Saturday, September 16, 2017

What's a Cult Anyway?

A while ago, I introduced the notion into discussion forums populated by many evangelical Christians that the driving political theology of the American Founding, adhered to by certain "key Founders" -- leading lights, if you will -- was something halfway between Deism and orthodox Christianity. Some folks in these forums responded that such to them, sounded like a "cult." (Others simply wished to deny that what I reported was accurate.)

Indeed, certain evangelical-fundamentalist circles define "cult" by adherence to doctrines that are not "correct" as they understand what the Bible "really" means. In other words, if you are not "doctrinally correct," you risk the "cult" label.

But there has to be more than that, right? Arminians and Calvinists disagree with one another, sometimes call the other "heretics," but do they throw around the "cult" label in their accusations? (Not a rhetorical question, rather one I really don't know the answer to.)

It could be that orthodox Trinitarian doctrine -- something to which Arminians and Calvinists both adhere -- is the "safe ground" that avoids the cult label (but not necessarily the "heretic" label).

But I have heard evangelical-fundamentalist types term "Roman Catholicism" a cult. But Roman Catholicism adheres to orthodox Trinitarian doctrine! Protestant evangelical-fundamentalists disagree with one another here. Many, sensible in my opinion, evangelical-fundamentalists, though they may disagree with Roman Catholicism and indeed, fear its adherents are not really "saved," understand it's not proper to label such a "cult."

Why? In addition to endorsing orthodox Trinitarianism, Roman Catholicism also happens to be the largest Christian denomination in the world. And arguably the oldest. In other words, it's "normative," historic Christianity.

What then? In addition to being doctrinally incorrect -- especially on areas like the Trinity -- for a sect to be relatively new and relatively small, might help to establish its status as a "cult." This is why, in the above mentioned circles, Mormonism, Jehovah's Witnessism, among other creeds, qualify as "cults."

I still don't see why any of these criteria make "cult" status negative or wrong compared to the religious traditions that don't necessarily qualify for "cult" status.

Is it because of issues of "control"? All religions to some degree seek to control the behavior of their adherents. That's supposed to be a feature, not a bug. Fallen humans are by nature out of control and bound to cause trouble. "Religion" is something that is supposed to, for the sake of society and civilization -- at least according to George Washington in his Farewell Address -- keep them in line and make them into moral and productive citizens.

With that, see below a 35 year old video from CNN's "Crossfire" featuring one Roy Masters. The show terms Masters a "cult leader." On social media, Masters -- still alive at almost 90 -- frames it as a matter of the corrupt "media" smearing him. Masters is very conservative and integrates his political leanings into his theology. As such, the "media" establishment who tend towards the Left and have institutional biases against the Right, have not been kind to him.

After Masters posted this old video, many followers on his site made the expected comments on how the Left media establishment were characteristically smearing him then as they do today.

But they missed one important dynamic. CNN's "Crossfire" was a show that featured someone from the Left, and someone from the Right. The person on the Left who antagonized Masters was the late Tom Braden. I don't know much about him, and just learned that apparently he was the real life inspiration for the Dad from "Eight is Enough." The person on the Right was the late John Lofton, who was far more "conservative" than Masters, arguably to the Right of Attila the Hun. Lofton was a member of RJ Rushdoony's "Christian Reconstructionist" movement that sought to impose harsh Old Testament style punishments in today's civil society.

These "uber-orthodox" Protestant fundamentalist Christians like Lofton, as such, had no problem terming Masters -- who is not "doctrinally correct" according to fundamentalist Protestant standards -- a "cult leader." Lofton wrote, ironically, for the Rev. Moon owned "Washington Times" until he was fired for being too conservative for them.

Lofton said of Masters that he is “a false prophet and theological fraud.” I write of this because some of Mr. Masters' social media followers apparently thought these were two members of the Liberal media trying to smear him as a "cult leader."

They couldn't be more wrong, at least as it relates to the late Mr. Lofton.


Thursday, September 14, 2017

David Currie: "Opinion: The danger of David Barton's message"

From David Currie here. A taste:
I wear quite a few hats in San Angelo, and I love this community. I am writing this article as the retired executive director of Texas Baptists Committed and a longtime board member of The Interfaith Alliance in Washington, D.C.

I am deeply dismayed that reputable organizations have invited David Barton to speak to our community, because there is nothing reputable about the message he will bring. His message – which he has been proclaiming for over 25 years – is what I have fought against my entire career as a minister committed to upholding the truths of the Bible and as an American committed to the principles embedded in the U.S. Constitution. I firmly believe that religious liberty, as defined by our Founding Fathers, is the greatest single freedom ever adopted by a government.

David Barton very effectively twists the truth and presents quotes out of context and strategically selected partial quotes. He presents partial, twisted truth as absolute truth. The end result is a message that is an absolute lie – biblically, historically and constitutionally.

