Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Obama on the "Christian Nation":

I'm still voting Libertarian. But Obama's thoughts on the "Christian Nation" are spot on. Sadly, I doubt in his heart of hearts John "the Constitution established the United States of America as a Christian nation" McCain differs at all with Obama's position. McCain like most politicians is a nominal Christian. It's just he needs to pander to the religious right to get their support.

Monday, July 28, 2008

The Impossibility of a "Christian Nation":

Millard Fillmore's Bathtub features a post about some debates I did with blogger Hercules Mulligan. This post is based off a comment I left there.

In my last post I noted, though a minority, some folks do argue for a reading of the Constitution and the American Founding that privileges "Christianity" over other religions. This blogger is one of them. And, in making his case, he cites 19th Century hagiographers who promoted Christian America sounding ideas. Unfortunately, such hagiography made its way to the Supreme Court in the Holy Trinity decision which illustrates something we all understand -- that even the Supreme Court is capable of getting it utterly wrong.

American Founding ideals make it impossible to implement the notion of a "Christian Nation." We have to define exactly what we mean by "Christian Nation." It's the notion of some type of indissoluble connection between America’s civil institutions (its government) and “Christianity.” Well, in order for Christianity to have some kind of “special status” or organic connection to government, you have to first define it. And that’s something government, arguably, is incapable of doing. Indeed Jefferson and Madison believed it violated the natural rights of the Declaration of Independence for government to do this.

I know from communicating with the blogger that he defines “Christianity” very narrowly, with “orthodoxy.” And that’s fine because there is a strong tradition in Christendom for doing this. Indeed, most of the religious conservatives who posit the "Christian America" idea define Christianity in this manner. If you don’t believe in orthodoxy then you aren’t a Christian even if you call yourself one. See for instance, the Mormons. The same people who argue for "Christian America" tend to argue Mormons aren't "Christians."

The problem is many of America’s Founders, notably John Adams, weren’t “Christians” even if, like the Mormons, they understood themselves as such. And they were the ones who supposedly delivered America a "Christian order." Jefferson, J. Adams and Franklin certainly were not "Christians" in this regard. And it's highly doubtful if Washington, Madison, and others were either.

Mulligan offered a quotation from the 33rd session of Congress that seemed to be based on Joseph Story’s constitutional commentaries.

At the time of the adoption of the constitution and the amendments, the universal sentiment was that Christianity should be encouraged — not any one sect [of Christianity]. Any attempt to level and discard all religion, would have been viewed with universal indignation.

And Story, as a Unitarian, likewise was in that position of thinking himself a Christian but not really being one according to the understanding of the “orthodox”.

So when Story noted that “Christianity” had some kind of organic connection to the civil state (a position in which Jefferson & Madison strongly disagreed) he certainly included his heretical Unitarianism into the understanding of “Christianity.” Joseph Story and John Marshall, both Unitarians, probably give the most notable historic testimony in favor of that anti-Jeffersonian-Madisonian position.

So in giving “Christianity” such special rights, government would necessarily have to define it to include that which the orthodox regard as utter heresy. To the orthodox, this would poison the proper understanding of Christianity.

Could you imagine the orthodox thanking Joseph Story and John Marshall for their sentiments in arguing for an organic connection between Christianity and American government. And then saying but your false, heretical religion doesn’t get one iota of support because it’s not “Christianity.”

This is a recipe for sectarian squabbles, what America was founded to overcome. Indeed those squabbles did happen. In the Dedham decision in 1820 in Massachusetts, Trinitarians sued Unitarians for control over the benefits of the state Establishment aid using very similar arguments (i.e., the aid is for we “real Christians”). And they lost. And yes, there were Unitarians on the Mass. Supreme Court whom the Trinitarians blamed for “bias.” And then seeing the Unitarians getting such public aid under the auspices of a “Christian establishment,” the Trinitarians got Mass. to finally end its state religious establishment, the last one in the nation.

Like slavery, established churches or government supported Christianity, though initially permitted at the state level, were incompatible with American ideals -- i.e., the natural rights of the Declaration of Independence.

History vindicated the Jeffersonian-Madisonian understanding that held government cannot by right define Christianity. And if it cannot define it, it cannot support or protect “Christianity only.” If government, rather, protects “religion” in general, the problem is solved. That’s why natural religion (or reason) could serve as America's Founding public religion because it could unite all “good men,” regardless of their sectarian creed or status as “Christians.”

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Michael McConnell's Latest Opinion:

As I noted previously, I think Judge Michael McConnell of the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals one of the best Establishment Clause scholars. And he shows off his talent in his most recent opinion. I'm not going to analyze the ins and outs of his Establishment Clause jurisprudence (you have Eugene Volokh for that). Rather, how the passage from the opinion well illustrates the impossibility of America being a "Christian Nation" in a civil governmental sense:

CCU stated that its students, faculty, and trustees are not of a single religion, because the school is an interdenominational institution; it “unites with the broad, historic evangelical faith rather than affiliating with any specific denomination.” The state defendants took a different view: to them, all Christians are of the same religious persuasion, and denominational distinctions do not matter. The “correct” answer to that question depends on one’s ecclesiology. But under the First Amendment, the government is not permitted to have an ecclesiology, or to second-guess the ecclesiology espoused by our citizens. “Courts are not arbiters of scriptural interpretation.”

The State defendants blithely assumed that they could lump together all “Christians” as a single “religion.” But the definition of who is a “Christian” can generate an argument in serious circles across the country. Some students at CCU are members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, or “Mormons.” Members of the LDS Church stoutly insist that they are Christians, but some Christians, with equal sincerity and sometimes vehemence, say they are not. In order to administer Colorado’s exclusionary law, government officials have to decide which side in this debate is right. Similar questions plague the religious taxonomy of Jehovah’s Witnesses, Christian Scientists, Unitarian-Universalists, various syncretistic groups and even (in some circles) the Roman Catholic Church.

To make matters worse, the Commission has (no doubt without animus) applied different standards to different religious traditions. When confronted with the question of whether Regis College was eligible for student scholarships, the Commission (and later the Colorado Supreme Court) focused on the particular denomination, which is Roman Catholicism, and concluded that the institution was eligible. In CCU’s case, however, the Commission focused on a broader category: all Christians....

The reason why government cannot give religious rights to "Christianity" is that it would have to define "Christianity" which -- according to the unalienable rights of conscience -- it may not do. So government can give rights to "religion" and say you can't prohibit its free exercise, establish it or discriminate among "religions," but cannot give rights to Christianity only. This is what Madison's notes on the Memorial and Remonstrance discuss.

If government did for instance, say we'll support Christianity or the "Christian sects" only then the inevitable questions arise: Do Mormons have rights under this doctrine or are Mormons not Christian? What about those "Christian" Churches that are marrying same-sex couples? Are they real "Christians"? What about "Jehovah’s Witnesses, Christian Scientists, Unitarian-Universalists, various syncretistic groups and even...the Roman Catholic Church?"

Many evangelicals who promote the "Christian Nation" thesis devoutly believe that these religions are not "Christian," that Christianity = orthodox Trinitarianism, the Bible is infallible, etc. I know a few of them who wish to draw the line there (i.e., Christianity = orthodoxy and that's the only type of religion that should receive public support or the public's imprimatur). Some of them are more generous in regard to what they might presently permit, but insist that this is how America was founded.

