed to the Native American's pagan "Great Spirit" God by name. [Although they'd argue they genuinely believed all religions worshipped the same benevolent unitarian God.]

I've noted previously that I support publicly posting a statue of the Treaty of Tripoli which states "the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion" next to the Ten Commandments wherever they would be displayed. Or perhaps we could, as proper symbolic gesture, post only the second tablet which contains the more secular oriented commands.

Harold Berman may have viewed things differently. That's fine. He'd played an important role in this scholarly dialogue. Christian Nation clowns like Barton, Federer, Kennedy et al. do not. Evangelicals will overcome their "scandal" when they value the genuine scholars among them like Noll, Berman, or Nathan Hatch, George Mardsen and Gary Scott Smith and ditch the clowns.
Barton's Phony Quotations, the Rot Runs Deep:

Just when I think I'm beating a dead horse, I find something new that makes me realize I have to continue to expose corrupt history by pseudohistorians like David Barton and William Federer. I went to google books and searched for the most notable false quotation past peddled by Barton and Federer:

It cannot be emphasized too clearly and too often that this nation was founded, not by religionists, but by Christians; not on religion, but on the gospel of Jesus Christ. For this very reason, peoples of other faiths have been afforded asylum, prosperity, and freedom of worship here.

-- supposedly said by Patrick Henry in 1765 eleven years before the Declaration of Independence.

Barton himself years ago noted that this and a number of other quotations have no basis in the primary sources; but he tried to whitewash the situation by euphemistically terming the quotations "unconfirmed." The problem is folks haven't stopped passing them.

I did a search on Googlebooks testing that Patrick Henry quotation. Expectedly, many self-published books, with titles such as Why Homosexual Marriage Is Wrong, and The Spiritual, Moral, & Civil Decay of America, use it. But I was surprised by how many recent books by real publishers passed it along.

For instance, the one by former federal judge Charles "Chip" Pickering, written in 2006 or one by Paul Kengor published in 2004 by Harper Collins. Even the notorious William Federer who, with Barton, is the one most responsible for disseminating these phony quotations, unlike Barton refuses to distance himself from it. He passed along the quotation in his recent 2005 publication.

Unfortunately my work debunking this nonsense is not yet over.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Sunday Music:

Steve Morse and the Dixie Dregs. Morse has described his style of writing and arranging as electric chamber music. The following YouTube clip refers to them as playing "a wonderful mix of bluegrass & mahavishnu," the latter referring to John McLaughlin's seminal fusion band Mahavishnu Orchestra. The following is taken from their Montreux Jazz Festival appearance in 1977. They were in their early 20s.

The original band has an interesting history and one that illustrates the precariousness of attempting to make a "career" out of being a musician. Bassist Andy West went on to be a computer programmer. Violinist Allan Sloan became an anesthesiologist. Drummer Rod Morganstein got a gig with 80s hair band "Winger" and now teaches at my alma matter Berklee College of Music. Morse himself quit the music business twice, once becoming a professional pilot for TWA, but now serves as guitarist for legendary rock band Deep Purple and still records and tours with the Steve Morse Band and the Dixie Dregs when not working with Deep Purple. I've seen Morse many times, but my favorite was when his 3-piece (the Steve Morse Band) opened for his 5-piece (the Dixie Dregs).

Morse is a virtuoso guitarist known for his incredible right handed technique. Some newer young guns are faster. But that doesn't matter; Morse plays fast enough. And more importantly, his playing shows that no matter how great one's technique, what really matters is melody, soul, that you play licks that sound cool.

