Saturday, July 25, 2009

The Problem with Out of Context Quotations:

Here is a newish article by Wallbuilders entitled: The Founding Fathers on Jesus, Christianity and the Bible. The first person David Barton turns to for evidence is John Adams, the second President of the United States. The quotations Barton reproduces follow:

The general principles on which the fathers achieved independence were the general principles of Christianity. I will avow that I then believed, and now believe, that those general principles of Christianity are as eternal and immutable as the existence and attributes of God.1

The Holy Ghost carries on the whole Christian system in this earth. Not a baptism, not a marriage, not a sacrament can be administered but by the Holy Ghost. . . . There is no authority, civil or religious – there can be no legitimate government but what is administered by this Holy Ghost. There can be no salvation without it. All without it is rebellion and perdition, or in more orthodox words damnation.2

Without religion, this world would be something not fit to be mentioned in polite company: I mean hell.3

The Christian religion is, above all the religions that ever prevailed or existed in ancient or modern times, the religion of wisdom, virtue, equity and humanity.4

Suppose a nation in some distant region should take the Bible for their only law book and every member should regulate his conduct by the precepts there exhibited. . . . What a Eutopia – what a Paradise would this region be!5

I have examined all religions, and the result is that the Bible is the best book in the world.6

Okay, taken at face value, many an evangelical, the Bible is the infallible Word of God, type would think "John Adams was one of us." What Barton doesn't tell us is for his entire adult life Adams identified as a Unitarian. Adams rejected original sin, the Trinity, Incarnation, Atonement and eternal damnation sometimes bitterly and mockingly so. And towards the end of his life Adams got even more heterodox, elevating man's reason so far over revelation that he noted if God Himself revealed the doctrine of the Trinity to him with Moses on Mt. Sinai, he still wouldn't believe it because man's reason proves 1+1+1 = 3 not 1. And asserting exotic world religions like Hinduism and Zeus worship teach "Christian principles."

That's why you have to examine the WHOLE of what a Founder believed, not cherry picked selected quotes, taken out of context which mislead. This kind of clarification is utterly absent from Barton's presentation of the evidence.


J said...

I don't think the Barton "christian nation" thesis holds, at least in the way the American Creation squad believe it holds. Of course there were traditional christians, trinitarians, and so forth. Most Americans--at least yankees--were probably puritan/calvinist, a few baptists (the big baptist/evangelical revival though came from the south after the Civil War), maybe some german lutheran/mennonite types out near the frontier (later, Mormon sorts of cults, alas).

The Framers themselves, however, obviously included many freethinkers in their ranks, or freethinking episcopalian sorts, who were supportive of secularism, and opposed to state christianity (and arguably to christian authoritarianism, as say represented by Romans 13). Jefferson, however overexposed he may be, was closer to the French--both politically, and intellectually (I would Franklin also in that camp--and Madison usually sided with TJ after 1790 or so). All rather obvious. The only real conservative fundie type among the Framers--at least after Hamilton's death--was John Marshall, I think--though I have read he was a unitarian for some time (not at the end of his life).

The central documents however reflect the views of freethinkers and secularists (including say Paine). So regardless if protestant christianity was wide-spread, the intellectual leaders' more tolerant views prevailed.

For that matter, I think the ACsters are misreading/misapplying Locke. See my notes on the latest rehashing of Romans 13, which Locke opposed in his usual rhetorical style.

Robin Lionheart said...

If you look up what words the pseudo-historian David Barton leaves out, Adams was clearly being sarcastic in that second quote:

"The Holy Ghost carries on the whole Christian system in this earth. Not a Baptism, not a Marriage not a Sacrament can be administered but by the Holy Ghost, who is transmitted from age to age by laying the hands of the Bishops on the heads of Candidates for the Ministry. In the same manner as the holy Ghost is transmitted from Monarch to Monarch by the holy oil in the vial at Rheims which was brought down from Heaven by a Dove and by that other Phyal which I have seen in the Tower of London. There is no Authority civil or religious: there can be no legitimate Government but what is administered by this Holy Ghost. There can be no salvation without it. All, without it is Rebellion and Perdition, or in more orthodox words Damnation. Although this is all Artifice and Cunning in the secret original in the heart, yet they all believe it so sincerely that they would lay down their Lives under the Ax or the fiery Fagot for it. Alas the poor weak ignorant Dupe human Nature. There is so much King Craft, Priest Craft, Gentlemens Craft, Peoples Craft, Doctors Craft, Lawyers Craft, Merchants Craft, Tradesmens Craft, Labourers Craft and Devils Craft in the world, that it seems a desperate and impracticable Project to undeceive it."

In later presentations, such as on Glenn Beck on 8 April 2010, Barton gets even more revisionist, changing Adams's words to "The Holy Ghost carries on the whole Christian system in His truth."