Saturday, April 29, 2017

Resist, Revolt, Reason & Authority in the American Founding

I confess a fault in my friendship duties towards Mark David Hall. He wrote a book about Roger Sherman that goes into meticulous detail about reformation sources that influenced the American Founding. He even thanked me in that book (we featured some of the research at American Creation) but I haven't yet read the book.

But I will, one day. I promise.

I am familiar with the argument about Calvinist reformation sources as the inspiration behind the American resistance during the Founding era, in the face of Romans 13. (This article by David Kopel makes similar points.)

Among others, Daniel Dreisbach and Jeffry Morrison, who have collaborated with Dr. Hall are on the same page regarding the influence of Calvinist thought on America's Founding resistance movement.

Arguments contained in America's Declaration of Independence do seem to strongly parallel those of the reformation resisters, but there is more to the story.

This is the controversy: A plain textual reading of Romans 13 (a fundamentalist reading, if you will) seems to categorically forbid revolt. Yet, other parts of the Bible -- Acts 5:29 -- teach disobedience to man (Earthly government) when necessary to obey God. Other parts of scripture -- I Peter 2 (“honor the king”) -- also play in.

What follows is the doctrine among others orthodox biblicists Drs. Gregg Frazer and Mark Noll have taken from such: Submission to government is absolute; revolt is categorically forbidden; obedience to government is a general rule conditioned on the (obvious) fact that if to obey government means to disobey God, obey God and not man. Yet, submit to the civil legitimacy of the tyranny whose civil law demands disobedience to God. Work within the confines of such system for individual justice and systematic change. But ultimately submit, even if it means being a martyr.

John Calvin in his Institutes of the Christian Religion teaches basically this with one important caveat: To the extent that the positive governing law permits lower magistrates to resist and suppress the lawless tyranny of higher powers, believers who constitute such lower magistrates can and should take advantage of this option.

The examples that Calvin gives are analogous to Congress by virtue of constitutional process impeaching and removing a President.

As dissidents, a great many of Calvin's followers had bad experiences with "higher powers" that persecuted them. Hence, they had incentive to, and did in fact flesh out and play up Calvin's teachings on interposition, on resistance through law. Hence Samuel Rutherford's "Lex Rex" (the King is not Law, rather "Law is King.")

And, as noted, a great deal of what America's Founders, in their conflict with Great Britain, said and did resonates with such. According to the doctrine, the extant positive law must be appealed to as the source of remedies. America's Founders did a great deal of remonstrating with the British authorities appealing to their rights as Englishmen. A great deal of the Declaration of Independence details how Great Britain failed to live up to its own standards of guarantee contained in existing British law.

But Great Britain -- King and Parliament ("Parliament" shorthand for the then existing power sharing arrangement) -- disagreed with the colonists' understanding of British law. So when there is disagreement, how is it resolved? Under extant British positive law, Parliament had the final say.

Of Parliament's power, Blackstone famously noted:
It can, in short, do every thing that is not naturally impossible; and therefore some have not scrupled to call it's power, by a figure rather too bold, the omnipotence of parliament. True it is, that what they do, no authority upon earth can undo.
As Gary North acutely observed: "Blackstone was wrong: beginning eleven years later, the American colonies undid a lot of what Parliament had done."

It's above my pay grade to say whether the American Revolution violated Romans 13. That biblical text was discussed quite a bit in Founding era sermons because it obviously had the potential among a nation whose demographic religion was "Christianity" to stand in the way of the revolutionary cause.

What I don't see however, from the Founding era sermons is a strong explicit reliance on Samuel Rutherford, et al. I'm sure the influence was there. But John Locke and his ideas were more often cited in the revolutionary pulpit. And Locke is not Rutherford; no evidence we have seen connects Rutherford to Locke and Locke made arguments that were more revolutionary in tone. Locke was also less concerned with answering the Romans 13 challenge and more interested in asserting a right to revolt found in nature discoverable by reason.

Later sermons would then apply Lockean principles to the Romans 13 challenge in more detail. Jefferson and company did not invent the theological arguments contained in the Declaration of Independence. The ideas had been brewing in the pulpit the years prior to the revolution and this 1776 sermon by the unitarian Samuel West best encapsulates theology of the Declaration of Independence and the American Cause. Romans 13 is explicitly dealt with there. Locke is cited; Rutherford and the Calvinist resisters are not. The basis for the right to revolt is found in essences in nature, discoverable by reason.

With that discovery in mind, then go and interpret and understand Romans 13 accordingly. This is how West deals with it:
The doctrine of nonresistance and unlimited passive obedience to the worst of tyrants could never have found credit among mankind had the voice of reason been hearkened to for a guide, because such a doctrine would immediately have been discerned to be contrary to natural law.
 On the explicit text of Romans 13, West asserts:
I know it is said that the magistrates were, at the time when the apostle wrote, heathens, and that Nero, that monster of tyranny, was then Emperor of Rome; that therefore the apostle, by enjoining submission to the powers that then were, does require unlimited obedience to be yielded to the worst of tyrants. Now, not to insist upon what has been often observed, viz., that this epistle was written most probably about the beginning of Nero's reign, at which time he was a very humane and merciful prince, did everything that was generous and benevolent to the public, and showed every act of mercy and tenderness to particulars, and therefore might at that time justly deserve the character of the minister of God for good to the people,-- I say, waiving this, we will suppose that this epistle was written after that Nero was become a monster of tyranny and wickedness; it will by no means follow from thence that the apostle meant to enjoin unlimited subjection to such an authority, or that he intended to affirm that such a cruel, despotic authority was the ordinance of God. The plain, obvious sense of his words, as we have already seen, forbids such a construction to be put upon them, for they plainly imply a strong abhorrence and disapprobation of such a character, and clearly prove that Nero, so far forth as he was a tyrant, could not be the minister of God, nor have a right to claim submission from the people; so that this ought, perhaps, rather to be viewed as a severe satire upon Nero, than as enjoining any submission to him.
Either Nero was "a very humane and merciful prince" when the epistle was written or perhaps the epistle should "be viewed as a severe satire upon Nero, than as enjoining any submission to him."  

Saturday, April 15, 2017

She's BAAACK!!!!

Chris Rodda that is. Doing what she does best. See here. A taste:
The problem with Barton’s so-called Jefferson quote? Well, Jefferson wasn’t talking about immigrants. He wasn’t even talking about ships coming to America from other countries. He was talking about the exact opposite — ships that were sailing from America to Europe!

The quote that Barton butchers so completely to make it say the exact opposite of what Jefferson was actually talking about comes from Jefferson’s 1805 message to Congress (what we today call the State of the Union address).
At the time there was an intense fear of yellow fever in Europe, with recent yellow fever epidemics, particularly devastating in Spain, having killed thousands of people. The obsessive fear of the disease among Europeans, which was causing ships sailing into European ports to be quarantined and their crews and passengers to be subjected to absurd medical tests, was described by Washington Irving in his Notes and journal of travel in Europe, 1804-1805, in which he recounted what he experienced upon his arrival at the Sicilian port of Messina in early 1805:

....

Thursday, April 13, 2017

Louis Sirico: "Benjamin Franklin, Prayer, and the Constitutional Convention: History as Narrative"

Apparently an entire law review/legal writing article was written on the Ben Franklin, prayer myth. See here. A taste:
This is an article about history and false history and how both shape our laws and our cultural traditions. The article illustrates its point by focusing on a single event at the Constitutional Convention of 1787: a failed proposal by Benjamin Franklin that the Convention hire a chaplain and begin each day with a prayer.

The story of Franklin’s proposal lives on in popular and political history. ...

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

“The Convention, except three or four persons, thought Prayers unnecessary.”

I put that quotation from Ben Franklin in the title. Franklin's words explaining what happened after he made a call to prayer at the Constitutional Convention.

See Warren Throckmorton for the latest Christian Nationalist misstep on it.

