Sunday, September 28, 2008


Timothy Sandefur explains that the name "Cato" from the Cato Institute is taken from the historical figure of antiquity and is not an acronym:

The Institute is named after Cato's Letters, a series of classical liberal papers written by Trenchard and Gordon, who used the pseudonym Cato in honor of Cato the Younger, the stalwart defender of republican Rome. Cato, along with Pompey, fought against Caesar in the Roman Civil War. When it became clear that Caesar would be victorious, Cato retired to his rooms and stabbed himself in the gut with a dagger. The wound was not fatal, and a surgeon was called to sew him up, but when the surgeon left and the family let him alone to rest, Cato tore open the stitches and ripped out his intestines with his hands rather than live in a Rome governed by Caesar's dictatorship.

He became a symbol of republican virtue for the American patriots. Joseph Addison wrote a play about him, which became George Washington's favorite play, and a line from it was quoted by Nathan Hale when he was executed by the redcoats as a Patriot spy: "I regret that I have but one life to give for my country."

Of course, when I wrote the biography of George Washington for Cato's Encyclopedia of Libertarianism I stressed just how that play profoundly influenced Washington's Stoic sense of honor.

But this also speaks of another interesting dynamic: While I don't know of Nathan Hale's religion, and while I personally have concluded Washington was not an orthodox Trinitarian Christian, Patrick Henry I do believe clearly was an orthodox Trinitarian Christian. And, he too was profoundly influenced by Addison's play. Indeed, Henry's famous "give me liberty or give me death" line was practically taken from this pagan source.

Some sympathetic to a "Christian America" reading of history have noted that even the supposed "Deists" like Jefferson and Franklin were influenced by a "Christian worldview." And no doubt that's true. However, the converse is also true: Even the "Christians" like Patrick Henry were influenced by a non-Christian Enlightenment and a noble pagan (Greco-Roman) worldview. Indeed the notion of give me political liberty or give me death has nothing to do with the Bible or the orthodox Christian religion. And Cato, the figure from pagan antiquity, committed suicide as a matter of principle, a blatantly UNCHRISTIAN act.
Mormon Debate At First Things:

Outstanding debate between a Mormon and an orthodox Christian at First Things. As my readers know I think Mormonism is a good analogy to the religious creed of America's key Founders [Washington, J. Adams, Jefferson, Madison, Franklin and others]. All of them, including Jefferson and Franklin, were more likely to identify as "Christians" in some sense than "Deists" (although they may not have viewed these concepts as mutually exclusive; a popular definition of Deism at the time of the Founding was simple belief in one God, meaning all God believers were "Deists," not a very meaningful definition; hence Jefferson could speak of the "Deism" of the Jews). Mormons too consider themselves "Christian." Yet Mormon belief is inconsistent with enough orthodoxy that orthodox Christians claim "this isn't Christianity." Ditto with the religious beliefs of America's key Founders. In short, if Mormons can't pass the "Christian" test, then neither could (or likely could) Washington, J. Adams, Jefferson, Madison, Franklin and many other Founding Fathers.

Friday, September 26, 2008

More Orthodox Christians Who "Get It":

This time from the White Horse Inn. These orthodox Christians of the evangelical bent are well informed on the American Founding. They entitle the program "American Deism" and term Founders like Jefferson and J. Adams "Deists." I might disagree with them terming these Founders "Deists," but they recognize the "Christian-Deism" (as David L. Holmes terms it) of the key Founders confuses modern evangelical Christians in a way that the non-Christian Deism of Thomas Paine does not. The hard Deists like Paine wanted little if anything to do with Christianity and Jesus, so you tend not to see them saying nice things about the Christian Religion. Men like Washington, J. Adams and yes, Jefferson and Franklin, on the other hand appreciated Christianity for its moral teachings only and either bitterly rejected orthodox Trinitarian doctrines (like Jefferson and Adams did) or otherwise totally ignored them (like Washington and Madison did). So when we see these key Founders saying nice things about the Christian religion, it's always in the context of the morality that it engenders and never about the need for Christ as a personal savior or as One who makes a blood Atonement. Many evangelicals therefore mistakenly conclude these Founders were real orthodox Christians when they weren't. And figures like David Barton, Peter Marshall, the late D. James Kennedy, William Federer, and Worldview Weekend are primarily to blame for the confusion.

The program also notes, rightly so, that building a "cult" around the supposed Christianity of these Founding Fathers isn't good for the purity of the orthodox evangelical religion.

Finally the program mentions the phenomenon of moralistically therapeutic Deism which surveys show is the dominant religion among the younger folks in Christian Churches. MTD is not all that different than the theistic rationalism of America's key Founders, except the modern version doesn't have the thought out philosophical underpinnings that Jefferson and Adams attached to it. This is important to note because many conclude that the "Deism" of the Founding disappeared when it never really did. It's alive and well in the nominal Christianity of the 80% of Americans who define themselves as "Christian."

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Gordon on Orthodoxy and Christian America:

"T. David Gordon is a minister in the Presbyterian Church in America and associate professor of religion at Grove City College (Grove City, Pennsylvania)." He writes a good article that explores issue of orthodoxy and Christian America. On "Christian America" he writes:

Especially surprising, in this regard, is the amount of effort expended at attempting to prove that our early Republic was intentionally "a Christian nation" or that the individual Founders were Christian believers. (3) This surprises me not only because the existent documents appear to be at best inconclusive, but also because it would mean nothing anyway. The accidents of history can never oblige us; and even if the Founders had intended to establish a Christian nation (whatever that might mean), we would be under no obligation whatsoever to continue the experiment in our generation, unless we (the populace as a whole) believed there was value to it. To illustrate: The Founders also plainly intended to permit the African slave trade to continue for the foreseeable future without federal interference. Does this mean we should resurrect the practice today? Of course not; it was a horrible idea then, and would remain a horrible idea today.

And on George Washington's creed in particular he writes:

There are many sources for this. In popular media, one naturally thinks of the late D. James Kennedy at Coral Ridge; and at a more academic level, the 1,200-page treatise by Dr. Peter Lillback of Westminster Seminary, George Washington's Sacred Fire. My own opinion is much more of that associated with Michael Novak (Washington's God), Paul F. Boller, Jr. (George Washington and Religion), or my colleague Gary Scott Smith (Faith and the Presidency: From George Washington to George W. Bush), each of which describes Washington as neither a conventional orthodox Christian nor a conventional Deist, but some kind of a hybrid between them who believed in a Supreme Being who acts in history (unlike a strict Deist), who almost never mentioned Christ, and certainly never mentioned any redemption achieved by him (unlike a genuinely orthodox Christian). I am content to think of him, as Dr. Smith does, as a "theistic rationalist."

