Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Andrew Sullivan Touches On Among Other Things America's Civil Religion & Mormonism:

Here. A taste:

It's easy to see where Romney, for example, gets his belief. Mormonism is the only all-American religion, placing Jesus in America itself ("I just got crucified, you guys"). But for Christians, the notion of God preferring one land-mass or population, apart from the Jewish people from whom the Messiah came, is obviously heretical. As a Catholic, I see no divine blessing for any country, and the notion that God would make such worldly distinctions strikes me as surreal as it did when I first wrapped my head around the phrase "Church of England". If God is God, one island on one planet in a minor galaxy is surely the same as any other, and the truth about our universe surely cannot be reduced to one country's patriotism. Yes, we can ask, as Lincoln did, for God's blessing. But seeking God's blessing is not the same as being God's country - with all the hubristic aggression that can lead to.

Some Straussians see Lincoln as the Second Founder and the abolition of slavery as the return of the West to natural rights. And it certainly seems true that in Lincoln's words and America's example, key ideas about human equality and dignity gained momentum - and you can hear those ideas today in the mouths of a new Arab generation, in a culture so alien to our own it is close to impossible to understand in its complexity. What deeper proof that these ideas are universal and true?

But this also reveals the limits of American exceptionalism. If America's ideals are universal, they cannot be reduced to the ownership of one country. And that country's actual history - as opposed to Bachmannite mythology - is as flawed as many others. Why, after all, did America need a Second Founding under Lincoln - almost a century after it was born? Which other advanced country remained so devoted to slavery until the late nineteenth century? Which other one subsequently replaced slavery with a form of grinding apartheid for another century? Besides, much of the thought that gave us the American constitution can be traced back to European thinkers, whether in Locke or Montesquieu or the Enlightenment in general. Seeing America as the sole pioneer of human freedom is to erase Britain's unique history, without which America would not exist. It is to erase the revolutionary ideas of the French republics. It's historically false.

But was the discovery of America some kind of divine Providence? The Puritans certainly thought so. And the blessing of a vast continental land mass with huge resources is certainly rare in human history. But, of course, that land mass was available so easily because of the intended and unintended genocide of those who already lived there - which takes the edge off the divine bit, don't you think? Call me crazy (and they do) but my concept of God does not allow for God's blessing of genocide as a means for one country's hegemony over the earth.

This is not to say that America doesn't remain, by virtue of its astonishing Constitution, a unique sanctuary for human freedom. ...

Sullivan took his PhD from Harvard in Political Science under Harvey Mansfield.
Again Not Me:

Not (as far as I know) related to me. But I did keep in touch with him a little via email over the confusion.
John Fea on CSPAN:

Check it out here.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

The God of the Enlightenment and Miracles:

Check out this very insightful article by Dr. Joseph Waligore. A taste:

Most Enlightenment thinkers defined a miracle as God changing the usual order of the laws of nature. The vast majority of Enlightenment thinkers believed God had made the natural laws and could suspend them whenever he wished. For example, In his “Essay on Miracles,” the English deist John Trenchard said a miracle was when God altered the usual order of the universe: “A Miracle or actio mirabilis, is an action to be wondered at; as when God Almighty interposes, and by his omnipotent power alters the order he at first placed the universe in, or enables or empowers other beings to do so.”[v] Sometimes the Enlightenment thinkers used the words “particular providence” interchangeably with the word miracle. A particular providence happened when God or an angel cared for someone outside the general course of nature (which was seen as God’s general providence).[vi]

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Another Pastor Fired For Questioning Hell:



He describes going to a Christian art show where one of the pieces featured a quote by Mohandas Gandhi. Someone attached a note saying: “Reality check: He’s in hell.”

I can't believe anyone really believes this. I salute the pastor's courage for coming out as a universalist and I wish more Christians would as well. I believe a strong majority of self professing Christians, indeed self professing orthodox Trinitarian Christians are theological universalists or very hopeful about it.

