Monday, March 31, 2008

Van Dyke on Aquinas, Kings & Revolt:

Responding to my post on Romans 13, Tom Van Dyke emails the following:

Some relevant and hopefully helpful stuff:

This, particularly "In Defense of Regicide: John Cotton on the Execution of Charles I."

I mean, if the English could kill their king in 1649, revolution in 1776 wasn't that radical a step.

And of course, the always helpful Aquinas, who mentions Romans 13 specifically here, and who was studied at Harvard at least through the 1600s.

I'm not sure there was much theological handwringing over revolution among those who were already disposed toward it.
Recent Pic:

Freespace's 5th:

Happy birthday to Tim Sandefur's Freespace celebrating its fifth. It was around four years ago that I got my start blogging there as a guest.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Sunday Night Music:

It's no secret I think Steve Walsh of Kansas in his prime is the greatest rock tenor ever. Early in his career and presently he projects a "reserved" image behind the keyboards, singing. Sometime in the late 70s, perhaps drug fueled, he adopted an "Adidas" fitness look (and had the body to go with it) started moving around on stage, and really got a workout. From 1977, Carry On Wayward Son. Check out those socks!

George Washington on Christianity:

George Washington was pro-Christian. He had a lot of positive things to say about the Christian religion. However, it is a non-sequitur to conclude, therefore, he was an orthodox Trinitarian Christian. Orthodox Trinitarian Christianity is an extremely narrow creed; it believes Jesus the only way to God and other religions false. Nothing in Washington's praise for the Christian religion suggests he believed in this narrow form of Christianity. To the contrary, the best evidence shows Washington, if he can be termed Christian at all, held to a liberal Protestant theology in line with what the other key Founders -- J. Adams, Jefferson, Madison, and Franklin -- believed.

All were pro-Christianity because they were "pro-religion" in general. They held the purpose of "religion" or "Christianity" was to make men moral (not necessarily to be saved through Christ's blood atonement). Works were more important than faith for salvation. The test of "sound" religion was that it in fact made men moral. As such if the "ends" (morality) were achieved, the means (which religion you are) really didn't matter. But Christianity had an edge over other world religions, not because of Jesus' exclusive claim to God or His status as second person in the Trinity, but because He was the greatest moral teacher. Yet, they still saw a place at the table of "sound religion" for virtually all of the world's religions as valid ways to God. Their creed, I believe, was key in making America a haven for non-Christian religions.

Further, theirs was a form of hyper-Arminianism that was theologically unitarian and universalist. In short, the "Protestantism" of Washington et al. was precisely the kind of "Christianity" that orthodox theologian John MacArthur rails against here. This is why if orthodox Trinitarian Christians truly understood what Washington and the other key Founders believed they'd either call it "heresy" or, like Mormonism, "not Christianity." That's why orthodox Christian scholar of America's Founding, Dr. Gregg Frazer, terms their belief system "theistic rationalism," not "Christianity."

First quotations from other key Founders who are not George Washington. Then, Washington's:

"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.

"...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

"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."

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

"Here is my Creed: I believe in one God, Creator of the Universe. That He governs it by his Providence. That he ought to be worshipped. That the most acceptable Service we can render to him, is doing Good to his other Children. That the Soul of Man is immortal, and will be treated with Justice in another Life respecting its Conduct in this. These I take to be the fundamental Principles of all sound Religion, and I regard them as you do, in whatever Sect I meet with them."

-- Benjamin Franklin to Ezra Stiles, March 9. 1790.

"Every religion consists of moral precepts, and of dogmas. In the first they all agree. All forbid us to murder, steal, plunder, bear false witness &ca. and these are the articles necessary for the preservation of order, justice, and happiness in society. In their particular dogmas all differ; no two professing the same. These respect vestments, ceremonies, physical opinions, and metaphysical speculations, totally unconnected with morality, and unimportant to the legitimate objects of society. Yet these are the questions on which have hung the bitter schisms of Nazarenes, Socinians, Arians, Athanasians in former times, and now of Trinitarians, Unitarians, Catholics, Lutherans, Calvinists, Methodists, Baptists, Quakers &c. Among the Mahometans we are told that thousands fell victims to the dispute whether the first or second toe of Mahomet was longest; and what blood, how many human lives have the words 'this do in remembrance of me' cost the Christian world!...We see good men in all religions, and as many in one as another. It is then a matter of principle with me to avoid disturbing the tranquility of others by the expression of any opinion on the [unimportant points] innocent questions on which we schismatize, and think it enough to hold fast to those moral precepts which are of the essence of Christianity, and of all other religions."

-- Thomas Jefferson to James Fishback, Sept. 27, 1809

"I believe with Justin Martyr, that all good men are Christians, and I believe there have been, and are, good men in all nations, sincere and conscientious."

-- John Adams to Samuel Miller, July 8, 1820.

Now go and read every single time Washington praises the Christian religion and see that it is always in the context of equating Christianity with mere morality not orthodox Christian doctrine. The pietists use the following as "proof quotes" to show that Washington wasn't a Deist, therefore he was a "Christian." But what they actually show is that Washington was a "Christian" in the same way that J. Adams, Jefferson and Franklin were "Christians." My emphasis or italics will be on those parts of Washington's words that illustrate my contention.

“To the distinguished Character of Patriot, it should be our highest Glory to add the more distinguished Character of Christian. The signal Instances of providential Goodness which we have experienced and which have now almost crowned our labours with complete Success, demand from us in a peculiar manner the warmest returns of Gratitude and Piety to the Supreme Author of all Good [my emphasis]."

-- George Washington, General Orders, Saturday, May 2, 1778.

"While all men within our territories are protected in worshipping the Deity according to the dictates of their consciences; it is rationally to be expected from them in return, that they will be emulous of evincing the sanctity of their professions by the innocence of their lives and the beneficence of their actions; for 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 [my emphasis].

"I desire you to accept my acknowledgments for your laudable endeavours to render men sober, honest, and good Citizens, and the obedient subjects of a lawful government [my emphasis]."

-- George Washington, Letter to General Assembly of Presbyterian Churches, May 1789.

"Without reverberating the arguments in support of the humane and benevolent intention of Lady Huntington to christianize and reduce to a state of civilization the Savage tribes within the limits of the American States, or discanting upon the advantages which the Union may derive from the Emigration which is blended with, and becomes part of the plan, I highly approve of them,...[my emphasis]."

-- George Washington To SIR JAMES JAY, January 25, 1785.

"In the meantime, it will be a desirable thing for the protection of the Union to co-operate, as far as circumstances may conveniently admit, with the disinterested endeavours of your Society to civilize and Christianize the Savages of the Wilderness [my emphasis]."

-- George Washington to The Society of the United Brethren for Propagating the Gospel among the Heathen, July, 1789.

Finally, keep in mind that Washington never spoke in orthodox Trinitarian language, but used generic philosophical titles for God. Never said "Father, Son, Holy Spirit," never used the word "Redeemer" (these were Congress' not Washington's words!), systematically avoided discussing Jesus by name or example as though he didn't care about or had no personal relationship with Jesus, and systematically avoided communion in his Church to which he nominally belonged.

Saturday, March 29, 2008

Romans 13:

I've done much studying and thinking about the passage of Romans 13 as it relates to the biblical view of government, especially the American Revolution. I've concluded there are alternate interpretations and will charitably concede that Romans 13 doesn't stand in the way of traditional Christian supporting the American Revolution -- and indeed many traditional orthodox Christians did support the American Revolution (and French Revolution!).

However, Romans 13 gives as much, arguably more support to the Tory position which demonstrates that the Bible or the Christian Religion spoke little to the cause of the American Revolution and consequent construction of the US Constitution. Sure traditional Christian ideas were *a* source of ideological principles. But not the primary source (other sources include Enlightenment, Whig, Common Law and Greco-Roman principles; Enlightenment and Whig were key).

It's true that preachers did give sermons on behalf of the American Revolution, key to getting the Christian populace to go along with the notion of revolt against Great Britain. 1/3 of the populace were Whigs in favor of revolt; 1/3 were Tory loyalists, and 1/3 were on the fence. And many of the Tory loyalist were devout orthodox Christians who genuinely believed Romans 13 commanded them to remain loyal to Great Britain.

