Sunday, January 31, 2010

The Humane Society of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts:

In my last post, I noted George Washington's letter to REVEREND JOHN LATHROP praising the original Humane Society of Massachusetts which Rev. Lathrop helped found.

That group is still around. You may view their official site here.

As this relates to Washington and religion, in "George Washington's Sacred Fire," Peter Lillback cites Washington's thoughts on Lathrop's sermon as evidence of his orthodox Christianity. Indeed, Lillback repeatedly notes Washington's special praise for the address, that he received it with "singular satisfaction." Lillback also claims said Humane Society was "deeply committed to historic Christianity." (p. 671.) Lillback's book defines "historic Christianity" as "orthodox."

The problem is, it's likely that Rev. Lathrop was not an orthodox Christian AND a number of the founders of the Humane Society were committed Unitarians.

From the official site:

Formally established in 1786, The Humane Society of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts elected James Bowdoin, the governor of Massachusetts and the founder of Bowdoin College, to be its first president. The other original trustees were Rev. John Clarke, Dr. Aaron Dexter, Rev. Dr. Simeon Howard, Rev. Dr. John Lathrop, Rev. Samuel Parker, Dr. Isaac Rand, Dr. John Warren, Dr. Thomas Welsh, Dr. Benjamin Waterhouse and Judge Oliver Wendell. In 1791, The Humane Society was formally incorporated in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

One of those unitarians, Dr. Waterhouse, corresponded with Thomas Jefferson. Jefferson felt comfortable writing what follows to Dr. Waterhouse:

... The doctrines of Jesus are simple, and tend all to the happiness of man.

1. That there is one only God, and he all perfect.
2. That there is a future state of rewards and punishments.
3. That to love God with all thy heart and thy neighbor as thyself, is the sum of religion.

These are the great points on which he endeavored to reform the religion of the Jews. But compare with these the demoralizing dogmas of Calvin.

1. That there are three Gods.
2. That good works, or the love of our neighbor, are nothing.
3 That faith is every thing, and the more incomprehensible the proposition, the more merit in its faith.
4. That reason in religion is of unlawful use.
5. That God, from the beginning, elected certain individuals to be saved, and certain others to be damned; and that no crimes of the former can damn them; no virtues of the latter save.

Now, which of these is the true and charitable Christian? He who believes and acts on the simple doctrines of Jesus? Or the impious dogmatists, as Athanasius and Calvin? ...

Regardless of whether the members of the Humane Society or, for that matter, Washington himself, were as extreme unitarians as was Jefferson, they all shared a very man centered theistic creed.
George Washington's Enlightenment Rationalism:

George Washington's letter To REVEREND JOHN LATHROP, June 22, 1788, illustrates his self proclaimed Enlightenment rationalism. Rev. Lathrop, a purported unitarian, gave a discourse to the Humane Society of Massachusetts. Washington thanked Lathrop for sending him some kind of publication that related thereto. In what follows, I emphasized terms relevant to the thesis of this post:

Reverend and respected Sir: Your very acceptable favour of the 16th. of May, covering a recent publication of the proceedings of the Humane Society, 6 have, within a few days past, been put into my hands. I observe, with singular satisfaction, the cases in which your benevolent Institution has been instrumental in recalling some of our Fellow creatures (as it were) from beyond the gates of Eternity, and has given occasion for the hearts of parents and friends to leap for joy. The provision made for the preservation of ship-wrecked Mariners is also highly estimable in the view of every philanthropic mind and greatly consolatory to that suffering part of the Community. These things will draw upon you the blessings of those, who were nigh to perish. These works of charity and good-will towards men reflect, in my estimation, great lustre upon the authors and presage an �ra of still father improvements. How pitiful, in the eye of reason and religion, is that false ambition which desolates the world with fire and sword for the purposes of conquest and fame; when compared to the milder virtues of making our neighbours and our fellow men as happy as their frail conditions and perishable natures will permit them to be !

I am happy to find that the proposed general government meets with your approbation as indeed it does with that of the most disinterested and discerning men. The Convention of this State is now in session, and I cannot but hope from all the accounts I receive that the Constitution will be adopted by it; though not without considerable opposition. I trust, however, that the commendable example exhibited by the minority in your State will not be without its salutary influence in this. In truth it appears to me that (should the proposed government be generally and harmoniously adopted) it will be a new phenomenon in the political and moral world; and an astonishing victory gained by enlightened reason over brutal force. I have the honor &c. 7

The enlightened rationalistic creed of George Washington was theistic-Providential; it could present itself as "Christianity" or merely "religion"; but it was seemingly more "man centered" or humanistic than orthodox Christianity, especially Calvinism.
NEH Article on George Washington's Religion:

The following is a good article by Orv Breitkreutz & Dr. Peter Gibbon on George Washington's religion (though it does, alas, slightly misquote GW's address to the Delaware Indians).

Here is a taste:

Several of the articles and books that were included in our assigned readings in the last three weeks have included allusions to George Washington’s religious beliefs, or lack thereof. We have learned that a variety of religious groups have claimed Washington’s allegiance, especially among the evangelical groups that became prominent in the nineteenth century. I recall, when visiting Freedom’s Foundation at Valley Forge a number of years ago, being impressed by the large statue of George Washington kneeling in prayer, apparently based upon Parson Weems’s dubious story so popular in both the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Even in the twenty-first century, television evangelists like Dr. James Kennedy and Timothy LaHaye (author of the Left Behind books) have claimed the General as a devout evangelical Christian. However, historians such as Peter Henriques call Washington a “theistic rationalist” who followed a “hybrid belief system mixing elements of natural religion, Christianity, and rationalism, with elements of rationalism being the predominant element.” Our astute historian Frank Grizzard, who has worked with the organizing and digitizing of Washington’s works for years, characterizes his religious beliefs as a mix of principles common to Stoicism, Freemasonry, and Christianity, in which Providence was conceived of as an “ ‘omnipotent,’ ‘benign,’ and ‘ beneficent’ Being that by ‘invisible workings’ in ‘infinite wisdom’ dispensed justice in the affairs of mankind. Astonishment and gratitude were owed this Being.” Many have expressed a bit of frustration because Washington seemed so reticent and reluctant to write down exactly what he believed concerning religion. In a famous letter to Dr. James Anderson (24December1795), we have evidence that he viewed his religious beliefs as “few and simple”:...

The article endorses Mary V. Thompson's (of Mount Vernon) "Latitudinarian" thesis. Thompson's "In the Hands of Good Providence: Religion in the Life of George Washington," is on my list. I've heard very good things about it.

I think the "latitudianarian" thesis is more or less correct, insofar as it does not contradict the "Christian-Deist," "theistic rationalist," "unitarian" thesis. These are, arguably, all different ways of saying the same thing. For instance, one could be a "Thomist," a "Roman Catholic," and an "orthodox Christian" without contradiction. Ditto with a "Presbyterian," a "Calvinist," and an "orthodox Christian" and so on.

There is a potential misuse of the latitudinarian thesis: In his 1200 page tome, Peter Lillback recognizes GW's latitudinarianism, but argues said movement was constrained by orthodox Trinitarian grounds.

Long story short: There was a "Latitudinarian" movement within the English Anglican Church. From the NEH article, quoting scholar D.F. Wright:

[Latitudinarians] became prominent churchmen. They included John Tillotson, Archbishop of Canterbury; Edward Stillingfleet, Bishop of Worcester; Simon Patrick, Bishop of Chichester and Ely; Gilbert Burnet, Reformation historian and Bishop of Salisbury; and Thomas Tenison, Archbishop of Canterbury. They reacted against the Calvinism of the Puritans and were broadly Arminian in outlook. They aligned themselves with progressive and liberal movements in the contemporary intellectual world....

Their comprehensiveness allowed only a narrow core of fundamentals in religion. They resisted the Laudian or High Church insistence on conformity in nonessentials such as church order and liturgy.

The capital L Latitudinarian movement occurred in late 17th Century England. They were friends with John Locke. It was still illegal to deny the Trinity in England during this time (it remained so until 1813). So, though the Latitudinarians were suspected of Arianism, Socinianism, few left smoking gun evidence of such and a case could be made that that movement occurred within orthodox Trinitarian grounds.

The problem is Washington was not part of that movement. He didn't call himself a "Latitudinarian" (just like he didn't call himself a "Deist," a "Unitarian" and rarely called himself a "Christian" either) or appeal to the authority of the figures named on that list. (And, though he commonly made biblical allusions as did practically everyone back then, he never proof quoted the Bible.)

