Wednesday, September 29, 2010

All Three Branches Determine Constitutionality Of Legislation:

I have to agree with Ramesh Ponnuru here. Congressmen take an OATH to uphold the Constitution. They exercise their power of "legislative review" by NOT WRITING OR VOTING FOR BILLS which they think violate the Constitution. If they don't do this, they shouldn't be in Congress. If an unconstitutional bill gets by them, the President should veto it because he too takes an oath to uphold the Constitution. And if it goes that far, SCOTUS should strike it down. That way all 3 branches of government get to determine the constitutionality of legislation. The Court just gets the last say.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Black Sabbath -- Spiral Architect:

An amazing song.

Was John Jay a Christian Hypocrite?

John Jay, not a "key Founder" but a 2nd tier Founder, is generally conceded as an "orthodox Christian." He certainly has a number of quotations that support the "Christian Nation" thesis. From most of what I've read, I'd say the categorization is accurate. Though, I've reproduced before, and will reproduce again quotations from Jay affirming the Bible, but doubting the Trinity.

In a letter to Samuel Miller, Feb. 18, 1822, Jay wrote:

"In forming and settling my belief relative to the doctrines of Christianity, I adopted no articles from creeds, but such only as, on careful examination, I found to be confirmed by the Bible."

To the Sola Scripturaist that sounds good. After all, church doctrine can be tainted with man's doctrines. But, Sola Scriptura without creeds led Jay to doubt the Trinity. From that very 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."

I want to focus more on Jay's disregard for creeds and how that relates to the political theology of the American Founding.

The late ME Bradford did a study where he "found" 52 out of 55 Founding Fathers in some way connected to churches that adhered to an orthodox creed. Christian Nationalists have run with that figure with a talking point that argues "52 out of 55 delegates to the Constitutional Convention were orthodox Christians."

Some Christian Nationalist (not sure if it was Bradford himself) mistakenly claimed the 52/55 figure found "membership" at a time when membership required oaths to official church doctrine.

I've looked into this in detail and the figure does not relate to "membership" but "affiliation." There is NO EVIDENCE that 52/55 took membership oaths (although some/many of them did). Alexander Hamilton, for instance (not one of Bradford's "Deists") had affiliations with both the Episcopalian and Presbyterian Churches (the two churches from whom he sought communion on his deathbed) but was never a MEMBER of either or any church during his adult life.

Bradford's figure is worthless. In fact, all 55, even his 3 "Deists" -- Franklin, Wilson, and Williamson -- had affiliations with churches that professed orthodoxy in their creeds.

Therefore, a counter to the Bradford figure that shows the vast majority of FFs connected to orthodox churches is that those affiliations were for social reasons, that, whether official members or unofficial affiliates, it was not uncommon for elites to belong to orthodox churches while disbelieving in what the churches taught as formal doctrine.

The response, I've heard, is that makes them hypocrites. Perhaps. And that's a charge those making the claim have deal with, not us who argue against Christian Nationalism. Keep in mind the Anglican Church preached loyalty to the crown as a political-theological doctrine. And many American Anglicans, most notably George Washington, remained so while rebelling against England. How is that any less hypocritical than disbelieving in the Trinity, even though your church holds to it as an official doctrine and may make you take an oath to it if you want to get involved in leadership positions(which again, many FFs used as a social network)?

But back to John Jay. He too was an Anglican who rebelled against Great Britain. In fact he was (apparently) a warden of this church.

I've seen many Christian Nationalists try to use church affiliation/membership, and especially leadership positions (which did require oaths) as shortcuts to prove the "orthodoxy" of a particular Founder. The shortcut is needed in the absence of quotations supporting the orthodox Christianity of a particular Founder. For instance, George Washington offers little if anything from his own mouth to prove he believed in the Trinity, Atonement, Resurrection of Christ. So Peter Lillback uses his Anglican affiliation as a surrogate.

Likewise with John Jay we could argue, since he was an Anglican, indeed a Church warden required to take oaths to official Anglican doctrine (which were orthodox), and since John Jay offered other quotations which seemed to support orthodox Christian doctrine, we could conclude Jay believed in official orthodox Anglican doctrines.

But no, the above offered quotations refute that. It's true that late 18th Cen. Anglicanism supported the idea of the Bible as divinely inspired in an inerrant, infallible sense (something to which Jay apparently believed). It also made the Trinity central to its creed. AND relied on official creeds like the Athanasian Creed and 39 Articles of Faith to clarify just how they interpreted Word of God. And those, apparently, to Jay at that point in his life, meant little if anything to him.

