Sunday, April 27, 2008

Sunday Night Music:

Guitar connoisseur Billy Beck inspires this post where he leaves a comment discussing his past work with the late Stevie Ray Vaughn. Most of us have never been so lucky. Vaughn was a blues guitar virtuoso. He wasn't one of those shredders who played scale like licks and patterns until he was faster than anyone else, but his playing could be just as challenging and virtuostic. Many of the electric guitar virtuosos play relatively thin gauge strings, much easier on your tendons than acoustic guitar strings; many of them can't razzle or dazzle playing acoustic. Some fusion guitarists like John McLaughlin, Al Dimeola and Steve Morse have outstanding acoustic chops as well. Vaughn apparently played with really heavy gauge electric strings (for the tone), very muscular. His physical power over the instrument shows in this 12 string acoustic version of Pride and Joy.

And be sure to check out this one as well.
God of the American Founding, God of Abraham?

Tom Van Dyke leaves a thoughtful comment on whether the God of the American Founding is the God of Abraham:

I’m not aware of any other monotheistic, providential Creator God that can be remotely construed to endow man with certain unalienable rights.

All this talk of syncretism must acknowledge that the syncresis took place within a very narrow milieu of a Judeo-Christian European culture with, admittedly, the acknowledged philosophical influence of the Enlightenment and the Greeks [with a dash of the Romans thrown in].

But there is no new God of the Enlightenment except perhaps for man himself, and the gods of the Romans and Greeks are nowhere to be found here except on the edges, and only rhetorically.

The God of the Founding is not a new one, fabricated from whole cloth. He may not be Abraham’s, strictly speaking, but He is none other, either.

I see his point -- that though America's Founders pretended the Native Americans with their "Great Spirit," the Hindus, the pagan-Greco-Romans, and other non-Judeo-Christian faiths worshipped a common "Providence," carefully examining the attributes of these non-Judeo-Christian deities belies such a notion. Michael Novak makes a similar point that an active, personal, intervening monotheistic God is uniquely characteristic of Judaism and Christianity (he doesn't add Islam, but I will).

Still, in carefully examining the attributes of America's Founders' benevolent unitarian deity, one must ask is this the authentic biblical God? I've noted before that since America's key Founders believed man's reason superseded biblical revelation, this was the God of the Bible, minus everything written in the Bible that America's Founders found irrational like God's wrath, judgment, and jealously (plus other things added in like the fact that men have unalienable rights to life, liberty, equality, property, the pursuit of happiness and to revolt against civil governments that don't secure such unalienable rights, ideas for the most part, not found in the Bible).

Dr. Gregg Frazer, a traditional evangelical, makes the case that America's Founders and the philosophers and theologians they followed remade the biblical God over in their image to be more man centered. This was not modern day secular humanism, which is atheistic or positivist in its outlook; but classical era, theistic humanism where God becomes more man centered (as opposed to man being God centered).

Accordingly, figures like Jonathan Edwards and George Whitefield represented the "old way" which was the authentic and traditionally Christian way of man being God centered. But America's Founders followed men like John Locke, Samuel Clarke, Joseph Priestley, Jonathan Mayhew, Charles Chauncy, and others who were Christian heretics, theists, and rationalists who posited theistic humanism. Even many of the orthodox Christians who influenced the American Founding like John Witherspoon, Samuel Langdon, and Ezra Stiles, when they preached politics, did not speak in authentically Christian terms, but rather borrowed from the theistic rationalists.

This approach of course, concedes that the traditional conservative Christianity that stresses such notions as the Trinity, eternal damnation, and Christ as the only way, is indeed authentic Christianity! One could also make the case that the Founders' Christianity which denied the Trinity and eternal damnation, is true, authentic Christianity. If one concedes that you can disbelieve in the Trinity and believe in universal salvation and still be a Christian, I'd have a hard time arguing that Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Madison, and Franklin were not Christians. Personally, I would concede that these key Founders qualify as "Christian heretics." They presented their ideas under the auspices of Christianity, not Deism.

In his PhD thesis Dr. Frazer quotes some telling passages from earlier academics on this change in perspective and Charles Chauncy, one of the most important Founding-era, pro-revolutionary ministers, a unitarian and a universalist, and the quintessential theologian who remade God to be more man centered. As he quotes one such scholar of religion:

Before the good of man consisted ultimately in glorifying God; now the glory of God consists in the good of man. Before man lived to worship and serve God, and now God lives to serve human happiness.

-- Joseph Haroutunian, "Piety versus Moralism: The Passing of the New England Theology," 145.

Frazer also points to a book by James W. Jones entitled "The Shattered Synthesis" where Jones compares the theology of Jonathan Edwards to that of Charles Chauncy's:

For Edwards, God's actions must be consistent with God's own nature and intentions; for Chauncy, God's actions must be consistent with what he calls "the common happiness." For Edwards, God's actions must be consistent only with his own glory. For Chauncy, since God's benevolence is directed not toward God himself but primarily toward creation, God's actions must be consistent with the good of creation.

-- pp. 168-69, quoted in Frazer, "The Political Theology of the American Founding," p. 305.

As a conservative evangelical, Frazer terms this "a brand of humanism in which even God is man centered." Ibid. A theistic humanism as part of theistic rationalism, the true political theology of America's Founding, not orthodox Christianity.

The thrust of Frazer's thesis, with which I strongly agree, is that when America's Founders invoked God for their republican principles, they didn't invoke the God of Edwards and Whitefield, but of Chauncy, Mayhew, Priestley et al. And this "republican" God was not the authentic God of the Bible or Christianity (for that, you'd have to go to Edwards and Whitefield). However, I do note that Chauncy, Mayhew, Priestley, and most of America's key Founders did consider themselves Christians. And that even today some theologically liberal or moderate Christians who don't believe the Trinity, eternal damnation, and infallibility of the Bible are prerequisites to the true Christian faith could argue (and would argue if they understood what America's key Founders really believed) that theistic rationalism is just a form of theologically liberal Christianity, what traditional orthodox Christians consider "heresy."

Friday, April 25, 2008

Kenneth Keith Kallenbach, RIP:

My buddy Jay informs me that Kenneth Keith Kallenbach has died at 39.

A member of Stern's "Wack Pack", he was like a real life Beavis and Butthead, and is interesting only to folks who are amused by the modern-day "carnival" like atmosphere of the Stern show. Here is the first time Kallenbach was on the Stern show.

Libertarians might be familiar with Kallenbach. While Stern ran for governor of New York under the Libertarian Party ticket, Kallenbach seconded Stern's nomination at the convention after Fred the Elephant Boy. As Nick Gillespie recounted the event:

Kallenbach seemed less interested in the nominating process per se than in sharing personal thoughts with the crowd. After nominating Stern, he produced a large rubber phallus and repeatedly asked the incredulous audience, "Hey, who wants to see my dildo, who wants to see my dildo?"

May he rest in peace.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Dilulio on American Civil Religion:

Here is the first chapter from John Dilulio's "Godly Republic."

I agree that his centrist-civil religion approach is consistent with America's Founding (that America's public institution's presuppose a Supreme Being, and therefore supplications to such ought to be constitutional). However, I think the scholarly case made by such figures as Steven Waldman and Jon Meacham is more accurate. Here is Dilulio's thesis:

The truth, however, is that present-day America is blessed to be in religious terms pretty much what Madison and most of the other framers intended it to be. It is a godly republic with governmental institutions that (as Justice Douglas phrased it) “presuppose” monotheistic belief in the “Supreme Being” known to Jews, Christians, and Muslims as the God of Abraham. It is a godly republic that affords a special civic status to nondenominational and interfaith (God-centered) religious expression. It is a godly republic that respects, promotes, and protects religious pluralism: Methodists, Muslims, Mormons, and all other faiths are welcome. It is a godly republic in which both the Constitution and federal laws prohibit government from discriminating against citizens who profess no faith at all (atheists have the same constitutional standing as Anglicans) or who are actively, but peacefully, hostile to all religion or to all church-state collaboration (Americans United for the Separation of Church and State is no more or less entitled to tax-exempt nonprofit status than the National Association of Evangelicals).

