Sunday, August 30, 2009

A Brief Note on the Idea that Religion was Left to the States during the American Founding:

It's more or less an accurate statement insofar as the entire Bill of Rights was designed to apply to the Federal, not the state governments. I think the larger point that needs to be appreciated -- it's not just that "religion" was left to the states -- but that the original US Constitution was, by today's standard, a document that left the Federal government with an extremely limited reach. In many ways the US Founding from 1776-1791 was something "revolutionary," "anti-traditional," "enlightened" and simply "not Christian" (at least not in the traditional sense, certainly not in the reformed Calvinist sense).

Yet, the anti-traditional revolutionary implications of the American Founding are tethered greatly by the limited reach of the US Constitution as originally understood. It was a secular Godless document, but one whose secular godlessness was powerless to enforce against state and local governments.

In that sense, the American Founding was a very limited event. It was limited by the anti-statist, limited enumerated powers vision of the framers of the original Constitution. In other words, whatever was subversive about the ideals of the American Founders, they originally limited their own ability to "subvert" much of anything (including slavery) by establishing a very weak federal government.
Books and Pamphlets on Religion and Philosophy in George Washington’s Library

Mt. Vernon lists them here. It's an interesting list; I don't think it sheds much light on what GW exactly believed regarding his religious specifics. I've seen both sides of the debate try to make hay of the list. D. James Kennedy et al. focused on all of the pious sermons in the list. Indeed Kennedy liked to tell people how GW was a "collector of sermons." And the skeptics focused on the works of Joseph Priestley and the other "infidel" philosophers.

Much of the contents of said library were given to GW.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Kabala On Theocrats v. Infidels in Early 19th Century New York:

A few years ago, I repeated an assertion of historical fact that is the dominant view in the academy: The beloved Bird Wilson (son of James) gave the sermon in Albany that termed all of the Presidents from Washington to Jackson "infidels," and not more than unitarians. A Brown University PhD in history named James Kabala alerted me that it was a different Wilson (a "Willson") who gave that sermon. He told me he noted this in his PhD thesis.

He has published this finding in a peer reviewed scholarly article entitled "Theocrats" vs. "Infidels": Marginalized Worldviews and Legislative Prayer in 1830s New York in the "Journal of Church and State." The article sheds light on an important and much misunderstood nuance of late 18th, early 19th Century America. Theocratic politics of the Calvinist covenanting variety, on the one hand, and deistic or atheistic infidel worldviews, on the other, were "non-respectable."

I think one could say the softer unitarian infidel worldview was also non-respectable, but was gaining respectability. In New England unitarianism became completely respectable by the early 19th Century. BUT these "unitarians" like the early Presidents whom Rev. Willson thunders against were able to "get by" because they nominally belonged to Christian churches for cover and when they started proselytizing for unitarianism they presented their creed under the auspices of "Christianity." In short, they wanted to further "reform" Christianity out of its orthodoxy. The strict deists and atheists wanted to abolish Christianity.

Despite slight disagreements with the way Dr. Kabala understands the religious views of the Founders, the article was a pleasure to read.

And I want to thank him for reference in footnote 10.
John Adams on Sam Adams' Religion:

I found this today while carefully examining some of John Adams' letters on googlebooks. The letter is to TO WILLIAM TUDOR, 5 June, 1817.

You say, Mr. S. Adams "had too much sternness and pious bigotry." A man in his situation and circumstances must possess a large fund of sternness of stuff, or he will soon be annihilated. His piety ought not to be objected to him, or any other man. His bigotry, if he had any, was a fault; but he certainly had not more than Governor Hutchinson and Secretary Oliver, who, I know from personal conversation, were as stanch Trinitarians and Calvinists as he was, and treated all Arians and Arminians with more contempt and scorn than he ever did. Mr. Adams lived and conversed freely with all sectarians, in philosophy and divinity. He never imposed his creed on any one, or endeavored to make proselytes to his religious opinions. He was as far from sentencing any man to perdition, who differed from him, as Mr. Holley, Dr. Kirkland, or Dr. Freeman. If he was a Calvinist, a Calvinist he had been educated, and so had been all his ancestors for two hundred years. He had been, from his childhood, too much devoted to politics to be a profound student in metaphysics and theology, or to make extensive researches or deep investigations into such subjects. Nor had any other man attempted it, in this nation, in that age, if any one has attempted it since. Mr. Adams was an original — sui generis, sui juris. The variety of human characters is infinite. Nature seems to delight in showing the inexhaustibility of her resources. There never were two men alike, from the first man to the last, any more than two pebbles or two peas.

That sheds light on the kind of orthodox Trinitarian Christians who could well get along with deistic, unitarian, and rationalistic Founding Fathers.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Sam Kinison on Ted Kennedy:

"Teddy was the Shemp of the Kennedys!"

My thoughts exactly.
John Adams' Reasons For Theological Universalism:

I usually cite the letter from Adams to Thomas Jefferson, September 14, 1813 for Adams' quote saying even if he were on Mt. Sinai with Moses and God revealed the doctrine of the Trinity to him there, Adams still wouldn't believe it because 1+1+1 = 3 not 1. However, later in the letter Adams also says some choice things regarding salvation and how he rejects the idea that only those who accept Christ, God the Son as Savior and His Atonement are saved. Adams reasons it's absurd to conclude God would create man knowing 9/10 would be subject to eternal misery.

As he wrote:

God has infinite wisdom, goodness, and power; he created the universe; his duration is eternal, a parte ante and a parte post. His presence is as extensive as space. What is space? An infinite spherical vacuum. He created this speck of dirt and the human species for his glory; and with the deliberate design of making nine tenths of our species miserable for ever for his glory. This is the doctrine of Christian theologians, in general, ten to one. Now, my friend, can prophecies or miracles convince you or me that infinite benevolence, wisdom, and power, created, and preserves for a time, innumerable millions, to make them miserable for ever, for his own glory? Wretch! What is his glory? Is he ambitious? Does he want promotion? Is he vain, tickled with adulation, exulting and triumphing in his power and the sweetness of his vengeance? Pardon me, my Maker, for these awful questions. My answer to them is always ready. I believe no such things. My adoration of the author of the universe is too profound and too sincere. The love of God and his creation — delight, joy, triumph, exultation in my own existence — though but an atom, a molecule organ- ique in the universe — are my religion.

Howl, snarl, bite, ye Calvinistic, ye Athanasian divines, if you will; ye will say I am no Christian; I say ye are no Christians, and there the account is balanced. Yet I believe all the honest men among you are Christians, in my sense of the word.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Carlton Pearson, Universalism:

Here is an interesting article on Carlton Pearson an evangelical who embraced the Universalist doctrine.

To understand this scene, you’ve got to go back to the late 1990s and the vertiginous fall from grace of Bishop Carlton Pearson. Charming, engaging, self-deprecating, never holier than thou, and very funny, Pearson—an African American Pentecostal—had founded one of Tulsa’s most prominent megachurches. He had risen rapidly through the national power structure of evangelical Christendom, in league with the Rev. Oral Roberts, the Rev. Jerry Falwell, and the Rev. Pat Robertson. In his early forties, he was at the pinnacle of his career.

