Thursday, December 31, 2009

Are Religious Tests UnDeclarational?

Tom Van Dyke's citing Daniel Dreisbach's understanding of religion & the original Constitution that responds to Kramnick and Moore's "The Godless Constitution" thesis is fair, as far as it goes.

However I find Dreisbach's mantra -- religion is left to the states -- unsatisfactory in the sense that it avoids the natural rights framework of the American Founding. The natural rights of conscience were the most "unalienable" of rights intimated in the text of the Declaration of Independence. Under the "religion was left to the states" rule (indeed, as originally conceived, the overwhelming MAJORITY of things were left to the states that our modern, post 13th, 14th Amendment AND post Wickard v. Filburn understanding of the Commerce Clause world finds anathema) state and local governments get to ride roughshod over many unalienable rights of conscience.

This is, some might not like to hear it, EXACTLY like "slavery was left to the states." And that's because, as with religion, it was. BOTH issues involve fundamental matters of unalienable rights that states originally were permitted to violate, as per federalist compromises.

Now, the hard question that follows, with regard to religion, is, what practices did the original US Constitution permit that violated the natural, unalienable rights of conscience? Prohibiting anyone from openly professing their religious beliefs and practicing them in a peaceful manner that didn't contravene the secular civil law? Yes, some states did that, and virtually everyone agrees THOSE things, originally constitutional according to the "religion is left to the states" rule, violated the natural rights of the DOI. They are today, understandably, held to be unconstitutional.

But there are harder questions. What if I am free to practice my religion under the confines of the secular civil law, but am barred from holding public office because I am not of the "right" religion of the state? What if the state uses my tax dollars to support a sectarian religion in whose doctrines I don't believe?

Answering these questions is the matter of not just one book, but many. So I'll pick my battles, one at a time and carefully. Regarding sectarian religious tests, the original Constitution permitted states to enact them. But, at the very least, Ben Franklin, Benjamin Rush, Richard Price, and many others thought they violated the natural rights of conscience that the Declaration of Independence protected.

For instance, what follows is PA's original Constitution which Ben Franklin helped pen. It contains a religious test that violated the natural rights of the Declaration of Independence. It held:

And each member, before he takes his seat, shall make and subscribe the following declaration, viz:

I do believe in one God, the creator and governor of the universe, the rewarder of the good and the punisher of the wicked. And I do acknowledge the Scriptures of the Old and New Testament to be given by Divine inspiration.

Franklin despised the "un-Declarational" religious test contained therein. (He had to accede to such a test as a political compromise.) As he wrote in a letter to John Calder:

I agreed with you in Sentiments concerning the Old Testament, and thought the Clause in our Constitution, which required the Members of Assembly to declare their belief that the whole of it was given by divine Inspiration, had better have been omitted. That I had opposed the Clause but being overpower'd by Numbers, and fearing might in future times be grafted on [it, I Pre]vailed to have the additional Clause that no [further or more ex]tended Profession of Faith should ever [be exacted. I ob]serv'd to you, too, that the Evil of it was [the less, as no In]habitant, nor any Officer of Government except the Members of Assembly, were oblig'd to make that Declaration. So much for that Letter. To which I may now add, that the[re are] several Things in the old Testament impossible to be given by divine Inspiration, such as the Approbation ascrib'd to the Angel of the Lord, of that abominably wicked and detestable Action of Jael the Wife of Heber the Kenite. If the rest of the Book were like that, I should rather suppose it given by Inspiration from another Quarter, and renounce the whole.

Benjamin Rush -- originally an orthodox Christian, but later converted to universalism, believing all will eventually be saved -- likewise despised PA's religious test. Here are excerpts from two of his letters to English Whig Richard Price (who in turn greatly influenced our key Founders).

In the first, Rush calls such a test "a stain from the American Revolution."

[15 Oct. 1785]

I took the liberty of publishing, with your name, your excellent letter on the test law of Pennsylvania. It has already had a great effect on the minds of many people, and I doubt not will contribute more than anything to repeal that law. Dr. Franklin, who has succeeded Mr. Dickinson as our governor, has expressed his surprise at the continuance of such a law since the peace, and we hope will add the weight of his name to yours to remove such a stain from the American Revolution.

And here he notes that such test was eventually repealed:

[22 Apr. 1786]

I am very happy in being able to inform you that the test law was so far repealed a few weeks ago in Pennsylvania as to confer equal privileges upon every citizen of the state. The success of the friends of humanity in this business should encourage them to persevere in their attempts to enlighten and reform the world. Your letter to me upon the subject of that unjust law was the instrument that cut its last sinew.

A "stain from the American Revolution." Perhaps not "unconstitutional" according to 1791's amended Constitution. But clearly, "un-Declarational."
David Barton's Interview In Dakota Voice:

Davie Barton gives an interview in the Dakota Voice on America's "Christian Heritage."

Here's a taste:

We hear the common claim that most of America’s founders were not really Christians but were in fact deists. How many of the founders were actually deists?

You have to define the term. The dictionary definition of the term ”deist” in America’s first dictionary is radically different from what it is today. Really, none of them fit the term “deist” today. When you look it up today you’ll find that “agnostic” and “atheist” are synonyms for deist. At best, today’s definition of “deist” would be one who believed in the great clock-maker, and that he winded up that clock and took off, don’t pray because he’s not going to answer. Maybe Thomas Paine would fit that. Franklin would not; Franklin’s autobiography actually has hymns of praise to God for answering his prayers. Jefferson was very regular in prayer, but a deist is not going to pray because no one is going to hear them. In that sense you could probably put Thomas Paine, Charles Lee, Henry Dearborn, and maybe Ethan Allen.

So take 250 founding fathers, the 56 signers of the Declaration, the 55 that did the Constitution, take Washington’s 17 major generals, his 84 generals, take 13 states and their governors, and out of maybe 400 guys you could find maybe four or five.

Here's the problem: Perhaps Barton correctly identifies this very narrow strain of Deism that excludes even Jefferson and Franklin (note, some scholars argue for a broader understanding of "Deism"). The problem is he leaves the impression that 395/400 Founding Fathers were "Christians" in a way that he and his could embrace.

Nope. Sorry. 395/400 may have been "Christians" in a minimalistic way that Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses (conservatives) or Barack Obama and Oprah Winfrey (liberal) could pass (identifying as "Christian," believing in Providence, something special about Jesus).

But huge numbers were not "Christians" in a way that Barton and his followers would find satisfactory. And indeed, Barton still refuses to define acceptable minimal standards for "Christian" in a 1) personal sense and 2) late 18th Century American historical sense. They are the ones guilty of refusing to distinguish between historical and personal understandings of "Christianity."

More from Barton:

I was involved in writing an academic book with three other professors. They said there is no question that America’s founders weren’t religious, because Thomas Jefferson started the first secular university, wouldn’t allow chaplains and such. But I said that’s interesting because I have here the original ads for the University of Virginia that ran in the newspaper. The ads were signed by the chaplain and there were about nine or ten specific things Thomas Jefferson did to make sure every student had a religious activity. These professors were shocked and said, “That’s not what we were taught.”

Barton co-writes an article on the UVA that's available on the Wallbuilders' website. I'm not even going to link to it (if you care enough you'll be able to find it) because I plan on dissecting it in a later post. It's typical distortionist Bartonism. Barton may be right that the secular left claim that the UVA was founded to be totally secular, isn't totally accurate. But, as usual, Barton replaces one misunderstanding with another.

Phillip Munoz in his latest book on the FFs & religion (look for a detailed review of that over the Winter Break as well) brilliantly captures the nuances of the UVA Founding. Bottom line: Jefferson indeed intended the University to be a secular-Enlightenment operation. But had to compromise with more conventional institutional sources. Again, more on that later.

