Friday, February 29, 2008

John Hagee on Roman Catholicism:

John Hagee, a religious lunatic of the highest order, gives his opinion of the Roman Catholic Church:

Oh yeah, he just endorsed McCain who said he was “very honored by Pastor John Hagee’s endorsement.”

Bill Donahue's Catholic League responds.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008


I thought William F. Buckley was one of the best debaters and interviewers in the modern era. I used to regularly watch Firing Line when it was on. Plus he was right on the war on drugs.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Joseph Priestley's "Millennial Politics":

Joseph Priestley, like America's key Founders he influenced, thought himself a "rational Christian" or "Unitarian Christian." He thought the infallibility of the Bible was a "corruption" of Christianity; but nonetheless, some of the Bible to be true. Interestingly, he thought the Book of Revelation and the Millennium to be legitimate parts of the Bible.

This puzzled his mentees John Adams and Thomas Jefferson who rejected that part of the Bible as illegitimate. It was Priestley's method of rationalism which he gave to them -- the confidence in man's reason to determine which parts of the Bible were legitimate, ala Jefferson taking a razor to the Bible and cutting out that which he deemed "unreasonable."

Priestley fervently supported the French Revolution, even in the midst of the reign of terror. And he used the Book of Revelation to justify his support. He didn't like the rise of strict Deism or atheism in France and wanted to convert everyone to his form of "rational" or "unitarian Christianity." He fused his unorthodox enlightenment rationalist theology with biblical millennialism, and saw the French Revolution as playing a key role in ushering in the millennium. In that he was not alone. Other preachers, some of them orthodox Christians, likewise believed the French Revolution was part of some larger event in the ushering in of a millennial republic of liberty, equality and fraternity.

Anyway that's the summary of this article. Check it out if you can access the entire thing.
Does this Qualify as E-Bay Fraud:

Someone is selling a framed, James Madison picture featuring his fake Ten Commandments quotation for lots of money.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Driving Revealed Religion From Politics:

There is great dispute over how to properly understand the natural law that America's Declaration of Independence invokes. One side argues such an idea is entirely compatible with classical and Christian concepts of natural right and the other argues the Declaration's natural rights teachings are novel Hobbsean/Lockean and hence modern ideas.

Ellis Sandoz, a traditional Roman Catholic scholar at LSU argues contra Leo Strauss, for the traditional classical/Christian side of the natural law contained in the Declaration. He has a new book out on the matter which I'm sure makes an invaluable contribution to the debate.

I can't resolve who is right in the debate though my sympathies lie with the Straussian side which views the natural rights teachings of the Declaration to be "modern" and subversive of attempts to use politics to preserve the traditional Christian order.

However, one thing is undeniable, and unfortunately, all too often misunderstood by the Protestant "Christian America" crowd, but not by the traditional Roman Catholics for whose side Sandoz eloquently argues, and that is "nature" defines as what is discoverable by reason as opposed to revealed in the Bible. As such, the natural law or "laws of nature and nature's God" defines as what man discovers through reason alone. Now this could lead to some very conservative results; the traditional natural law scholars ala Aquinas, and in whose tradition Robert George, John Finnis, Hadley Arkes, and Ed Feser presently operate use natural reasoning to oppose among other things abortion, homosexuality, and contraception. Or using "reason" and the premise that man has unalienable natural rights to life, liberty, pursuit of happiness, property, equality, and conscience could also lead to very un-conservative, non-traditional outcomes. For instance, Locke's self ownership principle, part of this natural rights theory, could logically result in pro-sodomy, pro-contraception, pro-drug use, and perhaps pro-abortion outcomes. Indeed, Justice Stevens in the dissent in Bowers v. Hardwick noted "the concept of privacy embodies the `moral fact that a person belongs to himself and not others nor to society as a whole.'"

But the bottom line is, "reason" not "revelation" is where arguments over public policy are supposed to take place, according to whichever of the two views of the natural law/natural rights one endorses or thinks is endorsed by America's Declaration of Independence.

The reason why America had to turn to reason or the natural law to ground its public order was because the politics of revelation were too sectarian and lead to sectarian disputes. In order to overcome such disputes, revelation had to be driven from politics. Indeed sometimes Founders such as John Adams termed this rationalistic natural religion that served as America's civic religion, "Christianity"; but reading the context of those quotations shows what Adams was invoking was not traditional biblical Christianity, but something else.

For instance, one famous quotation that the "Christian America" crowd often offers out of context is (Sandoz's paper reproduces it as well):

"The general Principles, on which the Fathers atchieved Independence, were the only Principles in which that beautiful assembly of young gentlemen could unite.... And what were these general Principles? I answer [John Adams wrote]-- the general principles of Christianity, in which all those sects were united: And the general Principles of English and American Liberty, in which all those young men united, and which had united all parties in America, in majorities sufficient to assert and maintain her Independence. Now I will avow, that I then believed, and now believe, that those general Principles of Christianity, are as eternal and immutable, as the Existence and Attributes of God; and those principles of Liberty, as unalterable as human nature and the terrestrial, mundane system "(Letter of Adams to Jefferson, June 28, 1813).

So one might ask, what are these "general principles" of Christianity about which Adams was speaking? The Trinity? Incarnation? Atonement? Original Sin? Infallibility of the Bible? No! Adams vehemently rejected these notions especially in the year 1813 when writing this letter to Jefferson (many of Adams' most heterodox statements were written in that year). Adams states these "general principles of Christianity" drew a lowest common denominator among the following types:

"Who composed that Army of fine young fellows that was then before my eyes [during the American Revolution]? There were among them, Roman Catholicks, English Episcopalians, Scotch and American Presbyterians, Methodists, Moravians, Anabaptists, German Lutherans, German Calvinists, Universalists, Arians, Priestleyans, Socinians, Independents, Congregationalists, Horse Protestants, House Protestants, Deists and theists; and [Protestants who believe nothing]. Very few however of several of these Species. Never the less all educated in the general Principles of Christianity: and the general Principles of English and American Liberty.

[* Note Sandoz's version reads "Deists and theists"; the version with which I am familiar reads "Deists and Atheists."]

Arians, Priestleyans, Socinians, it should be noted, are unitarians. Universalists denied eternal damnation. Invoking these four groups as "Christians" was a sentiment heterodox enough, but understandable given those groups best represent Adams' own personal theology. Yet, Adams goes further and notes "Deists and Atheists; and [Protestants who believe nothing]" are part of this lowest common denominator of believers in "general principles of Christianity." As Dr. Gregg Frazer, himself an evangelical of impeccable orthodoxy, noted:

Adams spoke of the “fine young fellows” who conducted the Revolution. He said that they included all of the various denominations of protestants as well as “Deists and Atheists, and Protestants who believe nothing.” That is the context in which he speaks...of “the general Principles of Christianity, in which all those Sects were United.” The “those Sects” includes deist, atheists, and those who believe nothing. This was clearly not the Christianity of the orthodox, who did not believe that deists, atheists, and those who believe nothing were united with true Christians on any principles of Christianity!

So even those quotations that seem on point that the Christian America crowd offers out of context, when understood in proper context, support the notion that America's higher law is part of a naturalistic theology ascertainable from reason, not the Bible.

