Sunday, May 31, 2009

Example of How Activists Misuse History of America's Founding & Religion:

It shouldn't surprise that it comes from Pat Boone. In my last piece I cited an article by Alissa Wilkinson where she gave this bit of wise advice to conservative Christians:

[W]e lazily identify Christianity with a particular political system, rather than carefully examining the Bible to determine how we should understand and participate in various spheres of society—economics, politics, morality, etc.

When we understand the climate in which the country was founded, we can understand how the Founders could speak with a language that sounds Christian to our ears but not necessarily believe in the Bible as the totality of God’s revelation.

Pat Boone's article is a textbook example of confusion of his own evangelical faith for the theology of the American Founding. Boone's article responds to a pro-ACLU veteran who wrote the following:

Mr. Boone,

The ACLU is simply the Constitution in action, with particular emphasis on the First Amendment. If you don't like what the ACLU does, then either you really don't approve of the Constitution and the First Amendment themselves, or you don't fully understand what they say and mean.

As a combat veteran of World War II, I fought to preserve and protect our Constitution. So I joined the ACLU in 1950 and have strongly supported them ever since.

We most certainly do have an effort here in America to impose upon us the equivalent of an American Taliban. But that comes not from the ACLU, but from the ranting, raving Christian evangelicals and fundamentalists – the Christianofascists who are running rampant over America these days trying to cram their irrational theology and their silly Bible down our throats.

Well, our Constitution says that we don't have to accept that moral and intellectual fascism, and so – with the welcome aid of the ACLU we are vomiting back in your faces.

You "nutty" fundamentalists are the American Taliban, not the ACLU, and as long as we have the Constitution and the ACLU, you will not prevail.

I actually know the person (not very well, but through email) who wrote this note. He is an 80 something year old fervent atheist and a minor national figure in his own right. He sent me the following note when I asked him his opinion on the evidence of Christianity:

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

Here is how Boone responded to the writer's defense of the ACLU, broken down bit by bit with my comments following:

Are you aware, sir, that President Thomas Jefferson, "Mr. Separation of Church and State" himself, combined with Congress to appropriate tax funds to pay missionaries to "preach the gospel to the Indians"?

Chris Rodda debunks this notion:

[This] is based on a single treaty with the Kaskaskia, signed by Jefferson in 1803, which included a provision for a $100 annual salary for a priest for seven years, and $300 towards the building of a church. Of the over forty treaties with various Indian nations signed by Jefferson during his presidency, this is the only one that contained anything whatsoever having to do with religion. This had nothing to do with converting the Indians, as the words "missionary work" imply. The Kaskaskia were already Catholic, and had been for generations. These things were what the Kaskaskia wanted, and this being a treaty with a sovereign nation, there was no constitutional reason not to provide them.

Boone's article implies that a purpose of American government was to promote and convert those who didn't believe in Christianity to said faith. The Founders were more accommodating to religion than is Boone's atheist writer; however their ends were almost always secular. Think about it; Roman Catholicism was probably the least popular form of Christianity during the time of the Founding. Why would Jefferson, a man who hated "superstition" want to promote a sect of Christianity that was regarded as the most "superstitious." The answer is because that's the religion the Indians choose. In other words, this is an example of the religious indifference of the Founding. Any religion that the people choose we'll accommodate, even Roman Catholicism! That nuanced point, key to understanding American Founding political theology, is lost on Boone.

Back to Boone:

Our Founding Fathers, the creators of the Constitution you rightly admire, believed God created all men equal, and should at least hear about Him and His love for all of us, though they were free to reject it if they chose. Is this what you call "intellectual fascism"?

Again, this confuses the theology of the Declaration of Independence with biblical Christianity. The two are not the same. One might argue I am reading too much into Boone's words. However, carefully look at the letter to which he is responding: It attacks evangelical and fundamentalist Christians, of which Boone is one. Why would Boone use the words of the Founders in his defense if he didn't hear their words as evangelical speak?

But, the idea of God creating men equal is certainly incompatible with atheism; it's just a very broad based theology, not biblical Christianity.

Back to Boone:

You're a veteran, you say. How would you respond to the first military commander in chief this country ever had, Gen. George Washington, who in general orders to his troops on July 9, 1776, wrote, "The General hopes and trusts that every officer and man will endeavor so to live and act, as becomes a Christian soldier defending the dearest Rights and Liberties of his country."

Again, how do George Washington's words equate to a defense of politically active evangelical Christianity? On a personal note I think GW would like Boone more than the atheist because GW saw religion in general and Christianity in particular as having a salutary or civilizing effect on character, which is extremely useful for the military and self-government. I see Washington's statement as part of a unitarian theology of civil utility and man's works. The test of sound religion is that it produces virtue. And Christianity equates with being a good person, not necessarily someone who has accepted Christ as Lord and Savior. Ultimately Boone's quoting Washington is inapt to his argument.

Back to Boone:

Your ACLU is currently suing to prevent chaplains from praying in Jesus' name, and it would like to do away with chaplains altogether. What would they say to Gen. Washington?

Is the ACLU fighting to prevent Chaplains from praying in Jesus' name when acting as personal chaplains to military troops who are having their spiritual needs ministered to? I don't think so. Rather, it's when a Chaplain purports to pray on behalf of the entire nation. And Washington never ONCE was recorded publicly or privately praying in Jesus' name. In other words, the lawsuit is to get chaplains to pray more like George Washington did. That is, not in Jesus' name.

I know what Gen. Washington would say to them, because he already said, in his Farewell Address, Sept. 19, 1796, "Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of Patriotism, who should labor to subvert these great Pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the duties of Men and Citizens."

In light of these and so many other pronouncements by those who gave their lives and sacred honor to give us our freedoms – what is your definition of patriotism? And in light of their dedication to subverting these "great Pillars" Washington pronounced indispensable – what should we call the ACLU?

Again, this misfires. I know my atheist friend does indeed want to subvert all religion. But again, the context of his letter to Boone was an attack on politically active evangelical Christianity. That's not what Washington defends in his Farewell Address. Rather he defends the institution of "religion" generally defined. Most evangelicals are likewise spiritually at odds with Washington and the other key Founders because they don't believe in "religion" in general, but one specific path to God.

That is simply not what Washington or the American Founding are all about.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Alissa Wilkinson's Article on American Political Theology:

Check out this great article at Patrol Magazine by Alissa Wilkinson, a graduate student at NYU, on American political theology that references "theistic rationalism."

Here is a taste:

The secularists—the most dogmatic “separation of church and state” folks—insist the Founders were Deists with little interest in organized religion, working toward a neutral, secular state where religion would have no influence in governance or policy-making. Equally noisy are the “Christian America” proponents, who insist that the Founders were devout Christians with explicit faith in Jesus Christ and established a governmental system based on Biblical principles. Any attempt to extricate governance from these principles is an attempt to destroy the very foundations of the country. References to “God” and “Providence” in the founding documents, such as the Federalist Papers and the Declaration of Independence, are explicit and intentional references to similar evangelical concepts.

What’s confusing is that both camps can support their view with books, films, seminars, scholarly works, magazine articles, and more, all with direct quotations from the Founders themselves. And obviously, both sides can’t be right. So when it comes to the ever-raging debates about the foundations of our nation, which side should Christians take?


In [Gregg Frazer's] doctoral dissertation and some subsequent work, he says—I believe rightly—that these men were neither secularist Deists nor evangelical Christians, but “theistic rationalists,”...

To theistic rationalists, God would not do anything that they would not admire in the behavior of man. Order and morality were the highest virtues. Men had a free will and the ability to be moral, and God ultimately desired all men to live happily.


Religion was important to society in that it promoted morality—and thereby happiness—but the particular religion was relatively unimportant. Because the ultimate goal was a moral society, rather than one in which the “correct” religion was promoted, the Founders created an environment that recognized but did not impose or restrict the role of religion in society. (It’s worth noting that several Christian denominations opposed this idea of freedom of religion, since it would allow many people to practice religions that they did not believe led to the truth.)

...[T]he end result of this emphasis on morality and freedom was that theistic rationalism became the de facto national religion. Most people in early America identified with a Christianity of some stripe, and so these principles also became woven into the fabric of American Christianity and the dominant public desire for morality and order....Only when postmodernism erupted and new voices spoke out in the public sphere—minorities, women, people of other religions or no religion at all—were they challenged, spawning the debate that still rages today.

With this in mind, we can begin to understand the flaws in the views of those on both sides of the debate. Some of the most influential Founders did in fact believe in the value of religion for a moral, organized society—which weakens the position of the secularists. But they also did not believe that a theologically orthodox Christianity was the only or even the best option for promoting that society—undermining those who would have us believe we’re citizens of a “Christian nation.”

Thursday, May 28, 2009

George Washington on the Bible:

Unfortunately I can't give a clear cut answer as to exactly what GW thought of the Bible, because he never told. However, I can make some general observations.

First, the record does not demonstrate that GW thought the Bible the inerrant infallible Word of God. It's possible; but I doubt it. It's even MORE unlikely that Washington, like the strict Deists, didn't believe in ANY of the Bible as divine revelation.

Washington quoted from the Bible quite a bit. Indeed in his new book, The Political Philosophy of George Washington, Jeffry H. Morris claims that GW quoted from the Bible more than any other source, including Joseph Addison's Cato, which came in second.