Then Pearson got a divine revelation, as he tells it. Watching a news report one night in the spring of 1996, he was getting worked up about the genocide in Rwanda. His assumption was that the victims were bound for hell, persecuted yet unsaved. Feeling angry at God, and guilty that he himself wasn’t doing anything about it, he recalls, he fell into a sort of reproachful prayer: “God, I don’t know how you can sit on your throne there in heaven and let those poor people drop to the ground hungry, heartbroken, and lost, and just randomly suck them into hell.”

He heard God answer, “We’re not sucking those dear people into hell. Can’t you see they’re already there—in the hell you have created for them and continue to create for yourselves and others all over the planet? We redeemed and reconciled all of humanity at Calvary.”

Everything Pearson thought he knew was true started unraveling, as he began to realize: The whole world is already saved, whether they know it or not—not just professed Christians in good standing, but Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, Hindus, atheists, gay people. There is no hell after you die. And he didn’t have the good sense to keep it to himself.

For the past decade, Pearson has led his followers on one rough ride. Branded a heretic in a formal tribunal by the Joint College of African American Pentecostal Bishops in 2004, he has lost almost everything: thousands of members; his close-knit staff; his building; use of his church’s name; rights to sermons, books, audio, and video; and lots of money. Worse than all that, he says, the venom he has felt from conservative Christians has been “much deeper, much more adamant, and more ferocious” than any racism he ever encountered.

This past year he and his remaining “wilderness wanderers,” as he calls them, have arrived at a place that feels like home: All Souls Unitarian Church. But the ride isn’t over yet.

As a matter of ultimate truth, it seems simply self evident that, if God exists, Pearson is right about God and salvation. I kind of understand how John Adams felt when he claimed to Jefferson even if he was on Mt. Sinai with Moses and God told him 1+1+1 = 1, he still would disbelieve the Trinity. Consider if you look up and see a blue sky and God tells you it's red, who are you going to believe? That's how bad the orthodox notion of salvation appears to a reasoned mind.

That dilemma as regards both the Trinity AND eternal damnation was present during the American Founding. And some Christian-unitarian-universalists (like Adams and Jefferson) indeed recognized they were just going to go with what their reason determined on these two issues, even if it conflicted with the Bible. If it did, they reasoned, the Bible's text must be corrupted and hence errant. So throw it out. Snip snip with your razor.

Yet others were insistent that the text of the Bible itself, properly understood vindicated both unitarianism and/or universalism. These include men like the trinitarian-universalists Benjamin Rush, John Murray, and Elhanan Winchester and unitarian-universalists like Charles Chauncy and perhaps other patriotic preachers like Jonathan Mayhew and Samuel Cooper.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Was John Adams a Conspiracy Nut?

John Adams considered himself a "Christian," believed in an active God, denied virtually every tenet of Trinitarian orthodoxy, yet still believed the Christian religion was a "revelation" (i.e., God speaking to man). Yet, he denied the infallibility of the Bible and thought it had been corrupted.

When giving his reasons for why he believed the Bible was an errant, corrupted text, Adams goes off on a conspiracy tangent. As he wrote to Jefferson July 9, 1813:

No sooner has one party discovered or invented any amelioration of the condition of man, or the order of society than the opposite party belies it, misconstrues it, misrepresents it, ridicules it, insults it, and persecutes it. Records are destroyed. Histories are annihilated or interpolated or prohibited; sometimes by Popes, sometimes by Emperors, sometimes by aristocratical, and sometimes by democratical assemblies, and sometimes by mobs.

Aristotle wrote the history and description of eighteen hundred republics which existed before his time. Cicero wrote two volumes of discourses on government, which, perhaps, were worth all the rest of his works. The works of Livy and Tacitus, &c., that are lost, would be more interesting than all that remain. Fifty gospels have been destroyed. Where are St. Luke’s world of books that were written?

If you ask my opinion, who has committed all the havoc? I will answer you candidly. Ecclesiastical and imperial despotisms have done it to conceal their frauds.

Why are the histories of all nations, more ancient than the Christian era, lost? Who destroyed the Alexandrian library? I believe that Christian priests, Jewish rabbis, Grecian sages, and Roman emperors, had as great a hand in it as Turks and Mahometans. Democrats, rebels, and Jacobins, when they possess a momentary power, have shown a disposition both to destroy and to forge records, as Vandatical as priests and despots. Such has been and such is the world we live in.

And the following is from an interesting letter to F.A. Vanderkemp Dec. 27, 1816:

Jesus is benevolence personified, an example for all men. Dupuis has made no alteration in my opinions of the Christian religion, in its primitive purity and simplicity, which I have entertained for more than sixty years. It is the religion of reason, equity, and love; it is the religion of the head and of the heart.


Christianity, you will say, was a fresh revelation. I will not deny this. As I understand the Christian religion, it was, and is, a revelation. But how has it happened that millions of fables, tales, legends, have been blended with both Jewish and Christian revelation that have made them the most bloody religion that ever existed? How has it happened that all the fine arts, architecture, painting, sculpture, statuary, music, poetry, and oratory, have been prostituted, from the creation of the world, to the sordid and detestable purposes of superstition and fraud?

The eighteenth century had the honor to discover that Ocellus of Lucania, Timæus of Locris, Aristotle, Tacitus, Quintilian, and Pliny, were in the right. The philosophy of Frederic, Catharine, Buffon, De la Lande, Diderot, d’Alembert, Condorcet, d’Holbach, and Dupuis, appears to me to be no more nor less than the philosophy of those ancient men of science and letters, whose speculations came principally from India, Egypt, Chaldea, and Phœnicia. A consolatory discovery, to be sure! Let it once be revealed or demonstrated that there is no future state, and my advice to every man, woman, and child would be, as our existence would be in our own power, to take opium. For, I am certain, there is nothing in this world worth living for but hope, and every hope will fail us, if the last hope, that of a future state, is extinguished.

You should read the entirety of both letters for more context. I excerpted what I thought was important to get Adams' view of "Christianity."

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

You Yellow Rat Bastard (or Going Viral Back in the Analog Days):

I'm a big fan of the prank phone call humor (when done right). Jerky Boys, Crank Yankers and others. Even if you don't get it, there is something about the story of Louis "Red" Deutsch that might interest you.

For one, it illustrates the phenomena of "going viral" back in the analog days. Long story short. It's around 1975 and some young punks in a rock band, getting drunk and high all the time, have nothing better to do than make prank phone calls to Louis "Red" Deutsch's Tube Bar.

Red is pictured below with Rocky Marciano. Red was 6'2" 200lbs and a former boxer.

This was such an underground phenomena that a cult movie was made about these pranks with actor Lawrence Tierney of Reservoir Dogs fame almost perfectly cast as Red. (Too bad the movie, from what I remember sucked; I would have done a much better job as writer/director/producer.)

