Wednesday, October 29, 2008

I Am Not Jonathan Rowe!

I'm Jonathan Rowe! This is what you get when you combine two different people into one. There is a more prominent established writer named Jonathan Rowe with whom folks commonly confuse me. I actually got paid $500 or so to write an article -- never published -- under the mistaken impression that I was him. The publisher never admitted this or returned my email when I asked when my article would be published, but I'm almost certain this was the reason. If you look at the top of my website you see that I self identify as a libertarian. The other guy is the furthest thing from a libertarian. That alone should give folks a heads up. I'd much rather folks confuse me with this Jonathan Rowe.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Noble Pagans:

As the years go by, I'm sure eventually I'll produce a book or two that relates to the Founding & religion. Right now, I'm 1) too busy, and 2) haven't yet found my novel angle. I won't self publish or write a book that no one will read. If it won't show up at Borders or Barnes & Noble, I doubt I'll write it. I'm thinking of a title like "Noble Pagans: America's Founding Heretics" or just "Noble Pagans." A provocative title that will catch people's eye is a must.

My research has moderately explored America's Founders' strong affinity for noble pagan Greco-Roman antiquity. And this in turn was part of their Whig-Enlightenment worldview. I've noted how Washington's hero was a figure from antiquity named Cato the Younger who committed suicide as a matter of principle rather than submit to the tyranny of Caesar. The authors of the Federalist Papers adopted the surname "Publius." And Washington (and some of his soldiers and intimates) were affiliated the Society of Cincinnati named after the pagan figure LUCIUS QUINTIUS CINCINNATUS. This is from their 1783 founding order:

Tuesday, 13th May, 1783

The representatives of the American Army being assembled agreeably to adjournment, the plan for establishing a Society, whereof the officers of the American Army are to be Members, is accepted, and is as follows, viz.:

It having pleased the Supreme Governor of the Universe, in the disposition of human affairs, to cause the separation of the Colonies of North America from the domination of Great Britain, and after a bloody conflict of eight years, to establish them Free, Independent, and Sovereign States, connected by alliances, founded on reciprocal advantages, with some of the greatest princes and powers of the earth.

To perpetuate, therefore, as well the remembrance of this vast event, as the mutual friendships which have been formed, under the pressure of common danger, and in many instances cemented by the blood of the parties, the officers of the American army do hereby in the most solemn manner, associate, constitute and combine themselves into one SOCIETY OF FRIENDS, to endure so long as they shall endure, or any of their eldest male posterity, and in failure thereof, the collateral branches, who may be judged worthy of becoming its supporters and Members.

The officers of the American army having generally been taken from the citizens of America, possess high veneration for the character of that illustrious Roman, LUCIUS QUINTIUS CINCINNATUS; and being resolved to follow his example, by returning to their citizenship, they think they may with propriety denominate themselves ---

There is actually quite a bit in Washington's writings on the group.

I should note there were, I have found, orthodox Trinitarian Christians who were involved with things such as affinity for Greco-Roman antiquity, the excessive use of reason/natural law in religion, and Freemasonry. My point is these things were 1) at the very least a-biblical, and 2) essential to understanding Founding era ideology. They were as essential as the so called "Judeo-Christian" tradition. So when folks say America's Founding has a "Judeo-Christian" Foundation or the Founding documents represent a "Judeo-Christian" worldview, they peddle, at best, a half truth. America's Founding mixed the Judeo-Christian tradition in an ideological synthesis with a noble pagan, Enlightenment and Whig worldview. Which, if any of those worldviews dominated and whether such an ideological synthesis is truly compatible with historic orthodox Christianity is a matter of debate. But there is no denying the historical reality of dynamic.

Take for instance, George Washington's dithering on the afterlife to ANNIS BOUDINOT STOCKTON, August 31, 1788:

But, with Cicero in speaking respecting his belief of the immortality of the Soul, I will say, if I am in a grateful delusion, it is an innocent one, and I am willing to remain under its influence. Let me only annex one hint to this part of the subject, while you may be in danger of appreciating the qualities of your friend too highly, you will run no hazard in calculating upon his sincerity or in counting implicitly on the reciprocal esteem and friendship which he entertains for yourself.

The felicitations you offer on the present prospect of our public affairs are highly acceptable to me, and I entreat you to receive a reciprocation from my part. I can never trace the concatenation of causes, which led to these events, without acknowledging the mystery and admiring the goodness of Providence. To that superintending Power alone is our retraction from the brink of ruin to be attributed.

Now, if George Washington were a Christian in the sola scriptura, Christ only, orthodox Protestant sense (as some on the Christian America side shockingly assert) why on Earth would he appeal to Cicero as an authority for the immortality of the soul, but instead cite verse and chapter of scripture (which, despite the occasional biblical allusion, he never did)?

Or take Thomas Jefferson's letter to Richard Henry Lee, May 8, 1825, on the ideological sources of the Declaration of Independence and lists them as "Aristotle, Cicero, Locke, Sidney, &c. ..." Jefferson certainly was no orthodox Trinitarian Christian; Washington may have been (I doubt it). But one thing for sure is the "Christianity" of the key Founders, Washington's for instance, was nothing like Francis Schaeffer's, who typifies to many modern evangelicals what Christianity should be about. Even if Washington were an orthodox Trinitarian Christian, his theology downplayed orthodox doctrine and integrated natural law, Aristotelean and pagan elements. Some orthodox Christians think this perfectly fine. Many traditionalist Roman Catholics embrace their Aristotelean roots as their hero Thomas Aquinas did. But not Francis Schaeffer. See him rail against this admixture of Christian and noble pagan elements that was (perhaps unbeknownst to him) key to American Founding thought and the theology of men like George Washington.

Sure there were plenty of "Francis Schaeffers" during the era who supported the American Founding. One thinks of Timothy Dwight (President of Yale) or Jedidiah Morse (one does NOT think of John Witherspoon, President of Princeton, who himself was imbibed in the philosophical rationalism that Schaeffer argues against here). George Washington communicated with them, supported their free exercise of religion and otherwise had no problem with them. However he was not that kind of Christian and it was NOT this kind of Christianity that drove the American Founding.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Dialog on Washington's Religion Continues:

At American Creation Brian Tubbs left an apt comment on my long post that tried to put Washington's religious beliefs into perspective.

Good post, Jon. But, you've only cast some doubts here and raised some questions. You have not shown that GW rejected the Trinity or the deity of Jesus.

I think all we've established here is that there's an element of mystery to GW's Christian doctrine. This much, I readily grant.

And Tom Van Dyke left the next comment about "burdens":

Well, Brian, I must admit I don't see much "Christian" in GW's doctrine either. Claiming him for Christianity by default---by what he didn't say, which seems to be Liliback's argument---doesn't rock for me. Burden of proof must be shared, and made by affirmative argument.

