Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Rodda on Franklin, Farting and Afghanistan:

Check it out here.
John Locke's Christianity:

James Goswick digs up some interesting info on John Locke's Christianity.

Whether Locke was a "Christians" depends on how that term defines. If it means Jesus was 2nd Person in the Trinity and the Bible is inerrant or infallible, Locke was not provably Christian (and I doubt he was under this definition).

If it means Jesus was Messiah (regardless of whether he was 2nd Person in the Trinity) and the Bible is, in some sense, God speaking to man, then yes, John Locke was a "Christian."

Locke is important because if modern liberal democracy is to have any kind of Christian political theology, it is of the Lockean understanding. I have some controversial and modest ideas on modern liberal democratic political theology. The more controversial thesis is American political theology is "not Christian." The more modest is the notion that the "rational Christian" political theology of the American Founding is not only non-Trinitarian, but non-creedal. The Bible may be, in some sense, God speaking to man, and Jesus the Messiah, but the stuff of creeds (that Jesus is 2nd Person in the Trinity, the eternally begotten Son of the Father, while being God Himself, that "these" are the exact books of the biblical canon) is fluff.

You may think Jesus is the 2nd Person in the Trinity because the Bible says so. And you are entitled to your "opinion." But "rational Christian" political theology consigns that notion to the realm of "opinion" not "knowledge." And "rational Christian" political theology traces to Locke.

Update. Here is Locke's exact quote where he denies Christ's satisfaction for sin:

If you will have the Truth of it, Sir, there is not any such Word in any one of the Epistles, or other Books of the New Testament, in my Bible, as Satisfying or Satisfaction made by our Saviour, and so I could not put it into my Christianity as delivered in the Scripture. If mine be not a true Bible, I desire you to furnish me with one that is more Orthodox; or if the Translators have bid that main Article of the Christian. Religion, they are the Betrayers of Christianity, and Condemners of the Epistles, who did not put it there; and not I, who did not take a Word from thence, which they did not put there. For truly, I am not a Maker of Creeds; nor dare add either to the Scripture, or to the Fundamental Articles of the Christian Religion.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Americanism is Getting to David Barton:

Not that I have a personal problem with Barton's seemingly more ecumenical shift. And I must say that it does accord with what the American Founding is all about. Now if only Barton would say Muslims worship the same God and he'd be almost entirely with America's Founders. Check it out here.

Brannon Howse: Aired August 23, 2011

Glenn Beck and David Barton are in Israel for the “Restoring Courage” rally. Topic One: Brannon plays an audio of Barton saying Beck is a Christian even though Beck admits he is a Mormon. Topic Two: In Israel, Beck introduces Barton as a Christian that has accepted him and his chosen path of Mormonism. Topic Three: In Israel Beck speaks of the need to know God and see His face. Beck says we are entering the age of miracles of God. What god; the Mormon god? Topic Four: Barton speaks at the rally in Israel and speaks of the God they are worshipping at the event. Would that be the Mormon god or the God of the Bible? The problem is that Barton and Beck both are talking about God but Mormons and Christians do not worship the same God. Barton also speaks about the Jews giving birth to a monotheistic religion which is a bit odd to bring up since his friend Beck is a Mormon and Mormons are polytheistic and believe in millions of gods. ...

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Washington letter gets annual reading at Touro Synagogue:

Check it out here. (Thanks to Mary V. Thompson for alerting me to it.)

Monday, August 22, 2011

Surprising What You Find on YouTube:

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Darren Staloff on Deism:

Darren Staloff, Professor of History at the City College of New York and the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, wrote a very helpful article on Deism for the National Humanities Center. In particular he informs how not all forms of Deism were what we think of as "strict Deism" but rather presented themselves as rationalistic forms of Christianity.