In that letter to Rev. Samuel Miller, Jay was being a very bad orthodox Anglican from that perspective. If he affirmed the Trinity from Sola Scriptura but disregarded the creeds and 39 Articles of Faith, we could say Jay was being a good orthodox Christian, but not a very good Anglican (that's what evangelicals might wish because, as mostly non-Anglicans, they don't care about Anglican doctrine). But he doesn't even do that. Rather, he sounds more like a quasi-Quaker whose belief in "no creed but the Bible" led them to be wobbly on the Trinity and other orthodox doctrines.

But anyway, the Jay quotes support the notion that many late 18th Cen. American orthodox Churches functioned as social networks and members and affiliates didn't necessarily believe in what their churches held as a matter of official doctrine. The official doctrines of those churches CANNOT be used as shortcuts to determine what the Founders believed.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Would the Puritans Have Executed John Adams For His Religious Heresy?

I dunno. But they said they would.

This article by Joseph Farah commits a common error among "Christian Americanists" confusing the "Founding" of America -- the Declaration of Independence -- with the "Planting" -- the Mayflower Compact and establishment of Puritan Massachusetts.

The Mayflower Compact was done under the doctrine of the Divine Right of Kings, something the American Founding repudiated.

Read the link and see the MC begins:

In the name of God, Amen. We, whose names are underwritten, the Loyal Subjects of our dread Sovereign Lord, King James, by the Grace of God, of England, France and Ireland, King, Defender of the Faith, e&. Having undertaken for the Glory of God, and Advancement of the Christian Faith,...

And ends:

In Witness whereof we have hereunto subscribed our names at Cape Cod the eleventh of November, in the Reign of our Sovereign Lord, King James of England, France and Ireland, the eighteenth, and of Scotland the fifty-fourth. Anno Domini, 1620.

Exactly what America rebelled against in 1776.

The 1641 Massachusetts Body of Liberties [arguably SIC] details the Christian content of their "Shining City on a Hill." Whatever the validity of the modern analogies between Christian conservatism and the Taliban, this code reads like a true American Taliban.

94. Capitall Laws.


(Deut. 13. 6, 10. Deut. 17. 2, 6. Ex. 22.20)
If any man after legall conviction shall have or worship any other god, but the lord god, he shall be put to death.


(Ex. 22. 18. Lev. 20. 27. Dut. 18. 10.)
If any man or woeman be a witch, (that is hath or consulteth with a familiar spirit,) They shall be put to death.


(Lev. 24. 15,16.)
If any person shall Blaspheme the name of god, the father, Sonne or Holie Ghost, with direct, expresse, presumptuous or high handed blasphemie, or shall curse god in the like manner, he shall be put to death.

[Page 274]

In particular it's the third under which the Puritans would have executed or at least threatened to execute John Adams, arguably the majority of the drafting board of the Declaration of Independence (Jefferson, Franklin, and Adams were all theological unitarians).

As Adams blasphemed:

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

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

"If I understand the Doctrine, it is, that if God the first second or third or all three together are united with or in a Man, the whole Animal becomes a God and his Mother is the Mother of God.

"It grieves me: it shocks me to write in this stile upon a subject the most adorable that any finite Intelligence can contemplate or embrace: but if ever Mankind are to be superior to the Brutes, sacerdotal Impostures must be exposed."

-- John Adams to Francis van der Kemp, October 23, 1816.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Ronnie James Dio Recent Interview:

He was a truly amazing guy. He comes out as an atheist; but I still think he's in Heaven now.

He's a got a great discussion about singing two Christian hard rock songs for Kerry Livgren (of Kansas) after he became a born again Christian.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Is the God of the Bible a Heptagon?

According to Sola Scriptura, arguably so. This brings to mind John Adams' quote mocking the Trinity that according to such logic, God could be a Quaternity with the Virgin Mary the 4th Person in the Godhead.

There is a Sola Scripturaist named Monica Dennington who argues, according to the Bible, God is not Triune because the Bible mentions more than just three Persons in the Godhead, but Seven. And she indeed does have verse and chapter justification for her claim -- The "seven spirits of God" written in Revelation 1:4; 3:1; 4:5; and 5:6.

She also mentions that God the Father had sex with the Holy Spirit to produce the Son. Therefore, unless we conclude God is a homosexual, the Holy Spirit must be female.

Every single claim she makes can be justified by citations to Scripture. I see no evidence she doesn't really believe in her claims. And though not (apparently) "brilliant" -- probably not as smart as John MacArthur or distinguished reformed theologians who occupy notable academic positions, she doesn't seem stupid. In fact if given an IQ test, I'd be she'd test significantly higher than a typical church member of MacArthur's Church, or the Roman Catholic Church or most churches.

