Wednesday, December 29, 2010

New Paper From Seth Tillman on Originalism:

American Creation readers may remember Seth Tillman from his critique of Geoff Stone's anti-Christian Nation law review article here.

He has a new working paper entitled, "The Originalist Who Came In From The Cold: A 'New' View of the Incompatibility Clause, the Removal & Disqualification Clause, and the Religious Test Clause–A Response to Professor Josh Chafetz’s Impeachment & Assassination." You may access it here.
Universal Reconciliation & the Reductio Ad Hitlerum:

Over at WorldNetDaily they seem to have a problem with the moderate evangelical best selling book "The Shack" because it's too...moderate. As I noted in this post, George Washington didn't seem to have a problem with Christian-Universalism. Indeed, I think GW probably believed like the other "key Founders" did -- good people get into Heaven, bad people are temporarily punished, eventually saved. Though, his views on the afterlife are hard to pin down; they seemed as much "Greco-Roman" as "Judeo-Christian," and that synthesis is certainly consistent with the notion that virtuous people get into Heaven, the bad temporarily punished.

Here is their reductio:

Universal reconciliation is the teaching that all people go to heaven. Even the wicked angels and wicked people will repent in hell and get to heaven. The most heinous evils committed by the Hitlers of history find forgiveness. Even the embodiment of evil, Satan, the devil himself, will finally repent and enter heaven. God's love conquers all. Hell ceases to exist.

Unfortunately, this teaching overlooks the "little matter" of God's justice and holiness. In my book, "Burning Down the Shack," I expose the universalism still embedded in the novel.

Why even mention Hilter to prove the point. As far as I understand orthodox view of salvation, Hitler could have had a deathbed conversion to Christianity and be in Heaven, yet every Jew he had killed, if they didn't have a similar conversion, ends up in Hell for eternity where, according to some orthodox notions of Hell, they experience something even worse than the Holocaust.

This, to me, is as nuts as the worst I've heard come from the Bin Ladens of the world.

But even if Hitler DIDN'T have a deathbed conversion, the orthodox version of eternal damnation relativizes his sin and teaches Hitler ends up in the same place with the Jews killed during the Holocaust, Ghandi and those who believe in soul damning heresies like Mormons (and perhaps even Roman Catholics).

At least with universal reconciliation there is room for punishing folks IN PROPORTION to the sin they committed on Earth so that, if everyone gets into Heaven, Hitler, Stalin, and Mao are at the END of the line (for humans). And Satan, at the end of the line for all beings.

That makes far more sense than the orthodox version of eternal damnation. Now, if one wants to stick with, "this is just what the Bible teaches," fine. Don't try to argue there is any rhyme or reason to it.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

John Adams on the French Revolutionary "Christian" Millennial Republicans:

They were quite an ecumenical and diverse coalition. To JAMES LLOYD, 14 February, 1815:

The Quakers, as I said in my last, were in principle against all wars, and, moreover, greatly prejudiced against New England, and personally against me. The Irish, who are very numerous and powerful in Pennsylvania, had been, and still were enthusiasts for the French revolution, extremely exasperated against old England, bitterly prejudiced against New England, strongly inclined in favor of the southern interest and against the northern. The Germans hated France and England too, but had been taught to hate New England more than either, and to abhor taxes more than all. A universal and perpetual exemption from taxes was held up to them as a temptation, by underhand politicians. The English, Scotch, and Irish Presbyterians, the Methodists, Anabaptists, the Unitarians and Universalists, with Dr. Priestley at their head, and all the other sectaries, even many of the Episcopalians themselves, had been carried away with the French revolution, and firmly believed that Bonaparte was the instrument of Providence to destroy the Pope and introduce the millennium. All these interests and parties were headed by Mr. McKean, an upright Chief Justice, an enlightened lawyer, a sagacious politician, and the most experienced statesman in the nation; by Mr. Mifflin, one of the earliest in the legislature of Pennsylvania and the first and second Congresses of the nation, an active officer in the revolutionary army, always extremely popular; by Jonathan B. Smith, an old revolutionary character.

I get the impression these were, basically, the Jefferson-Madison Democratic-Republicans and this is how they approached what was going down in France at the time.

I've long corrected what I see as an error coming mainly from the ("Christian America") political Right that as soon as the French Revolution broke out, America was against it because America's Founding was "Christian," France's Revolution was "Secular." In reality, most Founding era Americans, swept up in a revolutionary zeitgeist saw the French Revolution as a continuation of the American.

But by the time Bonaparte hit the scene, Adams' and Hamilton's Federalist Party were decidedly anti-French Revolution, with the Democratic-Republicans holding onto hope of the FR's success. Though I haven't confirmed every above name person or group neatly "fit" this categorization.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Heads Up:

I'll be guest blogging at Ed Brayton's Dispatches From the Culture Wars from Dec. 19-27. My grades (for 21 credits) are due Tuesday morning, so I'm not sure how much blogging I will do till then.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Does The Bible Teach Necessity As a Defense (or permitted exception) to Incest?

In my last post I noted, if one wants to justify (the normally prohibited kinds of) incest (as noted, if you extend "incest" beyond the nuclear family, we are all distant cousins), perhaps one could use, NOT same sex marriage but the Bible itself in certain circumstances (though what that Columbia U Prof. did probably doesn't qualify under the exception).

The Bible does in some sense prohibit incest like it prohibits lying and rebellion against government. I used those latter two as examples because there is debate as to just how "absolutely" the Bible prohibits those things. We've all heard "there are no absolutes" to which good, Bible believing non-relativist believers balk. "No, there is truth in black and white".

But even regarding something so elementary as lying, there is an arguable biblical defense of "righteous deception" that accords with the reductio, "would you tell Nazis who knocked on your door whether you were hiding Jews in your attic?"

Likewise with Romans 13, the biblical-Christian case for "rebellion" (if there is one) relies on the idea that the Romans 13 prohibition against rebellion, properly understood, is a general rule that is qualified with exceptions. If an exception does not exist (which some/many biblical Christians claim) then the American Revolution was not a biblically justified act. (What do you value more, the American Founding or the Bible?)

As an attorney, I'm familiar with the common law rule that "necessity is a defense to all crimes against homicide" (likewise with duress). Does the Bible, arguably, teach the same thing on incest? Imagine in the present day a twenty something brother and sister, with drop dead gorgeous good looks/physical appearances stranded via a plane crash on the Island of Eden as a result of a huge calamity which, as far as they know, killed millions of people (perhaps much more, perhaps they are the last two survivors on Earth). Fortuitously (or Providentially), they have what they need on that island to survive.

Now, they may have such a strong incest aversion that the answer is already made for them. But maybe not. What do they do, using the Bible as a guide? There are the general, above linked incest prohibitions. But there is also the Garden of Eden, which, literally interpreted, means all humanity came from two human beings, necessitating either brother and sister or some other kind of incest. There is also, from the literalistic perspective, the story of the 8 humans left after the Noahic flood which likewise necessitates some kind of incestuous reproduction.

Finally, there is the story of Lot and his daughters. I had to reread this one after someone informed me via email that the context of the tale is clearly anti-incest. I'm not so sure.

As the Bible says in Genesis:

31 One day the older daughter said to the younger, “Our father is old, and there is no man around here to give us children—as is the custom all over the earth. 32 Let’s get our father to drink wine and then sleep with him and preserve our family line through our father.”

33 That night they got their father to drink wine, and the older daughter went in and slept with him. He was not aware of it when she lay down or when she got up.

34 The next day the older daughter said to the younger, “Last night I slept with my father. Let’s get him to drink wine again tonight, and you go in and sleep with him so we can preserve our family line through our father.” 35 So they got their father to drink wine that night also, and the younger daughter went in and slept with him. Again he was not aware of it when she lay down or when she got up.

36 So both of Lot’s daughters became pregnant by their father. 37 The older daughter had a son, and she named him Moab[g]; he is the father of the Moabites of today. 38 The younger daughter also had a son, and she named him Ben-Ammi[h]; he is the father of the Ammonites[i] of today.

There are two competing contextual themes here. One, the anti-incest idea that the daughters had to get the father drunk -- therefore, they all knew something was wrong with what they were about to do. Versus, two the necessity in preserving the bloodline, the idea that they felt they had no other choice to fulfill the biblical command to "be fruitful and multiply." And this necessity defense also resonates with the story of the Garden of Eden AND the propagation of the human species after the Noahic flood.

The Bible, seemingly, is precisely the opposite of a "book of absolutes."
Self-Serving Slippery Slopes:

Analogies can be tricky things. That's something that Dr. John Corvino has noted. Over at the Volokh Conspiracy, our old friend EV has blogged about the recent case of the Columbia Professor charged with incest. Unfortunately some commenters have (expectedly) used this to engage in their anti-gay biases.

One good thing I hope comes out of the moral-philosophical analysis is the following insight: The existence of the self serving slippery slope. That's something in which attorneys and philosophers who make moral arguments specialize. I tend to agree with professor Volokh that the slopes do exist. However, they tend to be misused by all sides.

