Friday, December 30, 2011

Hylden on Hart on Christian Nationalism:

Jordan Hylden reviews, for First Things, D. G. Hart's "From Billy Graham to Sarah Palin: Evangelicals and the Betrayal of American Conservatism."

The passage that the title to this blog post describes:

And as Hart shows, their tendency to replace the Church with America led many evangelicals, like best-selling writer Peter Marshall Jr., to embark on a quixotic historical quest for America’s origins as a “Christian nation.” Evangelicals began to churn out an endless stream of books purporting to set forth “God’s plan for America” and a blueprint for “biblical” politics, with precious little attention to the finer points of the American experience or to political theory in general. Their historic optimism and impatience led them to embrace various ill-considered political ventures, like the Moral Majority, that tended to function better as target practice for liberals than as viable political movements.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Smithsonian Video on the Jefferson Bible:

Below I've embedded an outstanding video from the Smithsonian on the Jefferson Bible:

David Barton adds to history and the Bible at the same time:

From Warren Throckmorton here.
God, Government and Roger Williams' Big Idea:

Not just religious liberty, but separation of church and state. Check it this latest article on Williams here.

Monday, December 26, 2011

GW, Not Whig Enough For Murray Rothbard:

I agree more with the tenor of Brian's post than Murray's. However, it does help to have both sides to put things into critical perspective. By the way, during the Founding era, the criticism against Washington was primarily directed by the Tories. For Murray Rothbard, on the other hand, Washington seemed to be not Whig enough.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Merry Unitarian Christmas:

The last few Christmas holidays I posted Merry Unitarian Christmas to some raised eyebrows. Well, here is one today from a Unitarian-Universalist minister.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Do The Three Abrahamic Faiths Worship The Same God?

Interesting article here.
Was Christmas in Revolutionary America a Drunken Bash?

Fun article from Thomas Kidd here.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

The Economist on the Christian Nation Controversy:

Here. Hat Tip Ben Abbott. A taste:

IN THE year of our Lord 1816 two grand old men of the American Revolution corresponded eagerly about the work they had recently done, in their rural retirement, on the Bible. Ex-President Thomas Jefferson thanked his old friend Charles Thomson, a co-sponsor of the Declaration of Independence, for sending a copy of his newly completed synopsis of the Gospels.

At a time when many modern Americans are arguing feverishly over the real significance of the nation’s religious and political beginnings, such letters can be dynamite. So let the contents of this exchange be noted carefully. Thomson, like most members of the first American Congress, which he had served as secretary, was a committed member of a church—in his case Presbyterian—but he still felt that there might be things in the Bible that organised Christianity hadn’t grasped. So he spent years re-translating the scriptures; the ex-president approved.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Monotheism & Slavery:

As I prepare to make a deadline for submitting the grades of 18 credits worth of classes (and beginning a new online Winter Session class that started Dec. 19), I don't have time to blog about or discuss this very interesting post from Volokh on how the monotheistic traditions deal with slavery. Check out the comments too.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Christopher Hitchens RIP:

I wrote a post at American Creation on him and posted a bunch of videos at Facebook.

See also this post at the Volokh Conspiracy where I involved myself in the comment section.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Is This a Modified Form of Universalism?:

I've heard it claimed by some folks who critizes this theory that it is; but Rod Dreher balks. [Hat tip: Andrew Sullivan.]

I believe Orthodox Christianity is the fullest expression of the true path to salvation, liberation or paradise. But I don’t agree that only Orthodox Christians will find their way to salvation. My view is that God may save anyone, but that if anyone is saved, it is through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and through the mercy of God the Father, who, in his infinite wisdom and compassion, may choose to extend it to those who confessed Christ imperfectly, or who didn’t confess him at all. That, by the way, is the official teaching of the Catholic Church. It’s not the same thing as universalism, which holds that everyone will be saved, no matter what.

Dreher is a convert from Roman Catholicism to capital O Orthodox Christianity. It always helps to clarify terms. Note also that there are Trinitarian Universalists (like Benjamin Rush) who believed, indeed, everyone will be saved (eventually) no matter what, but it will be through Christ's universal (as opposed to limited) atonement.

Finally, Dreher's link interestingly shows a strong majority of folks in America and internationally disagree with the idea that salvation is found ONLY in their religion.

....“My faith or religion is the only true path to salvation, liberation or paradise.” Of people in all the countries polled, the only people who poll over 50 percent agreement are Saudis and Indonesians — and in Saudi Arabia, a stunning 25 percent disagree. In the US, only 32 percent agree with this statement.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

The New England Milton:

I haven't yet read this book but it seems worthwhile. The Founders were influenced by a great many minds and Milton was certainly one. John Locke, Isaac Newton, Samuel Clarke, John Milton -- those are, in my opinion, the "rational Christians" of the early British Whig era who most influenced the Founders. All were also, likely, not religiously correct on matters of orthodoxy or Trinity. But were also closeted about that, giving more orthodox figures, like Timothy Dwight, grounds for "claiming" them. That's one thing I got from gleaning this book -- Milton was one of those figures both sides wanted to claim.

Wednesday, December 07, 2011

Paul Gottfried's New Book on Leo Strauss:

Paul Gottfried has long been a cantankerous critic of Leo Strauss'. He has a new book coming out, published by Cambridge, on Strauss and his disciples. Though a bit crankish in his opinions, Dr. Gottfried has solid academic bona fides, and, in my opinion, always something interesting to say.

You can read him write about his new book here.
Kersch on “Goldilocks” Originalism:

From Ken Kersch at Balkinization here:

One of the most influential of these is what I will call “Goldilocks Originalism.” Conservative “Goldilocks” originalists do not orient themselves (in the first instance) in opposition to “living constitutionalists,” but rather in opposition to secularist, positivist, relativist, liberals and progressives. To these movement originalists, the fatal flaw of their antagonists is not that their constitutional theory leaves judges, in ruling in cases, unrestrained in imposing their politics rather than following the law (though Goldilocks originalists certainly believe that to be the case, and often say so), but rather that that the constitutional theory of their opponents severs the tie between our perpetually besieged nation and the only anchor that will truly hold -- the belief in (a Christian, or Judeo-Christian) God. In this, as they see it, the Founders, and the Founders’ Constitution, are squarely on their side.

The axis of opposition constructed by the conservative movement between those who revere the Founder’s (God-anchored) Constitution, and the secular, relativist, progressives is omnipresent on the contemporary political Right -- at the grassroots, to be sure, but also in a scholarly literature, not written, for the most part, by law professors, but rather by theologians and political theorists. There are three wellsprings of this vein of conservative originalist scholarship: 1) Evangelical Christianity; 2) Catholic Natural Law; and 3) Straussianism. Indeed, a highly ideological originalism that girds itself for battle against Godless secularism and relativism is what holds these three groups – which, historically, had long often been at each other’s throats – together, as compatriots in an effective political coalition.

The orientating axis I have described is evident everywhere in the constitutional thought of influential evangelical conservatives – but I will focus here mainly on the other two wellsprings. Straussian political philosophers – students of the émigré University of Chicago philosopher Leo Strauss (1899-1973) (and students of students, and, now students of students of students) are often taken to be atheists – it is hard to tell, in many cases, for, even if you ask them, given their beliefs about esotericism in philosophy (the threat posed by true philosophers the extant political order), you can’t trust their answers. For our purposes, I will note that one of their animating tropes is the indispensability of reconciling “Athens and Jerusalem” (or, put otherwise, “Reason and Revelation”) in the construction of a just and good political order. In Straussian Harry Jaffa’s highly influential account in Crisis of the House Divided (1959), Abraham Lincoln’s world-historical accomplishment was in doing just that, by incorporating the opening lines of the Declaration of Independence into the U.S. Constitution – thereby redeeming the American Founding, which was all but fatally compromised by its acceptance of chattel slavery. ...

I think Kersch needs to keep in mind that most "Straussians" are not Jaffaite "West Coast Straussians" but rather "East Coast Straussians." They have their own way of articulating "Goldilocks' originalism," but without the Declaration of Independence and its God; they view the DOI's God as certainly not the Christian God or even the Judeo-Christian God, God of the Bible, or what have you. Strauss himself didn't think Athens and Jerusalem could be reconciled. That throws a bit of a monkey wrench into Kersch's narrative.

Saturday, December 03, 2011

Did President Obama Redeem Himself?

With his explicitly Christian Christmas message. I note this after his more secular, godless recent Thanksgiving message that ticked some folks off.

President Obama, as I see it, operates in the political theological tradition of the religious left, Christian-Left ala Cornel West (though as an elected politician, Obama is far more conservative in his policy decisions than they want him to be). They are arguably the heirs to Martin Luther King's political theology. (I won't go there with Bonhoeffer; at least not yet.) In addition to being generously ecumenical, the Christian-Left types, like Obama, seem to flirt with unitarian and universalistic theologies making them like the Jonathan Mayhews of the Founding era.