The point of this is it supports my conclusions that Sola Scriptura without a top down interpretive authority is schizophrenic. Another way of saying this is I reject as utterly preposterous the notion that "any idiot" can just open the Bible and read it and see the traditional orthodox notions like original sin, Trinity, or whatever. No if you give any idiot or even any person with an above average IQ the Bible and have them open and read it, you can as easily get "Rev. Dennington's" understanding of Scripture as Calvin's or Wesley's or the Roman Catholic Church's.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Joe Farah Commits The Fundamentalist Fallacy:

On "rights & God." I've blogged about this before but think I will mention it again because it's a line of reasoning common among conservative evangelicals who wish to claim the American Founding, especially the Declaration of Independence (and many more sophisticated Christian conservatives reject the DOI for reasons similar to what I'm about to write).

Farah debated a gay conservative leader of GOProud and tried to invoke the American Founding, in particular the DOI. The Founding Fathers did not support gay rights (a concept unknown to them) and, from what I've seen didn't think too much about homosexuality, which remained deep in the closet. Sodomy laws had long been on the books and the FFs didn't give much thought to removing them. Jefferson, apparently, supported making sodomy a non-capital crime in a proposed revision to the VA criminal code, a code that also sought to decriminalize bestiality. You can google what that reduction for sodomy was.

I haven't seen any evidence that one person was executed in post Founding America (I'm not even sure about pre-Founding America) for the crime of sodomy. And the Cato Institute, in their brief submitted in Lawrence v. Texas, argued (unrebutted so far) that sodomy law prosecutions/convictions invariably involved men raping other males, which may explain why Jefferson wanted to decriminalize bestiality, but not sodomy.

Still, the laws did their damage in other ways and are rightly off the books.

Where I think Farah errs is his philosophy of rights/God/the DOI. It goes something like this: 1) Rights come from God; 2) God tells us what is sin in the Bible; 3) therefore there can not be a "right" to do what the Bible forbids. Proof text, proof text, proof text the Bible. That's what Farah argued during the debate.

The problem with this sentiment is manifold. Leaving aside the issues of whether God exists and whether the Bible is true, it's not what the Bible says; it's not what the DOI said; and it's not what the Founders said or did as a matter of principle. And the Founders wisely avoided this method (prooftexting the Bible to find what our unalienable rights are) because it didn't work for them, and in fact was what they were trying to get away from.

First, the Bible doesn't mention the concept of unalienable rights. And many smart evangelical/fundamentalists reject the concept for this very reason. I know you can construct a theological case for unalienable rights based on Imago Dei, in the same way you can construct other theological doctrines that are disputed on Sola Scriptura, and other theological grounds, like original sin or TULIP. But the first step for proof-texting evangelicals is to realize the Bible doesn't specifically mention the concept of unalienable rights.

Second, the DOI says that men have unalienable rights to life, liberty (meaning political liberty) and the pursuit of happiness. But it does not cite verses and chapters of Scripture for that or any proposition and does not identify God as Jehovah or the God of the Bible. The DOI does not say "look it up in the Bible" to determine the special content of our unalienable rights.

Third, the Founding Fathers recognized men had an unalienable right to do wrong in some instances, or at least what many orthodox (and non-orthodox) Christian believed to be wrong. The rights of conscience were the most "unalienable" of liberty rights. And holding that your neighbor has the right to worship God (or not) according to his conscience and to freely speak his mind on why he so does invariably grants men a right to break the first table in the Ten Commandments, most notably the First Commandment itself.

The Founding Fathers believed in granting the right to worship universally, to Christians and non-Christians. That includes Jews, Muslims, Hindus. Most orthodox Christians believe Hindus worshipped false gods (I suppose there is always a potential Acts 17:23 defense for Hindus, seems a stretch though). Many, but not all, orthodox Christians believe Muslims worship a different God. And a few notable orthodox Christian theologians believe Jews worship a different god than Christians because Jews don't worship a Triune God.

Back then, I think more orthodox Christians -- at least the theologians -- would agree Jews and Christians worshipped different gods. And here is where the unitarian controversy which I am so fond of writing about is relevant. The second and third American Presidents were militant unitarians. The first and fourth may well have been unitarians (certainly they never spoke in overtly Trinitarian language) and Ben Franklin politely and gently affirmed unitarian doctrines. Even if their views were "unrepresentative" of the larger era, the fact that played such prominent roles (among other things, they wrote the DOI) means American political-theology had to fully accommodate them.

When reading the theological debates of that era, we see the unitarians and trinitarians accused one other of breaking the First Commandment, of worshipping different gods. The orthodox theologians argued God was Triune in nature, and hence unitarians (and Jews, logically speaking) worshipped different gods. Since God is Triune, their gods (those of any non-Trinitarian) were false.

