Saturday, April 30, 2011

Gary North Makes the New York Times:

A notable event. Gary North is both brilliant and nuts. Whatever good and insightful ideas he may have get poisoned by the fact that he's a Christian Reconstructionist who, in his first best world, would stone to death adulterers, homosexuals, recalcitrant children and those who worship false gods (all things the Old Testament instructs).


Gary North was nearly impossible to track down. He did not return multiple e-mails, and when finally reached by phone, he refused to talk and hung up.

But if you know where to look, he is everywhere.

He is a trained historian with a PhD from University of California, Riverside and his book on the political theology of the American Founding I think well understands its implicit unitarianism and how such is incompatible with Christian Reconstructionist political theology.

Update: North explains why he hung up. I enjoy reading North's jab at the print industry. I do follow North's prognostications on the future of technology. For an old fogy he's arguably a cyberpunk. Though I take what he (and just about what everyone) says with a grain of salt. His predictions on Y2K were embarrassingly wrong. Though, the creative destruction of Moore's Law is something to be a acutely aware of, if you are concerned about how you (and/or your posterity) will live in the near future. We won't get "Mr. Fusion"-flying cars or that free energy source until the next breakthrough (who knows when that will be). But information technology is itself a breakthrough that is currently riding an exponential wave that will terminate in something fascinating and arguably, predictable in a way that "Mr. Fusion" is not.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Understanding the Founding:

From the perspective of who won the battles. Regarding America's fight for independence, not everyone at that time favored it. John Adams, to appeal to his expert authority, claimed originally 1/3 of America were "Whigs" (meaning those who favored independence), 1/3 were "Tory" (meaning loyalists to the crown) and 1/3 were on the fence. Eventually propagandistic forces won over enough of the 1/3 on the fence to the Whigs. And, in turn, we argue over what convinced the 1/3 on the fence. I think the pulpit played a big role, even in the face of Romans 13. So what kind of "theistic" principles gave victory to the Whigs? A Presbyterian dissenter line of thought, more in line with traditional orthodox Christianity? Or the Enlightenment theistic rationalism (that is the "liberal Christians" of their day who disbelieved in both the Trinity and eternal damnation) of men like Jonathan Mayhew and Charles Chauncy?

The Whigs won both the ideological and literal battle. Next was the battle over the Constitution. A Declaration of Independence affirming Whig could be either an Anti-Federalist (that is one who was AGAINST the ratification of the US Constitution on the grounds that it gave too much power to the Federal government) or a Federalist (that is one who favored the ratification of the US Constitution). Hamilton, Madison, Jay (authors of the Federalist Papers) and of course Washington (first President under the new US Constitution) were the quintessential Federalists with Anti-Federalists like Patrick Henry losing that battle just as the Tories lost the earlier battle on whether to revolt or remain loyal.

So with the Whigs and later the Federalists winning the battles, eventually, to the chagrin of President Washington, political parties broke out with Hamilton, J. Adams leading the Federalist Party and Jefferson and Madison leading the Democratic-Republicans.

It's hard to say which of either party won "the battle" -- if either really did; we've had partisan politics ever since. And whether today's Left v. Right battles match up with Federalists v. Democratic-Republicans. It's tempting to say Jefferson and Madison were more on the Left, Hamilton-J. Adams, on the Right. However, the Federalists back then favored a stronger, centralized government, the Democratic-Republicans, more the party of states' rights, limited federal government. This in spite of the fact that James Madison originally wanted the Federal government to have more power to enforce individual rights against the states.

We should also, instead of writing them off as losers, keep in mind the way the Tory and Anti-Federalist dissenting American citizens influenced Whig and later Federalist politics. For instance, without Anti-Federalist critiques, we would never have gotten a Bill of Rights.
Great Article on Meditation:



There are many kinds of meditation, including transcendental meditation, in which you focus on a repetitive mantra, and compassion meditation, which involves extending feelings of love and kindness to fellow living beings. One of the most studied practices is based on the Buddhist concept of mindfulness, or being aware of your own thoughts and surroundings. Buddhists believe it alleviates suffering by making you less caught up in everyday stresses – helping you to appreciate the present instead of continually worrying about the past or planning for the future.

"You pay attention to your own breath," explains Sara Lazar, a neuroscientist who studies the effects of meditation at Massachusetts general hospital in Boston. "If your mind wanders, you don't get discouraged, you notice the thought and think, 'OK'."