Rather, Washington expressed a latitudinarian attitude on religious doctrine. Washington's latitudinarianism, based on the words he left, was constrained on Providential, not orthodox Trintiarian, grounds. That makes GW's latitudinarianism not meaningfully different from the Christian deism and unitarianism of the other "key Founders" (Jefferson, J. Adams, Franklin, etc.).

Indeed, the NEH article aptly defines what this theological system (whatever we term it) boils down to:

One early proponent is said to have reduced the Thirty-Nine Articles of the Anglican Church to five: “That God exists, that he should be worshiped, that man should order his faculties as the principal part of divine worship, that everyone is duty bound to repent his sins, and that rewards and punishments will follow our brief passage here” (Thompson 5).
Phelps v. Rankin:

I blogged about this before. The audio of this very amusing debate between the Revs. Fred Phelps and John Rankin has been uploaded to YouTube in clips.

Here are of my favorites:

I find Phelps to be one of the (unintentionally) funniest people on the planet.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Washington Monthly On the Texas Education Controversy:

See their article by Mariah Blake entitled "Revisionaries" here.

A taste:

Nevertheless, the allegations drummed up public outrage, and in April the board voted to stop the writing teams’ work and bring in a panel of experts to guide the process going forward—“expert,” in this case, meaning any person on whom two board members could agree. In keeping with the makeup of the board, three of the six people appointed were right-wing ideologues, among them Peter Marshall, a Massachusetts-based preacher who has argued that California wildfires and Hurricane Katrina were God’s punishment for tolerating gays, and David Barton, former vice chairman of the Texas Republican Party. Both men are self-styled historians with no relevant academic training—Barton’s only credential is a bachelor’s degree in religious education from Oral Roberts University—who argue that the wall of separation between church and state is a myth.

When the duo testified before the board in September, Barton, a lanky man with a silver pompadour, brought along several glass display cases stuffed with rare documents that illustrate America’s Christian heritage, among them a battered leather Bible that was printed by the Congress of the Confederation in 1782, a scrap of yellowing paper with a biblical poem scrawled by John Quincy Adams, and a stack of rusty printing plates for McGuffey Readers, popular late-1800s school books with a strong Christian bent. When he took to the podium that afternoon, Barton flashed a PowerPoint slide showing thick metal chains. “I really like the analogy of a chain—that we have all these chains that run through American history,” he explained in his rapid-fire twang. But, he added, in the draft social studies standards, the governmental history chain was riddled with gaps. “We don’t mention 1638, the first written constitution in America … the predecessor to the U.S. Constitution,” he noted as a hot pink “1638” popped up on the screen. By this he meant the Fundamental Orders of Connecticut, which called for a government based on the “Rule of the Word of God.” Barton proceeded to rattle off roughly a dozen other documents that pointed up the theocratic leaning of early American society, as the years appeared in orange or pink along the length of the chain.

Barton’s goal is to pack textbooks with early American documents that blend government and religion, and paint them as building blocks of our Constitution. In so doing, he aims to blur the fact that the Constitution itself cements a wall of separation between church and state. But his agenda does not stop there. He and the other conservative experts also want to scrub U.S. history of its inconvenient blemishes—if they get their way, textbooks will paint slavery as a relic of British colonialism that America struggled to cast off from day one and refer to our economic system as “ethical capitalism.” They also aim to redeem Communist hunter Joseph McCarthy, a project McLeroy endorses. As he put it in a memo to one of the writing teams, “Read the latest on McCarthy—He was basically vindicated.”

On the global front, Barton and company want textbooks to play up clashes with Islamic cultures, particularly where Muslims were the aggressors, and to paint them as part of an ongoing battle between the West and Muslim extremists. Barton argues, for instance, that the Barbary wars, a string of skirmishes over piracy that pitted America against Ottoman vassal states in the 1800s, were the “original war against Islamic Terrorism.” What’s more, the group aims to give history a pro-Republican slant—the most obvious example being their push to swap the term “democratic” for “republican” when describing our system of government. Barton, who was hired by the GOP to do outreach to black churches in the run-up to the 2004 election, has argued elsewhere that African Americans owe their civil rights almost entirely to Republicans and that, given the “atrocious” treatment blacks have gotten at the hands of Democrats, “it might be much more appropriate that … demands for reparations were made to the Democrat Party rather than to the federal government.” He is trying to shoehorn this view into textbooks, partly by shifting the focus of black history away from the civil rights era to the post-Reconstruction period, when blacks were friendlier with Republicans.

Barton and Peter Marshall initially tried to purge the standards of key figures of the civil rights era, such as César Chávez and Thurgood Marshall, though they were forced to back down amid a deafening public uproar. They have since resorted to a more subtle tack; while they concede that people like Martin Luther King Jr. deserve a place in history, they argue that they shouldn’t be given credit for advancing the rights of minorities. As Barton put it, “Only majorities can expand political rights in America’s constitutional society.” Ergo, any rights people of color have were handed to them by whites—in his view, mostly white Republican men.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Samuel W. Calhoun v. Geoff Stone on the Christian Nation Debate:

Samuel W. Calhoun writes a spirited response to Geoff Stone's "The World of the Framers: A Christian Nation?" A taste:

Professor Stone’s evidence for deism’s surpassing significance is flawed. By his own description of their beliefs, some of which were indisputably deis?tic, Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson do not belong in the “flat-out” deist category to which Professor Stone assigns them.[17] Deists thought that God does not “intervene[ ] in human history,”[18] yet Franklin believed that God “‘governs the World by his Providence.’”[19] Jefferson was “the primary drafter of the Declaration of Independence.”[20] Professor Stone characterizes this document as “a statement . . . of American deism,”[21] but its language shows the opposite to be true. If God does not interact with mankind, why did the signatories appeal to the “Supreme Judge of the World” to vindicate their honorable intentions, and also express confidence in “the Protection of divine Providence”?[22]

Another way to overemphasize the impact of deism is to overstate the decline of orthodox Christianity. Professor Stone does this in part by oversim?plifying the record concerning the complex issue of George Washington’s religious faith. A letter to Lafayette is quoted in which Washington said that he was “‘no bigot . . . to any mode of worship.’”[23] It is also claimed that “Washington’s personal papers . . . offer no evidence that he believed in . . . Jesus’[ ] divinity”[24]; that “[i]n several thousand letters, he never once mentioned Jesus”[25]; and that, “[a]s president, Washington was always careful not to invoke Christianity[, but h]is official speeches, orders, and other public communica?tions scrupulously reflected the perspective of a deist.”[26][JSK1]

Contrast this rendering with the fuller picture. Washington’s statement to Lafayette is accurately related as far as it goes, but Professor Stone omits the critical words that follow the quoted phrase: “Being no bigot myself to any mode of worship, I am disposed to indulge the professors of Christianity in the church, that road to Heaven, which to them shall seem the most direct plainest easiest and least liable to exception.”[27] Professor Stone is correct to suggest that had Washington been a committed Christian, one would expect to find more references to Jesus and Christianity in his works. But Professor Stone once again gives an incomplete account. First, at least one of his three specific claims about Washington’s use of language is incorrect.[28] Washington as president did not “scrupulously reflect[ ]” a deistic perspective. In an October 1789 Thanksgiving Proclamation, Washington referred to “Almighty God,”[29][JSK2] hardly a “deistic phrase[ ],”[30] and also urged that various “prayers and supplications” be offered,[31] a nonsensical entreaty had he shared the deistic belief that God does not “listen[ ] to personal prayers.”[32] Second, Professor Stone ignores two public occasions when Washington did refer to Jesus. In 1779, General Washington urged the Delaware Chiefs “to learn our arts and ways of life, and above all, the religion of Jesus Christ. These will make you a greater and happier people than you are.”[33] More importantly, Washington ended his 1783 Circular Letter to the Governors of All the States on Disbanding the Army by stating in his prayer for the Governors and their respec?tive States that

God would . . . dispose us all to do justice, to love mercy, and to demean ourselves with that charity, humility, and pacific temper of mind, which were the characteristics of the Divine Author of our blessed religion, and without an humble imitation of whose example in these things, we can never hope to be a happy nation.[34]

Prof. Stone responds. A taste:

In reading Professor Calhoun’s response, I was struck not only by his determination to refute almost every statement, but also by his sharply accu?satory tone. (I should note that, in a rare moment of magnanimity, Professor Calhoun generously acquits me of being “shrill,”[3] though I’m not at all sure I can return the compliment.) I have often challenged the work of scholars with whom I disagree, and they have often challenged me. But rarely have I seen so uncivil a tone as that evidenced by Professor Calhoun. Don’t get me wrong. I am a big fan of free speech and I would defend to the death Professor Calhoun’s right to be as uncivil as he likes. Indeed, if he truly believes that I “distorted” the evidence in order to “mislead” my audience, then he is certainly right to take me to the woodshed. But why would he accuse me of intentionally distorting the evidence and attempting to mislead my audience? Whatever happened to honest error (if error there be) and collegial disagreement? Professor Calhoun seems like a perfectly decent fel?low, so what is going on here? Why in God’s name is he so overwrought?

