Sunday, August 11, 2019

Dougherty on Locke

Michael Brendan Dougherty has some interesting thoughts on among other things John Locke at National Review here. I'm more sympathetic to the Lockean liberal tradition than he is; but I think he accurately describes some of the "issues" Locke poses for those committed to more traditional conservatism.
Locke describes natural rights this way: “Men being by nature all free, equal and independent, no one can be put out of this estate and subjected to the political power of another without his own consent.” But men do not meet each other as free, equal, and independent in the real world. They must be brought to a state of freedom, equality, and independence. 
...
John Locke also turned to scripture, but for different reasons. Some readers find in Locke a liberal theorist more compatible with inherited Christian understandings of society. Unlike Thomas Hobbes before him or John Stuart Mill later, he seems to acknowledge God’s sovereignty. He even affirms belief in the Resurrection. But Locke’s reading of the Bible is a curious one. God’s sovereignty is established because for Locke human beings are “the workmanship of one omnipotent and infinitely wise Maker — all the servants of one sovereign master, sent into the world by his order, and about his business — they are his property whose workmanship they are, made to last during his, not one another’s pleasure.” Instead of being made in the image and likeness of a Heavenly Father, we have the Divine Whig, a property owner whose unchallengeable judgments are to remain undisturbed. Locke would have, instead of right living and worship, human strife ended by the flowering of a civil society “the chief end whereof is the preservation of property.”   
Locke recognized that this society needed to be held together by morality, but his elaboration on Christian teaching degrades the status of individual churches in favor of a mere Christian morality. Liberalism was not just a political project but a theological one. And, across his essays A Letter concerning Toleration and The Reasonableness of Christianity and his commentaries on the Pauline epistles, Locke takes up the task to diminish the controversies between Protestant sects with his own position that the only doctrine to believe is that Christ is the Messiah — all other titles for Christ are reduced to this in his reading. And the only thing to be done is to live according to the moral precepts derived from reason or taught commonly in scripture. “The preaching of our Savior and his apostles has sufficiently taught us what is necessary to be proposed to every man, to make him a Christian,” he writes. “He that believes him to be the promised Messiah, takes Jesus for his King, and repenting of his former sins, sincerely resolves to live, for the future in obedience to his laws, is a subject of his kingdom, is a Christian.” 
In Locke’s reading, the miracle stories and the histories are not expositions and revelations of the character of God but rather over-awing demonstrations of power to the vulgar masses who cannot, like a philosopher, divine morality from pure reason. “It is too hard a task for unassisted reason to establish morality in all its parts upon its true foundation with a clear and convincing light,” Locke writes. “And it is at least a surer and shorter way, to the apprehensions of the vulgar, and mass of mankind, that one manifestly sent from God, and coming with visible authority from him, should, as a king and law-maker, tell them their duties and require their obedience, than to leave it to the long, and sometimes intricate deductions of reason, to be made out to them.” 
Locke’s entire approach to scripture is to reduce the doctrinal controversies among Christians to mere “speculative opinions and divine worship” on one side, whereas moral teaching and his minimal creed are the parts that matter to supporting public morality and the life of the state. For Locke, immorality is a more grave offense against his true, “reasonable” Church, than “any conscientious Dissent from Ecclesiastical Decisions, or Separation from Publick Worship, whilst accompanied with Innocency of Life.” Consequently, his form of toleration excludes Catholics, not because their nations had not proven themselves bastions of liberty but because Catholic morality could not be separated from the teaching authority of the Church itself — namely, its ecclesiastical claim to define matters of faith and morals. 
But the link between morality and authority is a feature not only of Catholicism. Most Christians understand that morality depends on doctrine and cannot be separated from it. And therefore tolerance, but not for Catholics, becomes generalized: tolerance, but not for “the intolerant.” Not for those who would impose on others “a concept of existence” and “speculative opinions.” It’s important to note that this generalization was predicted at the time by Locke’s contemporaries. In a heated attack on Reasonableness, Anglican divine John Edwards criticized Locke for his minimalism. “This Gentleman and his fellows are resolved to be Unitarians,” Edwards wrote. “They are for One Article of Faith, as well as One Person in the Godhead,” and when Christianity is “thus brought down to One Single Article, it will soon be reduced to none: the Unit will dwindle into a Cypher.” And yet we must make laws that point to and implicate truths. Lincoln sought to “impose a concept of existence” on his hearers and on his nation: that Negroes were men. Laws will reflect theological commitments about the world, even if they pretend not to do so. The purpose of classical conservatism is to be clear-eyed and wise about this point, to engage in the world in an undeluded way. Liberal arrangements may be tolerable and even well suited toward a people, but conservatives will not presume that that is owing to the nature of man. The presumption that men are “free, equal and independent” by nature is wrong. They can be made so by the nurture of family, community, nation, and faith. 
The Bible’s political lessons offer almost nothing to support John Locke’s natural individualism, but there may be a scriptural type useful for understanding or at least seeing liberalism’s predicament, the contradiction born in John Locke’s theology ...: the idea that there can be a common morality with no common creed, a common law without a common life. ...
We see above is an accurate description of Locke's theology peppered with Dougherty's more conservative critical analysis. But Locke was indeed central to the American founding in certain ways. Statistically, his sentiments were cited more during the revolutionary period than that of the framing and ratifying of the Constitution.

And ironically Locke was often cited from the pulpit along with the Bible in sermons. So even if the Bible doesn't offer support to Locke's ideas, ministers were still promoting them.

Wednesday, August 07, 2019

Fea on Pastors Preaching Politics

Dr. John Fea has another good post here about pastors involved politics. A taste:
400 evangelical pastors are heading to Liberty University this week to participate in an event sponsored by the American Renewal Project.  The goal of the closed meeting is to mobilize pastors for the 2020 election.  Speakers at the event include former Virginia congressman (now Liberty professor) David Brat, Christian nationalist David Barton, and Christian Broadcasting Network political analyst David Brody.  (I am guessing that they are not mobilizing pastors to vote for a Democrat :-)) 
The American Renewal Project is run by David Lane, a Christian Right politico who wants pastors to preach political sermons, run for political office, and use their ecclesiastical authority to convince parishioners to vote for Donald Trump in 2020. We wrote about him here and here. 
[...] 
Lane and other Christian nationalists and court evangelicals believe that they are a modern-day “Black Robe Brigade,” a name given to revolutionary-era pastors who supported American independence in 1776. 
The appeal to the Black Robe Brigade reveals a fundamental problem with these kind of history-based Christian Right arguments.  Lane, David Barton, and others give a moral authority to the past that is almost idolatrous.  In other words, if pastors used their pulpits to promote a political agenda in 1776, then they must have been right.  If it happened in the eighteenth-century it is somehow immune from any moral or theological reflection today.  Thomas Jefferson said that our rights come from God, so Christian nationalists conclude, with little theological reflection on whether or not Jefferson was correct, that our rights indeed come from God.  This leads them to make all kinds of wackadoodle arguments that the amendments related to quartering soldiers, trial by jury,  excessive bail, and cruel and unusual punishment are somehow rooted in biblical teaching.