One pleasant thing I've discovered covering the "Christian America" controversy is that that thesis doesn't speak well to many notable evangelical scholars.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Hard Truths & Noble Lies:

The followers of Leo Strauss have taken a lot of heat for their positing the notion of a "noble lie." Though I'm not a Straussian, I completely understand where they are coming from (and perhaps this is because I found Bloom's "The Closing of the American Mind" so profound, even if I disagree with much of it). Philosophy teaches unadulterated truth. And very often truth isn't lovable. The notion that the "truth" will set you free and is always "good" is itself a noble lie. We lie to little children when we tell them about Santa Claus and we also lie to them when we tell them, in no uncertain terms, "everything is going to be alright."

This is what philosophers qua philosophers *do not do.* Yet, this is also why philosophers have been historically hated when too publicly philosophical and since Socrates until the Enlightenment used to be killed for "spilling the beans," so to speak. [That is, they may be able to act as "philosophers qua philosophers" privately, only when in their philosophers' closets.]

The strong tendency for normal (that is non-philosophically minded) folks to rationalize away "hard truths" also leads to massive amounts of unconscious positing of noble lies. All different ideological sides do this.

And that further complicates the issue: Because of differences over "the good," one man's noble lie is another's pernicious lie waiting to be debunked.

Take drugs for example. During the height of the anti-drug war propaganda, there was a tendency to believe that illegal drugs were simply of the devil and that no good could come from them. And this is what was taught to school children. When young, I believed it. Admitting there could be anything good about drugs was just one of those "unacceptable" truths.

Now, there certainly are bad things about drugs. Figures like Jim Morrison, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, Kurt Cobain, River Phoenix, John Belushi, Chris Farely and many others attest to the danger of drugs. But, we should note that all of them died at their creative peak. In other words, whatever the dangers of drugs, they show no evidence of harming the creative productivity of those artists and may have helped their output. [The Beatles' music started to sound a hell of a lot better after Bob Dylan smoked them up and they started to do hallucinogenic drugs.] One could argue they would have been just as creative or more creative without the drugs (I seriously doubt it). But given the known creative output, one could just as easily argue the drugs influenced the creativity. The noble lie tendency is to say there's nothing positive that can be said of illegal drugs and argue from that premise.

Or take evolution. I believe it's true. And I believe evolution is compatible with various religious beliefs. But it's also incompatible with various traditionally held beliefs like Young Earth Creationism. Accept Darwin and you have to give up YEC and various "literal" accounts in the Bible. And that's a truth that some folks for understandable reasons have a hard time swallowing. I, for one, don't want to be like the boy who told the Christianists kids that Santa doesn't exist and would opt for a "noble lie" of perhaps arguing evolution and traditional biblical interpretations are more compatible than they really are.

I've previously blogged about the need for a potential noble lie of asserting Islam to be a "religion of peace." [Indeed, sometimes the philosophers' noble lies can transform various belief systems in accordance with their gently deceptive sentiments.]

As my readers know, I like to deconstruct the idea of a "Christian Nation," to expose the tensions between America's Founding ideals and traditional biblical Christianity and to show how many notable Founders turned out to be not "real" (meaning orthodox Trinitarian) Christians after all. In fairness to me, I didn't let this cat out of the bag and the secular historical academy is to the left of me. You see, much of this was taboo during the Founding era until the 20th Century. That Christianity and republicanism were perfectly compatible and that men like George Washington were pious Christians was a "noble lie" that much of the American public for many years believed. I'd remind folks the record clearly shows inveterate noble liars like Parson Weems making things up out of whole cloth about George Washington's Christianity. Liars like Mason Weems had a better public reputation than did truth tellers like Washington's own minister Rev. Abercrombie who had to request anonymity when he wrote of Washington's systematic avoidance of communion:

I cannot consider any man as a real Christian who uniformly disregards an ordinance so solemnly enjoined by the divine Author of our holy religion, and considered as a channel of divine grace. This, Sir, is all that I think it proper to state on paper. In a conversation, more latitude being allowed, more light might, perhaps, be thrown upon it. I trust, however, Sir, you will not introduce my name in print.

The uber-orthodox Christian Rev. James Renwick Willson was burned in effigy (presumably by other orthodox Christians) in 1832 when he told the truth that according to orthodox standards the early American Founders/Presidents weren't "Christians" but "unitarians" and "infidels."

Often public perception is based on a noble lie and the truth tellers are "tabloid deconstructionists." Most of America, for instance, at one time believed Rock Hudson was straight. But we now know the "secret minority," not mass consensus was right on Hudson's sexuality. We could easily imagine one of Mr. Hudson's family members or close friends, back in the 1950s, lying to protect his reputation. Keep in mind when Nelly Custis testified to her adopted father's Christianity, it was in the context of protecting his public reputation when the tabloids of the day were chattering:

It was his custom to retire to his library at nine or ten o'clock where he remained an hour before he went to his chamber. He always rose before the sun and remained in his library until called to breakfast. I never witnessed his private devotions. I never inquired about them. I should have thought it the greatest heresy to doubt his firm belief in Christianity. His life, his writings, prove that he was a Christian. He was not one of those who act or pray, "that they may be seen of men." He communed with his God in secret.

Now, if she believed Washington was privately what the orthodox would have termed a "heretic," an "infidel," or otherwise not a "real Christian" would she have answered any differently?

Finally, there are things I believe that I don't personally feel comfortable writing on a public website. What are they? I won't say. But future generations may regard them, like Darwinism or America's non-authentically Christian Founding, as certain taboos that aren't taboo anymore, relics of a generation past. But that generation likewise will have its own taboos and noble lies.
Understanding the God of the Pledge:

Joe Carter and John Coleman are two traditionalist Christian thinkers who well understand the issue of civil religion and the Pledge of Allegiance and they've written excellent articles on the matter. See Carter's and Coleman's (which cites Carter's). Whatever the merits of Michael Newdow's legal case, and whatever the policy merits of keeping God in or taking God out, it's important to understand what "under God" means. And it's not under the Christian God or even under the "Judeo-Christian" God, but rather under the God of the American Civil religion, which is under the God of Jefferson, J. Adams and Franklin (who thought Hindus and Muslims worshipped the same God Jews and Christians do). And they in turn whether they consciously knew it (arguably they didn't) followed Rousseau's plan.

