Sunday, November 29, 2009

The Cult of the Founding Fathers:

What follows is an address by the late Bible Answer Man, Dr. Walter Martin, on "the cults." Dr. Martin was a key figure in modern fundamentalist-evangelicalism who posited a paradigm that defined non-orthodox Trinitarian systems as "non-Christian cults." As such, Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses and other non-Nicene "Christians" were in fact, not "Christians," but members of "non-Christian" cults.

Martin criticized what he saw as errors in Roman Catholicism, but didn't term them "non-Christians" because of Catholics' embrace of Nicene orthodoxy.



Taking Dr. Martin's paradigm as a given, I want those sympathetic to his point of view to understand that according to this standard, America's key Founders (certainly J. Adams, Jefferson, Franklin, probably Washington, Madison, G. Morris, Hamilton before his deathbed, and many others) and the philosophers they followed (Newton, Locke, Milton, Clarke, Priestley, Price, Burgh, and many others) were not "historic Christians," but, like the Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses, members of a "non-Christian cult," that oft-tried to pass itself off as "Christianity."

What is truly appalling is the way the John Ankerberg show -- a key promoter of Dr. Martin's theological understanding -- featured David Barton to mislead Ankerberg's/Martin's otherwise spiritually discerned audience/point of view on America's Founding political-theological heritage.

Note to Dr. Ankerberg's audience: Much of what Barton cites -- and much of the historical record that talks up the "religion" or "Christianity" of America's Founding -- actually invokes a non-Trinitarian and/or anti-Trinitarian theology. And, accordingly, the paradigm (the promoters of which say the Bible itself!) that defines non-Trinitarians out of "Christianity," concludes, by logical necessity, that these utterances may actually be to a "non-Christian cult."

I'd like to see more evangelicals/fundamentalists (or others) recognize this and define the political theology of the American Founding as, along with Mormonism and Jehovah's Witnessism, a non-Christian cult. Or at least be honest enough to recognize that, though orthodoxy abounded in that era, there was enough non-Christian cultic elements from folks like Locke, Newton, Clarke, J. Adams, Jefferson, Franklin, Priestley, Price intermixed that it is impossible to term America's Founding "Christian" in the minimal way that you understand the term.
Reductio Ad NAMBLAUM:

Like Godwin's law, this is a constructed rule of logic -- an observation -- that when debating the political and civil rights of gays with an anti-gay religious conservative, the chances that the anti-gay side will invoke NAMBLA to try and poison the gay civil rights well is one. (See for instance, this thread.)

And not that the invocation is apt, at all. The only reason why the act of pedophilia or ephebophilia is wrong is that it harms children, period. And that entirely distinguishes the wrongness of ephebophilia or pedophilia from homosexual acts between consenting adults.

"Nature" is sometimes invoked against homosexual acts. But the only place "Nature" draws a line between adults and children is puberty. Hence any act where the girl victim could get pregnant or the boy victim could impregnate is not "natural" -- or should I say "unnatural" -- pedophilia. Few of any ideological bent (especially of the socially or religiously ideological bent) defend this standard of morality.

Although it did seem the dominant line that traditional Judeo-Christian morality set up until recently. That is, age of consent laws or minimum age for marriages -- to the extent that they existed at all until the modern era -- were set around puberty. According to traditional Judeo-Christian morality, there was nothing inherently wrong with a 13 year old girl, capable of bearing children, having sex with an adult male, provided it took place within the context of a marriage (think Jerry Lee Lewis and Lorretta Lynn being involved in marriages where one party was a 13 year old girl in the socially conservative 1950s South, before 1960s watershed of change; think of the Jewish Bar and Bat Mitzvah's, and how that is supposed to represent when children become adults according to traditional Judaic, and arguably consequently "Judeo-Christian" ethics).

Likewise on pedophilia or ephebophilia, the Bible is silent with regards to specific proof texts (as there are against homosexual acts, incest, bestiality, adultery, fornication) against the behavior.

In short, there is no logical, biblical, natural or historical reason to tie homosexual acts between consenting adults to "pedophilia" (especially when modern society tends to define "pedophilia" as any act that violates age of consent laws).

In sum: If you try to tar the GLBT social group with this crap, we've got more than enough ammo to kick the ball in your court and tie traditional Judeo-Christian morality with that.

I think the first time I ever heard of NAMBLA was on the Howard Stern show (yes, I enjoy my share of low brow, with middle brow and high brow entertainment; I ain't no snob) where he discussed the documentary "Chickenhawk." I remember him calling the NAMBLA hot-line, like he used to do with the KKK hot-line to mock them.

Stern is, of course, a libertine on sexual matters if ever there were one. Yet, with NAMBLA he threw his hat in with the religious conservative anti-NAMBLA activist Tom McDonough. He gave Mr. McDonough time on his show and plugged his anti-NAMBLA group. And to the extent that Mr. McDonough doesn't attempt to tar homosexuality or gay rights in general with NAMBLA, I would too.

From the documentary, you see NAMBLA are a small, seemingly a handful of members, group of weirdos whose biggest claim to fame is their attempt to ride the coattails of gay civil rights and anti-gay activists' invariable invocation of them to smear gay rights activists.

You can see NAMBLA and McDonough on YouTube below from said documentary:

Thoughts on Some TV Adaptation of Movies:

Just as books are often made into movies, movies are sometimes made into TV shows. (Usually when TV shows get made into movies, it's to goof on them to some extent.) Most of them, I sense, have not been successful.

MASH -- a great TV Show and a great movie -- seems the exception. Though the movie was markedly better. Consider how much better the theme song of MASH sounds with its original lyrics.



Though I doubt 70s-80s America could have handled a TV theme singing about how "Suicide Is Painless."

I thought both Private Benjamin and Alien Nation were good adaptations of good movies and both TV series had somewhat successful runs.

The TV shows for Animal House and Fast Times at Ridgemont High were dismal failures (this despite the fact that these were two of the greatest movies of all time).

I've never watched an episode of the TV series based on the classic "The Paper Chase." But based on the horrible theme song by Seals and Croft, I understand why the series may have failed.

Which leads to the bizarrest TV adaption of a movie ever. Ironically, the TV series was quite successful (and not a bad sit com with a well sung TV theme): Alice.



The TV series was based on Scorsese's cult classic "Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore," which represented the antithesis of the lightheartedness of the later TV show. It almost reminds me of a reverse Watchmen. Alan Moore took the comic book genre, which oft-presented characters in a squeaky clean way, though implicitly had subversive messages underneath and Moore made the implicit, explicit, graphically so. The result was comic book characters who illustrated depraved, warts and all human nature.

Well that "deconstruction" of happy life narratives is something Scorsese pioneered in the movie business. Check out this scene from Alice with Harvey Keitel. I wonder if the TV series ever adapted the "Ben" character that he played so well:



Or if not, how the TV show would have handled him.

Friday, November 27, 2009

The Manhattan Declaration and the Definition of Christianity:

For those unaware, the Manhattan Declaration is a statement of conservative Christian doctrine on present day hot button moral issues. Mainly it is anti-abortion and anti-homosexuality in its sentiments.

It's also a document that was, by its design, limited to orthodox Christians. That is, it's a document of consensus on political/moral issues among traditional Roman Catholics, evangelical Protestants, Anglicans, and capital O Orthodox Christians (in other words Nicene Christians).

Apparently, Chuck Colson informed Hugh Hewitt that the document was more than merely political or moral; it is theological. "Jews, Mormons, and others, were not invited to sign the document...because this is a specifically Christian statement, quoting from the Christian scriptures."

For historic orthodox purposes, the document seems undeniably "Christian." These signatories are likely folks who would agree with the proposition that you are not a "Christian" unless you endorse the Nicene orthodoxy that forms the lowest common denominator among them.

The definition of "Christianity" also reminds me of Dr. Gregg Frazer's 10 point historic definition for late 18th Century America, one that forms a lowest common denominator among the creeds of Christian Churches during said time period (though, there were no capital O Orthodox Christian Churches then and said Church denies original sin which is part of Frazer's 10 point test).

Yet Dr. Frazer's church minister and college President, Dr. John MacArthur, is one of a number of notable evangelicals who refuse to sign said document. I think Dr. Frazer has a similar personal view about Roman Catholics presenting a false gospel. That is, while Roman Catholics are certainly Christians for historic "orthodox" purposes, and even late 18th Century American purposes, to many evangelicals, for personal salvation purposes, they are not "Christians."

This is where the moral, meets the political, meets the historical, meets the personal. Yes, it's complicated.

It's interesting to see how even among those religious conservatives who agree on 1) Nicene orthodoxy, and 2) political-moral issues, their theology and the role it plays in their lives divides them in seemingly irreconcilable ways. See for instance, the comments section in this Uncommon Descent post on the topic.

