Friday, April 10, 2009

Bad "Christian Nation" Article by David Limbaugh:

At WorldNetDaily David (brother of Rush) Limbaugh writes an article making an extremely weak case for Christian Nationalism. He's responding to President Obama's largely accurate notion that America is not and was not founded to be a "Christian Nation."

Limbaugh doesn't cite David Barton here like he did in one of his books; perhaps he knows Barton's name is now "tainted." But the sources he cites aren't much better (in my opinion). William Federer's Book of Quotations is referenced and that book cites (I don't know if the current ed. still does) Barton's "unconfirmed" (that is phony) quotations.

However I have the distinct feeling that the Federer reference is something the Editors of WorldNetDaily slipped in (from talking to other WND writers I know they do this sometimes) because they sell the book.

Some key points Limbaugh makes. Limbaugh's comments are blockquoted for the rest of this post with my reaction following:

In the words of professor John Eidsmoe, "If by the term Christian nation one means a nation that was founded on biblical values that were brought to the nation by mostly professing Christians, then in that sense the United States may truly be called a Christian nation."

No doubt biblical values were important and almost all of the FFs probably thought of themselves as "Christians" in an identificatory sense (as, for instance, President Obama does). However, the Declaration of Independence, US Constitution and Federalist Papers are not "Christian documents," or the product of a strict "biblical worldview," (though in some looser sense may be compatible with that worldview). As Prof. Gregg Frazer, who has debated Eidsmoe, wrote:

The fact that some parts of the Declaration and/or Constitution are not in conflict with verses in the Bible does not mean that the Bible was the source. This is especially important when — as in the case of the Declaration and the Constitution — the authors claim other sources, but do not claim the Bible as a source!

In a May 8, 1825 letter to Henry Lee, Jefferson identifies his sources for the Declaration’s principles. He names as sources: Aristotle, Cicero, Locke, and (Algernon) Sidney — he does not mention the Bible. Then again, the terminology in the Declaration is not specifically Christian — or even biblical, with the exception of “Creator.” The term “providence” is never used of God in the Bible, nor are “nature’s God” or “Supreme Judge of the world” ever used in the Bible.

In the hundreds of pages comprising Madison’s notes on the constitutional convention (and those of the others who kept notes), there is no mention of biblical passages/verses in the debates/discussions on the various parts and principles of the Constitution. They mention Rome, Sparta, German confederacies, Montesquieu, and a number of other sources — but no Scripture verses.

In The Federalist Papers, there is no mention of biblical sources for any of the Constitution’s principles, either — one would think they could squeeze them in among the 85 essays if they were, indeed, the sources; especially since the audience was common men who were familiar with, and had respect for, the Bible. The word “God” is used twice — and one of those is a reference to the pagan gods of ancient Greece. “Almighty” is used twice and “providence” three times — but neither is ever used in connection with any constitutional principle or influence. The Bible is not mentioned.

Back to Limbaugh:

Why does this matter? Simply because our dominant secular culture delights in demonizing Christianity, distorting its character, conflating it with less tolerant faiths and associating it with all our societal woes.

I'm actually sympathetic to the idea that the larger secular culture gets the story wrong. But Limbaugh is trying to sell a just as bad if not worse bill of goods.

History revisionists have convinced many that we mainly owe our liberties to secular humanist ideals and those borrowed from the Greeks, Romans and the French Enlightenment.

To the contrary, our freedom tradition can be traced to our predominantly Judeo-Christian roots.

Let us unpack this: First he creates a false dichotomy, positioning secular humanism, the French Enlightenment and Greeks and Romans v. "Judeo-Christianity." The Founders did no such thing. No, they didn't appeal to the French Enlightenment. But yes, they did appeal to and were part of a larger "Enlightenment" that took place within Christendom. The Founders were utterly imbibed in pagan Greco-Romanism and to suggest that they didn't turn there for a source of inspiration is fraudulent.

Moreover, the Founders didn't use the term or think of themselves as "Judeo-Christians." That term is of modern construction. Now it still might have some validity. But that term is, like "theistic rationalism," invented after the fact attempting to describe an historical dynamic.

The Founders were subsumed in a nominal Protestant Christian identity. Jews and Roman Catholics were put outside the box with Muslims and "Hindoos." Yet, many of these "Protestant Christians" were deistic or unitarian minded and rejected most if not every tenet of orthodox Christianity (i.e., original sin, the trinity, incarnation, atonement, eternal damnation and infalliblity of the Bible). The actual breakdown of who of the 200 or so Founding Fathers was a "real Christian" (i.e., someone who believed in the Trinity, regeneration, infallibility of the Bible) v. who was a nominal, deistic or unitarian "Christian" is unknown. But we have a pretty good handle (with some disputes) on the religious inclinations of a dozen or two notable Founders. THAT'S the dynamic that neither the secular left nor the religious right fully understand.

While secularists endlessly cite a few high-profile members of our Founding Fathers, such as Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin, as being deists (which itself is even debatable), the overwhelming majority of both the Declaration of Independence's and Constitution's signers were strong, practicing Christians, as the late Dr. M.E. Bradford meticulously documented.

Limbaugh is right that it's debatable whether Jefferson or Franklin were "deists" but wrong in that there is not a shred of evidence that shows "the overwhelming majority of both the Declaration of Independence's and Constitution's signers were strong, practicing Christians," in any sense different than Jefferson or Franklin were "Christians" (which they thought they were). I've seen M.E. Bradford's "meticulously documented" work and all it shows is that almost all FFs were, like Franklin and Jefferson, formally affiliated with a Church that adhered to an orthodox Trinitarian creed. In Franklin's case it was Presbyterianism and then Anglican-Episcopalianism. In Jefferson's case, he was a lifelong Anglican-Episcopalian.