Is Obama a Christian? Was Jonathan Mayhew a Christian? Are Mormon's Christian? These are all related questions.
Catherine the Great Rumor:

I heard this growing up and just saw the actress who used to be Blossom repeat it on "The Big Bang Theory." It's not true.
A Christian Gives Thanks That America Is Not A Christian Nation

From Parker J. Palmer here.

A taste:

These foundation stones of American democracy were laid a century too late to save Mary Dyer's life. Dyer, a middle-aged mother of six, was hanged in 1660 for defying a Puritan law that banned Quakers from the Massachusetts Bay Colony. The Christians who cruelly deprived this woman of Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness were dead certain (so to speak) that they were on a mission from God, protecting their "divinely ordained" civic order against Mary Dyer's seditious belief in the Inner Light.

As a spiritual descendant of Mary Dyer, I'm profoundly grateful that America is not a Christian nation. If it were, my Quaker convictions might get me into very deep oatmeal. And as a Christian who does his best to take reason as seriously as I take faith, I find it impossible to understand America as a "Christian nation" -- and I believe that there are vibrant possibilities in the fact that it is not.

Friday, December 02, 2011

Theology is Freaky:

And arguing about it is freakier.

Sometimes I think I'm a freak when I delve into the deep theological waters and try to wrap my mind around these concepts. But when I read the works of great theologians I see they were even freakier. Jonathan Mayhew, the great unitarian heretic who so monumentally influenced America's Founding, for instance.

This is a LONG excerpt of his where he tries to explain his views on the atonement.

If I ever engage in a formal controversy with any person, it shall be with one who appears to me to have both a better head and honester heart than you have discovered in this specimen of your abilities, and your zeal for what you call orthodoxy. Yet I do not think it proper to be entirely silent. Though my sermons need no elaborate, argumentative defence against your impertinent criticisms, yet so much rudeness and insolence, so much misrepresentation and slander, falsehood and forgery, as your libel contains, should not, methinks, be passed over without some animadversions; especially, as it is probable many will read your essay, who never perused my sermons: and it is chiefly for this reason, that I give you and myself the present trouble: my principal aim being not to dispute with, but to chastize and admonish you, for your good, and to make you an example and warning to others. If, in doing this, I shall transiently touch upon the merits of the case, theologically considered, you are not to flatter yourself that I mean to controvert such points with you, whom I consider unworthy to be reasoned with about them, any farther than is requisite to show your dishonesty and wickedness with regard to them.

'If I had really published any materials in point of doctrine, let me tell you, Mr. Cleaveland, that you are a most unsuitable person to undertake a confutation of them, or to set yourself up for an author: though you say you have an undoubted right to do so. I am sensible that British subjects have an undoubted legal right to expose themselves in print, on politics, divinity, or any other subject; and if this is what you insist upon as a privilege, I would not, by any means, have your liberty or that of the press restrained. You speak of divines of indisputable ability, for such an undertaking as that of vindicating the truth against me. Can you, then, possibly think it became you, an obscure .person, lately from another province, and one so unlettered as you are; an outcast from a college to which you were a disgrace; for some time a rambling itinerant, and promoter of disorders and confusion among us, so raw and unstudied in divinity; and one hardly ever heard of among us, but in the frequent reports of your follies, and extravagances; can you possibly think it became you to turn author on this occasion, and take this necessary work out of the hands of able divines, of defending the most important principles of the protestant religion against me? What an unaccountable vanity and infatuation was this! And you have passed an implicit censure on those divines, also, by saying, 'I marvel that some of our divines of great ability, have not attempted to vindicate the truth against him.' Is not this proof that none of our able divines thought there was any occasion for opposition to me?

'If it were my intention to write to you as a scholar, logician, or divine, I would take some notice of the confusion and want of method, so apparent throughout your libel. But it is as much beneath me to play the critic on such a performance, as it would be particularly to expose the vanity of your criticisms on my sermons. Let me here just observe, that if I agree with you in so many things, as you say I do, this is better presumptive evidence that I am under some mistakes, than any which you have produced. For I can hardly suppose it possible for any one to be of your opinion in many points of doctrine, without being in the wrong as to some.

'But I will proceed to the main business of this letter, which is to set your falsehoods and evil surmises respecting my sermons, in some order before your eyes; and to administer the reproof and correction which you deserve; or rather a part of it; for it is only they who hold the sword of public justice can punish wickedness to the extent of its demerits. Your wickedness, in this affair, appears written, as one may say, on your forehead—I mean in your title-page; in which you represent me to the world, as an enemy to ' the most important principles of the protestant religion;' particularly the doctrine of Christ's atonement; and on which you say I cast 'injurious aspersions.' After the word atonement, you indeed insert these clauses, viz., 'as being absolutely necessary to the pardon of sin, consistently with God's infinite rectitude,' that you might have an hole to creep out at But this will not serve your turn. You know in your conscience that I did not deny any necessity of atonement, arising from wisdom, fitness, the ends of government, or the moral character of God; but rather said what implies it, as will appear to your confusion, unless you are past all shame. How then could you have the confidence, because my expressions concerning atonement do not exactly agree with yours, to represent me to the world as casting injurious aspersions on it ?—by which you doubtles intended something beyond a simple denial of it. Indeed, nothing is more manifest, than that it was your intention to asperse me, as an enemy to some of the most important doctrines of the gospel; which you, accordingly, attempt to defend against the supposed 'injurious aspersions' cast on them in my sermons. You must be sensible that this is a high charge to be brought against one, who is, by his station and profession at least, a minister of the gospel. But I have the less reason to be uneasy at your dislike of my sermons, because I think it pretty evident you do not well like the text itself, in its plain and obvious sense; or, in other words, that you do not really believe, 'The Lord is good to all, and his tender mercies over all his works.' Had you believed this to be strictly true, I do not think you would have made such an outcry against those sermons.

'You are pleased to say, that my design evidently was to represent the divine goodness in such a light as to show there was no absolute necessity for the sacrifice of Christ, to make atonement, or to satisfy divine justice, in order to God's forgiving the sins of men consistently with his moral goodness.* ["* The scriptures make use of no such language as Christ's satisfying divine justice. But I am not disposed to dispute about words. If they who use the phrase, mean no more by the satisfaction of Christ, than is implied in his sacrifice or atonement, I make no objection to it: but I have asserted the doctrine in my sermons, which have been so outrageously attacked.']

'I might remark, on this charge, that if I had asserted the non-necessity of atonement, or satisfaction, in order to the forgiveness of sins, this would have been no more than some eminent divines have done; even calvinistic divines, whom I suppose you account the most reformed of any. I will refer to only one, the famous Dr. Twisse, who was prolocutor of the assembly of divines at Westminster. And his opinion ought, perhaps, to have almost as much weight as that of Mr. Cleaveland, of Ipswich. In his defence of the doctrines of grace, he says, that 'God can forgive sins by his absolute power, even without satisfaction.' And again, 'That God can forgive sins, without satisfaction, by his absolute power, appears so manifest to me, that I should think it a point beyond all controversy.' And still further, 'If God cannot forgive sin without satisfaction, it is either because he cannot as it respects his power, or as respects justice; but neither of these can be affirmed.'

'It is here manifest, that this eminent calvinistic divine ,was full and positive in his opinion that sin might have been forgiven without any satisfaction; and particularly that the justice of God did not indispensably require it. If I had asserted the same thing, did it become you, I say you, Mr. Cleaveland, to inveigh against me for it, and to load me with so much obloquy? Could you not differ from me in opinion, and yet observe some sort of decency and modesty in your opposition? But let me remind you, that I did not assert the possibility of forgiveness without atonement. So far from it, that the manner in which I expressed myself on the subject, rather implied a moral necessity thereof in order to forgiveness. And surely you will not assert any other kind of necessity; or a natural one, as contradistinguished from moral. At least, I am persuaded that no man who understands what he says, supposes any other. That I denied not such a necessity, but rather supposed it, will fully appear, together with your wilful falsehood and iniquity with reference to it.

'I must notice the method you take to prove that I had the design which you charge on me. You infer this from what I said of divine justice, as a branch of goodness: which opinion you suppose, but without reason, to be inconsistent with the doctrine of atonement. But what an iniquitous method of proceeding is this! On supposition I was mistaken about divine justice, (which I believe no one can show,) is this a sufficient ground to charge me with such a design as you speak of? This is the same kind of dishonesty that it would be in any one to accuse you of atheism, because he supposed some of your principles, pursued to their just consequences, would terminate in it; which probably may be the case. Yet I should think it injurious to charge you with a design to propagate atheism, while you profess the contrary, even though you have shown so little regard to truth and integrity, as you have done in many parts of your libel. One instance of this I must refer to.