Small trials have suggested that such meditation creates more than spiritual calm. Reported physical effects include lowering blood pressure, helping psoriasis to heal, and boosting the immune response in vaccine recipients and cancer patients. In a pilot study in 2008, Willem Kuyken, head of the Mood Disorders Centre at Exeter University, showed that mindfulness meditation was more effective than drug treatment in preventing relapse in patients with recurrent depression. And in 2009, David Creswell of Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh found that it slowed disease progression in patients with HIV.

This is one area where I think the East has it all over the West. However, I do understand some argue such meditation, practiced the right way, is not only Western, but always has been. It is "biblical" and, in reality, what Jesus was all about. These are the Judeo-Christian mystics. Meister Eckhart (c. 1260 – c. 1327) is probably the most notable Christian mystic from an earlier era. These two fellows, I understand consider themselves "Judeo-Christian" mystics and pretty well understand the proper way to live in the moment, and the danger of getting caught up in your thoughts, especially with regards to planning the future. I admit, I'm not to the point where I'd like to be; but I at least understand the proper end, the light at the end of the tunnel. Eckhart Tolle is probably the most well known figure who presently promotes these ideas.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Bernard Bailyn on Federalism:

I don't think I've ever seen him speak live, only read his work. He is a giant in history.

Jeffry Morrison on George Washington's Consitutional Leadership:

From University of Richmond.

Morrison does solid work.
Throckmorton Discovers David Barton's Distortions:

And doesn't like what he sees. Warren Throckmorton is a psychology professor at the evangelical Grove City College and holds the standard view on sexuality issues that one would expect from a conservative evangelical. Yet, he's taken some out of the box positions against anti-gay demagoguery that often comes from religious right corners. That's as much as I know about him.

Check out Throckmorton's analysis here, here, here, here, and here.

I've got mixed feelings on continuing to bash Barton. Part of me wants wants to move on; he's been hammered enough. On the other hand, three big national figures keep pushing his work into the spotlight: Newt Gingrich, Mike Huckabee and Glenn Beck. Barton has lost some followers, especially among conservative evangelicals who don't want to be sold a bill of goods. As John Fea points out, the anti-Barton criticism is causing some conservative evangelicals to "lose confidence" in some of Barton's claims. And Barton has, apparently, lost former big time promoter of his Brannon Howse, of Worldview Weekend, completely.

There is no question that the social and legal order of Founding era America was friendlier to orthodox Christians and evangelicals than it is today. And there are some notable Founders -- Witherspoon, Sherman, and others -- who would probably pass evangelicals' "Christian" test. But men like the first four Presidents and Ben Franklin were the liberal, ecumenical, universalistic "Christians" of their day, not "Christian" enough to be considered "real Christians" by evangelicals.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Barack Obama, Christian and Man of the Religious Left:

That's how I see him; John Fea explains.
Thomas Jefferson's Bible Mashup - Steven Johnson:

Steven Johnson, who recently authored a notable book on Joseph Priestley, discussing Priestley's influence on Thomas Jefferson.

Monday, April 18, 2011

We Haven't Even Gotten Into Lincoln's Faith:

But the term "theistic rationalist" may aptly describe it. From a new article:

(RNS) On the eve of the 150th anniversary of the start of the Civil War, a long-lost letter has surfaced that describes President Abraham Lincoln's belief in God.

The Raab Collection of Philadelphia plans to sell a recently discovered letter written in 1866 by William Herndon, a Springfield, Ill., lawyer and Lincoln confidant.

"Mr. Lincoln's religion is too well known to me to allow of even a shadow of a doubt; he is or was a Theist & a Rationalist, denying all extraordinary -- supernatural inspiration or revelation," wrote Herndon of the nation's 16th president.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Brief on Founding Fathers and Islam I Co-Authored For the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding...:

Is now online and accessible here. I co-authored this with Dr. James Hanley.

Here is the except from the website:

In 2010, almost nine full years after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, a surge of outrage over plans to build a Muslim community center in lower Manhattan swept the United States. Critics were eager to interpret the project as an insult, an offense, and a sacrilege. Moreover, deliberate efforts were made to delegitimize American Muslims and deny them the protections of the Constitution. Such efforts to demonize specific subgroups and deny their legitimacy as citizens of the country in which they reside have often been a prelude to harsher political treatment that goes beyond the merely verbal. As one small effort to counteract this dangerous tendency, we argue here that the United States is not a “Christian” nation in the political sense and that its history and laws provide a space for people of all religions to live freely and practice their faith openly. Using two related lines of argument, we will show (1) that many of the country’s key founders were not “orthodox” Christians and rejected the idea that the country they were creating was politically based on a Christian identity and (2) that important foundational documents of the American republic, including but not limited to the Constitution, clearly eliminate the possibility that the U.S. was meant to be a Christian nation in a political sense.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

John Adams to Francis Adrian Van Der Kemp:

One note of criticism that's been directed to our examination of the "key Founders" is that it overly focuses on the Jefferson-Adams post-Presidential correspondence, which, by the way, is contained in a fascinating and illuminating volume.