In his book, Dilulio takes slight issue with Jon Meacham's thesis which is well summarized in an article by Meacham here.

However, American history suggests that allusions to faith in the political arena are part of what Benjamin Franklin called "public religion," a religion whose God is perhaps best understood as the "Creator" and the "Nature's God" of the Declaration of Independence. This was not the God of Abraham or God the Father of the Holy Trinity, but a more generic figure who made the world, is active in it through the workings of providence, and will ultimately judge how people conducted themselves in life.

Taken together, the past reveals that the benefits of faith in God in our public life have outweighed their costs. "The sacred rights of mankind are not to be rummaged for among old parchments or musty records," said Alexander Hamilton. "They are written, as with a sunbeam, in the whole volume of human nature, by the hand of the divinity itself, and can never be erased or obscured by mortal power."

The issue is whether the God of the American Founding is the "God of Abraham." I would argue not necessarily, instead of simply not. The God of the American Founding is the God of natural religion [i.e., laws of Nature and of Nature's God], one whom all good men worship, regardless of whether their religion is Abrahamic. To Christians, it is a Triune God, to Jews, Unitarians and Muslims, it is a unitary father, and to others it is simply a Providence that goes by many names to many peoples. For instance, to Native Americans such Providence goes by the name "The Great Spirit."

As Presidents, Washington, Jefferson, and Madison repeatedly made public supplications to "The Great Spirit" by name, when speaking to unconverted American Indians. For instance, Washington:

I now send my best wishes to the Cherokees, and pray the Great spirit to preserve them.

-- TALK TO THE CHEROKEE NATION, August 29, 1796.

I now sincerely wish you a good Journey and hope you may find your [families and] Brothers well on your Return, and that [the Great Spirit above] 55 may long preserve your Nations in peace with each other and with the United States.


Next Jefferson:

I receive with great satisfaction the visit you have been so kind as to make us at this place, and I thank the Great Spirit who has conducted you to us in health and safety. It is well that friends should sometimes meet, open their minds mutually, and renew the chain of affection. Made by the same Great Spirit, and living in the same land with our brothers, the red men, we consider ourselves as of the same family; we wish to live with them as one people, and to cherish their interests аз our own.

-- To the Brothers and friends of the Miamis, Pottawatomies, and Weeauks, January 7, 1802.

I thank the Great Spirit that he has conducted you hither in health and safety, and that we have an opportunity of renewing our amity, and of holding friendly conference together. It is a circumstance of great satisfaction to us that we are in peace and good understanding with all our red brethren, and that we discover in them the same disposition to continue so which we feel ourselves. It is our earnest desire to merit, and possess their affections, by rendering them strict justice, prohibiting injury from others. aiding their endeavors to learn the culture of the earth, and to raise useful animals, and befriending them as good neighbors, and in every other way in our power. By mutual endeavors to do good to each other, the happiness of both will be better promoted than by efforts of mutual destruction. We are all created by the same Great Spirit; children of the same family. Why should we not live then as brothers ought to do?

-- To The Brothers of the Delaware and Shawanee Nations, February 10, 1802.

And Madison:

I have a further advice of my Red children. You see how the country of the eighteen fires is filled with people. They increase like the corn they put into the ground. They all have good houses to shelter them from all weathers, good clothes suitable to all seasons; and as for food, of all sorts, you see they have enough and to spare. No man, woman, or child, of the eighteen fires, ever perished of hunger. Compare all this with the condition of the Red people. They are scattered here and there in handfulls. Their lodges are cold, leak, and smoky. They have hard fare, and often not enough of it.

Why this mighty difference? The reason, my Red children, is plain. The white people breed cattle and sheep. They spin and weave. Their heads and their hands make all the elements and productions of nature useful to them.

It is in your power to be like them. The ground that feeds one lodge by hunting, would feed a great band by the plough & the hoe. The Great Spirit has given you, like your white brethren, good heads to contrive, and strong arms, and active bodies. Use them like your white brethren of the eighteen fires, and like them, your little sparks will grow into great fires. You will be well fed, dwell in good houses, and enjoy the happiness for which you, like them, were created. These are the words of your father to his red children. The Great Spirit who is the father of us all, approves them. Let them pass through the ear in to the heart. Carry them home to your people; and as long as you remember this visit to your father of the eighteen fires, remember these are his last and best words to you!

-- To My Red Children, August 1812.

John Adams may well have done the same. However, I haven't been able to find his quotations. He certainly believed all world religions worshipped the same God and noted to Jefferson that Hindus worshipped the same God they did.

America's civil religion obviously presents a problem for atheists who don't believe in a God or for polytheists who don't like the supplication to a singular monotheistic God. However, America's civil religion may equally impose a philosophical problem for honest orthodox Trinitarian Christians who realize that all of these religions really don't worship the same God that they do and that America's Founders therefore erred in trying to construct a civil religion based on natural religion that held all good men of all religions worship the same God. See for instance Joe Carter's case against the civil religion here, where he also notes the idea comes from Rousseau, who was explicitly anti-Christian. America's key Founders including Jefferson, I don't believe consciously followed Rousseau. Rather, they seemed to absorb his powerful ideas through osmosis. But it doesn't change the fact that their civil religion (which is represented today by things such as "under God," "in God We Trust" and the National Day of Prayer) is a Rousseauian notion at its heart.

I don't think such an honest orthodox Christian should mind saying things like "under God" or "In God We Trust." After all, to him, these things can mean his own God. Just as long as he takes such with a grain of salt and understands the way America's Founders intended the civil religion to work was that generic references to "under God" likewise included concepts of God (like Allah or the Great Spirit) that he would consider false teachings.

Bottom line for orthodox Christians, don't look for redemption in politics; if you do, you will invariably commit idolatry against your God.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Sunday Night Music:

A commenter named hupur inspired this. He commented on a post featuring Gary Moore's cover of Roy Buchanan's "The Messiah Will Come Again." Reading their opinions in the comments, I don't get the how Sandefur, Brayton and Matt Kuznicki don't "get" Gary Moore's authentic bluesiness.

Well here is another try. The following is a truly beautiful song Gary Moore did with the late Phil Lynott while they were in Thin Lizzy - "Parisienne Walkways." This was taken from Moore's solo tour after Thin Lizzy disbanded and shortly before Lynott died (this may be one of Lynott's last recorded performances). Moore's playing/phrasing is obviously inspired by Buchanan here as well.

America's Protestant But Not "Christian" Founding:

Can something qualify as "Protestant" but not "Christian"? Arguably yes. I see America's Founding as a "Protestant" event, but not necessarily a "Christian" one, if Christianity defines according to its Trinitarian orthodoxy as evangelicals and Catholics believe. If Christianity defines in a broader, more theologically liberal sense, then I can see America as founded on Protestant Christian theology. Ben Franklin and Thomas Jefferson were, in my opinion, more likely to identify as or understand themselves "Protestant Christians," not Deists. To Jefferson such "Protestant Christianity" rejected the following:

The immaculate conception of Jesus, his deification, the creation of the world by him, his miraculous powers, his resurrection and visible ascension, his corporeal presence in the Eucharist, the Trinity; original sin, atonement, regeneration, election, orders of Hierarchy, &c.

The million dollar question is can such a system that rejects "[t]he immaculate conception of Jesus, his deification, the creation of the world by him, his miraculous powers, his resurrection and visible ascension...the Trinity; original sin, atonement, regeneration...," aptly be termed "Christian." I put ellipses under two tenets of Catholicism, and one of Calvinism, that aren't necessarily part of orthodox Christianity. The rest of what Jefferson rejected are non-negotiable tenets of orthodox Christianity.