Friday, March 25, 2011

Eugene Volokh On Bryan Fischer's Erroneous Claim:

Here. EV makes an important point. I don't mean to keep beating the dead strawman. But Fischer makes one key error common among Christian America types: That the original Constitution protected "Christianity" and excluded other religions. The problem is, the Constitution doesn't say that; it says it protects "religion" not "Christianity." And there is evidence -- EV reproduces it -- that the Founders understood "religion" meant more than just "Christianity." Finally, the First Amendment uses the term "religion" in two clauses like a Siamese twin that shares one heart. It's logically impossible for the term "religion" to mean one thing for Free Exercise purposes and another for Establishment Clause purposes. The "thereof" in the FEC relates back to the term "religion" as used in the EC.
"The Distinct Claims of Government and Religion, Considered in a Sermon Preached Before the Honourable House of Burgesses, at Williamsburg, in Virginia," By Rev. Samuel Henley:

Many thanks to a friend who was able to locate it at the library at Princeton University where it is located.

I haven't had a chance to look at it in detail yet. But I'll let any readers who so desire get a jump on it for future discussion.

Henley Sermon
Would Bryan Fischer Consider Joseph Story a "Christian"?

No. And arguably the theological system to which Joseph Story refers reproduced below is not necessarily "Christianity" as Fischer understands the concept. See Ed Brayton's link.

Fischer wrote:

The First Amendment was written by the Founders to protect the free exercise of Christianity. They were making no effort to give special protections to Islam.

Fischer misunderstands Story's quotation:

"Probably at the time of the adoption of the constitution, and of the amendment to it, now under consideration, the general, if not the universal, sentiment in America was, that Christianity ought to receive encouragement from the state, so far as was not incompatible with the private rights of conscience, and the freedom of religious worship. An attempt to level all religions, and to make it a matter of state policy to hold all in utter indifference, would have created universal disapprobation, if not universal indignation...

"The real object of the amendment was, not to countenance, much less to advance Mahometanism, or Judaism, or infidelity, by prostrating Christianity; but to exclude all rivalry among Christian sects, and to prevent any national ecclesiastical establishment, which should give to an hierarchy the exclusive patronage of the national government."

And Story's quotation, while interesting, is not determinative; the text of the Constitution is. And the text protects "religion" NOT "Christianity" only.

But we have to wonder what theological system Joseph Story even speaks of when he invokes "Christianity." Story himself, like many other elites during his time, seemed to believe in biblical unitarian-universalism and considered that true "Christianity." And, accordingly to such theology, Islam is a valid path to God.

Here is Story on what he DIDN'T believe about Christianity:


Washington, March 6th, 1824.

...The Unitarians are universally steadfast, sincere, and earnest Christians.

They all believe in the divine mission of Christ, the credibility and authenticity of the Bible, the miracles wrought by our Saviour and his apostles, and the efficacy of his precepts to lead men to salvation....They differ among themselves as to the nature of our Saviour, but they all agree that he was the special messenger of God, and that what he taught is of Divine authority. In truth, they principally differ from other Christians in disbelieving the Trinity, for they think Christ was not God, but in the Scripture language “the Son of God.”

And here is testimony from Story's brother, speaking to and through Story's son:

After my continued absence from home for four or five years, we met again, your father being now about eighteen years old, and renewed our former affection towards each other. At this time we were, from a similarity of sentiment, drawn more closely together. I allude particularly to our religious opinions. We frequently discussed the subject of the divinity and the humanity of Christ, and we both agreed in believing in his humanity. Thus you see that your father and myself were early Unitarians, long before the doctrine was preached among us by any one, unless I except Dr. Bentley of Salem.

In other words, Story was a Socinian Unitarian, believing Jesus was 100% human and not divine at all. And here is what Story thought on salvation:

This faith he retained during his whole life, and was ever ardent in his advocacy of the views of Liberal Christians. He was several times President of the American Unitarian Association, and was in the habit of attending its meetings and joining in its discussions. No man, however, was ever more free from a spirit of bigotry and proselytism. He gladly allowed every one freedom of belief, and claimed only that it should be a genuine conviction and not a mere theologic opinion, considering the true faith of every man to be the necessary exponent of his nature, and honoring a religious life more than a formal creed. He admitted within the pale of salvation Mahommedan and Christian, Catholic and Infidel. He believed that whatever is sincere and honest is recognized of God; — that as the views of any sect are but human opinion, susceptible of error on every side, it behooves all men to be on their guard against arrogance of belief; — and that in the sight of God it is not the truth or falsity of our views, but the spirit in which we believe, which alone is of vital consequence. [Bold mine.]

