Monday, January 30, 2012

Gregg Frazer's Book:

As John Fea noted, Dr. Gregg Frazer has a new book coming out, published by University Press of Kansas. It is based on his much discussed PhD thesis. I plan to much discuss the book when it comes out. And, cross your fingers, I may be involved in a very cool public event on this book in late spring/early summer.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Gary Cass Contradicts Himself:

Ed Brayton makes a point I/we have been hammering for years. If you want to claim Mormons aren't Christians because they deny the Trinity/gospel of grace as Cass does, fine. Just don't then claim America's Founders as "Christians." Certainly NOT the Declaration of Independence whose three principle authors were theological unitarians.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

James Wilson & the Scottish Enlightenment:

Keeping with our James Wilson theme, I just found this what looks to be very cool article from U. Penn. on James Wilson. I haven't had a chance to read it yet.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Craig Fehrman Refutes David Barton on Jefferson:

In the LA Times here.
Three New Posts from Throckmorton Debunking Barton:

The first is Did Thomas Jefferson give the Jefferson Bible to missionaries?; the second is Did Thomas Jefferson found the Virginia Bible Society?; and the third is Is the Jefferson Bible just the words of Jesus?

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Church and State: A Humanist View by Vern L. Bullough:

Here. A taste:

There have been two conflicting traditions in the United States about the relationship between church and state. The first is exemplified by the holiday of Thanksgiving, which emphasizes the religious foundation of the United States. The Pilgrim fathers set out in the New World not only to worship as they wanted but to establish God's kingdom. They had the truth and all others were wrong; church and state were one. The second tradition comes from the time of the writing of the American Constitution, when our deistic, freethinking Founding Fathers (no mothers) embodied in the Constitution the principle of separation of church and state.

The conflict between the two traditions should be obvious, and it was neatly finessed by our Constitution makers by more or less ignoring what states did. Although technically the last established religion was eliminated in 1833 in Massachusetts, the lack of an established religion did not mean real separation of church and state. States later admitted to the union had to adopt statutes about religious freedom, but, since most Americans nominally came from a European Christian background, religious observances played an important role in American history. One current example is the delivering of a prayer that opens up Congress, a practice that Free Inquiry's editor, Paul Kurtz, attempted to stop by a lawsuit, which he lost.

I was never more struck by the contradictions in our concepts of separation of church and state than when I lived in so-called emancipated New York State. I appeared several times in court in New York as an expert witness, and each time I was required to swear an oath on the Bible to tell the truth so help me God. I objected to the attorneys for whom I was testifying but they asked me not to call attention to the issue since it could negatively affect their client. I complied. In the university at which I taught in New York, the commencement ceremonies were opened and closed with prayers, although there was a real effort by the clergy doing the invocation and benediction to keep their remarks general and platitudinous. Most secular schools in the United States have Christmas and Easter breaks, although the Easter break is somewhat less common than it was a few years ago. The most secular school I attended was the University of Chicago, at one time a Baptist school, which ignored religious holidays of all kinds but did have its quarter session usually end about December 22.
Mormonism Obsessed with Christ:

From Stephen H. Webb at First Things.

A taste:

After all, what gives Christianity its identity is its commitment to the divinity of Jesus Christ. And on that ground Mormons are more Christian than many mainstream Christians who do not take seriously the astounding claim that Jesus is the Son of God.

Mormonism is obsessed with Christ, and everything that it teaches is meant to awaken, encourage, and expand faith in him. It adds to the plural but coherent portrait of Jesus that emerges from the four gospels in a way, I am convinced, that does not significantly damage or deface that portrait.

Monday, January 16, 2012

MLK, Aquinas, & James Wilson:

William Allen of Michigan State University ties them together here.

