Saturday, February 28, 2009

Joseph Story's Political Theology:

At American Creation my friend Tom Van Dyke points to the learned Joseph Story's commentaries on the Constitution and religion. To his credit, Van Dyke gives us a long excerpt from Story, so we can read it in context. You can read the original here. Included in the longer except is the quotation that Christian Nationalists like to cite on behalf of the "Christian Nation" thesis:

§1871. The real object of the amendment was, not to countenance, much less to advance Mahometanism, or Judaism, or infidelity, by prostrating Christianity; but to exclude all rivalry among Christian sects, and to prevent any national ecclesiastical establishment, which should give to an hierarchy the exclusive patronage of the national government.

As I've noted before, one problem with the use of Story's quotation on behalf of the "Christian Nation" thesis is original meaning constitutional interpretation does not concern itself with the "real object" of various provisions of the Constitution's text, but rather the original meaning of the text itself. And, of course, the Constitution's text says nothing of "Christianity," but rather uses the term "religion." There could be many "real objects" of various texts of the Constitution, which focused on specifically, unmoored from the Constitution's text could take on lives of their own. The Constitution says nothing about "Christian sects" only. That reading is as revisionist and "living" as the Wall of Separation concept.

However original meaning originalists can make a strong case, consistent with what Story writes later, that troublesome questions about "religion" v. "Christianity" and the US Constitution's text are placated by understanding that it was the states who were charged with resolving those nettlesome issues. The Federal government, as it were, would be burdened with a "hands off" restriction on involving itself in religious disputes.

That said, I want to address Story's "political theology" about which he writes in the excepts that Mr. Van Dyke quoted, what Story sees as the "ideal" way government and religion ought to co-exist with one another. Here is the the relevant part of Story's position:


How far any government has a right to interfere in matters touching religion, has been a subject much discussed by writers upon public and political law. The right and the duty of the interference of government, in matters of religion, have been maintained by many distinguished authors, as well those, who were the warmest advocates of free governments, as those, who were attached to governments of a more arbitrary character. Indeed, the right of a society or government to interfere in matters of religion will hardly be contested by any persons, who believe that piety, religion, and morality are intimately connected with the well being of the state, and indispensable to the administration of civil justice. The promulgation of the great doctrines of religion, the being, and attributes, and providence of one Almighty God; the responsibility to him for all our actions, founded upon moral freedom and accountability; a future state of rewards and punishments; the cultivation of all the personal, social, and benevolent virtues;—these never can be a matter of indifference in any well ordered community. It is, indeed, difficult to conceive, how any civilized society can well exist without them. And at all events, it is impossible for those, who believe in the truth of Christianity, as a divine revelation, to doubt, that it is the especial duty of government to foster, and encourage it among all the citizens and subjects. This is a point wholly distinct from that of the right of private judgment in matters of religion, and of the freedom of public worship according to the dictates of one’s conscience. [Bold mine.]

I want to turn your attention to what it was in Story's quotation that he did and did NOT say. He seems to endorse the idea that there is an Almighty God to whom we are accountable and that publicly policy should be friendly towards "piety, religion and morality" and a "future state of rewards and punishments." In addition this public religion "cultivat[es]...the personal, social, and benevolent virtues." As Story notes these are "the great doctrines of religion." Finally Story intimates these great doctrines are found with the "Christian revelation." Arguably, they are. However, the orthodox argue they are not the ESSENCE of the "Christian revelation."

Story never invokes orthodox Trinitarian doctrine (original sin, the trinity, incarnation, and atonement) as having any connection to this "public theology." Finally while Story invokes a future state of rewards and punishments, he never invokes eternal damnation, certainly not eternal damnation for all non-Christians, as part of this political theology.

Some possible reasons why Story doesn't incorporate these things into his political theology? One is he didn't believe in them and neither did America's key Founders -- the men who wrote the Declaration, US Constitution, Federalist Papers and otherwise posited the ideals of republican government and religion (Washington, J. Adams, Jefferson, Madison, Franklin, Hamilton, Wilson, G. Morris and others). This is where the personal and the political connect. This is why it's relevant to inquire into the personal beliefs, even in their private letters, of notable Founders.

Here is Story on what he DIDN'T believe about Christianity:


Washington, March 6th, 1824.

...The Unitarians are universally steadfast, sincere, and earnest Christians.

They all believe in the divine mission of Christ, the credibility and authenticity of the Bible, the miracles wrought by our Saviour and his apostles, and the efficacy of his precepts to lead men to salvation....They differ among themselves as to the nature of our Saviour, but they all agree that he was the special messenger of God, and that what he taught is of Divine authority. In truth, they principally differ from other Christians in disbelieving the Trinity, for they think Christ was not God, but in the Scripture language “the Son of God.”

And here is testimony from Story's brother, speaking to and through Story's son:

After my continued absence from home for four or five years, we met again, your father being now about eighteen years old, and renewed our former affection towards each other. At this time we were, from a similarity of sentiment, drawn more closely together. I allude particularly to our religious opinions. We frequently discussed the subject of the divinity and the humanity of Christ, and we both agreed in believing in his humanity. Thus you see that your father and myself were early Unitarians, long before the doctrine was preached among us by any one, unless I except Dr. Bentley of Salem.

In other words, Story was a Socinian Unitarian, believing Jesus was 100% human and not divine at all. And here is what Story thought on salvation:

This faith he retained during his whole life, and was ever ardent in his advocacy of the views of Liberal Christians. He was several times President of the American Unitarian Association, and was in the habit of attending its meetings and joining in its discussions. No man, however, was ever more free from a spirit of bigotry and proselytism. He gladly allowed every one freedom of belief, and claimed only that it should be a genuine conviction and not a mere theologic opinion, considering the true faith of every man to be the necessary exponent of his nature, and honoring a religious life more than a formal creed. He admitted within the pale of salvation Mahommedan and Christian, Catholic and Infidel. He believed that whatever is sincere and honest is recognized of God; — that as the views of any sect are but human opinion, susceptible of error on every side, it behooves all men to be on their guard against arrogance of belief; — and that in the sight of God it is not the truth or falsity of our views, but the spirit in which we believe, which alone is of vital consequence. [Bold mine.]

Now, Story obviously thought his "liberal unitarian Christianity" was "Christianity." Story's private creed informed his beliefs on public political theology. And whether this creed qualifies as "Christianity" is a matter of debate. And certainly the debate is one that no government ought to resolve. And America's Foundations hold that no government ought involve itself in this debate. As Madison believed, it's not government's place -- any government, federal, state or local -- to take "cognizance" of these issues.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Allan Bloom's YouTube Pages:

Someone took Allan Bloom's lectures uploaded on and uploaded them on Youtube complete with some interesting pictures of Bloom and Leo Strauss. Here is the first of Bloom's lectures on Socrates.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Hallowed Secularism:

That was the title of one of Andrew Sullivan's recent posts warning against the extremes of secularism. Yet, many of us are also wary of the extremes of sectarian religious politics (of the "Christian" or "Judeo-Christian" sort).

I endorse a softer secularism. And if it's proper to term what the Founding Fathers had in mind as "secular" it's certainly a "softer" form of secularism, not of the Hitchens or Dawkins type, not the kind that wants to see a "naked public square." Yet, the Founding Fathers wanted a pluralistic, not a "Christian" or even a "Judeo-Christian" public square.

I think truly "neutral" secularism is a laudable ideal. And though the Founding Fathers weren't entirely neutral -- for instance, they weren't neutral on whether God existed -- they did their best to be neutral under a generic Providence that was open to the idea that most or all world religions, including Islam, Hinduism, Native American spirituality, Greco-Romanism, Confucianism, and other creeds were valid ways to God.

The following is a clip from the Acton Institutes's special "The Birth of Freedom" featuring Princeton's Robert P. George arguing "secularism" isn't "neutral."