In fact, the most explicitly theological thing from Washington I've seen is Masonic, and I've seen nothing comparably "Christian":

"At the same time, I request you will be assured of my best wishes and earnest prayers for your happiness while you remain in this terrestrial mansion and that we may hereafter meet as brethren in the eternal Temple of the Supreme Architect."---from a 1792 letter

Indeed I agree both sides should equally share the burden. And I've searched for smoking guns in Washington's 20,000 pages of known recorded writings and speeches and on the doctrines of orthodox Trinitarian Christianity, there are none. You can try the search engine there and see for yourself. There's lots of evidence on Washington's belief in Providence and his support for religion in general, how it fosters virtue necessary for republican government. And there's evidence of his positive feelings on Christianity, but no smoking guns on his belief in doctrines like the Trinity, Atonement or infallibility of the Bible. He simply never discusses these things. And when one peers into the void of abstract God words like "Providence" that's when folks on various sides "read in" their desires, not what Washington specifically said.

In Peter Lillback's case, he reads in belief in orthodox Trinitarian doctrine. If you watch the following video of him discussing Washington's creed, he too discusses "burdens" and acts as though the fact that Washington regularly worshipped in the Trinitarian Anglican/Episcopal Church is something that skeptical scholars would have a hard time answering.

Not only is this claim easily answered, but it's answered with a factual dynamic that probably disturbs Lillback, such that he and likeminded folks desire to explain it away (he certainly didn't adequately deal with it in the 1200 pages of "George Washington's Sacred Fire"): Key Founders commonly worshipped in Trinitarian Churches while privately disbelieving in orthodox doctrines. This certainly applies to Jefferson, Franklin, Marshall, and probably James Madison whom George Ticknor founder of the Boston Public library testified "pretty distinctly intimated to me his own regard for the Unitarian doctrines." In John Adams' case his Congregational Church -- a Church with Trinitarian origins -- had ministers that preached these unitarian doctrines as of 1750! Indeed in many ways, unitarianism was spearheaded by ministers coming out of Trinitarian Churches (like Joseph Priestley and Richard Price, who preached Unitarianism in the English Presbyterian Churches, and more New England Congregational ministers that I can name in a short space) who rejected the official Trinitarian doctrines of their churches.

Lillback in his book does attempt at a smoking gun to prove Washington's orthodox Trinitarianism: Oaths that he took while becoming a Godfather and a Vestryman in the Anglican/Episcopal Church. As the argument goes, if Washington not only worshipped in a Trinitarian Church but took oaths to Trinitarianism while privately disbelieving in those doctrines, he was a dishonorable hypocrite. [I guess in the same sense that folks who get divorced are dishonorable hypocrites because they -- the ones who got married the Church -- pledged in a covenant before God "till death do us part."]

Lillback et al. paint themselves into a corner by invoking such an argument. And that's because if we take those oaths too seriously, we might be forced to conclude that he was such an oath breaker. Washington never took oaths to low church latitudinarian orthodox Trinitarian Anglicanism (because those oaths didn't exist), what Lillback argues Washington believed in. Rather those oaths were high church Anglican oaths that not only commanded believers to engage in the Lord's Supper (which Washington systematically refused to do) but pledge loyalty to the King of England! You can read more on them here.

And indeed, many American Anglican colonists remained Tory loyalists precisely because they took similar oaths and believed they had a Christian duty to remain loyal to the King of England. Taking these oaths too literally forces one to conclude that Washington violated his oaths by not just engaging in but leading a rebellion against said King to whom he pledged, before God, his loyalty.

Further on the matter of Washington's systematic avoidance of communion, Lillback, engaging in pure speculation, constructs an argument that it had something to do with Washington's political disagreement with Dr. James Abercrombie and the other high church Tory Episcopalians. Well indeed, if you worship in the Anglican Church, a church whose theology pledged itself to loyalty to England, you are bound to hear a lot of Tory sentiments. The fact that Whigs could remain formal members of a Church whose official theology posited Tory loyalty to England raises the same issues of hypocrisy that unitarians worshipping in Trinitarian churches does. Why didn't the Whigs like George Washington just leave the Church of England? There were no Unitarian Churches for them to join, but plenty of Baptists or Presbyterian ones. That's because, as with Roman Catholics like Joe Biden, it's a very common thing in the present and the past to be attached to a Church in sentiment and tradition but not believe in all of the Church's official theological stances, be it on loyalty to England, abortion, birth control, or the Trinity.

And I would note, though Washington never told us why he systematically avoided communion the most common sense answer is he disbelieved in what the act stood for: Christ's Atonement. That's far more common sensical than political problems he may have had with Tory preachers or Tory doctrine in the Church. The Lord's Supper does NOT represent communing with your fellow believers; it represents Christ's Atonement. Sitting in a church and worshipping with other people represents communion with them. And that's something Washington was willing to do with Tories.

Why is this important? The only evidence for Washington's orthodox Trinitarianism is indissolubly tied to his membership in the Anglican/Episcopal Church. If one weakens the case for Washington's belief in official Anglican/Episcopal doctrines (like pledging loyalty to Great Britain) then out of logical necessity one simultaneously weakens the case for positive evidence of Washington's belief in orthodox Trinitarian doctrine.

I would concede that showing Washington was only formally connected to the Anglican/Episcopal Church and didn't necessarily buy all that it stood for is not negative evidence against his orthodox Christianity. He really could have been a "Christ only" orthodox Trinitarian Protestant who disregarded the high church doctrines that were superfluous to Christianity anyway. But there is absolutely no positive evidence for this. The only positive evidence for Washington's orthodox Trinitarianism comes through official Anglican/Episcopal doctrine. And as we've seen, that evidence rests on shaky grounds.

Friday, October 24, 2008


I noticed someone uploaded the audio to Steve Hackett's song Narnia (he was the guitarist for Genesis during their classic era). Prog rockers have had a problem in that ten minute long suite form songs aren't exactly "radio friendly." So they may throw in some radio friendly songs to classic prog albums in an attempt for a hit. They may try to make radio friendly songs that still incorporate prog elements. I think Rush were the best at doing this; think of all of their hits that are both prog and classic rock at the same time. Sometimes the groups (Genesis for example by the time they got to "Invisible Touch") might change in a more commercial oriented direction in an attempt to get more hits, more airplay, more money. Narnia is one of those prog tunes that could have been, in my opinion, a commercial hit (it wasn't). It has Steve Walsh from Kansas as guest vocalist (and my favorite rock vocalist) whom Hackett was reported to say possessed the "perfect white rock voice." From the album Please Don't Touch I think this tune perfectly captures what the book was about and if there were a rock soundtrack to the Narnia movie series could have served as its central track:

Ben Franklin's Creed:

Ben Franklin is one key Founder most likely conceded as "Deist." And indeed once in his biography he noted he identified as such. However, from the research I have uncovered, more often throughout his adult life, he thought of himself as a "Christian" -- a "rational Christian." Like Jefferson, Washington and the other key Founders, he attended Trinitarian Churches and sought communion (not in the Lord's Supper sense of the term!) with them. Though the "rational Christians" politely hoped the Trinitarians with whom they worshipped would eventually come to reject such "irrational" doctrines as original sin, the Trinity, and the infallibility of the Bible. It was the Trinitarians, especially the Calvinists, who thought such "rational Christianity" to be not Christianity at all but heresy or infidelity. Indeed, they would actively disfellow themselves from the "rational Christians" and lump them in with strict Deists like Thomas Paine. Hence the need for the key Founders to tread cautiously while dealing with the orthodox Trinitarians, speak in abstract lowest common denominator terms with them (like "Providence") and only reveal their secrets to "safe" friends, else have their public reputation damaged. And whether what the key Founders believed (a "rational Christianity" that rejected most of the fundamentals of orthodoxy) qualifies as "Christianity" is debatable.