Here is James White, another notable evangelical who refused to sign this declaration, on the un-ecumenical reasons evangelicals have for not singing this declaration:

There is no question that all believers need to think seriously about the issues raised by this declaration. But what is the only solution to these issues? Is the solution to be found in presenting a unified front that implicitly says "the gospel does not unite us, but that is not important enough to divide us"? I do not think so. What is the only power given to the church to change hearts and minds? United political power? Or the gospel that is trampled under foot by every Roman Catholic priest when he "re-presents" the sacrifice of Christ upon the Roman altar, pretending to be a priest, an "alter Christus"? Am I glad when a Roman clergyman calls abortion murder? Of course. But it exhibits a real confusion, and not a small amount of cowardice, it seems, to stop identifying the man's false gospel and false teaching simply because you are glad to have a few more on the "right" side of a vitally important social issue.


I note, based on my meticulous study of America's Founders and their religious beliefs, that whatever may divide the Christianity of Roman Catholics, evangelicals, and the Orthodox Church (i.e., the signatories of said declaration) they have far more in common with one another than they do with the "Protestant Christianity" of many key American Founders and the philosophers they followed (J. Adams, Jefferson, Franklin, probably Madison, Washington, and many others, and their key philosophical influences, Locke, Newton, Clarke, Milton, Priestley, Price, and Burgh).

Finally James White brings up an interesting point about Martin Luther King. Conservative Christians of the religious right have, of late, invoked his example as does this document. Dr. King certainly was religious, and presented his beliefs as "Christianity." However, under a doctrinal test that excludes Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses as "Christians," it's not clear that Dr. King was a Christian. And it's also not clear that Dr. King, were he alive today, would have endorsed their views on political-moral issues either.

White reproduces the following from Dr. King on orthodox Christian doctrine:

The orthodox attempt to explain the divinity of Jesus in terms of an inherent metaphysical substance within him seems to me quite inadaquate. To say that the Christ, whose example of living we are bid to follow, is divine in an ontological sense is actually harmful and detrimental. To invest this Christ with such supernatural qualities makes the rejoinder: "Oh, well, he had a better chance for that kind of life than we can possible have." In other words, one could easily use this as a means to hide behind behind his failures. So that the orthodox view of the divinity of Christ is in my mind quite readily denied.


White reacts:

So why put forth King as explicitly Christian, but not invite the Jehovah's Witnesses, who would "quite readily deny" the deity of Christ as well? Perhaps a document that identifies Papal actions as explicitly Christian actions can be excused for its inherent self-contradiction.


As a non-Christian observer/scholar of these events, I note all of this for the sake of clarity. Before we move on, realize what we are dealing with.
James Burgh on Unitarians Worshipping In Trinitarian Churches:

James Burgh, like Joseph Priestley and Richard Price was a British (Burgh was of Scottish origin) dissenting divine, a Whig, and apparently a unitarian. And like Revs. Priestley and Price, Burgh tremendously influenced the American Founding.

Priestley, Price and Burgh were with Ben Franklin members of the Club of Honest Whigs. When writing Ezra Stiles about "Jesus of Nazareth," Franklin said, "I have, with most of the present dissenters in England some doubts as to his divinity." No doubt Franklin had his friends Priestley, Price and Burgh in mind as those "dissenters in England." They presented their dissent as "rational Christianity" or "unitarian Christianity."

John Adams sought to make Burgh's writings "more known and attended to in several parts of America," and stated Burgh's writings were "held in as high estimation by all my friends as they are by me."

Google books has uploaded originals of Burgh's 1766-67 "Crito," excerpts of which we will see below. Crito may also be where Jefferson lifted "wall of separation between church and state" from. (Yes Roger Williams said it first; but Jefferson likely learned the phrase from Burgh, not Williams.)

With that, let's look at Burgh discussing the dynamic of unitarians worshipping in Trinitarian churches in late 18th Century England. Note, this was published in 1767 and it was a crime to publicly deny the Trinity until 1813. That explains why the Unitarian Burgh didn't come out and deny the Trinity, but rather writes as though he didn't believe in the doctrine. His advice seems to be for unitarians to break away and start their own churches.

Beginning on page 240, Burgh writes:

We see some few among us do still make a point of attending solemnly a place of public worship - once in seven days. If there be any meaning in this practice (which they best know, who observe it) one would imagine it should be of some consequence, that people worship what they, at least, believe has a being.

It is notorious that many who statedly attend Athanasian worship do hold the Athanasian doctrine in abhorrence. (Many whole parishes constantly sit down whenever that celebrated creed is read.) And that those, who do not believe it, do constantly give this reason for their disbelief of it. That it appears to them flatly self-contradictory.

I am not here setting myself to enter into the question, whether the Athanasian doctrine be true or false. I am only observing, that many among us, who (with Newton, Clarke, Locke, Whitby, Emlyn, &c.) are satisfied, that it neither is, nor can be true, do constantly pay solemn worship to H--y, bl----d and gl-----s Tr---ty.

Quaeritur, therefore, the rationale of worshipping, or seeming to worship, what we are persuaded, has no existence? The papists have thought proper to put the Virgin Mary into the Tr---ty, and call her the complement, or completing of it. That is, the F----r, the S-n, the H--y Gh--t, and the Virgin Mary, the undivided mystical four, or three, which is the same (for in a mystery, three is the same as four, and four the same as one; finite the same as infinite; human the same as divine) the mystical four, I say, are the tr---ty, or rather quaternity, that is, four different beings, some infinite, some finite, some mortal, some immortal, are only three beings, and these three-four beings, are the One, indivisible, simple, unoriginated Spirit, the first cause and fountain of being.

No Protestant holds the Virgin Mary, who has these many ages been dead and rotten, to be any part of the immortal God. This is out of the question. But I would imagine, that to a person who denies the Athanasian doctrine, it should not appear a whit more absurd to put the Virgin Mary into the Tr---ty, or Godhead, than any other being whatever. All beings are equally different from and inferior to the Supreme; the S-n as much as the virgin; the virgin as much as a worm. For all beings, but the One Supreme only, are finite; and there must ever be an infinite distance between finite and infinite. The question, therefore, is, how any rational and pious person satisfies himself that it is lawful for him to attend constantly a species of worship, which he himself holds to be absurd; and this, while he has it in his power to withdraw himself from such worship, and give support and countenance to what is, according to his own notions, rational as to the Object worshipped.

Will it be said,

We freely declare our sentiment. We do not dissemble. We publicly discountenance the Athanasian creed, by refusing to join in the reading of it. Whenever ecclesiastical authority insists on our joining in the recital of that famous creed, we will immediately turn our backs upon those places of worship, which support absurdity by power. Till then, we see no impropriety in attending on a species of worship not modified to our perfect approbation; as, perhaps none can be found altogether irreprehensible.


If this apology should be offered, let it be considered, how, on such principles, religious truth would ever have prevailed over error; and how a Protestant's constant and exclusive attendance, in a Protestant country, on popish worship, could be proved culpable; which yet would meet with the universal disapprobation of all conscientious persons. I will urge this no farther; though much more might be said. Only, I beg leave to add, that to those, who disbelieve the Athanasian doctrine, it should, in my opinion, be a much weightier cause of dissenting, that a certain establishment is formed upon what they look upon as absurd, and idolatrous, than upon usurped human power. And that, therefore, to the opposers of the tr--------n opinion, it ought to be very desirable to see religious societies formed professedly on unitarian principles, and denominated accordingly, rather than, by the general appellation of dissenters, which leaves the grand point, viz. What object of worship they hold, undetermined; as it is known, that some among them are tr--------n, some Unitarian, in principle, and in worship, and most too inexplicit in declaring themselves.

[Editorial edition -- Jonathan Rowe's blogging: I worked from the original edition and turned what looked like "f's" to "s's." In addition, I added some paragraph breaks and made some punctuation changes that made it look more modern. I also failed to reproduce all but one of Burgh's italics. I left the overwhelming majority of it alone, however. Click on the link and read pages 240-43 to see the originals from which I worked.]


You can smell the anti-Roman Catholic bigotry in Burgh's words (bigotry that prevailed in Protestant American as well). I don't think Burgh's sentiments accurately represented Catholic doctrine on Mary. However, it does explain John Adams' quotation:

“The Trinity was carried in a general council by one vote against a quaternity; the Virgin Mary lost an equality with the Father, Son, and Spirit only by a single suffrage.”

-- John Adams to Benjamin Rush, June 12, 1812.


The unitarian dissenters believed that doctrines such as original sin, trinity, incarnation, atonement, eternal damnation were corrupted inventions of ecclesiastical authorities, mainly the Roman Church. Therefore, truly reformed "Protestant Christianity" (with their preferred adjectives "liberal," "rational," and "unitarian") rejected all of those orthodox doctrines as fraudulent "Popish" inventions.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Freedom of Religion Necessarily Means a Right to Sin According to Special, Not Necessarily General Revelation:

I knew Tom Van Dyke would leave an apt comment on my post on Rights, God and the Fundamentalist Fallacy.

