Friday, July 31, 2009

Summertime Blues:

My Positive Liberty co-blogger DA Ridgely linked to Rush's excellent version of this classic. Eddie Cochrane's "Summertime Blues" must be one of the most covered tunes by rock stars. Here is Levon Helm doing it on SCTV. Other versions of the tune by notable rockers to come.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Samuel West, Reason & Revelation:

Probably one of the most contentious assertions of Dr. Gregg Frazer' PhD thesis on "theistic rationalism" as the prevailing political theology of the American Founding is the tenet of "theistic rationalism" that holds while some of the Bible is divinely inspired and while reason and revelation by in large agree, all apparent contradictions between the two must be resolved in favor of "reason." Hence, "reason trumps revelation." Thomas Jefferson and John Adams in their private letters say this in no uncertain terms. I think we could probably add Ben Franklin to the list. He promoted "rational Christianity," doubted the Trinity, admired the "unitarian dissenters" in England like Joseph Priestley (considered unitarians "honest" and "rational") and in one letter stated certain things in the Bible are IMPOSSIBLE to have been given by divine inspiration. Likewise the Rev. Joseph Priestley, a key influence on the American Founders, held the "plenary inspiration of the Bible" to be one of the "corruptions of Christianity."

But there was something more subtle going on as well. American unitarian patriotic preachers like Revs. Jonathan Mayhew, Charles Chauncy, and Samuel West, while they purported to hold both reason and revelation in high regard, didn't go around explicitly claiming "reason trumps revelation" (as far as I have read). However, I think one could argue this is what they DID in their hermeneutic approach to the Bible. In their political sermons, they would first assert things like the law of nature as determined by reason is God given and consequently immutable. When posed with theological issues, in particular submission to tyrants, they would look first NOT to the Bible, but rather to nature/reason for the answer. Once nature/reason determined the TRUTH on the matter, they "found" confirmation in the Bible, even if they had to adopt an odd hermeneutic in order to make "reason and revelation" agree. Thus, they may not have said: "The Bible is partially inspired and fallible; reason trumps revelation." But I think one could argued they PROCEEDED as though this were the case.

With that, let's examine one of Rev. Samuel West's sermons on revolution. West, along with fellow unitarians Mayhew, Cooper, Chauncy and others, promoted the revolutionary cause and they were key in securing its success.

From West's Election Day Sermon. First, West makes it clear that discoveries of reason are at least as viable as scripture:

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

Next West asserts scripture or "right revelation" cannot contract "reason" or the "natural law."

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

He then imports wholly a-biblical Lockean “state of nature” teachings -- discoveries "found" in "nature" -- as decisive on the matter:

That we may understand the nature and design of civil government, and discover the foundation of the magistrate’s authority to command, and the duty of subjects to obey, it is necessary to derive civil government from its original, in order to which we must consider what “state all men are naturally in, and that is (as Mr. Locke observes) a state of perfect freedom to order all their actions, and dispose of their possessions and persons as they think fit, within the bounds of the law of nature, without asking leave or depending upon the will of any man.” It is a state wherein all are equal,–no one having a right to control another, or oppose him in what he does, unless it be in his own defence, or in the defence of those that, being injured, stand in need of his assistance.

Had men persevered in a state of moral rectitude, every one would have been disposed to follow the law of nature, and pursue the general good. In such a state, the wisest and most experienced would undoubtedly be chosen to guide and direct those of less wisdom and experience than themselves,–there being nothing else that could afford the least show or appearance of any one’s having the superiority or precedency over another; for the dictates of conscience and the precepts of natural law being uniformly and regularly obeyed, men would only need to be informed what things were most fit and prudent to be done in those cases where their inexperience or want of acquaintance left their minds in doubt what was the wisest and most regular method for them to pursue. In such cases it would be necessary for them to advise with those who were wiser and more experienced than themselves. But these advisers could claim no authority to compel or to use any forcible measures to oblige any one to comply with their direction or advice. There could be no occasion for the exertion of such a power; for every man, being under the government of right reason, would immediately feel himself constrained to comply with everything that appeared reasonable or fit to be done, or that would any way tend to promote the general good. This would have been the happy state of mankind had they closely adhered to the law of nature, and persevered in their primitive state.

Thus we see that a state of nature, though it be a state of perfect freedom, yet is very far from a state of licentiousness….

After establishing the state of nature/man’s reason as the decisive standard to which any truth must conform, West concludes:

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

After answering the question using reason and Lockean theories, Samuel West then looks to the scriptures for support, already having his mind made up as to what the final outcome must be. The proof texts are Romans 13 and Titus iii which seem to instruct believers to submit to and obey the civil magistrate even if tyrants:

This account of the nature and design of civil government, which is so clearly suggested to us by the plain principles of common sense and reason, is abundantly confirmed by the sacred Scriptures….in Rom. xiii., the first six verses: “Let every soul be subject to the higher powers; for there is no power but of God. The powers that be are ordained of God. Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God; and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation; for rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? Do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same: for he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doth evil. Wherefore ye must needs be subject not only for wrath, but also for conscience’ sake. For, for this cause pay you tribute also; for they are God’s ministers, attending continually upon this very thing.” A very little attention, I apprehend, will be sufficient to show that this text is so far from favoring arbitrary government, that, on the contrary, it strongly holds forth the principles of true liberty. Subjection to the higher powers is enjoined by the apostle because there is no power but of God; the powers that be are ordained of God; consequently, to resist the power is to resist the ordinance of God: and he repeatedly declares that the ruler is the minister of God. Now, before we can say whether this text makes for or against the doctrine of unlimited passive obedience, we must find out in what sense the apostle affirms that magistracy is the ordinance of God, and what he intends when he calls the ruler the minister of God.

We see West using “context,” and his a-biblical presumptions to explain away these proof texts. He ends up concluding “that the apostle Paul, instead of being a friend to tyranny and arbitrary government, turns out to be a strong advocate for the just rights of mankind….” Or in other words, Paul really meant we do have a right to revolt against the magistrate, the seemingly opposite of what he said. Do keep in mind that the ruler to whom Paul told believers to obey was not some “godly” ruler, but the pagan psychopath Nero. West addresses that point:

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

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

The second point — if Paul said this when Nero was indeed acting tyrannical, he must not have meant it! — shows West’s willingness disregard scripture which disagrees with reason.

But in any event, the question that I ask is what is Rev. West actually DOING in his interpretation of scripture. Is he substituting his "own" judgment derived from "reason" for what's actually written in scripture. Or is his "reasoned" interpretation of scripture consistent with the idea that the whole of the Bible is inspired (I suppose with parts that the Holy Spirit meant not to be taken seriously, but as satire, where the text of the Bible could mean the opposite of what it apparently on the surface teaches).