Carter notes something profoundly important. There probably ARE many Christians who DO think it's under their God. And they are either ignorant or fooled. This same dynamic existed during the Founding era when the first four Presidents spoke to a Christian populace speaking as though they worshipped the same God. And then spoke to Native Americans...and acted as though they worshipped the same God (the "Great Spirit"). Carter writes:

America has done a fine job of incorporating Rousseau's "dogmas of civil religion", keeping them "few, simple, and exactly worded." We have restricted such sentiments to the most unobtrusive areas, allowing "In God We Trust' to be printed on our coins and the phrase "under God" to slip in our Pledge of Allegiance (which, curiously, isn't a pledge of "allegiance" to God but to a flag). We allow recognition for a "Divinity, possessed of foresight and providence" but what we don't allow is the recognition of the Christian God. And that is what should give Christians pause.

There is a vast and unbridgeable chasm between America's civil religion and Christianity. If we claim that "under God" refers only to the Christian conception of God we are either being unduly intolerant or, more likely, simply kidding ourselves. Do we truly think that the Hindu, Wiccan, or Buddhist is claiming to be under the same deity as we are? We can't claim, as Paul did on Mars Hill, that the "unknown god" they are worshiping is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The Pledge is, after all, a secular document and the "under god" is referring to the Divinity of our country's civil religion. Just as the pagan religion of the Roman Empire was able to incorporate other gods and give them familiar names, the civil religion provides an umbrella for all beliefs to submit under one nondescript, fill-in-the-blank term.

Coleman recognizes that "under God" is a quasi-secular, not an authentically biblical idea. But the irony is the quasi-secular thinkers of the Founding era (America's key Founders) were the ones who gave us this generic civil religion because they thought "under" a generic "God" was a glue that could hold society together. Now the secularists like Newdow are on the other side. As he writes:

That is why, for generations, the Michael Newdows of this world recognized that acknowledging a generic higher power was helpful, not harmful to the citizenry. It held the nation together. It calmed the populace. It united us under a creed. To the irreligious (like many of our Founders) hollow recitations of Under God would seem paltry penance for the benefits afforded by state religion's civil unity.

To the devout, however, "under God" may pose a more serious moral threat. One of the most basic tenets of both Judaism and Christianity is Yahweh's statement in the Ten Commandments, "Thou shalt have no other Gods before me;" yet every day millions of Christians, Muslims, and Jews stand first, not to pray to the God of Mohammed or of the Cross, but to pledge allegiance to the god of city, state, and country.

Both articles demand serious thinking. Make sure you check them out.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Encyclopedia of Libertarianism:

I don't yet have my copy of CATO's Encyclopedia of Libertarianism. I do want to note, though, that I wrote the entry on George Washington. There is a preview on googlebooks; but my GW entry is not yet included in the preview (I think it's on p. 535). However you can see my name on the contributor list here. And let me say it's an honor to be included in a project with such distinguished authors.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Madalyn Murray O'Hair v. Michael Newdow:

Michael Newdow, the atheist who got the 9th Circuit to scrap "under God" from the Pledge of Allegiance, has been compared to a modern day Madalyn Murray O'Hair; but I think the comparison is inapt. They do have similarities. Obviously their atheist activism. Plus both are (were) intelligent, capable of well arguing their case.

However, when it comes to their personalities, the two are the difference between night and day. O'Hair was unlikable, clownish and obnoxious and got off on mocking and prodding her enemies with her abrasive personality. See the following clips:

Newdow, on the other hand, has an extremely mild mannered, affable and reasonable sounding personality. Indeed, O'Hair may have been smart, but Newdow (an ER doctor AND a lawyer) is brilliant. When he argued his case before the Supreme Court, Newdow handled himself like a litigatory virtuoso. Lawyers who are that good in front of the Supreme Court make millions in the private sector as appellate advocates. Perhaps, in this sense, Michael Newdow is like Princeton ethics professor Pete Singer: His brilliance in favor of a very extreme position is itself irritating and to many folks somewhat unsettling.

Here is a clip of Newdow in action:

Mars & Thor Worship:

Though I might sympathize more with the secular side, there is a certain kind of secular activism which I am squarely against: Trying to purge from public square historic names, seals, flags, whatnot, any vestige of "religion" because such intimates government endorsement of Christianity.

Eugene Volokh noted one such case where the 10th Circuit held that it's constitutional for Las Cruces' City Seal to have three crosses. See the pic.

I think the problem is, America, in principle, indeed has a "core value" that really doesn't favor Christianity over other religions, but rather holds all "religion" have an equal place at the table with secular and pagan philosophies. But this value wasn't meant to work itself out this way, where through court litigation all vestiges of religious imagery that could be potentially interpreted as endorsing one religion over another had to be extirpated from the public square.

If you look at America's and Western Civilization's cultural heritage, it's every bit as pagan (chiefly Greco-Roman, but also Anglo-Saxon paganism) as it is Judeo-Christian. Does having the 5th day of the week named after my favorite Deity Thor the Thunder God signify Thor Worship? Or does having the third month of the year named after Mars bringer of war imply we are a Greek God worshipping nation? In America lots of names of public places reflect our pagan Native American heritage; for instance "Kansas" comes from the Kanza Indians which translates as "People of the Southwind."

If we can get the handful of nuisance secularists (it only takes one person to file a lawsuit) to understand these things are the equivalent of Mars and Thor worship perhaps they'd stop filing these silly lawsuits. But we also need to get the religious side to understand America was NOT founded to be a "Christian Nation" in a public or civil sense. They irk the secular side on with their specious "Christian Nation" arguments.
Founding Era Churches & Same Sex Marriage:

At American Creation, Eric Alan Isaacson has a well written and documented post on the Churches where America's Founders worshipped. He notes that many, perhaps most, (but certainly not all) seem to be firmly pro-gay marriage and in fact marry same sex couples. Here's a taste:

New England’s oldest Protestant churches today stand firmly on the side of legal equality for gay and lesbian couples – including their right to marry. The 1996 General Assembly of the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations, whose membership includes the First Parish Church in Plymouth (gathered 1606), the First Church in Salem (gathered 1629), the First Church in Boston (gathered 1630), and the United First Parish Church in Quincy (gathered 1636), declared its unequivocal “support of legal recognition for marriage between members of the same sex.” Thus, the Quincy church, where President John Adams, First Lady Abigail Adams, President John Quincy Adams, and First Lady Louisa Catherine Adams worshipped – and where they rest in peace to this day – has declared the congregation’s support for “the right of same-sex couples to marry and to receive all the rights and benefits of that civil institution under the laws of the Commonwealth.