My puzzlement goes well beyond Professor Calhoun’s litany of quibbles and un-Christian tone. More substantively, he attacks me repeatedly for claims I never made. This is vexing. I was quite careful in my lecture to state pre?cisely what I was claiming. I made three claims that seem most relevant to this discussion: First, and most importantly, I claimed that the Framers did not intend to establish a Christian nation. Second, I claimed that the Framers believed that religion “should play a role in helping ‘to preserve the civil morality necessary to democracy,’” but that they also thought that “in the ‘public business of the nation’” it was “essential for the government to speak of religion ‘in a way that was unifying, not divisive.’”[4] And third, I claimed that when we consider what the Constitution “allows” in the realm of relig?ion, “it helps to know the truth” about what the Framers believed and “what they aspired to when they created this nation.”[5]

With respect to my first claim, Professor Calhoun concedes the point.[6] Thus, we can put aside the Christian nation issue. Ironically, in light of the fury of his attack, this was the primary point of my lecture, as was evident from its title—The World of the Framers: A Christian Nation?

One quibble with Prof. Calhoun's analysis of GW & the letter to the Delaware Indians (which like the 1783 Circular was not written by Washington but signed by him). The entire context of GW's correspondence reveals he wasn't URGING them to “to learn our arts and ways of life, and above all, the religion of Jesus Christ" but rather APPROVING of their already made decision to do so.

This is exactly what Washington said with MY EMPHASIS on how the phrase SHOULD read when one understands the context:

Brothers: I am glad you have brought three of the Children of your principal Chiefs to be educated with us. I am sure Congress will open the Arms of love to them, and will look upon them as their own Children, and will have them educated accordingly. This is a great mark of your confidence and of your desire to preserve the friendship between the Two Nations to the end of time, and to become One people with your Brethen of the United States. My ears hear with pleasure the other matters you mention. Congress will be glad to hear them too. You do well to wish to learn our arts and ways of life, and above all, the religion of Jesus Christ. These will make you a greater and happier people than you are. Congress will do every thing they can to assist you in this wise intention; and to tie the knot of friendship and union so fast, that nothing shall ever be able to loose it.

For more on the context see here. I noted that GW was replying to a REQUEST from the Indians a part of which read as follows:

5th. That the said Delaware Nation have established a Town where numbers of them have embraced Christianity under the Instruction of the Reverend and worthy Mr David Ziesberger whose honest zealous Labours & good Examples have Induced many of them to listen to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, which has been a means of introducing considerable order, Regularity and love of Peace into the Minds of the whole Nation — the[y] therefore hope Congress will countenance & promote the Mission of this Gentleman, so far away as they may deem expedient; and they may rely that the Delaware Nation will afford every encouragement thereto in their power.

It's a non-sequitur to conclude -- as some have -- that Washington was an orthodox Christian based on his expressed sentiments (written by aide, Robert Hanson Harrison) to the Delaware Indians. Rather Washington intuitively thought it a good idea for Indians to convert to the dominant religion of America and learn our other ways of life. George Washington thought the purpose of "religion," -- i.e., why Indians should convert to Christianity -- was civic utility. No evidence shows GW thought only Christianity true, other religions false (i.e., the orthodox position). Did he, GW wouldn't have twice (here and here), when speaking to unconverted Natives, termed God the "Great Spirit" suggesting unconverted Natives worshipped the same God Christians do.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Peabody on the Stone, Tillman, et al. Christian Nation Debate:

Bruce G. Peabody has posted his response to the debate among Geoff Stone, Seth Tillman and others on the "Christian Nation" controversy. His paper is titled "Analogize This: Partial Constitutional Text, Religion, and Maintaining Our Political Order," 2010 Cardozo L. Rev. de novo (forthcoming), available here.
Dare to Be Daniel, Dare to Obey the Speed Limit:

Many of Gregg Frazer's lectures have been uploaded to The Master's College's Pulpit Files here. You can listen to a number of them where he discusses the Founding Fathers and religion.

This is the newest lecture. He discusses the Romans 13 obedience/submission dynamic that I've featured on my blogs.

It's a refreshing orthodox biblical perspective that you don't oft-hear. For instance, you'll hear Dr. Frazer justify, on biblical grounds, 1) the idea that Christians are to pay all of their taxes. All of them, even if you think they are unjust. And 2) Christians are to obey government simply because government said so; that is, unless government commands a believer to actively or by omission sin (for instance tell a believer to stop preaching the gospel). That's the one exception to the always obey rule. That means you drive the speed limit because government said so.
That Other George Bush:

Not W or HW. He was an early notable Swedenborgian convert. Learn about him here. And here. Here are some of his papers.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Jeremy Belknap, Theological Universalist:

Not only did Rev. Jeremy Belknap believe in the Sabellian heresy, he also apparently believed in universal salvation, or at the least disbelieved in eternal damnation for any soul.

What follows are some of Belknap's comments on the matter, recorded in Sprague's "Annals of the American Unitarian pulpit." The "Murray" to whom Belknap refers is John Murray a Trinitarian Universalist who helped convert Benjamin Rush to Universalism. The "Chauncy" is Rev. Charles Chauncy, one of the first and most notable unitarian universalist ministers in the Congregational Church. And a "key Patriotic Preacher."

"My practice has always been to study the Scriptures in order to find out truth and duty. What there appears sufficient evidence for I admit as truth: where the evidence is not sufficient to induce belief, I allow myself to doubt. This every man has a right to do.

"As to the controversy about Murray, I never conversed with him but once—what he said was new and strange. On examining my Bible, I saw no reason to admit it, and therefore passed it by.

"Some years ago, Murray came into my parish. Some people wished to hear him, and asked me fur the liberty of the pulpit. I said it was mine when I wanted it, and theirs when they pleased to use it. They got him to preach. I did not attend; but, understanding that he had been on the parable of the tares and wheat, I took the liberty, as I thought was my duty, to preach the next Sabbath against what I deemed the errors adopted by his followers." [Here he read the sermon.] "These were then my sentiments, and they are the same now. I never had a doubt that faith, repentance and holiness, or a change from a state of sin to newness of life, is necessary to prepare us for Heaven.

"When the Chauncy controversy came abroad, which engaged every body's attention more or less, it was natural for me to incline to one side or the other. I was inclined to call in question the immortality of the wicked in a state of future punishment, though I had no doubt of the certainty of the punishment. There are difficulties attending the subject on every side in which it can be viewed; and, after much thought upon the matter, I am inclined to this opinion;—that the revelation which God has given us in the Scriptures is intended to regulate our present conduct in this world, and to give us to understand what will be the consequences, in the future state, of our good and bad behaviour here.

"I believe the resurrection of the just and the unjust; that the life which the just shall receive from Christ at their resurrection will be immortal; and that they shall never die any more; but doubt whether it can be proved from the Scriptures that the life which the wicked shall receive at their resurrection is immortal—if it can, it will follow that their misery will never end;—but am rather inclined to think that the life which they will then receive will be a mortal life, that they will be subject to a series of misery and torment which will terminate in a second death. Whether this second death is an utter extinction of being, or whether they will be delivered from it by another resurrection, are points which I cannot determine, nor do I think the Scripture affords us full satisfaction on these subjects; so that I expect no full solution in this world, and am fully contented with believing that the surest way for us is to believe in Christ, to fear God, and work righteousness in obedience to the Gospel, and thus secure our own happiness, without prying too curiously into the secret and future designs of God. The Apostles themselves declare,—'We know but in part, and we prophecy but in part.' If the chosen and inspired ambassadors of Jesus Christ were imperfect in their knowledge, how can we expect perfection in this life?

"If, upon this declaration of my mind, you see fit to recommend to the Society to recall the invitation they have given me to settle with you, I am content."