Yet, Jefferson was being very "Protestant" in doing so. Protestantism means to protest or dissent, not to be ruled by Church hierarchy or creeds. It was in this respect that Protestantism paved the way for religious and political liberty, enlightenment, and the consequent rejection of Christian orthodoxy. The latter is a point that Roman Catholic critics of Protestantism have long made. Even though evangelicals and Catholics agree on Trinitarian orthodoxy, by putting the Bible and the proper way to understand the Christian religion in the hands of individual ministers and believers themselves, (as opposed to Church hierarchy) what stops the individual from jettisoning Trinitarian orthodoxy?

It could be sola-scriptura. However, 1) some liberal Protestants like America's key Founders rejected sola-scriptura. And 2) other liberal Protestants of the Founding era used sola-scriptura to reject Trinitarian orthodoxy. In The Democratization of American Christianity, Nathan Hatch describes Charles Chauncy, one of the most influential preachers who argued on behalf of the American Revolution:

Charles Chauncy, pastor of Boston’s First Church for sixty years (1727-1787), is the most prominent example of an exclusive appeal to Biblical authority in order to unravel theological orthodoxy. Chauncy was persuaded to emphasize Bible study by reading the works of English divines, such as Samuel Clarke’s The Scripture-Doctrine of the Trinity (London, 1712) and John Taylor’s The Scripture-Doctrine of Original Sin (London, 1740). Both authors used a “free, impartial and diligent” method of examining Scripture to JETTISON, respectively, the doctrines of the Trinity and of Original Sin. [8]

During the 1750s, after the Great Awakening, Charles Chauncy spent seven years engaged in the approach to Bible study expounded by these English authors. In the spring of 1754 he wrote to a friend,

“I have made the Scriptures my sole study for about two years; and I think I have attained to a clearer understanding of them than I ever had before.”

His studies led him to draft a lengthy manuscript in which he REJECTED the idea of eternal punishment and embraced universalism.

Evangelical promoters of the Protestant Christian America thesis are fond of noting (with some truth) that American Protestants had serious problems with Roman Catholicism and when they complained about ecclesiastical authorities it was often done in the context of disagreeing with certain elements of Roman Catholicism. What they fail to point out is that this anti-hierarchical, anti-creedal "Protestant" mindset led many of them to associate not just Calvinism but orthodox Trinitarian Christianity itself with Romanism or Popishness. For instance, when I emailed Ellis Sandoz and asked him to comment on John Adams' rejection of the Trinity where Adams states the following:

"The Trinity was carried in a general council by one vote against a quaternity; the Virgin Mary lost an equality with the Father, Son, and Spirit only by a single suffrage."

-- John Adams to Benjamin Rush, June 12, 1812.

"If I understand the Doctrine, it is, that if God the first second or third or all three together are united with or in a Man, the whole Animal becomes a God and his Mother is the Mother of God.

"It grieves me: it shocks me to write in this stile upon a subject the most adorable that any finite Intelligence can contemplate or embrace: but if ever Mankind are to be superior to the Brutes, sacerdotal Impostures must be exposed."

-- John Adams to Francis van der Kemp, October 23, 1816.

Sandoz noted Adams' tone seemed anti-Marian, and anti-Roman Catholic. And indeed, Adams was arguably an anti-Roman Catholic bigot. Note though that Adams' anti-Catholicism led him to associate the Trinity and Nicene Creed with the false teachings of the Roman Church.

Likewise, Ben Franklin, who made the following argument under the auspices of "Protestant Christianity" not Deism, associates not just Roman Catholicism but Presbyterianism/Calvinism with "Priests" who introduced erroneous doctrines into Christianity.

But lest they shou’d imagine that one of their strongest Objections hinted at here, and elsewhere, is designedly overlook’d, as being unanswerable, viz. our lost and undone State by Nature, as it is commonly call’d, proceeding undoubtedly from the Imputation of old Father Adam’s first Guilt. To this I answer once for all, that I look upon this Opinion every whit as ridiculous as that of Imputed Righteousness. ’Tis a Notion invented, a Bugbear set up by Priests (whether Popish or Presbyterian I know not) to fright and scare an unthinking Populace out of their Senses, and inspire them with Terror, to answer the little selfish Ends of the Inventors and Propagators. ’Tis absurd in it self, and therefore cannot be father’d upon the Christian Religion as deliver’d in the Gospel. Moral Guilt is so personal a Thing, that it cannot possibly in the Nature of Things be transferr’d from one Man to Myriads of others, that were no way accessary to it. And to suppose a Man liable to Punishment upon account of the Guilt of another, is unreasonable; and actually to punish him for it, is unjust and cruel.

-- A Defense of Mr. Hemphill’s Observations, 1735.

Note Franklin's argument: True Christianity rejects original sin, a doctrine that "Priests" either Popish or Presbyterian introduced into Christianity. Franklin's conflation of Calvinism with Roman Catholicism reminds me of Philip Pulman's alternate universe where John Calvin was Pope of the Roman Catholic Church in Geneva.

Finally, a note on how George Washington fits into this. Brian Tubbs does a good job explaining Peter Lillback's chapter on George Washington and Anglicanism/Episcopalianism. In short, the Anglican Church or "Church of England" was, obviously, officially against the Revolution; the high-church Anglicans -- those devoted to hierarchy -- were more likely to be loyalists, those who rebelled tended to be "low-church" Anglicans. Here is how Tubbs, following Lillback, describes the split:

High Church Anglicanism was philosophically in agreement with the doctrine of apostolic succession, as embraced by the Roman Catholic Church. The difference, of course, being that the King of England and the Archbishop of Canterbury spoke with apostolic authority for the day -- as opposed to the Vatican in Rome.

The influence of the Protestant Reformation in England, however, had divided the Anglican Communion into two groups over this doctrine. High Church Anglicans favored strict apostolic succession, whereas Low Church Anglicans adhered more toward scriptural authority.

They conclude Washington was an orthodox Trinitarian of the low-church Anglican variety. And they support this conclusion by showing Washington's (obvious) problems he would have with the high-churchers who remained loyalists. That is why, they believe, Washington avoided communion in the Church.

The problem with this analysis is that it offers a false dichotomy between the orthodox Trinitarian, scripturally based, high-church v. orthodox Trinitarian, scripturally based, low-church Anglicanism. Indeed, it tries to make low-church Anglicanism as more scripturally based, less infected with Roman Catholic elements. In his book, Lillback describes low-church Anglicanism as "Calvinistic." Their description of high-church Anglicanism is more or less accurate. And Calvinistic, scripturally based thought was certainly a movement within low-church Anglicanism. However, so was latitudinarianism, which defines as creedal indifference. Lillback, to his credit, notes latitudinarianism as part of the low-church movement, and Washington as a latitudinarian. He does not, however, adequately explain why "latitudinarianism" must remain true to orthodox Trinitarianism. Indeed, Calvinism is not "latitudinarian," but arguably the antithesis of it. These were two separate lines of thought in low-church Anglicanism.

This is especially apt given what we've seen above, that many notable "Protestants" used their freedom from hierarchy to think for themselves and reject Trinitarian orthodoxy. And indeed, many of those "low-church Anglicans," latitudinarian as they were, often slipped into such creedal indifference that their religion became deistic or unitarian. Indeed these nominal Anglicans whose beliefs were deistic-unitarian include Washington's fellow Founding Fathers and notable Virginians like Jefferson and Madison as well as G. Morris, Franklin, and others. David L. Holmes of William and Mary, one of the most distinguished scholars of American religion and the Anglican/Episcopal Church, writes about this dynamic in his book, A Brief History of the Episcopal Church.

Lillback's only smoking gun proving orthodox Trinitarianism is GW took "oaths" to such when becoming a Godfather and Vestryman. But, from my reading of those oaths, Washington took an oath not simply to orthodox Trinitarianism, but HIGH CHURCH Anglicanism, or the "Doctrine and Discipline of the Church of England, as by law established." And both his avoidance of communion and arguably his act of political rebellion against England itself violated those very oaths.