I'm enjoying reading Morrison's book and I agree with the overwhelming majority of what I have so far seen. He argues GW's political philosophy was a synthesis of classical Greco-Roman ideas, moderate British Enlightenment ideas, and Protestant Christianity. After Bernard Bailyn, I noted something similar in my entry on GW for the Cato Institutes's Encyclopedia of Libertarianism. However Bailyn/I analyze the synthesis with 5 prongs instead of 3. In the entry I wrote:

Harvard professor and historian Bernard Bailyn traces the ideological origins of America's founding-era republican thought to the following principal sources: Classical Greco-Roman antiquity; Biblical theology; English common law; Enlightenment rationalism, and the writings of British Whig theorists like Algernon Sidney, John Locke, and Joseph Priestly.

And George Washington's personal political philosophy was the same as the American Founding's (or vice versa). Moreover, some of these categories bleed into one another.

I'm still looking in the footnotes to Dr. Morrison's book to see how he statistically concluded GW quoted the Bible more than any other source (like Cato). Though, to respond, 1) if the other classical sources (Aristotle, Cicero, Seneca) were added to Cato, would GW's classical quotes exceed his biblical quotes? And 2) simply quoting the Bible, even a lot, doesn't demonstrate one's opinion about the Bible's authoritative truth. Just as Shakespeare dramatically changed English language communication, the Bible changed Western Civilization's communication. Even today, atheists regularly quote the Bible to illustrate a point, as did strict Deists like Thomas Paine during the Founding era. Ben Franklin so mastered biblical style that when he transitioned from quoting the Bible to improvising his own words while pretending to quote the Bible, most of his everyday hearers couldn't tell the difference. Franklin used to do that as a parlor trick, by the by.

And Washington rarely if ever quoted the Bible in a clear authoritative way. But I am going to reproduce some of Washington's closest to authoritative dealings with scripture. I first want to deal with an address I've seen advanced as evidence of Washington's traditional Christian piety. In an undelivered First Inaugural Address, Washington supposedly said:

The blessed Religion revealed in the word of God will remain an eternal and awful monument to prove that the best Institutions may be abused by human depravity; and that they may even, in some instances be made subservient to the vilest of purposes.

The problems with this quote are 1) it probably wasn't written by Washington, but by Colonel Humphreys; 2) Washington didn't give this as an address but canned it; and 3) he did so probably because it was not characteristic of his thoughts, so much so that Jared Sparks, one of the first biographer/archivists of Washington's, tore up the address into pieces and gave those pieces to his friends; that's why the address exists in fragment form. The following is what Paul F. Boller writes in "Not so!: popular myths about America from Columbus to Clinton":

The Humphrey's-Washington draft [of Washington's first inaugural speech] exists only in part today. What happened to it chills the blood of present-day historians and biographers. In 1827, years after Jared Sparks, Unitarian minister and editor of the North American Review, who was preparing to publish a collection of Washington's writings, came across the speech in Washington's handwriting and decided to suppress it, partly because he thought some passages in it were a bit strange and partly because he knew it had eventually been discarded. On May 22, Sparks asked the aging James Madison, who had thirty-eight years before, told him: "I concur without hesitation in your remarks on the speech of seventy-three pages and the expediency of not including it among the papers selected for the press. Nothing but extreme delicacy towards the author of the draft, who was no doubt Colonel Humphreys, can account for the respect shown to so strange a production." Sparks then blithely cut the manuscript into pieces and handed out parts of it to autograph collectors anxious to own something in Washington's own handwriting. Years later scholars attempted to reassemble the fragment, but succeeded in recovering only a third to one-half of the original. The anfractuosities of what survives are probably Sparks's doing, not Washington or Humphrey's.

What was a more mainstream and characteristic utterance of Washington on revelation (again not written by him, rather by David Cobb, but given under his name) is is 1783 Circular to the States:

The foundation of our Empire was not laid in the gloomy age of Ignorance and Superstition, but at an Epocha when the rights of mankind were better understood and more clearly defined, than at any former period, the researches of the human mind, after social happiness, have been carried to a great extent, the Treasures of knowledge, acquired by the labours of Philosophers, Sages and Legislatures, through a long succession of years, are laid open for our use, and their collected wisdom may be happily applied in the Establishment of our forms of Government; the free cultivation of Letters, the unbounded extension of Commerce, the progressive refinement of Manners, the growing liberality of sentiment, and above all, the pure and benign light of Revelation, have had a meliorating influence on mankind and increased the blessings of Society.

Now, even though Washington, in his other public and private sentiments, rarely if ever discussed what he thought of "revelation," I think we can stretch and conclude this was mainstream American Founding/Washington thought. Indeed, I quoted this in my entry on Washington for the Cato Institutes's Encyclopedia of Libertarianism. However I don't see this passage as proving Washington thought the Bible infallible or inerrant, but rather inspired in *some* sense. I certainly think this passage is consistent with the idea of the Bible as partially inspired. For one, the terms "pure and benign light" are enlightenment qualifers and perhaps indicate a deistic understanding of the Bible/the Christian religion.

As James Hutson commented on James Madison, in 1833, terming the Christian religion the "best & purest religion":

This...sounds very much like the deistical maxim, frequently indulged by Jefferson, that the "pure" religion of Jesus had been unconscionably corrupted by the apostle Paul and the early church fathers.

In preparing notes for the Memorial and Remonstrance, Madison discussed these two different approaches to the Bible/Christianity, the more "orthodox" approach that deemed the entire Bible inspired, and the "other" (more "deistic?", "unitarian?") approach that held "parts" of the Bible inspired:

5. What books canonical, what apocryphal?...

6. In what light are they to be viewed, as dictated every letter by inspiration, or the essential parts only ? Or the matter in general not the words?

In other words, contra the idea that you either accepted all of the Bible or none of it, there was a middle ground position in "Christendom" during the Founding, adhered to by many elite Whigs (many of whom unitarians) that believed "essential parts" only to be divinely inspired, or the Bible in a general sense, not each and every word, as inspired. Washington's utterances in the Circular are compatible with both the orthodox and the more deistic-unitarian understanding of scripture.

Washington's personal letters likewise give no definitive answer about his views of scripture. He oft-quoted the Bible along with classical and enlightenment sources, but did not disclose which sources he held the most authoritative. The following, to MARQUIS DE CHASTELLUX, April 25[-May 1], 1788, likewise illustrates the way GW approached these different ideological sources in his private letters:

While you have been making love, under the banner of Hymen, the great Personages in the North have been making war, under the inspiration, or rather under the infatuation of Mars. Now, for my part, I humbly conceive, you have had much the best and wisest of the bargain. For certainly it is more consonant to all the principles of reason and religion (natural and revealed) to replenish the earth with inhabitants, rather than to depopulate it by killing those already in existence, besides it is time for the age of Knight-Errantry and mad-heroism to be at an end.

That passage is instructive of Washington's personal and political philosophy, and quite amusing. It deals not only with sexual innuendo [making love, under the banner of Hymen], but also quotes Greco-Romanism [the infatuation of Mars], along with Enlightenment [the principles of reason and religion (natural)], and the Bible/Christianity [(and revealed)]. It also does not instruct which of these sources trumps the others.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Ted Olson Fights For Gay Marriage:

This is stunning. I know there are some secular minded conservatives who are in favor of gay marriage (for instance Eugene Volokh). However Olson is arguing a federal Constitutional right to same-sex marriage; that's beyond the pale for present day conservative legal thought.
The George Washington/Ashbel Green Affair:

Dr. Rush tells me that he had it from Asa Green that when the clergy addressed Genl. Washington on his departure from the govmt, it was observed in their consultation that he had never on any occasion said a word to the public which showed a belief in the Xn religion and they tho[ugh]t they should so pen their address as to force him at length to declare publicly whether he was a Christian or not. They did so. However he observed the old fox was too cunning for them. He answered every article of their address particularly except that, which he passed over without notice.


I know that Gouverneur Morris, who pretended to be in his secrets & believed himself to be so, has often told me that Genl. Washington believed no more of that system than he himself did.

That is what Thomas Jefferson wrote in his diary February 1, 1800, six weeks after GW's death. The "Asa Green" was Ashbel Green, Presbyterian minister, and eighth president of Princeton 1812-1822. Because this quote is oft-used by more skeptical scholars to debunk GW's "Christianity," (indeed I used it in an article) I am going to produce much of the additional scholarly record that surrounds said event (with minimal commentary).

First, Ashbel Green furiously denied Jefferson's analysis of the event, with vitriol. The incident did happen (we will see the letters as we read on) and I have no doubt that Jefferson honestly heard those things from Benjamin Rush and Gouverneur Morris. Whether their assessment (Jefferson's, Rush's, & Morris') is accurate remains debatable (on a personal note, I tend to think it is insofar as GW was not an orthodox Trinitarian Christian; I think he was a theist, who might have been a "Christian" in some broader non-orthodox Trinitarian sense; see also Forrest Church's summary of the controversy).

But let's see some of Rev. Green's reaction to Jefferson's note. You can read the whole long thing here; I am going to reproduce snippets.

