Monday, January 31, 2011

Wikileaks' Principles are "Those of the American Revolution":

So claims its leader. One reason why we spend so much time at American Creation discussing the Founding is people value the American Founding. Folks make an argument -- perhaps logically fallacious -- of appeal to the authority of the American Founding. It's like the argument ad populum. It may be logically fallacious, but in a democracy it has some value to it.

Interestingly, there are some conservatives who might agree with Assange's claim. The American Revolution was, after all, a revolution. Revolutions by nature defy prevailing political authorities.

Those conservatives who want to value the Founding but not revolutions, get around that by arguing, perhaps correctly, that the US Constitution, NOT the Declaration of Independence is what governs America.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Oprah Winfrey, "Christian"?

From the Immanent Frame. Though, they don't squarely address the issue.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Eat Shit and Die:

I heard that "comeback" growing up. What I didn't know, was apparently, it originated in the Bible. In Isaiah 36:12. When the Bible speaks of something it's not necessarily approving of it. Sometimes it's clear that the Bible disapproves of something -- when it begins with "though shalt not ..." for instance. But, Lot's incest with his daughters? All of those polygamous characters? I'm not sure that the proper way to interpret these passages is that the Bible speaks approvingly of these things.

Likewise with Isaiah 36:12, I'm not an expert on the context. But, apparently, it's the Bible telling some folks off with an "eat shit and die, man."

From the King James:

But Rabshakeh said, Hath my master sent me to thy master and to thee to speak these words? [hath he] not [sent me] to the men that sit upon the wall, that they may eat their own dung, and drink their own piss with you?

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Ezekiel Bread:

I just found out about it. Well that's one passage of the Bible that is off the table for me.

At American Creation we've discussed what terms mean. "Christian," "Catholic," "Protestant," "Enlightenment," "Unitarian," etc. There are some irresolvable differences in understanding here; so it's better to clarify -- put on the table what we mean by these terms. Does "Protestantism," for instance, mean simply freedom from the Roman Catholic Church's Magesterium and the supposed "errors" of Rome? If so, those who believe in theological unitarianism, universalism, indeed even Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses could qualify as "Protestant Christians." (I'm not sure whether Mormons or JWs identify as "Protestants" as they DO identify as "Christians." I know theological unitarians and universalists, historically, have identified as "Protestant Christians.") Does Protestantism mean Sola Scriptura? Are doctrines like Trinity, Incarnation, Atonement, Eternal Damnation non-negotiables to the label "Protestant Christian"? (If so that would exclude our Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses, and theological unitarians and universalists.)

I found the following video from EWTN very informative. It discusses how many of today's evangelicals think of themselves as "born-again" Christians. In John 3, Jesus instructs Nicodemus on the necessity of being "born again" in order to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Yet the Bible is one thick ass book and there, all sorts of things are said by Jesus and OTHER "inspired" writers and speakers on requirements for entering the Kingdom of Heaven.

For instance, in Matthew 18:3, Jesus says, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”

Yet, there is no "become like children-Christian" movement like there is a "born-again Christian" movement. Yet, there is the same TEXTUAL support for BOTH kinds of Christianities. In, say, the year 2500, one could imagine such a movement.

Apparently Luther and Calvin, though they were "Protestant," "Reformed," "orthodox-Trinitarian," were not "born-again Christians," at least they did not preach being "born again" as an ELEMENT for when one becomes a "real" or "regenerate" Christian. Rather, they held to infant-baptismal regeneration, like the Roman Catholics.

Update: At my home blog my friend Ron comments:

Jon, although I no longer consider myself a Christian (in any conventional sense), as a Unitarian Universalist I've always identified with the term "radical protestant." To me, it represents a shift of authority (in assessment of truth) from a "top down" model (whether an infallible Church or State or infallible scripture) to more of a "bottom-up" paradigm of ultimate self-discernment of truth and meaning.

To me, being part of this "radically left wing of the Protestant Reformation" tradition in religion means that my spiritual ancestors were so stubbornly protestant that they increasingly refused to let anyone else (in any age, no matter how highly esteemed) do their thinking for them. It means that I can draw an identifiable line from the Minor Reformed Church of Poland (Socinians) to kindred spirits of freedom-inspired religion in the present day (whatever the title).

I would suggest that, to us, the term protestant is more about methodology than theology, not so much about particular beliefs as the approach used to determining those beliefs. (As I've commented elsewhere, if the name hadn't already been taken, UU's could have been called "methodists" in reference to their stubbornly protestant attitude applied even to matters of religion.)

Sunday, January 23, 2011

John Murray's Trial in Massachusetts:

I know we discussed the Dedham decision in Massachusetts which ultimately resulted in that state's religious establishment ending in 1833. Long story short: The Mass. Supreme Court, staffed by some Unitarians at that time, held Unitarians were a "Christian" sect eligible for state establishment aid which pissed the orthodox off so much so that they pushed for disestablishment.