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Natural Religion:

I just found online an important sermon given in 1775 by Samuel Langdon, former President of Harvard University, entitled The Co-Incidence of Natural With Revealed Religion. It's important because it sheds light on the natural religion that forms the basis of American political theology. The Declaration of Independence invokes "the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God" and various folks argue over and misunderstand what this phrase means. One reading holds that the Founders were almost all Deists and this is a stock Deist phrase. And the other holds that the phrase in question is shorthand for the God of the Bible and revelation. Both readings are wrong.

The phrase chiefly refers to reason and sets reason not revelation as the foundation for the United States' political order. The word "nature" as used in this context refers to what is discoverable by reason unaided by scripture. Some have intimated that "the Laws of Nature" refers to reason and "the Laws of...Nature's God" refers to revelation (see for instance, John Eastman) and others have noted if the phrase twice speaks of reason it is redundant. Well the phrase is somewhat redundant because the term nature is used twice: "the Laws of Nature [1] and of Nature's [2] God...." [My emphasis.] More likely "Nature's God" was invoked after "the law of Nature" to make the natural law binding. You don't need a God to discover certain immutable principles through nature. E = MC2 is part of the "laws of nature" regardless whether God exists. But that just tells us what "is" not what "ought to be." Invoking God, in this sense helps close the is/ought gap. The concept of the laws of Nature's God is more properly termed "natural religion" (as opposed to "natural law") and that is what man can know about God and His universe from reason unaided by scripture.

And this is where Langdon's sermon proves useful. As he explains natural religion:

The religion of nature, considered in the most perfect view, is that which we suppose investigable by the natural powers of the human mind without the assistance of any revelation from heaven.

Langdon then goes on to explain "[w]hat system of religion reason alone would trace out."

Langdon was as far as I know an orthodox Trinitarian Christian (but also one of the patriotic Whig preachers). This illustrates that it wasn't just Deists but orthodox Christians as well (and those folks like America's key Founders who were in between Deism and orthodox Christianity) who believed in natural religion. So the appeal to natural religion was not a Deistic attempt to exclude orthodox Trinitarians from the Declaration of Independence but an attempt to unite Deists, Unitarians, Trinitarian Christians, and potentially all other theistic world religions. As the Masonic Book of Constitutions put it, it was "that Religion in which all Men agree."

Indeed Freemasonry united Deists, theists and orthodox Christians during the Founding era. Theists George Washington and Ben Franklin were Freemasons. Theist Thomas Jefferson and Deist Thomas Paine, though I don't believe they ever joined nonetheless spoke highly of the craft. And lots of orthodox Trinitarian Christians likewise were members. The very orthodox Presbyterian minister Samuel Miller was a Freemason and addressed its relationship with Christianity. Peter Lillback, in his study on Washington's religion, reproduces part of one of Miller's sermons:

Masonry, as such, and according to its original plan, appears to be founded on natural religion. Hence the institution is found among all nations, who believe in one God, and the accountableness of man to him, as a moral Agent, and an immortal being.

-- quoted from George Washington's Sacred Fire, p. 505.

Natural religion served as a politically useful mechanism to unite anyone but an atheist (who were virtually non-existent at the time of the US Founding) under the precepts of what all rational men can agree on. The US Founders needed a way to take the sectarian squabbles out of politics while still remaining "religious" and natural religion (not the revealed religion of orthodox Christianity) served that purpose.

Orthodox Christians like Samuels Miller and Langdon could feel comfortable with natural religion because, as they noted, reason and revelation (natural and revealed religion) agreed.

Yet, the issue of natural religion and the US Founding poses a few challenges for a "Christian America" reading of history. First, even though many Christians of that era purported compatibility between natural and revealed religion, America's Founders when declaring independence invoked natural religion only, not revealed religion. Hence "reason" not "Christianity" forms the bedrock component of the American Founding's political system.

Indeed, because the Bible says nothing about men being endowed with unalienable rights and government's purpose being to secure them, it was more honest for America's Founders to "channel" such ideas through philosophical naturalism or theological rationalism. The Declaration of Independence truly was the product of man's reason, not biblical ideas.

For Christians, natural religion also risks importing non-biblical ideas (again like those found in the Declaration of Independence) and holding them up on the same level as sacred scripture. Indeed orthodox Christians like Samuel Langdon, Ezra Stiles and many others, in their political sermons, read Enlightenment naturalistic ideas into the Bible's text when they erroneously declared such things as the Ancient Israelites had a republic and the law of Moses was voluntarily adopted by the Jews. In short, one can argue, whatever the compatibility, natural religion is not good for the purity of Christianity's orthodoxy, exactly what Francis Schaeffer argues here, where he rails against Aristotle's influence on Christianity. The problem for Schaeffer is that it makes his Christianity anathema to the American Founding, which promoted Aristotelian, naturalistic theology often under the auspices of "rational Christianity."

Finally, natural religion, like Freemasonry (at its mildest) is problematic for orthodox Christians because it promotes, as this article on Freemasonry notes, indifferentism.

Indifferentism is the heretical belief that all religions are equally legitimate attempts to explain the truth about God which, but for the truth of His existence, are unexplainable. Such a view makes all truths relative and holds that God can be equally pleased with truth and error. Because Christians believe that God has definitively revealed Himself in the person of Jesus Christ, and desires that all men come to the knowledge of this truth, indifferentism is incompatible with Christian faith. Jesus said, "I am the way, the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but by me." (John 14:6).

Freemasonry's teachings and practices also result in syncretism which is the blending of different religious beliefs into a unified whole. This is evidenced most especially by Masonry's religious rituals which gather men of all faiths around a common altar, and place all religious writings along side the Bible on the Masonic altar. This is also demonstrated by the Lodge's prayers and its unique names and symbols for God and heaven. Syncretism is the logical consequence of indifferentism.

America's key Founders [Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Madison, Franklin, et al.], I've long argued, held precisely to this "indifferentism" or syncretism in religious matters such that they ceased to be "Christian" in an orthodox Trinitarian sense. They were also disproportionately Masons. One could still believe in these non-Christian, Enlightenment ideas (Freemasonry, natural religion, philosophical rationalism) and still be an orthodox Christian. Yet, it's like playing with fire. Overindulging in these ideas could lead folks raised in traditional Christian homes away from the faith, which is, I believe, exactly what happened with America's key Founders.

Friday, April 18, 2008

J. Matt Barber, Liar:

This guy is turning out to be almost as bad as Paul Cameron. For those who don't know, he is a "Concerned Woman For America" who used to work in the insurance industry until he got fired for writing antigay columns on his own time, off work, which although the decision to fire him was perfectly legal, it was also, in my opinion, a lame thing for his bosses to do.

He now works as a professional antigay activist at Concerned Women For America.

Ed Brayton has the goods on one antigay article from WorldNetDaily which quotes Barber. The article is entitled Lesbian demands control over Christian's daughter, which should tell you all you need to know about it. Now Barber pens his own article for WND entitled Surgeon General's Warning: Gay sex kills where he goes off the deep end. He thinks he's informing WorldNetDaily readers of "Just the facts, Ma'am" and proclaims "[i]t's time to shatter the silence with truth." Well, he should know that informed readers like yours truly, Ed Brayton and others read WorldNetDaily and expose the lies and distortions that alas are often contained therein. The following is Barber's lie:

In fact, multiple studies have established that homosexual conduct, especially among males, is considerably more hazardous to one's health than a lifetime of chain smoking.

Wrong, in fact no studies show this. Only two sets of studies in the medical literature have attempted to measure gay lifespans. One set was done by the notorious fraud Paul Cameron, which Barber wisely avoids, lest he end up with egg on his face. [If you ever hear someone say that gay male lifespan is somewhere between 39-43 years, you know they are referring to Paul Cameron's fraudulent data.]

And the other was done by the the International Journal of Epidemiology, or IJE, in 1997 which Barber cites. That one study that examined urban gay males in one metropolitan Canadian city in the mid-1990s, was, as far as I can tell, credible. And it concluded that because of AIDS, gay or bisexual males living in that city had a reduced lifespan of by 8 to 20 years. This was also during the worst period of the AIDS crisis, before the newer lifesaving medications had been introduced. Those of us old enough remember the days when many gay men died too often too young. And thankfully, that was a relatively short period of time in modern history (from the early 80s to the mid-90s).