A taste:

We define civil rights in the context of the founding of the United States Constitution, and in many respects they are best understood in that light. The first place in which to find that context is the Declaration of Independence, which declares the meaning of civil rights.[1] Secondly, we have the best indigenous articulation of civil rights from that founding father who also best explained the relation between civil rights and natural law: James Wilson. Thirdly, reviewing illustrative Supreme Court defenses of civil rights can quickly reveal how far the decisions of the justices were regulated so as to tie advances in civil rights to an advance in understanding natural law (even for persons who would disavow reliance upon natural law). Finally, the seminal statement of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” clearly expresses the fundamental ground of equality identified by James Wilson (and the Declaration of Independence) as essential to civil rights; it also invokes the entire sweep of Western reflection on the meaning of justice in such a way as to show the pursuit of civil rights as nothing less than perfecting civil relations in light of natural law.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Sandefur on Substantive Due Process and Milton:

Timothy Sandefur has a new article out in Harvard-JLPP arguing the case FOR substantive due process on philosophical and originalist grounds. It is not, he argues, something judges just made up.

He has a fascinating passage on John Milton. Milton was a notable Whig thinker who greatly influenced America's Founders and whose influences has been much neglected.

From JOHN MILTON, The Tenure of Kings and Magistrates in THE STUDENT’S MILTON
758 (Frank Allen Patterson ed., rev. ed. 1936) (1650):

[T]o say kings are accountable to none but God, is the overturning of all law and government. For if they may refuse to give account, then all covenants made with them at coronation, all oaths are in vain, and mere mockeries; all laws which they swear to keep, made to no purpose: for if the king fear not God (as how many of them do not,) we hold then our lives and estates by the tenure of his mere grace and mercy, as from a god, not a mortal magistrate; a position that none but court parasites or men besotted would maintain! Aristotle, therefore, whom we commonly allow for one of the best interpreters of nature and morality, writes in the fourth of his Politics, chap. x. that “monarchy unaccountable is the worst sort of tyranny; and least of all to be endured by free‐born men.” 

And surely no Christian prince . . . would arrogate so unreasonably above human condition, or derogate so basely from a whole nation of men, his brethren, as if for him only subsisting, and to serve his glory, valuing them in comparison of his own brute will and pleasure no more than so many beasts, or vermin under his feet, not to be reasoned with, but to be trod on . . . .

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

New-Old Article By Me:

Some time back (2004 or 05 I think), I submitted this article to Liberty Magazine, no not THAT Liberty Magazine which also published me, but the one affiliated with the Adventists.

Well they finally published it. My name is "Jon" not "John" and I no longer teach at Philadelphia University. But I can't complain because they did publish it and I did get paid. And they gave me complimentary copies. For these things I will forever be grateful.

On the subject of the article, you are just going to have to read it. What's interesting is to see how my views have changed in years since. I agree with the thrust of what I wrote. However, I no longer think the God of the Declaration was as strictly deistic as Walter Berns (whom I cite) asserts. I still believe the DOI's God is not necessarily the God of the Bible. It could be. But the DOI's God is more Providential or theistic than Berns intimates. The DOI's God, I have come to believe, is the God of generic monotheism, the one that, as much as possible, is all things to all people. It could be the Triniarian God, a non-Trinitarian biblical God (if that's not a contradiction in terms) the Jehovah of the Jewish people who inspired the Old but not the New Testament, a Providential Deist God, Allah, the Mormon God, the Native Americans' Great Spirit, etc.

On the other hand this is what I cited from Walter Berns:

"The God invoked there is 'nature's God,' not, or arguably not, the God of the Bible, not the God whom, today, 43 percent of Americans . . . claim regularly to worship on the Sabbath. Nature's God issues no commands. No one can fall from his grace, and, therefore, no one has reason to pray to him asking for his forgiveness. He makes no promises. On the contrary, he endowed us with 'certain inalienable rights,' then left us alone, and with the knowledge, or at least the confidence, that he will never interfere in our affairs. Moreover, he is not a jealous God; he allows us—in fact, he endows us with the right—to worship other gods or even no god at all."

