Saturday, May 31, 2008

New Blog:

I've just accepted an invitation to blog for American Creation with Brad Hart and Lindsey Shuman. The purpose of this blog is to explore the issue of religion and how it relates to America's Founding, one of my primary scholarly interests.

This will not affect my blogging at either (which collects everything I blog about) or (which collects mostly everything I blog about). The new blog will collect only my posts on the American Founding and religion. As a medium-time blogger, my goal is to have the widest possible readership, given my narrow range of interests. As such, I feel the more outlets my research is syndicated to, the better.

Of course, I would only say "yes" to other folks whose work meets my high standards and Brad's and Lindsey's certainly do.
American Revolution Blog on George Washington's Prayers:

Drawing from Peter Lillback's book on George Washington's faith, Brad from the American Revolution blog looks at the phrases Washington used when praying and aptly concludes that Washington's language was not that of an orthodox Trinitarian Christian. Yet, because Washington prayed at all (and it's something he did constantly) Washington was no Deist either.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Jared Sparks on British Unitarians:

I may need to remind readers why it's important to discuss what the key American Founders really believed, aside from the fact that some find it interesting history. One key tenet of the Christian Nationalists is that their biblical God Founded America. And if He did, of course He would use real spirit filled Christians -- "Christian Statesmen" as they like to term them -- not secret deistic or unitarian heretics as His instruments in doing the Founding.

It's mainly evangelicals/fundamentalists -- David Barton, William Federer, D. James Kennedy, etc. -- who posit the "Christian Nation" idea. And their idea of who God is and what Christianity is can be quite narrow and distinct. As I noted before in dealing with one of these Christian Nation apologists, he stated:

The Bible is not unclear on issues like the deity of Christ, His atonement, the existence of one God in three Persons, etc. "Orthodoxy" is what the Bible teaches....[T]he ONLY ASSUMPTION I AM MAKING IN OUR EXAMINATION OF THE FOUNDERS is that "Christian" means "Christian" (which is synonymous with "orthodox").

While we can debate just how clear the Trinity is in the Bible's text, there is a strong tradition in Christian orthodoxy (perhaps self serving) that indeed strictly defines Christianity according its Trinitarian orthodoxy. You either believe in the Trinity and its related orthodox doctrines, or you aren't a "real Christian," whatever you call yourself. Hence Mormons aren't Christians even if they call themselves such. The same can be said of America's key Founders.

Indeed, Dr. Gregg Frazer's PhD thesis operates under this assumption. Christians believe in the Triune God and other doctrines of orthodoxy, and since what America's Founders often called "rational Christianity" rejected those doctrines, it was not "Christianity" but something else -- "theistic rationalism." That's why when you see out of context quotations of the Founders making nominal positive affirmations of Christianity and scripture, traditional biblical Christians cannot necessarily assume the Founders referred to what they would understand as "Christianity."

Jared Sparks (1789-1866) was President of Harvard University from 1849 to 1853 and one of the most notable early historians of the American Founding. He was also a Unitarian minister. And because Sparks vehemently denied the Trinity, orthodox Christians of today would say -- just as they did in Sparks' era -- he wasn't a "Christian" even if he understood himself to be one. From what I've been able to garner, Sparks was, like Joseph Story and John Marshall, a "biblical unitarian" who believed the Bible as the Word of God disproves the Trinity and its related orthodox doctrines. "Rationalist" unitarians like Jefferson, J. Adams, and Franklin believed the Trinity untrue because it violated "reason," regardless of what the Bible said.

Sparks has written a number of interesting works on Unitarianism's history, most of them available in their entirely on googlebooks. In this one Sparks discusses the early British Unitarians who just happened to be some of the most notable philosophical influences on the American Founders. Sparks reproduces a number of letters he exchanged with his Trinitarian critics, indeed critics who stress the point that Unitarians are not Christians, and notes if that's so, then lets look at the list of men who aren't "Christians." In one passage Sparks states:

Your sweeping denunciation embraces all Unitarians of every age and country. If your charges are well-founded, Newton, Locke, and Chillingworth, were "no christians in any correct sense of the word, nor any more in the way of salvation, than Mohammedans or Jews?"

Sparks was adamant that Locke was indeed a Unitarian. Again, replying to a Trinitarian critic:

And Locke must still be considered a Unitarian, till he can be proved a Trinitarian ; a task, which it is not likely you will soon undertake. At all events, he had no faith in the assemblage of articles, which you denominate the essence of christianity, and without believing which, you say, no one can be called a Christian. His whole treatise on the Reasonableness of Christianity bears witness to this truth. For the leading object of that work is to show, that "the Gospel was written to induce men into a belief of this proposition, 'that Jesus of Nazareth was the Messiah,' which if they believed, they should have life."* He says nothing about total depravity, the atonement, the "sanctifying spirit of an Almighty Surety," nor any of your peculiar doctrines. Yet who has done more to elucidate the sacred Scriptures, or to prove the consistency and reasonableness of the religion of Jesus? Your rule, however, will take from him the Christian name.

Sparks notes how Unitarians often held high positions as Anglican Divines:

Those ornaments of the Episcopal church, Dr. Samuel Clarke, Hoadly, Law, and Blackburne, must be ranked with those, among whom "we look in vain for the monuments of the reforming and purifying power" of their faith.

Sparks then rattles off a whole slew of names of prominent theologians who believed in the unitarian heresy:

Envlyn, Whiston, Priestley, Lindsey, Price, Jebb, Wakefield, Chandler, Taylor, Benson, Cappe, Foster, Kippis, and a host of others among the English Unitarians,...

Along with the better known Locke and Newton, Joseph Priestley, Richard Price, Benjamin Hoadly, and Samuel Clarke were some of the most important British Whig thinkers who influenced America's Founders. When asked to speak on the attributes of God, James Madison turned to Samuel Clarke (not John Witherspoon!) for theological authority. Here is how the Stanford Encyclopedia of philosophy describes Samuel Clarke and his "controversy":

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.

The entry goes on to describe what the "orthodox" thought of Clarke's opinions:

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.

Again, whether Unitarians like Sparks, Locke, Clarke, America's key Founders, et al. are entitled to the "label" Christian is a matter of debate. But when debating Christian America apologists, it's important to point out to them that their theology doesn't consider these men to be "Christians," but rather "heretics" at best, "infidels" at worst.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Hulk Hogan, Calvinist!

TMZ has the deal on Hulk Hogan's theological explanation for why his jailed son's friend was nearly killed and is now paralyzed for life as a result of Hulk's son's reckless drunk driving.
Unitarian Zeitgeist:

An orthodox Christian apologist for the "Christian Nation" idea responded to my thoughts on presumptions, burdens of proofs and smoking guns. He's taking the position that unless there is smoking gun evidence for a Founder's unitarianism, we should interpret nominal references to Christianity and scripture made during America's Founding era to mean the person was an orthodox Trinitarian Christian, regenerate, believed the Bible infallible, etc. By the way, I don't argue that all Founders should be presumed "non-Trinitarians" unless there is smoking gun evidence for Trinitarianism. Rather, that if all we have are a few nominal references to Christianity and the Bible and some contemporaries saying, "yes he's a good Christian," we shouldn't presume Trinitarianism but rather need to put pieces of the puzzle together before we form a definite conclusion. Our conclusion might be an "I don't know," or subject to qualifiers like "probably," and "in all likelihood." That's why I conclude Washington probably was not an orthodox Trinitarian Christian, but rather believed in the same system in which Jefferson, J. Adams, and Franklin believed.

In any event, the critic writes:

First of all, on "how orthodox Christian interpret the Bible." Christians do not have to "interpret" the Bible in a certain way in order to be "orthodox." The Bible is not unclear on issues like the deity of Christ, His atonement, the existence of one God in three Persons, etc. "Orthodoxy" is what the Bible teaches. "Unorthodoxy" disagree [sic] with what the Bible teaches. Different denominations interpret the Bible differently.

In light of those facts, the ONLY ASSUMPTION I AM MAKING IN OUR EXAMINATION OF THE FOUNDERS is that "Christian" means "Christian" (which is synonymous with "orthodox") in each case of the Founders unless their [sic] is smoking gun evidence that proves otherwise. (Also, there is no difference between a regenerate Christian and a born-again Christian.)

I think there is an astounding arrogance bordering on delusion that holds orthodox Christians don't "interpret" the Bible, but just "read" it and that those who disbelieve in the Trinity "disagree" with the Bible. I've witnessed similar fanaticism on the Volokh threads where this commenter noted, "the Bible does not require interpretation. It is literal truth."

Theological unitarianism profoundly influenced the American Founding. It was according to the creeds of all established churches in the 18th century, a theological heresy. And such was a something one had to keep "secret" in the 18th Century, else his good reputation be damaged. However, it is undeniable that the elite Whigs who Founded America disproportionately tended to believe in the unitarian heresy or otherwise were not identifiably Trinitarian. And, importantly, they saw a connection between their unitarianism and the principles they posited in founding America.

