Sunday, November 30, 2014

Throckmorton: "Thanksgiving 2014: Gary Scott Smith On America As a Blessed But Not a Chosen Nation"

Warren Throckmorton had a series of intellectuals post thoughts on the political theological dimensions of Thanksgiving. The entire series is worth checking out. But, since it's after the holiday, I'll highlight only one, Gary Scott Smith's. A taste:
Although the conviction that God has selected the United States for a special mission in the world has contributed to some good results, it is biblically suspect. The Bible provides no basis for believing that any nation enjoys a unique relationship with God, as Israel did in Old Testament times. This Thanksgiving (and continuously) we should thank God for the many blessings our nation has enjoyed. Our geographical location, rich resources, fertile soil, unique blend of peoples, numerous liberties, and outstanding leaders have indeed been great blessings.
At the same time, we must reject the idea that we are God’s chosen people, a conviction that has helped motivate and vindicate America’s actions at home and abroad. Belief that God has assigned the United States a mission has helped inspire Americans to engage in countless acts of self-sacrifice, generosity, and charity. However, it has also contributed to imperialism, concepts of racial superiority, cultural insensitivity, and unwarranted interference in the affairs of other nations. It has stimulated Americans to fight injustice at home and abroad, but it has also contributed to simplistic moralizing, overlooking of our national flaws, ignoring moral complexities, and a hatred abroad of American hubris.

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Volokh: "Thomas Jefferson on seeking God’s favor"

Check it out here. A taste:
... [T]his passage from Jefferson’s Second Inaugural Address:
I shall need, too, the favor of that Being in whose hands we are, who led our forefathers, as Israel of old, from their native land, and planted them in a country flowing with all the necessaries and comforts of life; who has covered our infancy with his providence, and our riper years with his wisdom and power; and to whose goodness I ask you to join with me in supplications, that he will so enlighten the minds of your servants, guide their councils, and prosper their measures, that whatsoever they do, shall result in your good, and shall secure to you the peace, friendship, and approbation of all nations.
I think Jefferson’s position in making this statement could certainly be reconciled with his position regarding Thanksgiving proclamations. ...

Moorfield Storey Blog: "Evangelicalism and Slavery: Historic Allies Not Enemies"

Check it out here. A taste:
Now, for some inconvenient facts. Wilberforce was not the first to call for abolition of slavery. Deists like Jefferson and the Quakers, who are not orthodox Christians by any means, were there first. Nor was England the first country to abolish slavery. Revolutionary France, considered godless by the orthodox Christians, had abolished slavery in 1794, but Napoleon, an orthodox Christian and opponent of deism, restored it when he took power.
The city state of Venice outlawed slavery in 960, Iceland abolished it in 1117, Spain did so in 1542, Poland in 1588, etc. Wilberforce gets attention for two reasons. First, English-speaking people tend to only pay attention to the history of English-speaking countries. Second, Wilberforce is promoted by fundamentalists because he was an evangelical Christian. Evangelicals are working hard to take credit for abolitionism.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Brayton Hits Barton Again

Check it out here. A taste:
[Vidal v. Girard’s Executors] involved a wealthy man who left a large sum of money to the city of Philadelphia to established a school for orphans, on the condition that no religious leader could ever hold a position at the school. When that condition was challenged, the Supreme Court ruled unanimously that this restriction was in no way a violation of either Pennsylvania law or the Constitution, precisely the opposite of what Barton claimed[.]

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Ed Brayton Debates The Christian Nation Thesis

And to finish this weekend's paean to Ed Brayton, check out this video of him debating the Christian Nation thesis as it relates to America's Founding. For those who are not Ed Brayton fans, the other side gets equal time. I have embedded the video below.

More Great Stuff From Ed Brayton

Check out him on a politician spreading a false quotation from George Washington and another take down of Bryan Fischer. From the latter.
And for all Fischer’s talk of Story thinking Christianity was the only thing protected by the First Amendment, Fischer would certainly not consider Story a Christian himself. Story’s brother William wrote his biography, which included this from a letter he wrote to Story’s son:
“After my continued absence from home for four or five years, we met again, your father being now about eighteen years old, and renewed our former affection towards each other. At this time we were, from a similarity of sentiment, drawn more closely together. I allude particularly to our religious opinions. We frequently discussed the subject of the divinity and the humanity of Christ, and we both agreed in believing in his humanity. Thus you see that your father and myself were early Unitarians, long before the doctrine was preached among us by any one…
This faith he retained during his whole life, and was ever ardent in his advocacy of the views of Liberal Christians. He was several times President of the American Unitarian Association…He admitted within the pale of salvation Mahommedan and Christian, Catholic and Infidel. He believed that whatever is sincere and honest is recognized of God.”
So Story believed that Jesus was only a man and he was both a unitarian and a universalist (though not a Unitarian Universalist, which did not exist at the time). Fischer would condemn him as a heretic and an infidel and claim that he himself was not protected by the First Amendment.