In the " consultations of the clergy" on this occasion, it is our belief that not a single syllable was uttered importing that the President had "never on any occasion said a word to the publick which showed a belief in the Christian religion." Any such allegation, as we have shown above, would have been palpably false, if it had been made; and by the writer, as already intimated, it was known then, as well as now, that on leaving the command of the army, the General had used the language which we have quoted from his letter to the governors of the several states. We have, with a view to what we now write, conversed with the venerable Bishop White, whose name is the first on the list, and who was one of the committee, and he has assured us, that he has no trace of recollection that any thing was said in the two meetings of the clergy, relative to the neglect of the President to declare his belief on the subject of divine revelation: And the address shows, beyond controversy, that nothing was said "to force him at length to declare publickly, whether he was a Christian or not."


We do wish he had gone farther; we give it as our decided opinion, that every Christian man, whatever be his station or his circumstances, ought so frequently and explicitly to recognise his Christian faith and character, as not to leave to the enemies of his Saviour, any plausible opening for their false surmises and suggestions. But because we so think and speak, are we to be represented as saying, or insinuating, that every man, or any man, who thinks otherwise and above all, that President Washington, because he differed from us in this opinion, must be set down as an unbeliever in divine revelation? The absurdity and injustice of such a representation is too monstrous to need further exposure.


The Christian can neither resign it, nor modify it, from a regard to a political party or a patriotic favorite: and after the publication of these papers, the Christians of our land...will never hear the name of Jefferson, without such an association of it with his hatred of Christianity, as will sink him immeasurably in their estimation. In the close of a letter to Mr. Madison (vol. iv. p. 420) he says—"To myself you have been a pillar of support through life. Take care of me when dead." We verily think Mr. J. has left a hard and impracticable task to his friend. Not all the talents of Mr. Madison, great as we admit them to be; nor all the learning and eloquence of Unitarians, imposing as they certainly are; nor all the lauding and birth day celebrations of party politicians, however eminent in station, will be able to form "a pillar of support," which will durably sustain the reputation of the reviler of Christ and his cause -- "The memory of the just is blessed; but the name of the wicked shall rot."

But, there is eyewitness testimony that corroborates Jefferson's claim. Arthur Bradford was a contemporary of Ashbel Green:

"I knew Dr. Wilson personally, and have entertained him at my house, on which occasion he said in my hearing what my relative, the Rev. Dr. Ashbel Green of Philadelphia, frequently told me in his study, viz., that during the time that Congress sat in that city the clergy, suspecting from good evidence that Washington was not a believer in the Bible as a revelation from heaven, laid a plan to extort from him a confession, either pro or con, but that the plan failed. Dr. Green was chaplain to Congress during all the time of its sitting in Philadelphia; dined with the President on special invitation nearly every week; was well acquainted with him, and after he had been dead and gone many years, often said in my hearing, though very sorrowfully, of course, that while Washington was very deferential to religion and its ceremonies, like nearly all the founders of the Republic, he was not a Christian, but a Deist."


"It was during his [Dr. Green's] long residence in Philadelphia that I became intimately acquainted with him as a relative, student of theology at Princeton, and a member of the same Presbytery to which he belonged. Many an hour during my student and clergyman days did I spend with him in his study at No. 150 Pine street, Philadelphia, listening to his interesting and instructive conversation on Revolutionary times and incidents. I recollect well that during one of these interviews in his study I inquired of him what were the real opinions Washington entertained on the subject of religion. He promptly answered pretty nearly in the language which Jefferson says Dr. Rush used. He explained more at length the plan laid by the clergy of Philadelphia at the close of Washington's administration as President to get his views of religion for the sake of the good influence they supposed they would have in counteracting the Infidelity of Paine and the rest of the Revolutionary patriots, military and civil. But I well remember the smile on his face and the twinkle of his black eye when he said: 'The old fox was too cunning for Us.' He affirmed, in concluding his narrative, that from his long and intimate acquaintance with Washington he knew it to be the case that while he respectfully conformed to the religious customs of society by generally going to church on Sundays, he had no belief at all in the divine origin of the Bible, or the Jewish-Christian religion."

As this link indicates, apparently Bradford's words come from an 19th Century Chicago Tribune article on Washington's religion written by BF Underwood.

So, let's read the text of the letter that may have been an attempt of the "orthodox" to set a trap for GW and GW's response where he played the part of "cunning fox."

To George Washington, President of the United States.


On a day which becomes important in the annals of America, as marking the close of a splendid public life, devoted for near half a century to the service of your country, we the undersigned, clergy of different denominations in and near the city of Philadelphia, beg leave to join the voice of our fellow-citizens in expressing our deep sense of your public services in every department of trust and authority committed to you. But, in our special characters as ministers of the gospel of Christ, we are more immediately bound to acknowledge the countenance which you have universally given to his holy religion.

In your public character we have beheld the edifying example of a civil ruler always acknowledging the superintendence of Divine Providence in the affairs of men, and confirming that example by the powerful recommendation of religion and morality as the firmest basis of social happiness,—more particularly in the following language of your affectionate parting address to your fellow-citizens:—

"Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of patriotism who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness,—the firmest props of the duties of men and citizens. The mere politician, equally with the pious man, ought to respect and cherish them. A volume could not trace all their connections with private and public felicity. Let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion. Reason and experience forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principles."

Should the importance of these just and pious sentiments be duly appreciated and regarded, we confidently trust that the prayers you have offered for the prosperity of our common country will be answered. In these prayers we most fervently unite, and with equal fervor in those which the numerous public bodies that represent the citizens of these States are offering for their beloved chief. We most devoutly implore the Divine blessing to attend you in your retirement, to render it in all respects comfortable to you, to satisfy you with length of days, and finally to receive you into happiness and glory infinitely greater than this world can bestow.

-- Philadelphia, March 3, 1797.

And here is GW's response:

Gentlemen: Not to acknowledge with gratitude and sensibility the affectionate addresses and benevolent wishes of my fellow Citizens on my retiring from public life, would prove that I have been unworthy of the Confidence which they have been pleased to repose in me.

And, among those public testimonies of attachment and approbation, none can be more grateful than that of so respectable a body as yours.

Believing, as I do, that Religion and Morality are the essential pillars of Civil society, I view, with unspeakable pleasure, that harmony and brotherly love which characterizes the Clergy of different denominations, as well in this, as in other parts of the United States; exhibiting to the world a new and interesting spectacle, at once the pride of our Country and the surest basis of universal Harmony.

That your labours for the good of Mankind may be crowned with success; that your temporal enjoyments may be commensurate with your merits; and that the future reward of good and faithful Servants may be your's, I shall not cease to supplicate the Divine Author of life and felicity.

-- March 3, 1797.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Frazer Responds to King of Ireland Again:

Once again, Gregg Frazer makes a very strong case from Sola Scriptura that rebellion against government is always wrong. This is King of Ireland's post to which he responds. And the following is what Dr. Frazer sent me through email:

There is far too much here for me to address everything, so I’ll have to respond to some of what I consider most important.

You ask from where I get the idea that people reject Christianity because of their sinful condition, but I told you where I get that idea: from the Bible. I quoted directly from John 3:18-19. If you don’t like my view, take it up with Jesus – He’s the one who said it; I merely quoted Him.

Of course, no one you encounter – whether here or on a foreign mission field – would recognize his/her own sin as that which causes him/her to reject Christianity, but that doesn’t change the reality. The issue is not what THEY think, but what God says.

As for your claim that you chose God, Romans 3:10-11 says that NO ONE does. Ephesians 2:1-9 is quite clear as to how someone is saved – and it’s God’s work, not ours. People will, of course, find that offensive – the Bible says they will.

If you think what I said about the two swords fulfilling prophecy is “nonsensical,” then, again, your beef is with Jesus. I merely repeated what He said in Luke 22:36-37.

As for the Judges 3 example, GOD may raise up a deliverer to accomplish His purposes – but the reason that the passage specifies that God raised him up and that the Spirit of the Lord was given to him is BECAUSE WITHOUT SPECIFIC REVELATION FROM GOD, what he did was wrong. It would be wrong for any person not specifically and specially “raised up by God.”

So, if you can point to revelation from God saying that He raised up George Washington and gave His Spirit to him, then I’ll agree that the American Revolution was a case in which it was right for someone to overthrow authority via rebellion.

The difference between the Declaration of Independence and Moses’ dealings with Pharaoh is found in one of your statements. You say that in both cases “people invoked the name of God to be relieved from the oppression of a tyrant” – but in Moses’ case he wasn’t simply “invoking” the name of God – HE HAD ACTUAL DIRECT REVELATION FROM GOD TELLING HIM TO DO WHAT HE DID. If I were to say: “in the name of the King of Ireland, I declare all rebellion to be unbiblical,” I’m invoking a name – but not legitimately! I have no instruction from you to do this – and you wouldn’t like it much, either. Neither does God like it when men make claims in His name that violate His clearly expressed Word.

God sometimes uses people to accomplish His ends, but often He does not. In the case of Moses, GOD sent the plagues which caused Pharaoh to let the people go – not Moses. Moses did not lead a revolutionary army. He spoke God’s words to Pharaoh and watched God work along with everyone else. Ultimately, he didn’t even disobey, but rather obeyed Pharaoh’s command to take the Israelites and leave (Exodus 12:31-32).

The fact that others (e.g. kings centuries ago) abused Scripture, misapplied it, and made false claims by interpreting it conveniently is not a valid reason for us to do the same today! According to your own testimony, you’re willing to reject what the Bible clearly teaches because some have used it to their own advantage. The fact that they’ve done so does not change what the Bible teaches!