But apparently, in 1783 the Universalist John Murray was involved in a similar set of court cases, where the "heterodox" side also won. Murray's and the Dedham decision could be viewed as bookend cases in favor of a heterodox, heretical "Christian" establishment in Founding era Mass. That state is, as I have come to learn, a "book end" on Founding era establishment policy. On one end we have "Virginia" represented by James Madison and Thomas Jefferson which not only disestablished but also (in Jefferson's 1786 Statute on Religious Liberty) separated church and state to some significant degree. On the other, Mass., which enacted a mild "Christian" establishment, consistent with "liberty of conscience."

As it turned out, however, such establishment encompassed heterodoxy and heresy, incompatible with what CS Lewis would later term "mere Christianity." The evangelical Baptists of that day embraced Jefferson and Madison's Virginia view that more separated church and state. After reading these cases I understand why.

Indeed, I wonder whether John Murray's cases influenced Madison's notes for his Remonstrance that cautioned against courts, with their recognized common law powers of filling in gaps in the law, deciding what constitutes "Christianity" eligible for state establishment aid.

What happened? Because John Murray preached Christianity, properly understood, taught ALL MEN will eventually be saved, more "orthodox" types argued he should be disqualified from receiving state establishment aid.

As Thomas Whittemore's 1830 book on Universalist history notes (paragraph breaks added for clarity):

At the close of the last chapter we left Mr. Murray in Gloucester, surrounded by a few steadfast friends, who had erected a Meeting House, and seemed to be enjoying a brief respite from persecution. ... At the time this society came into being, the Constitution of Massachusetts had not been drawn up, the United States were involved in the war of the Revolution, and there seems to have been no regularly prescribed method for the formation of societies distinct from the original parishes.

The Universalists in Gloucester therefore, considered themselves as constituted a christian society, by framing and subscribing articles of association, and by electing their religious teacher.

In the summer of 1780, the new constitution for the state went into effect, in which it was provided "that the several towns, parishes, precincts, and other bodies-politic, or religious societies, shall at all times have the exclusive right of electing their public teachers and of contracting with them for their support and maintenance.

"And all moneys paid by the subject to the support of public worship and of the public teachers aforesaid shall, if he require it, be uniformly applied to the support of the public teacher or teachers of his own religious sect or denomination, provided there be any on whose instructions he attends; otherwise it may be paid toward the support of the teacher or teachers of the parish or precinct in which the said moneys are raised.

"And every denomination of Christians, demeaning themselves peaceably and as good subjects of the commonwealth, shall be equally under the protection of the law; and no subordination of any one sect or denomination to another shall ever be established by law."


Not withstanding the association of the Universalists in Gloucester into a religious society, they were taxed to defray the expenses of the old parish. A demand which seemed to them so unreasonable, they refused to satisfy; and thereupon their goods were seized by an officer and sold at auction. An action was instituted for the recovery of the property; and, after great solicitation, Mr. Murray consented that it should be brought in his name, he had hitherto refused any stipulated salary; but his friends being assured by their attornies that their case was hopeless, unless Mr. Murray became the plaintiff, he, at last, with great reluctance permitted it.

The question now to be decided was one of great importance; it was the first of the kind which had occurred under the new Constitution. Whether a society could be known in law, unless it were a body corporate, and what shall constitute a teacher of piety, morality and religion, were questions the decision of which affected not Universalists alone, but all other sects which dissented from the original parish.

The Universalists in Gloucester saw clearly the importance of the case to be decided, as it affected the interests of the various denominations in the commonwealth; and, advised by counsel of the highest standing, they moved forward with a firm and steady step.

VI. The case came on for trial in the year 1783. The ground taken by Mr. Murray's opponents was, that no teacher could have a right to recover the money paid by his sect, unless the person demanding it is the teacher of a town, parish, precinct, or a society legally organized, and vested with civil and corporate powers. It was furthermore objected, that Mr. Murray's followers had no name or appellation of Protestant Christians, and were not known in the country as a sect; and that Mr. Murray did not come within the meaning of the law, as he was not a teacher of piety, religion and morality. (Bold mine -> JR.)

"We beg leave to ask," said his opponents, "can a man who publicly discards the doctrine of God's moral government, of future rewards and punishments, urge, with a good face, or with any hope of success, the practice of morality? Can he consistently preach up morality, when he at the same time saps its very foundation, and cuts the nerves of Christian piety, by blending all characters together, and by making all equally holy, because equally united to Christ in his incarnation?"9

In reply the Universalists said, "whether he is a teacher of piety, religion and morality, cannot be determined from a revision of the motives he offers as to the rewards and the punishments which are to be bestowed or inflicted in another world. We believe that the question must be decided by the evidence of his urging the people to piety and morality, as the foundation of the greatest good which their natures are capable of, and as a compliance with the will of their Almighty Creator and Preserver, without going into an inquiry of his opinion respecting the quantity of punishment in a future state.

"That God will punish men for sin, in such a manner as will far overbalance the pleasures which can be derived from vice in this world, is so clearly pointed out in the gospel, that we are compelled to believe it; but whether the opinion of some learned and good men, who imagine that the wicked will be annihilated; or whether that of the learned Dr. Chauncy, Dr. Priestly, and many others, who believe that there is a temporary hell prepared for the ungodly, which is another state of probation, or any other opinion respecting that subject is best, every one must determine for himself. Neither statutes, penalties or rewards, can force, or allure, a man to consent to the truth of a proposition, without sufficient evidence received by a mind capable of examining, and applying of it.