He writes:

Further, I think the first tablet of the 10 Commandments is "special" revelation and doesn't count. [Freedom of religious conscience as "Freedom to sin" does not obtain.]

Natural law arguments, "general" revelation, don't need the Bible be derived. When the Bible agrees with reason in natural law arguments [James Wilson and many or most in the Founding era believed they were always in harmony], that doesn't make the arguments "theocratic," i.e., beyond reason, and rejected out of hand.


This covers a key point I often stress. "The laws of Nature and Nature's God" -- the metaphysical grounding for America's Founding ideals -- is not shorthand for what's written in the Bible, but rather what's discovered by reason. The Christian natural lawyers, as TVD pointed out, believed the two wouldn't contradict one another because they ultimately derived from the same source.

But because the Founders were trying to take sectarian disputes out of politics, they had to leave those parts of special revelation that couldn't be confirmed by general revelation (natural law) out of politics. Hence America's was founded on the proposition that the second tablet is a proper source of public law (because it's part of the natural law) but not the first.

Jews, Christians, Muslims, Unitarians, Hindus could all agree on the norms in the second tablet (don't murder, don't steal, don't bear false witness) but the first tablet as part of "the Law" is what puts them at their throats in the political-theological wars. It was the first tablet as Law that got Servetus burned at the stake in Calvin's Geneva. Currently it's the first tablet as Law that limits the Christians' freedom to convert Muslims under Sharia.

So whereas the American Founding doesn't stand for the proposition that men necessarily have a right to sin according to general revelation (the natural law that all good men of all religious faiths could determine from reason) it does stand for the proposition that men have a right to sin according to special revelation. It has to; you cannot get religious liberty for all or even between Trinitarians and non non-Trinitarians without it.

Not every, perhaps not even most unitarians of the Founding era were free wheeling Jeffersonian Epicurians. Some were quite pious and they thought Trinitarianism a grave sin -- a violation of the First Commandment; worshipping Jesus as a false god takes glory away from the Father.

And again whether our natural rights are limited to what the natural law permits is another, much harder proposition to tackle. I noted Randy Barnett's article arguing natural rights are not limited by what natural law ethics permit. For the opposite point of view see Philip Hamburger's article on the matter.

Finally, to drive the point home, here is a classic post by Eugene Volokh that shows how obvious it is that granting religious liberty to Hindus -- something all "key Founders" in principle believed in, even if they didn't get a chance to see the results -- necessarily means giving them a right to break parts of special revelation (i.e., the Bible):

Say that a few Hindus are hired as teachers in a public school district; and that some people start to complain. Hindus, they point out, routinely and unabashedly violate three of the Ten Commandments (they worship other Gods, they create images of their Gods, and they don't observe the Sabbath). What's more, the Hindus would therefore be bad role models for children: Some kids, seeing the teachers' example, might be drawn towards Hinduism; and other kids, seeing some nearby authority figures who aren't Christian, might have their belief in Christianity undermined -- and of course the results of that would be truly dire, since they would jeopardize the children's salvation. Therefore, the people argue, the school must refuse to hire Hindu schoolteachers.

My guess is that such an argument would be pretty broadly condemned, even by many conservatives and Christians (and for that matter conservative Jews and members of other religions; I focus on Christians here simply because their views are especially salient in American public debates). Religious freedom, those people would point out, means (among other things) that we tolerate religious differences, and that we don't discriminate against people in government employment just because of their religious beliefs.

We may earnestly believe that they're wrong -- whether they're non-Christians, heretics, apostates, agnostics, atheists, or what have you. We may believe that they'll go to Hell for their errors (though we may sincerely regret that). We may want our children not to make these errors. But we ought not legally punish people, or deny them access to jobs and other government benefits, because of their violations of certain religious laws, even some of the laws in the Ten Commandments. (I'm sure that some people don't take such a tolerant view, but I believe that many conservative Christians would quite sincerely endorse it -- I certainly know some such people personally.)

Of course, this hasn't always been so: Historically, religious discrimination, intolerance, and persecution has been the rule rather than the exception; and even in the U.S., various groups -- Catholics, Jews, atheists, and others -- have in the past faced substantial governmental discrimination, though generally less than in other countries of the time. But today, the general view, again, seemingly shared by a broad range of people, including many devout, conservative Christians, is that toleration is the more just approach. And, in particular, this means that

1. People's failure to obey religious laws -- even three of the Ten Commandments -- is not by itself reason enough to punish them, or deny them equal access to government benefits.


2. The risk that others will follow this bad example is also not reason enough to punish the violators of religious laws (here, the Hindus), even if we sincerely believe that following the example will lead to eternal damnation.


3. Some religious laws, including some of the Ten Commandments, are matters to be enforced not by man but by God.


I should note, according to the First Amendment and (private anti-discrimination law theory) Hindu Americans are entitled to more than just toleration but a "right" to be a practicing Hindu.

As Volokh noted, Hindus and other sects didn't always, in practice, have equal rights in America (mainly at the state and local level). But the rhetoric of every "key Founder" suggests Hindus had an unalienable natural right to be practicing Hindus, even though such clearly breaks God's law in special revelation.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Rights, God and the Fundamentalist Fallacy:

There's an interesting breakout between Ed Brayton and Joe Farah on Farah's committing what I have termed the "fundamentalist fallacy" regarding rights and God and Brayton's terming Farah's vision "theocracy."

The fundamentalist fallacy as it pertains to the notion of "rights" goes something like this: 1. The Declaration of Independence holds that God grants unalienable rights. 2. God has written in the Bible what behavior is proper. 3. If God forbids a particular behavior in the Bible, then we cannot have a “right” to it.

Read Farah's article for a textbook example of the fallacy as well as one of Brayton's commenters (who was probably directed there from WND's link to Brayton's post in today's WND Commentary section) from someone named Stephen Ray Hale who ends up concluding that the Founders' concept of "rights" was "to protect the right of the Christian to do that which is right and for the non-Christian to have sufficient mercy to allow them to reform in their own or God’s time." And of course the fundamentalist divine command proof texting of verses and chapters of scripture is the test of what is "right" v. "sin."

The problem with Mr. Hale's and (Farah's) idea is that it misreads the historical and political philosophy of the American Founding. And yes, I blame the David Barton types for leading folks to such error.

America's Founders put their imprimatur on a right to sin (according to the fundamentalist proof texting method) when they recognized religious liberty for all, thereby granting men an unalienable "right" to break the first half of the ten commandments and many other parts of the Bible, even that for which the Bible demands the death penalty. (Check out what Deuteronomy instructs about those who encourage you to worship false gods.)

And it's not just about religious liberty issues either. In case anyone has noticed, the Bible is a thick, complicated book complete with lots of dos and dont's. While one could argue Christians are under a new covenant with Jesus and therefore don't have to institute OT style stonings, sacrifices and rituals, one can't argue that Jesus lowered the bar for what constitutes sin. To the contrary, Jesus raised the bar. He equated lust with adultery. Therefore there could be no right to think lustful thoughts according to such a fundamentalist fallacious standard that holds we only have "rights" to do what the Bible says is not "sin." Such a standard means there is no such thing as God given liberty rights at all.

I'm don't argue the American Founders were "libertarians" (they were classical liberals and in a sense Democrats, Republicans and Libertarians are all classical liberals/liberal democrats to some degree); but I do assert the notion of liberty rights, God given or not, is libertarian, that is, these are demands of space from government intrusion. Libertarians tend to max out that space; but everyone wants some degree of "space." The more rights talk, at least in the liberty, as opposed to equality, sense of the term, the more libertarian space you are going to get.

That's why much of the "rights of man" speak from the Founding Fathers (in the Declaration of Independence and debates over the necessity of the Bill of Rights, especially the 9th Amendment) is quite useful for libertarian rhetoric. As future Supreme Court Justice James Iredell put it:

“Let any one make what collection or enumeration of rights as he pleases, I will immediately mention twenty or thirty more rights not contained in it.”

-- See Randy Barnett's Restoring the Lost Constitution, p. 57.


Even "key Founder" James Wilson engaged in similar rhetoric:

“a complete enumeration of rights appertaining to the people as men and citizens….Enumerate all the rights of men! I am sure, sir, that no gentleman in the late Convention would have attempted such a thing.”

-- See Ibid., p. 56.


This of course leads to an idea of a general natural liberty right to "space" against government that includes innumerable specific rights. And for reasons I've demonstrated, proof texting the Bible for what is "sin" cannot be the "test" for when said rights end. And the Founding Fathers didn't think so either.

And further, the idea of natural political liberty rights isn't contained in the Bible. Therefore if one desires a political system that makes it easier to write traditional or biblical notions of "sin" into civil law, one should get rid of the idea of "rights talk" altogether.