You regularly use the term “legitimate authority,” but the Bible doesn’t use that term because ALL authority is legitimate. It would be like saying “canine dog.”

You want to know the difference between “disobedience” and “resistance.” To be in subjection/submission is to recognize the legitimacy of the authority over you – to recognize that they have rightful power over you to command you or make laws concerning you. To “disobey” is to refuse to comply with a particular law/command because it requires you to disobey God. To “resist” is to challenge the authority’s legitimacy, strike at it and attempt to deny and remove it.

Shadrach, Meschach, and Obednego “disobeyed,” but did not “resist.” They recognized the king’s authority and went into the fiery furnace – they didn’t fight back or organize a rebellion. Daniel disobeyed, but did not resist; he took the punishment and went into the lion’s den. To “resist” is to fight back – to deny the legitimacy of the authority.

When one disobeys a particular law but remains in subjection, one says that the law itself cannot be obeyed in contradiction to God’s command, but that the ruler (given authority by God) is not illegitimate and that his authority cannot be abrogated by making an unjust law.

You ask why, if disobedience is sometimes permitted, resistance is not also permitted. The answer is that God’s Word allows the one (under only one specific condition [Acts 5:29]), but explicitly disallows the other [Romans 13:2]. They are different things, so why should one necessitate the other?

As for the Jews under Hitler situation, I’ve addressed this numerous times, but I’ll try again:

Hitler had authority from God, as do all in authority. He sometimes used it for good (lowest crime rate in the world in 1930s) and often used it for great evil (massacring Jews and other well-known examples). ALL GOVERNMENTS DO THIS BECAUSE ALL ARE RUN BY FALLEN HUMAN BEINGS. The level of evil to which they rise varies, of course. The U.S. government today, for example, supports the murder of millions of unborn children and numerous other violations of God’s law. None of this makes the government illegitimate, removes its authority, or negates what Romans 13 clearly says.

[If governments that do evil are illegitmate, then there has never been a legitimate government in world history and Romans 13:1 is exactly the opposite of truth]

Believers living in Nazi Germany should do the same as believers living under any regime: submit to authority (without exception) and obey UNLESS/UNTIL the government asks you to disobey God. Then (and only then) you must disobey that particular law, but remain in subjection (as per Daniel, Shadrach et al, the apostles, etc.).

In the particular case: the government commands that you participate in murdering people – to remain obedient to God, you must disobey that command – but taking the next step to resistance and rebellion is not an option. You must remain in subjection (as per the believers to whom Paul was writing living under NERO!).

If you want to fight against the evil of Hitler, leave the country to get out from under his authority, become a U.S. citizen and return in war under the authority of the United States government.

Despite what you seem to suggest, war and revolution/rebellion are not synonymous! War is battle between two sovereign authorities. Revolution is attempted usurpation of authority by those UNDER an authority. You quote Ecclesiastes (and I, of course, agree with its truth 100%), but it does NOT say that there’s “a time for revolution.” You quote it accurately, but it is irrelevant to this discussion.

You ask how WE CAN KNOW when God is using a nation to judge another. The answer is that we can ONLY know WHEN HE TELLS US: I.E. THROUGH REVELATION (the Bible)! That’s where Peter went wrong at Jesus’ arrest – he THOUGHT he was defending the innocent against an evil aggressor, BUT HE DIDN’T UNDERSTAND GOD’S PLAN (and neither do we) – so HE FOUND HIMSELF FIGHTING AGAINST GOD’S PLAN and was rebuked. He didn’t get any “style points” for thinking he was doing the right thing, either.

You ask why not err on the side of what you perceive to be right. The answer is that we NEED NOT ERR AT ALL. All God asks of us is to obey His revealed Word. So, don’t resist authority and God handles the rest. God just wants us to be obedient to His commands – not to devise some clever plan of our own which violates His clear instruction.

I’m sure it seemed “nonsensical” to Gideon to go up against 135,000 Amalekites with just 300 men carrying pitchers and torches. But he just obeyed God and God took care of the sense of it (Judges 7-8).

I am not offended by your remarks – I’ve had worse said about me for standing up for what God’s Word says. If it is arrogant to present what the Word of God teaches as the truth – to take it seriously as it reads – then I’m guilty. But remember that I’m the one quoting Scripture just as it reads (Rom. 3; Rom. 13; John 3; Exodus 12, etc.). It’s always interesting to me that those of us who simply repeat what GOD says – word for word – are accused of arrogance; but those who devise their OWN system to work around it are, somehow, not arrogant.

I’m also not shocked that many people find what God says to be nonsensical – God said they would (I Corinthians 1:18-27, among other places).

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

King of Ireland, Frazer, Fatalism & Romans 13:

King of Ireland alerted me to his response to Gregg Frazer on Romans 13. It invokes a number of reductios to try to rebut Frazer's notion that the Bible categorically forbids revolt period.

The main reductio that I've seen from not just the King, but many others is "what about Hitler and Stalin"? But fundamentalist/Sola-Scriptura Christianity is supposed to be immune from such reductios. That is, the question is NOT, "oh how horrible it would be if Christians had to submit to Nazi and Communist tyranny" but rather, "what does the Bible actually teach on the subject?"

And Frazer, following John MacArthur makes a convincing case that the Bible actually and literally teaches revolt against government is always wrong, period. Here is what MacArthur wrote about Christians' biblical duty to submit to even communist tyranny:

A Testimony from the Soviet Union

I will never forget a conversation I had with Georgi Vins. He is a Christian who lived for many years in the Soviet Union. He met with our staff one day and we asked him what it was like to live under tyranny and repression in a communist country. He told us that Christians can’t pursue an education or a career. They have no say in the government and no freedoms to speak of. This question was then posed to him: How do you respond to that kind of government? He said, “We obey every law in our nation, whether it appears to us to be just or unjust, except when we are told that we cannot worship God or obey the Scripture. But if we are persecuted, put into prison, or killed, it will be a result of our faith in Jesus Christ, not because we violated some law in our nation.”

In Romans 13:1-7, Paul is saying the same thing Peter did: We have a serious responsibility to live out our justification by faith. Our self- sacrifice to the Lord (Rom. 12:1-2) should make us model citizens of our nation. We should not be known as protesters–as those who criticize and demean people in authority. We should speak against sin, injustice, evil, and immorality fearlessly and without hesitation. But we should give honor to those who are in authority over us. That is the biblical pattern for every age, every nation, and every Christian–it has nothing to do with America alone.

A response might be this is fatalistic -- well yes it is fatalistic. So is the fundamentalist teaching on Hell. But again, we are in the realm of "reductios" to which fundamentalism is supposed to be immune. If the Bible teaches the vast majority of human beings -- including many of your loved ones and folks from history you admire -- are eternally damned, that's what it teaches period. Or, if the Bible teaches submit to all governments, including tyrants, that's what it teaches, period. One thing I admire about Drs. Frazer and MacArthur is their willingness to stick to their guns and follow their Sola-Scriptura premises all the way through, even when it leaves a bad taste in folks' mouths.

Though I would note, it's possible to have differing interpretations on Romans 13; Frazer's and MacArthur's, from my perspective, are closest to the "literal" interpretation of the Bible's text. Most theology that has argued for the right to revolt against tyrants "found" that right with a natural law supplement or somewhat "looser" or metaphorical interpretation of the Bible's text.

This (natural law discovered from reason, and loose/metaphorical interpretation of the Bible's text), and NOT Sola-Scriptura fundamentalism was, without question the political-theology that America's Founders and the patriotic ministers used to justify rebellion against tyrants. It was not "the Bible alone" that told men they have a right to rebel against tyrants because the Bible teaches no such thing. Figures like the unitarian Jonathan Mayhew had to look elsewhere to first find the right and then go back and attempt reconcile the Bible's text with the right to revolt against tyrants.

If only the evangelicals and fundamentalists who comprise Christian Nationalist forces understood this.
My Biggest Problem with David Barton:

Okay, I've been admonished not to make my blogs a David Barton bash-a-thon. Rather focus more on positive aspects of what America's Founders believed in, including their serious religious arguments, not keep knocking down extremist strawmen. But that's the problem with Barton -- whatever the merit in the research he's done over the years -- he gives aid and comfort to ignorant goofballs.

I write this after running across one Pastor Paul Blair, Fairview Baptist Church who heads Reclaiming Oklahoma for Christ. You can look at the political context in which David Barton operates. It's a bunch of fundamentalist Christians who gay and Muslim bash and are paranoid about Hate Crimes laws that protect sexual orientation leading to the criminalization of Christianity!

From their website:

An estimated 1200 people gathered on Friday night with over 800 returning Saturday for this year’s event.

David Barton, Founder of Wallbuilders, shared from his vast collection of original documents regarding the irrefutable Christian faith of our Founding Fathers. Mr. Barton also shared results from recent elections and challenged Christians to make their voices heard at the ballot box this November.

And then this from the website's mission statement:

From Enoch to Noah; Moses to Samuel; Elijah to Nathan, Isaiah to Daniel; John the Baptist to Paul; from Jonathon Edwards to George Whitefield; John Peter Gabriel Muhlenberg to John Witherspoon; from Charles Finney to Dwight Moody to Billy Sunday – prophets and preachers of God have preached faithfully the Gospel of Jesus Christ and stood firmly for righteousness on this earth, to the common man and also to the king.