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Debate Over Bell's Book Continues:

It hasn't gone away yet. Again, I mean no disrespect to my conservative evangelical friends, but I seriously doubt anyone in their heart of hearts believes in traditional notions of Hell as something eternal. Annihilation? Maybe. A doors locked from the inside place where Christopher Hitchens gets to drink, smoke, fornicate and blaspheme separate from God for all eternity (while you get the perfect happiness in God's presence). Again, maybe. But eternal agony? No. And I doubt deep down inside you believe this.

Monday, March 21, 2011

This is NOT ME!

Thank God. Jonathan Rowe, RIP. He was the more notable public intellectual named Jonathan Rowe. Yet, if you google "Jonathan Rowe" in a search engine, you'll probably end up at one of my sites. That led to a lot of folks confusing us over the years. I made email contact with him over this and had a few good laughs. Never met him personally. Seemed like a nice enough guy.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Murray Rothbard on the Enlightenment and its Origins:

He's always worth a read. Here, followed by a taste.

The Enlightenment was a general movement in European thought in the 18th century that stressed the power of human reason to discern truth. Generally, it was dedicated to natural law and natural rights, although in the later years of the century it began to shade off into utilitarianism. While scholasticism was compatible with an emphasis on natural law and natural rights, it was generally discarded and reviled as ignorant "superstition," along with revealed religion. In religion, therefore, Enlightenment thinkers tended to discard Christianity, attack the Christian Church, and adopt skepticism, deism, or even atheism.

In this atmosphere corrosive of Christian faith and values, it is remarkable that the Scottish Enlightenment was linked very closely with the Presbyterian Church. How did this happen?...

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

This Guy (or Gal) is Very Smart:

John Fea on Kirby Anderson's Show:

It's very good. See here and here.
Gahh, I don't Want Lester Kinsolving In My Corner:

Oh well. Lester Kinsolving is, and has been for some time a Christian-Universalist

Humor aside, the relevance of this article is one could believe in something the orthodox regard as "heresy," indeed something that makes one theologically "liberal" or more "liberal" than the "orthodox" position, while not being a political "liberal" (in a modern day left wing sense). Because Kinsolving is anything but.

A taste:

I have often used the term "universalism" – in which I believe – and which is in the title of one of our nation's denominations. Universalism was advocated by second-century Christian theologian Origen, as well as the most brilliant of all the archbishops of Canterbury, William Temple.

In 1958, when I was rector of an Episcopal parish in Pasco, Wash., I preached a sermon titled, "The Damnable Doctrine of Damnation."

I said, among other things, that the New Testament contains far more references to God's forgiveness of all sinners than to his alleged preference for the hellfire and damnation – which, if true, His Son, Jesus, telling us to forgive 70 times seven, damnation would be heavenly hypocrisy.

My sermon was reported in one of the local daily newspapers, the Columbia Basin News. On the day following, the News, in another front-page story, headlined: "RECTORS CLASH OVER HELL," it was reported that Rev. Charles May of St. Paul's Church, Kennewick, just across the river, had denounced me.

"'There is no hell,' claims Kinsolving.

"'The hell there isn't!' retorts May."

There were reports that other clergy would demand that I be tried for heresy – all of which was reported in an article in Time magazine.

But no such trial ever took place.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Christopher Hitchens on the Enlightenment of Late 18th Century, Philadelphia:

Familiar names dropped include Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, Joseph Priestley and Benjamin Rush.

I think Hitchens gets it more or less right here. However, he has, I would remind made David Barton like errors on behalf of the secular left, previously.
Philip Hamburger, Liberality:

I can't copy and paste from this PDF text. But Hamburger, whatever issues one may have with his analysis and conclusions, is one of the most meticulously learned legal historians of the American Founding period. There is a treasure trove of info in the above linked piece, full of terms that one could put into a search engine, googlebooks and so on, to deliver a wealth of primary sources. Eliphaz Liberalissimus, for instance.
The Devil and Doctor Dwight: Satire and Theology in the Early American Republic:

You may access the article from Journal of Church and State, Wntr, 2004 by Thomas S. Kidd here.

A taste:

The Devil & Doctor Dwight is unusual in its approach because it takes on book-length issues by asking what would seem an article-length question: what was Timothy Dwight up to in his relatively forgotten satiric poem The Triumph of Infidelity (1788)? Wells's answers offer an expansive and satisfying analysis of post-Revolutionary theological and political controversies. The key debate here is over the doctrine of Universalism. In 1784, Boston pastor Charles Chauncy published The Mystery Hid from Ages and Generations, explaining what he had long called "the pudding," the idea that all people would eventually be saved. Dwight saw this doctrine as the latest version of Pelagianism: the belief that man was inherently virtuous. More broadly, he saw Chauncy's universalism as symptomatic of a broader cultural self-deception led by the Enlightenment prophets of reason, progress, and democracy.