"The idea, that it is necessary to the good order of civil government, that the teachers of religion should thunder out the doctrine of everlasting punishment, to deter men from atrocious crimes, which they may otherwise commit in secret, has long been hackneyed in the hands of men in power; but without any warrant from reason, or revelation for doing of it; for reason itself, without the aid of revelation, gave no intimation of a state of retribution; it was the Gospel which brought life, and immortality to light. God, in the civil constitution which he was pleased to form for the Jews, strongly prohibited murder, perjury, adultery, and many other crimes which men might then commit in secret; but in no one instance, gave an intimation, that the Jews should be punished in another world for their crimes in this. Had a threatening of that nature been necessary to the support of civil government, we might with propriety look for it there. It was not till the Christian Church was illegally weded to state policy, that men in power dared to hurl the thunders of the Most High at those who offended against government; and even then modesty forbade it, only as they arrogantly pretended to do it for the honor of God, and the advantage of religion."0

This case was kept in court for a long time. Trial succeeded trial, and review followed review, at Salem and at Ipswich, in 1783, 1784, and 1785. In the fall of the latter year a writ of review was again served, but the final decision was deferred until June, 1786, when a verdict was given in favor of Mr. Murray. The conduct of Judge Dana attracted particular notice. The view he had taken of the case in former trials was unfavorable to the plaintiff; but a revolution had passed in his mind. When he noticed that article in the Constitution which directs that monies may be applied by each person to teachers of his own religious sect, he said the whole cause depended upon the construction of that clause. He had before been of opinion it meant teachers of bodies corporate; he then thought otherwise; as the Constitution was meant for a liberal purpose, its construction should be of a most liberal kind; it meant, in this instance, teachers of any persuasion whatever, Jew or Mahometan.

It would be for the Jury to determine, if Mr. Murray was a teacher of piety, religion and morality; that matter, he said, had in his opinion been fully proved. The only question, therefore, before them was, if Mr. Murray came within the description of the Constitution, and had a right to require the money. "It is my opinion," he declared, "that Mr. Murray comes within the description of the Constitution, and has a right to require the money." Having been out all night, the jury returned a verdict in the morning in favor of the plaintiff.

VII. Thus protected in the enjoyment of their religious rights by the decision of the highest judicial tribunal in the commonwealth, and by the verdict of an impartial jury, the Universalists in Gloucester went fearlessly on; rejoicing that it fell to their lot to resist the beginnings of oppression under the new Constitution, and to test, at so early a period, its liberal provision in favor of the freest toleration. Additions were made to their number; Mr. Murray was their most constant preacher, and they were occasionally visited by other public laborers of kindred views; success, above their highest anticipations, crowned their exertions. ... (pp. 351-57.)

Very interesting. On the one hand we have folks arguing that those who deny eternal damnation are not "Protestant Christians," therefore, not "protected" under the state religion clause, and the other, a judge, apparently (I'm going to look this one up) who held Jews and Muslims are included under Massachusetts' mild religious establishment.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Chet Atkins on Lenny Breau:

Or paraphrasing what Lenny said to him: "I'm a druggie. ... The first thing you do; you go to peoples' houses and go through their medicine cabinet. ..."

1830 Book On Universalism:

I found this via googlebooks. It examines universalism in Christendom in the modern era (modern for 1830). I plan on excerpting much more from this book. One thing that stood out was theological developments in Germany that seemed to parallel those in America and England -- what influenced America's "key" Founders.

We've heard the terms "theistic rationalism," "Christian-Deism," "Christian-unitarian-universalism," "rational Christianity" -- the mean between orthodox Christianity and Deism. The expositors of which combined both natural and revealed religion (Reason and the Bible) to arrive at this theology.

This passage on pp. 129-31 describes it in Germany along with a host of names of German theologians of whom I've never heard who believed in this:

In the latter part of this century the controversy took a still wider range. Disgusted at the errors, bigotry and arrogance of Catholics, Lutherans, and the Reformed, many of the learned in Germany turned from them in disgust: some, sickening at the name of Religion, became Atheists; others, charging upon Christianity the errors of men, took refuge in the comfortless speculations of Deism; but a third class, possessing the prudence to examine the Divine Word for themselves, saw clearly the distinction between the real and the alleged doctrines of Revelation, and asserted and maintained, with vigor and discretion, the purer system of Jesus Christ. The three principal and popular errors, which they opposed, were the doctrines of the Trinity, Atonement and Eternal Punishment.

VIII. Among these may be reckoned Gruner, Eberhard, Steinbart, Damm, Fuller, and the immortal Semler. Steinbart was teacher of divinity at Frankfort, on the Oder, and his sentiment was, to use his own words, "God can never punish any, more than is necessary for his reformation. He cannot mistake in the choice of his means, and must always reach his end. He would appear less lovely, if one creature should be forever miserable."9 He published at Zullichan the "Christian Doctrine of Happiness," in which, says the orthodox Erskine, "the unscriptural sentiments which have appeared in German books and journals, as to the divinity and atonement of Christ, are reduced to a system, with several additions of his own." Gruner, divinity-professor at Hall, in a compound of divinity, published in 1777, argues against the divinity and atonement of Christ, and the eternity of hell torments.1

This emphasis was mine. It's this "third class" which America's key Founders and the theologians and philosophers they followed could be placed in.