Many of the Whig preachers used very unorthodox hermeneutics and a-biblical Lockean ideas to argue on behalf of revolution. Some of these preachers were orthodox Christians, most notably John Witherspoon. Some preachers, especially in New England were theological unitarians, most notably Jonathan Mayhew, explicit enemies of Jonathan Edwards' "Great Awakening."

Given these preachers (including John Witherspoon) arguably taught the opposite of Calvin's position on revolt, it's puzzling to see some forces overstate the "Calvinistic" influence on the American Revolution. Calvin's teachings on revolt clearly support the Tory position. It's true that some later Calvinists, most notably Samuel Rutherford, did try to carve out a Calvinist argument for revolt, focusing on Calvin's doctrine of interposition, which is the closet Calvinist teachings come to supporting anything like America's Declaration of Independence. But, little evidence connects Rutherford's influence to the American colonies. And no evidence ties Locke to Rutherford. Locke never cites Rutherford.

John Calvin's teachings on the civil magistrate and Romans 13 are available online here. Calvin says in no uncertain terms submit to and obey even the most unrighteous or tyrannical civil magistrates. The traditional understanding of Romans 13 is that God ordains the higher powers. The people are accountable to their rulers and the rulers to God, not the people. And many of those higher powers will be, for whatever reason, not "Godly" or "good" rulers but pagan tyrants, as was the leader Paul told believers to submit to in Romans 13 -- Nero of the pagan Roman Empire. The buck stops with the ruler not the people, and if the ruler does evil, God will punish the ruler; the people still have to submit to tyranny. Christians could still follow their conscience and "obey God" rather than "man," if there were a conflict between the two, but must nonetheless accept the legitimacy or legality of their punishment for civil disobedience even if it means being thrown to the lions or in Christ's case, crucified.

Again, I'm not saying this is the only proper way to understand Romans 13, but it was the dominant, traditional understanding until the Enlightenment era of Revolution. Indeed, according to Calvin, God will give the people an SOB tyrannical ruler to punish them. The people must still submit to that tyrannical leader or else, you resist God when you resist the magistrate. I wrote more about that here. But as Calvin put it:

I will not proceed further without subjoining some distinct passages to this effect. We need not labour to prove that an impious king is a mark of the Lord's anger, since I presume no one will deny it, and that this is not less true of a king than of a robber who plunders your goods, an adulterer who defiles your bed, and an assassin who aims at your life, since all such calamities are classed by Scripture among the curses of God.

But let us insist at greater length in proving what does not so easily fall in with the views of men, that even an individual of the worst character, one most unworthy of all honour, if invested with public authority, receives that illustrious divine power which the Lord has by his word devolved on the ministers of his justice and judgement, and that, accordingly, in so far as public obedience is concerned, he is to be held in the same honour and reverence as the best of kings.

If you look at the headers in Calvin's work here you see things like:

24. Obedience is also due the unjust magistrate
25. The wicked ruler a judgment of God
26. Obedience to bad kings required in Scripture

As one scholar noted Calvinism clearly was the spiritual side of Divine Right of Kings. Arminianism, a much more democratic form of Christianity, gave rise to the democratic or republican spirit of America's Founding. As George Willis Cooke wrote in 1902:

The doctrine of degrees, as taught by the Calvinists, was the spiritual side of the assertion of the divine right of kings. On the other hand, when the people claim the right to rule, they modify their theology into Arminianism. From an age of the absolute rule of the king comes the doctrine of human depravity; and with the establishment of democracy appears the doctrine of man's moral capacity.

Calvin's original teachings did provide a little loophole -- the doctrine of interposition. But Calvin also made clear that interposition must be done through the positive law, like a Presidential impeachment, to use Gregg Frazer's example. Later Calvinists like Rutherford, who had experience with bad kings and looked for a theological way out, would make the most out of this doctrine. And I suppose it's possible to argue the American Revolution was consistent with Interposition and Rutherford's teachings. One would have to argue that Britain violated English law and that America's actions were consistent with English law, perhaps a stretch. See Gary Demar attempt to do so here. But nonetheless, America did not declare independence in the name of interposition. And Locke's ideas in the Declaration of Independence are nothing like Calvin's or Rutherford's notions of interposition and are wholly alien to the Bible and Romans 13. The Declaration says:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

Though theistic, there is nothing biblical about the idea that governments' "deriv[e] their just powers from the consent of the governed," or that "the people" have a right "to alter or to abolish" government that doesn't secure "unalienable rights" to "Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." It's not what Rutherford taught, not what Calvin taught, not what Paul taught, not what Jesus taught or what the Bible teaches.

The best orthodox Christians can do is find compatibility with the results of the American Revolution, i.e., Calvinistic or Rutherfordian interposition, and not try to defend the "Christian" content of the Declaration.

This would probably lead to giving up on the notion that the higher law the Declaration invokes is the biblical God's law and the "organic" law of the United States. Many prominent social or religious conservative scholars understand the tension between the broad guarantees of individual rights in the Declaration, its subversive, revolutionary rhetoric and the orderliness traditional Christian morality demands (i.e., Robert Bork, Lino Graglia, Russell Kirk, Thomas Fleming, and many others). As Thomas Fleming put it:

If Dred Scott is a slender reed for conservatives to rely on, the Declaration of Independence is a morass. Whatever Mr. Jefferson and his colleagues thought they were doing (other than restating Enlightenment platitudes that have nothing to do with Christianity), they were not writing the fundamental law of a nation that did not yet exist. If they had been intending to establish Christianity at the center of the American system, they would have used Christian language instead of such deistic phrases as “Nature’s god.” Although some conservatives have made valiant efforts to give the Declaration a harmless reading, Harry Jaffa and other leftists have ensured that the Declaration is read today as a revolutionary manifesto for natural rights that transcend the pettifogging restrictions of the Constitution and the Tenth Amendment, guaranteeing the rights of the states.

Or Lino Graglia:

What [the Declaration] is, of course, is a document meant to justify revolution -- that is, illegal action. Having no human law to rely on -- being in defiance of authority -- revolutionaries necessarily come to rely on the law of God, who, happily, rarely issues a protest.

Heh. As a libertarian, I kind of like the notion that the people, in principle, can revolt if government doesn't guarantee us our unalienable rights to liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Yet, as a non-Christian, I don't have Romans 13 on my conscience.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Google Books & John Adams:

This is a really great project. Rare books previously available in college libraries in various parts of the world have been digitized on google. The collection grows daily. Unfortunately copyright laws prevent you from seeing the whole edition of newer books protected by copyright. But if one specializes in 18th and 19th Century history as I do, much of those works are public domain. When I first started researching the Founders and Religion not too long ago (5 years ago), I'd buy books from notable scholars who had to read the manuscripts themselves or earlier collections and who would excerpt portions of those particular sources. Now, I'm finding I'm able to confirm these sources through google books and in many instances, read the entire works in context not just the excerpts that scholars give.

Almost everything Washington and Jefferson wrote is archived online anyway. And there is one book by Lenni Brenner which reproduces the entire writings of everything Jefferson and Madison ever said on religion.

But with someone like John Adams, his works (as far as I know) are not all available online as are the works of other founders. James H. Hutson's quote book offers many interesting quotations illustrating Adams' religious heterodoxy. Often now I can read the entire letters Adams wrote, that Hutson excerpted, by searching for them on google books. For instance, in one quotation Adams proudly proclaims his Unitarianism to Jedidiah Morse in a letter dated May 15, 1815. I reproduced what Hutson excerpted in this post. I can now read the entire letter here, which I'll reproduce below.

"I thank you thank you for your favour of the 10th, and the pamphlet enclosed, entitled, 'American Unitarianism.' I have turned over its leaves, and found nothing that was not familiarly known to me. In the preface, Unitarianism is represented as only thirty years old in New-England. I can testify as a witness to its old age. Sixty-five years ago, my own minister, the Rev. Lemuel Bryant; Dr. Jonathan Mayhew, of the West Church in Boston; the Rev. Mr. Shute, of Hingham; the Rev. John Brown, of Cohasset; and perhaps equal to all, if not above all, the Rev. Mr. Gay, of Hingham, were Unitarians. Among the laity how many could I name, lawyers, physicians, tradesmen, farmers! But at present I will name only one, Richard Cranch, a man who had studied divinity, and Jewish and Christian antiquities, more than any clergyman now existing in New England. More than fifty years ago, I read Dr. Clarke, Emlyn, and Dr. Waterland: do you expect, my dear doctor, to teach me any thing new in favour of Athanasianism? — There is, my dear Doctor, at present existing in the world a Church Philosophick. as subtle, as learned, as hypocritical, as the Holy Roman Catholick, Apostolick, and Ecumenical Church. The Philosophical Church was originally English. Voltaire learned it from Lord Herbert, Hobbes, Morgan, Collins, Shaftsbury, Bolingbroke, &c. &c. &c. You may depend upon it, your exertions will promote the Church Philosophick, more than the Church Athanasian or Presbyterian. This and the coming age will not be ruled by inquisitions or Jesuits. The restoration of Napoleon has been caused by the resuscitation of inquisitors and Jesuits.
I am and wish to be
Your friend,
Quincy, May 15th, 1815.