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Where the Action is At:

I just noticed this lively Christian Nation debate thread at my friend Ed Brayton's blog. One person there I think has already been banned from the site. But, he is trying to do better today and not engage in what Ed Brayton has termed "ignorant ravings." He has his hands full there.
George Washington v. Fundamentalists:

On the Swedenborgs. From a modern fundamentalist website:

Swedenborgianism is also known as The New Church, the Church of New Jerusalem.

Founder: Emanuel Swedenborg, born in Stockholm, Sweden in 1688. Died in 1772. Of course, members of this group deny that Emanuel Swedenborg is the author of the religion, but will admit that it draws it primary theology from his writings.

Headquarters: No single headquarters. The North American headquarters is located in Newtonville, MA.

Membership: 25,000 to 50,000 world wide.

Doctrines: Denies the Vicarious Atonement, the Trinity, and deity of the Holy Spirit. It holds to Christ as divine. All religions lead to God, though all are not equally enlightened. One of its goals is to bring the world together under a new religious understanding. It teaches a need for Christianity to undergo a rebirth — according to Swedenborgian interpretations. The Bible is the inspired word of God with two levels: the historical and the deeper spiritual one. Regarding the Trinity, a Swedenborg pastor said, "The Christian trinity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are aspects of God just as soul, body, and activities are aspects of each one of us."

There is no personal devil. Instead, the devil is the personification of human evil. Hell is corrupted human society. The Scriptures are best interpreted through the writings of Swedenborg. Angels go through cycles of purity of character where they are sometimes closer and at other it times further from God. Swedenborg stated that the Acts and Epistles were not inspired as are the four Gospels and the Book of Revelation. There is no physical resurrection. After death, a person becomes an angel or an evil spirit. Angels are not supernatural creations of God. Position in the afterlife is based on "the kind of life we have chosen while here on earth."

At a person’s death, his mind falls asleep for three days in a place called the world of the spirits. Afterwards, he awakens and encounters spirits who’ve died before hand who help him adjust to the afterlife.


Origins: Emanuel Swedenborg was born on January 29, 1688 (died 1772) in Stockholm. His father was a Lutheran minister. Emanuel was very bright and had an inquisitive mind. He was particularly interested in science and religion. In the former, he was recognized as an expert in geology and he also studied astronomy, cosmology, and physics. In 1744 he was stricken with a severe delirium which seems to have affected his mind for the rest of his life since many trance states were attributed to him as his life progressed.

In 1745 he had a vision where loathsome creatures seemed to crawl on the walls of his room. Then a man appeared who claimed to be God. This apparition said that Emanuel was to be the one who would communicate the teachings of the unseen realm to the people of the world. He would be the means by which God would further reveal Himself to the world.

Publications: Arcana Coelestia: The Earths in the Universe. The 35 volumes of writings by Swedenborg.

Comments: This is a dangerous mystical non-Christian religion. Its denial of the Trinity and the Holy Spirit, the vicarious atonement, and rejection of Acts and the Pauline epistles clearly set it outside of Christian orthodoxy.

From George Washington:

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

And yes, the Swedenborgs of GW's day, after Swedenborg himself who, like the Mormons, claimed additional revelation, believed, more or less, what the fundamentalist website reproduced.

This is what Wiki said of ES:

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.

How this might help an "originalist" interpretation of the religion clauses: Whether Washington was personally saying he had no problems with the theology or just being "diplomatic," one thing is clear: He tells the Swedenborgs they are covered under the US Constitution's "religion clauses."

There is debate as to what exactly was protected under the original federal Constitution. The term "religion" is used generically in Art. VI and the First Amendment. Some Christian Nationalists suggest it meant "Christian sects only." I disagree for a number of reasons. However, the issues in this case are, 1) what is "Christianity"? 2) is Swedenborgianism "Christianity"? And then 3) proceed with your conclusions under the irrefutable premise that whatever Swedenborgianism is, George Washington held it to be equally protected with all of the other "sects" under the US Constitution's laws.
Why John Locke Likely was a Unitarian:

Professor John Marshall of Johns Hopkins University explains why John Locke likely was a unitarian. As an authoritative expert on the matter, Marshall is about as top notch as it gets.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

In a Perfect World:

In a no doubt capital murder case done in such a horrific way, not only would we have the death penalty but the monster/perpetrators would be executed swiftly, certainly within less than five years.

The Dr. whose family was killed wants the death penalty. Who would deny him this? If it makes him feel any better, that alone should be reason to support capital punishment in these kinds of cases.
That 70s Band:

This clip of Steve Walsh/Kansas is SOOO 70s. It's no secret I'm a big Kansas fan and that I like their more proggy tunes as opposed to two we hear on the radio. Those are great tunes though. Here is one of them: Carry on Wayward Son. Steve Walsh had a big drug problem in the 70s, 80s, and part of the 90s. It's rumored that he performed most of the shows high on coke. After viewing this clip, that wouldn't surprise me. I know he was on something when I saw them in 1993. I'm fairly certain he's been sober for all of the recent shows I've seen. He typifies a guy who is weird, cool and immensely talented at the same time.

There is something oddly compelling about Walsh's bongo playing.
Fea on the Barton & Marshall Controversy:

John Fea has an op-ed in the Houston Chronicle on the David Barton, Peter Marshall Texas Public Education history controversy. A taste:

Both Marshall and Barton suggest removing Anne Hutchinson from the curriculum. Marshall describes her as a woman who “didn't accomplish anything except getting herself exiled from the Massachusetts Bay Colony for making trouble.”

The conservative reviewers are not happy that Texas students are learning about Cesar Chavez, a Mexican-American labor leader and civil rights activist. Marshall's report states that Chavez “is hardly the kind of role model that ought to be held up to our children as someone worthy of emulation.”

Of course, a strong argument could be made for the inclusion of both Hutchinson and Chavez. It could even be advanced from the perspective of the Christian faith that Marshall and Barton hold dear.

Hutchinson, for example, boldly stood before John Winthrop and defended liberty of conscience in matters of religion. Chavez's labor activism was informed by his Catholicism.

But there is a bigger issue at stake here. It goes beyond the debate over who is “in” and who is “out.” It is the place of history in a school curriculum.

The study of history develops civic awareness and provides us with heroes from the past that we can look up to. This is the kind of history that Barton and Marshall want to promote. This kind of search for a useful past makes sense. Our natural inclination is to find something familiar in history — something that affirms our own convictions in the present.