Monday, September 04, 2017

Liberty, Equality & God

“We must face the disturbing dilemma that modern liberal democracy needs God, but God is not as liberal or as democratic as we would like Him to be”-- Robert Kraynak

"Modern liberal democracy" as defined here relates to the notion that men are by nature free and equal. That's the small l "liberal" part of the equation. The "democratic" part means that political systems are validated by the "consent of the governed." That voting and majorities matter. Voting majorities often, but not always trump. Sometimes rights that are antecedent to majority vote, trump.

When Kraynak invokes "God," the God he invokes is generally that of orthodox Christianity, more particularly that of Roman Catholicism.

Is God so necessary as he asserts? A number of notable atheists have made the case that God isn't a necessary part of the equation for the objective, non-negotiable status of "rights" that are antecedent to majority rule. Ayn Rand believed this. As does my blogfather, the fervent atheist Timothy Sandefur. Though not an expert, I understand that some more traditional natural law philosophers have held God isn't necessary to prove the objective binding reality of the natural law.

But God does serve as a firm place to rest the principles. That's my position. Two notable left of center public intellectuals and John Locke scholars, the late Paul Sigmund and the currently living Jeremy Waldron, have argued for the "liberal democracy needs God" part of Kraynak's above noted formula. That is, you don't get universal human rights without God.

I have explored this issue for quite some time. See this link for what I have argued. Again, it's my position that God functions as a necessary guarantor of human rights in a clearer way than philosophy divorced from God does, even though I am open to arguments that the latter can "work."

However, what I have long stressed is that it's not any kind of traditional orthodox notion of God that is necessary. That, to the contrary, as Kraynak above notes, the more traditional notions of the deity, really aren't all that "liberal democratic" (as that term is defined above).

It's not my position that Thomas Jefferson spoke for all of even most of the Founders. Rather, that his God "worked," indeed, worked perfectly in the equation that makes God the necessary guarantor of liberal democratic rights. And Jefferson's God was devoid of the following features:
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.
It is also my position that the texts of the Bible and orthodox doctrine qua orthodox doctrine do not speak to unalienable rights that are doctrinally grounded in nature, discovered by reason. There is a need for some kind of additional theory that is largely outside of holy texts of revealed scripture, though certain texts of revealed scripture can be used to incorporate such outside the text teachings and doctrines.

As we know Dr. Gregg Frazer has termed the political theology of the American Founding, hence the political theology of "liberal democracy" as articulated in America's Declaration of Independence, "theistic rationalism." That term, no doubt has its inadequacies. But so too do most other terms that have attempted to claim such ground. The Declaration of Independence is hardly a "Christian" document. It doesn't mention Jesus or quote verses and chapter of Scripture. Rather, what it does is mention a God of some sort in four places (using the titles Creator, Nature's God, Divine Providence and Supreme Judge of the World).

The term "Judeo-Christian" is no better than Dr. Frazer's "theistic rationalism" in its attempt to describe this political theology. That term is unnecessarily exclusive. How does the henotheistic God of Mormonism relate to "Judeo-Christianity"? Mormonism, unlike Judaism or orthodox Christianity, because of when and where it was founded actually incorporates the divine nature of America's Declaration and Constitution into its official teachings and arguably makes for a more authentic representation of the God of the American Founding than either traditional Christianity or Judaism do.

Likewise with Islam. That religion too believes in One True God. Like Judaism and Christianity, Islam has competing theories in how it understand the natural law. Like Judaism and Christianity, Islam has all sorts of competing varieties. I reject there is something in the nature of Islam that makes it impossible to be compatible with liberal democratic norms.

I do believe however, we can argue that Christianity is more compatible with liberal democracy for a number of reasons (indeed, Christendom, not Islam or Judaism birthed liberal democracy). I don't believe Islam by its nature is any less compatible with liberal democratic norms than is Judaism. And Judaism has found a way to reconcile itself with liberal democracy.

I can anticipate the objection by proof texting various Islamic holy texts and teachings that would defy universalism that liberal democracy teaches. I answer this by noting, after Larry Arnhart, that likewise problematic verses and chapters exist in both the Old Testament and the New. The New Testament is arguably more amenable to such universalism. However, Christianity too has its sects that problematically conflict with liberal democratic norms.

Think of Calvinism with its teachings on Election and Limited Atonement. In other words, if you are not of the Elect, then to Hell with you. Calvinism contributed to liberal democratic theory by making a case for "resistance" to higher powers under law. But on matters like free exercise of religion, those same "good guy" Calvinist resisters like Samuel Rutherford held it was just for John Calvin to have Michael Servetus burned at the stake for heresy.

Yet, by the time Calvinists Roger Sherman and John Witherspoon articulated their politics, they managed to find a way to make their religious creed compatible with late 18th Century American liberal democracy.