'You insinuate that I hold every act of punitive justice in God to be intended for the good of the individual, on whom it terminates. Now would not any one, who never read my sermons, (on the divine goodness,) and took you for an honest man, conclude that I supposed it would be unjust for God to punish a sinner more than would be for his own good? Indeed, you say expressly, that, according to my principles, 'God would not be perfectly good, but cruel, if he should punish sinners any farther than could be for their good, or happiness.'

'Now, are you not ashamed, Mr. Cleaveland, of such prevarication as this? I did, indeed, compare God's acts of punitive justice to those of a wise and good earthly parent, or sovereign, who has always some good or benevolent design in punishing. But I expressly guarded, as you well know, against the supposition that all acts of punitive justice, whether in God or man, are acts of kindness to the suffering individuals. I said, in my sermons, (when speaking of the motive from which a wise and good parent punishes his children,) 'Is it not to reform and do them good; or, at least, with a view to the benefit of his other children, or those of his household, that they may be under due subjection? &c.—So that, in a good parent, there is no such quality as justice, really distinct from goodness; not even in punishing; for it is goodness which gives the blow.' This last clause you dishonestly introduce, as if I had not only used it expressly concerning God, but had thereby intended to assert that he never punishes a sinner but for his own good, in distinction from the public or common. And is not this a wicked, wilful perversion of my evident meaning?

'Speaking, just after, of a wise and good earthly sovereign, I said, 'he does not inflict punishments, but such as he considers needful for the support of his government; if not for the particular good of those who suffer, as in capital cases, yet for the good of his people in general, by way of example and terror, that good order may be preserved. So that, even in this case of capital punishment, the justice of the sovereign is not a quality distinct from goodness. It is goodness, or a regard to the common good, that takes off the head of the traitor,' &c.

Thursday, December 01, 2011

Unitarians and Atonement:

Even in the 19th Century, Unitarians believed in the "Atonement." Again, it's not unlike with Mormonism and Jehovah's Witnessism; in a broad sense they believe in many of the same things as the "orthodox." But when specifically defining terms, they mean irreconcilably different things. The Unitarians did NOT believe Christ as 2nd Person in the Trinity made an infinite Atonement as necessary satisfaction for the infinite penalty cosmic justice demands because man sinned against an infinite God. Rather something else:


§ 40. Unitarians believe that atonement and reconciliation are the same thing. Both mean a state of union and peace between man and God; the harmony between the Divine justice and Divine mercy; and the substitution of trust toward God and dependence on him, for fear and the dread of his displeasure.

§ 41. Unitarians do not believe that Christ came to reconcile God to man, but to reconcile man to God; not to make God love us, but to reveal his love; not to harmonize his justice and mercy, but to show that they are always in harmony. Christ's death was not a sacrifice made to appease the Divine anger, but it was an expression of the Divine love. Paul says (Rom. viii. 32), "He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?"

Hopefully one can now understand how Arians like Jonathan Mayhew, Samuel West and many others from the Founding era could disbelieve in Original Sin, Trinity, and Incarnation but hold to an unorthodox view of the Atonement. Likewise they believed in the Resurrection and even Christ's "divine" nature. Christ was "divine" but created and subordinate to the Father. Lower than God but higher than the highest arch-angel. (So quotations that refer to Christ as "divine" are NOT smoking gun proofs of orthodoxy; rather one must prove the speaker believed Christ God the Son, 2nd Person in the Trinity.)

Update: I probably should have included a Founding era as opposed to a late 19th Century era quotation on unitarians and the atonement. My reasoning was this: Unitarianism seemed to (?) become even more "liberal" as time passed. Therefore IF during the mid-late 19th Cen. they still believed in something they called atonement, it's no stretch to say that many unitarians in the 18th Cen. believed it. Indeed, Jonathan Mayhew, the militant Arian he, went on at great length explaining how he believed in what he understood as the "atonement." You can read him arguing with an orthodox figure who accuses him of denying the atonement. As I understand it, 1. Mayhew clearly says he believes in (and preached) the "atonement," 2. but when explaining just how he understands the doctrine, intimates an "unorthodox" understanding of the "atonement."

I chose the 19th Cen. quotation because it reads clearer than Mayhew's.
Samuel West Arminian Unitarian:

Key patriotic preacher Samuel West was, according to those who knew him best, an Arminian-Unitarian. As this source notes:

With reference to Dr. West's position on the doctrine of the Trinity, his granddaughter, Mary C. West, of Tiverton, (recently deceased,) wrote in a communication printed in the Evening Standard of this city in March, 1883, as follows: "If his children were competent witnesses (my father and aunt) I can say that they have often told me that their father was an Arminian Unitarian. * * * I have heard my aunt many times tell this story. When she was a little girl her teacher set her to learning a catechism, — I think it was the Westminster, but at any rate it had the Trinitarian formula in it: 'The Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost, and these three are one.' She was at home studying her lesson in a loud voice, and her father heard her repeating the above formula and called her to him and held up three of his fingers (as she always did when she told the story), and asked her how three could be one, took the book from her and put it in his pocket, and told her to tell her teacher that he would get her another catechism, which he did. I think the one he got her was called 'The Franklin Catechism,' or 'The Franklin Primer."

I've heard it noted that because Rev. West believed Christ as redeemer who made an atonement, that means he was orthodox. Wrong. That's a logical error called a "non-sequitur" -- a conclusion that does not follow from the facts presented. Some unitarians did believe in the resurrected Christ who made an atonement for man. Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses believe this. They just hold an unconventional view of these doctrines. This fits perfectly with West's Arianism.

As the same above linked to source notes:

In theology, Dr. West was progressive and liberal. His sympathies with humanity were too quick to make him a good Calvinist. Judged by to-day's standards, much of his writing would seem antiquated. His sermons were largely of the old Biblical and textual type. But judged by his own time he was an Arminian, which was the transition passage to Unitarianism. That is, he asserted free will for man in opposition to Calvin's doctrine of fore-ordination and irreparable election, and man's ability of moral choice in opposition to the doctrine of "total depravity." With regard to Christ his views were more Arian than Athanasian....
William Livingston's Ecumenical Letter:

Livingston's letter, Sept. 22, 1744, to Rev. Mr. James Sprout, anticipates Thomas Jefferson's 1819 "Apriarians" remark AND Benjamin Rush's 1808 remark on how his faith is "a compound of the orthodoxy and heterodoxy of most of our Christian churches."

Finally, the letter anticipates the notion found in all of the "key Founders'" theological meanderings (Washington, J. Adams, Jefferson, Franklin) that the test of "true religion" is good works (not necessarily faith in doctrine).

"My dear Sir,

# # # # #'# # #

"I am sorry to hear you are so divided among yourselves with respect to religion, which is plain and simple, and to the meanest capacity intelligible. Every man has a right to think for himself, as he shall answer for himself, and it is unreasonable for me to be angry with any one for being of different principles, as he has the same pretence to quarrel with me. And when we consider that truth is comprised in a small compass, but that error is infinite, we shall not be so positive and dogmatical, to set up for infallibility, and anathematize those of a contrary opinion. There is no sect that come under the denomination of Christians but what pretend to ground their principles on the Holy Scriptures, and consequently all have an equal right to think themselves the best; and if they are heretical in some tenets, in others they are confessedly orthodox. Let us then resemble the bee, that collects the purest nectar out of a diversity of flowers, that we may not quake, but exult, at the second sound of the trumpet, when we shall not be asked of what sect we have been, but be judged according to our works.

I am, &c.

"Wm. Livingston."

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Christianity and Liberty:

By George H. Smith:

A taste:

An atheist is rarely asked to write an essay on “religion’s positive role in society,” but it is fitting that this request came from the Acton Institute. Lord Acton (1834-1902) was a Catholic, a classical liberal, and a great historian who devoted his life to the history of liberty.

Acton always stressed this important truth: No one group or movement, religious or secular, deserves exclusive credit for the theory and evolution of free institutions. All historians should avoid the unpardonable sin of “making history into the proof of their theories.” Instead, the historian should try “to do the best he can for the other side, and to avoid pertinacity or emphasis on his own.”

.... Ironically, Acton’s Catholicism and my atheism give us something in common. In Protestant countries, Catholics and atheists were often lumped together and branded as subversive minorities whose doctrines, if permitted to circulate freely, would jeopardize the core values of a free society.