Throckmorton & Brayton on Ted Cruz's Father Spreading Barton Talking Points

See Warren Throckmorton's post here and Ed Brayton's post here. From Throckmorton:
Cruz’s big applause line was a complete fiction. As long time readers know, Robert Aitken printed the first English Bible in America. Congress gave an endorsement after the fact and recommended the work for its religious and artistic merits but did not order it to be printed for use in schools at any level. Cruz plagiarized Barton and told a huge whopper on top of it.

After being hammered on the matter for years (and having that story removed from a Focus on the Family broadcast), Barton changed his rendition of the Aitken story a bit to make it a little more accurate. However, did Rafael Cruz get the memo? Not at all; in fact, he embellished Barton’s fable by saying Congress ordered the Bible to be “the principle textbook in primary schools, high schools and universities.” None of that is true. ...

Friday, November 21, 2014

Trinities: " podcast episode 55 – John Locke’s Second Vindication of his Reasonableness of Christianity"

Check it out here. A taste:
Locke fired back twice against Edwards’s criticisms of Locke’s The Reasonableness of Christianity. In this episode, we hear a bit of Locke’s Second Vindication.

Locke presses Edwards on whether or not Edwards can give a set a beliefs such that one must believe (or confess) all of them to be a Christian. Locke also discusses the interesting case of clashing Christian theories about the Eucharist / Lord’s Supper. Locke holds that a Christian is obligated what he (after some reasonable effort) believes Jesus and the apostles to be teaching on that matter.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Nelson: "The Royalist Revolution: Monarchy and the American Founding"

Eric Nelson has a new book out entitled The Royalist Revolution: Monarchy and the American Founding.  Hat tip: Andrew SullivanHere is Jack Rakove's review.  This is from J.G.A. Pocock's blurb:
The unseen author of American independence, it turns out, was King George III, who chose to remain a parliamentary monarch, and declined (if he ever understood) the American invitation to become an emperor ruling through several independent parliaments. He obliged Americans to pursue a democratic empire and rethink the role of monarchy in their republic. Eric Nelson's brilliant revision displays both American and British history in their exceptionalisms. (J.G.A. Pocock)

Trinities: "podcast episode 54 – John Edwards vs. John Locke’s Reasonableness of Christianity"

Here. A taste:
John Edwards (1637-1726) was an Anglican Calvinist and would-be defender of Christian orthodoxy. Seemingly at the last minute, he tacked on to his Some Thoughts Concerning the Several Causes and Occasions of Atheism (1695) a critique of Locke’s Reasonableness. Guns blazing, he charged Locke (among other things) with promoting “Socinianism” (aka “Racovian” theology, i.e. the type of unitarian theology famously expounded by the Polish Brethren, aka the Minor Reformed Church of Poland in the 17th c.), with despising the epistles of the New Testament, and so promoting biblical ignorance, perhaps, speculated Edwards, in service to Roman Catholicism! After a somewhat unsatisfying reply by Locke, Edwards followed with Socinianism Unmask’d (1696), in which he objects that if Locke is right, every Muslim is automatically a Christian – which, of course, is absurd.

Trinities: " podcast episode 53 – John Locke’s The Reasonableness of Christianity, Part 2"

It's here. A taste:
Finally, we hear more from Locke, including the last portion of his book, a well-crafted plea that we should believe that God must have revealed as required for salvation only beliefs which ordinary folk are capable of understanding, and so, believing.

Trinities: "podcast episode 52 – John Locke’s The Reasonableness of Christianity, Part 1"

There are a number of these up now. Since my posting has been light of late, I'm going to link to them one by one.

