Monday, October 29, 2012

The Founders’ Bible: Did Thomas Jefferson Base the Declaration of Independence on the Bible?

From Warren Throckmorton here.

Saturday, October 27, 2012

John Fea Explains the Middle Ground...

To a more secular oriented critic.  A taste:
Third, Fischer chides me for juxtaposing "providence" with "deism," as if a deist could not believe in providence.  I think she is correct here. A deist could believe in providence--in fact, most of them did.  As I have been speaking about the book to various audiences, I have realized that my discussion of "providence" as it relates to deism is not nuanced enough.

Yet I am not sure I agree with Fischer's characterization of my argument here.  She seems to think that I am arguing that if a founding father was not a deist, then he must have been a Christian who supported the creation of a uniquely Christian nation.  I think a sort of middle intellectual/religious ground is possible here.  For example, one could be a theist and still reject the core doctrines of traditional Christianity (such as the Trinity, the resurrection, the inspiration of the Bible, etc...).  Gregg Frazer has called this position "theistic rationalism."

Moreover, Fischer makes a logical mistake here.  She assumes that if a given founding father was a Christian, then he must have also wanted to promote a uniquely Christian nation.  I try to avoid this fallacy in my book, but Fischer wants to suggest that my attempt to paint the founders as non-deists automatically means that I will answer the question in the title of my book in the affirmative.

David Rittenhouse: Rational Christian-Theistic Rationalist-Unitarian

If you are familiar with Philadelphia, you know Rittenhouse Square is (probably) the most affluent part of town.  It was named after David Rittenhouse, not a "key Founder" but one of the all but forgotten names from America's Founding era.

Rittenhouse was mentioned in Timothy Dwight's Triumph of Infidelity as one of those "infidels" who presented his system under the auspices of "Christianity" but in reality was too man centered/humanistic to qualify as "real Christianity."

But anyway here is a passage from an old book where Rittenhouse's widow describes his creed:
[D]ated August 20th 1797. "'That you were sufficiently authorized to assert what you did respecting Mr. Rittenhouse's religious principles, I now add my testimony to what you have said, for well I know the great truths of religion engaged much of his attention, and indeed were interwoven with almost every important concern of his life. I do not recollect, if in any of the conversations I have had with you, I informed you, what I now do, that Dr. Price's opinions respecting Christianity were more in unison with his own, than any others of the divines; that Dr. Price's sermons was the last book he requested me to read to him, and that the last morning of his life, he reminded me that I had not finished one of the Doctor's discourses , which I had began the proceeding evening."
The Dr. Price referred to is the Arian heretic, "rational Christian," Richard Price.

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Roger Sherman and the Creation of the American Republic

Oxford University Press just released Mark David Hall's book on Roger Sherman -- "Roger Sherman and the Creation of the American Republic" -- destined to be a classic on Sherman. I am grateful that Mark thanked me in the acknowledgements.

Look for more on this book in the near future at American Creation.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Ed Brayton Debates Thomas Jefferson's Religion

Here.  This illustrates the damage David Barton does when he tries to salvage some kind of traditional Christianity out of Thomas Jefferson.  Dinesh D’Souza (currently controversial) is mentioned.

Buried in the comments Michael Heath offers a valuable observation on paradigms:
* I reject the notion that theistic rationalists, Christians, and deists are all distinct non-overlapping sets. Instead I find Jefferson easily and obviously fits into all three sets. One merely has to understand the continuum of beliefs in Christianity, the definition of deism starting with the late-19th 18 century – particularly the definition as it relates to the process of deism – not confine the word to one popular conclusion, and the process and conclusions theistic rationalists use.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

The Left's David Barton?

Howard Zinn apparently has a new rival and his name is Henry Wiencek. See John Fea here and here.

For the record, I like Thomas Jefferson a lot, mainly for his ideas and ideals. I recognize the man was flawed and don't believe in whitewashing history. The way I understand Jefferson and slavery: According to his ideals, Jefferson was against slavery. The law did not, as David Barton intimates, prevent Jefferson from freeing his slaves. The bottom line is Jefferson got himself into trouble with his spendthrift ways and THAT'S why he didn't end up freeing his slaves.

[James Wilson, btw, had some serious issues with debt as well.]

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Monday, October 08, 2012

Throckmorton on Barton's Use of Adams' "General Principles of Christianity" Quote

See Warren Throckmorton's remarks here. This was in a letter from John Adams to Thomas Jefferson in 1813. This was John Adams at his most heterodox. Out of context, the quotation sounds like something that supports the Christian Nation thesis. Understood in context, however, Adams doesn't refer to what Barton et al. understand as "biblical Christianity," but rather some other very heterodox theological system, what Gregg Frazer has termed "theistic rationalism." It's a system that unites the "orthodox" with Universalists, Unitarians (Arians, Socinians, Priestleyans) and even "Deists and Atheists, and Protestants 'qui ne croyent rien.'" (That means "Protestants who believe in nothing.")

Thomas Kidd on Gregg Frazer's Book

A very fair review. Here.

Thursday, October 04, 2012

Another Thomas Kidd Review of David Aikman’s One Nation Without God?

