Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Frazer Responds to King of Ireland on Romans 13:

At American Creation Dr. Gregg Frazer left a comment responding to a commenter named King of Ireland on Romans 13 and whether the story of Moses and Egypt is an example that justifies "rebellion to tyrants." Frazer's position, which he can justify throughout the biblical record, is "rebellion to tyrants is ALWAYS disobedience to God." The larger point I take from Frazer's fervent insistence on this point -- that rebellion against government is always wrong according to the Bible -- is that just because some folks called themselves "Christians" a few hundred years ago and attached "God" to their pet ideas doesn't necessarily mean the text of the Bible alone properly justifies such theological claims. I see this especially apt with the Declaration of Independence which, though it invokes God, attaches all sorts of ideas to God that have NOTHING whatsoever to do with what's written in the Bible.

Frazer's method at the very least cautions against using Sola Scriptura (i.e., the Bible alone) to vet our pet theological causes in which we would like to believe, like God grants men unalienable rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness and to revolt against tyrants. The "Sola Scriptura" that led Luther to break away from the Roman Catholic Church or that is used to argue against Mormonism, also, arguably shoots down the theological claims of the Declaration of Independence.

King of Ireland:

God did NOT tell Moses to "break away from Pharaoh" -- where? What verse? He told Moses to go to Pharaoh (not organize a rebellion) and repeat to him God's demand that he let the Israelites go. When Pharaoh refused, Moses still did not organize rebellion -- he just kept repeating God's words to Pharaoh. Revolution is always wrong and God is not a liar.

[It's best to be accurate in what you say before casually throwing around an accusation against God]

As for rulers going down, God uses the sinful activity of men for His purposes and makes it work to fulfill His plan -- but that does not change the fact that the action was sinful/wrong [the end does not justify the means].

Where does the Bible say that God sent Moses to revolt -- what verse?

What is the connection between killing an individual Egyptian and revolution against the government of Egypt? FORTY YEARS elapsed between the killing of the Egyptian and Moses' return to Egypt to confront Pharaoh.

Where does the Bible say that Moses (or the Israelites) took up arms against the Egyptian government -- what verse?

On the contrary, Moses presented GOD'S demands (not his) and then merely obeyed Pharaoh's command to leave Egypt in Exodus 12:31-32 -- they didn't fight their way out or try to overthrow the government of Pharaoh. All of the attacks on Pharaoh's people and all of the deaths were done by God Himself -- not by Moses or the Israelites.

Jesus did NOT tell his disciples to "get their swords" when they came for Him -- what's the verse? BEFORE they came for Him, He told his disciples to CARRY swords in order to fulfill prophecy (Luke 22:37). When they said they had two swords (for 12 men), He said that was enough -- because they weren't to be USED. He rebuked Peter for USING a sword, which was never the intent (John 18:36).

There is a difference between "disobedience" and "resistance." Authorities should be "disobeyed" when they command disobedience to God, but "resistance" is never justified.

I am sorry that you will not worship a God Who says something you disagree with (in your infinite/infallible wisdom), but Who took on human flesh, came to earth, and died to provide a means of forgiving your disbelief and sins in order to make eternal life available to you.

I disagree with your assessment: I think most people have a problem with Christianity because "men love the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds are evil." [John 3:19] You complain about lack of choice, but when men have a choice, they reject God.

As for bad translations, I am basing what I say on the original manuscripts (original Greek & Hebrew).

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Historians, Christianity, Orthodoxy & Heterodoxy:

I've toyed with the historical-theological notion that if one isn't an orthodox Trinitarian Christian, one isn't a "Christian." As a non-Christian, I am not personally wedded to it; I saw myself, rather, as giving due deference to the historical authorities -- be they Roman Catholic, Orthodox Christian, or Protestant -- in charge who defined Christianity according to its historical orthodoxy. I also found it a useful device when debating the "Christian Nation" issue because almost all of the proponents of the "Christian America" thesis define Christianity strictly according to orthodox doctrine. In short, the same folks who thunder "America was founded to be Christian Nation" are likely to turn around and assert "Mormonism isn't Christianity."

But I realize there is more than one way to define and understand "Christianity."

My co-blogger at American Creation Kristo Miettinen didn't like my assertion that "Christianity" could be defined synonymously with orthodox Trinitarian doctrine, at least from an historical perspective. He then challenged me to find respectable historians of Christianity who would, say, assert Arianism (or some kind of non-Trinitarian doctrine) was not "Christian." I think he understands there are plenty of theologians who will assert non-orthodoxy is "not Christianity," but rather than few respectable historians of religion will.

This is my first post attempting to name some names. Let me make some caveats. First, I'm not sure whether this will convince Mr. Miettinen for the sheer fact that there's going to be a semantical "out." I think almost everyone, whether they are historians, theologians or whatever, will concede things like Arianism, Socinianism, Mormonism, Jehovah's Witnessism, etc. to be "Christian heresies." In that case the term "Christian" is used as an adjective to modify "heresy," suggesting these heresies are part of the historical movement of "Christendom." I certainly don't disagree.

The second caveat I make is history doesn't occur in a vacuum. It's often used in political or cultural wars and this is CERTAINLY the case with the "Christian America" dispute. We literally are at the interdisciplinary crossroads of politics, history, and theology and you could throw in law and philosophy as well.

So when we see these historical scholars argue who and what is a Christian, you see them take cognizance of this political-historical-theological dispute and use lots of "if" qualifications. As in, "if we define Christianity this way, then...."

So here are some examples of notable historians who suggest, if it ain't orthodox, it ain't Christian. First is Paul F. Boller, PhD from Yale and Prof. Emeritus at Texas Southern University. His work has been published by among other places Oxford University Press. And he is considered the preeminent authority on George Washington's religion. Don't ask me why his book is out of print. All I know is that it is the most cited work by authoritative historians of GW. How he sums up Washington's creed in that book:

[I]f to believe in the divinity and resurrection of Christ and his atonement for the sins of man and to participate in the sacrament of the Lord's Supper are requisites for the Christian faith, then Washington, on the evidence which we have examined, can hardly be considered a Christian, except in the most nominal sense.

Boller then states "broadly speaking" Washington could be categorized as a "Deist" but notes GW nonetheless believed in an active Providential God. Boller also is open to categorizing GW as a liberal Protestant Christian of the unitarian bent or a nominal Christian.

Even Peter Lillback who holds Ph.D. from Westminster Theological Seminary in the history of theology, and wrote a book seeking to prove GW was a "Christian" not a "Deist," (wherein Boller was the main enemy) seemed to accept Boller's orthodox test for "Christianity." That is Lillback is not content to show GW was not a strict Deist (which I think Lillback clearly demonstrated), but was an "orthodox Trinitarian Christian."

Next, Gary Scott Smith, Chair and Professor of History at Grove City College, an evangelical school. He wrote a book on faith and the American Presidency published by Oxford University Press where he ENDORSED Dr. Gregg Frazer's categorization of "theistic rationalist" to describe the creed of America's key Founders. And again, perhaps Drs. Frazer and Smith find it impossible to separate their orthodox evangelical faith from their study of history and that shifts their perspective. Though, instead of trying to "claim" the FFs as "Christians," once they accept these FFs were not orthodox Trinitarians, they conclude the creed was not "Christianity" but some other theological system.

Again, I recognize this is a debatable contention; but OUP felt comfortable publishing this (what I consider an outstanding) book that made such an assertion. You can preview Dr. Smith's discussion of the theistic rationalism of the early Presidents in the link.

Next Dr. Peter Henriques, "Ph.D. in history from the University of Virginia in 1971, and he is professor of history, emeritus, from George Mason University." Dr. Henriques wrote a popular book published by UVA Press that also quotes Dr. Frazer and endorses the "theistic rationalist" categorization.