And then there is the following from "A history of the Unitarians and the Universalists in the United States," by Joseph Henry Allen, Richard Eddy:

Rev. Dr. Jeremy Belknap, pastor of the Federal Street Congregational Church, Boston, and one of the founders of the Massachusetts Historical Society, has left an avowal of his belief in Universalism. His correspondence with Ebenezer Hazard, of Philadelphia, has been published by the Historical Society. In it Hazard acknowledges receipt of a copy of Dr. Chauncy's pamphlet in 1782, inquires who is the author, and adds: "If it is unscriptural, I am too ignorant to be able to see it. I think, however, it does honor to the mercy of the Deity, without doing injury to divine justice." Dr. Belknap replies: "The design of emitting this piece was good, but I am not altogether pleased with its execution, because it seems to be an attempt to recommend the doctrine by the force of human authority. . . . However, the truth of the case is this: the doctrine of universal restitution has long been kept as a secret among learned men. Murray has published some undeniable truths concerning it, mixed with 'a jargon of absurdity; and one Winchester among you has followed his example. . . . As to the doctrine itself, of which you desire my opinion, I frankly own to you that I have for several years been growing in my acquaintance with it and my regard for it. I wished it might be true long before I saw any just reason to conclude it was so. ... But at present I do not see how the doctrine can be disproved, if the Scripture be allowed to speak for itself, and the expressions therein used be understood in their natural sense, without any systematical or synodical comments."

Monday, January 18, 2010

Jeremy Belknap, Sabellian:

Rev. Jeremy Belknap (June 4, 1744 – June 20, 1798) was a notable Founding era minister, chaplain and friendly correspondent of George Washington.

William Sprague's "Annals of the American Unitarian Pulpit" reproduces Rev. Belknap's argument for Sabellianism. Basically, he thought orthodox trinitarianism was to close to tritheism. As he noted:

"According to Dr. Watts' view of the present subject,— 'The Father, the Word and the Holy Ghost, are the one living and true God.' To this proposition I give my ready assent. And whoever does so, whatever be his peculiar mode of explication, I will maintain has as just a claim to the character of Orthodox as they who do it in the Athanasian sense. And for any who adopt that or any other mode of explication, to monopolize Orthodoxy to themselves, is a degree of presumption unbecoming fallible creatures, especially those who allow that the Mode of subsistence in the Sacred Three is not ascertained in Scripture; and indeed it is inconsistent with the avowed Catholicism of the ablest and best writers, who are most partial to the general Calvinistic system.

"With respect to the idea of Personality, as applicable to the Father, Son and Spirit. Dr. Watts differed from many Trinitarians, as he denied (and I think with sufficient reason) that there are in Deity three distinct Infinite Spirits, or really distinct persons, in the common sense of that term, each having a distinct intelligence, volition, power, &c., thinking such a supposition inconsistent with the proper Unity of the Godhead; which is doubtless one of the most obvious and fundamental doctrines of revelation.

"But it is to be remembered that, with regard to the definition of personality, Trinitarians widely differ among themselves. While some suppose it to be Real, others think it only Modal or nominal; and others somewhat between both. Some of the two latter classes have charged the former with Tritheism; and to me it seems difficult to clear the doctrine from the imputation. Nor can I conceive what Tritheism is, if this hypothesis does not come under the description. To assert a mere Unity of Essence or Nature will not obviate the difficulty; for three Divine persons or beings, though of the same nature, or in other words, all of them Exactly Alike, (which seem-, to be the meaning of the term and is the popular idea,) would be, as really three Gods, as three human persons of the same nature, were they in all respects alike, would be three men. Such a sentiment, I think, ought to be zealously opposed as heretical.


— "As to those who use the common Trinitarian language in the Sabellian sense, (which, upon a close inquiry, I have found to be the case with some, and have reason to think it so with many,) they have little reason to cry out 'heresy' at the mode of interpretation for which I am here apologizing.

"That it should by any be stigmatized with the name either of Socinianism or Arianism, appears to me perfectly uncandid and unjust. The Ante-Nicene fathers adopted this hypothesis. And, if I understand the great Reformer Calvin aright, he, in like manner, conceived of the Word and Spirit of God, as the Wisdom and Power, of Deity personified. The pious Mr. Baxter adopted a like personification, and severely reproves those orthodox men, who anathematize them that espouse such a mode of explaining the Trinity. Certain it is that Socinians reject such kind of language, and disavow the notion of a Trinity in any form; not now to say any thing of the atonement, which they universally deny, but which those I am defending as strenuously maintain.

"As to Arians, properly so called, if I have any idea of their sentiments, they consider the Logos and the Holy Spirit as Created Beings; which I think with Dr. Watts, is an error, most manifestly repugnant to Scripture doctrine.

"It is true Dr. Watts maintained the man Christ Jesus to have been a created being. But if, on that account, his followers are justly charged with heresy, I know not who will be exempt; for I suppose all will allow that Christ was properly Man, and as such created. Some indeed maintain that he was a human Person as really as any other man is so, and on this ground deny that his Divinity was a Real Person, distinct from that of the Father, (for otherwise there would be two persons in Christ,) while others strangely and arbitrarily suppose (to avoid this last absurdity) that the manhood of Christ was merely a created Nature. But both allow the Deity of Christ to consist in the union of the Godhead and the manhood in the person of Emanuel, so that in Him God was manifest in the flesh.' This general argument I look upon as all that is essential to true orthodoxy, and a sufficient bond of union. How much farther Christian charity may safely extend, it is not my present business to inquire."
Unitarianism and Line Drawing:

"Annals of the American Unitarian" pulpit by William Buell Sprague is a good free book that sources early Founding era unitarian theologians.

Though, they have an interesting definition of "unitarian." Theological line drawing -- especially the vexing question of "what is Christianity" -- by its nature invites disagreement. This book includes not just Arianism and Socinianism as unitarian doctrines but also Sabellianism. That doctrine teaches a divine Trinity -- Fathers, Son, and Spirit -- existing in ONE person, not THREE. Swedenborgs and "oneness Pentacostals" believe in, if not Sabellianism, something similar to it.

As the book notes:

The word Unitarian, in its most general signification, denotes one who believes that God exists in one person only, in contradistinction to one who receives the doctrine of the Trinity. Under this generic name, however, are ranged several classes whose views differ widely from each other. Of these, the most prominent are the Sabellians, who maintain that the Word and Holy Spirit are only different manifestations or functions of the Deity; the Arians, who believe that Jesus Christ is neither God nor Man, but a Superangelical Being; and the Humanitarians, who regard Him as a mere Man. In respect to the influence of Christ's death, some suppose that it contributes to our pardon, as it was a principal means of confirming the Christian religion, and giving it a power over the mind ; in other words, that it procures forgiveness by leading to that repentance and virtue which constitute the condition on which forgiveness is bestowed; while others maintain that this event has a special, though undefined, influence in removing punishment, as a condition of pardon, without which repentance would be unavailing. Unitarians are generally Arminians, and most of them believe in the ultimate restoration of all men to holiness and happiness in the next world. But, in regard to the measure of authority that attaches to different portions of Scripture, as well as in respect to many of the details of Christian doctrine, there is great diversity. All, however, unite in rejecting human creeds as of no binding authority. Some idea may be formed of the very diverse views which are included under the general term,— Unilarianism, by comparing the sketch of Dr. Bezaleel Howard, or of Dr. Hezekiah Packard, with that of Dr. Priestley.

I'm not sure if it's proper to categorize Sabellianism as "unitarianism." It certainly isn't "orthodox" though. Previously when confronted with Sabellianism or like doctrines I recognize such as "heresy," but categorize them as neither unitarian nor trinitarian.

Though in categorizing Sabellianism as "unitarianism" that enables the book to capture even more notable Founding era preachers as "unitarians."

If those who don't believe in the Trinity, even Sabellians, are not "Christians" a heck of a lot of notable Founding era preachers were not "Christians."

Whether the historical-theological proposition is true is debatable. But it makes for a very interesting dynamic. The "Christian" or "Deist" question is such a false dichotomy. Here is a five point breakdown from most to least "orthodox."

1) Orthodox Trinitarians; 2) Sabellians; 3) Arians; 4) Socinians; 5) Strict Deists.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Nixon on the Gay Episode of All in the Family:

"John Ehrlichman & Bob Haldeman May 13, 1971 498-005 Oval Office"

Apparently this was the first episode he saw and didn't know the name of the show. He thinks Meathead/Rob Reiner's character "goes both ways."

Like many things Nixon, oddly fascinating.

Update: Here is a clip from the episode:

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Christianity & Enlightenment:

Among my co-bloggers and commenters with whom I discuss the historical record, the question of "Christianity" v. "Enlightenment" oft-comes up. Which dominated the American Founding?

There are at least two problems with the way the question is framed. One, it's a false dichotomy; there were more than two ideological sources. Harvard historian Bernard Bailyn also names "Whig," "Common Law" and "Greco-Roman."