This “dark myth” was especially popular in seventeenth-century England, where it found adherents even among some of liberalism’s most distinguished founding fathers. John Locke, for example, argued that religious liberty is a “natural right” that should be enjoyed by everyone–except Catholics and atheists. The doctrines of these minorities, Locke believed, are incompatible with the moral foundations of a free society (though for different reasons), so they should be legally suppressed.

Acton attacked this dark myth in two ways. First, he identified minority rights as a defining characteristic of a free society: “The most certain test by which we judge whether a country is really free is the amount of security enjoyed by minorities.” Second, according to Acton, the history of liberty is inextricably linked to the history of minorities:

Read the rest here.
Religious Toleration Versus Religious Freedom:

A fascinating article by George H. Smith which features topics that interest me and my fellow travelers. A taste:

During the mid-1550s, after Catholicism had been reestablished in England and while Queen Mary—or “Bloody Mary,” as she came to be known—was in the process of burning nearly 300 Protestants in three years, John Philpot, Archdeacon of Winchester, was accused of heresy and thrown in prison. There he had a chance to discuss the fine points of theology with other unfortunate Protestants, one of whom defended the old heresy known as “Arianism”—a general label for any Christian who repudiated the orthodox doctrine of the Trinity. Philpot was so disgusted by this encounter with a real heretic that he finished off the conversation by spitting on his adversary.

Before Philpot was burned at the stake in 1555, he was able to vindicate his decision to spit on a fellow Protestant martyr. He wrote a tract with a long and lively title: An Apology of John Philpot; written for spitting upon an Arian: with an invective against Arians, the very natural children of Antichrist: with an admonition to all that be faithful in Christ, to beware of them, and of other late sprung heresies, as of the most enemies of the gospel.

Read the rest here.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

History of Christian Deism:

I found the information on this page to be very useful. When we hear "the FFs were all deists" or something along those lines, understand it's simply not true that they 1. were strict deists who believed in an impersonal God, 2. rejected the self identified "Christian" label, and 3. categorically disbelieved in the possibility of a revealing God. Yet the "Christian-Deists" did have issues with things like original sin, Trinity, Incarnation, Atonement, eternal damnation, infallibility of the biblical canon (and which books properly included!) and greatly emphasized philosophical reasoning as a means for Truth discovery.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Contradictions in the Bible Poster:

At the very least this proves the Bible does not "interpret itself" as some claim. You need a super sophisticated hermeneutic to sort all this out. HT: Timothy Sandefur.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

And Bless The People of France!

My post on the enlightenment heterodox Christian apocalyptic case for Dr. Francis Fukuyama's "End of History" thesis brought to mind this post where I mentioned the Arminian-Unitarian Rev. Enos Hitchcock's classic sermon that connected the American and French Revolutions.

As he said:

.... As Americans, we must either renounce that which is our boast and glory, or warmly wish success to the great principles of the French revolution—principles founded on the equal liberty of all men, and the empire of the laws. As rational beings, and as Christians, we should recollect, that from partial evil, it is the glory of the Supreme Ruler to bring forth general good; and that, as inspiration expresseth it, “He makes the wrath of man to praise him; but the remainder of wrath will he restrain.”

The present war in Europe has a further object than the subjugation of France. It is a war of kings and despots, against the dearest rights and the most invaluable privileges of mankind. Should the combined powers succeed against France, and the re-establishment of monarchy there exist among possible events, what security have we, that the same attempt will not be made to restore monarchy in this country? Has not united America led the way? And may she not boast, with an honest pride, of the influence of her example in exciting the attention of many nations to their natural and civil rights? With what freedom of thought—with what enlightened and ardent philanthropy, has she inspired many of the nations of Europe! What would be her condition, if subjugated by the confederates against freedom, we may learn from the state of Poland, lately made free by a voluntary compact with its king; but now subdued by the ferocious power of the north, divided among her jealous neighbours, and the people sold with the soil, like the animals that graze upon it. Let the generous feelings of human nature rise indignant at the abhorrent idea of part of itself being thus degraded. Whatever may be the fate of France in the present contest, the great principles of the revolution will eventually find advocates in every part of the world, even among those who are now most inveterate against the conduct of the French. The doctrines of hereditary powers—of the divine right of kings—of their inviolability, and incapacity to do wrong, are fast declining, and will soon be exploded. They are solecisms of the same nature with their divine right to do wrong; and will, in future, more enlightened and liberal days, be read of with astonishment.

How often doth a hand unobserved shift the scene of the world! The calmest and stillest hour precedes the whirlwind; and it hath thundered in the serenest sky. The monarch hath drawn the chariot of state, in which he had been wont to ride in triumph; or been dragged to a scaffold, by the misguided zeal of his late admirers; and the greatest who ever awed the world, have moralized at the turn of the wheel. Such, O Louis, has been thy untimely fate! At thy urn, let pitying nature drop a sympathetic tear! Cease, thou sanguinary demon, any longer to support thy bloody standard! May the milder genius of true liberty, and more enlightened policy, speedily pervade the councils, and bless the people of France!
Ed Brayton's Bryan Fischer Award:

From this post:

.... David Barton got the nomination for criticizing someone else for passing on a fake quote from the Founding Fathers when no one in the history of the nation has been responsible for passing on more such fake quotes than David Barton.

See, here’s the difference between David Barton and an intellectually honest person. I criticize him for passing along false quotes. I also criticized the atheist group in California for doing so. And I’ve criticized Christopher Hitchens for claiming that Ben Franklin and Thomas Jefferson were atheists, an absolutely ridiculous position given their voluminous writings on the subject.

And I’ve criticized other atheists and secularists (those aren’t necessarily the same thing, by the way — and I figure I’d better tell you that because you always seem to think that anyone you disagree with must all be wrong in precisely the same way and must be in league with one another) for taking John Adams’ famous “this would be the best of all possible worlds if there were no religion in it” line out of context (he was actually saying the exact opposite of that when read in context). That’s what an intellectually honest person does. It is not, of course, what people like you and David Barton do.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Fukuyama's "The End of History" As Religious Dogma:

Check out John Gray's harsh review in The New Republic.

However it is glossed, the end of history can only be understood as a version of Christian apocalyptic myth. Kojève’s doctoral dissertation was a study of the Russian religious writer Vladimir Solovyov, who in 1899 wrote a book called War, Progress, and the End of History, an apocalyptic vision of the coming century. Whether Fukuyama was aware of Kojève’s debt to Solovyov is unclear, but by appropriating Kojève’s account of global capitalism as a kind of end-time he was reproducing ideas that were shaped as much by Russian religious thought as they were by Hegel’s oracular philosophy.

I have traced the idea of the End of History as a religious theory, or more particularly liberal democracy ENDING history as a religious theory to the Francophile Anglo-American Whig preachers who believed Jesus would return at the triumph of the French Revolution to usher in a millennial republic of liberty, equality and fraternity. The Rev. Joseph Priestley -- admired by Jefferson, J. Adams, and Franklin -- was probably the quintessential figure who pushed this but there were many others and he wasn't the first. [The earliest figure of whom I am aware is Joseph Dyer, who, according to John Adams pushed something similar in 1750s New England.]

Fukuyama is and was probably aware of these figures. He studied with the Straussians and they in turn are pretty meticulously read in the literature of America's Founding era. The problem is with their controversial understanding of the literature. Liberal democracy, to them, rests on Hobbes' and Locke's atheistic premises. So, to the Straussians, those apocalyptic preachers, with the fanatical zeal of Robespierre, pushed political principles that at their heart were atheistic and materialistic. This in turn, gives Fukuyama and the Straussians an excuse to hand wave away any serious connection between "Christianity" and a universal liberal democracy; hence the need for some kind of complex Hegelian explanation for the phenomenon.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Now THAT'S A Book I've Got to Read:

I've been reading "A catalogue of the Washington collection in the Boston Athenæum," which describes what books President Washington read, and if he made any comments or wrote any letters about them.

[AMORY, Thomas. Eccentric English writer, 1691 (?)-1788.]

The Life of John Buncle, Esq; containing Various Observations and Reflections, made in several Parts of the World, and many extraordinary Relations. London: printed for J. Johnson and B. Davenport. M.dcc.lxvi. Vol. I. iv, (iii)-ix, (7), 511 pp. Vol. II. (16), 532 pp. 8°.

"The book is a literary curiosity, containing an extraordinary medley of religious and sentimental rhapsodies, descriptions of scenery, and occasional fragments of apparently genuine autobiography. 'The soul of Rabelais,' says Hazlitt, ' passed into John (Thomas) Amory.' The phrase is suggested by Amory's rollicking love adventures. He marries seven wives in the two volumes of Buncle, generally after a day's acquaintance, and buries them as rapidly. They are all of superlative beauty, virtue, and genius, and, in particular, sound Unitarians. A great part of the work is devoted to theological disquisition, showing considerable reading in defence of 'Christian deism.' Much of his love-making and religious discussion takes place in the north of England, and there is some interest in his references to the beauty of the lake scenery. His impassable crags, fathomless lakes, and secluded valleys, containing imaginary convents of Unitarian monks and nuns, suggest the light-headed ramblings of delirium." — Leslie Stephen.