More Barton:

What’s happened is that today’s professors are so much into peer review that they quote each other but nobody goes back and looks at the original documents. So it was really embarrassing to these three professors that I pulled out a single document, just a newspaper ad from 1838 or thereabouts and they were just floored. So I find that a lot are just ignorant, they don’t know any better.

Sorry, it's total bullshit (pardon my French) that trained historians just look at what one another say but don't go back and verify things in the primary sources. Perhaps Barton is venting because he is not a historian by profession, but a BA in Education and is not taken seriously by real historians.

On the other side you have professors like [Isaac] Kramnick and [R. Laurence] Moore out of Cornell who did the book called “The Godless Constitution.” Their position is that all the guys were atheists, agnostics and deists.

This is a flat out lie. The thesis of the book was that Art. VI, Cl. 3 symbolized a groundbreaking secular political theology. They recognized the FFs were a mixed bag, religiously, and many of them were indeed Christians, orthodoxly so.

In the back of the book I love what they say because in the back section where the footnotes are supposed to be, they have a single line that says,”We have dispensed with the usual scholarly apparatus of footnotes.” So you have two PhD’s who say, we’re not going to document anything we say. That’s pure, hard-core revisionism.

And quite frankly, it's a shame that Kramnick and Moore, two respected scholars whose water Barton isn't fit to carry, didn't conventionally footnote the book. They do however cite their sources inside the text of the book and there is not ONE example Barton and his allies can find of Kramnick and Moore just making things up or, as Barton has done, citing second hand sources from other academics that are "unconfirmed" in the primary sources.

As is normal for when historians argue over controversial subjects, what is most contentious about Kramnick and Moore's book is their INTERPRETATION (i.e., the "no religious test clause" represented a groundbreaking political expression of secular politics) of the record, NOT the veracity of the facts they cite.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Fleming on "Christian America":

Hard right paleo-conservative Thomas Fleming explains why America was not founded to be a "Christian Nation." He writes:

Despite the number of religious fanatics who landed on our shores early on, America has never been a Christian nation. Conservative evangelicals are fond of saying that the Founding Fathers were all pious Christians, but few of the men who led the Revolution or drafted the Constitution could be described as pious or even orthodox. George Washington was an ordinary Episcopalian who showed no conspicuous attachment to religion. His biographer Parson Weems has preserved touching stories about Washington’s faith, but Weems was a notorious liar, and his morale-building stories have repeatedly been debunked. The chaplain to the First Continental Congress knew Washington well and respected him, but, when asked in 1832 about the first president’s religion, he replied, “I do not believe that any degree of recollection will bring to my mind any fact which will prove General Washington to have been a believer in the Christian revelation.”

Revelation, miracles, and mystery were a stumbling block to John Adams, who was an undoubted Unitarian, like his wife, Abigail. Ben Franklin turned deist at the age of 15, before turning into a freethinker and Freemason. He was also a notorious philanderer who fathered bastards and wrote a famous essay on how to get and keep a mistress. Small wonder that Newt Gingrich says Franklin was “great in the way he lived his life.” Thomas Jefferson was also a mildly anti-Christian deist.

As Tocqueville told us 150 years ago, we are a conventional people, afraid of controversy. Going to church, in most periods of our history, has entailed fewer social complications than a reputation for atheism. No known atheist has ever been elected president: Lincoln learned to keep his skepticism to himself. America’s tradition of toleration—a peculiar blend of public hypocrisy and personal indifference to religion—is often explained by the First Amendment. Anti-American Catholics and ACLU liberals agree that the development of a Christian social order (much less a religious establishment) was prevented by the so-called wall of separation between Church and state. The phrase comes from a letter that Thomas Jefferson addressed to a Baptist association in Danbury, Connecticut, in 1802....


To be fair to that good man, Jefferson was in something of a bind. His indifference (at best) to religion was well known, and he knew that anything he wrote could and would be used against him by political rivals who had always tried to represent him as the enemy of Christianity. Cleverly, Jefferson did not even answer the Baptists’ main point: He wrote nothing about the rights of Baptists in Connecticut or the power of the legislature but spoke only of the national legislature—that is, the U.S. Congress—which is forbidden to establish a church or interfere in the exercise of religion.

Jefferson’s wall of separation cannot honestly be used to justify the government’s campaign to eliminate Christianity from public places. The President thought, rightly or wrongly, that he was merely restating and applying the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment, which says: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, or of the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”

It is not easy today to get the point of this clause, since so few of us have lived in a country with an established religion....

The First Amendment, then, forbids Congress either to establish a national church or to interfere in the exercise of religion. Why Congress, specifically? Because Congress, elected from the people, is the supreme lawmaking body. As Jefferson understood, it was up to Congress to pass laws, which the president executed. The president could not have his own policies on religious freedom any more than he was entitled to have his own policies on war (much less the special “war powers” that Lincoln invented and subsequent presidents have abused): For a president to impose his own ideas on the nation would be tyrannical. Nor did anyone (except possibly Jefferson) ever think the federal courts would get involved in such an issue, since their role was to interpret the Constitution and federal laws, and they had virtually no authority to intrude themselves into the affairs of the separate sovereign states.

The fears of the Danbury Baptists were legitimate: Under the First Amendment, the states could, theoretically, interfere in the exercise of religion or establish a church, whether Anglican or Congregationalist. The fear of a national establishment came natural to Americans. What sort of national church could America have that would unite the Anglicans of Virginia and South Carolina with the Puritans of New England and the Quakers of Pennsylvania? Even the Southern states were religiously diverse. The Carolina backcountry was dominated by Presbyterians and, eventually, Methodists, Baptists, and Campbellites, while Charleston had a significant Catholic population even in the early 19th century, and eventually the number of Irish Catholics in the lower South and, after the Louisiana Purchase, French and Spanish Catholics in Louisiana was too great to be ignored. So, although Christianity held a privileged position, it was, for practical reasons, virtually impossible for states to maintain a church establishment.

Although the Bill of Rights is interpreted today as a guarantee of individual and minority rights to exercise freedoms of expression and religion, this was not the original reading. In this respect, Jefferson’s letter points in the wrong direction. The primary object of the Bill of Rights was to restrain the national government, particularly the Congress.


Monday, December 28, 2009

Hermeneutics & the American Founding:

Gregg Frazer spent a great deal of time debating my co-blogger King of Ireland on Romans 13, and of late, I've taken to defending Gregg's hermeneutic, not because I believe it personally, but simply on its internally coherent logical grounds.

Gregg is, as my readers know, an evangelical/fundamentalist Christian who believes the Bible the inerrant, infallible Word of God and a literal 6-day young earth creationist.

While it's not out of the realm of possibilities that I become a self-defining/self-understanding "Christian," even an "orthodox Christian" in the future. I seriously doubt I'll ever become that kind of Christian.

The conversation, of late, I've been having with KOI centers around whether Gregg properly interprets and understands Romans 13 in terms of history and logic. From everything I've studied, according to Gregg's internal hermeneutic, he does. Perhaps one could hold to Gregg's fundamentalist premises and differ in outcome on Romans 13 absoluteness. After all, fundamentalists argue over every letter of TULIP. However, according to Gregg's theological premises, his interpretation is as sound as any other (in a later post, I'm going to explain why Gregg and John Calvin had almost identical understandings).

It's just that it leaves a bad taste in many people's mouths (mine included). It holds, while obedience to government is qualified by "rulers" not making believers affirmatively or by omission sin, submission to government is unqualified. And that includes Hitler, Stalin or whomever.

Such a fundamentalist fatalism is immune to the reductio ad absurdum. Of course, the idea that the vast majority of humanity face eternal misery for not being of God's elect is about as bad a truth as I can imagine (worse than submit to Hitler and Stalin). But again, if that's what the Bible says, that's what it says, as the hermeneutic goes.

