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.