There are good slippery slopes and bad ones. A good slippery slope is when a certain moral claim or a past court decision "slips" into your desired results. "Of course, Loving analogizes to gay marriage." A "bad" slippery slope is when a position "slips" into something with which its proponents disagree. "Of course, gay marriage would lead to polygamous and incestuous marriages."

A is not B. Once you try to connect A with something that is not A, other folks can connect it with C, D, and E. The slippery slope doesn’t just work against the things you want it to. If you want to connect A to B, but distinguish it with C, D, and E, you make a law office argument.

As I've noted before, I'm willing to hold off the Loving analogy to same sex marriage (so the opponents of SSM don't feel like they are accused of being bigots) as long as opponents do not analogize homosexual relations to bestiality, pedophilia and relations with inanimate objects (because if they do, then they are bigots). So invoke any of those three I will automatically analogize interracial relations to same sex relations and demonstrate why on logical grounds I'm justified in so doing.

But permit me to make an exception for incest today, to demonstrate the claim that the slippery slope doesn't necessarily work the way YOU desire it to: Proponents of incest is no way need homosexuality to take advantage of the "good" (for them) slippery slope; they have Loving. Indeed, one can argue that incest is MORE analogous to interracial relations than to homosexual relations because prohibitions on miscegenation and incest, unlike with homosexuality, relate to NOT wanting such couples to procreate. Whereas homosexual relations were prohibited in large part because such relations could not procreate.

Indeed prohibiting incest and miscegenation arguably could be viewed under the rubric of "consanguinity" regulation: With incest, the couples are too closely related, with miscegenation, too distantly related. And where does one draw the line? Whether one believes in evolution, the Bible or both, we are all related if we go back far enough. Everyone practices incest with their very (and sometimes not so) distant cousins. And everyone race mixes, if we take the one drop rule literally enough.

What else could connect to "incest" in the sense of "that which is not incest justifies it"? Well, the Bible. If one believes in Young Earth Creation, where did Cain and Abel's wives come from? They probably practiced biblically justified brother sister (or parent child) heterosexual incest.

Yes, I know the Bible elsewhere speaks against incest. But, as I've observed, even the most seemingly literalist of fundamentalists can read a sense of "generality, with exceptions" into places where the Bible seems to speak in absolute terms. The Bible speaks against lying? But what about righteous deception like when the Nazis ask you whether you are hiding Jews in your basement?

Again, because I've dealt with this so much, Romans 13 seems to categorically FORBID rebellion against government. Even before the "would you submit to Hitler, Stalin and Mao?" reductio, hundreds of years earlier Christendom dealt with the problem of tyrannical Kings and began to carve out exceptions to a rule that seems absolute in the way St. Paul articulated it.

Indeed, I have a co-blogger who, not alone in this method, looks through the biblical record for examples of seemingly righteous, Godly biblical characters who seemed to rebel against tyrants contra St. Paul in Romans 13. Othniel is one such example. Using that method, one could view what Lot did with his daughters as righteous incest, something where an exception carves from a general rule.

Historian John Boswell did the same thing in his quest for a pro-homosexual Bible.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Death Penalty:

I have an issue with the death penalty on government incompetence grounds. But when there is no doubt that someone has done something like this, I'd like to see a system where we not just execute these people but do so within a less than 10 year time frame.
How Thomas Jefferson Conquered America's Religion:

In a sense. From Eve Tushnet. A taste:

Thomas Jefferson’s most radical declaration of independence isn’t his most famous. In 1820 Jefferson created a simplified, reasonable version of the Bible—taking out the miracles, prophecies, claims of Jesus’ divinity, and other weirdness which offended his Deism. Kenda Creasy Dean suggests that mainstream Christianity, in virtually all of its manifestations, has been similarly bowdlerized. Instead of the life-changing, culture-challenging demands of the gospel, Dean argues, American teenagers follow a mutant creed best understood as “Moralistic Therapeutic Deism.” Almost Christian, a popularization of the results of the 2002-05 National Study of Youth and Religion, attempts to help Christian parents, youth pastors, and others who are alarmed at the shakiness and incoherence of most teens’ faith.

The content of that faith is simple and as American as a smile in an airport. The tenets of Moralistic Therapeutic Deism (MTD) include belief in a god who watches over us and orders life on earth, and whose major moral concern is that humans should be nice to one another: “The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself.” These kids aren’t hostile to religion; who would kick such a toothless cocker spaniel? Dean argues that adolescents who were able to be articulate and expressive when discussing issues they really cared about suddenly became tongue-tied when the subject of God or religion came up, falling back on phrases such as “I would imagine [God is] a very nice guy.”

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Should We Thank Pornographers?

Economist Steve Horwitz kindly pointed to a great little article of his on futurism. I can't find a thing in it with which I disagree.

He writes:

But even there it took years for the vast majority of e-commerce to be profitable. For most of the first decade or so of the World Wide Web, the only profitable business was that most mundane of human activities: sex. Adult websites provided perhaps the only consistently profitable business in cyberspace; they also pioneered many of the technology-meets-commerce innovations that are now part of our everyday web experience. For example, adult sites were among the first to master streaming video and to figure how best to use credit cards securely. They launched a number of the consumer-friendly data-tracking processes that are now standard at places like Futurists saw the technology but overlooked that its biggest impact would come through its combination with commerce, and that this combination would be driven by the demand for sexual content.

Good futurists wouldn’t have overlooked the sexual aspect because almost every other advance in communications technology of the last hundred years has had sexual content at its leading edge. In our own times one need only point to the early success of the VCR, a significant demand for which came from people who wanted to watch adult films in the privacy of their own homes rather than in some dreadful theatre on the wrong side of town. Nude photographs are as old as photography itself, and the same is true of pornographic films. Even as you read this, there is a burgeoning market in 3-D adult films that will surely drive the spread and improvement of that technology. For an invention to enhance wealth and happiness, it must meet up with the market.

Readers know I spend a great deal of time examining religion and America's Founding form of government (so it's no surprise it's on the top of my mind for analogies). One motivation for arguments in that area of study is this sense, if "we" (whoever the "we" is, the religious or more secular types) gave this to you, we own it in a metaphorical sense and are somehow more justified in claiming its heritage so we can run America.

When the traditionally religious argue against atheism they oft-ask questions like "what has atheism done for the world?" and note the accomplishments of Christianity. They may condescendingly ask for "thanks" for all they have done for the world.

Leaving that aside, should we be grateful along these lines to pornographers for their help in driving technological advances and building up the Internet?

To the more traditionally religious readers who may use these things about which Dr. Horwitz writes, can you be grateful to pornographers for that aspect of their contributions while disagreeing with others. I think -- if I am not mistaken -- Richard Dawkins, or perhaps, some notable Richard Dawkins like atheists, have noted they can be grateful to Christianity for how it inspired great works of art, literature and architecture while strongly disagreeing with the whole shebang.

The last few hundred years have seen dramatic advances in scientific and technological developments. Yet, when we imagine a future 30 plus years away, we tend to "see" scientific advances arriving prematurely. Folks in 1950 thought everyone would have flying cars by 2000, and, likewise, all diseases would be cured by then.

One thinks of Back to the Future 2 which took place in 2015. If those predictions were accurate, we only have to wait four more years for "Mr. Fusion" and flying cars.

One area, however, where that movie's predictions seemed pretty close was advances in graphic, visual technology and information transfer. (Though, they still didn't predict Facebook, I don't think.) That movie came out when 8 bit Nintendo was the current technology.

I think holograms aren't too far off. But when are we going to get flying cars and Mr. Fusion? And cures for cancer? Perhaps we'll have to wait till 2100.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Life is what happens to you when you are busy making other plans:

My thoughts on the 30th anniversary of John Lennon's death. You don't need me to tell you he was a genius; he was. (So was Paul, but John was better). You don't need a music degree (I have one) to learn that this genius is something you (probably) can't teach. You can teach folks to sing/play well. And to write tunes that "work." Work in the sense of hitting the right notes with the right chords at the right time that make sense to the ear, played in the background of a mall or elevator.

But you can't teach folks to be the next Lennon or Dylan or Young.

Lennon had some ideas too. Not all of them good. I agree with about 1/2 of those in Imagine (I certainly disagree with "imagine no possessions.")

But that little line from Beautiful Boy might just be the wisest thing John Lennon ever wrote.

A certain degree of planning is necessary in life. However, over-planning is unnecessary, could be counter productive and psychologically unhealthy. As with everything in life, it's best to do things from an emotionally unattached state (if you are having a hard time getting to this state, meditate like the Beatles did and Paul and Ringo still do). As such, it's better to be responsibly informed about things in a "general" sense so that you can make spontaneous decisions -- just in time -- when the moment is right.