But Dr. Henriques doesn't say GW was NOT a Christian and even admits he could qualify as a "Christian" from a broad historical perspective. He cites Dr. Frazer's thesis AFTER noting that it's conservative evangelicals who most fervently try to claim GW as one of their own. And basically says, by your own standards GW wasn't a Christian, so perhaps you should look for a different term like "theistic rationalist." You can read his discussion of theistic rationalism in the google books preview here.

Also note Alan Wolfe's NYT review of Henriques' book:

Because today's religious right is determined to read the present back into the past, historians who write about faith and the founding find themselves on disputed ground. Nonetheless, both Henriques and Holmes are trustworthy guides. Henriques deals with Washington's life as a whole and spends only one chapter on religion. But he is fair-minded and thoughtful, and because he possesses no other agenda than a desire to uncover the real man, he is convincing when he concludes that "if one defines 'Christian' as the evangelicals do . . . George Washington cannot be properly referred to as a Christian."

Wolfe in that article also reviews David L. Holmes' book "The Faiths of the Founding Fathers," published by OUP. Holmes is the Mason Professor of Religious Studies at William & Mary. Note Holmes terms GW and the other key Founders as "Christian-Deists" or "unitarians" as opposed to the non-Christian Deism of Paine, Palmer, and Allen. However, he also writes in his book:

But if census takers trained in Christian theology had set up broad categories in 1790 labeled, "Atheism," "Deism and Unitarianism," "Orthodox Protestantism," "Orthodox Roman Catholicism," and "Other," and if they had interviewed Franklin, Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Madison, and Monroe, they would undoubtedly have placed every one of these six founding fathers in some way under the category of "Deism and Unitarianism." pp. 50-51.

Finally, here is Stephen Waldman on the Faith of the key Founding Fathers. Waldman is not a professional historian, but a journalist. However, historians Joseph J. Ellis, Walter Isaacson, and Mark Noll endorsed his book as did political figures William Bennett and George Stephanopoulos.

Here is how Waldman described the faith of the key FFs on a blog:

As for their religious beliefs, someone in the comment thread said I was being incoherent or contradictory by saying the Big Five (Franklin, Adams, Jefferson, Washington & Madison) were neither Deists nor orthodox Christians. Again, we’re viewing this through a somewhat warped lens. “Deist” and “Orthodox Christian” were not the only two spiritual choices. For one thing, each Founder was slightly different from each other, and changed throughout their lives. But if I had to pick a religion, I’d say they were sort of militant Unitarians. In other words, they had rejected or become uncomfortable with key parts of Christian doctrine and institutional behavior but they did believe in an active God, who intervened in their lives and the lives of the nation.

Note, he says something similar on p. 193 of his book. Though he clarifies with "it depends on how we define the term, but if we use the definition...offered by those who make this claim [that the FFs were Christians] -- conservative Christians -- then the Founders studied in this book were not Christians....If they must wear labels, the closest would be Unitarian."

Sunday, April 26, 2009

More Bea Arthur at Her Best:

This time with Rock Hudson poking fun at legal and illegal drug use. This is something libertarians truly can enjoy.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Bea Arthur RIP:

And then there's Maude...and Dorothy. Bea Arthur, perhaps the handsomest woman to ever walk the face of the Earth is dead at 86.

Seriously though -- no sorry, I can't be serious -- when Howard Stern made fun of her and she didn't play along I didn't think she had a genuine sense of humor. But after watching her at Pam Anderson's roast, I stand highly corrected.

She was brilliant. How I like to remember her.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Allan Bloom on YouTube, the Straussians & the Founding & Stuff:

I've read a lot of Allan Bloom. Until recently I had never heard his voice. Then some audio files were uploaded to the Internet. Now this.

Bloom was not particularly handsome by conventional standards. But his odd looks, combined with his odd way of speaking and his brilliance have captivated many brilliant minds, American or otherwise.

The thing I dislike the most about the "Straussians," is the "cult" that surrounds them. In Ravelstein, Saul Bellow's Roman à clef about Bloom, Leo Strauss is named "Davarr" which is Hebrew for "Word." That speaks for itself. There is likewise a cult that surrounds such thinkers as Ayn Rand, Murray Rothbard, and many others. The irony is Rand, Strauss, Rothbard all presented themselves as philosophers of some sort. And forming a "cult" around figures as such inevitably leads to the philosophic error of "appeal to authority." Unless of course, we conclude that one or more of those figures were flawless in their thinking. I'm not even a Christian and I understand that can't be right. So don't be afraid to call any thinker, no matter HOW much you may appreciate their overall work, full of shit, at times. That's the way of the true philosopher. But make sure you have good reason for doing so or else prepare to have your head handed to you on a plate.

Over the past few years, there has been a lot of hubbub written about "the Straussians." I didn't support the Kristol-Wolfowitz American foreign policy project and many Straussians argue that Strauss (perhaps Bloom) would not have either. I'll simply assert that, like a lot of academic theoreticians, they make for better professors of political philosophy than policy wonks.

But without question, the Straussians have done ground breaking scholarly work on the American Founding, especially as it relates to religion.

One profound insight they uncover is how Locke's central teachings of "state of nature," "social contract and rights" are a "modern teaching." Indeed Hobbes formulated this teaching. And Locke sold it to Christendom, precisely by dressing up such ideas in Christian and classical natural law like language. But in dressing up the language of "state of nature/social contract and rights" with Christian and classical natural law speak, Locke in a sense, (perhaps) synthesized a more modern, subversive notion of "rights" with Christian and classical sources, thereby moderating the concept of "rights." But make no mistake, state of nature, social contract and rights, even the notion of God given "natural rights," are nowhere to be found in the Bible, and not part of the classical understanding of "natural law" either.

Here are some choice quotations from Bloom's "The Closing of the American Mind":

When Bishops, a generation after Hobbes’s death, almost naturally spoke the language of the state of nature, contract and rights, it was clear that he had defeated the ecclesiastical authorities, who were no longer able to understand themselves as they once had. (pp. 141-2).


[Enlightenment] provides the structure for the key term of liberal democracy, the most successful and useful political notion of our world: rights. Government exists to protect the product of men’s labor, their property, and therewith life and liberty. The notion that man possesses inalienable natural rights, that they belong to him as an individual prior, both in time and in sanctity, to any civil society, and that civil societies exist for and acquire their legitimacy from ensuring those rights, is an invention of modern philosophy. Rights…are new in modernity, not a part of the common-sense language of politics or of classical political philosophy. Hobbes initiated the notion of rights, and it was given its greatest respectability by Locke. (p. 165).

Now, Bloom is more known for his observance of how the language of German nihilism/relativism infiltrated American parlance. Terms like "values," "worldview," "charisma" are by their nature relativistic. Once conservative Christians start talking about how they have a different "worldview," they've lost the battle. The postmodern language of "value relativism" superseded the modern language of natural rights as much as the modern language of Hobbes, Locke and Rousseau superseded the language of classical and biblical politics.

The Straussians have their problems with the modernism of Hobbes, Locke and Rousseau, but will take their politics -- liberal democracy -- warts and all, over postmodern politics. This is what Leo Strauss' famous quotation -- "the moderns 'built on low but solid ground'" -- refers to. But as secret atheists and nihilists themselves, they believe the postmoderns truly understand the ultimate nature of reality (that there is no God, the natural law is a fiction, and that rights are not grounded in nature) but misunderstand the horrifying implications thereof (the abyss). Postmodernism, precisely because it is built not on rational principles, but the arbitrary irrational positing of relative values (i.e., "might makes right") could just as easily lead to Nazi Germany as it could democratic socialism or the American Founding. In other words, the truth, far from setting us free, horrifies.

And to horrify the Straussians who at times display contempt for popular culture, I've found the this Straussian understanding of Nietzsche almost perfectly captured in a comic book -- a graphic novel -- "Watchmen," recently turned into a movie.