I know this might sound a little "strawmanish" -- who is it that argues Christianity only should receive "rights" or that the EC was initially conceived to protect Christianity only? It's not just Barton et al. Justice Rehnquist in his dissent in Wallace v. Jaffree intimated this was the original understanding of the Establishment Clause. And Clayton Cramer, who is a respectable historian of the hard conservative bent has intimated the Establishment Clause as originally conceived protected Christian sects only from government discrimination.

The problem is the key Founders were not orthodox Trinitarian Christians (what many folks regard as the only "true" Christianity) and when they said for instance "religion" provides republican government with vital moral support, they did not mean biblical orthodox Trinitarian Christianity exclusively. Indeed they purposefully chose to give federal constitutional rights to "religion" not "Christianity."

One of the most notable quotations that seems to support the "Christianity only" view of constitutional rights comes from Justice Joseph Story, indeed, was cited in Justice Rehnquist's dissent.

§ 1871. The real object of the amendment was, not to countenance, much less to advance Mahometanism, or Judaism, or infidelity, by prostrating Christianity; but to exclude all rivalry among Christian sects, and to prevent any national ecclesiastical establishment, which should give to an hierarchy the exclusive patronage of the national government.

Two points: One, Story is explicating the "real object" or underlying aim of the First Amendment. I don't doubt the real aim was indeed to exclude rivalry among the sects, just about all of the major ones of which called themselves "Christian." However, the text of the First Amendment is what controls and the text protects "religion" not "Christianity."

Secondly, Story himself was a Unitarian, a biblical Unitarian of the Socinian variety who believed Jesus a man, not at all divine, but on a divine mission. And he fervently argued that his system -- quite popular in Mass. during his time -- was true, authentic Christianity.

So even if we take Story's understanding as dispositive, we have to conclude that Socinianism -- that which denies the Trinity -- is "Christianity" protected under the First Amendment. Further, in protecting "Christianity" only government has now concluded that Socinianism, that which the orthodox regard as utter heresy, merits the label "Christian." And that is something that the government cannot, by right, do. If government, rather, protects "religion" in general, the problem is solved.
My Illusion of Secular Leftism:

I often comment on WorldMagBlog because lots of intelligent evangelicals comment there who are ready and willing to give my ideas critical feedback. Yes, I specialize in debunking the "Christian Nation" idea. And yes, I started my journey more sympathetic to the "secular" side (which I suppose I still am). However, I've moderated my position and try to articulate a balanced, nuanced middle ground between secular leftism and religious conservatism. Books I endorse that also represent this middle ground position include Steven Waldman's "Founding Faith," Jon Meacham's "American Gospel," and "The Search For Christian America" by Noll, Hatch, and Marsden.

On political-judicial matters, I describe my jurisprudence as somewhere between Justice Kennedy's and Justice Thomas'. Further I accept the possibility that the Establishment Clause doesn't properly incorporate to apply against state and local governments (but argue that the Equal Protection Clause, on religious matters, can do much of what the Court currently has the Establishment Clause doing) and think Judge Michael McConnell, a conservative evangelical, of the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals one of the best Establishment Clause scholars. On Free Exercise, I differ with McConnell's notion that the Clause grants a constitutional right to religious accommodations from generally neutral civil laws, but rather endorse Justice Scalia's, Philip Hamburger's and Marci Hamilton's position that argues otherwise.

I write all this to try to put my personal positions into perspective because, in realizing that one has to pick one's battles, I realize that I pick a battle -- debunking the "Christian America" thesis -- that is associated with the secular left (though it should be noted that many moderates, libertarians and conservatives likewise agree with my position). So my battle gives the illusion that I am more of a hard secularist than in reality, I really am. For instance, on the WorldMagBlog, one commenter notes:

Jon Rowe, I too have a hard time accepting your theses as a middle-ground approach. You are a man on a mission to prove that America was not founded upon Christian principles and to discredit those who say that she was. Your view of the Founding Fathers doesn’t strike me as any more nuanced than the view(s) that you oppose.

....As we look back to the Founding Fathers we can acknowledge that there were varied beliefs among them and that America’s founding principles come from varied sources. It’s neither as simple as David Barton implies or as simple as you, Jon Rowe, imply.

The ideas of religious and political liberty did not spring up in the eighteenth century. The entire history of the world contains a continuous struggle between liberty and control. It’s true that liberty scored an enormous victory in 1776 and again in 1789, but thousands of years of history underly it–not just Christianity and not just the Enlightenment.

I describe my personal position as "soft-secularism" -- a "classical secularism" that derives from America's Founding, "classical liberal" era.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Why Its Important to Debunk the Idea of a "Christian Nation":

Because it will help folks like this end up with less egg on their face. The first video speaks of Obama's recent statement that America is no longer a "Christian Nation." Obama's mistake was intimating that America ever was a "Christian Nation." When this fellow gets to arguing his case, he does so by relying on, you got it, those "unconfirmed," that is bogus, quotations.

And in the following video another fellow discusses the much misunderstood Donald Lutz study and then cites the hoary "Holy Trinity" case of 1892, which even Justice Scalia in "A Matter of Interpretation" considers textbook piss poor legal reasoning.

Great Singing From Steve Walsh:

Some Saturday music for you. Most of Walsh's (of Kansas) best material was written by Kerry Livgren (guitar/keyboard/main writer for Kansas). Walsh wrote some good and some not so good tunes for Kansas and non-Kansas.

Every Step of the Way was from Walsh's first solo album. It's a good, straight ahead-blues rock song, though a prog-rock length of 9 minutes long. It starts off with Walsh's low range and slowly builds from there. Even if Kansas/Walsh isn't everyone's cup of tea, hopefully you'll understand from listening to the tune, why I think Walsh in his prime had the perfect white rock voice (something Steve Hackett once noted of Walsh).

In the meantime, like a lot of aging rock vocalists, Walsh lost some tone and range. But at his 1/2 best still sings better than most rock vocalists especially those his age. The following is a good solo song from the "mature" Walsh:

Van Dyke on "Judeo-Christian" Faith:

We've much discussed the religion of America's key Founders. Tom & I agree that it wasn't "orthodox Trinitarian Christianity." Some labels thrown around include "theistic-rationalism," "Christian-Deism," "unitarianism." Here Tom argues for simply "Judeo-Christianity":

You see, our first four or five presidents believed in the Bible more or less, but didn't believe Jesus was God or died for our sins or is the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, whatever that is. But they believed that the Bible wasn't total bunk and that man was created in God's image like it says in Genesis 1:26 and Genesis 9:6.

That meant that man was endowed by his Creator with certain unalienable rights, blah, blah blah. But it was still a statement that the human race, for all its intellectual fortitude, hasn't managed to get around yet. Whether truth, myth, or illusion, the idea founded the greatest nation in history [IMO], and is imitated around the world through the present day.

There's more. I agree with Tom. I would just remind folks that this "Judeo-Christian" creed is, unlike orthodox Christianity, a fairly broad faith. Indeed, Jefferson perfectly believed in this creed, yet, in no uncertain terms 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."

Friday, July 25, 2008

D. James Kennedy on Washington's Phony Prayer Journal:

The problem is Kennedy doesn't tell his followers that the prayer journal was found to be phony; rather he lies to them and says handwriting experts validated the prayer journal when they did the exact opposite.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Jefferson on the Bible in Public Schools:

I know I've dealt with this issue before but it's time for a reminder. Over at American Creation Brad Hart with a little help from the research of Jim Allison puts to rest the religious right myth that Thomas Jefferson wanted the Bible to be taught to school children.