Of late, I've been thinking about Eastern philosophy and how Western New Age types sell these ideas (and often distort and water them down). Some/many self help guys give valuable advice; but almost all have something about them that I think they get wrong. One guy in particular -- I won't name him -- taught something I think is way off (I heard it on one of his cassette tapes years ago): If you combine meticulous planning with positive thinking, that outcome will occur. You mean if I keep telling myself I'm as good as John Lennon, I'll be the next John Lennon? Dream on.

What surprised me about this guy is that he's a conservative capitalist self help guru (many of them are; they are not all political lefties). He's actually made quite a bit of money in business (I've heard). But the modern lesson of capitalism has been top down central planning doesn't work as well as spontaneous, unplanned market forces.

As such the spontaneous, unplanned, going with the moment and reacting to things as they happen, perfectly resonates with the Hayekian idea of a spontaneous, decentralized, unplanned economic order, and not with heavy government economic planning.

I'm not sure how well folks actually understand what I'm about to tell. Understanding it seems so elementary; but many (perhaps younger, but some older) folks don't seem to get this: Life throws everybody unplanned, undesired curve balls. The key to attaining optimal happiness is accepting this truth and doing your best to deal with it.

The best way to deal with one of those curve balls is to hit it out of the park. But sometimes you have to accept a swing and a miss or even taking it on the chin.

But whatever it is you think you can plan, those curve balls are spontaneous.
Turley, Palin, GW & SHMG:

One of Ray Soller's post from American Creation was referenced by Jonathan Turley here. And Chris Rodda too!

Monday, December 06, 2010

Not as Straightforward As You Think:

WorldNetDaily chronicles a Christian Americanist critique of National Park Services tours.

The pastor in question, Todd Dubord, is quoted as stating the information he is trying to peddle is "'straightforward biography' and not subject to conjecture or private interpretation,..." The problem is the pastor's Christian America spin is not as straightforward as he is trying sell.

What follows is an email I sent to the author of the WND piece:


The pastor's history seems as bad as the tour guides. ME Bradford didn't "find 50, perhaps 52, of the 55 delegates to the Constitutional Convention professed to be orthodox, Trinitarian believers who were in good standing at various Christian churches." Rather he found they had some kind of affiliation with those churches. Bradford's figure is worthless. All 55 members, including his 3 Deists, had those affiliations. The problem is one could be affiliated with said churches for social network reasons and NOT believe in their official creeds and doctrines. Thomas Jefferson was Anglican and disbelieved in every single tenet of orthodox Christianity!

Likewise "Samuel Adams, Josiah Bartlett, Benjamin Franklin, Elbridge Gerry, John Hancock, Samuel Huntington, Thomas Jefferson, Thomas McKean, John Morton, Robert Treat Paine, Benjamin Rush, Roger Sherman, Richard Stockton, Thomas Stone" didn't all practice the same kind of Christianity and arguably half on that list wouldn't qualify as "Christians" according to "orthodox" standards. If Jefferson and Franklin qualify as "Christians" you are setting the bar pretty low for who gets to be a "Christian."

Feel free to forward this to Mr. DuBord.


Jon Rowe

I found Dubord's church's statement of doctrine here.

The question I pose to Rev. Dubord is how do you call these men "Christians" if many of them listed (Jefferson, J. Adams, Franklin, Robert Treat Paine, and others) disagreed with a great deal of these doctrines which your church endorses? Because they called themselves "Christian?" Is that the standard?

Listen, I understand the pastor's objection to certain prevailing ideas that the NPS may be parroting (some of the things the NPS is reported to have stated, on the other hand, are perfectly defensible -- for instance, just because the FFs attended a church doesn't necessarily mean they believed in the church's doctrines; or the FFs and religion issue is something, the finer details of which, folks have to research on their own and draw their own conclusions, because things can get complicated). But he and his don't get to write the tale either.

I am available, by the way, to help write a consensus oriented narrative that both sides could agree on.

But, if there is a solution to this culture war issue, that's it: Straightforward consensus oriented lowest common denominator facts that all sides can agree on. And the ME Bradford footnote is not one of them.

For Ben Franklin it would be something like:

1. Was affiliated with the Anglican and Presbyterian churches (even though he was one of Bradford's Deists!).
2. Believed in an active personal God, sometimes quoted the Bible as if he believed at least parts of it as legitimately revealed (i.e., speech at the Constitutional Convention).
3. In one letter wrote there are certain things in the Old Testament impossible to have been given by divine inspiration (i.e., didn't believe the Bible infallible).
4. In one letter doubted Jesus divinity while praising him as the greatest moral teacher.
5. Thought works were more important than faith for salvation.
6. Called himself a Deist at one point but then backtracked. Seemed comfortable with the "rational Christians" who doubted or denied Jesus' divinity (Joseph Priestley and Richard Price, the dissenters in England to whom he alluded in his letter to Ezra Stiles that doubted Jesus' divinity).

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Waldron on Issues with Imago Dei:

Jeremy Waldron is probably the foremost authority on the need to give human rights a theological grounding. This paper explores issues with using "Imago Dei" to ground human rights.

A taste:

Second, there are questions about what imago Dei means in the light of doctrine of the fall into sin. What is the relation between imago Dei and our fallen sinful nature? What can human rights theory do with Calvin’s doctrine that the image of God in us is now but a “relic” or Martin Luther’s teaching that since the Fall we are more “like” the devil than “like” or “in the image of” God?  When we use this doctrine in the context of human rights, are we committing ourselves to saying that Luther and Calvin were wrong?

It's surprising how many otherwise informed and intelligent folks are so quick to conflate their theological desires with America's Founding Fathers. The syllogism works something like this:

1. The Bible/Christian Religion/Calvinism is true;
2. Therefore I am a reformed Protestant in that sense;
3. The American Founding was a great event, one in which I'd like to believe my personal religious tradition gave us;
4. Therefore, the political-theological basis for the American Founding must have been the same as Calvinism (or whatever my religion is).

This syllogism works with anyone's personal religion. Though the further one's personal religion from that of the actual American Founding, the more of a stretch it becomes.

For instance, beginning with "Hinduism is true" results in an especially absurd syllogism. But ultimately, the entire syllogism, no matter what one begins with is an error. As I've said before, the political theology of the American Founding offers a little for everyone (including the Hindus!) and a little for no one.

If one doesn't take one's personal religion that seriously, the syllogism seems a harmless error. The more seriously one takes one's religion and values it over politics, the more dangerous the syllogism. America's Founders could have been wrong on how they understood theology and how it ought to apply to politics. If they were wrong on Romans 13 (which there is good reason to believe, from a strict literal textual interpretation, they were) the Bible says, "they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation."

It's only your soul that is on the line. Don't let America's Founders, and your desire to claim them, confuse you into making a soul damning error.

Saturday, December 04, 2010

Helen Kushnick:

This HBO made movie is worth seeing for Kathy Bates' performance as Helen Kushnick, Jay Leno's late manager.

Friday, December 03, 2010

Did Allan Bloom Die of AIDS?

Some enemies of Saul Bellow and friends of Allan Bloom have tried to cast doubt on the idea that Allan Bloom died of AIDS, a fact that Bellow spread in his roman à clef about Bloom, Ravelstein.

The latest of these is a bitingly critical article on Bellow by Joseph Epstein in The New Criterion.

The relevant passage:

But with his final novel, Ravelstein, the acetylene torch truly seared the back of his pants. “I’ve never written anything like Ravelstein before,” Bellow wrote to Martin Amis, “and the mixture of fact and fiction has gotten out of hand.” In the less than clear sentences that follow, he writes that “Allan [Bloom, the University of Chicago teacher who is the undisguised model for the character Ravelstein] had enemies who were preparing to reveal that he had died of AIDS. At this point I lost my head . . .” Professor Taylor ought to have stepped in here with a lengthy footnote to recount, and if possible clarify, the import of what Bellow is saying, but, with his hands-off editorial policy, he doesn’t.

What was at issue is the exact cause of Allan Bloom’s death, which, so far as I know, has yet to be made finally clear. In Ravelstein, Bellow kills him off with aids. Bloom’s friends all insist that the effects of the disorder of the nerves called Guillain-Barr√© led to Bloom’s death by heart and liver failure. Werner Dannhauser, Allan Bloom’s closest friend, asked Bellow to lessen the emphasis on Bloom/Ravelstein’s private life, which would, one gathers, have meant playing down his homosexuality and expunging his death by AIDS. Bellow writes to Dannhauser that he tried to do so, but it didn’t work. By “it didn’t work,” one assumes Bellow meant that his plot required that Allan Bloom die of AIDS.

Bellow did, apparently, tone things down but not decisively. Then, later, after the book was out in the world, he told a reporter from The New York Times: “For a long time I thought I knew what Allan died of, and then I discovered other things that didn’t jibe with that, so I really can’t say now. I don’t know that he died of AIDS really.” So there it stands, a mess, created by a man willing to sabotage a putatively dear friend to contrive what he thought an appropriate ending for a novel.