Friday, April 07, 2017

George Sarris on Universalism

I've done much study on both theological unitarianism and universalism as it relates to the era of the American Founding. Notable divines, both unitarian and trinitarian, influenced notable American Founders, again both unitarian and trinitarian. As the trinitarian Benjamin Rush put it:
At Dr. Finley’s school, I was more fully instructed in those principles by means of the Westminster catechism. I retained them without any affection for them until about the year 1780. I then read for the first time Fletcher’s controversy with the Calvinists, in favor of the universality of the atonement. This prepared my mind to admit the doctrine of universal salvation, which was then preached in our city by the Rev. Mr. Winchester. It embraced and reconciled my ancient Calvinistical and my newly adopted Arminian principles. From that time I have never doubted upon the subject of the salvation of all men. My conviction of the truth of this doctrine was derived from reading the works of Stonehouse, Seigvolk, White, Chauncey and Winchester, and afterwards from an attentive perusal of the Scriptures. I always admitted with each of those authors future punishment, and of long duration.
Rush listed most of the "big names" who influenced the universalism of the American Founding, but left one big one out: John Murray.

Today, George Sarris operates in that tradition. He has a book out on the matter entitled "Heaven's Doors: Wider Than You Ever Believed!" Theologians come to the universalist conclusion by using a combination of reason and revelation. What's distinguished about the more traditional universalism is the extent to which it takes the Bible seriously and seeks to justify its claims with biblical texts. We see this in Rush's above quotation.

Likewise, Sarris both believes in the inerrancy of scripture (in its original languages) and is a convinced universalist. And he can answer every single claim that is brought against him.

Something else that distinguishes the classical universalists is their belief in the seriousness of future punishment. The idea is there is a future state of rewards and punishments. And for the unsaved, they may be punished for ages before they are restored.

See the clip of the interview below with Eric Metaxas, who seems to have a great deal of respect for Sarris and his position. Listen till the end, whereas Sarris is a convinced universalist, Metaxas is hopeful that it is true. He even says he thinks all Christians hope this is true. I suspect most of them do. The decent ones. The ones who don't -- Pastors Sam Anderson, Fred Phelps -- make the religion seem like something not worth believing in. (In my opinion.)


Thursday, April 06, 2017

Gienapp Strikes Back

At Randy Barnett that is. From Jonathan Gienapp here. A taste:
For even if he thinks I get originalism right, Professor Barnett otherwise finds most of my essay’s claims mistaken, particularly those centered on the relationship between originalist method and historical interpretation. In my initial post, I primarily sought to acquaint historians with the current state of originalism and to explain why they ought to care about these debates. Accordingly, my discussion of historical method was relatively brief, in part, because I hoped historians would already grasp a good bit of what I was suggesting, but also since I had already plotted out much of the methodological relationship between historical practice and Originalism 2.0 in a prior published article in the Fordham Law Review, one to which I directed interested readers in the footnotes.[2] In order to answer Professor Barnett’s critiques, however, I will need to change course—from explaining to historians what originalists do, to explaining to originalists what historians do. For it is plain that this is the primary area of confusion: much of what Professor Barnett thinks I was getting at in describing what historians do was not in fact what I was getting at. (Accordingly, much of what follows draws upon my aforementioned Fordham article and readers interested in a more detailed sketch of some of the arguments presented here are encouraged to consult it.)

To move forward, then, it is helpful to return to the core claim of my initial essay: that historians’ methods are needed every bit as much to discover the original public meaning of the Constitution (the target of Originalism 2.0) as to discover any other kind of original constitutional meaning (the various targets of Originalism 1.0). I have no doubt that certain kinds of original meaning are unknowable. I grasp that many parts of the Constitution are open textured and thus not easily subject to historical analysis. And I appreciate that Originalism 2.0’s favored figure—the so-called average Founding-era reader—is a highly problematic construct, one that Jack Rakove has skillfully critiqued in “Joe the Ploughman Reads the Constitution.”[3] ...

Sunday, April 02, 2017

Was Justice Scalia an Originalist?

I think Scalia would consider himself one. But as I understand his theory, "originalism" was more of a third rung in his list of priorities. The higher two rungs were "textualism" and "democratic theory."

And certain things about the way in which courts operated during the time of the American Founding were arguably inconsistent with such. There is huge debate among originalists on the doctrine of natural rights, unenumerated rights, the Declaration of Independence receiving status as "law" for the purpose of constitutional interpretation. Scalia was with the legal positivists in this respect.

One thing American courts did from the time of the American Founding -- even though the dicta in Erie v. Tompkins almost shattered the metaphysical justification for such -- is look to the "brooding omnipresence in the sky" as they decided cases and controversies. State courts deciding common law matters did this more explicitly according to the theory than the Supreme Court has done.

But arguably all courts did this.

Yes the Supreme Court has arguably always exercised a sort of "common law" power of establishing rules of law as they decide cases and controversies and then following those rules under the doctrine of stare decisis. See this article by a notable law professor for more detail. Whether they call it "living constitutionalism" or looking to the "brooding omnipresence in the sky" and then "discovering" the answer, the results are the same.

I think Scalia's response was, for the Supreme Court to do such is illegitimate in the age of "democratic theory." But again, it's not some new practice. Though post-Erie, the legal positivists who think it proper for judges to continue to do this needed new grounds to justify the practice. Hence "living constitution" as opposed to "brooding omnipresence."

But where would Justice Scalia's theory take us?

I think Scalia has gotten a bad rap by his left of center critics when they argue he was a results oriented justice who believed in imposing his personal preferences on the court. Certain biting and sarcastic statements taken out of context from his dicta support such charges. Also Scalia didn't always perfectly live up to his principles. In Boy Scouts v. Dale he supported the "penumbral" reasoning of the case to avoid a "bad" result.

But on abortion, an issue dear to the hearts of doctrinaire socially conservative Roman Catholics (what Scalia was personally) he made it clear if the states want to permit abortion on demand, they could do such. It's state legislatures who should be deciding this. On the issue of a woman's right to have an abortion as a "constitutional right," analogize it to freedom of speech.  Such is explicitly in the text of the Constitution. The right to abortion is not. If it were, presumably Scalia would hold there is a "constitutional right" to have an abortion, as there is with freedom of speech.

One reason why Scalia may not have been perfectly consistent in the way in which he applied his theory is that in the absence of nine Justice Scalia clones on the Court, you have to get other justices to join your opinion (and vice versa). Always demanding ideological purity from one's peers would mean always writing dissenting, concurring or plurality opinions (at least on those hot button politicized cases that grab our attention).

But the ironic results of Scalia's judicial utopia would have American courts look more European. It's ironic because Scalia has taken a position against the citing of non-American law, except of course the British common law. But such would render American courts to look more like the non-British common law European nations. In these "code law," that is non-common law nations (France, Spain, Germany, Italy, etc.) it's clear courts play a subservient role to the legislatures. There is no stare decisis in such systems. They have a democratically enacted text and if the texts aren't clear enough such that courts have to "fill in a gap," such has no precedential value as a "rule of law."

There is a position further seemingly more extreme than Scalia's held by law professor Lino Graglia that argues Marbury v. Madison was the first "activist" court decision. Therefore, the power of judicial review should be taken away from American courts. I'm not sure where Scalia exactly stood on this. A law professor of mine told me (hearsay) that at some regalia, Scalia told the group he would likewise overrule Marbury. On the other hand, he may have been convinced by the scholarship of Philip Hamburger that demonstrates Marbury's originalist bona fides.

But just how "conservative" is Graglia's position? It's the identical position of left of center law professor Jeremy Waldron, who supports hate speech laws. (Canada, Australia and most of Europe have them.) And as noted, it would render America's judicial system into something that looks closer to the current European "civil law" nations.