"Athanasianism" refers to the orthodox Trinitarian Christianity, i.e., the Athanasian Creed. When Adams refers to the "Church Philosophick," he's clearly referring to strict Deism, that which could often virulently attack the Christian religion. Adams noted he has as much distaste for strict Deism as he does orthodox Christianity, and saw his "unitarianism" as a rational middle ground between the two systems. Yet, the term "infidel" during the founding era often meant someone to one's religious left. To Adams, those above mentioned Deists or atheists would be "infidels." However to orthodox Trinitarian Christians like Jedidiah Morse, Adams and his fellow theological unitarians were "infidels" to be lumped in with the Deists. Adams et al. didn't consider themselves "infidels" (I don't think the Deists or atheists embraced that term which was an epithet); rather they considered themselves true Christians or "rational Christians." Yet, given their system denied original sin, the trinity, incarnation, atonement, eternal damnation, infallibility of the Bible and saw non-biblical religions as valid ways to God, arguably it was not "Christianity." At least Adams' belief system was not "Christianity" as defined by its historic standards of orthodoxy.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Distinguish Between America's Founding & Planting:

One major error of the "Christian America" crowd is to conflate America's Planting (that is, its old colonial order from the 17th Century) with its Founding (1776-1800). In reality, the principles of the two are in great tension and the ideals of the Founding -- the Novus Ordo Seclorum -- represented a great break with past tradition. Dr. David Mazel made this point in this past post by comparing the wording of the Mayflower Compact with that of the US Constitution.

We can also use John Adams himself to illustrate the point. From Massachusetts, Adams, some believe, was a Puritan. Though he had Puritan roots, he was a clearly a different animal than the Puritans who landed on Plymouth rock. For one, they were hard core theocrats and he wasn't. Secondly, they would have executed Adams for "high handed blasphemy."

The Puritan's Massachusetts Body of Liberties (1641) -- what a Christian civil code looked like before the Enlightenment and Church & State were separated -- reads like an American Talibanic code. Here are some examples of their capital laws:

94. Capitall Laws.

(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.

And here is evidence of John Adams' "high handed blasphemie" that a Puritan prosecutor would be able to use to put Adams to death just as Servetus was in Calvin's Geneva for publicly proclaiming his unitarian heresy.

"The Trinity was carried in a general council by one vote against a quaternity; the Virgin Mary lost an equality with the Father, Son, and Spirit only by a single suffrage."

-- John Adams to Benjamin Rush, June 12, 1812.


"An incarnate God!!! An eternal, self-existent, omnipresent omniscient Author of this stupendous Universe, suffering on a Cross!!! My Soul starts with horror, at the Idea, and it has stupified the Christian World. It has been the Source of almost all of the Corruptions of Christianity."

-- John Adams to John Quincy Adams, March 28, 1816


"If I understand the Doctrine, it is, that if God the first second or third or all three together are united with or in a Man, the whole Animal becomes a God and his Mother is the Mother of God.

"It grieves me: it shocks me to write in this stile upon a subject the most adorable that any finite Intelligence can contemplate or embrace: but if ever Mankind are to be superior to the Brutes, sacerdotal Impostures must be exposed."

-- John Adams to Francis van der Kemp, October 23, 1816.

Monday, March 24, 2008

The Drama Deepens:

The infamous Shirley Phelps Roper replies to her brother Nate Phelps in the comments section at Positive Liberty.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Nate Phelps on Hell & Extreme Calvinism:

Nate Phelps, one of Fred Phelps' sons -- one of the estranged (that is, sane) children -- checks in to criticize extreme Calvinist notions of Hell and his family's tactics. Leaving the comment on my post about how the traditional notion of Hell as eternal torture corrupts the soul, he writes:

You articulate your points well. Perhaps I shouldn't comment at all on this whole issue because my sincere reaction to the notion of hell is an incredulous chuckle. I am vividly aware of the extremes of Calvinism and decided early on that my father's radical notions only served to demonstrate the utter nonsense of the whole Calvinist system of theology, and ultimately all theology.

It may sound trite, but it seems important to ask questions can the "worm that feeds on you" never die? how can demons break every bone in your body for eternity? At some point you run out of bones and body to feed on. Even if the worm only ate one inch of you per century, eternity is a long time. Let's say that demon is pretty slow at his job and manages to break a bone once every era...he still will run out of bones long before eternity expires. These may seem like silly points, but to me they do a perfect job of showing the ultimate failing of all these goofy beliefs that so many humans embrace.

For me, the point you raise about Christians being at peace with the idea that a loved one is suffering the worst kind of torture after death highlights the ultimate evil of such religious beliefs. This sickness has infected my entire family as they proudly display their righteous disdain for a brother, sister, son or daughter who has chosen to reject their system of belief. "Sins" such as fornication, adultery, drunkenness, and profanity pale in comparison to such unnatural cruelty.

In the end, I come down squarely in favor of [D]awkins, Hitchens, Smith, etc. I may disagree with some of the nuances of their arguments and some of their conclusions, but their clearheaded adherence to logical proof and rejection of mythology resonates with me.
Sunday Night Music:

The Band. "Life is a Carnival." On SNL.

More on the Soul Corrupting Ideas of Hell:

Here is the testimony of a guy -- someone who is featured on all sorts of evangelical programs including the 700 Club -- of spending 23 minutes in Hell. It's in line with Jonathan Edwards' notion of Hell as eternal torture. And it's sickening that folks believe this.

I give a lot of leeway on religious beliefs and tend to shy away from the harsh criticisms of Hitchens, Dawkins, et al. Almost all evangelicals I know do not support Fred Phelps because his conclusions are self-evidently offensive and evil. However I would say Bill Wiese's testimony is as soul corrupting as what Fred Phelps and militant Islam believe. And indeed, Wiese, Phelps and militant Islam all hold to the same view of Hell as eternal torture.

Most of my skeptic friends will (probably rightly) write off such testimony as either a lie or an hallucination. If you do take such testimony seriously, I can point you to the testimony of plenty of non-Christians who had near death experiences, notably Sharon Stone (pro-gay, non-Christian, typifies Hollywood liberalism). She nearly died of a brain aneurysm. And she testifies to the most peaceful near death experience such that she no longer fears death.

But how notions such as Wiese's corrupt the soul. 1) He describes Hell as eternal torture, 300 degree heat, demons breaking every bones in your body, snakes and creepy crawly things, and worse. 2) Almost all evangelical believers have unsaved loved ones, many of whom have died. I've asked them point blank about how they feel and have gotten responses such as "I know my father is probably in Hell but I am at peace anyway." 3) Think of a loved one suffering say torture at the hands of Al-Qaeda, in a Nazi concentration camp (which is probably not even as bad as what Weiss describes) and then imagine a parent, child, brother or sister, remarking something along the lines of "I am at peace with their situation, and because of their sins -- because bad things do not happen to good people, because there are no good people, they are really just getting what they deserve." You would rightly react there is something wrong with this person, that their soul has been corrupted, that their beliefs are just sick. Indeed, Fred Phelps who thanks God for 9-11, Katrina, all natural disasters, the school shootings, etc. -- is just the reductio ad absurdum of Calvinist theology and the traditional teachings on Hell as eternal torture and human beings deserving the bad things that happen to them because of their sin. His theological teachings are 100% in line with such traditional Calvinist notions. He's just not afraid to whitewash and show you how ugly they are. Belief that human beings deserve eternal torture is ugly and can only bring ugliness.

Again, I'm bashing neither belief in God nor the Bible. I would note there are plenty of alternate theological teachings within evangelical Christianity that can get you out of this corner of belief in a doctrine that is as bad as the Westboro Baptist Church or militant Islam. One is annihilation, what the atheist thinks he's going to get after death anyway.