Where this dispute may be relevant in today's politics: On matters of legislation, I don't think if a number of politicians support a policy because the Bible tells them, that would be unconstitutional. Politicians can use any personal reason for voting for or against legislation. However, if scripture or revealed religion is the only possible reason that can be ascertained for a piece of legislation, I think that should flunk the rational basis test of judicial scrutiny. This dispute is more relevant on how the judiciary might approach the concept of natural law or natural rights. Currently, one member of the Supreme Court, Clarence Thomas, supports incorporating the Declaration of Independence's natural law/natural rights teachings into constitutional jurisprudence. And the historical record, in my opinion, strongly supports such an approach. At least this is something Supreme Court Justices seriously discussed in the Founding era, see Calder v. Bull.

Constitutional interpretation needs to be grounded in some kind of theoretical approach. And the natural law/natural rights approach is entirely consistent even demanded by the original meaning of America's Founding documents. If such an approach gains more appeal in the judiciary, it's paramount that we properly understand that the higher law of the natural law is that which is ascertainable from reason, not revelation.
Comparing Jefferson To Jesus:

That's what Abraham Bishop, a Connecticut Republican, did during Jefferson's Presidency. At least he didn't say Jefferson was bigger than Jesus. Philip Hamburger details this in Separation of Church and State.

Friday, February 22, 2008

80s videos:

Dio's "Last in Line" is so early 1980s. The kid in the video is Punky Brewster's older half-brother and was type cast as an awkward latch-key/orphan/foster/problem child in all sorts of late 70s and early 80s TV shows and after school specials.

Great song though.

The song and the video for Rush's "Subdivisions" typifies early 80s teen angst or anomie, living in a suburban subdivision.

I can't resist this one as it involves my favorite rock singer. "Streets" was Steve Walsh's post Kansas early 80s band which was a commercial flop. Quite an amusing video from a guy with one of the best voices and bodies in rock. Walsh was notable for incorporating the "fitness" motiff into his "image."

I think George Wendt is in this video.

It's weird. I was born in '73, so I was quite young, but still vividly remember the early 80s. Watching videos like these brings you back.

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

The Bash:

I've been waiting for this one. From 1978 at the Montreux Jazz Festival, this totally encapsulates Steve Morse and the Dixie Dregs' greatness.

What is a Christian Redux:

Eric Alan Isaacson leaves a very compelling comment on the proper definition of Christianity, one with which I admittidly struggle. Though not an atheist, I don't consider myself a "Christian," (even though I am Catholic by baptism) but have noted were I to join a Church it would probably be the Quakers, Unitarian-Universalists, or some kind of liberal Christian denomination like the Episcopalians (i.e., the ones that recognize same-sex marriages). His comment deals with what belief system merits the label "Christian," and he argues for a broad, liberal understanding of the term. My understanding is fairly strict, but not as strict as some would have it. For instance, I don't think one needs to be "born-again" to be a "real Christian"; nor do I think one needs to be a member of any particular Church, i.e., the Roman Catholic Church.

Rather, I argue you need to assent to particular traditional orthodox creeds (i.e., the Nicene and Apostle's). Indeed, one can be socially and theologically liberal on certain matters, for instance politics or social morality, and still be a "Christian" as long as one's Christology is orthodox. That means that the Pope, Andrew Sullivan, Pat Robertson, Jimmy Carter and Garry Wills are all "Christians," but Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses, and those who are so theologically liberal that they deny the Virgin Birth, Trinity, Incarnation, Atonement, and Resurrection are not. (Even though Sullivan and Wills are pro-gay social liberals -- Sullivan in a same-sex marriage himself -- they all nonetheless are orthodox in their beliefs on Christ).

Who knows, one day I might become a theologically liberal Christian who at once embraces the label "Christian," but also denies Jesus' Godhood as well as other parts of Christian orthodoxy. Indeed, one reason why Dr. Gregg Frazer refuses to term Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Madison, Franklin, et al. "Christians" is because, as an evangelical, he defines the term strictly. For instance, to evangelicals and Catholics, Christians believe in a Triune God. If you don't then you aren't a Christian regardless of what you call yourself. I think that looking at the traditional creeds to which evangelicals, Roman Catholics and the Orthodox Church all assent certainly is one legitimate way to understand what is a "real Christian." Isaacson argues for the other. If America's key Founders really were "Christians" and if America was founded on "Christian principles," it would be in the broad, theologically liberal sense for which Isaacson argues. These "Christian principles," it should be noted, evangelicals and Catholics consider "heresy." Indeed one of my readers in the past aptly asked, "was America founded on a Christian heresy?" Arguably yes.

Hi Jonathan,

I’m troubled by those who insist that only people who believe in one way can be “true Christians.” If Mormons consider themselves followers of Jesus, that’s good enough for me to regard them as Christians. If Trinitarian Evangelicals regard themselves as followers of Jesus, I’ll consider them Christians too — even though, so far as I can tell, Jesus never claimed to be God.

If someone like John Adams and Thomas Jefferson and the Rev. Dr. Joseph Priestley honored Jesus and endeavored to follow his teachings, they should not be denied the name “Christian” merely because others who claim that name have embraced any number of extra-biblical doctrines.

I’ve heard Catholics occasionally say that theirs is the only “true church,” suggesting perhaps that Protestants are not truly Christians. I’ve heard Protestant preachers denounce the Pope as the Anti-Christ, insisting that Catholics can’t be true Christians because they follow the Pope rather than Christ.

I must confess, such attitudes offend my sensibilities.

And yet, I find you, an open-minded and liberal chap, adopting the same stance, and suggesting that Unitarians and Mormons can’t be Christians.

I am reminded, quite frankly, of how New Hampshire’s Supreme Court ruled in 1868 the Dover, New Hampshire, First Unitarian Society of Christians’ chosen minister — the Rev. Francis Ellingwood Abbot — was insufficiently “Christian” to serve the Congregation that had called him. Justice Jonathan Everett Sargent’s opinion for the court quoted passages from Abbot’s sermons, to show that the minister was too open-minded to serve his congregation.

The Rev. Abbot, after all, had once preached:

"Whoever has been so fired in his own spirit by the overwhelming thought of the Divine Being as to kindle the flames in the hearts of his fellow men, whether Confucius, or Zoroaster, or Moses, or Jesus, or Mohammed, has proved himself to be a prophet of the living God; and thus every great historic religion dates from a genuine inspiration by the Eternal Spirit."

In another sermon, Rev. Abbot even declared:

"America is every whit as sacred as Judea. God is as near to you and to me, as ever he was to Moses, to Jesus, or to Paul. Wherever a human soul is born into the love of truth and high virtue, there is the 'Holy Land.' Wherever a human soul has uttered its sincere and brave faith in the Divine, and thus bequeathed to us the legacy of inspired words, there is the 'Holy Bible.'"

“If Protestantism would include Mr. Abbot in this case,” Justice Sargent opined for New Hampshire’s highest court, “it would of course include Thomas Jefferson, and by the same rule also Thomas Paine, whom Gov. Plumer of New Hampshire called ‘that outrageous blasphemer,’ that ‘infamous blasphemer,’ ‘that miscreant Paine,’ whose ‘Age of Reason’ Plumer had read ‘with unqualified disapprobation of its tone and temper, its course vulgarity, and its unfair appeals to the passions and prejudices of his readers.’”