Jonathan Gienapp on History and Originalism

Check it out here. A taste:
1. Originalism 1.0: Doing History

Originalists’ retreat from history was not pre-ordained. Indeed, initially, to do originalism was to know history—at least in theory. Originalism first emerged in the 1970s and 1980s as a conservative response to the perceived activism and abuses of the progressive Warren and Burger Supreme Courts. Those on the political right complained that, under the auspices of a “living Constitution,” judges were substituting their own progressive preferences in place of what the Constitution actually licensed. In so doing, judges, rather than dutifully following the Constitution, were authoring it anew, an activity that subverted the foundational relationship of constitutionalism—that those in power are subject to the Constitution and not the other way around. If justices were to be constrained from legislating from the bench, then they had to be stripped of their interpretive license. And the only way to do that, the thinking went, was to undermine the living Constitution. The document’s meaning could not evolve with the times; barring formal amendments emanating from the sovereign people, its meaning had to remain fixed and constant over time. Combined, these theoretical presuppositions thus mandated that the Constitution’s operative meaning had to be its original meaning. And those who endorsed this constitutional vision began calling themselves originalists.[3]

Privileging original meaning was, thus, at its inception, driven by presentist aims. The theory’s main agenda was to recalibrate how judges, lawyers, and citizens related to the Constitution in the present. But no matter the primary goals, the theory necessarily required a methodological corollary; it was one thing to defend the notion that original meaning ought to constrain contemporary judicial behavior, it was quite another to explain how a committed interpreter might locate such meaning in the first place. Only in identifying original meaning credibly could originalists advance the second and altogether more important aspect of their agenda, one that directly implicated historical practice. For, on its face, recovering something like original constitutional meaning would seemingly require doing history.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

Blog Commentary From a Regular Reader of American Creation

Indeed, a long time reader. It's a bit off the wall. Check it out here. A taste:
In light of the systematized Christian system described by Calvin, the founding fathers had an excellent blueprint to establish a nation. The founders clearly made some mistakes in forming this country; one being the way they setup freedom of conscience. ... Unchecked belief in idolatry like the founders allowed in this country was suicide and today is the proof of their error. 

One of the main founders was James Madison. His understanding of religion and the state was different and he rejected Reformation principles on the subject. Madison's Notes preparing his Memorial and Remonstrance is filled with incoherency. 

[...]

An unbeliever could make the case Madison was no Christian at all with perfidious statements like these. Another founding father, John Adams was a definite Unitarian, who denied parts of the bible, and was ignorant about the canon of scripture. Today, Adams would be a liberal bigot, which is most of the [D]emocratic party. However, for Madison to even bring these ideas up is troubling. At least Bishop Meade believed he was a real Christian. I'm not entirely convinced to take his word for it.
Note: Links to Madison's Notes on the Memorial and Remonstrance added by me. 

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Geoff Stone, Sexing the Constitution at Volokh

Geoff Stone has in a five part series blogged about his new book at the Volokh Conspiracy. This is the introduction by Eugene Volokh followed by parts One, Two, Three, Four and Five. Below is an excerpt from Eugene's introduction that reproduces the publisher's summary:
University of Chicago Professor Geoffrey Stone — one of the nation’s leading liberal constitutional scholars — is guest-blogging this week about his new book, “Sex and the Constitution: Sex, Religion, and Law from America’s Origins to the Twenty-First Century.” Here’s an excerpt from the publisher’s summary:
Beginning his volume in the ancient and medieval worlds, Geoffrey R. Stone demonstrates how the Founding Fathers, deeply influenced by their philosophical forebears, saw traditional Christianity as an impediment to the pursuit of happiness and to the quest for human progress. Acutely aware of the need to separate politics from the divisive forces of religion, the Founding Fathers crafted a constitution that expressed the fundamental values of the Enlightenment.

Although the Second Great Awakening later came to define America through the lens of evangelical Christianity, nineteenth-century Americans continued to view sex as a matter of private concern, so much so that sexual expression and information about contraception circulated freely, abortions before “quickening” remained legal, and prosecutions for sodomy were almost nonexistent.
The late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries reversed such tolerance, however, as charismatic spiritual leaders and barnstorming politicians rejected the values of our nation’s founders. Spurred on by Anthony Comstock, America’s most feared enforcer of morality, new laws were enacted banning pornography, contraception, and abortion, with Comstock proposing that the word “unclean” be branded on the foreheads of homosexuals. Women increasingly lost control of their bodies, and birth control advocates, like Margaret Sanger, were imprisoned for advocating their beliefs. In this new world, abortions were for the first time relegated to dank and dangerous back rooms.
There are a lot of interesting things to learn from Professor Stone. Though, he does engage in a great deal of "law office" history. He's a lawyer after all. 

Friday, March 24, 2017

Andrew Shankman: "What Would the Founding Fathers Make of Originalism? Not much."

Check it out here. A taste:
Andrew Shankman is Associate Professor of History at Rutgers University-Camden. His book Original Intents: Hamilton, Jefferson, Madison, and the American Founding is being published by Oxford University Press in March 2017. [...]
Hamilton had a top-down and elitist conception of an open-ended and living Constitution. Statesmen and lawmakers would draw connections between desired policies and enumerated powers. Once a connection was plausibly established, they could take an action not expressly permitted by the Constitution if the Constitution did not expressly forbid it. Initially, Madison seemed to be arguing for a fixed and rarely changing Constitution. But in 1791 and 1792, as he continued to challenge Hamilton’s policies, his constitutional thinking evolved. He developed a bottom-up and democratic conception of an open-ended and living Constitution.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Kidd's Book on Ben Franklin's Religion

Professor Thomas Kidd has a new book out on Ben Franklin's religion. Read about it here. A taste:
Kidd (History and Religious Studies/Baylor Univ.; American Colonial History: Clashing Cultures and Faiths, 2016, etc.) admirably plies the writings of Franklin to discover the Founding Father’s evolving views on the divine throughout the course of his long life. Such a book matters because of Franklin’s ties to the Enlightenment, his effect on nearly all literate Americans of the mid- to late-18th century, and his life’s undeniable imprint on American politics and society. As the author argues, “Franklin…was a pioneer of…doctrineless, moralized Christianity,” This form of the faith was divorced from orthodoxy, steeped in reason, and geared toward the good conduct of moral citizens.
Yes, I think this gets it about right and is more accurate than saying "Franklin was a Deist."

Thursday, March 16, 2017

John Adams: What is Pure?

One of the notions that I've repeatedly come across, studying the political theology of the American Founding as it relates to special revelation or divine inspiration of sacred texts, is the question whether the entire "canon" (whatever biblical canon it might be) is inspired or whether certain "essential parts" are so inspired.

James Madison was keenly aware of this when in his notes preparing for his famous Memorial & Remonstrance he wrote:


I probably reproduced more here than necessary for the thesis of this post. However, the different points of what's shown above encapsulate what is key to the controversy over how to understand the political theology of the American Founding. On point V6, John Adams endorses the "essential parts" only of the biblical canon position. Or perhaps that the canon in general is inspired, with particular words contained therein subject to dispute.

Adams was "up" on the state of late 18th Century biblical criticism in America and Europe. We know he rejected atheistic and deistic notions that attempted to debunk the concept of special revelation entirely just as he rejected "Athanasian" orthodox Trinitarian understandings of the canon.

Adams' third way was a path traveled by those who understood themselves to be Christian-Deists, unitarians, those in the "latitudinarian" wing of the Anglican Church. And they didn't necessarily speak in a univocal voice.

Still, this third way needed a solid ground on which to rest its case. That came in the form of belief in the existence of an overriding Providence, a future state of rewards and punishments, and something uniquely special about Jesus' place in history as embodying religious perfection.

As it relates to the canon of sacred scripture, certain parts were thus "essential" and not up for grabs. Other parts were either "suspected" or outright rejected. Unlike Thomas Jefferson, Bolingbroke and others, Adams preferred more to "suspect" or question rather than outright reject, for instance, the teachings of St. Paul and other parts of the Bible that didn't constitute the "essential parts."

On the other hand, Jesus' words were essential.

In his Marginalia, Notes on Memoirs of the Life and Writings of Arthur Ashley Sykes, D.D., Adams uses the term "pure" for what he views as those "essential," non-negotiable truths of the faith.
Against whom is this woe pronounced? How shall we know what is pure and uncorrupted but by by the first revelation? Is Sykes pure? Is Priestley pure? Is Lindsey pure? Is Paul pure? Is Jude pure? Is Locke pure? Is the great knight pure? Love God and Man! That is pure. Do as you would be done by! That is pure. Three units, are three times one! That is pure. All this can be understood by man, woman, and [] children, rich and poor, without the study of three score years in a million volumes of philosophers, divines, and historians in Hebrew, Greek, Latin, Sanskrit, English, French, German, Spanish, Italian, and Russian.
Did you see that? A.A. Sykes, Joseph Priestley, Theophilus Lindsey, St. Paul, the book of Jude, John Locke get lumped in the same box of questionable "purity." There may have been wisdom and truth in general in all of these sources, but still fallibility.