Monday, September 08, 2008

The Kernel of Truth in the Christian Nation Claim:

But America Still Turned Out to be Founded on "Unitarian" Principles.

I just read a neat article by one William G. McLoughlin, late professor at Brown University. It was in "Essays on The American Revolution" edited by Stephen G. Kurtz, and James H. Hutson.

The article is probably the best scholarly claim I've ever read of the kernel of truth inherent in the "Christan Nation" claim. The article understands that the ideas and ideals of the American Founding (i.e., the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, the Federalist Papers, the notion of inalienable rights) have little to do with traditional biblical Christianity. Yet, it stresses that under the original Constitution, religion was left to the states and vestiges of the old "Christian commonwealths" persisted at the state level for some time. Not in Virginia, at least not after 1786, when Jefferson's historic Statute on Religious Freedom became the law of the land, and never in Rhode Island which was Roger Williams' baby (Williams thought the idea of a "Christian Commonwealth" to be blasphemous; and that got him banished the John Winthrop's "Christian Commonwealth" in Puritan Massachusetts). But many/most states post 1789 had laws that favored or otherwise established "Protestant Christianity" in some sense.

The article tellingly asks: "How did the universal spirit of the rights of man become in the end a new national establishment that excluded non-Protestants from full religious equality?" [p. 209.]

That question exemplifies the nuanced dynamic that we need to appreciate. America was "founded" according to a certain set of ideals (see the Declaration of Independence). And those ideals that hold all men are created equal and endowed with unalienable rights also demand "full religious equality" be granted to, as Jefferson put it, "the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and Mahometan, the Hindoo, and Infidel of every denomination."

Yet, in 1811 in the State of New York, Chancellor Kent in "People v. Ruggles" could uphold a common law blasphemy conviction and state:

Nor are we bound, by any expressions in the constitution, as some have strangely supposed, either not to punish at all, or to punish indiscriminately the like attacks upon the religion of Mahomet or of the grand Lama; and for this plain reason, that the case assumes that we are a christian people, and the morality of the country is deeply ingrafted upon christianity, and not upon the doctrines or worship of those impostors.

Indeed the Courts in some states were still declaring "Christianity" to be part of the common law. And luminaries Joseph Story and John Marshall argued Christianity to have some kind of organic connection to American civil law. The culmination of the "Christian Nation" fervor reached its fever pitch in the Holy Trinity case where the Supreme Court declared American to be a "Christian Nation."

So there is rhetoric and practice from the Founding era and the hagiographic 19th Century that supports the Christian Nation claim. What destroys the Christian Nation claim (as I see it) is that America, though influenced by Christian morality was not founded on its orthodox Christian doctrines. Indeed those who most famously posited "American" principles like Thomas Jefferson, John Adams and Ben Franklin rejected all of Christianity's orthodox doctrines. And others like James Madison and George Washington ignored them. Further as noted above, the ideas contained in the Declaration of independence, Constitution and Federalist Papers have little to do with traditional biblical Christianity.

Why is the word "orthodox" important? To those who most vociferously defend America's public "Christian Heritage," "Christianity" defines according to its orthodox doctrines. Reject those and you reject Christianity and present some "non-Christian" system under the auspices of "Christianity" (as do presently the Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses and other supposed "cults"; back then instead of terming them "cults" as they do today, the orthodox would simply call such beliefs like those privately posited by America's key Founders, "heresy" at best, "infidelity" at worst).

What do original sin, the trinity, incarnation, atonement, infallibility of the Bible, and eternal damnation have to do with "Christianity"? If the answer is they are "negotiable" and "unimportant" then yes we can say America was founded to be a "Christian Nation." If those doctrines, on the other hand, are central to the Christian faith, then no, America cannot be said to be "Christian" in a public civil sense.

According to America's Founding thought (secretly posited, as it may have been) to be a "Christian" meant to be a "good person." As John Adams put it:

“I believe with Justin Martyr, that all good men are Christians, and I believe there have been, and are, good men in all nations, sincere and conscientious.”

– John Adams to Samuel Miller, July 8, 1820.

Indeed, this is the definition of "Christianity" that Adams used when he stated:

The general Principles, on which the Fathers Atchieved Independence, were...the general Principles of Christianity...[a]nd the general Principles of English and American Liberty....

This is one of the Christian Nation crowd's most oft-repeated quotations. Taken out of context, it seems to support their claim. Reading the rest of the letter, it destroys it. Keep in mind Adams himself was not a "Christian" according to the way the Christian America thesis understands the term. And he said in that same letter Unitarians [Arians, Priestleyans, Socinians], Universalists, Deists and Atheists were all united the "general principles of Christianity" as he understood them:

Who composed that Army of fine young Fellows that was then before my Eyes? 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 ["Protestants who believe nothing"]." Very few however of several of these Species. Nevertheless all Educated in the general Principles of Christianity: and the general Principles of English and American Liberty.

How could a Deist or even an "atheist" be "united" with the orthodox on any Christian principles? The answer is simple. According to Adams being a Christian meant being a good person. If an atheist was a good person, he was a "Christian."

So ultimately it was this unitarianism that presented itself under the auspices of "Christianity" that united the sects. But the plan was not for the unitarian ideals to immediately transform American society (such immediate transformation backfired in Revolutionary France), but for the transformation to occur slowly over time. But those changes did occur. American society gradually secularized because of its secret founding principles.

As Thomas Pangle put it, Jefferson's real goal was “conformity based on indifference; not diversity, but the tepid and thoughtless uniformity of Unitarianism in a society where Unitarians no longer have to defend and prove themselves.” This perfectly describes Adams' thoughts as well.

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Gouverneur Morris, Theistic Rationalist:

That's the title to a paper Dr. Gregg Frazer recently gave at the APSA 2008 Annual Meeting, Hynes Convention Center, Boston, Massachusetts. Luckily the entire paper is available online. At 30 pages, that's quite a bit about both Gouverneur Morris and theistic rationalism. Some highlights.

On Morris' importance as Founding Father:

Morris spoke more often than anyone at the Constitutional Convention and was an influential member of the critically important Committee of Style. In fact, Morris wrote the Preamble to the Constitution,...