Dwight is best remembered as the president who redeemed Yale, albeit temporarily, from Enlightened skeptics. Republican critics called him the "Pope of Federalism," as he defended social order and revealed religion against Democratic-Republicans, skeptics, and untutored revivalists. The Triumph of Infidelity countered the Enlightenment narrative of continuous progress with a narrative of Satan's designs to trick people into overestimating human goodness.

As I've noted before, the first four Presidents and Ben Franklin seemed to have more in common with Rev. Chauncy's theology than Rev. Dwight's.

One question that demarcates Chauncy's theological worldview v. Dwight's is why does God command things? Is it for 1. His own glory? Or 2. man's good? The Dwights of the era answered 1.; the Chauncyes of the era and the key Founders answered 2.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Emotional Reactions:

A little while ago I noted I was going to try and articulate a personal philosophy, information about which I've been gradually gathering over my adult life. It's themes are found in Stoicism, Eastern philosophy and Judeo-Christian mysticism. (One figure I listened to articulated these seemingly Eastern sounding ideas and said, no they are really "Judeo-Christian"; I didn't believe at first, but "Christian mystics" like Meister Eckhart do represent a Judeo-Christian variant of this idea.) Currently you get these ideas from folks like Eckhart Tolle.

I want to say listen to him, he preaches the truth. But this truth transcends authority. It is true because it is true, not because anyone says it's true (else that engages in the fallacy of "appeal to authority" which is what cult leaderism is based on).

I say these things because they are true and they are true because I know they are true.

The fight or flight emotional reaction, however it evolved and whatever use it had for man in his state of nature days is useless and counterproductive today. As it were all instances (no matter what triggers it) of 1. Anger, 2. Fear, 3. Guilt, and 4. Irritation are irrational, counterproductive and represent human failures.

But this is like original sin, the idea that "everyone does it," doesn't excuse the human failure. It doesn't make everyone innocent, it makes everyone guilty.

Take being upset with anger. No matter what someone does to you -- even if they rape your wife (to use a reductio ad absurdum), anger is not a rational reaction. That doesn't mean that you "take it." When someone wrongs you, stand up for yourself and strike back, but not in anger. Then your reaction is almost guaranteed proportional and righteous.

A proportional and righteous reaction might mean, God forbid, taking someone's life in self defense or defense of others (the guy raping your wife; a "proportional and righteous" reaction would be to pull your gun out and righteously execute him in defense of your wife).

But reacting in anger almost guarantees overreaction (because how often when someone wrongs you is it of the "raping your wife" level? For most of us, never). And then you are as wrong as or wronger than the person who started it.

Think of the idea of "road rage." Look at this horrific story. An excuse that those who overreact likely give is "he started it." "He started it" doesn't justify your overreaction. "He started it" justifies only a proportionate and fair response. Reacting in anger when someone wrongs you makes it very difficult, perhaps impossible to render such a response. Or if you do respond righteously, it will be in spite of, not because of the anger.

The Christian mystics claim Jesus never got angry, because anger is a sin and Jesus never sinned. A common response would be, what about the money changer incident? The counter response is, the Bible says Jesus just did the right thing and chased them out; it never said Jesus got angry. If you think one has to "get mad as Hell" so you will "not take it anymore," you exist in a state of human failure, not a state of grace. And Jesus didn't exist in that state of human failure like you do. He could do the right thing and give someone a knuckle sandwich (or worse) without needing anger as motivation to stand up for himself and do what is right.

I'm not saying I believe this because I'm pretty agnostic on the Bible's truth claims; I'm just saying this is how the biblical Christian mystics justify and reconcile this understanding.

In fact, I'm agnostic on whether ordinary humans even have the ability to transcend the big bad four completely (but the closer you get the better and happier you will be). Some claim to have achieved that end. I know I haven't. I'm not going to lie or deceive myself about it. I think of that scene from "What About Bob" where Richard Dreyfuss plays the smug self righteous psychiatrist and, while clearly in an agitated state of irritation and anger, he claims, "I don't get angry." I won't fall into that trap.

