Saturday, January 31, 2009

Belief in a Certain Type of God as a Foundation For Natural Rights:

At the recent natural rights conference put on by The Tocqueville Forum on the Roots of American Democracy at Georgetown University, Michael Novak gave the keynote address entitled "Belief in a Certain Type of God as a Foundation of the Natural Right of Conscience." I was not at the conference and I sincerely hope it will be available on webmedia sometime soon. But based on what I know of Novak's work (and I think I know it fairly well) let me surmise what I think he argued: the "Deist" God does not provide a firm foundation for natural rights, rather the "Judeo-Christian" God -- the God of the Hebrew Scriptures -- does.

In response, I would argue drawing a distinction between the "Deist" God and the "Judeo-Christian" God may be a false dichotomy. I raised a similar point in a brief dialogue with Kevin Schmiesing of the Acton Institute. The bottom line is Jefferson's God perfectly suits the role of the God that guarantees natural rights. Indeed, this makes sense given Jefferson authored the Declaration of Independence. And make no mistake, Jefferson's God was an active, intervening rights granting Providence. As Jefferson wrote in Notes on the State of Virginia [1785]:

And can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are of the gift of God? That they are not to be violated but with his wrath? Indeed I tremble for my country when reflect that God is just: that his justice cannot sleep for ever: that considering numbers, nature and natural means only, a revolution of the wheel of fortune, an exchange of situation, is among possible events: that it may become probable by supernatural interference!

Yet, Jefferson also rejected:

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.

And I would argue the God of Jefferson was the God of J. Adams, Franklin, Madison, Wilson, G. Morris, Washington and Hamilton. There's room for some honest debate here. Those founders may not have rejected every single one of the above mentioned tenets Jefferson rejected (Adams for instance accepted the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, whom he believed a man, not an Incarnate God on the grounds that this was God doing for the most moral man what He one day will do for all good men, perhaps all men). I would argue even if there are no "smoking guns" proving beyond a reasonable doubt that for instance Washington, Wilson or Hamilton (until the very end of his life) believed in the tenets of American Founding political theology that I describe below, everything they said is compatible with it.

Here is how I summarized the God of the American Founding -- that common ground in which the above mentioned "key Founders" probably believed -- in a post that the Cato Institute reproduced:

Nature’s God was theologically unitarian, universalist (did not eternally damn anyone) syncretist (most or all world religions worshipped Him), partially inspired the Christian Scriptures, and man’s reason was ultimate device for understanding Him. He was not quite the strict Deist God that some secular scholars have made Him out to be. But neither was He the Biblical God. Rather, somewhere in between.

I would further argue that this God serves as a more authentic guarantor of natural rights than the orthodox biblical God. For one, the orthodox biblical God does not, by doctrine, guarantee natural rights as they are foreign to the Bible's text. As Robert Kraynak summed up America's Founding liberal democratic (or "republican" if you will) order & God:

Thus, we must face the disturbing dilemma that modern liberal democracy needs God, but God is not as liberal or as democratic as we would like Him to be.

[And for any potentially ignorant readers who erroneously think the concepts of "democracy" and "republicanism" are mutually exclusive, small l liberal, small d democracy refers to the Lockean principles articulated in the Declaration of Independence.]

Friday, January 30, 2009

Christianity, Sola Scriptura, State of Nature, & Evolution:

I turn our attention to my friend and Positive Liberty co-blogger, Jim Babka, who posted on the "Two Books Approach to Christianity." Babka is an orthodox evangelical Christian. He believes the Bible as God's revealed Word. Yet, he rejects Sola Scriptura and calls for a theology more "open" to the discoveries of nature, science and reason. When reading Babka's post I'm reminded of Benjamin Rush (a Trinitarian Universalist) who described his faith as "a compound of the orthodoxy and heterodoxy of most of our Christian churches."

As Babka writes:

There is a presumption amongst reformed and fundamentalist Christians, that revelation reigns Supreme and Alone — Sola Scriptura. The fundamentalist who then insists that man’s “helpmeet,” woman, was literally built from the rib of man, sometime on the sixth (24-hour) day of creation, serves as the cliche example of this principle taken to its logical conclusion.

Skeptics — atheists in particular — mount a counter-charge (often with pomposity), that they eschew revelation and embrace Reason.

Not all Christians embrace Sola Scriptura at the expense of Reason. All truth is God’s truth.

There are two problems here to be addressed when looking at the fundamentalist’s view. First, the Bible itself does not advocate Sola Scriptura. Second, this need not be a stricter either/or situation, but rather can be a fuzzier both/and. There is a middle ground, if you will.

Explicitly, Romans 1 says that all mankind should recognize God in the creation. No one is permitted the excuse of not recognizing God because the creation “testifies.” Atheist Bertrand Russell was asked how he would respond, if after dying he was brought face to face with God. His reply: “There wasn’t enough evidence.” Romans 1:18-20 suggests that we know today as “science” is, in part, actually the study of God’s world.

