Monday, July 20, 2009

John Calvin and the American Founding:

The following article from one Reed R. Heustis, Jr., Esq. almost completely misunderstands the role Calvin's thought played in the American Founding. I say "almost" because, of course, Calvin's thought had some qualified influence. But along with the thoughts of hundreds of other theologians and philosophers who were not Calvinists at all. Figures like Aristotle, Cicero, Seneca, Sidney, Locke, Milton, Newton, Clarke, Priestley, Price, Montesquieu, Hume, Arminius and yes, even Servetus whom the Founders held up as a model for what government should NOT do to heretics.

One of the key presuppositions to which the founding fathers held at the time of the Constitutional Convention in 1787 was the fallen nature of Man. They presupposed that Man's entire capacity was intrinsically evil, and that outside of God's sovereign grace, Man could accomplish no good thing. The Bible makes it plain: "[T]he intent of man's heart is evil from his youth." (Gen. 8:21)

One of Man's sins is his insatiable lust for power. Unless restrained, a powerful man will stop at nothing to trample the rights of others. He must be restrained both inwardly with the power of the Holy Spirit, and outwardly with mechanistic controls. Therefore, many state constitutions required a belief in Christ as a prerequisite to hold office, while the framers devised a federal Constitution that was intended specifically to check and balance the ambitions of men lest they accumulate tyrannical powers.


For the opposite point of view, compare that to what George Willis Cooke wrote in 1902:


The doctrine of degrees, as taught by the Calvinists, was the spiritual side of the assertion of the divine right of kings. On the other hand, when the people claim the right to rule, they modify their theology into Arminianism. From an age of the absolute rule of the king comes the doctrine of human depravity; and with the establishment of democracy appears the doctrine of man’s moral capacity.


Back to Mr. Heustis' article:

James Madison, the Father of the Constitution, wrote in Federalist No. 51, "What is government itself but the greatest of all reflections on human nature?"


I'm surprised he doesn't quote Madison's remarks in Federalist 55, the usual "proof-quote" for his belief in man's depravity:

As there is a degree of depravity in mankind which requires a certain degree of circumspection and distrust: So there are other qualities in human nature, which justify a certain portion of esteem and confidence. Republican government presupposes the existence of these qualities in a higher degree than any other form.


Notice Madison is saying that there is only a "degree" of depravity. Not TOTAL depravity. This is consistent with both Arminianism and rejection of original sin. It's barely consistent Calvinism.

And of course when asked to put his theological cards on the table, James Madison, in his letter to Frederick Beasley didn't turn to Calvin or even John Witherspoon for authority but Samuel Clarke, a naturalist, rationalist and Anglican divine who was nearly defrocked from his position in the Church for peddling the Arian heresy.

15 comments:

Our Founding Truth said...

Notice Madison is saying that there is only a "degree" of depravity. Not TOTAL depravity. This is consistent with both Arminianism and rejection of original sin. It's barely consistent Calvinism.>

This is interesting. I think it's a mistake not to differentiate religion with politics. Madison's statement regards government, not religion.

He was raised a diehard Calvinist. The only difference btwn Calvinism and Arminianism, is free will.

Total Depravity refers to religion. Politically, he hoped virtue would dominate in Republicanism, like we do.

In the true Arminian sense, Franklin, Jefferson, and Adams, were not Arminians, although they thought they were.

Arminius did not believe in a works doctrine. At least that's what Wiki says. Works doctrine is obviously catholic in nature, where Madison believed in Grace, from his Calvinism. None of the Old Light Elites believed in Grace, because of their emphasis on character(Mayhew).

You should do a post on what heretic espoused the works doctrine Jefferson, et. al., adhered to.

Our Founding Truth said...

Jon, actually Madison disliked Hume and Locke. He called Hume a "bungling lawgiver"

to N.P. Trist, Feb. 1830.

with many of his theories "manifestly erroneous"

Letters, Vol. IV, p. 464, from his Essay on Money.