Red's Wiki page states the two pranksters

had passed by the bar several times as high school students, and had developed a long standing fascination with Red ever since they saw him beat a loitering drunk — literally hurling him through the front door of the bar by the seat of his pants and the collar of his shirt.

The Wiki page also states:

He became local color around New Jersey for his unorthodox methods of running his bar: there were no barstools, women were forbidden to enter until the 1970s, and anyone caught not drinking was subject to be beaten by Red and ejected by force.[3] Red, at 6 feet 2 inches (1.88 m) and over 200 pounds (91 kg),[4] was still an imposing physical presence even in his 80s and was famous for his unusual voice, described by one person as "a deep, guttural bark." He was also known for his charitable giving. Newspaper columnist Jimmy Breslin wrote about Red in a 1974 column, adding to Red’s already legendary status.

In other words, Red was the perfect victim for pranksters -- a guy you really shouldn't be messing with. And this was before the era before * 69 and call trace.

Eventually one friend gave the analog tape to another who made copies for their friends, and like a pyramid scheme we observe the phenomena of going viral the old fashion analog way.

Why is this even relevant? For one, much of pop culture has been touched by these tapes, unbeknownst to the general public unfamiliar with them. The classic "Mike Hunt" joke as seen in Porky's was first featured in these tapes. The pranksters invented a meme of taking funny phrases and rephrasing them as person's names. They would call Red and say things like is "Al" there? Last name Coholic? And then Red would shout out to crowd, "Al?" "Al Coholic?" And then when he found out he was duped would threaten the pranksters with grave bodily harm (and probably would have followed through.)

Wait a minute doesn't that sound like Bart pranking Moe the Bartender on The Simpsons? Yes. And the Red tapes predate The Simpsons by over a decade.

I've heard that Matt Groening admitted to lifting the idea from those tapes. But I don't think I need to do research for the smoking gun quote of his. Simply listen to the tapes and compare them to the joke on The Simpsons. There is more than enough "substantial similarity" to pass a copyright test.

And speaking of which, below I link to a Howard Stern interview with one of the original parties, thirty years later and Artie Lang asks about getting some $$ from The Simpsons for using the idea. I think the idea of "parody" as an uber-preferred element in the "fair use" test would defend The Simpsons. Perhaps some other intellectual property idea like "idea misappropriation," or even a nuisance lawsuit for a few million dollars in a settlement (that's what Artie Lang suggests).

As to the substance of the calls, they are all over the Internet. I will link to the four part Howard Stern interview on YouTube with Jim Davidson, one of the original pranksters. Parts one, two, three and four.

You can also visit the official prank phone call site.

Red was one of a kind; you couldn't make a guy like that up. He was the real deal, a real man of the old school variety.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

New Book Details Noll, Marsden, Schaeffer Correspondence:

Francis Schaeffer and the Shaping of Evangelical America, By Barry Hankins is looking like a must read for scholars interested in the "Christian Nation" debate.

John Fea's website pointed me to this, a series of letters where Francis Schaeffer argued the Christian Nation thesis with Mark Noll and George Marsden. From Fea:

Second, Schaeffer was a leading force behind the emergence of the Christian Right in the late 1970s and early 1980s and was influential in promoting the idea that America was founded as a Christian nation.

It is on this latter point that Hankins really shines. His chapter on this subject is worth the price of the book. Hankins had access to a series of letters written between Mark Noll, George Marsden, and Francis Schaeffer on the topic of whether or not America was a Christian nation. Schaeffer chided Marsden and Noll for showing too much respect for secular scholarship and Marsden and Noll tried to convince Schaeffer that his view of the founding was utterly wrong. These letters provide the context for Marsden and Noll's book (with Nathan Hatch) The Search for Christian America.

You can preview this section of Hankins' book on Googlebooks.

This correspondence took place mainly in 1982. It's interesting, without knowing the content of the correspondence, I've already concluded some of the same points as Noll and Marsden. I've nailed the late Schaeffer numerous times on his, on the one hand, support for the "Christian Nation" thesis, and on the other, his dismissal of Aristotelian-Aquinas thought as authentically "Christian." Read page 217 if googlebooks lets you. The political theology of the American Founding typified "Nature" substituting for "Grace," something Schaeffer railed against and Noll and Marsden let Schaeffer know it.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Athletes and Steroids:

As a libertarian, of course I believe all drugs should be legalized, including steroids/human growth hormone. And I believe private organizations should be free to set rules like "we will or will NOT let our athletes take these drugs." I think if folks could take these drugs legally and with doctors' recommendations, it would be better and safer. Yes, I realize you can get a prescription for steroids. But I'm referring to a system where you don't need a PRESCRIPTION; rather folks would consult their doctors and pharmacists for RECOMMENDATIONS on how to use them safely. That is, a healthy 30 year old, after deciding to use steroids, CONSULTS with doctors and pharmacists for the safest and most responsible way to use them. And perhaps later sue the manufacturers for "failure to warn" if unanticipated health problems occur.

That said, it seems to me, that outside of the sick world where only patients whose muscles might otherwise waste get legal steroids, the folks who end up taking and abusing the drugs illegally are the ones least likely to need them. I know, who am I, as a libertarian, to say who needs what. The logic I am using is, a guy who is 5 foot 2 needs a drug to grow another half foot. A guy who is 6 foot even needs that drug less. And a guy who is six foot six needs that drug not at all. But I suppose if one wants to complete at professional basketball, that 6'6" guy could benefit from the drug.

Imagine, if you will, a drug that could raise your IQ level 20 points. You might ask, who is in most need of that drug? It's folks with IQ levels at the average and below average levels. Folks who have an IQ of 130 -- very high but not astronomically high -- don't really need to boost their IQs to 150. But again, if I wanted to move up the ranks from a modest level attorney, community college professor to stellar Supreme Court litigator/ivy league law professor, I might benefit from such a drug.

That, it seems to me, is exactly what goes on when bodybuilders, wrestlers and ultimate fighters take steroids. What brought this to mind was Kurt Angle's recent arrest for human growth hormone.

He claimed to have had a valid prescription for them. Right. Like he needs them for health reasons.

I could hit the gym 5 times a week and take steroids and probably wouldn't be as strong as Angle if he never worked out a day in his life and didn't take steroids. Nature both endows and limits.

I'd like to see more natural beanpoles taking steroids, of course in a safe and responsible way. But as long as they are illegal it's less likely for that to occur.

Ultimately, I say just legalize the drugs for all consenting adults and let the individual make an informed choice on whether and how much to take. That's much better than the system of government regulations, doctors' prescriptions, and black markets.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Cramer on "Christian Nation" and Its Implications for Social Policy:

In an article for Pajamas Media, Clayton Cramer argues how the idea that America is a "Christian Nation" has policy implications. In particular, he examines how a "Christian Nation" might deal with welfare.