Here is a clip with Deep Purple:

Illiberal Antirepublican Calvinist Remnant:

This website of Reformed Calvinists is useful in that it evinces a remnant of Calvinist covenanters who never accepted the principles of republicanism or American constitutionalism. They have just as strong a claim if not stronger to the heritage of Luther, to Calvin, to Rutherford, and so and and so forth. Here is how they trace their heritage of authors:

Martin Luther.
John Calvin.
John Knox.
Theodore Beza.
Samuel Rutherfurd.
George Gillespie.
Hugh Binning.
John Brown, of Wamphray.
Robert M'Ward.
Robert Traill.
James Renwick.
Alexander Shields.
John McMillan I.
John McMillan II.
John McMillan III.
John Fairley.
John Courtass.
John Thorburn.
John Reid.
James Reid.
William Steven.
Archibald Mason.
James McKinney.
John Black.
Alexander M'Leod.
Samuel Wylie.
Gilbert McMaster.
James Milligan.
James R. Willson.
Robert Lusk.
John Cunningham.
William Symington.
William L. Roberts.
William Sommerville.
David Steele.
Thomas Sproull.
John McAuley.
James M. Willson.
James F. Fulton.
James Kerr.
T. James Blair.

John Witherspoon helped to get many Americans on board with Revolution and the Constitution. However, he did so in large part by positing non-Calvinist, non-Christian Lockean and Scottish Enlightenment principles from the pulpit.

Samuel Rutherford of "Lex Rex" fame may have been useful for revolution. But on matters of unalienable natural rights of conscience -- something key to American natural rights republican theory -- he would have been diametrically opposed to what America's Founders stood for. Here is a blurb from their site where Rutherford approves of Calvin's execution of Servetus simply for publicly denying the Trinity:

"It was justice, not cruelty, yea mercy to the Church of God, to take away the life of Servetus, who used such spirituall and diabolick cruelty to many thousand soules, whom he did pervert, and by his Booke, does yet lead into perdition."

—Samuel Rutherfurd, A Free Disputation Against Pretended Liberty of Conscience. (1649).

The whole page gives a plethora of writings showing the logic of why Calvinist Christians ought not tolerate other religions, or heresies within the Christian religion. Their logic is strong -- if false religions and heresies damn souls for eternity, well then what can be more important than shutting their mouths. This is the polar opposite of Jefferson's notion that it does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are no gods or twenty gods.... On the other hand America's Founders did realize that if we followed Calvin's or Rutherford's logic in this regard, you get a lot of bloodshed. Tolerance and then recognizing the full unalienable rights of conscience at the very least, avoids that.
Hear Me Speak on the Radio Today:

Talkin' about Positive Liberty. Here are the details.

Friday, November 16, 2007

From the Strange Files:

One of the weirdest, most judgmental blog posts I've read in a while. There is a bit of mystery to the disease cancer. Sometimes it's clearly caused by behavior and lifestyle; sometimes it's not; sometimes it's a combination of nature and nurture. And sometimes we just don't know. Farah Fawcett has colorectal cancer. Her cancer is apparently in her rectum.

And this blogger assumes her sexual behavior caused the disease, and tying it into Norman Mailer's recent death, proceeds to psychoanalyze and judge her, Mailer and the who "jazz beat" culture. Those damn beatniks!

It's a very creepy post.
Religious but not Christian Underpinnings:

No doubt the American Revolution and subsequent Constitutional Founding offered theistic and religious rationales for their ideals. The problem for America's Founders was the entrenched religion was traditional Christianity and such religion spoke little to the needs of what they were trying to accomplish. The other side against whom they rebelled possessed the same religion. This led to what Mark Noll has termed an "importing" of extra-biblical ideas into the Christian religion during America's Founding era to help establish republicanism.

Ellis Sandoz's collection of Founding era sermons aptly illustrates this phenomenon. Take for instance, Bishop James Madison, cousin of the Founder with the same name. Bishop Madison was I believe, unlike his cousin, an orthodox Christian. Though he was suspected of being an "infidel" and indeed was close to many of those infidel Whigs whose ideas were primarily responsible for Founding American government. I've heard it said that the biblical worldview influenced even non-Christian Enlightenment thinkers like Jefferson and Franklin. That's true to an extent. But so is the converse: Non-Christian Enlightenment principles, so needed as they were, influenced the views of orthodox Christians like John Witherspoon, Samuel Adams, Samuel Langdon, and Bishop James Madison.