Social conservatives from Roberts Bork and Kraynak to Walter Berns and the late Irving Kristol recognized this and argue for constitutionalism without the rights rhetoric of the Declaration of Independence for this very reason.

Finally, I realize a breakout will occur in the comments section about the natural law. According to America's Founding theory and rhetoric, if there was a metaphysical mechanism for imposing limits on "rights," it didn't come from biblical prooftexting but from natural reason. The natural law and the Bible are two distinct concepts. Though Christian natural lawyers will say reason and revelation, properly understood, don't contradict one another because they ultimately come from the same source -- the biblical God. The natural law, like the Bible forbids murder, theft, certain forms of sexual immorality. But, the natural law doesn't concern itself with biblical issues that lead to sectarian breakouts like the first tablet of the Ten Commandments or with what goes on in our thoughts like lusting. In short worshipping false gods and idols may violate the Bible, but it doesn't violate the natural law.

For libertarians who don't believe government has just power to limit our rights according to a Thomistic conception of the natural law, this is a harder nut to crack because the argument is far closer to the truth of the American Founding than what we have seen from Joe Farah and other fundamentalist prooftexters.

I won't recount the argument in detail, but Randy Barnett has noted in this law review article, the differences between the natural law and natural rights and how government, by the America's Founders' design, was more concerned with protecting the latter, not making sure individuals refrain from violating the former.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

King of Ireland Responds about Christianity's Contributions to Modernity (My Thoughts Follow):

KOI (a K-12 public school teacher) often comments at Ed Brayton's Dispatches From the Culture Wars and has recently joined my group blog on the Founding & Religion, American Creation as a front page poster. He has also spent many hours debating Gregg Frazer on Romans 13 online. This is his response to my note on Jason Kuznicki's recent post at Cato Unbound on the contributions of Christianity (and classical society) to modernity (with some editorial changes by JR):

Jon,

I think the best example I can give you to illustrate that there have been two general kinds of Christianity that compete and both use scripture to back them.

The Southern Slave Owners and the Northern Abolitionits fought a Civil War over whose version of what the Bible said would win out. The KKK uses the Bible to elevate one person or group above the other. They look at the Jewish race and how God favored them and say that the white race replaced them.

It is really two views of God. To keep this from going Theological again (Tom Van Dyke has a point that the History can be lost if we always go down the Theology road) let's just look at the two broad groups in History. I think the one group is obvious and talked about a lot. It is the Divine Right dogmatic group. The other is not talked about as much.

Tom has tried to show more than once a line of reasoning from Aquinas forward that found its way to Jefferson and company through Locke. The only question is whether this line of reasoning is Christian.

Based on these discussions I put that I am a “Rational Christian” under religion on my Face Book page. Reason has a big place in all this I am just trying to figure out how much.

I think it is this type of Christianity that changed this world. It came in opposition to the Dark Ages crap based on control. We are headed back to Feudalism gradually. Walmart and companies like it are no better than the landed class in the Dark Ages. We woke up and this ended in a modern society with a middle class.

It is shrinking by the day. We are on Hayek's "Road to Serfdom."


It's an interesting notion. As I understand it, what terms itself "Christianity" has been on the side of the Angels and Devils in contentious issues that history eventually resolves. As we all now know, slavery is of the Devil, abolition of God. History has consigned Divine Rule of Kings to the Devil, liberal democracy to God. And today, with issues like gay marriage, abortion, we argue over which issue goes to God, which to the Devil (as was done before issues like slavery and the "right" form of government were settled).

Sometimes the God/Devil dicotomy is entirely metaphorical, as the militant secularist atheist and Godfather of gay rights activism Frank Kameny coined the term "gay is Godly." The Bill O'Reilly-esq. paradigm of "secular progressives" v. "religious conservatives" seems more apt.

Sometimes it is less metaphorical. The very progressive "Christian" Chris Hedges has done this where he places the religious right/conservative Christian types as devils and the progressive pro-abortion, pro-gay marriage, anti-war types as the angelic Christians. Hedges of course claims Martin Luther King, D. Bonhoeffer as the angelic Christians in whose tradition he operates.

KOI is neither a secular leftist nor religious rightist, but is more (like me at my cohorts at Positive Liberty) "libertarian." Likewise, he is no Calvinist. Will he try to use his "rational Christianity" to vindicate libertarianism? Who knows?

KOI, in a sense, is not unlike many of America's key Founders and the philosophers they followed. Figures like Jefferson, Franklin, J. Adams, and their British Divine heroes Revs. Joseph Priestley and Richard Price termed themselves "rational Christians." I'm not sure if John Locke, Isaac Newton, John Milton or Samuel Clarke used that term but the "rational Christians" (what Gregg Frazer terms "theistic rationalists") sure as heck claimed them and purported to operate in their tradition.

Likewise they claimed those who operated on the side of "Whiggery," "republicanism," "political liberty," "unalienable rights" on the side of God, the others on the side of the Devil (and vice versa).

They too were militant anti-Calvinists and claimed God from Calvin: As Jefferson, in 1823, wrote to the likeminded J. Adams:


I can never join Calvin in addressing his god. He was indeed an Atheist, which I can never be; or rather his religion was Daemonism. If ever man worshipped a false god, he did. The being described in his 5. points is not the God whom you and I acknowledge and adore, the Creator and benevolent governor of the world; but a daemon of malignant spirit. It would be more pardonable to believe in no god at all, than to blaspheme him by the atrocious attributes of Calvin.


One issue that needs to be confronted is the "rational Christians" of that era (whose namesake KOI invokes) tended to reject original sin, trinity, incarnation, atonement, eternal damnation, infallibility of the Bible, and so on. "Rational Christians" of course, hold that men have a right to revolt against tyrants and, if they address Romans 13 at all, formulate an understanding of that part of the Bible accordingly (ala Jonathan Mayhew).

That begs the question as to how authentically "Christian" "rational Christianity" is. Indeed, if one looks at the history of abolition in America, unitarians played disproportionate roles in leading the effort (and unitarians had some stinkers as well like John Calhoun).

It's tempting to take one's pet issues and put the God stamp behind it. I don't care if right wing Christians do this on the issues that I disagree with them (many have long standing theological arguments on which to based their claims). I do mind when they cherry pick America's Founders political theological God quotes -- even those that talk up Christianity as opposed to the more oft-invoked generic references to God, religion, and Providence -- and act as though their narrow orthodox theology owns America's political theological heritage.

Likewise, the Chris Hedges of the world don't own what's good in "Christianity" either.

For me, I'm just trying to step back and ask what is authentic historic Christianity -- complete with its dominant, dissident, and heretical strains -- and examine the contributions, pro and con. I think that requires taking the good with the bad, something that neither side wants. The friends of Christianity want to credit it with everything good and distance said from its mistakes. The enemies, the opposite. The truth usually lies somewhere in between.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

What Greece, Rome, and Christianity Didn’t Give Us:

That's the title to Jason Kuznicki's very interesting new post at Cato Unbound.

Here is the passage on how Christianity is not necessarily the source of modernity or the "liberal democracy" that America's Founders established:

Many point to Christianity as the historical force that challenged the ancient world’s inegalitarianism. There is quite a bit of truth to this, but it’s possible to push the case too far. Many ideas that are crucial to the modern political synthesis are nowhere to be found until the seventeenth century at the earliest, and even during that era, the far more typical Christian politics was not John Locke’s, but that of the lesser-known Jacques-Benigne Bossuet, Bishop of Meaux and court preacher to Louis XIV. Bossuet’s Politics Drawn from Holy Scripture made the case that the most natural Christian polity — indeed, the only properly Christian polity — was an absolute monarchy, because the king was an image of God on earth. Christianity certainly taught that there was an inherent dignity to all people, regardless of social station, but it was quite reluctant to challenge the idea of social station itself.


This hits upon an important point: Just about all of us agree that divine right of kings shouldn't be reestablished, that religious liberty is a good policy idea, that heretics shouldn't be burned at the stake and so on. Christendom has come to embrace these ideas (indeed, as far as I know, the first to do so). But the text of the Bible itself and the historic practice of the Christian faith don't clearly demand any of these things.

In other words, divine right of kings, the failure to recognize religious or political liberty, the burning of heretics at the stake (as Calvin did to Servetus) -- all of these are arguably just as authentic expressions (arguably perhaps MORE authentic expressions) of Christian political theology than "republican government," "inalienable rights," "religious liberty," and so on.

Friday, November 20, 2009

A "Deist" Defends His Faith:

AND the Founders as "Deists" and especially Thomas Paine. However, you need to listen carefully to how he defines and understands "Deism":

Wow David Barton Actually Debates:

Barton is known for NOT debating critics. After watching this you'll probably see why. I think this is the only time I've ever seen him debate. I don't like the way Lee Strobel initially poses the debate by setting up a false dichotomy (the truth of the Founding is actually somewhere in between the two either or poles that Strobel announces). Other than that, Strobel did a good job at giving both sides equal time.