I stress John Adams so much because his political views were so mainstream, indeed conservative for the Founding era. There is a tendency on the Christian America side to identify Franklin and Jefferson as Deists, and cast them off as outliers. But given the evidence unequivocally demonstrates J. Adams was virtually agreed with Jefferson and Franklin on their basic creed, that such a mainstream figure as J. Adams could believe in the same creed as Jefferson and Franklin demonstrates just how mainstream this creed was among the Founders. That indeed, Washington, Madison, Hamilton and many others could just as easily "fit" into Franklin's and Jefferson's religious shoes just as John Adams did.

That's the nuanced dynamic I've discovered after years of meticulously researching this issue.

But onto my contention that Franklin was not a strict Deist, but more likely thought of himself as a "rational Christian." The one time he identified as a Deist in his biography, Franklin embraced the term in a lukewarm manner:

But I was scarce fifteen, when, after doubting by turns several points as I found them disputed in the different books I read, I began to doubt of the Revelation itself. Some books against Deism fell into my hands; they were said to be the substance of the sermons which had been preached at Boyle’s Lectures. It happened that they wrought an effect on me quite contrary to what was intended by them. For the arguments of the Deists, which were quoted to be refuted, appeared to be much stronger than the refutations; in short, I soon became a thorough Deist....I began to suspect that this doctrine, though it might be true, was not very useful.

When a young man, during his defense of a young Presbyterian preacher named Samuel Hemphill accused of "heterodoxy," Franklin presented his religious creed under the auspices of "Christianity." And by the way, the heterodoxy that Hemphill preached in the American Presbyterian Church -- what the orthodox Calvinists wanted to defrock him for -- was exactly the type of "rational Christianity" that the key Founders would later embrace.

Here, in his defense of Hemphill, Franklin argues true Christianity rejects original sin.

But lest they shou’d imagine that one of their strongest Objections hinted at here, and elsewhere, is designedly overlook’d, as being unanswerable, viz. our lost and undone State by Nature, as it is commonly call’d, proceeding undoubtedly from the Imputation of old Father Adam’s first Guilt. To this I answer once for all, that I look upon this Opinion every whit as ridiculous as that of Imputed Righteousness. ’Tis a Notion invented, a Bugbear set up by Priests (whether Popish or Presbyterian I know not) to fright and scare an unthinking Populace out of their Senses, and inspire them with Terror, to answer the little selfish Ends of the Inventors and Propagators. ’Tis absurd in it self, and therefore cannot be father’d upon the Christian Religion as deliver’d in the Gospel. Moral Guilt is so personal a Thing, that it cannot possibly in the Nature of Things be transferr’d from one Man to Myriads of others, that were no way accessary to it. And to suppose a Man liable to Punishment upon account of the Guilt of another, is unreasonable; and actually to punish him for it, is unjust and cruel.

Here Franklin argues against the notion that men are justified through faith alone. He argues true Christianity elevates works over faith:

Faith is recommended as a Means of producing Morality: Our Saviour was a Teacher of Morality or Virtue, and they that were deficient and desired to be taught, ought first to believe in him as an able and faithful Teacher. Thus Faith would be a Means of producing Morality, and Morality of Salvation. But that from such Faith alone Salvation may be expected, appears to me to be neither a Christian Doctrine nor a reasonable one….Morality or Virtue is the End, Faith only a Means to obtain that End: And if the End be obtained, it is no matter by what Means.

Note how Franklin presents this as authentic Christianity and even refers to Jesus as a "Savior," but does so in the context of arguing for outright heresy. If Franklin were a Deist, why would he care about presenting his arguments as "Christian"? Further, Franklin's notion that "if the End be obtained, it is no matter by what Means" has the effect of reducing Christianity to mere morality and all good people, even professed non-Christians, to be "Christians." As John Adams put it: “I believe with Justin Martyr, that all good men are Christians, and I believe there have been, and are, good men in all nations, sincere and conscientious.”

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

Or as George Washington put it:

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

– George Washington, General Orders, Saturday, May 2, 1778

We should also understand why Franklin wouldn't fear Muslims preaching Islamic doctrines in Christian Churches. If they were good people, professed Muslims could qualify as "Christians." As Franklin put it in his autobiography:

Both house and ground were vested in trustees, expressly for the use of any preacher of any religious persuasion who might desire to say something to the people at Philadelphia; the design in building not being to accommodate any particular sect, but the inhabitants in general; so that even if the Mufti of Constantinople were to send a missionary to preach Mohammedanism to us, he would find a pulpit at his service.

In his defense of Hemphill, Franklin also notes that true Christianity views the Bible as secondary to the law of nature discovered by reason. That is, revelation's purpose is to support and complement reason, not the other way around:

Now that natural Religion, or that the Laws of our Nature oblige us to the highest Degrees of Love to God, and in consequence of this Love to our almighty Maker, to pay him all the Homage, Worship and Adoration we are capable of, and to do every thing we know he requires; and that the same Laws oblige us to the Love of Mankind, and in consequence of this Love, as well as of our Love to God, (because he requires these things of us) to do good Offices to, and promote the general Welfare and Happiness of our Fellow-creatures: That the Laws of our Nature, I say, oblige us to these things....

What Hemphill means by the first Revelation which God made to us by the Light of Nature, is the Knowledge, and our Obligations to the Practice of the Laws of Morality, which are discoverable by the Light of Nature; or by reflecting upon the human Frame, and considering it’s natural Propensities, Instincts, and Principles of Action, and the genuine Tendencies of them.

Now, that to promote the Practice of the great Laws of Morality and Virtue both with Respect to God and Man, is the main End and Design of the christian Revelation has been already prov’d from the Revelation itself. And indeed as just now hinted at, it is obvious to the Reason of every thinking Person, that, if God almighty gives a Revelation at all, it must be for this End; nor is the Truth of the christian Revelation, or of any other that ever was made, to be defended upon any other Footing. But quitting these things; if the above Observations be true, then where lies the Absurdity of Hemphill’s asserting,

Article I.
That Christianity, [as to it’s most essential and necessary Parts,] is plainly Nothing else, but a second Revelation of God’s Will founded upon the first Revelation, which God made to us by the Light of Nature.