This is a serious charge against Bellow. While I strongly believe in respecting individuals' privacy while they are alive, when dead, they belong to history. And Both Bloom and Bellow are dead.

So I'll do my best to help clarify the facts, for history's sake.

While I can't say for sure whether Bloom had or died of AIDS, I can say with good reason that he was, at one point, taking AZT in the hospital.

In Ravelstein, Bellow recounts an incident where a nurse let the cat out of the bag, in front of visiting friends, that Bloom was taking AZT. The book portrays Bloom as very angry with the nurse for disclosing he was on that medication in front of people.

Dannhauser, in turn, confirmed the incident did occur during the big "critical discussion" of Ravelstein that was broadcast on CSPAN. See the 19:45 mark on this video.

Dannhauser said this in the context of trying to criticize Bellow for violating Bloom's confidences (he stressed how upset Bloom was at that nurse), but probably unwittingly gave more info to confirm Bellow's thesis than he desired.

It is possible that one could be given AZT without being HIV positive; but I think it makes Bellow's thesis more credible.
Cracking the American Civil Religion:

I did it in a comment at First Things here. I wrote:

The American Civil Religion is actually somewhere between “all faiths are equally valid” and “Christ is the only way, all other faiths are false.”

It holds that all faiths are VALID paths to God, but that Christianity is the quickest path up the mountain of salvation because of the superiority of Jesus of Nazareth’s moral teachings. As it were, Jesus of Nazareth was not (knowably) God Incarnate, 2nd Person in the Trinity. Rather, the greatest moral teacher man had ever known.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Training the Mind:

Newsweek has an interesting article showing Sam Harris to be more religious than you'd expect. I remember, a little while back, a few of his right wing Christian critics uncovered his affinity for Eastern philosophy, suggesting him a hypocrite or fraud. I'm not so sure; Harris may be a defacto Buddhist which is not inconsistent with atheism, or atheistic rationalism.

This passage on Harris' approach to the mind interests me on a personal level:

Harris says he became interested in spiritual and philosophical questions while an undergraduate at Stanford University. At 18, he experimented with the drug ecstasy and was struck by the possibility that the human mind—his own mind—might be able to achieve a state of loving unselfishness without the help of drugs. So he left college and traveled to India and Nepal, where he studied with Hindu and Buddhist teachers who could help him attain a kind of peace and selflessness through meditation. Over the next 10 years, he read religion and philosophy on his own and spent weeks and months—adding up to two years—in silent retreat.

He finally returned to Stanford to complete a philosophy degree. Though he prefers the Eastern mystics, he sees some wisdom in the Western mystical tradition as well. “If I open a page of [the 13th-century Christian mystic] Meister Eckhart, I often know what he’s talking about.” Harris pursued a doctorate in neuroscience because he hoped science would give him the tools to rationally explore human experience.

Harris’s true obsession, then, is not God but consciousness, the idea that the human mind can be taught—trained, rationally—to be more loving, more generous, less egocentric than it is in its natural state. And though he knows that he can sound like a person who believes in God, he thinks that God is the wrong word to describe his beliefs.

I'm interested in the ability of adults to retrain their mind. Contrary to a line of thought popular among various Enlightenment philosophers, the mind, especially the adult mind, seems hard wired at an early age, not of infinite plasticity.

"Why is he that way? Why does he say and do those things?" "That's the way he's always been and probably always will be."

The mind of a child certainly seems more plastic. Think of how easier and more natural it is for children to learn languages than adults. That might be the proper analogy; adults can change the way they think and in turn how they feel and behave, boost their IQs, unlearn their neuroses; but it may be akin to learning and mastering a new language. Not easy for adults. How many folks have the will and discipline to stick with it?

Or perhaps once one has the discipline to break through an initial rut -- indeed a mind lock that can last decades -- it's smooth sailing from then on.

I doubt the ability of psychiatry to change people without chemicals; psychotropic drugs like SSRIs seem more effective or at least easier for most folks in a rut.

A good talk therapist, to me, seems not much different, in principle, from a good bartender. Though I have been admonished to check the claims of the cognitive emotive therapists.

And there is a guy named Dr. John Sarno whose theories seem enticing. A lot of self help, psychology and psychiatry is pseudo-religious woo woo (as Michael Shermer has termed Deepak Chopra's excesses). I'm looking for something serious beneath the woo. I want something that has credibility with hard nosed skeptics, not likely to be swept up in a con. And philosophical literature that is not "light weight." Chopra and the Mararishi Mahesh Yogi, I've heard, are like the Joel Osteens of Hindu/Eastern philosophy. There are more serious sources to the ideas they sell for which Western audiences seem to have an appetite.

But what intrigues me about Dr. Sarno is that his methods have actually worked on a number of famous people -- indeed no dummies -- with hard nosed skeptical kind of minds. Two names are John Stossel and Howard Stern. And when I say "worked," I mean something objective and verifiable, not, "oh he makes me feel better." Dr. Sarno cures middle aged folks of crippling, chronic back pain and shows them it's all in their head. Not just a little pain, but pain so severe it reduces patients to wheelchairs, and for which MDs have suggested operations.

Anyway, something about meditation -- the various kinds -- seems, if not extremely helpful, key to this kind of mind retraining. And it's something that needs to be done religiously, two three times a day, everyday. Like the person who physically exercises religiously five times a week, it's not easy. Or at least not seemingly, at first, easy, rather something that takes discipline.

But I've heard, once in the zone, it's effortless.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Is the DOI a “Christian” Document?

That's the title to my latest post at LoOG.

I referenced the following article by Peter Lawler at Postmodern Conservative.

Here is a comment I left at that blog:

... I would add J. Adams in with Jefferson and Franklin. Adams may have been culturally more Calvinistic than the other two, but theologically he was at home with Jefferson and Franklin.

And the the latter two were not "deistic," but seemed to believe in a God every bit as "theistic" as John Adams'. The "Deists" of the day (Paine, et al.) did dig the term "Nature's God," so that point is valid. The DOI attempts to unite Deists, Unitarians and orthodox Christians, each of whom hold certain theological positions that contradict the other.

Those are the perils of America's Founding civil religion and trying to claim it for yourself. There is a little bit of it for everyone, and a little bit for no one.

Sunday, November 21, 2010


I wanted to write a follow up to Mr. Ridgely's post about meaning of terms as it relates to the Christian Nation controversy. When I first began this inquiry about seven years ago, I assumed -- wrongly -- that most America's Founders were strict deists and would not have considered themselves Christians.

I found out they were more theistic and many of these "deists" -- notably Thomas Jefferson -- thought of themselves as "Christians" in some sense. But also that many rejected (either explicitly or implicitly with their silence) orthodox Trinitarian minimums that CS Lewis would say make up "mere Christianity." Therefore, they weren't "Christians."

I used that as the normative definition of "Christianity" while not being much of a believer myself because it helped refute the "Christian America" thesis.

I began to rethink whether I, as a non-believer, should be personally terming someone not a Christian when they called themselves one, after a number of dialogs with interlocutors. One of them was Eric Alan Isaacson a prominent attorney and Unitarian-Universalist. He wrote to me:

Hi Jonathan,

I’m troubled by those who insist that only people who believe in one way can be “true Christians.” If Mormons consider themselves followers of Jesus, that’s good enough for me to regard them as Christians. If Trinitarian Evangelicals regard themselves as followers of Jesus, I’ll consider them Christians too — even though, so far as I can tell, Jesus never claimed to be God.

If someone like John Adams and Thomas Jefferson and the Rev. Dr. Joseph Priestley honored Jesus and endeavored to follow his teachings, they should not be denied the name “Christian” merely because others who claim that name have embraced any number of extra-biblical doctrines.

I’ve heard Catholics occasionally say that theirs is the only “true church,” suggesting perhaps that Protestants are not truly Christians. I’ve heard Protestant preachers denounce the Pope as the Anti-Christ, insisting that Catholics can’t be true Christians because they follow the Pope rather than Christ.

I must confess, such attitudes offend my sensibilities.

And yet, I find you, an open-minded and liberal chap, adopting the same stance, and suggesting that Unitarians and Mormons can’t be Christians.

I am reminded, quite frankly, of how New Hampshire’s Supreme Court ruled in 1868 the Dover, New Hampshire, First Unitarian Society of Christians’ chosen minister — the Rev. Francis Ellingwood Abbot — was insufficiently “Christian” to serve the Congregation that had called him. Justice Jonathan Everett Sargent’s opinion for the court quoted passages from Abbot’s sermons, to show that the minister was too open-minded to serve his congregation.

The Rev. Abbot, after all, had once preached:

“Whoever has been so fired in his own spirit by the overwhelming thought of the Divine Being as to kindle the flames in the hearts of his fellow men, whether Confucius, or Zoroaster, or Moses, or Jesus, or Mohammed, has proved himself to be a prophet of the living God; and thus every great historic religion dates from a genuine inspiration by the Eternal Spirit.”