Historians know, however, that not all of the past is familiar or useful. Not all of the past serves our present-day agendas.

Yet we must study it.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

The Problem with Out of Context Quotations:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A little history written in 1873 by Henry Wilder Foote on how the first Episcopal Church in New England became the first Unitarian Church in America:

Soon after this time, Mr. Freeman began to feel, scruples concerning those parts of the service which expressed or implied a belief in the doctrine of the Trinity. As he said, long after, "There was a certain concealment practiced before about the Trinity. Fisher (of Salem) has a singular way of satisfying his conscience. He was asked how he could read the Athanasian creed when he did not believe it. He replied, 'I read it, as if I did not believe it.' These are poor shifts. Mr. Pyle being directed by his Bishop to read it did so, saying, 'I am directed to read this, which is said to have been the creed of St. Athanasius, but God forbid that it should be yours or mine.' Another man had set it to a hunting tune and sang it. These, I think, would hardly satisfy the conscience of a truth-loving man." Nothing could have been more remote from his own character.

To the growing clearness in Mr. Freeman's opinions on this doctrine, various circumstances probably contributed. First, it was in the very air of the times and the place, as is shown by the way that similar opinions spread in Boston a little later. And then, the favorite authors whose writings he was reading, — particularly Dr. Priestley, of whom he was a life-long admirer, — were strongly anti-trinitarian. His friendly relations also with the Rev. William Hazlitt, an English Unitarian minister, who visited Boston in the autumn of 1784, doubtless had a considerable influence on his mind.


Mr. Freeman, says Dr. Greenwood, "became more and more convinced that the doctrine of the Trinity was unscriptural and untrue, and more and more uneasy in reading passages of solemn devotion in which it was assumed as a Christian truth. It was a season of great mental trial. . . . He communicated his difficulties to those of his friends with whom he was most intimate. He would come into their houses, and say, 'I must leave you. Much as I love you, I must leave you. I cannot conscientiously perform the service of the church any longer as it now stands.' But this little remnant of Episcopalians loved him, as well as he them, and did not wish to let him go. At length it was suggested to him, 'Why not state your difficulties, and the grounds of them, publicly to your whole people, that they may be able to judge of the case, and determine whether it is such as to require a separation between you and them, or not?' The suggestion was adopted. He preached a series of sermons in which he plainly stated his dissatisfaction with the trinitarian portion of the Liturgy, went fully into an examination of the trinitarian doctrine, and gave his reasons for rejecting it. He has himself assured me that when he delivered those sermons, he was under a strong impression that thy would be the last he should ever pronounce from this pulpit. . . . But he was heard patiently, attentively, kindly. The greater part of his hearers responded to his sentiments, and resolved to alter their Liturgy and retain their pastor.

. . . "Thus did Mr. Freeman, by following the dictates of his reason and conscience, become the first preacher in this country of what he held to be a purified Christian faith; and thus, through the means of his mental integrity and powers of exposition, did the First Episcopal Church in New England become the First Unitarian Church in the New World.["]

This went down circa 1786.

I reproduced this passage in part because I want to stress the dynamic that it should be utterly understandable that Founding era men who disbelieved in the Trinity could worship in Trinitarian Churches, having nowhere else to go or otherwise being wedded to the churches in an "institutional" sense. Indeed there were unitarian ministers in Trinitarian churches, some of whom "reformed" them into Unitarian churches.

Hopefully that above passage will shed light on what it felt like to be a dissenter in a Trinitarian Church who had to put up with hearing and in some cases begrudgingly reciting orthodox doctrines in which one didn't believe.

Friday, July 24, 2009

John Locke, Liberal "Christian":

I've closely read much of John Locke's religious writings. He no doubt, wrote in such a way to purposefully frustrate a close reader trying to figure out his intent. Many of his writings were anonymous. And he spent much of his life running from the law, leaving England for the Continent. He on the surface claimed to be a Christian, that Jesus was the Messiah and the Bible was divine revelation. He also excessively used "reason." And appeared to set reason v. revelation against one another in such a way that his thesis contradicts itself. As a commenter at American Creation put it:

Lockean theological rationalism itself deconstructs itself. Locke claimed "Revelation must be tried at the Court of reason," or something didn't he?? That raises the problem of historical authenticity, miracles and status of other faiths--not to say the problem of justifying the existence of a God a posteriori.

That pleasant Lockean empiricism gives way to Humean concerns, and Hume pretty much reduces ju-xtian scripture and theology to a strange historical footnote via a few paragraphs in the Enquiry. Believe if you will, but never mistake your religious belief for rationality itself (or as supported by evidence).

The followers of Leo Strauss have noted this and other contradictions in Locke's writings and conclude he was a Hobbes imbibed secret atheist trying to deconstruct revealed Trinitarian Christianity.

You can read Locke's Essay on Human Understanding, Chapter 14 where he discusses reason v. revelation here:

14. Revelation must be judged of by reason. He, therefore, that will not give himself up to all the extravagances of delusion and error must bring this guide of his light within to the trial. God when he makes the prophet does not unmake the man. He leaves all his faculties in the natural state, to enable him to judge of his inspirations, whether they be of divine original or no. When he illuminates the mind with supernatural light, he does not extinguish that which is natural. If he would have us assent to the truth of any proposition, he either evidences that truth by the usual methods of natural reason, or else makes it known to be a truth which he would have us assent to by his authority, and convinces us that it is from him, by some marks which reason cannot be mistaken in. Reason must be our last judge and guide in everything. I do not mean that we must consult reason, and examine whether a proposition revealed from God can be made out by natural principles, and if it cannot, that then we may reject it: but consult it we must, and by it examine whether it be a revelation from God or no: and if reason finds it to be revealed from God, reason then declares for it as much as for any other truth, and makes it one of her dictates. Every conceit that thoroughly warms our fancies must pass for an inspiration, if there be nothing but the strength of our persuasions, whereby to judge of our persuasions: if reason must not examine their truth by something extrinsical to the persuasions themselves, inspirations and delusions, truth and falsehood, will have the same measure, and will not be possible to be distinguished.

Locke also almost CERTAINLY was not a Trinitarian, but either a Socinian or Arian. When Locke posited his lowest common denominator -- the "essentials" of Christianity -- he simply said Jesus was the Messiah: No Trinity, no atonement, no orthodox doctrines. In other words his LCD included Arians, Socinians and Trinitarians -- they all believe Jesus was Messiah. He was accused of secretly peddling Socinianism. And his response was NOT "I am a Trinitarian," but rather a Bill Clinton-like "in my whole Essay, I think there is not to be found any thing like an objection against the Trinity...."