Hale v. Everett, 53 N.H. 9, 16 Am. Rep. 82, 1868 N.H. LEXIS 47 (1868). See Charles B. Kinney, Jr., Church & State: The Struggle for Separation in New Hampshire, 1630-1900 113 (New York: Teachers College, Columbia Univ., 1955) (“One of the more celebrated cases in New Hampshire jurisprudence is that of Hale versus Everett.”); Carl H. Esbeck, Dissent and Disestablishment: The Church-State Settlement in the Early American Republic, 2004 B.Y.U. L. Rev. 1385, 1534 n.541 (“As late as 1868, the state supreme court decided that a Unitarian minister would not be allowed to use the town meeting house because of his heterodoxy, and in spite of being called and settled by a majority of the community.”).

You might suppose that being run out of the pulpit would sour the Rev. Abbot in his attitudes toward those who thought themselves more orthodox than he was. You would be wrong. Abbot went on to edit The Index, and on his retirement from that position in 1880 addressed those who gathered in his honor: “I know we are here Unitarians and Non-Unitarians, and I rejoice to stand with Christians, with Catholic and Protestant Christians alike, for justice and purity; and I will always do so. These things are more important than our little differences of theological opinion.” Farewell Dinner to Francis Ellingwood Abbot, on Retiring from the Editorship of “The Index” 14 (Boston: George H. Ellis, 1880) (remarks of Rev. Abbot, June 24, 1880).

It may be noted that Frederick Douglass praised Rev. Abbot for doing “much to break the fetters of religious superstition, for which he is entitled to gratitude.” Farewell Dinner, supra, at p. 48 (letter of June 15, 1880, from Frederick Douglass to the Rev. M.J. Savage).

I think it a tremendous mistake, Jonathan, for you to side with the likes of Justice Sargent, who think they are entitled to determine who can, and who cannot, be called a true “Christian.” In truth, Justice Sargent may have been somewhat more liberal in his attitudes than you are – for he and the New Hampshire Supreme Court at least accepted the notion that one can be a genuine Unitarian Christian, even as they ruled that Rev. Abbot was far too unorthodox even to preach in a Unitarian church.

Peace be with you!

Eric Alan Isaacson

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

James Madison's Unitarianism:

James Madison, like John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Ben Franklin and probably George Washington and other of America's key Founders, was a theological unitarian. Though Madison studied under the Calvinist minister John Witherspoon at Princeton, Madison never credited Witherspoon as a religious influence. And the sometimes repeated notion that Witherspoon turned Madison into a Calvinist is otherwise without merit. Witherspoon himself flirted with rationalism and chiefly taught his Princeton students, in his political lectures, rationalism and naturalism, not Calvinist orthodoxy.

Witherspoon also introduced his Princeton students to teachings of the philosophical rationalist and Anglican Divine, Samuel Clarke. And that, not Witherspoon, is who Madison explicitly credited as a spiritual influence. In his letter to F. Beasley, when asked to explicate his theological creed, Madison does not respond with scripture or orthodox Christian doctrine but rather philosophical rationalism and an appeal to Clarke for authority.

Madison wrote:

I have duly recd the copy of your little tract on the proofs of the Being & Attributes of God. To do full justice to it, would require not only a more critical attention than I have been able to bestow on it, but a resort to the celebrated work of Dr. Clarke, which I read fifty years ago only....

The reasoning that could satisfy such a mind as that of Clarke, ought certainly not to be slighted in the discussion.

Samuel Clarke was an Arian heretic who was nearly defrocked from his position in the Anglican Church for peddling Arianism, a form of unitarianism which taught Jesus to be a divine but created and subordinate being to God the Father, like a super-angel. As the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy notes:

In 1712, apparently against the advice of some of Queen Anne's ministers, Clarke published The Scripture Doctrine of the Trinity, which was accused of Arianism, the view that Christ is divine but created. The ensuing controversy culminated two years later in his humiliating promise to the Upper House of Convocation not to preach or write on the topic any longer. However, this act of submission did not silence the correct rumors that he, like Newton himself, was still an Arian. How much these suspicions of heterodoxy damaged his ecclesiastical career is unclear. However, Voltaire reports that Bishop Gibson effectively prevented Clarke's elevation to the see of Canterbury by pointing out that Clarke was indeed the most learned and honest man in the kingdom, but had one defect: he was not a Christian.

In any event, the following is additional testimony of Madison's unitarianism from George Ticknor a prominent New England Unitarian:

I found the President more free and open than I expected, starting subjects of conversation and making remarks that sometimes savored of humor and levity. He sometimes laughed, and I was glad to hear it ; but his face was always grave. He talked of religious sects and parties, and was curious to know how the cause of liberal Christianity stood with us, and if the Athanasian creed was well received by our Episcopalians. He pretty distinctly intimated to me his own regard for the Unitarian doctrines.— TICKNOR, GEORGE, 1815, Letter to his Father, Jan. 21 ; Life, Letters and Journals, vol. I, p. 30.
A Few Notes on Joseph Priestley:

Joseph Priestley, the British Divine and co-discoverer of oxygen, greatly influenced America's key Founders. Jefferson, Adams, and Franklin credited him as something of a spiritual mentor. And he likely influenced many other Founders as well. Eric Alan Isaacson sent along the following note (which he left in this comment earlier) on his influence:

Priestley’s son recounted:

“It was a source of great satisfaction to him, and what he had little previous reason to expect, that his lectures were attended by very crowded audiences, including most of the members of the Congress of the United States at that time assembled at Philadelphia, and of the executive offices of the government of the United States.”

-- Joseph Priestley, Jr., A Continuation of the Memoirs of Dr. Joseph Priestley (Written by his Son Joseph Priestley), in John T. Boyer, ed., The Memoirs of Joseph Priestley, at 144 (Washington, D.C.: Barcroft Press, 1964).

Priestley was the preeminent expositor of rationalist unitarianism. His unitarianism was not well received by the masses; he was sort of an Abbie Hoffman type of his age -- popular in certain influential circles only, but whose ideas were too controversial for mass appeal. Indeed, in England, a mob burned down Priestley's home over his controversial ideas, after which he fled to America for refuge. That Priestley's religious system presented itself under the auspices of "Christianity," I think, probably made it somewhat easier to sell to the many elite figures who followed him than if it rejected the Christian label and termed itself "Deism" or something of the like.

However, whether his beliefs should be understood as "Christian" at all is debatable. (Again, Mormonism is the proper analogy. Someone who doesn't think Mormonism merits the label "Christian," probably likewise wouldn't think Priestley's "Unitarian Christianity" merits the label either. One could cite Lincoln who once noted calling a dog's tail a 5th leg doesn't make it so.) It rejected, among other things, original sin, the trinity, incarnation, atonement, and plenary inspiration of scripture as "corruptions of Christianity." Only the rational parts of scripture -- those that passed the "reason" smell test -- were legitimately revealed. Surprisingly, Priestley accepted some miracles recorded in the Bible -- the "rational" ones.

Priestley did believe in the Resurrection of Jesus whom he regarded as fully human, albiet perfect and on a divine mission (hence Priestley was Socinian). As such Priestley rejected that Jesus Christ as God made an infinite Atonement for the sins of man, but regarded the Resurrection as the action of a benevolent God doing for the most perfect man what he one day will do for all men.

More importantly, Priestley regarded the Resurrection as rational. And all religious beliefs, including the miraculous, must meet the test of rationality in order to be true.