Here is a taste from Part 1:
But what are the essentials? Specifically, what are the essential teachings which one must accept to be a Christian? Many have a rather expansive view of those. But Locke suspected they had inflated something simpler. In the winter of 1694-5, he decided to be a good Protestant and to go back to the sources. What does the New Testament, he wondered, demand of us, as far as beliefs are concerned? Does it require, for instance, believing “grace” as taught by Calvinists? Or the contents of the “Athanasian” creed about the Trinity and the two natures of Jesus? The simplified but vague “deity of Christ” so insisted upon by present-day evangelical Protestants?
Locke examined this question, and found an explicit answer in scripture. All that Christians must believed, he argues, can be summarized like this: Jesus is the Messiah.
This relates to the study of the American Founding in the sense of whether the key Founders were "Christians." Under a more generous standard -- one that could, for instance rope Mormons who believe Jesus is the Messiah in -- the key Founders including arguably Jefferson were "Christians." Under stricter standards, like those conservative evangelicals tend to hold, the key Founders weren't "Christians" but something else.

Tuesday, November 04, 2014

Thomas Hobbes, "Primitive Christian" and "Liberal"

Hat tip Jason Kuznicki.
"And so we are reduced to the Independency of the Primitive Christians to follow Paul, or Cephas, or Apollos, every man as he liketh best: Which, if it be without contention, and without measuring the Doctrine of Christ, by our affection to the Person of his Minister... is perhaps the best: First, because there ought to be no Power over the Consciences of men, but of the Word it selfe, working Faith in every one, not alwayes according to the purpose of them that Plant and Water, but of God himself, that giveth the Increase: and secondly, because it is unreasonable in them, who teach there is such danger in every little Errour, to require of a man endued with Reason of his own, to follow the Reason of any other man, or of the most voices of many other men; Which is little better, then to venture his Salvation at crosse and pile [i.e., coin flipping]. Nor ought those Teachers to be displeased with this losse of their antient Authority: For there is none should know better then they, that power is preserved by the same Vertues by which it is acquired; that is to say, by Wisdome, Humility, Clearnesse of Doctrine, and sincerity of Conversation[.]"

Saturday, November 01, 2014

Weller Reviews Frazer

Dylan Weller writing for the Law and Politics Book Review, Sponsored by the Law and Courts Section of the American Political Science Association here. A taste:
The first five chapters are the most enlightening, and well argued of the book. In chapters six and seven Frazer offers an examination of five other framers whose writings on religion were far less prolific than Jefferson, Adams and Franklin, but who Frazer argues should rightly be categorized as theistic rationalists as well. Because of the dearth of evidence available, there are greater leaps on the part of Frazer as he strains to group these figures under his heading. In one particularly surprising instance, Frazer writes of Gouverneur Morris' frequent sexual escapades, that the “…extent, duration, and brazenness of Morris’s immoral conduct must at least call into serious question the idea that he was a Christian” (p.191). This is a perilous line to follow in that it unleashes a swarm of questions concerning which immoral actions preclude one from being a Christian. And strange that this argument should be made in relationship to Morris’ sexual liaisons, rather than say, Jefferson’s ownership of, and sexual relationships with his slaves.

Damon Linker: "What if Leo Strauss was right?"

Check it out here. A taste:
In the 12 years since this conversation (or one very much like it) sparked a million ill-informed, fantastical hit pieces on Strauss for his insidious influence on the administration of George W. Bush, a series of Strauss' students and admirers have stepped forward to defend his work: Steven Smith, Thomas Pangle, Catherine and Michael Zuckert, Peter Minowitz.

There's much to recommend in each of these books. But for my money, the best by far is Arthur Melzer's just published study, Philosophy Between the Lines: The Lost History of Esoteric Writing. And yes, I would have come to that judgment even if I hadn't studied with the author in graduate school. Melzer has written the most compelling, surprising, and persuasive defense of Strauss's thought that I have ever read. It deserves a wide and appreciative audience. And if it gets one, the consequences could be enormous.

Because if Strauss was right in the way he interpreted the Western philosophical tradition, then much of modern scholarship — and, by extension, our civilization's understanding of its intellectual and political inheritance — will need to be radically revised.

Thockmorton: "Reactions to the New Book by George Barna and David Barton, Part One"

Read it here. A taste:
My first reaction was disappointment that George Barna would team up with document collector Barton. It is hard to imagine a more unified reaction from scholars, Christian and not, against Barton’s approach to history than occurred in 2012-2013. In August 2012, Barton’s book The Jefferson Lies was pulled from publication by Thomas Nelson due to lost confidence in the books facts. The book was voted least credible history book in print by readers of the History News Network. Academic reviewers were uniform in their criticism of the book. In 2013, the Family Research Council removed from view a video of Barton’s Capitol tour, and Focus on the Family had to admit that they edited radio presentations to remove errors. The actions taken by FRC and Focus on the Family followed complaints to the organizations by over three dozen Christian historians.