I personally believe this aptly describes the first four American Presidents. Washington's and Madison's non-Trinitarianism is disputed. Even if we conceded them as Trinitarians, J. Adams' and Jefferson's unitarianism is indisputable. That's at least 50% of the first 4 Presidents believing in the unitarian heresy, which fact alone illustrates unitarianism's vast disproportionate influence on the minds of the Founding Fathers. Even if we extended to the first 6 or so Presidents that still doesn't bode well for Trinitarianism. David L. Holmes has concluded that James Monroe believed in the same "moderate Deism" (what Dr. Gregg Frazer would term "theistic rationalism") as the other key Founders. And John Quincy Adams vacillated between Unitarianism and Trinitarianism his entire adult life.

And different strains of "unitarianism" influenced the Founding. There were biblical unitarians (those folks who denied the Trinity based on the authority of scripture) and rationalists unitarians (those who denied the Trinity because the doctrine was "unreasonable," regardless of what the Bible says). On the one hand, the rationalists unitarians like Jefferson, J. Adams, and Franklin, somewhat played into the hands of the Trinitarians who argue "we follow the Bible, the unitarians follow reason." They did indeed disagree with much of what is written in the Bible and said that man's reason trumps revelation and could "edit" the error from the Bible. Yet, the existence of many notable, intelligent, biblical unitarians destroys the notion that the Bible teaches the Trinity and unitarians just disagree with what's written in the Bible, with no "interpretation" necessary.

These biblical unitarians, in good conscience, relying on the Bible as final authority, genuinely believed the Bible teaches Christ's subordinate nature to God the Father. Prominent Founding and post-Founding era figures such as John Marshall, Joseph Story and Jared Sparks would qualify as "biblical unitarians" as would Isaac Newton and John Milton.

In any event, theological unitarianism was such a powerful temptation among America's elite Whig Founders that it even caused notable orthodox Christian figures to flirt with unitarianism or otherwise doubt or downplay the Trinity. This point Garry Wills makes in his recent book "Head and Heart" (who knows whether he's been reading my work!).

I haven't included John Jay as one of the "theistic rationalists" or "unitarians," but the following quotation from him doubting that the Bible really teaches the Trinity destroys the claim that we should simply "impute" orthodox Trinitarianism into nominal references the Founding Fathers make to "scripture" and the "Christian Religion" because any idiot can see the Trinity is right there, indisputably, in the Bible's text:

It appeared to me that the Trinity was a Fact fully revealed and substantiated, but that the quo modo was incomprehensible by human Ingenuity. According to sundry Creeds, the divine Being whom we denominate the second Person in the Trinity had before all worlds been so generated or begotten by the first Person in the Trinity, as to be his coeval, coequal and coeternal Son. For proof of this I searched the Scriptures diligently -- but without Success. I therefore consider the Position of being at least of questionable Orthodoxy.

-- John Jay to Samuel Miller, February 18, 1822. Jay Papers, Columbia University Library.

What was John Jay stupid? Could he not read if the Trinity is right there, indisputably, in the Bible's pages? He certainly acts as though he didn't have such an easy time finding it.

I copied this directly from James H. Hutson's book of quotations p. 217, Princeton University Press (the paperback features my name on the back in a blurb). Right above on the same page is a quotation from John Dickinson, again, someone who I am willing to put in the "orthodox Christian" box, discussing his difficulty with the Trinity.

So no, nominal references to Christianity from the Founding era are not necessarily references to orthodox Trinitarianism and it was certainly not the case that virtually all of these men who understood themselves to be "Christians" confidently believed that the Bible teaches the Trinity and other orthodox doctrines.
Amazing Atheist on the Phelps Family:

This YouTube character makes some interesting points on the Westboro Baptist Church and the Christian Religion. Warning the language is not scholarly but rather more like what you hear in a Kevin Smith movie. And let me stress, I don't support his uncivil verbal attacks on "Christians"; I just want to play this clip to explore the kernel of truth in his argument: That the Westboro Baptist Church read, follow and faithfully cite the same Bible as all other fundamentalists. Those evangelicals who argue that the WBC do not know their Bibles or are citing things that aren't in the Bible are utterly deluding themselves. Period. They just adopt for the most mean spirited "literal" interpretation of the Bible as possible. They are well within the tradition of 5-points Calvinism. But again, they just opt for the meanest interpretation of 5-points Calvinism possible.

21st century Western societies are much nicer places than 16th Century Europe when Calvin operated. So mainstream Calvinists today, though they can sound mean, still tend to draw a line of civility that reflects 21st century thought and tend not so sound as mean as Calvin did in the 16th Century. It's the Phelps' that cross that line. Indeed Calvin had Michael Servetus burned at the stake for publicly denying the Trinity! You don't get any meaner than that.

Indeed, in researching Calvin on Romans 13, I've found he said some mean things that no 21st Century mainstream Calvinist would cite, such that I thought I was listening to Fred Phelps. But in reality, it's Phelps in all of his mean spirited glory who sounds like Calvin. For instance, one reason why Calvin held it's sinful to rebel against political tyrants is that God may have sent a tyrannical King to punish a people!

From his Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book IV:

25. The wicked ruler a judgment of God

But it we have respect to the word of God, it will lead us farther, and make us subject not only to the authority of those princes who honestly and faithfully perform their duty toward us, but all princes, by whatever means they have so become, although there is nothing they less perform than the duty of princes. For though the Lord declares that ruler to maintain our safety is the highest gift of his beneficence, and prescribes to rulers themselves their proper sphere, he at the same time declares, that of whatever description they may be, they derive their power from none but him. Those, indeed, who rule for the public good, are true examples and specimens of big beneficence, while those who domineer unjustly and tyrannically are raised up by him to punish the people for their iniquity. Still all alike possess that sacred majesty with which he has invested lawful power.

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.

There Calvin explains not only why something like the American Revolution -- which would happen a few hundred years later -- would be sinful, but answers the question: Why do bad things happen to good people? As Calvinist, the late D. James Kennedy used to put it, "they don't, because there are no good people." So if a bad thing happens to you like a burglary, murder or other personal tragedy, it's God cursing man. Likewise, if a Saddam Hussein rose to power in America, political rebellion would be sinful because the tyrant is God's punishment on America. You should now be able to see how the Phelps family are well within the tradition of 5-points Calvinism in thanking God for all of these terrible things that happen like 9-11 and Katrina.
An Evangelical Reacts to David Barton's Nonsense:

Here. Money quote:

Arguably the most ridiculous claims made by Barton come from his book, America's Godly Heritage, where he states that 52 of the 55 signers to the Declaration of Independence were "orthodox" or "evangelical Christians." Are you kidding me???

Barton gets attacked quite a bit; and I've done some attacking myself. I think he's brought a lot of the attacking on himself though.

That he's not some nobody from Podunkville (even though, with his BA in math education from Oral Roberts University, he has the credentials of one), but is immensely influential in certain evangelical circles (i.e., the "homeschooled" crowd) has made it inevitable that his "research" would be put under the microscope and there would be a backlash against his claims.

The most thorough attacking is done by Chris Rodda -- a bit shrill in her rhetoric and extremely harsh in her criticisms. But with Barton et al., it's arguably "duly" harsh.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

John McCain and Americanism:

It has pleased the Providence of the first Cause, the Universal Cause, that Abraham should give religion not only to Hebrews but to Christians and Mahomitans, the greatest part of the modern civilized world.

-- John Adams to M.M. Noah, July 31, 1818.

Interesting news that John McCain rejected the endorsement of and was consequently unendorsed by Rod Parsley and John Hagee. This illustrates the tension between orthodox Christianity and Americanism. I know that Parsley and Hagee are sort of goofballs and probably do not well represent orthodox Christianity. However, Parsley's notion that Islam is a false religion is an authentic teaching of orthodox Christianity, just as Hagee's idea that Roman Catholicism is an apostate religion is an authentic teaching of orthodox evangelical Protestantism.

Orthodox Christians need to grapple with the question “can one be a good Christian and a good American at the same time?” The two don’t always mix well and Christians would be well warned to distinguish between them. “Americanism” as put forth by America’s key Founders holds that most or all religions (including ISLAM -- see Adams' above quotation) are valid "religions."

John McCain, as potential President, is going to be encouraged to tow the line of Americanism — as such he’s going to have to welcome Muslims as equal citizens and their faith as valid. The trouble he’s having with Hagee & Parsley well illustrates the tension between orthodox Christianity and Americanism. That Islam or arguably any non-Christian faith is “false” is a profoundly un-American idea and will not mix well in Presidential politics.

John McCain's faith -- that he believes in God and is a "Christian" in probably a nominal sense -- well positions him for the American Presidency. The early Presidents and Abe Lincoln were NOT orthodox Trinitarian Christians and as such they helped establish a tradition of making anyone who believes in God feel fully included as an "American" citizen. America went from being almost all Protestant to religiously diverse because of the principles put forth by Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Madison, and Lincoln, not in spite of them.

There have been orthodox Trinitarian Christians as Presidents like Jimmy Carter and the current President. But they still tend to follow the tradition established by the early non-orthodox Presidents of pretending all religions worship the same God. Presidents, as public figure heads, are encouraged to talk about God -- quite a bit actually -- but downplay or avoid specific doctrines like Trinitarian orthodoxy.