Tuesday, August 06, 2019

Hall on Seidel

At the Law and Liberty site, Mark David Hall takes on Andrew Seidel and his new work that attempts to debunk the Christian Nation thesis. A taste:
Misstatements of Fact 
Founding Myth is littered with historical inaccuracies. Every writer slips occasionally, but the large number of errors in this work call into question the author’s commitment to providing an accurate account of the founding era. This is particularly significant for a constitutional attorney who believes history is, at least upon occasion, relevant for interpreting the First Amendment. 
Seidel’s historical errors sometimes cut against his own argument. For instance, he asserts that “every colony had an established church.” By most counts, only nine of the original thirteen colonies had establishments; Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware did not. Some separationists point to these colonies, especially Rhode Island, as being ahead of their time with respect to church-state relations. Seidel offers no explanation as to why he considers them to have establishments. 
Separationists are often interested in debates over religious establishments in only one state: Virginia. Seidel focuses on these as well, especially on the general assessment bill supported by Patrick Henry that would have provided state support to ministers from different denominations. The bill did not say how much support would be given, but Seidel refers to it as “Henry’s proposed three-penny tax.” He is presumably conflating the proposal with Parliament’s Tea Act of 1773, which included a three penny tax on tea (to which Madison refers in his Memorial and Remonstrance). 
Madison’s Memorial had some influence in Virginia, but not as much as an evangelical petition that received three times as many signatures. But whatever impact it had, it did not convince “the people of Virginia to vote against the bill giving financial support to Christian ministers,” as Seidel asserts. In December of 1784, the Virginia legislature postponed action on the general assessment bill until the fall of 1785, but a final vote was never taken on it. Instead, the legislature passed Jefferson’s famous Bill for Establishing Religious Freedom, but it did so in 1786, not 1785 as Seidel claims.

Monday, August 05, 2019

Franklin on Works Based Justification

After meticulously reading and rereading certain parts of the historical record, some things just slip by you, and then one day, you notice them. I just noticed something on Ben Franklin's writings that I missed before.

Fellow unitarians John Adams and Thomas Jefferson held that men were "justified" by their works, not by faith alone, grace alone (the Protestant "solas"). Franklin seems to agree; but he was also clear in some letters that he didn't think he personally merited Heaven by his good own works. But he expected Heaven nonetheless.

Still good works seemed a necessary, indeed central component to Franklin's justification scheme. In 1735 and in a satirical tone, Franklin writes at length in his "Dialog Between Two Presbyterians" on how good works, not a particular faith is the sine qua non of true religion.
Faith is recommended as a Means of producing Morality: Our Saviour was a Teacher of Morality or Virtue, and they that were deficient and desired to be taught, ought first to believe in him as an able and faithful Teacher. Thus Faith would be a Means of producing Morality, and Morality of Salvation. But that from such Faith alone Salvation may be expected, appears to me to be neither a Christian Doctrine nor a reasonable one.
There are a few things about this passage might lead us to question whether Franklin personally believed in the sentiments. One, it has a satirical tone. And two, Franklin wrote as an advocate for another person (for one Hemphill, a minister who was being defrocked for heterodoxy).

As to the first, just because something is satire doesn't necessarily mean it doesn't convey one's true beliefs. To the contrary, what is distinctive about satire is its method. Satire is oft-meant to contain a deadly serious truth message in its teeth.

As to the second, what I discovered, and as we will see below, is that years later, Franklin, in his personal letters, repeats almost verbatim these sentiments. This suggests the sentiments in the aforementioned Dialog did indeed reflect Franklin's personal convictions.

Let me repeat, Franklin in his letters also claimed he didn't think his own "good works" merited Heaven, but he expected to get to Heaven nonetheless. It's a "works" plus scheme. Good works plus the fruit of God the Father's mysterious benevolence.

I think Dr. Gregg Frazer noted that because Franklin, unlike Jefferson and J. Adams, rejected "works alone" in favor of a works plus faith justification scheme, that made the "Protestant" Franklin's creed look ironically similar to that of Roman Catholics. However, Franklin's notion of good works and Jesus' role arguably would be even too "works oriented" for Roman Catholics.

It's hard to pin Franklin down on exactly what he thought of Jesus. We know Franklin thought, at the very least, Jesus the greatest moral teacher. But what else? I see Franklin believing Jesus to be a "savior" through perfect moral example. That is, I don't see good evidence that Franklin believed in anything resembling a traditional notion of the atonement.

So in 1735, in the Dialog, Franklin writes:
Morality or Virtue is the End, Faith only a Means to obtain that End: And if the End be obtained, it is no matter by what Means. What think you of these Sayings of Christ, when he was reproached for conversing chiefly with gross Sinners, The whole, says he, need not a Physician, but they that are sick; and, I come not to call the Righteous, but Sinners, to Repentance: Does not this imply, that there were good Men, who, without Faith in him, were in a State of Salvation?
Bold face mine.

These are the sentiments that get repeated in years later in personal letters. Jesus' role here is to save man by modeling perfect morality. But if you already had your moral affairs in order, you actually didn't need to follow Jesus. This is where I think even the "works based" Roman Catholics would balk.

I noted the quotation below previously, but I didn't connect it with the "Dialog" of 1735. Franklin wrote in 1753 and again in 1790, of Jesus:
He profess’d that he came not to call the Righteous but Sinners to Repentance; which imply’d his modest Opinion that there were some in his Time so good that they need not hear even him for Improvement;...
In short, Jesus' role as savior is as the greatest moral teacher, the perfecter of morality. As a means, not an end.

Saturday, August 03, 2019

Fea's Latest on Christian Nationalism

Check it out here. A taste:
If you want a recent glimpse of Christian nationalism at work, read the following transcript from David Barton’s “Wallbuilders” radio program.  As many of you know, Barton is a self-professed dominionist and GOP politician who uses the past to promote his Christian nationalist agenda.  He knows a lot of facts about American history, but he does not think historically about these facts.  In other words, he is oblivious to context, change over time, contingency, causation, and the complexity of the human experience.  Despite the fact that his work as a historian has been discredited, he still has a large following and his disciples include GOP lawmakers and most of Donald Trump’s court evangelicals.  Those who still follow him believe that his critics–many of them evangelical Christian historians–have been overly influenced by secular ideology.
The only disagreement I have with Dr. Fea is that in his post while analyzing the transcript he tries to make sense of a David Barton word salad where arguably no sense is to be made of it.

Sunday, July 28, 2019

Sekulow, et al. on Story's Unitarian Political Theology

Jay Alan Sekulow is currently one of the most important attorneys in nation (he's one of POTUS's key personal attorneys). In 2005, along with Jeremy Tedesco he wrote a law review article which essentially argues Joseph Story's Unitarian political theology drove the decision of Vidal v. Girard's Executors. A taste:
Joseph Story himself defined and defended his Unitarian beliefs in an 1824 letter to Attorney William Williams. In this letter, Story discussed the Unitarian beliefs that he developed:
The Unitarians are universally steadfast, sincere, and earnest Christians. They all believe in the divine mission of Christ, the credibility and authenticity of the Bible, the miracles wrought by our Saviour and his apostles, and the efficacy of his precepts to lead men to salvation. They consider the Scriptures the true rule of faith, and the sure foundation of immortality.
In his letter to Williams, Justice Story also clearly and unequivocally pointed to the primary theological difference between Unitarians and other Christian denominations: "In truth, they principally differ from other Christians in disbelieving the Trinity, for they think Christ was not God, but in Scripture language 'the Son of God.""
And:
William Story later described his father's conversion at Harvard as being inspired, in part, by the beauty of the Cambridge countryside as opposed to the "sterile rocks and moaning sea of Marblehead."' Walking through the "flower-strewn fields, his heart assumed its natural hue of cheerfulness, and he no longer believed in the total depravity of man." Seeing the goodness of God displayed in creation, Story became convinced of divine beneficence. "And from being a Calvinist, he became a Unitarian."

Story's new religion seemingly recognized that no teaching could be heretical. He rejected any notion of bigotry or even proselytism. Instead, he
gladly allowed every one freedom of belief, and claimed only that it should be a genuine conviction and not a mere theologic opinion, considering the true faith of every man to be the necessary exponent of his nature, and honoring a religious life more than a formal creed. He admitted within the pale of salvation Mahommedan and Christian, Catholic and Infidel. He believed that whatever is sincere and honest is recognized of God; - that as the views of any sect are but human opinion, susceptible of error on every side, it behooves all men to be on their guard against arrogance of belief; and that in the sight of God it is not the truth or falsity of our views, but the spirit in which we believe, which alone is of vital consequence.
Keep the above in mind when we hear, as was referenced in the article, that Story believed Christianity was part of the common law. The above is what Christianity meant to Story. Sekulow et al. then demonstrates how Story's personal theology drove his legal opinions.