The second, which I mentioned last post, I'll explore in a little more detail. It's folks using their free-will to choose to be in Hell. Since CS Lewis, there has been some emphasis in Christian thought on the notion that people are in Hell because they choose to be there or that the doors are locked from the inside, which begs the question, why would folks choose to be there? Lewis' notion by the way is not at all consistent with John Calvin's or Jonathan Edwards'. See the debate between Fred Phelps and John Rankin -- an evangelical who puts forth a notion of Hell similar to Lewis'. Phelps, well representing the Calvinist/Edwardsian view laughs at the notion that the doors of Hell are locked from the inside or that folks choose to be there. John Calvin or Jonathan Edwards likewise would laugh at Lewis' notion.

The Catholic Church, even, it seems has embraced this hyper-Arminian free will notion that folks are in Hell out of choice, and indeed, as Tom Van Dyke points out, this has led to serious flirtation with the notion of universal salvation.

Lewis' notion is that the people would rather be in Hell because they hate God or as Rankin puts it, they are happier not in His presence. But, this belies the notion that accepting Christ as God before death is the only way to Heaven (perhaps after death, once we have 100% evidence we'll all accept this and get into Heaven).

As I understand Protestant evangelicalism, they believe Mormons qua Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses qua JWs, Muslim qua Muslims, Arians qua Arians, Socininians qua Socinians, perhaps Catholics qua Catholics all go to Hell. (Arians believe Jesus is divine but created and subordinate to the Father, Socinians believe Jesus 100% human not God at all; both deny the Trinity and both are traditionally viewed as soul damning heresies). In short, folks go to Hell for making theological errors, for mistakenly choosing the wrong road. None of these folks claim to hate God. All claim to devoutly worship Him. So the Arian, like Isaac Newton, dies and finds out “oh God really is Triune, not Unitary in Nature,” and he’s going to hate him?!?

CS Lewis’ notion logically leads to the idea that Hell will be very unpopulated, that the path to God is broad, and lots of non-Trinitarians and non-Christians will get into Heaven. Maybe a few Christopher Hitchenses and Richard Dawkinses, who claim to hate God and hope there is none; but that's it. And if Hell really is eternal torture, I'm sorry but even Hitchens and Dawkins would rather be in the presence of a borish God in whom they don't want to exist than an eternal Nazi concentration camp.

In my last post, I wrote folks might choose Hell if they get to enjoy their favorite sins for all of eternity. That’s the only rational explanation, indeed one that would explain not only why Dawkins and Hitchens would choose Hell, but also why the vast majority of humanity would. I received a response from one SMatthewStolte that puzzled me. He wrote:

I could say that choosing sin over righteousness is, just by its nature, the most irrational decision one could possibly make.

I replied that, taking orthodox Christian premises for granted, ask why do people sin in the first place? Part of it comes from an irresistible temptation to do so, emphasis on the word temptation. You are tempted to do things that you enjoy. People enjoy their “sins” be they gluttony, pride, fornication, sodomy, adultery, drunkenness, profanity, or what have you. Since you can't sin in God's presence, none of these would be tolerated in Heaven. It seems perfectly reasonable that some folks would choose eternity being able to live out their favorite sins than eternity in the presence of a God who wouldn’t permit such sin. In this regard, think of Hell as an eternal Las Vegas nightclub. Sin City indeed, heh.

Of course, as noted, the Edwardsian, Calvinist notion of Hell laughs at the idea that folks are in Hell voluntarily, that the doors are locked from the inside. See Fred Phelps' take.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Music Break:

Don Airey, currently keyboardist for Deep Purple. Given guitarist Steve Morse and Airey aren't original members, DP are less authentic as a band. However two greater replacements for Ritchie Blackmore and Jon Lord could not be found.

Here is Airey's keyboard solo. If you hear a little "Mr. Crowley" in there it's because Airey was the original keyboardist on that album and wrote those musical parts.

Hell -- A Doctrine that Can Corrupt the Soul:

We Unitarians, one of whom I have had the Honour to be, for more than sixty Years, do not indulge our Malignity in profane Cursing and Swearing, against you Calvinists; one of whom I know not how long you have been. You and I, once saw Calvin and Arius, on the Plafond of the Cathedral of St. John the Second in Spain roasting in the Flames of Hell. We Unitarians do not delight in thinking that Plato and Cicero, Tacitus Quintilian Plyny and even Diderot, are sweltering under the scalding drops of divine Vengeance, for all Eternity.

-- John Adams to John Quincy Adams, March 28, 1816, Ibid, reel 430.

I've written before on my disbelief in the possibility of the eternal damnation as taught by some traditional orthodox Christians. If fundamentalists are right John Adams (and Jefferson, Franklin, and probably Washington, Madison, G. Morris and other key American Founders) is roasting in the Flames of Hell as we speak (or at least will be, according to some understandings of the Bible, indeed what the Book of Revelation actually teaches, the dead are currently neither in Heaven nor Hell, but will be after the final judgment).

This link from an atheist website well explores the topic. If God is just, no one goes to Hell for eternity, because Hell = infinite punishment for finite sins. It's like saying 2+2 = 5 and you have to believe it because an infallible God says it. Not one human being deserves this. I will concede that some concepts of Hell could be just. For instance 1) temporary punishment like purgatory, 2) a place where human beings go by choice because they don't want to be in God's presence, keeping in mind that no one would choose eternal torture, therefore Hell must be a place where humans get to enjoy sinning for all of eternity not in God's presence, or 3) annihilation, which is what atheists think they are going to get anyway.

But Jonathan Edwards' traditional understanding of Hell as eternal torture not only is morally indefensible, but also, I would argue, risks corrupting the soul and turning human beings into vicious, mean spiritual creatures more likely to do great evil. Militant Islam likewise believes in a wrathful Allah who will burn infidels in a torturous Hell for all of eternity and we see what the fruits of that religion are.

"But as for those who disbelieve, garments of fire will be cut out for them; boiling fluid will be poured down on their heads, whereby that which is in their bellies, and their skins too, will be melted; and for them are hooked rods of iron. Whenever, in their anguish, they would go forth from thence they are driven back therein and (it is said unto them): Taste the doom of burning."
--The Qur'an, sura 22:19-22

"Those who disbelieve Our revelations, We shall expose them to the Fire. As often as their skins are consumed We shall exchange them for fresh skins that they may taste the torment."
--The Qur'an, sura 4:56

Consider Fred Phelps. I know most evangelicals/fundamentalists don't agree with his positions, but after studying his theology in meticulous detail, I can attest that every single position he takes has a sound scriptural basis and is defensible on traditional orthodox Christian grounds; indeed Phelps is a 5-point Calvinist. It's just that there is more than one way to skin a cat and to "literally" interpret the Bible. And Phelps simply opts for the most mean spirited, uncharitable, and unkind interpretation of Scripture, almost like the opposite side of the coin of Richard Dawkins. (Phelps' understanding of the Biblical God is what Dawkins makes the Biblical God out to be.)

Conservative evangelicals can and should disagree with Phelps' mean spirited approach to the Bible. But they are being utterly disingenuous if they argue Phelps really isn't preaching from the Bible as they do. No, he is; he just constructs different interpretations or doctrines out of a literal reading of scripture. The notion that God loves the sinner but hates the sin is simply doctrine gleaned from the Bible; indeed, the notion that God hates people, likewise has just as sound a scriptural basis. The Phelps family would ask: Who is Easu? What does God think of workers of Iniquity? The Bible says he hated Easu and God hates workers of Iniquity. Hence God hates people.

And Phelps' view on Hell is exactly in line with the traditional Edwardsian view of Hell as eternal torture.

Phelps is a self-evident example of a corrupted soul. The Westboro Baptist Church and Bid Ladenesq. militant Islam are, at worst, examples of what belief in the Edwardsian view of Hell can do to the human soul. Avoid it if you can. I would imagine that a just God will punish for beliefs such as this (temporarily of course) for giving Him a bad name.
David Kupelian is Not A Christian:

At least not according to the way that evangelicals and other orthodox Christians understand the term. Kupelian seems to be in a similar position to Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses. He calls and understands himself a "Christian" but is not according to the way the orthodox understand the term.