Update: The book is from 1830, NOT 1822 as was originally reported and the error has been corrected.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Primary Source From Elihu Palmer on Deism:


He seems to describe a phenomenon of sectarian diversity within Christianity leading to an evolution towards Deism. A shorter way of describing it: Christianity rationalizes towards Deism.

A taste:

Another consideration still more powerful, accelerated the progress of moral improvement, and constantly diminished the force of attachment toward the Christian system. Every new sect discarded some of the absurdities of that from which it had separated, and passed a general sentiment of condemnation upon all those who were in the rear of this long and religious train. Luther and Calvin hurled their religious thunderbolts against the power and absurd tenets of the Church of Rome, and especially against the Pope, by whom this Church was governed. The Armenians, the Arians, the Socinians, and the Universalists, successively followed, with a purifying hand of reason, pruning and lopping off the decayed branches of the old theological tree, approaching still nearer to the source and principles of nature, till at length, by regular progression, the human mind discovered, that moral principle was placed upon a more solid foundation than the reveries of sectarian fanaticism. It has been in this manner that some portion of society has once more obtained a true idea of the religion of nature, or of that which may be denominated pure and simple Deism.

It is this religion which, at the present period of the world, creates, such frightful apprehensions in the household of faith, and threatens to shake to the centre the chief corner stone on which the Church is built. These apprehensions are daily disclosed by Christian professors, and they depict in such strong colours the fatal effects of Deism, that ignorant fanaticism believes it to be an immoral monster, stalking with gigantic strides over the whole civilized world, for the detestable purpose of producing universal disorder, and subverting all the sound principles of social and intelligent existence. Such are the horrid ideas which the enemies of this pure and holy religion are every where propagating amongst their credulous and deluded followers. This circumstance renders it necessary, that the true idea of Deism be fairly stated, that it may be clearly understood by those whose minds have hitherto been darkened by the mysteries of faith.

Deism declares to intelligent man the existence of one perfect God, Creator and Preserver of the Universe ; that the laws by which he governs the world are like himself immutable, and, of course, that violations of these laws, or miraculous interference in the movements of nature, must be necessarily excluded from the grand system of universal existence; that the Creator is justly entitled to the adoration of every intellectual agent throughout the regions of infinite space ; and that he alone is entitled to it, having no co-partners who have a right to share with him the homage of the intelligent world. Deism also declares, - that the practice of a pure, natural, and uncorrupted virtue, is the essential duty, and constitutes the highest dignity of man; that the powers of man are competent to all the great purposes of human existence; that science, virtue, and happiness, are the great objects which ought to awake the mental energies, and draw forth the moral affections of the human race.

I'm of the mind that Elihu Palmer, Thomas Paine, and Ethan Allen are the notable "Deists" of the American Founding; but none of them was a "key Founder." Likewise there were orthodox Christians among the Founders; but the "key Founders" (the first four Presidents, Ben Franklin and a few others) were neither strict Deists nor orthodox Christians, but something in the middle.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Good News And Bad News About My College + Online Learning is the Future:

As my close readers may know I am an Associate Professor at Mercer County Community College (the County that serves, among other places, Trenton and Princeton, NJ). We are feeling Gov. Christie budget cuts and, therefore, have to disproportionately rely on student tuition to close our budget gap. And our enrollment is slightly down.

Yet, enrollment is UP 30 PERCENT at "The Virtual College," in which I not only teach, but multiple sections and have for years.

A friend -- a prominent figure at a DC think thank -- once asked me what teaching online was like. And I answered, it's not unlike blogging. You convey information -- lectures with hyperlinks -- online and set up various discussion mechanisms, not unlike comment threads at blogs.

And student and professor work -- again not unlike blogs -- is "asynchronous." If I want to do all my blog posting after midnight, but you want to do all of your reading of my posts in the early morning, we can as long as deadlines are met.

There are academic integrity issues with which online educational institutions, admittedly, struggle. Though, in live classes, having folks who are not the students write term papers has been going on since colleges have been in existence.

But Moore's Law probably will soon solve those issues as it closes the gap between online and face to face learning.

A major advantage of online learning is the ability to hyperlink to ever expanding Internet resources. As college classrooms move towards universal wiring, that gap closes.

Likewise, it's easier to keep tabs on students who are assessed in a live setting. But eventually -- within the next 20 years, I predict -- retina and fingerprint identification will be boilerplate in all computers so we will know if it's really YOU taking that test at home online.

We currently offer "blended" courses (hybrids of live and online). I predict future "blending" will not involve blending online and face to face but synchronous with asynchronous learning. A big loss with online classes is the inability to interact with X numbers of students "live," spontaneously. Certainly Skype like technologies becoming boilerplate will close that gap as well.