On theistic rationalism:

Theistic rationalism was a hybrid belief system mixing elements of natural religion, Protestant Christianity, and rationalism – with rationalism as the decisive factor whenever conflict arose between the elements. Theistic rationalists believed that these three elements would generally be in accord and lead to the same end, but that reason was determinative on those relatively rare occasions in which there was disagreement. Rationalism as used here is the philosophical view that regards reason as the chief source and test of knowledge. Educated in Enlightenment thought, theistic rationalists were at root rationalists, but their loosely Christian upbringing combined with reason to convince them that a creator God would not abandon his creation. Consequently, they rejected the absentee god of deism and embraced a theist God of, to a significant extent, their own construction. Hence the term theistic rationalism.

An emphasis on reason had long been accepted in the Christian community, but in Christian thought, reason was a supplement to revelation, which was supreme. Theistic rationalism turned this on its head and made revelation a supplement to reason. In fact, for theistic rationalists, reason determined what should be accepted as revelation from God. Unlike deists, theistic rationalists accepted the notion of revelation from God; unlike Christians, they felt free to pick apart the Bible and to consider only the parts which they determined to be rational to be legitimate divine revelation. They similarly felt free to define God according to the dictates of their own reason and to reject Christian doctrines which did not seem to them to be rational.

The God of the theistic rationalists was a unitary, personal God whose controlling attribute was benevolence. Theistic rationalists believed that God was present and active in the world and in the lives of men. Consequently, they believed in the efficacy of prayer – that someone was listening and might intervene on their behalf. Theistic rationalism was not a devotional or inward-looking belief system; it was centered on public morality. God was served by living and promoting a good, moral life. The primary value of religion was the promotion of morality, and the morality generated by religion was indispensable to a free society. Since all of the religions with which they were familiar promoted morality, they held that virtually all religions were more or less equally valid and led to the same God who is called by many names. Theistic rationalists generally disdained doctrines or dogmas. They found them to be divisive, speculative, and ultimately unimportant since many roads lead to God.

This next passage is important because it clears up a source of confusion that has led to the inapt categorization of many theistic rationalists (like George Washington) as "Christians." Because the theistic rationalists thought Jesus a great moral teacher, they tended to be "pro-Christianity" without actually being Christians. Christianity was just great, as were most other world religions. The non-sequitur would be to conclude that the pro-Christian quotations of the theistic rationalists mean they themselves were Christians. As the paper notes:

In addition, deism was in many ways as much a critique of Christianity as a religion of its own. Deist thought rejected virtually every tenet and fundamental of Christianity and deists were generally critical of Christianity’s central figure: Jesus. In short, deists wanted nothing to do with Christianity or its Christ. While theistic rationalists shared some ideas with deists, they had a much greater regard for Christianity and for Jesus than did most deists.

On Morris' theistic rationalism, particularly his belief in an active God:

In my research, I encountered more than 40 references by Morris to God’s activity in the world, the nation, and the lives of individuals. Although he thought the decrees of Heaven and the ways of Providence “inscrutable by man,” Morris was confident that the “Almighty will work out his wise ends by the means of human folly.” In fact, Morris maintained: “I know that in the order of his providence, the wisest ends frequently result from the most foolish measures. It is our duty to submit ourselves to his high dispensations.” Furthermore: “In the great course of events, which divine Providence may have marked out, human wisdom can do but little.” On the large scale, Morris’s God actively ruled over this world and the universe: “My trust is not in a President, Senate, and House of Representatives, but in Him who governs empires, the world, the universe.” He concluded that “when you take occasion to pity the infirmity of human nature … you assail the wisdom of Providence in his moral government of the world.” He urged a correspondent: “Be persuaded, that, in spite of our feeble efforts and empty vows, events in this world, and in the thousands of worlds, which roll through the regions of space, will pursue the course marked out by Omnipotence. Every inferior intelligence, the greatest as well as the least, is but an instrument in his hand.”

On the God-words of Morris the theistic rationalist:

Because theistic rationalism was a sort of mean between deism and Christianity, Morris shared some beliefs with deism, as well. Like the deists, Morris “detested Calvinism.” Like the deists, Morris and other theistic rationalists used generic “God-words” rather than specifically Christian terms for God and studiously avoided references to “Jesus” or to “Jesus Christ.” As can be seen in the quotations above, Morris’s favorite terms for God were “Providence” and “the Almighty.” Most of the other “God-words” that Morris employed emphasize the deist triad of divine attributes: wisdom, goodness, and power. His third favorite term for God was “the Omnipotent” or “Omnipotence,” which, like Almighty, focuses on power. Morris regularly emphasized God’s wisdom, as well, including a reference to God as “the Fountain of supreme wisdom.” He also used a number of terms to emphasize God’s goodness. He called God “the great Parent,” “indulgent father,” “Comforter,” “the Giver of all good,” and “Creator” and spoke of “the kindness of that Being” and of His “paternal love.”

On why Morris probably wasn't a "Christian":

Turning to Morris’s relationship to Christianity, we know that Morris belonged to an Episcopalian church and that he attended it regularly when in New York. Beyond what may have been essentially club membership, however, there is little evidence connecting him to belief in Christianity. Of the ten fundamental doctrines of Christianity listed above, Morris only identified clearly with one of them: belief in a present, active Creator God; which is the least definitive of the doctrines. Speaking of Christianity, Thomas Jefferson testified: “I know that Gouverneur Morris, who pretended to be in his secrets & believed himself to be so, has often told me that Genl. Washington believed no more of that system than he himself did.” It is instructive to note that, at least in his writings, Morris never claimed to be a Christian and never put forward Christianity as a superior belief system – or even Protestant Christianity as a better religion than the Catholicism that he detested.

And finally, probably the most interesting part of the piece, Morris "immoral" conduct. He was certainly the kinkiest Founding Father:

There is another factor separating Morris from Christianity, or at least highly inconsistent with Christian faith – Morris’s immoral conduct. As to reputation, when he was nominated to be minister to France, Roger Sherman said of Morris that “with regard to moral character I consider him an irreligious and profane man.” James Monroe said: “Upon the grounds of character he was twice refused as a member of the Treasury Board.” Though he publicly defended his appointment of Morris, George Washington wrote to Morris about his “imprudence of conversation and conduct” and asked him to display “more caution and prudence” and “more circumspection.” A few years later, Monroe referred to Morris as “a man without morality.” Of course, this could have simply been a matter of political partisanship or personality conflict, but, in Morris’s case, the reputation was well-earned. Morris once threatened to kill a man if he spoke disrespectfully of him, and he frequently got “very drunk” while in France. His most conspicuous moral problems concerned women, however.