You could tell Ronald Reagen devoutly believed in God from his public proclamations; but I'm hard pressed to find evidence of his traditional Christianity from the public speeches he made as President (I'm not even sure if he was one).

When George W. Bush claimed the Muslims' "Allah" was the same God he, as a Christian, worshipped, he was being a "good American" President, not necessarily a good orthodox Trinitarian Christian.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Founders & Religions, Burdens of Proof, Presumptions & Smoking Guns:

Over the years, I've witnessed and been involved in very meticulous debates over the America's Founding Fathers and their religious beliefs. One reason why the different sides can come to such differing conclusions on matters like "what was George Washington's religious faith?" is the historical record contains some ambiguities.

That's where presumptions and smoking guns come into play. No matter what one's presumption, when you have smoking gun quotations (like, for instance, when Jefferson explicitly rejected EVERY single tenet of orthodox Christianity as he did in his October 31, 1819 letter to William Short) then usually one concedes the point. If there aren't smoking gun quotations but rather "pieces" of the puzzle to put together, each side tends to resolve the ambiguities in favor of a particular presumption.

At bottom of this "Christian Nation" idea, I see a presumption -- one I find to be an utter historical myth with no foundation in the record or in how orthodox Christians themselves are supposed to interpret the Bible -- that just about all of the "Founding Fathers" were devout, regenerate, orthodox Trinitarian Christians (some even go so far and state "evangelical" or "born-again") and only if it can be shown beyond a reasonable doubt with smoking guns (like the above mentioned Jefferson's letter to William Short) should that presumption be overcome.

What the record actually shows is that virtually all of the Founding Fathers had some type of formal or nominal association with a "Christian Church" (like the Anglican, Congregational, etc.) all of which in the 18th Century professed orthodoxy in their official creeds. Likewise, almost all in the population considered themselves "Protestant Christian" in some formal sense, even if many or most were un-churched.

In that broad way, nominal-Christian sense, I would concede all of the "key" Founding Fathers -- Washington, J. Adams, Jefferson, Madison, Franklin -- to be "Christians." Indeed, I consider nominal or broad-way Protestant Christianity (that which encompasses all sorts of theologically liberal heresies) to be a key component of America's public Founding (and a key component of "theistic rationalism").

But that's not how traditional orthodox Christians understand "Christianity." As as I read the Bible, and understand the traditional orthodox Christian view of the creed, true Christianity is a narrow path. Since the Bible talks about the true path as so narrow, most orthodox Christians concede that "real Christians" are only a minority in any given population at any given time -- even in nations whose demographics are predominantly or exclusively "Christian."

Even in colonial era America, when the colonies were under theocratic rule, when they were far more "traditionally religious" than during America's Founding era from 1776-1800, orthodox Christians may want to pause before claiming a "majority" of its citizens. One of the earliest proponents of religious liberty and separation of Church & State, Roger Williams, an uber-orthodox Christian, was convinced the majority of his fellow colonial era Americans were NOT real Christians in the regenerate sense. Indeed, he thought in part because of the inevitable presence of so many non-regenerate folks in any country it was utterly blasphemous for any "nation" to call itself "Christian" even though some real Christians were in it.

One notable study of the religiosity of late 18th Century America found it to have a distinctively un-churched population with only as 17 percent as regular church goers. James H. Hutson has noted this study may be a lowball, that as many as 70 percent may have been regular churchgoers. But even if we concede the 70 percent figure, orthodox Christians still can't presume that all or even most of them were "real," regenerate Christians, as opposed to nominal Christians. Indeed, their faith tells them they can't presume this.

What is defined as "theistic rationalism"/"unitarianism"/"Christian-Deism" is just a highly intellectualized version of the generic, nominal Christianity that arguably has always had a strong presence in the pews of Christian Churches.

John Derbyshire, referring to his own nominal Anglicanism, once said something along the lines of the lazy Christian mind is reflexively Deist. Studies today show that the dominant belief among young people in Christian Churches is not orthodox Christianity but "Moralistic Therapeutic Deism" (the linked article inaptly refers to this creed as "new"). Likewise Jefferson once said, "I remember to have heard Dr. Priestley say, that if all England would candidly examine themselves, and confess, they would find that Unitarianism was really the religion of all...." The following from Madison on George Washington's faith likewise illustrates the "unthinking" unitarianism of a man who didn't identify as such. Madison said he did "not suppose that Washington had ever attended to the arguments for Christianity, and for the different systems of religion, or in fact that he had formed definite opinions on the subject."

Unthinking unitarianism is simple belief in God and attachment to the Christian religion without care or concern about doctrines one way or the other. Here Alexander Hamilton, in describing what he looked for in a wife, explicates this radical doctrinal indifference. "As to religion, a moderate streak will satisfy me. She must believe in god and hate a saint."

Nominal Christians as they were living in an era when when orthodox Christian Churches and figures possessed much social power, America's Founders oft-had to, as Gary North put it, (describing Blackstone) "tip[] the brim of their epistemological caps to God and the Bible, but they did not take off their caps in the presence of God."

Likewise when these nominal Christians made nominal references to Christianity and scripture, many apologists for the Christian Nation thesis (see here, here, here and here) use this as an opportunity to "read in" to the record orthodox Trinitarianism, the Bible is infallible, regeneration, evangelicalism, being "born-again" and all sorts of other things they associate with "real Christianity." For instance, if Jefferson hadn't told us what he really believed in in his private letters, could you imagine what these apologists would do (or have done!) with the following quotation of his from his Second Inaugural Address:

I shall need, too, the favor of that Being in whose hands we are, who led our forefathers, as Israel of old, from their native land, and planted them in a country flowing with all the necessaries and comforts of life; who has covered our infancy with his providence, and our riper years with his wisdom and power; and to whose goodness I ask you to join with me in supplications, that he will so enlighten the minds of your servants, guide their councils, and prosper their measures, that whatsoever they do, shall result in your good, and shall secure to you the peace, friendship, and approbation of all nations.

This was coming from the mouth of a man who was a former Vestryman in the Anglican Church and simultaneously rejected "[t]he immaculate conception of Jesus, his deification, the creation of the world by him, his miraculous powers, his resurrection and visible ascension, his corporeal presence in the Eucharist, the Trinity; original sin, atonement, regeneration, election, orders of Hierarchy, &c."

The Christian Nation apologists attempt to argue Jefferson was a religious outlier, but this isn't so. As noted, John Adams, generally understood to have political and religious views mainstream for the Founding Fathers, had religious views nearly identical to Jefferson's. And there is little in the historical record that shows Washington, G. Morris, Wilson, Madison or Hamilton (before the end of his life, after his son died in a duel) to have personal religious views that differed at all from Jefferson's, Franklin's and J. Adams'.

Hopefully this explains why it is that I will not give Washington, Madison, Hamilton, Wilson the "benefit of the doubt" and presume ANY kind of orthodox Trinitarianism, regeneration, belief that the Bible is infallible because I think those arguing for such have the burden of so demonstrating.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Howse Encourages MacArthur to Whore the Christian Religion For Politics:

Brannon Howse has responded to John MacArthur's notion that America was conceived in sin. As I've noted before, how to properly understand Romans 13 is something over which traditional biblical Christians can reasonably disagree. The easiest way to say that God permits revolt against tyranny is to become a liberal cafeteria Christian and just disregard that scripture. Traditional Christians, rather, have the burden believing the infallibility of the entire Book and have to deal with every word of it as binding.

Howse is not as charitable as I am; rather, he argues the only proper way to understand Romans 13 is the interpretation that holds revolt against tyrannical government is permitted. As he reacts to MacArthur's position:

When you combine a lack of knowledge about the American Revolution with a false interpretation of Romans 13, you end up with good conservative Christians adding to the misinformation about our Founders and believing that America was not established under God but by an un-Christian rebellion.


The Founding Fathers did not violate New Testament principles when they instituted American independence, and it is critical that we close ranks on this fundamental issue. Our nation was founded under God’s guiding hand—not in spite of it. Whether or not we continue in the godly heritage of the first Americans is a vital concern, but it’s one that should be debated between “us” and “them,” not between “us” and “us.”

What arrogance it is for Howse to call MacArthur's interpretation of Romans 13 "false." MacArthur has probably forgotten more Bible verses and more about the history of orthodox Christian theology than Howse will ever know. MacArthur is aware, as Howse should be, that Christianity is a lot older than America. And an orthodox Christian's duty is to his religion before his country. I don't even need to chime in as the evangelicals at Worldview Weekend are commenting, many of whom are aware of the strong tradition MacArthur's position has in the history of orthodox Christian thought, and the fidelity that it pays to the plain meaning of the Bible's text. As one of them writes:

Daniel and the Hebrew midwives did not work toward establishing their own order of government. They continued to place themselves under the governing authority even in the midst of their civil disobedience. Trying to compare Moses leading the children of Israel out of Egypt with the Founding Fathers leading a revolution against England falls short as well. Moses was not acting on theological/philosophical ideals, but upon direct revelations from God. When Paul and the other early church leaders wrote to the first Christians they were not concerned with establishing a "Christian" nation, but with proclaiming the Gospel and giving instruction for living out the Christian life. Rome was far more wicked than England, yet Paul never urges revolt against them. I am not saying that America is a bad country or a evil nation; only that it is not above questioning or critique. I love my country and thank God that I am able to call America my home. However, my loyalty is to Christ and the Gospel not Democracy and Capitalism.