Here is one such sermon by Bishop Madison where he thunders against tyrannical leaders and praises liberty, equality, and fraternity. As Sandoz notes Madison was "[a] strong advocate of independence, he went so far, we are told, as to speak of the republic—rather than kingdom—of heaven." The Bible however, speaks of a kingdom of heaven, not a republic. And the Ancient Israelites did not have a republic, but a theocracy. This perfectly illustrates the "importing" of a-biblical Whig ideology into the Christian religion. And the Whigs did the same "reading in" 18th Century ideas to the ancient Greco-Roman democracies and republics of antiquity as well.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Digitized Primary Sources on GW & Religion:

This little public debate between 19th Century freethinker Robert Dale Owen and conservative Christian Origen Bachelor ended up playing a fairly important role in the evolving historical understanding of George Washington's religion. Google has now digitized the book that reproduces their letters. What follows historians like Paul F. Boller have made key to their case that Washington was not a Christian in the traditional sense of the term.

The story in short is summarized from the letters which you may read here: The year is 1831 and Robert Dale Owen read a sermon from a Rev. Dr. Wilson [sic] who modern historians mistakenly think is Bird Wilson [son of Founder James Wilson, and an Episcopal minister] but is really James Renwick Willson [no relation to James Wilson, and a Calvinist covenanter Presbyterian minister], which termed all of the Presidents from Washington to Jackson "infidels" and not more than "Unitarians." Owen cites the sermon in the debate to try and score points for the "Freethinker" side. Owen tracked down Rev. Willson to confirm the contents of the controversial sermon and Willson so did. This may be the sermon or if not, it has similar contents.

JR Willson claimed to have spoken with Rev. Dr. James Abercrombie, rector at an Episcopal Church in Philadelphia Washington attended, where Abercrombie told Willson: "Sir, General Washington was a Deist." Abercrombie witnessed Washington systematically refuse to take communion, which led him to make that harsh judgment.

In the meantime Origen Bachelor, upset at the allegations against Washington sent three letters to Rev. Willson which went unanswered. Bachelor also sent a letter of inquiry to Rev. Abercrombie who confirmed that he had spoken with Willson about Washington avoiding communion, but did not remember calling him a "Deist." Though he initially didn't want Bachelor to print the letter, the letter was eventually published, the contents of which have been digitized here. Though he denies having said Washington was a "Deist," he notes because Washington refused communion he couldn't consider him a "real Christian." The following is Abercrombie's testimony:

With respect to the enquiry you make, I can only state the following facts; that as the Pastor of the Episcopal Church (an humble assistant minister to its Rector, the Rt. Rev. Dr. White) observing that on Sacrament Sundays, Gen'l Washington, immediately after the Desk and Pulpit services, went out with the greater part of the congregation, always leaving Mrs. Washington with the communicants, she invariably being one, I considered it my duty, in a sermon on Public Worship, to state the unhappy tendency of example, particularly of those in elevated stations, who invariably turned their backs upon the celebration of the Lord's Supper. I acknowledge the remark was intended for the President, and, as such, he received it. A few days after, in conversation with, I believe, a Senator of the U. S., he told me he had dined the day before with the President, who, in the course of conversation at the table, said, that on the preceding Sunday, he had received a very just reproof from the pulpit, for always leaving the church before the administration of the Sacrament; that he honored the preacher for his integrity and candour; that he had never considered the influence of his example; that he would never again give cause for the repetition of the reproof; and that, as he had never been a communicant, were he to become one then, it would be imputed to an ostentatious display of religious zeal arising altogether from his elevated station. Accordingly, he afterwards never came on the morning of Sacrament Sunday, tho', at other times, a constant attendant in the morning. Of the assertion made by Dr. Wilson in the conclusion of a paragraph of your letter, I cannot say I have not the least recollection of such a conversation, but had I made use of the expression stated, it could not have extended farther than the expression of private individual opinion. That Washington was a professing Christian is evident from his regular attendance in our church; but, Sir, I cannot consider any man as a real Christian who uniformly disregards an ordinance so solemnly enjoined by the divine Author of our holy religion, and considered as a channel of divine grace. This, Sir, is all that I think it proper to state on paper. In a conversation, more latitude being allowed, more light might, perhaps, be thrown upon it. I trust, however, Sir, you will not introduce my name in print.