In another sermon, Rev. Abbot even declared:

“America is every whit as sacred as Judea. God is as near to you and to me, as ever he was to Moses, to Jesus, or to Paul. Wherever a human soul is born into the love of truth and high virtue, there is the ‘Holy Land.’ Wherever a human soul has uttered its sincere and brave faith in the Divine, and thus bequeathed to us the legacy of inspired words, there is the ‘Holy Bible.’”

“If Protestantism would include Mr. Abbot in this case,” Justice Sargent opined for New Hampshire’s highest court, “it would of course include Thomas Jefferson, and by the same rule also Thomas Paine, whom Gov. Plumer of New Hampshire called ‘that outrageous blasphemer,’ that ‘infamous blasphemer,’ ‘that miscreant Paine,’ whose ‘Age of Reason’ Plumer had read ‘with unqualified disapprobation of its tone and temper, its course vulgarity, and its unfair appeals to the passions and prejudices of his readers.’”

Hale v. Everett, 53 N.H. 9, 16 Am. Rep. 82, 1868 N.H. LEXIS 47 (1868). See Charles B. Kinney, Jr., Church & State: The Struggle for Separation in New Hampshire, 1630-1900 113 (New York: Teachers College, Columbia Univ., 1955) (“One of the more celebrated cases in New Hampshire jurisprudence is that of Hale versus Everett.”); Carl H. Esbeck, Dissent and Disestablishment: The Church-State Settlement in the Early American Republic, 2004 B.Y.U. L. Rev. 1385, 1534 n.541 (“As late as 1868, the state supreme court decided that a Unitarian minister would not be allowed to use the town meeting house because of his heterodoxy, and in spite of being called and settled by a majority of the community.”).

You might suppose that being run out of the pulpit would sour the Rev. Abbot in his attitudes toward those who thought themselves more orthodox than he was. You would be wrong. Abbot went on to edit The Index, and on his retirement from that position in 1880 addressed those who gathered in his honor: “I know we are here Unitarians and Non-Unitarians, and I rejoice to stand with Christians, with Catholic and Protestant Christians alike, for justice and purity; and I will always do so. These things are more important than our little differences of theological opinion.” Farewell Dinner to Francis Ellingwood Abbot, on Retiring from the Editorship of “The Index” 14 (Boston: George H. Ellis, 1880) (remarks of Rev. Abbot, June 24, 1880).

It may be noted that Frederick Douglass praised Rev. Abbot for doing “much to break the fetters of religious superstition, for which he is entitled to gratitude.” Farewell Dinner, supra, at p. 48 (letter of June 15, 1880, from Frederick Douglass to the Rev. M.J. Savage).

I think it a tremendous mistake, Jonathan, for you to side with the likes of Justice Sargent, who think they are entitled to determine who can, and who cannot, be called a true “Christian.” In truth, Justice Sargent may have been somewhat more liberal in his attitudes than you are – for he and the New Hampshire Supreme Court at least accepted the notion that one can be a genuine Unitarian Christian, even as they ruled that Rev. Abbot was far too unorthodox even to preach in a Unitarian church.

Peace be with you!

Eric Alan Isaacson

So, for personal reasons, if someone calls themselves "Christian" whether they are the Pope, Pat Robertson, Fred Phelps, President Obama, Bishop Spong, a Mormon or even an atheist who considers himself "Christian," they are one.

But not everyone views things that way. The Christian Nationalists certainly don't. That's why we need clarity and working definitions. We need "ifs." For instance, pay attention to historian Paul F. Boller's "if" when summarizing George Washington's faith:

[I]f to believe in the divinity and resurrection of Christ and his atonement for the sins of man and to participate in the sacrament of the Lord's Supper are requisites for the Christian faith, then Washington, on the evidence which we have examined, can hardly be considered a Christian, except in the most nominal sense.

-- George Washington & Religion, p. 90.
Sunday Morning Thought:

There are many arguments against gay marriage, some harder to deal with than others. One that strikes me extremely shallow is gays already have an equal right to marry -- someone of the opposite sex.

If the person making this argument is a non-Catholic (or natural law) believing religious conservative I might ask do you really think it's a good idea for a person fully or predominantly attracted to the same sex to be in a marriage with someone of the opposite sex. Ladies, do you really want to be married to a man who is more attracted to other men than he is to you?

Such marriages do exist and produce offspring. And that leads me to the Roman Catholic (or technically, natural law based on universal principles applicable to everyone) argument.

As I understand this teaching on marriage -- indeed explained to me personally by Robert P. George, about as high an authority on the teaching as it gets -- sex must be both procreative and unitive. Prof. George explained to me that Henry VIII’s marriage where he truly did not seek to unite with his wife, but rather used her in an instrumental sense to sire an heir was not valid under this theory.

Well, all of the homosexual men who are engaged in heterosexual marriages — indeed oft-having kids from those relationships — are the quintessential “instrumental” uses of procreative sexuality and hence are in relations that are no more “marital” than Henry VIII’s was.

Accordingly, homosexuals are not qualified for heterosexual marriages. Therefore they have no equal right -- at least no equal natural right -- to marry someone of the opposite sex.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Rush Limbaugh on the Other Hand:

Doesn't do as well as Norman Finkelstein in dealing with the "argument from emotion," at least not at that point in his life.

I've Never Been in a Crowd Like This, They're Nuts:

This post is not about my opinion on the Israel-Palestine issue. My ideal solution -- a secular pluralistic one state solution where Jews and Palestinians get equal rights of citizenship, and in turn there is NO SHARIA, that Palestinians respect the liberty, equality and property rights of, for instance, the gay bars in Israel -- is probably unworkable. And I have no idea what to do on the competing real estate claims.

I'm actually more interested in the public debate -- how to deal with someone who tries the "argument from tears" -- angle. There is another amusing video with Norman Finkelstein where he accused Alan Dershowitz, to his face, of being a plagiarist during a debate. Dershowitz is a big boy and can well handle himself; he's not someone against whom you take off your white glove and slap without expecting full fury in return. Dershowitz hit back hard and is arguably responsible for Finkelstein being refused tenure at DePaul (though they deny AD played a key role).

But as Nietzsche says, whatever doesn't kill you makes you stronger. When one emerges through battles like that, it shows in rhetorical debates. Finkelstein makes this poor girl's head explode.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Comparing the Faiths of Presidents Washington and Obama:

In my last post I noted, provocatively, that there is more evidence for President Obama's "mere Christianity," than for Washington's.

A commenter challenged me with Peter Lillback's "George Washington's Sacred Fire." I've read the book in meticulous detail (all 1200 pages of it). The blog "Religion in American History," run by college prof. historians, asked me to review the book which I did here. I also reproduced the review at GWSF's Amazon page.

I'll let you read from those links my scholarly attack on why I think GWSF fails to prove GW a "mere Christian." (A "mere Christian" is synonymous with am orthodox Trinitarian.)

The larger story of interest for many may be Glenn Beck's role in publicizing the book. I got the book when it came out in 2006 and began blogging about it. I don't know the exact numbers of its original run; I seem to remember it doing well with the "Christian America" crowd (WorldNetDaily et al.). Yet, I never saw it at my local Borders until Beck promoted it.

From Beck's radio show May 19, 2010:

BECK: Yesterday, it was like 475,000 on I think it was two or three when I checked.

LILLBACK: Up to two now. Thanks to you. Boy, I'll tell you, you're the best publicist in town.

Suddenly I was in demand as Lillback's most persistent critic on the matter. I don't think the book is without its merits. It really could have used an editor to pare it down. The book has two theses, one of which I think Lillback easily proves, the other, he does not.

I think I wrote my review in harsh terms because Lillback uses the same polemical rhetoric to attack historian Paul F. Boller (and others) when I see Lillback engaging in many of the same scholarly overreaches for which he attacks Boller. It's kinda strange. I've seen Lillback speak publicly (never live) and he usually comes off as a "nice guy." But in GWSF he comes off as mean when discussing Boller and other historians.

But what Lillback easily proves (where many modern historians go wrong) is that GW was not a "Deist" as strictly defined (one who believes in an absentee landlord God). GW was a theist, believing in a warm, active personal Providence. (I think I understand why some scholars think of GW as a strict Deist; some of his letters do seem to refer to an impersonal Providence; but others clearly don't.) To prove this, Lillback can simply quote Washington over and over again.

Besides showing that Washington was more "religious" than scholars have argued, he also shows GW was more "religion friendly," and many of the folks to whom GW was friendly were orthodox Trinitarian Christians. (The problem is GW seemed "friendly" to just about EVERY religion, except Tory Christianity and that which did not produce virtue.)

But Lillback fails to show, at least from the horse's mouth, that GW was an orthodox Trinitarian Christian. We can study all 20,000 pages of GW's known recorded utterances (public addresses, private letters). If one puts the words "Jesus Christ" in its search engine we get only ONE result, in an address written by one of GW's aides, but given under GW's imprimatur.