Remember during this time it was illegal to explicitly deny the Trinity in England and heretics potentially faced execution for doing so.

Let's leave aside the question of whether Locke were a secret atheist, which no doubt has huge implications for his teachings. What if Locke were simply a unitarian Christian who had a rationalistic method of supplementing the Bible with Truths whose essences are discovered in nature from reason?

Would that make him "not a Christian"? I think the answer is it depends on whose definition of Christianity use. While visiting a lecture at Princeton I discussed this issue with Princeton Professor Paul Sigmund and Jeff Morrison who was a fellow at Princeton's James Madison Program, but now teaches at Regent University. Prof. Sigmund, from what I understand, is a Christian and a political liberal. And he advocates religious based/Christian based arguments on behalf of liberal causes. He is a man of the "religious left" as it were. Jeff Morrison is a conservative evangelical. Morrison lectured on his new book about George Washington's political philosophy. And he noted that though Protestant Christianity clearly influenced Washington and that Washington was a lifelong Anglican/Episcopalian, the evidence that Washington was a "Christian" was ambiguous. Morrison noted this was because he believed one had to believe in the Trinity in order to be a "Christian" and the evidence for GW's Trinitarianism is ambiguous.

When I asked Prof. Sigmund's this question he noted his definition of "a Christian" was one who believed Jesus was a Savior or Messiah, something divinely special about him (even if it was just his mission not his person). That would mean Arians, Socinians AND Trinitarians [and in today's world Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses] are all "Christians." And indeed all of the early Presidents from Washington to Monroe, including Jefferson probably were "Christians." Sigmund calls Locke, in no uncertain terms, a "Christian" yet he also believes (following Johns Hopkins Professor John Marshall) that Locke was an Arian.

The irony here is that America's Founding could be said to have a "Christian" political theology if one takes a more theological liberal, ecumenical, approach to "Christianity." "Civil Christianity" would incorporate not just Trinitarianism, but the unitarian heresies, folks who deny infallibility of the Bible, but who still believe certain "essential" parts to be divinely inspired, perhaps folks like the Mormons who add additional revelation. "Civil Christianity" might EVEN term religions like Judaism, Islam and ANYTHING ELSE "Christian" if the citizen behaves in a Jesus like way. Ghandi, for instance, may be a "Christian" accordingly.

However to the largely evangelical promoters of the "Christian Nation" thesis -- folks who view the Trinity as CENTRAL to "Christianity" -- the "Christian Nation" thesis fails. It is such a wonder that they are the ones who promote the idea of a "Christian Nation" so vociferously.
The Unconfirmed Quotations Hit the Billboards:

How embarrassing for the Christian Nationalists. When confronted with the fact that they just shelled out lots of $$ to erect a board of a fake quote, one of them responds:

Others carry the same message but with fictional attribution, as with one billboard citing George Washington for the quote, "It is impossible to rightly govern the world without God and the Bible."

"I don't believe there's a document in Washington's handwriting that has those words in that specific form," Kemple said. "However, if you look at Washington's quotes, including his farewell address, about the place of religion in the political sphere, there's no question he could have said those exact words."

Monday, July 20, 2009

John Calvin and the American Founding:

The following article from one Reed R. Heustis, Jr., Esq. almost completely misunderstands the role Calvin's thought played in the American Founding. I say "almost" because, of course, Calvin's thought had some qualified influence. But along with the thoughts of hundreds of other theologians and philosophers who were not Calvinists at all. Figures like Aristotle, Cicero, Seneca, Sidney, Locke, Milton, Newton, Clarke, Priestley, Price, Montesquieu, Hume, Arminius and yes, even Servetus whom the Founders held up as a model for what government should NOT do to heretics.

One of the key presuppositions to which the founding fathers held at the time of the Constitutional Convention in 1787 was the fallen nature of Man. They presupposed that Man's entire capacity was intrinsically evil, and that outside of God's sovereign grace, Man could accomplish no good thing. The Bible makes it plain: "[T]he intent of man's heart is evil from his youth." (Gen. 8:21)

One of Man's sins is his insatiable lust for power. Unless restrained, a powerful man will stop at nothing to trample the rights of others. He must be restrained both inwardly with the power of the Holy Spirit, and outwardly with mechanistic controls. Therefore, many state constitutions required a belief in Christ as a prerequisite to hold office, while the framers devised a federal Constitution that was intended specifically to check and balance the ambitions of men lest they accumulate tyrannical powers.

For the opposite point of view, compare that to what George Willis Cooke wrote in 1902:

The doctrine of degrees, as taught by the Calvinists, was the spiritual side of the assertion of the divine right of kings. On the other hand, when the people claim the right to rule, they modify their theology into Arminianism. From an age of the absolute rule of the king comes the doctrine of human depravity; and with the establishment of democracy appears the doctrine of man’s moral capacity.

Back to Mr. Heustis' article:

James Madison, the Father of the Constitution, wrote in Federalist No. 51, "What is government itself but the greatest of all reflections on human nature?"

I'm surprised he doesn't quote Madison's remarks in Federalist 55, the usual "proof-quote" for his belief in man's depravity:

As there is a degree of depravity in mankind which requires a certain degree of circumspection and distrust: So there are other qualities in human nature, which justify a certain portion of esteem and confidence. Republican government presupposes the existence of these qualities in a higher degree than any other form.

Notice Madison is saying that there is only a "degree" of depravity. Not TOTAL depravity. This is consistent with both Arminianism and rejection of original sin. It's barely consistent Calvinism.

And of course when asked to put his theological cards on the table, James Madison, in his letter to Frederick Beasley didn't turn to Calvin or even John Witherspoon for authority but Samuel Clarke, a naturalist, rationalist and Anglican divine who was nearly defrocked from his position in the Church for peddling the Arian heresy.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Were the Anglican Whigs Hypocrites:

A huge number of America's Founding Fathers were Anglicans then Episcopalians. Official church doctrines and oaths administered by the church held as a matter of political theology the right of the King of England to rule and demanded submission to his authority. Likewise the Tory ministers like Samuel Seabury argued the traditional understanding of Romans 13 that demanded unlimited submission to rulers.

It should be no surprise that a great many American Anglicans were Tory loyalists for that very reason. But a great number of them, surprisingly, rebelled.

This relates to the controversy of Trinitarianism and the Founding in the following sense: There were a great many non-Trinitarians in Trinitarian Churches in both American and England. They called themselves "dissenters." See Franklin describe this dynamic -- and his own status as a "dissenting Christian" -- in his letter to Ezra Stiles where he wrote:

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. That the Soul of Man is immortal, and will be treated with Justice in another Life respecting its Conduct in this. These I take to be the fundamental Principles of all sound Religion, and I regard them as you do, in whatever Sect I meet with them. 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,... [Bold mine.]