So it's ironic that WorldNetDaily for whom Kupelian is top editor, but is run by an (I think) orthodox evangelical Christian (Joe Farah) and has a huge audience of Protestant fundamentalists, chooses to run a column by Kupelian on what it means to be a Christian. The column notes that some 80% of Americans profess to be "Christians," but that only some smaller figure are "real Christians." Again, it's ironic that though Protestant fundamentalists would agree that most of those 80% are not "real Christians," they also wouldn't consider Kupelian one.

The best evidence I have been able to gather shows Kupelian to be a follower of one Roy Masters. Indeed, every column Kupelian has written that explicates his theology confirms this in my eyes. The problem for those who follow Masters is they seek to convert evangelical Protestants (and Catholics, Jews or whomever they can, but "religious conservatives" are their most sympathetic audience) but when those conservative Christians actually find out about what Masters believes they consider his teachings heretical and cultic. As John Lofton once put it, "Masters is a false prophet and theological fraud."

So what is it that Masters believes:

1) Arianism: He denies the Trinity, but seems to believe Jesus as a "Divine Son."
2) Gnosticism: See Masters quote from the Gospel of Thomas here.
3) Sin: Masters claims not to sin. I think salvation to him means getting to a point where humans no longer sin. The above linked video also alludes to this.
4) Meditation: Masters teaches reliance on a New-Age like meditation exercise as essential for salvation. You can listen to it here. It's actually probably a useful exercise and in this regard is not all that different from what diverse figures such as Deepak Chopra, Sam Harris and George Harrison advise. Masters of course claims his meditation exercise is "different" (he calls it Judeo-Christian meditation), but I don't see it as any different from the myriad of meditation exercises, most of them associated with New Age and Eastern philosophy. The process or content of his meditation on its surface certainly seems to have nothing to do with the Bible or Judaism or Christianity.

On political matters, Masters is hard right and often sounds like an evangelical Christian, agreeing with their social positions 100%. His dilemma is he targets evangelicals for conversion but must tread carefully in initially exposing them to what he really believes or else he'll chase them away. Hence on the surface he attempts to sound like an evangelical.

I've studied much about religious heretics, most of them prominent Enlightenment figures like John Locke, who faced a similar dilemma: They could be, at worst, executed for their heresy. They thus had to do their best to argue publicly they weren't heretics, while peddling their heretical ideas. Hence lots of beating around the bush, talking in code, stressing common ground with the orthodox, and otherwise trying to argue for compatibility. For instance, in Locke's "The Reasonableness of Christianity" the purpose of which was for Locke to articulate what doctrines are central to Christianity, Locke leaves out original sin and the Trinity! When the orthodox confronted Locke for peddling Socinianism (denial of Trinity, belief that Jesus is 100% human, not God at all) all Locke could say was nothing in his book denies the Trinity. And he was right, by simply not discussing the Trinity he could at once not contradict either his heterodox unitarian views or the orthodox Trinitarian positions of the civil authorities. He focused on common ground. Anyone who, after reading Locke's denial, believes Locke was an orthodox Trinitarian Christian is profoundly naive.

We live in freer times, and Roy Masters isn't going to be executed for his heterodoxy. But it could ruin his recruitment effort. Human psychology being what it is, I see some remarkable parallels in the ways in which Masters, Kupelian, et al. try to present their ideas and the ways in which the heretics of old likewise did.

For instance, I have heard Masters say that he does not sin which is absolutely inconsistent with orthodox Christianity. Some reporter apparently interpreted that as Masters saying he is "without sin." Here is Masters' response:

The absurd "I am without sin" quote attributed to me, and repeated endlessly by the media, to the best of my knowledge originally came from US magazine. As you can imagine, trying to describe the process of being "born again" to the average reporter is truly a dangerous prospect, especially if one's reputation will depend on that reporter's understanding of Christian mystery. I was so outraged by the seemingly intentional betrayal in that story that I sued US magazine. My case was so strong that the famous trial lawyer Melvin Belli took it on contingency. US eventually paid me in an, out-of-court settlement. But the damage that one article did to the Foundation of Human Understanding has been incalculable, because many Christians have believed it, and some have quoted it to others, who, however well-intentioned, spread this untruth to still others. Of course, only Jesus is without sin. To say otherwise is to deny the whole purpose of His coming into a sinful world in need of redemption. Thus, the Bible states that anyone who says he's without sin is a liar.

Again notice how Masters focuses only on what is compatible with traditional Christianity (that he believes no one but Jesus is "without sin") but does not address what he really believes that is incompatible with orthodox Christianity, that, at this point in his life (the point of salvation?), he doesn't sin. And he dresses his beliefs up in orthodox Christian language using terms like being "born again" which to Masters means something entirely different than what it means to evangelicals. Likewise David Kupelian, in the above linked article, uses the same approach:

No, if God wanted to demonstrate His love for us, and at the same time provide us with the perfect, ultimate example of real love for our fellow man, what could be a more perfect expression of love than the willing suffering and death of His Son – Who while dying asked God to forgive His tormentors? The sheer logic and power of it is transcendent. If you're looking for love in this loveless world, that's it.

I know some will be offended by this message, as though by even mentioning and holding up the standard Jesus clearly demanded of His followers, I am somehow denying the sufficiency of His substitutionary death for all mankind.

If I have at all misrepresented what Masters or Kupelian believe, I invite them or their spokespeople to email, comment or otherwise clarify and I likewise will correct any errors or misunderstandings.

Friday, March 21, 2008

Weirdest Anti-Obama Rant Ever:

Not that I support Obama; after last week's events, I'm beginning to think Hillary preferable. Though I'll hold my nose as usual and vote Libertarian so you can't blame me for whom America puts in the White house. If Hillary wins, though, I hope that the Republicans take back Congress so we have divided government as we did in the 90s. Get out of Iraq. Rethink foreign policy along fighting terrorism/national security lines, not "nation building" or spreading democracy. And have a divided government where none of Hillary's big government policies get passed. Put Bill in charge of overseeing a pro-business economic atmosphere as he did in the 90s. Maybe we'll see surpluses again one day. Am I dreaming?

But, anyway back to the video. This rant is as amusing as it is weird. Strange things often amuse me though, in case you haven't noticed.

Thursday, March 20, 2008

Best Zinger To End Deposition:

Music Break:

Dream Theater -- The Big Medley. Dream Theater may not be your cup of tea, but you've got to give it to them for making progressive rock covers sound so cool like this:

Noll on Zuckert and "Christian America":

Historian Mark Noll and political scientist Michael Zuckert (both of Notre Dame) are two of the most notable right of center scholars who debunk the "Christian America" idea with a learned, balanced and nuanced approach. In this paper, Noll discusses Zuckert's scholarship and the Christian America idea. Warning: It's written at a very high scholarly level. The paper doesn't attempt to contradict Zuckert's ideas, but rather offers some alternative ideas.

Zuckert argues Locke's influence transformed both politics and the Christian religion itself during the 18th Century. "Rational Christianity" (what Gregg Frazer terms "theistic rationalism") is what Christianity turned into after first Locke and then Jefferson, Adams et al. transformed it into something more politically useful for the age of republicanism or classical liberalism. Whether what the Founders understood as "rational Christianity" is properly termed "Christianity" at all is debatable. To America's key Founders, such "Christianity" often embraced theological heresies.

Noll notes that "republicanism" often presented itself with "Christianity" as though the two went together (hence the kernel of truth to the "Christian America" claim). However, Noll notes the genesis of republican ideas were outside of traditional Christian teachings. Hence a great "importing" of a-biblical, non-traditional teachings into Christianity during the 18th Century.

I am particularly interested in the connection between Founding era liberal or republican ideas, and theological heresy. As Noll notes, there is a connection. This, for me, is the preeminent passage in Noll's paper:

In a careful analysis of the religion of James Harrington, whose Oceana of 1656 was the era's fullest statement of republican principle, Mark Goldie has spelled out the conditions under which republican and Puritan views could move beyond simple cooperation against a common foe. The key, according to Goldie, was the softening of Puritan theological orthodoxy: when Puritans remained committed to traditional Christian ideas of human depravity, the sovereignty of divine grace, and the need for a revelation from God, they also remained antagonistic to republican ideas. But, in Goldie's phrase, "wherever puritan thought leaned towards acceptance of the possibility of universal salvation and hence of universal priesthood, or to the Socinian idea that Christ was God-in-humanity, then Puritanism became as intensely secular and naturalistic as it was Biblical and Apocalyptic." Most observers in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries would have agreed. It was only when Christian orthodoxy gave way that republicanism could flourish.