So Islam's problem, in my opinion, is that it has not adequately revised its understanding of the creed to make itself compatible with liberal democracy like even traditional versions of Christianity and Judaism have.

What to make of all this?

If we are going to come together and do our best to agree to a term that invokes a political theology necessary to the equation of providing the firm foundation for liberal democratic rights, what should it be?

There is no "right" answer. The best lowest common denominator compromise answer I have seen is one that was offered by Dennis Prager: "Ethical Monotheism." It's not as "mushy" as "generic monotheism" (a term I think actually describes America's founding political theology); it's not as problematically and erroneously exclusive as "orthodox Christianity," "Christianity" or "Judeo-Christianity." It's not quite as loaded as "theistic rationalism." It's more accurate than either "Deism" or "Ceremonial Deism." It includes within its ambit Judaism, Islam, Mormonism, the varieties of orthodox Christianity, unorthodox Christianity, and Deism.

Saturday, September 02, 2017

Library of Law and Liberty on Danielle Allen's Book

I think I missed this when it was posted in 2014. A taste:
This is an impassioned book about the Declaration of Independence. It comes from specific personal and pedagogical experiences, as its author, a classicist and political theorist at Princeton, winsomely reports.

Danielle Allen employs several techniques, some old, some new, in engaging and expositing her book’s central object: what she calls a close, “sentence by sentence” reading of the document, one that sometimes lingers over the meaning of a single term but that also draws upon modern theories of the uses to which language can be put. But while the methods are specific, the aim is quite grand and ambitious: to make the Declaration “our Declaration,” with “us” being not just all Americans, of whatever race or socioeconomic condition, but all humanity.

The Declaration has stirred Allen mightily. She describe teaching it as a transformative experience, and she has responded with all of her being, as a scholar, a citizen, and a human being. This is engaged scholarship in a fulsome sense.

Our Declaration: A Reading of the Declaration of Independence in Defense of Equality is also clearly conceived and written. ...
It even mentions our friend Gregg Frazer's book:
Like many today, she wants her egalitarianism to rest on a secular foundation. This, one suspects, is the deeper meaning of her oft-used term, “commitment,” which is what human beings do when they cannot affirm a principle on the basis of either faith or reason. Certainly, the naturalistic egalitarian anthropology she teases out of the text is more sketched than demonstrated, and with significant lacunae. For a better treatment of the character of the deity affirmed in the Declaration, one should consult Gregg L. Frazer’s The Religious Beliefs of America’s Founders (2012) and his useful concept of “theistic rationalism,” halfway between Deism and 18th century Christian orthodoxy. Allen gets close, but her manner of reading precludes her from considering, in a comprehensive view, the Declaration’s teaching about the deity.
Also check out this comment at the bottom by W.B. Allen who is, I'm pretty sure, Danielle's distinguished father. He swings to the Right; she swings to the Left. 

Friday, September 01, 2017

Fea: "The Author’s Corner with Jonathan Israel"

Check it out here. A taste:
Jonathan Israel is Professor Emeritus of Modern European History in the School of Historical Studies at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey.   This interview is based on his new book, The Expanding Blaze: How the American Revolution Ignited the World (1775-1850) (Princeton, 2017).

[...]

JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of The Expanding Blaze?

JI: The book’s argument is that the American Revolution was the spark that created the expanding blaze that transformed the Western world by setting the basic model – democratic republicanism versus aristocratic republicanism- which shaped the early stages of the French Revolution (before Robespierre’s tyranny) and all the revolutionary movements of the Western world between 1782 (Geneva) and 1848. The key argument is that democratic versus aristocratic republicanism defines the inner logic of the American Revolution, and Radical Enlightenment versus ‘moderate Enlightenment’provides the ideological format, the ideas, that justify the two warring sides within the American Revolution.

JF: Why do we need to read The Expanding Blaze?

JI: The book is needed to help better situate the American Revolution than has been done in its world historical context and especially in its general Enlightenment context.

Nepca: "Was America Founded as a Christian Nation? Book Review"

Check it out here. A taste:
WAS AMERICA FOUNDED AS A CHRISTIAN NATION? (Revised Edition, 2016)
By John Fea
Westminster John Knox Press, 324 pages

For tens of millions of Americans, there’s no need to pose the question raised in the title of John Fea’s monograph. Most self-identified evangelicals adamantly insist that it was, and humanists and political progressives vigorously assert that the Founding Fathers intended that a “wall” be erected between church and state. You might expect Fea to side with evangelicals, given that he’s a believer and a professor at a Christian school, Messiah College. He doesn’t. Nor does he cast his lot with those who take the opposing view. As a historian, Fea sees nuances, not nostrums. His is a take that, depending upon the openness of the reader, will be seen as a rare middle view within a polarized nation, or will induce outrage.

....