Secondly, the sources bleed into one another (that is, they aren't mutually exclusive). John Locke was a "Whig," a man of the Enlightenment, and called himself a "Christian." George Washington's virtues were arguably consistent with both "Judeo-Christianity," and "Greco-Romanism." GW was as much a "Stoic" as a "Christian."

Further, there will never be any kind of "settled" answer among men as to what's an authentic "Christian" tenet that distinguishes itself from an "Enlightenment" tenet. I hate to sound like a deconstructionist, but essentially this is a continuing "discursive" process.

Sorry to further pick on the men, but David Barton and Peter Marshall illustrate the false dichotomy from the "Christian right" perspective. As Peter Marshall noted:

Research has revealed that Enlightenment philosophy was far less influential in the thinking of the Founding Fathers than has been taught in recent decades.

He noted this as he misunderstood the "research" that supposedly supported his point.

David Barton has likewise tried to paint "Enlightenment" as Hume, Voltaire, Rousseau and whatever presented itself as either non-Christian or least identifiably "Christian" so as to "capture" the Founding for "Christian" sources.

Well, the American Founding, the "republicanism" thereof, and the Enlightenment the Founding Fathers followed presented themselves as compatible with and often under the auspices of "Christianity." Likewise Jefferson, J. Adams, Franklin and others presented their creed as "Christianity" not Deism.

Presenting something under the auspices of "Christianity" is instructive of the "history of Christendom" -- the good with the bad, the orthodox with the heresies -- but tells us little about the "mere Christianity" that draws lines over which there is reason to argue in the first place.

What's there to fight about if "Christianity" includes Calvin, Pat Robertson, Mormonism, the French Revolution, churches that perform same sex marriages and even self proclaimed atheists and witches? All of these things have presented themselves under the auspices of "Christianity."

As it relates to the Founding, the "Enlightened" Christians of the American Founding and their philosophical heroes like the aforementioned J. Adams, Jefferson and Franklin, Jonathan Mayhew, Charles Chauncy, Joseph Priestley, Richard Price, John Locke, Isaac Newton disproportionately embraced the Arian and Socinian heresies. Socinianism predates the Enlightenment and Arianism traces back to fourth century.

How authentically "Christian" are the Arianism and Socinianism that the "Christians" of the Enlightenment tended to embrace because they viewed said as more "rational" than the Trinity?

Likewise, Locke's understanding of Romans 13 that held men had a "right" to rebel against tyrants (when the text of the Bible says no such thing) that the unitarian Jonathan Mayhew and many trinitarian preachers followed. Is it authentically "Christian"? If not, is it "Enlightenment"? Is it both?
Shhhh! [whisper] that guy was a homo [/whisper]

One of my favorite Pat Robertson moments.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

You Knew This Was Coming:

Pat Robertson steps in it.

It's not that I don't care. It's just that I am speechless.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Jefferson Welcomes the Swedenborgs to the Table of American Political Theology:

I've previously written about George Washington's acceptance of the Swedenborgians. Below, we see Jefferson's.

Why America's Founders, especially the first four Presidents, supported "religion" in general/"Christianity" in particular is much misunderstood. It wasn't because they necessarily personally believed in the doctrinal contents of the specific religions to which they were friendly. It certainly wasn't because "they" (as a collective) were orthodox Christians who believed Christ's Atonement the only way to God. Rather, it was because they supported the sects' teachings on Providence, morality and consequently the civic utility said sects engendered.

The Founders seemingly played the doctrinal differences -- including differences on the Trinity and related orthodox doctrines -- of the different sects against one another to cancel one another out and bring civic peace (see Madison in Federalists 10 and 51 on factions and multiplicity of sects).

As my co-blogger Tom Van Dyke noted, they followed Voltaire's dictum:

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.

That might explain why Jefferson invited John Hargrove (1750-1839) to deliver numerous sermons that PROSELYTIZED for Swedenborgianism to members of Congress. It wasn't because Jefferson believed in the exotic Christology -- that was neither unitarian nor trinitarian -- of the Swedenborgs. Rather, Jefferson wanted to send the message that the Swedenborgs were invited to the ecumenical party of American Founding political-theology, and one's orthodox views on the Trinity simply would not be a criterion -- part of a private, informal religious test, when Art. VI. Cl. 3 of the US Constitution bans formal religious tests.

With that, here Rev. Hargrove preaches Swedenborgianism to both houses of Congress and the President.

A taste:

This will appear irresistibly evident from the whole tenor of the sacred scriptures, particularly the 50th psalm (which indeed seems a literal extract from the 16th chapter of the first book of Chronicles)—but then, it should be known, that in the Deity, whom we call Jehovah-God, there exists a divine Trinity; not of persons however, but of essential principles, which principles, when rightly apprehended, we have no objection to call Father, Son, and Holy Ghost; or, to speak more intelligibly, the Divine Love, the Divine Wisdom, and the Divine proceeding Power, which trinity also, corresponds unto that, in every individual man, to wit, his will, his understanding, and their proceeding affections and perceptions; hence therefore, it is written that “God created man in his own image and in his own likeness.” [Bold mine.]
God Will Get You For That Walter:

What did Maude used to say? God will get you for that, Walter.

Heterodoxy as Compelling Analogy:

Samuel Gregg's article blasting liberation theology illustrates why heterodoxy will always make for a compelling analogy.

He writes:

As time passes, liberation theology is well on its way to being consigned to the long list of Christian heterodoxies, ranging from Arianism to Hans-Küngism. But as Benedict XVI understands, ideas matter – including incoherent and destructive ideas such as liberation theology. Until the Catholic Church addresses the legacy of this defunct ideology – to give liberation theology its proper designation – its ability to speak to the Latin America of the future will be greatly impaired. [Bold mine.]

I am not pro-liberation theology (I am a pretty doctrinaire capitalist.) However, were I, and I saw that comparison to the Arian heresy, I could respond, "you mean liberation theology is as bad as the Christianity that Milton, Newton, Locke, Clarke, Price, Mayhew and many of America's Founding Fathers believed in"? All of the aforementioned names either were or likely were Arians.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Texas Controversy Persists and Proper Ways to Understand "Christian Nation":

Evangelical historian John Fea reports that he was called to give expert commentary in the following article. Here is a taste:

"I'm an evangelical Christian, and I think David Barton and Peter Marshall are completely out to lunch," said John Fea, a history professor at Messiah College in Pennsylvania, a Christian institution. "They are not experts on social studies and history. Neither of them are trained in history. They are preachers who use the past and history as a means of promoting a political agenda in the present."

Barton, a Texas-based GOP activist and nationally known speaker, and Marshall, a traveling evangelist whose father was a U.S. Senate chaplain in the 1940s, are aligned with American University law and history professor Daniel Dreisbach — one of four academics on the review panel — in the belief that America was intended to be a "Christian nation" with no separation between church and state.

Barton did not return calls seeking comment, and Marshall declined to be interviewed, writing by e-mail, "I don't have anything further to say other than what was said last Fall." The board heard from reviewers during a meeting in September.

Last summer, Marshall told The Wall Street Journal, "We're in an all-out moral and spiritual civil war for the soul of America, and the record of American history is right at the heart of it."

Yet, Fea regrets the "out to lunch" remark. Read his account here. I know the temptation to make ad hominem attacks on Barton and Marshall. While I will continue to criticize them, I'll try to watch the ad homs.

But Marshall's quote illustrates a problem with the "Christian America" movement. The movement is spiritual, not historical. And, ironically, nothing in evangelical Christianity requires one to believe God founded America using inspired Christians to His bidding.

And, to the contrary, it's just as valid an evangelical understanding of Romans 13 to view all rebellion, including and especially what occurred in America in 1776 as a sin, a sin on par with witchcraft.

Now, Mormonism, because of when and where it was founded, in its authentic tenets holds Mormon God founded America using divinely inspired men. And that's fine for one's personal religious convictions. Likewise it's fine if Barton and Marshall want to intermix a-biblical Americanist theology with biblical fundamentalism and hold it up as a personal creed. (Though it ironically pollutes the purity of their biblical fundamentalism.)

But when they bring this very personal, spiritual, cultural conviction to the public square under the auspices of "objective history," they should expect to be put under the microscope. Barton and Marshall's "Christian America" theory is about as objectively historically grounded as Joseph Smith's Prophesies about Mormon God Founding America. Imagine the reaction if THAT were foisted on non-Mormons in the public schools. And yes, Marshall's "The Light and the Glory" and Barton's "The Bullet Proof George Washington" are that "imaginative."

Another irony is, if America is a "Christian Nation" in a political theological sense, it's only by adhering to an ecumenical-historical understanding of political Christianity that is inclusive of all sorts of heresies that evangelicals deem "not Christian."