A taste:

Most English deists downplayed the tensions between their rational theology and that of traditional Christianity. Anthony Collins clamed that “freethinking” in religion was not only a natural right but also a biblically enjoined duty. Matthew Tindal, the author of Christianity as Old as the Creation (1730)—the “Bible of Deism”—argued that the religion of nature was recapitulated in Christianity, and the purpose of the Christian revelation was to free men from superstition. Tindal insisted that he was a Christian deist, as did Thomas Chubb who revered Christ as a divine moral teacher but held that reason, not faith, was the final arbiter of religious belief. How seriously to take these claims has been a matter of intense and prolonged debate. Deism was proscribed by law after all; the Toleration Act of 1689 had specifically excluded all forms of anti-trinitarianism as well as Catholicism. Even in an age of increasing toleration, flaunting one’s heterodoxy could be a dangerous affair, driving many authors into esotericism if not outright deception. When Thomas Woolston attacked the scriptural accounts of miracles and the doctrine of the resurrection, he was fined one hundred pounds sterling and sentenced to one year in prison. Certainly, some deists adopted a materialistic determinism that smacked of atheism. Others, like Collins, Bolingbroke, and Chubb, questioned the immortality of the soul. Even more challenging was the propensity to ascribe the supernatural elements of the Christian religion to “priestcraft,” the cunning deceptions of clergymen who gulled their ignorant flocks by throwing the pixie dust of “mystery” in their eyes. The Dudleian lecture, endowed by Paul Dudley in 1750, is the oldest endowed lecture at Harvard University. Dudley specified that the lecture should be given once a year, and that the topics of the lectures should rotate among four themes: natural religion, revealed religion, the Romish church, and the validity of the ordination of ministers. The first lecture was given in 1755, and it continues to the present day.On the other hand, the rational theology of the deists had been an intrinsic part of Christian thought since Thomas Aquinas, and the argument from design was trumpeted from Anglophone Protestant pulpits of most denominations on both sides of the Atlantic. In fact, Harvard instituted a regular series of lectures on natural religion in 1755. Even anti-clericalism had a fine pedigree among dissenting English Protestants since the Reformation. And it is not inconceivable that many deists might have seen themselves as the culmination of the Reformation process, practicing the priesthood of all believers by subjecting all authority, even that of scripture, to the faculty of reason that God had given humanity.
New Dispatches From the Culture Wars & Freethought Blogs:

My friend Ed Brayton for whose blog Dispatches From the Culture Wars I have guested, has split his blogs in two. At Science blogs, Brayton's blog is now entitled "Dispatches From the Creation Wars" and deals with science like issues only. Brayton's blog titled Dispatches From the Culture Wars is now being hosted at Freethought blogs and deals with the political and cultural issues.

Also check out Chris Rodda's site at Freethought blogs entitled "This Week In Christian Nationlism."

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

More on Loyalism:

Keeping with the theme that Mark raised, one can view the Reverend Samuel Seabury's works here. In particular this was the one that Hamilton argued against in The Farmer Refuted.

See also Brian Tubbs' discussion at AC a little while back. And my follow up.

A few things I plan on looking into in the future: Hamilton tries to poison Seabury's well by associating his thoughts with Hobbes' and then cites a number of philosophers -- Grotius, Puffendorf, Locke, Montesquieu, and Burlemaqui -- who believed in "the law of nature" that supposedly contradicted the Farmer's position. Or at least, they contradict Hobbes' supposed atheistic absolutist notions. I haven't seen anything approaching a consensus among natural law philosophers showing they would have taken America's side against the British. I've looked into Aquinas' teachings on when laws and the authorities behind them may be resisted and I've found a very complicated, nuanced positions with lots of twists and turns. Anglicans like the Rev. Seabury accepted the authority of Richard Hooker (the Anglican heir to Aquinas); so it would be interesting to see if Hooker staked an explicit position on the matter.