Priestley's importance is his disproportionate influence on the men who wrote the Declaration of Independence and who framed the Constitution of the United States. Understanding his influence is key to understanding the political theology of America's Founding.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Sunday Music:

I still pretty much loath American Idol pop music. Danny Noriega's got a great voice, in my opinion, but will waste it on bad music. He sounds kind of like Eric Martin (of Mr. Big, who likewise sung a lot of songs for which I didn't particularly care, but has a great voice) but more androgynous.

He should be singing either prog rock ala Steve Walsh, Geddy Lee, Jon Anderson, or metal ala Dio, Geoff Tate, Klaus Meine, Bruce Dickinson or at least AOR type of hard rock like Eric Martin, Steve Perry, Dennis De Young, or Brad Delp. Speaking of which, Mickey Thomas, of Jefferson Starship I thought had a great high rock voice:

Here he is with metal guitarist Marty Friedman on a Queen tribute doing Play the Game:

Here is Martin/Mr. Big doing a good song (because it's a Steve Mariott cover):

But ultimately if one has a high piercing voice the following is the type of music one ought to be singing not American Idol style pop-crap.

And to tie things up with Dio & American Idol, here is the man on the issue:

Were I the producer of AI, I would make every single contestant sing the Dio song of his or her choice. It could be from any of his bands: Dio, Sabbath, Rainbow, Elf, etc., but they'd have to sing some real music.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Frank Kameny on Atheism, Theism, & Gays:

Frank Kameny is the godfather of gay rights activism. He is also a fervent atheist. He's not an atheist activist ala Dawkins, Dennett, Harris et al., but could be. I sometimes correspond with him via email and I sent him my post to which he has (in his words "hastily") responded. I remember Kameny coined the phrase "gay is Godly," and thought perhaps, though an atheist, he might support pro-gay theism. But, his emails explain what he intended. Here they are:

There is so much here to respond to that I don't know where to begin -- and won't, more than briefly, for now.

Atheism isn't gay -- or anything else -- friendly or hostile. All it is is a belief that there is no supernatural. End.

Since about 1940 I have characterized myself as "a good pious atheist". By this I mean that there is not a shred -- not the smallest shred -- of valid, credible, persuasive evidence for the existence of anything supernatural or other than material. That is all that atheism is, in my view. So there is no possible connection between atheism and homosexuality, or anything else.

Within the framework of the common Christianity in this country, this means that there are no supernatural beings: God(s), angels, demons, devils, satans, souls; that there are no supernatural events: miracles, resurrections, afterlife; that there are no supernatural places: heaven, hell; AND that when you die you''re dead and it's over for you permanently.

There is no objective morality. Matters of morality and immorality are ones of personal opinion and individual religious belief, upon which each person may make up his or her own mind and conduct him or herself accordingly in his or her own life, but that alone, but not impose his or her opinion upon disagreeing others (granted, that rises to the level of a moral precept, itself).

As for my saying that "Gay is Godly", that is part of a rhetorical response to the religious "them" out there who are trying to impose their views upon all of us and may not know of my atheism, as they tell us that gay is bad, ungodly, and immoral and sinful and I respond by saying that Gay is good, godly, moral and virtuous, and American, while they are evil, ungodly, sinful and immoral, irrational to the point of utter lunacy and beyond, and unAmerican and anti-American and that they don't have a clue as to what America and Americanism are all about (It is always helpful to wrap oneself in the flag) ------- all usually presented in a less cumbersome manner than here.

I also take the position, with them, that our homosexuality is a divinely-inspired gift and blessing, given to us by our true god to be enjoyed to its uttermost, exultantly, exuberantly, and joyously.

That leads, inexorably to the assertion that the god of Leviticus is a false god who is an irrational homophobic bigot and an abomination.

As for "natural law", whatever that really means -- perhaps more about that anon. Most people don't realize how profoundly and utterly totally unnatural we are from the moment of birth until after death, in absolutely EVERYthing we do. And that acting naturally is certainly not a desideratum. Life would be a misery if we did.

Written somewhat hastily. Maybe more later.

Frank Kameny

Theism can be pro-gay, anti-gay, or anything else. It's all an imaginary invention, and those inventing it can -- and do -- make of any particular theism whatever they want.

Some people believe in Grimm's fairy tales, some in Andersons, some in the Bible, some in the Koran, some in ---- whatever. None of it has any reality or is worth spending any time on, or has anything much of use, value, or worth to offer us.

Certainly we should do our own thinking for ourselves and not let our thinking be done for us by intellectually-primitive, culture-bound gurus who lived millennia ago -- or more recently in some instances: They keep inventing themselves without cessation and the gullible keep listening to them.

Frank Kameny
Angels Walk Among Us:

They are called dogs. If Angels exist I'm convinced they are the souls of dogs. It's time to one up Hinduism and make dogs an official sacred animal.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Homosexuality, Atheism, & Theism:

Ed Brayton points to a long post by this blogger about atheism and homosexuality which he terms staggeringly stupid. Aside from being long winded (I sometimes suffer from this problem), and though I disagree with much of its content, I don't think it deserves the harsh criticism Brayton leveled. However, what the blogger used many words to argue can be summed up in this pithy passage from a comment he made on the post:

My point is not that atheism is inherently hostile to gays - it’s that it ultimately offers no protection because of its rejection of objective morality in favour of subjectivism or societal or evolutionary explanations. The problem with these is that ultimately, if society is the ground of morality, then it’s no more objective than personal opinion. As for evolutionary explanations, they don’t justify morality. There is a difference between what occurs in nature, and what is morally permissible.

I might flip this around with the converse: Though certain forms of theism -- orthodox or fundamentalist religious philosophies that believe sacred texts (be it the Torah, Bible, Koran, or Book of Mormon) infallible -- are incompatible with full societal acceptance of homosexuality, mere theism is not. Indeed, though some 80% of American society claims to be Christian in some loose sense of the term, only a minority -- a sizable minority -- are evangelicals or Catholics who believe the Bible infallible or follow their church's doctrines to the exact letter of the law (i.e., a Catholic who accepts all of the Church's theological and moral positions). Some of these folks might be termed theologically liberal or "cafeteria Christians," religious moderates or whatnot. Indeed the orthodox would probably claim many of these folks aren't real Christians, but believe in some form of Deism or Theism. See for instance R. Albert Mohler, Jr.'s article on how the the new American religion is Moralistic Therapeutic Deism, which, as I've noted, seems a much less philosophical version of America's key Founders' creed which likewise oft-presented itself under the auspices of Christianity and was believed by nominal members of orthodox Christian Churches like Washington, Madison, and Jefferson:

As described by Smith and his team, Moralistic Therapeutic Deism consists of beliefs like these: 1. "A god exists who created and ordered the world and watches over human life on earth." 2. "God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and by most world religions." 3. "The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself." 4. "God does not need to be particularly involved in one's life except when God is needed to resolve a problem." 5. "Good people go to heaven when they die."

As Mohler notes:

Moving to even deeper issues, these researches claim that Moralistic Therapeutic Deism is "colonizing" Christianity itself, as this new civil religion seduces converts who never have to leave their congregations and Christian identification as they embrace this new faith and all of its undemanding dimensions.