Retina scan, fingerprint check, we are ready to roll. Very soon in the future.

Monday, January 17, 2011

More From Benjamin Rush on Trinitarian Universalism:

The Trinitarian case for Universalism takes a piece from Arminian logic on the atonement, a piece from Calvinism (indeed a reductio against universal atonement) and puts them together to teach that result. Arminianism teaches Christ made a universal atonement, as opposed to a limited one. Calvinism says Christ died for His Elect only, else His blood would be wasted on the unsaved. Arminianism teaches Christ died for the unsaved too; they just reject His grace. The Trinitarian Universalists seemed to argue that 1) Christ made a universal, not limited atonement. And 2) indeed, His blood WOULD be wasted if even one single soul for whom He died was not saved. Hence, everyone is saved eventually.

I found a source of more letters from Benjamin Rush explaining the case for Trinitarian Universalism, in particular letters of his to Universalist guru, Rev. Elhanan Winchester.

A taste:

Your funeral sermon for Mr. John Wesley does honor to the philanthropy of your universal principles. I admire and honor that great man above any man that has lived since the time of the Apostles: his writings will ere long revive in support of our doctrine---for if Christ died for all, as Mr. Wesley always taught, it will soon appear a necessary consequence that all shall be saved.

-- To ELHANAN WINCHESTER, November 12, 1791.
Religion and the Presidency: Early Presidents:

CSPAN has a done a great job updating its archives. I remember watching this when it came out in 2004. It was the first time I heard the term/paradigm "theistic rationalism." It was Gary Scott Smith of Grove City College who introduced that theory in a comprehensive discussion of George Washington's faith. Phillip Munoz also speaks (on Madison). And others.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Selling Immigration Rights:

Immigration is one of those vexing issues for me. Open borders would be nice. Some libertarians are open borders Utopians. But even Milton Friedman qualified his support for open borders with the caveat that we MUST abolish the welfare state (which we will not, anytime soon, whatever you think of the WS). Certainly open borders wouldn't work with government subsidized health-care. Immigration has already wreaked havoc at various border hospitals where medical ethics guarantees care for uninsured folks who have no ability to pay what it costs to treat them.

The "paleo-libertarian" types sympathize more with immigration restriction (which is a defining feature of "paleo-conservatism"). But in their first best world, just about everything is privately owned; you may cross borders according to private property principles. That is, if you are invited by a property owner, if you buy property, etc. Otherwise illegal immigrants are trespassers.

Again, like Friedman's case for open borders without a welfare state, it's Utopian. I don't see laissez faire coming to America, Western Civilization or the Asian capitalist nations anytime soon. Though perhaps inevitable austerity measures will push the developed world towards something closer to it ("the beast" might not necessarily be starved, but is necessarily dieting).

So in this "third way" political-economy of regulated, managed capitalism, with government subsidized safety nets, education and health care, more folks want to come to American than we can afford to let in. This creates a supply and demand dynamic. And markets are the perfect thing for dealing with supply and demand issues.

I know many folks who want to immigrate to America couldn't afford to "buy" citizenship (which unfortunately illustrates the life-boat ethical dilemma of open borders). I'm pulling a number out of a hat. Let's say $100,000 (in addition to whatever other fees you need to pay) is the "market price" for a green-card. That is, anyone with $100,000 in cash gets to step to the front of the immigration line and immediately become a lawful permanent resident (with of course, the right security clearances).

I proposed a similar idea a little while back of automatic citizenship to anyone who buys a bank owned foreclosed house. One note of criticism I received was, basically, only first worlders and (relatively) rich folks would be in the market for this, and why would they be so interested in moving to American anyway? Chances are, for them, life probably is not so bad where they live.

Again, the $100,000 figure was arbitrary. The idea is create a revenue raising/maximizing MARKET for green-cards. Concerned with attracting the "right" kind of folks? When you BUY something, you tend to take pride in ownership of it. And if one pays a premium for American residence rights/citizenship, one will probably act in a responsible and productive way. "Responsible and productive" are the kinds of folks I'd like to see immigrating to America.

This proposal, of course, would be "neutral" on all of the traditional civil rights categories (race, religion, gender, etc.) but I would imagine populations most likely to take advantage of it are from nations that disproportionately finance America's debt (hence nations with American $$ to spare).

The result may well be a massive migration of Chinese and Indians to America. To which I say, so what? With such massive populations (living under governments that restrict freedom more than America), so what if a hundred plus million Chinese, Indians and others buy their way into American freedom over the next 30-50 years?

I plan on blogging more about the future of the world's political economy. The world which we are moving into will have inevitable changes that a lot of people desire not. But I am optimistic.

We need to think outside the box for creative solutions to problems like massive, unsustainable debts of first world nations and the, as Thomas Friedman puts it, increasingly less relevance of national borders in the world political economy.

Change or die. Be flexible and be open. Demographics changes are inevitable and an open society should make the best of it.

Update: I see my idea is PROFOUNDLY unoriginal. See also here.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Rick Warren and America's Founders Had no Problem With the Swedenborgs:

WorldNetDaily differs with America's Founders on this issue.