Elevating the law of nature discovered by reason over revelation opened the door for Franklin and the other key Founders to view the Bible as fallible or partially inspired. As Franklin put it in his August 21, 1784 letter to John Calder:

To which I may now add, that the[re are] several Things in the old Testament impossible to be given by divine Inspiration, such as the Approbation ascrib’d to the Angel of the Lord, of that abominably wicked and detestable Action of Jael the Wife of Heber the Kenite. If the rest of the Book were like that, I should rather suppose it given by Inspiration from another Quarter, and renounce the whole.

In that same letter Franklin demonstrates his affinity for Unitarianism: "By the way how goes on the Unitarian Church in Essex Street? and the honest Minister of it, is he comfortably supported?"

Indeed "rational Christianity" was "unitarian" not "Trinitarian." In his Sep. 28, 1772 letter to the unitarian Richard Price, Franklin expresses his interest in "rational Christianity":

Sir John has ask'd me if I knew where he could go to hear a preacher of rational Christianity. I told him I knew several of them, but did not know where their churches were in town; out of town, I mention' d yours at Newington, and offer 'd to go with him. He agreed to it, but said we should first let you know our intention. I suppose, if nothing in his profession prevents, we may come, if you please, next Sunday ; but if you sometimes preach in town, that will be most convenient to him, and I request you would by a line let me know when and where. If there are dissenting preachers of that sort at this end of the town, I wish you would recommend one to me, naming the place of his meeting. And if you please, give me a list of several, in different parts of the town, perhaps he may incline to take a round among them.

And much of what I've just outlined above is summarized in Franklin's 1790 letter to Ezra Stiles where he notes, like the "dissenters" (i.e., "rational Christians") in England he "doubts" Jesus divinity. Though he notes "Jesus of Nazareth" (not "Jesus Christ") as the world's great moral teacher. And when he lists the essentials of true religion, it's generic Providentialism with the tenets of orthodox Christianity conspicuously missing:

Here is my Creed: I believe in one God, Creator of the Universe. That He governs it by his Providence. That he ought to be worshipped. That the most acceptable Service we can render to him, is doing Good to his other Children. That the Soul of Man is immortal, and will be treated with Justice in another Life respecting its Conduct in this. These I take to be the fundamental Principles of all sound Religion, and I regard them as you do, in whatever Sect I meet with them. As to Jesus of Nazareth, my Opinion of whom you particularly desire, I think the System of Morals and his Religion as he left them to us, the best the World ever saw, or is likely to see; but I apprehend it has received various corrupting Changes, and I have with most of the present Dissenters in England, some Doubts as to his Divinity: tho' it is a Question I do not dogmatise upon, having never studied it, and think it needless to busy myself with it now, when I expect soon an Opportunity of knowing the Truth with less Trouble.

J. Adams and Jefferson certainly and I conclude Washington, Madison, G. Morris and many other key Founders likewise could agree with that above creed. The question as to whether this system that presented itself under the auspices of "rational Christianity" actually qualifies as Christianity remains.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Pat Boone's Errors:

World Net Daily should hire me to fact check whenever one of their writers produces a "Christian Heritage" article. I'm not going to deal with the arguments, just two errors in Pat Boone's latest. First:

You may have heard that quote before, but have you asked yourself just what Ben Franklin was getting at? Well, the long, tiresome and often contentious convention had almost ended with nothing, with members going back to their home states angry and bitter. In the midst of apparent breakdown and failure, it was Franklin himself who stood up and proposed that starting the next morning, the convention should open with prayer and a sermon, because it was obvious that their momentous objective could not be achieved without the direct intervention of God, the One all the attendees credited with their very existence.

And starting from the very next day, after the morning prayers and sermons, the Constitution was brought to final form and agreed to. It was unlike any document in history, purporting to guarantee every citizen equality, possibility, security and liberty.

Nope there were no official prayers or sermons at the Constitutional Convention. They did not act on Franklin's call to prayer. And there was no three day recess as some sources have erroneously reported. They got on with secular business.

George Washington had declared, "Religion and morality are the twin pillars of freedom."

This is likely a paraphrase of Washington's farewell address. The problem is Boone put it in quotes as though those were Washington's actual words when they weren't.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Is "Unorthodox Christianity" "Christianity"?

Kristo Miettinen says yes. Many orthodox Christians say no. I say, yes and no; it depends on how one defines "Christianity." Mormonism and Jehovah's Witnessism are two classic examples: They call themselves Christians. But many orthodox Christians balk: "This isn't Christianity, whatever you call yourselves."

It all depends on where you draw the line and how you "box" people. For instance, regarding race we have blacks, whites and mixed race. In this society we tend to box folks as either "white" on the one hand or "black and mixed race" on the other. But in a society where blacks predominate, we might box folks as either "black" or "white or mixed race." Likewise we box folks as "straight" or "gay or bi." Looking for homosexual purity we could box folks as "gay" or "straight or bi."

America's key Founders [Washington, J. Adams, Jefferson, Madison, and Franklin] emerged from a "Christian" history but tended to reject orthodox Trinitarian doctrines and the infallibility of the Bible; they were theists who believed God primarily revealed Himself through nature discoverable by reason, secondarily by the Bible which they regarded as partially inspired, not infallible. To many orthodox Christians of the past and present era that puts them outside of the "Christian" label, regardless of what they termed themselves [the key Founders including Jefferson and Franklin, more likely thought of themselves as "Christians" not "Deists"].

And with that I am going to reproduce a little back and forth between Kristo Miettinen -- arguing for the "unorthodox" understanding of Christian -- and Gregg Frazer -- arguing for the "orthodox" understanding of Christianity.

My conclusion is the glass is half full and half empty so it all depends on which perspective one takes.

Kristo wrote:

I think your term “theistic rationalist” misses a key element of the left-wing founders: that even they were bibliophiles or bibliocentrists, and affiliated in individual cases with bibliolatry (e.g. the masonic ritual use of the KJV as their “Volume of the Sacred Law”).

Might I suggest “biblical rationalist” rather than “theistic rationalist”, since what they applied their rationalism to was more often the bible than God in any natural-theology sense.


[The term theistic rationalism] misses the founder’s bibliocentrism, which I believe was stronger than their theocentrism, if the latter is interpreted in a generic sense. They may have dabbled in natural theology, but not with the same energy that they applied to the bible.

Frazer deflects attention from their biblical obsession because they didn’t see the bible as he sees it. That is no reason to follow him in his choice of terms. Early America was a bible-soaked society. Frazer’s intellectual ancestors were products of that environment, but so were a number of other highly creative bibliocentric thinkers whose opinions Frazer abhors.

He may have coined a term, but you make an independent judgment of the matter when you choose his term over others. You have to stand behind your choice, you cannot point a finger at the man behind you.

Frazer replied:

“Biblical rationalist” would be a very misleading term. One shouldn’t use something they largely rejected as a central part of identifying them. That would be like calling the Protestant Reformers “Catholic” instead of Protestant. After all, they lived in a “catholicism-soaked society” and they applied their reforms to catholicism!