These "dissenters" in England were men like Richard Price and Joseph Priestley, who thought of themselves as "unitarian Christians" or "rational Christians" and believed orthodox Trinitarian doctrines were "corruptions" of Christianity. That's the relevance of Franklin's use of the term "corrupting changes" -- that was a term of art defined by Priestley as original sin, the trinity, incarnation, atonement and plenary inspiration of the Bible. These dissenters were disproportionately Whig (but not all; some Tories were unitarians as well). Dissent plays an extremely important role in America's Founding principle. America was founded on principles that got Algernon Sidney's head chopped off by the ruling authorities a generation earlier.

How this relates to Washington and the other Anglicans and Trinitarianism: Peter Lillback has explicitly argued (I remember Michael Novak arguing something similar but in a far more cautious tone) that Washington was orthodox Trinitarian because the Anglican Church to which he belonged was orthodox. And if he belonged to a church that recited Trinitarian creeds while not believing in them, then he was a hypocrite. And how dare we "secular scholars" lay such a charge of hypocrisy against the father of our country.

When explaining why Washington systematically avoided communion, Lillback vociferously argues against the idea that it was because Washington disbelieved in the atonement, which, it seems to me, is the most logical explanation. And it was John Marshall's explicitly proffered reason for not communing in that very Church.

Instead Lillback argues it was likelier because the King of England was head of this Church and many of its ministers and Bishops were officially Tory (like the aforementioned Seabury). And he didn't want to commune with THEM.

That could be the reason -- it's sheer speculation and no likelier than GW disbelieved in the atonement explanation. Yet, it seems to me this raises all of the same hypocrisy issue that come with non-Trinitarians worshipping in Trinitarian churches. In both instances -- someone who disbelieves in the Trinity OR one's church's official doctrines regarding the theological authority of the King to Rule -- one is a dissenter. And either dissenters are hypocrites for belonging to churches in whose doctrines they disbelieve or they are not.

The Anglicans who held official positions in their church -- for instance, Washington, Thomas Jefferson and George Wythe, all vestrymen -- took oaths, not just to the Trinity but of allegiance to the King of England. So in the simple act of revolting, many Anglican Whigs violated those oaths they took in their church. Though people never violate their sacred oaths like "till death us do part."

Does that make them hypocrites?
Article on Me and My Day Job:

Read it here. It was by US One Magazine, a free magazine in Princeton and on the International Business course I teach. I don't know why I don't blog more often about these issues; but that would just lead to more time blogging (I spend enough time). (Maybe that's why.)

I do want to make one note: I was interviewed on the phone and the reporter did an excellent job getting what I was trying to convey. Sometimes it's tough to choose your words carefully when being asked a spontaneous question. I didn't mean to suggest that the second world developing nations were better at manufacturing period than America; manufacturing was, is and always should be an important part of the US economy. Just that they are better in an absolute or comparative sense at manufacturing CERTAIN things like textiles.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

The Right to Do Wrong:

There is controversy over whether NYU should have invited an anti-gay figure from Singapore to be a visiting professor of "human rights." I'm going to skirt most of that controversy and instead focus on one thing she asserted that I think needs to be discussed. She argued the right to "sodomy" is not a "human right" because the behavior is wrong and there can not be a right to do wrong.

I argue, on the contrary, in a free, "rights oriented" pluralistic society, there MUST be, in PRINCIPLE a potential "right" to do what arguably may be wrong. I don't think homosexual behaviors are wrong per se; but even if they were that still doesn't mean there could be no "human right" (natural right, liberty right, privacy right, however you want to term it) for it.

There are only two possible bases for homosexuality to be "wrong" in an objective sense. One is if the specific passages in the Holy Books that tell us the behavior is wrong are in fact divinely inspired. Personally, I don't think they are. OR, if the natural law case against homosexuality is true in a moral sense. Again, I don't think it is.

Re the biblical case against homosexuality, the Bible is a big complicated book. In a pluralistic society, (i.e., America's) some folks don't believe any of it is true; some believe parts of it are true; and some believe the entire good book is inerrant and infallible. And even those who fall into that later group profoundly disagree on what it teaches regarding moral and theological issues. For instance, my friend Gregg Frazer is a smart, biblically learned and intellectually capable evangelical-fundamentalist. AND he argues based on a long, rich orthodox political theological tradition that ALL rebellion against ANY government (including the Nazis and Communists) is wrong, a sin worthy of death, the moral equivalent of witchcraft.

So how could American "higher law" -- and the human rights derived therefrom -- be based on the inerrant, infallible Bible when Sola Scriptura can't "settle" the issue of "America 101." Moreover, it can't settle the issue of slavery either. And it also does not speak to religious liberty, the most unalienable of natural rights, the right that gave birth to the concept of political liberty (folks might wonder why I, a political libertarian, spend so much time on religion & the American Founding; this is it).

The right to religious liberty necessarily means a right to break the first tablet of the Ten Commandments and MANY other parts of the Bible. Whatever their differences, every single "key American Founder" believed men had a natural right to worship false gods (that is, religious liberty extended beyond the biblical religions). And even limiting "religious liberty" to those WITHIN the "Judeo-Christian" or Abraham tradition doesn't solve this problem.

Some of the more pious unitarians argued Trinitarianism is Idol Worship. If Jesus isn't God, it is morally wrong to worship him as one. This is the same rationale that gets Christians executed under Sharia law (of course the unitarians weren't arguing for that, just that Trinitarianism is immoral idol worship). Likewise many orthodox Trinitarians argue since God is Triune in nature, if you (Jews, Unitarians, Deists) don't worship a Triune God, you don't worship Him, but a false god and hence do what the Bible forbids. Heresy was an executable offense for most of the history of Christendom.

So, the notion that the inerrant, infallible Bible is the "higher law" from where human rights derive and that any thing the Bible forbids cannot therefore be a "right" does not accord with the idea of "rights" as posited by America's Founders.

Let me note, there is a way out for those who DO want society to be more easily ruled by biblical norms -- give up on the "rights talk" and, consequently the Declaration of Independence. The First Amendment may demand religious liberty for non-Christians. AND it may be a bad practical idea to refuse to permit non-Christians to worship as they please. But it's NOT because the Bible teaches a God given right to religious liberty (it doesn't) or because the Declaration is true (I'm not going to say either way) or that the Declaration's "Truths" come from the Bible (they don't).