Saturday, July 20, 2019

Hamburger on Liberalism as Armed Doctrine

Check out the podcast from the Law & Liberty site. Here is Hamburger's book.

My brief thoughts:

I don't always agree with Professor Hamburger, but he's always worth reading.

One of the things that strikes me while listening to the podcast is what Hamburger refers to as "theological liberalism" has some meaningful connection with the concept of "primitive Christianity." And that term was invoked quite a bit during America's founding era.

A lot of academics and ordinary folks are under the misconception that 18th Cen. "theological liberalism" must mean something like strict deism. It's actually a much broader concept. The Unitarianism for instance of William Channing (who was an Arian) who Hamburger mentions in the podcast is a more typical theology.

Hamburger then notes much of theological liberalism defined itself in opposition to ecclesiastical authority, with the Roman Catholic Church being arguably the greatest "offender" against which to guard.

However, ecclesiastical, clerical and creedal orthodox Protestantism is also viewed with suspicion. High Church Anglicanism, which is Tory, is probably the 2nd biggest religious threat to the theological liberalism of the American founding.

But other kinds of Protestantism too would qualify. The idea of "primitive Christianity" is that Christianity was pure before an organized, ecclesiastical hierarchy took over and corrupted the faith sometime early on (like in the 4th Century).

Yes, Catholicism would be the main target. However it's not ONLY Catholicism; it's also many different kinds of Protestantism as well. Arguably it's all of orthodox creedal Protestantism that offends as well. This is why the theological liberals tended to like the Quakers, even if the liberals were Whigs and disagreed with the Quakers' refusal to take up arms.

Thursday, July 04, 2019

Seaton on God in the Declaration

Law and Liberty has another great one just in time for this July 4 season. It even mentions our friend Dr. Gregg Frazer's work. A taste:
To begin with the obvious: God is present in the Declaration. He is mentioned or referred to four times. He is presented as Creator, Legislator, Provident, and Judge. Men are created equal, Nature is lawful, and both are connected with God and his activity—precisely the activities of creating and legislating. These two features occur at the beginning of the document. The other two show up near the end. As scholarship has shown, the last two references were added to Jefferson’s draft by the Continental Congress. They have the effect of “beefing up” the portrait of the divine. Providence is protective and can be relied upon, the Supreme Judge scrutinizes human activity “the world” over and penetrates to the “intentions” of agents.[2] 
Gregg Frazer has called this theological package “theistic rationalism.” Theistic rationalism is halfway between the clockwork god of deism and the Christian orthodoxy of the day; its lodestar is Reason, not Scripture, creed, or tradition. It is a rationalistic religious faith tailored to classical liberal politics, one held by a number of founders, including. 
There is a good deal in the document to support this characterization. The Declaration’s deity is very much a political animal. His concern, his norms, bear upon men in political community, not in ecclesial communion. Nor is it just any sort of political community he favors, but one that explicitly acknowledges the Creator’s equal endowment of inalienable rights and is properly established to protect them. 
A political animal, the Declaration’s God also favors human liberty. He has created his human creature free and independent, for political and civil freedom. This helps account for the paradox that the signers of the Declaration expressly rely on Providence and the Declaration is a call to strenuous human action, revolutionary action in fact. The reconciliation is found in the fact that revolution is for freedom and independence, the known will of the Creator. God-given and God-willed, freedom must be humanly exercised, defended, and established. In this sense, this is an early form of liberation theology, a sober form, to be sure.

Wednesday, July 03, 2019

Den Hartog Reviews Frazer's Latest

Linked is a timely review by Jonathan Den Hartog of Gregg Frazer's latest documenting the loyalists' political theology in the American Revolution. A taste:
Although Samuel Seabury might not be a household name, fans of the musical Hamilton should be able to identify him. In the first act, a foppish clergyman enters to strains of harpsichord music to announce, “My name is Samuel Seabury, and I present free thoughts on the proceedings of the Continental Congress.” Our hero Alexander Hamilton then appears, and delivers a rap over poor Seabury’s objections, symbolizing the triumph of revolutionary ideas over archaic ones.   
The real Samuel Seabury (1729-1796) was an articulate New York Loyalist who wrote pamphlets such as Free Thoughts, on the Proceedings of the Continental Congress. To avoid attacks, Seabury signed them “A Westchester Farmer.” One of Hamilton’s earliest public pieces was an attack on Seabury called The Farmer Refuted. 
Students of American history (whether or not they have been to the musical theater) who want to learn more about Seabury and his Loyalist brethren have a fine new resource. It is Gregg Frazer’s God against the Revolution: The Loyalist Clergy’s Case against the American Revolution. In fact there has been a resurgence of writing about the Loyalists in recent years. Studies by Maya Jasanoff and Ruma Chopra have done much to situate Loyalists in the revolutionary moment. Frazer adds to this literature with a very specific goal: He wants to present, in a clear and logical way, the arguments made by Loyalist clergy. This affects the book’s organization. Chapters develop not chronologically but according to Frazer’s organization of the Loyalists’ arguments. He aims to let these speak for themselves as much as possible.

Saturday, June 29, 2019

Follow Up on Anglican Defenestration In America

We can all agree on a few things about religion and the original Constitution. On the one hand, religion, including establishment policy, was left to the states. On the other, the states were in the middle of a movement termed disestablishmentarianism. (Massachusetts was the last state to disestablish around 1833 and interestingly did so because the "orthodox" didn't like Unitarians, whose religion they didn't view as "real Christianity," getting their hands on establishment money.) The third thing to appreciate is the Anglican Church and its establishment in America lost the most ground, as a result of the revolution. And that makes sense because Anglicanism officially taught submission to the King as head of church and state, which is what America rebelled against.

As this source notes:
Picture yourself an American member of the colonial Church of England (COE) during or after the Revolutionary War. Your church was part of the royal government, the same government that people were fighting against. Perhaps you felt more allegiance to the Crown than your fellow colonists. After all, the Church of England in the United States (remember “Anglican” wasn’t a term in common use until the 19th century) attracted members of the merchant class, civil servants, royal governors, and others with strong ties to England. 
If you left during the Revolution to go to Canada or return to England you weren’t alone. About 40% of Anglicans did. For those who stayed on after the war, their church was a shadow of its former self. Where the COE was the established (government-subsidized) church, such as the southern colonies and parts of New York, the church was quickly dis-established and lands sold off. Clergy, who took an oath of loyalty to the King, were caught in a dilemma: do you remain faithful to your ordination vows and support the King or side with the colonists who were part of the Revolution?
It was a relatively orthodox Bishop named William White, who was a Whig (supported the rebellion) who led the effort to rewrite the faith into American Episcopalianism (you can read about it here). It obviously wasn't going to be a Tory like Samuel Seabury (the "farmer" whom Alexander Hamilton "refuted") playing the leading role in directing the new project. He was, you could view him as "too cold." On the other hand, Whig Bishop James Madison (the President's cousin and namesake) was probably too hot. William White was just right.

Thursday, June 27, 2019

American Rebelled Against High Church Anglicanism

I recently noted to a very smart, learned on these issues, Catholic writer that America rebelled against high church Anglicanism. The person seemed dumbfounded by that claim. Where was I getting this?

As I see it, high church Anglicanism equals (or at least strongly correlates with) Tory political theology. And America rebelled against Toryism.

Peter A. Lillback addresses this issue in his tome on George Washington's religion. I may have given the misimpression Lillback is a bad scholar along David Barton grounds. I think his book is flawed on a number of different grounds. I don't think he proves Washington was an "orthodox Trinitarian Christian." And a respectable academic editor (which the book lacks) would have taken it from 1200 pages or so to 800 to make it more organized and readable. Dr. Lillback is nonetheless a legitimate scholar.