Monday, July 21, 2008

American Heritage Group on Google:

I have joined the American Heritage debate site at google. It is founded by a young evangelical Christian who is sympathetic to David Barton's point of view. We are engaging in civil debate. You can check it out and if you want to join send him an email. Though, I'll note, I have my problems with David Barton's research; but we are keeping it civil. No name calling. I don't necessarily expect to convince them. Just share some contrary evidence that will cause them to doubt Barton's dogma. Or at least be able to better deal with some of the historical facts that Barton doesn't share with his followers.

The following is a summary that the administrator has put together of our debate.

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Mormons & Founding Documents:

I believed that Mormons held the Constitution and Declaration of Independence to be "inspired" in a similar sense that sacred scripture was divinely inspired. Brad and Ray -- American Creation's resident Mormons -- informed me that this isn't quite true. They say Mormons believe the US Founding and its documents were divinely inspired in some sense but not at the same level as sacred scripture. I'd like them or some other learned Mormon to clarify in a post as I think it will make for informative discussion.

Here is a typical source, from our friend John Lofton, discussing [among other things] Mormonism and the Founding:

Q: Well that’s another aspect that I hadn’t asked you about and that is that Mormonism believes or teaches basically that these founding documents of our country are pretty much sacred scripture which of course no real Christian could ever believe, correct?

A: I’m not sure exactly what you’re asking there.

Q: The founding documents, The Declaration of Independence, they pretty much consider them almost sacred scripture whereas no Christian could actually consider the founding documents to be sacred.

A: Well that’s exactly right and that’s a good point. We test all things in light of Scripture and hold fast to that which is good. So the final repository for faith and practice in a Christian world view is the word of God and everything then is tested in light of Scripture and we hold fast to that which is good.

I would also note that Mormonism is a great analogy to the religious beliefs of America's key Founders. As the American View website says: “'Bible Answer Man' Says Mormons Not Christians; Use Our Words But With Different Meanings." The same thing can be said of America's key Founders. They often used "Christian terminology" that masked heterodox sentiments. According to a strict orthodox Trinitarian view that holds Mormons not to be "Christian," even though Mormons call themselves "Christians," America's key Founders -- Washington, J. Adams, Jefferson, Madison, Franklin, G. Morris and a few others -- were not "Christians" even though they at times called themselves "Christians" and presented their heterodox theology under the auspices of "Christianity."

Friday, July 18, 2008

Towards a Broad Reading of America's Declaration:

In his latest installment on the American Creation blog, Dr. Kevin Schmiesing of the Acton Institute noted:

I see Jonathan as drawing a boundary too constrictive and impermeable around the Founding ideas. I cannot dispute that Jefferson and other deists (or whatever they all were--that's another ongoing debate in this space) viewed the Declaration of Independence—to use one important, concrete example—through the lens of their particular worldview. But does that mean that the text itself is not open, to some extent, to other interpretations through the lenses of other worldviews? To return to an earlier example, the Catholic signer of the Declaration, Charles Carroll, was not a theologian, but I'm not aware that anyone has questioned in general his Catholic orthodoxy. How could he sign the Declaration if it were simply, case open and shut, an expression of principles rooted in a worldview hostile to or at least inconsistent with a Catholic one? Did he misunderstand it? Was he dishonest? My own view is that he was neither and that he, like me some years later, can in good conscience fully subscribe to the principles articulated by the Declaration, even if he (like me) would want to qualify and clarify its meaning in a way that rendered it consistent with the Catholic tradition. That is not to say that the parameters of meaning are utterly amorphous: there are limits to how the words "inalienable rights" can be legitimately interpreted. Jonathan wants to set those limits relatively more narrowly; I want them to be more expansive.

This is not quite the point I was trying to make. I too agree that the Declaration can be read in an expansive way. But the language is so broad and expansive that, it seems to me, it is difficult for religious traditionalists to "claim" its ideas in an exclusive sense. I'm not saying that Kevin is trying to do this. If all he is arguing is that nothing in the Declaration's ideas should prevent traditional Catholics or Christians from embracing the document, he'll get no argument from me. But there are folks who do argue that the Declaration's content is exclusively biblical or traditionalist and that's the claim against which I argue.

The text of the Declaration of Independence contains broad guarantees -- "blank checks" if you will -- to such concepts as liberty, equality and the pursuit of happiness. An evangelical can look at the Declaration and see their biblical God as granting the right to live one's life as a good Christian. A Roman Catholic can look at the Declaration and see a document that complements their Aristotelean-Aquinas natural law tradition. Heck Mormons literally believe the Declaration to be sacred scripture. And social liberals can see blank checks to lifestyle liberty and the pursuit of happiness. This was Robert Bork's point in Chapter 3 of "Slouching to Gomorrah." And I agree with Bork and laud the Declaration for the reason Bork opposes it: The very text of the Declaration is quite amenable to my worldview that doesn't believe government has any role in "making men moral" (as Robbie George once put it) but rather believes simply government should protect men's rights and leave us alone. The Declaration talks about "rights," not duties and says men have a right to pursue "happiness," not a duty to pursue "virtue."

At this point, "Christian America" apologist usually note the God of the Declaration clearly was the biblical God or that its ideas are all "biblical," as though they "own" the content. But as an historical and philosophical matter, this is false. Sure the Declaration is compatible with a traditional biblical worldview; but it's compatible with all sorts of worldviews. It was a document written with very broad rhetoric and in a theological sense indeed can be all things to all people, or at least many things to many people.
Watchmen 2009:

Reader Chris Berez alerted me to the fact that the Watchmen trailer is up. It looks really good. Watchmen is the greatest comic book/graphic novel ever produced, certainly one day will be viewed as essential reading in the Western Canon. Comic book geeks rightly worry that the movie will ruin such a magnificent piece of literature. Based on the trailer, my hopes are up.

The best thing they could (similar to what was done in the movie adaptation of Frank Miller's "Sin City") is shoot right from the comic book and take as few artistic liberties as possible. Write Alan Moore's dialog exactly into the actors' mouths. What's challenging is that Watchmen is a 12-part book and has too much content for even a 3 hour movie. So some artistic liberties are going to be inevitable. Hopefully the movie will be successful and then encourage more folks to read the graphic novel.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Geof Stone on the "Christian Nation" Question:

University of Chicago School of Law Professor Geof Stone has a fairly long video lecture on the Christian Nation/religion of the key Founders question. It's quite good. Stone is an ardent secular leftist and as such he overstates the Deist influence. He put Ben Franklin and Thomas Jefferson in the same box as Thomas Paine and Ethan Allen, which I would not. However, Stone does recognize the "hybrid" system that mixed elements of Christianity with Deism and properly places Washington, J. Adams, and others in that box. He actually uses the term "theistic rationalist" when discussing Washington's faith. And he also informs about how many of these "Deists" could be very pro "religion and morality" in their rhetoric and attended Christian Churches. Finally he includes some great discussion of the concept of American "civil religion" that parallels the research I've uncovered.

Check it out.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

Wisdom & Unwisdom From Binarians:

I alluded to these folks in my past post. They are the United Church of God and followers of the late theologian Herbert W. Armstrong. They are Sola-Scriptura affirming Protestants who believe the Bible the infallible Word of God. And they are also binarians who believe the Father and Son occupy the Godhead, not the Holy Spirit. On Hell, they are annihilationists. I want to say they are quintessential Protestants. Well, given their odd teachings on Christology, they aren't really. Rather, this relates to a point I made in my past post entitled "How the Reformation Undermined Orthodoxy."