As the mad vigilante superhero Rorschach put it after executing by burning alive, instead of turning over to lawful authorities, a child murderer who fed the dead child to pet German Shepards that Rorschach just killed:

Stood in firelight, sweltering. Bloodstain on chest like map of violent new continent. Felt cleansed. Felt dark planet turn under my feet and knew what cats know that makes them scream like babies in night. Looked at sky through smoke heavy with human fat and God was not there. The cold, suffocating dark goes on forever and we are alone. Live our lives, lacking anything better to do. Devise reason later. Born from oblivion; bear children, hell-bound as ourselves, go into oblivion. There is nothing else. Existence is random. Has no pattern save what we imagine after staring at it for too long. No meaning save what we choose to impose. This rudderless world is not shaped by vague metaphysical forces. It is not God who kills the children. Not fate that butchers them or destiny that feeds them to the dogs. It’s us. Only us. Streets stank of fire. The void breathed hard on my heart, turning its illusions to ice, shattering them. Was reborn then, free to scrawl own design on this morally blank world. Was Rorschach.

Bloom also tackled modern psychiatry as something that was based on relativistic German philosophy, but strangely enough was used to make Americans "feel good," when properly understood, such philosophy should do the very opposite. And here is how Rorschach made his do-good, feel-good, prison psychiatrist feel. Here is the doctor’s reaction to his interaction with the relativistic, nihilistic, value-positing patient who managed to construct a harsh world of black and white, good and evil out of the abyss:

I sat on the bed. I looked at the Rorschach blot. I tried to pretend it looked like a spreading tree, shadows pooled beneath it, but it didn’t. It looked more like a dead cat I once found, the fat, glistening grubs writhing blinding, squirming over each other, frantically tunneling away from the light. But even that is avoiding the real horror. The horror is this: in the end it is simply a picture of empty meaningless blackness. We are alone. There is nothing else.

Perhaps, I've said too much. I'll stop here.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Tillman Keeps Stone on His Toes:

A while ago I blogged about University of Chicago Law Prof. Geoff Stone's Law Review article on the "Christian Nation" controversy. You can read Stone's article here.

Seth Barrett Tillman kindly alerted me to his working paper responding to Stone found here.

A few words on Tillman's critique of Stone. First, Tillman specializes in meticulous fact checking detail; he's an expert footnoter. But parts of his paper come off as a little too pedantic. Still I found much of value in those footnotes.

I think the overall criticism Tillman directs at Stone is valid and that is Stone -- like his "Christian Nation" opponents -- overstates his case, and otherwise does not specifically enough define concepts or fully develop his thesis.

Here is the first passage of Stone's at which Tillman takes aim:

Indeed, it is quite striking, and certainly no accident, that unlike the Fundamental Orders of Connecticut, the U.S. Constitution made no reference whatsoever to God and cited as its primary source of authority not "the word of God," but "We the People." The stated purpose of the Constitution was not to create a "Government established to God," not to establish a "Christian nation," but rather to create a secular state. The only reference to religion in the original Constitution prohibited the use of any religious test for holding office, and the First Amendment made clear that there "would be no Church of the United States."4

Here is how Tillman responds to this argument, first in footnote 4:

4 Id. at 5. How is it "striking" that the Constitution of 1787 stylistically veered from the Fundamental Orders of Connecticut -- an instrument 150 years older than the Constitution at the time of ratification? Is not the relevant benchmark how the Constitution veered from contemporaneous instruments of a similar character? See infra note 5.

Maybe "striking" is too strong a word; but Stone's original comparison is apt. The FOC and some other original colonial charters demonstrate what a "Christian" government looks like. It explicitly cites the Bible and the Christian religion as authority and makes a covenant to the Triune God. All these are missing from the US Constitution. That may not make the US Constitution a document of ideal secularism; but it does make the US Constitution not a "Christian" document. The US Constitution differs in principle from the earlier explicitly Christian colonial charters in this very meaningful sense.

Next Tillman responds to Stone's claim that the US Constitution makes no reference whatsoever to God:

....Is it true that the text makes "no reference whatsoever to God"? Is it true that the "only reference to religion" in the original unamended text was the Religious Test Clause? To me at least, these seem to be an unusually strong set of (textual) claims for a law review article: claims lacking recognition of ambiguity and contrary points of view.

Tillman then talks about how the Attestation Clause mentions God and here is his footnote 5 which summarizes his research on such other contemporenous clauses:

5 U.S. CONST. art. VII, cl. 2 (Attestation Clause). See generally Seth Barrett Tillman, Humanities and Social Sciences Net Online, Constitution's References to God (Nov. 3, 2003), (noting potential significance of dual dating in Article VII) (last visited Jan. 26, 2009); EDWIN MEESE ET AL., THE HERITAGE GUIDE TO THE CONSTITUTION 301-02 (2005) (same). But see Steven D. Smith, Our Agnostic Constitution, 83 N.Y.U. L. REV. 120, 125 n.19 (2008) (stating that "[t]he reference to 'the Year of our Lord' simply employed the conventional dating method of the era....") (emphasis added). What is important to note here is that Professor Smith's view is neither an interpretation of a legal instrument nor a (pure) legal intuition; rather, it is his understanding of an eighteenth century cultural convention or folkway. Because his opinion here is one unrelated to legal expertise, it is entitled to no special deference. In other words, although Professor Smith's position is common wisdom, early American legal materials, in fact, used a variety of dating conventions. Simply put, there was no single "conventional dating method." See, e.g., Articles of Association of 1774 (dated "In Congress, Philadelphia, October 20, 1774"); Declaration of Independence (dated "July 4, 1776"); Delaware Constitution of 1776 (dated "Friday, September 10, 1776"); New Hampshire Constitution of 1776 (dated "January 5, 1776"); New Jersey Constitution of 1776 (dated "July 2, 1776"); North Carolina Constitution of 1776 (dated "December the eighteenth, one thousand seven hundred and seventy-six"); Pennsylvania Constitution of 1776 (dated "Passed in Convention the 28th day of September, 1776"); South Carolina Constitution of 1776 (dated "March 26, 1776"); Virginia Constitution of 1776 (not internally dated); New York Constitution of 1777 (dated "20th April, 1777"); Massachusetts Constitution of 1780 (not internally dated). This is not to say that the dating convention used in the Constitution of 1787 was new. It was not. See Articles of Confederation of 1777 (using the same dating convention later used in the Constitution of 1787); Georgia Constitution of1777 (dated "in convention, the fifth day of February, in the year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and seventy-seven, and in the first year of the Independence of the United States of America"); cf. Maryland Constitution of 1776 (dated "14th day of August, anno domini 1776"). Of course, neither Connecticut nor Rhode Island and Providence Plantations had revolutionary era state constitutions. (The quoted material is available on The Avalon Project-Documents in Law, History and Diplomacy: 18th Century Documents: 1700-1799, (last visited Jan. 30, 2009), on The Constitution Society, (last visited Jan. 30, 2009), and on Constitutions of the World Online/The Rise of Modern Constitutionalism 1776-1849, (last visited Feb. 12, 2009).)

So after that big footnote, the entirety of which I didn't even reproduce (there was a second, smaller paragraph), we are left with "in the year of our Lord" was not *the* convention, but *a* common convention. But make no mistake, that's all it was. A more balanced way to make Stone's claim would note the Constitution does not mention God other than in the most nominal perfunctory way. And the fact that the original US Constitution accomodates those nominal conventional references to the people's common religion is instructive of the softer secularism of the American Founding. It was not the harsh take no prisoners secularism of the French Revolution, but more moderate. That nuance is missing from Stone's paper. Likewise the failure to see how the US Constitution comes from a different philosophical mindset than that of the FOC is the nuance missing from the "Christian America" crowd's understanding of history.