This research project demands the attention of every thinking Christian. Those who are prone to dismiss sociological analysis as irrelevant will miss the point. We must now look at the United States of America as missiologists once viewed nations that had never heard the gospel. Indeed, our missiological challenge may be even greater than the confrontation with paganism, for we face a succession of generations who have transformed Christianity into something that bears no resemblance to the faith revealed in the Bible. The faith "once delivered to the saints" is no longer even known, not only by American teenagers, but by most of their parents. Millions of Americans believe they are Christians, simply because they have some historic tie to a Christian denomination or identity.

Again, so much of this reminds of Washington, Adams, Jefferson et al. -- their warm theism, how it thought itself to be pure & primitive Christianity, but was really an overly rationalized version of the unitarian heresy that the Council of Nicea had settled in 325 CE. Thomas Jefferson thought all young men living at the end of his life would convert to "Unitarianism"; maybe we are seeing his dreams come to fruition.

But anyway, generic theism or cafeteria Christianity, once it dismisses the infallibility of the Bible, it seems to me can be a quite gay friendly theology. Andrew Sullivan, Gene Robinson, Bishop Spong, Howard Dean, Garry Wills, Phil Donahue are all "Christians" who believe God created gay people qua gay people. Even Bill O'Reilly, I've heard him say, opposes the excesses of the gay movement on the grounds of preserving traditional morality, but has admitted since he doesn't believe all of the Bible is literally true, the theological arguments against homosexuality don't convince him.

The same is true of the natural law. According to such, what one ends up concluding often depends on where one begins. If one begins with procreation and allows no exceptions, then one will properly conclude not just homosexuality, but contraception, masturbation, coitus interruptus, oral sex (at least when done as a substitute for intercourse or produces a male orgasm outside of a female womb) are all equally unnatural. And once you allow any exception to procreation, then the natural law case against homosexuality fails. If one views human nature differently, the same natural law reasoning ends up in a different place. For instance, here Andrew Sullivan makes a natural law argument for homosexuality, which, I think, uses logic as airtight as that of the natural law case against homosexuality:

But all these arguments are arguments for the centrality of heterosexual sexual acts in nature, not their exclusiveness. It is surely possible to concur with these sentiments, even to laud their beauty and truth, while also conceding that it is nevertheless also true that nature seems to have provided a spontaneous and mysterious contrast that could conceivably be understood to complement — even dramatize — the central male-female order. In many species and almost all human cultures, there are some who seem to find their destiny in a similar but different sexual and emotional union. They do this not by subverting their own nature, or indeed human nature, but by fulfilling it in a way that doesn't deny heterosexual primacy, but rather honors it by its rare and distinct otherness. As albinos remind us of the brilliance of color; as redheads offer a startling contrast to the blandness of their peers; as genius teaches us, by contrast, the virtue of moderation; as the disabled person reveals to us in negative form the beauty of the fully functioning human body; so the homosexual person might be seen as a natural foil to the heterosexual norm, a variation that does not eclipse the theme, but resonates with it. Extinguishing — or prohibiting — homosexuality is, from this point of view, not a virtuous necessitys, but the real crime against nature, a refusal to accept the pied beauty of God's creation, a denial of the way in which the other need not threaten, but may actually give depth and contrast to the self.

This is the alternative argument embedded in the Church's recent grappling with natural law, that is just as consonant with the spirit of natural law as the Church's current position. It is more consonant with what actually occurs in nature; seeks an end to every form of natural life; and upholds the dignity of each human person. It is so obvious an alternative to the Church's current stance that it is hard to imagine the forces of avoidance that have kept it so firmly at bay for so long.

Now, this natural law argument is theistic. Indeed, Aquinas knew that the natural law could only be binding if divinely mandated. This may be a "useful fiction," but grounding gay rights or any kind of human rights in God's will certainly helps to make such rights non-negotiable. One might counter God is what God is (and perhaps God is not), but human kind, and America's Founders, have a long history of tying their favored policies to God's will, remaking God over in their image. See the Declaration of Independence which, though a theistic document, has about as much to do with the Old and New Testament as does The Book of Mormon or the Koran.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Check Out This New Blog:

I know my Dad regularly reads my blog. Other than that, not too many of the people I know in my personal life regularly read my work, even though most are familiar with it (I think sometimes they get lost in the details; though when I tell them I published an article or got a link from a notable academic or media personality, they seem impressed). One friend from law school, and with whom I've recently hung out in the past few years, is Jay, a small business owner in York, PA (he owns WOW, check out the blog and you'll know what I mean). A computer wiz, Jay has helped a talk-radio host from York, PA design this blog. I'm sure they would appreciate any feedback on the content or format from veteran blog readers.
Sunday Night Music:

First Carl Verheyen and Steve Bailey. Carl Verheyen, along with Steve Morse and Eric Johnson, is one of my favorite instrumental rock/fusion guitarists. Shredders are a dime a dozen; so it helps to have a style that distinguishes oneself. Verheyen knows all of the blues based rock licks, but when he plays lines constructed from the standard major and minor modes he doesn't use the same 'ol patterns that most shredders use, but rather uses many unorthodox intervallic leaps. From what I've heard, jazz musicians did this years before he did. But Verheyen is the first in the rock/fusion idiom to really pioneer this style.

And Steve Bailey is just one of the best electric bass virtuosos period. This one is called Too Loud, Too Fast, Too Bad.

This next song which features two bassists and a drummer illustrates just what else the bass can do. It's Bailey and fellow bass virtuoso Victor Wooten of Bela Fleck and the Flecktones fame. If you listen carefully you'll hear at once, a classic baseline, chords and a melody coming from two bassists, each of them at different times wearing the three different hats. Two bassists doing three things. This one is called A Chick From Corea (I wonder who that could be about?).

Saturday, February 09, 2008

Richard Price's Religious Liberalism:

Richard Price was a notable British minister who influenced America's Founding. He was similar to Joseph Priestley in that both were British unitarian Whig ministers who supported the American and French Revolutions and maintained a correspondence with many of America's key Founders. Unlike Priestley who was a Socinian (believed Jesus to be 100% human, but on a divine mission) Price, like Locke, Milton, Newton, Clarke and many others, was an Arian (believed Jesus to be a divine but created being subordinate to the Father).

Written in 1785, Price's Observations on the Importance of the American Revolution details his political and religious philosophy. It should be noted that unitarians like Priestley and Price could be just as critical of strict Deism as they could be of orthodox Christianity (and likewise, America's key Founders who were influenced by Price and Priestley occupied that middle position between Christianity and Deism). This is why their quotations could be taken out of context to suit either side (i.e., the religious right's "Christian" side v. the secular left's "Deist" side). For instance, Price considered himself a "Christian" not a "Deist" and praised the Christian religion. He noted:

When Christianity, that first and best of all the means of human improvement, was first preached it was charged with turning the world upside down.

Yet, like James Madison did in his Memorial and Remonstrance, Price praises Christianity in the context of calling for its disestablishment:

There cannot be a more striking proof that nothing but fair discussion is necessary to suppress error and to propagate truth. I am grieved, indeed, whenever I find any Christians shewing a disposition to call in the aid of civil power to defend their religion. Nothing can be more disgraceful to it. If it wants such aid it cannot be of God. Its corruption and debasement took place from the moment that civil power took it under its patronage, and this corruption and debasement increased till at last it was converted into a system of absurdity and superstition more gross and more barbarous than Paganism itself. The religion of Christ disclaims all connexion with the civil establishments of the world. It has suffered infinitely by their friendship. Instead of silencing its opponents, let them be encouraged to produce their strongest arguments against it. The experience of Britain has lately shewn that this will only cause it to be better understood and more firmly believed.

