Sunday, November 27, 2011

Christianity and Liberty:

By George H. Smith:

A taste:

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

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

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

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

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

Read the rest here.
Religious Toleration Versus Religious Freedom:

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

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

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

Read the rest here.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

History of Christian Deism:

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

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Contradictions in the Bible Poster:

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

Sunday, November 20, 2011

And Bless The People of France!

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

As he said:

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

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

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

From this post:

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

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

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

Friday, November 18, 2011

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 17, 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

The Jefferson Lies:

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

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

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

The John Quincy Adams Quotation:

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

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Did an Atheist create the Jefferson Bible?

What the Washington Times asks here.

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

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

Friday, November 11, 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Sunday, November 06, 2011

Rational Rant Dissects the Larry Klayman Article:

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

Saturday, November 05, 2011

David Barton's Phony Quotations Live On:

This time with Larry Klayman at WorldNetDaily.

Friday, November 04, 2011

John Fea at the David Library:

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

General Anthony Wayne's Response...:

To the Natives' Providential Claim. Here:

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