Barber pretends like gay men are still dropping dead like flies from AIDS. The problem is that it isn't true. Protease inhibitors and "cocktail" drugs have turned AIDS into a chronic disease like diabetes, no longer a death sentence within 10 years. But apparently Barber longs for the day that large numbers of gay men die young from AIDS such that he pretends it's still occurring.

But he knows better. Stating the authors of the IJE study were "[u]nder tremendous pressure," trying to do damage control, Barber quotes them: "[W]e do not condone the use of our research in a manner that restricts the political or human rights of gay and bisexual men or any other group." That quotation was actually taken from a statement by the authors in 2001 entitled Gay Life Expectancy Revisited. The statement was made, of course, years later, after newer life saving AIDS medications had been introduced and it notes:

In contrast, if we were to repeat this analysis today the life expectancy of gay and bisexual men would be greatly improved. Deaths from HIV infection have declined dramatically in this population since 1996. As we have previously reported there has been a threefold decrease in mortality in Vancouver as well as in other parts of British Columbia.4

In other words, the 8-20 statistic is no longer valid. To knowingly cite that figure today as though it were is in essence a lie. It's like citing the value of gold in 1996 and pretending it's still the same today. And Barber, because he quoted from Gay Life Expectancy Revisited, knows this. In short, Barber is lying and knows it. I guess breaking the 9th Commandment is fine if it's in pursuance of the "greater good."

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Marshall, Lillback, and Washington:

Peter Marshall is a notable promoter of the "Christian America" myth. He, along with co-author David Manuel, wrote a classic in that idiom entitled The Light and the Glory. Here is how evangelical scholar Dr. Gregg Frazer of The Master's College describes it in his PhD thesis from Claremont Graduate University:

It became the classic text of that camp. Its historiography is abominable; it is a collection of speculations, suppositions, personal musings, and "insights" with little or no proof or documentation for extraordinary claims. p. 38.

And in this post Marshall informs us:

I have been spending the entire winter working on a major revision and updated version of our first book, The Light and the Glory. The publisher has wanted a second edition of the book for some time, and it now looks as if that will become a reality by the spring of 2009.

How nice.

Marshall must have taken some of the scholarly criticism to heart. He admits he's revising the book and removing past errors, seemingly similar to the way David Barton revised his The Myth of Separation removed the bogus "unconfirmed quotations," and renamed the book Original Intent.

The Christian America camp seems to be of two minds regarding the secular academy. On the one hand they recognized academia is biased against them and they tend to write off (that is not take seriously) anything an academician with a PhD has to say and talk only to one another in their "closed off" world. Yet, that strategy, which has been their dominant one, ultimately resulted in egg on their faces. The facts are the facts and the historical record is the historical record. And reasonable inquiring religiously conservative minds don't want to be sold a bill of goods or told tall tales.

The second strategy is to engage secular academicians on their own terms, using their own high standards of evidence. This is what religious conservatives must do if they want to speak "truth to power," truly feel as though they are doing so, and not just sheltering themselves in their own little (it's actually not so little) world.

There is also a third strategy and that's for religious conservatives (or scholars sympathetic to their views) to be part of the prestigious secular academy and engage secular scholars on their own turf, in their own journals and using their own prestigious academic publishers. This is easier said than done given that religious conservatives do not abound in the secular academy which tends to be very suspicious of their ideas. Yet, figures like Philip Hamburger, Daniel Dreisbach, James Hutson, and Gary Scott Smith occupy or have occupied prestigious positions in academia and have published notable works of scholarship sympathetic to religious conservatism at Harvard, NYU, Princeton, and Oxford University Presses respectively. Much of this work has been quite good in my opinion.

The "Christian America" idea really doesn't get much play in the scholarly world of academia. And even of the sources I just named, though they have written conservative polemics, none seems to embrace the Christian America view outright, like Peter Marshall, David Barton or William Federer have. (Although Hamburger et al. have made serious impacting arguments against the concept of "separation of church and state" as put forth by the Supreme Court and secular scholars; Hamburger for instance has been cited by the Supreme Court numerous times).

Peter Lillback's 1200 book on George Washington's faith, arguing he was an orthodox Trinitarian Christian, is in category #2. It's published, not by a prestigious academic publisher, but by his own company Providence Forum Press. But it seeks to engage secular academicians according to their own strict, skeptical standards.

Lillback does, in my opinion, a great job digging into the primary sources and is well informed on what leading scholars have to say on George Washington's religion. And he clearly shows Washington wasn't a "Deist" in the strict, Thomas Paine sense of the term, as some have gone so far to argue. However, he didn't need to write a 1200 page book to demonstrate this. Michael and Jana Novak did so in less than 300. And as with the Novaks' book, he fails to convincingly show that Washington was an orthodox Trinitarian Christian and offers some weak, hair-brained answers against to the scholarly doubts of Washington's orthodoxy.

Some notable scholars like Robert P. George, John Dilulio and Rodney Stark originally promoted Lillback's book. But the more secular or moderate minded scholars of religion and the Founding really haven't engaged Lillback as Gordon Wood engaged Michael Novak. One notable exception is Peter Henriques of George Mason University who wrote an outstanding biography of George Washington debated Lillback and Jana Novak at the at the Constitutional Center in Philadelphia with John Dilulio moderating. I've never publicly blogged about this before. The Constitution Center had Dilulio, Lillback and Novak lined up and needed someone in a pinch for the other side, and it was almost me! I got an email from them with an invite shortly after Crooks and Liars linked to one of my posts on Lillback and Washington's religion. (This shows that blogging, if you are good, leads to real world opportunities. After reading one of my posts, Joseph Bottum, editor of First Things, asked me to write a Briefly Noted book review on James H. Hutson's book of quotations. Now the back of the paperback edition published by Princeton University Press features my name in a blurb.) Needless to say, they ended up getting Henriques who was far more qualified to argue that position. I would have felt extremely out of place at this point in my career. I was in email correspondence with Dr. Henriques shortly before the event, and I'm pretty sure he didn't know much about Lillback's work. I warned him that Lillback's book was 1200 pages and his arguments at times seemed Johnny Cochran-like.

In the about two years since Lillback's book has been out I really haven't seen many scholarly journals or secular publications review the book. Outside of "Christian America" circles, the book seems to be mostly ignored. But the Christian Heritage sites like WorldNetDaily, Coral Ridge, American Vision, and many other places have been making the most out of Lillback's book, as though they finally have a work that "settles" the matter, one that truly speaks "truth to power."

For instance, as Peter Marshall informs us about his updated version of The Light and the Glory:

In the course of adding sizeable chunks of material I have been doing quite a bit of new research into the life of George Washington, and particularly the issue that furnishes the title for this commentary – was he a Christian?


In our 1977 work, The Light and the Glory, David Manuel and I quoted some prayers supposedly written by Washington in his own handwriting which were titled “Daily Sacrifice.” They had turned up in Philadelphia in 1891 among some items offered for auction by descendants of Washington. These prayers were couched in orthodox Christian language – for example, “Wash away my sins in the immaculate blood of the Lamb” – and were made up of whole sentences from the original Anglican prayer book. We had used these as proof of Washington’s Christianity, since Deists didn’t believe in the blood atonement of Christ. However, these prayers will not be in the new edition of The Light and the Glory, because Peter A. Lillback, in his recent magnificent study of Washington’s spirituality, entitled Sacred Fire, quotes historian Rupert Hughes’s point that the tone of these prayers is quite contrary to Washington’s writing style, “as foreign as if they were written in Greek. There is not a misspelled word, not a touch of incorrect grammar, not a capitalized noun or other emphatic word except the titles of the deity.” (This is unlike Washington in every respect). Of greatest importance is the fact that the handwriting doesn’t match Washington’s. Rupert gives the details, saying “The impossibility of the work being in Washington’s hand should be apparent to the most casual comparison.”