The key Founders lived in a “Bible-soaked society,” but they reacted against that to a large extent. The key Founders almost universally rejected and scorned the Old Testament (other than the Psalms & Proverbs & Ecclesiastes) as well as the New Testament other than the Gospels. They were hardly “obsessed” with the Bible and were FAR from bibliocentrists! When one uses “centric” as a suffix, it is not to be prefaced by something the individual rejected or disagreed with!

To the extent (not that much, by the way) that they used biblical allusions or illustrations, it was to relate to their “Bible-soaked society” — not because of their own “obsession” with the Bible.

It would also be misleading to use “biblical rationalist” simply because they applied their rationalism to the Bible. To call them “biblical rationalist” is to apply the adjective “biblical” to THEM (the rationalists) — not to the target of their rationalism.

As for the choice of “theistic,” the definitive dictionary of the 18th century, the Oxford English Dictionary, defines theism as: “Belief in one God as creator and supreme ruler of the universe, without denial of revelation: in this use distinguished from deism.” That is a precise description of the belief of the key Founders.

I can’t help but wonder how Mr. Miettinen knows so well what I abhor and to what “highly creative” bibliocentric thinkers he refers.

Finally, I don’t think Jon was hiding behind me where the term “theistic rationalism” is concerned. He has been scrupulously careful to give me credit (and I think it is CREDIT, not blame) for coining the term and I am exceedingly grateful. That is all he was doing.

Friday, October 17, 2008

An "Unconfirmed" Thomas Jefferson Quotation:

One that secularists like to trot out. “Christianity is the most perverted system that ever shone on man.” Monticello notes this quotation as "so far not been found in any of the sources available to us." However, they, apparently, haven't found that actual primary source from which this quotation was paraphrased. They note Thomas Jefferson to William Baldwin, 19 January 1810, and Thomas Jefferson to Ezra Stiles Ely, Monticello, 25 June 1819. The actual source, without question, is Thomas Jefferson to Joseph Priestley, 21 March 1801. The relevant part reads:

Those who live by mystery and charlatanerie, fearing you would render them useless by simplifying the Christian philosophy,—the most sublime and benevolent, but most perverted, system that ever shone on man,—endeavored to crush your well-earned and well-deserved fame.

This illustrates the nuanced context that most folks miss; the notion is Christianity had been “perverted” by its orthodox doctrines like the Trinity, Incarnation and Atonement and once stripped away contains some of the most benevolent sublime moral teachings. This is clearly what Jefferson, J. Adams, and Franklin believed and probably what Washington, Madison and others believed.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

What's an Infidel?

At American Creation Brian Tubbs takes issue with my terming George Washington a "soft infidel." Does he deserve such a label? Well, it depends on how the term is defined. I did write an article for Liberty Magazine provocatively entitled "George Washington, Infidel." Yes, I was being a little playful with that word. And surprisingly the article didn't raise as many eyebrows as I thought it would.

George Washington did NOT embrace the term infidel. But NONE of the key Founders, including Jefferson, Franklin or even (as far as I know) Paine embraced that term. Rather, as I have discovered, the term "infidel" meant someone to one's religious left. As Mr. Tubbs points out, Washington used "infidel" as a term of appropriation to describe those who couldn't see an interventionist God taking America's side in the Revolutionary War (against Christian Tories!). Indeed Ben Franklin likewise used the term infidel to describe those to his religious left:

Atheism is unknown there; Infidelity rare and secret; so that persons may live to a great Age in that Country, without having their Piety shocked by meeting with either an Atheist or an Infidel.

However without question Franklin, Jefferson, J. Adams, and I believe Madison and Washington were not orthodox Trinitarian Christians. That is, they were to the left of the "orthodox," who viewed the religious opinions of the key Founders as "infidelity" to "real Christianity." That's why I have termed Washington et al., "soft infidels." But since the key Founders understood how the orthodox would react to their heterodoxy, they tended to keep their religious views very guarded and private. Hence the reticence of Washington et al. to share their "religious secrets."

I recently stumbled upon a book by Timothy Dwight -- President of Yale in the Founding Era who typified "fire and brimstone" orthodox Christianity -- parts of which criticize unitarianism, particularly Joseph Priestley's opinions which, perhaps unbeknownst to Dwight, captured the minds of America's key Founders. Here is how Dwight described the "soft infidelity" of Priestley and hence of America's key Founders:

The observation of Mr. Wilberforce, therefore, seems to be but too well founded, when he says; "In the course, which we lately traced from nominal orthodoxy to absolute Infidelity, Unitarianism is, indeed, a sort of half-way house, if the expression may be pardoned; a stage on the journey, where sometimes a person, indeed, finally stops; but where, not unfrequently, he only pauses for a while; and then pursues his progress."

So what is the evidence that Washington believed in this softer form of "infidelity"? Well I've looked for Washington's connection to Priestley and have found a polite letter to Priestley (relating to science & US's emerging patent law) and one that mentions him relating to thermometers. Some other evidence connects Washington to Priestley but no "smoking guns" I have found prove Priestley to have mentored Washington's religious views as there are with Jefferson, J. Adams and Franklin.

However, Washington approved of the Unitarian Richard Price's heterodox theological views with the same zeal that he approved of Trinitarian Dr. Dwight's orthodox theological views. Washington writes the following to Rev. REVEREND ZECHARIAH LEWIS, September 28, 1798, regarding Dwight:

I thank you for sending me Doctr. Dwights Sermons to whom I pray you to present the complimts. of Yr. etc.

And compare that to Washington's approval for Richard Price's sermon critical of orthodox Trinitarian doctrine. In a letter to BENJAMIN VAUGHAN, February 5, 1785:

Sir: I pray you to accept my acknowledgment of your polite letter of the 31st. of October, and thanks for the flattering expressions of it. These are also due in a very particular manner to Doctr. Price, for the honble mention he has made of the American General in his excellent observations on the importance of the American revolution addressed, "To the free and United States of America," which I have seen and read with much pleasure.

Dwight's sermon was notoriously orthodox and Price's sermon was notoriously heterodox, yet Washington treated both of them with the same cavalier indifference. And this itself illustrates a unitarian religious attitude. It was the unitarians who tried to unite as many folks -- unitarian or trinitarian, Jew, Christian or Muslim -- together under their broad, latitudinarian theology. And it was the Trinitarians who held to the narrow path and termed the non-Trinitarians "heretics" at best, "infidels" at worst.

More evidence that Washington held to this broader, non-Trinitarian theology is he approved of the "infidel" Trinitarian Universalists, who denied eternal damnation, writing to them,

in our nation, however different are the sentiments of citizens on religious doctrines, they generally concur in one thing; for their political professions and practices are almost universally friendly to the order and happiness of our civil institutions. I am also happy in finding this disposition particularly evinced by your society.