I've thought about lately the words of the Apostles and hermeneutics. When Jehovah speaks, it's the first person in the Trinity (according to orthodox hermeneutics). When Jesus speaks, the second person. And when St. Paul in Romans, St. John in Revelation, their words are directed by the Holy Spirit, the 3rd Person in the Trinity.

Therefore, when Paul speaks in Romans, etc. this is the "Word of God," -- eternally binding -- that doesn't get explained away by "context." As Gregg wrote in an earlier post:

You must remember that Paul wrote Romans UNDER THE INSPIRATION OF THE HOLY SPIRIT. God knew what Nero was going to do – and inspired Paul to write to those people how they must conduct themselves not just for that day, but when the persecution came. If it was just Paul’s opinion or limited by Paul’s finite understanding, then I wouldn’t give it any more weight than my own thoughts or those of a “wise” man. But it was GOD’s Word to those people – and it wasn’t bound by time constraints because God isn’t bound by time constraints. Paul did not say: “Let every person be in subjection to the governing authorities until they start doing mean and nasty things.” There are no qualifiers – despite Mayhew’s penchant for adding them. So, no, Nero had not yet begun burning Christians alive or feeding them to animals or nailing them to crosses, but the God Who inspired Paul’s writing knew he was going to. [Italics mine.]

In short, when you read Paul et al. you are getting the 3rd Person in the Trinity -- an omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent God -- if not writing for Paul, guiding his hand making sure it says everything God wants. That's why Paul's words (and those of the other Apostles) constitute the "Word of God," just as Jesus' and Jehovah's do. In this sense, the words of Paul, St. John, are equal to Jesus' and Jehovah's. They are all "God's Word," depending on which Person in the Trinity does the speaking (or guiding).

THAT'S the hermeneutic from where Gregg comes. And if one believes in it, Gregg's conclusions per Romans 13 stand on solid ground.

However, that's not the only necessarily proper way to interpret the Bible. It could be that Paul had a finite understanding in some parts of the Bible, and in others, was just giving his opinion, which may have been wrong. If one adopts THAT hermeneutic, then Romans 13 isn't as much of a problem.

Jefferson simply disregarded everything Paul said as "corruption."

When Brad Delong first commented at Positive Liberty (after I linked to a posts of his on the matter), he wrote:

I would cut St. Paul considerable slack here. He’s trying to keep his tiny churches scattered across the Mediterranean functioning and making converts so that as many people can be saved before the imminent, really imminent coming of the Kingdom. And he wants to keep some of the Romans alive so that the church in Rome can continue to preach. And if to keep them alive he has to say that it’s God’s will that Nero reigns, and you shouldn’t interfere with God’s will, and throwing your life away on some anti-Nero gesture is interfering with God’s will… well, I can see why he would say that. And I can see how he would say “But I didn’t mean it to go so far” if we generalize from it…

Nino Scalia on the other hand… much less slack. He wants to get to the conclusion that Martin Luther King and other civil disobeyers are not just criminals but sinners. And he rushes to that conclusion so fast he forgets what this country is, or how it was founded.


Brad DeLong

Or one could, like Jefferson, argue as Pete Guither does:

First of all, Paul is a putz. He’s not a very good interpreter of Christ’s message to the people, but he’s great at organizing church dogma. Second, he’s in an occupied land sending messages that could be intercepted by the government - of course you throw in some pablum about respecting authority just to be on the safe side.

Finally, its this kind of blind obedience to text instead of to God’s message that ends up causing so much damage in this world.
Dave Swindle v. Mary Grabar on the Pot Issue:

I knew Dave Swindle when he was less of a somebody (when he wrote for his college newspapers). He always had nice things to say about my work and still does. Back then he was an enemy of David Horowitz. Now he's an editor for Horowitz's Frontpagemag. He still has the same more or less libertarian worldview, but has switched from progressive politics to conservative. For that (libertarian) reason, I'm one of his friends from the past who hasn't been at all bothered by his move (truth be told, he probably moved closer to where I am politically).

With that, he sent me the following links that relate to his dialog with Grabar (one, two, three).

Not that it need be said, but I think Swindle is obviously correct. I'm tempted to just insult Dr. Grabar's post with an ad hominem and move on. But I won't. There's way too much for me to respond to, so I am going to pick my battles.

Her first passage that stood out:

[Marijuana] is not safe. It has serious health effects. It is addictive. I personally know people who smoke it every day. They started young. One started after being in a motorcycle accident and used it for pain. These are people who are supporting themselves, true. But they are people who are operating way below capacity, who have lost the ability to think logically or to care enough to argue logically. Their emotional relationships are shallow. They have lost initiative and that fighting spirit that defends the idea of liberty.

Why now put the imprimatur of legality on a substance that does this?

This is just refer madness style, meaningless anecdotal citation, making stuff up about pot, hitting and running with it.

Neither she nor her authorities prove MJ is "unsafe" or that is has "serious health effects." As far as it being addictive, no evidence shows it is in a physical sense (like alcohol is for some, and tobacco, heroin/opiates, for many more). Is it psychologically addictive? For a great many, yes. But ANYTHING can be psychologically addictive. (Think about how much time YOU spend on the Internet.)

As for her claim, "[b]ut they are people who are operating way below capacity," and the rest of the passage that follows, I could flip every assertion she makes on its head and would have as much anecdotal and empirical evidence from which to draw. But I won't waste space.

[Note, MJ may cause adverse health effects; the problem, so far as I have seen, is that the prohibitionists, since "Refer Madness," haven't been able to honestly cite research. This is somewhat speculation on my part; but the worst that I have uncovered about MJ is that for a very small % of the population who suffers from chronic (mainly biological) depression, anxiety, and schizophrenia, MJ may act as a catalyst towards a bad psychological experience; yet, I've also witnessed people who suffer from such problems benefit or otherwise not be harmed by MJ.]

The other thing that stood out was Grabar's appeal to America's Founders, "Judeo-Christianity" and "Western Civilization" on behalf of the prohibitionist side. As she wrote:

....I revert back to an argument based on tradition and specifically our Judeo-Christian heritage. I openly—and non-relativistically—assert that it is a heritage that is superior to all others. I base my arguments on this premise.

The fact that I am accused of being a theocrat for simply invoking our cultural heritage and advocating for its values again points to an absolutism on the part of these libertarians, and I think, implicitly a rejection of the Judeo-Christian foundations of our culture. Many of my detractors are absolutely hostile to the mere mention of the Bible or of why we should pay attention to it.


In order to invoke the founding fathers, one needs to understand the cultural tradition they drew from. They read deeply and drew upon the rich traditions of Western thought. They agree with George Washington as he says in his Farewell Address, “Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle. . . . Who that is a sincere friend [to our form of government] can look with indifference upon attempts to shake the foundation of the fabric?” I believe I was pointing beyond the isolated use of marijuana to the foundations.

Elsewhere -- I'm not going to bother to find the quote -- she invokes "Western Civ." Just note, "Judeo-Christianity," "Western Civ." and the American Founding are not synonymous. The "Christian" or "Judeo-Christian" (oft-used interchangeably with no explanation of what the differences might be) is one of Western Civ.'s founding sources (Jerusalem). Western Civ. has a pagan source as well in Greco-Romanism (Athens).

The two are so intertwined that it's impossible to separate them. To use an imperfect analogy, if Athens is black and Jerusalem is white, Western Civ. is like a mixture black and white paint, where parts seem purely black, parts, purely white, with countless swirls and shades and gray.