But Lillback argues that Washington was a "low church Anglican." Indeed, I would say Washington fit into the "low church latitudinarian Anglican" wing. The problem (for those who support Lillback's thesis) is that wing, because of its doctrinal latitude did indeed include Trinitarians of the Calvinist bent and otherwise, but also included more deistic and unitarian minded theists as well (they were also often called "liberal dissenters").

The "high church" wing took Anglican doctrine more literally. They were not "latitudinarian." Arguably they were more "Anglican fundamentalists" in the sense they took everything their church officially taught literally.

Indeed, one mild criticism of Gregg Frazer's new book which lays out the case for the American loyalists is that it's almost entirely (but not entirely, there was at least one Presbyterian loyalist minister) drawn from Anglican sermons preaching high church Anglican Tory doctrine of submission to the monarchy and parliament in the face of Romans 13.

Since George Washington systematically spoke about God in generic terms, never mentioning Jesus in his private correspondence, etc., the only way to make him into a Trinitarian is through Anglican doctrine (which is explicitly Trinitarian). And Lillback tries to make Washington into an "oath fundamentalist." Washington did indeed take Trinitarian oaths when becoming a vestryman and a godfather. Jefferson took those oaths when becoming a vestryman, but refused to be a godfather because of their Trinitarian nature. Jefferson was driven nuts thinking about the Trinity. Washington was not.

But the problem is those oaths are high church! They demand allegiance and obedience to the King as head of church and state. It's actually quite fascinating that so many notable American founders were Anglicans who rebelled against mother England and then became Episcopalians. And it's not just laity. There were ministers, some more orthodox than others, who also supported the rebellion. And others, more high church oriented, who remained loyalists.

When trying to explain why Washington systematically avoided communion in the church, Lillback stressed Dr. Abercrombie -- the minister who called Washington out as either a "deist" or not a "real Christian" for avoiding communion -- was a Tory loyalist. In other words, GW didn't want to be in communion with this guy. But, any Anglican who supported the rebellion technically had a problem with official Anglican doctrine.

One of the Anglican leaders who testified that Washington avoided communion, Bishop William White, actually supported the rebellion. This is what his Wiki page notes: "Though an Anglican (Episcopalian) cleric who was sworn to the king in his ordination ceremony, White, like all but one of his fellow Anglican clerics in Philadelphia, sided with the American revolutionary cause.[6]"

Interestingly, that footnote 6 says:
Only William Stringer, a recent immigrant f[ro]m Ireland in 1773, remained a Loyalist among the Anglican clerics in Philadelphia. In a Letter to Lord Dartmouth on March 6, 1778, from Philadelphia, Stringer reports that he is the only clergyman in Philadelphia who has acted consistent with his ordination oath of allegiance to the King and duty as a minister. See The Manuscripts of the Earl of Dartmouth, Volume 2, p. 460.
Bold face mine.  

After America's revolution succeeded, by necessity the Anglican churches had to "reform" their doctrines to scrub the language of the British monarchy technically ruling over them. From what I know, all but one became Episcopalians who left most everything in place, except that language that needed scrubbing.

Though one Anglican Church in New England, King's Chapel used the opportunity to reform itself into unitarianism. Its Wiki page says:
It became Unitarian under the ministry of James Freeman, who revised the Book of Common Prayer along Unitarian lines in 1785. Although Freeman still considered King's Chapel to be Episcopalian, the Anglican Church refused to ordain him. The church still follows its own Anglican/Unitarian hybrid liturgy today.

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

Unitarianism Over the Span of the American Founding

From 1750 to 1820 (ish). 

John Adams, in 1815, writes to an orthodox critic remarks that relate back to 1750.
I thank you for your favour of the 10th and the pamphlet enclosed, "American Unitarianism." I have turned over its leaves and have found nothing that was not familiarly known to me. 
In the preface Unitarianism is represented as only thirty years old in New England. I can testify as a Witness to its old age. Sixty five years ago my own minister the Reverend Samuel Bryant, Dr. Johnathan Mayhew of the west Church in Boston, the Reverend Mr. Shute of Hingham, the Reverend John Brown of Cohasset & perhaps equal to all if not above all the Reverend Mr. Gay of Hingham were Unitarians. Among the Laity how many could I name, Lawyers, Physicians, Tradesman, farmers! 
-- John Adams to Jedidiah Morse, May 15, 1815. Adams Papers (microfilm), reel 122, Library of Congress.
The reason why there was "confusion" as to how old unitarianism was relates to unitarianism being in the closet. It was not safe, in some cases not legal in say 1750, to publicly proclaim one's unitarianism.

But over time, it became safer. And I think that was probably part of the motivation behind the fervent push for liberty of conscience in some quarters (i.e., Adams' and Thomas Jefferson's, among others).

In the 1800s, Jefferson and Adams seemed downright gleeful that unitarianism was making progress. It was turning into Unitarianism, not just a theology (small u) but the official name of denominations (capital U).

As I've noted before the two options from the which to choose were Arianism and Socinianism with the former being more popular. Fast forward to 1821 and we see Jefferson in a letter to Timothy Pickering (United States Secretary of State under Presidents George Washington and John Adams) mention William Channing, Richard Price and Joseph Priestley:
I thank you for mr Channing’s discourse, which you have been so kind as to forward me. ... and read it with high satisfaction. no one sees with greater pleasure than myself the progress of reason in it’s advances towards rational Christianity. when we shall have done away the incomprehensible jargon of the Trinitarian arithmetic, that three are one, and one is three; when we shall have knocked down the artificial scaffolding, reared to mask from view the simple structure of Jesus, when, in short, we shall have unlearned every thing which has been taught since his day, and got back to the pure and simple doctrines he inculcated, we shall then be truly and worthily his disciples: ...
So off the bat Jefferson tells Pickering he read William Channings' address on "rational Christianity" which is Arian, and gave it his approval. Pickering was a fellow unitarian. Perhaps Jefferson suspects Pickering was, like what Channing argued for, an Arian.

But Jefferson was not an Arian. I would argue he was some kind of modified Socinian. But let the man speak for himself:
in the present advance of truth, which we both approve, I do not know that you and I may think alike on all points. as the Creator has made no two faces alike, so no two minds, and probably no two creeds. we well know that among Unitarians themselves there are strong shades of difference, as between Doctors Price and Priestley for example. so there may be peculiarities in your creed and in mine. they are honestly formed without doubt. I do not wish to trouble the world with mine, nor to be troubled for them. these accounts are to be settled only with him who made us; and to him we leave it, with charity for all others, of whom also he is the only rightful and competent judge. I have little doubt that the whole of our country will soon be rallied to the Unity of the Creator, and, I hope, to the pure doctrines of Jesus also.
Price was the notable influential British Arian and Priestley was his Socinian counterpart. Jefferson's comments above illustrate that the unitarianism of his time was highly individualistic. That is, it didn't exist like Trinitarianism did. Trinitarianism was institutionalized in churches with creeds; unitarianism was more of a theological philosophy that free thinking individuals attached to Trinitarian churches either flirted with or believe in.

Then it became a Church (Unitarianism with a capital U) starting at the end of the 18th Century, but more so in the 19th Century.

Friday, June 21, 2019

Why Socinianism Matters to the American Founding

Because it's part of unitarianism. And unitarianism matters. During America's founding era many claimed to be "unitarians" and there were two chief varieties. One, Arianism (which taught Jesus some kind of divine being, but created by and subordinate to the Father), the other, Socinianism (which taught Jesus 100% human in His nature, but on a divine mission). Arianism was the more popular of the two varieties.

John Locke is oft-referred to, for good reason, as "America's philosopher." On how governments ought to treat their citizens, including and especially on religious matters, Locke matters.

And we can almost be certain that Locke was not an orthodox Trinitarian Christian. So that means he must have been something else. But Locke had a problem with putting his explicit religious cards on the table: In Great Britain in Locke's time, it was illegal to publicly deny the Trinity. Yet many did doubt or deny the Trinity back then. They just tended to, for safety, do it in private.