Washington undoubtedly read this book, as he takes care to note the interruption of the continuity of the narrative caused by the transposition of the parts in binding. The volumes bear no marks of frequent reading or use; on the contrary, they have a very fresh and clean appearance.

Update: Before someone beats me to it in the comments, the book, apparently, can be read here.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The Jefferson Lies:

Or if you can't beat 'em, join 'em.

David Barton seems to be taking a page from his arch-nemesis Chris Rodda, at least in rhetorical tone. Hat Tip Warren Throckmorton.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The John Quincy Adams Quotation:

I think I've covered this before but I'll direct you to Rational Rant's website for the 411 here and here. We often see this quotation cited by Christian Nationalists.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Did an Atheist create the Jefferson Bible?

What the Washington Times asks here.

No Jefferson was not an atheist. He was a theist who possessed some very interesting outside the box views on Christianity.
Generous Ecumenicism:

I think most folks got the point of my last post which asked whether there was any political theological relevance to the term the "Great Spirit"? I think the answer is clearly yes, and it depends on how broad or narrow the claim. The broad claim -- and those are always harder to argue and easier for critics to find a potential loophole -- is this indicates the political theology of the American Founding is "heterodox," "not Christianity," "syncretism," "unitarian-universalism," "theistic rationalism," or what have you. I'm not here to argue that today. The narrower, more modest claim -- and those are easier to argue and harder to strike down -- is the political theology of the American Founding was generously ecumenical. You can still be an orthodox Christian -- like George W. Bush -- and generously ecumenical. Generous ecumenicism means you don't claim Mormons are not Christians or that Muslims don't worship the same God as Jews and Christians. Even if those two claims are ultimately true, it's not what the political theology of the American Founding is all about.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Any Political Theological Relevance to the term the "Great Spirit"?:

I got two important questions comments, first from reader Jim51 and second by Jim Goswick, aka Our Founding Truth. I think we all recognize the utility, when speaking to unconverted Natives, in terming God "The Great Spirit" as it speaks their language. Likewise those same Founding era Americans referred to George Washington as "The Great Chief" when talking to the Natives.

The QUESTION is whether the "Great Spirit" worshipping Natives really DO worship the same God as Christians. Under a very ecumenical (perhaps heterodox, perhaps not) understanding all monotheists (Jews, Christians, Muslims, Unitarians, Deists, at least the ones who believe in Providence) worship the same ONE God -- the God of the Bible.

But not everyone interprets the Bible this way. Conservative evangelical Jim Goswick writes:

His point is most likely to link Putnam with the other infidel framers: George Washington, and James Madison, who used the same term referring to the Indian "Great Spirit." I call them infidels because that is what they would be if they considered the Indian god--or any god--the same as the Biblical God. The Bible says at least one thousand times, He is the Only God, the God of the Israel.

Not only is Rowe's implication far-fetched, it would make George Washington a very ignorant man, given a Christian high schooler understands the difference. That Putnam and Washington are placating diplomatically to the Indians by referring to God in their terms is obvious--however Putnam was an Evangelical. The only reason an Evangelical would link the Indian Great Spirit with the God of the Bible is to be diplomatic and accomodating [sic].

I'm not sure if I quite get his point. Yes, I think we all understand the diplomacy and accommodation. And if all monotheists -- including Muslims and unconverted Native Americans -- worship the same God then we have an easy diplomatic and accommodating Truth. Goswick seems to suggest that unconverted Natives really DIDN'T worship the God of the Bible with men like Washington and Putnam in knowledge of this. What would that make them then? Manipulative hypocrites when dealing with Natives. Suggesting unconverted Natives worship the same God Christians do, while not believing it, reeks of the same charge of hypocrisy that some secular nationalist scholars make when they claim the early Presidents were cold deists (or atheists) who may have publicly spoken as though they believed in Providence or something closer to Christianity to placate the masses over whom they ruled.

Finally, about Rufus Putnam's personal religion. I know David Barton quotes Putnam's Will that has orthodox Christian like language. I haven't yet independently verified the quotation in reliable sources. But if true, it tells us precisely nothing of Putnam's religion when he did his "Great Spirit" talk with the Natives.
John Adams' Biography on Freethinking in 1750s New England:

If I am not mistaken, this part was written in 1802.

About three Weeks after commencement in 1755, when I was not yet twenty Years of Age, a horse was sent me from Worcester and a Man to attend me. We made the Journey about Sixty miles in one day and I entered on my Office. For three months I boarded with one Green at the Expence of the Town and by the Arrangement of the Select Men. Here I found Morgans Moral Phylosopher,1 which I was informed had circulated, with some freedom, in that Town and that the Principles of Deism had made a considerable progress among several Persons, in that and other Towns in the County. ... I made a Visit to Mr. Putnam, and offered myself to him: He received me with politeness and even Kindness, took a few days to consider of it, and then informed me that Mrs. Putnam had consented that I should board in his House, that I should pay no more, than the Town allowed for my Lodgings, and that I should pay him an hundred dollars, when I should find it convenient. I agreed to his proposals without hesitation and immediately took Possession of his Office. His Library at that time was not large: but he had all the most essential Law Books: immediately after I entered with him however he sent to England for a handsome Addition of Law Books and for Lord Bacons Works. I carried with me to Worcester, Lord Bolingbrokes Study and Use of History, and his Patriot King. These I had lent him, and he was so well pleased with them that he Added Bolingbrokes Works to his List, which gave me an Opportunity of reading the Posthumous Works of that Writer in five Volumes. Mr. Burke once asked, who ever read him through? I can answer that I read him through, before the Year 1758 and that I have read him through at least twice since that time: But I confess without much good or harm. His Ideas of the English Constitution are correct and his Political Writings are worth something: but in a great part of them there is more of Faction than of Truth: His Religion is a pompous Folly: and his Abuse of the Christian Religion is as superficial as it is impious. His Style is original and inimitable: it resembles more the oratory of the Ancients, than any Writings or Speeches I ever read in English.

In this Situation I remained, for about two Years Reading Law in the night and keeping School in the day. At Breakfast, Dinner, and Tea, Mr. Putnam was commonly disputing with me upon some question of Religion: He had been intimate with one Peasley Collins, the Son of a Quaker in Boston, who had been to Europe and came back, a Disbeliever of Every Thing: fully satisfied that all Religion was a cheat, a cunning invention of Priests and Politicians: That there would be no future State, any more than there is at present any moral Government. Putnam could not go these whole Lengths with him. Although he would argue to the extent of his Learning and Ingenuity, to destroy or invalidate the Evidences of a future State, and the Principles of natural and revealed Religion, Yet I could plainly perceive that he could not convince himself, that Death was an endless Sleep. Indeed he has sometimes said to me, that he fully believed in a future Existence, and that good Conduct in this Life, would fare better in the next World than its contrary. My Arguments in favor of natural and revealed Religion, and a future State of Rewards and Punishments, were nothing more than the common Arguments and his against them may all be found in Lucretius, together with many more.

There were two other Persons in the Neighbourhood, Doolittle and Baldwin, who were great Readers of Deistical Books, and very great Talkers.2 These were very fond of conversing with me. They were great Sticklers for Equality as well as Deism: and all the Nonsense of these last twenty Years, were as familiar to them as they were to Condorcet or Brissot. They were never rude however or insolent to those who differed from them. Another excentric Character was Joseph Dyer, who had removed from Boston and lived on a Farm of Mr. Thomas Hand-cock, Uncle of the late Governor, and kept a Shop.3 He had Wit and learning of some Sorts, but being very sarcastic, and very bitter against almost every body, but especially the Clergy, he was extreamly unpopular. An Arian by profession, he was far more odious among the People than the Deists. He had written many Manuscripts especially upon the Athanasian Doctrine of the Trinity, which he lent me: but though I read them all, having previously read Dr. Clark and Emlin as well as Dr. Waterland, I found nothing new. He was also a very profound Student in the Prophecies, and had a System of his own. According to him Antichrist signified all Tyranny and Injustice through the World. He carried his Doctrine of Equality, to a greater Extremity, or at least as great as any of the wild Men of the French Revolution. A perfect Equality of Suffrage was essential to Liberty. I stated to him the Cases of Women, of Children, of Ideots, of Madmen, of Criminals, of Prisoners for Debt or for Crimes. He could not give me any sensible Answer to these Objections: but still every limitation of the right of Suffrage, every qualification of freehold or any other property, was Antichrist. An entire Levell of Power, Property, Consideration were essential to Liberty and would be introduced and established in the Millenium. ...
Rufus Putnam to the Natives:

Recently I've come across a great deal of evidence (too much for me to document) of Founding era figures speaking to unconverted Natives, addressing God as "The Great Spirit." I'm not sure how much or what to make of it.