My co-blogger at American Creation, Brad Hart, using Lillback's own research lists the God words GW used in prayer. Orthodox language is conspicuously absent.

To make the case FOR GW's "mere Christianity" Lillback makes a number of leaps, speculative and for which there are other reasons to doubt, to impute orthodox Trinitarian dogma into GW's more generic religious talk. (Again, I detail this more in my linked to review.)

[It's surprising that Glenn Beck so loves this book. I wonder how much of it he read. Lillback's "thesis one" certainly fits with what Beck believes. But Beck is a Thomas Paine loving Mormon. And to argue "thesis two," Lillback commonly attacks Paine and affirms a Trinitarianism in which Mormons do not believe.]

Barack Obama, on the other hand, has been far more explicit in affirming (at least something close to) orthodox doctrine. Obama's Easter Prayer Breakfast is far more explicitly Christian than anything recorded coming out of GW's mouth:

... But what I can do is tell you what draws me to this holy day and what lesson I take from Christ's sacrifice and what inspires me about the story of the resurrection.

For even after the passage of 2,000 years, we can still picture the moment in our mind's eye. The young man from Nazareth marched through Jerusalem; object of scorn and derision and abuse and torture by an empire. The agony of crucifixion amid the cries of thieves. The discovery, just three days later, that would forever alter our world -- that the Son of Man was not to be found in His tomb and that Jesus Christ had risen.

We are awed by the grace He showed even to those who would have killed Him. We are thankful for the sacrifice He gave for the sins of humanity. And we glory in the promise of redemption in the resurrection.

And such a promise is one of life's great blessings, because, as I am continually learning, we are, each of us, imperfect. Each of us errs -- by accident or by design. Each of us falls short of how we ought to live. And selfishness and pride are vices that afflict us all.

It's not easy to purge these afflictions, to achieve redemption. But as Christians, we believe that redemption can be delivered -- by faith in Jesus Christ. And the possibility of redemption can make straight the crookedness of a character; make whole the incompleteness of a soul. Redemption makes life, however fleeting here on Earth, resound with eternal hope.

Of all the stories passed down through the gospels, this one in particular speaks to me during this season. And I think of hanging -- watching Christ hang from the cross, enduring the final seconds of His passion. He summoned what remained of His strength to utter a few last words before He breathed His last breath.

"Father," He said, "into your hands I commit my spirit." Father, into your hands I commit my spirit. These words were spoken by our Lord and Savior, but they can just as truly be spoken by every one of us here today. Their meaning can just as truly be lived out by all of God's children.

So, on this day, let us commit our spirit to the pursuit of a life that is true, to act justly and to love mercy and walk humbly with the Lord. And when we falter, as we will, let redemption -- through commitment and through perseverance and through faith -- be our abiding hope and fervent prayer.


Also see Obama's interview with Christianity Today where he states:

I am a Christian, and I am a devout Christian. I believe in the redemptive death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. I believe that that faith gives me a path to be cleansed of sin and have eternal life. ...

[Thanks to reader Michael Heath for the links.]

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Is Obama A Christian?

My post at my new blog here.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

New Blog:

I now blog for the League of Ordinary Gentlemen. The One Best Way merged into it.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

The Christian Nation Controversy:

[I just sent this over to The League of Ordinary Gentlemen.]

As noted in my original post, I've researched/blogged extensively on the Christian Nation controversy over the past six years. I've made a number of valued connections with various scholars and writers on the matter, very notably Ed Brayton.

Also as noted, I'll try to publish here on the Christian Nation controversy as it relates to current events. But I figure I should do an introductory post on the controversy letting you know what I'm all about.

The funny thing about being a libertarian is we don't really have a dog in this fight (provided the heritage isn't used to contradict libertarianism). Some libertarians are quite secular minded, others quite "Christian heritage" minded.

I try to strike a modest balance; though admittedly I'm more critical of the "Christian America" types. But ultimately I want the facts; and I want clarity.

With that, whether America was founded to be a "Christian Nation" depends on what those terms mean. Indeed, the definition of "Christianity" needs clarification.

A variety of different "expert" epistemological perspectives -- the historical, the political, the theological, the personal, and others -- have addressed the "Christian Nation" controversy.

And whether something is actually "Christian" may depend on which definitional perspective one uses. Here are a few (there are others):

1. Identificatory: You are what you call yourself; anything that calls itself "Christian" is "Christian." Mormons, President Obama, Bishop John Shelby Spong, the Pope and Pat Robertson are all "Christians," accordingly.

2. Ethno-Heritage: This may be looser than identificatory; the atheist Richard Dawkins is certainly a product of "Christendom." I don't identify as a "Christian" but was baptized Roman Catholic, hence may be a "Christian" under some definitions.

Think of the old joke, an Irishman is accosted by the IRA and asked "Are you a Protestant or Catholic?" The man nervously answers, "I'm an atheist; I'm an atheist." To which the IRA responds, "Are you a Catholic or a Protestant atheist?"

1 & 2 are "loose" understandings of the term "Christian" and, accordingly, I think it pretty obvious that America was founded to be a "Christian nation" and still is. I don't think anyone argues Muslim mosques not Christian churches abounded in early America.

But there are other, stricter understandings of the term "Christian." And the controversy, as I see it, is those who proudly trumpet "America was founded as a 'Christian Nation'" mean something far more meaningful and stricter than 1 or 2.

Which brings us to the strictest understanding:

3. The theological. Indeed the personal theological. As in the Roman Catholic Church is the one_true_Christian_church; all others are heretics. Or only "born again Christians" are "real Christians." Or only Calvinists who believe in TULIP are true born again, elect, "Christians."

This perspective, properly understood, tends NOT to support "Christian Nationalism." Indeed, the evangelical Roger Williams (founder of Rhode Island) believed the inevitable existence of large numbers of "unregenerate" in any given population meant no "Nation" could call itself "Christian" even if "real Christians" were in it.

4. The historical. How "Christianity" defined itself throughout its history. Here we cannot claim TULIP or Roman Catholicism as the one_true_way. When trying to do "history" not "theology" it would be absurd for an evangelical, for instance, to claim Roman Catholicism as not "real Christianity."

Consensus v. heresy presents a challenge. Christianity "officially" defined itself according to a biblical canon and official creeds (i.e., Nicene Trinitarianism) interpreting thereof. Yet, all sorts of heresies have abounded in Christendom since then. If we include the heresies as part of "historical Christianity" then America's Founding seems more authentically "Christian."

The heresies present problems for the "Christian America" reading in that so many notable Founders and those who influenced them believed in, for instance Arianism, Socinianism, Universalism, and otherwise rejected the infallibility of the biblical canon.

And Christian Americanist types tend to follow CS Lewis' theory on "mere Christianity," that defines "historic Christianity" according to its orthodox Trinitarian minimums. (That is, Roman Catholics, Anglicans, capital O Orthodox and reformed or evangelical Protestants disagree on a number of things; but they agree on THOSE minimums.) To them, to disbelieve in the Trinity (as so many Founders did) is to be anti-Christian and anti-biblical. This is more the top down consensus view that defines Christianity.

Yet, CS Lewis didn't invent this notion that "if you don't believe in orthodox Trinitarian doctrine, you are no 'Christian' regardless of what you call yourself." I've seen folks from the Founding era literature -- mainly expert theologians -- make this very claim. Indeed, the largest churches in the late 18th Century defined "Christianity" this way.

According to these standards, J. Adams, Jefferson, and Franklin clearly were not Christians, and it's likely that neither were Washington, Madison, G. Morris, Hamilton (until the end of his life) and many others. They weren't "Deists" either (Paine, Palmer, and Allen were).

An overwhelming majority of Founding Fathers were affiliated with orthodox churches for, at the very least, "social network" reasons. Determining whether a late 18th Century Episcopalian, for instance, really did believe in "mere Christianity" as Patrick Henry did, but Thomas Jefferson did not (both Episcopalians) requires scratching beneath the surface. Indeed, digging deep. And with many lesser names, we just don't know.

Yet having the first four, arguably the first five or six American Presidents as not "mere Christians," does not do well for a "Christian America" reading of history.

Likewise many of the philosophers and divines who influenced the American Founding flunk this historical standard of "mere Christianity." They include the Revs. Jonathan Mayhew, Charles Chauncy, Samuel Cooper, and Samuel West (Americans). And the Revs. Joseph Priestley and Richard Price (British). From an earlier British era, John Locke, John Milton and Samuel Clarke likewise flunk "mere Christianity."

Yet, a more generous understanding of "historic Christianity" that includes the heresies makes the American Founding more authentically "Christian" in an historical sense. The Reverend Jonathan Mayhew (the "morning gun of the Revolution") was an Arian? So what. Arius was an early church father (against whom the Nicene Creed was written). These Founders tended to believe in universal salvation? So what, the Church father Origen did too.

The "Christians" (as they understood themselves) of the Enlightenment tended to embrace these heresies, many of which trace before the Enlightenment, indeed way back to the early Church.