After setting up what sounds like a reasonable definition of a "Christian Nation," Barton steps in it a few times. He puts forth a number of points to challenge the "Godless Constitution" thesis.

Point one: The Constitution ties itself back to the DOI which is a "God oriented document." True enough. But 1) the DOI is not a "Christian" document per se (no references to Jesus). And 2) it's an indirect way of getting to God -- it hardly makes the Constitution a "Godly" document.

Point two: Sunday excepted clause. A nominal indirect reference to Christianity. Which again hits at the truth: The US Constitution is secular and godless, but not in the way the French Revolution was, but in a softer way and one that more accommodates religious customs.

Point three: Barton cites the Donald S. Lutz, et al. study in a misleading way. What that study actually says is that the Bible had little if ANY impact on the US Constitution.

Point four: Barton LIES about Washington and Hamilton citing verses and chapters of scripture for separation of powers. Sorry that's just not in the historical record. You can try to go back and throw spaghetti against the wall and see what parts of the Bible seem to match with what parts of the Constitution; but you don't see the FFs (at least none of the men at the Constitutional Convention or in the Federalist Papers) quoting verses and chapters for the principles and provisions in the Constitution.



In part two he gets confronted on his "unconfirmed quotations" and responds that they were all "footnoted," not necessarily to the original record, but footnoted to somewhere (in other words he kicks the can to the original fabricators).

Barton then tries to explain away the Treaty of Tripoli which states, "As the Government of the United States of America is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion;..."

Barton's critic makes a good point about the bogus quotes that Barton originally passed on: These bogus quotes, though Barton wrote an article saying "don't pass them anymore," have taken on a life of their own.

The critic also brings up Barton's shilling for the GOP.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

George Willis Cooke on Charles Chauncy (and Samuel West):

Two more "key" patriotic preachers of the Founding era. Read it here.

A Pronounced Universalist.

Another preacher on the liberal side was Dr. Charles Chauncy of the First Church in Boston, whose ministry lasted from 1727 to 1787. He was the most vigorous of the opponents of the great awakening, both in his pulpit and through the press. He wrote a book on certain French fanatics, with the purpose of showing what would be the natural results of the excesses of the revival; he preached a powerful sermon on enthusiasm, to indicate the dangers of religious excitement, when not controlled by common sense and reason; and he travelled throughout New England to gain all the information possible about the revival, its methods and results, and published his Seasonable Thoughts on the State of Religion in New England in 1743. He had been influenced by the reading of Taylor, Tillotson, Clarke, and the other latitudinarian and rationalistic writers of England; and he found the revival in its excesses repugnant to his every thought of what was true and devout in religion.

Dr. Chauncy was not an eloquent preacher; but he was clear, earnest, and honest. Many of his sermons were published, and his books numbered nearly a dozen. As early as 1739 he preached a sermon in favor of religious toleration. At a later period he said, "It is with me past all doubt that the religion of Jesus will never be restored to its primitive purity, simplicity, and glory, until religious establishments are so brought down as to be no more."[24] It was this conviction which made him oppose in his pulpit and in two or three books the effort that was made just before the Revolution to establish the English Church as the state form of religion in the colonies. He said, in 1767, that the American people would hazard everything dear to them--their estates, their lives--rather than suffer their necks to be put under the yoke of bondage to any foreign power in state or church.[25]

In his early life Dr. Chauncy was an Arminian, but slowly he grew to the acceptance of distinctly Unitarian and Universalist doctrines. Near the end of his life he Published four or five books in which he advanced very liberal opinions. One of these, published in Boston in 1784, was on The Benevolence of the Deity fairly and impartially Considered. This book followed the same method and purpose as Butler's Analogy, and aimed to show that God has manifested his goodness in creation and in the life of man. He said that our moral self-determination, or free will, is our one great gift from God. He discussed the moral problems of life in order to prove the benevolence of God, maintaining that the goodness we see in him is of the same nature with goodness in ourselves. The year following he published a book on the Scriptural account of the Fall and its Consequences, in which he rejected the doctrine of total depravity, and interpreted the new birth as a result of education rather than of supernatural change. Thus he brought to full statement the logical result of the half-way covenant and the teachings of Solomon Stoddard, as well as of the connection of church and state in New England. He saw that the method of education is the only one that can justly be followed in the preparation of the young for admission to a church that is sustained in any direct way by the state.

Dr. Chauncy's great work as a preacher and author[26] was brought to its close by his books in favor of universal salvation. In 1783-84 he published in Boston two anonymous pamphlets advocating the salvation of all men, and these pamphlets made no little stir. In 1784 he published in London a work which he called The Mystery hid from Ages and Generations, made manifest by the Gospel Revelation; or, The Salvation of All Men the Grand Thing aimed at in the Scheme of God: By One who wishes well to the whole Human Race. In this book Dr. Chauncy made an elaborate study of the New Testament, in order to prove that salvation is to be universal. Christ died for all, therefore all will be saved; because all have sinned in Adam, therefore all will be made alive in Christ. He looked to a future probation, to a long period after death, when the opportunity of salvation will be open to all. He maintained that the misery threatened against the wicked in Scripture is that of this intermediate state between the earthly life and the time when God shall be all in all. He held that sin will be punished hereafter in proportion to depravity, and that none will be saved until they come into willing harmony with Christ, who will finally be able to win all men to himself, otherwise the power of God will be set at naught and his good will towards men frustrated of its purpose. In the future state of discipline, punishment will be inflicted with salutary effect, and thus the moral recovery of mankind will be accomplished.

Other Men of Mark.

Another leader was Dr. Samuel West, of Dartmouth, now New Bedford, where he was settled in 1760, and where he preached for more than forty years.[27] He rejected the doctrines of fore-ordination, election, total depravity, and the Trinity. In preaching the election sermon of 1776, he took the ground of an undisguised rationalism. "A revelation," he said, "pretending to be from God, that contradicts any part of natural laws ought immediately to be rejected as 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 Divine Power." The cardinal idea of West's; position, as of that of most of the liberal men of his time, was stated by him in one sentence, when he said, "To preach Christ is to preach the whole system of divinity, as it consists of both natural and revealed religion."[28]

Monday, November 16, 2009

George Willis Cooke on Jonathan Mayhew (and Simeon Howard):

Two "key" Patriotic Preachers of the Founding era. Read it here:

The First Unitarian.

Dr. Mayhew accepted without equivocation the right of private judgment in religion, and he practised it judicially and with wise insight. He unhesitatingly applied the rational method to all theological problems, and to him reason was the final court of appeal for everything connected with religion. His love of freedom was enthusiastic and persistent, and he was zealously committed to the principle of individuality. He believed in the essential goodness of human nature, and in the doctrine of the Divine Unity. He was the first outspoken Unitarian in New England, not merely because he rejected the doctrine of the Trinity, but because he accepted all the cardinal principles developed by that movement since his day. He was a rationalist, an individualist, a defender of personal freedom, and tested religious practices by the standard of common sense. His sermons were plain, direct, vigorous, and modern. A truly religious man, Mayhew taught a practical and humanitarian religion, genuinely ethical, and faithful in inculcating the motive of civic duty.

Dr. Mayhew's words may be quoted in regard to some of the religious beliefs commonly accepted in his day. "The doctrine of a total ignorance and incapacity to judge of moral and religious truths brought upon mankind by the disobedience of our first parents," he wrote, "is without foundation."[11] "I hope it appears," he says, "that the love of God and of our neighbor, that sincere piety of heart, and a righteous, holy and charitable life, are the weightier matters of the gospel, as well as of the law."[12] "Although Christianity cannot," he asserts, "with any propriety or justice be said to be the same with natural religion, or merely a republication of the laws of nature, yet the principal, the most important and fundamental duties required by Christianity are, nevertheless, the same which were enjoined under the legal dispensation of Moses, and the same which are dictated by the light of nature."[13] His great love of intellectual and spiritual freedom finds utterance in such a statement as this: "Nor has any order or body of men authority to enjoin any particular article of faith, nor the use of any modes of worship not expressly pointed out in the Scriptures; nor has the enjoining of such articles a tendency to preserve the peace and harmony of the church, but directly the contrary."[14] Such sentences as the following are frequent on Mayhew's pages, and they show clearly the trend of his mind: "Free examination, weighing arguments for and against with care and impartiality, is the way to find truth." "True religion flourishes the more, the more people exercise their right of private judgment."[15] "There is nothing more foolish and superstitious than a veneration for ancient creeds and doctrines as such, and nothing is more unworthy a reasonable creature than to value principles by their age, as some men do their wines."[16]