Here is my latest find from Rufus Putnam. Speaking to the Natives in 1792:


I thank the great Spirit who has inclined our Hearts to do good; and to establish a Peace between You and the United States — Brothers

Let us endeavour to restore Peace and happiness to all as far as lies in our Power; and for this purpose I request that You will send a Speech to Your Neighbours the Miamis, Dellawares, Shawanos and other Tribes, who have hitherto stopped their Ears, and refused to Speak with the United States about Peace; altho many Speeches have been sent to them for that purpose — Brothers,

I propose to send one Speech more requesting them to open a Road to some place or other, where we may meet and Speak to one another; And I trust with Your assistance, that the great Spirit will cause this good Work to succeed —

Sunday, November 06, 2011

Rational Rant Dissects the Larry Klayman Article:

Excellent analysis of the primary sources and how Klayman either misquotes or garbles them.

Saturday, November 05, 2011

David Barton's Phony Quotations Live On:

This time with Larry Klayman at WorldNetDaily.

Friday, November 04, 2011

John Fea at the David Library:

Well I finally got to meet John Fea in person as he notes here. (American Creation's Tom Van Dyke has engaged Dr. Fea quite a bit recently, so I was surprised that John didn't know of Tom's distinguished past.)

His lecture at the David Library was outstanding. He focused less on what the key Founders personally believed on religion (something his book does detail) and more on the contrast between the Godless (or God minimal) US Constitution and the then state constitutions which were quite explicitly Christian. Under the original federalist scheme, religion was left to the states. That changed with the 14th Amendment.

Even though I've followed Dr. Fea's work closely, something did slip by me that I learned last night: Christian Nationalists, trying to find "God" in the Constitution, invariably turn to the "In the Year of Our Lord" customary way of stating the date (why I concede the Constitution as God nominal, if not Godless). What I learned: That may have been, apparently, something the Framers didn't even write, but was tacked on by a clerk who recorded the document.

Anyway, this year I've seen Akhil Amar, David Post, and John Fea speak at the David Library and all three gave outstanding lectures. Though -- and I'm not not saying this -- judging by the Q & A and book sales, the crowd seemed to enjoy Dr. Fea's the most. All of his books sold last night. From what I remember (I could be wrong) that didn't happen with Post and Amar.

Finally, I also got to meet a blog reader -- Jim51 -- who learned about the David Library from me. He recognized me based on my online photos and introduced himself to me. That was very nice.
Joe Carter Contra the Civil Religion:

Carter argues against it again (as he oft-does every few years) here.


I think most Christians would agree that there is a vast and unbridgeable chasm between a deistic civil religion and orthodox Christianity. But the civil religion that our fellow citizens embrace is not the type Rousseau had in mind. It is very much a view that is rooted in the concept that America is a Christian nation (or at least a Judeo-Christian nation). For them, the “In God We Trust” on our coins might as well say “In Jesus We Trust.” The State is not only subordinate to the one true Sovereign (and don’t let the capitalized noun fool you—we’re still talking about Jesus here) but is expected to conform to his standards. Although this view can lead people to use Christianity to promote Americanism, more often it simply leads to criticism of the nation’s flaws. The fact that the country continually falls short of God’s standards is a constant annoyance for those who believe that the founding documents were wholly derived—at least in principle—from the Holy Scriptures. (Think I’m exaggerating? Talk to some of these folks and see if you don’t get the impression that they think the Constitution was inspired more by the Gospel of John than by John Locke.)

Those of us who champion a role for religion in the public square, however, cannot fully embrace this Christianized concept of civil religion. If we claim, as our friends and neighbors believe, that “under God” refers only to the Christian conception of God then we are either being unduly intolerant or, more likely, simply kidding ourselves. Do we truly think that our fellow Hindu, Wiccan, or Buddhist patriots are claiming to be under the same deity as we are? We can’t claim, as the Apostle Paul did on Mars Hill, that the “unknown god” they are worshiping is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The Pledge is, after all, a secular document and the “under god” is referring to the Divinity of our country’s civil religion. Just as the pagan religion of the Roman Empire was able to incorporate other gods and give them familiar names, the civil religion provides an umbrella for all beliefs to submit under one nondescript, fill-in-the-blank term.

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

General Anthony Wayne's Response...:

To the Natives' Providential Claim. Here:

It appears to me, that, if the Great Spirit, as you say, charged your forefathers to preserve their lands entire for their posterity,' they have paid very little regard to the sacred injunction: for I-see they have parted with those lands to your fathers the French, and the English are now, or have been, in possession of them all: therefore, I think the charge urged against the Ottawas, Chippewas, and the other Indians, comes with a bad grace indeed, from the very people who perhaps set them the example. The English and French both wore hats; and yet your forefathers sold'them, at various times, portions of your lands; however, as I have already observed, you shall now receive from the United States further valuable compensation, for the lands you have ceded to them by former treaties.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

The American Indians' Providential View of History:

I think we know how the sad story turned out.

So I've been putting some of the text from the papers of the War Dept. into search engines and I found this, The speech of the Cornplanter and New Arrow to Major General Wayne, Chinuchshungutho, 8th December, 1792.

A taste:

We thank the Great Spirit, that we with the rest of our chiefs, who were at council, have again arrived safe at our towns. According to the promise of our chiefs, made last winter in Philadelphia, we have been to council with the hostile Indians, to endeavor to bring them to a peace. After we arrived at their towns, and had acquainted them that it was the wish of General Washington to be at peace with the whole of the Indians, even those from the rising to the setting of the sun: after they had considered, they all, as one, agreed to make a peace: but as General Washington did not let us know the terms on which he would make peace, it was referred to a council the ensuing spring, where they wish he should be present.. They wish it to be considered that they were the first people the Great Spirit seated on this island, for which reason we look on the Americans as children, to call them our younger brethren.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Timothy Pickering and "The Great Spirit":

I've noted many times before how George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, when speaking to unconverted Native Americans referred to God as "The Great Spirit" exactly as the Natives did, which suggests a very generous almost universalistic ecumenicism.

I'm not sure how compatible this is with "orthodoxy." There is a school of hard orthodoxy which suggests non-Christians believe in false gods, and consequently, the "Great Spirit" is a false god, or even a devil. On the other hand, there is Acts 17-23.

I'm interested in more of the comprehensive uses of the term the "Great Spirit" when the Founders spoke to unconverted Natives, and how such squares with orthodox or heterodox theology.

I found this nifty link, which unfortunately I can't access completely without membership. But it does point to a comprehensive list of those primary sources. (Though I just registered; I think -- ? -- once approved I can access without paying a fee.)

One of those documents is "Colonel Pickering address to the Senekas and their Chief mourning the death of Farmer's Brother's Son."

Timothy Pickering, we know, was a unitarian; he was heterodox. I have a hypothesis -- one I'd like to falsify -- that you'll see more "Great Spirit" talk by the heterodox as opposed to orthodox figures.

But anyway, putting those relevant terms into a search engine I did find this page which quotes Col. Pickering's Great Spirit talk to the Natives.

Here is a big taste of the article:

On the day after the informal meeting at Col. Pickering’s quarters, where thirty or forty chiefs were present, the first regular conference took place, which was opened by Col. Pickering in the following speech:

"Brothers, sachems, chiefs, and warriors of the Six Nations, I bid you a hearty welcome to this council fire, and thank the Great Spirit who has brought us together in safety, though I sincerely lament the cause of our meeting. I mean the murder of our two brothers of your nation at Pine creek."

He then informed them that the thirteen fires had become one fire, and that General Washington was the great chief of all the fires, and had appointed him, Col. Pickering, to represent him at the treaty. He then caused his commission to be read, and handed it around that the chiefs might examine it. This being done, he excused any want of formality which might be observed, on the ground of his ignorance of their customs, that being the first treaty he had ever attended, and continued:

"Brothers, you now see my commission, which has been read and interpreted, that according to my letter to you, I was appointed to wash off the blood of our murdered brothers, and wipe away the tears from the eyes of their friends, and that this occasion was to be improved to brighten the chain of friendship between you and the United States.

"Brothers, you said the hatchet was yet sticking in your head. I now pull it out. I have now met you to wash off the blood of the slain, and wipe away the tears from the eyes of their friends; and, as a token of friendship and peace, and of the perfect security with which we may confer together, I now present you these strings."