The problem is George doesn't define "secularism." I would agree that certain forms of hard secularism are not "neutral." And if that's what George is arguing against, I support him in his assertion. However, what I do support is a system of "neutrality" AND I would argue the classical liberal system of the American Founding is this form of neutrality among various competing worldviews. I think this IS what America's Founding Fathers stood for. And it's debatable whether this system is aptly termed "secularism." If it is, again, it's a softer form of secularism than what we see coming from the atheists like Dawkins or those who want to remove every single nominal reference to anything religious from the public square regardless of the context.

However, it seems to me, that a system of true neutrality is laudable. If modern secularism is not "neutral" as Prof. George claims, well then let us make it neutral or at least let us conceive of a system of such neutrality and argue whether such a system is laudable or accords with American Founding ideals.

I'm not sure whether the Everson (1947) SCOTUS case was properly decided. However it made some claims about neutrality which I think are entirely defensible and laudable according to the tenets of liberal democracy that America's Founders established: Government should be neutral among the various religions (regardless of whether those religions are "Christian" or "Judeo-Christian") and government should be neutral between "religion" and "irreligion."

In 2005, here is how I described the "classical secularism" of the Founding era:

The classical version of secularism is found in the writings of Madison & Jefferson -- like Madison's Memorial and Remonstrance, his Detached Memoranda, and Jefferson's Virginia Statute on Religious Freedom.

What's ironic about these pieces of "secularist scripture" (as Susan Jacoby puts it) is that they, like the Declaration of Independence, actually invoke "God." Jefferson's Virginia Statute begins, "Whereas Almighty God hath created the mind free..." and the Memorial and Remonstrance states "Before any man can be considered as a member of Civil Society, he must be considered as a subject of the Governour of the Universe..." which leads some critics to say: "Aha, this isn't secularism, this is 'Christian Nation' talk!" Not exactly.

First of all, this is classical secularism, not the modern version that would never invoke the supernatural. Second, the heart of classical secularism is not stripping all references to the supernatural from the public square but rather government neutrality. Neutrality between, not just the Christian sects, but all religions and between belief and non-belief. Men have unalienable free and equal rights of conscience. And these rights are universally applicable. Jefferson held that the natural right norms in his statute applied equally to "the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and Mahometan, the Hindoo, and Infidel of every denomination."

Third -- when the Founders did invoke God in their documents and their speeches -- they exercised great prudence in how they identified "God" and "religion." Both were almost always referred to in vague and undefined ways. While they often invoked a "Divine Providence," they also systematically refused to identify God in Trinitarian terms and rarely if ever invoked "Jesus Christ" or quoted verses and chapters of scripture.

And Jefferson and Madison both gave reasons why it was important to be so vague. If God were referred to in explicitly Trinitarian Christian terms, then the populace might get the impression that only such Christians have religious rights. Here is Jefferson.

Where the preamble declares, that coercion is a departure from the plan of the holy author of our religion, an amendment was proposed, by inserting the word "Jesus Christ," so that it should read, "a departure from the plan of Jesus Christ, the holy author of our religion;" the insertion was rejected by a great majority, in proof that they meant to comprehend, within the mantle of its protection, the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and Mahometan, the Hindoo, and Infidel of every denomination.

And Madison:

In the course of the opposition to [Jefferson's VA] bill in the House of Delegates, which was warm & strenuous from some of the minority, an experiment was made on the reverence entertained for the name & sactity of the Saviour, by proposing to insert the words "Jesus Christ" after the words "our lord" in the preamble, the object of which, would have been, to imply a restriction of the liberty defined in the Bill, to those professing his religion only. The amendment was discussed, and rejected by a vote of agst (See letter of J. M. to Mr Jefferson dated ) The opponents of the amendment having turned the feeling as well as judgment of the House agst it, by successfully contending that the better proof of reverence for that holy name wd be not to profane it by making it a topic of legisl. discussion, & particularly by making his religion the means of abridging the natural and equal rights of all men, in defiance of his own declaration that his Kingdom was not of this world.

These Founders also had a self-interest in seeing that non-orthodox Christians had full and equal rights of citizenship: Jefferson and Madison -- as well as Washington, Adams, Franklin, Paine and others -- were not orthodox Trinitarian Christians, and as such in many states they would be subject to legal penalties, including being barred from holding public office -- because of their religious beliefs.

Whenever our Founders connected "rights" to their metaphysical religious beliefs, they always invoked their "natural religion" as opposed to "revealed religion." ("Natural" meaning what is discoverable by Reason, as opposed to Revealed in the Bible). Through unaided Reason, "natural" religion tells us that God created man with unalienable rights. It does not tell us that God is Christ or even that God revealed the Ten Commandments to Moses. It's possible that "Nature's God" and the Trinitarian God of the Bible are one and the same. Or "Nature's God" may be some non-orthodox, non-miracle performing God. By purposefully being vague our Founders left that answer to the private conscience of the citizens. To a Trinitarian, his God grants unalienable rights. To a Deist, it was his God who granted rights, and on and on.

Finally, it is wrong to say that our Founders just opened their Bibles and "discovered" that God grants men unalienable rights because nowhere in the Bible does it say that He grants men "unalienable rights," especially not the "liberty to worship as one pleases" (and the Bible frequently implies otherwise). So whereas the God of the Bible is a Jealous God who, in His First Command, forbids the worship of any other Gods but He, and elsewhere commands the community to immediately execute those who would tempt them to worship false Gods, Nature's God grants men an unalienable right to worship no God or Twenty Gods.

Rather, the challenge was to get orthodox Christians to interpret their Bible to be compatible with this Enlightenment discovery. And even before the Enlightenment, dissident Protestants like Roger Williams had begun to make similar arguments. You can see how Madison, in his above quote, encouraged such Biblical interpretations that were compatible with the notion of a "rights-granting" God.

The opponents of the amendment having turned the feeling as well as judgment of the House agst it, by successfully contending that the better proof of reverence for that holy name wd be not to profane it by making it a topic of legisl. discussion, & particularly by making his religion the means of abridging the natural and equal rights of all men, in defiance of his own declaration that his Kingdom was not of this world.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Founding Era Republican Enlightenment Clergy & Theology, Part III

This post focuses on the notion oft-repeated in Founding era political pulpits that the Ancient Israelites had a "republic." The Biblical record does not teach this. Such a notion is wholly a product of Enlightenment rationalism, not of historic orthodox biblical Christianity. And that's because the concept of liberal democratic theory-republicanism is chiefly a product of Enlightenment (not the Bible). Liberal democratic theory-republicanism holds universal rights are discovered through reason. It wasn't just the deists, but also unitarians and orthodox Christians who embraced this. As such, if the Bible is true (which many of them believe it was) its truth had to conform to liberal democratic theory-republicanism. Hence a major rewriting of the Bible took place in the political pulpits of the Founding era. In fact, I would argue the embracing of Locke's state of nature theory, combined with excessively using natural law reasoning and arguing the Ancient Israelites had a "republic" were all part of an ideological movement that terminated in the French Revolution. Indeed, as I have shown in pasts posts, many of these ministers and theologians believed the French Revolution would user in a millenial republic of liberty, equality and fraternity that fully vindicated the universal rights of man.

And with that, let us turn to Samuel Langdon's "The Republic of the Israelites an Example to the United States." (Langdon was the President of Harvard from 1774-80.) I am going to bold everything that is not biblical in Langdon's revisionist sermon.

As to every thing excellent in their constitution of government, except what was peculiar to them as a nation separated to God from the rest of mankind, the Israelites may be considered as a pattern to the world in all ages; and from them we may learn what will exalt our character, and what will depress and bring us to ruin.