The unitarians were more generous in recognizing trinitarians worshipped the one true God of the Universe whenever they worshipped God the Father. But worshipping Jesus as God was 100% sinful idolatry (to the more pious unitarian; the more latitudinarian unitarians probably thought worshipping Jesus as God more silly than sinful) and wrongly took rightful worship away from the Father -- the only Person who deserved to be worshipped as God.

So granting religious liberty to unitarians & trinitarians alone necessarily means giving men an unalienable right to sin according to each's respective understanding of the Bible.

Finally, the Founding Fathers, especially when they moralized, rarely cited verses and chapters of scripture as "proofs" to settle things. Rather they preferred speaking in a more general philosophical language of "Nature" as discovered by man's reason. (This is not to say that they didn't speak in biblical metaphor -- they commonly did, even, indeed especially Thomas Paine, when talking politics.) And that's because they knew just how disputed, just how much blood had been shed over sectarian religious squabbles, especially those where the parties disagreed on how to interpret Scripture.

The Founders recognized, contra many of today's conservative evangelicals, it's not just so "easy" to look something up in the Bible to settle things. The Bible is one thick, complicated book that lends itself to multiple interpretations, some more "literal" than others. After Rome lost its monopoly on political theological matters, the Christian West went to war in literal and figurative senses over matters of sectarian biblical interpretation.

For instance, there are powerfully convincing arguments in Christendom that hold Romans 13's prohibition on revolt is absolute, that what the FFs did against Great Britain -- indeed what they said God gave them a right to do -- was as sinful as witchcraft. In this sense, the American Founding was anti-Christian and anti-biblical. The Christians in England and the many (perhaps as many as 1/3!) who remained loyalists in America were sympathetic to this understanding of Scripture which for all we know is the "right" one.

But the Founders had no interest in that method of debate. "Nature" had already determined that men had an unalienable right to revolt against tyrants. So go back and interpret the Bible accordingly, even if, as Rev. Samuel West instructed in 1776, we have to conclude that St. Paul was joking in Romans 13.

The Founders removed revelation from politics; that was the only way to solve the political theological sectarian wars based on how to properly interpret revelation. Government therefore would no longer care whether the Bible really taught original Sin, TULIP, Trinity, eternal damnation. And any political matters that stemmed therefrom was consigned to the realm of private conscience.

The bottom line is, in order to make an "American" argument you have to do better than "the Bible says it's sin, therefore there can be no right to it." No, the American Founders held, as a matter of principle, in certain circumstances, men had an unalienable God given political liberty right to do what the Bible terms sin. The alternative was to continue religious persecution and sectarian bloodshed.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Acts 17 & General Principles:

I knew someone would mention Acts 17 when I noted Presidents Washington, Jefferson and Madison repeatedly spoke of God as "The Great Spirit" suggesting unconverted Natives worshipped the same God Jews and Christians do.

Biblical interpretation has similarities to constitutional interpretation. Neither text says "read this provision broadly, read that one narrowly." If there is a doctrine which you are "worried" about, you try to limit its effects, not make a general principle out of it. On the other hand, if there is a doctrine that sounds nice you make it as generally applicable as possible. "Love your neighbor" and "do unto others" are the nice things which we want to apply as broadly and generally as possible.

Likewise, the Bible says nothing about unalienable rights (and yes, to be fair it doesn't mention "The Trinity" or original sin either, which are also doctrines constructed from interpretations of the Bible's text) but you may be able to get there by taking a leap from the general principle of Imago Dei.

On the other hand, all non-psychopaths (hopefully) want to limit the parts of the Bible where God commands genocide against certain tribes. They were, after all, human beings, created in the image of God, but that didn't stop God from commanding Moses et al. to wipe them out. So we say they applied to specific times and circumstances only (how convenient).

We could, as with other parts of the Bible, apply the genocidal texts as general "principles" to grant believers the general power to wipe out all "enemies of God." Scary stuff, yes.

What about the principle of folks who worship the "true God" -- the God of the Bible -- without knowing more about Him?

One thing that always struck me about that provision was how it anticipated the merging of the noble pagan Greco-Roman with the Judeo-Christian. It was Rome, after all, which globalized Christianity. And then, of course, we had Thomas Aquinas' fuller incorporation of Aristotle and Greco-Roman philosophy into Christianity. The Acts 17 example resonates.

The example of the "Great Spirit" on the other hand, seems different in its non-Westerness. Though certain Mormons or any folks who believed Natives are lost tribes of Israeli would be spoken to by the narrative that holds Act 17/TGS as the same God Jews and Christians worship.