On to Tillman's second major critique:

Nowhere in Professor Stone's article is there any discussion of the arguments or any acknowledgment, by name, of the persons he is opposing. He asserts that someone somewhere has made the argument that America is a "Christian nation." He cites, but does not quote, a single article in The New York Times20 (ostensibly, not by one of his intellectual opponents, but merely by a reporter reporting on events) and two books,21 the more recent of which dates from 1987 -- over twenty years ago. ...

Okay, maybe Stone could have done a better job naming names; but the figures to whom he responds do exist and continue to be quite influential in certain corners, especially among homeschoolers and megachurches. You could look at the work of Chris Rodda for the exact names, dates, and footnotes. The crowd is led by David Barton, the late D. James Kennedy, Peter Marshall, William Federer and others. I think I can safely list the late Kennedy as currently relevant because his Coral Ridge Program continues to run Christian Nation programs featuring DJK in almost a morose "Weekend at Bernie's" way.

In footnote 19, Tillman criticizes Stone for writing:

Indeed, as we shall see, many of the leaders of the Revolutionary generation were not Christians in any traditional sense. They were [by contrast?] broad-minded intellectuals....

To which Tillman responds in that very footnote:

Such claims as this are not capable of falsification or validation in any meaningful sense. It strikes me that this is an unnecessarily contentious pseudo-religious-type claim.

I agree that the second phrase (broad-minded intellectuals?) was kind of a silly phrase. However the first point has something to it. Jefferson, J. Adams and Franklin wrote the Declaration of Independence and they rejected virtually every single tenet of orthodox Christianity (while strangely enough thinking of themselves as "Christians"). Likewise there is good reason to believe Washington, Madison, G. Morris, Hamilton and others were not orthodox Christians but pick your term ("Christian-Deists," "unitarians," "theistic rationalists"). The same can be said of many notable patriotic preachers (Jonathan Mayhew, Charles Chauncy, Samuels West and Cooper, and others).

Broadly understood this is a kind of "Protestant Christianity." However, the problem is, the aforementioned expositors of the "Christian Nation" idea don't define "Christianity" broadly. To the contrary, if you aren't an orthodox Trinitarian Christian, indeed a "born again" Christian, then you aren't a "Christian."

Folks like David Barton will give lectures to megachurches (for instance Robert Jeffress' of Texas and MANY others) arguing America was founded to be a "Christian Nation" and almost all of the Founders were "serious Christians." The next day pastors like Jeffress will give sermons on how "Mormons aren't Christians." Well sorry, if Mormons aren't Christians then neither are most of the "key Founding Fathers," the men whose faces grace US Currency and played leading roles during the American Founding. I agree it's currently impossible to determine what a majority of the 200 or so Founding Fathers were. We only know what the key Founders believed by meticulously examining their public and private writings. And even there GW, JM and others were good at covering their tracts, while TJ, JA and BF were not. On the surface TJ was, like GW a vestryman in the Anglican Church. If TJ didn't play such a big role, folks like Barton would look at his church membership and their respective creed and conclude TJ was an "orthodox Trinitarian Christian," when, as we know, TJ hated the Trinity. My friends and I have meticulously examined James Wilson's "Works" for his evidence of his creed. We've found evidence of Locke, Aquinas (thru Hooker), and Scottish Enlightenment in there. But still haven't found ONE of his private letters where he talks about his personal religious creed.

Towards the end of the paper Tillman criticizes Stone for not sufficiently establishing "Deism's" influence on the Founding (and I agree that Stone overstates the influence of "strict Deism"). In particular even if Washington, J. Adams, Jefferson, Franklin and Paine were "Deists" (I'd argue only Paine was) Stone still didn't established how their Deism impacted the US Constitution. As Tillman writes:

It has happened from time to time that religious men have worked towards pluralistic (and, even, secular) political orders. It has also happened from time to time that irreligious men have served inquisitors (of religious and secular varieties). The fact that the five Americans discussed by Stone may have been Deists, only, at best, opens as a possibility for our enquiry what they intended to build, what they hoped to achieve. So although it is a possibility that their religious or philosophical sensibilities influenced their political views, as to how the Constitution should be drafted, as to how the new Republic should be ordered, it is not self-evident that it did influence them.

I'll not defend Stone on this one but note that scholars as diverse as Gregg Frazer, Gary North, Thomas Pangle and Cushing Strout have detailed the connection between the key FFs' personal religious creed and Founding political theology. Note, all of the above understand that creed to be not quite Deism, but not orthodox Christianity. For more see these two past posts of mine.

This creed, warmer than strict Deism, thought quite highly of "religion" but was so ecumenical that it transcended not just "orthodox Christianity," but "Christianity" itself and embraced "true religion" in a general sense. True religion was that which was voluntarily undertaken and that which produced virtue. It was something on which "all good men" could agree. As such all good men were "Christians" regardless of whether they knew it or consciously accepted Christ. The FFs could be quite secretive about this heterodox sentiment but left their footprint of this heterodoxy in the original Constitution by not establishing Christianity, by forbidding religious tests and consequently by protecting "religion" not "Christianity." As Dr. Gregg Frazer put it in his PhD thesis:

It is difficult for those who believe in the importance of fundamental doctrines and a specific road to Heaven (for example, the Puritans in seventeenth-century New England) to allow “false” and “blasphemous” religions to be practiced within their sphere of authority. For the theistic rationalists [his term for the creed of America's key Founders coined to distiguish it from Deism and Christianity--JR], however, what was really important was not the flourishing of religious truth, but the flourishing of morality and society. Since they held to no particular creed but “essentials” to which “all good men” could agree, they had a profound indifference toward specific sects and doctrines. (PhD thesis, at 417-18).

Anyway be sure to check out the rest of Tillman's paper; it has many other important insights in there.
Before He was the Farting Preacher...:

Robert Tilton was one of the most amusing religious con artists that skeptical minded folks loved to watch for entertainment value. Yes, I know he conned a lot of suckers. And that's why despite the fact that what I'm about to show you resulted in less entertainment for me, this piece, very entertaining in itself did the public a service: It brought down the Robert Tilton empire. It truly crushed him. He tried to make a comeback, but you could tell that he jumped the shark and lost his fire in the belly. Since then he's been phoning in his performances. But this 1991 or 92 Prime Time Live clip that I just found on YouTube exposed Tilton and did him in. I can't tell you how many times my best bud Dave and I watched this after I taped it on my VCR for a laugh.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Friday At Princeton:

Last Friday, I saw much of the event at Princeton's James Madison Program on religious liberty. Again, despite whatever disagreements I, as a libertarian may have with their social conservative point of view (and they with mine), I think the James Madison Program is one of the best things that Princeton has. And most of the lectures are open to the public.

Among others with whom I chatted that day included Rick Garnett of Notre Dame School of Law, and I made sure I thanked him for the link he gave to me a few years ago. I also met Francis Beckwith who seemed especially to be a nice guy (they were all nice). We talked about my blogbuddy Ed Brayton's support for Beckwith when he was denied tenure (note Brayton & Beckwith are on opposite sided of the ID debate) and had a chuckle over my blogfather Tim Sandefur's unwavering fervency in the pursuit of his ideals. Beckwith also had positive things to say about libertarianism, in particular that of of his late UNLV colleague Murray Rothbard (a libertarian AND a Thomist AND an atheist).

Robert P. George was nice enough to take the time and give me a detailed answer explaining the difference between the old natural law and the new. We discussed Andrew Sullivan's use of a blog post by Ed Feser which seemed to perfectly capture the traditional Aristotelian-Thomistic view of natural sexual practices. So Sullivan, in his new book, ends up using Feser as a proxy for the natural law view of sex which the Roman Catholic Church has long embraced. He then gets slammed by among others George, Feser, Ramesh Ponnuru for not understanding the difference between Feser's Aristotelian-Aquinas understanding of the natural law and George's. To which I asked "how many Aristotelian-Aquinas" natural law theories can there be? A bit of a rhetorical question.