As they write:

But critics point out the physicians who crafted the program apparently don't share the church's professed evangelical beliefs, espousing instead various forms of Eastern mysticism and the tenets of a Christian cult, Swedenborgism.


Oz, host of the Emmy-winning "Dr. Oz Show" and professor of surgery at Columbia University, says he is inspired by Emanuel Swedenborg, an 18th century cult founder who taught that all religions lead to God and denied orthodox Christian beliefs such at the atonement of Christ for sin, the trinity and the deity of the Holy Spirit.


McConkey pointed out the followers of what is called Swedenborgianism believe all religions lead to God and that Christianity must go through a rebirth. The group also denies the existence of a personal devil and believes the Bible is not inspired. When people die, the followers believe, they become an angel or an evil spirit.

Emanuel Swedenborg said he had a vision in 1745 in which he saw creatures crawling on walls. He asserted God then appeared to him as a man and told him to promote the new teachings to the world.

Check out my post from a few weeks ago at Dispatches From the Culture Wars on George Washington's friendliness to the Swedenborgians.

Thomas Jefferson, in fact, invited them to preach in the Capitol. Here is Rev. John Hargrove's sermon.

Oh and here Victoria Jackson says the following about Mormons:

On my first cruise, I'm meeting strangers who will be friends for life. One is Jerry Johnson. ... Jerry brings up Glenn Beck's Mormonism and I start to realize that the god Glenn Beck has been praying to for the healing of our land is not the God I've been praying to. I've had a fuzzy understanding of Mormonism, but, in a quest for truth, I listen to the facts Jerry is sharing with me and decide Beck has the freedom to worship any god he chooses, but he and Mitt Romney cannot accurately call themselves "Christians." I now realize why the 8/28 event had a strange element with the ecumenical lineup Beck brought onstage with him. Praying to "any" god is not what 2 Chronicles 7:14 meant.

Once again we see the dynamic of folks calling themselves "Christians" but, not being so, accordingly. The Declaration of Independence -- which was designed to foster such political theological communion between orthodox Christians and "others" like Mormons (or back then, Swedenborgs), Jews, unitarians, universalists, Providential Nature only believing deists -- should not resonate with Ms. Jackson and those who believe in her theology.

That is IF they understand what the DOI means. Sadly, they don't.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Carlton Pearson, Ted Haggard, Universalism:

Since we are on the theme. A fascinating clip here:

In the middle of Haggard explaining why Pearson is a heretic, why Ghandi is in Hell, that Hell is a physical place, the shit hit the fan. Pearson said yes, Hell is a physical place and Haggard is in it.
WorldNetDaily Has Thing For "The Shack."

Here they contrast The Shack with CS Lewis' Narnia. Arguably I think they distort Lewis' teachings; but granted I'm no Lewis expert. I do know some basic facts about him, though.

The article describes Lewis as an "evangelical." Arguably, that errs. Lewis was an orthodox Anglican. Indeed he famously articulated the notion of "mere Christianity" that united Protestants, Roman Catholics, Anglicans and capital O Orthodox Christians along a common ground of Nicene orthodoxy. If you didn't believe in Nicene Trinitarianism, you were not a "mere Christian," whatever you may have called yourself. That means among others, Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, probably George Washington, James Madison, John Locke, Isaac Newton and even John Milton himself were not "Christians" even though they all in some sense considered themselves to be.

Whether Lewis was "evangelical" depends on what "evangelical" means (it's generally associated with Protestantism not Anglicanism). If Francis Beckwith, for instance, can qualify as both an evangelical and a Roman Catholic (as he describes his faith), I suppose Lewis could also under a broad understanding of the term.

More importantly the article argues whereas The Shack embraces universal reconciliation, Lewis did not. Lewis seems a poor choice to contrast The Shack. First -- I haven't yet read the book The Shack -- but from what I know, it doesn't hit one over the head with a message of universal reconciliation; it does not evangelize for universalism, even if universalism is implied in its message. And CS Lewis, if he believed in the idea of eternal damnation for everyone in Hell seemed to embrace the certainty of that outcome rather tepidly. That is, Lewis strongly flirted with universalism himself and like a number of present day notable Roman Catholics seemed to hope for the possibility of an uncrowded Hell.

Heck, even Billy Graham seems to flirt with such hopeful universalism.

Orthodox Christianity seems to be all over the place as to 1. what Hell is really like 2. whether you send yourself there or God sends you there, and 3. whether God is present in Hell or Hell is separation from God.

It shouldn't surprise that orthodox Christians might also differ on whether Hell is eternal.

I've heard it said that God wouldn't "force" anyone to be with Him in Heaven. Forced love is not real love. But a lot of Calvinists (and some non-Calvinists) evangelicals seem to think God is capable of forced hate. That is they believe God is present in Hell (you can't get away from Him) that He and His angels personally deliver the eternal punishment. This isn't just Fred Phelps, though he and his church do preach this.