A taste:

Social conservatives argue that this is a Christian nation and that it is both appropriate and reasonable for the Christian majority to make laws that reflect its moral code. As social conservatives became more successful in gaining office and influence a few years back, liberals began to argue that if this was a Christian nation, didn’t Jesus call us to help the downtrodden and suffering?

Who’s right? They both are, but it seems that many liberals and social conservatives are missing some important history....

William Blackstone’s Commentaries on the Laws of England, the most popular law book in the American colonies when the Revolution started, listed the rights that every Englishman enjoyed because they were a gift from God — including the right to life. And this even applied to “an infant, even before his birth.” This included not simply protection from criminal attack, but also:

The law … furnishes him with every thing necessary for their support. For there is no man so indigent or wretched, but he may demand a supply sufficient for all the necessities of life, from the more opulent part of the community, by means of the several statutes enacted for the relief of the poor.


Libertarians who want the government to not be in the business of caring for the poor are free to promote their beautiful theories all they want. But I would prefer if they emphasized that their position is not necessarily a conservative position. In spite of the best efforts of the ACLU, this is still predominantly a Christian nation. Yes, there are lazy people who take advantage of the welfare state (although it isn’t as easy as it used to be, since the 1995 reforms). But there are an awful lot of people who are dependent on the government because they have no choice in the matter. There are a fair number of single mothers out there trying to raise kids on their own because the father ran off, is sitting in prison, or is otherwise not being responsible.

And yes, some of these single mothers made really bad choices that put them in these situations. This is why whatever system we come up with to help those in need must not incentivize bad behavior. Inevitably, we need a system that has enough discretion to punish destructive behavior and reward improvements in behavior....

As a libertarian who is more secular and less "Christian" than Mr. Cramer, I see, in the ideal, a lesser role for the state in providing welfare. That's one problem with libertarianism; we posit an ideal world, but the real world involves a huge Leviathan state. So the libertarian has to answer the question, in this second best world, what to do? And sometimes the first best libertarian policy can't be properly implemented with big government's existence. For instance, open borders is a first best world libertarian policy. But as Milton Friedman pointed out, it's not a good idea until and unless we abolish the welfare state. Certainly we can't provide socialized medicine with open borders.

Likewise with welfare, ideally the state will tax us a Hell of a lot less (perhaps not at all) and that will permit private charities to play the role of government bureaucrats and social workers. But given our massive government debt, I don't see a libertarian tax world coming any time soon unless the state declares bankruptcy and sells its assets (what Murray Rothbard wanted; he believed debt holders might get paid more than you think by a bankrupt US government once they sell all the valuable real estate they own in Washington, DC and Alexandria, Virginia).

I don't know how to properly deal with welfare policy in a world where libertarian idealism is not a viable option. I DO believe that private charities, many of them religious and conservative Christians, would do a much better job at implementing a safety net than government bureaucrats and social workers.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Carter, Civil, Public, & Natural Religion:

Joe Carter has a good post over at the First Things blog that well understands America's civil religion, how it is not "Christianity," and how Christians can tolerate it as long as they understand to take it with a grain of salt.

Carter notes one reason why Christians shouldn't embrace America's civil religion (i.e., "under God" in the Pledge, "In God We Trust" on our currency, and generic Providential invocations of God made by the Declaration of Independence and America's key Founders) is the idea derives from Jean Jacques Rousseau of all people.

Now, I've meticulously researched the record and have found little that suggests the "key Founders," despite Jefferson's flirtation with his ideas, consciously followed Rousseau. Rather Rousseau's powerful ideas were absorbed through osmosis.

So because the Founders had better "intentions" than Rousseau, Carter, after Jon Meacham suggests we understand America's version of the "civil religion" as Ben Franklin's "public religion," something Christians can feel a little better about, but still shouldn't confuse with real, genuine orthodox Christianity.

Here is a taste from Carter's piece:

I think most of the Christians at both First Things and Front Porch Republic would agree that there is a vast and unbridgeable chasm between a deistic civil religion and orthodox Christianity. But the civil religion that our fellow citizens embrace is not the type Rousseau had in mind. It is very much a view that is rooted in the concept that America is a Christian nation (or at least a Judeo-Christian nation). For them, the “In God We Trust” on our coins might as well say “In Jesus We Trust.” The State is not only subordinate to the one true Sovereign (and don’t let the capitalized noun fool you—we’re still talking about Jesus here) but is expected to conform to his standards. Although this view can lead people to use Christianity to promote Americanism, more often it simply leads to criticism of the nation’s flaws. The fact that the country continually falls short of God’s standards is a constant annoyance for those who believe that the founding documents were wholly derived—at least in principle—from the Holy Scriptures. (Think I’m exaggerating? Talk to some of these folks and see if you don’t get the impression that they think the Constitution was inspired more by the Gospel of John than by John Locke.)

Those of us who champion a role for religion in the public square, however, cannot fully embrace this Christianized concept of civil religion. If we claim, as our friends and neighbors believe, that “under God” refers only to the Christian conception of God then we are either being unduly intolerant or, more likely, simply kidding ourselves. Do we truly think that our fellow Hindu, Wiccan, or Buddhist patriots are claiming to be under the same deity as we are?

And here is perhaps the most powerful and contentious part of Carter's post:

We can’t claim, as the Apostle Paul did on Mars Hill, that the “unknown god” they are worshiping is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The Pledge is, after all, a secular document and the “under god” is referring to the Divinity of our country’s civil religion. Just as the pagan religion of the Roman Empire was able to incorporate other gods and give them familiar names, the civil religion provides an umbrella for all beliefs to submit under one nondescript, fill-in-the-blank term.

While we should be as tolerant of civil religion as we are of other beliefs, we can’t justify submitting to it ourselves. That is not to say that we can’t say the Pledge and think of the one true God. But the god of America’s civil religion is not the God who died on the Cross.

This brings to mind both Freemasonry and the concept of "natural religion," both powerful influences on America's Founders. I've seen a simple reduction made by secular leftists that Freemasonry and natural religion equate with non-Christian deism. And that's not quite right. "Natural religion" means that which man can understand about God and His attributes from reason unassisted by the Bible. It holds that all good men of all religions (including non-Abrahamic traditions) worship the true monotheistic God. Not surprisingly this concept had its deistic and unitarian defenders. What might surprise some folks is, it had its orthodox Christian defenders as well. Their take was yes, all good men of all religions worship a monotheistic God. And, obviously, God is monotheistic. But non-Christians distort or otherwise err on God's attributes. Still, natural religion can be shown to parallel and reinforce the teachings of revealed religion.

I blogged about this here and I noted, Samuel Landgon, former President of Harvard University, probably the most prominent orthodox Christian expositor of "natural religion" of the Founding era. Samuel Langdon's lecture on natural v. revealed religion typifies the orthodox Christian pro-natural religion position of the Founding era.