Let us therefore look over their constitution and laws, enquire into their practice, and observe how their prosperity and fame depended on their strict observance of the divine commands both as to their government and religion.

They had both a civil and military establishment under divine direction, and a complete body of judicial laws drawn up and delivered to them by Moses in God’s name. They had also a form of religious worship, by the same authority, minutely prescribed, designed to preserve among them the knowledge of the great Creator of the Universe, and teach them to love and serve him; while idolatry prevailed through the rest of the world: and this religion contained not only a public ritual, but a perfect, though very concise, system of morals, comprehended in ten commands, which require the perfection of godliness, benevolence, and rectitude of conduct.


But the great thing wanting was a permanent constitution, which might keep the people peaceable and obedient while in the desert, and after they had gained possession of the promised land. Therefore, upon the complaint of Moses that the burden of government was too heavy for him, God commanded him to bring seventy men, chosen from among the elders and officers, and present them at the tabernacle; and there he endued them with the same spirit which was in Moses, that they might bear the burden with him. Thus a senate was evidently constituted, as necessary for the future government of the nation, under a chief commander. And as to the choice of this senate, doubtless the people were consulted, who appear to have had a voice in all public affairs from time to time, the whole congregation being called together on all important occasions: the government therefore was a proper republic.

And beside this general establishment, every tribe had elders and a prince according to the patriarchal order, with which Moses did not interfere; and these had an acknowledged right to meet and consult together, and with the consent of the congregation do whatever was necessary to preserve good order, and promote the common interest of the tribe. So that the government of each tribe was very similar to the general government. There was a president and senate at the head of each, and the people assembled and gave their voice in all great matters: for in those ages the people in all republics were entirely unacquainted with the way of appointing delegates to act for them, which is a very excellent modern improvement in the management of republics.

Moreover, to compleat the establishment of civil government, courts were to be appointed in every walled city, after their settlement in Canaan, and elders most distinguished for wisdom and integrity were to be made judges, ready always to sit and decide the common controversies within their respective jurisdictions. The people had a right likewise to appoint such other officers as they might think necessary for the more effectual execution of justice....

But from these courts an appeal was allowed in weighty causes to higher courts appointed over the whole tribe, and in very great and difficult cases to the supreme authority of the general senate and chief magistrate.

A government, thus settled on republican principles, required laws; without which it must have degenerated immediately into aristocracy, or absolute monarchy. But God did not leave a people, wholly unskilled in legislation, to make laws for themselves: he took this important matter wholly into his own hands, and beside the moral laws if the two tables, which directed their conduct as individuals, gave them by Moses a complete code of judicial laws.

Langdon's injecting words and concepts into the biblical record reminds me of Elizabeth Clare Prophet, a cult leader I used to watch for fun, who mixed all world religions into a New Age synthesis with ultra right wing politics. As someone who believed in the Truth of both Hinduism and Christianity, Ms. Prophet said Jesus said in John 8:7 "Let he who is without KARMA cast the first stone." Langdon does something similar with the Ancient Israelites and republicanism.

As Dr. Gregg Frazer reacts:

The sermons seem to depict God's role as something similar to Rousseau's legislator; He disinterestedly established the foundational law for the benefit of society, but did not live under it. In their version and consistent with democratic theory, God established it all [quoting Langdon's sermon] "for their happiness" rather than to achieve the fulfillment of a sovereignty determined plan. By their account, God submitted the laws to the people for their approval and acceptance (as per Rousseau's legislator).

-- Frazer, PhD thesis, pp. 393-94.

As for the actual politics of the Ancient Israelites, Dr. Frazer notes:

First, as [Robert] Kraynak pointed out, “the biblical covenant is undemocratic: God is not bound by the covenant and keeps His promises solely out of His own divine self-limitation.” Second, “(t)he element of voluntary consent is missing from the covenant with Israel….There is nothing voluntary or consensual about the biblical covenant; and the most severe punishments are threatened by God for disobedience.” Third, “insofar as the covenant with Israel sanctions specific forms of government, the main ones are illiberal and undemocratic;” including patriarchy, theocracy, and kingships established by divine right. Fourth, “the Bible shows that God delivers the people from slavery in Egypt and supports national liberation, not for the purpose of enjoying their political and economic rights, but for the purpose of putting on the yoke of the law in the polity of Moses.” Fifth, “the content of the divine law revealed to Moses consists, in the first place, of the Ten Commandments rather than the Ten Bill of Rights, commanding duties to God, family, and neighbors rather than establishing protections for personal freedom.” Finally, the combination of judicial, civil, ceremonial, and dietary laws imposed on the people “regulate all aspects of religious, personal, and social life.” The history of Israel, therefore, had to be radically rewritten to provide support for the demands of political liberty and for republican self-government.

-- Ibid, pp. 18-19, quoting Robert Kraynak, "Christian Faith and Modern Democracy," pp. 46-49.
How to Deal With Telemarketers, British Style:

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Founding Era Republican Enlightenment Clergy & Theology, Part II:

This one is from Israel Evans, A SERMON DELIVERED AT THE ANNUAL ELECTION, 1791. This is another of the many Founding era sermons from prominent ministers illustrating the "zeitgeist" that held Christianity, Enlightenment, republicanism and the American and French revolutions all went together, hand in hand. But whether they all really did remains debatable. Edmund Burke remonstrated against the French Revolution in 1790. In 1791, Burke's view was anathema in an America that supported the French revolution and thought it an extension of the American. And Evans' sermon exemplifies that zeitgeist. As he put it:

1. In this happy land of light and liberty, it is a truth fully established, that all men are by nature equally free. From this principle of natural liberty we derive an indefeasible right of being governed by our own civil constitutions. We the people are the source of all legislative authority. Upon this just, benevolent, pleasing, and even delightful principle, the constitutions, the laws, and the governments, of these federal states, will stand fast. All men who understand the nature, and feel the spirit, of such principles, are self-instructed to be their own legislators, either in one collected body, or by representation. When all the people can assemble, and personally contribute their aid in framing constitutions and laws for the government of themselves, then their liberty is most natural and most perfect. But since great loss of time, much expense, and many inconveniences, would attend this mode of legislation, the people have agreed, in free states, to select from the whole body, some of their brethren, whom they invest with legislative power. What shall be transacted by these delegates or representatives, consistently with the constitution of the people, must be acknowledged as the act of the people. In conformity to this plan, the people keep as near the possession of natural liberty, as is convenient and really useful; and while they are truly virtuous, they will enjoy as much perfect liberty as is necessary to preserve peace, establish justice, and secure political happiness. I shall only add further, under this particular, that when a free people have, according to their constitution, determined to legislate by representatives, they should take great care that the representation may be fully adequate to the importance and welfare of the people; the elections should also be perfectly free, and sufficiently frequent.


5. The liberties of a people cannot be lasting without knowledge. The human mind is capable of great cultivation. Knowledge is not only useful, but it adds dignity to man. When the minds of men are improved, they can better understand their rights—they can know what part they are to act, in contributing to the welfare of the nation. Freemen should always acquire knowledge; this is a privilege and pleasure unknown to slaves; this elevates the mind of man; this creates a conscious dignity of his importance as a rational creature, and a free agent. The happiness of mankind has been much advanced by the arts and sciences; and they have flourished the most among freemen. Slavery blots the image of the Creator, which was at first impressed upon man: it banishes knowledge, and courts misery. But men, enlightened, pursue with ardour the knowledge and recovery of their rights. Liberty is enlightened by knowledge; and knowledge is nurtured by liberty. Where there is wisdom, virtue, and liberty, there mankind are men. In all the dark ages of the world, tyranny has been established upon the slavish ignorance of mankind. Tyrants, in time past, secured their domination by darkening the minds of their subjects. In the present day, they tremble at the approaching light of knowledge and liberty. They turn indignant from the glorious illuminations of America and France. They hear with horrour the sound of freedom and the rights of men. They would still imbrute the human race, and make mankind forget that they are men. Be assured, my dear countrymen, knowledge is absolutely necessary to secure the blessings of freedom. If you wish to see your country not only free in your day, but also to feast your imaginations with the pleasing prospect of a free posterity for many ages to come; let me entreat you, to encourage and promote that knowledge which will enable the people successfully to watch all the enemies of liberty, and guard against the designs of intriguing men. [Bold mine.]