But Jefferson and Adams did correspond with other people and, for future plans I'd like to focus more on the lesser well known folks with whom Jefferson, J. Adams and the other notable Founders corresponded.

Rev. Francis Adrian Van Der Kemp -- a unitarian minister -- was one of those lesser well known correspondents.

But today, instead of focusing on FAVDK's writings (look for more on that in the future) I highlight a letter of Adams to FAVDK who seemed to be, like Jefferson, someone with whom Adams felt very comfortable sharing the explicit details of his theology.

I reproduce a great deal of Adams' letter to FAVDK dated 13 July, 1815.

My friend, again! the question before mankind is,—how shall I state it? It is, whether authority is from nature and reason, or from miraculous revelation; from the revelation from God, by the human understanding, or from the revelation to Moses and to Constantine, and the Council of Nice. Whether it resides in men or in offices. Whether offices, spiritual and temporal, are instituted by men, or whether they are self-created and instituted themselves. Whether they were or were not brought down from Heaven in a phial of holy oil, sent by the Holy Ghost, by an angel incarnated in a dove, to anoint the head of Clovis, a more cruel tyrant than Frederic or Napoleon. Are the original principles of authority in human nature, or in stars, garters, crosses, golden fleeces, crowns, sceptres, and thrones? These profound and important questions have been agitated and discussed, before that vast democratical congregation, mankind, for more than five hundred years. How many crusades, how many Hussite wars, how many powder plots, St. Bartholomew’s days, Irish massacres, Albigensian massacres, and battles of Marengo have intervened! Sub judice lis est. Will Zinzendorf, Swedenborg, Whitefield, or Wesley prevail? Or will St. Ignatius Loyola inquisitionize and jesuitize them all? Alas, poor human nature! Thou art responsible to thy Maker and to thyself for an impartial verdict and judgment.

“Monroe’s treaty!” I care no more about it than about the mote that floats in the sunbeams before my eyes. The British minister acted the part of a horse-jockey. He annexed a rider that annihilated the whole treaty.

You are “a dissenter from me in politics and religion.” So you say. I cannot say that I am a dissenter from you in either, because I know not your sentiments in either. Tell me plainly your opinions in both, and I will tell you, as plainly, mine. I hate polemical politics and polemical divinity as cordially as you do, yet my mind has been involved in them sixty-five years at least. For this whole period I have searched after truth by every means and by every opportunity in my power, and with a sincerity and impartiality, for which I can appeal to God, my adored Maker. My religion is founded on the love of God and my neighbor; on the hope of pardon for my offences; upon contrition; upon the duty as well as necessity of supporting with patience the inevitable evils of life; in the duty of doing no wrong, but all the good I can, to the creation, of which I am but an infinitesimal part. Are you a dissenter from this religion? I believe, too, in a future state of rewards and punishments, but not eternal.

You have again read Tacitus. What do you think of his religion, his philosophy, his morality? When Nero wished he could cut off the heads of the whole Roman empire with one stroke of his falchion, was this sentiment dictated by tyranny or philosophy, or humanity? And if any man should wish he could cut off the head of every Frenchman, Englishman, or Russian, at one blow, would he not be as wise, as benevolent, and philosophical? And those who wish they could decapitate Jefferson, Madison, and Monroe, are they wiser or better?

John Adams thought himself a "Christian" and believed the biblical canon was, in some sense, revealed. He also associated Trinitarianism with creeds that were part and parcel of the "corrupt," superstitious, human religious authorities he radically rejected. The "the revelation from God, by the human understanding," was the reason that God gave man, the first revelation that no subsequent revelation (i.e., what was revealed in sacred text or interpretation thereof) could contradict. Adams thought the Trinity contradicted this first revelation and consequently was false.

Saturday, April 09, 2011

Joseph Priestley & the Millennium:

This is an excellent article by Clarke Garrett, but you probably won't be able to read it without being part of an institution (like a college) that pays for a license. (You can always choose to buy it if you'd like.)