John Adams himself testifies to this in one of the Christian Americanists' favorite "proof quotes":

“The general principles on which the Fathers achieved independence were the general principles of Christianity.”

Adams then goes on and notes all the heretics (from the perspective of the "orthodox") this lowest common denominator of political Christianity includes:

There were among them Roman Catholics, English Episcopalians, Scotch and American Presbyterians, Methodists, Moravians, Anabaptists, German Lutherans, German Calvinists, Universalists, Arians, Priestleyans, Socinians, Independents, Congregationalists, Horse Protestants, and House Protestants, Deists and Atheists, and Protestants “qui ne croyent rien.” [Protestants who believe in nothing.] Very few, however, of several of these species; nevertheless, all educated in the general principles of Christianity, and the general principles of English and American liberty.

Not just orthodox Christians, but Arians, Socinians, followers of Socinian Joseph Priestley (which included Adams himself), Universalists and even "Deists and Atheists, and Protestants 'qui ne croyent rien.' [Protestants who believe in nothing.]"

The only way to square Adams' political understanding of Christianity with atheism is to conclude by "Christian," Adams means "a good person." Even an atheist could be a Christian if he were a good person. Indeed, as Adams elsewhere noted,

I believe with Justin Martyr, that all good men are Christians, and I believe there have been, and are, good men in all nations, sincere and conscientious.

How astonishing is it that the largely evangelical Christian Americanists embrace John Adams and his "general principles of Christianity" quotation.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

"Divine Son Of God" v. "God the Son, Second Person in the Trinity":

The title of my post demonstrates the importance of clarity in language, specifically as it relates to spiritual discernment issues. As I argue below, Jesus as "divine Son of God," is a more vague, less discerned doctrine than Jesus as "God the Son, Second Person in the Trinity."

As my estimable co-blogger Rev. Brian Tubbs defines what it means to be a "Christian":

For my own part, when it comes to assessing whether a Founder was "Christian," I believe in the KISS principle. :-) I keep it simple.

Did the person believe in Jesus Christ as his or her divine and risen Savior? (Romans 10:9-10).

That's certainly a fair biblical understanding of "Christianity." One question I have is what does "divine" mean? This isn't a stupid question. On its face, referring to Jesus as merely "divine," as opposed to "God the Son, Second Person in the Trinity" can mask differences among 1) Trinitarians, 2) Arians, 3) Mormons, 4) Jehovah's Witnesses, 5) Swedenborgs, 6) promoters of the "Oneness" Pentecostal theory, and 7) God knows how many others.

For those who don't know, Arianism, named after Arius (ca. AD 250–336), and the eradication of which was the reason for the Nicene Creed, taught Jesus a divinely created Son of God, Savior of Mankind, subordinate to the Father. Jesus was "divine" but not fully God. More like a demi-God, the first born of all creation, second in charge, below the Father, but above every Angel.

Notable Arians who influenced the American Founding include Isaac Newtown, Samuel Clarke, Richard Price, Jonathan Mayhew and probably Johns Milton and Locke and many others. Arians likewise could answer the question "do you believe Jesus the divine Son of God" affirmatively, without having to assent to Trinitarian logic of 1+1+1 = 1 as opposed to 3, with which "rational" minded men might have a hard time.

John Jay, as I noted in my last post, at the very least flirted with Arianism/Trinity doubt.

Who knows what other great "Christian minds" struggle with Trinity issues?

Does that make them not "Christian"? Personally, I can't answer. Historically, though, non-Trinitarianism is labeled "heresy."

As noted above, Trinitarianism distinguishes itself from the more amorphous categorization of Jesus as the divine, risen Son of God. Trinitarians believe in that plus something else. It's that something else that distinguishes them.

That is if one asks the question: Do you believe Jesus Christ the divine, risen Son of God, 1) Trinitarians, 2) Arians, 3) Mormons, 4) Jehovah's Witnesses, 5) Swedenborgs, 6) promoters of the "Oneness" Pentecostal theory, and 7) God knows how many others can honestly answer affirmatively.

Yet, only Trinitarians can answer the question "do you believe in a Triune God, that Jesus is Second Person in the Trinity" affirmatively.

And that's to say nothing of the other "Christians" that John Adams named -- "Universalists,...Priestlyans, Socinians,...Deists and Atheists, and Protestants ‘qui ne croyent rien [Protestants who believe nothing]" -- who were united along with the various sects of Arians and Trinitarians in a lowest common denominator of "general Christianity" that founded American politics.
John M. Murrin ON on the Founders, Original Sin, Reason & Revelation:

NOTE: A correction and retraction is in order. I wrote a post entitled "Mark Noll on the Founders, Original Sin, Reason & Revelation," found here, here and here.

A commenter noted "[a] closer inspection of the book reveals that John M. Murrin is actually the writer, not Noll. Noll edited this book."

It was an interesting post. A taste (QUOTING MYSELF):

Pages 31-32 in his 1990 book "Religion and American Politics" contain some interesting analysis. First he notes the Constitution was the 18th century equivalent of a "secular humanist text." Next he notes the delegates were not an orthodox group of men in any doctrinal sense. Noll states perhaps only ONE, Richard Bassett of Delaware, was a "born again Christian." Though Sherman "may" have been. Further, Noll notes Washington, Franklin, Hamilton, Madison, Wilson, and G. Morris gave no sign of belief in "original sin" at this phase in their life.

Noll then describes, using Jerry Falwell and Jimmy Swaggart as examples, how the Founders were actually closer to secular humanists than modern evangelicals (on a personal note, I'd say they were somewhere in between; they were "theistic humanists").
Private Religious Tests:

The Founding Fathers agreed that government -- at least at the federal level -- shouldn't be able to impose formal religious tests. See Art. VI, Cl. 3 of the US Constitution. But what of private religious tests? (I.e. I want to vote for the "Christian" candidate.) They are permitted in the sense that the voter is allowed to vote for whomever s/he wants, for whatever reason.

John Jay has an oft-repeated quotation that encourages private religious test in favor of "Christians."

“Providence has given to our people the choice of their rulers, and it is the duty, as well as the privilege and interest of our Christian nation, to select and prefer Christians for their rulers.”

Yet, what turned out to be minimal "Christian" standards required for public vetting -- for instance, the "Christianity" of the first half dozen Presidents, perhaps the majority of American Presidents -- was a formal or nominal affiliation with a Christian Church and identification with the Christian label. That's it.

Since Washington's Presidency, there has been no successful "precedent" for privately vetting a Presidential candidate's "Christianity," with a strict confession of orthodox faith (i.e., "Do you George Washington believe in a Triune God? Do you believe the Bible the inerrant, infallible Word of God?), even though many orthodox (Timothy Dwight, William Linn, Jedidiah Morse) wished there were.

The republican form of federal elections that the Founding Fathers established almost landed someone as bad as Aaron Burr in the Presidency.

Washington started many informal Presidential precedents, one of them was religious aloofness, or trying to be all things to all people when pinned down, religiously.

So the "Christianity" of the first four or five Presidents turned out to be, in principle, not much different than the Roman Catholicism of Jack Kennedy, the Quakerism of Richard Nixon, the Southern Baptistism of Bill Clinton, and the unorthodox Christianity of Barack Obama. Jimmy Carter and GWBush stand as the most "orthodox" of Christian Presidents in the modern era, hence the most "Christian" of modern Presidents.

(Reagan? He certainly believed in Providence and thought himself a "Christian." However, it's not clear where he stood on the Trinity, Atonement, Jesus as personal savior. Perhaps someone can enlighten me.)

Perhaps it's better that American Presidents and politicians aren't subject to effective private religious tests like John Jay suggested. It would likely burn too many of them. Orthodox theologians don't necessarily make for the most effective American politicians (see Carter and Bush). By avoiding specific confessions of faith, American federal politicians are effectively shielded from "heresy hunters."

Even the great "John Jay" has given rope with which the heresy hunters could hang him. Though Jay is conceded as one of the "authentic" orthodox Christian notable Founders, one could argue Jay may not have been a "Christian." Or at least that he doubted his Christianity and flirted with Arianism.

As Jay noted in a private letter:

"It appeared to me that the Trinity was a Fact fully revealed and substantiated, but that the quo modo was incomprehensible by human Ingenuity. According to sundry Creeds, the divine Being whom we denominate the second Person in the Trinity had before all worlds been so generated or begotten by the first Person in the Trinity, as to be his coeval, coequal and coeternal Son. For proof of this I searched the Scriptures diligently -- but without Success. I therefore consider the Position of being at least of questionable Orthodoxy."