But how far does this reasoning extend? Who else worships the true God of the universe dressed up in pagan garb? Who are the false gods which the First Commandment says not to worship?

As far I can tell the only gods the first four Presidents and many other Founders considered false were those who supported the Tories and those who were illiberal in not respecting the freedom of folks to worship Him according to the dictates of their conscience. As long as those two requirements were meant God could call Himself Jehovah, Allah, Vishnu or The Great Spirit and still be the One True God of the Universe.

Is this what Acts 17 teaches?

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Under Which God?

Joe Carter has a very apt post on the Glenn Beck event and American Civil Religion. As he correctly points out, the idea of a more generic civil religion that purports to unite orthodox Christians with other religions under God and Country traces back to Rousseau.

Some readers/co-bloggers will disagree and try to save the civil religion under "Judeo-Christian" Providentialism, because, after all just about every citizen back then was a professing "Christian" of some sort even if some/many of them like "Christians" Jefferson, J. Adams and Franklin (yes, they understood themselves to be "Christians" not "Deists") didn't worship a Triune God, but a unitary one.

Yet, when it came time to dealing with the one group of non-Western, non-Judeo-Christian types -- the American Indians -- Washington, Jefferson and Madison repeatedly spoke of God as "The Great Spirit" suggesting un-converted Natives worshipped the same God Jews and Christians did.

J. Adams may well have too; I haven't yet found the evidence. But I have found letters of his where he, I kid you not, terms Hinduism and Zeus worship as "Christian principles."

Sunday, September 12, 2010

William Bentley:

I've extensively examined the Founding era record re what the FFs believed on religion and paid special attention to the philosophers and theologians who influenced them. Still, sometimes notable figures get ignored. It's a failing of mine that I haven't yet dealt with Rev. William Bentley.

Expect more about him in the future. For now, an except from his diary:

His political affinities and extensive learning brought him into full sympathy with many of the leading statesmen and scholars of Virginia. The late President Jefferson, and Bishop Madison, evinced the highest appreciation of his character. During the administration of the former gentleman, Dr. Bentley was selected as the candidate for the chaplaincy in Congress but he declined that office.

Sometime later, when Mr. Jefferson was maturing his plans for establishing the University of Virginia, which was incorporated in 1819, he consulted him about it and tendered to him the honor of its Presidency. But he refused all these honors on the ground that "he had been so long wedded to the East Church, he could not think of asking a Divorce from it."

The honor of a Doctorate in Divinity was conferred by Harvard University upon him, a few months before his decease. It came too late to heal the wounded feelings of Dr. Bentley, in being so long overlooked by his Alma Mater and too late for her to enjoy the benefit of the will he had made in her favor.

Piqued by her tardy acknowledgment of his claims, he had, a short time before, revoked the bequest made to her, and given all his valuable books, manuscripts, and rare curiosities, to Alleghany College at Meadville, and the American Antiquarian Society at Worcester. The College received his theological and classical books and was made richer in that department than any other institution in the West. The trustees immediately caused a building to be erected, which was to be called Bentley Hall, in honor of his memory. On the 5th of July, 1820, its corner stone was laid covering a plate on which this name was inscribed. But the College soon fell into other hands and the library and the building have lost all association with the name of the illustrious donor.

Fortunately for his memory, a better fate attended his bequest to the Antiquarian Society. Upon the receipt of his valuable gifts the Society passed resolutions recognizing the great learning and talents of Dr. Bentley and the inestimable value of this contribution to their library, and a suitable acommodation was provided for them in alcoves superscribed with his name.

In this collection are many rare Persian, Arabic and Chinese manuscripts, scarce pamphlets, choice works of art, and a mass of correspondence which the Doctor maintained with the eminent scholars and statesmen of his day among whom were the Ex-Presidents J. Adams, Jefferson and Madison.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Where I was on 9-11-01:

I was a 28 year old newly minted LL.M. in transnational law (along with my JD/MBA) teaching full time hours as an adjunct college professor and looking for a full time job in academia (which would come a few years later at the same college for which I was teaching).

I was living in Mt. Holly, New Jersey, driving the same car I do today. Mt. Holly was a livable, affordable place, near a number of New Jersey military bases. The apartment complex I lived in disproportionately was occupied by military folks. And it was quite diverse, though in a heavily blue collar way.

I'd imagine many of my neighbors there headed to the Middle East shortly thereafter. Not very often, but on occasion I'd head to a few of the local bars where they were an inevitable presence. I remember one day chatting with a division a few weeks before they were shipped off.