Some religious purists, for instance Francis Schaeffer, wish to try. And God love them in their quest for a new Puritanism. (It might be a fruitless endeavor trying to separate all that white paint.) Other Christians, following Aquinas and the Roman Catholic Church, have embraced Western Civilizations noble pagan roots (to the extent that they are noble, as they teach Aristotle, the Stoics, etc., are). (They embrace and make something noble out of the mixture, though where they try for the white paint to dominate.)

And both of these sources -- the Judeo-Christian, Greco-Roman -- could be and have been used for or against marijuana prohibition and marijuana use itself (and those two are not synonymous either; many drug legalizers don't touch the stuff and don't encourage others to do so, because prohibition is WORSE).

Indeed, the potheads have their own biblical prooftext:

And God said, Behold, I have given you every herb bearing seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree, in the which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed; to you it shall be for meat.

-- Genesis 1:29

Re the Founding Fathers, while I've heard rumors that they grew hemp and even that they smoked it (I have yet to turn to to verify) Washington embraced a pagan Stoicism that would probably caution against such use, Jefferson embraced a pagan Epicureanism that would seem to permit MJ indulgence.

Of course, regardless of whether they would have viewed MJ use as immoral, this doesn't settle whether they believed men had a right to do so within the privacy of their own home. But they did, keep in mind, hold that individuals have an unalienable right to pursue happiness.
Oiyoi Yoi Yoi Yoiiii:

This is what happens when you mix evangelical Christianity with large quantities of marijuana.
Theistic Rationalism From the Pulpit, Redux:

Because Samuel West's 1776 Election Sermon featured so prominently in a number of recent American Creation posts (and in Jeff Morrison's paper on the political theology of the Declaration of Independence, also discussed in said posts), I thought I'd refer back to a post I did where I noted Dr. Gregg Frazer discusses West and his sermon in detail in his PhD thesis and sees it not as "Christian" principles preached from the Founding era pulpit, but theistic rationalist principles.

Samuel West was also a unitarian, not a Calvinistic Christian. That's one of the deficiencies of Morrison's paper. He seems to view Rev. West as orthodox. But it's understandable. West doesn't talk about his unitarianism in that sermon. And the Congregational Church where he preached had, or likely had, numerous Calvinists. Indeed, few understand that unitarian ministers in Founding era New England Congregational Churches placated the Calvinists by refusing to preach on the Trinity and other orthodox doctrines.

This was a Lockean solution, indeed a Lockean lowest-common-denominator of what it means to be a "Christian." Jesus is some kind of divinely special Messiah and Savior of Mankind. That was Locke's test for what it means to be a "Christian." "Divinely special" could mean fully divine Himself (2nd Person in the Trinity), some type of created and subordinate divine being (this is Arianism where Jesus is the first created being, more divinely powerful than the top archangel but inferior to his creator God the Father) or 100% man but on a uniquely divine mission, sent by the Father (this is Socinianism).

Indeed, Locke likely was a unitarian (his orthodox critics so accused him of being for positing an LCD understanding of Christianity that refused to distinguish between Trinitarianism and unitarianism) and West's sermon preaches Locke, heavily.

Samuel West's sermon is also heavy on the natural law/reason as trumping truth discovery. While he doesn't come out and say the Bible is fallible and man's reason trumps, he does say that revelation, in order to be true, MUST meet the test of reason. That was "right revelation." That is, TRUTH, like that men have an unalienable right to revolt against tyrants, is ascertainable from reason/nature alone. Indeed that's the first place men SHOULD look for metaphysical truth. Once found, go back to the Bible and MAKE the Bible fit with what man already discovered from reason, even if we have to conclude that the Apostles when they spoke were joking and didn't really mean what they said. That was West's hermeneutic, how he approached scripture, and especially Romans 13.

(Ready my original post; this is no shit. West claims that St. Paul may have been joking in Romans 13.)

Saturday, December 26, 2009

King of Ireland on "Rational Christianity" and America's Founding:

My co-blogger at American Creation, King of Ireland, aka Joe Winpisinger, like many of America's Founders (Jefferson, J. Adams, Franklin, etc.) identifies himself as a "rational Christian," and defends the political theology of the American Founding as "rational Christianity."

Check out his excellent post articulating where he is coming from. (Note, I helped him edit the post).

Some highlights:

I argue the history of Christianity, properly understood, provided the fertile ground that launched modernity and as such those who invoke the authority of "science" and "rationality" should be less hostile, as many of them oft-seem, to what I term "rational Christianity," a theological system that helped bring about science, rationality and political liberty. Thomas Aquinas, Isaac Newton and many American Founders stand as the best representatives of the "rational Christian" tradition that I defend.

I see America's Declaration of Independence -- a document that posits the universal natural ends of government -- as typifying "rational Christianity." Indeed it was written by "rational Christians" Thomas Jefferson, John Adams and Ben Franklin and supported by "rational Christians" like Sam Adams. But wait, didn't John Adams -- a unitarian -- practice a different religion than that of his cousin Samuel, a Calvinistic Trinitarian? The kind of rational Christianity for which I argue transcends such sectarian differences. Issues of salvation/heresy such as whether Jesus is the second person in the Trinity matter not to the political-theological tradition of "rational Christianity" that I (after America's Founders) endorse.


The "rational Christian" political theology of the DOI, while having nothing to do with orthodox doctrines like the Trinity, rather relates to strongly established philosophical traditions in Christianity like Imago Dei, Aquinas' incorporation of Aristotle into Christendom (Jefferson sourced Aristotle as one of the four prime ideological sources behind the DOI), and the doctrine of "interposition" developed by the Calvinists.


Many Christian factions and sects had to work with one another and compromise under one big tent in order to successfully declare independence from Great Britain. Their sectarian differences were irreconcilable; those divided them. But "rational traditions" within Christianity united them.

One of the largest factions among them who proved themselves willing to follow the demands of "rational Christianity" was, believe it or not, the Calvinists. While many Calvinists certainly remained loyalists (Calvin's himself provided much dicta that would seem to support the loyalist position), those Calvinists sympathetic to a pro-resistance Whig position had a long established intellectual tradition of "Interposition" from which to draw and the "rational Christians" further supported such position with what man's reason discovered in Nature.


The American Founding, at its heart, invoked a Christian ecumenicism. They embraced John Locke -- a man whose Christology remains a mystery and whom the orthodox Trintiarians and heterodox unitarians both followed -- and his teachings on, among other things, religious toleration and political liberty.

The Declaration of Independence, as a document of political theology articulated a Lockean "rational Christianity" around which Calvinists, Arminians, unitarians and deistically minded Christians could rally.
Sullivan Responds to the "New" Natural Law:

Andrew Sullivan responds to a New York Times piece on Princeton's Robert P. George, particularly on George's defense of the "new natural law." Sullivan has written at great length in books Virtually Normal and The Conservative Soul on the Aristotelian-Thomistic sexual ethic that has long anathematized homosexuals. I think he does a good job arguing for an alternative Aristotelian "natural essentialism" that finds a place for homosexuals in the natural order of things. (Of course most "serious thinkers" reject that there are essences found in nature; and that's why so few of them engage Dr. George's theory other than to dismiss it out of hand as nonsense on stilts.)

Sullivan also kindly links to a post I did where I reported discussing the differences between the new and old natural law with Dr. George at Princeton.

The relevant part of what I wrote in that post follows:

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

But George did go into detail in answering my question. The bottom line as I understood, Feser's understanding is closest to Thomas' original and doesn't admit to any "inputs" but rather argues these principles can be determined from looking to nature via reason period. That leaves this theory perhaps vulnerable to what some term the "naturalistic fallacy." George's "new" natural law is more willing to admit to certain "inputs" that support its conclusion. I asked him whether the Bible was one of those "inputs" to which he gave an emphatic NO. Not that he had any hostility to the Bible (obviously as a devout Roman Catholic he does not). But the POINT of natural law since Aquinas was to be able to demonstrate these transcendent truths from reason-nature alone.