A long line of distinguished modern historians--including Caroline Robbins on the English commonwealthmen, J. G. A. Pocock on Machiavelli, Paul Rahe on the republican traditions more generally, J. C. D. Clark on eighteenth-century English society, and J. B. Schneewind on the rise of moral philosophy--has documented the persistent link during the centuries before 1750 between political republicanism and such heterodox religious views as Socinianism, Arianism, Unitarianism, and atheism. Of special note was the tie between republican views of human nature that transferred responsibility for the health of society from God to humanity and unorthodox views (whether Socinian or Arian) concerning the person of Christ. For the latter, Jesus was a good man and valuable for his example of personal morality, but he was not the son of God whose saving work opened the only door to human salvation.

An expressly religious suspicion of republican ideas continued widely in the new world. The American Samuel Johnson was outraged when Trenchard and Gordon's Independent Whig was reprinted in New York City at mid-century. To Johnson as a traditional Anglican, the Real Whig arguments were "pernicious" outbursts from "famous infidel authors." He was not alone in these opinions. Other New Yorkers accused the sponsors of the Independent Reflector, where Trenchard and Gordon were reprinted, of being atheists and noted that its publisher, James Parker, had been indicted for "blasphemous libel" against Christianity only shortly before reprinting these English Real Whig opinions.

The long history of antagonism between republicanism and traditional Christianity therefore poses a major interpretive problem for students of American history, since, in the carefully chosen words of philosopher Charles Taylor, "for all the well-documented tensions between Christianity and the republican tradition, the United States starts its career by linking the two closely together."
Voices From Main Street:

Once again, I'd like to thank Jay, the webmaster at the Gary Sutton Show, for featuring me on the radio when he was guest hosting. Check out the great work Jay is doing with Gary's blog.

Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Founders Did Believe God Favored America:

Referring to the events in the American Revolution, George Washington once said:

“The hand of Providence has been so conspicuous in all this, that he must be worse than an infidel that lacks faith, and more than wicked, that has not gratitude enough to acknowledge his obligations….”

Indeed, I can demonstrate quotations from the other "Deists" Founding Fathers -- Adams, Jefferson, Madison & Franklin -- where they say pretty much the same thing. The reason why I put "Deist" in quotation marks, is because Deists aren't supposed to believe things like God favors nations and intervenes in worldly affairs to help them win military victories.

What brings this to mind is a comment left by Ben Abbott:

I find these kind of comments troubling. Especially the implication that these men believed god favored them or our nation. The words of these men are inconsistent regarding such. It is improper, imo, to posit such a confident conclusion.

For example,

"The United States of America have exhibited, perhaps, the first example of governments erected on the simple principles of nature; and if men are now sufficiently enlightened to disabuse themselves of artifice, imposture, hypocrisy, and superstition, they will consider this event as an era in their history. Although the detail of the formation of the American governments is at present little known or regarded either in Europe or in America, it may hereafter become an object of curiosity. It will never be pretended that any persons employed in that service had interviews with the gods, or were in any degree under the influence of Heaven, more than those at work upon ships or houses, or laboring in merchandise or agriculture; it will forever be acknowledged that these governments were contrived merely by the use of reason and the senses."

– John Adams, “A Defence of the Constitutions of Government of the United States of America” (1787-88)

To be honest, I don’t see how it is congruent with the underlying theme of the revolutionary period to conclude that any of these men embraced the idea that god favor(ed/s) our nation over others.

America's rationalist Founders apparently believed God intervening in the affairs of man was "rational," reason, not infallible scripture being the ultimate test of theological truth including which parts of the Bible were legitimately revealed. Indeed some of these unitarian rationalists believed in Jesus' Resurrection (one big difference between Adams & Jefferson; Adams did, Jefferson didn't) as a "rational" miracle. Even Jefferson's spiritual mentor Joseph Priestley believed this. However, the Trinity still flunked the test of reason. And therefore, Jesus' Resurrection was God doing for the most perfect man what He one day will do for all good men, perhaps all men.

Though the notion that God favored America against Great Britain may have been "theistic," it was hardly “Christian” or "biblical." The nation against whom America rebelled arguably was more “Christian” than America was. They had an officially established church and King George III was officially referred to as “His Christian Majesty.” And the issues over which America rebelled had little to do with Christian theology. So why would God favor one demographically Christian nation over another? If the reason is God loves political liberty and hates tyranny, that’s all well and good; it’s just not biblical. Further, 1/3 of the American populace remained loyalist, many of whom were devout Christian Tories and did so based on a very reasonable, traditionalist reading of Romans 13 that instructed believers to submit to civil leaders, not rebel. And King George III was far more of a “godly” or “Christian” leader than was Nero, the pagan psychopath to whom Paul instructed believers to submit.
There Goes the Neighborhood:

Hat Tip Andrew Sullivan. From here.

Shihe Fu estimates that a rise of one percentage point in the proportion of same-sex couples living in an area raises median house prices by 9 per cent even 10 years later, controlling for some obvious other things.

This suggests that gays improve neighbourhoods; they don't just choose to live in nicer places.

This could be because gays higher disposable incomes (they don't have kids) attracts better shops and restaurants. Or it could be that gays' better aesthetic appreciation enables them to spot attractive but under-priced areas, and to care more about urban regeneration.

This is something I've noticed in my anecdotal observations. Though, sometimes it's hard, when dealing with a complicated reality like sexual orientation/"the gay community" to get anecdotes to translate into good statistics. It looks like there are some stats out there that confirm common sense observations. Gays, on average (again -- lots of notable exceptions to the rule) do tend to have higher rates of artistic talent or as the post notes "aesthetic appreciation." There is something to the "Queer Eye," stereotype. And a capitalist, market system seems to value those disproportionate talents such that gays, as a group, don't seem to be economically impoverished. But, again, this shouldn't be counter intuitive if one rejects the simplistic leftist economic notion that discrimination = collective economic impoverishment. Jewish people have suffered terrible Antisemitism in America and abroad, yet still have flourished economically in spite of it. Ditto with gays.

More importantly this shows that homosexuality is actually good for civilization. There are some behaviors that are destructive of civilization and homosexuality (its behavioral elements; homosexuality has both orientation and behavioral elements) is not one of them. Certain types of risky promiscuous sex are dangerous and not good for one's health -- like smoking. But smoking doesn't destroy civilization. Some types of behaviors are bad for civilization -- for instance out of wedlock births by minor teens whose circumstance prevents them from finishing their education. Go and look at the housing prices/levels of civilization in those neighborhoods. And compare and contrast that with gay friendly neighborhoods and you see the polar opposite.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Waldman on the Founders' Unitarianism:

Steven Waldman has another great post on TPMCafe exploring the "unitarian" middle ground of America's key Founders. It was a middle ground between strict deism and orthodox Christianity. Bottom line:

As for their religious beliefs, someone in the comment thread said I was being incoherent or contradictory by saying the Big Five (Franklin, Adams, Jefferson, Washington & Madison) were neither Deists nor orthodox Christians. Again, we’re viewing this through a somewhat warped lens. “Deist” and “Orthodox Christian” were not the only two spiritual choices. For one thing, each Founder was slightly different from each other, and changed throughout their lives. But if I had to pick a religion, I’d say they were sort of militant Unitarians. In other words, they had rejected or become uncomfortable with key parts of Christian doctrine and institutional behavior but they did believe in an active God, who intervened in their lives and the lives of the nation.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Joseph Story's Unitarianism:

Joseph Story is a seminal figure in American legal history. He was a member of the US Supreme Court in the early 19th Century, helped start Harvard Law School and wrote commentaries on the law that provide great weight in determining the original understanding of the American Constitution and common law. He is often cited for a conservative reading of the religion clauses, and has some quotations which, taken out of context, could support the "Christian Nation" ideal. For instance, a quotation that the late Chief Justice William Rehnquist invoked, and currently invoked by this conservative historian, informs:

The real object of the amendment was not to countenance, much less to advance, Mahometanism, or Judaism, or infidelity, by prostrating Christianity; but to exclude all rivalry among Christian sects, and to prevent any national ecclesiastical establishment which should give to a hierarchy the exclusive patronage of the national government. It thus cuts off the means of religious persecution (the vice and pest of former ages), and of the subversion of the rights of conscience in matters of religion, which had been trampled upon almost from the days of the Apostles to the present age. [Joseph Story, Commentaries on the Constitution of the United States, 5th ed. (Boston: Hilliard, Gray & Co., 1833), 701]

Story's "real object" discusses what he saw as the underlying purpose of the First Amendment. However, constitutional scholars note it's not the underlying purpose of a particular text that controls, but the original meaning of the text itself. Liberal scholars, for instance, Justices Stephen Breyer or David Souter, offer quotations from other Founders (e.g., James Madison who played a more important role than Story in passing the First Amendment) that show other underlying purposes of the First Amendment, for instance to take the religious passion out of politics by consigning religion to the private sector, or to the realm of "individual conscience" as opposed to "public policy." If "underlying purposes" controlled, Justices can (and many of them do) simply choose from a number of differing underlying purposes to suit the results they desire, offer selected quotations from Founders, and proceed to subvert the text of the Constitution itself!