Also, Limbaugh's ignorance of John Adams' position is telling. J. Adams and Jefferson were, without question, virtually agreed on the basics of their creed. In fact, there is MORE evidence of John Adams' explicit heterodoxy, than there is for Franklin. Franklin never bittery mocked the Trinity as did Adams. For instance:

“An incarnate God!!! An eternal, self-existent, omnipresent omniscient Author of this stupendous Universe, suffering on a Cross!!! My Soul starts with horror, at the Idea, and it has stupified the Christian World. It has been the Source of almost all of the Corruptions of Christianity.”

-- John Adams to John Quincy Adams, March 28, 1816.

Back to Limbaugh:

Some point to the so-called generic references to God in the declaration and Thomas Jefferson's authorship of its first draft as evidence that its influences were non-Christian. But as Dr. Gary Amos has noted, "The humanists and Enlightenment rationalists viewed the concept of inalienable rights with scorn."

This is nonsense. And again it draws a false dichotomy. Jefferson, J. Adams and Franklin, who as noted, possessed the same religious creed, were the majority drafters, with Jefferson the primary author of the DOI. The DOI is nothing else if not a quintessentially Jeffersonian, J. Adamsian and Franklinian document.

"Humanistists" and "enlightenment rationalists" as Amos/Limbaugh use those terms are as unhelpful, vague and elusive as "Christian" or "Judeo-Christian." What we do know is the concept of "unalienable rights" is not found within the Bible. God is (arguably) necessary to make such rights "unalienable," but Jefferson, J. Adams and Franklin posited the notion WITHOUT reliance on (among other things) original sin, trinity, incarnation, atonement, eternal damnation, or infallibility of the Bible's text, things in which they didn't personally believe.

With these things in mind I'll let the reader determine whether such key Founding concepts were the product of "Christianity," "Judeo-Christianity," the "Enlightenment," "humanism," "Greco-Romanism" or whatnot. My own position is that it was a synthesis of all elements [plus some others not named] which formed a different creature. A mule is neither a horse nor a donkey but something else.

Nor could the declaration's affirmation that "all Men are created equal … (and) are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights" have come from the polytheistic Greeks or Romans, because "Creator" is singular. And, as Amos observed, the Greeks didn't believe the universe or man was created, but that it "emanated … from an impersonal divine force that permeates the universe. … There was no room in Greek philosophy or religion for the notion of endowment because creatures and divinity were never separated." The Greeks "could not conceive of rights that were god given." They "believed that rights were a product of society and state."

This seems wrong. Aristotle and Cicero whom Jefferson invokes as two of the four chief sources of the DOI were not (as far as I know) polytheistic Zeus worshippers. And to the extent that they may not have posited a concept of "rights," neither did the Bible or "Christendom" until relatively shortly before the American Founding. That the Ancient Greeks and Romans profoundly influenced America's Founders is undeniable (hint, think of the surnames they adopted when they wrote their letters and look at the architecture in Founding era Washington DC).

The concept of unalienable rights inheres in the Judeo-Christian precept that an all-loving God created man in his image, thus entitling him to dignity, freedom and rights that cannot be divested by the state.

I would agree that a rights-granting active personal God is necessary (with the caveat that the Biblical God, though active and personal grants no "unalienable rights" in the text of the Bible) and stress that orthodox doctrines like Trinity, infalliblity of the bible, and eternal damnation have nothing to do with the concept of unalienable rights as posited by the men who wrote the DOI.

Much of our Bill of Rights is biblically based, as well, and the Ten Commandments and further laws set out in the book of Exodus form the basis of our Western law. Indeed, English legal giants Sir William Blackstone and Sir Edward Coke both believed the common law was based on Scripture. Though we often hear there were no references to the God of the Bible in the Constitution, the document closes by citing the date with "in the Year of our Lord."

Nonsense. The Bill of Rights have nothing to do with the Bible, Exodus or the Ten Commandments. Whatever Blackstone and Coke may have asserted, the common law was based on the experience of judges deciding cases and controversies, not Scripture, and "in the Year of our Lord," was a convention -- a customary way of stating the date.

Our ruling class today is dominated by those who no longer believe that our rights are God-given or that our liberties depend on effective limitations on the state. They are so divorced from true history and American statecraft that they fail to see the irony in their dissociation with and apologies for our Judeo-Christian heritage, which is responsible for making this the freest and most prosperous nation on earth for people of all races, ethnicities and religions.

I'm not going to defend the "ruling class," but Limbaugh's article demonstrates that he is more clueless about America's Founding history than they are.


cognitive dissident said...

Nice work...the WingNutDaily/ClownHall/FauxNews axis of error needs to get fisked like this much more often! By the way, Jefferson had some comments about common law and Christianity:

"For we know that the common law is that system of law which was introduced by the Saxons on their settlement of England, and altered from time to time by proper legislative authority from that time to the date of the Magna Charta, which terminates the period of the common law...This settlement took place about the middle of the fifth century. But Christianity was not introduced till the seventh century; the conversion of the first Christian king of the Heptarchy having taken place about the year 598, and that of the last about 686. Here then, was a space of two hundred years, during which the common law was in existence, and Christianity no part of it...that system of religion could not be a part of the common law, because they were not yet Christians...we may safely affirm (though contradicted by all the judges and writers on earth) that Christianity neither is, nor ever was a part of the common law."

[letter to Thomas Cooper, 10 February 1814]

christian magazine said...

God did not endorse Christianity... He endorsed having a meaningful relationship with Him...