And here is Sullivan's response (in part; you'll have to read the whole post for the rest):

On marriage, it seems to me that George is right about something: heterosexual intercourse within marriage that begets children is a vital, sacred, wondrous and central fact of human life. I've never doubted that. I've never even argued that the sacrament of matrimony in Catholic tradition could be anything but heterosexual. Where I differ most from George is how one approaches the diversity of nature around this central - and largely civil - human institution.

George is selectively flexible on this (for an online discussion, see Jon Rowe's post here). He can see oral sex, for example, as okay even if it is not procreative, as long as it is somehow integrated into the procreative, i.e. foreplay. He is even prepared to endorse the sex lives of the infertile or post-menopausal, although both groups obviously have no natural way to procreate by sex. Why? Because they are engaging in something he calls "procreative in form," as long as he is on top and rubber-free. If it looks like heterosexual procreation, even if it actually isn't, it's kosher. Maybe if a man and a man had sex with one dressed as a woman and retained rigid gender roles, they might squeak through George's "procreative in form" loophole. But one suspects the loophole is there not to express compassion for the straight but to retain an iron-clad exclusion for the gay.

If the whole thing sounds like convenient sophistry to you, you're not alone.

Sullivan's response is important in two respects:

1) He addresses the natural lawyers' assertion that oral sex in marriage can sometimes be "natural." Previously (for instance, in TCS) Sullivan assumed Aristotelian-Aquinas natural law forbade such (I assumed it too). And it's easy to see how he would assume such a thing. These naturalistic arguments oft-reduce to designs of the body (as the former Pope once put it, the "theology of the body," one might put a "teleology of the body"). We've oft-heard it asserted men are designed for women -> penis is designed for vagina -> as it were, sperm designed for egg. Any break in the chain is equally unnatural. Hence contraception, even in marriage, is as unnatural as homosexuality. It follows then that mouth was not designed for genitalia (just as, some argue, anus is not designed for genitalia). Unless of course you can make such acts "fit" with sperm's natural end of fertilizing egg as some natural lawyers do. That's something where marital oral sex could work in a way that anal probably could not.

2) Sullivan addresses the natural lawyers response to post-menopausal sex within marriage. If one looks for an exception to the "sex is exclusively about procreation" rule, it's hard to explain why infertile couples should be permitted to have sex. Well, the natural lawyers have their way of making THAT kind of sex, "procreative."

These debates are like a game of intellectual ping pong. Once the natural lawyers assert post-menopausal sex is procreative in principle as long as the husband continues to plant his seed inside his wife's womb, there's really not much more to remark than either, yeah that makes sense, or no, that sounds like sophistry.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Mary Thompson on the Washington/G. Morris Exchange on Political Rulers:

Mary V. Thompson, Research Historian, Mount Vernon and author of In the Hands of a Good Providence: Religion in the Life of George Washington (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2008) wrote me the following in an email, which she gave me permission to reproduce:

Dear Jon,

Thank you for the post you did about the May 1778 correspondence between Gouverneur Morris and GW; it was new to me (one of the problems of working with Washington materials is that there are so many things to go through)....

Anyway, my reading of the correspondence is based on a second definition of the word “unavailing,” which can mean, as you indicated, “useless,” but it can also mean “futile.” If I was reading you correctly, you were saying that Washington thought any information Jesus might have written to rulers would have been useless. As I understand Washington’s response, I think he was saying that, even if Jesus had written a chapter of instructions for rulers, it would have been futile, given the sinful nature of man (those rulers would have just ignored it or deliberately decided to violate what he’d required of them). Just a thought.



Sunday, December 20, 2009

Gouverneur Morris and George Washington on Jesus' Lack of Instruction Towards Political Rulers:

A common line that those who try to downplay the anti-homosexual messages in the Bible use is, "Jesus never once said anything about homosexuality." And they are right in that specific regard. However, other parts of the Bible, not many, but a one handful, quite instructively condemn homosexual acts. Where Jesus was silent, St. Paul, in Romans 1, was not.

A parallel dynamic arguably exists with regards to political rulers. Jesus had little to say (I know he did say "Render unto Caeser," directed more towards believers than "Caesers," and some other tangential things about government -- that's why I said "little" not "nothing"); but St. Paul was fairly explicit in Romans 13.

With that, here is Gouverneur Morris in a letter to Washington, May 21, 1778, lamenting Jesus' lack of direction towards political rulers. Note this as the only recorded place GM referred to Jesus as "Savior."

Had our Saviour addressed a chapter to the rulers of mankind, as he did many to the subjects, I am persuaded his good sense would have dictated this text; Be not wse overmuch. Had the several members, who compose our multifarious body, been only wise enough, our business would long since have been completed. But our superior abilities, or the desire of appearing to possess them, lead us to such exquisite tediousness of debate, that the most precious moments pass unheeded away like vulgar things.

Washington responded (May 29, 1778) with his typical religious aloofness, though he does seem to categorize many passages of Jesus'/the Bible's words as "unavailing" hence, inadequate or incomplete guides:

Had such a chapter as you speak of been written to the rulers of mankind it would I am persuaded, have been as unavailing as many others upon subjects of equal importance. 26 We may lament that things are not consonent with our wishes, but cannot change the nature of Men, and yet those who are distressed by the folly and perverseness of it, cannot help complaining, as I would do on the old score of regulation and arrangement, if I thought any good would come of it.

Don't complain about reality; just grin and bear it. Washington that good Stoic he.

Morris, in his original letter, seems to articulate a Jeffersonian view of the Bible. Jefferson likewise thought of Jesus of Nazareth as a "Savior," (though 100% man, not divine at all, but on a divine mission) and thought Jesus' words (to the extent that they had been accurately recorded in the Bible) as God speaking to man through a divinely inspired human intermediary. Yet, Jefferson disregarded everything St. Paul (and the other Apostles) wrote as "corruption."

If St. Paul's words were as divinely inspired as Jesus', one wouldn't, it seems to me, need Jesus to speak on "rulers" any more than one needs Him to speak on homosexuality. St. Paul, divinely inspired by the Holy Spirit, already spoke on those matters and that would suffice. Yet if one believes Jesus', but not Paul's words were divinely inspired, then, yes, one would desire Jesus' thoughts on the matter while disregarding Paul's. (Simply disregarding St. Paul's words as Jefferson did and G. Morris probably did is quite an easy way to get around Romans 13's apparent textual prohibition on revolt.)
Get Ready For Romans 13 Round 3:

Perhaps this was the work of Providence. I've been thinking about gearing up for a third round of debates on Romans 13, Calvin, Interposition, the American Founding, and this morning I see that Brad Delong linked to a Positive Liberty post I did towards the end of 2006 on Romans 13, one that discussed a post of his and where he commented. Delong's post discussed a First Things' article by Justice Scalia that addresses Romans 13.

Perhaps we can get Justice Scalia to chime in this round. After all, we've both written for First Things. (Heh. I doubt it.)

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Van Dyke on Voltaire on Religious Pluralism:

At American Creation Tom Van Dyke writes about Voltaire's notion of religious pluralism. Voltaire pushed some Enlightenment ideas that were somewhat controversial and more extreme than what the FFs as a consensus embraced. But not with this one. This is an idea of Voltaire's that Madison embraced wholeheartedly in Federalists 10 and 51 (on factions and multiplicity of sects).

Here is a taste from Voltaire:

If there were only one religion in England, there would be danger of tyranny; if there were two, they would cut each other's throats; but there are thirty, and they live happily together in peace.