So Marshall (and his co-author Manuel) are following Peter Lillback's lead and finally letting go of the spurious George Washington Prayer Book, "The Daily Sacrifice." Instead it seems Marshall, after Lillback, will try to argue his case from the actual historical record. The record does, in my opinion, show Washington not to be a "deist" in the Thomas Paine sense of the term and to be very "religion friendly." However it fails to demonstrate Washington was an orthodox Christian.

Consider, Marshall (again after Lillback) can find only one place in Washington's words that seem to speak in overtly orthodox Christian language.

During the five years of the War for Independence the Continental Congress issued at least sixteen separate calls for days of prayer and humiliation or thanksgiving, depending on how the war was going. (There were more of the former than the latter!) And they were explicit in their Christian doctrine. The one dated November 27, 1779 includes “our gracious redeemer,” the “light of the gospel,” “the light of Christian knowledge,” and the “Holy Spirit.” None of these phrases would have been used by Deists, yet this language was employed by the supposedly Deist Founding Fathers of the Continental Congress! As a matter of fact, Deists never saw any value in prayer, since they believed that God was impersonal and uninvolved with His creation anyway. Washington happily signed these and passed them on to the army’s chaplains to be put into practice.

The problem is the one dated November 27, 1779 was not Washington's words but Congress's. In the thousands of pages of Washington's public speeches and private writings where he speaks of God and Providence hundreds of times, over and over again, you never see Washington using words like "Father," "Son" and "Holy Spirit" or refer to Jesus as "Redeemer." That Lillback, Marshall et al. could not find such overt expressions of Christian orthodoxy in Washington's own private writings and speeches but had to quote from a Congressional Proclamation that Washington reproduced for his troops is quite telling. When it comes to serious proof of Washington's Trinitarian orthodoxy there is no there there.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Whoring the Christian Religion For Politics:

The more things change, the more they stay the same. The political sermons of the American Founding collected by Ellis Sandoz are fascinating and enlightening to read, and many of them contain great ideas. Many of them support the notion of political liberty. I likewise support political liberty. Yet, let's not get too caught up in nostalgia. They also reveal that pastors back then have done exactly what the religious right AND religious left do today: whore the Christian religion for political purposes.

David Barton whores the Christian religion in trying to promote the cause of the Republican Party and connect it to Christianity. A quintessential example of Barton's whoring was when the Star Tribune reported him saying “the Bible condemns not only homosexuality but also capital-gains taxes, progressive income taxes, estate taxes and minimum-wage laws.”

Alexander Hamilton likewise whored the Christian religion with his "Christian Constitutional Society" whose original purpose was "to promote the election of fit men," who somehow all happened to be Federalists like him and John Adams, not Democratic-Republicans, like Jefferson, Madison, et al.

Members of the religious left like Jim Wallis and the some of the Emergent Church who argue the Christian religion demands the imposition of the Left's social welfare state likewise whore the Christian religion. And finally, in the ultimate example of whoring the Bible for politics we have Ted Kennedy's "biblical" argument for Federal Hate Crimes Laws which cites Leviticus as positively in favor of protecting sexual orientation under federal hate crimes laws!

But they do nothing new. The ministers who argued from the pulpit on behalf of the American Revolution just as badly whored the Bible and the Christian religion in favor of the American cause.

One of the ways in which Founding era ministers whored was to "read" Founding era Whig and republican ideals into the Biblical record. Samuel Cooper's A SERMON ON THE DAY OF THE COMMENCEMENT OF THE CONSTITUTION is a quintessential example of abuse of the Christian religion in this respect:

Even the law of Moses, though framed by God himself, was not imposed upon that people against their will; it was laid open before the whole congregation of Israel; they freely adopted it, and it became their law, not only by divine appointment, but by their own voluntary and express consent....the Supreme Ruler himself had not established their polity without their own free concurrence, and that the Hebrew nation, lately redeemed from tyranny, had now a civil and religious constitution of their own choice, and were governed by laws to which they had given their solemn consent.

Cooper makes the Hebrew God sound something like Rousseau's legislator (to use Gregg Frazer's example) a God who would submit His laws to the people for their approval and acceptance. But this is not what the Bible teaches. Rather, the Biblical record in no uncertain terms shows that God unilaterally burdened His people with the law of Moses without their consent or approval. And the notion that people must "consent" to the laws which will rule them is entirely a Whig or 18th Century republican ideal, not a biblical idea. Samuel Langdon likewise did something similar in his sermon entitled THE REPUBLIC OF THE ISRAELITES AN EXAMPLE TO THE AMERICAN STATES where he, apparent from the title, "read in" 18th Century republican ideas to the Biblical record. What Langdon, Cooper, and many other of these ministers did was the functional equivalent of Ted Kennedy's invocation of Leviticus in support of Federal hate crimes laws that protect "sexual orientation."

One conservative fundamentalist minister who seems immune to the whoring temptation is John MacArthur of Grace To You. I don't at all personally agree with Calvinistic fundamentalist theology. As I've noted before the traditional Christian notion of Hell is I think a terrible idea. And if true, it's far worse than atheism (that nothing exists after the grave). It makes the Bible into "bad news" not "good news," with a silver lining that you can escape the terrible fate that the overwhelming majority of humanity including many of your loved ones ultimately will face. Further in reading the Bible I have a very hard time believing many of the texts which, to me, seem self-evidently unbelievable are the inerrant, infallible Word of God.

But, despite my personal disagreements with MacArthur's religious beliefs, out of all of the notable, prominent, present day religiously conservative theologians (Robertson, Falwell, Mohler, Dobson, etc.) he posits a method that by far best keeps traditional Christian orthodoxy pure and immune from the political whoring temptation. Listen to him speak against the Reverend Barry Lynn of Americans United For Separation of Church And State. And note MacArthur's literal understanding of Romans 13 which holds just as Paul did, contra America's patriotic preachers, that the pagan Roman government was ordained by God and one to which believers should submit. Barry Lynn, the uber-theologically liberal Christian counters with what seems far more in line with the political sermons of the American Founding that likewise tended towards a "cafeteria" method that ignored or otherwise explained away inconvenient biblical texts. Ironic in that Barry Lynn wants to prevent ministers from speaking out on political issues altogether, lest they lose their tax exempt status. And I think he's wrong on this account. But I understand the concerns. There is a tradition of such ministers speaking out on political issues, and unfortunately whoring the Christian religion.

Christian Blog on The Search For Christian America:

This post by a Christian blogger well summarizes the thesis of The Search For Christian America, a remarkable book by Mark Noll, Nathan Hatch, and George Marsden, three of the world's most important scholars of religion, who also happen to be traditional Christians. The post reproduces this excerpt from the book:

1) We feel that a careful study of the facts of history shows that early America does not deserve to be considered uniquely, distinctly or even predominately Christian, if we mean by the word “Christian” a state of society reflecting the ideals presented in Scripture. There is no lost golden age to which American Christians may return. In addition, a careful study of history will also show that evangelicals themselves were often partly to blame for the spread of secularism in contemporary American life. . . . (Mark A. Noll, Nathan O. Hatch, George M. Marsden, “The Search For Christian America,” 17)

The post also notes what I've long noted (after of course, those three distinguished authors) about non-authentically Christian ideas riding along side Christian theology:

[T]hey will continue to argue that America does indeed have rich “Christian heritage;” but unfortunately what passed as uniquely Christian, was in fact, Christianity baptized in “Natural Theology,” and rationalist Enlightenment principles. Here is an example of what I am talking about, found in the Declaration of Independence....

The theology of the Declaration of Independence is no more authentically "Christian" than the theological tenets found in for instance, The Book of Mormon. This is something I want evangelicals and Catholics to appreciate. And also as I've noted (again after Noll et al.), John Witherspoon was one of those evangelicals who contributed to the spread of secularism in American life. His Lectures on Moral Philosophy, what he primarily taught his Princeton students like James Madison, did not teach Christian or Calvinist principles, but rather Scottish Enlightenment principles.