Price's "Christianity" -- if it's fair to call it that -- was "rational" and "liberal." Yet what Price believed was still closer to traditional Christianity than was the religion of Jefferson, Franklin, Adams, and Priestley (and perhaps Washington and Madison):

It is indeed only a rational and liberal religion, a religion founded on just notions of the Deity as a being who regards equally every sincere worshipper, and by whom all are alike favoured as far as they act up to the light they enjoy, a religion which consists in the imitation of the moral perfections of an almighty but benevolent governor of nature, who directs for the best all events, in confidence in the care of his providence, in resignation to his will, and in the faithful discharge of every duty of piety and morality from a regard to his authority and the apprehension of a future righteous retribution. It is only this religion (the inspiring principle of every thing fair and worthy and joyful and which in truth is nothing but the love of God and man and virtue warming the heart and directing the conduct) — it is only this kind of religion that can bless the world or be an advantage to society. This is the religion that every enlightened friend to mankind will be zealous to promote. But it is a religion that the powers of the world know little of and which will always be best promoted by being left free and open.

I cannot help adding here that such in particular is the Christian religion. Christianity teaches us that there is none good but one, that is, God, that he willeth all men to be saved, and will punish nothing but wickedness, that he desires mercy and not sacrifice (benevolence rather than rituals), that loving him with all our hearts, and loving our neighbour as ourselves, is the whole of our duty, and that in every nation he that feareth him and worketh righteousness is accepted of him. It rests its authority on the power of God, not of man, refers itself entirely to the understandings of men, makes us the subjects of a kingdom that is not of this world, and requires us to elevate our minds above temporal emoluments and to look forwards to a state beyond the grave where a government of perfect virtue will be erected under that Messiah who has tasted death for every man. What have the powers of the world to do with such a religion? It disclaims all connexion with them, it made its way at first in opposition to them, and, as far as it is now upheld by them, it is dishonoured and vilified.

The most controversial part of Price's observations is where he attacks the Trinity, i.e., the "Athanasian creed."

Perhaps nothing more shocking to reason and humanity ever made a part of a religious system than the damning clauses in the Athanasian creed and yet the obligation of the clergy to declare assent to this creed, and to read it as a part of the public devotion, remains.

Price discusses Massachusetts' 1780 Constitution and notes that it was liberal for its time, but still not ideal:

From the preceding observations it may be concluded that it is impossible I should not admire the following article in the declaration of rights which forms the foundation of the Massachusett's constitution:

'In this state every denomination of Christians demeaning themselves peaceably and as good subjects of the commonwealth shall be equally under the protection of the law, and no subordination of any one sect or denomination to another shall ever be established by law.'

This is liberal beyond all example. I should, however, have admired it more had it been more liberal, and the words, all men of all religions been substituted for the words, every denomination of Christians.

This is important. The natural rights ideals of the US Founding demanded a legal equality of rights for all religions, not Christians. This was implemented at the Federal level with the religion clauses of the First Amendment and the "no religious tests" clause in Article VI, Clause 3 of the unamended Constitution. Yet, as a compromise, the states were permitted to establish their own religious policy, with the hopes they would reform their laws in a more liberal direction, which they did. By 1833, all states had disestablished, without the need for a Civil War over establishment policy. But make no mistake some of those practices at the state level -- for instance religious tests that demanded belief in Trinitarian Christianity or the infallibility of the Bible -- violated natural right as much as did chattel slavery. Here is Price on religious tests:

It appears farther from the preceding observations that I cannot but dislike the religious tests which make a part of several of the American constitutions. In the Massachusett's constitution it is ordered that all who take seats in the House of Representatives or Senate shall declare 'their firm persuasion of the truth of the Christian religion'. The same is required by the Maryland constitution, as a condition of being admitted into any places of profit or trust. In Pensylvania every member of the House of Representatives is required to declare that he 'acknowledges the Scriptures of the Old and New Testament to be given by divine inspiration'. In the state of Delaware, that 'he believes in God the Father, and in Jesus Christ his only Son, and in the Holy Ghost, one God blessed for evermore'. All this is more than is required even in England where, though every person however debauched or atheistical is required to receive the sacrament as a qualification for inferior places, no other religious test is imposed on members of parliament than a declaration against Popery. It is an observation no less just than common that such tests exclude only honest men. The dishonest never scruple them.

Indeed, Benjamin Rush and Ben Franklin, with the help of Price's writings, both fought mightily to remove PA's aforementioned religious test. These two brief letters from Rush to Price on the matter are worth reproducing. Rush is clear that state religious tests, though they would be permitted as a constitutional compromise, nonetheless violated the natural rights ideals of the Declaration of Independence and therefore should be removed:

Benjamin Rush to Richard Price

15 Oct. 178522 Apr. 1786 Letters 1:371, 385--86

[15 Oct. 1785]

I took the liberty of publishing, with your name, your excellent letter on the test law of Pennsylvania. It has already had a great effect on the minds of many people, and I doubt not will contribute more than anything to repeal that law. Dr. Franklin, who has succeeded Mr. Dickinson as our governor, has expressed his surprise at the continuance of such a law since the peace, and we hope will add the weight of his name to yours to remove such a stain from the American Revolution.

[22 Apr. 1786]

I am very happy in being able to inform you that the test law was so far repealed a few weeks ago in Pennsylvania as to confer equal privileges upon every citizen of the state. The success of the friends of humanity in this business should encourage them to persevere in their attempts to enlighten and reform the world. Your letter to me upon the subject of that unjust law was the instrument that cut its last sinew.

Finally, back to Price's discussion of religious tests. He notes one reason why they should go is so many of America's Founders' philosophical heroes weren't orthodox Christians and couldn't pass them. Hence, there is something perverse about disqualifying the men who formulated the principles of republican government from serving in such government.

Montesquieu probably was not a Christian. Newton and Locke were not Trinitarians and therefore not Christians according to the commonly received ideas of Christianity. Would the United States, for this reason, deny such men, were they living, all places of trust and power among them?

Again, arguably America's first half dozen Presidents couldn't pass religious tests that required belief in orthodox Trinitarian Christianity or the infallibility of the Bible. Is it no wonder that they pushed for Art. VI Cl. 3 (no religious tests) so they wouldn't be subject to them at the federal level?
Adams & Zaleucus Redux:

I'd like to thank Brandon at Sirius for the thoughtful discussion on my recent posts on the religious heterodoxy of Jefferson and Adams. He takes issue with my assertion that John Adams' praise of the preamble to the laws of Zaleucus in a publicly published book from America's Founding era was dangerously heterodox and could have gotten him into trouble with the orthodox as did Notes on the State of Virginia got Jefferson into trouble. Brandon writes:

Adams doesn't say that pagan Greco-Roman religion is "rational, intelligible, and eternal, for the real happiness of man in society, and throughout his duration"; he says that Zaleucus's preamble to his laws places religion, morals, and government on a philosophy which it serves as a basis that is "rational, intelligible, and eternal &c." But while the original context is pagan and Greco-Roman, it's unclear, in fact, that what Adams identifies as the content of Zaleucus's preamble would have been regarded by anyone as particularly pagan or Greco-Roman at all; the view argued for by Adams in the work from which the text comes, i.e., that government is subject to progressive improvement that successively uncovers the eternal principles of good government, is an extremely common one in the period. Read in that context it's fairly innocuous; one reads it naturally as simply saying that Zaleucus was one step closer to the ideal republic than his predecessors because he built his laws on eternally true principles, without, however, coming as close to that goal as his successors.

