Monday, December 22, 2008

Frazer's Most Recent Response:

Dr. Gregg Frazer has responded to the latest feedback to his thoughts generated in this comment section at American Creation. His response follows:

Mr. Van Dyke: I would ask you to at least be fair in your criticisms of my views and intellectually honest by criticizing arguments/claims that I actually make and not attributing claims to me that I do not make.

I do NOT claim "that the religious-political landscape of the Founding can be reduced to [the often private] thoughts of a half-dozen or so "key" Founders." I claim that the prevailing political theology undergirding the Founding was theistic rationalism and that it can be seen in the beliefs of a few key Founders and those of a large number of ministers in the churches of the period -- and in the Founding documents.

THERE IS MUCH MORE TO THE "RELIGIOUS AND POLITICAL LANDSCAPE" THAN THAT -- WHICH I HAVE AFFIRMED ON NUMEROUS OCCASIONS -- INCLUDING THE POST TO WHICH YOU WERE RESPONDING. I recognize that there were a great number of religious sects in 18th century America, and representatives from many of them who played roles in the Founding.

If there is any "reductionism" going on here, it is ascribing the label of "Christian" too broadly.

Secondly, regarding your statement that "Dr. Frazer confesses he is appropriating the definition and understanding of 'Christian' to his own purposes as a self-proclaimed evangelical": I MADE NO SUCH CONFESSION! Quite the contrary, what I actually said (readers can go back and see) is that there are numerous definitions of the term "Christian" and that, for the purposes of understanding the period, I confined my work to the definition held by American Christians in the 18th century as put forward in their creeds and confessions. I noted that I have my own definition and that historians have several definitions and so on, but I did not use my own. I said that I agree with the 10 elements, but my own definition may include other elements as well -- as one could see in the definition I gave as my own. I hardly claimed to be "appropriating" the definition to my own purposes as an evangelical -- exactly the opposite!

You then made this accusation: "He casts everything outside it [definition of Christian] in his own idiosyncratic term of 'theistic rationalist,' which I regard as nonsense because of its limited scope." First, I explicitly do NOT cast "everything outside it" as theistic rationalism. I recognize deism, Judaism, atheism, Buddhism, Quakerism, and many other "isms" aside from the definition or my own "idiosyncratic" term. [it strikes me that most terms were considered idiosyncratic before being widely accepted] Second, if my term is so "limited" in scope, how could you make such a claim?

As to my term's "vagueness," I re-entered this discussion to try to clarify what "Christianity" is and how it should be dealt with by historians. "You guys" were in the midst of an ongoing argument over that term which has been raging for 2000 years. If my term is "vague," what do you say of the term "Christianity?" Of course, properly applied, it means something specific -- but so does my term. The fact that people can wrongly employ it or play games to try and manipulate it or willfully refuse to understand it doesn't change that fact.

Now, to the "smoking gun":

First, we're not talking here about the Declaration -- which is the only one of the two documents which mentions God -- Madison's commentary concerns the Constitution. Besides, the Declaration was never ratified, so there is no ratifier perspective.

Second, Madison's opinion is just that: Madison's opinion. IT IS VERY IMPORTANT, but it is not the sole authority or determinative -- it is an IMPORTANT contribution to the discussion, of course. If you consider Madison's opinion to be determinative and the end of discussion, then I would point out to you that Madison refused, when asked, to affirm Jasper Adams' contention that Christianity was the foundation of American civil, legal, and political institutions. So, apparently, the larger argument is over and we all at least agree that Christianity was not the basis (whether or not theistic rationalism is "nonsense").

Third, if one reads the context in which the Madison quote is found, one sees that his concern was for the primacy of the LANGUAGE of the Constitution. He was arguing for "THE SENSE IN WHICH the Constitution was accepted and ratified" and against reading it in light of "the changeable meaning of the words" -- against changes in "living languages" and against preferring the "modern sense" to the sense at the time of ratification. The language was not DETERMINED by the ratifiers.

Now, again, it is up to OFT to demonstrate that the "sense" of the words of the Constitution understood by the majority was somehow different than the sense understood by those who framed it. It seems highly unlikely that Madison would promote a sense different from his own – so he must have thought that the ratifiers shared his view.

The Madison quote has no relevance to the Declaration language debate, however. [And, if OFT says Jefferson's commentary on the Constitution is irrelevant, then Madison's commentary on the Declaration is similarly irrelevant.] Oh, wait, OFT decided at the end that Jefferson's commentary on the Constitution WAS relevant after all, because he thought he found a quote supporting his view.

I was shocked to find that OFT, who claims (if I remember correctly -- I apologize, if not) to be a Christian and concerned with what the Bible has to say, is a deconstructionist! He says that authorial intent "means nothing" -- is that how you approach Scripture? This is the root of the "living Constitution" nonsense and of the modern liberal assault on the Bible. The notion that what the author meant in what he wrote is irrelevant and that the author is "not responsible for the content" because we don't like what he intended is a view that I'm very surprised to see OFT ascribe to.

It also seems silly to me to suggest that the principles were "borrowed from Christian Church Fathers, and Christian Philosophers, mostly from the Protestant Reformation, taken from the Bible" when no one mentioned any of those sources at the Constitutional Convention or in the Federalist Papers. As for the Declaration, Jefferson told us the sources for its principles -- and he didn't mention any of these, either. He DID mention "Aristotle, Cicero, Locke, Sidney, &c," but according to OFT, Jefferson didn't know what his sources were. Apparently, he was divinely inspired and it "came out of the Bible through the Reformers."

As per my argument on Jefferson's intention (which I maintain IS important), OFT sees Reformation principles, the secularist sees deist principles, the Jew sees Judaic principles, etc. Jefferson's intent has been realized beyond his wildest hopes.

OFT asks whether I think some notions are "of man." I did not say that they were -- I said that THEY (the Founders) identified philosophical and historical sources for them.

Restrictions on who could serve in government were STATE restrictions which applied only at the STATE level. Article VI of the Constitution expressly forbade religious tests for national office.

OFT says "the people pass laws." No, that would be a democracy. The U.S. is a republic in which the people's REPRESENTATIVES pass laws (and write public documents).

II Corinthians 3:3 has NOTHING to do with natural law. It simply says that the quality of the lives of the people to whom Paul ministered were his letter of commendation -- the affirmation of his ministry.

Romans 2:14-15 refers to God's moral law, not some "law of nature." I challenge OFT or Mr. Van Dyke to find "law of nature" or "Nature's God" in a concordance of the Bible -- you won't find either term because they're not biblical terms. The fact that Aquinas (with whom OFT probably has very little in common) or Calvin believed in a similar concept does not make it biblical or Christian.

Likewise, the fact that someone held a similar view centuries before does not make that view the source of a particular idea or principle. Plato and Confucius held some views similar to those of Jesus and the Apostle Paul -- does that make Plato and Confucius "sources" of Christianity? Of course not. One must show connection -- usually an affirmation from a writer that X or Y was a source. [As Jefferson did concerning the Declaration's principles, by the way -- he was under the apparently false impression that he knew from whence he got his ideas]


Rowe: Let me add that Dr. Frazer above asserts that the Declaration was not ratified which is, in the context that he uses the term "ratified," correct. Unlike the US Constitution, the Declaration was NOT ratified by state ratifying conventions. The Continental Congress on 4 July, 1776 approved, that is voted in favor of the Declaration of Independence. And some sources (websites) use the specific term "ratified." But the DOI was NOT ratified in the same sense that the US Constitution was by state ratifying conventions.

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