The essential, non-negotiable truths of Adams' creed are "Love God and Man! That is pure. Do as you would be done by!" In other words, the Sermon on the Mount.

Interestingly, Adams places rejection of the Trinity in the same box as he does the other "pure" teachings like the Sermon on the Mount. It's not just some hard to understand mystery over which good Christian might disagree. Those who affirm the Trinity indulge in a "supposition [that] is destructive of the foundation of all human knowledge and of all distinction between Truth and Falsehood."

Friday, March 10, 2017

John Adams: "Why has the original Hebrew been annihilated?" With His Answer

In my last post, I noted John Adams repeatedly asks a question on why the original Hebrew of biblical texts had been destroyed. The context was discussing the (supposed) original Hebrew of the Epistle to the Hebrews. In his letter to Thomas Jefferson, dated November 14, 1813, Adams discusses the destruction of Hebrew texts in other larger contexts and answers his "Why" question. First, let's look at Adams' answer to his question:
Why have those Verses been annihilated? I Suspect platonick Christianity, pharisaical Judaism, or machiavilian Politicks, in this case; as in all other cases of the destruction of records and litterary monuments. The Auri Sacra fames, et dominandi Sæva cupido.
Auri sacra fames, et dominandi sæva cupido is translated as “accursed hunger for gold, and cruel lust for power.”

Here is the passage that immediately preceded the quotation:
Blacklocks translation of Horace’s “Justum” is admirable; Superiour to Addisons. Could David be translated as well; his Superiority would be universally acknowledged. We cannot compare the Sybbiline Poetry. By Virgils Pollio we may conjecture, there was Prophecy as well as Sublimity. Why have those Verses been annihilated? 
I previously wrote about this quotation from Adams' letter to Jefferson when I observed it demonstrates Adams' openness to the notion that Virgil wrote special revelation and that if recognized as such, belongs in the biblical canon. I stand by that assertion. Indeed, Adams' son John Quincy, whom the elder Adams mentored on theological issues, and at a time in his life when he was more orthodox (Trinitarian) than his father, likewise seemed open to the proposition when he wrote:
But whether Homer and Virgil were not favoured with the same sort of Inspiration I cannot pronounce—John Milton, undoubtedly believed himself to be inspired—He too often recurs to his Heavenly Muse, his Urania; to her who “dictated to him slumbering”—who “nightly brought his verses to his ear”—and he expressly invokes her as the same

[...]

I am not one who will deny the claim of John Milton, or that of Homer and Virgil to Inspiration. But if their claims are good, those of the Apocalypse and of Solomon’s Song, are unquestionable[.]
In my previous post, I noted I thought Adams' question "[w]hy have those [v]erses been annihilated?" related to Virgil. And it's certainly possible it did: 1. The question immediately follows the clause where Adams speaks on Virgil; and 2. Adams apparently thought this conspiracy to destroy and suppress was vast. That is, all sorts of texts could have been subject to it.

But I now add that Adams' question also relates to the Psalms of David.  Adams notes he is dissatisfied with every single translation of them he has seen. He said he'd rather see them translated in "our prose translation." Whatever that means, Adams believes they haven't been.

In fact, all current translations of the Psalms of David were not as well done as "Blacklocks translation of Horace’s 'Justum'."  But the problem is the originals were destroyed by means of conspiracy.

In this letter Adams then goes on to promote the thesis of a book that doubts we have the right version of the Ten Commandments. That's when he gives the quotation that I have often repeated:
When and where originated our Ten commandments? The Tables and The Ark were lost. Authentic copies, in few, if any hands; the ten Precepts could not be observed, and were little remembered.

If the Book of Deuteronomy was compiled, during or after the Babilonian Captivity, from Traditions, the Error or amendment might come in there.
Of course Adams would be sympathetic to the book's thesis and desire to read it; given his position on how in their lust for gold and power, the churchy cabal tampered with the originals.

(Now, in other places Adams intimates he believed in the Decalogue. But that's because his method wasn't to simply look something up in the Bible and believe it as true special revelation. But rather, he believed he held a book that contained special revelation but had been corrupted by authorities. And it's by using his reason and conscience, he could do his best to figure out what that special revelation was.

With this we could understand why Adams could at once doubt we had the right version of the the Ten Commandments because of the presence of errors in general contained in the Bible's text. But then later or in other places affirm the Decalogue as right because he decided it agrees with his own philosophy and reason.)

Then in the letter, Adams told Jefferson he supported his "Jefferson Bible" project and if he were up to it (which he was not) he'd do the same:
I admire your Employment, in Selecting the Philosophy and Divinity of Jesus and Seperating it from all intermixtures. If I had Eyes and Nerves, I would go through both Testaments and mark all that I understand.
Previously, I've noted the above numerous times. But what I never noted is what follows, which sheds more light on Adams' conspiracy theory. Many conspiracy theories have a kernel of truth (it's what goes beyond that kernel that gets problematic).

In this case, Pope Gregory really did have Hebrew books ordered burnt. This is more or less accurate history:
In 1238 a French Jew, made a discovery to the Pope (Gregory 9th) of the heresies of the Talmud. The Pope Sent 35 Articles of Error, to the Archbishops of France, requiring them to Seize the books of the Jews, and burn all that contained any Errors. He wrote in the same terms to the Kings of France, England Arragon, Castile Leon, Navarre and Portugal. In consequence of this Order 20 Cartloads of Hebrew Books were burnt in France: and how many times 20 cartloads were destroyed in the other Kingdoms? The Talmud of Babylon and that of Jerusalem were composed from 120 to 500 years after the destruction of Jerusalem.
In researching this further, I learned that what was objectionable to Pope Gregory were things written in the Talmud that Christians would find blasphemous. Not just Catholics, but some of the claims Protestants, even unitarian Protestants, would strongly object to.

The Talmud, as far as I understand, is not the Hebrew Old Testament. But Adams apparently believed that in this conspiracy to destroy -- which by the way, probably includes more than this one systematic act by Pope Gregory -- originals from the Hebrew Old Testament (and perhaps some of the New that were originally written in Hebrew) were included.

Adams goes on:
If Lightfoot derived Light from what escaped from Gregorys fury3 in explaining many passages in the New Testament, by comparing the Expressions of the Mishna, with those of the Apostles and Evangelists, how many proofs of the Corruptions of Christianity might We find in the Passages burnt?
John Lightfoot was a Hebraist, a biblical scholar whose work, according to Adams, shed a limited amount of light because Gregory's actions couldn't suppress everything. But, as Adams reasons, if we had the Hebrew that was destroyed by way of Athanasian conspiracy we would have more proof of Christianity's corruptions, the chief of which were orthodox Trinitarian doctrine.

In other writings Adams makes clear that the notion of the Incarnation is not just the chief corruption of Christianity but is responsible for all of Christianity's other corruptions. He also seems to intimate that orthodox Trinitarians, whatever good they can do in their understanding of the faith, will never be able to understand the faith without errors until they stop believing in the Trinity and Incarnation. 

Sunday, March 05, 2017

John Adams: "Why has the original Hebrew been annihilated?"

One question that John Adams repeatedly raised in trying to understand scripture was, why was the original Hebrew destroyed? He seemed to think it part of a conspiracy of a churchy cabal ("Athanasianism") to corrupt Christianity.

I think Adams thought more highly of the Old Testament narrative than Thomas Jefferson who arguably appreciated little more than the "Deism" of the Jews (their belief in one God). (Though in one of his inaugural addresses Jefferson spoke as though he believed the Old Testament story of God liberating the Jews from Egypt were true.)

Still, because according to Adams, the original Hebrew was destroyed, man could never be sure when reading texts whose original was Hebrew, whether he was reading God speaking to man in the form of direct special revelation or some kind of corruption in the form of interpolation, intermixture, error, amendment, (terms he used).