Brandon's reading may be right. And if so this accords with what I've argued before that America's Founders were more likely to make cautious religious arguments in their public writings and speeches, but detail their personal heterodox beliefs in their private writings. For instance, in his private letters to Jefferson, Adams makes clear that he equated the preamble to the laws of Zaleucus -- a set of laws supposedly revealed by Athena 600BC -- with Christianity. Indeed, he gave Zaleucus' preamble the highest complement he could: He equated it with Joseph Priestley's version of "Christianity," which was the version in which Adams himself personally believed; Priestley was the spiritual mentor to Jefferson, Adams, Franklin, and others. As Adams wrote to Jefferson, Dec. 25, 1813:

The preamble to the laws of Zaleucus, which is all that remains, is as orthodox Christian theology as Priestley's, and Christian benevolence and forgiveness of injuries almost as clearly expressed.

That entire letter is worth a close read as Adams explicates his religious creed in detail. Among other things he notes the Christian Trinity is a "fabrication," that reason supersedes revelation, that the Bible is the best book, not because it is infallible but because it agrees with Adams' personal theology, and the Shastra, a Hindu treatise, is likewise "orthodox theology."

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

American Jacobins:

Something quite interesting I've learned researching the French Revolution is, like Vietnam and Iraq of the modern era, the event was quite popular in America in the beginning, but lost mass appeal only after things started going so terribly wrong. Given France greatly helped America achieve victory over Great Britain in the Revolutionary War, most (but not all) American patriots initially supported the French Revolution. Most Founding-era Americans viewed this historical event done in the name of "liberty, equality, and fraternity," as an extension of American Revolutionary principles. Most commentary that explains the meaningful differences between the American and French Revolutions, why the former succeeded and the latter failed, was written after the fact. Those who supported the American cause but opposed the French from the beginning, like Edmund Burke, were a minority then, but whom today we herald for their predictive wisdom.

The spirit of the age (the "zeitgeist," if you will) of the American and French Revolution was Enlightenment -- liberty, equality, rationalism, the rights of man, hatred of political tyranny and confidence in man's reason were the enlightenment ideals in which both American and French Revolutionaries fervently believed. On religious matters, Enlightenment led many to reject Christian orthodoxy for deistic or unitarian rationalism. However, many remained true to Christian orthodoxy while simultaneously embracing Enlightenment ideals. These republican Enlightenment ideals, I would stress, are, for the most part, not authentically biblical concepts even if orthodox Christians promoted them or the Bible was used to advance such ideas.

First, the Bible is not at all a political revolutionary book. Jesus (or his disciples like Paul) did not abolish one social or political institution. Not tyrannical government, not chattel slavery, not rule of Kings, not one. Today social liberals who preach the "social gospels" I believe misuse the Bible as do the Christian Marxists who advanced "liberation" theology. However, American Whigs who used the Bible in revolt against Great Britain were just as guilty of advancing something the Bible does not support: the right to political revolution. Be it the American or French (or quite frankly any political) Revolutions, Marxist governments or a modern social welfare state, none of these notions is "biblical." And all who would use the Bible in support of such are equally guilty of misusing the good book.

The Ancient Israelites had a theocracy, not a republic as one Whig preacher inaptly posited. Many of these political sermons reproduced by the Liberty Fund, as fascinating as they are to read, are about as hermeneutically sound as biblical arguments in favor of same-sex marriage.

What should bring this point home is many of these same theologians who argued on behalf of the American Revolution from the pulpit -- some orthodox Christians, some theistic or unitarian rationalists who rejected Christian orthodoxy -- likewise used similar arguments to support the French Revolution. The most notable aphorism of the pro-revolutionary theology of that era was "rebellion to tyrants is obedience to God." Now, this sounds nice, and as a liberty loving, tyrant hating classical liberal, this is the kind of God in which I would like to believe. However, this notion -- like America's Declaration of Independence -- is hardly biblical. Theistic yes, biblical no.

A great article by Gary B. Nash, which you probably can't access without paying $9 unless at a library or educational institution with license privileges, details exactly what I've noted above: the plethora of "patriotic American preachers," some orthodox Christians, some not, who supported the French Revolution, at least at the beginning and saw "the project" as a continuation of the American Revolution. The follow page that I've reproduced discusses Ezra Stiles, President of Yale, one of the most notable patriotic Whig preachers, who was both an orthodox Christian and an Enlightenment rationalist who originally supported the French Revolution and saw its ideals as a continuation of the American Revolution.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Sunday Music:

First Ed Brayton sends along a link to Deep Purple with Steve Morse on guitar playing Perfect Strangers:

Second, not an actual song but a demo of a really cool synth, the Moog Taurus, a foot pedal bass synth. Moogs were analog synths, commonly used in the 70s, the originals were monophonic (meaning you could only play one note at a time) and in my opinion still sound better than any digital synth of today. This model was often used by bands whose bass players would switch to keys like Led Zeppelin and Rush, or whose bass players would sometimes play guitar like Genesis. Again, you play this with your feet. I gotta get me one of these.

And third, speaking of Moog synths (they used 'em) and Steve Morse (he played with 'em too, but not on what follows) here is a newly discovered 1976 Kansas recording Icarus, Borne on Wings of Steel.
Sunday Sermon:

Once again, I'm going to promote an evangelical Christian sermon. This time from the Chapel at The Masters College, an evangelical/fundamentalist Protestant college. You can hear Gregg Frazer explain his PhD thesis to students at TMC here where he argues America's key Founders were "religious" but not "Christian" and otherwise refutes the Christian Nation idea ala Barton, Federer, Kennedy, and Eidsmoe.

Much of what he has to say I've reproduced on my blogs over the past few years; however, something that this lecture gives that I've perhaps neglected is the value to conservative traditional Christians in rejecting the Christian America idea. The secularists who read my blogs enjoy hearing how Jefferson, Franklin, and John Adams were men who put their faith more so in reason than revelation and otherwise denied orthodox Christianity. However, conservative Christians do well to understand that traditional Christianity is not Americanism. And those Christians should think long and hard about the two and do their best not to conflate them else they risk corrupting the purity of their faith. They risk "Mormonizing" their faith, that is importing a-biblical ideas into the Christian religion and pretending such are scripture. Instead of the Book of Mormon, we get the Declaration of Independence, Constitution, and words of Christian American prophets, America's Founders. Ironic in that Mormonism, unlike Christianity, developed in America after its Founding, actually officially incorporates many of these ideas as divinely inspired on the same level as the Old and New Testament. Mormonism, though not exactly the same as the religious faith of America's key Founders, is closer to it than is orthodox Trinitarian Christianity.

Anyway Dr. Frazer's lecture can be heard here.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

The Two Faces of Noah Webster:

Sometime late in his life in the 19th Century, Noah Webster, probably disenchanted with the mess of the French Revolution, became a pious Christian and promoted "Christian America" like ideas. For instance, as he wrote in 1832:

Our citizens should early understand that the genuine source of correct republican principles is the Bible, particularly the New testament, or, the Christian religion.

But in an earlier era -- when the Constitution was being written and ratified -- Webster was a fervent Enlightenment rationalist who supported the French Revolution. And he argued the United States was not just founded on reason, but was an empire of reason.