And other:

If Nero, who was in power when Romans was written, was not beyond the "endorsement" of God as per the given instructions, then how is it incredible that King George might also be countenanced in the book of Romans?

Indeed, unlike Nero, King George III was a "Christian" King, as the Founders so referred to him.

Also problematic for Howse is that he turns to David Barton for authority over John MacArthur. David Barton is notorious for whoring the Christian religion for the sake of Republican politics and in many ways has gotten biblical Christians like Howse and the Worldview Weekend crowd in a mess, painted them into a corner, by conflating Americanism, traditional Christianity, and the Republican Party as interchangeable.

Here is an example of Barton's whoring the Christian religion while stumping for the Roman Catholic Sam Brownback. (Why did I emphasis "Roman Catholic"? This message may not sound nice -- and it illustrates the exclusiveness of Protestant fundamentalism that makes this creed totally personally unacceptable to me; but the fact is, historically, evangelicals have NOT thought of the Roman Catholics as "real Christians" and vice-versa; the notion that evangelicals and Roman Catholics are united in the Body of Christ is a radical innovation of the modern era, and reflects the egalitarian, zeitgeist of our modern liberal democratic age as well as an attempt for socially conservative Roman Catholics and evangelical Protestants to unite for political purposes to counter the forces of secular liberalism).

The first thing Barton says is that John Adams gave a list of people responsible for the American Revolution and they were all Christians, and ministers of the gospel and we don't study them much today. Then he reads the list of names of these "Christians," and they are: Samuel Cooper, Jonathan Mayhew, George Whitefield, and Charles Chauncy. The problem is, according to the way Barton, Howse, and MacArthur understand Christianity, only ONE on that list was a Christian: George Whitefield. Cooper, Mayhew, Chauncy and Adams himself were theological unitarians. Whatever the differences between evangelicals and Catholics, at least they have a common ground in Trinitarian orthodoxy. Most of the names Barton cites as Christians denied those orthodox tenets and thus were far more removed from "Christianity" than are Roman Catholics, according to the way evangelicals understand "Christianity."

Either Barton knows what these guys believed in and is deceiving orthodox Christians into believing Adams et al. were "real Christians," or he is ignorant of what they believed.

John MacArthur would never make such an error or peddle such ignorance.

For those of us who are secular, or theologically liberal minded, much of this might not seem like a big deal. Roman Catholics, evangelicals, Mormons, JWs, Arians, Socinians, they all call themselves and understand themselves to be "Christians," so what's the big deal? That's "broad-path," liberal, nominal Christianity. As I have studied orthodox Christianity, the "narrowness" IS a big deal. Your soul depends on getting these issues right. And it's the political whoring like we've seen from David Barton that likely leads folks astray into all sorts of what evangelicals would consider theological errors, some of which are so serious they can damn the soul (like you can be a real Christian and believe Jesus is not fully God, like J. Adams, Mayhew, Cooper, and Chauncy did).
Future & Energy:

I'm fairly optimistic on the energy scenario. I think oil is another bubble waiting to burst. Given high energy demands of China and India, I don't think we'll ever see the days of oil in the $10 or $20 dollars a barrel. But $60-70 seems a more realistic number after the bubble (hopefully) bursts.

But what if the bubble doesn't burst? What if oil goes to $200 a barrel? Some expert recently predicted $12-15 dollar gallon gas. Even if such occurs, I'm still optimistic that life will go on as we adapt to those changes.

I often have my international business students read the following article from James Howard Kunstler -- again, one whose premise I don't believe in -- just to let them know there are doom-and-gloom theories from both the right and the left about future problems. Kunstler does not say that life will just go on. Rather he says the adaptations will require radical life changes -- that Walmart will collapse (because of all of the energy it uses in its long supply change) a whole slew of formerly middle class professionals (probably those people who have to commute more than 5 miles to work, which Kunstler argues middle class folks no longer will be able to afford) are going to be working as farmers, and life is going to become a lot more like Little House on the Prairie for them. As he says in his article, the world is about to become a much less flat, much larger place again.

Forces on the left (like Paul Ehrlich) and the right (Pat Robertson, Hal Lindsey, the Y2K, Jesus is coming soon crowd) have been feeding us this Chicken Little The Sky Is Fallen line for so long that it's becoming like the boy who cried wolf.

If it really gets that bad with oil; we'll consume less and use alternate sources of energy. We’ll drive less and drive far more fuel efficient cars. Expect to see much smaller cars, and many more of those smart cars that look like they are made of fiberglass. Also expect to see more motorcycle and scooter drivers. When I visited Rome in 2001 I was astonished by how many ordinary professional types drove motor scooters in the city.

You can’t really take a family on a motorcycle. But, if you are one person driving to work in a car that holds 5…maybe one day we will see that as a waste of energy and insist that person driving to work should drive something that holds only one person.

I know in the winter, I'd hate to have to drive a motorcycle to work; but the market would demand the creation of a car with three or four wheels, that holds one maybe two people and their bags, not much larger than a motorcycle with an inside that can be heated an air-conditioned.

I’m hoping this is NOT the future. But as an optimist, if we did have to live with oil rationing and $10 a gallon gas, I think life could go on with most single drivers switching from large cars to more motorcycle-like cars to get to work.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

On Political Protestantism and Liberty:

On the American Revolution Blog, I participated in long discussions on the key American Founders' personal faith, in particular, on George Washington's. I've conceded that unlike the case with J. Adams, Jefferson, and Franklin, with Washington, there are no "smoking gun" quotations, one way or the other. Rather, you have to "fit" pieces together in a puzzle. And even though Washington doesn't "fit" with a strict Deist, Thomas Paine-like faith, he "fits" perfectly with the middle ground, softer form of what the orthodox termed "infidelity" that J. Adams, Jefferson, and Franklin clearly believed in and what Madison very likely believed in.

Indeed, Washington in his cabinet surrounded himself with those softer, milder Protestant infidels, J. Adams, Jefferson, Madison, G. Morris and others. And J. Adams and Jefferson, the two Presidents who followed Washington -- indeed perhaps the next three, four, or more -- were likewise closet heretic-infidels (again, according to orthodox Christian standards). That's why one Reverend Wilson from Albany, New York -- erroneously thought by historians to be Bird Wilson (James Wilson's son) but in reality was a Presbyterian Covenanter named James Renwick Willson -- could decry in a sermon in 1831, on the religion of the Presidents from Washington to Jackson, “among all our presidents from Washington downward, not one was a professor of religion, at least not of more than Unitarianism.”

Few realize how controversial this sermon was in 1831. The public in Albany burned James Renwick Willson in effigy for it. Willson was a member of the "non-respectable Right," and as with the "non-respectable Left" (like Thomas Paine and Ethan Allen) such figures weren't afraid to tackle sacred cows, even if it meant having their public reputations ruined. In all historical ages, including the present one, we live by public myths or at the very least have certain public sacred cows which might not necessarily be true, but that only non-respectable sides willingly challenge. Sometimes public figures unknowingly venture into such minefields (see for instance Larry Summers) and pay the consequences for it.

What few appreciate about the religion of America's key Founders is that their personal, heterodox religious views were non-respectable for their time (the mid to late 18th Century). The Right tends to deny that they possessed such views. And the Left seems to argue America was proudly, publicly, and openly founded on such "infidelity." The innovative ideas that drove the American Founding came in large part from elite sources whose heretical religious views were closeted as they did their best to pass off unconventional, non-traditional ideas as perfectly compatible with "Christianity." America's Founders were the "cultural elite" of their day. These were also men who guarded their public reputations with their lives and lived by a very civilized, "gentlemanly" code of conduct and honor. As such, regarding their religious secrets, they treaded with great caution. They saw how Thomas Paine's loud infidelity ruined his public reputation. And quite frankly, Washington, J. Adams, Jefferson, Madison, and Franklin, did NOT, like Paine, want to overthrow the institution of "religion," but rather wanted it to further reform and liberalize its doctrines (which raises a whole new can of worms: "liberalization" of Christianity to them meant getting rid of such "irrational" doctrines like original sin, the trinity, incarnation, atonement, eternal damnation and infallibility of the Bible, arguably transforming Christianity into a different animal).

It really was not safe to "come out of the closet" as a non-Trinitarian Christian in America until the late 1790s, around 1800. But you can thank America's Founders for that safe environment: Recognizing the rights of conscience as unalienable meant that the forces of orthodoxy could no longer use the power of the state to enforce conformity. The orthodox could and did scold deists and unitarians as heretics and infidels. But with the rights of conscience secure, such heterodox thinkers were now free to form their own societies and social groups and begin to publicly argue their case without fear of civil penalty. By the 19th Century in New England, although the orthodox still considered it a soul damning heresy (as they still do), Unitarianism became a socially respectable form of liberal Protestant Christianity. Harvard University officially went Unitarian around 1805.