In The Farmer Refuted, after trying to poison Seabury with Hobbes' well, Hamilton admits that the good Rev. was not, like Hobbes, an atheist. But that begs the question, was Hobbes really an atheist? I think it helps not to necessarily believe anything you've heard others claim about what a philosopher really thought (especially an enemy of the philosopher's teachings) but rather to read the philosopher himself. Hamilton apparently had a habit of wrongly accusing his political enemies of atheism as he did with Jefferson. Locke too was called an atheist. As far as I have seen, Hobbes, Locke, and Rousseau, all three self identified as Christians. All three likewise posited novel, controversial -- "modern" -- theories which might have lead traditional religious and political authorities to balk with, "atheist!", "deist!", or some other term of opprobrium.

I also wonder whether by attempting to poison the Farmer's well with Hobbesean atheism, Hamilton didn't grossly misrepresent what the Farmer wrote or meant by what he wrote. This is the passage with which Hamilton takes issue:

I wish you had explicitly declared to the public your ideas of the natural rights of mankind. Man in a state of nature may be considered as perfectly free from all restraints of law and government: And then the weak must submit to the strong. From such a state, I confess, I have a violent aversion. I think the form of government we lately enjoyed a much more eligible state to live in: And cannot help regretting our having lost it, by the equity, wisdom, and authority of the Congress, who have introduced in the room of it, confusion and violence; where all must submit to the power of a mob.

To which Hamilton replies:

The first thing that presents itself is a wish, that “I had, explicitly, declared to the public my ideas of the natural rights of mankind. Man, in a state of nature (you say), may be considered as perfectly free from all restraint of law and government; and then, the weak must submit to the strong.”

I shall, henceforth, begin to make some allowance for that enmity you have discovered to the natural rights of mankind. For, though ignorance of them, in this enlightened age, cannot be admitted as a sufficient excuse for you, yet it ought, in some measure, to extenuate your guilt. If you will follow my advice, there still may be hopes of your reformation. Apply yourself, without delay, to the study of the law of nature. I would recommend to your perusal, Grotius, Puffendorf, Locke, Montesquieu, and Burlemaqui. I might mention other excellent writers on this subject; but if you attend diligently to these, you will not require any others.

There is so strong a similitude between your political principles and those maintained by Mr. Hobbes, that, in judging from them, a person might very easily mistake you for a disciple of his. His opinion was exactly coincident with yours, relative to man in a state of nature. He held, as you do, that he was then perfectly free from all restraint of law and government. Moral obligation, according to him, is derived from the introduction of civil society; and there is no virtue but what is purely artificial, the mere contrivance of politicians for the maintenance of social intercourse. But the reason he ran into this absurd and impious doctrine was, that he disbelieved the existence of an intelligent, superintending principle, who is the governor, and will be the final judge, of the universe.

As you sometimes swear by Him that made you, I conclude your sentiments do not correspond with his in that which is the basis of the doctrine you both agree in; and this makes it impossible to imagine whence this congruity between you arises. To grant that there is a Supreme Intelligence who rules the world and has established laws to regulate the actions of His creatures, and still to assert that man, in a state of nature, may be considered as perfectly free from all restraints of law and government, appears, to a common understanding, altogether irreconcilable.

While it's true that the Farmer's view of the "state of nature" is closer to Hobbes', it in no way follows that this Hobbes like view of the state of nature is predicated on atheism (in which, again, Reverend Seabury did not believe). If anything, Hobbes' harsh view of the state of nature is closer to the traditional Christian doctrine of man's sinful nature. Indeed closer to Calvin's view of man as having a depraved nature. Locke's more cheery view of the state of nature was, if anything more modern and enlightened. And Hamilton recognizes this when he chastises the Farmer for not being up with "this enlightened age."
Did Hamilton Misuse Blackstone?

Following up on Mark's post about Hamilton's The Farmer Refuted. America's Founders were Whig revisionists who specialized in using their God given reason to take from various sources that which fit what they wanted to accomplish and discard or explain away the rest.

Blackstone did invoke the natural law. England operated in an Anglican context and that church incorporated the natural law in its teachings. They inherited the natural law from their Roman Catholic roots. Richard Hooker was the preeminent Anglican natural law scholar whose work would have been most authoritative for traditional Anglicans (even John Locke nodded his cap to wise Hooker).