I am, Sir,
James Abercrombie

Washington clearly wasn't a "Deist" in the Thomas Paine sense of the term, those who believe in a non-intervening God. However, Occam's Razor suggests Washington avoided communion because he didn't believe in what the act represented: Christ's Atonement. And indeed it was the Deists and Unitarians in the Trinitarian Churches who were the ones who got up, walked out and turned their backs on the Lord's Supper. John Marshall was, according to his daughter, one such Unitarian who believed in an active personal God, and understood himself to be a Christian in a broad sense, yet:

The reason why he never communed was, that he was a Unitarian in opinion, though he never joined their society. He told her he believed in the truth of the Christian Revelation, but not in the divinity of Christ; therefore he could not commune in the Episcopal Church.

Unitarians like Marshall and Washington may have considered themselves "Christian," but because they disbelieved in the Trinity, Incarnation, Atonement and Original Sin [all four of those doctrines rise and fall together] orthodox Trinitarians like Rev. Abercrombie couldn't consider them to be "real Christians," even if they weren't strict Deists.
Iraq War & The French Revolution:

As I've been researching how the American Founding viewed the French Revolution, I've noticed some parallels between the French Revolution and the war in Iraq. The consensus in America supported the French Revolution in the beginning, and largely viewed it as an extension of America's Founding principles. Both revolutions appealed to the same abstract Enlightenment principles of the rights of man, liberty and equality.

It was only after things started to go so wrong that many notable American figures began to jump ship, just like in Iraq. And after the fact, in hindsight, historians began to realize the subtle but profound differences between America's and France's Revolutions (i.e., Rousseau's notion of the "general will" much more evident in France's than America's Revolution).

The backlash against the French Revolution probably contributed to the second Great Awakening in the early 19th Century. Noah Webster, for instance, when "founding" America was a much more Enlightenment influenced, rationalistic, and secular thinker. Sometime in the 19th Century he became a more traditionally minded Calvinistic Christian.

Here is Webster in 1794 in the middle of the French Revolution. His essay begins:

In the progress of the French Revolution, candid men find much to praise, and much to censure. It is a novel event in the history of nations, and furnishes new subjects of reflection. The end in view is noble; but whether the spirit of party and faction, which divided the National Assembly, sacrificed one part, and gave to the other the sovereign power over the nation, will not deprive the present generation of the blessings of freedom and good government, the objects contended for, is a very interesting question. Equally interesting is it to enquire what will be the effects of the revolution on the agriculture, commerce, and moral character of the French nation. The field of speculation is new, and the subject curious.
If I Had a Rock Cover Band:

I'd die to get this guy as lead singer. Though, he's all the way in Australia so I don't think it would work.

1/3 of Football Players Are Gay or Bisexual:

Well, not really. This study has found that more than a third of former high-school American Football said they have had sexual relations with other men. This could be another one of the many flawed studies out there. Though, it buttresses what I've previously written on this phenomenon.

Studies show that about 3-4% of the population self-identifies as gay or bisexual. And I'd imagine that these folks fall from 3-6 on the Kinsey scale, with "0" perfectly heterosexual, "3" perfectly bisexual, and "6" perfectly homosexual. We err if we then assume that the 96-7% of self-identified "heterosexual" or "normal" folks are perfectly heterosexual or Kinsey 0s. No, if you dig deep and look for heterosexual purity, I'd estimate that you'll find it in no more than 2/3 or 70% of the population.

If one defines heterosexuality or social normality according to its purity, that means that 1/3 of the population is gay or bisexual, with many more bisexuals than homosexuals, and most of these "bisexuals" fully attracted to the opposite sex, less than fully attracted to the same sex, define and understand themselves as "normal" or "straight" and live the overwhelming majority of their lives as such. It therefore seems a little awkward to place these incidental or opportunistic homosexuals in the "gay or bi" box; they certainly aren't part of the gay or bi community or social group. I think they are better understood as heterosexuals who have partook in homosexual behavior. The same way in which a man who is fully attracted to the same sex, less than fully to the opposite, and who marries and fathers children, but later comes out as "gay," (like McGreevy) is better understood as "homosexual," even though he certainly probably has some degree of bisexuality to him. How else could he perform and sire children?