But George did go into detail in answering my question. The bottom line as I understood, Feser's understanding is closest to Thomas' original and doesn't admit to any "inputs" but rather argues these principles can be determined from looking to nature via reason period. That leaves this theory perhaps vulnerable to what some term the "naturalistic fallacy." George's "new" natural law is more willing to admit to certain "inputs" that support its conclusion. I asked him whether the Bible was one of those "inputs" to which he gave an emphatic NO. Not that he had any hostility to the Bible (obviously as a devout Roman Catholic he does not). But the POINT of natural law since Aquinas was to be able to demonstrate these transcendent truths from reason-nature alone. As John Witherspoon (a sharp natural lawyer himself) argued in his Lectures on Moral Philosophy (i.e., what he taught to his students at Princeton), this method permits Christians to tackle "infidel" arguments on their own terms -- natural reason -- without reliance on the Bible.

On a more interesting note, George admitted, after Feser, that oral sex is permissible between a married husband and wife provided it is used as a "means" to the "end" of sex that is "procreative in form" and not as a "end" in itself.

I've intensley debated some evangelicals on the homosexuality issue. I usually get anti-gay evangelicals to admit "unnatural" as they used the term really means the Bible forbids it (Paul says something about "natural use"); but then why even pretend like you are appealing outside the Bible with a term like "unnatural"?

Once they mention "natural design" as sort of a "secular" argument to condemn homosexuality, oral sex between heterosexuals (something practiced by like 90% of heterosexuals) becomes just as "unnatural" as anything homosexuals do. The mouth is not "designed" for genitalia.

The Aristotlean-Aquinas argument is less crude. From an observance of nature alone, the ultimate natural end of sex is for sperm to fertilize egg; so anything that helps achieve that "end" (which foreplay could) is "natural." Another end of sex is that it must be "unitive" in a marriage (it must not treat people as means to ends which could even occur in a marriage as it did in Henry the VIII's where he just wanted sex with his wife for an heir). Therefore, oral sex might be permitted in some circumstances but contraception (even between married couples), masturbation, and other activities that frustrate the "end" of sperm fertilizing egg are always unnatural and hence wrong, as "unnatural" and "wrong" as homosexuality.

The closest to an inconsistency that one might be able to find in natural law theory on sex is: What about two elderly married people having sex, post menopausual on the woman's part? That is IMPOSSIBLE to produce a child. The natural law response is long as the sex is "procreative in form" it's permitted. In other words, even for the 60 year old married couple the husband still can't use condoms or ejaculate outside of his wife's vagina. If they follow those rules they can still have the "right" kind of sex. It is "procreative in principle." It closes the loop and makes for a completely consistent natural law, but for those of us who haven't "bought" the theory in whole, that particular distinction tends to strike us as quite thin, (some might say "sophistry").

And as an observation, when I discuss this issue with conservative evangelicals, though they agree on policy matters with Thomistic natural law thinkers (the overwhelming majority of whom are Roman Catholic), the evangelicals don't seem at all convinced by this natural law reasoning. They want to slam homosexuality as "unnatural" AND wrong according to the Bible and set policy accordingly. But a strong majority of whom I have encountered don't seem at all interested in following the natural law theory on sex to its logical conclusions.

But I digress. I also chatted with my friend Phillip Munoz of Princeton, Tufts, and who is moving to Notre Dame, Don Drakeman, venture capitalist and part time Princeton faculty, David Forte of Cleveland State University School of Law and Gerard Bradley of Notre Dame School of Law.

In a later post, I want to say more on Bradley's Establishment Clause suggestions with which I was quite impressed. I consider myself a more "secular minded" fellow (a soft as opposed to a hard secularist). I could find very little if anything to disagree with in Bradley's suggestions for lowering the "Wall of Separation."

Saturday, April 18, 2009

The Founders on the Quakers:

Just about every established Church in 18th Century America was in some way formally connected to an orthodox Trinitarian creed except one -- the Quakers. The key Founders, like many of the population at large, didn't believe in the orthodox Trinitarian doctrines to which their churches adhered; rather they more often were church members out of social tradition (i.e., club membership). Some of the FFs truly hated creeds (even while being part of a church club that held to orthodox creeds). So the one type of Christianity that was closest to their unitarianism was Quakerism. That's one reason why they tended to love the Quakers despite the Quakers' refusal to take up arms. But as we will see there was one "key Founder" who didn't care for the Quakers at all.

First, George Washington:

Your principles and conduct are well known to me, and it is doing the People called Quakers no more than justice to say, that (except their declining to share with others the burthen of common defence) there is no denomination among us who are more exemplary and useful citizens.

Next, Thomas Jefferson:

But much I fear, that when this great truth shall be re-established, its votaries will fall into the fatal error of fabricating formulas of creed and confessions of faith, the engines which so soon destroyed the religion of Jesus, and made of Christendom a mere Aceldama; that they will give up morals for mysteries, and Jesus for Plato. How much wiser are the Quakers, who, agreeing in the fundamental doctrines of the gospel, schismatize about no mysteries, and, keeping within the pale of common sense, suffer no speculative differences of opinion, any more than of feature, to impair the love of their brethren. Be this the wisdom of Unitarians, this the holy mantle which shall cover within its charitable circumference all who believe in one God, and who love their neighbor! I conclude my sermon with sincere assurances of my friendly esteem and respect.

Next, James Madison. Well he married a Quaker.

But the Quaker love fest ends with John Adams. Here are some nasty remarks of his towards them:

You will see by the Papers inclosed, that We have been obliged to attempt to humble the Pride of some Jesuits who call themselves Quakers, but who love Money and Land better than Liberty or Religion. The Hypocrites are endeavouring to raise the Cry of Persecution, and to give this Matter a religious Turn, but they cant succeed. The World knows them and their Communications. Actuated by a land jobbing Spirit, like that of William Penn, they have been soliciting Grants of immense Regions of Land on the Ohio. American Independence has disappointed them, which makes them hate it. Yet the Dastards dare not avow their Hatred to it, it seems.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

America's Unorthodox Implicit Protestant Establishment:

This Friday I'm going to catch a lecture at the James Madison Program at Princeton entitled Given that the Founders believed in and, in fact, built what Frank Sorauf once described as an “implicit Protestant establishment,” what are the coherent possibilities for an “originalist” jurisprudence of the Religion Clauses in the 21st century? Gerard V. Bradley, University of Notre Dame Law School; Princeton University; Witherspoon Institute Steven D. Smith, University of San Diego School of Law. Now I don't know anything about Sorauf's thesis; I'll find out later. And unlike Mark Lilla I do believe America has a "civil religion" which *may* be some form of an "implied Protestant Christianity." HOWEVER (you knew that was coming) it's NOT what most traditional Protestant Christians might think, on first reflection.

This reminds me of the debate my friend Dr. Gregg Frazer and co-blogger Kristo Miettinen are having on whether Thomas Jefferson qualifies as a "Protestant Christian." Jefferson did think of himself as one. And I think both learned debaters agree not only the basics of their personal theology (orthodox Trinitarian Christianity) but also on what it was that Jefferson believed in (that he fervently denied the Trinity and believed only parts of the Bible were inspired). The question centers more around semantics: Is this -- what Jefferson believed -- just another form of "Protestant Christianity," albeit a highly "unorthodox" one?