...The close of the eighteenth century, in which we live, shall teach mankind to be truly free. The freedom of America and France, shall make this age memorable. From this time forth, men shall be taught, that true greatness consists not in destroying, but in saving, the lives of men; not in conquering, but making them free; not in making war, but making peace; not in making men ignorant, but making them wise; not in firing them with brutal rage, but in making them humane; not in being ambitious, but in being good, just, and virtuous. Of France, it may be said, in the language of scripture, Who hath heard such a thing? Who hath seen such things? Shall the earth be made to bring forth in one day? Or, Shall a nation be born at once? Behold a nation of freemen, rising out of a nation of slaves! This gratifies the feelings of humanity and benevolence. We wish to see all men independent of all things but the laws of God, and the just laws of their country. And will any man blame me for saying, that, in America, every friend to justice and the rights of men wishes prosperity to that generous nation, who are allied to these United States, and who so powerfully aided them in securing their independence and peace. In the name of the Lord of hosts, let us pray, that no weapon that is formed against their freedom, shall prosper. [Bold mine.]
Allan Bloom on Nietzsche:

I've read a lot of his work, but never heard his voice...until now that is. You can hear the late Allan Bloom lecture on Nietzsche in these very interesting audio files. From a lecture delivered at Boston College in 1983. There is also a link to Bloom on Socrates.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Coral Ridge, Again:

Even though the late D. James Kennedy has passed, Coral Ridge Ministries keeps on repeating its propaganda special "One Nation Under God." So I'll still keep responding to it. The special includes some legitimate respectable scholars (Mary Thompson, James Hutson, Donald Lutz) along with some hacks (David Barton, Peter Marshall and Marshall Foster).

I'll respond to a point one of the respectable scholars, Donald Lutz of the University of Dallas, made. Lutz noted he discovered after significant research that many of the US Constitution's ideas were anticipated by state colonial constitutions. And those state colonial constitutions 1) were done for explicitly Christian purposes, 2) used explicitly Christian language, 3) cited the Bible with explicit verses and chapters, and 4) made coventants to God. As one Christian Reconstructionist scholar (who was NOT featured in the Coral Ridge special) noted about Lutz's work:

Donald Lutz, a Constitutional historian atthe University of Houston, argued that “The Pedigree of the Bill of Rights” could befound in the bills of rights in colonial charters, primarily authored by ministers. Three-fourths of the provisions from the U.S. Bill of Rights, in fact, were outlined in the 1641Massachusetts Body of Liberties, a Puritan document that came complete with Bible verses attached to each of the rights.

So let us turn to the 1641 Massachusetts Body of Liberties, and instead of focusing on what in that document parallels what's found in the US Constitution -- take Lutz's claim at face value that many of the ideas in the Bill of Rights were anticipated there -- let's focus on what the Founders DID NOT borrow.

The US Constitution, Declaration of Independence and Federalist Papers 1) claim no explicitly Christian purposes, 2) used no explicitly Christian language, 3) do not cite the Bible, and 4) make no covenants to God. Lutz said something about how the Declaration of Independence calls God as a witness and that could be a covenant. I'm sorry but that won't work. The DOI is a Lockean social compact, not a Puritan Covenant. And the French's Declaration of the Rights of Man likewise invokes the "Supreme Being" as a witness.

In other words, the Constitution and DOI if anything secularized the ideas found in the colonial charters that made their way into the Bill of Rights. The following passage from the The Massachusetts Body of Liberties represents NOT what America's Founders embraced in those colonial charters, but rather what they REJECTED.

94. Capitall Laws.

(Deut. 13. 6, 10. Deut. 17. 2, 6. Ex. 22.20)
If any man after legall conviction shall have or worship any other god, but the lord god, he shall be put to death.

(Ex. 22. 18. Lev. 20. 27. Dut. 18. 10.)
If any man or woeman be a witch, (that is hath or consulteth with a familiar spirit,) They shall be put to death.

(Lev. 24. 15,16.)
If any person shall Blaspheme the name of god, the father, Sonne or Holie Ghost, with direct, expresse, presumptuous or high handed blasphemie, or shall curse god in the like manner, he shall be put to death.

[Page 274]

(Ex. 21. 12. Numb. 35. 13, 14, 30, 31.)
If any person committ any wilfull murther, which is manslaughter, committed upon premeditated malice, hatred, or Crueltie, not in a mans necessarie and just defence, nor by meere casualtie against his will, he shall be put to death.

(Numb. 25, 20, 21. Lev. 24. 17)
If any person slayeth an other suddaienly in his anger or Crueltie of passion, he shall be put to death.

(Ex. 21. 14.)
If any person shall slay an other through guile, either by poysoning or other such divelish practice, he shall be put to death.

(Lev. 20. 15,16.)
If any man or woeman shall lye with any beaste or bruite creature by Carnall Copulation, They shall surely be put to death. And the beast shall be slaine, and buried and not eaten.

(Lev. 20. 13.)
If any man lyeth with mankinde as he lyeth with a woeman, both of them have committed abhomination, they both shall surely be put to death.

Lev. 20. 19. and 18, 20. Dut. 22. 23, 24.)
If any person committeth Adultery with a maried or espoused wife, the Adulterer and Adulteresse shall surely be put to death.

(Ex. 21. 16.)
If any man stealeth a man or mankinde, he shall surely be put to death.

(Deut. 19. 16, 18, 19.)
If any man rise up by false witnes, wittingly and of purpose to take away any mans life, he shall be put to death.

If any man shall conspire and attempt any invasion, insurrection, or publique rebellion against our commonwealth, or shall [Page 275] indeavour to surprize any Towne or Townes, fort or forts therein, or shall treacherously and perfediouslie attempt the alteration and subversion of our frame of politie or Government fundamentallie, he shall be put to death.

Numbers 1, 2, & 3 represent the antithesis of religious liberty. And indeed John Adams would have been executed by his Puritan Ancestors for the high handed blasphemie contained in his private letters mocking the Trinity. Indeed, all of the Founders arguably would have been executed unders this code for rebelling against Great Britain.

Of course principles like 4, 5, & 6 relate to the US Founding and that's because those values are secular, cross cultural, not distinctly Christian or however you want to put it. We could analyze the Ten Commandments the same way. The second tablet contains rules that are arguably secular; and those are the rules that parellel what's found in modern legal codes. Virtually all sane societies outlaw murder and theft, and otherwise accept some kind of notions of property rights. What's distinctively religious, Abrahamic, etc. about the Ten Commandments -- i.e., the first tablet -- has no proper place in the civil law precisely for that reason.

And the Founders, like Roger Williams, understood this. Whatever it is the Founders accepted from the earlier colonial charters, they rejected their approach on Church-State matters and their explicit Christian purpose for government.

Another important point is that, if Lutz is right that these earlier colonial charters are so important to the ideas of the 1776-1800 Founding, it's not at all clear from the record that the Founders consciously were aware of this. My friend and co-blogger Tom Van Dyke, after more notable scholars like Rodney Stark, has argued many important ideas of the Founding may trace back to Roman Catholic sources (the "schoolmen"). Algernon Sidney, whom the Founders did cite, was aware of and cited them. However the Founders may have downplayed Roman Catholic influences because many of their minds were clouded by anti-Catholic bigotry.