Mayhew insisted upon the strict unity of God, "who is without rival or competitor." "The dominion and sovereignty of the universe is necessarily one and in one, the only living and true God, who delegates such measures of power and authority to other beings as seemeth good in his sight." He declared that the not preserving of such unity and supremacy of God on the part of Christians "has long been just matter of reproach to them"; and he said the authority of Christ is always "exercised in subordination to God's will."[17] His position was that "the faith of Christians does not terminate in Christ as the ultimate object of it, but it is extended through him to the one God."[18] The very idea of a mediator implies subordination as essential to it.[19] His biographer says he did not accept the notion of vicarious suffering, and, that he was an Arian in his views of the nature of Christ. "He was the first clergyman in New England who expressly and openly opposed the scholastic doctrine of the Trinity. Several others declined pressing the Athanasian Creed, and believed strictly in the unity of God. They also probably found it difficult to explain their views on the subject, and the great danger of losing their good name served to prevent their speaking out. But Dr. Mayhew did not conceal or disguise his sentiments on this point any more than on others, such as the peculiar tenets of Calvinism. He explicitly and boldly declared the doctrine irrational, unscriptural, and directly contradictory."[20] He taught the strict unity of God as early as 1753, "in the most unequivocal and plain manner, in his sermons of that year."[21] What most excited comment and objection was that, in a foot-note to the volume of his sermons published in 1755, Mayhew said that a Catholic Council had elevated the Virgin Mary to the position of a fourth person in the Godhead, and added, by way of comment: "Neither Papists nor Protestants should imagine that they will be understood by others if they do not understand themselves. Nor should they think that nonsense and contradictions can ever be too sacred to be ridiculous." The ridicule here was not directed against the doctrine of the Trinity, as has been maintained, but the foolish defences of it made by men who accepted its "mysteries" as too wonderful for reason to deal with in a serious manner. This boldness of comment on the part of Mayhew was in harmony with his strong disapproval of creed-making in all its forms. He condemned creeds because they set up "human tests of orthodoxy instead of the infallible word of God, and make other terms of Christian communion than those explicitly pointed out by the Gospel."[22]

Dr. Mayhew was succeeded in the West Church by Rev. Simeon Howard in 1767, who, though he was received in a more friendly spirit by the ministers of the town, was not less radical in his theology than his predecessor. Dr. Howard was both an Arminian and an Arian, and he was "a believer neither in the Trinity, nor in the divine predestination of total depravity, and necessary ruin to any human soul."[23] He was of a gentle and conciliatory temper, but his preaching was quite as thorough-going in its intellectual earnestness as was Dr. Mayhew's.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Anti-Calvinistic Preachers in Revolutionary New England:

As I have noted before, George Willis Cooke's classic "Unitarianism in America" is available free online.

I was looking for more conclusive evidence to connect Rev. Samuel Cooper to unitarianism. While the following isn't conclusive I did find it very interesting:

Alden Bradford, in his Memoir of the Life and Writings of Rev. Jonathan Mayhew, D.D., gives a list of "the clergymen who openly opposed or did not teach and advocate the Calvinistic doctrines" at the time of Mayhew's ordination, in 1747. These were: Dr. Appleton, Cambridge; Dr. Gay, Hingham; Dr. Chauncy, Boston; William Rand, Kingston; Nathaniel Eelles, Scituate; Edward Barnard, Haverhill; Samuel Cooke, West Cambridge (now Arlington); Jeremiah Fogg, Kensington, N.H.; Dr. A. Eliot, Boston; Dr. Samuel Webster, Salisbury; Lemuel Briant, Braintree; Dr. Stevens, Kittery, Me.; Dr. Tucker, Newbury; Timothy Harrington, Lancaster; Dr. Gad Hitchcock, Pembroke; Josiah Smith, Pembroke; William Smith, Weymouth; Dr. Daniel Shute, Hingham; Dr. Samuel Cooper, Boston; Dr. Mayhew, Boston; Abraham Williams, Sandwich; Anthony Wibird, Braintree (now Quincy); Dr. Cushing, Waltham; Professor Wigglesworth, Harvard College; Dr. Symmes, Andover; Dr. John Willard, Connecticut; Amos Adams, Roxbury; Dr. Barnes, Scituate; Charles Turner, Duxbury; Dr. Dana Wallingford, Conn.; Ebenezer Thayer, Hampton, N.H.; Dr. Fiske, Brookfield; Dr. Samuel West, Dartmouth (now New Bedford); Dr. Hemenway, Wells. Among those who took part in the ordination of Jonathan Mayhew, and therefore presumably of the same theological opinions, were Hancock, Lexington; Cotton, Newton; Cooke, Sudbury; Prescott, Danvers (now Salem). To these may be added, says Bradford, though of a somewhat later date: Dr. Coffin, Buxton; Drs. Howard, West, Lathrop, and Belknap, Boston; Dr. Henry Cummings, Billerica; Dr. Deane, Portland; Thomas Cary, Newburyport; Dr. Fobes, Raynham; Timothy Hilliard, Cambridge; Thomas Haven, Reading; Dr. Willard, Beverly. Dr. Ezra Ripley added the names of Hedge, of Warwick, and Foster, of Stafford. This makes fifty-two in all, but probably as many more could be added by careful search.


There's lots of other great stuff in Cooke's book. Check it out.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Testing the "Christian Nation" Thesis:

Debating the "Was America Founded to be a Christian Nation" thesis, some of my most useful conversations occurred between me and my American Creation co-blogger, the very learned, Lt. Col. Kristo Miettinen. Though a conservative evangelical, he did not accept the simple "Christianity" = orthodox Trinitarianism, the Bible, the infallible Word of God, reduction for the definition of how Christianity ought universally to define. For personal reasons, maybe. But for historical reasons, no.

As I understand it, Kristo's historical definition of Christianity differs not much from Paul Sigmund's, professor of politics at Princeton, whom I've met personally and briefly discussed this issue (I work near Princeton and attend Prof. Robert George's James Madison Program lectures when time permits; though I disagree with Dr. George on social issues, his program does outstanding research on America's Founding).

Dr. Sigmund, as far as I know, a political and liberal Christian, defines a "Christian" (reasonably, I think) as someone who believes Jesus a "Savior" or Messiah in some kind of divinely special way. As such, along with Trinitarians, Socinians (who believe Jesus 100% man, not God at all, but who saved man through his perfect moral example) and Arians (who believe Jesus a divine savior, but created by and subordinate to God the Father) qualify as "Christians" as do Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses, and others. As such, one arguably could term Jefferson, Franklin, J. Adams and almost all of the "key Founders" and ministers and philosophers they followed as "Christians" regardless of their particular beliefs on matters such as original sin, trinity, incarnation, atonement, eternal damnation, and infallibility of the Bible. (That is, this definition of Christianity excludes Thomas Paine, Ethan Allen, Elihu Palmer, but not Jefferson, Franklin, J. Adams, Madison, Washington etc.)

The day I questioned Dr. Sigmund at Princeton, I also spoke to Dr. Jeffry Morrison of Regent University who presented on his book on George Washington's political philosophy and Morrison made clear he thought one must be an orthodox Trinitarian to qualify as a "Christian." (Hence his book concludes that though GW was influenced by "Christianity" he could not conclude that GW was a "Christian").

My biggest issue with Kristo is that he doesn't see (as I do) that when David Barton lectures mainly to evangelical audiences and promotes the "Christianity" of America's Founders and how it helped shape America's political institutions, they (Barton's audience) hear orthodox Trinitarianism, the Bible as the inerrant infallible Word of God, and who knows what else (being born again?), when Barton uses terms like "Christian" or "Christianity."

So I was happy to dialog, via email, with an evangelical minister, smart, prominent, sympathetic to David Barton and the "reclaiming" of America on behalf of "Christianity" cause, to "test" the Christian Nation thesis, as it were. This is what I asked him:

[W]hat do you call someone who calls himself a "Christian," but disbelieves in original sin, trinity, incarnation, atonement, eternal damnation? Someone who may even believe Jesus a "Savior" of mankind (thru his perfect moral example) perhaps even a divine Savior created by but subordinate to God the Father (not 2nd person in the Trinity). Someone who believes in an active Providence and that parts, perhaps the majority of the Bible are revealed by God, but that the Bible is not inerrant or infallible.


And what follows is his answer (which he gave me permission to reproduce):

I do not believe you can truly be a Christian and hold several of the positions you state below.

1. The Bible clearly teaches ‘original sin’ as you call it, and that it was passed on to all mankind; that we are all sinners and in need of salvation, and that it is through the shedding of Christ’s blood that our sins are atoned for and forgiven. It is when a person personally and honestly acknowledges that he has a sin problem and is therefore a sinner, and sincerely, truly, and humbly places his faith in Christ as Who He claimed to be, The Son of God, and asks forgiveness of his sins, is he saved, or, born again. It is not merely ‘intellectual assent’ to the ‘possibility’ that He was God, or might be, or was the greatest human being that ever lived. It is a recognition, from the heart and in your spirit, that you are a sinner, no matter how much you want to rationalize it, or get around it, or kid yourself. It is coming honestly and openly before God, and your inner man, not your public man, and yielding, surrendering to God Who was in Christ, that you become a Christian, and that what the Bible says about Christ, sin, and man, is true and that he therefore is LORD of all.