I've also speculated that men who are more likely to be incidental homosexuals are the very opposite in stereotype of the effeminate gay men. These "trades" are more likely to be gruff, macho types, and also probably less likely to be refined and educated. And this may be because the more masculine men have higher levels of testosterone which corresponds with greater need for sexual release. In other words some straight guys can perform homosexually because they are in such need of release that they perform for just about anything.

Further, opportunistic homosexuality is more likely to occur in all male environments like prisons, military, and all boys schools. And what better fits this stereotype of highest testosterone levels than late teenage male football players.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

The Christian Case For the French Revolution:

Well sort of, not really. I don't see the Bible as a "political revolutionary" book. As I've long noted, passages like Romans 13 seem to intimate the opposite. Yet, Founding era ministers preached revolution from the pulpit. And I've seen proponents of "Christian America" try to "credit" orthodox sources, most notably Samuel Rutherford's Lex Rex, for the proposition of political revolution and consequently America's Declaration of Independence. The same folks also tend to attempt to distinguish between America's Revolution and France's, arguing the former was a "Christian" revolution, the latter an "Enlightenment" revolution. As I noted in this post (one of my most widely read posts via search engines) the American and French Revolutions were declared according to a strikingly parallel set of ideological principles, and there is far more of a connection between those two historical events, than between America's Revolution and the orthodox Protestant documents from an earlier generation like Lex Rex and the Vindiciae Con Tyrannus. Thus if one concludes "Christian principles" are responsible for the American Revolution, one must also give those very same principles the blame for the French Revolution.

And indeed just as there were self identified Christian ministers supporting the American Revolution from the pulpit, so too were there Christian ministers preaching in favor of the French Revolution. Ellis Sandoz, scholar of America's Founding, stresses in his research the Protestant ideological sources behind America's Founding thought. And his collection of political sermons are now available online via the Liberty Fund. In reading these sermons and understanding the theology of the men giving them, one must ask whether many of these Protestants are aptly termed "Christian" to begin with. And one must also critically question whether their theological arguments in favor of revolution and republicanism are authentically Christian or biblical, or imported from a-biblical, non-Christian sources.

Take for instance this sermon by Richard Price, entitled A DISCOURSE ON THE LOVE OF OUR COUNTRY. Price was a liberal Presbyterian minister, a British Whig and friends with many of America's Founders. Though he understood himself to be a "Christian," Price was a unitarian of the Arian variety, believing Jesus to be some kind of divine being created by but subordinate to God the Father. He was also a philosophical rationalist and naturalist. As Sandoz notes, Price's 1789 sermon connects "the dawning of the millennium through the spread of liberty and happiness over the world, especially as evinced in French developments at the time."

This sermon promotes Enlightenment and rational religion. You could say this sermon illustrates the Protestant Christian Enlightenment. But one has to ask whether this "Christian" Enlightenment first put into motion by such "Christians" as John Locke is authentically Christian to begin with, or whether it conflicts with that worldview. That this sermon uses the Bible and the "Christian religion" to justify the French Revolution seriously calls into question its traditional Christian authenticity. Here is a taste:

Our first concern, as lovers of our country, must be to enlighten it. Why are the nations of the world so patient under despotism? Why do they crouch to tyrants, and submit to be treated as if they were a herd of cattle? Is it not because they are kept in darkness, and want knowledge? Enlighten them and you will elevate them. Shew them they are men, and they will act like men. Give them just ideas of civil government, and let them know that it is an expedient for gaining protection against injury and defending their rights, and it will be impossible for them to submit to governments which, like most of those now in the world, are usurpations on the rights of men, and little better than contrivances for enabling the few to oppress the many. Convince them that the Deity is a righteous and benevolent as well as omnipotent Being, who regards with equal eye all his creatures, and connects his favour with nothing but an honest desire to know and do his will; and that zeal for mystical doctrines which has led men to hate and harass one another, will be exterminated. Set religion before them as a rational service, consisting not in any rites and ceremonies, but in worshipping God with a pure heart, and practising righteousness from the fear of his displeasure and the apprehension of a future righteous judgment, and that gloomy and cruel superstition will be abolished, which has hitherto gone under the name of religion, and to the support of which civil government has been perverted. Ignorance is the parent of bigotry, intolerance, persecution and slavery. Inform and instruct mankind, and these evils will be excluded. Happy is the person who, himself raised above vulgar errors, is conscious of having aimed at giving mankind this instruction. Happy is the scholar or philosopher who at the close of life can reflect that he has made this use of his learning and abilities: but happier far must he be, if at the same time he has reason to believe he has been successful, and actually contributed, by his instructions, to disseminate among his fellow-creatures just notions of themselves, of their rights, of religion, and the nature and end of civil government. Such were Milton, Locke, Sidney, Hoadly, &c. in this country; such were Montesquieu, Fenelon, Turgot, &c. in France. They sowed a seed which has since taken root, and is now growing up to a glorious harvest. To the information they conveyed by their writings we owe those revolutions in which every friend to mankind is now exulting. What an encouragement is this to us all in our endeavours to enlighten the world? Every degree of illumination which we can communicate must do the greatest good. It helps to prepare the minds of men for the recovery of their rights, and hastens the overthrow of priestcraft and tyranny. In short, we may, in this instance, learn our duty from the conduct of the oppressors of the world. They know that light is hostile to them, and therefore they labour to keep men in the dark. With this intention they have appointed licensers of the press; and, in popish countries, prohibited the reading of the Bible. Remove the darkness in which they envelope the world, and their usurpations will be exposed, their power will be subverted, and the world emancipated.

The next great blessing of human nature which I have mentioned, is virtue. This ought to follow knowledge, and to be directed by it. Virtue without knowledge makes enthusiasts; and knowledge without virtue makes devils; but both united elevates to the top of human dignity and perfection. We must, therefore, if we would serve our country, make both these the objects of our zeal. We must discourage vice in all its forms; and our endeavours to enlighten must have ultimately in view a reformation of manners and virtuous practice.

I must add here, that in the practice of virtue I include the discharge of the public duties of religion. By neglecting these, we may injure our country essentially. But it is melancholy to observe that it is a common neglect among us; and in a great measure owing to a cause which is not likely to be soon removed: I mean, the defects (may I not say, the absurdities?) in our established codes of faith and worship. In foreign countries, the higher ranks of men, not distinguishing between the religion they see established and the Christian religion, are generally driven to irreligion and infidelity. The like evil is produced by the like cause in this country; and if no reformation of our established formularies can be brought about, it must be expected that religion will go on to lose its credit, and that little of it will be left except among the lower orders of people, many of whom, while their superiors give up all religion, are sinking into an enthusiasm in religion lately revived.

I hope you will not mistake what I am now saying, or consider it as the effect of my prejudices as a dissenter from the established church. The complaint I am making, is the complaint of many of the wisest and best men in the established church itself, who have been long urging the necessity of a revisal of its liturgy and articles. These were framed above two centuries ago, when Christendom was just emerging from the ignorance and barbarity of the dark ages. They remain now much the same they were then; and, therefore, cannot be properly adapted to the good sense and liberality of the present times. This imperfection, however, in our public forms of worship, affords no excuse to any person for neglecting public worship. All communities will have some religion; and it is of infinite consequence that they should be led to that which, by enforcing the obligations of virtue and putting men upon loving instead of damning one another, is most favourable to the interest of society.

If there is a Governor of the world, who directs all events, he ought to be invoked and worshipped; and those who dislike that mode of worship which is prescribed by public authority, ought (if they can find no worship out of the church which they approve) to set up a separate worship for themselves; and by doing this, and giving an example of a rational and manly worship, men of weight, from their rank or literature, may do the greatest service to society and the world. They may bear a testimony against that application of civil power to the support of particular modes of faith, which obstructs human improvement, and perpetuates error; and they may hold out an instruction which will discountenance superstition, and at the same time recommend religion, by making it appear to be (what it certainly is when rightly understood) the strongest incentive to all that is generous and worthy, and consequently the best friend to public order and happiness.