Likewise Freemasonry was predicated the concept of "natural religion." Freemasonry was a system where anyone who believed in God -- Deists, Unitarians, Trinitarians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, etc. -- could belong. Freemasonry and orthodox Christianity are not necessarily mutually exclusive (indeed there were lots of orthodox Trinitarian Freemasons of the Founding era). Rather, orthodox Christians need to ASK whether, at its least harmful level, Freemasonry is in tension with orthodoxy. Arguably it is as orthodox Christian Freemasons, by necessity, take religious oaths along with Jews, Deists, Unitarians, Muslims and Hindus whose religions are incompatible with theirs.

Likewise, just because Samuel Langdon was (or appeared to be) orthodox doesn't necessarily give the concept of "natural religion" ANY value to orthodox Christians. Of course, when said Christians understand the CENTRALITY natural religion played during the Founding era -- it is THE RELIGION THAT UNDERLIES THE DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE -- they might wish to "find" value in it. But perhaps that's just wishful thinking.

By way of analogy, Elias Boudinot was, without question, an orthodox Trinitarian Christian, and a very important Founding Father. He also argued that the American Indians were Lost Tribes of Israel. Boudinot's orthodoxy along with the important place he occupies in American history should not give his theory any credence in fact for the simple reasons that 1) it's in all likelihood wrong, and 2) it has nothing to do with orthodox Christianity. Yet it's precisely this kind error of appeal to authority that David Barton and the "Christian America" crowd oft-make.

But much of this depends on the approach orthodox believers take. Orthodox Christians are not all monolithic. Many orthodox Christians argue Jews and Christians worship the same God; I've seen some argue Jews, Christians and Muslims worship the same God (I would assert that if you argue former, you must, by logical necessity argue the latter; but I don't have time to get into that in detail here). And some like Carter argue that Christians worship a Triune God, Jews, Muslims and everyone else, a false God. If one takes Carter's approach to orthodoxy, then the Declaration of Independence, America's Founding civil religion, the concept of natural religion all should not speak to one's personal religious convictions.

On the other hand, if one takes a more ecumenical approach and is open to the idea that Jews, Christians and Muslims all worship the same God, that, like Paul on Mars Hill, non-Abrahamic folks (for instance, unconverted Native Americans, worshipping "the Great Spirit") can unknowingly worship the Abrahamic God, then the Declaration of Independence, Freemasonry, America's civil religion and natural religion might resonate with one's personal faith.

Finally, as a philosophically minded fellow, I like it when folks shit or get off the pot, and follow their theory to its logical conclusions, consequences be damned. If one is going to take Joe Carter's approach, as Dr. Gregg Frazer does, then argue Christians worship a Triune God, all other religions a different God and this includes Jews, Deists, Unitarians, Muslims, Native Americans, Mormons, the God of the Declaration of Independence, America's civil religion and the key Founders.

On the other hand, if you are going to be ecumenical, cut the self serving sophisticated crap and admit that Jews, Christians, Unitarians, some/(most?) Deists, Muslims, Mormons and others all worship the same God, which could be the "Nature's God" of the Declaration of Independence. The idea that the God of the Declaration of Independence is a "Judeo-Christian" God that Jews and Christians, but not Muslims or others (Mormons?) worship is an indefensibly nonsensical assertion. The key Founding Fathers intimated that UNCOVERTED Native Americans who worshipped "the Great Spirit" worshipped the same God Jews and Christians did. If Paul on Mars Hill applies to "the Great Spirit," it certainly applies to Allah, the Mormons, Deists and Unitarians, and probably just about every other exotic world religion. At least that's the way Christian defenders of "natural religion" like Samuel Langdon would see it.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Walsh, Hackett and Havens:

After my Positive Liberty co-blogger DA Ridgely's posting a Richie Havens tune, I thought I'd suggest Steve Hackett's album "Please Don't Touch," as a Positive Liberty kinda album to buy. Hackett is the former guitarist of Genesis -- back when they were really good. On the solo album Hackett features not only Havens on the following tune (where there is a video for it) "How Can I" --

but also the great Steve Walsh on vocals on the tune "Narnia" with (no official video, just the audio, with someone's made up video):

The Smartest Dogs:

Border Collie is the smartest. My dog may well be 1/2 Border Collie. I'll let you be the judge. When I got him, the puppy mill stated that he was 1/2 Mini American Eskimo (also a smart dog) and 1/2 Poodle. He was supposed to be a "toy" dog. He weighs between 35-40 pounds. And I'm almost positive he's not 1/2 poodle. I determined Border Collie via detective work. What do you think? (This video is a few years old; Louie is 3 now).

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Three Questions And Leaps of Faith:

1) Does God Exist?

2) Is Evolution True?

3) IS the Bible the inerrant, infallible Word of God?

Now, one could believe in 1, 2, & 3 (many do). Many traditional religious types believe 1 & 3, but not 2. It's impossible to believe in 3 but not 1. Atheists tend to believe in 2 but disbelieve in 1 & 3 (it's possible to be an atheist who disbelieves in 1-3, that 2 doesn't adequately explain biodiversity).

That said, the question I grapple with is "leaps of faith." I'm not ready, like some of my uber-skeptical scientific friends to assert Darwin's theory of evolution a fact as clearly established as gravity (though, it's pretty damn close). The question, rather is about "leaps of faith." In the absence of certainty, who takes the greatest leap of faith: people who believe in 1, 2, or 3. I would assert, 2, though it takes a leap, takes the LEAST leap and 3 takes the greatest leap. 1 is in the middle. Your thoughts?
More on Reason Trumping Revelation During the American Founding:

An evangelical-fundamentalist commenter reacted to Rev. Charles Chauncy's post on universal salvation as follows:

Chauncy acted like Jefferson, cutting out entire portions of text. What is worse for him, is the words he cut out were words Jesus used.

The only way Chauncy, Rush, or any other universalist can be right, which they aren't, is to go to the Greek, and look up the correct translation of the word "everlasting" in Mat 25:41 and 46:...

He then goes on to explain why the Bible actually teaches eternal damnation for the unsaved.

Chauncy like Jefferson, J. Adams, Franklin (and others) was both theologically unitarian and universalist. However, unlike Jefferson, Adams and Franklin, Chauncy was never, as far yet uncovered, so frank in his admission that the Bible is errant and fallible and that man's reason must sometimes trump what the Bible teaches. Chauncy claimed that the Bible itself, properly understood, vindicates universal salvation.

Something similar could be said of the many unitarian and trinitarian preachers who argued the pro-revolt position of Romans 13. They all held reason/natural law in high regard. They also professed high regard for the scriptures. They also cited pagans from classical antiquity (like Aristotle and Cicero) and sometimes modern non-Christian Enlightenment figures like Voltaire as authority.

Though while they championed a "reasoned" interpretation of the Bible, I have never seen the patriotic preachers so frankly declare the Bible is fallible and man's reason must trump its text when necessary, as Jefferson, J. Adams, and Franklin did. Yet, scholars have neither uncovered nor examined their private letters as meticulously as we have Jefferson's, J. Adams' and Franklin's. There might be some smoking guns yet to be discovered.