CS Lewis argued the doors of Hell are locked from the inside. Again, a quite contentious notion among orthodox Christians. No one would lock themselves in an eternal torture chamber. The only way the doors would be locked from the inside is if Hell is indeed freedom from God to enjoy the rest of eternity sinning not in His presence. Like an eternal Las Vegas nightclub, where one gets to eat, drink, smoke, gamble, do drugs, fornicate, etc. for all eternity.

No wonder so many folks would choose that. Heh.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Mark David Hall on American Political Theology:

Mark David Hall delivers to Heritage. This is good. I watched the whole thing and wanted to do it justice with a line by line commentary. But I've waited too long, after Dr. Hall graciously sent the link to me, so I reproduce it now.

Dr. Hall's perspective is more sympathetic to a "Christian America" reading than mine. He does outstanding work and understands the right questions (along with blogfellows Tom Van Dyke, John Fea and others).

What Will Happen First?

1. Hal Lindsey who predicted the Rapture would happen in his lifetime will die of old age/natural causes (he's 81)?

2. Jesus will return?

3. Christian Americanists will stop citing David Barton's phony quotations.

The below video was from the end of the year 2010.

First Amendment/Religious Liberty as a Protestant Document/Concept:

I want to make some points that clarify my American Creation co-blogger's valuable contribution to the American Founding/religion debate.

He writes:

The First Amendment was meant, as Justice Joseph Story says, to level all Protestant religions with each other, but not to equalize Christianity with Judaism and Islam. Alternatively, it did level all religions, even Judaism and Islam. But either way, it was only on the federal level.

First Joseph Story may have been an authority; but he was not *the* authoritative source for the First Amendment. He had nothing to do with its drafting and ratification. My friend Phillip Munoz of Notre Dame (and Princeton), who is about as authoritative a modern scholar of the F.A. as it gets, compared Joseph Story's commentaries to the actual sources of the drafting and ratification of the First Amendment and concluded Story misreads the Founding record. Similar to how scholars sympathetic to the secular left "read in" Jefferson's and Madison's "Virginia view" to define the meaning of the religion clauses, Story unfairly reads in the "Massachusetts' view."

Now, Story's quotation about the First Amendment being concerned, generally, with Christianity, not other religions, may shed light on the underlying aim of its religion clauses (which, in turn, may have had multiple underlying aims). However, it still cannot trump the TEXT of the Constitution, which uses the term "religion" not "Christianity."

This is an aside: I want to make sure we don't fall into the Christian Nationalist trap of concluding the First Amendment somehow was meant to cover, privilege or establish "Christianity generally," but not other religions. We all agree that, as originally conceived, the FA applied to the Federal government only. Whether the EC can be "incorporated" demands synthesizing evidence from the framing of the original bill of rights (late 18th Cen.) with the 14th Amendment (mid 19th Cen.). Munoz has concluded that, unlike the Free Exercise Clause, the Establishment Clause is impossible to incorporate. He may be right; however, as Akhil Amar argued, the original Equal Protection Clause -- which would demand government treat Christianity equal with Islam, Judaism, and other religions -- could do quite a bit of what SCOTUS currently has the Establish Clause doing.

Next, I want to clarify what it means to say the F.A. is undergirded by "Protestant Christianity." I argue that a "Protestantism" but not necessarily "Christianity" undergirds the notion of religious liberty. Protestantism meaning "to protest" or "dissent." The idea of freedom from ecclesiastical, authoritative interpretations of the Bible, most notably freedom from the Magisterium, but also freedom from non-Roman ecclesiastical authoritative teachings. Taken to its extremes -- which America's Founders did -- this means freedom from the very creeds that define the essence of what it means (historically, to many folks) to be a "mere Christian."

I wrote about this implicit Protestant establishment here. I quoted Nathan Hatch, president of Wake Forest University and one of the premier scholars of Religion and the Founding Era, describing the theology of Charles Chauncy, a key theological influence on the American Founding:

Charles Chauncy, pastor of Boston’s First Church for sixty years (1727-1787), is the most prominent example of an exclusive appeal to Biblical authority in order to unravel theological orthodoxy. Chauncy was persuaded to emphasize Bible study by reading the works of English divines, such as Samuel Clarke’s The Scripture-Doctrine of the Trinity (London, 1712) and John Taylor’s The Scripture-Doctrine of Original Sin (London, 1740). Both authors used a “free, impartial and diligent” method of examining Scripture to JETTISON, respectively, the doctrines of the Trinity and of Original Sin. [8]

During the 1750s, after the Great Awakening, Charles Chauncy spent seven years engaged in the approach to Bible study expounded by these English authors. In the spring of 1754 he wrote to a friend,

“I have made the Scriptures my sole study for about two years; and I think I have attained to a clearer understanding of them than I ever had before.”

His studies led him to draft a lengthy manuscript in which he REJECTED the idea of eternal punishment and embraced universalism.

Now, I point this out because terms need precise meaning. Perhaps I am being pedantic in claiming a "Protestant" but not necessarily "Christian" political-theology; but when some/many folks see terms like "Protestant Christian" or "reformed Christian" they sometimes improperly "load" or "read in" things. If "Protestant Christianity" can unite a Chauncy with a Calvin against Rome's monopoly on biblical interpretation, then the term is apt. However, to some/many, "Protestant Christianity" excludes Chauncy. And that's not what America's Founding political theology was all about. Perhaps I attack strawmen here. But my co-blogger to whom I respond has cited American Vision authoritatively. And it's precisely these folks who engage in such a misreading of the American Founding's political theology.