This point, Roman Catholic critics of Protestantism have long made: Once you put interpretation of the Bible in the hands or ordinary folks, what makes orthodox Protestants think that men will continue to adhere to the common ground of Trinitarian orthodoxy, settled by the early Church in the Council of Nicea? The early reformers [Luther, Calvin, et al.] were orthodox Trinitarian Christians. But eventually Protestants began to use sola scriptura to deny orthodox doctrine. As Nathan Hatch put it:

Charles Chauncy, pastor of Boston's First Church for sixty years (1727-1787), is the most prominent example of an exclusive appeal to Biblical authority in order to unravel theological orthodoxy. Chauncy was persuaded to emphasize Bible study by reading the works of English divines, such as Samuel Clarke's The Scripture-Doctrine of the Trinity (London, 1712) and John Taylor's The Scripture-Doctrine of Original Sin (London, 1740). Both authors used a "free, impartial and diligent" method of examining Scripture to JETTISON, respectively, the doctrines of the Trinity and of Original Sin. [8]

When orthodox Protestants confidently act as though a proper understanding of the Bible alone will stave off rejection of orthodoxy, it reminds of me folks who confidently assert they believe in microevolution not macroevolution. If you accept genetic changes through the evolutionary process within a species, what makes you think over millions of years, such gradual changes wouldn't result in the emergence of new species? What magical barrier prevents this? Likewise what magical barrier prevents individual Protestants from using the Bible alone to reject orthodoxy? The answer: None exists. See their videos where the United Church of God articulately does exactly this. And starting around the 19th Century, once political and religious liberty were firmly entrenched in Christendom, we saw the emergence of all sorts of Protestant sects that teach theological heresy.

Anyway the United Church of God are really bad on evolution:

But they are good on Eternal Damnation. I'm not much of a fan of annihilationism, but it just gives atheists what they expect anyway. And I understand these folks believe men will have one last opportunity to convert AFTER the resurrection, which makes perfect "just" sense; only at that point, seeing God face to face and truly understanding His [Her?] attributes can men make an informed choice on whether to believe. Folks like Mormons, JWs, Muslims, can be saved and wouldn't be damned for making theological errors [not saying I believe this, just pondering]. Only a small number [perhaps no humans] of "the wicked" would be annihilated in the lake of fire.

Here is their video on Hell. They are right in that traditional teachings on Hell, ala Jonathan Edwards make the Christian God into a terrible monster, certainly no better than an "Allah" who would send 19 highjackers into the WTC and reward them with virgins.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Selective Biblical Readings & Imago Dei:

I want to address one more thing in the Acton Institute's Kevin Schmiesing's post on Freedom & Christianity. He wrote:

I don't agree that Christ's liberation from sin and death has "nothing to do" with other connotations of liberty, such as slavery and political freedom. Christ's life and teaching had many ramifications, including the gradual working out of freedom in political, economic, and social spheres. If not, then it is hard to explain, for example, the teachings of recent popes that slavery and political oppression violate the gospel message. One would have to argue that these teachings are illegitimate developments of the Christian moral tradition, lifted instead from some other secular or religious source. Some so argue, but I don't buy it.

I'm not going to argue that the teachings of recent popes embracing human rights, anti-slavery doctrines and religious and political liberty violate the Gospel. Rather, that a selective reading of the Bible can lead to differing outcomes on these vital moral issues. One thing I respect about Roman Catholicism as opposed to sola-scriptura Protestantism is the willingness to "philosophize" on these issues using natural reason. Men need more than just the Bible, because the Bible alone can yield vastly different results on issues of vital moral importance.

For instance, every single point articulated by Fred Phelps' grotesque Westboro Baptist Church they justify with citations to scripture. They correctly note that the Bible never says God hates the sin but loves the sinner. Rather such is a doctrine gleaned from a selective interpretation (their selective interpretation teaches God hates people; God hates sinners). Likewise the doctrine of the Trinity is not found explicitly within the text of the Bible. Implicitly? Sure. However, a selective reading the Bible can find texts to support a unitary, trinitary, or even a binary God (yes, these folks argue, fairly articulately, from the authority of the BIBLE ALONE for a binary Godhead that includes the Father & Son, but not the Holy Spirit).

Larry Arnhart has a great post that demonstrates how a selective literal reading of the Bible can justify terrible evil and how fundamental rights teachings need more than just the Bible alone but an additional step of "philosophizing" (and again, I'm sure traditional Catholics would agree with this; rather I'm write this to remind the Sola Scriptura crowd of the inadequacy of the "Bible alone" to address issues like slavery, political liberty and human rights):

[Anti-Darwinist Carson] Holloway repeatedly asserts that religion supports some very specific moral positions--such as condemning slavery. But he never cites any specific religious texts to show how they necessarily support the moral positions that he favors. The case of slavery and "universalism" illustrates the problem. He assumes that religion necessitates a "universal" morality that would deny the morality of slavery. But many religious traditions have allowed slavery, and the Bible never condemns slavery or calls for its abolition. On the contrary, in the American debate over slavery, Christian defenders of slavery were able to cite specific biblical passages in both the Old Testament and the New Testament supporting slavery. Opponents of slavery had to argue that general doctrines such as the creation of human beings in God's image implicitly denied the justice of slavery. But they could never cite any specific passage of the Bible for their position. Here's a clear case of where the moral teaching of the Bible depends on our coming to it with a prior moral understanding that we then read into the Bible.

Moreover, the "universalism" of the Bible is in doubt. I don't see a universal morality in the Old Testament. Moses ordering the slaughter of the innocent Mideanite women and children, for example, manifests a xenophobia that runs through much of the Old Testament.

Now, of course, the New Testament does seem more inclined to a universal humanitarianism. But the Book of Revelation teaches that at the end of history the saints will destroy the Antichrist and the unbelievers in bloody battle. The bloodiness of this vision has been dramatized throughout the history of Christianity. (See, for example, Tim LaHaye's popular LEFT BEHIND novels.)

Holloway speaks of the moral universalism required for opposing Nazism. Is there any evidence that those who rescued Jews in World War II were all moved by religious belief? My impression is that religious belief was not decisive for the rescuers. And, of course, there is a continuing controversy over whether the Christian churches in Europe did enough to oppose Hitler. The German Lutheran Church was inclined to interpret the 13th Chapter of Romans as dictating obedience to the authorities. Martin Luther himself was brutal in his expression of anti-Semitism. How would Holloway explain cases like this? Would he say that the true doctrines of biblical religion always require universal love, and therefore any behavior by a biblical believer that violates universal love is based on a misinterpretation of biblical doctrine?

As Arnhart noted Imago Dei is a doctrine gleaned from various texts of scripture, as one person in the Acton Institute's special noted, it's implicit in the Creation story. And I've come to accept the importance of Imago Dei as a "firm" place to rest our notions of unalienable rights. As my friend Jason Kuznicki, with whom I saw the Acton Insitute's special, summarized, Judaism and Christianity have birthed

the idea that there are higher standards of justice than mere promulgated law; that individuals possess a worth and dignity beyond what the state or the society imputes to them; and that every individual has supreme, inviolate purposes of his own, rather than being made for the purposes of others.

However, we don't necessarily need the traditional, orthodox understanding of the Deity to serve the role of the ultimate guarantor of liberty and equality rights (one could argue that society needs the orthodox God for other reasons, but that's a discussion topic for another day). The God of Jefferson, J. Adams, and Franklin (the men who actually wrote the Declaration of Independence) serves that role just fine. Indeed some might argue, given this was the God in whom the formulators of liberal democracy believed -- the God who inspired them -- this God is a better guarantor of political rights than the orthodox biblical God. Keep in mind that Thomas Jefferson's God, though an active intervener, was stripped of the characteristics of the orthodox Christian God as Jefferson rejected, in no uncertain terms:

The 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.

