Monday, August 10, 2015

Jonathan Den Hartog: "John Adams and 'The Religion of Democracy'"

From JDH here. A taste:
Since Penguin was kind enough to send me a review copy of Amy Kittelstrom's The Religion of Democracy , I thought the book deserved some thoughtful response.  (Note: there is an excerpt from the introduction here.)


When John Adams does show up, 2/3 of the way through the chapter, he has encountered the rationalism of Jonathan Mayhew and his own minister Lemuel Briant, as well as many advocates of orthodoxy. As he adopts his own religious values--and Adams was always a party of one--he articulates a broad-minded belief that emphasized humane concerns, with respect toward a singular deity. Kittelstrom here tends to emphasize either the diary Adams kept when a young man or his correspondence--most notably with Thomas Jefferson at the end of his life. These broad statements don't fully wrestle with Adams's own view of how religion and society might interact.

This approach runs into several problems for cantankerous, contrarian Adams. One is that his religious commitments are hard to pin down. Gregg Frazer sees him as a "theistic rationalist," which might help Kittelstrom's cause. Still, Adams tended to emphasize different pieces of his belief in different settings--the correspondence with Jefferson does not exhaust Adams on religion. Further, Adams's own beliefs themselves evolved, a point well made in an unpublished paper by Adina Johnson.

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