So Locke writes the book called "The Reasonableness of Christianity" where he sets out his ideal understanding of the common faith. Locke proposes a formula for defining who gets to be a "real Christian" as we might put that term today. And it's this: Jesus is a unique Messiah.

That's pretty much it (yeah, we can get into some other details, like you have to repent).

This simple formula got Locke accused by an orthodox theologian of being a Socinian. Because it's true that Socinians could pass Locke's test. But I don't think Locke was a Socinian. Rather he probably was some kind of Arian (this is what Locke scholar the late Paul Sigmund of Princeton told me, citing other Locke scholar John Marshall of Johns Hopkins).

So as it turns out Locke's orthodox critic probably was right that Locke was a unitarian, but wrong on which kind.

Still, Trinitarians, Arians, Socinians, Modalists, Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses, and Swedenborgians among others all believe Jesus Messiah and therefore get to be "Christians" according to Locke's formula.

Or as John Adams described the American landscape, that implemented Locke's ideas, some time later:
... There were among them, Roman Catholicks English Episcopalians, Scotch and American Presbyterians, Methodists, Moravians, Anababtists, German Lutherans, German Calvinists Universalists, Arians, Priestleyans, Socinians, Independents, Congregationalists, Horse Protestants and House Protestants, Deists and Atheists; and “Protestans qui ne croyent rien.” Very few however of Several of these Species. Never the less all Educated in the general Principles of Christianity: and the general Principles of English and American Liberty.
"Socinians" actually made Adams' list twice. Most American Socinians probably wouldn't be imbibed in the "Racovian Confession," but rather influenced by Joseph Priestley's theology, which is a form of Socinianism. "Priestleyans" are Socinians.

I've heard people claim John Adams was an Arian, but I am not convinced. I know that Adams was a fervent unitarian, but of which kind I'm not sure Adams himself knew. He just "knew" the Trinity was false.

Saturday, June 15, 2019

Smithsonian: "Why No One Can Agree on What George Washington Thought About the Relationship Between Church and State"

By a professor at Stanford. A taste:
Historians were not deaf to Washington’s religious references. While the clergy and the scientists saw them as evidence of Washington’s devotion, the historians stressed the president’s precision in crafting a vocabulary that would unite the dizzying array of Protestant denominations in post-revolutionary America without alienating the small but important groups of Catholics, Jews, and freethinkers dotting the American landscape. It was precisely because he understood that Americans did not believe the same thing that Washington was scrupulous in choosing words that would be acceptable to a wide spectrum of religious groups.

In his own time, Washington’s reluctance to show his doctrinal cards dismayed his Christian co-religionists. Members of the first Presbytery of the Eastward (comprised of Presbyterian churches in Massachusetts and New Hampshire) complained to the president that the Constitution failed to mention the cardinal tenets of Christian faith: “We should not have been alone in rejoicing to have seen some explicit acknowledgement of the only true God and Jesus Christ,” they wrote. Washington dodged the criticism by assuring the Presbyterians that the “path of true piety is so plain as to require but little political direction.”  
Similarly, a week before his 1789 proclamation, Washington responded to a letter from Reverend Samuel Langdon, the president of Harvard College from 1774-1780. Langdon had implored Washington to “let all men know that you are not ashamed to be a disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ.” Once again, instead of affirming Christian tenets, Washington wrote back offering thanks to the generic “Author of the Universe.”

Friday, June 14, 2019

Christianity & Religious Liberty

This new book Robert Louis Wilken, Liberty in the Things of God, looks to be a must read. I disagree with the subtitle of the American Conservative review article that doesn't credit "The Enlightenment." Yes, there were sources of religious liberty that preceded the Enlightenment. But it was during the Enlightenment when such became normative. A taste from the article:
This tension reached a climax during the Reformation and post-Reformation era. Wilken includes chapters on Lutheran Germany, Calvinist and Zwinglian Switzerland, and on Catholic-Protestant battles in France, the Netherlands, and England. Readers may be surprised to learn how often it was not just Protestants but also Catholics who turned to liberty in defense of their religious beliefs. Nuns in Germany, clergyman in Switzerland, Benedictine abbots in France, and papist lawyers in England all appealed to their consciences in the face of Protestant persecution. Indeed, while Reformation history is full of Catholic oppression of Protestants, it is equally full of Protestants oppressing, persecuting, and even forbidding Catholic worship. 
It is ultimately the Englishmen—Roger Williams, John Owen, William Penn, and John Locke—to whom America and the West are indebted for their conception of religious freedom. Williams argued that liberty of conscience applied to all men equally, including dissenting Christians, Jews, Muslims, and even the hated Catholics. He also “severed the link between the two tables of the law,” meaning that he rejected any role for the state in the affairs of the church and vice versa. Owen, in turn, interpreted Tertullian’s earlier cited argument to mean that “liberty of conscience is a natural right” rather than one created and protected by the state. Penn, meanwhile, argued that this liberty of conscience necessarily extended to public worship. Locke, finally, incorporated some of these elements, but went even further by arguing that religious communities are fundamentally voluntary societies composed of individuals possessing “free and spontaneous” rights.
For instance the Calvinist covenanters like Samuel Rutherford and John Knox who were "good" on resistance to tyrants in the face of Romans 13 were still defending Calvin having Servetus put to death for denying the Trinity. By the time of the American Founding, John Witherspoon and his Presbyterians had accepted liberty of conscience as an unalienable right.

Sunday, June 02, 2019

Free Chapter on Gregg Frazer's First Book

Gregg Frazer's "thesis" on the political theology of the American founding, in my opinion, took the level of scholarly analysis to a "higher level." His book has its strengths and weaknesses. But it's certainly a must read for anyone who wants to seriously study the issue.

I just noticed that University of Kansas Press now features a free chapter of the book in PDF form. Check it out.

Saturday, June 01, 2019

Law & Liberty Site: "John Locke and Political Hebraism"

By one DAVID CONWAY. Check it out here. A taste:
The Paradox of Locke’s Sources  
Of course, Hebrew Scripture forms but a part of Christian Scripture, so that Locke would not but have taken the Old Testament to be every bit as divinely revealed as the New Testament. However, it is still puzzling just why he should have drawn so much more heavily on Old Testament sources than he did on New Testament ones, especially in respect of illustrating quite universally applicable theses about the law of nature. ...
But there seems an answer to the puzzle:
At the time of the so-called “Glorious Revolution” of 1688 in which James ll was deposed in favor of Mary, his Protestant daughter, and her Protestant Dutch husband William (who also happened to be the son of the deposed king’s deceased elder sister), the chief theoretical apostle of the divine right of kings had been the royalist Sir Robert Filmer (1588-1653). Filmer had defended the doctrine in his essay Patriarcha, which was published posthumously in 1679 at the time of the Exclusion Crisis, in which a vain parliamentary attempt was made to prevent James’s succeeding his elder brother, Charles. 
In 1688, Locke and his fellow Whigs who sought to sideline James, were particularly exercised to do so by the birth, earlier that year, of James’s son, which would have ensured a Catholic succession. Since Filmer had justified the doctrine of divine right by appealing to Old Testament stories about God’s granting Adam dominion over other creatures, Locke had no alternative but to take on Filmer at the hermeneutical task of Biblical exegesis. ...
Locke discussed the Old Testament so much by necessity to answer Filmer's claims which centered on the Old Testament. 

Andrew Seidel Publishes Book on "Christian Nation" Controversy

A hard hit from the secular left. Read about it here. A taste from an interview:
The second part of your book is "The United States versus the Bible." One chapter is titled "Biblical Obedience or American Freedom." Could you talk about this opposition in attitudes and philosophy?  
Sure. This also plays a lot into the Declaration of Independence itself, which was this document which was rebelling against this king, who was the defender of the faith. Even though the divine right of kings was gone by that time, he certainly believed himself to be instilled in that position by God.