As I've noted before, Romans 13 was never too much of a problem for Jefferson as that was part of the Bible that didn't survive his razor. Everything St. Paul said, Jefferson wrote off as "corruption," not divinely inspired.

But again, we must ask, regardless of what the patriotic preachers said they did (i.e., Chauncy claiming that the Bible itself vindicates universal salvation), in point of fact were Chauncy et al. ACTING like Jefferson with his razor when they denied the Trinity, denied eternal damnation and declared a right to revolt against tyrants in the face of Romans 13? Dr. Gregg Frazer seems to think so. And I've witnessed many evangelicals who would LIKE to think America was founded as a "Christian Nation" likewise react this way (i.e., anyone who argues against the trinity or eternal damnation is substituting reason for the Bible's text).

Dr. Frazer categorizes any claim that argues for 1) unitarianism, 2) universal salvation, and 3) a right to revolt against tyrants as "reasoning trumping revelation." So while the many unitarians and universalists of the Founding era as a whole have not left evidence of frank admissions like those we see coming from Jefferson, J. Adams, and Franklin, in their private letters -- that man's reason trumps a fallible Bible -- if we add up all of the figures who asserted 1), 2), and 3) we get lots and lots of "reason trumping revelation" from the Founding era. This is why Gregg terms "theistic rationalism" as the PREVAILING political theology of the American Founding. It doesn't matter WHAT a majority believed in. It matters what prevailed.

His thesis shows lots of Trinitarians like John Witherspoon (and I might add Benjamin Rush; Frazer's thesis deals with Witherspoon, not Rush) as pushing forth this "theistic rationalist" project that was not authentically "Christian." When Witherspoon, for instance, argued salvation, he was an orthodox Calvinist. But when he taught politics to his students at Princeton and argued for a right to revolt, Witherspoon argued Locke, the Scottish Enlightenment, and what man discovers from "reason," not the Bible.

Likewise Rush, an orthodox Trinitarian, like the unitarian Chauncy claimed the Bible vindicated universal salvation. However I've investigated Rush's hermeneutic in detail. It's not proof texting an infallible Bible; rather it's a much more "liberal" or "cafeteria" hermeneutic that abstracts general principles from the "spirit" of the Bible and uses them to supplant prooftexts! In other words, while Rush might CLAIM to argue the Bible, to many who hold to the "orthodox" position on eternal damnation, he's actually uses discoveries of man's reason to supplant what the Bible teaches. Or at least, "orthodox Christians" of today, especially of the evangelical or fundamentalist bent, can in good faith claim this is what Rush, Chauncy, Witherspoon, the key Founders, the patriotic preachers did.

Hopefully this will clarify Dr. Gregg Frazer's assertion that "theistic rationalism" which posits "reason trumps revelation" when the two appear to conflict was the prevailing political theology of the American Founding.

Saturday, August 08, 2009

Cute IP Humor:

From the short lived Dana Carvey Show on ABC. This was pretty obviously done before Princess Di passed away (which makes it all the more taboo today):

If NBC objected ABC could, of course, cry parody/fair use which is the sine qua non of SNL.
The Mystery Hid From Ages and Generations, Part II

For part I, see here. The original pamphlet is here. This is Charles Chauncy's argument for universal salvation. Chauncy believed both reason and revelation proved universal salvation and that the Trinity was false. He was a founding era Christian-unitarian universalist. He was also a key influence on the American Founding. Chauncy's "Christianity" not Jonathan Edwards' arguably was the political-theological motivator behind the Declaration of Independence and Constitution.

On with Part II:

These supposed doctrines of revelation have so long been received for important truths, not by the vulgar only, but by persons venerable for their learning and piety, whose business it has been to enquire into things of this nature, that it may seem to many an affection of novelty, if not an argument of something worse, so much as to call them in question. Multitudes, having been taught, from their early childhood, the doctrine of eternal torments, and, what is commonly connected with it, the final, misery of the greatest part of mankind, are become insensibly and strangely prepossessed in favor of these tenets, however shocking to unprejudiced minds; insomuch that it would be no wonder, if they should determine, at once, without examination, that an essay intended to prove, that the scheme of redemption concerns the human race universally, and will, in its final result, inflate them all, without distinction or limitation, in perfect blessedness, must needs be an heretical undertaking, the very proposal of which ought to be rejected, as carrying along with it its own confutation.

But yet, there are some, it may be hoped, who are not so far under the government of prejudice, but that they can suspend their censures, at lead, till they have deliberately read what may be offered from the books themselves, containing the revelations of God, in support of the hypothesis, that all men shall finally be happy. And should it be found capable of being fully confirmed by solid proofs, from these books, none who regard their authority, as sacred, should withhold their assent. To be sure, they ought not to do so, as being influenced thereto by an undue attachment to their spiritual leaders, however renowned for knowledge, or judgment, or exemplary virtue: For they are certainly fallible, and may therefore be mistaken.

And this, I am deeply sensible, is the truth with respect to myself. I know I am liable to err, in common with other men. Nay, I pretend not but I may have been betrayed, in the present case, into an apprehension of that as true, which is really false through the undue prevalence of some undiscerned wrong bias or other. For which reason, instead of finding fault with any, into whose hands these papers may fall, for reading them with caution, I would seriously advise them to do so lest they should be deceived with the mere appearance appearance of truth: Only, they ought so take care that they do not so mix prejudice and jealousy with their caution, as to prevent a fair and impartial enquiry. All I desire is, that, if the proofs here offered should appear to any, upon a thorough examination, to be justly conclusive, they would honestly yield to conviction. If they should perceive no strength in them, or not strength sufficient to support the cause that is rested on them, I think, they would act commendably, and becoming their character as men and Christians, if they should still adhere to their former sentiments. Every man must judge for himself: though, if his judgment is wisely and reasonably formed, it will be the effect of apparent evidence, upon an honest and full enquiry.

That I may proceed, in the illustration of this subject, without perplexity, I shall begin with mentioning a few things, in a preliminary way, tending to prevent a misconception of my meaning, when I affirm, that all men shall be finally happy. It will then be natural to exhibit the proper arguments in support of this affirmation: Which, having confirmed by direct proofs, I shall endeavour further to strengthen by particularly going over, and invalidating the contrary evidence. [Italics in original.]

I want to thank my friend David Swindle for the link to my post on libertarianism and marriage and kind words at NewsReal Blog. Swindle is now an editor there and at Frontpagemag.

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Sullivan Responds to Post on Privatizing Marriage:

First, I want to thank Andrew Sullivan for giving me the time of day and responding to my proposal to privatize marriage.

Let me comment on two important points Sullivan makes. One:

[C]ivil unions for any two persons, straight or gay, who cannot marry - do not and would not carry the full rights of marriage. And they equate the lifetime emotional commitment of a gay couple to temporary friendships, contracts of domestic convenience, financial deals, or other extraneous couplings.