But more importantly, what Story meant when he invoked "Christianity" arguably isn't Christianity, or at least not "Christianity" as the orthodox (i.e., conservative evangelicals and Catholics) understand the term. Story was, like many luminaries of the American Founding, a Unitarian. And these men like Jefferson, Adams, Franklin, Madison, Marshall, Morris, perhaps Washington, Hamilton, and Wilson, were more likely to term their creed "Christianity" than "Deism."

I would submit, it is simply not possible to give "Christianity" only rights under the religion clauses, because that would require the law to determine what is Christianity, which the doctrine of the unalienable rights of conscience forbids. According to Madison, judges or law makers would now be in the business of deciding what is orthodoxy, and what is heterodoxy, which is unacceptable. As Walter Berns put it in Making Patriots:

How could the states promote religious belief if, as Madison anticipated and as in fact was increasingly the case as the nineteenth century proceeded, they had to deal with a plurality of sects, and not all of them Christian? To be specific, how could Charles Turner expect his state of Massachusetts to provide religious instruction in its schools if its residents disagreed on the tenets of religion?

Although this is not the place to recount it, the history of American elementary education is, in one significant respect, a history of the gradual secularization of the public schools and their curricula. (p. 70).

Joseph Story apparently thought it acceptable for states to promote "Christianity" not other religions, but let us examine what Story meant by "Christianity." Here is testimony from Story's brother, speaking to and through Story's son:

After my continued absence from home for four or five years, we met again, your father being now about eighteen years old, and renewed our former affection towards each other. At this time we were, from a similarity of sentiment, drawn more closely together. I allude particularly to our religious opinions. We frequently discussed the subject of the divinity and the humanity of Christ, and we both agreed in believing in his humanity. Thus you see that your father and myself were early Unitarians, long before the doctrine was preached among us by any one, unless I except Dr. Bentley of Salem.

In other words, Story was a Socinian Unitarian, believing Jesus was 100% human and not divine at all. And here is Story's opinion on salvation:

This faith he retained during his whole life, and was ever ardent in his advocacy of the views of Liberal Christians. He was several times President of the American Unitarian Association, and was in the habit of attending its meetings and joining in its discussions. No man, however, was ever more free from a spirit of bigotry and proselytism. He gladly allowed every one freedom of belief, and claimed only that it should be a genuine conviction and not a mere theologic opinion, considering the true faith of every man to be the necessary exponent of his nature, and honoring a religious life more than a formal creed. He admitted within the pale of salvation Mahommedan and Christian, Catholic and Infidel. He believed that whatever is sincere and honest is recognized of God; — that as the views of any sect are but human opinion, susceptible of error on every side, it behooves all men to be on their guard against arrogance of belief; — and that in the sight of God it is not the truth or falsity of our views, but the spirit in which we believe, which alone is of vital consequence.

Now, however nice sounding "liberal unitarian Christianity" is, traditional Christians of the Founding era and today would assert: whatever it calls itself this is not Christianity. Call it unitarianism, call it theistic rationalism, don't call it Christianity. Joseph Story, however, was adamant that his creed deserved the label "Christian":


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.”

Presumably Story, like Jefferson et al., thought his own unitarianism to be "true Christianity," and in the ideal would prefer government promote that, not orthodox Trinitarianism. To the orthodox, government might as well promote Islam, Deism or atheism, than what they regard as the soul damning heresies of unitarinaism.

Indeed, Story's son recognized this narrowness of orthodox Trinitarian Christianity (and the orthodox would point out that Jesus did say something about His way being a "narrow" path):

While in the ignorance and bigotry of the age Unitarianism was considered as nearly a convertible term with Atheism, and was scarcely avowed, he believed in the humanity of Christ, and fearlessly spoke his mind.

In other words, orthodox Trinitarian Christians, who didn't believe Unitarianism to be "real Christianity" were ignorant bigots. But in any event, according to the men who wrote and expounded upon the text of the First Amendment in the Founding era, if "Christianity" were to have any special rights or organic connection to civil government, this (what the orthodox regard as) false, heretical system of "liberal unitarian Christianity" had at least equal rights with orthodox Trinitarian Christianity. Indeed, arguably unitarianism was more important than Trinitarianism because unitarinianism more meaningfully connects to the ideas of America's Declaration and Constitution than does orthodox Trinitarianism.

As Gregg Frazer noted, freedom of religion as a doctrine meaningfully connects with unitarianism or as he terms it "theistic rationalism."

It is difficult for those who believe in the importance of fundamental doctrines and a specific road to Heaven (for example, the Puritans in seventeenth-century New England) to allow "false" and "blasphemous" religions to be practiced within their sphere of authority. For the theistic rationalists, however, what was really important was not the flourishing of religious truth, but the flourishing of morality and society. Since they held to no particular creed but "essentials" to which "all good men" could agree, they had a profound indifference toward specific sects and doctrines. (PhD thesis, at 417-18).

Indeed, the text of the federal religion clauses gives rights to "religion" not Christianity. And accordingly, the original meaning of the Constitution protects "religion" in general, not Christianity in particular. (And remember, it's the text, not the intent that controls.) This itself evidences unitarianism's influence. Gregg Frazer asks, "did the Founders actually, in a sense, 'establish' their own religion of theistic rationalism?" (Id., p. 419). Frazer quotes Thomas Pangle who noted Jefferson's "real goal" was "conformity based on indifference; not diversity, but the tepid and thoughtless uniformity of Unitarianism in a society where Unitarians no longer have to defend and prove themselves." (Id., p. 420). Cushing Strout likewise wondered: "The conundrum that Jefferson and Madison left to posterity was one they never appreciated: did their to 'establish' their own 'enlightened' religion under the guise of 'disestablishment'?" (Id.).

So in the end, there is not much of a meaningful difference between "exclud[ing] all rivalry among Christian sects" as Joseph Story saw it or excluding rivalry among all religious sects, as Madison, Jefferson and the other key Founders saw it. The bottom line is the Constitution protects "religion" not "Christianity." And that in essence is a quasi-secular policy. Judaism, Islam, Hinduism and Deism take their fundamental rights, under America's Constitutional system, equally with Christianity.
Radio Appearance:

Heads up, I will be on the Gary Sutton Show, tomorrow, March 17 at 10:00am. My buddy Jay is guest hosting and will interview me on religion and the Founding Fathers. You can listen live here.

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Berns on Witherspoon:

Jim Babka leaves an excellent comment criticizing Walter Berns' position that traditional Christianity is incompatible with the natural rights philosophy of the American Founding. In particular Babka writes:

First, Locke pretty much starts with a man named Adam, living in a garden — THE BIBLICAL NARRATIVE. And whether or not Rousseau had influence on our Founders, particularly Jefferson, no one doubts Locke had anything short of tremendous influence.

Second, whether or not our Founders were predominantly Theistic Rationalists, as Jon Rowe keeps illustrating, they still had to sell their idea in an orthodox, Christian milieu. If Natural Rights was so explicitly counter-Biblical, please tell me how a culture that actually owned and read Bibles, stood for rights? …and why Christians, even the most fundamentalist of them, endorse the notion of rights as found in the Declaration of Independence?

The Straussians explain at great length this interesting dynamic of traditional Christians going along with ideas that were not authentically Christian, perhaps anti-biblical. They also explain why Locke, although he dresses his arguments up in biblical language, was not a Christian. They go too far in my opinion. I would agree that Locke was not an orthodox Trinitarian Christian and his "state of nature" philosophy was a moderated version of Hobbes' original concept. But, I think that Locke's teachings were compatible with traditional Christianity, even though they clearly do not derive from that system.