Implicitly, most conservative Christians will instantly recognize what I mean when I refer to Hebrews 11 as the “Faith Hall of Fame.” In it, appears Abraham, who precedes Moses on the historical timeline. Moses is (from the fundamentalist perspective) the author of the Torah (the first five books of the Old Testament, including Genesis) which tells Abraham’s story. Thus, Abraham was a man without a book of revelation. Yet he followed God. Abraham is the greatest figure of “faith” because he acted, without a book of revelation.

Sola Scriptura is strictly a religious construction. It is a Reformation doctrine that arose in response to the corruption of the Catholic Church. That response is understandable and was, initially, liberating.

What's notable about Babka's approach is that he uses it to defend the compatibility of Darwin's theory of evolution and orthodox Christianity. I'm writing about this because I spend a great deal of time critically analyzing the "political theology" of the American Founding and I have concluded (after some more notable scholars) that, arguably, such political theology is not "Christianity," but not "Deism" either. Yet, American political theology often presented itself as "rational Christianity." And this kind of "Christianity" oft-turned out to be theologically unitarian, universalistic, and rejected the infallibility of the Bible. It also excessively relied on "nature" and "reason" as much as if not more so than the Bible. But, this "political theology" (that may or may not be properly termed "Christianity") was not exclusive; it didn't seek to exclude orthodox Trinitarian Christianity (or non-orthodox faiths). Yet, it wanted all faiths to be open to the discoveries of nature, science and reason.

So while American political theology is not necessarily hostile to orthodox Christianity, the orthodox Protestant Sola Scriptura crowd who 1) rejects natural law discoverable by reason that has its foundations in Aristotle and 2) embraces "Sola Scriptura" as a "closed system," are likely to be anathematized by said political theology. Francis Schaeffer comes to mind as a theologian whose "Christianity" does not accord with the political theology of the American Founding. In short, if "Christians" want their faith to best resonate with American political theology, they don't necessarily need to reject the Trinity or other orthodox doctrines, but they do need to embrace a more "open" theology -- "open" to the findings of science, nature, and reason.

Thus, Jim Babka's Christianity is closer to the political theology of the American Founding than is Francis Schaeffer's.

A "Christianity" that is open to the scientific discoveries of Darwin, for instance, is closer America's Founding political theology than is a closed, Sola Scriptura system that rejects Darwin (or whatever science discovers), because such "Truths" seem not to accord with what the Bible, on the surface, teaches. The Founders, of course, weren't Darwinists because Darwin's theory had not yet been discovered (in the same sense that they didn't believe in Einstein's theories either). Yet, they embraced Locke and Locke posited theories that were as foreign to the Bible as were Darwin's.

Leo Strauss quite properly termed Locke's state of nature theory as "wholly alien to the Bible." As Gregg Frazer put it:

The biblical account of Eden and the origin of human society bears little resemblance to [Locke's] world of free agents restrained only by natural law forming society on the basis of voluntary consent. (Ph.D. dissertation, p. 369.)

Now, because of the difference between what Locke teaches and what the Bible teaches, one might conclude that Locke's theories are "anti-biblical." As legendary political theorist Walter Berns put it: "[T]he idea of the state of nature is incompatible with Christian doctrine." Or, if one believes in a more "open" form of Christianity (that goes beyond "closed" Sola Scriptura) one might conclude Locke's idea of the "state of nature" (which concept was first posited by Hobbes and also articulated by Rousseau) is compatible with "Christian doctrine." But in that sense, it would be "a-biblical" not "anti-biblical."

I think we can say the same thing about Darwin's theory of evolution. Because of the differences between what Darwin teaches and what the Bible teaches, many orthodox Christians, most notably so called "young earth creationists" who believe in a literal six day creation, argue Darwin is incompatible with Christianity. In this case, Darwin's teachings are categorized as "anti-biblical" and it is no coincidence that Dr. Gregg Frazer is a literal, six day young earth creationist. Yet, to a more "open" form of Christianity, Darwin is compatible with the Bible and Christianity, properly understood. In this sense, Darwin's teachings are "a-biblical," not necessarily "anti-biblical."

We could analyze John Locke's "state of nature" teachings almost exactly as we do Darwin's. The concept of Locke's, Hobbes', OR Rousseau's "state of nature," central to American Founding thought, was either "a-biblical" or "anti-biblical" depending on whether one possesses a closed "Sola Scriptura" understanding of Christianity or a more open understanding. America's Founders, as Lockeans, obviously possessed the more "open" theology. Indeed it is what founds America's democratic-republican political order.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Natural Rights Conference At Georgetown:

Anyone in the DC area might want to strongly consider attending this conference at Georgetown tomorrow featuring among others Randy Barnett of Georgetown Law and the Volokh Conspiracy.