But when I do get upset, I never (anymore) use the external circumstances to justify the feeling of anger. There is such a thing as righteous indignation, as a principled stance you take against injustice. There is no such thing as righteous anger, as an emotion. Understanding this helps you to let go and not wallow and fester in those emotions.

There are also a variety of meditation exercises that help detached oneself from these poisonous emotions.
Reflecting on Richard Manuel:

I may have played this before. But if so it's worth a repeat:

Paradigm For the American Founding:

As I noted in this comment thread at Volokh, someone argued on behalf of America's "Judeo-Christian" heritage. We certainly have something that could be called a "Judeo-Christian" heritage but also have:

a) an Enlightenment heritage; b) a noble pagan Greco-Roman heritage; c) a freethinking, religiously inclusive and pluralistic heritage, one that tolerates, indeed sometimes celebrates heresy and dissent in dominant religious movements; and d) an ugly illiberal heritage along with it that violated the liberty and equality rights of women, blacks, religious minorities and so on and so forth.

And btw, Jews and Roman Catholics were often the victims of d).

And we might also want to think the "cool guys" aren't part of d). No the freethinking liberals of their time engaged in d). Jefferson has some embarrassingly racist stuff in Notes on the State of Virginia. The liberal unitarian Christian John Adams was an anti-Roman Catholic bigot and so on and so forth.

But remember too, the orthodox forces of religious correctness engaged in d) as well. As one of them put it arguing against the "No Religious Tests" clause in the US Constitution:


An anti-constitutional article written for the New York Daily Advertiser that same January and widely reprinted within days in Connecticut, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts papers pulled no punches about the social repercussions of Article 6. No religious tests admitted to national lawmaking: "Ist. Quakers, who will make the blacks saucy, and at the same time deprive us of the means of defence--2dly. Mahometans, who ridicule the doctrine of the Trinity--3dly. Deists, abominable wretches--4thly. Negroes, the seed of Cain--Sthly. Beggars, who when set on horse back will ride to the devil--6thly. Jews etc. etc." Not quite finished with the last, the newspaper writer feared that since the Constitution stupidly gave command of the whole militia to the president, "should he hereafter be a Jew, our dear posterity may be ordered to rebuild Jerusalem."

Source of Information:

The Godless Constitution, The Case Against Religious Correctness. By Isaac Kramnick and R. Laurence Moore. W. W. Norton & Company New York/London.(1996) pp 33

Friday, March 11, 2011

Amy Chua's Tiger Mothering:

I'm a little late to the discussion. Tiger Parenting, seems to me, something that can shape successful, productive people, but that uses emotionally abusive means to get there. And this in turn leads to either unconscious or conscious hatred towards parents.

I'm interested this issue, in part, because of its geopolitical implications. China and other Asian nations have quite effectively adopted market oriented reforms. However, contrary to the notion that it's democracy and capitalism that always go hand in hand, capitalism in the Asian world seems to work with a more authoritarian style politics. Likewise "democracy" has worked with socialism. It could be that authoritarianism actually produces a more effective use of capitalism and markets precisely because it is less "me me me," "rights oriented" than democracy.

But whatever the utility of authoritarianism, I prefer democracy because it's less mean spirited.

I recently discussed, personally, the issue of Tiger Parenting with a Chinese Immigrant who got the real deal in China. His mother beat him and made him stand in the same place for a number of hours because he didn't do well on a test. He told me he still bears the emotional scars from that incident and remembered thinking how much he hated his mother and wished she weren't his mother at that moment.

I know Amy Chua never, as far as we know, beat her children and her children seem to speak very highly of her, just as she speaks very highly of her parents who "tiger parented" her. However, it's also possible that some kind of Stockholm Syndrome might be in effect.

To use a bit of a reductio ad absurdum example, the Westboro Baptist Church are examples of extreme Tiger Parenting. What strikes us about them is not their craziness. We can observe folks, borderline homeless, selling pencils from a tin cup (as Christopher Hitchens once put it) carrying signs in every major city, as crazy as the Phelpses. No. It's that they are so effective at what they do. That they are very intelligent, productive lawyers who know the Bible as well as any of their Christian critics.

Fred Phelps was an extremely successful law student and attorney for the state of Kansas, helping to desegregate the public schools there. His kids are likewise successful attorneys (many of whom work for the state of Kansas prison system). And Margie Phelps did an outstanding job arguing their case in front of the Supreme Court. If you can do a good job at Supreme Court oral advocacy, that's a marketable skill that can make you millions in private sector litigation (though I doubt any private law firm would ever hire her).