Finally you may want to check out this post, another Christian source that thoughtfully explores the Christian Nation idea, where they note something very interesting from one John Eidsmoe, one of the key promoters of the "Christian America" idea:

As John Eidsmoe, one of the more responsible conservative Christian writers on this issue observes: The term ‘Christian’ can be used in two contexts. First, it can describe someone who is “born again,” or “saved,” or “regenerate,” a dedicated follower of Jesus Christ and His teachings… The term ‘Christian’ is also loosely used to denote a person whose beliefs about God, the world, and man are generally in accord with those of the Christian religion but who may not be a dedicated follower of Christ. In this second context, a person’s beliefs, actions, and/or demeanor may be “Christian” (decent, generous, moral) but he or she might not be regenerate. (Eidsmoe, Christianity and the Constitution, 78-79) Eidsmoe recognizes that it is only in a looser sense of the word that the majority of the founders and the origins of the constitution may be considered ‘Christian.’

It seems to me that Eidsmoe lets the cat out of the bag in that passage. Yes America is a "Christian Nation," a nominal, heretical, theologically liberal sense of the term. This is not what the traditional Christians who want to believe in the Christian America myth want to hear.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Saturday Night Music:

One of the last shows Kansas did with their original six members -- Live at The Summit, Houston TX, December 9th, 1980. Great versions of Icarus and Miracles Out of Nowhere, where they nail the fugue like middle instrumental section.

Brian Blair:

From Brayton and Pam's House Blend. Brian Blair is running for local government in Florida and objects to the Day of Silence. All of that gay-baiting done by his arch nemesis the Iron Sheik must have finally got to him. Also notice how the Sheik endorses the view of homosexuality seen in Middle Eastern and Latin regions that only the "bottom" or man who plays the feminine role in a gay sexual encounter is really gay. Sheik himself seems perfectly comfortably in playing the role of the "top" while still seeing himself as a real heterosexual man.

Friday, April 11, 2008

Jesus' Divinity & The Founding:

I covered this issue a little while ago in a post entitled John Adams would have loved the Davinci Code. In the following clip the late D. James Kennedy terms the DaVinci Code's assertion that Jesus never claimed to be God and that it was voted into reality in the Nicene Creed in 325 AD one of the most "pernicious" claims of the movie.

On historical grounds Kennedy and his scholars featured in the clip may well be right that there was an overwhelming consensus in the early Church that Jesus was God. However, America's key Founders like John Adams believed like the Davinci Code -- that Jesus was not God and that the Trinity was voted into being in the Council of Nicea in 325 AD. As John Adams put it:

"The Trinity was carried in a general council by one vote against a quaternity; the Virgin Mary lost an equality with the Father, Son, and Spirit only by a single suffrage."

-- John Adams to Benjamin Rush, June 12, 1812.


"An incarnate God!!! An eternal, self-existent, omnipresent omniscient Author of this stupendous Universe, suffering on a Cross!!! My Soul starts with horror, at the Idea, and it has stupified the Christian World. It has been the Source of almost all of the Corruptions of Christianity."

-- John Adams to John Quincy Adams, March 28, 1816.

"If I understand the Doctrine, it is, that if God the first second or third or all three together are united with or in a Man, the whole Animal becomes a God and his Mother is the Mother of God.

"It grieves me: it shocks me to write in this stile upon a subject the most adorable that any finite Intelligence can contemplate or embrace: but if ever Mankind are to be superior to the Brutes, sacerdotal Impostures must be exposed."

-- John Adams to Francis van der Kemp, October 23, 1816.

This unitarian heresy that rejected Jesus' full Godhood was believed in by not just J. Adams, but Thomas Jefferson, Ben Franklin, probably James Madison (he appealed to Samuel Clarke, a unitarian divine as his religious authority and George Ticknor, who founded the Boston Public Library, testified Madison told him he was a unitarian), and George Washington (to be fair, Washington seemed utterly agnostic on the creeds of orthodoxy). Likewise Founding era ministers key to getting the American populace on board in supporting the Revolutionary War -- Jonathan Mayhew, Charles Chauncy, Samuel West, Simeon Howard, Samuel Cooper, and many others -- were such theological unitarians. Finally, some of the most notable British divines and philosophers who influenced America's Founders were theological unitarians. They include John Milton, John Locke, Isaac Newton, and Samuel Clarke from the older "Whig" era and Richard Price and Joseph Priestley, Whig contemporaries of America's Founders. I have a working paper on the matter. Contact me if you want to read it or are interested in publishing it.

What's notable about the unitarian heresy is that orthodox Christians, not only of the Founding era, but also of today don't consider this "real Christianity," but a soul damning heresy or "infidelity" to real Christian principles.

The men of the Great Awakening like Jonathan Edwards and George Whitefield would not consider any of the above figures "real Christians," but rather thought them "Christless talkers" to use Whitefield's term (and Washington certainly was a "Christless talker" if ever there were one). The orthodox believe God is Triune and Christ needs to be part of the Godhead in order to make an infinite Atonement. America's key Founders and the enlightened New England ministers and British philosophers and divines they followed didn't believe this. So the question is whether the orthodox worshipped the same God that America's key Founders and the ministers and philosophers they followed worshipped. Arguably they did not. Indeed, the orthodox would assert they did not. Rather, it was the unitarians who tried to downplay orthodox doctrines and say tenets like original sin and the Trinity really ought not matter, that they all worshipped the same God. That "latitudinarian" logic, however, led many of them to believe that all good men of all religions -- including Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, pagan-Greco-Romanism and Native American spirituality -- worship the same "Providence." This theologically liberal heresy in Christian thought is I believe key to American political theology.

If the orthodox of today like the late D. James Kennedy truly appreciated what George Washington, John Adams, et al. really believed, they'd term it a false cult, just like they do Mormonism.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Sandoz at Princeton:

On Monday I saw Ellis Sandoz, Hermann Moyse, Jr. Distinguished Professor of Political Science, and Director of the Eric Voegelin Institute for American Renaissance Studies, Louisiana State University, speak at the James Madison Program at Princeton University. He presented this paper and has a new book out entitled Republicanism, Religion, and the Soul of America. I somewhat disagree with Sandoz's take on the American Founding & Religion. I've long noted I believe, after Bernard Bailyn and many others, that America's Founding synthesized a number of different ideological sources including Greco-Roman, Common Law, Christian, Whig, and Enlightenment. Most historians and political scientists, regardless of bias, likewise believe in the synthesis but disagree on which ideological sources dominated (perhaps that's where bias clouds our analysis). I think Sandoz gives too much credence to the classical and Christian sources, and people like Edmund Burke. However, given the academy is all too likely to de-emphasize those sources, and over-emphasize the secular-Enlightenment ones, his scholarship serves as a useful corrective.

Also, when blogging, I often quote from political sermons of the Founding era. And when I do, usually I use sermons of which Sandoz is the editor, reproduced by the Liberty Fund.

Moreover, Sandoz was nice enough to answer a number of my emails before the event. I let him know that I see America's political-theological heart as more theologically liberal, heretical and less orthodox Christian than he does.

The best part of the lecture, by far, was the Q&A where almost all of the questions were asked by Princeton professors. He really had his hands full answering their questions. Among others, Robert George, Maurizio Viroli, and Paul Sigmund asked questions. Afterwards I briefly chatted with Sandoz, Viroli and Sigmund. After discussing Locke with Sigmund he asked me what department I was with (I think he probably meant as student, grad-student or TA) and I told him I taught at Mercer County Community College, just down the road from Princeton (Princeton is in Mercer County). He praised our classical music station. As a Locke scholar, Sigmund, I think seemed impressed by my knowledge of the dispute over Locke's personal theology (a few years earlier Sigmund moderated a debate between Michael Zuckert and Jeremy Waldron over Locke & Christianity, which I also attended). We seemed to be on the same page regarding Locke. He noted he didn't believe in the Straussian position that Locke was a secret atheist, but does believe there is something to the notion that Locke was a closet heretic/unitarian Christian, most likely of the Arian variety. He advised that I check out John Marshall's work on Locke which concludes Locke was a closet Arian.