Likewise you may find a sprinkling of citations to the Puritans and early colonial charters in the mass of sources that the Founders DID cite on behalf of revolution and republicanism. But they are always intermixed with other non-colonial and non-Christian sources. Even if, in practice, the ideas of Christians closer to their time and place were more likely to influence them, in theory, the Founders were more likely to cite pagan Greco-Roman republican figures of old and pretended as though America was founded to be new, enlightened, republican Rome.

As Noah Webster summed up the enlightenment zeitgeist that captured the minds of the Constitutional Convention:

But the origin of the AMERICAN REPUBLIC is distinguished by peculiar circumstances. Other nations have been driven together by fear and necessity—the governments have generally been the result of a single man’s observations; or the offspring of particular interests. IN the formation of our constitution, the wisdom of all ages is collected—the legislators of antiquity are consulted—as well as the opinions and interests of the millions who are concerned. In short, in it an empire of reason.

The Coral Ridge special of course, ignores this dynamic. And to perpetuate the misunderstanding that the Founders consciously operated in the tradition of the earlier colonists who formed explicitly Christian governments, Peter Marshall cited the lie, nowhere found in the historical record, that George Washington handed out copies of the Fundamental Orders of Connecticut at the Constitutional Convention.

Marshall said GW did this because this great "Christian Statesman" wanted the US Constitution to have similar biblical foundations. The lie is necessary to give the impression that the FFs self consciously believed they formed the US Constitution on "biblical principles" when the historical record does not demonstrate this.

In reality George Washington thought of himself as the second coming of Cincinnatus, the great leader of noble pagan republican Rome.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Funny Scene From Diner:

Since Mickey Rourke is back in the news, here is a classic scene from Diner:

Friday, February 13, 2009

John Witherspoon On Reason, Revelation & Politics:

John Witherspoon was both an orthodox Christian and a philosophical rationalist, a man of the Enlightenment. There is evidence in the historical record of Witherspoon giving orthodox sermons. However, as President of Princeton University (then The College of New Jersey) when he taught James Madison and many other Founders political theory, Witherspoon turned to the teachings of the Scottish Enlightenment, not orthodox Calvinism. And that's because Calvinism spoke little to what the American Founders accomplished politically.

I blogged more about that here.

I must note that the "rationalism" he embraced, even if termed "enlightenment rationalism," Witherspoon thought entirely compatible with and complementary towards revelation. In this sense he was not unlike Aquinas. Witherspoon in his Lectures on Moral Philosophy wrote "[t]here is nothing certain or valuable in moral philosophy, but what is perfectly coincident with the scripture."

Here is how Witherspoon, in those Lectures, explained his view on how reason and revelation were supposed to work together:

If the Scripture is true, the discoveries of reason cannot be contrary to it; and, therefore, it has nothing to fear from that quarter. And as we are certain it can do no evil, so there is a probability that it may do much good. There may be an illustration and confirmation of the inspired writings, from reason and observation, which will greatly add to their beauty and force.

The noble and eminent improvements in natural philosophy, which have been made since the end of the last century, have been far from hurting the interest of religion; on the contrary, they have greatly promoted it, Why should it not be the same with moral philosophy, which is indeed nothing else but the knowledge of human nature?

Further, Witherspoon noted:

I am of opinion, that the whole Scripture is perfectly agreeable to sound philosophy; yet certainly it was never intended to teach us every thing. The political law of the Jews contains many noble principles of equity, and excellent examples to future lawgivers; yet it was so local and peculiar, that certainly it was never intended to be immutable and universal, It would be more just and useful to say that all simple and original discoveries have been the production of Providence, and not the invention of man.

On the whole, it seems reasonable to make moral philosophy, in the sense above explained, a subject of study. And indeed let men think what they will of it, they ought to acquaint themselves with it. They must know what it is, if they mean even to show that it is false.

On the very first page on Lectures, Witherspoon explains what "moral philosophy" is:

MORAL Philosophy is that branch of Science which treats of the principles and laws of Duty or Morals. It is called Philosophy, because it is an inquiry into the nature and grounds of moral obligation by reason, as distinct from revelation.

As noted above, when it came to political theory, there is no evidence that Witherspoon taught his students at Princeton the Bible or Calvinism. Rather he taught them this "moral philosophy" discovered by reason, as distinct from revelation, that was, Witherspoon asserted, ultimately compatible with the scriptures.

But make no mistake, compatibility with the Bible (and it's debatable whether Witherspoon's enlightenment political teachings WERE compatible with scripture) does not mean the Bible was from where Witherspoon's political teachings derived. As historian James McAllister summed it up:

The answer to the question regarding the biblical contribution to Witherspoon's teaching about the law and liberty is: almost nothing ... his theory of society and civil laws was based not on revelation but on the moral sense enlightened by reason and experience.

-- James McAllister, “John Witherspoon: An Academic Advocate for Religious Freedom” in A Miscellany of American Christianity, ed. Stuart Henry (Durham: Duke University Press, 1963), p. 218.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Let The Record Reflect...:

That I came up with the Buy A House, Get A Visa idea before Thomas Friedman or Alex Tabarrok...I think. My exact idea was buy outright a house that had been foreclosed and get full citizenship. I posted this on on Oct. 3, 2008.

I'm not accusing anyone of anything. Sometimes folks get to the same point coincidentally. Though I am interested if someone thought of the idea before I did. I did notice an immigration group propose something similar on Sept. 23, 2008:

This proposal alleviates the current US economic crisis, by motivating the US high skilled, legal immigrant workers to purchase homes. The size of this immigrant population is approximately 800,000 individuals. This effort if successful would inject up to US$ 20Billion approximately into the economy (approximately US$ 100 Billion in houses sold across the country) , while at the same time directing this money into the root cause of the economic crisis – the illiquidity of the national housing market. The above calculation is done
assuming a median US home price of $212,400 and buyers making a down-payment of 20% of the cost of the home. Roughly estimating 400,000 buyers.


Undoubtedly, we are all devastated by the shake up on Wall Street in the past 15 days. Experts agree that the underpinning problem is the housing crisis caused by sub-prime mortgage loans. Many of us, who cannot afford our monthly mortgage payments are losing homes and putting them up for sale and foreclosure, which further adds to the crisis. At the same time, most of the Employment-based (EB) immigrant community would like to purchase homes and make the United States a permanent home for their families. These EB immigrants however, are living in a state of limbo, mostly in rental apartments because of the delays and uncertainties involved with the EB immigration procedure. The wait times in EB categories are exacerbated by the delays in processing by USCIS, even though eligible applicants have filed for Permanent Residency also known as Adjustment of Status. Such processing delays have resulted in the wastage of 218,000 immigrant visa numbers (Page 52 of USCIS Ombudsman Annual report 2007). The current Department of State visa bulletin shows 7+ years of wait times in certain categories. We strongly believe that legislation can be worked out in such a way that the housing markets all over the country can move towards recovery, while at the same time motivating the Green Card applicants to catalyze this recovery.

It should be noted that this proposal by no means brings more immigrant workers into the US. The workers in the EB, skilled category are already present in the US, doing skilled jobs that no US worker is available to do. They are part of the long queue of backlogged cases that USICIS will eventually process; however, this wait can take years and in that case could not be used as a tool to minimize the course of the current economic crisis.


Congress can pass legislation that exempts EB green card applicants and their dependents from the numerical limits of visa numbers, provided applicant(s) have bought a home making 20% down payment on the sale price of the home, for a time period deemed necessary by the congress.

And of course the pro-immigration wing of the free marketers and libertarians have, for some time now (before I came up with my idea) advocated increasing immigration in general to make the demand for housing go up.

But Thomas Friedman quoting Shekhar Gupta endorses an idea very similar to mine:

Leave it to a brainy Indian to come up with the cheapest and surest way to stimulate our economy: immigration.