Here is how I summarized the God of the American Founding in a post that the Cato Institute reproduced:

Nature’s God was theologically unitarian, universalist (did not eternally damn anyone) syncretist (most or all world religions worshipped Him), partially inspired the Christian Scriptures, and man’s reason was ultimate device for understanding Him. He was not quite the strict Deist God that some secular scholars have made Him out to be. But neither was He the Biblical God. Rather, somewhere in between.

And indeed, their benevolent unitarian Deity created man in His own image. But unlike the biblical God, He didn't order Moses to slaughter the innocent Mideanite women and children and probably didn't inspire Paul to say slaves obey your earthly masters either.

While atheists and hard core secularists may not see a role for this Deity in public life, I have a hard time believing many traditionalists desire this to be the God to which we publicly pay homage in America.
Sandoz At Princeton Online:

A few months ago I blogged about a lecture hosted by the James Madison Program at Princeton University featuring Ellis Sandoz. You can now view the lecture online. You can see me in the front row, wearing plaid, sitting next to Prof. Paul Sigmund, whom I met that day. The best part of the lecture is after the one hour mark, during the Q&A. I wouldn't want to be grilled by Princeton Professors, at least not live! Highlights from my past blogpost:

The themes of republicanism, human rights, the Founding, liberalism (liberty & equality), religion & God were stressed during the event. As such, it was inevitable that Locke, and how to properly understand him, would be brought up. I was struck by the way in which [Princeton Professors] Sigmund and Viroli, politically left-liberals, noted they believed (after Locke) that God was arguably necessary or at least a very helpful part of the equation in establishing human rights and political liberty. Imago Dei.

Though, Sigmund and Viroli, during their Q&A with Sandoz noted it was "the right kind of God" -- one that grants political liberty and equality -- who necessary fills the equation. When chatting with them I asked whether this God was the Biblical God and they answered arguably not, but in some way, perhaps. They understood the Biblical God doesn't directly reveal that men possess an unalienable right to liberty; and in fact, many parts of the Bible seem to belie this. We ended the brief conversation agreeing that it was the God of a "selective" reading of the Bible, arguably a theologically liberal, cafeteria religion that best serves the needed, ultimate guarantees of political liberalism and human rights.

Friday, July 11, 2008

A Political Scientist on the Lutz Study:

When debating the Bible's influence on the American Founding "Christian America" apologists invariably cite the study of one Donald S. Lutz, et al. that purports to find the Bible quoted more than any other source during the era. The following from WorldNetDaily is typical:

Indeed, of the 15,000 political writings of the men who crafted the Constitution, the source they quoted most frequently in expressing their political beliefs was the Bible. A whopping 34 percent of their political quotes came straight out of the Book they hailed as the inspired Word of God.

Tom Flannery, the author of that article, revealed to me in email correspondence that he wasn't even aware the figure came from Lutz et al., but rather thought the figure was the original research of David Barton, who often cites the the figure.

This source also represents a typical misuse of the Lutz et al. study.

In truth, the study never purports that the Framers of the Constitution quoted the Bible more than other sources, rather that sermons abounded in Founding era literature and they (obviously) quoted the Bible quite a bit! Indeed, regarding the framing of the Constitution Lutz's study says:

The Bible's prominence disappears, which is not surprising since the debate centered upon specific institutions about which the Bible has little to say. The Anti-Federalists do drag it in with respect to basic principles of government, but the Federalist's inclination to Enlightenment rationalism is most evident here in their failure to consider the Bible relevant.

Washington, Madison, Franklin, Hamilton et al. rarely if ever quoted the Bible as specific authority for the Constitution's particular provisions.

Enter one James Hanley who is an actual political scientist who has published in the very same journal, American Political Science Review (APSR), that published the Lutz et al. study. His post sheds further light on the proper contextual understanding of the Lutz et al. study and how it has been misused by "Christian America" advocates.

Hanley, though, does something with the study that I can't: Crunch the numbers in a social scientist sense (I'm terrible with numbers). Here's a taste:

Fortunately, Lutz gives actual numbers of citations, so we can do a rough calculation of average biblical citations per sermon/non-sermon.

1. In 916 publications he counted 3,154 citations.

2. 34% of those citations were biblical, so there were 1,072 biblical citations (3,154 * .34).

3. There were approximately 92 sermons in the sample (916 * .1). (Note: Here I am making an assumption that 10% of Lutz sample were sermons, based on his statement that 10% of publications of the era were sermons. Lutz does not explicitly say so, but his statement about the percentage of publications that were sermons is placed within his discussion of the sample, so the extrapolation is reasonable. If his sample had been widly disproportionate, he would presumably have said so.)

4. Approximately 804 biblical citations came from the approximately 92 sermons (1,072 biblication citations * .75).

5. From that we can estimate the mean number of biblical citations per sermon at 8.7 (804 biblical citations/92 sermons).

5. Approximately 268 biblical citations came from non-sermon writings (1,072 - 804, or 1072 * .25)

6. The sample contained approximately 824 non-sermon publications (916 * .9)

7. Finally, we can estimate that the non-sermon writings had a mean of .3 biblical citations (268 biblical citations/916 non-sermon publications).

In summary, sermons contained more than 8 biblical citations each (on average), which is not too surprising for sermons, whether they contain political content or not. But the non-sermon publications contained less than 1 citation each, on average. In fact because the mean number of citations per non-sermon is less than .5, the likelihood of a non-sermon political publication from the founding era containing a biblical citation is not even random! The political writings were more likely than not to have no biblical references at all.

But there is yet more to the story. Keep in mind that Lutz was just counting citations, not analyzing them for substance. As he explained:

"Another advantage is that a citation count need not distinguish between positive and negative citations;"

So Lutz was not making any claim that the Founders used the Bible to support any particular political view, a point that becomes relevant when we look at the pattern of citations by Federalists and Anti-Federalist in 1787 and 1788, the years the Constitution was being debated (Lutz's Table 4). The Federalists--the founders of our actual political system, the supporters of the Constitution, so often said to have a biblical basis--never quoted the Bible! Lutz counts zero Federalist citations to the Bible. Conversely, 9% of the Anti-Federalists' citations were to the Bible, far less than the 38% of their references to enlightenment authors (and note that the enlightenment challenged the idea of God as the source of knowledge), but obviously far more than the Federalists. So the conclusion here, if we were to follow Flannery's method, is that God opposed the Constitution. A silly conclusion, of course, but the natural outgrowth of the "they cited it" school of historical analysis.

Read the whole thing.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

A Note on the French Revolution:

First I'd like to thank the Acton Institutes's Dr. Kevin Schmiesing for thoughtfully engaging me in the conversation about Christianity, political liberty and the American Founding.

I want to briefly explain why I often mention the parallels between the American and French Revolutions, something Dr. Schmiesing briefly addressed at the end of his post. Obviously it's not because I support what went down in France. But the connection between the two revolutions is relevant to the conversation. I frequently hear religious conservative overplay the ideological differences between the two speaking as though they were, in the philosophical sense, as different as night and day.

Protestant defenders of the Christian America thesis oft-say (paraphrasing) “the French Revolution was based on the Enlightenment, while America’s was based on Christianity,” or another variation is, “the American Revolution holds that rights come from God, while the French believed rights come from the people or government only.” Ultimately secularism is attacked and given the blame for the failure of the French Revolution whereas traditional Christianity is praised and given the credit for the success of the American. The Acton Institute's The Birth of Freedom imparted a similar message, with which I disagreed.