Likewise, Adams concludes all of St. Paul's writings were originally in Hebrew (because Paul was illiterate in Greek), and thus destroyed, and consequently suspect. Below is an excerpt from Adams' Marginalia, Memoirs of the Life and Writings of Arthur Ashley Sykes, D.D.
Why has the Hebrew been destroyed and lost?

How can they object? When the Hebrew is destroyed? [...]
Page: 317
A resolute Faith! Dr. Disney! If St. Paul ever wrote anything in Greek except his name and a concluding sentence or two, the most eminent Fathers are not competent witnesses.
Does the burden of proof rest upon the infidel to prove a negative? The believer, the assenter, should prove his affirmation.
This is the most candid and the most plausible opinion.* But the question recurs, why was the original destroyed? What suspicions of interpolation and indeed of fabrication might be confuted if we had the originals? In an age or in ages when fraud, forgery and perjury were considered as lawful means of propagating truth by philosophers, legislators and theologians, what may not be suspected?
Page: 318
What was not received? Anything, everything, and nothing.
Why has the original Hebrew been annihilated?
And who were these "Οι αρχαιοι?
Page: 319
[...]
And he might as well add Chateaubriand in 1814. And the whole Acta Sanctorum. When Homsousianity was established and Christianity totally corrupted, no doubt, authorities enough might be accumulated.
Page: 320
Upon what authority? Paul's own epistles. But is not this begging the question?
Pray! Which are St. Paul's undoubted epistles?
Page: 321
Is it not strange that these most learned and candid of men, as I believe them to have been, should not agree when they both take the epistles themselves for undoubted authorities?
* The context of this entire passage is that Adams is talking to a book --  "Memoirs of the Life and Writings of Arthur Ashley Sykes, D.D." -- and it involves a dialog between Arthur Sykes and John Disney. The "candid" and "plausible" opinion was Disney citing an earlier authority asserting that Paul originally wrote the Hebrew Epistle in Hebrew, but that it was later translated into Greek by another author. That's when Adams notes that in the absence of the originals in Hebrew, which have been lost, it's all suspect. Likewise, Paul if he was the original author, must have written it in Hebrew because he was illiterate in Greek.

See Zoltan Haraszti, "John Adams and the Prophets of Progress," pp. 296-97.

Sunday, February 26, 2017

John Adams on Who First Compiled the Canon and When

In his marginalia on Memoirs of the Life and Writings of Arthur Ashley Sykes, D.D., John Adams answers the question of who and when the Christian "canon" was first compiled. As he wrote:
What is meant by "received in Churches?"
The Gospel of St. Thomas and the Acts of Paul and Thekla were received, and so was the Prophecy of Enoch. The truth is that nothing was canonical till the Council of Nicaea. Then and not till then was settled the Norma of Canonicality. And by whom?
By whom? Yes, a classic rhetorical question. The Church who decided the Council of Nicaea. And such was, according to Adams, the Athanasian/Roman Catholic Church that Adams thought had already been corrupted.

Again, as he wrote in this same note:
When Homsousianity [sic] was established and Christianity totally corrupted, no doubt, authorities enough might be accumulated. 

Friday, February 24, 2017

John Adams' Marginalia

A largely untapped resource full of quotations.



John Adams was arguably the original blogger; he talked to his books. The Boston Public Library has some 3700 books on display owned by John Adams. As Richard Brookhiser noted in the linked to New York Times article:
Zoltan Haraszti, a former keeper of rare books and editor of publications at the library, published many of Adams’s marginalia in his 1952 book, “John Adams and the Prophets of Progress.” But now this quadrant of Adams’s mind will be completely mapped.
Little of John Adams' marginalia comes up in search engines. Though, to access a sample, you may follow this link. The book "Prophets of Progress" contains more. The book, available here, is also part of my school library's collection and it's now in my hands.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

More On John Adams' Late in Life Support For The Third Way Defense of "Christianity"

I've noted before Dupuis was a figure whose meticulous project John Adams was both familiar with and interested in. Dupuis was either an atheist or a strict deist of the kind that wanted to debunk Christianity in general and the possibility of special revelation in particular. He was like the Dawkins, Dennett, Hitchens and Harris of his day. 

Adams thought Dupuis was a fiercely learned man whose criticisms needed answers. Of course, orthodox Christianity of either the Roman Catholic or Protestant bent would defend their faith with answers.

But with rare exception, Adams didn't want their answers. Rather he saw their corruptions as part of the problem that gave the Dupuises of the world reasons to attack Christianity. So instead he looked to fellow unitarians, namely Joseph Priestley, Thomas Jefferson and Francis Van Der Kemp. 

Adams also positively mentions two other sources he found useful for his preferred project. One was the Bollandists who wrote the Acta Sanctorum, which Adams didn't read until around 1815.  The Acta Sanctorum was as Adams termed it, a compilation of "Legends, of the Lives and Writings of the Saints and even of the Fathers, and of Ecclesiastical History in general."

The other was English clergyman Conyers Middleton, whose work Adams had been familiar with much earlier. His original work attacked chiefly the Roman Catholic Church but left the impression in the minds of some of implicitly attacking the orthodox Protestant dogma institutionally ingrained in England. Originally, provided such institutional Protestantism could believe Middleton's work a mere attack on the Roman Catholicism they rejected, they could endorse it.

But then later as he became more explicit, Middleton got in trouble with such Protestants in England. As this source informs:
He had meanwhile got into a controversy with Waterland. Waterland had attacked Matthew Tindal's ‘Christianity as old as the Creation’ (1730), which marked the culmination of the deist controversy. Middleton published an anonymous ‘Letter to Waterland,’ urging that apologists placed themselves in a false position by endeavouring to maintain the historical accuracy of every statement in the Bible. He ridiculed some parts of the book of Genesis, and said that Tindal should be answered by proving the utility of a traditional religion, and confuting his à priori theories of the ‘religion of nature.’ This sceptical tendency, really latent in the ‘Letter from Rome,’ now became obvious. Zachary Pearce [q. v.], afterwards bishop of Rochester, accused him in a ‘Reply’ of covert infidelity. Middleton's authorship had become known, and he was threatened with a loss of his Cambridge degrees. Middleton replied in two pamphlets, making such explanations as he could. Some time later (1733), however, an anonymous pamphlet by Dr. Williams, the public orator, declared that his books ought to be burnt and himself banished from the university, unless he made a recantation.  
One of the offending quotations of Middleton's is as follows: "[T]hat every single passage of the Scriptures, we call Canonical, must needs be received, as the very word and as the voice of God himself."

This post at American Creation written by a guest blogger contains research showing Adams became interested in this fight and ended up siding in favor of Middleton and against Waterland. In the meantime, it features the following quotation showing Adams doubted the veracity of the Epistle to the Hebrews:
But the question recurs, why was the original destroyed? What suspicions of interpolation, and indeed of fabrication, might be confuted if we had the originals! In an age or in ages when fraud, forgery, and perjury were considered as lawful means of propagating truth by philosophers, legislators, and theologians, what may not be suspected?
This was a marginal note in John Disney’s Memoirs (1785) of Arthur Sykes. See Zoltán Haraszti, Prophets of Progress, 296. See also James H. Hutson, The Founders on Religion, p. 26.

(Jefferson would claim to Adams in 1813 that Middleton and Priestley were the basis of his own faith.)

And here in this 1813 letter to Jefferson, Adams puts together his understanding of Dupuis, Priestley and Middleton:
Dr Priestley pronounced [Dupuis] an Atheist, and his Work “The Ni Plus ultra of Infidelity.” Priestly agrees with him that the History of the Fall of Adam and Eve, is “an Alegory,” a Fable, [and] an Arabian Tale, and so does Dr Middleton, to account for the origin of Evil; which however it does not[.]
And in his 1814 letter to Francis Van Der Kemp, Adams puts together Priestley, Middleton and the Acta Sanctorum:
I know nothing of Th. Browns popular Errors. Enfield contains enough. The Acta Sanctorum in 47 Volumes in Folio contains a pretty Specimen of them. Dr Middletons Works, the Model of Priestleys, without his excentricities, are a fine Sample. 
And invoking his old friend and mentor the unitarian Richard Cranch, Adams' letter to Van Der Kemp ends in a bang:
When I was a Boy, I wrote a Letter to my Friend Cranch more than 60 years ago in which this Globe was asserted to be the Bedlam of the Universe, into which all the insane, in Mercury Venus and Mars &c &c &c, were Sent to be cured or confined.
Neither The Acta Sanctorum nor Priestley nor Middleton nor Bruker nor the 18th nor the 19th Century have confuted my juvenile Hypothesis.