So how did he produce these "Fred Phelps" like clones who speak and think very highly of him? Through emotional and physical abuse (as the Bible says, spare the rod, spoil the child). I see this as a form of Stockholm Syndrome, like a hypnotic spell that people are under.

Something else I've noticed that's hypnotic about parent-child relationships is parents tend to see their adult children as their babies. I know a friend of mine, about 60, says when he sees his now 20 something nephew, he still sees that little boy he helped raise. And that can be sweet at times. But God forbid Amy Chua sees her twenty something adult daughters and goes into Tiger Parenting mode.

Parents pretty much own their kids until they are 18 and as long as they don't physically abuse or neglect them, I think parents should get a pass from their emotional imperfections they subject their children to. It's called forgiveness. But once a child reaches his or her early 20s, 25 at max, parents have no business, as I see it, ordering their children around and using emotional pressure in their interpersonal relationships. (I would suggest parents NEVER use emotional pressure on their children, never be impatient with them, never express their anger on them, but rather parent with a patient, peaceful strength that is strong as steel; but that is much easier said than done and a topic of discussion for another day.) No at that point, the child is their equal and parents MUST resist the urge to treat them as anything but, else they do the wrong thing and persist a dysfunctional relationship.

Alas, middle class America, the whole world even, is awash in such dysfunctional interpersonal relationships. Psychiatrists call this a "disorder." And the problem I have with psychiatrists is they cast the "disordered" as "the other," when in reality, it's arguably everyone, (including them!) to some extent (the most extreme suffers of what everyone suffers from get labeled neurotic or psychotic). But that everyone does it is no excuse. It's like original sin. "Everyone does it" doesn't make everyone innocent. No, everyone is guilty.

Tuesday, March 08, 2011

James Wilson's Understanding of "Christian" and "Common Law" Marriages:


Disability to contract marriage may arise from immature age. A man, as we have seen before,q may consent to marriage at fourteen; a woman, at twelve years of age. If, before those respective ages, a marriage take place, either party may, at the age of consent, but not before or after that age, disagree, declare the marriage void, and marry again: but if, at the age of consent, they agree to continue together, there is no occasion for another marriage between them; that which has taken place being deemed a marriage, though only an inchoate and imperfect one. If, at the time of the inchoate marriage, one of the parties is, and the other is not of the age of consent, when the last arrives at that age, the first as well as the last may disagree; for in a contract of marriage, both or neither must be bound.r

In this day and age, saying a 14 year old boy and 12 year old girl are "marriageable," hence "sex-able" is termed "Pedophile Chic."

Sunday, March 06, 2011

Future Blogging Ideas:

I'm pretty busy at work (the way I like it). I don't view blogging as work; it's fun. I have no kids and I have to find something to do with my idle time. Plus writing -- getting yourself focused on the moment -- is a good way to get your mind involved in a project that helps pass the time.

But I am busy with work so I don't know how quickly my output will occur. A good blog has a new post every day. I think American Creation COULD have this if the other posters participated more; but I understand we all have busy lives.

So let me give some ideas on themes I'm going to explore in the near future and PERHAPS other co-bloggers and readers can help me RESEARCH the material beforehand.

1. I'm looking for a sermon. I know it exists in the library at Princeton (perhaps it exists at the David Library in Washington's Crossing as well). But I'd like to get it online. It is entitled "The Distinct Claims of Government and Religion, Considered in a Sermon Preached Before the Honourable House of Burgesses, at Williamsburg, in Virginia." It is by one Rev. Samuel Henley, an Anglican. It may have influenced Jefferson and Madison's "Virginia view" on religion & government. Rev. Henley was friends with Bishop James Madison who was a like-minded Whig with his namesake cousin and Jefferson. Rev. Henley was also tried for heresy and may have been a theological unitarian.