It's my contention, after a few other more notable scholars, that the political dimension of Protestantism as a movement of dissidence, NOT the theological dimension of Protestantism as an orthodox creed, is responsible for religious and political liberty. When Jefferson rejected "[t]he immaculate conception of Jesus, his deification, the creation of the world by him, his miraculous powers, his resurrection and visible ascension, his corporeal presence in the Eucharist, the Trinity; original sin, atonement, regeneration, election, orders of Hierarchy, &c.," he was being a good political Protestant, not a good orthodox Christian. Jefferson, J. Adams, arguably most of the key Founders held to such heretical unitarian religious beliefs at a time when doing so was socially (and in some instances legally) prohibited. As such one motivation in bringing the rights of conscience to America was so that secret heretics such as themselves would feel more comfortable "coming out." And indeed, that's exactly what occurred.
American Revolution Blog:

Check out this group blog by an intellectually diverse, but right of center group with an interest in the history of the American Founding. I've participated in a number of different discussion threads there and they have a genuine interest in the question of the religion of America's key Founders. See their most recent one on James Madison which follows the Stephen Waldman/David Holmes/Gregg Frazer (and Jon Rowe) view that America's key Founders were neither Christians nor Deists but somewhere in between.
A Christian Blog That "Gets It":

The following looks like a thoughtful blog by an orthodox Christian that well understands the tension between America's Founding civil religion and traditional biblical Christianity. It discusses among other things the dangers for traditional Christians in patriotism. Here is one of his posts on Romans 13 and the Nature's god [he purposefully has god in lowercase] of the Declaration of Independence.

The Declaration of Independence baptizes our nation into the name of a foreign god,and the founding fathers consciously dismiss the God revealed in the Bible. In the act of American independence, they defy a clear exhortation of the apostle Paul. Paul’s God does not impel revolutions. Paul’s God does not encourage His people to willfully rebel against appointed governors; even if those governors do not fear God. The god of Nature, however, does impel such actions. The fathers are entitled by Nature’s god to throw off English authority. How can we conclude that the founding fathers were following the same God as Paul?

I will gladly concede that traditional orthodox Christians can, in good faith argue over the compatibility of "Americanism" and "Christianity," and can reasonably conclude that yes, you can be both a good Christian and a good American. However, two points I want to stress: 1) The above quoted paragraph, without question, accurately represents a longstanding and reasonable, "literal" interpretation of Romans 13 in orthodox Christendom. And 2) whatever the compatibility between Americanism and Christianity, there was a very strong and profoundly influential non-Christian 18th Century Enlightenment-Whig worldview that influenced the Founding and orthodox Christians in the populace themselves.

Consider, whatever his faith, George Washington's favorite play, one he had played to his troops to rally them at Valley Forge was Cato about a figure from pagan antiquity who would rather commit suicide (yes, the very un-Christian act of suicide!) than submit to the political tyranny of Caesar.

No honest person can deny the tension between the pagan-worldview of "Cato the Younger" and that of traditional orthodox Christianity. That the American Whigs lauded Cato the Younger does not prove they were all non-Christians. Whatever Washington's faith, Patrick Henry, from what I've studied, was indeed an orthodox Christian. And he too lauded Cato. Indeed without that play the words "Give me liberty of give me death," probably would never have come from Henry's lips. The point is, even if those words were coming out of the mouth of a Christian the ideas were not biblical or Christian but pagan and Enlightenment. Again, we can debate the compatibility between Christianity and such Enlightenment-Whig ideas. But it seems to me, we cannot debate that "give me political liberty or give me death" is not an authentically Christian or biblical concept, but rather derives from a-biblical sources like Cato.

Cato likewise reflects the longing that the American Founders had for the non-biblical world of classical, Greco-Roman pagan antiquity. Both the Federalists and the Anti-Federalists adopted pagan, not biblical surnames. Hamilton, Madison, and Jay wrote the Federalist Papers, and all three of their faiths have been subject to debate. When writing the Papers it's likely that Hamilton and Madison were not orthodox Christians, but Jay (who only wrote 6 of the papers, compared to Hamilton's 52 and Madison's 28) was. Still that a Christian like Jay could write some of the Federalist Papers -- a series almost entirely devoid of biblical content -- using a pagan surname, "Publius," only further illustrates the tension between the worldview of the American Founding and that of traditional biblical Christianity.
Did They Ever Do A Better Song Without Neil Young:

Answer: No.

Nice classes, by the way Stephen. Are you going flying anytime soon Mr. Aviator?

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Worst Steve Walsh Lyrics Ever!

What made the band Kansas great in the 70s was a combination of Steve Walsh's incredible voice (in his prime, arguably the best prog-rock vocalist ever), Kerry Livgren's great compositions (both words & music) and really cool orchestration among 6 very good but non-virtuostic (in the Rick Wakeman, Keith Emerson sense) players. Their first 5 studio albums, beginning with "Kansas" and ending with "Point of Know Return" are must have for any serious prog-rock fan, as is "Two for the Show," their live album from the "Point of Know Return" tour.

Long story short: Walsh, a phenomenal singer and good keyboardist, was never the writer that Livgren was, but nonetheless began demanding more "writing" time as they became a "bigger" band. And Livgren in 1979 became a born-again Christian (as did bassist Dave Hope) which led to tension with their non-born again members (Steve Walsh eventually quit for a variety of reasons, one important of which was, as a singer, he didn't "feel" the born-again lyrics that Livgren started writing, after 1979). The last two studio albums following POKR they did with Walsh -- "Monolith" and "Audio Visions" -- have a few gems (notably "A Glimpse of Home" from Monolith and "No One Together" from Audio Visions), but, they started going downhill writing wise (and sales wise!) with those two albums. The reason in my opinion? They let Steve Walsh write more of the material, exactly as he wanted. Plus, Livgren's writing peaked around Leftoverture and Point of Know Return; I think he was ready to let Walsh take more writing responsibility.

Once Walsh left in 1981, they replaced him with born-again Christian John Elephante who gladly sang Livgren's lyrics about becoming a born-again Christian. However, with Walsh gone, so was the original Kansas magic. And although they produced some great tunes, Livgren was in his prime, writing wise, before he became a born-again Christian. Much of the material he wrote before 1979, before he was a Christian, reflected his "spiritual search." After 1979, he found what he was looking for. Though he produced good and great music from both eras, his music, in my opinion, was much better when he was searching, than after he found his truth.

Anyway the following is Steve Walsh's "Anything For You," with lyrics reproduced below. Because his voice was in his prime (as any serious Kansas fan will let you know, Walsh, like many rock vocalists, has lost some tone and range since then), I can listen to and enjoy anything he sang in that era. Though, lyric wise, this is about as bad as it gets.

I still believe in what you say
I still believe that it could work ok
But love is just another game you play
You'll never change your mind
You exist so free and clear
Let no one touch you let no one near
I think you're just someone afraid of fear
Or what you just might find
I can see them all lining up outside your front door
Filthy minds and terrible habits are interesting sure


O but look at me now if I've changed tell me how
O I'd do anything for you

I'm sick of fighting but I need you so
You tell me lies but I can't let go
I want to take you out but you say no
Think you're ashamed of me
You give me headaches o you got your gall
If it weren't for me you wouldn't have nuttin' at all
I fell for you 'caus you were nice and tall
I liked what I could see
I could be the keeper of fortunes if I was inclined
Let me know that you're standing beside me I'll give them a sign


O but look at me now if I've changed tell me how
O I'd do anything for you

I could lead an army to victory or win in a race
I could do it if only I knew that you'd save me a place


O but look at me now if I've changed tell me how
O I'd do anything for you

To redeem them, the following is "No One Together" from Audio-Visions, written by (of course) Livgren. This live recording has some rough spots. But this is *the* gem of Audio-Visions, progressive rock at its best.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Gay Marriage & Republicanism:

One of the talking points of the wingnuts is America is a republic not a democracy. Although a few folks I respect have said such (notably Walter Williams), most folks who parrot this line don't know what they are talking about. America is and was founded to be a democracy, a liberal democracy in fact. "Democracy" simply means "voting" -- if there are legitimate elections, then there is "democracy." (If the elections are a sham, then it's a "banana republic" so to speak.) America's Constitution provides for elections, ergo America is a democracy. The term small l "liberal" simply means there are individual rights that majorities cannot abridge. So that's liberal democracy in a nutshell. Elections by the majority with individual rights that the majority cannot abridge.

Francis Fukuyama said something along the lines of we are all "liberal democrats" now. Meaning Democrats, Republicans, Libertarians, almost all third parties (except those who want communism or theocracy) are "liberal democrats" (again, small l, small d), even Pat Robertson is a liberal democrat!

That said, the word "democracy" breaks down further. You could think of "democracy" as a genus with different species. One species of "democracy" is republicanism. Another species is direct democracy. The Framers of America's Constitution had strong distaste for the kind of "direct democracy" which they, correctly in my opinion, associated with mob rule. A majoritarian mob could vote away the rights (or the property!) of the minority. As such, America's Founders put many republican checks on majoritarianism and tended to call such a system "republicanism." That's the kernel of truth in the otherwise mindless mantra, the United States is a republic, not a democracy.