I think it helps to illustrate the Enlightenment theism that wasn't strict deism or orthodox Christianity that captured the mind of certain notable Founders. Though they may not have agreed with every jot and tittle of Priestley's theology, Jefferson, J. Adams and Franklin, among others, were greatly influenced by it. Interestingly, Priestley's "rational Christianity" -- where brilliant minds like his could use their reason and brilliance to discover novel "rational" understandings of the Bible -- failed to accurately prophesize the events of their age.

Priestley believed the Book of Revelation foretold the triumphant success of the French Revolution. As John Adams explained the story:

Not long after the dénouement of the tragedy of Louis XVI., when I was Vice-President, my friend, the Doctor, came to breakfast with me alone. He was very sociable, very learned and eloquent on the subject of the French Revolution. It was opening a new era in the world, and presenting a near view of the millennium. I listened, I heard with great attention, and perfect sang froid; at last I asked the Doctor, “Do you really believe the French will establish a free, democratic government in France?” He answered, “I do firmly believe it.” “Will you give me leave to ask you upon what grounds you entertain this opinion? Is it from any thing you ever read in history? Is there any instance of a Roman Catholic monarchy of five-and-twenty millions of people, at once converted into intelligent, free, and rational people?” “No. I know of no instance like it.” “Is there any thing in your knowledge of human nature, derived from books or experience, that any empire, ancient or modern, consisting of such multitudes of ignorant people, ever were, or ever can be, suddenly converted into materials capable of conducting a free government, especially a democratic republic?” “No. I know of nothing of the kind.” “Well, then, Sir, what is the ground of your opinion?” The answer was, “My opinion is founded altogether upon revelation and the prophecies. I take it that the ten horns of the great beast in Revelations mean the ten crowned heads of Europe, and that the execution of the king of France is the falling off of the first of those horns; and the nine monarchies of Europe will fall, one after another, in the same way.”

Saturday, April 02, 2011

Drop Your Life's Plan:

And let things happen. John Lennon once said, "Life is what happens to you when you are busy making other plans." It's from Beautiful Boy, an awesome song. Probably the wisest thing John Lennon ever wrote (because he had some other really bad ideas in his songs like, "Imagine no possessions," a notion which radically misunderstands human nature).

It's kinda funny, in principle, you might think Marxist oriented central planning would produce better outcomes than unplanned spontaneous capitalism. But reality begs to differ. There is a certain, Zen, being in the right time, the right place, letting things happen as they happen reality that capitalism incorporates and for which central planning, or overly planning in life, is useless, futile and often counter productive.

And if you have kids do not plan their lives; rather open doors and, after they turn 18, the older they get, the more inappropriate it becomes to put emotional pressure on them to make the "right" choices. (If you need to intervene to prevent them from becoming crack addicts or serial killers, it's understandable.) Your goal should be to raise autonomous, fully responsible adults by the time they are in their early to mid 20s at the latest, so you can just let go and let them flourish with you passively and patiently observing in the background, offering gentle, implicit, helpful advice with few if any emotionally reactive "you shoulds" and "you have to's."

For purposes of individual lives as well as government policy -- I'm a libertarian in both politics and personal matters -- I suggest replacing the idea of a specific "central plan" with a more general awareness, charting yourself in the "right" direction without a specific plan. As Richard Epstein put it, Simple Rules For Complex Society. Gain knowledge for yourself and continue to remain on top of things while living your life responsibly. Be mindful and ready to jump on the unplanned, unknown opportunities as they arise. Don't try to anticipate or predict them because they are, for the most part, unanticipatable and unpredictable.

I had the good fortune to attend a music college, in Boston, MA, one of the greatest cities in the nation, where I met a lot of bright folks with delusions of grandeur. We couldn't accurately predict who would "make it," though some of the most talented among us did. Equally talented bass players were far likelier than guitar players (what I play) to make it for reasons of simple supply and demand (guitarists outnumbered bassist 4 to 1; but for bands in general, it's more like on average a 1.5 guitarists to 1 bassist ratio). The best players who "made it" from Berklee College of Music tended not to finish and get their degrees; they used the school as a social network, got from it what they needed and moved on.

For those of us who DID finish and get our bachelors of music (BMUS) it was actually quite helpful in the sense that employment markets, human resources depts. and whatnot, value bachelors degrees from accredited colleges even if there is little to any relationship between what you studied and what you do on your job. I know that's a f--ked up way for the system to work; but that's way the system currently operates.