I had a 10:30-11:45am class. I had gotten into the car around 9:40am without having turned the TV on. I still teach that same class -- Business Law I, often in the same time slot (but not this semester).

As part of my routine, I turned on the Howard Stern Show -- back then when it was broadcast on terrestrial radio, 94WYSP in Philadelphia. I flipped the channels to make sure it wasn't a joke and then flipped back to Stern to hear his coverage.

When the first building came down, I just turned the radio off and headed to school.

This is what I listened to:

Everyone was talking about it at the college, of course. They didn't cancel the class I had to teach; but they canceled classes when that class was over.

I did manage to get through the lecture.

I drove home and was with my family in our old house at Yardley (Lower Makefield), PA which we subsequently sold. We found out a number of residents of our town died on the attacks including one of the pilots.

Saturday, September 04, 2010

Bryan Fischer's Confusion:

Bryan Fischer is confused about religion & the American Founding. Fischer is a long time David Barton follower, the likely source of his confusion. Fischer, a conservative evangelical/fundamentalist, attempts to explain the Glenn Beck event where, among others, conservative evangelicals and Mormons seemed to be in spiritual communion together. And what bridged the theological gulf between them? Why America's Founding civil religion of course.

Conservative evangelicals, who tend to claim "Mormonism is not Christianity," have been questioning the appropriateness of such political-theological communion and offering their explanations and rationalizations, some pro, some con, some in between. Fischer's is one of the most amusingly confused explanations. He begins:

America at its founding was 99.8% Christian, and 98.4% Protestant. Not just Christianity but Protestant Christianity built the United States of America. It was not just a Judeo-Christian value system that provided the foundation for the Republic, but a specifically Protestant value system.

The numbers are correct insofar as they refer to "Protestantism" as a religious-ethno-heritage. Broadly understood, deists, atheists, and fundamentalists are all "Protestant" in this sense. What this number does NOT refer to is Founding era church membership, certainly not "true believers" as Fischer would like to claim (and indeed his own faith teaches the "remnant" or the "regenerate" will be a small minority).


The theological foundation of America was explicitly Protestant. Just one Roman Catholic (Charles Carroll) signed the Declaration of Independence, and 52 of the 55 framers of the Constitution took a solemn oath expressing their agreement with an orthodox Protestant statement of faith. Thus the vast majority of the Founders believed in the inerrancy and authority of Scripture, the deity of Christ, his virgin birth, his sinless life, his vicarious and substitutionary death, his resurrection, and his eventual return.

Other than the note about the one Roman Catholic, the paragraph false. Likewise we see Fischer -- like a lot of "Christian Americanists" -- slipping in one understanding of "Protestantism" for another. Yes, the vast majority of FFs and population of America were "Protestant" in a minimal demographic sense. They were "Protestant" in way that Thomas Paine (deist), Thomas Jefferson (theist-unitarian), and Roger Sherman (reformed evangelical) were all minimally "Protestant." They were not, however, Protestant in the maximal sense that Fischer wants us to believe ("the inerrancy and authority of Scripture, the deity of Christ, his virgin birth, his sinless life, his vicarious and substitutionary death, his resurrection, and his eventual return").

Certainly many in the population and many 2nd and lower tier FFs were Protestants in that sense. But it was no where near 52 out of 55 Framers of the Constitution. And it's a flat out lie that 52 out of 55 "took a solemn oath expressing their agreement with an orthodox Protestant statement of faith."

The late ME Bradford found 52 out of 55 Framers of the Constitution had some minimal affiliation with churches that professed orthodoxy. His number is worthless. In fact, all 55 Framers had such a minimal connection, even Bradford's three "Deists" -- Ben Franklin, James Wilson and Hugh Williamson.

I've examined this in detail: There is no evidence that shows 52 took oaths or were "members" in that sense. Rather, some later Christian America figure confused Bradford's minimal affiliation standard with "official member" in the "I took an oath" sense.

Again, no doubt, many were "official members" in that oath taking sense. Thomas Jefferson for instance, was a "member" of the Anglican Church in that sense and took orthodox oaths when he became a Vestryman in his church. And he denied every single tenet of "orthodoxy."

But we have no idea how many of the Framers of the Constitution were "official members" in the oath taking sense of their orthodox churches.

So what Bradford's figure really proves is that all 55 Framers of the Constitution were at least nominal Christians who may or may not have believed in what those churches professed.

And so, with erroneous inputs, Fischer concludes:

In other words, there is hardly a stitch of difference between the theology of George Washington, John Adams, James Madison, Sam Adams and contemporary conservative evangelicals. (Jim Wallis claims to be an evangelical, but he's not — he is a George Soros-funded socialist masking his radicalism in sheep's clothing.)