My own opinion is in a healthy religiously pluralistic society (as America was founded to be) it is, at times, a good thing to play religious sects against one other so their views cancel one another out. That has a way of impeding the emergence of a religiously fanatic politics.
Why The Trinity?

"I acknowledge myself a unitarian -- Believing that the Father alone, is the supreme God, and that Jesus Christ derived his Being, and all his powers and honors from the Father."

"There is not any reasoning which can convince me, contrary to my senses, that three is one, and one three."

-- Abigail Adams to John Quincy Adams, May 5, 1816.

Tom Van Dyke emails me suggesting I/we need to better explain why the Trinity and its absence (part of a conspicuous top down paradigm by the "key Founders," who themselves disproportionately disbelieved in the Trinity) from the political-theological landscape of the American Founding makes a difference at all. As the Abigail Adams' above quote illustrates there were (or probably were) a lot more prominent Christian minded unitarians who believed Jesus the Son of God (though not God the Son) and Savior of the World, than cold Deists who believed Jesus either a fraud at worst or (like Thomas Paine) a nice guy at best. Even Thomas Jefferson called Jesus "our Savior" (though 100% man, not God at all) and idolized another Socinian Unitarian, Joseph Priestley, who, unlike Jefferson believed in the Resurrection (as did John Adams).

In a sense Van Dyke's assertion that as long as you have Providence, Jesus as Savior (not necessarily as 2nd Person in the Trinity) and large parts of the Bible as God's Holy Writ (not necessarily the infallibility of the Biblical canon) that's "Christian" enough for a meaningful historical-political-theological understanding of America's Founding reflects a classical unitarian mindset. It was unitarians like Richard Price who argued exactly that and "orthodox" like Timothy Dwight who argued unless you had the Trinity, you didn't have "Christianity."

Okay: The difference between Jesus as God the Son, 2nd Person in the Trinity and Jesus as Son of God, Savior of Mankind.

Theologically this is the difference between orthodox Christianity on the one hand and Mormonism, Jehovah's Witnessism, and any other heterodox, non-Trinitarian creed that presents itself as "Christianity" on the other.

[I stress Mormons, JWs when discussing classical unitarianism because the term "Unitarian" to our modern ears connotes the modern Unitarian Universalist Church. God love them, but, they -- or at least many of them -- seem far less religious or theistic than the unitarians and Unitarians of the Founding era. I respect the arguments of UUs that they are the heirs to America's Founding era political theology; however it could be that more devoutly religious heretics like Mormons, JWs, and mainline Christian denominations who are "iffy" on the Trinity are the true heirs to the theology of a Jefferson, J. Adams, Washington, etc.]

Are the differences between these creeds meaningful? Perhaps not to an anti-religious atheist. To a Christopher Hitchens, they are all irrational religious nuts. However to most of my "orthodox" friends, the difference between their creed and that of the Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses or any Trinity denier is profound. Non-Trinitarians are "not Christians" and engage in soul damning heresies (to Roman Catholics, rejecting the Trinity is a potential SDH; to reformed/evangelicals, rejecting the Trinity is an actual SDH).

Further, if you are not a Trinitarian, you are not "regenerate," don't have the Holy Spirit (third person in the Trinity) in you. Of course God uses non-regenerate, non-Spirit filled men (as the orthodox should view America's key Founders) to accomplish His will. But that adds to the mystery of why God would choose non-Spirit filled men like Washington, J. Adams and Jefferson to accomplish His will in Founding America and arguably use sinful means (violating Romans 13) to do so.

So we've seen the Trinity as a matter of profound importance in personal theology, but what about politics? To even ask that question illustrates the political-theological problem that has long plagued Western-Christendom.

Christians believe all authority -- including the political -- ultimately ascends upwards to God. Thus it's important to understand who this God is and what are His attributes? Does the buck stop at a triune God, a unitary God, Allah or Ganesh? Are they all one and the same?

Further, some argue all politics ultimately have religious underpinnings. Someone once said "politics is theology applied." Hence, the inevitable existence of "political-theology."

Some questions that we, as a polity, need to answer: Is it important that America, as a polity, makes supplications to God? And if so, are we making public-political supplications to the actual God that exists or some man made false god? Are all gods man made and false? Can one supplicate to the God of the Bible while ignoring His Triune nature? Does the Bible in fact teach God has a Triune nature? Do Jews and Christians worship the same God? If so, why not Muslims?

Again, note, America's Founders commonly made supplications to Providence but almost NEVER to the Triune God. As Justice Scalia accurately summarized it in the most recent Supreme Court Ten Commandments case:

All of the actions of Washington and the First Congress upon which I have relied, virtually all Thanksgiving Proclamations throughout our history, and all the other examples of our Government’s favoring religion that I have cited, have invoked God, but not Jesus Christ.


This is not necessarily the Christian God (though if it were, one would expect Christ regularly to be invoked, which He is not)....

Further, what does God require in worldly politics? One traditional Calvinist notion demands that political bodies make a covenant to God, that is the Triune God of the Bible. This is what many American colonies did, but what America's Founders (1776-1791) purposefully DID NOT do. Instead of a covenant to the Triune God of the Bible, America's Founders replaced it with an homage to the Creator/Nature's God/Providence/Supreme Judge of the World in the DOI and with Art. VI. Cl. 3 in the US Constitution. Hence America's Founding political theology is not Trinitarian, arguably not "Christian."

Another authentic expression of orthodox Trinitarian political theology is that Romans 13 gives guidelines for rulers, but ultimately demands submission to government no matter WHO is in power, even if pagan tyrants. This was Calvin's position. Arguably this was St. Paul's position when he told believers to submit to the pagan psychopath Nero. Thus revolt -- whether to Clinton, Obama, Reagan, GW or GHW Bush, Stalin or Hitler -- is forbidden. But godly rulers, once in power, are free to enact biblically influenced laws, for instance the burning of heretics at the stake.

Like the Roman Catholic Church before him, John Calvin had heretics, or at least one prominent heretic -- the unitarian Michael Servetus -- burned at the stake for publicly denying the Trinity. This was an expression of authentic Trinitarian Christian political theology. Calvin's logic was irresistible: Heretics engage in soul damning heresies. When they proselytize, they lead others to engage in SDHs. Consequently, their public execution is justified in order to dissuade others from soul damning error.

But, if the Trinity really doesn't matter -- as America's key Founders (and apparently Tom Van Dyke) saw it -- then why not grant religious liberty to everyone while paying homage to "religion" in general and "Christianity" (broadly defined, sans the orthodox Trinitarian doctrines) in particular?

THAT'S where the ignoring of the Trinity in America's Founding politics mattered. We could not get religious liberty until we removed the Trinity and cognate orthodox doctrines from politics. And on a personal note, I'm glad America's Founders did this.

Finally, I am not an orthodox Christian so I ask any of my orthodox and non-orthodox readers and commenters to likewise chime in and explain why orthodoxy/the Trinity makes a difference in theology and in politics.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Baron Von Steuben and Timothy Pickering, Non-Key Founding Fathers who were Unitarian Or Theistic Rationalists:

[BVS was probably homosexual as well. Make of that whatever you will.]

We've already demonstrated that the "key" Founding Fathers (first four Presidents, Ben Franklin and some others) either outright denied the Trinity and cognate orthodox doctrines, or, like Washington and Madison offered no compelling evidence of belief in orthodox Trinitarian doctrine (hence probably believed in what Franklin, J. Adams, and Jefferson did).