Friday, February 17, 2017

John Adams Wants to Potentially Add to the Canon of Revelation

A subtitle for this post could be apples don't fall far from trees, even though sometimes they do.

I noted before that I was surprised that John Quincy Adams circa 1814, when he had converted to an orthodox Calvinist understanding of Christianity endorsed a heterodox notion of the Bible's canon that sounded like something a unitarian rationalist (like his father) would endorse. JQA is open to the notion that some of the writings of John Milton, Homer and Virgil were divinely inspired along the same grounds he believed the inspired parts of the biblical canon were.

As I was rereading the elder Adams' letter to Thomas Jefferson dated Nov. 14: 1813, I noticed that he too is open to the notion that Virgil's writings constitute special revelation along the line of the parts of the biblical canon Adams believed were revealed by God.

As he wrote:
Blacklocks translation of Horace’s “Justum” is admirable; Superiour to Addisons. Could David be translated as well; his Superiority would be universally acknowledged. We cannot compare the Sybbiline Poetry. By Virgils Pollio we may conjecture, there was Prophecy as well as Sublimity. Why have those Verses been annihilated? I Suspect platonick Christianity, pharisaical Judaism, or machiavilian Politicks, in this case; as in all other cases of the destruction of records and litterary monuments. ...
Did you notice that? In Virgil's Pollio, Adams conjectured there was "Prophesy," whose "[v]erses been annihilated" by "platonick Christianity, pharisaical Judaism, or machiavilian Politicks" coupled with "the destruction of records and litterary monuments."

One of the issues that John Adams had with fellow unitarian Joseph Priestley was Priestley not finding more "Christian principles" in words of Stoic figures like Cleanthes. One could argue that Christendom, the Roman Catholic Church in particular, but other traditions as well, have found ways to reconcile and incorporate the noble pagan teachings of the Ancient Greeks and to a lesser extent Romans into the faith.

But let's be clear on what they did. As the story goes, the canon constitutes special revelation. What Aristotle et al. offer is objective truths found in essences in nature discoverable by reason alone. When reason is used properly, these discoveries won't contradict special revelation and indeed, the findings of the two will support one another.

For instance, as it relates to the nature of sex, as the theory goes, the canon of special revelation neither forbids nor permits contraception between married couples. Aristotelian chains of reasoning relating to the nature of the sexual act demonstrate a law in nature that forbids contraception. This law doesn't contradict anything in the canon. Indeed if the same author of the canon is the author of nature, then it's simply a different channel to the same source. However, that channel comes from man's potentially flawed reason and is not in and of itself special revelation.

To the extent that the Church has the authority to make divine pronouncements, it can take what is discoverable from reason in the natural law and make it official dogma.

But that's not what John Adams (and later John Quincy Adams) did. Rather, what we see is being open to the notion that the writings of Virgil constitute special revelation, that if so should be added to the Bible, but that we can't presently (i.e. when he wrote the letter) be sure of because some corrupt, politicized churchy cabal destroyed the evidence.

Sunday, February 12, 2017

John Adams on the Prophecy of Enoch

I am very familiar with John Adams' post-Presidential musings on religion. I am familiar with the prior period too; but in his post-Presidency, he seemed fascinated by theology and loved discussing the particulars with his intimate friends who would engage him. The problem is, he can be rambling and incoherent at times.

On the Prophesy of Enoch and how it relates to books in the biblical canon, I think he does good critical study of the Bible's texts. Or at least asks the right questions.

The Book of Enoch isn't part of the canon of Protestants, Roman Catholics or the standard Eastern Orthodox; it is part of the canon of "the Ethiopian Orthodox Church and the Eritrean Orthodox Church."

In canonical books, Enoch is mentioned as a character in general in a few places. The controversy -- which persisted from the days of the early church, throughout the ages -- is that in one, arguably two or more places in the canon, Enoch's prophesy that derives from the Book of Enoch is quoted as though what was being quoted is true (as sacred scripture).

So Enoch mentioned as a character by name in Genesis in a manner otherwise unrelated to the Book of Enoch isn't controversial. Enoch quoted in Jude, on the other hand, IS controversial because Jude invokes the Prophesy of Enoch which the Book of Enoch speaks of in more detail.

Of course, for those who want to thread the needle as to why there is good reason to accept the canon but exclude Enoch, there is an argument which we need not get into here. Another way of threading the needle is to conclude the Ethiopian and Eritrean Orthodox Churches got it right and that the Book of Enoch belongs in the canon.

John Adams didn't just reject the Book of Enoch, he also rejected the Prophesy of Enoch. (Hat tip to Bill Fortenberry for the reference.) As Adams wrote to F. Van der Kemp, Jan. 4, 1814:
That this Prophecy of Enoch was as gross a Forgery as the Gospell of the Infancy, which Some ascribed to St. Mathew and Some to St Thomas; or as the Acts of Paul and Thecle, I have no doubt. To call Such impious and execrable forgeries by the pious Epithet Apocryphal, is abominable.
But if not just the Book but the Prophesy of Enoch is false, what then of when this fake prophesy is invoked in books of the accepted canon as though it were true. In Jude and in the 2nd Peter, the Prophesy of Enoch is so mentioned.

So Adams asks his son John Quincy, who at that time was supposedly more orthodox in that he professed Calvinism, about whether he thought Jude (along with Song of Solomon and Apocalypse (Book of Revelation)) properly belonged in the canon. (The younger Adams basically confessed agnosticism on the matter.)

In a letter to Thomas Jefferson dated December 25, 1813, Adams asks:
Do you know any thing of the prophecy of Enoch ? Can you give me a comment on the 6th, the 9th, the 14th verses of the epistle of Jude?
And in a later letter to Jefferson, from February 1814, Adams reveals more when he mentions Priestley's treatment of the issue. There Adams faults Priestley for not tracing "the Prophecy of Enoch [to] India in which the fallen Angels make Such a figure."

As Adams quotes Priestley's treatment of the matter:
In his remarks on Mr Dupuis. p. 342. Priestley Says, “The History of the fallen Angels is another Circumstance, on which Mr Dupuis lays much Stress. ‘According to the Christians,’ he says, Vol. 1. p. 336, ‘there was from the beginning, a division among the Angels; Some remaining faithful to the light, and others taking the part of Darkness’ &c.17 But this Supposed history is not found in the Scriptures. It has only been inferred, from a wrong interpretation of one passage in the 2d Epistle of Peter, and a corresponding one in that of Jude, as has been Shewn by judicious Writers. That there is such a Person as The Devil is no part of my Faith, nor that of many other Christians; nor am I sure that it was the belief of any of the christian Writers. Neither do I believe the doctrine of demoniacal possessions, whether it was believed by the Sacred Writers or not; and yet my unbelief18 in these Articles does not affect my faith in the great facts of which the Evangelists were eye and ear Witnesses. They might not be competent Judges, in the one case, tho perfectly So, with respect to the other.”
(Again, the words in quotations are Priestley's not Adams'.)

Adams then discusses his opinion of Priestley's treatment:
I will19 ask Priestley, when I See him, Do you believe those Passages in Peter and Jude to be interpolations? If so; by whom made? and when? and where? and for what End? Was it to Support, or found the doctrine of The Fall of Man, Original Sin, the universal Corruption depravation and guilt of human nature and mankind; and the Subsequent Incarnation of God to make Attonement and Redemption!—Or do you think that Peter and Jude believed the Book of Enoch to have been written, by the 7th from Adam, and one of the Sacred cannonical Books of the Hebrew Prophets? Peter, 2. Ep. c. 2. v. 4, Says “For if God Spared not the Angels that Sinned, but cast them down to Hell and delivered them into chains of Darkness, to be reserved unto Judgment.” Jude v. 6th Says “And the Angels which kept not their first Estate, but left their own habitations, he hath reserved in everlasting Chains under darkness, unto the Judgment of the great day.20 v. 14th “And Enoch also, the 7th from Adam, prophesied of these Saying, behold the Lord cometh with ten thousands of his Saints, to execute Judgment upon all &c” Priestley Says “a wrong Interpretation” has been given to these Texts. I wish he had favoured Us with his right interpretation of them.
(Keep in mind Joseph Priestley died in 1804; this letter was written in 1814. Adams expects to see Priestley in the afterlife and discuss these issues with him.)