Unmoored from church authority over official doctrine, such "unorthodox Protestant Christianity" leaves the individual and voluntary groups free 1) to determine such matters, including which parts of the biblical canon are valid, and 2) perhaps to ADD additional revelation to the Bible. Here is how Nathan Hatch, president of Wake Forest University and one of the premier scholars of Religion and the Founding Era, describes the theology of Charles Chauncy, one of the Founders unorthodox Protestant Christianity and a key theological influence on the American Founding:

Charles Chauncy, pastor of Boston’s First Church for sixty years (1727-1787), is the most prominent example of an exclusive appeal to Biblical authority in order to unravel theological orthodoxy. Chauncy was persuaded to emphasize Bible study by reading the works of English divines, such as Samuel Clarke’s The Scripture-Doctrine of the Trinity (London, 1712) and John Taylor’s The Scripture-Doctrine of Original Sin (London, 1740). Both authors used a “free, impartial and diligent” method of examining Scripture to JETTISON, respectively, the doctrines of the Trinity and of Original Sin. [8]

During the 1750s, after the Great Awakening, Charles Chauncy spent seven years engaged in the approach to Bible study expounded by these English authors. In the spring of 1754 he wrote to a friend,

“I have made the Scriptures my sole study for about two years; and I think I have attained to a clearer understanding of them than I ever had before.”

His studies led him to draft a lengthy manuscript in which he REJECTED the idea of eternal punishment and embraced universalism.

On to modern day Christian Nationalism and folks who might be sympathetic to the idea of an "implicit Protestant Establishment." My co-blogger Brad Hart notes how many Mormons embrace the idea of a "Christian Nation," with a quotation from a prominent member of the LDS:

As Latter-day Saints and their families study the American constitutional system, one problem they encounter is that the most popular and widely respected sources present constitutional philosophy very differently from the intent of the founders. Fortunately, the Lord has anticipated this problem and has provided the correct standard to know in which direction to strive regardless of how popular or plausible a contrary direction may be made to appear. This He has done by declaring that He established the Constitution through wise men He raised up for that very purpose. [14]

So the Mormon says to the evangelical and the Roman Catholic, "yes it was 'our' Jesus Christ, the same Jesus, Mormons, evangelicals and RCs believe in, who 'founded' America." To which the evangelical and Catholic obviously reply, "what do you mean by 'our' kemosabe?"

And indeed the Mormon Jesus is a more authentic "Founder" of America, given Mormonism was formed post America, and their official theology legitimately incorporates the divine inspiration of at least some of the events of the American Founding.

When orthodox Christians claim to believe in the divine claims stated in the Declaration of Independence -- ideas that although attached to a monotheistic God have nothing to do with the Bible's text -- arguably they "Mormonize" their faith by adding divine ideas to Christianity that are not found within the biblical canon. Yet orthodox Christendom has been doing this ever since it embraced natural law theology (or "natural religion"), which likewise adds divine ideas discovered from reason as a supplement to the Bible.

Or take another expositor of the Christian America idea (as my co-blogger Brad Hart cites her) Elizabeth Clare Prophet who wrote:

America is a land infused with sacred fire; America is born of God’s desire. I ask you then to secure the famous painting…of George Washington kneeling in prayer. I ask that this shall be a sign of those who love America in Christ, in God, in freedom. I ask that you give this painting to your friends who are Christians, who are religious, who are devotees, that you ask them to have it in their homes, and that you ask them to pray with you for the light and victory of America. [6]

Now, of course, an evangelical believer in the "Christian America" thesis would, without knowing more about Ms. Prophet, think "what a wonderful lady, I'd love to use her materials to homeschool my children." That is until they find out she believes in practically EVERY SINGLE world religion. But she's no liberal fuzzy Unitarian Universalist, but extreme right wing. She also believes Jesus Christ is an "Ascended Master," and that EVERY human being has the potential to become one (as her late husband Mark Prophet now is).

And that means humans eventually become God. Not "gods," but like some Hindus (by the way she believes in Hinduism as well) and almost a parody of Trinitarian logic, many different "personalities" of one God. Instead of just three distinct personalities of "one God," there are limitless potential distinct personalities of "one God." Her husband, Mark Prophet is now God, just as Jesus Christ is God.

As she speaks of her late husband, now the Ascended Master "Lanello."

"Looking at Mark Prophet's past lives, we see that they span the many cultures and religions of the world. Think about it. He was Noah, Lot, Ikhnaton, Aesop, the disciple Mark, Origen, Lancelot, Bodhidharma, Clovis, Saladin, Bonaventure, Louis XIV, Longfellow and the Russian czarevitch Alexis Nikolayevich."

She calls herself, among other things, a "Christian" and claims to follow a very "Christ" centered teaching. If you look at the figures she claims her husband was in past lives, the overwhelming majority of them were "biblical." I wonder if she qualifies as a "Christian" for "historical" purposes.

[Btw, her son, Sean Prophet is now an atheist and a friend of Positive Liberty. You can read his website here.]

But the Mormons and Elizabeth Clare Prophet, by the conscious design of America's Founders, get their rightful place at the table of America "implicit Protestant establishment," as just another eccentric "Protestant sect."

I claim this in part because I don't see Mormonism or Ms. Prophet's "eccentric" teachings as that much further removed from "historic Christianity" than for instance Swedenborgianism. So what do they believe?

That there is one God and that He is the Lord Jesus Christ. Within the single Person of God there is a Divine Trinity.

So off the bat, they are unorthodox in their Christology, not uncommon during America' Founding era. Though they, interestingly, are neither unitarians nor trinitarians. They also have an odd view of the "atonement" (they reject it as "satisfaction") and, like the unitarians, put more emphasis on works for salvation.

But here is where we get to Swedenborgianism's truly "eccentric" part. From Wiki (and yes, given the source, if it's wrong, please let me know; it's right as far as I understand):

At the age of fifty-six he entered into a spiritual phase in which he experienced dreams and visions. This culminated in a spiritual awakening, where he claimed he was appointed by the Lord to write a heavenly doctrine to reform Christianity. He claimed that the Lord had opened his eyes, so that from then on he could freely visit heaven and hell, and talk with angels, demons, and other spirits. For the remaining 28 years of his life, he wrote and published 18 theological works, of which the best known was Heaven and Hell (1758),[4] and several unpublished theological works.

Why is this important? Because George Washington, father of our country, explicitly WELCOMED them to a place at the table of America's "implicit Protestant establishment," its "civil religion." As he wrote to them:

To the members of the New Church at Baltimore.


It has ever been my pride to mind the approbation of my fellow citizens by a faithful and honest discharge of the duties annexed to those Stations to which they have pledged to place me; and the dearest rewards of my Services have been those testimonies of esteem and confidence with which they have honored me. But to the manifest interpretation of an over-ruling Providence, and to the patriotic exertions of United America, are to be ascribed those events which have given us a respectable rank among the nations of the earth.

We have abundant reason to rejoice that in this land the light of truth and reason has triumphed over the power of bigotry and superstition and that every person may here worship God according to the dictates of his own heart. In this enlightened Age & in this Land of equal liberty it is our boast, that a man's religious tenets, will not forfeit his protection of the Laws, nor deprive him of the right of attaining & holding the highest offices that are known in the United States.

Your Prayers for my present and future felicity were received with gratitude; and I sincerely wish, Gentlemen, that you may in your social and individual capacities, taste those blessings which a gracious God bestows upon the Righteous.

G. Washington

John Adams likewise had a similarly lax understanding of America's "implied Protestant establishment." When explaining to Thomas Jefferson how American independence was achieved under the "general principles of Christianity," he then further clarified exactly what kind of "Christians" were united under these principles:

There were among them Roman Catholics, English Episcopalians, Scotch and American Presbyterians, Methodists, Moravians, Anabaptists, German Lutherans, German Calvinists, Universalists, Arians, Priestleyans, Socinians, Independents, Congregationalists, Horse Protestants, and House Protestants, Deists and Atheists, and Protestants “qui ne croyent rien.” [Protestants who believe in nothing.] Very few, however, of several of these species; nevertheless, all educated in the general principles of Christianity, and the general principles of English and American liberty.