Morris had numerous illicit affairs with married and unmarried women and, by his own admission, was constantly trying to initate new ones. One of his earliest dalliances may have cost him one of his legs. One account of the loss of the leg, which is reported as fact by most biographers, is that it happened as a result of a cart accident. There is a good chance that this was merely a cover story, however. There is reason to believe that Morris lost his leg jumping from a window to escape a jealous husband. John Jay joked about it in a letter of consolation to Morris and Lord Palmerston testified that Morris told him the whole story at breakfast a decade later. There is also circumstantial evidence surrounding the woman involved which lends credence. Morris denied the story in a letter to Jay, but not very convincingly. If true, the unfortunate event did not dissuade Morris from similar activity in the future. In fact, he used the curiosity afforded by his one-legged status to attract and seduce other women.

Morris’s diary entries during his time in France are filled with sexual escapades. He had an ongoing affair with Madame de Flahaut for more than three years. She and Morris were eventually so “wanton and flagrant” that they engaged in intercourse “in the passage … at the harpsichord … downstairs ... the doors are all open,” and in a coach with the coachman staring straight ahead. They became so shameless that they engaged in intercourse inside a convent and even tried to conceive a child while she denied her husband conjugal rights. Morris’s diary contains at least eighteen references to their sexual liaisons, but Morris claimed that they had made love “several hundred” times. In addition to Madame de Flahaut, Morris reported having affairs with Madame Simon, an unnamed “damsel,” Madame de Lita, Madame de Crayen, Miss Matthiesen and her “young sister,” Miss Gehrt, and Mrs. Perez Morton. According to the diary entries, he tried to seduce – or thought of doing so – Madame de Flahaut’s niece, Lady Webster, the “daughter of a Frenchman,” Madame Foucault, the daughter of his landlord, Madame de Nadaillac, Madame de Fontana, and even Dolley Madison! Everyone except Jesus sins, but the extent, duration, and brazenness of Morris’s immoral conduct must call into serious question the idea that he was a Christian. Jesus said that a tree is known by its fruit.

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

"Historic Christianity":

I often use the phrase "historic Christianity" to denote longstanding traditional orthodox Christianity. Note this tradition goes back thousands of years; if something occurred in Christendom, for instance, 150 years ago, I consider it relatively “novel” looking back at the big historical picture. I also understand there is a long tradition in Christianity of heresy and dissent (prompting orthodox Christians to reply: “This isn’t ‘historic Christianity’"). And I have no personal problem with theologically liberal, unorthodox and heretical faiths (indeed were I to become a Christian it would probably be that kind; and then the orthodox could tell me, "no, you really aren't a Christian").

I especially try to remove 20-21 Century, and even late 18th Century cultural "prejudices" when examining "historic Christianity." Doing so permits me to conclude that much of what the American Founders claimed to do under the auspices of Christianity is either incompatible with such, or, at the very least had an alien origin. For instance, Locke's a-biblical, perhaps anti-biblical notion of the "state of nature" was preached from Christian pulpits during the Founding era to justify revolt. Similarly, today the Christian pulpit might lecture on the need for "self-esteem," which is either a) anti-biblical (I thought Christians were supposed to despise themselves as wretched sinners) or b) at the very least, not of "biblical" origin and thus, not part of "historic Christianity."

I've further concluded that America's key Founders [Washington, J. Adams, Jefferson, Madison, Franklin, and others] either outright rejected doctrines central to historic Christianity [Jefferson, J. Adams, & Franklin] or show no convincing evidence of believing in them [Washington & Madison]. These doctrines include original sin, the trinity, the incarnation, the atonement, eternal damnation, and the infallibility of the Bible. They were, in short, "heterodox" not "orthodox." The orthodox considered this system [which oft-presented itself under the label of "Christianity"] "heresy" at best, "infidelity" at worst. Whether these key Founders who tended to consider themselves "Christians" [not "Deists"] qualify as such remains a matter of debate.

So with that, we have Founding Father Benjamin Rush, a man who once described his religion as "a compound of the orthodoxy and heterodoxy of most of our Christian churches." You see, as far as I know, he remained orthodox on matters like the Trinity, Incarnation, Atonement, and infallibility of the Bible [don't know where he stood on original sin and know he rejected "total depravity"] but he converted from Calvinism to Arminianism and then to theological Universalism believing all eventually would be saved. Yet, because Rush remained orthodox in his Christology, he arguably merits the label "Christian" more so than do the other above mentioned "key Founders."

And so it is when I write about things like historic Christianity and sex, self sacrifice, revolt against government, I really look back at the big picture. Jim Babka leaves a thoughtful comment responding to my notions of Christianity and sex and self sacrifice. My conclusion is Babka's Christianity reminds me of Benjamin Rush's: a mixture of orthodoxy and heterodoxy. Babka, an evangelical Trinitarian, is orthodox in his Christology; yet [and perhaps it's his Arminianism that led to this just as it did with Benjamin Rush] I see some theologically liberal, heterodox ideas in there as well that are not, as I see it, part of "historic Christianity."

Note: I personally prefer Babka's faith that embraces "Christian Hedonism" to meat and potatoes evangelical or fundamentalist Christianity [certainly to Calvinism, which ain't my cup a' tea at all].

Anyway here is his comment in full:

Jon, There’s a lot that can be said, and I’ll only scratch the surface with some random thoughts (this isn’t good enough to be a stand-alone blog post)…

1) I think it’s bad form to use critics of Christian faith as the standard by which to judge the Christian faith. Rousseau and Nietzsche are both critics and should not be expected to present a positive explanation of Christianity. Merely to help you understand where I’m coming from (because you know I value your work), “Would you want David Barton’s characterization of your position to be the standard by which an observer judged you?”

2) Christian Fathers is a tricky term. They differ, depending on their age. But I think all bets are off once the Christian faith gets subsidy from Constantine. To my mind, the Roman Catholic Church has had a distorted view on sex — and continues to bear vestiges un-Biblical asceticism. The Catholic distortion is that sex isn’t supposed to be so much fun (I Timothy 4:3). It was Augustine that devised an original sin that was sexual in nature. Sex, from the Pope’s perspective, is for making babies. And if you’re pent up enough, you’re sure to produce bunches of them, who will continue to expand the Roman church’s membership rolls.