Again, Adams rejects both the Prophesy and Book of Enoch and there are at least two logical conclusions that flow therefrom: 1. the entire Books of Jude and Peter which reference the Prophesy are not inspired; or 2. those passages in Jude and Peter are "interpolations."

Given his premises, Adams asks the right questions. Priestley, alas didn't give Adams answers that satisfied him.

Thursday, February 09, 2017

Adams Letter to His Son on the Biblical Canon

Here we go. This is the letter John Adams wrote to John Quincy Adams on the 24th of December 1813 on the biblical canon.
I perceive my son that you are a great Student in the Bible: I know you have been a long time; perhaps all your Life. But have you studied the Canon of Scriptures? its History? its Evidence? its Authority? In what sense do you understand the Inspiration, the Infallibility, and the Sanctity of the Books of the old and New Testament? How far do you believe them inspired? and how far not? Have you considered what is to be understood in a litteral Sense, and what in a figurative? What is History? and what is Allegory? Have you read Lardner and Jones? Have you considered the Darkness of the 3 first Centuries and the false Light of all that followed? Do you believe Solomons Song, the Apocalypse and St. Jude to be cannonical inspired and infallible.

I wish you procure the Books I have mentioned for your future Use.

I have a million more things to say. But Our liberal Christians and biblical Criticks are Setting up Alexander Hamilton Fisher Ames and Theophylus Parsons, as great Authorities in Support of Christianity. I dare say that not one of three knew more of the Argument than they did of Shastaism, Lamaism, or Koranism.
In his response, John Quincy Adams, at this time supposedly more orthodox than his self described "liberal unitarian Christian" father couldn't commit to belief in the infallibility of scripture or the divine inspiration of the books of Song of Solomon, Apocalypse and St. Jude.

I assume from the overall context that Adams the Sr. didn't believe those three books inspired. "[T]he Darkness of the 3 first Centuries and the false Light of all that followed ...." That's when the canon, including those three mentioned books disputed among some in the early Church and by the Christian-Deists and "liberal Christians" of John Adams' era was starting to be compiled. In fact, the canon, to the extent it was ever "settled" at all, wasn't done so until the early 4th Century and included the deuterocanonicals/apocrypha as part of sacred scripture. 

Also notice how Adams trashes Alexander Hamilton's and Fisher Ames' (who were both dead by that time) understanding of the Christian faith. They were both orthodox authorities. I don't know as much about Ames' beliefs during the trajectory of his life. I know Hamilton became orthodox by the end of his life.

The overall context is Adams the elder trying to push his son's faith into a heterodox direction. And part of that heterodoxy is rejecting the orthodox -- Protestant, Catholic or whatever -- view of the biblical canon, including which books are inspired. 

John [Quincy] Adams on the Biblical Canon's Inspiration

* Update: Read below on my error.

This letter to his son dated July 7, 1814 clarifies John Adams' position on the inspiration of scripture. He believed parts of the biblical canon were inspired. He thought all modern (as of 1814) translations had errors. He didn't think himself competent in the original languages to judge errors in the original. And he was open to the notion that the writings of John Milton, Homer and Virgil were divinely inspired along the same grounds he believed the inspired parts of the biblical canon were. He admits Song of Solomon and Apocalypse (Book of Revelation) questionably belong in the canon. But, if Homer, Virgil and Milton had a good claim on writing sacred scripture, "those of the Apocalypse and of Solomon’s Song, are unquestionable." He is agnostic on whether St. Jude's Epistle is inspired. 

It has been asserted that "rationalists" like John Adams used their reason to determine what was valid revelation. Here is how Adams describes his method:
I am not altogether ignorant, but am far from being properly acquainted with the History of the Bible, or its Evidence; and with regard to its Authority my Mind rests upon two Pillars—the prejudice of my Education; and my own judgment, upon its internal Evidence—You Sir, and my ever dear and honoured Mother, took care to give me a pious education; and although at the same time you sent me upon the theatre of an infidel World, at an age perhaps the most accessible to impressions of infidelity, I never found any thing there, that could serve me as a substitute for the duties or the pleasures, the Morals or the Hopes which I derive from my Religion—I have seen nothing in the glories of this World, nothing in the pride of human learning which should make me ashamed of the Cross of Christ—My Judgment therefore has confirmed the Prejudice of my Education—My idea of Inspiration, as applied to the Scriptures is neither very clear nor very definite—That in the composition of parts of the Sacred Books, the Writers were actuated by a preternatural interposition of the divine power, I believe, because it is expressly declared by the Writers themselves, and because I cannot disbelieve it without rejecting the whole Bible as an imposture.
 The bold is mine.

*I made a mistake. The letter was from John Quincy Adams to his father. I think a reason I had this brain freeze was as of 1814 John Quincy Adams supposedly had, as many assumed, embraced a form or orthodox Calvinistic Christianity. I assumed wrongly an orthodox Calvinistic Christian would have accepted the plenary inspiration of the biblical canon. He sounds in this letter like a unitarian/theistic rationalist like his father. I will follow up on John Adams the elder's letter to his son that prompted this response.

Fortenberry Compiles John Adams' Discussions of Priestley

You can read through this 31 page document that Bill Fortenberry compiled that has John Adams discussing his opinions on fellow unitarian Joseph Priestley. I come to a different conclusion than Mr. Fortenberry. I think Adams' opinion on Priestley is a net positive.

One thing about unitarians like Adams and Thomas Jefferson -- and I agree this radical individualism is a consequence of Protestantism -- is they liked to make their minds up for themselves on theological matters and didn't necessarily carry anyone else's water. Jefferson for instance, loved Priestley but had plenty of disagreements with him. Priestley actually thought the Book of Revelation was inspired (and foretold the coming success of the French Revolution) while Jefferson thought it represented the delusions of a madman.

I seriously doubt Adams believed the Book of Revelation was inspired at all. He had a falling out with Priestley over their differences about the French Revolution. It was issues like this and others like the perfectibility of man that caused Adams to criticize Priestley. It was not over Priestley's core tenets of unitarianism, the orthodox doctrines they both thought of as "corruptions of Christianity" on which orthodox Protestants AND Roman Catholics agree.

On balance, I support Dr. Gregg Frazer's work, but also not without qualification. Instead of naming Priestley as guru to the "key Founders," rather I would have included Priestley as notable figure in a cohort of British contemporaries including Richard Price and lesser known figures like Benjamin Vaughan. These are the "dissenters" in Britain who Ben Franklin invoked to Ezra Stiles that had "doubts" about Jesus' divinity and were members of the Club of Honest Whigs. I would have explored their beliefs as a cohort and noted the parallels with those of the "theistic rationalists."

There were earlier American unitarians who mentored John Adams into the creed when he was a young man. The one figure who seemed to touch Adams then and leave a lasting impression was Richard Cranch, someone most today who study this issue have never heard of.

Sunday, February 05, 2017

Analogy Between "State of Nature" and "Evolution"

I mentioned in my last post a challenge to use the method of some Christian nationalists that puts documents they wish to authenticate as "Christian" by tying the words to those in the Bible and see if you can authenticate modern secular documents with it. I hypothesized that documents Christian nationalists would be quick to term "modern secular" could be authenticated as "Christian" under such.

On the other hand, there are plenty of modern figures, like President Obama who explicitly rely on the Bible in their public utterances and in their attempt to argue for modern left-liberal policies.

Is this secularism or is it religious leftism? One response is that they are misusing the Bible. Funny though, that is a charge often brought against John Locke.