Fundamental, evangelical preachers nearly all agree that God established three great institutions on earth – the family, human government and the church. We know and preach that the family must be built on the Rock of Jesus Christ. We know and preach that the Church must be built on the Rock of Jesus Christ. So too, government was designed by God to be subject to and built on the Rock of Jesus Christ.

This Nation was founded upon those principles. Read carefully the words of the Declaration of Independence:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men…”

I came across this group from (where else?) Worldnetdaily. Here is a taste from their article:

According to President John Adams, colonial pastors were the single group most responsible for America's independence.

"They were the best educated of citizens, understood the precious value of liberty from tyranny and taught their congregations a true biblical worldview," he said.

You got that? This group believes, with Barton's help, that the Founding Fathers were a bunch of fundamentalist Christians and America's political theology was fundamentalist Christianity.

The only problem is that it isn't true. This group has no understanding of the ACTUAL political-theological-historical dynamic of the American Founding. And I think it's because actual history doesn't fit their present day political desires, where prooftexting the Bible into law is as American as Apple Pie.

They don't recognize that the most notable patriotic preachers like Jonathan Mayhew, Charles Chauncy, and Samuel West were theological unitarians and universalists and imbibed in natural law and enlightenment rationalism. Indeed they were EXPLICIT theological enemies of "the Great Awakening."

They don't recognize that J. Adams, Jefferson and Franklin were explicit theological unitarians and that men like Washington, Madison and others left no evidence of Trinitarianism or belief in the Bible as the infallible Word of God.

They don't recognize that the Laws of Nature and Nature's God is NOT shorthand for the Bible, but a natural theology discovered by reason, that perhaps fits within the classical and Christian natural law traditions (ala Aristotle-Aquinas-Hooker) or perhaps is something more modern (because the authors of the DOI, Jefferson, J. Adams, and Franklin, were men of the Enlightenment; Blackstone did NOT write the DOI; he was an English Tory who opposed the American Revolution).

They also fail to recognize the natural law thought in John Witherspoon. That when he taught politics, he didn't teach Princeton students the Bible or Calvinism but natural law and the rationalism of the Scottish Enlightenment (he termed it "moral philosophy"). Again, things discovered by reason, not what is revealed in the Bible.

Barton's involvement with these groups, in my opinion, taints his research and makes it hard for him to be taken seriously as a professional historian.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

The Debate Between Frazer & Miettinen Jefferson's "Christianity" Continues:

My bottom line after studying Jefferson is that he considered himself a "Christian" and was a unitarian of the Socinian bent (meaning he thought Jesus 100% man, not God at all). Further he disbelieved in every tenet of orthodoxy. He also took his razor to the Bible and cut out that which he did not believe was legitimate revelation (which was quite a bit!).

Could one think/do these things and still be a "Christian"? That's what these two sharp minds, Gregg Frazer & Kristo Miettinen, (both of them orthodox Christian) are debating. You can read the debate here. And here is a taste from Frazer's latest comment [Note: LaM stands for one of the two "Jefferson Bibles"]:

I've just finished reading LaM and I could not find the passages in which Jesus' ability to forgive others' sins is mentioned! Which verses are included? Mark 2:5-10? Luke 5:20-24? Matthew 9:2-5? I also have an index of all the Scripture references in LaM and none of these passages is listed there, either. More on this below.

My claim about percentages of books is NOT specious because you claimed that TJ believed that there was "something special about the Bible" -- not that there was something special about the "Gospels." Spending lots of time with the small portion of the Bible you agree with or like is hardly a commitment to it. If one reads "eat, drink, and be merry" every night before bed or every morning, does that mean that person believes “the Bible” to be special?

Of course, the 39 books of the Old Testament are also about Christ. But, either way, do not accuse me of banalities if you cannot say what you mean. If you mean that TJ thought the small portion of the Bible that he personally agreed with and that survived his scissors was "special" to him, then say so and then I'll agree with you and you'll be happy and will not have to resort to name-calling.


Re the supposedly “clear Christianity of what is left” and the “blatant Christianity” in the LaM: Jefferson removed anything which was “blatant” and “clear” – you see Christianity in it because you choose to do so. There is precious little that is inherently “Christian” in what survived the scissors. Let’s look at your examples (I don’t know if I’ll take time to deal with all of them, as there are so many and I have work to do – but I’ll start at the beginning of your list and see how far I get).

GENERAL COMMENT: most of what TJ included could simply be taken as moralisms, clever turns of phrases, and exhortations to general spirituality (as per Deepak Chopra) without the crucial lynchpins which he removes from almost every passage. I.e. without the total context.

On most, I’m going to write as if I were a nonbeliever looking at the passages rationally and without the contextual parts which were removed throughout.

Lk. 22:67-70 [MINUS 69]
TJ includes their question and his verbal exchange with them in which, in the translation TJ uses, Jesus merely says that THEY say He is the Christ – He doesn’t. That can be taken as mere acknowledgment of why He’s on trial – that’s their charge against Him. The crucial verse is verse 69 in which he makes a specific claim about the Son of Man being seated at God’s right hand – but TJ cuts that out.

John 18:33-36
This can be taken simply as Jesus defending Himself by assuring Pilate that He is no threat to Pilate or Rome – which is what Pilate was concerned about. What Jesus says next can be taken as claim to a philosophical kingdom (like Plato’s Republic) – a kingdom of “truth.” To someone without the parts of the Gospels cut out, that’s what the kingdom “not of this world” would logically mean.

Lk. 19:9-10
Jesus does not present HIMSELF as the source of salvation – rather that Zaccheus is a Jew (son of Abraham) who has come to his moral senses. He implies that He is the Son of MAN – but never the Son of God (those parts are cut). Why wouldn’t TJ like the title Son of Man? – that’s all he thought Jesus was. The Son of Man seeks those Jews who are not living morally and tries to “save” them by getting them to do good – not through any special commitment to HIM.

John 12:20-24 [MINUS ½ OF VERSE 23]
Unlike what you say in your original post, Jesus does NOT claim to be the Son of Man Who is to be glorified in TJ’s version, because he cut out the part of verse 23 in which Jesus said that. What is left is a standard truism about the reproduction of wheat. There is no connection left between Jesus and the grain of wheat – so there is no connection to HIM bringing life to others.

Mark 12:1-9
YOU say that the parable makes Jesus’ role that of the Son of God – but that is NOT said in the parts of this passage surviving TJ’s scissors. He conveniently cuts out verses 10-11 which connect Him to Old Testament prophecy about the Messiah (Christ) – and which caused the Jewish leaders to seek to seize Him (another verse cut out).

Luke 7:37-43
Let me skip to one more – the one you keep repeating. You keep saying that Jesus forgave other people’s sins in TJ’s version and you gave this passage as an example. That is very curious because the verse in which Jesus does say “her sins, which are many, have been forgiven” is verse 47 – BUT TJ’S ACCOUNT ENDS AT VERSE 46! He cut out the part in which Jesus makes this claim!

I hope this is enough to demonstrate that YOU ARE READING CHRISTIAN CONTENT INTO WHAT’S LEFT IN THESE PASSAGES, but there is nothing INHERENTLY Christian without the parts TJ left out! Without those critical parts, a rational person would simply view Jesus in the way that TJ wants them to view Him – as a good man with interesting ideas and promoting morality. In fact, it would be more accurate to say that one could better see “clear Christianity” and “blatant Christianity” in the scraps on TJ’s floor than in the sections glued to the page!

So, to answer your question as to why TJ left in so much clear and blatant Christianity if he were not seeking for the truth, the answer is: HE DIDN’T. Pure and simple.

Finally, to argue that TJ is honestly trying to determine Jesus’ identity via “style and spirit” might have some merit IF TJ were an acknowledged expert in “style and spirit” in Greek – AND, if the one making the determinations of style and spirit didn’t have his own agenda coming into the project (which he admits that he had). If someone who were impartial and didn’t have a dog in the race were to attempt this (if such a person could exist), then it might have some validity. But Jefferson admittedly came to the project with convictions about Jesus – and he was determined to affirm those. Maybe just to make himself feel vindicated or more secure in his infidelity.

This is why “higher criticism” is such a disaster and always confirms what those undertaking it believed to begin with. “Surprise! Surprise! The Bible teaches what I’ve said all along!” It’s inevitably a self-fulfilling prophecy. Most are not quite as insolent as Jefferson, though – they only proceed AS IF they had cut up the Bible – they don’t actually DO it.
Heads Up:

I'll be on Ed Brayton's radio show from 6:00-7:00 talking about the Founding & Religion. You can listen to it here.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Steve Morse Plays Bach:

Man: Born Free and Equal:

That sentiment is at the heart of modern politics and it's also what connects the American and French Revolutions. I wrote more about it here in one of my more widely read posts at Positive Liberty.

There I quoted political scientist Francis Fukuyama from a CSPAN interview about a book he wrote on the matter:

Now, by the French Revolution, we don’t mean just the limited historical event; what we mean is the emergence of what we understand as modern liberal democracy because in the French Revolution, ultimately what it was about was a revolution in favor of the principles of liberty and equality. Now you could substitute the American Revolution for that because, I think in that kind of ideological sense, those two revolutions were equivalent. I mean, they were both revolutions to create what I earlier defined as a liberal democracy as a political system based on popular sovereignty with guarantees of individual rights.