“All you need to do is grant visas to two million Indians, Chinese and Koreans,” said Shekhar Gupta, editor of The Indian Express newspaper. “We will buy up all the subprime homes. We will work 18 hours a day to pay for them. We will immediately improve your savings rate — no Indian bank today has more than 2 percent nonperforming loans because not paying your mortgage is considered shameful here. And we will start new companies to create our own jobs and jobs for more Americans.”

For good reason, Immigration law cannot directly target various ethnic groups for immigration privileges. They can, I do believe, adopt generally applicable policies that incidentally benefit various ethnic groups. If the criteria was "buy a subprime house, get a visa OR citizenship," it probably would get more Indians, Chinese and Koreans because they hold more US dollars. Likewise, my land standard of selling unused federal land to various nations and in turn permitting them to immigrate a certain number of citizens per acre would be available to any nation but would incidentally benefit those nations that hold large amounts of US currency like China.

I'd appreciate any additional info from readers if they are aware of anyone coming forth with similar or the same idea on this matter before I did.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Is Taking Life Endangering Risks Immoral? (Homosexuality & Driving Analogy Below)

Who knows? But according to convention AND (as far as I understand it) traditional morality, no. I have never heard of X-Games gold medalist Jeremy Lusk, who tragically died at 24 doing what he did best -- freestyle motocross racing. My prediction is that not one moralizing pundit will condemn his behavior as immoral, just like no one condemned Steve Irwin when he died young because of his risk taking, no one condemned Jim O'Brien when he died young because of his risk taking, and no one condemned Dale Earnhardt or the many NASCAR racers when they died young because of their risk taking.

I think this dynamic relates to a hot button contemporary issue: Acceptance of homosexuality. Some religious conservatives who have moral problems with homosexuality based SOLELY on their religious convictions attempt to contrive "secular" reasons for opposing homosexuality. Obviously, we know that AIDS has tragically taken the lives of many gay men who died too young. AND, some, perhaps many, though certainly not all, caught the disease while taking unnecessary risks (like not using a condom when you know you should have). However, folks who trot around "statics" proving the "harm" of homosexuality as reasons for "opposing" homosexuality obviously use them as a pretext for advancing their sectarian religious claims. (I put "statistics" in quotation marks because religious conservative organizations have posited "lies" in the form of statistics when trying to argue this "secular" case against homosexuality. See the notoriously debunked fraud, Paul Cameron.)

I assert this because if you look at the way we -- and I include more secular minded folks with traditional moralists -- react to risky behavior that potentially shortens lives, we almost never conclude such signifies the behavior to be immoral or should be otherwise socially stigmatized. When are we going to illegalize NASCAR for this very reason? Rather, as free people, we speak of adults knowingly, understandingly and voluntarily assuming risks (to borrow some terminology from the common law of torts).

And my reaction to young AIDS deaths is exactly as I react to the deaths of folks like Jeremy Lusk, Jim O'Brien, Steve Irwin, and Dale Earnhardt. It's tragic. Folks do well to know of the risks they take or otherwise to minimize those risks. In a perfect world, people would always dot their i's, cross their t's, eat healthy, go for regular check ups to the doctor, exercise, wear seatbelts, don't drive when you haven't had enough sleep, never talk on your cell phone when driving, don't smoke, always drink in no more than moderation, etc., etc. And, at the very least we need to educate ourselves and understand how to live such risk minimized lives. Until utopia or the millennium, we will never be able to avoid risks completely.

But taking those risks in no way indicates someone is a "bad person," or even that we need to oppose, in a social sense, those risk taking behaviors. For instance, how many folks DON'T do EVERYTHING that I just listed above? Probably everyone.

To use another example, if we want to totally eliminate the risk of dying in a car accident (and driving risks more than a statistically nominal chance of death), we simply wouldn't drive. We'd all voluntarily quit or the government would ban it. Because we understand that driving generally involves issues of prudence, not of morals or character, we do a better job at putting its risk into perspective. If you want the best chance at not getting your person or property harmed in an accident, minimize your risks. It's not that hard to figure out how to do so. But understand, even following all of the proper precautionary rules of driving involves a risk. Not driving is not a meaningful option for most of us. But for some folks it is (by meaningful choice, i.e., you live in a big city where you don't need to drive, or necessity, i.e., your disability prevents you from driving).

I think we can make a meaningful analogy to sexual issues. Some folks really are called to "chastity," for whatever reason. More power to them. If one chooses to follow a religious tradition that adheres to a strict sexual morality -- again, more power to you if you can do it. However, there are NO valid secular reasons, for instance, to oppose "homosexuality" in general. Like driving, there are only valid secular reasons to encourage folks to know how to minimize their risks and actually take precautions to in fact minimize those risks.

If someone who has some homosexual proclivities wants to resist them and remain chaste, that's fine (I see these folks as not unlike I see those who voluntarily choose never to drive). However, I think we realize that that's certainly not "for everybody," or even most people.

I use driving as an analogy to homosexuality, because IF ANYTHING, the need to love, be loved, and consummate that love sexually is far more deeply ingrained in human nature than the need to drive. Indeed for most of civilization, we got along without driving. But the government that takes away our cars and right/privilege to drive and consequently our modern way of life, we'd no doubt, term an unacceptable tyranny. Likewise, the person who argues taking away the right, privilege, or even social legitimacy of a particular group of folks to drive would be properly regarded as tyrannically unfair. I could care less if, for instance, folks like the Amish oppose both homosexuality AND driving within their ranks and believe that would be the first best way of life for all. But I would fight to the death to prevent them from making the "Amish" way of life the rule of law for everyone.

Thus, the fact that homosexuality may entail greater risks for homosexuals who wish to consummate their love is no good reason in and of itself on normative grounds to condemn such people.

Monday, February 09, 2009

Conyers Middleton, Progenitor of Theistic Rationalism:

Conyers Middleton is one of the "divines" Dr. Gregg Frazer names in his PhD thesis as influencing the theology of the key Founders. As Thomas Jefferson wrote to John Adams, August 22, 1813:

You are right in supposing, in one of yours, that I had not read much of Priestley’s Predestination, his no-soul system, or his controversy with Horsley. But I have read his Corruptions of Christianity, and Early Opinions of Jesus, over and over again; and I rest on them, and on Middleton’s writings, especially his letters from Rome, and to Waterland, as the basis of my own faith. These writings have never been answered, nor can be answered by quoting historical proofs, as they have done. For these facts, therefore, I cling to their learning, so much superior to my own.

Middleton was an English clergyman. Like Jefferson and Adams he (obviously) considered himself a Christian. I don't know of his views on the Trinity (he was certainly greatly admired by many unitarians). What was special about Middleton was his "rationalism." He defended Christianity against deistic thinkers; however he did so while arguing the case of an errant, fallible Bible, one in which man's reason could determine the legitimate parts. The "orthodox" didn't care for Middleton's defense of Christianity. Men like Middleton, Priestley, Jefferson, Adams, probably felt comfortable with a label like "Christian rationalist" (they did use the term "rational Christianity"). But whether this theological system merits the label "Christian" is a matter of debate. It is NOT "Christianity" as the "orthodox" understand the term. The "orthodox" view this system not as "Christian" rationalism but "theistic" or "unitarian" rationalism.

A persistant reader and critic of my work at American Creation pointed to J. Adams' original writings that also endorse the work of Middleton. He researched Adams' quotation where he denied the infallibility of the Bible:

What suspicions of interpolation, and indeed fabrication, might not be confuted if we had the originals! In an age or in ages when fraud, forgery, and perjury were considered as lawful means of propagating truth by philosophers, legislators, and theologians, what may not be suspected?