As they say, garbage in garbage out. Fischer scores a 1 out of 4 on his list of Founders who constitute "hardly a stitch" of difference with the theology of today's evangelicals: Sam Adams. That Fischer would include John Adams on his list shows how mistaken he is. J. Adams, after all, bitterly and militantly attacked Protestant doctrines of orthodoxy in a way that removes him as far from the faith as Mormons are.

John Adams mocking the Trinity:

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

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

"If I understand the Doctrine, it is, that if God the first second or third or all three together are united with or in a Man, the whole Animal becomes a God and his Mother is the Mother of God.

"It grieves me: it shocks me to write in this stile upon a subject the most adorable that any finite Intelligence can contemplate or embrace: but if ever Mankind are to be superior to the Brutes, sacerdotal Impostures must be exposed."

-- John Adams to Francis van der Kemp, October 23, 1816.

Adams mocking the Incarnation:

"An incarnate God!!! An eternal, self-existent, omnipresent omniscient Author of this stupendous Universe, suffering on a Cross!!! My Soul starts with horror, at the Idea, and it has stupified the Christian World. It has been the Source of almost all of the Corruptions of Christianity."

-- John Adams to John Quincy Adams, March 28, 1816.

I could go on showing Adams rejecting original sin, eternal damnation, the infallibility of the Bible and claiming Hinduism and Zeus worship constitute "Christian principles."

James Madison and George Washington were not so explicit in their rejection of orthodoxy. However, as I noted in my last post, Barack Obama has given us more evidence of his belief in historic Christian doctrine than GW or JM did. And Washington and Madison both sought spiritual communion with UNCONVERTED Native Americans when they referred to "The Great Spirit" as the same God Christians worshipped.

Fischer continues: "Now Glenn Beck, as a Mormon, holds religious convictions that are wildly at variance with orthodox Christianity."

Response: So did the Founding Fathers (at least many of them).

Fischer reassures conservative evangelicals:

But evangelicals need not worry. There was not a trace of Mormonism in either event. While Glenn Beck provided the platform, evangelicals provided the message. Beck depended heavily on historian and committed evangelical David Barton for assistance in picking speakers and selecting those who would lead in prayer and worship. A Mormon teed up the ball for evangelical Protestants. And evangelicals hit it out of the park.

It's true (at least as far as I observed) there was nothing peculiarly Mormon that would exclude evangelical belief. But there was also nothing peculiarly orthodox that would exclude Mormon belief. That's what an amorphous civil religion does. It speaks in lowest common denominator God words where each believer (unless he is an atheist) gets to "read in" his or her own understanding of God, be it trinitarian or unitarian, Jew, Muslim, Mormon or other.

The problem, as I see it, for evangelicals is that rally was a political-theological event; they were praying together in spiritual communion.

If evangelicals are comfortable using (or being used by) America's Founding civil religion as a bridge to be in spiritual communion with, among others, Mormons, that's fine with me. Let's just see it for what it is.
Joe Carter on Obama's Creed:

Not Muslim. Not Atheist. Not Christian. What's left. Here.


In a 2004 interview Obama stated clearly, “I am a Christian.” Yet in the same interview he says “intellectually I’ve drawn as much from Judaism as any other faith” and “I believe that there are many paths to the same place, and that is a belief that there is a higher power, a belief that we are connected as a people.” While his grandparents “joined a Universalist church” his mother (“wasn’t a church lady” ) married a non-practicing Muslim and moved to Indonesia where Barack attended Catholic school: “So I was studying the Bible and catechisms by day, and at night you’d hear the prayer call.”

Obama thinks religion is “at it’s best comes with a big dose of doubt.” He thinks “Jesus is an historical figure . . . he’s also a wonderful teacher” and certainly doesn’t think Christ is the only way to salvation (“I find it hard to believe that my God would consign four-fifths of the world to hell.”). He’s not sure about heaven and defines sin as “Being out of alignment with my values.” Additionally, he says he feels the most centered and most aligned spiritually when he’s being true to himself and that he’s a “follower, as well, of our civic religion.”

With answers like that, is it any wonder people are confused? Whatever that adds up to (Unitarianism?) it sure doesn’t look anything like the beliefs of a secret Muslim.

Friday, September 03, 2010

Obama is too a Christian:

From Dave Kopel here.


Ergo, belief in the racist, Marxist philosophy of black liberation theology is not necessarily incompatible with being a Christian who has orthodox beliefs on most matters of Christian doctrine (e.g., the trinity, the resurrection, virgin birth, and so on).