He criticized Locke for his blind submission to Great Britain, in the same sentence he criticized Montesquieu for his "idolatry."

Jefferson was embarrassed Hume had on him in his youth.

J said...

Do you think the Great Framers would have appreciated ........Dream Theatre? Unlikely.

I don't claim to be a professional American historian, but we should recall that the early Madison (Publius of the Fed. papers) was quite a different creature--and a rather hotheaded creature-- from the retired, somewhat pious Madison, apres 1820. He did initially respect Hume's rather Toryish politics--as quite a few scholars have pointed out, Fed. Paper 10 seems rather Humean in its concerns with faction. Politically at least Madison was not opposed to Hume's republican leanings.

my own sense is that JM gradually moved away from his youthful secularism republicanism--by 1790 or so he was with the Jeffersonians. He appears a bit ambivalent towards religion. He did however oppose military chaplains even at an old age--certainly some evidence of JM the secularist.

LLC said...
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Our Founding Truth said...

Do you think the Great Framers would have appreciated ........Dream Theatre? Unlikely.>

If they liked Mozart, Bach, and Handel; they may like Dream Theater.

He did initially respect Hume's rather Toryish politics--as quite a few scholars have pointed out, Fed. Paper 10 seems rather Humean in its concerns with faction. Politically at least Madison was not opposed to Hume's republican leanings.>

From his private letters, as mentioned earlier, Madison wasn't personally impressed with Hume, Locke, or Montesquieu:

"Writers, such as Locke, and Montesquieu, who have discussed more the principles of liberty and the structure of government, lie under the same disadvantage, of having written before these subjects were illuminated by the events and discussions which distinguish a very recent period. Both of them, too, are evidently warped by a regard to the particular government of England, to which one of them owed allegiance; and the other professed an admiration bordering on idolatry. Montesquieu, however, has rather distinguished himself by enforcing the reasons and the importance of avoiding a confusion of the several powers of government, than by enumerating and defining the powers which belong to each particular class. And Locke, notwithstanding the early date of his work on civil government, and the example of his own government before his eyes, admits that the particular powers in question, which, after some of the writers on public law he calls federative, are really distinct from the executive, though almost always united with it, and hardly to be separated into distinct hands. Had he not lived under a monarchy, in which these powers were united; or had he written by the lamp which truth now presents to lawgivers, the last observation would probably never have dropped from his pen. But let us quit a field of research which is more likely to perplex than to decide, and bring the question to other tests of which it will be more easy to judge."
-Letters of Helvidius, nos. 1--4
24 Aug. -- 14 Sept. 1793

Madison was an enigma, an 18th century chameleon, not a true representative of the Founding.

Our Founding Truth said...

Jon, you're incorrect on your assumption with what happened. I wasn't banned, I quit; as the thread shows. As long as people on that site reject the historical truth about Mormonism, or the testimony of Joseph Smith's mother and father, I wouldn't post a question mark on American Creation. Not to mention the head honcho's assault on anything Christian for everyone to see.

Assailing mormonism has nothing to do with religious bigotry, but everything with uncontested truth.

Scientifically, mormonism has been disproven, by their claim Indians are descendents of Hebrews. But of course, this is all common knowledge.

Jonathan Rowe said...

It was mainly Joseph Priestley who espoused the works doctrine to which Jefferson adhered. But years before Priestley other Socinians had be arguing the same thing. For instance, Ben Franklin and the Presbyterian minister he defended in the late 1730s.

That led Franklin saying such things as:

"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."

Jonathan Rowe said...

Jim,

It sounds to me like we are in a "you can't fire me because I already quite" kind of dynamic. You weren't privy to everything that went on via email among our members.

If I remember the timing correctly Brad banned you from commenting on his posts, Lindsey then unilaterally banned you from the site, then you quit. But, there were those of us who didn't like Lindsey's unilateral actions and we put it to a vote. That was probably after you quit though.

Our Founding Truth said...