I tend to agree with Sullivan here. If heterosexuals get "marriage" and some alternative civil union for any two people who cannot marry is proposed, the alternative will be separate and unequal. I can live with equal rights for same sex couples without the government endorsed word "marriage"; but I can't live with unequal rights. It's got to be every single right, privilege and duty of marriage without the name. In practical reality I think the ONLY way to get such equality without the government endorsed word "marriage" is to give same sex and opposite sex couples the same thing, that is a legal mechanism the government refuses to name "marriage." It will be integrated, equal, and whether it's a real marriage or not it's not the government's call.

The harder question Sullivan poses is whether this option is realistic at all:

But does Jon faintly believe that this country will ever vote or courts will ever rule that an institution already judged profound and unalienable by the Supreme Court will be abolished? That's pure fantasy. The actual lives of gay people and their families, meanwhile, are not fantasy.

Here's why I think my proposal isn't a fantasy. As it stands, yes, the country doesn't want this. The country also doesn't want gay marriage. Whether the pro-SSM side can get a majority (that is 50% plus) of the population on its side within the foreseeable future is uncertain.

If the pro-SSM side continues to win battles with a large part, perhaps majority of the nation on the other side, I could easily see a consensus settling on privatizing marriage as a reasonable compromise. This may be the only way to diffuse a political-culture war issue that will continue to divide America in ugly ways.

It's likelier that the nation would settle for this than SSM everywhere in all 50 states. And it may turn out to be the only option for those of us who desire gay equality but don't want a backlash that could, at worst, lead to the FMA, God forbid.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Sullivan v. George on Gay Marriage & the Power of Government's Symbolic Endorsements:

First is Robert P. George's op ed in the Wall Street Journal arguing against gay marriage. And second is Andrew Sullivan's response.

From George:

If marriage is redefined, its connection to organic bodily union—and thus to procreation—will be undermined. It will increasingly be understood as an emotional union for the sake of adult satisfaction that is served by mutually agreeable sexual play. But there is no reason that primarily emotional unions like friendships should be permanent, exclusive, limited to two, or legally regulated at all. Thus, there will remain no principled basis for upholding marital norms like monogamy.

And Sullivan:

But if non-procreative sex can consummate a heterosexual marriage, then why not a homosexual one? I covered all this at length in Virtually Normal, and it comes down in the end to an assertion that heterosexuality be privileged in civil law because it is the norm. Buried behind this is an unscientific notion - derived from Aquinas - that the universe is somehow perfectly gendered into two opposite and complementary halves. No one with any knowledge of contemporary biology or evolution could agree with this. And if Aquinas were alive today, he wouldn't either. He was interested in truth as the source of doctrine; not doctrine as the source of truth.

This passage in Sullivan's post may be a bit unfair to George:

It also seems to me to be important to ask George what he proposes should be available to gay couples. Does he believe that we should be able to leave property to one another without other family members trumping us? That we should be allowed to visit one another in hospital? That we should be treated as next-of-kin in medical or legal or custody or property tangles? Or granted the same tax status as straight married couples? These details matter to real people living actual lives, real people the GOP seems totally uninterested in addressing.

I suspect George would not want to prevent couples going through immensely complex legal hoops to secure as many of these rights as we can.

It's true that George, understandably, doesn't propose a policy for gay couples in his limited space op-ed. However, if I am not mistaken, elsewhere I think he has proposed/endorsed such. At least, his intellectual disciples Ryan T. Anderson and Sherif Girgis have in this piece written for The Witherspoon Institute, where George is a senior fellow:

[U]nions recognized by the federal government would be available to any two adults who commit to sharing domestic responsibilities, whether or not their relationship is sexual. Available only to people otherwise ineligible to marry each other (say, because of consanguinity), these unions would neither introduce a rival “marriage-lite” option nor treat same-sex unions as marriages. Their purpose would be to protect adult domestic partners who have pledged themselves to a mutually binding relationship of care. What (if anything) goes on in the bedroom would have nothing to do with these unions’ goals or, thus, eligibility requirements.

I'll skirt whether this theoretical solution, in practice, could work and simply assume arguendo it would; gays, like two elderly nuns in a platonic civil union would be able to inherit and visit one another in hospitals just like married couples. Sullivan hones in on the theoretical real dilemma:

There is also, moreover, no positive social policy actually crafted for gay people in George's view. What does he believe we should do with our lives? Should we try to construct stable relationships - or not? In an era in which an entire generation was decimated by HIV, is it not conservative to seek greater stability and responsibility among gay citizens, by providing actual legal and social incentives for stabler lives? Alas, having studied George's work for years, I can tell you his social policy toward me and my kind. It is that gay people should be celibate, and if not celibate, invisible. But this much we know: gays in free countries are neither going to be celibate nor invisible for the foreseeable future. So what is George's prescription except quixotic when it isn't demotic?

Beneath the elegant philosophical language is a blunter message to George's gay fellow human beings: be straight or go away. And since when is that a practical option in the 21st century?

One thing that amazes me about this debate is how willing we are to argue over symbolism, even when tangible privileges/rights aren't at issue. As alluded, I know many believe that The Witherspoon Institute's proposed policy is unworkable in reality and that anything less than full marriage means gay couples receive fewer rights.

But what if, in principle, The Witherspoon Institute's policy proposal proved to be workable (work with me in this thought experiment -- don't wimp out by stating "it can't")?

Social conservatives may accuse gays of being fanatical for refusing anything short government endorsement of "marriage," even when they have all of the same privileges, rights and responsibilities (under a sexually platonic civil mechanism). However, the same charge can be leveled against Dr. George et al. His position asserts that a key purpose of government is to promote morality (not necessarily defined by the Bible or church dogma, but the natural law, which, coincidentally, perfectly parallels traditional biblical morality and church dogma of many conservative Jewish, Christian, Mormon and Muslim denominations). And that means it's okay for government to be nice to gay couples, allow them to enter into partnerships that grant them rights and whatnot. But it's not okay to give them these rights/privileges under a mechanism that might symbolically intimate gay sex is okay.

Likewise Dr. George believes there can be no political "right to do wrong" (and the Thomistic natural law can be quite demanding in its ethics). This means while, of course, it would be an unwise practical idea for government to make illegal EVERYTHING the natural law forbids -- for instance the natural law forbids male masturbation and virtually none of today's natural lawyers want government to pass an anti-masturbation statute -- they would stand against a law (especially a court decision) that held there is a specific "right" to do this. In effect, we have the same result (i.e., government doesn't criminalize masturbation). But the way we get there -- either government just leaves us alone without mentioning why or government affirmatively announces we have a specific right to masturbate, have sodomy, etc. -- makes all the difference.

I think this also explains some of the intense motivations that underlie Establishment Clause battles. Almost all reasonable folks on the Left and Right agree that government shouldn't be able to affirmatively harm, deny rights or privileges to someone on account of her religion. So we argue over whether government can post religious messages that may offend or make citizens feel like outsiders. "Under God?" Posting the Ten Commandments? What if one is an atheist or a polytheist? What if the shoe were on the other foot? What about "under Allah" or "under no God?" These are just words; they don't pick our pockets or break our legs anymore than majoritarian, conventional religious messages.