The conclusion I've reached is that the events were analogous (not duplicates) in an ideological sense, with subtle but profound differences. Yes, Rousseau more influenced the French, the more moderate Locke and Scottish Enlightenment thinkers more influenced the American. Both were, at heart, Enlightenment events with the American Revolution, a more moderate Enlightenment event.

The notion that men are by nature, born free and equal, with inalienable rights was central to both Revolutions. And both invoked a generically defined God as the ultimate guarantor of those rights (see the references to God in all three of their Declarations of the Rights of Man, documents directly influenced by America's DOI with Jefferson, the DOI's author, in France overseeing their writing: one, two, and three). "Liberty and Equality" may well be authentic "Judeo-Christian" ideas. But if we so conclude, we must also conclude authentic "Judeo-Christian" ideas were at the heart of both revolutions.

Another conclusion we could reach is the notion that men have inalienable liberty and equality rights is not a Christian, but an Enlightenment ideal, and that America managed to make these Enlightenment ideas fit within a "Christian" framework whereas the French did not.

The French swept away all traditions and attempted to remake society over in accordance with "the new science of man." The Americans left their old conventions in place but let society gradually change in accordance with those ideals, until our society likewise went into convulsions (indeed over those very same ideas of Liberty and Equality) from 1861-65.

It's true that traditional Christians (with Enlightenment thinkers) supported the principles of the American Founding; indeed ministers often defended these principles from the pulpit. However, likewise I've found that many notable American ministers, some heterodox, some orthodox, defended the French Revolution in their sermons, at least in the beginning, before things went so sour (some proceeded to defend the French Revolution even as the terror ensued). It's entirely possible that orthodox Christians, even ministers from the pulpit, can support and defend notions that are not authentically Christian.

I'll end with some quotations and links to primary sources demonstrating my claims. First a letter from Washington, written in January 1, 1796, praising the FR and asserting American and revolutionary France as "sister republics." Next, a quotation from Madison asserting the two events as parallel, in a post which discusses the "theism" of the French Revolution. Next a post on heterodox enlightenment ministers Joseph Priestley and Richard Price, both of whom immensely influenced the American Founding, supporting the French Revolution and seeing it as ushering in a "biblical millennium" of liberty, equality and fraternity. Next a post showing traditional orthodox Christian ministers, notably Ezra Stiles, supporting the French Revolution (even as things start to go wrong), many of them too flirting with the notion that the French Revolution would bring on a biblical millennial utopia. And finally a quotation from Noah Webster, aptly summarizing what was probably the consensus of Americans on the French Revolution, in 1794:

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

Ultimately history answered the questions on the French Revolution. We shouldn't understand America's Founders as being a bunch of Edmund Burkes. History proved Burke right. He was not caught up in a revolutionary republican zeitgeist as were most Americans of the Founding era.

Wednesday, July 09, 2008

A Bit About My History in Researching Religion & US History:

I began researching this issue from the secular side a little over 5 years ago because something didn't sound right about the “Christian America” idea I heard promoted (in what I saw as an arrogant manner) by the late D. James Kennedy and David Barton. My liberal law school professors taught me the exact opposite! Along the way I moderated my "secular" position because I discovered the importance religion played in public life during America’s Founding. Given I was a "libertarian" and had no real affinity for political secular leftism, I found I could do that rather easily. [Though when I debunk "Christian Nation" ideas, I'm commonly termed a "secular progressive," or a "liberal." I consider myself a "liberal" only in the classical sense, in the way that Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and Adam Smith were "liberals."]

I also discovered, to my pleasant surprise that many of the best scholars who debunk the “Christian America” idea are devout traditional Christians, many of whom are concerned with keeping their biblical faith pure from corrupt, non-biblical influences (i.e., “Americanism” or the theology of “Founding era republicanism” which is not biblical, but often presented itself under theological auspices, i.e., “the laws of Nature and Nature’s God,” which many conservative Christians today confuse with “biblical” ideas).

Notable traditional Christian scholars who refute the "Christian America" thesis include Mark Noll, Nathan Hatch, George Marsden, Robert Kraynak, Gary Scott Smith, Gary North, and Gregg Frazer (see more on him below), all of whom possess PhDs from prestigious universities and heavyweights like Noll, Hatch and Marsden are arguably among the most well-respected scholars of American religious history period.

As noted, I saw something wrong with the secular talking points as well. Regarding the debate over whether the Founders were Deist v. Christian, I noticed there was some middle ground between the two systems in which many of America's Founders seemed to believe. They may have been "Christians," but weren't orthodox Trinitarian Christians. Or they may have been "Deists," but they believed in an active personal God which contradicts a fundamental tenet of Deism. They seemed to be theological unitarians or otherwise not identifiably Trinitarian, but didn't belong to Unitarian Churches or "societies" which really didn't exist in the mid-late 18th Century (a few got started in the 1780s, but you could count them on one hand; lots of preachers in the New England Congregational Churches, since the mid 18th Century, were "unitarians," but those Churches didn't become "Unitarian" until around the turn of the 19th Century). In the 18th Century, unitarianism was a personal theology, not a Church.

So, I discovered, the key Founders weren't really strict Deist or orthodox Christians, but somewhere in between. Around the time this lightbulb went off, fortuitously or perhaps Providentially, the Claremont Institute, whose website I had been reading regularly, published an article by Gregg Frazer which perfectly articulated what I saw as a needed new paradigm in the debate. I subsequently purchased his PhD thesis from Claremont Graduate University, parts of which I have read over many times. And, daily, I have expanded my knowledge pouring through the primary sources, reading dozens of books on the matter (reviewing one of them for First Things Magazine; kind of odd in that I'm not a traditionalist Catholic conservative, but a soft secular libertarian; but when they asked me to write that "Briefly Noted" book review, I wasn't about to refuse a magazine that publishes Supreme Court Justices; plus I do greatly respect their high intellectual output even if I often disagree with their positions) and am still engaged in knowledge expansion and mastering the primary sources (with the help of neat tools like search engines and googlebooks) on a daily basis, as an avocation.

When I make arguments and discuss my research on the new paradigm and use the term "theistic rationalist" to describe the creed of America's key Founders, I often cite Dr. Frazer by name. And I do that simply because I want make sure I give credit where credit is due and properly cite my sources.

I also don't want folks to get the misimpression that Dr. Frazer and I necessarily agree on issues other than in the specific sense that I endorse his work. Don't think because I throw his name around that he is a "soft-secularist" and a political libertarian like me; he is not. From what I can tell, he is more of a meat and potatoes religious conservative. And in his commentaries, he stresses his traditional conservative worldview and approach to constitutional interpretation more so than I do when I cite him. So perhaps, for the sake of perspective, I should reproduce one of his brief commentaries replying to common "secular left" talking points, in a local California news outlet:

Scott Holleran (Viewpoint, Feb. 11) overstates his case and misstates history. While the founders were not, as a rule, born-again Christians, they were religious and thought religion very important to the welfare of the nation. None of the founders doubted the existence of God and none was ``openly hostile'' to religion.

John Adams denied America was a Christian nation, but he also said: ``Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people.'' James Madison, author of the Establishment Clause, said what it meant: ``that Congress should not establish a religion, and enforce the legal observation of it by law.'' That's it. The Supreme Court in 1947 created the ``separation principle,'' not the founders.

- Gregg Frazer
Reagan's Nietzschean Moment:

Nietzsche understood that sometimes you just have to assert yourself as Reagan does here.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Adam Carolla on Atheism:

He's a funny guy. I'm neither an atheist nor conventionally religious. But it's always worth hearing his take.