I then, says Col. Pickering, delivered to the principal chief, usually called Farmer’s Brother, strings of wampum. After some consultation with the chiefs near him, he rose, and addressed me to the following effect:

"Brother, we thank the Great Spirit, who has appointed this day in which we sit side by side, and look with earnestness on each other. We know you have been long waiting for us, and suppose you have often stretched up your neck to see if we were coming.

"Brother, we sent your letter to the Grand river by the Fish Carrier, and we have been waiting for its return, but it has not yet come to hand, and therefore we cannot yet properly enter upon the business. We must wait two days for the arrival of the Fish Carrier, or to hear from him. But, in the mean time, as the letter has not come back, we desire you to accept this belt as a pledge."

He then delivered the belt. After a pause, the chief called Red Jacket rose, and spoke to this effect:

"Brother, we are happy to see you here, for which we thank the Great Spirit.

"Brother, you say you are not acquainted with our customs.

"Brother, we are young, but we will describe the ancient practices of our fathers. The roads we now travel were cleared by them. When they used to meet our brothers of Pennsylvania at Philadelphia, our brothers not only pulled the hatchet out of their heads, but buried it. You say you have pulled the hatchet out of our heads, but you have only cast it behind you. You may take it up again.

"Brother, while the hatchet lies unburied we cannot sit easy on our seats.

"Brother, from the time we made peace with the United States, we have experienced troubles more than before. The United States have also had their troubles.

"Brother, we now hear General Washington, the great chief of the United States, speaking to us by you, and hope our troubles will now have an end. But our eyes are not yet washed that we may see, nor our throats cleared that we may speak."

As soon as Red Jacket sat down, I rose, and spoke to the following effect:

"Brothers, you say I have only pulled the hatchet out of your heads, and have not buried it, and while it is unburied you cannot sit easy on your seats.

"Brothers, in declaring that I pulled the hatchet out of your heads, I meant to comply with your own demand to the president and council of Pennsylvania,* which was that he should come and pull the hatchet out of your heads. However, to give you entire satisfaction on this point, as the hatchet is already pulled out of your heads, I now bury it, and pray God that it may remain buried, and that its sharp edge may never more be seen.

"Brothers, the United States has no wish but to live with you as brothers in perpetual peace.

"Brothers, I now wash off the blood of your murdered brothers, and the tears from the eyes of their friends."

I then drank to their health. After they had been served round with a glass of rum, Farmer’s Brother rose, and spoke to the following effect:

"Brother, you have now taken us by the hand, and washed our eyes; our women expect that you will show them equal attention. They are here, waiting your invitation, to receive the same tokens of your friendship which the last evening you gave us. Perhaps in taking them by the hand you may see one who will please you."

A general laugh arose at the speaker’s humor. I arose, and addressed the women:

"Sisters, I am very glad to meet you here. I have seen a great many excellent women of various complexions, and doubt not such may be found among you.

I invite you to my quarters, where we may eat and drink together in friendship.

I now take you by the hand as my sisters."

I then went round, and shook hands with every woman present.

The specific object of Col. Pickering’s mission was to assuage the resentment to which the Six Nations had been wrought by the murder of the two Senecas. ...
The History of American Secularism - Charles Taylor:

At American Creation we haven't paid much attention to Charles Taylor and his book on secularism, about which I will have more to say later.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

More From Timothy Pickering, Unitarian:

Timothy Pickering was an important, but non-key Founder. I pointed out his unitarianism here. Unitarianism didn't seem a partisan political theology. Federalists and Democratic-Republicans were both unitarian and orthodox. Though unitarians tended to be more drawn from the elite leadership.

Pickering was a Federalist ally of J. Adams, serving in his cabinet after serving in Washington's. Then apparently, had a falling out with Adams (see the Wiki). As a Federalist, he may have had some issues with Jefferson. Long story short, years later, he rekindled his correspondence with Jefferson and used his "unitarianism" as a bridge. He sent Jefferson a copy of William Channing's sermon, that Jefferson apparently had already read.

You can read Jefferson's response to Pickering here where Jefferson proudly identifies as a unitarian, favorably cites Channing along with Joseph Priestley and Richard Price, and of course, slams the Trinity.

Less well known is Pickering's initial letter to Jefferson which you may access here and which I below reproduce in its entirety.


"You will recollect that Gibbon, in his history of the 'Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire,' treats of the Christian Religion, and that he assigns five secondary causes of its prevalence, and final victory over the established religions of the earth. Among these, one was 'the miraculous powers ascribed to the primitive church.' It seems plain that Gibbon considered the miracles, ascribed to Jesus and bis Apostles, alike destitute of reality as those which are found in the legends of the Church of Rome. In relation to the latter, Bishop Watson, in his letters to the historian, puts 'to his heart' this question, 'Whether her absurd pretensions to that very kind of miraculous powers you have here displayed as operating to the increase of Christianity have not converted half her members to Protestantism, and the other half to infidelity?'

"But absurdities in relation to Christianity are not confined within the pale of the Church of Rome. There are some doctrines taught in Protestant churches, in Europe and America, so repugnant to the ideas I entertain of the perfect wisdom, justice, and benevolence of the Deity, as to authorize the opinion that they could not be the subjects of a divine revelation. I have not found them in the books said to contain such a revelation, and I long ago renounced them. They constituted parts of parental and school instruction from my earliest remembrance; but I never taught them to any of my children. I believed them implicitly till I was of age to think and inquire for myself; and one other doctrine to a later period, that of the Trinity, for I had not heard it called in question in any pulpit, and books on the subject had not fallen in my way. Few, indeed, who can read and understand theological controversies allow themselves time to investigate the merits of the questions involved in them. Official and professional duties occupy the attention of most, and, of numbers of the remaining few of educated men, science, and the general pursuits of literature, engross the leisure hours. Some of these to whom doctrines are presented for religious truths which shock their reason, taking them without further inquiry to be the Christian system, they reject this as an imposture."


"I take the liberty, Sir, to send you Mr. Channing's sermon. Whatever you may think of his views of Christianity.

"I am sure that the firm and energetic avowal of his opinions, his candor, his ingenuity, and the elegance of his composition, will fully compensate you for the time you shall spend in its perusal.

"You cannot be uninformed of a prevalent opinion among your fellow-citizens, that you are one of the learned unbelievers in revelation. Your 'Notes on Virginia' contain expressions which, if they did not originate, have served to strengthen, that opinion. You know the influence of a distinguished name over the minds of its warm, and especially of its youthful, admirers; and should you become, if you are not now, a believer, you will deeply regret the effects of that influence. You can entertain no doubt that, eighteen hundred years ago, there appeared in Judea an extraordinary person, called Jesus Christ, the founder of a sect which, after him, were called Christians; for Tacitus, Suetonius, and the younger Pliny speak of him, and of his sect. You also strongly appreciate the moral precepts purporting to have been delivered orally or in writing by Jesus, and by some of his followers who professed to be ear and eye witnesses of his words and the wonderful works ascribed to him. You have called the religion described in the records of those witnesses our 'benign religion;' and could you banish from your mind the recollection of the strange tenets which have been grafted upon that religion, and examine its history and unsophisticated doctrines with the same unbiassed disposition in which you read the histories and other writings of celebrated Romans, you might not think them unworthy to be believed by the most enlightened minds. Certainly, no one can think himself justly exposed to the charge of credulity for entertaining that religious'faith of which Boyle and Locke and Newton were sincere professors.

"A letter from me, unless on business and the common occurrences of life, you would not expect; for to literature I have no pretensions, and in politics we did not agree; but I can disapprove of the principles and oppose the measures of men in public stations with an entire exemption from unkind feelings towards them as individuals. By some I have been injured; but I am not conscious of entertaining a particle of resentment or ill-will towards any human being. In all his imitable perfections, Christians believe it to be their duty to imitate God, ' who' (St. Paul saith) 'will have all men to be Saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth.' In this spirit, and in the simple style of antiquity, I bid you, Farewell.

"Timothy Pickering.

It seems Pickering was concerned Jefferson wasn't a "Christian" and, were he not, was trying to persuade him to convert to pious unitarianism. He basically said, "hey I think the Trinity is an imposture too, but that doesn't stop me from being a devout Christian." Don't throw the baby out out with the bathwater.

But is the Trinity the baby?
Do We Call This a Reverse David Barton:

More on Whether Mormons are Christian:

From the Economist. Another from Jeffrey Goldberg. Sullivan again. And from Daniel Larison.
Mark Silk and William Saletan on the Jeffress/Romney Controversy:

Here and here.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Real Historian Eviscerates Barton Book:

Ed Brayton has the details here.