Of all the memorable eras that have marked the progress of men from the savage state to the refinements of luxury, that which has combined them into society, under a wise system of government, and given form to a nation, has ever been recorded and celebrated as the most important. Legislators have ever been deemed the greatest benefactors of mankind—respected when living, and often deified after their death. Hence the fame of Fohi and Confucius—of Moses, Solon and Lycurgus—of Romulus and Numa—of Alfred, Peter the Great, and Mango Capac; whose names will be celebrated through all ages, for framing and improving constitutions of government, which introduced order into society and secured the benefits of law to millions of the human race.

This western world now beholds an era important beyond conception, and which posterity will number with the age of Czar of Muscovy, and with the promulgation of the Jewish laws at Mount Sinai. The names of those men who have digested a system of constitutions for the American empire, will be enrolled with those of Zamolxis and Odin, and celebrated by posterity with the honors which less enlightened nations have paid to the fabled demi-gods of antiquity.

But the origin of the AMERICAN REPUBLIC is distinguished by peculiar circumstances. Other nations have been driven together by fear and necessity—the governments have generally been the result of a single man’s observations; or the offspring of particular interests. IN the formation of our constitution, the wisdom of all ages is collected—the legislators of antiquity are consulted—as well as the opinions and interests of the millions who are concerned. In short, in it an empire of reason.

Friday, February 01, 2008

Talking Past One Another:

Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of patriotism, who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the duties of men and citizens. The mere politician, equally with the pious man, ought to respect and to cherish them. A volume could not trace all their connections with private and public felicity. Let it simply be asked: Where is the security for property, for reputation, for life, if the sense of religious obligation desert the oaths which are the instruments of investigation in courts of justice ? And let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion. Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.

-- George Washington, Farewell Address.

Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.

-- John Adams, October 11, 1798.

This preamble [to the laws of ZALEUCUS] instead of addressing itself to the ignorance, prejudices, and superstitious fears of savages, for the purpose of binding them to an absurd system of hunger and glory for a family purpose, like the laws of Lycurgus, places religion, morals, and government, upon a basis of philosophy, which is rational, intelligible, and eternal, for the real happiness of man in society, and throughout his duration [My emphasis].


The laws of ZALEUCUS were supposedly revealed by Athena 600 BC. When Washington et al. stated "religion" was necessary to support republican government, they meant "religion" not "Christianity." Though they weren't familiar with all world religions, they did mention Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Unitarianism, Deism, Hinduism, Native American Spirituality, pagan-Greco-Romanism, and Confucionism as "sound" or valid religions.

The interesting dynamic -- the kernel of truth in the Christian America crowd's argument -- is that many in the masses of that time, especially many orthodox leaders, probably did hear "Christianity," or "Protestant Trinitarian Christianity," when for instance George Washington stated "[a]nd let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion." Indeed, the much spread spurious quotation of Washington's, "It is impossible to rightly govern without God and the Bible," is a paraphrase of some pious figure's interpretation of Washington's Farewell Address. The problem is, that's not what Washington said, and it's not what he meant. But Washington did not, for instance, when the pious clergymen wrote him, correct their misimpression by stating, "I know you believe in the Trinity and there is only one way to God, but I believe all religions are valid." That would just cause needless trouble.

So the systematic use of generic and philosophical religious language did well serve the Founders in their need to thread the needle between their heretodoxy and the orthodoxy of the masses (or at least the orthodox ministers who held great positions of institutional social power; arguably the masses were nominal not orthodox Christians). However, it did lead somewhat to "talking past one another" when discussing broad abstract concepts like that of "religion." People often agree on broad general concepts. Who doesn't think we have "rights" to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness? But when right to life means things like abortion, or right to liberty means whether to legalize drugs, that's when the disagreements begin. America's Founders needed to unite, not divide. So it would have been unwise for them to publicly pick fights with the orthodox. Thomas Paine did and paid a great cost for it.

Though there is a big difference between "religion" meaning "orthodox Christianity" on the one hand and meaning "religion generally" on the other. Over time, those differences would play themselves out in profound ways. America for instance, became a nation where the law (indeed fundamental rights in the US Constitution!) treated non-Christian religions equally with Christianity because of America's Founding principles.
Michael Savage...:

is funny when he is irritated. Here he gets irritated by someone even further to the right and crankier than he is.

Moncure D. Conway on Washington's Religion:

As you can see the dispute over the Founding Fathers' religion has been going on for some time. Even though the letter was written to the New York Times in 1897, the points are still apt. Moncure Conway was a freethinker who did some notable scholarship on George Washington's religion, in particular his lack of Christian orthodoxy.

Even though Conway terms Washington a "Deist," the evidence he then cites, while it does point away from Washington's orthodox Christianity, also somewhat belies the notion that GW was a strict Deist. For instance, Deists don't tend to think any of the Bible is a "benign light," yet unitarians and "Christian rationalists" do believe parts of scripture are benign and enlighted, and it's only those parts in which they tended to believe. Conway also terms Washington a Socinian. Socinians are not Deists, but Unitarians who believe Jesus was not God but 100% man on some kind of divinely inspired moral mission. The 1783 Circular to the States to which Conway refers was not written in Washington's hand but was signed by him. It refers to Jesus as "the Divine Author of our blessed Religion," and if unitarian, seems more Arian, which believes Jesus a divine but created and subordinate being, than Socinian, which views Jesus as only human. This and in one other public address to Delaware Indians, neither written in Washington's hand, but both signed by him, are the only two places Washington discusses the name or person of Jesus at all! This makes it a little tough for those of us who want to with certainty place Washington in a religious box. James Madison and a number other of Washington's contemporaries noted, other than believing in an active personal God Washington seemed not to have formed definite opinions on Christian or other theologies. So it's entirely possible that whereas Jefferson and others actively disbelieved in doctrines like the Trinity, Washington was agnostic on those matters. In any event, let me reproduce the passage where GW appeals to revelation for authority, one of the few places he does so. It is done in an enlightenment rationalistic context:

The foundation of our Empire was not laid in the gloomy age of Ignorance and Superstition, but at an Epocha when the rights of mankind were better understood and more clearly defined, than at any former period, the researches of the human mind, after social happiness, have been carried to a great extent, the Treasures of knowledge, acquired by the labours of Philosophers, Sages and Legislatures, through a long succession of years, are laid open for our use, and their collected wisdom may be happily applied in the Establishment of our forms of Government; the free cultivation of Letters, the unbounded extension of Commerce, the progressive refinement of Manners, the growing liberality of sentiment, and above all, the pure and benign light of Revelation, have had a meliorating influence on mankind and increased the blessings of Society. At this auspicious period, the United States came into existence as a Nation, and if their Citizens should not be completely free and happy, the fault will be intirely their own.
Schlafly on the Supreme Court & Porn:

It's nothing else but amusing to see Phyllis Schlafly rant against the Supreme Court opinions protecting pornography. I find it amusing beyond belief that these stuffy old men, Supreme Court Justices, in order to determine whether pornography is protected speech, had to watch the videos in order to answer the legal question. Heh.

Because The Simpsons are iconoclastic, that is they take pot shots at sacred and not so sacred cows, and nothing should make them fear doing so. Given what happened with South Park and Isaac Hayes, they do have something to fear if they want to poke fun at Scientology.