However, Blackstone was an Tory who argued for the doctrine of absolute supremacy of the law of England. Of Parliament's power, he famously noted:

It can, in short, do every thing that is not naturally impossible; and therefore some have not scrupled to call it's power, by a figure rather too bold, the omnipotence of parliament. True it is, that what they do, no authority upon earth can undo.

As Gary North acutely observed: "Blackstone was wrong: beginning eleven years later, the American colonies undid a lot of what Parliament had done."

This thorny dilemma persists today. Scholars disagree on 1. whether natural law exists and should inform the content of positive law; 2. whether the principles of the Declaration of Independence accurately represent traditional natural law, or whether they are something more enlightened and modern; and 3. whether the natural law of the Declaration of Independence is "justiciable."

Time forbids me from discussing all three in this post. But let us focus on 3. Justice Scalia, because he rejects the Declaration of Independence as justiciable in American law has been hammered by Harry Jaffa and his followers for being a "legal positivist." Scalia is a devout Roman Catholic and I've seen him on record, unsurprisingly, claiming to believe in the natural law (which devout Roman Catholics do). Scalia need not answer whether he believes the Declaration of Independence's natural law accords with that recognized by the Church; American courts, according to Scalia, have no business using any conception of the natural law to decide cases and controversies or nullify actions of other branches of government. If natural law is to inform policy issues, that's the legislature's job. (And among conservative Catholic jurists, Scalia is by no means alone in his approach.)

And that's because some legal body must have the final say over how to interpret and implement natural law. Under a Blackstonian framework, it was Parliament. So it could be that 1. Hamilton was just wrong; what Great Britain did, did not violate the natural law and America had no business on natural legal grounds to disobey. OR, 2. even if Hamilton et al. were right, they still had no business disobeying British rule because some legal body has to have the final say over how to implement the natural law into governing law and under Blackstone's conception, again, it was Parliament.

Perhaps this is why Hamilton cites other natural law thinkers who may not have viewed things exactly as Blackstone did. This is not to say I have a problem with America's Founders clever, revisionist use of Blackstone this way. But let's see it for what it is: They took his principles, tweaked them a bit, and applied them to achieve results that Blackstone would neither have expected or approved of. This is Whig history 101.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Is Dan Savage the Gay Fred Phelps?


Saturday, August 13, 2011

Trenchard & Gordon on Religion:

I suppose we'd have to get to them sooner or later. We've done John Locke on religion quite a bit. And Joseph Priestly and Richard Price. All were British Whigs who strongly influenced the American Founding, including but not limited to religion.

It's debatable whether America knew the "true" (perhaps heterodox) Locke. And Priestley and Price weren't popular among the masses, but rather influenced various elites in important positions of power (they greatly influenced J. Adams, Jefferson, and Franklin).

Thomas Gordon & John Trenchard's works were more popularly read in America. They posited something which most (if not every) of the above mentioned figures endorsed -- an idea of "primitive Christianity," that is Christianity before it got corrupted by clerics and creeds.

Trenchard and Gordon's "test" for what is "Christianity" seems close to John Locke's (who certainly influenced them). There are two elements, one belief in the Bible as God's divinely inspired word and two Jesus as Messiah and son of God. Nothing contained in a creed is necessary. In fact, ecclesiastical authority and official creeds tend to be hated in this kind of Christianity. Roman Catholicism is enemy number one. High church Anglicanism is enemy number two. But again, the notion of creedalism itself is rejected.

Anti-creedalism is something I've discovered quite common among America's Founders. Not just the "key Founders" like the first four Presidents and Ben Franklin, but also figures like Benjamin Rush and John Jay. We might term this kind of Christianity, "freethinking Christianity" that contrasts with the more conservative "creedal Christianity." Where Protestantism meets Enlightenment, the freethinkers wanted to read the Bible for themselves and determine what it meant. The Bible clearly refers to Jesus as Son of the God and Savior of man. But does it clearly teach the Trinity?