The Bible demands obedience. The Bible is very, very clear on this point, many times over. The Judeo-Christian God demands obedience. And not just to himself, but also to the rulers that are on earth. Romans 13 is all about obedience to the earthly rulers. So here you have a country that was built on rebellion, versus a book that is all about obedience, and the two are in fundamental conflict. That's an important point that I try to make throughout the whole book. If you really pay attention to Judeo-Christian principles, and what those principles are — throughout the Bible, throughout the Ten Commandments — and look at the principles America holds dear and was founded on, the two are really diametrically opposed to each other. They’re in fundamental conflict. It does make it fair to say that these principles are un-American.

Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Tillman Cites Ezra Stiles on Deism

Over at The New Reform Club, Seth Barrett Tillman quotes from a decade or so old article where he scrutinized the claims of prominent law professor Geoff Stone. One thing that interests me about it is a quotation from Ezra Stiles, a notable "orthodox" Protestant figure from America's founding era, President of Yale, who took on the "deism" of his day.

Then, books on deism existed in the libraries of prominent colleges like Yale and Harvard. The ideas were spreading and the then "orthodox" leaders of those prominent educational institutions had to react to a such system that conflicted with "orthodoxy."

How did the "religiously correct" orthodox Protestants deal with the problem of their libraries having books on deism which influenced students in undesirable ways? That's the controversy. Below is what Stiles said:
It is true with this Liberty [of accepting deistical books into religiously-affiliated university libraries] Error may be introduced; but turn the Tables [and see that] the propagation of Truth may be extinguished [if you do otherwise]. Deism has got such Head in this Age of Licentious Liberty, that it would be in vain to try to stop it by hiding the Deistical Writings: and the only Way left to conquer & demolish it, is to come forth into the open Field & Dispute this matter on even Footing—the Evidences of Revelation in my opinion are nearly as demonstrative as Newton’s Principia, & these are the Weapons to be used . . . . Truth & this alone being our Aim in fact, open, frank & generous we shall avoid the very appearance of Evil.
Stiles was a good classically liberal Whig. He might have handled the circumstances with more liberality than say, Timothy Dwight, the President of Yale who succeeded Stiles. Stiles was, if I'm not mistaken, more sympathetic to Jefferson's and Madison's Democratic-Republican party than the Federalists. In fact, Stiles was a Francophile who supported some of the excesses of the French Revolutionaries.

Stiles was actually one of the "orthodox" figures that heterodox men like Ben Franklin felt somewhat comfortable sharing their religious heterodoxy with. The same can't be said of Timothy Dwight who was less liberal than Stiles.

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Thoughtful Responses to a Piece I Wrote

So over at the Law and Liberty site, friend Mark David Hall has a piece that reviews Steven K. Green's new book, "The Third Disestablishment." Prof. Green is more of a "strict separationist" than Hall, and the two have previously debated on multiple occasions.

I entered the comments and ended up posting a link to a piece of mine published in 2012 entitled "Liberty For All" and received two thoughtful, lengthy responses. The first is from EK who writes:
That was a nice piece of writing. I don’t agree with much of it because I think your understandings of who the Puritans were and what the Bay Colony was all about are inaccurate but it was a nice piece of writing. I’m reminded of a pathologist examining a tissue sample looking for and so finding and describing signs of disease but silent on signs of health because. . . well . . . pathologists are paid to look for disease.   
A few years ago I began looking for the sources of the republicanism and self-government that is said to be fundamental to the American experience. I think I can safely say that reading American history should begin in 1534 with the dissolution of the monasteries and the Act of Supremacy and that our history should be read forward from that point and not backwards from the present.  
American history actually began in 1620 when Coke, after having been humiliated by James I, entered Parliament, aligned himself with the Puritan faction and began attacking Stuart notions of the divine right of kings and broad assertions of the royal prerogative. This culminated in the Petition of Right Parliament of 1628-9. The Massachusetts Bay Charter was also issued in 1628-9 and the Petition of Right is last constitutional document we share with the British.  
What the Winthrop migration did was to establish a republic where ultimate sovereignty was placed in God, not the king, and where the voters were sovereign. In 1630, the franchise to vote was limited to members of congregations but, in the case were almost all of the settlers soon became members of a congregation, this was not restrictive but rather the broadest possible extension of the franchise since it was not based on property or civil status. Six years later, Thomas Hooker and John Haynes took the more conventional approach and limited the franchise in the Connecticut Colony to 40 shilling free holders. Rhode Island, New Hampshire and Vermont followed Connecticut. Nevertheless, throughout American history this difference in the franchise does not seem to have made much difference at all in New England history.  
Special circumstances allowed the colonization to succeeded. The settlers were a stratified sample of English middle-class religious enthusiasts who shared a common culture and common vision for the future. They arrived in a land that had been depopulated in the 1610s and where the surviving Massasoits were in imminent danger of annihilation from unaffected tribes to the north, south and west. The surviving Algonquins from the Massachusetts Bay to the Connecticut River viewed cooperation with the Winthrop party as the best way to prevent further depredations and incursions from the Abenakis to the north, the Mokawks to the west and the Naragansitts, Pequods and Wampanoags to the south. The Puritans’ attitude towards the Massasoits and their affiliated clans in south-central New England was paternalistic and, to an extent, condescending but it was never intentionally cruel or exploitative. It appears that ultimately the Puritans’ Indian allies were not extirpated but rather assimilated.  
Read this way, the Puritans are not dour religious ideologues and bigots dressed in sad colors who spend all their time quoting scripture, hanging witches and Quakers and branding nice young girls with scarlet “A’s”. They become radical constitutional democratic-republicans who overthrew kings, established popular sovereignty, representative government and set men free. To an unhealthy extent the good the Puritans did was buried with them but that which was not so good has lived on and become a cartoon of evil.
And Standing Fast replied:
Jonathan Rowe: I read your article. I thought you started out really well. But, kind of got bogged down later on. I would like to address several points you made that I disagree with:

The concept of unalienable rights does not come from the Enlightenment, but derives from traditional teachings on the Ten Commandments and Cicero’s writings. Although they come from two different traditions, the principles are not incompatible. The teaching on the Ten Commandments says they were given by the Power that created the Universe whose authority supersedes any and all earthly powers. And from these commandments it is possible to infer precisely what these rights are and that they are given by God. As God is the Author of Life, Liberty and the Laws which govern the Universe, including mankind, we can say that they are unalienable. Cicero refers to a Divine power whose authority is also supreme and whose word is Law. He wrote that in order to be just, man’s laws must be consistent with God’s law.

These ideas came together in the Early Christian Church. To understand this tradition, it is necessary to study the ancient documents of the pagan world, the Torah, the Sermon on the Mount, Greek and Roman law, The Holy Bible, The Code of English Common Law, Magna Carta, the Protestant Reformation and Resistance Movement, the Mayflower Compact, the English Civil War, the Thirty-Nine Articles, the English Bill of Rights, the confessions of the various denominations & sects of Protestants, and America’s founding documents. After which you can begin reading the writings of the individuals who played a part in the establishment of this tradition, and be able to place them in the context of what they knew. That way, the development of these ideas is much easier to track. Who knew what and when did they know it?

Roger Williams’ religion places him outside of the Puritan fold, although for awhile he was a member of this sect. He started out as a communicating member of the Church Of England, was later ordained in the Anglican Church (Protestant in that the Pope was not the head of the church, but theology was Roman Catholic), then joined the Puritans (Low-Church Anglicans because they followed Protestant Reformed tradition and refused to use the Book of Common Prayer but believed the monarch should be the head of the church), then he joined the Separatists (exiled Puritans who did not believe the monarch should be the head of the church), then joined the Baptists (exiles and independents who came out of the Reformed and other Protestant traditions but did not believe civil government should have any power over matters of Conscience), left the Baptists because he disagreed with them on important points of theology, doctrine and church practice. More than any other individual on either side of the water, he championed Liberty of Conscience and Separation of Church & State. His influence has been under-rated by historians because they read what his enemies wrote without understanding what the arguments were about.