There is no real easy answer to these dilemmas. My proposal is true classical secular neutrality. Dr. George has argued -- and I agree -- that modern lefty liberal secularism is not neutral. The secular left indeed wants to inculcate its comprehensive moral systems as much as the religious right does.

However, libertarianism offers probably what is closest to true neutrality in a pluralistic world where we disagree over concepts of "the good." All laws impose morality. And libertarianism stands for the least amount of government, and consequently the least amount of government imposed morality. Moreover, the legally imposed moral rules that libertarians endorse -- that government should outlaw force, fraud and do little more -- also form a lowest common denominator of agreement among all sane people (that is liberals, conservatives and libertarians).

On the gay marriage issue, I argued using James Madison's Memorial and Remonstrance as an analogy here. On disputed issues of "the good" that fall outside of governments minimal purview of enforcing our rights to life, political liberty and property, government should just stay out of it and leave issues up to individuals and private groups.

That means privatize marriage, everyone gets that two person civil union for which The Witherspoon Institute argues and individuals and private groups, not government decides what is "marriage" just as they decide what is true "religion."
Noll on Evangelicalism & The American Founding:

One of Mark Noll's articles on the American Revolution and evangelical Protestantism is available in its entirely here. It's always a treat to read his work. A taste:

Finally, the rise of a culturally influential evangelicalism conjoined with republicanism and commonsense ethics is a surprise because of the religious views of the American founding fathers. Not only do the best demographic surveys record a declining evangelical presence in the 1770s; and not only did the publication of religious works decline dramatically during the War for Independence; but the religious dispositions of the new country's most visible leaders were anything but evangelical. A few of them, like Sam Adams of Massachusetts, John Jay of New York, Patrick Henry of Virginia, John Witherspoon and Elias Boudinot of New Jersey, and Roger Sherman of Connecticut, were more or less evangelical, but the founders who mattered most—George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, John [sic] Madison, John Adams, Alexander Hamilton, Benjamin Franklin—were not. Whereas the faith of these founders did lean in a generally Christian direction, the unitarian, deistical, moralistic, and antienthusiastic religions they practiced hardly anticipated an evangelical surge. And although it is possible to find in both the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution echoes of more traditional Christian attitudes toward human nature, government, and the ends of society, these crucial documents depended much more directly on secular sources, whether from the classics, John Locke, the Scottish Enlightenment, or the pragmatic circumstances of the period. These founders may have preserved some of the Puritans' moral earnestness and may have borrowed rhetorical strategies from the mid-century revivals, but otherwise their politics were secular.

That Noll writes "John" Madison shows that even the great ones aren't immune from typos.

Sunday, August 02, 2009

Founders As Revived Roman Republicans:

The following is a good article from Mortimer Newlin Stead Sellers of University of Baltimore - School of Law on classical influences on the Founding Fathers. David Barton when he explains "historical revision" mentions "omission" as one of the key factors. And indeed Christian Nationalists utterly ignore America's Founders affinity for republican Rome when they present their "history." When they wrote the Declaration of Independence, Constitution and Federalist Papers, America's Founders didn't view themselves as inspired Christians constructing a "Christian Nation." To the contrary they viewed themselves as revived Roman republicans; arguably they viewed themselves as "noble pagans." Or at least they adopted the surnames of noble pagans not biblical characters.

Here is a taste from the article:

Americans liked to think of themselves as “Publius”, “Publicola”, “Junius”, “Brutus”, “Cato”, “Cincinnatus”, “Tullius”, “Cicero”, and the like because they saw their difficulties as being essentially the same as those that had threatened the justice and stability of Rome: how to protect law, liberty, and the balanced constitution against the twin incursions of monarchy (leading to tyranny) on the one hand, and democracy (leading to anarchy) on the other.


Greeks were remembered for recognizing the full equality and independence of their colonies, Romans for the idea that “true law is right reason in accordance with nature” (Lactantius, VI. 8. 6-9, quoting Cicero), and for the checks and balances that secure right reason in practice. Greek policy showed Americans how Britain ought to respect its colonies, Roman doctrine taught the limits of governmental power. Otis argued that Britain’s balanced constitution gave Britons the world’s best opportunity for honest prominence since the days of Julius Caesar, “destroyer of the Roman glory and grandeur”, but that British politicians, like Caesar, by upsetting this balance, were subverting their state.


The American Revolution was a dispute about government, and with the Declaration of Independence of July 4, 1776 Americans needed new models of government to replace the British institutions that had failed them. Rome supplied a name (“republic”), a goal (“liberty”), and a technique (checks and balances) in the structure of the Roman constitution that had endured for five hundred years between the fall of the kings and the rise of the Caesars. John Adams promoted this template for the new American constitutions in a letter to Richard Henry Lee, published as Thoughts on Government in 1776, in which Adams insisted that “there is no good government, but what is republican”. Adams followed Livy in defining a republic as “an empire of laws, and not of men”, arguing that whatever form of government secures just and impartial laws, will be the best republic. Adams suggested a bicameral government with a popular assembly, as in Rome, controlled by a second legislative chamber and an elected executive. Lee and the Virginians took Adams’ advice, and created a new constitution with a House of Delegates, a Senate, an annually elected governor, and independent judges, serving during good behavior. Virginia also passed a Bill of Rights, declaring that “all power is… derived from the people”.


Adams promoted this template for the new American constitutions in a letter to Richard Henry Lee, published as Thoughts on Government in 1776, in which Adams insisted that “there is no good government, but what is republican”. Adams followed Livy in defining a republic as “an empire of laws, and not of men”, arguing that whatever form of government secures just and impartial laws, will be the best republic. Adams suggested a bicameral government with a popular assembly, as in Rome, controlled by a second legislative chamber and an elected executive. Lee and the Virginians took Adams’ advice, and created a new constitution with a House of Delegates, a Senate, an annually elected governor, and independent judges, serving during good behavior. Virginia also passed a Bill of Rights, declaring that “all power is… derived from the people”.


Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay, writing as “Publius” in defense of the Constitution of the United States, recognized the Constitution’s greatest deviation from the Roman model, which was “the total exclusion of the people in their collective capacity” from any direct role in public life (Federalist No. 63). The “genius of republican liberty” required that “all power be derived from the people” (Federalist No. 37), but the Constitution was carefully controlled and balanced, to avoid an “elective despotism” (Federalist No. 48, quoting Jefferson, Notes on the State of Virginia). “Publius” and other proponents of the Roman model were careful to distinguish republican checks and balances from the “turbulent democracies” of ancient Greece and modern Italy (Federalist No. 14). Republics use “ambition… to counteract ambition” (Federalist No. 51), making government decisions “more consonant to the public good than if pronounced by the people themselves” (Federalist No. 10). The Americans’ strong preference for Roman republicanism over Greek democracy made it easier to reject Rousseau’s pessimistic conclusion that “a certain celestial virtue, more than human, has been necessary to preserve liberty” (Adams, Defence).