The freethinking Christians say no. Indeed, I realize a lot of Sola Scriptura Protestants claim they get the Trinity from the Bible alone. However, if you research church history and experience, you'll see, almost without exception these churches likewise embrace orthodox creeds like the Athanasian, Nicene, Apostles, because they realize freethinkers reading the Bible for themselves will NOT necessarily conclude that it clearly teaches the Trinity. Therefore those creeds are necessary just to make clear THIS is how we interpret the Bible.

Trenchard and Gordon are exhibit A.

As they wrote Wednesday, April 6. 1720:

But whilst [the clergy] were thus carrying on their Project for Dominion, they found it necessary to throw out a Barrel to the Whale, and keep the People’s Minds busied, and their Passions afloat, with Metaphysical Subtilties and Distinctions, of no Use to true Religion and Morality, though very conducive to their own ambitious tyrannical Designs.

I would gladly know, from these Reverend Venders of Trifles, Whether it would have been worth the Thousandth Part of the Combustion which has been made, or the Blood which has been spilt, only to have settled a few Speculations, if they could have been settled? Pray where is the essential Difference between Transubstantiation, Consubstantiation, and the RealPresence? What the Consequence, whether a Child be baptized by one sort of Priests, or by another? Or of what Use to Mankind are the abstruse Questions about Predestination, Free-Will, or Free-Grace? What is the Difference, as to the Duties or Ordinances of Christianity, if they be administred under the Direction of a single Person, a Bench of Bishops, or a Lower House of Convocation, or none of them all, so they be piously administred? Or whether the chimerical Line of Succession be broken, or ever had a Being?

Since ’tis agreed amongst all our present Sects of Christians, that the Saviour of the World is the Son of God, descended from Heaven to teach Virtue and Goodness to Men, and to die for our Redemption; how are we concerned in the Scholastic Notions of the Trinity? Will the Scripture be more regarded, or the Precepts of it be better observed, if the Three Persons are believed to be Three Divine distinct Spirits and Minds, who are so many real subsisting Persons? Whether the Son and Holy-Ghost are Omnipotent of themselves, or are subordinate, and dependent on the Father? Or, if they are independent, whether their Union consist in a mutual Consciousness of one another’s Thoughts and Designs, or in any thing else? Whether they are Three Attributes of God, viz. Goodness, Wisdom and Power? Or Three internal Acts, viz. Creation, Redemption and Sanctification? Or Two internal Acts of the One subsisting Person of the Father; that is to say, the Father understanding and willing himself and his own Perfections? Or Three internal Relations, namely, the Divine Substance and Godhead confidered as Unbegotten, Begotten, and Proceeding? Or Three Names of God ascribed to him in Holy Scripture, as he is Father of all Things, as he did inhabit in an extraordinary Manner in the Man Jesus Christ, and as he effected every thing by his Spirit, or his Energy and Power? Or lastly, Whether the Three Persons are only Three Beings, but what sort of Beings we neither know, nor ought to pretend to know? which I take to be the Trinity of the Mob, as well as of some other wiser Heads.

As far as I can remember, these are the important Questions which have set Mankind together by the Ears, for so many Ages; and it seems are yet thought of Consequence enough to create new Feuds, and mortal Dudgeon, amongst all our Sects of Ecclesiastics. But why must we of the Laity quarrel about them too? What have Beaux and Belles, old Women, Coblers, and Milk-Maids, to do with Homo-ousios, Consubstantiality, Personality, HypostaticalUnion, Infinite Satisfaction, &c.? none of which hard Words, or any like them, are to be found in Scripture; and therefore, I think, we may even return them to Rome, that being the Place from whence they came, and be contented to be good Christians without them.