Liberty is the next great blessing which I have mentioned as the object of patriotic zeal. It is inseparable from knowledge and virtue, and together with them completes the glory of a community. An enlightened and virtuous country must be a free country. It cannot suffer invasions of its rights, or bend to tyrants. I need not, on this occasion, take any pains to shew you how great a blessing liberty is. The smallest attention to the history of past ages, and the present state of mankind, will make you sensible of its importance. Look round the world, and you will find almost every country, respectable or contemptible, happy or miserable, a fruitful field or a frightful waste, according as it possesses or wants this blessing. Think of Greece, formerly the seat of arts and science, and the most distinguished spot under heaven; but now, having lost liberty, a vile and wretched spot, a region of darkness, poverty, and barbarity. Such reflections must convince you that, if you love your country, you cannot be zealous enough in promoting the cause of liberty in it. But it will come in my way to say more to this purpose presently.

The observations I have made include our whole duty to our country; for by endeavouring to liberalize and enlighten it, to discourage vice and to promote virtue in it, and to assert and support its liberties, we shall endeavour to do all that is necessary to make it great and happy. But it is proper that, on this occasion, I should be more explicit, and exemplify our duty to our country by observing farther, that it requires us to obey its laws, and to respect its magistrates.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Son of Gun:

Or perhaps I should say son of a farting preacher. Most of Tilton's farting preacher clips are absent from YouTube. And the clip of his 1991 program I linked to a couple days ago is gone as well. Here is YouTube's reason why: This video is no longer available due to a copyright claim by Rev. Robert Tilton

In the meantime enjoy this one while it's up.
The Right Wing of Founding Era Unitarianism:

[A note on my use of capitalization; when I talk about theological unitarianism, I use a small "u," when I talk about Church Unitarianism, I use a capital U. Jefferson, Madison and Franklin were unitarians. John Adams was a unitarian and a Unitarian.]

Founding Era unitarianism had a right wing to it, although I wouldn't put John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, or Ben Franklin there. Rather, I'd put John Marshall, Joseph Story, and perhaps Jared Sparks there. By "right wing," I mean, they were more likely to be antidisestablishmentarians; they were likely to support "Christianity" as the only true religion; and they likely thought the scriptures to be infallible. I wouldn't call them theistic rationalists like Jefferson, Adams, and Franklin because it's not clear that the more biblical unitarians thought reason superseded revelation as Jefferson, Adams, and Franklin clearly did. Though men like Marshall, Story, and Sparks nonetheless denied Original Sin, the Trinity, Incarnation, and Atonement and believed men were saved through good works. To them, this is what "Christianity" was all about. In 18th Century America, all of the official Churches termed these beliefs heresy (and lots of elite educated figures privately believed in these heresies). By the 19th Century this "heresy" became, at least in the North East, a socially respectable form of liberal Protestantism.

Check out this link which gives the opinions of three famous historical figures on whether "Christianity" is foundational to America's government. Joseph Story and John Marshall answer in the affirmative, Madison in the negative. What's notable is that all three figures are unitarians. Keep in mind that when John Marshall answers "[t]he American population is entirely Christian, & with us, Christianity & Religion are identified...," he considered unitarianism that denied Original Sin, the Trinity, Incarnation, and Atonement to be "Christian."

Here is an interesting letter from Joseph Story explaining his biblical unitarianism to a Trinitarian critic that argued unitarians were "deistic":


Washington, March 6th, 1824.


I acknowledge with pleasure your letter of the second of February, which reached me a very few days since. What you say of the false statements in the prints respecting Unitarians does not surprise me; for I well know that bigotry, and misapprehension, and ignorance are very like to lead men to the most extravagant opinions. The Unitarians are universally steadfast, sincere, and earnest Christians.