One clever reader of mine reacted with the question: Was America founded, in a political-theological sense, on a "Christian heresy?"

Friday, November 12, 2010

Science, Not Woo Woo:

I recently blogged about a theory of human psychology (I honestly don't know what to call it) that I hope slowly unfolds on my blogs over the next few years.

I hesitate to discuss this because, as far as I have gleaned, most popularizers of bits and pieces of this truth have something about them that poisons their well, as I see it. (I know poisoning the well and appeal to authority are both logical fallacies; so me appealing to, for instance, Deepak Chopra's "authority" would be as much of a logical fallacy as you writing him off as a crackpot if I try to cite a point of his that I think is valid.)

These popularizers usually take this truth discovery and add in some unprovable quasi or overtly religious "woo woo," as Michael Shermer has put it when discussing his problems with Deepak Chopra.

So I was quite happy to see a news story on this study by Harvard psychologists confirming what I'm trying to get at.

It's about human minds being most happy when in "the moment," in the present, not being "distracted" about the past or the future or about being somewhere else. Indeed a certain timelessness can occur when being in the moment. When not in that moment, when the mind is in a state of worry or stress ("something on your mind that is bothering you") that has to do with the past or the future, it is less than optimally happy.

For those who are teachers and really enjoy what we do, think of how much faster time goes by when we are teaching than when we are sitting in a faculty meeting for the same period of time wishing we were somewhere else. There is something about focusing the mind on tasks for a continuing period of time -- see it as distracting you IN to "the moment" -- that frees it up and speeds up time. I remember friend of mine who worked masonry construction, telling me how much he liked his job, how time flew by when he worked.

Busy minds with lots of mental chatter going on -- though many of them are brilliant -- are less happy.

Psychology is NOT my discipline. So if there is "expert literature" with an academic imprimatur that validates this, I have a lot of learning to do. I'm more interested in philosophy. And I suspect there is more serious work out there from Eastern and Stoic philosophers than the popularizers of this truth in the West (guys like Chopra, the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, Wayne Dyer, Eckhart Tolle, and even the "Judeo-Christian" Roy Masters who tries to popularize these ideas for religious conservatives).

But ultimately this discovery is not justified by appeal to scientific studies or appeal to great philosophers, but rather by personally experiencing this truth. That is, the ideas need to resonate with individuals in an "a ha," "that's right," sense.

This is not about winning arguments or convincing someone you are right. That's a different game.

Sunday, November 07, 2010

I Get Hate Mail-Hate Comments:

Not very often. In fact, almost never. (Scrupulously avoiding the ad hominem goes a long way here.)

So when I see one, I pay attention. From the following post entitled, Three Misuses of the American Founding & Religion For Political Purposes, commenter Kari writes:

Some of you who doubt the christianity of our forefathers should actually read some historical documents with quotes by them, nearly all of them not only believed in but worshipped Jehovah God and were Christians who definetely [sic] believed in Jesus Christ! I am so tired of everyone trying to change history and say that our forefathers really weren't Christians. IT IS IN HISTORICAL DOCUMENTS...READ IT!!! Stop living in denial and read for yourself. Why do you think there were so many references to God and the 10 commandments made by these men. Did Christians falsify things to our advantage? I think not. Our nation used to be a Christian nation, that was the only way that a small group of colonists was able to win their independence from England who was a SUPERPOWER!! These men prayed daily for God to be with them during this endeavor and he was because they worshipped him and believed in his word...our whole nation did.

It is a shame that as Americans our true history is being removed from history books and warped and twisted by heathens who do not believe in God or His divine words. It should be a requirement that all judges(especially supreme court), lawyers and politicians read all of our historical documents that set precendence [sic] in the forming of the laws of our once great country and be forced to follow them.

People like you sicken me for you are warping history to suit yourself!

Well I think this is directed towards me, so I will answer.

1) Kari never touched one point I made; I would appreciate if she told me where in my post I specifically went wrong.

2) If you are "sickened" by what I write, I cannot apologize because because I have done nothing wrong. I have only recited facts and logic (and admittedly my understanding thereof which may be subject to debate). Perhaps the facts of history, not the myths that you were taught by Christian Nationalist history revisionists "sicken" you.

3) Jehovah God, Christians, Jesus Christ, Historical Documents and Ten Commandments.

a) From my meticulous study of the primary sources, I admit a strong majority believed in "Providence" and, as part of "Christendom" thought of themselves as "Christians" in some sense.

b) However -- and she can correct me if I am wrong -- that's not enough to be a "Christian" and believer in "Jehovah" as the "Christian Nationalists" articulate the concept.

c) Alternatively, some friends of mine, very generous in their ecumenicism, argue any kind of connection to belief in an active Providence equals Jehovah worship. For scriptural support, think of Acts 17, where St. Paul encountered seemingly pagan monotheistic Greeks who worshipped the God of the Bible without consciously knowing they did.

The key American Founders (Washington, Jefferson, and Madison, specifically) believed UNCONVERTED Native Americans who worshipped the monotheistic "Great Spirit" believed in the same God Jews and Christians did. I guess Jehovah and the unconverted Natives' "Great Spirit" God are one and the same. Likewise Allah is Jehovah, even if the Muslims, like those Native Americans, get some of the details wrong.

But it's that line of thought -- that Jews, Christians, theological unitarians (Trinity deniers), Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses, Muslims -- all worship the same God, the true God (Jehovah). I know Mormons and JWs didn't exist during the American Founding. Though the Swedenborgs, who did, make for a good substitute.

I don't see "Kari" as arguing from this corner; correct me if I am wrong.

d) Re the historical documents: You may be able to find some more general God words in the US Constitution, Declaration of Independence and Federalist Papers. But you don't see "Jehovah" or "Jesus Christ" in them. The US Constitution does use the conventional "In the Year of Our Lord" (i.e., AD on our currency) for dating purposing. Trying to make "God" out of that shows how nominally the US Constitution invokes God. (In other words, if the US Constitution is not "Godless," it is "Godly" in the most nominal sense only.)

e) The Ten Commandments: What are you talking about? Where did George Washington specifically invoke the Ten Commandments? John Adams and Thomas Jefferson both DOUBTED that we had the correct version of the Ten Commandments? What about James Madison? A supposed quotation of his on the Ten Commandments circulated (in large part to the efforts of David Barton who is still trying to live this down) only later to have been debunked.

I think Kari's note is important because it illustrates how corrupt the rot is among the home schooled "Christian Americanists." David Barton et al. may not be so stupid to themselves make such grievous errors. But they give winks and nods to the kind of errors this commenter makes.
Allan Bloom on Firing Line:

I've waited a long time for this. The first 5 minutes is on YouTube. I'll look and see if I can find the whole thing.

You can buy the whole DVD for $10 here.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Pot is Bad For the Brain:

It takes a nice, peaceful, brilliantly talented hippie guitarist -- Jeff "Skunk" Baxter of the Doobie Bros. -- and turns him into a Republican military strategist. From 2001:

He's currently working for the Department of Defense as an adviser to the Ballistic Missile Defense Organization and has also served as a top military adviser for numerous congressmen and senators.

"To most of the world, Skunk Baxter is one of the great rock and roll guitar players. Inside the Beltway, he's one of the leading experts on military defense, and we listen to his advice all the time," said Republican California congressman Dana Rohrabacher. "He knows all about weapons technology and has a better understanding of the strategic game going on than I do, and I'm on the International Relations Committee."

Check him in action:

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Howard Stern Illustrates A Reality in Which Most Folks are Not Aware:

As I noted in my last post, we are going to look all over to place to understand what I want to convey. This relates to a rut many well intentioned otherwise good middle class parents fall into. There are "bad" parents. Those who neglect, abandon, and/or physically abuse.

What the Stern example illustrates this problem endemic to middle class parents. His were "good" parents, in a comparative sense (they always provided and didn't do the "bad" things above mentioned).

But the way they dealt with him on an emotional level was unhealthy, suboptimal, and caused damage.

Scenario One: Young Howard pushed his father's buttons which caused his father to flip out and humiliate him in public.

Truth: His father failed to properly react to the situation. Humiliating your children, especially in public, is wrong. That's not to say it's okay for them to misbehave. But the right way is to be patient, but firm. Getting angry at your children and taking it out on them is always wrong. It may be unavoidable. If my underaged son took my car out without permission and got a DUI and ended up in prison, I might, understandably, get angry and take it out on him. But I still fail to properly react to the circumstance.

And it is NO EXCUSE that everyone does it. If everyone does, it's akin to original sin.

Howard claims: He doesn't take his anger out on his kids. When he finds himself yelling at them like his father yelled at him, he leaves the room because he remembered what a jerk he felt like when his father did that to him. If he is being honest, he does the right thing and is a better father, at least in that respect.