I think the DOI's God could be Berns' God. His description does have the barest degree of Providentialism to it. However, it's not necessarily or arguably this God.
John Quincy Adams on Protestantism & the French Revolution:

I caught this while reading JQA's letter to his mother dated January 9, 1816 (I added paragraph breaks for clarity):

.... Dr. Price was duped by the goodness and simplicity of his heart, by the enthusiasm of his love for liberty, and by his ignorance of the world in which he lived. His ardent zeal in favor of the French Revolution has shed a sort of ridicule upon his reputation, and his opinions upon that and some other subjects have been so completely falsified by events which have happened since his death, that his very name is sinking into oblivion.

Indeed the Dissenters in this country have fallen much into contempt since his time. Their political and religious doctrines have a tide equally strong running against them; and their conduct, which at one time swelled into seditious insolence, and at another sunk into fawning servility, has thrown them into such discredit, that the church may now, if they please, persecute them with impunity. They attempted here a few weeks since to make a stir about the real persecution under which the Protestants are suffering in the south of France. They held meetings, and passed high sounding resolutions, and opened subscriptions, and sent deputations to his Majesty's ministers, and buzzed about their importance, as busily and intrusively as so many horse-flies in dog-days.

His Majesty's ministers put off their deputation with general, insignificant civilities, which they met again, and resolved to give highly satisfactory assurances of support and interference in behalf of French Protestants. His Majesty's ministers then set their daily newspapers to circulate the report that Protestants in France were all Jacobins, and that if they were massacred, and had their churches burnt, their houses pulled down over their heads, it was not for their religion but for their politics.

From that moment Master Bull has had neither compassion nor compunction for the French Protestants. The Dissenters by a rare notion of stupidity and Jesuitism (for there are Jesuits of all denominations) have denied the fact, and vainly attempted to suppress the evidence that proved it; of stupidity for not perceiving that this must ultimately be proved against them, and of Jesuitism for contesting the fact against their better knowledge, because they could produce Protestant invectives against Bonaparte after his fall, and Protestant adulation to Louis 18 after his restoration.

The French Protestants, like the English Dissenters, have been throughout the course of the French Revolution generally time-servers. Like the mongrel brood of Babylonians and Samaritans after the Assyrian captivity, their political worship has been after "the manner of the God of the land." They have feared the Lord and served their graven images. They hated Bonaparte, no doubt, in proportion as they found themselves galled by his yoke, and they had no gratitude for the protection and security which his authority gave them for the free exercise of their religion and the quiet enjoyment of their property.

But the Protestants had unquestionably been from the first ardent supporters and exaggerated friends of the revolution. It was indeed natural enough that they should be, for the revolution had redeemed them from a worse than Egyptian thraldom. My father well remembers from personal knowledge what was the condition of the Protestants in France before the revolution, and in what sort of sentiments concerning them and their religion all the Bourbons were educated.

The revolution gave them equal religious and political rights with those of the rest of their countrymen. They had been twenty years freely and eagerly purchasing the national property, and among the rest, it appears, had purchased two of the old convents at Nismes, and used them for churches. Yet they joined in the hue and cry against Napoleon after he was down. Yet they fawned upon the Bourbons, when from the shoulders of the enemies of France they were turned off upon them, and licked the dust at the feet of Louis le Desire. As if tythes, and monks, and barefoot processions, and legends, and relics, and religious bigotry, had not been the darling and only consolations of Louis and his Bourbons in their exile, and would not inevitably bring back religious intolerance with them.

Now, this is the foundation upon which the Dissenters here have relied, to deny that the present persecution of the French Protestants has been for politics. But now comes a letter from the Duke of Wellington, formally announcing that it was for politics, and henceforth, instead of whining, and resolving, and subscribing for the French Protestants, the churchmen here, if the coal of the Angouleme fires were extinguished, would lend him a fagot to kindle them again. The Duke of Wellington says, too, that he is convinced the French government have done all in their power to protect the Protestants. This is not so certain. But whether they have or not, is held to be perfectly immaterial. The French Protestants were Jacobins or Bonapartists—nothing more just and proper than that they should be hunted down as wild beasts. At the same time, the ministerial prints are teeming with reproaches upon two of the king's sons for having lately attended at a charity sermon preached in a Methodist chapel, and giving broad hints that the church must be strengthened against the Dissenters.