One common criticism directed against this thesis is "you have 3, 4 or 5, FFs, but many more important FFs existed beyond that." And that's certainly true. The FFs were a mixed bag, religiously. No doubt, Sam Adams, Roger Sherman, Patrick Henry and many other important second tier FFs were orthodox Trinitarian Christians. However, it's IMPROPER to presume anyone not on the list of those who provide smoking gun quotations denying the Trinity, etc. were orthodox Trinitarian Christians. Almost all FFs invoked Providence and were formally/nominally connected to an orthodox Christian Church. And this is exactly the case with Jefferson, J. Adams, Franklin, Madison, etc. There is a provable deistic/theistic minimum that connects Jefferson with Henry, J. Adams with S. Adams, Franklin with Sherman, etc.

There is NO provable orthodox Trinitarian minimum that connects almost all of the FFs, save the few exceptions. That's what the orthodox of the "Christian America" thesis argue for. That's one of many reasons why their "Christian America" thesis is false.

Again, many Christians sincerely believe if you aren't "orthodox" (that is a believer in the Trinity, Atonement), you aren't a "Bible believing Christian." I'm open to the question -- and I think it's an issue that needs to be continually discussed for the sake of clarity -- of whether those who deny original sin, trinity, incarnation, atonement, regeneration, eternal damnation, the infalliblity of the biblical canon etc., qualify as "Christians." It's only by answering that question affirmatively that any kind of meaningful, Founding era Christian American political theology can be proven.

What that, Bon Von Steuben played an instrumental role in delivering the American military victory over the British during the revolution. And it may have been during that time that Von Steuben converted Timothy Pickering to theological unitarianism.

One quote that I see in many content restricted books informs:

Timothy Pickering, began to doubt his Puritan theology when he heard General von Steuben say that he would sooner believe in an absurdity than in the Trinity.

Timothy Pickering

served in the American Revolution under George Washington, becoming adjutant general (1777 – 78) and quartermaster general (1780 – 85). He later served as U.S. postmaster general (1791 – 95), secretary of war (1795), and secretary of state (1795 – 1800). He served in the U.S. Senate from 1803 to 1811 and in the House of Representatives from 1813 to 1817.

Pickering may not have been a "key Founding Father" like the first four Presidents, but he certainly was an important 2nd or 3rd tier FF, representative of the 200 or so "other" Founders we have largely forgotten.

The following quote from Timothy Pickering to James McHenry in 1816 sheds further light on his unitarianism:

It is more than forty years, since, with strong conviction, I renounced the Calvinistic Scheme, in which I had been educated, as utterly incompatible with the perfections of the Deity. But it was not till a later period that the doctrine of the Trinity (which I had never heard controverted in the pulpit) employed my thoughts... and induced reject this dogma, liberalise the creed of Calvin. It has since been the essential article of my faith and practice, to worship only One God, who sent his son to be Savior of the World.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

The DOI is NOT a Document of Interposition:

I disagree with my American Creation co-blogger King of Ireland's assertion that:

The DOI is a legal document that presents the Christian case for interposition. Up until Parliment [sic] attempted to nullify their rights as Englishmen the representatives of the colonies argued from their rights as Englishmen. When those were taken away they appealed to natural rights.

While one perhaps could make what the American Founders DID "fit" with interposition, one cannot make what they said in the DOI fit. For those unaware, John Calvin in his Institutes on the Christian Religion Book 4, Chapter 20, dealt with the Bible (mainly Romans 13, but other verses and chapters as well) Christians and government. There Calvin strictly interprets Romans 13 to argue submission to government is categorical because God demands it. Obedience to government is conditioned on rulers not making men affirmatively or by omission sin. So for instance, if government tells a Christian not to exceed 55mph you obey simply because government said so. If government says stop preaching the Gospel, you disobey but submit to their lawful authority when they come to arrest you and accept the civil legitimacy of the punishment no matter what it is. I know this sounds harsh, but it is what John Calvin taught and Calvin was a harsh dude. [For more see Dr. Gregg Frazer's article on the matter.]

To Calvin, the Bible categorically forbids revolt. No exceptions. Calvin did discuss the ability of intermediate magistrates to interpose and remove a tyrannical King; but he stressed it must be done pursuant to some positive legal mechanism, like the Congress impeaching the President pursuant to the provisions in the US Constitution. Again, revolt is still forbidden. Therefore if the Continental Congress could make the argument, which they seemingly did in parts of the DOI, that King George and Parliament were violating British law AND if there were some recognized legal method under British law for declaring independence, perhaps what the FFs did could "fit" with such a notion of "interposition."

Needless to say, William Blackstone, the recognized authority over British Common Law argued there was no lawful right whatsoever to revolt against the Parliament and King like America later would do. The DOI is an anti-Blackstonian document in that respect.

But even if it were possible to make what America did "fit" with Calvin's notion of interposition, it is impossible to make what they said in the DOI fit. That document states:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it,...

Sorry but this is a call for revolt against the positive law, not interposition by lawful magistrates consistent with governing positive law. The above quoted rhetoric says the opposite of what Romans 13 seemingly on its face says and is entirely foreign to John Calvin's interpretation of Romans 13.
Fea on the God & Declaration of Independence:

I want to link to this outstanding post by John Fea on God and the Declaration of Independence before I forget (he posted it on Dec. 5).

Here is how he sums it up:

The God of the Declaration of Independence is not only the author of natural rights and the judge of the world, but He also governs the world by His "Providence." The term "providence," as it was used in the eighteenth-century, was usually used to describe an active God who sustains the world through His sovereign power. This is not the distant God of the deist, but a God who is always active in ordering His creation. He performs miracles and answers prayers. By referencing "Providence," the members of Congress were affirming their belief that God would watch over them and protect them in this time of uncertainty, trial, and war. Whether they embraced all of the tenets of orthodox Christianity or not, most of the signers could affirm a belief in the providence of God.

In the end, some may be disappointed with the way in which Jefferson, his committee, and the Second Continental Congress did not produce a Declaration of Independence that was overtly Christian. The Declaration never mentions Jesus Christ, does not quote the New Testament, and fails to move beyond vague descriptions of God.

While we would be hard pressed to describe the Declaration as a uniquely “Christian” document, it certainly does reflects the theistic world view prevalent in the eighteenth-century British-American colonies.

Read the rest of the post for his analysis of the four times the DOI invokes God.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

False Dichotomies:

At American Creation King of Ireland asks:

Which Christian ideas, if any, helped bring us into the modern world?


Which Christian ideas, if any, helped try to derail us from progressing toward the modern world?

One of the most difficult things we argue over is what is a "Christian principle"? My co-blogger Tom Van Dyke argues that since the rejection of original sin, trinity, atonement, eternal damnation (i.e., the ideas of Revs. Jonathan Mayhew and Charles Chauncy) was done by men in Christendom (indeed rejecting these tenets predates the Enlightenment) these constitute "Christian principles" along with the alternative more traditionally orthodox teachings on the matter.

I'm not accusing TVD or KOI of having committed the following mistake, but it is one that I see both the religious right and secular left make (the religious right, as I observe, makes it more often): Constructing a false dichotomy of viewing Founding era ideology as either "Christian" (or sometimes "Judeo-Christian," which they never properly distinguish from "Christian") or "secular" and then arguing for one of the two positions. The "Christians v. Deists" paradigm is just a variant of this false dichotomy.

Most serious scholars of whatever ideological inclination recognize numerous ideological influences, perhaps as many as 4 or 5 dominant strains. Bernard Bailyn noted 5: Greco-Roman, Common Law, Christianity, Whig, and Enlightenment. The ideological origins of the American Founding represented a synthesis of these five. The ideas are not mutually exclusive; some ideas/thinkers "fit" in more than one box. They bleed into different boxes. And further we rightly argue over what belongs in what box and ultimately which of the five dominated. For instance, Gregg Frazer sees Drs. Mayhew's & Chauncy's rejection of original sin, trinity, atonement, eternal damnation as "Enlightenment." Tom Van Dyke sees these as part of dissenting "Christianity."