Not just unitarians [Arians, Socinians, and "Priestleyans"] but universalists and deists, atheists and Protestants who believe in nothing have an equal place at the table of America's implict "Christian" establishment. Adams, who generally was an anti-Roman Catholic bigot, was generous enough to name them too as "fitting" within America's civil religion, its "IPE."

And even though Roman Catholics faced tremendous bigotry in America from the Founding era onward, presently (at least since JFK's election) they are accepted at the table of America's civil religion along with the Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses, Elizabeth Clare Prophet, the Swedenborgs as just another eccentric Protestant sect.

We've truly come full circle. Welcome to "authentic American religion" 1776-2009.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Frazer & Miettinen on the Jefferson Bible(s):

My co-blogger at American Creation, Kristo Miettinen, has a very interesting post that examines Thomas Jefferson's Bible...well actually his TWO Bibles -- "the Philosophy of Jesus in ~1804, and the Life and Morals of Jesus in ~1820." Miettinen's close reading and analysis of Jefferson's understanding of "right" or "reasonable" revelation is worth a read given that most folks who know of Jefferson's Bible(s) only know that Jefferson cut up his Bible, but don't bother to read which parts Jefferson "edited," and which parts he left in. Certainly few folks have closely analyzed what was left as Miettinen and Frazer have.

With that, I'm reproducing Dr. Frazer's response to Miettinen below:

It is appropriate (and necessary) especially on Good Friday to point out three problems with Kristo's claim that "Life and Morals" suggests that Jefferson was some kind of Christian or even leaves room for such a conclusion.

First, the presence/absence of miracles is not the key issue. Some of the theistic rationalists believed it was rational that a supremely powerful God Who cared for His creation would use miracles to aid man. Besides, belief in miracles per se is not fundamental to Christian faith.

Second, in "Life and Morals," Jefferson cut out the verses in which Jesus specifically and clearly claimed to be God -- and the Jews picked up stones to execute Him for His blasphemy (John 8:58; John 10:30). If Jefferson were honestly wrestling with the true identity of Jesus and wanting others to do the same -- wouldn't such evidence be important???

Third, any account of the Gospels which cuts out the resurrection guts the core of Christianity. It's not just "another" passage or story which can be left out. Paul put it about as plainly as it could be put: "But if there is no resurrection of the dead, not even Christ has been raised; and IF CHRIST HAS NOT BEEN RAISED, THEN OUR PREACHING IS IN VAIN, YOUR FAITH ALSO IS VAIN. ... IF CHRIST HAS NOT BEEN RAISED, YOUR FAITH IS WORTHLESS; YOU ARE STILL IN YOUR SINS. ... IF WE HAVE HOPED IN CHRIST IN THIS LIFE ONLY, WE ARE OF ALL MEN MOST TO BE PITIED." [I Corinthians 15:13-19]

Jefferson some kind of Christian and "Life and Morals" an honest, soul-searching attempt to find the real Jesus and to understand Christianity? I don't think so.

As a Christian, I understand that my faith stands or falls on the validity of Christ's literal, bodily resurrection. Although I exult in it always, I will celebrate that reality with a special focus this weekend.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Harry Knox:

There's been some controversy over Pres. Obama's appointment of Harry Knox to the "Faith Based" Council. Knox is probably way more lefty than I am. And I disagree with Knox's interpretation of the Bible's text; I don't think you can "explain away" Leviticus or Paul's Romans. However I do agree that Sodom and Gomorrah was about gang rape, not ordinary homosexuality.

However, after watching this video and seeing how fair and polite Rev. Knox was with THESE folks, I have confidence Knox can be fair to virtually anyone.

Mark Noll on the Founders, Original Sin, Reason & Revelation:

Over at American Creation we've been meticulously studying and debating the meaning of texts of the writings of notable Founders. I realize appeal to authority is, technically speaking, an error in logic. However, if one is to appeal to an authoritative historian of American religious history, Mark Noll, of Notre Dame, (an evangelical by the way) is as authoritative as it gets.

Pages 31-32 in his 1990 book "Religion and American Politics" contain some interesting analysis. First he notes the Constitution was the 18th century equivalent of a "secular humanist text." Next he notes the delegates were not an orthodox group of men in any doctrinal sense. Noll states perhaps only ONE, Richard Bassett of Delaware, was a "born again Christian." Though Sherman "may" have been. Further, Noll notes Washington, Franklin, Hamilton, Madison, Wilson, and G. Morris gave no sign of belief in "original sin" at this phase in their life.

Noll then describes, using Jerry Falwell and Jimmy Swaggart as examples, how the Founders were actually closer to secular humanists than modern evangelicals (on a personal note, I'd say they were somewhere in between; they were "theistic humanists"). One ingredient of secular humanism is the willingness to elevate human reason over divine revelation when they appear to conflict. And Noll asserts that Jefferson and Adams clearly did this. He also notes by the 1780s Madison appeared to believe in "Nature's" Supreme Being as opposed to the God of Revelation. Finally Noll notes that James Wilson believed the Bible reinforced moral precepts, learned from reason and the moral sense, "not the other way around."

I've verified most of this independently through my own research. I've followed Gregg Frazer's lead who in turn heavy relies on and cites Noll's research in this thesis.

If the google preview shows those pages, I'd suggest reading them and as much of the preview that google books permits. This book is on my reading list.

UPDATE: Noll wasn't the author. John M. Murrin was. Noll edited. See here.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Bad "Christian Nation" Article by David Limbaugh:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Back to Limbaugh:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Back to Limbaugh:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, April 09, 2009

Right Revelation:

Apropos to Kristo M.'s post on reason & revelation, I want to posit the notion that the Founding Fathers and ministers they followed believed in the notion of "right revelation" along with "right reason."

We oft-hear the phrase "right reason" bandied about to describe reason's proper function; some use the term to describe reason's limits or that it is subservient to the Bible's text.

I argue "the Founders" or at least a great deal of them and the influential philosophers and divines they followed, held a higher view of man's reason than this. While many viewed man's nature as crooked ("partially depraved" I think would be a fair standard) they didn't view the intellect as corrupt. The Founders certainly had no use for Luther's idea that "reason" is the Devil's Whore.

Some Founders like Jefferson, J. Adams and Franklin thought their reason so keen that it could "discern" which parts of the Bible were legitimately revealed which parts weren't. Some argue, like my friend Tom Van Dyke, that the prevailing "rationalism" of the Founding was probably more like Aquinas' -- that the Bible is infallible and if reason & revelation appear to conflict then fallen man's reason must be in error.

No doubt some held to this view. However, the Founders adhered to some widely held premises that exalted reason to a higher level. One of them was reason was God's first revelation to man. Accordingly scripture was God's second revelation to man. I've seen John Adams, James Wilson, and Ben Franklin endorse this theory. If reason is the first revelation, that automatically seems to relegate scripture's role to secondary. Revelation's role is to "support" or "corroborate" the findings of man's reason. As James Wilson put it, describing scripture's "secondary" role in "Works":

But whoever expects to find, in [Scripture], particular directions for every moral doubt which arises, expects more than he will find. They generally presuppose a knowledge of the principles of morality; and are employed not so much in teaching new rules on this subject, as in enforcing the practice of those already known, by a greater certainty, and by new sanctions. They present the warmest recommendations and the strongest inducements in favour of virtue: they exhibit the most powerful dissuasives from vice. But the origin, the nature, and the extent of the several rights and duties they do not explain; nor do they specify in what instances one right or duty is entitled to preference over another. They are addressed to rational and moral agents, capable of previously knowing the rights of men, and the tendencies of actions; of approving what is good, and of disapproving what is evil. [Bold mine.]