I will take Locke at his word: He claimed to be a "Christian" but seemed to disbelieve in original sin and never affirmed the doctrine of the Trinity. His "Reasonableness of Christianity" was accused of peddling Socinian Unitarianism. And this is because in that book Locke sets forth what he sees as the fundamental doctrines of Christianity but leaves out original sin and the Trinity! Scholarly consensus concludes that Locke was a Unitarian most likely of the Arian variety, like his friend Isaac Newton whom Locke encouraged to publish unitarian arguments.

But in any event many Founding era ministers, some of them orthodox Trinitarian like John Witherspoon, and some of them Unitarian like Jonathan Mayhew turned to Locke's ideas to justify rebellion and otherwise explicate what they saw as the purpose of government. The Straussians argue that these ministers were key to getting a Christian populace to go along with ideas that were either a-biblical or anti-biblical. There is also disagreement over whether these "Christian" figures consciously understood that Locke's ideas were not authentically biblical and otherwise broke with the traditional Christian view of man and government.

Way back when I was just a “reader” of Sandefur’s Freespace, I wrote him with Walter Berns’s theory on the matter. Here is what I wrote:

Although [Walter] Berns is generally a social conservative and anti-libertarian, he actually has quite a strong understanding of this nation’s secular foundation. Chapter 2 — “God Before Country” — in Making Patriots provided me with some pretty valuable insights regarding America’s secular founding.

That book also notes that John Witherspoon...was as much of a Lockean as he was a Calvinist.... From Berns: “Like Jefferson and Madison, [Witherspoon] had obviously read Locke with care and was persuaded by him of the importance of liberty of conscience — which put him at odds with the founder of Presbyterianism, John Calvin. (For Calvin, liberty of conscience meant just that, and no more than that. If someone gave voice to his conscience, thus being heard or read by others, he might rightly be punished. So it was that, as the effective governor of his city of Geneva, Calvin had one of his anti-Trinitarian critics put to death.)” Making Patriots, p. 42.

Witherspoon’s importance to our founding seems to be that he acted as sort of a “mediator” between the Enlightenment philosophers and Christian theology, and led Christians to believe that Enlightenment philosophy was perhaps more compatible with their orthodox Christianity than perhaps it really was. The philosophers who articulated “Natural Right” were either non-Christians or non-Trinitarian heretic Christians. “Nature’s God” who, according to the philosophers, grants us inalienable rights certainly wasn’t the God of orthodox Christianity. And the notion that Jehovah or Jesus grants us inalienable rights is “wrong as a matter of doctrine — where does the Bible speak of unalienable natural rights, or the liberty to worship or not to worship as one pleases?” Id.

However, it made very good political sense for a nation founded on Enlightenment principles, yet populated by many orthodox Christians, to get such Christians to believe in this. And Witherspoon greatly helped in making this a reality (too successful–how many times do we hear today the religious right claim that this nation was founded on Christianity because the Declaration states that our rights come from the “Creator” which they interpret as the God of Biblical Christianity?). “Witherspoon could speak unreservedly of ‘natural liberty’ and ‘natural rights’; and of the ’state of nature’ and like Locke…of its ‘inconveniences,’ inconveniences that caused men to leave it for the ’social state.’ But in the same lecture he could admonish his listeners and readers to accept ‘Christ Jesus as he is offered in the gospel,’ for ‘except that a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.’ In a word, Witherspoon saw no conflict between the new political philosophy and the old religion, which is to say between the principles set down in the Declaration of Independence and what he understood as orthodox Christianity.” Id.
Waldman on Key Founders' Middleground:

From Brayton. Steven Waldman has two essays on TPMCafe that illustrate the nuanced middle ground position of America's key Founders on religion for which I have been arguing over the past few years. The first shows why America's key Founders weren't strict Deists. The second shows why they weren't orthodox Christians.

Regarding the proper term to call America's key Founders, as I commented on Brayton's blog:

If we define both Christianity and Deism broadly, then America's key Founders were both Christians and Deists at the same time or to use David L. Holmes' term "Christian-Deists." If we define Christianity and Deism narrowly, then they were neither; hence Gregg Frazer's term "theistic rationalists." What is unfair is when either the secular left or the religious right try to define one term broadly and the other narrowly to "capture" each Founder in its own group.
WC Fields' Nightmare:

Most annoying kid ever!

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Can One Be A Good Christian and A Good American:

Arguably No. At least according to Walter Berns. Or Thomas West's understanding of Walter Berns. Berns does argue that Rousseau did have more of a profound effect on America's Founding that most people are aware (indeed, Rousseau's notion of the "civil religion" is almost identical to the generic theism that Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Madison, Franklin et al. posited when they connected religious and political principles).

Here Thomas West notes what Rousseau's social contract teaches when war breaks out [quoting Rousseau]:

The citizens march readily to combat; . . . they do their duty, but without passion for victory. They know how to die rather than to win. . . . Christianity preaches nothing but servitude and dependence. Its spirit is so favorable to tyranny that tyranny always profits from it. True Christians are made to be slaves" (Masters trans. 129-30).

Then West notes Walter Berns' take on the matter:

Rousseau's nasty remarks are supported, surprisingly, by respectable conservative scholars such as Walter Berns, who maintains, "The very idea of natural rights is incompatible with Christian doctrine." According to Berns, if you don't put your neighbor's good ahead of your own, you are a bad Christian. But the natural rights doctrine of the founding says that you may put your own preservation first if it conflicts with another's.

If Berns and other scholars like him are correct, you cannot be a good Christian and a good American. George Washington's 1789 letter to the Quakers tactfully but firmly criticizes their refusal to serve in the armed forces. Good citizenship, Washington implies, requires that you be willing to kill the enemies of your country.

As I noted in my last post, Berns goes farther than I do in asserting the incompatibility between Americanism and Christianity. I would simply note that Americanism and Christianity are not the same thing; Christianity is compatible with American style republican government because Christianity is compatible with almost any form of government, even and especially tyrannical government that is hostile to Christians (indeed, the very government in which Christianity was born!).

Berns, after Leo Strauss, correctly notes that whenever you read about the notion of "state of nature" and contracts and rights, be it Hobbes', Locke's or Rousseau's version of the concept, you are reading an account of the origin of man that is "wholly alien to the Bible."
Berns on Patriotism:

At Cato Unbound, Walter Berns has responded to George Kateb's essay on patriotism. Though I have strong disagreements with Berns' conservative politics, I always enjoy reading his work. He is brilliantly learned on the political philosophy of America's Founding and, interestingly, argues America's Founding philosophy is secular and non-Christian at its core (he goes even further than I do in asserting the American Founding's incompatibility with orthodox Christian doctrine). Yet, even though America and France were founded on the same (or a very similar set of) Enlightenment principles, because America took a different approach to implementing those principles -- i.e., America didn't sweep everything away and remake society in accord with those ideals, but rather enacted compromises, where changes would occur slowly, over time, through democratic and republican mechanisms -- Berns reaches a very conservative, Borkian even, constitutional Founding, out of ideals that were liberal and subversive of the traditional Christian order.

Here is a taste of Berns' essay that illustrates what I've just noted above:

For this reason patriotism became linked with the rise of popular sovereignty. This development, in turn, depended on the discovery or pronouncement of new universal and revolutionary principles respecting the rights of man — see Thomas Hobbes’s Leviathan (1651) and John Locke’s Two Treatises of Government (1690). From these new principles came new governments, first in America, then in France, and with them came a new understanding of patriotism, or an understanding other than, or in addition to, love of country, or the sort of filial piety associated with classical Sparta.

Alexis de Tocqueville was the first to recognize this new form of patriotism, or at least to speak of it. In his Democracy in America, he argued that this patriotism was more rational than the simple love of one’s native land. It was Aborn of enlightenment, he said, “and grows with the exercise of rights.” A few years later, Abraham Lincoln referred to the Founders of this country as “the patriots of ‘76,” not, I think (or as Professor Kateb would have it), because they killed their erstwhile “British brethren,” but, rather, because they established this free country. Lincoln said it was “the last best, hope of earth.” Thus, he eulogized Henry Clay by saying that Clay loved his country “partly because it was his own country, but mostly because it was a free country; and he [worked zealously] for its advancement, prosperity and glory, because he saw in such the advancement, prosperity and glory of human liberty, human right and human nature.” In a word, the patriotic Clay loved the idea of his country, or its principles.