2. You cannot, if you are a student of the Word, and believe what Christ said, and said about the Scriptures, ‘disbelieve in original sin, the trinity, incarnation, atonement, and eternal damnation,’ and still call yourself a Christian because a sincere and true Christian knows that all those things are part and parcel of what Christ taught. You would be denying the very teaching of Christ, and …therefore…you are your own god, and not a true believer, and…are probably more than just confused. You are most likely not even a Christian because you do not honor Him or His Word.

3. “Someone who may even believe Jesus a "Savior" of mankind (thru his perfect moral example – which is impossible) perhaps even a divine Savior created by but subordinate to God the Father (not 2nd person in the Trinity)” is not a Christian, because that is not what Christ taught nor does the O.T. support. [Emphasis in the original.]

4. “Someone who believes in an active Providence and that parts, perhaps the majority of the Bible are revealed by God, but that the Bible is not inerrant or infallible” may call themselves a Christian, but they are certainly not a skilled student of the Bible. Sounds like Jefferson to me.


In my opinion, the Rev.'s answer illustrates the mindset, not necessarily of the ordinary people in evangelical churches who hear Barton's message, who are not as intelligent and spiritually discerned, but of the learned, ministerial types.

But it's clear that according to the understanding of "Christianity" of the churches to whom Barton sells his message, he tries to pass off Founders and ministers from that era as "Christian" who flunk the test of said churches.

Here is exhibit A against Barton in this regard. He rattles off names -- John Adams' list of those most responsible for American Independence: Samuel Cooper, Jonathan Mayhew, Charles Chauncy, and George Whitefield. He calls them all ministers of the gospel and all Christians.



In reality ONLY WHITEFIELD was a "Christian" as evangelicals define and understand the term. The others, including J. Adams were Trinity deniers. But when evangelicals and other "orthodox Christians" hear David Barton rattle off these names and term them "Christians," what do they think?!?

Finally let me note that one could lower the "test" for Christianity one or a few steps than the tight evangelical test (that might include things such as salvation thru grace alone, being "born again") as Dr. Gregg Frazer does in his 10 point test which takes a lowest common denominator among creeds of the largest churches in late 18th Century America (that includes Roman Catholicism). But America's key Founders and the notable patriotic preachers they followed (Revs. Mayhew, Chauncy, Cooper and others) disbelieved in central Christian tenets like original sin, trinity, incarnation, and atonement, such that they are disqualified as "Christians" in the eyes of large sectors of believers in historic traditional Christianity.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

America & Modernity:

I hope to make a few useful observations about Cato-Unbound's latest symposium on modernity.

The seeds of modernity trace to the beginning of Western Civilization, particularly to Greco-Romanism. The Greeks invented or discovered science. And Rome, at its peak, invented things like the aqueducts, so advanced for their time, that the world would not again see until close to the modern era. (This clip from "The Life of Brian" brilliantly pokes fun at pagan achievements at the expense of the early Judeo-Christians living in Rome.)

Still, when Rome went Christian, it was mainly the bright minds within the Roman Catholic Church who preserved the great knowledge of Greco-Roman antiquity and incorporated such into Christendom. One thinks of Aquinas' affinity for Aristotle.

But those seeds still didn't begin to grow into the tree of modernity until around 1800. For instance, as Cato's Encyclopedia of Libertarianism, in their chapter of "Material Progress," notes, if you compare the life of George Washington to Julius Caesar's in 44BC, you'd see that though Washington could take advantage of some notable material advances that didn't exist in Caeser's day, their material worlds were far closer to one another's than either are to today's modern technological world.

In other words, there was a watershed in technological progress. It began in the late 18th Century.

So what caused it? That's what Cato's Symposium debates.

My studies conclude it wasn't God, the Bible, Christianity or Thomism (after all, these had been around for a long time before the watershed, but may in fact have contributed to the information contained in the seeds). Rather it was a form of Enlightenment humanism that put the focus of socio-politics on man, his material (as opposed to spiritual) needs, and the "progress of the human mind," as Jefferson once termed it.

This isn't to say the Founders and the philosophers they followed, as scientifically minded, materialistically concerned people, were secret atheists or hostile to religion, as some have supposed. To the contrary, they tended to appreciate the way religion civilized man and made him self-governable which was indispensable to modern republican government. (America's Founders also believed that the states, and voluntary local institutions, should bear the primary if not sole responsibility for promoting the kind of religion useful to modern republican government.)

But, as America's Founders intended it, God and religion would not be the chief focus of the Novus Ordo Seclorum. Man's material needs would. One need look to the United States' original Constitution for evidence. Such is a document of limited, enumerated powers. And, whereas it endowes those things that relate to man's material concerns, the Constitution left religion unendowned. As Walter Berns put it:

[W]hereas…[the Constitution] grants Congress the power “to promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts” (see Article I, section 8[8]), it nowhere gives it the power to promote religious belief. Rather, the First Amendment seems to deny it such a power. — “Making Patriots,” p. 43.


Also striking is how many key American Founders and the philosophers they followed were scientists, usually natural, in some formal or serious armchair way. For instance, Benjamin Rush was a medical doctor. Benjamin Franklin invented bi-focals and the lighting rod. Thomas Jefferson invented "the swivel chair, a pedometer, a machine to make fiber from hemp, a letter-copying machine, and the lazy susan." The Founders idolized such British figures as Isaac Newton (discoverer of gravity), John Locke (a medical doctor), Joseph Priestley (the co-discoverer of oxygen), all natural scientists, in addition to being other things. They also idolized men like Adam Smith (the father of the modern science of economics), and Richard Price (the father of the modern science of finance). Indeed morals, law and politics were all viewed as "sciences" of some sort -- part of the "the new science of man." Principles thereto were "discovered," not posited. And they believed sound governments could be built according to almost (if not literal) geometric principles.

Religion too, they believed, could be reduced to a rational science. They did not yet discover that God didn't exist (as some scientists have claimed to have discovered today). All of the above mentioned figures, I sincerely believe, devoutly believed in God's existence. However, their scientific rationalistic approach to religion (as to all other things) led most of them to doubt or deny the Trinity (1+1+1 = 3 not 1) and the infallibility of the Bible (those parts of the text that seemed most unbelievable according to a scientific perspective).

As it were, following the advice of scientifically minded Enlightenment philosophers, America was founded to be a scientific, commercial republic, one whose chief focus would be meeting man's material needs and wants. Such a system has been termed "liberal democracy."

Whatever one thinks of it, liberal democracy, in putting the focus of socio-politics on science and man's material needs, proved quite effective. It led to the astounding technological advances seen in the last two hundred years. And because those technological advances applied to military and economic power, liberal democracy in general, America in particular, came to dominate world geo-politics.

Such, as I understand it, is the story of modernity.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Moses and the "Key Founders":

The reason why I titled this post that is because, as you will see, Bruce Feiler has a book out entitled America's Prophet, Where God Was Born that stresses Moses as a central figure of inspiration to America, and Feiler argues the central historical fact that buttresses his thesis is when Thomas Jefferson, John Adams and Ben Franklin were asked to design a Great Seal, Franklin and Jefferson both proposed:

“Moses standing on the Shore, and extending his Hand over the Sea, thereby causing the same to overwhelm Pharaoh who is sitting in an open Chariot, a Crown on his Head and a Sword in his Hand. Rays from a Pillar of Fire in the Clouds reaching to Moses, to express that he acts by Command of the Deity. Motto, Rebellion to Tyrants is Obedience to God.”


If you haven't yet gotten his book (it's on my reading list) you can watch this extremely enlightening blogging head conversation between Feiler and Robert Wright here.

Now, there's certainly a strong kernel of truth to Feiler's claim. Moses did indeed inspire America. My concern is clarity and the potential misuse of Feiler's thesis. I worry that Christian Nationalists will misuse Feller's argument in the same way they've misused the Donald S. Lutz et al. study. They've commonly noted the Moses/Great Seal/Liberty Bell Leviticus quote to prove America's "biblical" foundations.

Interestingly, Feiler's thesis seems to be not "Christian Nation," but "Mosaic Nation," that Moses in fact was a more important political-theological figure than Jesus, something that might tick off "Christian Nationalists." But such an idea could also be shoehorned into a "Judeo-Christian Nationalist" thesis.

Feiler, seems to be if not a liberal, some kind of moderate who doesn't have an axe to grind (other than the thesis he's trying to defend). He's written op-eds on the matter in places like the Washington Post, making him a potentially attractive resource for Christian Nation types (i.e., "even this liberal guy agrees with us").