3) Provisionally, I’m a fan of Christian Hedonism (minus the Calvinism that permeates the thinking of the man who created the term). Christian Hedonism is the idea that the highest beauty is God, and that happiness comes from seeking that beauty.

4) I am aware of no verses in the Bible that call for “self-sacrifice” other than for God (martyrdom) and on behalf of the Christian community (the LOCAL church). Sharing is an ethic of community, and in-line with point #3, following God is not considered a sacrifice, but the ultimate form of happiness. How can pursuing happiness be a sacrifice?

5) I’ve written about suffering on this blog before. Religion, regardless of form, should have something to say about pain, sacrifice, and death. How one responds to difficulties and persecution is a testimony to the world. One cannot know what role their suffering plays in the unfolding of history. Job couldn’t have known that his suffering would serve as a comfort and a lesson to billions. That doesn’t justify the suffering, but the attachment of meaning does make it more bearable.

6) On a closely related issue, slavery is not embraced in Scripture as an ideal — as a moral good. Quite the contrary. But the Scripture is a book of Hebrew realism. A humble slave could be a testimony to his master, and having won him, secure his own freedom. An obedient and industrious slave could, by applying Christian practice, advance to a better station.

But the Scripture was also a book of Hebrew idealism. Philemon was a slave master, reminded by Paul that he should treat his runaway slave as a brother — a brother! In the early church there was no Jew or Greek, “slave or free” — all members of that church were brothers and sisters. This was a revolutionary ethic. And like our national founding principles, the ideal has not always been achieved, and work remained to be done.

But it should come as no surprise that the leaders of the English and American abolitionist movements, the American civil rights movement, and the European anti-communist movement, tended to be Christian.

7) I’m no fan of the prosperity gospel. I think it’s a wolf in sheep’s clothing, and a poor testimony. I can tell you as well, that the younger generation of Christians (under 35) are waking up to the failure of this “God will make everything happy and nice approach.” There’s very little evidence that it works for anyone, other than the televangelists who sell it. But the deepest problem is that it sells a faux Christianity. To hear the likes of Paul and Jan Crouch, Creflo Dollar, or Rod Parsley tell it, St. Paul was apparently a horrible practitioner of the faith — or worse, didn’t have any (2 Cor. 11:24-27). The Christian faith is one where you are called to “take up your cross” — where you must “count the cost.”

Monday, September 01, 2008

Christianity and Self Sacrifice:

Jim Babka's recent comment to one of my posts brought to mind just how much Christians -- even those who purport to believe the Bible infallible -- differ on the proper interpretation of specific doctrines. Sometimes the differences don't really matter; sometimes they do. I asserted Christianity teaches self-sacrifice. Babka replied: "Christianity is not about self-sacrifice, but living for a higher cause. The distinction is important." I await his explanation. When you google the terms “Christianity” and “self-sacrifice” you see there is a strong current in biblical Christianity that teaches this is what Christianity is about.

Dr. Gregg Frazer's thesis teaches Christianity is about self sacrifice. Indeed, he sees tension between that and the idea of “enlightened self interest” or “self preservation” as put forth by Locke et al.

I’ve come across a number orthodox Christians who don’t like John MacArthur’s interpretation (which is Dr. Frazer's) of biblical Christianity precisely because it’s so similar to how Rousseau and Nietzsche characterized Christianity (before Marx) as a temporal opiate and hence something where tyrannical rulers can make Christians into good slaves. Yet, I find this interpretation of Christianity to be authentically biblical and well within the tradition of orthodox hermeneutics. After all, Nietzsche and Rousseau weren’t shabby thinkers. And neither is MacArthur.

It's also notable that Gregg Frazer’s PhD thesis is from Claremont Graduate University which school is imbibed in Straussian thought. And the East Coast Straussians (who get the bulk of Frazer’s Straussian citations, though Harry V. Jaffa and the West Coasters get a couple too) tend to follow Rousseau and Nietzsche on authentic Christianity. Indeed they think Rousseau and Nietzsche to be of the most insightful and profound thinkers, albeit ones who teach dangerous truths. They want liberal democracies to follow Locke.

I blogged about something similar in my post entitled "Can One Be A Good Christian and A Good American?" where I quote West Coast Straussian (the ones who don't like Rousseau and Nietzsche) Thomas West quoting Rousseau:

The citizens march readily to combat; . . . they do their duty, but without passion for victory. They know how to die rather than to win. . . . Christianity preaches nothing but servitude and dependence. Its spirit is so favorable to tyranny that tyranny always profits from it. True Christians are made to be slaves” (Masters trans. 129-30).

West then notes how East Coast Straussian Walter Berns follows Rousseau's understanding of Christianity:

Rousseau’s nasty remarks are supported, surprisingly, by respectable conservative scholars such as Walter Berns, who maintains, “The very idea of natural rights is incompatible with Christian doctrine.” According to Berns, if you don’t put your neighbor’s good ahead of your own, you are a bad Christian. But the natural rights doctrine of the founding says that you may put your own preservation first if it conflicts with another’s.

If Berns and other scholars like him are correct, you cannot be a good Christian and a good American. George Washington’s 1789 letter to the Quakers tactfully but firmly criticizes their refusal to serve in the armed forces. Good citizenship, Washington implies, requires that you be willing to kill the enemies of your country.

Now Drs. Frazer & MacArthur obviously don’t agree with the Christian bashing of R & N, however, they do note that the Bible DOES NOT teach political liberty and is entirely compatible with chattel slavery. If you are a chattel slave, what does it matter if you’ve got your salvation? You are still in a better position than the richest unregenerate slave master who owns more slaves and wealth than anyone.

This isn’t an interpretation of Christianity that I personally like. And I know many evangelical libertarians like Jim Babka don’t like it either. But, again, I do see a strong case to be made that THIS IS authentic biblical Christianity.
The Married Christian Bed and Hard Truths:

Ayn Rand's Objectivist philosophy is incompatible with historic Christianity, for a number of reasons, the least of which is that Christianity teaches self sacrifice, and Objectivism teaches selfishness or pursing self-interest.

I'm neither a Christian nor an Objectivist. But I do find something intriguing about the religious notion of self sacrifice for the greater good. It has lead to heroic acts of martyrdom and human achievement. But also great evil. It also makes for interesting theoretical discussions. So let's.