These "liberal democratic" notions written of in America's Declaration of Independence and France's Declaration(s) of the Rights of man are at the heart (soul?) of "constitutional republicanism." (Of course, the East Coast Straussians argue we need the FORM of constitutional republicanism without its "rights oriented" HEART; but that's a story for another day.)

The difference between today's insistence on freedom and equality and that of the French and American Revolutions is that back then they attached metaphysical or religious essences to liberal democracy, whereas today we tend not to; Fukuyama recognized this in "The End of History and the Last Man" where he noted it was History, NOT "natural right" OR the Bible that would eventually vindicate the universal acceptance of liberal democracy, i.e., the notion that man is born free and equal with "rights" against governments, and governments, consequently, derive their legitimacy from the consent of the governed.

For the non-historicist reading of the eventual universality of liberal democracy, see Ellis Sandoz's political sermons where we see "patriotic preachers" -- some of them unitarian, some of them trinitarian, all of them "enlightened," meaning they injected excessive use of man's "reasoning" into their sermons -- arguing the American and French Revolutions as sister events. AND they thought liberal democracy would terminate with the success of the French Revolution which would usher in a "millennial republic" of liberty, equality and fraternity.

Of course, not all who supported the American Revolution supported the French from the start. Edmund Burke and John Adams didn't and they were outliers. However, the view that the two revolutions were sister events dominated American thought (and much of British Whig thought) at the beginning of the French Revolution.

See the following past posts of mine for more in depth examination of these sermons here, here, here, here and here.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

America: Founded as a Religiously Free and Equal, not a "Christian" Nation:

In his excellent book Founding Faith, Steven Waldman notes America was founded not as a "Secular" (the myth of the left) or a "Christian" (the myth of the right) Nation, but a religiously free nation. I think you could add to that a religiously "equal" nation as well. Dr. Gregg Frazer has noted that America was founded to be "religious" not "Christian" and America's key Founders were themselves "religious" but not "Christian" men. And I think that component needs to be understood in the mix as well.

Here I argue that the notion of a religiously free and equal nation is arguably incompatible with the idea of a "Christian Nation." There is a false quotation, widely spread on the Internet attributed to Patrick Henry:

It cannot be emphasized too strongly or too often that this great Nation was founded not by religionists, but by Christians; not on religions, but on the Gospel of Jesus Christ. For that reason alone, people of other faiths have been afforded freedom of worship here.

It's this type of sentiment that expositors of the Christian Nation thesis need to rely on to reconcile "Christian Nation" with religious liberty. That's why you see it so widely quoted. But as noted, the quote is a myth and the idea of religious liberty (and equality) applied beyond "the Christian sects" is arguably irreconcilable with the Christian Nation thesis. That's one reason why some (not all) Christian Nationalists argue the religious clauses were meant to apply to "Christianity only." Were that true one could still make the "Christian Nation" claim. And no doubt some/many in the population understood the clauses that way. But not the Founding Presidents. And they wrote "religion" not "Christianity" into the text of the Constitution. So when, for instance, George Washington, as President wrote to a Jewish Congregation at Newport and noted --

"It is now no more that toleration is spoken of, as if it was by the indulgence of one class of people, that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights. For happily the government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens, in giving it on all occasions their effectual support.…May the children of the Stock of Abraham, who dwell in this land, continue to merit and enjoy the good will of the other inhabitants, while every one shall sit in safety under his own vine and fig-tree, and there shall be none to make him afraid."

-- it seems impossible to claim with a straight face that the religion clauses meant "Christianity" only. Likewise if the Free Exercise Clause applied beyond "Christianity" the Establishment Clause, in principle, by logical necessity did as well. Let's look at the text of the First Amendment:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;...

The text uses the term "religion" once. The "thereof" in the Free Exercise Clause relates back to term "religion" in the Establishment Clause. As Philip Hamburger noted it is logically impossible for that one term used in one place to mean two different things. The EC and FEC are like Siamese twins who share the same heart. If it's a "religion" for FEC purposes, it is also a "religion" for EC purposes.

With that said, let me address the issue of religious pluralism. The population of America during the Founding era was roughly 98% Protestant Christian in a formal/nominal sense (with men like Jefferson who rejected every single tenet of Christian orthodoxy meeting this minimal definition of "Protestant Christian"). The largest non-Christian population were probably the Native Americans (I think I can safely say they outnumbered Jews). There weren't that many Roman Catholics outside of Maryland. I doubt the Jews broke one thousand in number (I could be wrong). And though Muslims were not non-existent in America, you probably could them on two hands if not one. I know of no Hindus or Buddhists (perhaps they did exist; I'm just not aware of them).

Expounding on this dynamic two of my American Creation co-bloggers Tom Van Dyke and Kristo Miettinen wrote what follows. First TVD:

I object to the current We Are the World sentiment that Muslims and Hindus [or atheists, but that's a different discussion] have any connection with the Founding principles. For the simple reason that there weren't any around.

Although some Founders mention those religions in the abstract, there's no evidence they had any genuine understanding of them.

Then Kristo reacting to my assertion that "[t]here was no alliance of Jews & Christians during the Founding era. It was 'Protestant Christians' in one box - the 'in' box - and Jews, Roman Catholics, Muslims and pagans in the other more 'out' box."

I'd say (but you know this) that Jews were respected as a harmless curiosity (rather like the Indians), paleo-orthodox Catholics and (and depending upon which state we're talking about) Presbyterians in the 'out' box, and Muslims (and Buddhists and whatever) not in any box at all - theoretical abstractions of no practical consequence.

My response to both of my co-bloggers is regardless of HOW many non-Christians there were and WHAT the FFs "understood" about them, those "theoretical abstractions" were fundamental to their ideals and had serious practical consequences, not necessarily during the Founding era, but during the years to come. Those "theoretical abstractions" are THE PRIME reason why in 2009 the current President could accurately say America is not a Christian Nation.

Let's turn to the Founding record for evidence. First we have Jefferson's Virginia Statute on religious freedom. A relevant part reads:

that to compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of opinions which he disbelieves, is sinful and tyrannical; that even the forcing him to support this or that teacher of his own religious persuasion, is depriving him of the comfortable liberty of giving his contributions to the particular pastor whose morals he would make his pattern, and whose powers he feels most persuasive to righteousness, and is withdrawing from the ministry those temporal rewards, which proceeding from an approbation of their personal conduct, are an additional incitement to earnest and unremitting labors for the instruction of mankind; that our civil rights have no dependence on our religious opinions, more than our opinions in physics or geometry;

Jefferson in his autobiography also makes clear who exactly was covered under the act:

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.

That is a classic sentiment of religious liberty and equality. You are free to practice your religion and you have equal rights as a citizen under the law regardless of your religion. If VA were a Christian State or the US a Christian Nation, only professing Christians would be recognized as full citizens. Now Jefferson and Madison believed in this "Virginia model" on Church & State which was at the "left" end of the spectrum. The "right" end of the spectrum was the Mass. model which permitted more integration of Church & State, indeed a mild religious establishment (which Mass. had until 1833). George Washington and John Adams are the most notable representatives of the Mass. model (yes, I know GW was from VA).

BUT, here's the kicker -- the Mass. model is still compatible with the notion of religious liberty and equality for all. And I would argue a natural rights republic, what America is, (as opposed to a "Christian state") demands any kind of state establishment be done while respecting religious liberty and equality rights of all, including non-Christians who are by nature equal citizens according to key American Founding thought. So how is this done? George Washington so explained, giving his reasons for why he, unlike Jefferson and Madison, didn't oppose government funding teachers of religion.

I must confess, that I am not amongst the number of those who are so much alarmed at the thoughts of making people pay towards the support of that which they profess, if of the denomination of Christians; or declare themselves Jews, Mahomitans or otherwise, and thereby obtain proper relief. As the matter now stands, I wish an assessment had never been agitated, and as it has gone so far, that the Bill could die an easy death; because I think it will be productive of more quiet to the State, than by enacting it into a Law; which, in my opinion, would be impolitic, admitting there is a decided majority for it, to the disquiet of a respectable minority.

Did you get that? As equal citizens with natural rights under the law if one merely declared himself a Jew or a Muslim he would be entitled to "relief" from having to support a religion in which he didn't believe. If VA were a "Christian" state, the response would be Jews and Muslims are lucky to worship freely here (arguably a "Christian State" wouldn't let them) and "Christianity" is entitled to your tax dollars regardless.

Friday, May 08, 2009

Perfect Death Penalty Case:

One thing I don't like about the death penalty is it is administered by government, which often, because of government's inherent incompetence, makes mistakes. And this is a mistake that can't be undone. However, where there is a "no doubt" case -- and there are many of these -- and a brutal, sadistic murder like this one, I just don't see how ANYONE could have a problem with executing such monsters that take human form. We should be happy when such monsters are vanquished from human existence and HOPE for a chance of justice on the other side, because these folks actually deserve to die in a way that would violate the 8th Amendment, in a way our constitutional system does not permit. (And should not permit; I wouldn't trust any government with the power to give these kinds of folks the death that they morally and justly deserve; if God exists, that's His or Her or Its domain; and if God doesn't exist then these folk, whether they are executed or serve the rest of their lives in prison, rip off the cosmic justice system by not suffering what they actually deserve.)