A taste (quoting Prof. Steven Green of Willamette University):

The presentation also fails to explore the other influences in the Founders’ lives that affected their worldviews and personal character. The members of the founding generation were widely read and drew their ideas for republican government from many sources: the common law, Whig political theories, classical republicanism, and Calvinism. Without question, however, the most influential ideological source was Enlightenment rationalism. The Founders were most influenced by the Enlightenment political writers of the previous two generations: John Locke, Baron Montesquieu, Hugo Grotius, Henry St. John, Lord Bolingbroke, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau, among others. Most of these writers were religious nonconformists or skeptics. Also influential were those writers of the so-called Scottish Enlightenment – Frances Hutcheson, David Hume, and Thomas Reid – whose “common sense” rationalism influenced many of the Founders including James Madison, John Adams, and James Wilson. Secular theories were more influential in forming the Founders’ ideas about natural law and civic virtue than was religion…

Second, the curriculum engages in “proof-texting,” a practice refuted by professional historians. The writers extract selected religious quotations of the various figures without explaining the larger context of the statements (and usually without providing a citation to authority). The curriculum then uses the statement as “proof” of the speaker’s sentiments, disregarding or omitting other likely influences. It fails to account for the sincerity of the speaker’s statement (such as whether the speaker was using irony or pandering to his audience) or whether the speaker likely intended that particular statement on the subject to represent his views, as opposed to other possible statements on the subject…

The additional problem with religious proof-texting is that it fails to explain the role of religious discourse during the founding period and early nineteenth century. As stated, religious rhetoric and imagery were ubiquitous in speeches and other writings because the Bible was one of the few generally available books. The narratives and allegories of the Bible were the stories that were most familiar to people. Unlike today, a person’s use of religious rhetoric during the eighteenth century tells little about his or her own religious devotion. That religiously heterodox figures such as Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson and Thomas Paine employed religious language should warn against drawing conclusions about a Founder’s personal piety from his statements.
Public High School Principal: WallBuilders Speaker Not Appropriate For School Assembly:

From Chris Rodda here.
Romney Isn’t Christian, and That’s All Right: Jeffrey Goldberg

Here. Andrew Sullivan reacts here and here.

Friday, October 21, 2011

William L. Anderson on Christian Nationalism:

Very interesting outside the box thinking from an anti-statist evangelical.

A taste:

We also hear that the USA was founded "as a Christian country," and I remember hearing a talk from someone who believed that had the authors of the U.S. Constitution made it clear that this country was "Christian," that somehow things would be different today. That really is nonsense; for that matter, a number of European countries at one time officially were "Christian" nations, and today none of those things matter, as no place in the world is as secular as Europe today.

However, the connection between historical Christianity and the effect it should have upon the actions of those that govern us was changed permanently in the United States during the 19th Century, first with Unitarianism and then with Progressivism. The political actions of both liberal and conservative "evangelicals" today are reflective of the secular, state-embracing political philosophies that rose during the 1800s and early 1900s, not the Christianity that was practiced by the Early Church, and certainly not of the Bible.

I cannot emphasize that point enough. When American evangelicals launch campaigns to deal with attempts to outlaw the "under God" portion of the Pledge of Allegiance, they are not preserving religious freedom, nor are not paying homage to the ideals of liberty that inspired many of the founders of this nation. Instead, they are endorsing a pledge created by a socialist who despised the founders of this country and who hated the views that the framers of the U.S. Constitution had on law and the state. Indeed, the Pledge of Allegiance is the antithesis of all of those ideals upon which conservative evangelicals claim to be supporting and it is collectivist and Progressivist to the core. Yet, because it has the phrase "under God," Christians are willing to engage in what only can be idolatry and pledge their troth to another god.

Having grown up in the conservative evangelical subculture and still being part of it, I have picked up some insights as to why people who believe in God and who hold to the inerrancy of the Bible have sold out to the State. The answers are more complicated and nuanced than one might expect to read in a publication like the New York Times, which treats evangelicals as though they were alien invaders who have no right even to exist in our society.

Because I am dealing with the modern evangelicals, I will not cover the influence of the Unitarians of the 19th Century, except to say that they were part of nearly every major advancement of State power, including the public school movement in Massachusetts, and the Civil War. Certainly, by the end of the 1800s, the Unitarian influence began to wane, as theological liberalism took hold in the major Protestant denominations.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Ben Franklin's Proto-Mormonism:

I was thinking of writing this post only to see that I had already written it in 2009.

I find it fascinating how (in 1728) Franklin, were he serious, thought a cold deistic all powerful God created the universe but that the warm theistic deity he would worship was the God of our solar system, created by the ultimate unknowable God.

So maybe God the Father is actually a created being. That answers the "what caused Him?" question.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Mormonism Isn't Orthodox, But The Founding Presidents Weren't Orthodox Either

[Note: I originally intended for this to be published at a notable right of center blog where I have an opportunity; but their vibe is currently too pro-Perry, anti-Romney for this. Rather than worry about getting it placed somewhere else, I'm just running it here.]

Conservative evangelicals Bryan Fischer and the Reverend Robert Jeffress recently controversially suggested that Mormonism is not Christianity, but rather a false cult, and that "Christians" should factor that in when deciding for whom to vote for public office.

Fischer and Jeffress stress Article 6, Clause 3 of the Constitution restricts government only from imposing formal religious tests. The point is true enough. Voters can vote for whomever they want, for whatever reasons, even very bad ones.

However, in a nation founded on ecumenical and non-sectarian religious principles, imposing a strictly orthodox private religious test seems a bad idea. But both Fischer and Jeffress appeal to the American Founding for their stance.

Their appeal is inapt. Attempting to justify his position, Jeffress referenced John Jay who wrote in 1816:
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.
Hmm... Mitt Romney, as a Mormon, claims to be a "Christian" and accepts Jesus as the divine, resurrected Savior of mankind. So what is the problem? Space forbids me to detail all of the problems evangelicals have with Mormonism. But, at base, Mormonism denies historic orthodoxy as found in doctrines like the Nicene and Apostles' Creeds; to disbelieve in orthodox Trinitarianism, as it were, is to disbelieve in "Mere Christianity" as CS Lewis termed it. After the late Walter Martin, conservative evangelicals often term non-Trinitarian religionists, like the Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses, and others, as "cults."

Though the term "cults" was not used during the American Founding era to describe non-Trinitarians, the "orthodox" then (especially clergy) did regard these "heretics" as not "Christian."

But whatever John Jay meant in the aforementioned quotation, America was not founded so that orthodox evangelical voters could put Presidential candidates through their strict private religious tests. (Ironically, Jay himself may not have passed the orthodox Trinitarian test for "mere Christianity" as evidence shows he doubted the content contained in his own church's Trinitarian creeds.)

Or, if it were, the experiment failed from the start; the early American Presidents were not "orthodox."

Most know that Thomas Jefferson, who served two terms as third President, was not an orthodox Trinitarian Christian. He did, interestingly, think of himself as a "Christian" while denying every single tenet of historic orthodoxy.

Fewer know that John Adams too, failed, and to quote history professor John Fea's masterful new book on the Christian Nation controversy, "fail[ed] miserably" the test for Christian orthodoxy. Adams, who identified as a "unitarian" his entire adult life, bitterly mocked the doctrines of the Trinity, which he termed a "sacerdotal imposture[]," and the Incarnation, which he said "stupified the Christian World."

And it's not as though George Washington and James Madison, respectively, the first and fourth American Presidents, the "father of America" and the "architect of the Constitution," were paragons of Christian orthodoxy. While not as overtly unitarian as the second and third American Presidents, Washington and Madison, from their own words, offer little to demonstrate their belief in Christian orthodoxy.

Indeed, Washington's own orthodox minister, the Reverend James Abercrombie, claimed Washington's systematic avoidance of communion meant he was not a "real Christian" because his actions "disregard[ed] an ordinance so solemnly enjoined by the divine Author of our holy religion, and considered as a channel of divine grace."

And well respected orthodox Episcopalian, William Meade, third Bishop of Virginia, well acquainted with Madison, claimed the fourth President's "political associations with those of infidel principles, of whom there were many in his day, if they did not actually change" his youthful, conventionally religious spirit, "subjected him to the general suspicion of it." (One prominent unitarian contemporary of James Madison, George Ticknor, founder of the Boston Public Library, claims Madison personally professed unitarianism to him during a dinner conversation.)

In all likelihood, the first American President who might pass Fischer and Jeffress's orthodox test for Christianity was seventh President Andrew Jackson!

The early American Presidents were not perfect, but they well led the newly formed nation. Their example shows little connection between belief in orthodox Trinitarian doctrine and Presidential leadership acumen.

Please keep that in mind when considering how Mitt Romney's Mormonism might impact his qualifications for the American Presidency.