Thursday, August 13, 2015

RIP Paul Sigmund

A good man gone. I can't say "too soon" because, at 85, he lived a long life. But he will be missed by many.

I'm embarrassed to say that he passed last April (2014) and I just took note of it.

One of the things I like to do with my free time is attend open to the public lectures at Princeton. Even though I disagree with Robert P. George on social issues, as it relates to the study of the American Founding, religion, history, politics & philosophy (the interdisciplinary I study and blog about) his James Madison Program is the best Princeton offers in this area.

There are other good ones too, for instance the University Center for Human Values. And sometimes the two projects will promote lectures and conferences jointly. But for what interests me, the James Madison Program is the best.

And that's where I first encountered Professor Sigmund. He was, among other things, a top John Locke scholar. When discussing Locke, Sigmund was adamant in his assertion that Locke was, despite protests to the contrary a "Christian."

But that assertion depends on what it means to be a "Christian." When after a conference I asked Prof. Sigmund whether he thought Locke believed in the Arian heresy, his eyes lit up with excitement as he was happy that someone was interested enough in the controversy to even know to ask that question. He said yes, pointing to the scholarship of John Marshall of Johns Hopkins University as confirming the point.

That begs the question, though, what it means to be a "Christian." Dr. Sigmund's answer paralleled Locke's: You don't necessarily have to believe in the Trinity; rather hold that Jesus was Messiah or central to your faith. So Trinitarians, Arians, Socinians, Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses are all "Christians" as it were.

Dr. Sigmund vehemently disagreed with the assertions of Leo Strauss and his followers that Locke was some kind of esoteric Hobbesian atheist. (I don't know as much on Thomas Hobbes as I do Locke, but I don't think even Hobbes was a secret atheist). Locke was an esoteric something, but not, at least not provably an atheist.

Rather, more likely as noted above, Locke was a secret heretic (unitarian) writing in a context when the public promotion of heresy could get one executed (something Locke, thankfully helped deliver us from).

But when moderating the controversy publicly, Dr. Sigmund was scrupulously magnanimous.

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