Feiler probably wouldn't appreciate (if he noticed it) such a potential use or misuse of his thesis. His thesis, as I understand it, is a broad, ecumenical, dare I say "liberal" and "enlightened" tale of Moses' influence of America. And, of course, that is exactly how Moses influenced America. For instance, in his Time Magazine op-ed, Feiler begins:

"We are in the presence of a lot of Moseses," Barack Obama said on March 4, 2007, three weeks after announcing his candidacy for President. He was speaking in Selma, Ala., surrounded by civil rights pioneers. Obama cast his run for the White House as a fulfillment of the Moses tradition of leading people out of bondage into freedom. "I thank the Moses generation, but we've got to remember that Joshua still had a job to do. As great as Moses was ... he didn't cross over the river to see the promised land."

"Eight months into his presidency, Obama might want to give Moses a second look. On issues from health care to Afghanistan, the President faces doubts and rebellions, from an entrenched pharaonic establishment on one hand and restless, stiff-necked followers on the other. There's good reason, then, for Obama to heed the leadership lessons of history's greatest leader. Like presidential predecessors from Washington to Reagan, Obama can use the Moses story to help guide Americans in troubled times. From the Pilgrims to the Founding Fathers, the Civil War to the civil rights movement, Americans have turned to Moses in periods of crisis because his narrative offers a road map of peril and promise.


A Philly Inquirer article about his thesis is entitled, "Author promotes Moses as a model for getting along," and Feiler's site promotes it as "Can Moses Unite Rush Limbaugh and Michael Moore?"

Again, this is to stress that Feiler's thesis is Moses as a broad metaphorical inspiration, exactly as the "key Founders" -- Jefferson, J. Adams, and Franklin --understood Moses. Not as the strict, orthodox, the Bible as the inerrant, infallible Word of God understanding of Moses. But a looser, more political understanding. In short, an Enlightenment rationalist understanding of Moses. One that could look at many of the world's historical figures and "find" in there what supports one's political narrative, which is exactly what Jefferson, J. Adams and Franklin did with Moses and America's non-Judeo-Christian heritage sources. Examining the other proposed narratives for the "Great Seal," we see from Jefferson (quoting the Great Seal site, not Jefferson or Adams):

For the front of the seal: children of Israel in the wilderness, led by a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. For the reverse: Hengist and Horsa, the two brothers who were the legendary leaders of the first Anglo-Saxon settlers in Britain.


And J. Adams:

...the allegorical painting known as the "Judgment of Hercules" where the young Hercules must choose to travel either on the flowery path of self-indulgence or ascend the rugged, uphill way of duty to others and honor to himself.


Synthesizing Greco-Roman, Anglo-Saxon, and Judeo-Christian and picking and choosing what one thinks "rational" from those sources; that was the Enlightenment method of Jefferson, J. Adams and Franklin. And that, as far as I see it, is the method of Moses' political inspiration of America.

In a later post, I might reiterate why the enlightened Americanist invocation of Moses arguably conflicts with the orthodox Christian/evangelical/fundamentalist narrative of Moses.

In other words, those who should proceed with the most caution when invoking Moses' influence on America are those who don't take the narrative with a metaphorical grain of salt.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Update: Maybe He Didn't Say It:

My co-blogger Jim Babka and another commenter say they think Celente said "White Shoe Boys." If that's the case I retract and issue a full apology to him.

Further Update: He didn't Say It:

Okay I was wrong; he didn't say it and I remove the "if" qualification. I retract and apologize to Mr. Celente. I doubt he knows about this post though. If he reads it, he'll see the retraction and apology.

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Did He Just Say That?

Or is it just me?



I'm NOT sympathetic to the gloom and doomers from the left or the right. They may be right; everything can end tomorrow. But many predictions have been made and life goes on however imperfectly. Yes, we are burdened by taxes, government incompetence and bureaucracy; but the market oriented system -- as regulated, distorted and trammeled as it is -- produces, gives and keeps America (and much of the rest of the civilized world) afloat.

I do keep an open mind to the gloom and doomers. Again maybe they are right; so I listen. Sites like lewrockwell.com have been plugging one Gerald Celente, a gloom and doomer of the highest order. He's also been discussed in the New York Times and featured by Fox News.

And let me note, I AGREE with Celente in principle that these big companies who have been termed "too big to fail" should NOT have been bailed out, but left to go bankrupt.

But this Celente guy illustrates, as far as I can tell by the first few lines of what he said in the YouTube clip to which I linked, the lamentable dynamic of goom and doom -> conspiracy theory -> anti-Semitism.

Or is the term he used to describe Goldman Sachs fair in civilized discourse? And note, I don't believe that stereotyping Italian last names as Mafiosos is perfectly okay (though I admit I love the Sopranos and Goodfellas). But one BIG difference between the Italian last name and Jewish last name stereotype that Celente raises is that there was not in recent history a holocaust of ethnic Italians.

Update: Maybe He Didn't Say It:

My co-blogger Jim Babka and another commenter say they think Celente said "White Shoe Boys." If that's the case I retract and issue a full apology to him.

Further Update: He didn't Say It:

Okay I was wrong; he didn't say it and I remove the "if" qualification. I retract and apologize to Mr. Celente. I doubt he knows about this post though. If he reads it, he'll see the retraction and apology.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Peter Marshall's Erroneous Christian Nation Response to the Texas Controversy:

Okay there was this big hubbub over Peter Marshall and David Barton being appointed to some kind of Texas public education panel on historical issues. Even though I believe those two produce extremely shoddy scholarship (as I will demonstrate below) I will note that Daniel Dreisbach, also appointed to represent the religious conservative point of view, as far as I have assessed his work, produces top notch work.

But the point of this post is to show Marshall's academically shoddy response to the controversy. Marshall recounts and responds to the controversy here.

Here is where Marshall steps in it. He attempts to argue against the accurate claim, written by a critic of him and Barton:

"Actually, the founding fathers had many things in mind when they drew on a variety of sources -- Greek, Roman, biblical, Enlightenment -- to invent a new nation."


Rev. Marshall makes an egregious error when he responds:

Research has revealed that Enlightenment philosophy was far less influential in the thinking of the Founding Fathers than has been taught in recent decades. A 1984 article in the American Political Science Review revealed that 34 percent of the most important quotes used by the Founding Fathers in the creation of the Constitution came directly from the Bible. True Enlightenment sources were quoted only 7 percent of the time. So the Bible turns out to be five times as influential as the Enlightenment.


He's of course referring to the much misunderstood study that Christian Nationalists cite by Donald S. Lutz, et al. Lutz is a respected scholar and the study as far as I have read it is valid. It notes the Bible was cited quite a bit during Founding times. And it was mainly sermons -- a common form of literature back then -- from where the Bible was cited. NOT necessarily quotes from the writers, signers, or ratifiers of the Declaration or the Constitution, but sermons by ministers. Yes, of course sermons given in professing "Christian" churches are going to cite the Bible. You can read many of the Founding era sermons here (note I don't know of the relationship between these sermons and the ones Lutz studied; I do know that the Sandoz collection reproduces the most influential sermons of that era; and interestingly it was unitarians like Jonathan Mayhew, Charles Chauncy and Samuel West using creative natural law thinking to explain away Romans 13's prohibition on revolt who most profoundly influenced the American Revolution).

It's important to note the distinction between the Declaration of Independence and the US Constitution. Here's where Marshall stepped in it: He claimed the Lutz study found "34 percent of the most important quotes used by the Founding Fathers in the creation of the Constitution came directly from the Bible."

It actually finds the very opposite, that although religious rhetoric abounded during the revolutionary period (and during other parts of the American Founding), when it came time to framing and ratifying the Constitution, the Bible's prominence disappears and that Enlightenment rationalism dominated. As that very study puts it discussing the specific years 1787 and 1788:

The Bible's prominence disappears, which is not surprising since the debate centered upon specific institutions about which the Bible has little to say. The Anti-Federalists do drag it in with respect to basic principles of government, but the Federalists' inclination to Enlightenment rationalism is most evident here in their failure to consider the Bible relevant.


When you actually look at what the Founding Fathers -- not just Washington, Franklin, Madison, Morris, Hamilton and Wilson (the "key Founders"), but the entire group of framers -- said during the Constitutional Convention, and what the "key Founders" wrote in the Federalist Papers, we get a whopping ZERO citations of the Bible for the specific provisions of the Constitution. As Gregg Frazer put it:

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

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


I think this is what historian Clinton Rossiter meant when he noted, "The Convention of 1787 was highly rationalist and even secular in spirit."

To which Marshall responds, "That's not even remotely true. Rossiter was a respected historian, but he got this one wrong." No. Rev. Marshall is the one who peddles things that are "not even remotely true."