The themes of republicanism, human rights, the Founding, liberalism (liberty & equality), religion & God were stressed during the event. As such, it was inevitable that Locke, and how to properly understand him, would be brought up. I was struck by the way in which Sigmund and Viroli, politically left-liberals, noted they believed (after Locke) that God was arguably necessary or at least a very helpful part of the equation in establishing human rights and political liberty. Imago Dei.

Though, Sigmund and Viroli, during their Q&A with Sandoz noted it was "the right kind of God" -- one that grants political liberty and equality -- who necessary fills the equation. When chatting with them I asked whether this God was the Biblical God and they answered arguably not, but in some way, perhaps. They understood the Biblical God doesn't directly reveal that men possess an unalienable right to liberty; and in fact, many parts of the Bible seem to belie this. We ended the brief conversation agreeing that it was the God of a "selective" reading of the Bible, arguably a theologically liberal, cafeteria religion that best serves the needed, ultimate guarantees of political liberalism and human rights.

Sunday, April 06, 2008


A little while ago I mentioned the Christian scholarship of a former Professor of mine, David Skeel, now of University of Pennsylvania School of Law. As it turns out, Skeel and fellow evangelical William Stuntz of Harvard Law, have new blog called Less than the Least. Stuntz has some moving posts discussing his circumstance as a middle-aged man suffering with stage 4 cancer.

Though I am not a Christian and am skeptically and secularly minded, I would never try to debunk religion like Dawkins, et al., precisely for the type of comfort faith has provided and continues to provide to folks in precarious circumstances, which for most folks throughout humanity is most of life itself. I just want folks to be entirely free from faith systems in which they don't believe. I guess that's a big part of why I am a libertarian; such a system allows the most amount of "room" for folks of various ideologies and lifestyles.

Stuntz has found comfort in his faith. Though his philosophy of resigning himself to fate has something to it that, in my opinion, transcends Christianity, and is almost Eastern in its perspective:

I don’t have any previous experience with this sort of thing, but judging from what I hear and read, I’m supposed to be asking why all this is happening, and why it’s happening to me. Honestly, those questions are about the farthest thing from my mind.

Partly, that’s because they aren’t hard questions. Why does our world have gravity? Why does the sun rise in the East? There are technical answers, but the metaphysical answer is simple: that’s how reality works. So too here. Only in the richest parts of the rich world of the twenty-first century could anyone entertain the thought that we should expect long, pain-free lives. Suffering and premature death (an odd phrase: what does it mean to call death “premature”?) are constant presences in the lives of most of the peoples of the Earth, and were routine parts of life for generations of our predecessors in this country—as they still are today, for those with their eyes open. Stage 4 cancers happen to middle-aged men and women, seemingly out of the blue, because that’s how reality works.

As for why this is happening to me in particular, the implicit point of the question is an argument: I deserve better than this. There are two responses. First, I don’t—I have no greater moral claim to be free from unwanted pain and loss than anyone else. Plenty of people more virtuous than I am suffer worse than I have, and some who don’t seem virtuous at all skate through life with surprising ease. Welcome to the world. Once again, it seems to me that this claim arises from the incredibly unusual experience of a small class of wealthy professionals in the wealthiest parts of the world today. We think we live in a world governed by merit and moral desert. It isn’t so. Luck, fortune, fate, providence—call it what you will, but whatever your preferred label, it has far more to do with the successes of the successful than what any of us deserves. Aristocracies of the past awarded wealth and position based on the accident of birth. Today’s meritocracies award wealth and position based on the accident of being in the right place at the right time. The difference is smaller than we tend to think. Once you understand that, it’s hard to maintain a sense of grievance in the face of even the ugliest medical news. I’ve won more than my share of life’s lotteries. It would seem churlish to rail at the unfairness of losing this one—if indeed I do lose it: which I may not.

George Washington likewise noted that the ways of Providence are "inscrutable." Neil Peart, the agnostic, secular lyricist and drummer of Rush, another one who has won more than his share of life's lotteries, wrote a song about resignation to fate, a few years later he likewise suffered a Jobian loss -- both his wife and daughter died within a year's period.

As noted there is something Eastern/Buddhist about letting go of your attachment to all worldly possessions including your life and the lives of others whom you love. Suffering is a constant and everything eventually passes from the world. The fact that you exist at all is a miracle. And you don't deserve anything good or bad that happens to you; it just does. Never feel cheated; because, comparatively, you probably aren't. Give up your resentments, most of them are petty anyway.

I know easier said than done. Anyway, enough of a Sunday sermon from me.
Response to Babka on Romans 13:

First I'd like thank Jim Babka for taking the time to write such a thoughtful response on my post about Romans 13 and for the nice things he says about me in there.

Though, I don't really find much to disagree with. I've tried to make it clear that I concede one could be an orthodox Christian or believe the Bible infallible and have a variety of views on the proper way to interpret Romans 13; just as such Christians differ on the proper way to interpret the millennium (pre, post, or a) the last supper (whether Christ's actual presence is in the Eucharist) or all 5-points of Calvinist theology. I do think however, that many of the pro-revolutionary preachers who justified revolt used an unorthodox hermeneutic to explain away Romans 13.

I do want such Christians to understand however, that there was a strong tradition in Christian orthodoxy that held you do submit to your rulers no matter who they are because God put them in place. And therefore, the Tories had just as strong a biblical position for their loyalism, and the American/Whig understanding of Romans 13 was the more historically novel one. One point of disagreement with Babka's post is where he writes: "Jon’s article has, whether he intended it to or not, assumed that Calvinism = Orthodoxy." I did point out how Calvin's writings on civil government clearly support the Tory position of submission to Great Britain. However, the theology of virtual unlimited submission to civil rulers was not just a Calvinist idea but had a very strong current in almost all of the orthodox Christian traditions.

Dr. Gregg Frazer's PhD thesis for example quotes Steven M. Dworetz's summary of Romans 13 and Christian tradition. The context to which Dworetz refers is that these ministers turned Romans 13 on its head and said that it explicitly permits or commands revolt. I might agree that Romans 13 doesn't necessarily stand in the way of revolt, but saying it commands revolt is cafeteria Christianity, like saying Leviticus commands same-sex marriage:

Basing a revolutionary teaching on the scriptural authority of chapter 13 of St. Paul's Epistle to the Romans must rank as one of the greatest ironies in the history of political thought. This passage...served as the touchstone for passive obedience and unconditional submission from Augustine and Gregory to Luther and Calvin....The medieval church fathers as well as the reformers and counter-reformers of the sixteenth century all invoked this doctrine in denouncing disobedience and resistance to civil authorities.

-- Dworetz, The Unvarnished Doctrine: Locke, Liberalism, and the American Revolution, p. 155, quoted in Frazer, The Political Theology of the American Founding, p. 358.

Yet, as Babka would rightly note, there was a tradition first in orthodox Protestantism and then in enlightened Protestantism of resisting such authority. The point I want to stress is this tradition was more novel and dissident. Yet, given that it dates back to the 16th Century, it is not exactly novel.

For a classic example of an orthodox Christian sermon on this very issue see Tory loyalist Jonathan Boucher's On Civil Liberty, Passive Obedience, and Non-resistance. He rightly, in my opinion, points out that the concept of political liberty, is not biblical. As he puts it: "The word liberty, as meaning civil liberty, does not, I believe, occur in all the Scriptures." Not that the Bible is incompatible with the notion of political liberty. It just doesn't really speak to it. That's why a nation comprised of many traditional Christians had to turn chiefly to non-biblical sources when founding America on the concept of political liberty. And to the extent that the Bible was used to justify political liberty and republicanism, often creative interpretations and rewritings had to be done in order to make them all seem to "fit" together.

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Critical Reviews on the Founders & Religion:

First Daniel Dreisbach checks Brooke Allen from the right. And Chris Rodda checks Steven Waldman from the left. How's that for balance?