John Locke was influenced by Williams, Milton, Penn, Coke and others. And he, in turn, influenced Trenchard & Gordon. Benjamin Franklin, George Washington, John Adams, John Witherspoon, Thomas Paine, and the rest of the 18th Century American Political Philosophers. But, they were also influenced by people who neither knew Locke nor agreed with him.
My brief response, not meant to be comprehensive, but rather open the discussion that can proceed in the comments, follows: My main disagreement with EK is that while I try to contrast Roger Williams with the Puritans of Massachusetts who banished him as representing different visions -- Williams as an innovative hero on matters of religious liberty, with the Puritans as villains here -- EK seeks to collapse the distinction and make Williams sound not as good as he has been made out to be, and the Puritans, not as bad.

I agree more with Standing Fast on Roger Williams' innovative role as a religious liberty hero, but disagree on other things. First, while Cicero was a purported influence on the Declaration of Independence (by Thomas Jefferson himself) I'd like to see more evidence that Cicero's notion of "nature" included something like the unalienable rights of conscience (religious liberty) that Jefferson and others championed.

And the notion that the Ten Commandments are the source of "unalienable rights" is not just disputed, but arguably the opposite of what's accurate.  I spill much ink in my article explaining the tension between the First Commandment and the notion of unalienable rights of conscience that give men a right to worship no God or twenty gods, axiomatic to the unalienable rights of conscience.

This has to be answered with more than a mere assertion that the Ten Commandments are the source of "unalienable rights."

Saturday, May 11, 2019

Jefferson's Libertarian Maxim

In his only published book, "Notes on the State of Virginia" (1784), Thomas Jefferson noted:
"The legitimate powers of government extend to such acts only as are injurious to others. But it does me no injury for my neighbour to say there are twenty gods, or no god. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg."
In my opinion, this is a great maxim to live by. Jefferson originally said this in the context of religious liberty; but libertarians like myself tend to generalize it to apply to everything.

What is interesting is that some of Jefferson's religiously orthodox enemies thought this a very dangerous sentiment. On a number of different grounds, spiritual and temporal.

On temporal grounds, one of the critics reasoned if people thought there was no God, they wouldn't just break your leg, but your neck.

I think that's quite melodramatic and mistaken. But even Jefferson thought that belief in a Providence who administers rewards and punishments was not just true but useful for civilizing man.

Saturday, April 20, 2019

"The Search For Christian America," Misuses of History


I was rereading this classic by Drs. Noll, Hatch and Marsden. And this passage from pages 150-51 struck me as especially relevant.

The book is remarkable in how it got three extremely important authorities together to write such. It wasn't just Mark Noll, who is a legend in his own right, but also Nathan O. Hatch and George Marsden.

Dr. Hatch is, if I'm not mistaken, the high paid college President in America, currently.

The book is strongly recommended.

Thursday, April 18, 2019

Ben Franklin & the Virginia View

On social media Prof. Francis J. Beckwith quotes Engel v. Vitale (1962), and the following by Justice Hugo Black's majority opinion:
But the purposes underlying the Establishment Clause go much further than that. Its first and most immediate purpose rested on the belief that a union of government and religion tends to destroy government and to degrade religion.
Some might balk at this as not representing the American Founding; but as I noted in the comments, I think it does, with a slightly exaggerated tone, represent the so called "Virginia view" on establishments articulated by Madison, Jefferson and some others.

The problem would be there were other competing views that were accepting of mild establishments compatible with religious liberty. This has been termed the "Massachusetts view" and has support from John Adams, Patrick Henry, and arguably George Washington.

I think Franklin's views are closer to the VA view, or what is quoted above by Justice Black.

Can anyone see anything in principle different in Franklin's and Black's positions? I don't.
I am fully of your Opinion respecting religious Tests; but, tho' the People of Massachusetts have not in their new Constitution kept quite clear of them, yet, if we consider what that People were 100 Years ago, we must allow they have gone great Lengths in Liberality of Sentiment on religious Subjects; and we may hope for greater Degrees of Perfection, when their Constitution, some years hence, shall be revised. If Christian Preachers had continued to teach as Christ and his Apostles did, without Salaries, and as the Quakers now do, I imagine Tests would never have existed; for I think they were invented, not so much to secure Religion itself, as the Emoluments of it. When a Religion is good, I conceive that it will support itself; and, when it cannot support itself, and God does not take care to support, so that its Professors are oblig'd to call for the help of the Civil Power, it is a sign, I apprehend, of its being a bad one. But I shall be out of my Depth, if I wade any deeper in Theology.
-- letter to Richard Price, 9 Oct. 1780

Friday, April 05, 2019

Mark David Hall at Cairn University

On Monday I saw friend of American Creation, Mark David Hall speak at Cairn University (geographically, in my backyard practically). He spoke on his forthcoming new book -- which I can't wait for -- that joins among others John Fea and Gregg Frazer on the "Christian America" question. 

Dr. Hall's book will stress the Christian component of the American founding as profoundly influential, while conceding the influence of the other components. Personally, I agree with the thrust of what I heard from Hall in that Christianity did strongly influence the American founding. He perhaps would stress it more than I would.

The question I asked was on the Treaty of Tripoli and here we might differ. Hall noted that indeed his book will discuss this Treaty, ratified during the founding era, that in Article 11 says, "As the government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian Religion...." Hall tried to explain this away as something diplomatic. And I would agree the context of the treaty was diplomacy with hostile Muslims. However, I also think it's an accurate statement. The new federal GOVERNMENT was "not in any sense founded on the Christian Religion."

I don't think such contradicts the notion that Christian principles nonetheless were profoundly influential in a variety of ways in the American founding. It's a Christian principle after all to draw a distinction between the secular and the sacred, between Caesar and God.

Thursday, March 28, 2019

Two More Interpretations of the P or I Clause @ Law & Liberty

We have seen, at the Law & Liberty site, Kurt Lash argue that the Privileges or Immunities Clause of the 14th Amendment incorporates the first eight amendments of the federal Constitutions to apply against state and local governments.

At that site, Devin Watkins just argued that the P or I Clause protects in addition to the enumerated rights Lash notes, unenumerated natural rights. This position is similar to Randy Barnett's and Timothy Sandefur's and also happens to be one with which I sympathize.

Finally, David Upham argues that the P or I Clause protects neither the enumerated federal bill of rights, nor unenumerated natural rights, but rather something else. Something more limited. Upham explains more his idea we have seen before that P or Is have to trace back to 1776, not 1787-1791. As he writes:
Hence, as Senator Howard indicated by quoting Justice Washington, the privileges of U.S. Citizenship are as old as the Republic; to find them, we should look back to Year 1 of the United States—or 1776. 
Why then, did Senator Howard look to rights listed in constitutional amendments adopted in 1791—the sixteenth year of the “Independence of the United States”? Probably for the same reason he looked to the “privileges and immunities of citizens” of Article IV, as expounded by Justice Washington in 1823. As Howard noted, such constitutional law merely “secured,” “guarantied” or “recognized” pre-existing rights. Such law did not create these rights, but provided very strong evidence thereof. And to identify the fundamental rights of citizenship, severally recognized by the American states from 1776, perhaps the best place to look would be the fundamental rights that the same American states jointly enumerated in the Constitution just a few years later.
Let me note that while I love the spirit behind the 14th Amendment -- of liberty and equality, classical liberalism's twin pillars -- the actual text and historical record surrounding it is, quite frankly, confusing and messy. Plenty of things to cherry pick and hang one's hat on. Give an inch, and take a mile. In for a penny, in for a pound.