To them "reformed Protestantism" means Sola Scriptura, orthodox Trinitarianism, and TULIP. The "political Protestantism" of the American Founding does not necessarily include any of this. Again, it's something that can unite a Chauncy with a Cavlin, a Jefferson with a Henry (both Anglicans), the unitarian John Adams with his trinitarian cousin Sam (both Congregationalists).

Indeed even Joseph Story who seems a key figure for the "Christian Americanists'" attempt to read in a common law "general Christianity" to the American Founding was a biblical unitarian-universalist, and hence "not a Christian" according to minimums that "Christian Americanists" adhere to for what it means to be a "Christian."

And that highlights the problem with trying to argue some kind of "Christianity generally" was to be privileged by the American Founding. In order to privilege "Christianity generally" you had to agree on certain minimums of what it meant to be a "mere Christian" eligible for such privilege. As James Madison argued in his notes for the Memorial and Remonstrance, that was a task impossible for politics.

Finally, I note the idea of religious and political liberty as authentically reformed Protestantism is debatable. Calvin had Servetus put to death for denying the Trinity. The Puritans certainly didn't recognize religious liberty, but rather enacted a theocratic code that demanded the death penalty for, among other things, worshipping false gods. And when the proto-Baptist Roger Williams articulated his novel ideas on liberty of conscience, the dominant view of reformed Protestants/Calvinists reacted to Williams' ideas like Dracula does to a cross.

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Slacktivist on The Godless Constitution:

Here. A taste:

I was very pleased to see the authors give Roger Williams his due as an essential American advocate of the Baptist principle of separation of church and state. Kramnick & Moore provide a fine overview of that doctrine, which is the central distinguishing tenet of Baptist Christianity. Actually, it's the only distinguishing tenet of Baptist Christianity. It's what "Baptist" means, with everything else Baptists tend to believe flowing from that (including the unwieldy individual freedom of conscience that allows us only to speak of what Baptists "tend" to believe). The teaching about voluntary, adult believer's baptism developed as a rebuke and rejection of mandatory state-church baptism as a rite of citizenship.

But what is most valuable to me in this unfailingly interesting book is the collection of voices from the opponents of America's "Godless Constitution." I had read most of the other side of this argument -- the side that won the argument because it was right. But I hadn't previously read the vehement objections of the losing side.

The viewpoint of that side is echoed today in the voices of the evangelical right calling for religious hegemony. Then, as now, the argument was that such hegemony was necessary to provide social order and a basis for morality without which the nation would be ungovernable. Then, as now, the advocates of a sectarian Constitution believed that only sectarian religion could provide a basis for such morality. And only their own sectarian religion at that.

So for the sectarian opponents of the Godless Constitution, then as now, the stakes were enormously high. The Constitution proposed by the framers in 1789, they said, was a form of national suicide. That Godless document -- with its separation of church and state, its disregard for the overarching sovereignty of God, its absolute prohibition against religious tests for public office and against the establishment or privileging of any official sect -- would bring rapid calamity and doom. Their warnings of the consequences of such a Constitution were dire, apocalyptic and unambiguous. If the Constitution did not establish an official sectarian Christian religion, they believed, then Christians would find themselves subjugated to some other established sect.

Saturday, January 01, 2011

WorldNetDaily Looks Forward to John Fea's Book:

Fea's book, from the advanced look I got it, is going to be a great read. Here is Jim Fletcher.

In our country, publishers (and documentary producers) are able to produce material, led by conscience. We might disagree on various views, but we are free to produce, distribute and discuss those views.

A new book (one we'll review in the coming weeks) is John Fea's "Was America Founded as a Christian Nation? A Historical Introduction."

This subject settled in my mind recently as I saw a promotion of Fea's book from Publishers Weekly. It brought to mind the polar opposite views about our Founding Fathers that have filled bookshelves and DVD players for some time.

Personally, I am in the middle of my investigation into just what the Founding Fathers believed. The question first became fascinating to me more than a decade ago, during the events at Mount Vernon in 1999, the bicentennial of George Washington's death. Previously a guide had pointed to a spot along the banks of the Potomac, where in early December 1799, Washington had been marking trees to be cut. He fell ill shortly after and died before Christmas.

The subject of Washington's religious faith has been debated ever since. I found it interesting at Mount Vernon that of 100 or more titles about Washington in the gift shop, only one addressed his faith. The guides made no mention of it, and so I got an education into the extent of the sanitizing of such subjects from America's power centers today. The National Parks Service is not going to chip away at the wall of separation between church and state that … oh well, that's a subject for another day.

I did find it quite interesting that just outside the tomb of George and Martha Washington (moved to a spot closer to the house some decades after their deaths), stand stone pillars with Scripture chiseled into the stone. Some even speak of the resurrection, which I'd think would be a clue to Washington's real feelings about Christianity.

But then again, perhaps not.