Saturday, July 05, 2008

Death Wish Remake:

I have a guilty confession. I love the Death Wish movies. I hear that Sly Stallone wants to remake the franchise. While I think the idea of a remake to be good, I don't support having Stallone play the lead character. Stallone was also slated to play the lead character in Beverly Hills Cop, and imagine how bad that would have been.

Now that's a gun:

Rather, Harvey Keitel would be the perfect guy, with the perfect build at the perfect age to play the Paul Kersey character.

Friday, July 04, 2008

Christian Nation Nonsense on the 4th of July:

You can always count on WorldNetDaily to give us such. This year one Tom Flannery writes an article ridiculed with factual errors and unsound historical claims. Some highlights with my commentary:

On July 2, 1776, John Adams wrote two letters to his wife, Abigail, about the historic events surrounding the forthcoming Declaration of Independence. In one of those letters, he predicted that future generations might celebrate the day – the Fourth of mark the birth of America. Adams pondered that possibility and determined this would be appropriate only if it was observed as a day of deliverance with solemn acts of devotion to God.

Adams understood that, without the God of the Bible intervening on her behalf, there would be no America. From the founding of our nation, to our break with England, to the framing of our Constitution and enacting of our laws, he and most of our other founders recognized that Providence (the will and work of Almighty God) was supremely evident throughout.

First, it's not at all clear that Adams believed in the Christian God/God of the Bible. Adams was a fervent theological unitarian (denier of the Trinity) who believed the Bible to be only a partially inspired book, and that all sorts of exotic religions, notably Hindusm, worshipped the same God he did. John Adams is not a good spokesman for the "Christian America" claim.

Next, Flannery's article discusses Christopher Columbus and then the Pilgrims as though they had anything to do with what when down in America from 1776-1800; they didn't.

Flannery's article continues:

In 1776, Adams and our other Founding Fathers fought the tyrannical King George with the rallying cry of "No king but King Jesus!" The aforementioned Declaration of Independence they signed to break from Britain contains four separate references to God and acknowledges that our inalienable human rights come from Him. It also delineates a litany of King George's biblical violations, which they based that break upon.

My research shows that some American Christians did rally to the cry of "No King but Jesus," but not John Adams. From what I've seen, this phrase is nowhere in Adams' historical writings. Adams did consider himself a follower of Jesus, but was also, as noted, a fervent theological unitarian who utterly rejected Jesus' Godhood or second place in the Trinity.

Regarding King George's supposed "biblical violations," notice that the Declaration of Independence doesn't define them as such. You can always go back, after the fact, and read "biblical" content into any text, for instance, if you look hard enough you can probably find the "biblical content" in a warranty for a microwave. And that's exactly what folks do when they claim America's Declaration describes King George's "biblical violations."

Flannery's article continues:

Then came the Revolutionary War. Time and again during the war, it looked like the "Glorious Cause of America" was about to be extinguished. Yet in virtually every instance, as detailed in David McCullough's wonderful book "1776," there was some wholly unnatural occurrence (a fateful turn of the weather, an inexplicable delay or miscalculation by the enemy at a crucial juncture, etc.) that saved the day – and the revolution. In each case, George Washington and the founders were quick to describe these truly extraordinary events as "miraculous" and ascribe them to Providence, then give God the glory for them.

God may indeed have helped to “found” America but it is not at all apparent according to tradition biblical Christian theology why Christians should believe this. Don’t forget America rebelled against another nation of Christians who arguably had a stronger, more traditional biblical case on their behalf (see Romans 13). The very act of revolting against government was arguably a far more "biblical violation" than anything King George did!

More from Flannery:

When God gave the ragtag revolutionaries a stunning victory over the greatest army on earth, our founders set about forging a new nation. Washington and Alexander Hamilton said they based the idea for America's separation of powers upon the Bible verse Jeremiah 17:9, which teaches that the human heart is "deceitful above all things and desperately wicked." The founders also based our three branches of government on Isaiah 33:22; tax exemption for churches on Ezra 7:24; Article 4 of our Constitution on Exodus 18:21-22; and so on.

This is an ought right lie. Though, as noted, you can try to connect, after the fact, the Bible to ideas in any text, Washington and Hamilton never said they based any texts of the Constitution on the Bible. I know this is a harsh accusation; but if I'm shown wrong, I'll gladly concede. I challenge Mr. Flannery or anyone else to show me where Washington, Hamilton or anyone else at the Constitutional Convention directly cited these verses and chapters of scripture for those sections of the Constitution.

Flannery's article only gets worse:

Indeed, of the 15,000 political writings of the men who crafted the Constitution, the source they quoted most frequently in expressing their political beliefs was the Bible. A whopping 34 percent of their political quotes came straight out of the Book they hailed as the inspired Word of God.

Another lie. This refers to a study done by Donald S. Lutz, et al. which purported to find lots of quotations to the Bible during the Founding era, particularly drawn from the pulpit. I've read the study and it most certainly does not claim that the men who framed the Constitution oft-cited the Bible for its propositions, because they didn't. In fact, the Lutz study admits this! The following is from the Lutz study, discussing the Bible's prominence when it came time to framing the Constitution:

"The Bible's prominence disappears, which is not surprising since the debate centered upon specific institutions about which the Bible has little to say. The Anti-Federalists do drag it in with respect to basic principles of government, but the Federalist's inclination to Enlightenment rationalism is most evident here in their failure to consider the Bible relevant."

If that weren't bad enough, Flannery's article gets worse:

Prayer even played an integral role at the Constitutional Convention. During a particularly contentious impasse, Benjamin Franklin addressed the founders gathered there with this stinging rebuke: "In the beginning of the contest with Great Britain, when we were sensible of danger, we had daily prayer in this room for the Divine protection. Our prayers, sir, were heard, and they were graciously answered. ... And have we now forgotten this powerful Friend? Or do we imagine we no longer need His assistance? I have lived, sir, a long time, and the longer I live the more convincing proofs I see of this truth, that God governs in the affairs of men. And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without His notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without His aid? We have been assured, sir, in the Sacred Writings, that 'except the Lord build the house, they labor in vain that build it.' I firmly believe this; and I firmly believe that without His concurring aid, we shall succeed in this political building no better than the builders of Babel."

Upon concluding his remarks, a motion for daily prayer was quickly adopted and the impasse was broken.

The quotation from Franklin is accurate. What's inaccurate is Flannery's assertion that the motion for daily prayer was "quickly adopted." Actually Madison's notes from the Convention and other contemporaneous sources inform that Franklin's call for prayer was not even voted on, that they didn't pray but moved on with their secular business.

Alas, the article I've just deconstructed is typical of the "Christian America" claim. This thesis relies on utter untruths and it's time honest, bible believing Christians close ranks and move on.

Thursday, July 03, 2008

Classic Movie From the 80s:

"Ruthless People"

Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Roy Masters' Science:

I've listened to Roy Masters for many hours on talk radio and have blogged about him before on a few widely read posts. He has talent in sort of a Kent Hovind or Deepak Chopra sense. In other words he's someone whom scientifically minded skeptics would regard as a crack pot. And he could have been the next Rev. Moon until conservative Christians, who think his teachings false, heretical and cultic, put a stop to it. Masters likes to blame the liberal media for this, but they weren't the ones who stopped him from being more influential among the Washington Times crowd.