Friday, March 22, 2019

Kurt Lash @ Law & Liberty on the P or I Clause

Kurt Lash has a new post on the Law & Liberty site about the Privileges or Immunities Clause and unenumerated rights. Note Lash disagrees with among others Randy Barnett that the P or I Clause validates unenumerated rights. I'm pretty sure I agree with Barnett here, but I'd have to refresh my recollection on the research.

Where Lash does fantastic work -- illustrated here -- is on the ENUMERATED rights that the P or I Clause was meant to incorporate to apply against state and local governments. Including but not limited to the first eight amendments of the federal bill of rights.

Lash reports:
The man who drafted the Privileges or Immunities Clause, John Bingham, could not have been clearer about his desire to enforce the Bill of Rights against the States. On February 28, 1866, when John Bingham submitted his first draft of the Privileges or Immunities Clause, he declared, “[t]he proposition pending before the House is simply a proposition to arm the Congress of the United States, by the consent of the people of the United States, with the power to enforce the bill of rights as it stands in the Constitution to-day. It “hath that extent—no more.”[2] On March 9th, Bingham again declared that “the enforcement of the bill of rights [against the states] is the want of the Republic.”[3] On May 10, following the submission of Bingham’s final draft, once again Bingham declared “There was a want hitherto, and there remains a want now, in the Constitution of our country, which the proposed amendment will supply.”[4] The Privileges or Immunities Clause would finally allow congress to enforce provisions like the eighth amendment’s protection against cruel and unusual punishments. Once again, Bingham assured his colleagues, “That is the extent that it hath, no more.”[5]  Finally, in 1871, Bingham explained: 
"Jefferson well said of the first eight articles of amendments to the Constitution of the United States, they constitute the American Bill of Rights.  . . . They secured  . . . all the rights dear to the American citizen. And yet it was decided, and rightfully, that these amendments, defining and protecting the rights of men and citizens, were only limitations on the power of Congress, not on the power of the States. . . . 
Mr. Speaker, this House may safely follow the example of the makers of the Constitution and the builders of the Republic, by passing laws for enforcing all the privileges and immunities of citizens of the United States, as guarantied by the amended Constitution and expressly enumerated in the Constitution.”[6]

Friday, March 15, 2019

Kurt Lash's Article on the Incorporation of the Establishment Clause: Its Important Answer

I don't think the Establishment Clause is going to be unincorporated anytime soon. However, I think it's important to answer good arguments. There is a good argument to be made that the Establishment Clause never should have been incorporated. There is also an argument to be made that NONE of the Bill of Rights should have been incorporated, which means that states would be free OR NOT to infringe on all of the Bill of Rights. There is also a good argument that the Privileges or Immunities Clause of the 14h Amendment in fact was intended to incorporate the Bill of Rights to apply against state and local governments. Then there is a refined argument that Justice Thomas is sympathetic to that yes, the P or I Clause was meant to incorporate the Bill of Rights, but not the Establishment Clause.

And that's because "Privileges or Immunities" relate to individuals rights. And whereas the Free Exercise and Free Speech Clauses of the First Amendment do relate to individual rights, the Establishment Clause does not. Rather it was understood, when constructed by America's founders to be a federalism provision. Incorporating the Establishment Clause would be akin to incorporating the 10th Amendment.

That's a good argument.

But here is a more specific answer to that claim that I didn't mention in my last post on this matter. You actually have to get to the end of Prof. Kurt Lash's 71 page article for him to make it. It is this: Whereas America's founders understood the exact words of the Establishment Clause to have a particular meaning, the framers and ratifiers of the 14th Amendment gave those same exact words a different meaning, one that reflected "anti-establishment values."

It should be noted that when John Bingham, a chief architect of the 14th Amendment, said on the floor of Congress "that the privileges and immunities secured by the Amendment were 'chiefly defined' in the first eight amendments, and then fully quoted all of these amendments," he included the Establishment Clause. He just read the first eight amendments verbatim.

We need to stress a point of interpretive contention: The argument is what is incorporated is NOT what America's original founders thought, rather it is what the framers and ratifiers of the 14th thought.

You are going to have to read Lash's entire article for his evidence, but I will provide one smoking gun in favor of this contention. It's on page 50/1133 of Lash's article. The 1857 Iowa Constitution and it reads: "The general assembly shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof...."

Try doing this with the 10th Amendment and see it totally doesn't work.

I know there is more to the argument. That provision of the Iowa Constitution doesn't demand the Establishment Clause in fact be incorporated against state and local governments. But I think it does demonstrate that it certainly is possible to view the clause as something other than a federalism clause.

Saturday, March 09, 2019

Poor John Dickinson: Who gets to be a "Founder"?

According to Bill Kristol and James Ceaser not John Dickinson. At least Dickinson doesn't get to be a first tier "key Founder." The reason why is because his major effort was the Articles of Confederation, which failed. If your most notable endeavors from the historical period didn't succeed, you don't get to be a "Founder" (at least not a notable one).


Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Lash Article on Incorporating the Establishment Clause, Blasphemy & Religion Left to the States

For those who wish to see an originalist case for incorporating the Establishment Clause to apply to state and local governments, see Professor Kurt Lash's classic article here. You can also read a blog post that summarizes Lash's research here. It concludes:
If one takes an originalist approach to Fourteenth Amendment incorporation, the principle of non-establishment as a privilege or immunity of citizens of the United States emerged at the time of Reconstruction and was entrenched through the adoption of the Fourteenth Amendment.
Though the entire article and post are worth reading, I'm going to focus on the very interesting discussion of blasphemy laws in Lash's longer article. But first a quotation from Walter Berns' "Making Patriots" that I've oft-cited:
Liberty of conscience was widely accepted at the time of the Founding, but this did not prevent some jurists and legislatures from insisting, at least for a while (and given our principles it could be only for a while), that Christianity was part of the law, meaning the common law. So it had been in England, and so, it was assumed by some (but not Jefferson), it would continue to be in America. But there was no disagreement about the place of the common law. Indeed one of the first things done by the states after independence was to declare (here in the words of the New Jersey constitution of 1776) that “the common law of England, as well as so much of the statute law, as have been heretofore practiced in this Colony, shall remain in force, until they shall be altered by a future law of the Legislature; such parts only excepted, as are repugnant to the rights and privileges contained in this Charter [or constitution].”  
But if the “rights and privileges” contained in the various state charters or constitutions included the right of liberty of conscience, and if, in turn, this right required, in Madison’s words, “a perfect separation between ecclesiastical and civil matters,” what did it mean to say that Christianity was part of the common law? Very little, as it turned out; and it turned out as it had to turn out. Consider, for example, the case of blasphemy in America…. pp. 32-33.
Lash's article treats us to an analysis of the four classic known blasphemy prosecutions in post-founding America. (Starting on page 18/1101). A few points: Blasphemy was a "common law" crime and the prosecutions took place at the state level.  The four different prosecutions involve different states, different judges and different times. As Berns notes above, the common law exists at a level where a state statute can trump it. Though, judges back then looked up to the brooding omnipresence in the sky to "find" common law principles.

The first two prosecutions have dicta that could support "Christian nationalist" claims. They act as though it's presumed Christianity will be the religion of the state and the only religion about which the law would be concerned. It's with the second two cases where the judges start to turn blasphemy into an offense akin to a secular breach of the peace.

And in fact, Delaware v. Chandler, decided in 1837, has dicta that blatantly contradicts the Christian nation thesis. The case notes:
If in Delaware the people should adopt the Jewish or Mahometan religion, as they have an unquestionable right to do if they prefer it, this court is bound to notice it as their religion, and to respect it accordingly.
And:
It will be seen then that in our judgment by the constitution and laws of Delaware, the christian religion is a part of those laws, so far that blasphemy against it is punishable, while the people prefer it as their religion, and no longer. The moment they change it and adopt any other, as they may do, the new religion becomes in the same sense, a part of the law, for their courts are bound to yield it faith and credit, and respect it as their religion. Thus, while we punish the offence against society alone, we leave christianity to fight her own battles,...