Personal example: I remember in law school, one of my classmates -- she seemed like a perfectly nice lady -- middle aged (if I remember properly she had a PhD) regularly brought her kids -- her three little girls -- to school. They had to wait outside when mommy was in class. She used emotional pressure, guilt, and humiliation to "keep them in line." I remember a number of occasions where she got frustrated with them, screamed at her little girls, took her furious anger out on them, seemingly completely unaware of the incident it caused.

I thought in my head, "man I wouldn't be surprised if those girls grow up to hate her."
A New Direction:

I had an "a ha" moment today. I'm going to start blogging about a complex topic which I've only hinted at over the past six years. I don't even know what to call it because I DO NOT want to be the next New Age self help guru; but there's going to be times when I sound like I am. I plan on making NO money off this. Rather, it's in the charitable spirit of good will and philosophy (discovery of truth).

You are going to hear names and terms like Deepak Chopra, Roy Masters, Eckhart Tolle, Wayne Dyer, Howard Stern, the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, John Lennon, Frederick Von Hayek, Jesus, the Bible, Aristotle, Stoicism, Sam Harris, and Robert Wright, and many others (many esoteric ones), all tied together to support a comprehensive teaching.

None of them is an "authority" because, as we know (or should) appeal to authority is a logical fallacy. Indeed, I take issue with most of the above named on certain, sometimes many issues. All of this is, for the most part, compatible with Aristotle and philosophy 101.

Therefore, I am no authority. I say things that are true because they are and it's up to you to "see" that. And if you don't, oh well. You can't push or bully people into truth, at least not in an emotionally healthy way for either party. That is, one of my truth discoveries.

There are emotionally healthy and unhealthy ways of accepting and living by truth.

I'll give an example. Truth: It's good to wash your hands a few times a day to avoid germs. The healthy way of living that truth: Wash your hands a few times a day on autopilot, unthinkingly. The unhealthy way: Worrying about getting sick and washing your hands, compulsively. An intrusive thought comes into your head: "You better wash your hands or else you are going to get sick!" Coupled with anxiety.

Truth: The voice in your head is unhealthy and unneeded. It is a metaphorical demon that needs to be exorcised.

And then the compulsive hand washer brags to everyone about how much he washes his hands and hasn't had a cold in 5 years. The person accomplishes a positive result but for the wrong reasons. Something dark and unhealthy, evil indeed, motivates them and takes a psychological toll.

This is, I believe, a more dangerous form of obsessive compulsive "disorder" because the person who turns the lights on and off five times before entering the room or else something horrible will happen is (or usually is) consciously aware that no rhyme or reason justifies the ritual. Yet, the person who washes the hands can rationalize (the perfect tool for human delusion) the unhealthy way of ultimately, doing the responsible thing (washing your hands to avoid germs).

The right way to learn truth is for folks to accept it on their own, not as a response to emotional pressure. To have an "a ha" moment, precisely NOT because someone told them it was true and tried to bully them into it. The bully might be in possession of that aspect of truth (while simultaneously having something wrong with them that makes them bully). And if they succeed in bullying someone into accepting X, it comes with unhealthy resentment. Reverse psychological effects, also, abound precisely for this reason.

You may need to, because you have no other choice, humiliate someone who intends to harm you to protect yourself; and once out of the picture, they can figure things out themselves.

(The example I'm thinking of is a bully comes after you to impress his friends and you slap him down, if you can. Hopefully, he will eventually stop bullying people. If not, to Hell with him. God or Fate will get him in the end.)

Or, if he comes to you for help, you can help him (and you would if you didn't resent him; resentment, as an emotion, we will later see, is never justified; you must forgive those who have done you wrong, for your sake more so than theirs).

But humiliation when you could have handled the situation patiently is wrong. In terms of the parent child model, it's a form of imperfection that is endemic to much of middle class society who otherwise make "good" parents (that is, where the parents remain intact and otherwise provide for their children and do not physically abuse them; Howard Stern will provide a great example later).

Sam Harris and Robert Wright are an extremely important part of the mix because they too seem to be "on" to some of these things, but have credibility with hard nosed scientific, skeptically minded folks. Not that "credibility" with anyone matters in terms of truth discovery (that's just another form of the appeal to authority logical fallacy). But I do want to show that these things are compatible with hard nosed scientific skepticism and philosophy 101.

Likewise, I will discuss what the West can learn from the East. Certainly, Western Civilization invented a disproportionate share of "modernity" that's been exported to much of the non-Western world. Indeed, many Asian nations now seem to be beating the West at this game. Modernity, technology, scientific achievement. These are good. But the East has, I think, much it could teach the West in terms of "how to deal with things."

And who knows, maybe this has been all part and parcel of the West all along, even "Judeo-Christianity." One of the above mentioned names actually argues this IS authentic Judeo-Christianity, completely compatible with everything the Bible says and in fact, what Jesus is all about.

I'm not sold that this is Judeo-Christianity, but it may well be authentically Western. I had another "a ha" moment when teaching Buddhism to my international business class. (Again, I doubt I am the first, in fact, I am almost certain I am not, to make this connection; but the fact that I had the "a ha" moment made the discovery all the more valuable.)

So much of Buddhism with its idea of resigning oneself to Fate sounds like Stoicism (the philosophy of the pre-Imperial, pre-Christian, noble pagan republican Romans). And indeed we get much of this Stoicism synthesized with Judeo-Christian Providence in the American Founding. As George Washington said: "the ways of Providence [are] inscrutable...." More modern folks have said, "let go and let God." God might not exist. To the atheist or agnostic, "let go and let Fate." As Neil Peart put it: Roll the Bones.

In many ways, this is something that I've been looking into my entire life; but for years my mind was undisciplined, unaware of the logical fallacies in philosophy. I might go off half cocked and sometimes half joking during a drunken college bull session, seeking to get at the truth, but find out years later that I was full of shit.

I am at a point now where I think I've found a great deal of truth that I am ready to discuss. Though admittedly, I have much to learn. I am wise enough to know I don't have the whole truth.

What the Hell am I talking about? You are going to have to wait and see as this unfolds.
One Instance Where I think the Religious Left is more Biblical:

No it's not on redistribution. Certainly, charity and voluntarily giving away wealth is a biblical concept. I'm not convinced government redistribution is.

Yes, I understand modern capitalism arose out of "Christendom." (Arguably a lot of a-biblical and anti-biblical things did as well). But there are two things about capitalism that seem in DEEP tension with what the Bible teaches: One it's a system based on materialistic coveting. That violates one of the Ten Commandments. And two it's a system that requires usury in order to work, something the Bible arguably categorically forbids.

One could argue Islam has not advanced economically because they don't permit usury. But one could also argue this is the more authentically biblical Christian position as well.

Indeed Christendom used to outlaw virtually all forms of usury. The Bible, at its most charitable, cautions against usury. At its least charitable the Bible, like the Koran, bans it. The Bible never mentions anything positive about lending money and charging interest on it (correct me if I am wrong).

Aristotle too thought there was something "unnatural" about money making money.

Yet, arguably our modern system of wealth creation wouldn't work without it. Arguably Christianity had to "find" a way to reconcile itself with usury in order to usher in the modern world of material comfort. Arguably whenever Bible believers use their credit card, get paid interest on a cash bond or in a bank, they do a Thomas Jefferson and cut out those verses of the Bible which suggest it's sin. (Or do Bible believers repeatedly confess this as a sin?)

Modern democratic-capitalist systems treat usury similar to earned wages. We let the market determine the numbers, but get to a point where we draw a line with a minimum wage or maximum interest rate cap.

And free market economics teaches, probably correctly, that these interferences have unintended but foreseeable negative consequences. See Todd Zywicki's latest post on proposed state law to cap non-traditional loans at 36%. There probably are bad consequences, which may outweigh the good, that will come from such a law. Lenders simply won't loan folks who they'd like to charge above the cap rates. Many of those borrowers will go to loan sharks instead.

(Likewise with the minimum wage, I wish every McDonald's worker could be paid a "living wage"; but what would actually result is they wouldn't have jobs and more skilled workers would be hired to do the work; I had a student who was a manager at McDs; he didn't know about any of this economic theory; but he testified that one manager could do the work of 3-4 minimum wage McD workers.)

On the other hand, it could be irresponsible folks are already in too much debt and not getting ANY loan is better than getting a high interest loan.

Again, as a free market guy who is not much of a religious believer, I don't want to see stricter usury laws. I see usury (that is, ANY interest) in principle like cocaine. Payday loans are like crack. I think these should be legalized as well; but I don't suggest getting involved with it.

But I'd like to see socially conservative Christians, who think liberty must yield to public issues of morality, make reforming usury laws with much stricter caps something central to their political agenda.

There is nothing wrong with lending money in and of itself. If there were no inflation, then there would be no need for interest. Getting paid interest that equals inflation is, in my view, not usury, but like lending money and getting back what you lent out. But we need additional interest in order to make the system work.

In other words, we need to take a neutral mechanism (lending money) and sprinkle it with a little cocaine (something bad but that should be legal) to make the system work.

That's how I view our modern banking system on which capitalism depends.