Social conservatives might observe that the Constitution is unalienable "rightsless"; it recognizes a very limited concept of "rights"; and an unalienable rightsless Constitution permits religious conservatives to participate in politics and write their religious values into law.

This shouldn't be a controversial issue for religious and Christian conservatives; Robert Bork, Lino Graglia, Robert Kraynak and many others argue exactly this. They would say to even DISCUSS the issue of a "right to do wrong" unduly gives credence to "rights talk." "Natural rights" are a fiction. They don't neatly line with a conservative Christian or a traditional "natural law" worldview. And they are entirely absent from the text of the US Constitution. They are central to the Declaration of Independence; but that document is NOT law and hence can be ignored.

Social conservatives are on stronger ground, intellectually, philosophically and historically when they argue the concept of "natural rights" from the "natural law," as opposed to the Bible.

By natural law, we mean what man discovers from "reason" looking to "nature" without the Bible for help. If by "nature" you mean something written in the Bible then argue Bible and stop pretending you are arguing from a "different" channel.

I am going to skirt the very important issues of 1) whether the natural law exists, and 2) if it does exist and if Thomas Aquinas' understanding of it is correct, whether said understanding vindicates ideas of "unalienable rights," religious liberty, and a right to revolt against tyrants (arguably it does not).

Rather I want us to take the traditional understanding of the natural law as it is (complete with its prohibitions on homosexual conduct) and ask whether THAT possibly could serve as the basis for any meaningful concept of "rights." Like the Bible, Aquinas' book of NATURE is complex and demanding; like the Bible it is not a politically "free" code, but rather seems the opposite. I've heard one prominent natural law scholar claim Aquinas' natural law is "permissive" and thus in accord with political liberty.

I don't think it is; on sexual issues the ONLY convincing natural law case against homosexuality also forbids, among other things, masturbation, contraception, even between married couples, any time sperm is purposefully deposited outside of a womb.

The ONLY intellectually consistent natural law theory that forbids homosexuality also forbids these things. Any attempt to argue otherwise is a contrivance -- an intellectually faulty position that wants to have its cake and eat it too. If "natural design" proves homosexuality wrong; then "natural design" proves oral sex or contraception for married couples wrong as well. Men were designed for women, penis for vagina, sperm for egg. ANY break in that chain is as naturally wrong as any other break. OR maybe homosexuality, masturbation, and contracepted sex aren't "unnatural" in an "ought" sense.

The question then is, in a free, rights oriented society, DO we have the right do things that may violate the natural law? To which I answer, if rights are to have any meaningful content, of course we do. In PRINCIPLE, in the privacy of their homes, 1) a husband has a right to ejaculate outside of his wife's womb; 2) a married couple has a right to use contraception; 3) a teenager has a right to masturbate; and 4) homosexuals have the right to do what they do, consenting and in private.

Sunday, July 12, 2009


Since my Positive Liberty co-blogger DA Ridgely loves to reminisce about music and past memories, here's a pic that my old friend Steve Archer put up on facebook that he took at my house in Yardley, PA where I lived growing up. The house has subsequently been sold (I currently live elsewhere in Yardley). The pic was in the Summer of 1993; I had completed my first year at Berklee College of Music and was taking academic courses at the community college where I now teach. My parents/family were traveling abroad. And, at home, I had some friends over and we drank and played. Steve took the picture.

The guy next to me playing the banjo is Brian Duckett of Bucks County PA. I haven't seen him in years. Unlike me, he still actively plays quite a bit in the Bucks County area. I've since sold the guitar. It was a Gibson L-4 hollow body -- a nice jazz guitar. I bought it preparing for Berklee; I was taking classical guitar lessons and thought (at the urge of my instructor) that I might be a jazz guy. I found out that my heart was into rock. I like most different styles of music -- classical, jazz, blues, country, folk, Latin, ethnic -- but only when they form a "fusion" with rock. I can take my classical straight; but most other styles, not really. The jazz guitar fed back too much when I played it loud and distorted. So I sold it.

Here is another pic taken by Steve of me and my best friend Dave at Seaside Heights, (my parents now own a home at Seaside Park, but didn't then) NJ, during (I think) that same summer.

Oh to be 19-20 again. You don't have to worry about eating what you want and staying thin. I tell a funny story to my students (the lesson to be learned is that your metabolism is probably going to change for the worse as you age) about Dave and metabolism. Dave was always more muscular than me. Then, at 19, he stood 5'10" and weighed about 145lbs. He lived an active lifestyle (working blue collar jobs, playing sports). He didn't care what he ate. MacDonalds had this deal -- 5 for 5 Big Macs. Five Big Macs for five dollars. I witnessed him on a number of days buy 5 of them. He would eat three for lunch or dinner and then the other two at night. He would do this multiple times a week. And he drank a fair amount of alcohol and ate other foods during the day. And he kept his figure of virtually zero body fat; I was never so bad. But as you get older, you can't, or most of us can't, get away with that anymore. He now weighs between 190-220. But he keeps a pretty muscular figure.
The Spirit of the Pilgrims:

There is much great stuff in this 1831 book now available on google. It's written by orthodox figures and it details what happened when unitarianism started coming out of the closet.

You can read the following historical account in the book: In Virginia, in the 1780s, Enlightenment unitarians Jefferson and Madison teamed with evangelical baptists to separate Church & State, arguing religious establishments violated the rights of conscience. In 1780 Massachusetts where secret unitarianism was brewing, their state constitution held the standing order of "Protestant Christian" Congregational Churches could be supported with government aid without violating the "rights of conscience." Eventually, "Protestant Christians" of the unitarian bent openly preaching their doctrines got their hands on establishment aid (and the Dedham decision held by law that "unitarianism" was "Protestant Christianity" and consequently eligible for such aid) and the orthodox shrieked that this fake Christian form of "infidelity" was now the "established religion" of Massachusetts. And surprise surprise they now came to understand that evangelicals Isaac Backus and John Leland were right that religious establishments really did violate the "rights of conscience." THAT is what ended Massachusetts' religious establishment in 1833, the last state to disestablish.