Taking them at their word, there's more evidence of BO's "Christianity" in an historical orthodox sense than there is for George Washington and James Madison. I use them as examples because, I admit the evidence isn't conclusive. Whereas J. Adams, Jefferson and Franklin are on record explicitly announcing what it is they believe in (i.e., that they reject the Trinity and other orthodox doctrines) Madison and Washington are less clear.

Still, taking them all at their word, BO has given us more evidence of his belief in historic Christian doctrine than GW or JM did.
How Glenn Beck distorts the Christian teachings that inspired the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.:

By John Fea. Here.


As a historian, I can't help but comment on the irony of it all. Like Beck, King loved America. And like Beck, King also promoted the idea of a Christian nation. King believed that such a Christian nation was rooted in equality for all.

But, unlike Beck, King believed that this necessitated a strong, morally empowered federal government.

Wednesday, September 01, 2010

More on How the Unitarianism of the Key Founders Impacted Political Theology:

This is something I've been pressed on by some co-bloggers of mine. I'm answering now in part because I think the Glenn Beck rally in some profound way reflects why the American Founders driving the Trinity from politics mattered.

In my last post I wrote,

... What was the main area that connects all of the "key Founders" in their personal and political theology: The idea that there is a Providence and future state of rewards and punishments. The other doctrinal issues (especially whether Jesus was 2nd Person in the Trinity) where religions differ are superfluous and insignificant.

That's the lowest common denominator of "religion" that all good men believe in. That's why Calvinists, Swedenborgs, Jews and, today, Mormons (perhaps even Muslims; at least the good Muslims who peacefully demean themselves under America's civil law, which I would argue is the overwhelming majority of them) can feel communion with the God who "founded" America.

My American Creation coblogger the Rev. Brian Tubbs responded:

Jon, I don't agree with your assessment that doctrinal issues, including the deity of Jesus, are "superfluous and insignificant." I think some of those issues are crucial, and many of the Founders would've likewise considered them significant. It's unlikely, for example, that you'd get Noah Webster to refer to the deity of Christ as superfluous.

But I agree with you that monotheism combined with a future state of rewards and punishments was a common unifier, esp when you add TVD's clarification about God-given rights.

[Let me note as an aside that Webster may not have been an orthodox Christian during the Founding era when he was applauding the US Constitution as an "empire of reason" and looking forward to the progress of the French Revolution. But his statements in the early 19th Century do certainly reflect those of an orthodox Christian Americanist.]

When examining the words of the "theistic rationalists" or "Christian-unitarian-universalists" J. Adams, Jefferson, and Franklin, we see they wavered in their theology between bitterly rejecting the Trinity and orthodox doctrines as "corruptions" on the one hand (if that's the case then how could they feel communion with Trinitarians?) and terming those doctrines insignificant on the other (in that sense they COULD feel communion with Trinitarians).

I don't get any of the bitter rejection of the Trinity from Madison and Washington and I get less of it from Franklin than from TJ and JA. But I do sense the Trinity and other orthodox doctrines utterly insignificant to GW and JM. I judge this chiefly because, in their public AND private words, their God talk, JM and GW, while commonly speaking of "Providence" virtually ignored the Trinity and other orthodox doctrines. So if we were going to draw a lowest common denominator among all five of those "key Founders" perhaps we could say rejection of orthodox Trinitarian doctrine is a tenet. But to include JM and GW might be a stretch, even though I personally believe both of them privately rejected orthodox Trinitarian doctrine.

It would be more cautious then to form an LCD of those five around Providence, where the Trinity, Incarnation, Atonement, eternal damnation, etc. were superfluous and insignificant. And this is where their PERSONAL RELIGIOUS BELIEFS connect with their PUBLIC POLITICAL THEOLOGY.

Now, many of the 2nd tier orthodox Trinitarian Founders like Roger Sherman, Sam Adams, John Witherspoon likewise signed onto this non-sectarian Providentialist PUBLIC political theology while personally holding orthodox Trinitarian convictions as necessary for salvation an whatnot.

But they weren't the "key Founders." They weren't leading the show. Had they been, they could have formulated an orthodox Trinitarian political theology. They could have specified, when speaking on behalf of America, that the God whom they invoked was the Triune God of the Bible, perhaps put a Covenant to Him in the US Constitution. Or even if they stuck with the "no religious test clause," still made clear in the US Constitution that the God to whom they would pay homage was the Triune God of the Bible.

But they didn't. Instead we get a more generic inclusive Providence one that could unite evangelicals, Mormons, Jews and Muslims in political theological communion. The Triune God of the Bible could not do that.

So I hope that better answers the question as the why the non-Trinitarian religious convictions of the Founders made a difference.