This is especially good as it discusses the phony Patrick Henry quotation I've seen endlessly repeated.  A taste:
Patrick Henry once said, "It cannot be emphasized too strongly or too often that this great nation was founded, not by religionists, but by Christians; not on religions, but on the gospel of Jesus Christ!" Or at least many evangelicals believe Henry said that. It is actually a line from a 1956 magazine article commenting on Henry's faith, but popular Christian writers subsequently attributed the quote to Henry himself. The misquote stuck. Even though countless websites have debunked it, this bogus statement still routinely appears everywhere from Twitter to Facebook to books on America's founding, including presidential aspirant Newt Gingrich's A Nation Like No Other. And Gingrich has a Ph.D. in history! 
The eager reception of spurious quotes about our Christian origins is telling. It illustrates the fact that religion's role in the founding is among the most controversial historical debates in America today. Into that debate enters David Aikman's One Nation Without God? The Battle for Christianity in an Age of Unbelief (Baker). ...

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

Patrick Deneen Misunderstands Allan Bloom

This misunderstands Bloom.  The criticisms would be more apt if they were directed towards Harry Jaffa and the West Coast Straussians.

Some thoughts.  Dr. Deneen writes:
"... Bloom himself was not an admirer or supporter of the multiplicity of cultures. Indeed, he was suspicious and even hostile to the claims of culture upon the shaping of human character and belief—including religious belief. He was not a conservative in the Burkean sense; that is, someone apt to respect the inheritances of tradition and custom as a repository of past wisdom and experience. Rather, he was at his core a liberal: someone who believes that the only benefit of our cultural formation was that it constituted a 'cave' from which ambitious and rebellious youth could be encouraged to pursue a life of philosophy."
I think we have to define "ambitious and rebellious youth" here.  Bloom thought "philosophy" -- especially what he regarded as that containing the esoteric truths which he taught his "circle" -- was a calling for an elite few.  Not even the typical Cornell or University of Chicago student; but an elite selected from those schools whom he deemed worthy.  An elite of the elite (perhaps Dr. Deneen was not elite enough for Bloom).  Moreover, he thought the "cave" needed vibrant cultures that taught useful fictions to sustain it. So for the 99% of the population who weren't his philosophic proteges, he supported Burkean fictions of the cave.  This is why Straussians support the religious conservatives whose faiths they don't share.  It's for the effect, yes.  But they still support the politics.

Deneen continues:
"Bloom’s argument became a major touchstone in the development of 'neoconservatism,' a label that became associated with many fellow students of Strauss but which, ironically, explicitly rested on rejection of the claims of culture, tradition, and custom—the main impulses of Burkean conservatism. Bloom continuously invoked the natural-rights teachings of the Declaration and Constitution as necessary correctives to the purported dangers of left multiculturalism: rather than endorsing the supposed inheritance of various cultures, he commended the universalistic claims of liberal democracy, which ought to trump any identification with particular culture and creed. The citizen who emerged from the State of Nature, shorn of any specific cultural, religious, or ancestral limitation, was the political analogue for the philosopher who emerged from the Cave. Not everyone could become a philosopher, Bloom insisted, but everyone could be a liberal citizen, and ought rightly to be liberated from the limitations of place and culture—if for no other reason, to make them more tolerant of the radical philosophers in their midst."
This is where the criticism might be more apt if directed against Harry Jaffa and the West Coast Straussians.  They defend the timeless truths of the natural rights of the Declaration of Independence in an almost fanatical sense and claim to believe in the objective truth of natural rights.  Though, they would note, the "right" kinds of traditions and religion are compatible with DOI's essences.  And it's all compatible with social conservatism.  Bloom and the East Coast Straussians understood a fanatical natural rights ideology leads to social liberalism.  So they sought a balance between the claims of natural rights and the claims of religion, tradition and culture.  They understood that reason and revelation were at base in conflict (and as secret atheists and nihilists didn't believe in the objective claims of either).  But they did NOT see "liberal" citizens as to be liberated from their "prejudices" by a fanatical natural rights ideology.  Rather, they wanted these "gentlemen" to believe devoutly in the basics of their religions' claims to revealed truths AND, as good Americans, in the natural rights of the Declaration of Independence without, I think, truly appreciating the tension between the Truth claims of reason and of revelation.  "Christianity" and "natural rights" are in conflict.  But the "gentlemen" in the military who thought of themselves as "good Christians" and "good Americans" need not really appreciate the two things as incompatible.  After Nietzsche, they believed tension, chaos, conflict, irony could be liberating and value creating and sustaining forces.  They also believed war gave man his utmost meaning.  Hence, you had folks who secretly didn't believe in the objective truths of natural rights/liberal democracy supporting going to war to defend those noble fictions.  I don't want to seem too cynical about them.  The Straussians really do believe liberal democracy and its natural rights claims led to a better life for the masses than illiberal systems.  After Churchill, they thought those who defend liberal democracy need not flatter it.

David Aikman’s One Nation Without God?

Thomas Kidd reviews here.

"The Bucknellian" on John Fea's Book

John Fea details.  The original is here.  My older middle brother graduated from Bucknell.  I know one thing about that school:  It is EXPENSIVE.


This is a very critical piece by Wayne Everett Orgar.