Some brief highlights: On page 283, the author claims unitarianism as a form of infidelity that differs almost not at all with deism, but confusingly claims the "label" Christian and that the Bible teaches its principles:



Infidels, who have renounced the Christian religion, have established a system of their own, which they call Natural religion. Creation is their Bible, and they insist that the principles they embrace are everywhere to be read upon the fair face of nature. Many persons will perhaps be surprised, on being informed that this system is, in all essential points, the same with that which is avowed and defended by Unitarians. The only difference is, the Infidel acknowledges that the Bible teaches a faith totally different from that which he receives; while the Unitarian declares that this same system is that which the Bible teaches. The Unitarians of Massachusetts, and Paine, Hume, Gibbon, &c., "harmonize almost entirely in their religious sentiments. The only question between them is, whether the Bible exhibits those views of religion, which they mutually entertain." I do not here assert, that Unitarians agree with Infidels in discarding the Bible, but that the same truths which Unitarians profess to learn from the Bible, Infidels avow and defend. Paine, in his "Age of Reason," gives us his religious belief. The subjoined extracts from that notorious publication authorize the above remarks.


Such is the religious faith of Paine. He believes in the existence of God; in the perfection of his moral and natural attributes; that religion consists in imitating him; and that there is a future state of accountability. Now is not this the same system, which Unitarians insist that Jesus Christ and the apostles taught? We would not only remark, that Unitarians believe all this; but does it not comprise the fundamental principles of their faith? Does not this creed embrace everything which they deem essential in the instructions of Christ? Would not a sober person, declaring this to be his faith, be admitted to any Unitarian church? Thus do both parties believe the same system of doctrines, and the only question between them is, Do Jesus Christ and the apostles teach it? I appeal to any Unitarian, candid or uncandid, whether Unitarianism and this pure Deism of Tom Paine is not essentially the same thing? Such an one, to be consistent, should say to Paine, "My friend, you are right; but then you ought not to abuse the writers of the Bible, for they agree with you entirely. If you will examine the Bible more critically and rationally, you will perceive that yours is that pure and holy faith which the Scriptures inculcate."

Unitarians discard those peculiar doctrines which are usually regarded as the essential principles of Christianity. Paine renounces these also; and he renounces the Bible for teaching them. He thus agrees with Unitarians, not only in what they believe, but in what they do not believe.

1. The Trinity. "The ambiguous idea of a man God; the corporeal idea of the death of a God ; the mythological idea of a family of Gods; and the Christian system of Arithmetic, that three are one, and one is three, are all irreconcilable, not only to the Divine gift of reason that God hath given to man, but to the knowledge that man gains of the power and wisdom of God."

2. Divinity of Christ. "The Scriptures represent this virtuous and amiable man, Jesus Christ, to beat once both God and Man."

"As to the Christian system of faith, it appears to me as a system of Atheism; a sort of religious denial of God. It professes to believe in a man, rather than in God."

3. Atonement. "Is the gloomy pride of man become so intolerable, that nothing can flatter it, but the sacrifice of the Creator?"

The writings of the apostles "are chiefly controversial; and the subject they dwell upon, that of a man dying in agony on a cross, is better suited to the gloomy genius of a monk in a cell, than to any man breathing the open air of creation."

"It is an outrage offered to the moral justice of God, by supposing him to make the innocent suffer for the guilty, and also for the loose morality, and low contrivance of supposing him to change himself into the shape of a man, in order to make an excuse to himself for not executing his supposed sentence upon Adam."

I thought "that God was too good to do such an action, and also too Almighty to be under the necessity of doing it."

If it were not known that these extracts were from "Paine's Age of Reason," every one would suppose that they were taken from some Unitarian sermon or periodical. There certainly is a strong family resemblance.


Surely, the Infidel and the Unitarian are brought into very close alliance. They believe the same doctrines. They discard the same. The chief labor of Unitarians now seems to be, to advocate the religious system of Paine, and endeavor to prove that it is taught by Jesus and his apostles.*

And on page 274 one author rails on Joseph Priestley and shows how Trinitarianism and Unitarianism are theologically irreconcilable as they worship different gods:

Mr. M. insists that the "Trinitarian, who believes that Christ was [is] God," can with propriety "go to the communion table with a Unitarian, who believes him to have been an inferior, created, dependant being." He may not be aware, perhaps, that he is at points on this subject, not only with Trinitarians, but with the most respectable Unitarians. "I do not wonder," says Dr. Priestley, "that yon Calvinists entertain and express a strongly unfavorable opinion of us Unitarians. The truth is, there neither can nor ought to be any compromise between us. If you are right, we are not Christians at all; and if we are right, you are gross idolators." "Opinions such as these," says Mr. Belsham, "can no more harmonize with each other, than light and darkness, than Christ and Belial. They who hold doctrines so diametrically opposite cannot be fellow-worshippers in the same temple."—Does our author believe that the primitive disciples would have gone to the Lord's Table with professed idolators? Yet some American Unitarians have not hesitated to say, (with Dr. Priestley, as above quoted,) that those who worship the Lord Jesus Christ are idolaters.

No doubt these writings are "loaded" towards the evangelical-Trinitarian perspective. Many unitarians argued they were NOT with the Deists and were Bible believing Christians. Further, after studying the writings of Priestley et al., while they did sometimes claim that Trinitarianism was idol worship, elsewhere they stated, more or less, as long as Trinitarians learned to downplay that doctrine, they COULD worship at the same table together because both worshipped God the Father. In the end most orthodox Trinitarians proved to be FAR less accepting of the Unitarians than vice versa. But then again that's just "spiritual discernment," something many orthodox pride themselves in possessing in abundance and something unitarians went out of their way towards which to be indifferent.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

A Guilty Pleasure:

I have to admit it. I remember listening to these originals years ago between the late Wally George (the guy whose act Morton Downey Jr. ripped off who happens to be the father of actress Rebecca Demornay) and Howard Stern. Here are parts one and two. Enjoy.
The "Unconfirmed Quotations" Persist:

Readers know that Ed Brayton and I have spent much time over the past few years taking note of the persistent dissemination of a dozen or so phony quotations that "prove" America was founded to be a "Christian Nation." It's a Sisyphusian task; it's 2009 and they are STILL being disseminated. Brayton, myself and others will shut up about it when the quotes stop being recited. Until then, it's game on.

With that, here is an email I sent to Joe Farah the editor in chief of WorldNetDaily:

Mr. Farah,

If you remember anything about me, you'll know that my friend Ed Brayton and I 1) debunk "Christian Nation" arguments, and 2) commonly read WND for content to debunk. Some of my more serious scholarly friends are getting sick of me constantly turning to this site to knock down straw arguments.

There are about a dozen false quotations from the FFs that sound like "proof texts" that settle the question and they are CONSTANTLY being repeated no matter how many times skeptical scholars like me (and Brayton) point this out. Greg Laurie recites two of them today in his column.

