Sunday, January 11, 2015

Harry Jaffa & Walter Berns, RIP

Check out The American Spectator's observations here. It begins:
People here in D.C. who remember Walter will recall a witty and learned scholar, but they also remember an indefatigable dancer who, well into his 80s, energetically twirled his lovely wife, Irene, around an AEI ballroom. I recall a talk he gave about Jefferson. “Nature’s God,” said Walter. “What kind of a God do you think that was?”
Walter Berns did tell us what he thought of "Nature's God." I believed it when around 10 years ago I wrote an article quoting him that got published in "Liberty" Magazine (not the libertarian journal, where I've also published, but the one run by the Seventh Day Adventists).

This is what I quoted from Berns' book "Making Patriots":
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've since modified my understanding. I do not believe the "Nature's God" of the DOI is necessarily the "God of the Bible." I also don't necessarily believe we have to ascribe Jefferson's personal theology to this "Nature's God." Jefferson's god, by the way, did not have the following attributes (which Jefferson personally rejected):
The immaculate conception of Jesus, his deification, the creation of the world by him, his miraculous powers, his resurrection and visible ascension, his corporeal presence in the Eucharist, the Trinity; original sin, atonement, regeneration, election, orders of Hierarchy, &c.
Rather, I see "Nature's God" as more of a lowest common denominator between and among Jefferson, the other writers of the Declaration (two who were unitarians, leaving an arguably majority of the DOI's writers unitarian), and the Continental Congress who took responsibility for it.

"Nature" means understood by reason unassisted by special revelation. As it were, "Nature's God" is what we can understand about God from reason unassisted by special revelation.

My conclusion then is "Nature's God" defines as a Providential God whose attributes we can understand by reason alone. This is a God to whom among others, Jews, Christians, Unitarians, Universalists, Muslims, Mormons, unconverted Great Spirit worshipping Native Americans, and self understood Deists (yes, there were self understood "Deists" who believed in Providence) could imagine they believe.

This God is, as much as possible the one who could be "all things to all people," the uniter, not the divider.

The God of generic monotheism, understood by reason, unassisted by the Bible.

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