Saturday, June 08, 2013

Calvinism And Rights

Apropos of the discussion, I have concluded after much investigation that Calvin himself was not good on "rights." No right to rebel against tyrants; no right to religious liberty (liberty of conscience).

Then some of his followers (Calvinists) through experience with tyrannical rulers began looking for ways to get around Calvin's prohibition against revolt. Or more carefully, to make the most of Calvin's "interposition" idea that said lower magistrates could overthrow higher magistrates as long as they did so pursuant to recognized legal mechanisms (the analogy here is the legal way in which Congress can impeach a President; they do it pursuant to the civil law, not by revolting against a tyrant).

Hence Mark Hall's book on the way in which the tradition of these Calvinist resisters influenced the American Revolution.

So while there is some language in the Declaration that does seem to foment rebellion, there is other language which speaks of their rights under extant legal technicalities, to do what they did. It's the latter language, not the former which is Calvinistic.

The former language --
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.--That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, --That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.
-- is Lockean.

Dr. Gregg Frazer’s thesis is the “Calvinist” churches and figures who supported the revolution actually turned to Locke, not Calvin and had their Calvinism so polluted.

The counter response is that the Calvinist resisters (Rutherford, et al.) predated Locke; so, a la Dr. Hall, this kind of resistance was well within the "Calvinist" tradition. They didn't need to turn to Locke. They had Rutherford et al.

Some go so far as to assert Rutherford taught Locke his principles. But, alas, there is no provable connection between Locke and Rutherford.

The American Clergy who supported Whig revolt mentioned some of the resisters (Daniel Dreisbach told me to look carefully at the Sandoz collection for these mentions). So did John Adams. But they cited Locke more.

I still haven’t gotten to the bottom of everything Rutherford, de Mornay, et al., wrote and stood for; but it seems to me that when you see preachers like Witherspoon, preaching for revolt using “state of nature” “contract and rights” buzzwords, this is Locke-speak not Calvinist resister-speak. The Calvinist resisters were also totally illiberal on religious liberty issues.

For religious liberty, the Quakers and Baptist Roger Williams broke new ground. The Calvinist resisters were busy defending what Calvin did to Servetus.

With Locke, a more complete liberalism -- religious liberty, the right to revolt against tyrants, and other issues -- was tied together. 

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