These republican checks include such things as 1) separation of powers, 2) elected representatives as opposed to the people themselves writing statutes, 3) sometimes having elite electors instead of the people themselves putting politicians into power (think of the Electoral College or "super delegates"), 4) limited enumerated powers of government, 5) judicial review, and 6) the notion of inalienable rights itself which means individual rights that majorities cannot abridge. This list is not exhaustive just illustrative.

One modern example of "direct democracy" or "mobocracy" which America's Founders would have hated (this is what they railed against, when they criticized "democracy" and lauded "republicanism") are BALLOT MEASURES, like those they have in California. Prop. 22 which tried to ban gay marriage is especially anti-republican because not only is it mobocracy, but it's the case of the majoritarian mob taking away rights from individuals or minority groups.

But it gets even worse for the anti-gay marriage forces. All of California's republican institutions seem to be in line with gay marriage. The legislature twice voted in gay marriage. This puts to rest the notion that the CA Sup. Court in the recent pro-gay marriage decision usurped the "role of the legislature." No, they were just enacting the legislature's will. That's two branches of California's republican government that support gay marriage. The Executive branch seems somewhat on the fence, but is arguably pro-gay marriage. The governor is certainly pro-gay rights. He vetoed the legislature's gay marriage bill ONLY because it conflicted with Prop. 22. And now that CA's top court has ruled their state constitution demands permitting same-sex marriage, the governor said he does NOT support amending said constitution via ballot referendum to overturn this decision. So arguably, all three branches of republican government support gay marriage in California. Everyone is in line except the mobocracy, which in 2000 voted 61.4 percent to 38.6 percent to ban gay marriage. And they've got a mechanism of "direct democracy" -- the ballot referendum -- which may permit them to overrule the court's recent decision. That's democracy trumping republicanism exactly as America's Founders would not have had it.

Remember folks we are a "republic" not a "democracy." And in California it means they ought to recognize gay marriage regardless of what the mobocracy thinks.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

My Favorite Thing in the World:

For the moment....

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Digitized Primary Sources on GW & Religion:

Google has digitized the entire volume of Bird Wilson's "Memoir of the Life of the Right Reverend William White." White was an Episcopal Bishop and presided over the church in Philadelphia George Washington attended as President. He gives key eyewitness testimony that Washington systematically avoided communion in his church. He also testifies that Washington didn't kneel when praying and kept his mouth shut on his religious specifics. His assessment is fair and balanced; he doesn't as did the minister in that church, Dr. James Abercrombie, claim this meant Washington was a Deist or not a "real Christian." But he doesn't make excuses for Washington either. Pages 188-200 reveal a number of his letters on the matter.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

I Had a Weird Dream:

I was at a Convention to elect the President. It was a tight race and apparently electors had to decide. Obama, Clinton, or McCain (I seem to remember a few others) were virtually tied and one super-delegate held enough votes to decide the election. And then he (I think it might have been Bill Clinton) gave the votes to me and said you decide. I walked up to John McCain and said, "Thank you for what you did for your country, Mr. President." I expected to be interviewed on the media afterwards.

After that I remember hanging around Morrisville, PA (originally owned by Founder Robert Morris), next to where I live in Yardley, where the town all of a sudden had working class, Philadelphia like, row-homes (they don't) which magically transformed into a long stretch for miles of an indoor like apartment building with hallways where the uniqueness and privacy of the row-home was still preserved. I can't remember whether I was walking or driving through the hallways.

I'm still planning to vote Libertarian by the way. Rather, I see this as a prophecy.
Benjamin Rush, Death Penalty Abolitionist:

Dr. Benjamin Rush was one of the earliest notable American opponents of the Death Penalty. As will be seen, his anti-capital punishment position was derived from his understanding of the Bible. Regarding his theology, Rush described it as "a compound of the orthodoxy and heterodoxy of most of our Christian churches." Basically, formerly a Calvinist, he converted to Arminianism, remained orthodox on matters of original sin, the trinity, incarnation, and atonement, but believed in universal salvation through Christ's universal atonement. In short, he was a liberal Trinitarian Christian Universalist.

You can read the primary source on googlebooks, indeed a book so old that the "s's" still look like "f's." He notes the case of the woman about to be stoned to death for adultery -- a capital crime in Old Testament times -- where Jesus forbade her execution. Though Rush doesn't explicate it, the literal meaning of Jesus' words "Let he who is WITHOUT sin," suggests that only God (or if Jesus were not God, a uniquely sinless human like him) is qualified to implement capital punishment. WITHOUT Sin. Not "you may have problems of your own, you hypocrite," but WITHOUT Sin.

Here is a short passage from Rush's writings. By all means, read the entire context.

[W]hile I am able to place a finger, upon this text of scripture, I will not believe an angel from heaven, should he declare that the punishment of death, for any crime, was inculcated, or permitted by the spirit of the gospel.

It's the same theologically liberal hermeneutic of, instead of appealing to specific "proof texts," abstracting general principles from the "spirit" of scripture to reach specific conclusions not mentioned therein, that also made the Christian case against slavery. The Bible nowhere specifically abolishes slavery; to the contrary many specific texts recognize its validity. It's only by taking the principle that because all men are created in God's image, they are equal, and then applying that to slavery, that the "spirit" of the Bible likewise can be said to be anti-slavery as it is anti-death penalty.

The death penalty and slavery are good examples of social issues where the Bible gives no clear cut answer and texts can be offered on both sides. (On slavery, I'm inclined to argue the Bible is a pro-slavery book, or at least one utterly unconcerned with its abolition.) History, not hermeneutics, answers the question. History has answered the question with slavery; it's still out on the death penalty.

Thursday, May 08, 2008

The Religious Rights' Unreal Understanding of Homosexuality:

You can always count on WorldNetDaily to express such an unreal understanding on homosexuality. WND produces two articles about an antigay administrator at the University of Toledo who was suspended for writing an antigay column. Time permits me to discuss only a few points.

First, whatever the legal or constitutional issues involved (whether this is a private school not bound by the First Amendment or a state school that is), it was lame to punish this woman for writing the column. There is plenty wrong with what this woman wrote; and the best way to counter that is to criticize her with more speech, exactly what I'm doing.

Here is one of the offending paragraphs, illustrating her poor argumentation:

"As a black woman who happens to be an alumnus of the University of Toledo's Graduate School, an employee and business owner, I take great umbrage at the notion that those choosing the homosexual lifestyle are 'civil rights victims.' Here's why. I cannot wake up tomorrow and not be a black woman. I am genetically and biologically a black woman and very pleased to be so as my Creator intended. Daily, thousands of homosexuals make a life decision to leave the gay lifestyle evidenced by the growing population of PFOX (Parents and Friends of Ex Gays) and Exodus International just to name a few.

Homosexuals are civil rights victims. Homosexuals historically have been subject to sodomy laws which led to imprisonment or worse, being banned from government jobs, institutionalization with a whole slew of sadistic treatments like electroshock therapy, reputation ruining, all which have led to at worst suicides like that of World War II hero Alan Turing. In short, if mistreatment is a criterion for being a civil rights victim, homosexuals easily pass that test.

Regarding the test of civil rights categories, her argument would be valid only if 1) blacks alone had a monopoly on civil rights status; or 2) immutability were some absolute test for civil rights status, neither of which is true. Because of unique historical circumstances, I'd be willing to live in a world where race were the only civil rights category, but that's not the world in which we live. We'd have to say goodbye to gender, pregnancy, color, ethnic origin, religion, age, disability -- all protected at the federal level. And many others protected at the state.

Many of those categories are not immutable or inborn like race. Diseases can be cured and some disabilities like paralysis result entirely from chosen risky behavior, but are covered disabilities nonetheless. Further religion is entirely a matter of choice, much more so than sexual orientation.

Does Bill Donahue's mission to fight anti-Catholic bigotry exist on a mistaken premise, that there can be no such thing as "bigotry" where the trait is mutable as Roman Catholicism certainly is? Have evangelicals ever spoken of "anti-Christian bigotry"? If this woman's premises are taken for granted, religion could not qualify as a "civil rights" category.

It is also false that daily thousands of homosexuals decide to "leave the homosexual lifestyle." Groups like Exodus have a proven record of failure with regards to most folks who attempt to change their sexual orientation.

Finally, I want to explore the issue of gays and wealth that repeatedly comes up. The argument goes something as follows: We don't need sexual orientation discrimination codes because gays & lesbians are better educated and make a lot more money. As she was reported as saying:

"Economic data is irrefutable: The normative statistics for a homosexual in the USA include a Bachelor's degree: For gay men, the median household income is $83,000/yr. (Gay singles $62,000; gay couples living together $130,000), almost 80% above the median U.S. household income of $46,326, per census data. For lesbians, the median household income is $80,000/yr. (Lesbian singles $52,000; Lesbian couples living together $96,000); 36% of lesbians reported household incomes in excess of $100,000/yr. Compare that to the median income of the non-college educated Black male of $30,539. The data speaks for itself," she said.