In his time Locke was accused of smuggling not authentically Christian ideas into his writings. And today scholars like Leo Strauss, Eric Voegelin and their students continue to press similar charges.

For instance, I noted some time ago Leo Strauss termed the notion of a "state of nature" "wholly alien to the Bible." "State of nature" was the common ground in discourse that Hobbes, Locke and Rousseau shared. Though they profoundly differed on how such played out.

Is this common ground of "state of nature" compatible with the Bible? The answer is it's debatable. The analogy I find useful is to Darwin's theory of evolution. Some argue this is inconsistent with "Christianity" or "biblical Christianity" or whatever you want to call it. Others have found ways to, as they understand, reconcile evolution with Christianity.

A similar point could be made about "state of nature" and Christianity.

More Drama From Barton, Fea and Throckmorton

This is John Fea's account. And here is Warren Throckmorton's.

This is from Throckmorton's:
In September 2015, I challenged Barton to produce evidence for his claim and demonstrated that for one to claim Locke cited over 1500 Bible verses, one would have to count every verse in the book of Proverbs because Locke mentioned that book once.
Barton, apparently, is going to rise to the challenge by parsing through John Locke's words and attempt to credit the Bible in places where Locke might not explicitly cite a verse and chapter or where a prior academic might not footnote such to the Bible. Mix and match, throw spaghetti against the wall and see what sticks.

I don't trust Barton for any special insights here. For that, Daniel Dreisbach has a new book out which we will be learning more about later.

I've long made the point: The Bible, specifically, but not limited to the King James version has had a profound impact on American culture and language that continues to this day. We could make a similar point about other Western nations, and translations, etc.

Barton, as I see it, will try to spin a tale about how much more biblically literate the past was as compared to how badly secular we are now. For a really illuminating exercise, we should take Barton's method and use it to analyze some kind of what is understood to be a modern secular document. And I would bet we would be able to come up with loads of references that we could trace to the Bible.

And with that I will continue to keep fighting the good fight.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Fortenberry's Latest on Frazer and More on John Adams' Heterodoxy

Bill Fortenberry forwarded this along to me. It involves a letter John Adams wrote to fellow unitarian Francois or Francis Van der Kemp. Apparently there was a figure named Dupuis who was either an atheist or a deist who denied the possibility of special revelation. 

Adams thinks Dupuis is really smart and makes points that need answering. Adams makes clear he believes in special revelation and in Christianity founded on such.

The issue is whether Adams believes the Bible -- and given unitarians are Protestants, the Protestant canon -- though it contains true revelation, has nonetheless been corrupted and contains errors. Below quotes Dr. Gregg Frazer (Fortenberry's bete noire) discussing Adams' quotation:
His theistic rationalism, like that of the other key Founders, was a sort of middle ground between protestantism and deism. For example, his complaint that “millions of fables, tales, legends, have been blended with both Jewish and Christian revelation” to make “the most bloody religion that ever existed” would not please either camp.  Deists could not countenance the recognition of legitimate revelation, and Christians would not appreciate either the characterization of parts of Scripture as “fables, tales, legends” or the use of the “most bloody religion” label.
You can read Fortenberry's link that features the original exchange between Adams and Van der Kemp and make up your mind for yourself.

Fortenberry tries to argue of Adams that this exchange (or apparently anything else Adams wrote) does not reveal he thought the Bible had errors. I think Frazer's analysis is correct.

In the exchange of letters Adams notes as he did numerous times that he thought there were "corruptions" of Christianity that needed to be purged. The unitarian Joseph Priestley coined that term and he defined the corruptions as follows: 1. Original Sin; 2. The Trinity; 3. The Incarnation; 4. The Atonement; and 5. Plenary Inspiration of the biblical canon. 

Adams may not have agreed exactly with Priestley (or Jefferson or anyone else). Though the connection is relevant because these unitarians thought of themselves as continuing in the tradition of Protestant reformers. They just didn't think the original reformers went far enough. Now in the age of Enlightenment, Christianity ought to reform further in that direction.  

Fortenberry attempts to punt with an answer I've often seen: When the founders talked smack about problems in Christianity, they were referring to Roman Catholicism only. 

This is an error with a kernel of truth. Yes, the Roman Catholic Church typified everything that was corrupt, superstitious and violent about "Christianity." But Protestants also had those problems. And indeed, those problems, as the narrative goes, derived from the Catholic Church that the original reformers didn't satisfactorily purge. The Trinity, for instance, is labeled a Roman Catholic fabrication. 

And yes, the Protestant canon itself contains corruptions. I've noted before Adams discussing what he saw as "error[s]" and "amendment[s]."
When and where originated our Ten Commandments? The Tables and The Ark were lost. Authentic copies, in few, if any hands; the ten Precepts could not be observed, and were little remembered.

If the Book of Deuteronomy was compiled, during or after the Babilonian Captivity, from Traditions, the Error or Amendment might come in there. 
-- John Adams to Thomas Jefferson, Nov. 14, 1813.
Much more demonstrates that texts Protestants view as canonical John Adams thought corrupted. I will provide a bit. Below are two smoking gun quotations where Adams criticizes the King James Bible. Pay special attention to the second one where Adams discusses his thoughts on the different "canons."
We have now, it seems a National Bible Society, to propagate King James's Bible, through all Nations. Would it not be better, to apply these pious subscriptions, to purify Christendom from the corruptions of Christianity, than to propagate these corruptions in Europe, Asia, Africa, and America! 
-- John Adams to Thomas Jefferson, Nov. 4, 1816.
What do you call “The Bible”? The Translation by King James the first? More than half a Catholick.? ... “The Bible a Rule of Faith.”! What Bible? King James’s? The Hebrew? The Septuagint,? The Vulgate? The Bibles now translated or translating into Chinese, Indian, Negro and all the other Languages of Europe Asia and Affrica? Which of the thirty thousand Variantia are the Rule of Faith? 
-- John Adams to John Quincy Adams, March 28, 1816.
This fits my thesis that Roman Catholicism, to men like Adams, was the source of the problem, but much of what Protestantism embraced, like the canon of the King James Bible, was corrupted by Roman Catholicism.

(On a different note, Adams' letter to JQA, dated 3/28/1816 has a lot more to it. There Adams explicitly rejects the orthodox Protestant doctrine of justification by faith or faith alone in favor of a works based justification scheme. Plus more. Perhaps later we will do an in depth exploration of it.)

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Robert P. Kraynak on Gregg Frazer's Book

From Dr. Robert P. Kraynak of Colgate. Kraynak's review is online now. Check it out here. A taste:
According to Frazer, America's Founders created a national religious creed that underlies our republican institutions, even though it is hard to pin down precisely because it is more than "deism" and less than orthodox Christianity. To capture the Founders' religion, Frazer invents a new term, "theistic rationalism," which emphasizes rational belief in God and morality rather than faith in the revealed mysteries of the Biblical God (14-20). It was a hybrid religion, combining Enlightenment ideas of a Creator God who is the Intelligent Designer of a rational cosmos and elements of Christian belief in a providential God who intervenes in history and supports a moral code of benevolence and political freedom. Frazer shows how theistic rationalism became a republican religion of God-given natural rights and civic duties, whose expressions in America were the Declaration of Independence and public rituals of civil religion ...

[...]

... He tips his hand at several points, for example, when sympathetically discussing the Christian scholar James W. Jones, whose book The Shattered Synthesis (1973) criticizes the "arrogance" of the American Founders for deliberately altering and diluting Christianity for political purposes. Jones traces their error to theologians like Charles Chauncy (1705-1787) who remade God and the Bible in the image of man by insisting that God's "benevolence" bound Him to the humanistic idea of nonjudgmental acceptance of every sincere person--preparing the way for the Unitarian universalist claim that everyone goes to heaven (55-62). In the last lines of his book, Frazer judges this transformation of religion with benevolent severity: "God became whoever they preferred Him to be and made only those demands they wished Him to make. They had truly created a god in their own image" (236). In other words, the American Founders and their theological authorities were guilty of idolatry by remaking God into a republican humanist.
For the record, Kraynak, like Frazer, is influenced by the Straussian school and one of the figures whom Frazer positively sources for his book.