Thursday, May 07, 2009

John Adams Regrets His Call to Prayer:

At American Creation Brian Tubbs accurately notes John Adams' call to prayer as President. He also notes the ironic dynamic that the prayer sounded Trinitarian but Adams himself was a unitarian.

It should also be noted that Adams regretted that call to prayer and claims that it cost him the Presidency against Jefferson.

As Adams explained, the prayer made him and America sound more "orthodox," less religiously pluralistic than they really were. As he noted:

The National Fast, recommended by me turned me out of office. It was connected with the general assembly of the Presbyterian Church, which I had no concern in. That assembly has allarmed and alienated Quakers, Anabaptists, Mennonists, Moravians, Swedenborgians, Methodists, Catholicks, protestant Episcopalians, Arians, Socinians, Armenians, & & &, Atheists and Deists might be added. A general Suspicon prevailed that the Presbyterian Church was ambitious and aimed at an Establishment of a National Church. I was represented as a Presbyterian and at the head of this political and ecclesiastical Project. The secret whisper ran through them “Let us have Jefferson, Madison, Burr, any body, whether they be Philosophers, Deists, or even Atheists, rather than a Presbyterian President.” This principle is at the bottom of the unpopularity of national Fasts and Thanksgivings. Nothing is more dreaded than the National Government meddling with Religion.

-- John Adams to Benjamin Rush, June 12, 1812. Old Family Letters, 392-93; taken from Hutson’s The Founders on Religion, 101-02.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Ben Franklin's Proto-Mormonism and How the Founding Fathers Might Have Approached Mormonism:

Since we are on the topic of Mormonism at American Creation, I believe the LDS make a good "test case" for the "Christianity" of the American Founders (or that of the so called "key Founders"). The Mormons consider themselves "Christian." So did (or likely did) Washington, J. Adams, Jefferson, Madison, Franklin, G. Morris, Hamilton, and some others. Both groups certainly operate in the larger tradition of "Judeo-Christian" Providentialism. Yet, the "orthodox" generally don't consider "Mormonism" to be "Christianity." If Mormonism can't pass the "Christianity" test of the "orthodox," neither could the religion of each above mentioned Founding Father with the exception of, perhaps, Hamilton at his deathbed.

Moreover, Mormonism, because it was formed post-American Founding, more authentically incorporates "American theology" than historic Christianity does. Historic Christianity believes revelation stopped some 2000 years ago. Some of the adherents of the "Christian America" crowd act as though the American Founding was a "divine" event, the founding documents, "divinely inspired." Viewing the founding documents as divinely inspired is blasphemy to orthodox Christianity, properly understood. But it is, or could be, legitimately part of Mormonism.

Indeed, as far as I know, some of the eccetric beliefs of the Mormons that do not derive from orthodox Christianity actually trace back to the American Founding Fathers. Notions like God is a Being of material matter which Joseph Priestley and Thomas Jefferson (and John Locke?) believed. Or the idea that American Indians may be part of the "Lost Tribes of Israel," which, among others, the orthodox figure Elias Boudinot posited.

Here is Ben Franklin flirting with a theology that might aptly be termed "proto-Mormonism." (I wouldn't at all be surprised if the following sentiment influenced the Founders of Mormonism). As he wrote in 1728:

First Principles

I believe there is one Supreme most perfect Being, Author and Father of the Gods themselves.

For I believe that Man is not the most perfect Being but One, rather that as there are many Degrees of Beings his Inferiors, so there are many Degrees of Beings superior to him.

Also, when I stretch my Imagination thro' and beyond our System of Planets, beyond the visible fix'd Stars themselves, into that Space that is every Way infinite, and conceive it fill'd with Suns like ours, each with a Chorus of Worlds for ever moving round him, then this little Ball on which we move, seems, even in my narrow Imagination, to be almost Nothing, and my self less than nothing, and of no sort of Consequence.

When I think thus, I imagine it great Vanity in me to suppose, that the Supremely Perfect, does in the least regard such an inconsiderable Nothing as Man. More especially, since it is impossible for me to have any positive clear Idea of that which is infinite and incomprehensible, I cannot conceive otherwise, than that He, the Infinite Father, expects or requires no Worship or Praise from us, but that he is even INFINITELY ABOVE IT.

But since there is in all Men something like a natural Principle which enclines them to DEVOTION or the Worship of some unseen Power;

And since Men are endued with Reason superior to all other Animals that we are in our World acquainted with;

Therefore I think it seems required of me, and my Duty, as a Man, to pay Divine Regards to SOMETHING.

I CONCEIVE then, that the INFINITE has created many Beings or Gods, vastly superior to Man, who can better conceive his Perfections than we, and return him a more rational and glorious Praise. As among Men, the Praise of the Ignorant or of Children, is not regarded by the ingenious Painter or Architect, who is rather honour'd and pleas'd with the Approbation of Wise men and Artists.

It may be that these created Gods, are immortal, or it may be that after many Ages, they are changed, and Others supply their Places.

Howbeit, I conceive that each of these is exceeding wise, and good, and very powerful; and that Each has made for himself, one glorious Sun, attended with a beautiful and admirable System of Planets.

It is that particular wise and good God, who is the Author and Owner of our System, that I propose for the Object of my Praise and Adoration.

Now, the above sentiment was one of Franklin's personal theological eccentricities probably not shared by the other key Founders. And indeed I don't think that the key Founding Fathers would endorse many of the eccentricities of Mormonism. I also believe that the key Founders' theology is far more rationalistic and enlightenment oriented than is Mormonism. However, I am certain that the key Founders would have accepted Mormons' proper place at the table of American civil religion along with the Trinitarians and everyone else who believed in Providence and a future state of rewards and punishments. Remember, the test of "true religion" for men like Washington, J. Adams, Jefferson and Franklin was that it in fact produced virtue. And, according to the standards of so called "traditional Judeo-Christian morality," Mormons tend to live more "moral" lives than orthodox Christians. Hence Mormons, because they tend to be more "virtuous" than the orthodox would be saved BEFORE the orthodox, (if I dare assert what Washington et al. probably would have believed were they to witness Mormonism).

The key Founders probably would have viewed the Mormons' eccentric teachings not unlike they did the Swedenborg's. Here is what Wiki informs on that Church:

Swedenborg explicitly rejected the common explanation of the Trinity as a Trinity of Persons, which he said was not taught in the early Christian Church. Instead he explained in his theological writings how the Divine Trinity exists in One Person, in One God, the Lord Jesus Christ. Swedenborg also rejected the Protestant doctrine of salvation through faith alone, since he considered both faith and charity necessary for salvation, not one without the other. The purpose of faith, according to Swedenborg, is to lead a person to a life according to the truths of faith, which is charity.


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.

In other words, a non-Trinitarian Church with a famous leader who, apparently, believed in additional revelation from Angels to further "reform" Christianity.

And here is how Washington dealt with 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

Again, as noted, Washington and company didn't endorse the eccentric teachings of Swedenborgianism and Franklin's belief in a created personal God who "owns" our solar system seemed a personal eccentric belief of his. However, the key Founders ALSO didn't endorse orthodox Trinitarian doctrine, and vacillated between scoffing at it and mocking it (Jefferson and J. Adams) and being utterly unconcerned or agnostic about it (Franklin, Washington and Madison).

As Franklin put it to Ezra Stiles:

As to Jesus of Nazareth, my Opinion of whom you particularly desire, I think the System of Morals and his Religion as he left them to us, the best the World ever saw, or is likely to see; but I apprehend it has received various corrupting Changes, and I have with most of the present Dissenters in England, some Doubts as to his Divinity: tho' it is a Question I do not dogmatise upon, having never studied it, and think it needless to busy myself with it now, when I expect soon an Opportunity of knowing the Truth with less Trouble. I see no harm however in its being believed, if that Belief has the good Consequence as probably it has, of making his Doctrines more respected and better observed, especially as I do not perceive that the Supreme takes it amiss, by distinguishing the Believers, in his Government of the World, with any particular Marks of his Displeasure.

In that letter Franklin also outlined the contents of American civil religion:

Here is my Creed: I believe in one God, Creator of the Universe. That He governs it by his Providence. That he ought to be worshipped. That the most acceptable Service we can render to him, is doing Good to his other Children.

Period. That's it. Doctrines like original sin, the trinity, the incarnation, the atonement, eternal damnation, the eccentricities of Swedenborgianism (or today what we might term the eccentricities of Mormonism) are cast off as unimportant doctrines. Or as Jefferson put it:

Every religion consists of moral precepts, and of dogmas. In the first they all agree. All forbid us to murder, steal, plunder, bear false witness &ca. and these are the articles necessary for the preservation of order, justice, and happiness in society....We see good men in all religions, and as many in one as another. It is then a matter of principle with me to avoid disturbing the tranquility of others by the expression of any opinion on the [unimportant points] innocent questions on which we schismatize, and think it enough to hold fast to those moral precepts which are of the essence of Christianity, and of all other religions.