You can find them all sourced by one of the earliest disseminators of them -- David Barton -- where he ADMITS they are "unconfirmed" (a euphemism if you ask me). It would be wise if you or Mr. Kupelian or whoever is responsible for editing content keeps this resource in mind when these "Christian Nation" op eds come in.


Jon Rowe

This is today's article that Laurie wrote to which I referred. The offending passage:

We are a country that was clearly founded on the teachings of one book, and that book is the Bible.

Of course, some would say that I am wrong, that we are a pluralistic society and these origins are not as I have explained them. But all revisionism aside, if you honestly look at history, you will see that our founding fathers had a firm belief in the words of the Bible.

Thomas Jefferson said, "The Bible is the cornerstone of liberty ... ." George Washington concluded, "It is impossible to rightly govern the world without God and the Bible." And Andrew Jackson said the Bible is "the rock on which our republic rests."

The first two quotes are phony. I'm not sure about the Andrew Jackson one. It's funny when doing a bit of google research today I came across this article from the Alliance Defense Fund which spreads these phony quotes.

Of recent note Ed Brayton blogged about Sally Kern's spreading the phony quotes. Also see this post by Rational Rant spotting an uninformed op ed that passes these quotes on.

Again folks, if you want to get Ed Brayton, myself and other skeptical minded scholars off your backs, STOP PASSING ON THE PHONY QUOTATIONS.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

AU on David Barton:

My American Creation co-blogger Ray Soller sends me this article from AU on David Barton by Rob Boston. As far as I know, Boston is one of the earliest "deconstructors" of Barton. A taste:

His official bio on the WallBuilders Web site says nothing about Barton’s educational background, probably for good reason: It’s not relevant to what he’s doing. Barton earned a bachelor’s degree in “Christian Education” from Oral Roberts University in 1976 and later taught math and science at a fundamentalist Christian school founded by his father, pastor of Aledo Christian Center.

Despite his thin academic credentials, Barton has managed to become a celebrity in the world of the Religious Right based on his research allegedly “proving” America’s Christian character. He has appeared on programs alongside TV preacher Pat Robertson and fundamentalist radio honcho James Dobson, founder of Focus on the Family. Barton gives hundreds of lectures every year, rallying fundamentalist shock troops to oppose secular government and church-state separation.

All the while, Barton, a tall man who frequently sports boots, a rodeo shirt and a cowboy hat, presides over an interlocking network of for-profit and non-profit groups that have produced a tidy sum for himself and made him a star in the world of the Religious Right. In 2005, Time magazine named him one of the 25 most influential evangelicals in America.

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Benjamin Rush to Richard Price on Theological Universalism:

From this wonderful book of correspondence of Richard Price see this letter from Rush to Price, dated June 2nd 1787. We have seen Rush advocate for the Trinity, claiming that 99% of late 18th Century America wouldn't appreciate anti-Trinitarianism. I see that as hyperbole. A majority? Maybe. 99%? No. Here Rush likewise may be engaging in hyperbole when he speaks of the popularity of theological universalism, the notion that all men will be saved. Rush seems surprised that the liberal unitarian Richard Price has not as fervently embraced the idea of universal salvation as did Rush (I think Price was a theological universalist, but just not as fervent an advocate of that doctrine as was Rush).

Rush begins by noting that even before he had heard of the Unitarian (i.e., Arian and Socinian) controversies, he had embraced theological universalism:

I confess I have not and cannot admit your opinions, having long before I met with the Arian or Socinian controversies, embraced the doctrines of universal salvation and final restitution.

Rush then strangely notes that his Calvinist beliefs led him to the theological universalist position (elsewhere he claimed to have moved from Calvinism to Arminianism; but Rush might not, like theologians today do, view Arminianism and Calvinism as mutually exclusive positions):

My belief in these doctrines is founded wholly upon the Calvanistical account (and which I believe to be agreeable to the tenor of Scripture) of the person, power, goodness, mercy, and other divine attributes of the Saviour of the World. These principles, my dear friend, have bound me to the whole human race; these are the principles which animate me in all my labors for the interests of my fellow creatures. No particle of benevolence, no wish for the liberty of a slave or the reformation of a criminal will be lost. They must all be finally made effectual, for they all flow from the great author of goodness who implants no principles of action in man in vain. I acknowledge I was surprised to find you express yourself so cautiously and sceptically upon this point. Had you examined your own heart, you would have found in it the strongest proof of the truth of the doctrine. It is this light which shineth in darkness, and which the darkness as yet comprehendeth not, that has rendered you so useful to your country and to the world.

Rush seems to be saying to Price, look, you are an "enlightened Christian" like I am, and it's clear that we kind of Christians disbelieve in eternal damnation. I am shocked that you don't preach as fervently against the doctrine of eternal damnation as you do against the Trinity. Note also how Rush invokes the "tenor" of Scripture. A "spirit" of scripture as opposed to various literal proof texts which might trump. As I have noted before it was this same liberal, "abstraction" approach to scripture that led Rush to oppose the death penalty on biblical grounds.

Then in a letter to Price dated July 29, 1787, Price invokes the Trinitarian Universalist Elhanan Winchester as leading a veritable Universalist revival in America:

The bearer the Rev Mr Winchester has yeilded to an inclination he has long felt of visiting London, and has applied to me for a letter to you, for Americans of every profession and rank expect to find a friend in the friend of human kind. You are no stranger to his principles. I can with great pleasure add, that his life and conversation have fully proved that those principles have not had an unfavourable influence upon the heart. With a few oddities in dress and manner, he has maintained among both friends and enemies the character of an honest man. He leaves many sincere friends behind him. I know not how his peculiar doctrine of Universal Salvation may be received in London. But in every part of America it has advocates. In New England it continues to spread rapidly. In this city a Mr Blair, a Presbyterian minister of great abilities and extensive learning, and equally distinguished for his humility and piety, has openly professed his belief of it from the pulpit.
Hear Me Interviewed Again:

On the Infidel Guy radio show tomorrow night at 8:00pm on of course, the Founding Fathers and religion. There are call in and chat opportunities as well.

Since 1999, The Infidel Guy show has brought you uninterrupted freethought and science-minded guests such as Michio Kaku, Dan Barker, Ken Miller, Michael Shermer, Asia Carrera, Richard Dawkins, Massimo Pigliucci, James Randi and many others.

I'm grateful to be interviewed on a show that has featured such distinguished guests!

Update: If you click on the website, you can listen to the show already. I liked the way it went; though I think I may need a new phone (I was talking on a 20 year old cord phone). I purposefully tried to talk loud and slow and you can hear almost everything I said. However I'm still not happy with the level of my voice. It's not their fault. This was the first program I've done where they did a volume check before having me on.