Jews and Asians are also better educated and make higher incomes. Could you imagine someone trying to argue they should be forbidden from anti-discrimination protection because of this. Further, because of the proven track record religious conservatives have on spreading false information in the guise of "statistics" about homosexuals, I'm extremely wary of her numbers. My own anecdotal observations suggest gays probably are better educated and have higher incomes (thus, like Jews and Asians, aren't economically impoverished). However her figures seem exaggerated to say the least. Gays would be outperforming both Jews and Asians! Gays would be civilizational superstars, the most model of the model minorities. Society arguably would have a duty to cultivate homosexuality given its incredible results at economic and civilizational achievement.

Further such high performing homosexuals suggest a biological not a developmental cause for homosexuality. There are cultural/developmental reasons as to why Jews and Asians outperform. For developmental explanations to work, they must be present in a child's environment at a young age. And indeed many Jewish and Asian homes cultivate educational and economic success from such a young age.

But gays are all raised in heterosexual households, and do not join the gay "subculture" until such development is already set in stone. Such higher rates of IQ and creativity necessary to be so better educated and make so much more $$ would have to be explained biologically, suggesting gays are biologically different. Whatever biological factors that are likely to make folks smarter and more creative are more likely to make them homosexual. If homosexuality has such a strong biological cause, it makes this woman's assertion about "choosing the homosexual lifestyle" ring all the more hollow.

Further the notion that gays can be so better educated and have higher incomes also gravely conflicts with the religious rights' notion of homosexuality as a social dysfunction. To hear them tell the story gays are hopelessly promiscuous, disease ridden, depressed, drug addicted, alcoholics.

I'm sorry but common sense dictates that a social group cannot at once both be that dysfunctional and so successful that their household incomes are almost 80% above the median. That would take hyper functionality. Gays would have to be arguably the most socially functional social group to be that successful.

This is why the narrative told by the religious right ("The Gay Agenda") is so unreal that it defies credulity.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Hamilton v. Seabury:

Alexander Hamilton's "The Farmer Refuted" is a classic piece of American literature justifying rebellion against Great Britain. Less well known is the fact that Hamilton was replying to Tory loyalist, the Reverend Samuel Seabury, the first American Episcopal bishop. This page collects the pieces of literature to which Hamilton was responding. I'm fairly certain it was the third one down, this one, to which Hamilton specifically responded.

Regarding the theological implications of the letters, I've already conceded traditional Christianity to be compatible with both sides. When Hamilton wrote "The Farmer Refuted" in 1775 he didn't have any kind of established record as an orthodox Christian, while Seabury, as an Anglican minister, certainly did.

The content of "The Farmer Refuted" certainly has nothing to do with the Bible or Christianity but rather relies on theistic naturalism and rationalism to advance its claims. In short, it is an Enlightenment, not a Christian document. Here are some highlights:

Good and wise men, in all ages, have...supposed, that the deity, from the relations, we stand in, to himself and to each other, has constituted an eternal and immutable law, which is, indispensibly, obligatory upon all mankind, prior to any human institution whatever.

This is what is called the law of nature, "which, being coeval with mankind, and dictated by God himself, is, of course, superior in obligation to any other. It is binding over all the globe, in all countries, and at all times. No human laws are of any validity, if contrary to this; and such of them as are valid, derive all their authority, mediately, or immediately, from this original." Blackstone.

Upon this law, depend the natural rights of mankind, the supreme being gave existence to man, together with the means of preserving and beatifying that existence. He endowed him with rational faculties, by the help of which, to discern and pursue such things, as were consistent with his duty and interest, and invested him with an inviolable right to personal liberty, and personal safety.

Hence, in a state of nature, no man had any moral power to deprive another of his life, limbs, property or liberty; nor the least authority to command, or exact obedience from him; except that which arose from the ties of consanguinity.


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

The nations of Turkey, Russia, France, Spain, and all other despotic kingdoms, in the world, have an inherent right, when ever they please, to shake off the yoke of servitude, (though sanctified by the immemorial usage of their ancestors;) and to model their government, upon the principles of civil liberty.

Hamilton invokes the law of nature which defines as what man discovers through reason unassisted by scripture, but also notes that the law of nature is dictated by God, which is necessary to make it binding everywhere and serve as an ultimate trump.

Where orthodox Christians run into trouble is when they suppose the Deity must be their God. Not according to Founding era doctrine. All that is needed is a monotheistic Deity. Christianity, of course, posits a monotheistic Deity, so Christianity could serve as the "religion." But so too could, according to America's Founders, Judaism, Islam, Confucianism, Native American Spirituality, and many other exotic world religions. Notice how Hamilton says, "[g]ood and wise men, in all ages,..." The plain meaning of Hamilton's words does not speak only to Christianity or Biblical religion, but rather assumes good men all over the world, even in non-Christian or "Judeo-Christian" lands worship the same God Christians do or at least can discover His rules through reason, without the Bible. This is what's known as theological naturalism or "natural religion." Some orthodox Christians of that era and today believe in natural religion. But Christians today still should question the compatibility. Francis Schaeffer, for instance, held natural religion (key to the American Founding!) to be inconsistent with Christian orthodoxy. The risk is, non-biblical ideas will be "imported" and given the same respect as sacred scripture.

And that's exactly what America's Founders did (the key ones of which held natural religion or the discoveries of man's reason supersedes what's written in the Bible!). That's exactly what the Declaration of Independence does. And that's what Hamilton does in this very document. Hamilton, like Jefferson et al., put words in God's mouth, saying God grants men unalienable natural rights, when the Bible says nothing of the sort. Those Christians who act as though America's Declaration of Independence and documents like "The Farmer Refuted" reflect "God's Truth" like Scripture essentially Mormonize their faith, importing non-biblical ideas under the auspices of "Christianity."

Finally a word on Blackstone whom Hamilton quotes. Blackstone, in his Commentaries on the law, likewise explicates the law of nature and defines it as what man discovers through reason, unaided by scripture.

This will of his maker is called the law of nature. For as God, when he created matter, and endued it with a principle of mobility, established certain rules for the perpetual direction of that motion; so, when he created man, and endued him with freewill to conduct himself in all parts of life, he laid down certain immutable laws of human nature, whereby that freewill is in some degree regulated and restrained, and gave him also the faculty of reason to discover the purport of those laws [my emphasis].

Blackstone then goes on to say that because man's reason is fallen, God revealed truth in the Bible, that reason and revelation should perfectly agree, but if seemingly not, scripture is more authentic than the findings of man's reason; it's probably fallen reason that errs.

And if our reason were always, as in our first ancestor before his transgression, clear and perfect, unruffled by passions, unclouded by prejudice, unimpaired by disease or intemperance, the task would be pleasant and easy; we should need no other guide but this. But every man now finds the contrary in his own experience; that his reason is corrupt, and his understanding full of ignorance and error.

This has given manifold occasion for the benign interposition of divine providence; which, in compassion to the frailty, the imperfection, and the blindness of human reason, hath been pleased, at sundry times and in divers manners, to discover and enforce it's laws by an immediate and direct revelation. The doctrines thus delivered we call the revealed or divine law, and they are to be found only in the holy scriptures. These precepts, when revealed, are found upon comparison to be really a part of the original law of nature, as they tend in all their consequences to man's felicity.

Still I've seen many Christians confused by that passage, thinking it means "the law of nature" is shorthand for scripture. Not so. According to Blackstone, the law of nature and the law of revelation are two separate things.

Upon these two foundations, the law of nature and the law of revelation, depend all human laws; that is to say, no human laws should be suffered to contradict these [My emphasis].

Notice how Blackstone says TWO foundations. 1) Law of nature or reason and 2) law of revelation. That Blackstone said reason and revelation should always agree and if not, resolve the tension in favor of more authentic revelation, is nonetheless irrelevant to what America's Founders believed. They had a qualified appreciation for Blackstone and criticized him as much as they lauded him. They criticized him because his teachings were too Toryish and in fact supported the British, not American side, in the revolution. It is therefore ironic that Hamilton cited Blackstone for revolt against Parliament, the exact opposite position that Blackstone's commentaries take. As Blackstone said of Parliament:

It can, in short, do every thing that is not naturally impossible; and therefore some have not scrupled to call it’s power, by a figure rather too bold, the omnipotence of parliament. True it is, that what they do, no authority upon earth can undo.

And as Gary North summarized the irony: “Blackstone was wrong: beginning eleven years later, the American colonies undid a lot of what Parliament had done.”

How to make sense of this? Hamilton, in "The Farmer Refuted" selectively cited Blackstone and when doing so, invoked the law of nature or what man discovers through reason and wisely avoided invoking the law of revelation. The Declaration of Independence likewise relies ONLY of the law of nature or reason and makes no mention of revelation. As a rationalist, Hamilton, like Jefferson, Adams, et al. probably believed man's reason was so keen it could pick out truth from a variety of sources whether it was Blackstone, the Bible or some pagan writer, and avoid the error. Theirs was the consummate cafeteria method of selective citation with man's reason as the penultimate guide.