2. I want to explore more Timothy Dwight's "The Triumph of Infidelity." Dwight was President of Yale during the Founding Era and was more of an evangelical-fundamentalist kind of orthodox Christian. He was obviously an enemy of Thomas Paine, the French Revolution and that kind of "hard infidelity" that was strict deism. He was also an enemy of the unitarians, the softer infidelity that oft-presented itself under the auspices of "Christianity." Such "soft infidelity" thought of itself as "rational Christianity" and was very often unitarian and universalist in its theology. It's my contention that if the "key Founders" (the first 4 or 5 Presidents, Ben Franklin and some others) were "infidels," it was of this kind. Dwight explicitly takes on Rev. Charles Chauncy as one of these "soft infidels" masquerading as a "Christian." Again, the key Founders, as I see it, were more men of Chauncy's religion, not Dwight's.

3. I want to continue to explore the theological unitarianism and universalism of the philosophers and divines who influenced America's Founders. Men like Isaac Newton, Samuel Clarke, John Milton. I've given little attention to John Trenchard and Thomas Gordon and would like to do more with them.
Fred Phelps Meets Ted Haggard in One Person:

An anti-gay preacher seems to know a bit too much about orgasms on crystal meth.

Thursday, March 03, 2011

Universalism In The News (The "Heart of Christianity"?):

This time it's Rob Bell.

A taste:

Universalism, in its broadest terms, preaches that everyone goes to heaven and that there is no hell. Critics say it represents a break from traditional Christianity, which they say holds that heaven and hell are very real places. In most Christian circles, universalism is a dirty word.

Perhaps it's my studies of the universalism of the Founding era that leads to this criticism. But, yes, SOME universalism holds there is no Hell; OTHER universalism holds there is a place of TEMPORARY punishment, whether we call it Hell, Purgatory of whatever. In fact the universalists of the Founding era were kinda hardcore in this regard. A typical "term" in Purgatory for many of them, I've read somewhere (forgive me for not getting you the footnote) was one thousand years.

As Benjamin Rush, a Trinitarian Universalist put in "Travels through Life," his autobiography:

At Dr. Finley's school, I was more fully instructed in those principles by means of the Westminster catechism. I retained them without any affection for them until about the year 1780. I then read for the first time Fletcher's controversy with the Calvinists, in favor of the universality of the atonement. This prepared my mind to admit the doctrine of universal salvation, which was then preached in our city by the Rev. Mr. Winchester. It embraced and reconciled my ancient Calvinistical and my newly adopted Arminian principles. From that time I have never doubted upon the subject of the salvation of all men. My conviction of the truth of this doctrine was derived from reading the works of Stonehouse, Seigvolk, White, Chauncey and Winchester, and afterwards from an attentive perusal of the Scriptures. I always admitted with each of those authors future punishment, and of long duration.

Heretofore I've operated under the assumption that though belief in universalism was some kind of "heresy" in orthodox Christianity, the issue wasn't as central as, say, belief in the Trinity. Indeed, a trinitarian-universalist could still be "Christian" according to orthodox standards whereas a unitarian-universalist could not. So for instance, even though Benjamin Rush and John Adams were both universalists and both THOUGHT of themselves as "Christians," Rush was a "Christian," but Adams was not. I still believe this (though for personal reasons, I don't determine who is a "Christian," who isn't; if you call yourself one, you are one, regardless of WHAT you believe or how you live your life).

But apparently, not all operate under the assumption that eternal damnation is less central than the Trinity in determining "real Christianity."

As Justin Taylor of The Gospel Coalition was reported saying:

"We’re talking about the big things here, things that have been historically defined as orthodox, " he said. "I have a high degree of confidence in what God is saying and what we can understand."

Though many things that separate Catholics, Protestants, and Orthodox Christians, “this isn’t one of them," Taylor said. "We’ve historically agreed on many things, the person of Christ, heaven and hell. This isn’t a peripheral academic debate. What Rob Bell is talking about gets to the heart of Christianity.”

I know the idea of some kind of rewards and punishments is at the heart of orthodox Christianity, but I have a hard time believing Hell, eternal damnation is one. From the article:

In the promotional video Bell refers to the nonviolent Indian independence leader Mahatma Gandhi, a Hindu, and asks, "Gandhi's in hell? He is?"

"And someone knows this for sure?" Bell continues. "Will billions and billions of people burn forever in hell? And if that's the case how do you become one of the few?"

On a personal note, I seriously doubt most orthodox Christians of whatever stripe ACTUALLY believe this.

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Fea's Book Arrives:

John Fea's book was delivered yesterday. I've been having fun leafing through it. I really like what I see so far and hope it becomes a "standard bearer" in the "Christian Nation" debate. And I'm not just saying that because he thanks me on page xix.