-- John Jay to Samuel Miller, February 18, 1822. Jay Papers, Columbia University Library.

Do you think he would feel comfortable with a Trinitarian confession of faith for public office?

Saturday, January 09, 2010

Rare Dixie Dregs Find:

Check it out before YouTube pulls it. It's from 1981 and has the legendary Mark O'Connor on violin.

Friday, January 08, 2010

Political Theology and the Establishment of the Episcopate in Founding Era America:

Rev. Brian Tubbs' post at American Creation on Samuel Seabury raises vitally important points, not well enough understood by students of religion & the American Founding.

Seabury was the first Episcopal Bishop consecrated in America ("On March 25, 1783, ten Connecticut clergy elected Samuel Seabury as their bishop.") Seabury was also a devout loyalist whose political-theology informed his defense of Toryism.

Also, Seabury was, as Rev. Tubbs noted, the "farmer" to whom Alexander Hamilton referred in his classic "The Farmer Refuted." There Hamilton, arguing the cause of revolution, invoked, not the Bible or orthodox Christian doctrine, but the natural law of "Grotius, Puffendorf, Locke, Montesquieu, and Burlemaqui" that may (or not) be compatible with the Bible/orthodox Christianity.

The good Bishop's idea of "unlimited submission" to government that Hamilton et al. opposed dominated the historic Christian understanding -- of the Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant variety -- for over 1600 years, until the era of "revolution." Yet, the "Whig" understanding of a right to revolt (or "resist") as per Romans 13, as with other "Christian heresies" like theological unitarianism and universalism, perhaps could trace many years before "Enlightenment." The theological-philosophical roots of such understanding certainly can.

Yes, some dissident/heretical doctrines within Christendom trace hundreds, some over a thousand years before Enlightement. After all, refuting Arianism (a form of unitarianism) motivated the Nicene Creed in 325 AD. Yet, "Enlightenment theology" -- especially the American and British variety -- disproportionately embraced heresies like unitarianism, universalism, and the right to revolt in the face of Romans 13.

Rev. Tubbs, in his post, notes Peter Lillback's book "George Washington's Sacred Fire," which recites important facts on the late 18th Century American Anglican/Episcopal dynamic. Yet, Lillback's account is woefully inadequate (ironic in that Lillback took 1200 pages to make his case!).

The biggest problem with Lillback's tome is his construction of false dichotomies. Either GW was "Deist" or "Christian" (which Lillback reads as "orthodox Christian"). Since Lillback demonstrates GW wasn't a "Deist," then he must have been an "orthodox Christian." Arguably the book demolishes a strawman GW "Deist" and props up a false "orthodox Trinitarian" Washington.

Lillback's Chapter 15 on "George Washington, the Low Churchman" exemplifies this logically fallacious paradigm. Accordingly, "high church Anglicanism" -- by its nature "Toryish" -- was characterized by adherence to traditional "Church of England" customs and apostolic authority. "Low church Anglicanism" -- "Whiggish" -- was characterized by a more decentralized local church autonomy that adhered to Calvinistic "biblical" authority. Of course, according to Lillback, low church Anglicanism, even of the "latitudinarian" variety Washington embraced didn't stray from orthodox Christian, biblically infallible grounds.

And therein lies the fatal error in Lillback's model: 1) Low church, 2) latitudinarian, 3) Whiggish 4) Anglican-Episcopalian, ESPECIALLY IN 5) VIRGINIA, oft-slipped into deistic, unitarian, Enlightenment, infidel "theology," despite Lillback's failure to show the movement strictly adhered to "orthodoxy."

This FIVE POINT theology forms a lowest common denominator between Thomas Jefferson (heterodox) and Patrick Henry (orthodox). That is, demonstrating GW fit these five points (which he, Henry, Jefferson, George Mason, James Madison, John Marshall, George Wythe, and other notables did) no more demonstrates GW "orthodox" than "heterodox."

Briefly, consider proven deistic-unitarian minded Anglicans, Jefferson & Wythe, as Vestrymen for said church in VA, and Marshall's daughter's testimony that he refused communion because he was a unitarian (disbelieved in Christ's Atonement, what the Act symbolized). The same can be said of Washington (though GW never disclosed his reasons for avoiding communion).

Lillback's discussion of the original American Episcopal Bishops likewise demonstrates a false dichotomy that attempts to constrain "high" and "low" church Episcopalianism within the bounds of "orthodoxy." Lillback notes Bishop Seabury of New England the quintessential "high church" Episcopalian. He then notes "Virginia" ("lower" in America geographically, a metaphor for high v. low church Anglicanism) typified the "low Church" and invokes and Bishops William White (of Philadelphia) and Samuel Provoost (of New York) as "low churchers." Accordingly, Provoost was the quintessential low churcherer, with White, though a Whig/committed revolutionary, somewhere in between because he more sympathized with the Tory-Anglican hierarchy. (See Lillback, "Sacred Fire," Chapter 15.)

That enables Lillback to fabricate a narrative -- as badly speculative as anything Paul F. Boller posited in "George Washington & Religion" (the scholarly standard bearer work that Lillback fails to rebut, insofar as Boller casts doubt on GW's status as an orthodox Christian) -- of GW not wanting to commune in Philadelphia under the leadership of the Bishop William White and Rev. James Abercrombie because they were too "Tory" sympathetic (even though White was a Whig).

But Lillback's most serious error in his discussion on original American Episcopal Bishops is that by omission. As noted, Lillback names the "three" original bishops -- Seabury (N.E.), White (Phila.) and Provoost (NY). Yet, Lillback, rightly invokes Virginia as typifying the "low church" Anglicanism to which GW adheres but fails to discuss the actual FOURTH original American Episcopal Bishop: James Madison, first cousin of his namesake.

If VA -- where GW and a slew of notable Anglican-Episcopal Founding Fathers (Jefferson, Madison, Henry, Mason, Marshall and many others) hailed -- why avoid Madison, the FOURTH Episcopal bishop consecrated in America? The timeline of Madison's appointment is congruent with the rest. As this official source notes:

On March 25, 1783, ten Connecticut clergy elected Samuel Seabury as their bishop. Seabury traveled to England, but English canon law prevented the consecration of any clergyman who would not take the Oath of Allegiance to the English Crown. Seabury then sought consecration in the Scottish Episcopal Church, where he was ordained on Nov. 14, 1784 in Aberdeen. Thus, Seabury became the first bishop of the American Episcopal Church.

By 1786, English churchmen had helped change the law so the Church of England could offer episcopal consecration to those churches outside England.

On Feb. 4, 1787, the Archbishop of Canterbury and three other English bishops consecrated William White as Bishop of Pennsylvania and Samuel Provoost as Bishop of New York. Soon after, James Madison was consecrated in England as the Bishop of Virginia and President of The College of William and Mary in Williamsburg.

And the following from Colonial Williamsburg notes: "On 19 September 1790 in Lambeth Chapel, Canterbury, England, Madison was consecrated bishop by the Archbishop of Canterbury and the bishops of London and Rochester."

BJM garnered praise from America's "Virginian" Founders, at least from Jefferson who loved him. I don't know if BJM were unitarian like Jefferson. David Holmes in his seminal book, categorizes BJM as "orthodox." I know the harder orthodox types suspected BJM of being an "infidel." And that's because BJM peddled Enlightenment, revolutionary, indeed pro-French revolutionary, natural theology. He was the quintessential, not only American Whig, but Jacobin.

That is, Madison typified the kind of "rational Christian" who thought the French Revolution extended the American, that the Bible taught a "Republic," not a "Kingdom" of Heaven, and that "revolutionary republican" principles would continue "until the complete restoration of the human race to their inherent rights be accomplished, throughout the globe." A "republic" of "liberty, equality, and fraternity," that America initialized and France would perfect.

Again, all this presenting itself under the auspices of "Christianity" not "Deism." This what it meant to be a "low Church Anglican" in late 18th Century America as much as anything "orthodox" or "Calvinistic."

Ultimately, the historical truth Lillback avoids because he doesn't like the results is, "low church Episcopalianism" of late 18th Century America, by its decentralized, Protestant nature, unmoored from hierarchical authority, "slipped" into rationalistic, enlightement, deistic-unitarian theology as easily as it did biblical Calvinism.

