KOI (a K-12 public school teacher) often comments at Ed Brayton's Dispatches From the Culture Wars and has recently joined my group blog on the Founding & Religion, American Creation as a front page poster. He has also spent many hours debating Gregg Frazer on Romans 13 online. This is his response to my note on Jason Kuznicki's recent post at Cato Unbound on the contributions of Christianity (and classical society) to modernity (with some editorial changes by JR):
I think the best example I can give you to illustrate that there have been two general kinds of Christianity that compete and both use scripture to back them.
The Southern Slave Owners and the Northern Abolitionits fought a Civil War over whose version of what the Bible said would win out. The KKK uses the Bible to elevate one person or group above the other. They look at the Jewish race and how God favored them and say that the white race replaced them.
It is really two views of God. To keep this from going Theological again (Tom Van Dyke has a point that the History can be lost if we always go down the Theology road) let's just look at the two broad groups in History. I think the one group is obvious and talked about a lot. It is the Divine Right dogmatic group. The other is not talked about as much.
Tom has tried to show more than once a line of reasoning from Aquinas forward that found its way to Jefferson and company through Locke. The only question is whether this line of reasoning is Christian.
Based on these discussions I put that I am a “Rational Christian” under religion on my Face Book page. Reason has a big place in all this I am just trying to figure out how much.
I think it is this type of Christianity that changed this world. It came in opposition to the Dark Ages crap based on control. We are headed back to Feudalism gradually. Walmart and companies like it are no better than the landed class in the Dark Ages. We woke up and this ended in a modern society with a middle class.
It is shrinking by the day. We are on Hayek's "Road to Serfdom."
It's an interesting notion. As I understand it, what terms itself "Christianity" has been on the side of the Angels and Devils in contentious issues that history eventually resolves. As we all now know, slavery is of the Devil, abolition of God. History has consigned Divine Rule of Kings to the Devil, liberal democracy to God. And today, with issues like gay marriage, abortion, we argue over which issue goes to God, which to the Devil (as was done before issues like slavery and the "right" form of government were settled).
Sometimes the God/Devil dicotomy is entirely metaphorical, as the militant secularist atheist and Godfather of gay rights activism Frank Kameny coined the term "gay is Godly." The Bill O'Reilly-esq. paradigm of "secular progressives" v. "religious conservatives" seems more apt.
Sometimes it is less metaphorical. The very progressive "Christian" Chris Hedges has done this where he places the religious right/conservative Christian types as devils and the progressive pro-abortion, pro-gay marriage, anti-war types as the angelic Christians. Hedges of course claims Martin Luther King, D. Bonhoeffer as the angelic Christians in whose tradition he operates.
KOI is neither a secular leftist nor religious rightist, but is more (like me at my cohorts at Positive Liberty) "libertarian." Likewise, he is no Calvinist. Will he try to use his "rational Christianity" to vindicate libertarianism? Who knows?
KOI, in a sense, is not unlike many of America's key Founders and the philosophers they followed. Figures like Jefferson, Franklin, J. Adams, and their British Divine heroes Revs. Joseph Priestley and Richard Price termed themselves "rational Christians." I'm not sure if John Locke, Isaac Newton, John Milton or Samuel Clarke used that term but the "rational Christians" (what Gregg Frazer terms "theistic rationalists") sure as heck claimed them and purported to operate in their tradition.
Likewise they claimed those who operated on the side of "Whiggery," "republicanism," "political liberty," "unalienable rights" on the side of God, the others on the side of the Devil (and vice versa).
They too were militant anti-Calvinists and claimed God from Calvin: As Jefferson, in 1823, wrote to the likeminded J. Adams:
I can never join Calvin in addressing his god. He was indeed an Atheist, which I can never be; or rather his religion was Daemonism. If ever man worshipped a false god, he did. The being described in his 5. points is not the God whom you and I acknowledge and adore, the Creator and benevolent governor of the world; but a daemon of malignant spirit. It would be more pardonable to believe in no god at all, than to blaspheme him by the atrocious attributes of Calvin.
One issue that needs to be confronted is the "rational Christians" of that era (whose namesake KOI invokes) tended to reject original sin, trinity, incarnation, atonement, eternal damnation, infallibility of the Bible, and so on. "Rational Christians" of course, hold that men have a right to revolt against tyrants and, if they address Romans 13 at all, formulate an understanding of that part of the Bible accordingly (ala Jonathan Mayhew).
That begs the question as to how authentically "Christian" "rational Christianity" is. Indeed, if one looks at the history of abolition in America, unitarians played disproportionate roles in leading the effort (and unitarians had some stinkers as well like John Calhoun).
It's tempting to take one's pet issues and put the God stamp behind it. I don't care if right wing Christians do this on the issues that I disagree with them (many have long standing theological arguments on which to based their claims). I do mind when they cherry pick America's Founders political theological God quotes -- even those that talk up Christianity as opposed to the more oft-invoked generic references to God, religion, and Providence -- and act as though their narrow orthodox theology owns America's political theological heritage.
Likewise, the Chris Hedges of the world don't own what's good in "Christianity" either.
For me, I'm just trying to step back and ask what is authentic historic Christianity -- complete with its dominant, dissident, and heretical strains -- and examine the contributions, pro and con. I think that requires taking the good with the bad, something that neither side wants. The friends of Christianity want to credit it with everything good and distance said from its mistakes. The enemies, the opposite. The truth usually lies somewhere in between.