Further Washington systematically spoke in generic philosophical titles for God (i.e., "Providence") and rarely spoke of Jesus Christ by name or person as though Washington had no personal relationship with Christ. The only two instances Washington's public or private writings speak of Jesus by name or person were written in other peoples' hand. The 1783 Circular to the States which describes Jesus (by example not name) as "divine" is at least consistent with Arianism. Indeed the open Arian Richard Price fully approved of this address noting he was “animated more than he can well express by General Washington’s excellent circular letter to the united states.” The sentiments in the Circular are even perhaps consistent with Socinianism which saw Jesus as a man on a divine mission.

Speaking of Jesus only two times (especially not written in Washington's hand) in 20,000 pages of recorded writings is not much in my opinion. That's exactly the number of times Washington referred to God as "the Great Spirit" when addressing unconverted Native Americans, something Peter Lillback has no problem waving away with his intellectual hand.

More importantly, that Washington systematically avoided communion in his Trinitarian Church cast serious doubt on the notion that he was orthodox. Washington never disclosed exactly why it was that he avoided communion so we have to look for the most common sense answer. And that is he didn't believe in what the act symbolically represents: Christ's Atonement. The deistic and unitarian minded folks in the orthodox Churches were the ones who, like Washington, got up and turned their backs on the Lord's Supper. As Washington's own minister, Dr. Abercrombie, put it specifically referring to Washington's unacceptable behavior in Church:

I cannot consider any man as a real Christian who uniformly disregards an ordinance so solemnly enjoined by the divine Author of our holy religion, and considered as a channel of divine grace.

And indeed, more evidence exists that those who avoided communion in the Anglican/Episcopal Church did so because they DIDN'T believe in the Trinity. As John Marshall's daughter put it describing Marshall's own systematic avoidance of communion in that Church:

The reason why he never communed was, that he was a Unitarian in opinion, though he never joined their society. He told her he believed in the truth of the Christian Revelation, but not in the divinity of Christ; therefore he could not commune in the Episcopal Church.

So ultimately with Washington we are left with unequivocal evidence that he believed in an active interventionist God but little evidence that he believed in the doctrines of orthodox Christianity. Indeed, he like the other key Founders, lived in a religious closet, as though he had something to hide. As Thomas Jefferson put it:

Dr. Rush tells me that he had it from Asa Green that when the clergy addressed Genl. Washington on his departure from the govmt, it was observed in their consultation that he had never on any occasion said a word to the public which showed a belief in the Xn religion and they tho[ugh]t they should so pen their address as to force him at length to declare publicly whether he was a Christian or not. They did so. However he observed the old fox was too cunning for them. He answered every article of their address particularly except that, which he passed over without notice. Rush observes he never did say a word on the subject in any of his public papers except in his valedictory letter to the Governors of the states when he resigned his commission in the army, wherein he speaks of the benign influence of the Christian religion.

I know that Gouverneur Morris, who pretended to be in his secrets & believed himself to be so, has often told me that Genl. Washington believed no more of that system than he himself did.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

John Adams' Alternate Ten Commandments:

Apparently there is a Ten Commandments case coming to the Supreme Court this term. It doesn't appear to be an Establishment Clause case, but a Free Speech case. It's called Pleasant Grove City v. Summum. The facts behind the case:

Founded in Salt Lake City in 1975, the Summum faith believes Moses originally descended from Mount Sinai not with the Ten Commandments, but with a set of seven principles - or aphorisms - that he revealed to only a select few. Over the last decade, leaders of the faith have sought to erect monuments of the aphorisms in numerous Utah towns alongside displays of the Ten Commandments donated by private organizations.

Pleasant Grove denied the Summum’s request, citing a city requirement that permanent displays in the park either be directly related to city history or be donated by a group with longstanding community ties. (The Ten Commandments monument was donated by the Fraternal Order of Eagles.)

In the suit, the Summum contended the city violated its free speech rights by excluding its monument while allowing the Ten Commandments monument to be displayed in the park. After the district court denied the Summum’s request for a preliminary injunction, the 10th Circuit reversed with instructions to grant a preliminary injunction allowing the Summum to erect its monument in Pioneer Park.

The panel reached its decision after concluding the case implicated private speech in a public forum, not government speech. With regard to the type of forum implicated, the panel held that “the nature of the forum in this case is public” because a “city park” is “a traditional public forum.” Therefore, the panel reasoned, “the city’s restrictions on speech are subject to strict scrutiny” - a standard of review that the city’s denial of the Summum’s request would likely fail.

On free speech grounds, it seems, the conservatives have an easy and common sense rationale for denying the right of public display of the "seven aphorisms." From the 10th Circuit's decision:

In Graff v. City of Chicago, 9 F.3d 1309, 1314 (7th Cir. 1993), the
Seventh Circuit held that “[t]here is no private constitutional right to erect a structure on public property. If there were, our traditional public forums, such as our public parks, would be cluttered with all manner of structures.” (quotation and citation omitted).

In other words, official speech on government property ultimately belongs to (surprise surprise) the government.

Yet, the Establishment Clause -- apparently not an issue in this case -- is not about speech but religious rights, our unalienable rights to liberty and equality of conscience. And whereas the Free Exercise Clause invariably vindicates liberty rights, the EC often vindicates equality rights. In short, our constitutional system grants the Summum faith the same rights, no greater or lesser, that it does to traditional Judeo-Christian faiths.

One strong reason why I think America's Founders were so concerned with grating equal rights to unorthodox, heretical faiths is that many of the key Founders were unorthodox heretics. They all came together in their belief that America was governed by a wise, inscrutable Providence. But on issues as basic as even the Ten Commandments, America, in principle, was founded to be as much about doubting that we had the right version of the Ten Commandments, as it was to be about living by the traditional version of the Decalogue.

That's one reason why I believe on these public display of the Ten Commandments issue, whatever the technical proper constitutional result, the historical answer -- what America, in principle, was founded to be all about -- is display those heterodox, freethinking, non-traditional sentiments right next to the Ten Commandments. And display them proudly. And so I would display John Adams' alternate Ten Commandments right next to the traditional ones.

John Adams writing to Thomas Jefferson, Nov. 15, 1813 doubts we have the right version of the Ten Commandments, indeed explicitly doubts the accuracy of the Bible's text, and proposes an alternate version which might be the "authentic" Decalogue:

Among all your researches in Hebrew history and controversy, have you ever met a book the design of which is to prove that the ten commandments, as we have them in our Catechisms and hung up in our churches, were not the ten commandments written by the finger of God upon tables delivered to Moses on Mount Sinai, and broken by him in a passion with Aaron for his golden calf, nor those afterwards engraved by him on tables of stone; but a very different set of commandments?


1. Thou shalt not adore any other God. Therefore take heed not to enter into covenant with the inhabitants of the country; neither take for your sons their daughters in marriage. They would allure thee to the worship of false gods. Much less shall you in any place erect images.

2. The feast of unleavened bread shalt thou keep. Seven days shalt thou eat unleavened bread, at the time of the month Abib; to remember that about that time, I delivered thee from Egypt.

3. Every first born of the mother is mine; the male of thine herd, be it stock or flock. But you shall replace the first born of an ass with a sheep. The first born of your sons shall you redeem. No man shall appear before me with empty hands.