I'm not sure if I would categorize the FR as a "Protestant" event, but Protestantism certainly fueled its flames.

Friday, January 06, 2012

John Quincy Adams Defends small o orthodox small c catholic Christianity to his father:

I've posted numerous times the quotation of the elder John Adams to JQA defending unitarianism. For context, I'll post it again below:

We Unitarians, one of whom I have had the Honour to be, for more than sixty Years, do not indulge our Malignity in profane Cursing and Swearing, against you Calvinists; one of whom I know not how long you have been. You and I, once saw Calvin and Arius, on the Plafond of the Cathedral of St. John the Second in Spain roasting in the Flames of Hell. We Unitarians do not delight in thinking that Plato and Cicero, Tacitus Quintilian Plyny and even Diderot, are sweltering under the scalding drops of divine Vengeance, for all Eternity.

-- John Adams to John Quincy Adams, March 28, 1816.

The quotation indicates that, apparently, John Quincy Adams had embraced a Calvinistic form of orthodox Christianity. I'm less well read in JQA's religion; I've seen that he vacillated between unitarianism and orthodoxy for much of his adult life. I'm not sure where he ended up at death. In 1816, he seemed to be in the orthodox camp.

With that, let us observe JQA defending, to HIS father, orthodox Trinitarianism. We also see JQA defending the small c catholicism of the Christian Church. This is important. Catholicism simply means "universal." The Bible talks about Christ's "Church." As it were, the notion of a "catholic Church" is entirely biblical, and for that reason accepted by the vast majority of evangelicals/reformed Christians. They just don't believe that the Church whose Bishop of Rome is the Pope heads said Church.

All of the orthodox creeds, the Nicene, Apostles and Athanasian invoke the "catholic" church, though some translation might not use that term, but rather opt for "universal" or simply "Christian" before "church."

But do keep this (small c catholic = universal church = orthodox Trinitarian) not only reading JQA's sentiments to his father, but for the sake of context in these matters in general.

Dated, January 5, 1816:

My Dear Sir:

I plainly perceive that you are not to be converted, even by the eloquence of Massillon, to the Athanasian creed. But when you recommend to me Carlostad, and Scheffmacher, and Priestley, and Waterland, and Clerk, and Beausobre—Mercy! mercy! what can a blind man do to be saved by unitarianism, if he must read all this to understand his Bible? I went last Christmas day to Ealing Church, and heard the Reverend Colston Carr, the vicar, declare and pronounce, among other things, that whosoever doth not keep the catholic faith whole and undefiled, without doubt he shall perish everlastingly. And the catholic faith is This: That we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in Unity, etc.—in short the creed of Saint Athanasius; which, as you know, the eighth article of the English Church says, may be proved by most certain warrants of Holy Scripture. Now I have had many doubts about the Athanasian Creed; but if I read much more controversy about it, I shall finish by faithfully believing it. Mr. Channing says he does not believe, because he cannot comprehend it. Does he comprehend how the omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient, infinite, eternal spirit, can be the father of a mortal man, conceived and born of a Virgin? Does he comprehend his own meaning when he speaks of God as the Father, and Christ as the Son? Does he comprehend the possibility according to human reason, of one page in the Bible from the first verse in Genesis to the last verse of the Apocalypse? If he does, I give him joy of his discovery, and wish he would impart it to his fellow Christians. If the Bible is a moral tale, there is no believing in the Trinity. But if it is the rule of faith—