Did you get that? The Scriptures were designed not really to teach man new moral rules, but to clarify and support that which "rational" and "moral" man already knew without the Bible. This entirely contrasts with the evangelical idea that men are lost without scripture.

In 1735 Ben Franklin defended a Presbyterian preacher named Hemphill from a heresy charged and echoing Hemphill noted something similar:

Now that natural Religion, or that the Laws of our Nature oblige us to the highest Degrees of Love to God, and in consequence of this Love to our almighty Maker, to pay him all the Homage, Worship and Adoration we are capable of, and to do every thing we know he requires; and that the same Laws oblige us to the Love of Mankind, and in consequence of this Love, as well as of our Love to God, (because he requires these things of us) to do good Offices to, and promote the general Welfare and Happiness of our Fellow-creatures…What Hemphill means by the first Revelation which God made to us by the Light of Nature, is the Knowledge, and our Obligations to the Practice of the Laws of Morality, which are discoverable by the Light of Nature; or by reflecting upon the human Frame, and considering it’s natural Propensities, Instincts, and Principles of Action, and the genuine Tendencies of them.

Franklin goes on to describe the proper relationship between reason and revelation and positions scripture as secondary revelation, with “reason” or “the light of nature” as primary:

Now, that to promote the Practice of the great Laws of Morality and Virtue both with Respect to God and Man, is the main End and Design of the christian Revelation has been already prov’d from the Revelation itself. And indeed as just now hinted at, it is obvious to the Reason of every thinking Person, that, if God almighty gives a Revelation at all, it must be for this End; nor is the Truth of the christian Revelation, or of any other that ever was made, to be defended upon any other Footing. But quitting these things; if the above Observations be true, then where lies the Absurdity of Hemphill’s asserting,

Article I.

That Christianity, [as to it’s most essential and necessary Parts,] is plainly Nothing else, but a second Revelation of God’s Will founded upon the first Revelation, which God made to us by the Light of Nature.

The notion of a God given natural law discovered by reason is itself controversial in orthodox circles precisely because of the "un-biblical" results that could be "snuck in." Still some parts of orthodox Christendom, through Aquinas, believe in the "natural law," (which has its antecedents in Aristotle). But, the "Christian" natural law has its way of putting "right reason" in its place.

As above mentioned, my friend Tom Van Dyke noted the "Christian" view of natural law teaches what's discovered by reason must accord with the Bible; if reason and revelation appear to conflict, it must be reason that erred. However, the idea that reason is God's first revelation to man can easily lead to resolving the seeming contradiction the other way. At least that was the case with John Adams' approach.

As Adams wrote to Jefferson December 25, 1813:

Philosophy, which is the result of reason, is the first, the original revelation of the Creator to his creature, man. When this revelation is clear and certain, by intuition or necessary inductions, no subsequent revelation, supported by prophecies or miracles, can supersede it.

I've found evidence of Adams twice denying the Trinity on the basis that it violates this "first" revelation of God to man. As Adams reacted 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. ["Prophets of Progress," p. 297-98.]

And Adams to Jefferson on Sept. 14, 1813:

We can never be so certain of any prophecy, or the fulfillment of any prophecy, or of any miracle, or the design of any miracle, as we are from the revelation of nature, that is, nature’s God, that two and two are equal to four….This revelation had made it certain that two and one make three, and that one is not three nor can three be one….Had you and I been forty days with Moses on Mount Sinai, and admitted to behold the divine glory, and there been told that one was three and three one, we might not have had the courage to deny it, but we could not have believed it.

Adams intimates even if the Trinity were revealed to him by God Himself with Moses on Mt. Sinai he wouldn't believe it. This is what we mean when we say "reason" trumps "revelation."

Another controversial issue at the time of the Founding is that God Himself is "rational." Now, perhaps the scriptures can be perfectly reconciled with reason. But what if they don't appear to be? Some might note it's reason that's the problem; others like Jefferson might counter it's the Bible that's the problem -- someone snuck a "corruption" into the text that made God look less than rational. Since God is perfectly rational, the Bible must be wrong. Under this impression, Jefferson felt free to take his razor to the Bible editing large parts out.

Again, my friend TVD asks, since Jefferson kept his cut up Bible private, what could the FFs get away with saying publicly. I would turn to the minister Rev. Samuel West. Like the key Founders, he was a secret unitarian. And like them, he believed in a "rational" God. Such God was incapable of giving irrational revelation. Thus if something in the Bible appeared to be irrational, it could not have been from God. This is what West noted in a PUBLIC sermon.

First the discoveries of "right reason" are as binding scripture:

Now, whatever right reason requires as necessary to be done is as much the will and law of God as though it were enjoined us by an immediate revelation from heaven, or commanded in the sacred Scriptures.

And second that God is perfectly rational:

A revelation, pretending to be from God, that contradicts any part of natural law, ought immediately to be rejected as an imposture; for the Deity cannot make a law contrary to the law of nature without acting contrary to himself,--a thing in the strictest sense impossible, for that which implies contradiction is not an object of the divine power.

The thrust of West's sermon is to find a right to revolt against tyrants. Where does he look for this right, the Bible? NO. In nature.

The doctrine of nonresistance and unlimited passive obedience to the worst of tyrants could never have found credit among mankind had the voice of reason been hearkened to for a guide, because such a doctrine would immediately have been discerned to be contrary to natural law.

Now, Jefferson was someone who disregarded everything the Apostle Paul wrote as "corruption," so he didn't have Romans 13 on his conscience. West wasn't, or couldn't have been so overtly heterodox; but Rev. West in his own subtle way elevated reason over revelation. Note that West already determined by looking to natural reason whether men had a right to revolt. With that question already answered he looked to the Bible for "secondary support." As James Wilson would put it, "corroboration."

West is confronted with Romans 13 which on its face seems to forbid revolt and demand submission to the worst of tyrants. But that CAN'T be "right revelation" because reason already determined that men had a right to revolt against tyrants. Here is how Rev. West deals with Romans 13:

I know it is said that the magistrates were, at the time when the apostle wrote, heathens, and that Nero, that monster of tyranny, was then Emperor of Rome; that therefore the apostle, by enjoining submission to the powers that then were, does require unlimited obedience to be yielded to the worst of tyrants. Now, not to insist upon what has been often observed, viz., that this epistle was written most probably about the beginning of Nero's reign, at which time he was a very humane and merciful prince, did everything that was generous and benevolent to the public, and showed every act of mercy and tenderness to particulars, and therefore might at that time justly deserve the character of the minister of God for good to the people,-- I say, waiving this, we will suppose that this epistle was written after that Nero was become a monster of tyranny and wickedness; it will by no means follow from thence that the apostle meant to enjoin unlimited subjection to such an authority, or that he intended to affirm that such a cruel, despotic authority was the ordinance of God. The plain, obvious sense of his words, as we have already seen, forbids such a construction to be put upon them, for they plainly imply a strong abhorrence and disapprobation of such a character, and clearly prove that Nero, so far forth as he was a tyrant, could not be the minister of God, nor have a right to claim submission from the people; so that this ought, perhaps, rather to be viewed as a severe satire upon Nero, than as enjoining any submission to him.

The first point -- the epistle was written during the beginning of Nero's reign when he was "nicer," not towards the end when he was a tyrant -- strikes me as invoking hair splitting context to reach a desired result.

The second point -- if Paul said this when Nero was indeed acting tyrannical, he must not have meant it! -- shows West's willingness disregard scripture which disagrees with reason. Maybe Paul didn't mean it when he preached against homosexuality either.

West's sermon seems a clear example of public Founding era preaching on how "right revelation" was that which submitted to "reason." This wasn't as overt as Jefferson cutting up his Bible, but perhaps West's subtle method made his heterodoxy more dangerously subversive to the existing Christian order.