– John Adams, marginal note in John Disney’s Memoirs (1785) of Arthur Sykes. Haraszti, Prophets of Progress, 296. Taken from James H. Hutson, The Founders on Religion, p. 26.

That's how the footnote looks in James Hutson's excellent quote book. However, in reading the original "Prophets of Progress" in context, it's likely that the 1785 refers to the date of John Disney's Memoirs; Adams' comment was likely done later.

Page 290 of "Prophets of Progress" describes the context of Adams' inquiry:

In all likelihood, it was Jefferson's admiration for Conyers Middleton that prompted Adams to make a thorough study of the latter's works, which in turn led him to John Disney's biography of Arthur Sykes, Middleton's inveterate antagonist. Had he read only these two writers, he would already have gained sufficient insight into the theological disputes of the period the half-century extending from Locke to Hume in which the battles between the Low Church and High Church parties were fought out, with the skirmish over Deism thrown in for good measure.

The following passage from "Prophets of Progress" well illustrates the middle ground both Adams and Middleton took that could be at once critical of both orthodoxy Christianity and strict deism:

Matthew Tindal, the Oxford freethinker, had published his Christianity as Old as the Creation, declaring that revelation is superfluous because the religion of nature is perfect in itself. The book drew forth some thirty answers, among them one by Daniel Waterland, vice-chancellor of Cambridge University. Middleton stepped into the controversy with his Letter to Dr. Waterland, showing how Tindal should have been answered. 29 The Letter, of course, made the fray even more violent, starting a separate tussle with Zachary Pearce, the future Bishop of Rochester. Adams seemed satisfied with Middleton's position. The latter charges that Waterland, instead of vindicating the Scriptures, had himself furnished matter for new scandal. [p. 291.]

As theistic rationalists both Middleton and Adams believed both reason and revelation were necessary. As "Prophets of Progress" continues:

Middleton accuses Tindal of attempting to abolish Christianity and set up reason as a national religion. ("Abolish Christianity! Set up reason!" Adams snapped: "The authority of reason is not stern enough to keep rebellious appetites and passions in subjection.") Tindal, Middleton contends, betrayed his ignorance of antiquity by magnifying the moderation of pagan governments. "Deistical cant," Adams reinforced him, adding, "Atheists are the most cruel persecutors.") The intolerance of this "rational Protestant," Middleton jeers, is even worse than Romish popery. ("Deistical popery," Adams chimed in.) [Ibid.]

But still, as theistic rationlists, Adams and Middleton believed reason nonetheless trumped revelation. As Adams put it, reacting to John Disney's thoughts:

D[isney]: The union of all Christians is anticipated, as it has been demonstrated to be the doctrine of Christ, his apostles and evangelists, as also of Moses and the prophets. Nor is it less the language of the religion of nature than of revelation . . .

A[dams]: The human understanding is the first revelation from its maker. From God; from Heaven. Can prophecies, can miracles repeal, annul or contradict that original revelation? Can God himself prove that three are one and one three? The supposition is destructive of the foundation of all human knowledge, and of all distinction between truth and falsehood. [Ibid, p. 297-98.]

This perfectly typifies the "theistic rationalism," key to Founding thought: Reason & revelation were both necessary. Though "nature" discovered by "reason" was the first revelation God gave to man. NOTHING in revelation could contradict the findings of man's reason. Revelation's role was secondary, to support man's reason. Accordingly, reason proves God is unitary not triune in nature. And NOTHING in revelation could be taken seriously to contradict this immutable finding of man's reason. Either interpret revelation to accord with the findings of man's reason, or discard any revelation that doesn't accord with reason as false or corrupted.

Conyers Middleton believed in something similar, in fact, laid the intellectual groundwork for Jefferson and J. Adams to reach such conclusions. The following passage in "Prophets of Progress" sheds light:

Himself accused of atheism, Middleton was threatened with expulsion from Cambridge, where he was Librarian. He composed five or six more essays of similar nature, but wisely decided to keep them in his desk. They were first published in his Works, in 1752, two years after his death. [Ibid, p. 291.]

Middleton's most famous claim was his rejection of all miracles not recorded in scripture, i.e., those claimed by the early Church and subsequent Roman Catholic Church. On miracles, Middleton asserted "the credibility of facts lies open to the trial of our reason and senses." Middleton did not believe "irrational" revelation could come from God. He noted "if any narration can be shown to be false, any doctrine irrational or immoral; 'tis not all the external evidence in the world that can or ought to convince us, that such a doftrine comes from God." He rejected "that every single passage of the Scriptures, we call Canonical, must needs be received as the very word and as the voice of God himself."

Reason, of course, determined which parts of the errant Bible were vaid. The following text, written in 1906 on the history of English rationalism well describes Middleton's rationalist thought:

A volume of essays published after his death showed that Middleton was prepared to criticise the Apostles and Evangelists as fearlessly as he had criticised the Fathers. Peter and Paul were both capable on occasions of dissembling their dearest convictions. The Gospels exhibit irreconcilable discrepancies, proving their authors to have been uninspired and fallible, though honest historians. The gift of tongues did not imply a permanent mastery of foreign languages, and the New Testament is written in very bad Greek. More than a century was to elapse before an English clergyman could again express such opinions with impunity.

This premise of a fallible, partially inspired Bible that must submit to the test of reason "paved the way for a theistic rationalist [Thomas Jefferson] with a pair of scissors to determine for himself what portions of the Bible were legitimately from God...." [Gregg Frazer, PhD thesis, p. 250.]

Sunday, February 08, 2009

More From Jim Babka on the Natural Law & God:

Once again I'd like to turn your attention to my friend and co-blogger Jim Babka, an orthodox evangelical Christian, president of Downsize DC, and former Press Secretary to the late great Harry Browne (for whom I proudly voted). Yet Babka also rejects Sola Scriptura, embraces evolution and endorses a notion of "future rewards and punishments" that is far more rational and consistent with the "natural law" than traditional orthodox notions of eternal damnation, especially of the evangelical bent. I have compared Babka to Benjamin Rush and I believe Babka's Christianity is far closer to America's Founding political theological ideals than what we see coming from most evangelicals and fundamentalists.

As he writes:


There seems to be some concern about the Divine Judge issuing punishment. “Is that not coercive?” Of course it is! No one here is opposed to all forms of coercion. It’s doubtful anyone here would, for example, say there’s never a reason to send any man to prison. The Constitutional standard is that such coercion can’t be deployed without due process of law. Again, I wonder why the objection is only raised when a personal God is suggested. Is he not likely to be a fair judge?

Jon Rowe has compared me to Benjamin Rush in that I have some heterodoxy mixed in with orthodoxy. I don’t like everything I know about Rush, but in the limited context Rowe presents it, I tend to agree. And to make the comparison more apt, like Rush, I believe in a form of universalism which occurs after death, and probably after a visit to something we might call Hades, Purgatory, or pick your preferred Dantesque analogy.

I know I’ve opened a can of worms by suggesting such a “backwards” belief. Hell understandably makes people anxious (and please don’t assume what I think about the subject, I’ll try to write about it in the future). But I do so for this reason…


I want Hitler to serve time in hell — and for this part, it should have demons, fire, and torture (perhaps, like sitting in a pot of burning oil). That is just. He deserves it. He can have the space next to Stalin, Pol Pot, and more minor serial murderers who lacked the benefit of a government to do their evil.

To which I responded:


I think your idea of the afterlife makes a lot of sense. The biggest problem I have with traditional orthodox Christianity, esp. of the evangelical bent, is that folks like Hitler could have a last minute conversion, have all of their sins forgiven and spend no time in Hell when all of the Jews he executed because they didn’t accept Christ get eternal damnation for their ordinary sins like stealing a box of chocolates when they were younger. And to compound this, if Hell really is that bad, it’s just unthinkable that ordinary folks are being punished in that sense for their ordinary sins.