4. Six days shalt thou labor. The seventh day thou shalt rest from ploughing and gathering.

5. The feast of weeks shalt thou keep with the firstlings of the wheat harvest ; and the feast of harvesting at the end of the year.

6. Thrice in every year all male persons shall appear before the Lord. Nobody shall invade your country, as long as you obey this command.

7. Thou shalt not sacrifice the blood of a sacrifice of mine, upon leavened bread.

8. The sacrifice of the Passover shall not remain till the next day.

9. The firstlings of the produce of your land, thou shalt bring to the house of the Lord.

10. Thou shalt not boil the kid, while it is yet sucking.

And the Lord spake to Moses: Write those words, as after these words I made with you and with Israel a covenant.


When and where originated our ten commandments? The tables and the ark were lost. Authentic copies in few, if any hands; the ten Precepts could not be observed, and were little remembered. If the book of Deuteronomy was compiled, during or after the Babylonian captivity, from traditions, the error or amendment might come in those.

So, in debating public display of Ten Commandments & American Founding, ask those on the pro-display issue what the 10th Commandment is. And reply, no it's "Thou shalt not boil the kid, while it is yet sucking." So sayeth John Adams. But in any event, I would support public display of these Ten Commandments, replete with Adams' quotations doubting we have the right version of the Ten Commandments as written in the Bible.

As a matter of constitutional technicality the Summum folks may be in the wrong (or not). But what they are trying to do is as American as apple pie.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Greg Lake Fills In...:

For John Wetton in Asia, 1983.

That video was SO 1983. If it were only 1983 again.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Stuttering John:

In case you don't know, he's presently the announcer for Jay Leno's Tonight Show. But he used to hold a much less respectable position working on Howard Stern's show. I love iconoclastic humor. Here are some notable clips of guilty laughs:

Saturday, October 04, 2008

Distorting the Bible For Politics:

Is it ever okay to do this? I'll leave it up to you to decide. Did America's Founders do this? I assert, yes. Ted Kennedy did something very similar to what America's Founders and the theologians they followed did. Kennedy spoke on behalf of the Senate Floor and argued in favor of hate crimes laws that protect sexual orientation at the Federal level and invoked Leviticus. He (obviously) quoted only parts of Leviticus and ignored other parts.

Leviticus 25:10 features prominently near the top of the Liberty Bell: “Proclaim liberty throughout all the land, unto the inhabitants thereof.”

America’s Whig Founders obviously didn't quote Leviticus in favor of sexual orientation rights like Senator Kennedy, but they did blatantly rip parts of it out of context, distorted its meaning to support their Whig-republican agenda. The Founders meant "political liberty" as it related to republican self government. And Leviticus 25:10, indeed every time the Bible mentions "liberty," refers to spiritual liberty, freedom from sin or sin's consequences, and not political liberty which was a wholly a-biblical concept. As Tory minister Jonathan Boucher put it, "The word liberty, as meaning civil liberty, does not, I believe, occur in all the Scriptures." From a strict orthodox biblical perspective on this specific issue Boucher and the Tories were right, America's Whig Founders were wrong.

America's Founders and some of the pro-republican ministers (the most notable of whom weren’t orthodox Christians, like Jonathan Mayhew) quoted parts of the Bible that CLEARLY relate to spiritual liberty (or freedom from sin) in favor of the wholly a-biblical notion of political liberty. And indeed, perhaps, America's Founders and the theologians they followed like Mayhew felt free to use unorthodox, cafeteria like hermeneutics (like Ted Kennedy) because they themselves were not orthodox Christians who believed the Bible the infallible Word of God but theological unitarians who believed the Bible partially inspired.

But the bottom line is the traditional orthodox biblical meaning of “proclaim liberty throughout the land” has nothing to do with what America’s Founders were trying to accomplish from 1776-1800, anymore than Leviticus has anything to do with Ted Kennedy’s invocation of it in favor of federal hate crimes legislation that protects sexual orientation.
The Problems that Human Beings Get Ourselves Into:

I hesitated to blog about this, because I don't want my blogs to be tabloid like places and I'd never purposefully reveal information like this were it secret. But it's not; the cat is already out of the bag. It's about Christopher Buckley's illegitimate child. Buckley, notably is the son of the late William F. Buckley.

This topic illustrates why I don't get bloggers like Clayton Cramer who seem so obsessed with problems in gay culture (yes there are problems) that he acts like that fact alone can be used to condemn homosexuality (but we know the condemners invariably have preexisting religious convictions against homosexuality that they are trying to justify). The Clayton Cramers of the world might have a point if heterosexuals like Christopher Buckley weren't also always getting themselves into trouble. It's that intractable thing called human nature, especially sexual nature (see also of recent note John Edwards and Bristol Palin).

And indeed, in the grand scheme of things these heterosexual problems seem so much graver than the homosexual problems, that you have to wonder why so much attention is paid by religious conservatives to homosexuality. David Boaz wrote a classic article in 1994 that still seems relevant on the disproportionate attention religious conservatives pay to homosexual as opposed to more pressing heterosexual problems.

The consequences of irresponsible homosexual sex have been grave; AIDS, not the only STD to worry about, has shortened the lives of too many great people. However it was the individuals who practiced promiscuous sex who chiefly paid the price. Irresponsible heterosexual sex, mainly because it is procreative, has a far greater "externality" effect. You'll have either a fetus that gets aborted (I suppose not a moral problem for some folks, but a BIG problem if one believes abortion takes an innocent life, as religious conservatives do), a family that can get destroyed or gravely harmed by a divorce resulting from adultery, or a child born into a non-intact family without two parents. Among urban, young, unwed mothers, this is a great cause of poverty and is associated with many other social ills.

And so it is that Christopher Buckley (probably) destroyed his family with an affair that led to an out of wedlock birth. He's still married to his wife, the mother of two of his children, but rumor has it that they are separated and he is dating another woman. If they did divorce more than seven years after the incident, it would time well with the recent deaths of traditional Roman Catholic parents. From the first article to which I linked:

As William F. Buckley Jr.'s only child, satirist and former White House aide Christopher Buckley is poised to inherit a fortune worth tens of millions of dollars.

But as Buckley waits for the estate of his late father to go through probate court in Stamford, a former Random House publicist is fighting in a Miami courtroom to increase the $3,000 a month in child support he pays for the special-needs son he fathered with her.

Irina Woelfle's lawsuit blames 7-year-old Jonathan's learning problems, in part, on Christopher Buckley's refusal to have anything to do with the boy.

"The father is notably absent from the minor child's life," her lawsuit states.


It is becoming increasingly clear, however, that the Buckley family's efforts to keep Jonathan at arm's length don't end with Christopher Buckley. In his will, William F. Buckley Jr. leaves the contents of his estate to Christopher and the two children he fathered with his wife — and leaves no doubt that Jonathan will get none of the money.

"I intentionally make no provision herein for said Jonathan, who for all purposes ... shall be deemed to have predeceased me," wrote William Buckley, who died in February.