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.">

I heard a Calvary Pastor yesterday on the radio give a nice comment on Grace; he was most likely a Calvinist, but he said, "It isn't what you do, it's what God has did inside you."

I thought about it for a while, and it seems Calvinist through and through, but it makes sense. I need help from God.

What happened is water under the bridge, but I did quit before Lindsey dropped the hammer. I still learn from the site.

Jonathan Rowe said...

Re the Mormon thing, Jim, you come off as WAY to strong. Calling something a debunked fraud is not civil. And there are those on the other side who can make the same case about biblical Christianity (I may be wrong, but J is probably one of them).

Here is what an 84 year old PhD in astronomy, militant atheist friend of mine (who happens to be on a first name basis with the President Obama) wrote to me on a confidential listserv to which we both belong. I sent them Gregg Frazer's argument for the Truth of Christianity.

Without commenting at length, I meely point out that Cornthians was written around 54AD, some 24 years after the crucificion, in an eram without recorders, reporters, or other than word- of-mouth heasay. Similarly, the four gospels themselves were written (Mark) around 65-70 AD; Matthwe and Luke in the 70s,and John around 95. There were no tape recorders, or other means of recording. They are largely worthless as historical records. The whole thing, and the Christianity derived from it is a fraud, concocted for political purposes. resurrections don't happen. Period. Either the dead body was removed from the tomb, or he didn't actually die on the cross and revived later. There is no supernatural.

That's how you come off to Mormons.

Our Founding Truth said...

Re the Mormon thing, Jim, you come off as WAY to strong. Calling something a debunked fraud is not civil. And there are those on the other side who can make the same case about biblical Christianity (I may be wrong, but J is probably one of them).>

Jon, you can't compare mormonism with eye-witness testimony of the Apostles.

Just the fact of Israel's existence is sufficient for serious inquiry. Never in the history of recorded man, has a nation been kicked out of its homeland, returned two-thousand years later, keeping the same language, in fulfillment of Biblical prophecy.

That astronomer has pre-conceived assumptions about the Scriptures. Look at what happened to atheist C.S. Lewis.

J said...
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J said...

Joe Smith made outrageous claims that he could not substantiate (such as the existence of the Golden plates, seer stones, the pseudo-anthropology, and so forth). He was convicted of fraud (and other crimes). I suspect the only reason Mormonism continued to flourish was because of Smith's execution, which sort of martyred him in the minds of the COLDS. Apart from the fraud, the mormons were hardly exemplar Americans. Even in Smith's time they raided farms, abducted children (some used in forced marriages, polygamy, etc), and seized properties.

I agree there are evidentiary issues relating to the old and new testament, but in Smith's case it's pretty well established he was a huckster and troublemaker, and that the tale of the plates was a fabrication (a rather sinister fabrication at that, meant to mislead the gullible).

There may have been a slightly sincere methodist-like aspect to his agenda, but the odd masonic elements, plagiarism and outright fantasy should prevent any reasonable person from respecting the LDS code. Furthermore, Young's regime in Utah continued to uphold Smith's theocratic principles while liquidating the natives.

Jonathan Rowe said...

Well I'm not a Mormon and I don't know enough about the history of Mormonism to defend it. And I have no interest in defending it either. I actually disagree with Mormonism's socially conservative worldview -- the sex, drinking, and coffee and all that.

I do respect the way they lead responsible, productive lives and built vibrant communities and I think the Founders would have respected that and probably had fewer problems with their religiously conservative worldview than I do.

You two are coming off as very self serving and biased in your presentation though. I have smart friends who are Mormons and have seen smart Mormons answer most of these claims.

Again, I'll let them do it as I have no interest in doing so.

Our Founding Truth said...

I think the Founders would have respected that and probably had fewer problems with their religiously conservative worldview than I do.>

I don't have a problem with mormons, never have. You should understand that by now. I've known several nice, upstanding mormons. I think the framers, would have stamped out mormonism immediately. If the people in 1842 couldn't deal with them, Joseph Smith would have been in deep trouble in 1779.