Indeed, even in "high church" New England, the "Whig" Anglican-Episcopalian "King's Chapel" became "Unitarian" in 1786 (arguably the first "official" Unitarian Church in America) resulting from a conflict with, you got it, Bishop Samuel Seabury.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Kerry Livgren's Stroke Recovery:

Kerry Livgren of Kansas has made an incredible recovery from his near fatal stroke:

The new Kansas DVD highlights the various incarnations of Kansas. Guitar legend Steve Morse was part of one of those incarnations (after Kerry left). Here you get to see Kerry and Morse play together on "Down the Road," bringing together two different incarnations of Kansas. Virtuoso violinist David Ragsdale shines. Even though neither Livgren nor Morse tour with Kansas, they are worth seeing just to watch Ragsdale's amazing violin work (and for other reasons).

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

A Freemarket, Techo-Libertarian Solution to Get at Credit Card Companies and Other Big Businesses With their Contracts of Adhesion:

Jason Kuznicki's post at Cato@Liberty invokes mixed feelings on credit card companies. On the one hand, I remain committed to free market dogma and think, for instance, the credit card reform bill that goes into effect in February will do more harm than good.

On the other, from personal experience, in part because I am a community college professor and know folks "taken advantage of" by banks/credit cards, I've come to view these companies like snakes. Or perhaps crack dealers. But hey, as a libertarian, I believe all drugs should be legal. But that doesn't mean I think most illegal drugs harmless. Most, by their nature, (not merely because they are illegal) -- heroin, coke, meth -- should be avoided entirely. And other illegal drugs -- pot, hallucinogens -- should be, if used at all, with caution.

Using the drug/snake analogy to credit cards, I advise my students, don't get hooked or bit; learn to be a snake charmer.

Again, note, I'm a free market-libertarian who sees NO government solution to this dynamic that won't make things worse; but I have come to sympathize with the rhetoric of "consumer protection" types (the Ralph Naders) about these big companies and their fine print contracts of adhesion.

How many of you have signed such fine print form agreements without reading carefully or at all? The problem is, if litigated in court, that language is LEGALLY binding. It's law -- private contract law.

We do this because we hurry to make the business transaction happen. And, in a sense, that is good. The free flow of commerce -- not being mired in bureaucracy -- is vital to getting man's material needs met.

When I teach contracts in my Business Law survey course, one of my objectives is for students to understand how encompassing the legal theory of "contract" is. It's not just that formal document, written by a lawyer, signed by the parties. It's the overwhelming majority of bargained for exchanges of things of value, where $$ is almost always the value on one side. In other words, it's every sale of legal goods (i.e., a cup of coffee) or legal employment relationship, in addition to many others things.

So I pose the question: Would it be better if a government bureaucrat had to approve every "contract" made in the United States, just to make sure the deal was "fair"? Answer: Hell no. That would destroy the dynamic, free flow of commerce and make getting a cup of coffee like a trip to the DMV.

But when you sign something -- be it for cell phone service, cable, a gym membership, bank account, credit card, lease, repair for your car, medical service for you or your pet, and so on -- usually it involves something more important than, for instance, the sale of a gallon of milk (i.e., why you sign). Yet, the agent for the business might look at you like you are from Mars if you start reading the fine print in detail.

That's something about our commercial culture that disturbs me. I tell my students, no matter what you sign, EVEN if you know there is a 99.9% chance you will regardless, unless you have an emergency or serious business that needs immediate attention, read the fine print, even if the merchant grows impatient. And if they give you funny looks, return it with a nasty look of your own.

If the agent has the gall to comment (as opposed to merely giving you a funny look or vibe), return with a strong "you want my signature?!?" type of line.

And read the terms especially for credit card offers, sent by mail, where no merchant pressures you to sign.

But what about my solution that goes beyond the cultural?

Why do big businesses (not you) get to write contracts of adhesion (take it or leave it fine print contracts)? Size/bargaining power. The greater the $$ you offer in your transaction, the better your chances to negotiate terms. For instance, almost anyone renting living space from a professional company (i.e., an apartment complex) is subject to a "take or leave it" contract drawn up by the lessor (I know for the super rich who may pay tens of thousands of dollars a month for their digs, the rule might not apply so strictly). From what I know, commercial lessees, because their transactions oft-involve more $$ may have more room to negotiate terms.

Because lenders/lessors tend to be larger than borrowers/lessees, most times they dictate the terms outright, or, if not, most of the terms. Yet, Walmart, because it's Godzilla, as a lessee that rents commercial space in a strip mall, thunders in with its take or leave it contract of adhesion and the lessor has two choices, no bargaining power.

Note the irony in the lessee marching in with its contract of adhesion. That doesn't fit our paradigm. Hmmm.

What if, fed up consumers mobilized and marched in with contracts of adhesion every time we are about to be given one to sign? Before the age of the Internet, it would be impossible or impracticable to mobilize consumers towards a free market, voluntary private way of dealing with them other than saying "no"?

What if, instead we downloaded a contract -- indeed a FREEWARE form -- written by some really smart "socially aware" academic -- God knows there are enough of them who dislike the excessive practices of big banks/businesses -- and put it in the merchants' faces?

At the very least, it would make for a great collective prank to credit card companies who spam us with offers to download and print these forms, slip it in the prepaid envelope and mail it off.

The Internet opens a possiblity for ordinary individuals to mobilize and engage in a "battle of forms" with big business. Think Creative Commons.

Of course, the first person who hands one of these forms to a merchant will be looked at as though he were, not from Mars, but another galaxy. But there is strength in numbers. And for libertarians and free market oriented conservatives, the MEANS are consistent with your ideology.

As a libertarian I believe if "the folks" don't privately, peacefully (I don't say "collectively" because this is a market oriented -- that is "decentralized" -- idea) mobilize towards this kind of solution, then forget it, government shouldn't step in and "level the playing field" because that will make things worse.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

But Andrew, Don't You Know Mormons Aren't Christian:

Andrew Sullivan linked to this under his "Christianist Watch" with the following quote:

"To think that we can save the Constitution without God's help when the government of the United States is corrupt is absurdity. We are in America's second Revolutionary War to save our freedom, which we paid for with blood. We need God's help and I'm not ashamed to ask for it," - Rex Rammel, Idaho gubernatorial candidate.

This could have come from the mouths of David Barton, Peter Marshall, etc. But when I clicked on the link I saw Mr. Rammel, a Mormon, appealing to the prophesies of Joseph Smith for authority that God Founded America.

I hope those sympathetic to the "Christian Nation" movement listen to his speech and react to the invocation of Joseph Smiths' prophesies to "take back America" for the God who founded her. See how they feel.

Now yes, Mormonism didn't exist during America's Founding; so unless you believe in the tenet of Mormonism that teaches the Mormon God founded America and inspired the Founding Fathers, reclaiming America on the basis of Joseph Smith's prophesies probably won't motivate you.

Likewise, those who share neither the theology nor the political agenda of the Christian Nationalists aren't motivated by their appeals to history, which are just as "imaginative." (At least it's an authentic tenet of Mormonism to believe God founded America; it is not of Christianity.)

The Founders did not appeal to a Triune God who inspired an inerrant, infallible biblical canon. The "Providence" to whom they appealed was more ecumenical, and inclusive. Their God was one who perhaps Mormons of today (or the Swedenborgs of yesteryear, the closest Founding era counterpart to Mormons), Jews, orthodox Christians, Unitarians, Universalists, Providential Deists (if that's not a contradiction in terms) even uncoverted Native Americans who worshipped "the Great Spirit" could equally embrace.

However, ecumenicism in political-theology comes with a price: It means stressing common ground, like belief in Providence and avoiding altogether divisive doctrinal issues -- such as the Trinity, whether the biblical canon is infallible, whether God will continue to reveal more Holy Books in the future, whether Swedenborgianism (or Mormonism for that matter) qualifies as "Christianity."

That's not what Rex Rammel does when he appeals to the specific authority of Joseph Smith's prophecies as a political motivator. And that's not what Christian Nationalists do when they engage in their divine command theory prooftexting.

In that sense, neither the Christian Nationalists nor Mormon Nationalists like Mr. Rammel emulate the Founding Fathers. It's actually recent American Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama who sound more like the Founders in their God talk. Indeed, they walk in the shoes of a Presidency that the key Founders, who were the first four Presidents, established.

That is, Bush & Obama maintain formal attachments to Christian sects (Bush was, to be fair, a moderate evangelical). But then they intimate that all good men of all religions worship the same God. That, for instance, Jews, Christians and Muslims worship the same God (as GWBush claimed). That's American Founding political theology 101.

As John Adams put it:

“It has pleased the Providence of the first Cause, the Universal Cause, that Abraham should give religion not only to Hebrews but to Christians and Mahomitans, the greatest part of the modern civilized world.”

– John Adams to M.M. Noah, July 31, 1818.