– Thomas Jefferson to James Fishback, Sept. 27, 1809

Again the key Founders put orthodox doctrines like the Trinity and infallibility of the Bible in the same "box" as the eccentric teachings of groups like the Swedenborgs -- "unimportant points" or "innocent questions on which we schismatize" that are NOT FOUNDATIONAL to the American civil-religious order.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Sunday, May 03, 2009

Jeffry Morrison on GW's Religion:

From his profile at Regent University:

Dr. Jeffry Morrison is Associate Professor of Government at Regent University and a faculty member at the federal government’s James Madison Memorial Fellowship Foundation in Washington, D.C. He has also taught at Georgetown University, where he was Bradley Research Fellow in the Department of Government and Adjunct Professor of History, at the United States Air Force Academy, where he was an award-winning member of the Department of Political Science, and at Princeton University, where he was Visiting Assistant Professor and James Madison Fellow in American Ideals and Institutions in the Department of Politics in 2003-04. He graduated with distinction from Boston College and from Georgetown, where he received his Ph.D. He is co-editor of The Founders on God and Government (Rowman & Littlefield, 2004), and author of John Witherspoon and the Founding of the American Republic ( University of Notre Dame Press, 2005), The Political Philosophy of George Washington (under contract, Johns Hopkins University Press), and articles on American political thought and public law.

[Yes I do feel a little weird about promoting the work of someone from the "Pat Robertson School of Government"; but it looks like this is real bona fide good scholarship.]

Dr. Morrison left a comment on John Fea's website about his conclusions on George Washington's religion contained in his book "The Political Philosophy of George Washington."

Dr. Fea is surely correct to admonish us to take Washington in his context, which was that of a nominal 18th-cent. Anglican. That said, it may be more difficult to argue that GW was clearly a Christian, if trinitarian belief is a necessary condition for being a Christian. As I've suggested in my POLITICAL PHILOSOPHY OF GEORGE WASHINGTON (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2009), the evidence for his orthodoxy is ambiguous. Perhaps not conclusive either way, but ambiguous. --Jeffry Morrison

I look forward to reading the book!

Saturday, May 02, 2009

Michael Lind on the Christian Nation Issue:

Because the current President recently challenged the "Christian Nation" thesis, some notable talking heads have addressed the issue and I hope to blog about all of them. You can read Michael Lind's agreement that America was not founded to be a "Christian Nation" on Salon here.

Many of his arguments I (and my cobloggers) have already seen (i.e., the Treaty of Tripoli). I'll try to highlight some of his unexpected and contentious claims.

First since I'm used to dealing with the Founding era, this quote from tenth president, John Tyler, in an 1843 letter, was new to me:

"The United States have adventured upon a great and noble experiment, which is believed to have been hazarded in the absence of all previous precedent -- that of total separation of Church and State. No religious establishment by law exists among us. The conscience is left free from all restraint and each is permitted to worship his Maker after his own judgment. The offices of the Government are open alike to all. No tithes are levied to support an established Hierarchy, nor is the fallible judgment of man set up as the sure and infallible creed of faith. The Mohammedan, if he will to come among us would have the privilege guaranteed to him by the constitution to worship according to the Koran; and the East Indian might erect a shrine to Brahma, if it so pleased him. Such is the spirit of toleration inculcated by our political Institutions."

This certainly wasn't the way everyone thought back then. However, when someone quote grabs from the Holy Trinity case and like materials, it's helpful to show that you can quote mine from other sources -- i.e., the President of the United States in 1843 -- for the opposite point of view. I did a quick search and found the entire letter here.

Here is another interesting passage from Lind's article:

True, over the years since the founding, Christian nationalists have won a few victories -- inserting "In God We Trust" on our money during the Civil War in 1863, adding "under God" to the Pledge of Allegiance during the Cold War in 1954. And there are legislative and military chaplains and ceremonial days of thanksgiving. But these are pretty feeble foundations on which to claim that the U.S. is a Christian republic. ("Judeo-Christian" is a weaselly term used by Christian nationalists to avoid offending Jews; it should be translated as "Christian.")

I've noted before the term "Judeo-Christian" might have some value; but those who most often use it tend to do so in a meaningless way. There was no alliance of Jews & Christians during the Founding era. It was "Protestant Christians" in one box -- the "in" box -- and Jews, Roman Catholics, Muslims and pagans in the other more "out" box. And the "in" group was not "orthodox Protestant Christian theology" either (that's what the Christian Nationalists might like you to think); rather it was nominal Protestant Christian identity. So Jefferson who rejected every tenet of orthodox Christianity was in the "in" box of "Protestant Christianity" with more orthodox figures like John Witherspoon and Timothy Dwight.

Further, Jews regard Jesus as a false Messiah and reject most of the New Testament as divinely inspired. Is "Judeo-Christian" a lowest-common-denominator system that includes these points? Few of the "Judeo-Christian" nationalists (most of whom are conservative orthodox Christians who opt for a more inclusive term) want to go there for good reason.

So, I'm with Lind so far. But then he makes a claim that surprised me:

The third argument holds that while the U.S. government itself may not be formally Christian, the Lockean natural rights theory on which American republicanism rests is supported, in its turn, by Christian theology. Jefferson summarized Lockean natural rights liberalism in the Preamble to the Declaration of Independence: "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights … that to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed …" Many conservatives assert that to be a good Lockean natural nights liberal, one must believe that the Creator who is endowing these rights is the personal God of the Abrahamic religions.

This conflation of Christianity and natural rights liberalism helps to explain one of John McCain's more muddled answers in his Beliefnet interview: "[The] United States of America was founded on the values of Judeo-Christian values [sic], which were translated by our founding fathers which is basically the rights of human dignity and human rights." The same idea lies behind then-Attorney General John Ashcroft's statement to religious broadcasters: "Civilized individuals, Christians, Jews and Muslims" -- sorry, Hindus and Buddhists! -- "all understand that the source of freedom and human dignity is the Creator."

In reality, neither Jewish nor Christian traditions know anything of the ideas of natural rights and social contract found in Hobbes, Gassendi and Locke. That's because those ideas were inspired by themes found in non-Christian Greek and Roman philosophy. Ideas of the social contract were anticipated in the fourth and fifth centuries BC by the sophists Glaucon and Lycophron, according to Plato and Aristotle, and by Epicurus, who banished divine activity from a universe explained by natural forces and taught that justice is an agreement among people neither to harm nor be harmed. The idea that all human beings are equal by nature also comes from the Greek sophists and was planted by the Roman jurist Ulpian in Roman law: "quod ad ius naturale attinet, omnes homines aequales sunt" -- according to the law of nature, all human beings are equal.

Desperate to obscure the actual intellectual roots of the Declaration of Independence in Greek philosophy and Roman law, Christian apologists have sought to identify the "Creator" who endows everyone with unalienable rights with the revealed, personal God of Moses and Jesus. But a few sentences earlier, the Declaration refers to "the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God." Adherents of natural rights liberalism often have dropped "Nature's God" and relied solely on "Nature" as the source of natural rights.

I understand and agree with the argument that natural rights liberalism as it comes from Hobbes and Locke is not "biblical" (arguably not "Christian" or "Judeo-Christian"). Though usually we don't see Gassendi mentioned. However, Lind traces the source for natural rights to the Ancient Greeks and Romans. Perhaps I've been reading too much of the Straussians on the matter but, this is not how I understand the concept of natural rights. It's true that the "natural law," defined as what man discovers from reason, has pagan Greco-Roman origins (Aristotle invented or "discovered" it). However, the classical and then Christian notion of natural law was not, or at least initially not "rights" oriented.

The Straussians argue "rights" are a Hobbsean-Lockean modern invention; there is another school, the Rodney Stark/Brian Tierney school (which I plan on blogging about in great detail in the future) that holds medieval Roman Catholics actually invented the concept of "rights" which Hobbes & Locke then inherited. Both of these schools would agree that the concept of rights are not explicitly found in the Bible. Though the Stark/Tierney school argues natural rights are implicit in the creation story. Both also agree that the classical Greco-Roman system of "nature" is not "rights" oriented but rather "duty-virtue" oriented.

Needless to say, I am not yet convinced by Lind's assertion that natural rights theory (as opposed to mere "nature" or natural law) traces back to Ancient Greece and Rome. I see it as something that comes later.

Also, the idea of noble pagan-Greco-Roman sense of duty and virtue was quite influential during the Founding era. And this is something Christian Nationalists also tend to ignore. The Straussians see a defect in the Founding because the Declaration of Independence mentions ONLY rights, not duties and the unamended Constitution seems silent on both rights and duties. The amended Constitution added a "Bill of Rights." The Straussians would be happy if the Constitution and DOI more explicitly invoked the "noble pagan" sense of duty and virtue as opposed to the more modern "rights teachings" invoked in the DOI, (but not the Constitution).

But the point to take home is "Judeo-Christian" morality arguably wasn't the prevailing morality, at least not among the men who wrote the DOI and the Constitution; rather a noble pagan "Greco-Roman" sense of virtue and duty was. Yes, there were overlaps; but there were also differences. Though the DOI and US Constitution are relatively brief documents, the Federalist Papers and Notes taken during the Constitutional Convention were not brief at all. It is true that some "Judeo-Christian" philosophy and morality can be identified in those sources (i.e., Madison's comment about man having a degree of depravity in Federalist 55 and Ben Franklin's call to prayer at the Constitutional Convention that makes a biblical allusion); but Greco-Roman ideology, especially as it relates to duty and virtue, far outweighs the "Judeo-Christian," at least in those specific sources.

When the "Christian Nationalists" skip over this part of his and say America has "Christian" or "Judeo-Christian" foundations, period, they distort history. In that sense I agree with Michael Lind.