I hope you will not think me in danger of perishing everlastingly, for believing too much, and when you know all, with your aversion to thinking of the Jesuits, you may think I have made a lucky escape, if I do not believe in transubstantiation. During almost the whole period of my late residence in Russia, I had the pleasure of a social and very friendly acquaintance with the Right Reverend Father in God, Thaddeus Brozowsky, then and now Father General of the Jesuits, one of the most respectable, amiable, and venerable men that I have ever known. As I was the medium of communication between him and his correspondents in the United States, he used frequently to call upon me, and I had often occasion to return his visits. We used to converse upon all sorts of topics, and among the rest upon religion. He occasionally manifested a compassionate wish for my conversion to the true Catholic faith, and one day undertook to give me a demonstration of the real presence in the Eucharist. He said it was ingeniously proved in a copperplate print which he had seen, representing Jesus Christ sitting between Luther and Calvin, each of them bearing the wafer of the communion. Each of them had also a label issuing from his lips, and, pointing with the finger to the bread, Christ was saying, "This is my body," while Luther said, "This represents my body," and Calvin, "This signifies my body." At the bottom of the whole was the question, "Which of them speaks the truth?" It was not the worthy Father's fault if I did not consider this demonstration as conclusive as he did. Another day—and it will give you an idea of the simplicity of this good man's heart—we were discussing together the celibacy of the clergy, which he deemed indispensable, that they might be altogether devoted to the service of their Lord and master, and not liable to the avocations of this world's concerns. I did not think it would be generous to remind him of the manner in which the experience of the world had shown that the vows of religious chastity usually resulted, but rather resorted to authority with regard to the principle. I observed to him that not only all the Protestant communities, but the Greek Church also, allowed the clergy to marry. Upon which, after a moment of reflection, he said, "Oui, c'est vrai. II n'y a que l'eglise romaine qui soit encore vierge!" Indeed, you must give me some credit for firmness of character, for withstanding the persuasion of such a patriarch as this.


Thursday, January 05, 2012

Enlightenment Deism:

Dr. Joseph Waligore has published online some of his what I see as very important research clarifying what the "Enlightenment Deists" believed in.

A taste:

While almost all scholars continually assert that the God of the Enlightenment deists was a remote, uninvolved, watchmaker God that generated no love or warmth in people, none of these assertions are true. A majority of the deists thought God or the angels performed miracles; many of them prayed fervently to a God they adored; some even went into raptures of ecstasy at God’s wonderful benevolence. Some of them believed God or the angels protected people from danger by putting thoughts into people’s minds warning them of danger. Many believed the devil might perform miracles, and so any possible revelation backed by miracles had to be examined to be sure it was not done by the devil. A significant number of them viewed themselves as sincere Christians who spent their lives explaining where and why orthodox Christianity had strayed from Jesus’ simple message. A few were more interesting or featherbrained (depending on your perspective): one believed an angel had given him the key to interpreting prophecy, another said he received a sign from God to publish his first book, and another believed in reincarnation. Enlightenment deism was not modern secularism, or even a halfway house to it; the deists were preaching a religious alternative to orthodox Christianity that they hoped the world would embrace. Their piety and theology has been neglected, but it is due to our misunderstanding of it and not their theology’s lack of interest or influence on our culture’s intellectual history.

The entire article is worth a careful read. I’m not sure if I am comfortable calling this “Deism”: but Waligore’s point is that many of the folks we think of as “Enlightenment Deists" actually believed THIS. If it's proper to term this Deism, it's certainly a form of "Christian-Deism" as David L. Holmes termed it.

Monday, January 02, 2012

Trenchard & Gordon on Religion: All Government proved to be instituted by Men, and only to intend the general Good of Men. (Trenchard) (NO. 60. SATURDAY, JANUARY 6, 1722):

America's Founders were Lockeans. But they didn't get their Locke unfiltered. T & G were crucial filters.

See an exerpt here:

Every man's religion is his own; nor can the religion of any man, of what nature or figure soever, be the religion of another man, unless he also chooses it; which action utterly excludes all force, power, or government. Religion can never come without conviction, nor can conviction come from civil authority; religion, which is the fear of God, cannot be subject to power, which is the fear of man. It is a relation between God and our own souls only, and consists in a disposition of mind to obey the will of our great Creator, in the manner which we think most acceptable to him. It is independent upon all human directions, and superior to them; and consequently uncontrollable by external force, which cannot reach the free faculties of the mind, or inform the understanding, much less convince it. Religion therefore, which can never be subject to the jurisdiction of another, can never be alienated to another, or put in his power.