Masters is moderately influential in right wing circles. Some notable followers of his include Michael Savage, Matt Drudge, David Kupelian, Bob Just, Jesse Lee Peterson, and purportedly, John Wayne. Masters used to be housed in California (now in Grants Pass, Oregon), fitting, in that he is sort of a Marianne Williamson for the John Birch Society. Much of his advice on positive thinking sounds nice. It's New Age like motivational thinking not unlike what you'd hear from Chopra, Williamson, Tony Robbins, and Oprah Winfrey's Eckhart Tolle. But it's done through the lens of a mean spirited, Calvin-like "biblical" framework (Masters views human nature as utterly depraved). Masters tries to pass himself and his teachings off as "Christian," "biblical" or "Judeo-Christian." This schizophrenia of pleasant, New Age like positive thinking mixed in with doom and gloom negative, doomsday crack pottery that tries to appeal to the religious right makes him all the more interesting.

Indeed, one of his most notable followers is David Kupelian of "Marketing of Evil" fame which captured the attention of so many Christian fundamentalists. But when these orthodox Christians find out what Masters really believes, they put him in the same box as the Moonies, Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses.

Anyway I've heard Masters -- an armchair physicist, author of "Finding God in Physics" -- say he's discovered what amounts to a modern day perpetual motion machine such that respectable physicists are interested in his theory. If what he's found is true (as you'll see, real scientists regard this as pure crack pottery) Masters is about to become the next Bill Gates (or given the fact that he's almost 80, his relatives are).

You can read the abstract of his idea for yourself. I wanted to know what the deal was when he said he was presenting his idea before a reputable bunch of physicists. I found out here. A quote from the article:

Physicist Reinhardt Schuhmann read the abstract Masters' submitted for his "Electricity from Gravity" presentation.

"It's balderdash," said Schuhmann, a senior editor of Physical Review Letters, an APS publication.

"It doesn't make any sense."

The main problem with Masters' concept is that it violates the law of conservation of energy, he said.

Though energy can change forms - electrical energy into heat energy, for example - it cannot be created or destroyed.

"You can't get energy from nothing, and that's basically the problem with all these schemes," Schuh-mann said.

Nonsensical findings

The American Physical Society's annual March meeting includes a handful of presentations that event organizers acknowledge are either scientifically suspect or outright nonsense. Year after year, a handful of researchers present findings on:

•"Free energy" sources that will solve the world's energy woes.

•The merits of cold fusion.

•Einstein's major blunders.

There is also some interesting new stuff on YouTube showing Masters. As you will see, he can be quite charming and interpersonal, which gets him accused of being a "cult leader." Here he is on Joe Franklin's show, whom Masters has managed to charm:

And here is Masters handing himself quite well with skeptic James Randi. [They introduce him as a man who claims to have cured "cancer," "blindness" and "homosexuality."]

And finally here is a fun clip of Masters performing an exorcism:

Replacing One Myth With Another:

I still regularly discuss the Founding Fathers/what religion were they? issue because it still keeps coming up, especially around July 4! The notion that the Founders were all Deists is indeed a myth. However, the Christian Right tends to replace that myth with another.

Exhibit A, Brannon Howse's most recent Worldview Weekend article:

The strategy of secular humanists is simple: If you say something often enough, people tend to believe it. So, in various forms, they repeat the myth that America’s Founders held to a secular, deistic worldview.

Howse's article adopts the same strategy -- keep repeating something long enough in his "Christian Nation" circles that people will believe it. This works in closed off systems where people dialog only with other folks in their system. This is one reason why I try to, when I can, penetrate those systems and dialog with folks from both the secular left or religious right who may view the issue differently. The Internet gives us that opportunity. And the American Creation blog is founded with that purpose of getting folks from different perspectives together to analyze the issue of religion and the American Founding.

But anyway back to Howse's article. In order to "prove" almost all of America's Founders were "Christian," Howse cites the research of Dr. M. E. Bradford of the University of Dallas which purported to find the following:

He discovered the Founders were members of denominations as follows: twenty-eight Episcopalians, eight Presbyterians, seven Congregationalists, two Lutherans, two Dutch Reformed, two Methodists, two Roman Catholics, and three deists.15

Notice Dr. Bradford’s study found that only three out of fifty-five Founders were possibly deists. These are Hugh Williamson of North Carolina, James Wilson of Pennsylvania, and Benjamin Franklin of Pennsylvania.

I've seen it further argued that since Church membership at that time involved sworn oaths to God, that these men took sacred oaths attesting to their orthodox Christian faith. The problem is Bradford's research doesn't support the conclusions for which "Christian America" advocates argue. All Bradford found was some kind of formal or nominal affiliation with a Christian Church that professed orthodoxy (as all of them did) on behalf of those 52 men. I know for certain he didn't find official Church membership or sworn oaths to the creeds of orthodoxy because I've personally studied the religious history in meticulous detail of a number of Bradford's "Christians" and know there is no evidence for many of them of official Church membership or sworn sacred oaths to orthodox Christianity.

Take for instance, Alexander Hamilton, of one Bradford's "Christians" and one of the most notable Founders. This was a man who never joined a Church, even after he became a Christian! And Hamilton demonstrated no evidence of orthodox Christianity during the time in which he was involved in founding America. The historical record doesn't show Hamilton becoming an orthodox Christian until the end of his life, after his son died in a duel.

Or take James Madison, another of Bradford's "Christians." There is no evidence that he was either confirmed or a communicant in the Anglican/Episcopal Church. No evidence shows he ever took any sacred oaths to orthodox Christian doctrines.

George Washington did take oaths to the doctrines of the Anglican/Episcopal Church when becoming a Vestryman and then a Godfather in said Church. However, Thomas Jefferson took those oaths when becoming a Vestryman and he was a man who explicitly rejected every single tenet of orthodox Trinitarian Christianity.

Or consider G. Morris, another of Bradford's "Christians," of whom the orthodox Christian Roger Sherman said:

With regard to his moral character, I consider him an irreligious and profane man—he is no hypocrite and never pretended to have any religion. He makes religion the subject of ridicule and is profane in his conversation.

In short, all Bradford demonstrated is some sort of formal or nominal connection to a Christian Church that professed orthodoxy. But virtually all of the notable Founders whom we think of as "Deists" likewise, you'll see if you dig deep enough, had connections to Christian Churches. And this applies to all three of Bradford's "Deists."

Indeed Howse's article alludes to this: "Hugh Williamson, though, was licensed to preach by the Presbyterian Church, which makes it questionable just how serious a deist he really was."

I know little about Hugh Williamson, but have studied the religion of Ben Franklin and James Wilson in detail and know both of them had connections to both Presbyterianism and Anglicanism/Episcopalianism.

Again Howse's article notices the unsound classification of Bradford's "Deists":

Benjamin Franklin clearly was a deist as a young man, but he later became disenchanted with deism. While Franklin probably never became a Christian in the orthodox sense, he came a long way from deism in his eighty-four years.16 At the Great Convention it was Franklin who called for prayer, declaring that “God governs in the affairs of men.”17 (Remember, according to deism, God does not so intervene.)

So if Bradford's classification of the "Deists" is unsound, then what makes the Worldview Weekend crowd assume that his classification of the "Christians" is sound?

My meticulous detective work shows that the key players at the Constitutional Convention -- far more than just "3" -- were neither Deists nor orthodox Christian, but somewhere in between. What we've seen above from Franklin -- belief in a Providential God who intervenes in the affairs of man, but rejection of orthodox Christian doctrines -- is actually the creed of most of America's key Founders, including Hamilton, Washington, Madison, G. Morris, Wilson, J. Adams, Jefferson and many lesser founders like Williamson.