Christians are supposed to be in the world, not of the world. And their religion teaches self sacrifice for the greater good. Their worst sacrifices have come from religious persecution, being burned at the stake for heresy, for instance. I respect someone who has the courage to face that, however I might disagree with his or her religious beliefs.

So one of the things that turns my stomach is when I read arguments for religious conversion on how much better it will be for you (in the world) when you convert to Christianity. Now, religious belief does indeed give many folks psychological comfort. But that life gets easier after converting is not the message of authentic biblical Christianity. Rather the message is you have your spiritual freedom and that's all that matters. So even if you are a lifelong chattel slave, are thrown to the lions or burned at the stake, you can deal with it, because you have what matters most.

So on to sex. I've seen some studies that show married couples have the best sex, and I've seen Christians assert there is something magical about the married "Christian" bed that gives them the best sex lives. I'm not familiar with the "Christian" married sex surveys, but I have seen some that show simply "married couples" report the best sex. There could be some self-reporting bias in these surveys, especially if one tries to use them as a tool for religious conversion. Exhibit A, Ted Haggard testifying that married Christians have the best sex and how good his sex life with his wife is (while he was having gay sex behind her back).

Indeed Christians can use biblical passages about "one flesh" to argue for great Christian marital sex. However, the early Church Fathers did not at all interpret the “one flesh” parts of the Bible to require Christian couples to have a good sex life. They tended to view sex as a necessary evil for the purposes of propagating the human race. If you are done having kids, for a husband and wife to simply cease having sex altogether would be a completely reasonable option, indeed arguably mandatory given the early Church Fathers forbade contraception.

Telling a married couple with enough children to stop having sex puts them in a hard position. But look at the position historic Christianity places homosexually oriented folks in. I far more respect the "don't act on your orientation, make the hard sacrifice" message than the promise of a "conversion" to genuine heterosexual orientation which is a joke. Christianity teaches life is about hard choices and self sacrifice, with a great promise in the end. I might disagree with the theology; but I respect hard hitting, honest answers far more than "you can have your cake and eat it too."

My understanding of human nature, couplings and sex lives is some/many married couples are fortunate to have regular great sex until old age. With some/many their sex/romantic life totally fizzles after so many years (especially after children and as couples age into their forties). And many, probably most, fall in between.

Do married couples have better sex? Probably. And here is likely why: Most folks are not typically George Clooneys, but average. And average folks, especially as you leave your twenties, typically have a hard time finding dates and mates to begin with [I've spoken to a number of divorced and never remarried older women who admit to not having sex for decades]. At least if you are married, you have a permanent potentially available sexual partner which is better than nothing. There is nothing magical about the "married bed" and expect your sex life to get worse with time. And if it doesn't consider yourself lucky in this regard.

Why is this important? One word: Divorce. Reading up on divorce, I see whatever the nuts and bolts statistics on how it eats wealth or produces children with worse education/more likely to get into social trouble, it's terrible for the children's psychological well being.

I think the expectation that you will be as romantically and sexually satisfied with your spouse as when you first met is one of the leading causes of divorce. With many folks the magic just fades and you may find new, perhaps more attractive partners with whom to start that magic all over again. I'm not a Christian; so I have no religious issues with divorce. And if a couple has no kids, I see nothing wrong with divorcing because the romance and sex has faded; move on to greener pastures.

However, if kids are involved (at least minors) a more noble choice is you don't get divorced. With a few exceptions like adultery or your spouse threatens your life or safety; I think the Bible speaks of judicial cause for divorce, which is quite narrow. You can always work on your sex and romantic life. But if it's over, so be it. That's not sufficient biblical cause for divorce. And the Christian religion is about making self-sacrifices for the greater good. For non-Christians, given how hard divorce is on children, I would advise to seriously consider a sexless (or sex rare) relationship and stay together for the children's sake.

I know easier said than done. But given traditional Christians are supposed to have a religious conscience that forbids almost all divorce and non-religious folks have only practical reasons (it's bad for children), you'd think Christians would be better than non-Christians on divorce. But the data doesn't show it.

Gary North, whom I generally regard as an extremist Christian Reconstructionist nonetheless writes a great column slamming former Reconstructionist, now Roman Catholic Randall Terry, founder of Operation Rescue. Bottom line, Terry got a divorce, was kicked out of his fundamentalist Church for it, but never admitted moral guilt.

From the article:

Terry actually told the press that the Bible doesn't oppose divorce, but it does oppose homosexuality. This, despite the clear teaching of Jesus that anyone who divorces his or her spouse without judicial cause thereby commits adultery -- a capital crime under the Mosaic law (Lev. 20:10) -- by remarrying.

Terry, of course, later turned out to have a homosexual son. According to traditional biblical Christianity, the sex Terry has with his second wife is by its nature, adulterous and morally equivalent to the homosexual sex his son has.

Some more interesting details about Terry's life:

[I]n 1998, Terry, the founder of Operation Rescue, abandoned his wife of 19 years, along with their four children (three were adopted), and then declared bankruptcy, so that the National Organization of Women would get off his back. This declaration deprived his wife of their home. He then married his assistant, 16 years his junior, age 22. Without informing his followers of what he had done to his wife and children, he sent out a fund-raising letter to his supporters, who responded faithfully, whereupon he bought a $432,000 home -- not in New York state, where he could see his children regularly, but in Florida, where the state's bankruptcy laws don't permit creditors to get your home. His church in New York had brought him under discipline before the marriage, but he paid no attention.

This does not illustrate Christian self sacrifice, but rank hypocrisy. And here's the hard truth: Terry is probably having better sex with his second wife, the one 16 years his junior. And his sex and romantic life probably fizzled with his first, who is no doubt less physically attractive than the younger. When a man married with children leaves his wife for the younger blonde (and fornicates with her before he perhaps marries her) he has better sex. The Christian thing to do is practice self sacrifice even if it means sacrificing the better sex you will get in the non-marital bed. It's not to peddle a myth about great Christian sex.

I have no doubt that George Clooney, the permanently single philanderer has a better sex life (defined by the amount of sex he has and the “sexual thrill” he gets from it) than 99.99% of the population and that includes 99.99% of married Christians.

The biblical Christian response is not to try to argue, "no as a married Christian couple we must be having better sex than any fornicator because ours is SUPERIOR." Rather, it’s to say, “So what? There are far more important things in the grand picture,” and not covet George Clooney’s sex life which will ALWAYS be superior to yours ("superior" in a "thrill," not necessarily a "moral" sense). After all, you have something more important.