Ouch. That's gotta hurt Jonathan Buckley's developmental well being. This is the face of irresponsible heterosexual sex, something to which irresponsible homosexual sex usually cannot hold a candle. The only time it gets close is when homosexually oriented folks enter heterosexual marriages, bear children and later "come out." And that's almost always because they do what traditional society tells them they ought to do.
Christian Nation Debate on Opposing Views:

The website "Opposing Views" has a good debate on the Christian Nation question. Perhaps it's because of my bias, but I believe the "no" side is clearly winning the debate. The experts are, for the "yes" side, Dr. Paul S. Vickery, History Prof., Oral Roberts University, and for the "no" side, Dr. William Martin, Harry and Hazel Chavanne Emeritus Professor of Religion and Public Policy in the Department of Sociology at Rice University.

Brief notes: Not only did Dr. Vickery cite David Barton for his position, but also a figure named Catherine Millard whose shoddiness puts Barton to shame.

On the other hand, this is my favorite post from Dr. Martin on putting the key Founders' quotations in context. Check out who gets footnote #2 (hint, me).

Friday, October 03, 2008

Innovative Market Solutions:

I'm one of those libertarians skeptical of government bailouts of private enterprise. I wish more attention in these types of crises would be paid to innovative market oriented solutions. Here's mine for the mortgage crisis. I don't necessarily think this would solve the problem, but it could greatly help alleviate it: Automatic American citizenship for any person who buys a house, owned by a bank and previously foreclosed on, after a natural security check of said person. The national security check and payment in full to the bank for the real estate would be the only requirements for American citizenship.

Many anti-immigration folks argue against poor, uneducated immigrants coming to the nation looking for cheap work, that too much of it will turn America into a second or third world nation. And obviously those kinds of immigrants wouldn't be buying houses. I don't know how many potential immigrants there are in the first place who have that much $$ laying around. Certainly some relatively rich Europeans who wouldn't mind retiring in an American suburb would qualify. However 1) the dollar is still relatively weak, comparatively, which makes the deal relatively attractive and more affordable. And 2) companies who want to hire educated immigrant workers would be permitted to buy houses (perhaps with tax incentives) for and on behalf of their workers and award them as compensation, holding the "mortgages" for so many periods until the immigrant workers' full rights in the said real estate vest. And keep in mind, the world does have 6 billion people, with only 300 million in the United States. If this plan is open to the entire world, even a small fraction of the relatively world rich and upper middle class could make a difference.

This might be a pie in the sky plan. But, keep in mind, China and India alone each have over a billion people with sizable middle classes, many of them well educated. And there are other nations in similar positions.

American businesses and Universities, who would buy the houses and hold the mortgages on behalf of the immigrants, further, could help "drain the brains" from places like China and India whose rapid growth puts the fear of God into some experts that they soon one day will overtake America's dominant economic might.

So what's wrong with this idea?

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Biblical Unitarian Universalism:

At American Creation Eric Alan Isaacson writes of his recent "Unitarian Vacation" in Boston. It's notable how many of America's famous Founding era churches now belong to the Unitarian Universalists. Some highlights from his post:

Governor [John] Winthrop’s statue stands today outside his First Church’s current structure, which today accommodates the merged congregations of the First and Second Churches in Boston – the Second or “North” Church being a 1649 offshoot of First Church, where the Rev. Increase Mather and Cotton Mather held the pulpit in its early days, and where the Rev. Ralph Waldo Emerson would preach, from 1829 to 1832.

I suspect that Emerson would be gratified to know that the church’s office today features a portrait of his predecessor in the pulpit, the Puritan Rev. Increase Mather, on one wall, contemplating a statue of the Buddha standing against the far wall.


When we joined the Salem congregation for Sunday worship services on August 17, 2008, the Reverend Jeffrey Barz-Snell ceded his pulpit to a member of the congregation, Dr. Rose Wolf. Dr. Wolf identified herself as “a Christian witch,” and delivered a sermon on the subject of “The Emerald Tablet and the Golden Key: Reclaiming Jesus as a Witch.”

Our friend Tom Van Dyke, no fan of present day Unitarian Universalism commented:

What it said is that Unitarian Universalism has the physical possession of a number of Founding-era churches. However, that fact doesn't give Unitarian Universalism any theological claim to the "congregations" of that day or to the consciences of the Founders.

To conscript John Adams into Unitarian Universalism's positions on contemporary social issues falls short of intellectual honesty or credibility. Nor could we assert with any confidence whatsoever that John Adams would have been cool with a self-proclaimed witch in his pulpit.

This relates to an interesting dynamic: "unitarianism" and "universalism" were alive and well among the key Founding Fathers and the theologians they followed. Indeed, certainly Jefferson, J. Adams, and Franklin and likely Washington, Madison and many others were both unitarian and universalist in their theology. But if we say "did you know these Founders were unitarian-universalists?" that might intimate that they were like today's UUs when, in reality, they were different creatures. Theological unitarianism simply means the belief that Jesus is not fully God or the second person in a Triune Godhead. And theological universalism means the notion that all men will eventually be saved; most in the Founding era believed in a period of temporary punishment for the unsaved, eventual redemption. And indeed though many "key" Founders were attracted to unitarianism and universalism because they found these ideas "reasonable," some theologians argued for these positions from the Bible alone as the ultimate authority.

For instance, Charles Chauncy, who by the way presented these heterodox ideas under the auspices of "Christianity." As Nathan Hatch explained:

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]

During the 1750s, after the Great Awakening, Charles Chauncy spent seven years engaged in the approach to Bible study expounded by these English authors. In the spring of 1754 he wrote to a friend,

“I have made the Scriptures my sole study for about two years; and I think I have attained to a clearer understanding of them than I ever had before.”

His studies led him to draft a lengthy manuscript in which he REJECTED the idea of eternal punishment and embraced universalism. He kept this work in his desk for over a quarter-century, its conclusions, he confessed, too controversial “to admit of publication in this country.” He was nearly eighty when he finally allowed a London publisher in 1784 to print The Mystery Hid from Ages and Generations…or, the Salvation of All Men. To justify his conclusions, Chauncy relied on the biblical force of his argument, “a long and diligent comparing of Scripture with Scripture.” He explained to Ezra Stiles, “The whole is written from the Scripture account of the thing and not from any human scheme.” This unorthodox biblicist would have been gratified indeed by the reaction of one minister who, finding the book’s arguments convincing, wrote,

“He has placed many texts and passages of Scripture in a light altogether new to me, and I cannot help thinking his system not only rational, but Scriptural.” [9]

This is what the unitarian-universalism of the Founding era more looked like. But the problem of terming it "UU" and the confusion with contemporary UU still remains. But then what do we call it? Do we call it "Christianity"? Some will balk that like Mormonism it isn't "Christianity" whatever it calls itself. This is why Dr. Gregg Frazer has coined a new term to describe this system in which America's key Founders believed: "theistic rationalism."