They all believe in the divine mission of Christ, the credibility and authenticity of the Bible, the miracles wrought by our Saviour and his apostles, and the efficacy of his precepts to lead men to salvation. They consider the Scriptures the true rule of faith, and the sure foundation of immortality. In short, their belief is as complete of the divine authority of the Scriptures, as that of any other class of Christians.

It is a most gross calumny, therefore, to accuse them of treating the Bible and its doctrines as delusions and falsehoods, or of an union with Deists. In sincere unaffected piety, they yield to no persons. They differ among themselves as to the nature of our Saviour, but they all agree that he was the special messenger of God, and that what he taught is of Divine authority. In truth, they principally differ from other Christians in disbelieving the Trinity, for they think Christ was not God, but in the Scripture language "the Son of God."

I think it not impossible that Deists may look upon them with more favor than upon other Christians, because they have confidence in human reason as a guide to the interpretation of the Scriptures, and they profess what the Deists consider more rational and consistent opinions than the Calvinists. But beyond this, I believe, that the Deists have no kindness for them, and as to connection with them, it is an utter absurdity. You do the Unitarians, therefore, no more than the justice which I should expect from your liberality, in disbelieving such tales. But I will not trouble you any more with this controversial subject. I should exceedingly rejoice to see you again in New England, where you would see them as they are, and you would find, that, although changes of opinion may have occurred, a strong religious feeling and a spirit of improvement universally prevail.

May you long, my dear sir, enjoy the happiness that results from a pure life and elevated pursuit, This is the wish of your most obliged friend,


Here is the problem for Story: Perhaps his Trinitarian critic's views were more accurate than what Story gives him credit for. Story erred when he asserted all Unitarians were biblical, perhaps wishful thinking on his part. Let us not forget that Jefferson and Adams embraced the label "unitarian" along with Story et al. Jefferson used his reason to edit those parts of the Bible with which he disagreed. And Adams elevated reason so far over revelation that he explained even if God revealed the doctrine of the Trinity to him with Moses at Mt. Sinai, he still wouldn't believe it because man's reason proves 1+1+1 = 3, not 1. As he wrote to Jefferson, Sept. 14, 1813:

The human understanding is a revelation from its maker which can never be disputed or doubted. There can be no skepticism, incredulity, or infidelity here. No prophecies, no miracles are necessary to prove the celestial communication.

This revelation had made it certain that two and one make three, and that one is not three nor can three be one. We can never be so certain of any prophecy, or the fulfillment of any prophecy, or of any miracle, or the design of any miracle, as we are from the revelation of nature, that is, nature’s God, that two and two are equal to four. Miracles or prophecies might frighten us out of our wits, might scare us to death, might induce us to lie, to say that we believe that two and two make five, but we should not believe it; we should know the contrary.

Had you and I been forty days with Moses on Mount Sinai, and admitted to behold the divine glory, and there been told that one was three and three one, we might not have had the courage to deny it, but we could not have believed it.

As noted these unitarians believed their religion to be a form of liberal rational Christianity. If, as Marshall and Story believed, Christianity had some type of organic connection to government and if their creed which denied original sin, the Trinity, Incarnation, and Atonement, and Jefferson's and Adams' "Christianity" which denied the infallibility of the Bible and thought reason could edit the irrational parts of scripture all qualified as "Christianity" with which government had some kind of special relationship, we should easily be able to see how this could unleash undesirable theological disputes (i.e., "no, government should promote only true Christianity, not your heresy!"). This is exactly what Madison had in mind when he remonstrated against Patrick Henry's Bill to support teachers of the Christian religion; he didn't want the law to have to decide what is Christianity.

In the modern era we see similar disputes with the "Mormon Christian" Mitt Romney running for President and evangelicals asserting he really isn't a Christian. As Romney supporter Hugh Hewitt admonished: "But leave questions about theology --about revelation-- out of politics." This is exactly as America's Founders believed. In order to solve the problem of sectarian disputes, revealed religion had to be driven from politics. Although they did appeal to a natural theology, a theology of reason governed by a generic undefined deity: "Nature's God," or "Providence."