Another problem, one I see David Barton and his followers oft-make, is appealing to the Founders' authority. No doubt sometimes the Founders were right, brilliantly so. But not always. For instance, just because Thomas Jefferson, a brilliant guy, vehemently denied the Trinity doesn't mean the Trinity doesn't exist. They tended to claim Christianity, properly understood, went hand in hand with natural rights and republicanism. Yet, I see these ideas coming from sources outside of "Christianity." Republicanism has nothing to do with the Bible and traces to the West's Greco-Roman heritage (though as the FFs articulated "republicanism," it was uniquely 18th Century) .

As men of the Enlightenment the Founders tended to see what was "rational" in all worldly sources. And both republicanism and monotheism were "rational"; hence these things could found in the Bible, the classical world, and so on. John Adams for instance saw monotheistic Providentialism in Hinduism and Zeus worship. Their anti-Catholic blinders led them to almost entirely ignore Thomas Aquinas when they spoke of "Nature"; but they did properly credit Aristotle. Again, he/they may have been wrong on many of these claims.

By presenting republicanism and natural rights as authentically Christian, they could have been (arguably they did) importing ideas foreign to biblical Christianity. By way of example, many leading Whig figures -- Joseph Priestley, Richard Price, Ezra Stiles, Bishop James Madison -- also claimed that the ideals of the French Revolution -- a universalism of liberty, equality and fraternity -- went hand in hand with Christianity. Indeed "republicanism," as America's Founders articulated it, had more to do with the ideals of the French Revolution than the Bible.

Indeed, using David Barton's method, one could easily claim the French Revolution on behalf of "Christian principles." Men like Joseph Priestley and Richard Price were not just devout theists, but believed Jesus the Messiah. AND they believed in the millennium. Indeed, they thought that the success of the French Revolution would usher in the return of Christ who would establish a millennial republic of liberty, equality and fraternity across the globe. (Likewise George Bush and his neo-con advisers believed success in Iraq would usher in a liberal democratic domino affect in the Middle East.) Barton might note secular society teaches only Christian fanatics believe in the millennium and the second coming, how Joseph Priestley and Richard Price were even more "Christian" than most of today's evangelicals (as I've heard him claim on Jefferson and Franklin).

But I think we understand the "French Revolution" was not an event of "Christian principles." And arguably neither was the American or the concept of a natural rights republic. This is regardless of what the promoters of said ideas try to pass off as "Christian."
Timeline of Classical American Unitarianism:

I got that from this good historical resource site on Unitarianism. The secular left and religious right tend to fall into a false dichotomy of "Christianity" v. "Deism" as the political-theological drivers of the American Founding. Not enough attention is paid to this middle way theology, why I pay attention to it. It was most influential among the leading lights (i.e., the "key Founders") of the American Founding.

I reproduced from the above source until 1805.

1742 - Charles Chauncy writes Enthusiasm Described and Cautioned Against as a polemic against the Great Awakening..

1748 - Jonathan Mayhew delivers his Seven Sermons (published 1750), in which he argues that all have the right to make private judgments in religious matters and the duty to do so.

1750 - Ebenezer Gay assumes leadership of the Hingham Association, a group of ministers in southern Massachusetts who committed themselves to the fight for freedom from bondage to unreasonable doctrines.

1753 - Mayhew begins teaching the strict unity of God from the pulpit of the West Church in Boston.

1755 - Mayhew publishes 14 more sermons in his book, Sermons. He critiques the Calvinist views of predestination, justification by faith alone, and original sin.

1759 - Ebenezer Gay delivers the Dudleian Lecture at Harvard, Natural Religion as Distinguished from Revealed, wherein he argues that revelation can teach nothing contrary to natural religion or to the dictates of reason.

1784 - Charles Chauncy publishes treatise on universal salvation, The Mystery Hid From Ages and Generations.

1785 - King's Chapel in Boston, formerly Episcopalian, ordains Unitarian James Freeman, removes references to Trinity in prayer book.

1794 - English Unitarian Joseph Priestly arrives in America and helps establish churches in Philadelphia.

1805 - Unitarian Henry Ware is elected Hollis Professor of Divinity at Harvard.

Friday, December 04, 2009

Jonathan Mayhew's Seven Sermons:

You can read an original copy from googlebooks here or a nice reproduction here. Mayhew was one of the most influential of the pro-revolutionary preachers of the Founding era (that's why he's important to study). Interestingly, he turned out to be a "unitarian" of the Arian bent, something orthodox Christians believe "heresy" that disqualifies someone from status as a "Christian."

Mayhew probably felt comfortable with the label "rational Christian." That is, he promoted the excessive use of free inquiry, reason and natural law in matters of religion. Such method led Mayhew to conclude that orthodox Trinitarian doctrine was a product of erroneous man-made ecclesiastical authorities.

The standard that elevates reason and free inquiry over ecclesiastical authorities can deconstruct not just orthodox doctrine like original sin, trinity, incarnation, atonement, but the biblical canon itself. Arguably ecclesiastical authorities selected the biblical canon. So how do we know we have all of the right books? Likewise, how do we know the books in the Bible are God's infallible Word? Perhaps ecclesiastical authorities inserted erroneous "interpolations" in the Bible?

It's important to keep this paradigm in mind for the following reason: Anti-Roman Catholic bigotry was something that certainly united "Protestants" of the liberal unitarian and conservative evangelical bent during the Founding era. Today the "Christian America" crowd -- comprised largely of Sola-Scriptura evangelicals and fundamentalists -- tend to dismiss the anti-ecclesiastical rhetoric of the American Founding as mere anti-Romanism, while positing the Bible (that is the canon) -- the inerrant, infallible Word of God (complete with orthodox doctrines like original sin, trinity, atonement, eternal damnation) -- as the source of American political theology. Not so. The anti-ecclesiastical, free inquiry method of "rational Christians" like Jonathan Mayhew, Charles Chauncy, and John Adams led them to reject not just original sin, trinity, atonement, eternal damnation, but arguably the infallibility of the biblical canon itself.

All the while they still believed themselves "Christians," that Jesus was Messiah (or King) and that God revealed Himself to man in His Word.

Over at American Creation, an interesting dialog on this very issue is taking place among Gregg Frazer, Tom Van Dyke and King of Ireland. TVD and others disagree with Gregg's assertion that the political theology of Mayhew, Chauncy, Priestley, J. Adams and others represented reason trumping revelation. That is, these Founding era figures believed while God did speak to man in biblical revelation, ultimately the Bible was partially inspired, errant, and that man's reason (i.e., THEIR reason) trumped what was written in the Bible's text.

Now, that's quite a contentious assertion, with some loaded premises. But in fairness to Gregg, many folks, for good reason, believe in those loaded premises and here they are: The biblical canon -- by itself and nothing more -- is God's complete, inerrant, infallible Word. This canon, moreover, clearly teaches doctrines like Trinity, Incarnation, Atonement, and Eternal Damnation. And, one of Gregg's pet favorites, that Romans 13 and every other verse and chapter of the Bible teach unlimited submission (though not necessarily obedience) to governmental authorities.

So along come Jonathan Mayhew, Charles Chauncy, Joseph Priestley, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson and company -- men who called themselves "Christians," -- all of whom (except Jefferson) believed in the Resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth (not of the 2nd person in the Trinity, but of God doing for His inferior not fully divine Son what He may one day do for all good men), men who promoted the excessive use of natural reason in religion, denying original sin, the trinity, incarnation, atonement, eternal damnation, and that Romans 13 demands categorical submission to government.

I understand exactly why Gregg and others sympathetic to the premises of historic Christianity (not just evangelicals, but Roman Catholics, and orthodox Anglicans) would argue this is "man's reason" trumping "revelation," even if others might dispute the analysis.