Hamilton, in the that document, was wise not to credit the Bible or Christian religion with its ideas because to do so would be deceptive. As noted, the ideas contained in "The Farmer Refuted," though theistic, have nothing to do with the Bible or Christianity. They truly were a product of man's reason. Whether their reason really discovered what was dictated by God (as this understanding of the natural law claims) I'll not say. But if so, the Bible certainly doesn't inform us of this.
MacArthur on Romans 13:

Rev. John MacArthur is sort of a poster boy for traditional, Calvinistic, fundamentalist Christian theology. He also commands the highest respected within those circles. When notable evangelicals and Catholics signed a statement forming a socially conservative political alliance, he was one of the first to caution against the potential blurring of their profound theological differences. And he has chastised Billy Graham (and the Pope) for intimating that non-Christians perhaps will be saved. He also teaches literal 6-day creation. In short, he is the antithesis of a theological liberal. And this theology is not my cup of tea, at all.

As I've noted before, one thing I admire about MacArthur is the way he keeps his faith pure from political whoring, the consequences be damned. His understanding of Romans 13 demands concluding that the American Revolution was conceived in sin, that the Declaration of Independence is an anti-biblical document. I will charitably conceded alternate literal interpretations of Romans 13; I just want the other side to understand the strong biblical grounds for MacArthur's view and the longstanding tradition it has in orthodox hermeneutics.

The position that holds revolt against tyrannical government is biblically permitted is not exactly historically novel; theologians have been making the case for hundreds of years. But Christianity did not begin with the American Founding or the age of political revolution. The notion that Romans 13 demands you submit to government no matter who they are is arguably the more traditional, biblical view. The notion that revolt against tyranny is permitted is arguably the more historically novel, theologically liberal view.

Here is MacArthur's teachings on Romans 13. Again, a biblical literalist can disagree that this is the proper interpretation (in the same way that biblical literalists dispute all 5-points of Calvinism). What is undeniable, however, is that MacArthur's interpretation is a traditionally held, sound, literal interpretation of the Bible. Here is a taste:

1. The inadequate responses

In their struggle to answer the question of their relationship to government, Christians have not always answered it properly. Throughout the history of the church, people have decided that the right thing to do was revolt against the government in power and demand their rights--all in the name of Christianity. Wars were even begun for the same reason. Sometimes Christians have understood what their role was. But sometimes they have not understood their God-given role and have revolted instead of submitting. Laws have been violated in the name of Christianity.

a) In the past

In America, certain violations of law, civil disobedience, and subversive attempts to overthrow the powers that be on a local level, state level, or national level have been led by people who claimed to be Christians. Some Christians have decided that since they received bad treatment from certain governments, they were justified in their war against those governments.

To some people, evangelical Christianity was a proper justification for the American Revolution. They believe we had every right to load up our guns and kill Englishmen for the sake of our religious freedom. There are some Christians I know personally who refuse to pay their taxes because they believe that their freedoms are being violated. The truth is, the United States was born out of a violation of Romans 13:1-7 in the name of Christian freedom. That doesn't mean God won't overrule such violations and bring about good, which He did in this case, but that end doesn't justify the means.


a) Christ's situation

Jesus came into a very interesting world:

(1) A world of slavery

Slavery flourished in the Roman Empire. There were approximately three slaves to every free man.

(2) A world of absolute rulers

The world was dominated by absolute monarchs and rulers. At the end of the Roman republic, the Caesars took power and ruled with absolute authority. Although Julius Caesar was murdered in the Roman senate in 44 B.C., that only served to accelerate the centralization of power. The senate declared Augustus pro-consul and tribune of Rome for life, and he wielded absolute power. He was the Commander in Chief of all soldiers, he reigned over the senate, and he controlled all civil affairs.

Jesus came into a world dominated by slavery and by one- man rule--the absolute antithesis of democracy that we hold so dear. All the power of the state was in one man's hands. The same thing was true in Palestine, where Herod had been placed as a puppet king under Roman rule. Herod was an Edomite, not a Jew. He ruled with such great power that he had the authority to demand that every baby in a certain region be massacred (Matt. 2:16). No one could stay his hand. He had absolute authority over life and death. He even murdered members of his family--his wife, his wife's mother, and three of his sons.

(3) A world of high taxes

When Jesus came into the world, taxes were exorbitant. Those who worked as tax collectors had sold themselves to Rome for money and then overcharged the people. For example, when Zacchaeus the tax collector was converted, he immediately said he would pay back everything he had extorted fourfold (Luke 19:8). That was typical of the extortion that existed. So, the taxes were unjust. In fact, Caesar Augustus decreed a census (a registration with a view to taxation) be taken of all people in the world (Luke 2:1).

(4) A world of persecution

When Jesus came into the world, His people the Jews had become chattel for the Romans. They were an underprivileged and oppressed minority. They had no voice in Roman government and had to pay heavy taxes to their Roman task masters.

b) Christ's solution

That's a description of the world Jesus entered into. The people didn't have democracy, the opportunity to vote, and many of the freedoms we enjoy. But what did Jesus say? He said, "Render, therefore, unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's; and unto God, the things that are God's" (Matt. 22:21). He did not come with power and force to overthrow Roman tyranny. He did not seek social change. He did not attempt to eliminate slavery. He did not come with political or economic issues at stake. He did not come to bring a new government or to wave the flag of Judaism. Those things were not the concern of His life and ministry. His appeal was ever and always to the hearts of individual men and women, not to their political freedom and rights under government. Jesus did not participate in civil rights or crusade to abolish injustice; He preached the gospel of salvation. Once a man's or woman's soul is right with God, it matters very little what the externals are. Jesus was not interested in a new social order, but in a new spiritual order--the church. And He mandated the church to carry on the same kind of ministry.

3. The inevitable conclusion

The problems in Jesus' day were far more severe than ours. Today people living on relief have cars, TV's, and modern conveniences. We have to look at the issue differently when we determine how a Christian should respond to his government. Throughout all the generations of the church, Christians have had to struggle with this issue. But we have to come to some conclusion about what we are called to do and be in this society. What is our priority? What right does the government have over us? What is our proper response to that right?

Admittedly we live in a tension. Personally, I'm not that concerned about political, economic, social, and civil issues. I do have a reasonable concern about those things, but they don't occupy my mind. The souls of lost men and women occupy my mind. Do they occupy yours? I'm not as concerned that people be happy, wealthy, and healthy as I am that they be saved. I only have so much energy and the church only has so much power and resource. So I struggle with the millions of dollars that come out of evangelical hands for the purpose of politics. We need to be concerned about the souls of the lost.

What is our responsibility to government? How do we respond to the tension of being preoccupied with the Kingdom of God yet desiring to be a good citizen in this world? First, the answer is not found in politics. God has called us to do two things. The first is in Romans 13:1: "Let every soul be subject to the higher powers." The second is in Romans 13:6: "For this cause pay ye tribute." The Apostle Paul says two things are required of you as a Christian: submit to the government and pay your taxes. That's our duty. Beyond that you ought to be busy doing the things that are eternally valuable to the Kingdom. That is not to say the other things aren't important; it's just that they pale in importance when compared with the work of the Kingdom. Be subject to the government and pay your taxes. That's what Jesus meant when He said, "Render to Caesar." What does Caesar want? Submission to the laws and payment of taxes.


In Romans 13:1 Paul established this basic principle: Whatever the form and whoever the ruler, civil government should be obeyed and submitted to by Christians. The Christian has a duty to his nation, even if the ruler is a Nero or a Hitler.

(2) Peter

First Peter 2:12 says, "Having your behavior honest among the Gentiles, that, whereas they speak against you as evildoers, they may by your good works, which they shall behold, glorify God in the day of visitation." In other words, "They may speak evil of you, but let that be a lie." But how are you going promote goodness in a society that wants to persecute you? Verses 13-15 say, "Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord's sake, whether it be to the king, as supreme, or unto governors, as unto them that are sent by him for the punishment of evildoers [the police] .... For so is the will of God, that with well-doing you may put to silence the ignorance of foolish men." Foolish men look for something to criticize. You're lack of good citizenship and obedience to the civil authority will give them their reason. Verse 16 says not to use "your liberty for a cloak of maliciousness." So Peter told a persecuted group of believers to accept and obey their authorities.

A Testimony from the Soviet Union

I will never forget a conversation I had with Georgi Vins. He is a Christian who lived for many years in the Soviet Union. He met with our staff one day and we asked him what it was like to live under tyranny and repression in a communist country. He told us that Christians can't pursue an education or a career. They have no say in the government and no freedoms to speak of. This question was then posed to him: How do you respond to that kind of government? He said, "We obey every law in our nation, whether it appears to us to be just or unjust, except when we are told that we cannot worship God or obey the Scripture. But if we are persecuted, put into prison, or killed, it will be a result of our faith in Jesus Christ, not because we violated some law in our nation."

In Romans 13:1-7, Paul is saying the same thing Peter did: We have a serious responsibility to live out our justification by faith. Our self- sacrifice to the Lord (Rom. 12:1-2) should make us model citizens of our nation. We should not be known as protesters--as those who criticize and demean people in authority. We should speak against sin, injustice, evil, and immorality fearlessly and without hesitation. But we should give honor to those who are in authority over us. That is the biblical pattern for every age, every nation, and every Christian--it has nothing to do with America alone.