My best friend, for instance, has a bachelors from Penn State in political science. He couldn't find a job once out and worked a few years -- made a good living -- in construction. But eventually he got a position working in civil service for a state government for which he would not have been qualified without the bachelors. Now, in order to properly and effectively perform his job, he probably didn't need to sit for the vast majority of those courses; in a perfect world we could come forth with a much cheaper, quicker way to predict who is going to be qualified. But as long as public and private firms so value the bachelors, that degree, in practically anything, from any college, as long as it's accredited by the proper agencies, will have intrinsic value for employment prospects. (And if the "end" is simply to get a bachelors, do realize there are more and less cost effective ways of achieving this end; I suggest doing whatever you can to avoid going into debt to get your education.)

(I have an aunt who has an analogous story; she got her bachelors from a so so school in education -- but it was properly accredited and she ended up working an awesome job, from which she retired with full benefits in her early 50s, helping to run a county public health department; again there was little to any relationship between what she studied and the job she got; but the bachelors did qualify her for that position.)

But anyway, back to some of my friends who were and are very talented musicians, many of them bright and hardworking, some of whom got their bachelors and a few who did not. (I went to college in the mid-90s.) For those who didn't "make it big" (most of them) as long as they were indeed fairly bright, responsible and hardworking, they ended up in employment positions where they currently make a decent living. That's the reality of capitalism. You think you are going to be a famous musician; at 22 you work in a coffee shop or music store. Your big break never happens. You get older and want to make more money and start looking for opportunities to use your talents, but are constrained by the way the market values your talents. In a free society you have the right to pursue your dreams; but you are entitled only to the job for which you get an offer. You make mistakes and learn from them. You need to eat and provide for yourself and your family so you accept certain offers that come by and you find yourself doing ... what you could have never planned on from the beginning.

This is especially so in an ever changing techno capitalist world of creative destruction where Moore's Law dominates.

Thomas Friedman's The World Is Flat, whatever its flaws, I think accurately captures the creative destruction-Moore's Law synthesis from an optimistic global capitalist perspective. In this lecture on the book he gave to MIT in 2005 he said a typical educated (whether formally or self) person of Generation X or Y may find him or herself making a living being a, for instance, "search engine optimizer." How do you plan on that when you are in K-12 if search engines have not yet been invented? You don't. You find yourself doing such as it happens.

Friday, April 01, 2011

Evidence that GW Believed Jews, Christians, and Muslims Worship The Same God:

Mary V. Thompson passed this along to me. I hadn't caught it before (neither did she). But apparently, it's not a "new" find, but existed in the record for us to discover all along.

This doesn't, of course, prove Washington was NOT an orthodox Trinitarian Christian, as other orthodox Christians, like George W. Bush, have held the same thing. Though it does reinforce what we've noted about Washington and the other "key Founders" -- that they believed most if not all religions were valid ways to God, that all good men of all religions, even if they are not Jews and Christians, worship the same "Providence." We've seen evidence that Washington, Jefferson and Madison believed the "Great Spirit" that unconverted Natives worship was the same God Jews and Christians worship. Now this is evidence that GW believed Muslims worshipped the same God.

The letter was written on March 31, 1791. The letter was addressed to Yazid ibn-Muhammed, the new Emperor of Morocco, whose father had just passed and Washington sent his condolences as he introduced Thomas Barclay as the new American consul. (Again, thanks to Mary V. Thompson of Mount Vernon for explaining to me the context.)

Here is how Washington closed the letter:

“May that God, whom we both adore, bless your Imperial Majesty with long life, Health and Success, and have you always, great and magnanimous Friend, under his holy keeping.”

Interestingly, Thomas Jefferson wrote these words for GW, but GW signed off on them. Critics may wish to dismiss these as Jefferson's words. But the two times GW ever spoke of Jesus in his extant corpus (one by name, one by example, both in public addresses as opposed to private letters) were written by aides. And in one of the addresses to the unconverted Natives, also written by an aide, GW himself crossed out the word "God" and wrote in "the Great Spirit."

Update: One reason why this quotation may not be more well known is because it is not contained in the official "Fitzpatrick edition." I asked MVT about this and she replied:

I just checked and it doesn’t appear in the Fitzpatrick edition. According to the note in the Papers, Presidential Series, 8:34n, an anonymous individual owns the original signed letter; there is a letterpress copy in the Thomas Jefferson papers at the Library of Congress; and an additional copy in the National Archives.