This dynamic of Christianity makes it a non-starter for me. It’s like an Islamofanatic trying to convince me of the “reasonableness” of Allah sending those airplanes into the WTC and rewarding them with virgins. I can’t even begin to logically debate something so illogical, but just reject it out of hand as a self evident lie.

Friday, February 06, 2009

The Land Standard:

Libertarians have long advocated the federal government selling all of the unused land it currently owns. See for instance, Jim Lindgren's post where he proposes the federal government sell its land and lists some statistics.

After all, the federal government owns over half of five Western states and over 40% of nine states:

Nevada 84.5%

Alaska 69.1%

Utah 57.4%

Oregon 53.1%

Idaho 50.2%

Arizona 48.1%

California 45.3%

Wyoming 42.3%

New Mexico 41.8%

Colorado 36.6%

Around the time of the beginning of the financial crash, libertarians debated whether sound currency and fractional reserve banking was the cause of the crisis. I don't think it's feasible to go back onto a gold standard. I don't think America has enough gold and it would be too difficult to get enough to go back onto a gold standard. I think Milton Friedman was right that the Gold Standard is one big pain in the butt in the sense that if you want to increase the amount of dollars in circulation, you have to get more gold to hold in your treasury reserves.

But, one thing government has lots of excess is LAND. So I thought perhaps fix the price of currency to the undeveloped land the federal government owns (obviously, per acre would be much less than the value of developed land). One thing about the gold standard, or at least the gold exchange standard established at Bretton Woods, that made the US dollar solid was that foreign banks could exchange US dollars for gold at $35 an ounce. Likewise foreign banks or Americans wishing to buy land from the federal government should be able to exchange their dollars for land. That would be a de jure "land standard."

Now, some may remark, much of the land the federal government owns is worthless and undevelopable. True, but you can't tell me all of it is. And even if only a small percentage of the land the federal government owns IS developable, think of how many millions of the population in the United States cluster in and around relatively small metropolitan areas and their suburbs that surround them. Clearly at least some of what federal government owns, it would only take a fraction, could be developed into the next New York, LA, Chicago, or Philadelphia.

But, because the land the federal government owns is developable to different degrees perhaps it doesn't make sense to "fix" US currency to government land. Perhaps we should simply endorse the libertarian solution of the Federal government selling the unused land it owns.

So why the rigmarole with the "land standard"? Because if the federal government did this in the way I will describe below, it will amount to a "de facto" land standard thus making US currency solider and something in which foreign governments will have more confidence.

I keep Peter Schiff in mind when I write this. I think he's too much of a doom and gloomer. But, he did predict, in 2006, the financial crisis. He thinks the problem was US was borrowing too much, consuming too much with borrowed money. Both government debt and private debt are to blame. Thus, interest rates need to rise (not stay artificially low), we need to go through a terrible recession and eventually saving and production need to rise after a period of intense pain. The Stimulus will make things worse. Eventually we'll see terrible inflation, probably followed by wage and price controls (which will lead to shortages of commodities). Schiff talks of how terrible it is that China owns so much government debt and US currency that if they wanted to they could buy every stock in the S&P 500. But ultimately, that wouldn't work because the day China wants to dump all of its US currency, said currency will be understood worthless and face hyperinflation.

Again, let me note, I think Schiff is too much of a gloomer and doomer and I don't think the problem is that bad. However, my proposed solution, again, would make US currency solider and one in which foreign governments would have more confidence.

The solution is this: Put the undeveloped, unused US land that the Federal government holds up for sale. But don't expect US entities to buy most of this land (though they'd be free to); rather expect foreign governments that hold much US debt and currency to buy this land. If they want a place to dump their US currency, dump it here. But why is that land valuable to foreign governments who hold excess currency reserves? Because it must come with not only the right, but also the expectation that those countries can emigrate their population to develop that land.

Here are the figures from Wiki on the nations that hold excess US currency reserves:

Monetary Authorities with the largest foreign reserves in 2008.

Rank Country/Monetary Authority billion USD (end of month) change in year 2007
1 People's Republic of China $ 1905 (Sept) 1 +32.9%
2 Japan $ 997 (August) +8.7%
- Eurozone $ 430 (November) +16.6%
3 Russia $ 386.5 (29 Jan 2009) 2 [1] +53%
4 Republic of China $ 282 (August) [2] +2.7%
5 India $ 238.3 (2 Jan 2009) 2 +64.4%
6 South Korea $ 231 (December) +9.7%
7 Brazil $ 201 (Jan 2009) 3 +105.9%
8 Singapore $ 175 (July) +19.1%
9 Hong Kong $ 158 (August) +14.6%
10 Germany $ 137 (August) +20.3%

We could set a limit of for instance, 1 person and his or her immediate family (according to current US immigration law) for each 1/2 acre of land purchased. That's just an example, perhaps not the right number. Perhaps the market could better determine the right number.

Now, I'm not sure if the Western European nations would really care about buying up land so their excess population could emigrate. Some developing Eastern European nations might (regardless of what their issues are with population, their people likely wish for the higher standards of opportunity and freedom the US affords). But, particularly with China, and to a lesser extent, India, they have excess population (and US currency & debt), many millions of them would love to come to America because of the freedom and economic opportunity we afford.

Likewise both of those nations are rapidly developing and significant portions of their over a billion population each are well educated middle class folks (the kinds of folks America should wish to attract). And as rapidly developing industrializing nations, China and India are ones with which we need to keep close relations as key allies (as we are with Europe and Japan).

Ideally, those governments (mainly China, but also India and others) would buy up billions if not trillions of dollars of undeveloped land the US government owns and emigrate tens of millions of their citizens to America to develop that land (perhaps middle class Chinese and Indians would be required to buy that land from Chinese and Indians banks who bought it from the US if they wanted to emigrate).

On the matter of immigration as a whole, I think legal immigration has been a net plus because most immigrants come here looking for work and that is always good. I worry about immigrants coming here for free government services and believe in Milton Friedman's first best world where if we abolished the welfare state, open borders would work (though Friedman's ideal was formulated before the age of the "war on terror" and vital national security concerns).

Ideally immigrants from 1) nations that hold excess US debt and currency and 2) have large sectors of their population who wish to emigrate to the US would be "rational" and "industrious" -- the exact kinds of folks John Locke believed made the industrial world go round. They would come here to produce, develop, settle and build up large parts of America and consequently would further American ideals. I don't worry about America changing its racial or ethnic demography (that's inevitable). I do worry about immigrants who want to take advantage of government welfare. And I do want to preserve the modern democratic, industrialized, productive, free capitalistic way of life.

Likewise to address the concerns of folks like Schiff and others who oppose Keynesian stimulus ideas and argue real, actual production must precede real economic recovery, development and growth -- what is more productive than turning undeveloped land into developed, livable cities and suburbs?

Unproductive immigrant populations will probably not be able to take advantage of this program. But even if, worst case scenario, nations like China, India and others buy up undeveloped land, send over lower class, lesser productive members of their population, and do little with the land, 1) the land would remain undeveloped, just sitting there as it currently is, hence no loss; 2) excess population of immigrants would enter the US and settle in areas already developed, a current fact of life, albeit exacerbated, and perhaps some negatives associate with this; 3) but, unlike the present case with lower skilled immigrants coming to the United States, foreign nations would have to PAY for sending their people over. You want to send us "your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore?" You'll have to pay a particular amount per acreage of land the Federal government owns, and in turn you or your immigrants will have all of the rights and responsibilities that inhere with being a "land owner" in the United States.

And I for one would much rather have nations like China buying up and developing American land, and sending over their population yearning for political freedom, the right to have more than one or two babies per family, than buying up all of the American businesses on the S & P 500.