Something else we see here is the notion that orthodox Trinitarianism itself, or at minimum many of doctrines which exist in orthodox creeds and confessions, becomes associated with Roman Catholic fabrication.
Is it because they are not Trinitarians?

Or because they are polytheists?

I've followed the "Mormons are not Christians, but they call themselves Christians" issue and related it back to America's Founding, for some time. (If you have to believe in the Trinity to be a Christian, our 2nd and 3rd Presidents militantly rejected that doctrine, even though they called themselves Christians, and the evidence that the first and fourth Presidents were Trinitarians sorely lacks.)

So as Mitt Romney again throws his hat in the Presidential race, this theme will occur here again.

This time it's a hard core Roman Catholic, as opposed to a conservative evangelical who normally makes this claim, of the problem with a Mormon who claims to be Christian running for President:

"Note that I’m not in principle opposed to voting for polytheists. I could see, for example, voting for a pro-life Hindu over a pro-abortion monotheist. But a Hindu does not claim to be a Christian and thus does not risk confusing people about the core doctrine of Christianity the way Mormonism does,"...

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Remember This?

It's over 10 years old. The Alans (Keyes, Dershowitz) debate religion in American Public life. It's very amusing. I was not surprised to find it on YouTube. I love YouTube; it's got so much.

Monday, August 08, 2011

Intratextualism and "Religion" During the American Founding:

Eugene Volokh has an interesting post which references law review articles from among others Akhil Amar on the idea of "intratextualism" -- that is, the same word being used more than one time in a legal document and how the multiple uses of a term can define its proper meaning.

Here is a comment I left:

I’ve studied the “religion” at the time of the framing in detail from the perspective of “political theology,” and the issue certainly applies.

The First Amendment says

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;

And Art. VI Cl. 3 of the unamended Constitution says

no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.

So we’ve got “religion” and “religious” as in “religious test.” It probably would be proper to define "religion" as having the same meaning in both clauses, but as a matter of logic we MUST define “religion” in the EC and FEC as having the same meaning because the term is used only once and “thereof” in the FEC relates back to “religion” in the EC. It’s like a Siamese twin that shares the same heart.

The reason I say this is, perhaps because they misunderstand a quotation of Joseph Story, some Christian Nationalists have argued either 1. “Religion” in the First Amendment meant “Christianity” only (this claim is wrong but at least it avoids the problem of logical construction where “religion” in the EC and FEC are given two different meanings) OR 2. Whereas Free Exercise was meant to apply universally the EC somehow only protected or privileged “Christianity.” This claim is wrong as a matter of simple logic. If one can prove “religion” had a particular free exercise clause meaning, it automatically applies to the establishment clause and vice versa. (And yes, there is a great deal of evidence that the Founders meant what they said: “religion” means “religion” not “Christianity”).

Friday, August 05, 2011

Accusations of Deism:

One interesting thing I've discovered in this many year long investigation of the American Founding and religion is the orthodox clergy were likely to make accusations of "Deism" to folks whom they suspected didn't meet their standard of orthodoxy. Usually the charge was false in the sense that the accused was not a "strict Deist" (one who 1. believed in a remote clock-maker God; 2. categorically rejected the possibility of revelation; and 3. self consciously rejected the "Christian" label). However most often the accused, indeed, didn't meet strict "orthodox" standards. To which the orthodox clergy responded "well then, this theological system is no better than Deism" or perhaps as William Wilberforce noted, a "halfway house to infidelity."

I've noted Founding Father William Livingston as a less than well known figure who fit this description. And indeed, he was so accused. As Livingston himself wrote:

It is well known that some have represented me as an Atheist, others as a Deist, and a third sort as a Presbyterian. My creed will show that none have exactly hit it. For all which reasons, I shall cheerfully lay before you the articles of my faith. * * *

Livingston then humorously details his "creed" which is really an anti-creed, rejecting, among other things, the concept of creedalism itself, orthodoxy, ecclesiastical authority, and (of course) sectarianism. All in the name of the Bible and "Christianity," of course.