9:30am-11:00am Panel 1: The Origin and Nature of Natural Rights and the U.S. Constitution
Brian Tierney, Cornell University: Sources of the American Idea of Natural Rights: Some Competing Narratives
Robert Kraynak, Colgate University: Ordered Liberty at the American Founding: Natural Rights in Cultural Context
Respondent: Steven Brust, Georgetown University

11:00am- 11:15am Break

11:15am – 12:45pm Panel 2: Perspectives on the Constitution, Natural Rights, and Natural Law
Robert George, Princeton University: What is Natural Law?
Randy Barnett, Georgetown Law School: Was Lochner Right? Natural Rights and the Fourteenth Amendment
Moderator: Patrick Deneen, Georgetown University

12:45pm-2:00pm Lunch with Keynote Address
Michael Novak, American Enterprise Institute (begins at 1:00pm):
Belief in a Certain Type of God as a Foundation of the Natural Right of Conscience
RSVP required for Lunch

2:00pm – 3:30pm Panel 3: Natural Rights, the Bill of Rights and Judges: Theory and Practice
Christopher Wolfe, McInerny Center for Thomistic Studies: Natural Rights, the Constitution, and Judicial Review
Charles Lugosi, Ave Maria Law School: Why Judges Should Understand the True Nature of the Rule of Law to Effectively Interpret the Constitution to Protect the Rights of All Persons.
Respondent: Phillip Muñoz, Tufts University

I've blogged about the work of many of the above mentioned figures. Many of presenters are going to make a Thomistic natural law case for natural rights; Randy Barnett is more than able to hold his own when he argues for a different perspective. Barnett's idea is if we have a natural right to political liberty (something I don't believe Thomas argued) such concept transcends the strict domain of natural law ethics. In short the natural law tells us what is right and what is wrong in every aspect of our lives. Natural rights deal with what government may, by right, do. Both use the same method: "natural," by definition, means discoverable by reason, as opposed to revealed in the Bible. The biggest difference between Barnett and George is that Barnett argues individuals have a natural right to do what might arguably violate the natural law; whereas George argues that we have a natural right to do what is compatible with the natural law only. Here's an example: Adults have, I would argue, a natural right to consume alcohol in private. Drinking in moderation doesn't violate the natural law; though a case could be made that drinking to excess does. Nonetheless government does not have the natural right to use its police powers to ensure my drinking in private accords with the natural law. Indeed, government doesn't need to enforce the natural law because the natural law is self enforcing. If I drink too much I get a hangover. Nature punishes me! Government need enforce natural rights only, not the natural law.

Robert P. Kraynak of Colgate is a really interesting fellow as well. He a conservative Catholic like George, Wolfe, Novak et al. (what some have termed "theocons"), but one who does not believe America's Founding concept of natural rights accords with Thomism (not unlike Robert Bork) or a traditional Christian worldview. He'll argue to his fellow conservative Catholics that American natural rights as the American Founders articulated them are dangerous to Christians who want to use the organs of government to enforce their traditionalist worldview (which he wants to do). He believes in reading the Constitution unmoored from the natural rights dogma of the Declaration of Independence. And in his first best world (where traditional Christians use government to enforce their worldview) the best instrument for doing so is NOT the US Constitutional system, but rather a more authoritarian top down constitutional monarchy.

His work has provided me with valuable insights on refuting the "Christian Nation" thesis.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Founding Era Republican Enlightenment Clergy & Theology, Part I:

As I try to get a clearer understanding of how Founding era Americans viewed the French Revolution, I've come across a rich source of "Christian" literature arguing on behalf of the French Revolution's principles. As I understand the history -- the French were quite popular in Founding era America; they were instrumental to securing American victory over the British, and American consensus initially strongly supported the French Revolution and thought (or perhaps hoped) it would be an extension of the American Revolution. As things started to go wrong, more Americans began to jump ship. And the end of Washington's Presidency coincided with the emergence of political parties (the Federalists v. the Democratic-Republicans) and the increasing awareness that the situation in France was getting worse. Support for the French Revolution became divided along party lines, with the Federalists becoming increasingly anti-French Revolution and sympathizing with the British and the Republicans maintaining support for the French.

Along the way, some orthodox Federalist Clergy labeled Jefferson an "infidel." They did so for a variety of reasons, in part for his excessive sympathy for the French, but also for things he wrote in "Notes on the State of Virginia." But, the Republicans had their clergy and theologians as well, many of whom defended Jefferson and the French Revolution on explicitly "Christian" grounds. Or, at least they presented their defense of such under the auspices of "Christianity." But what presented itself as "Christianity" was Enlightenment dogma mixed in with biblical language. I recently wrote about one of these figures -- Bishop James Madison. But there are more, one of whom I detail below and others in subsequent posts.

Note these defenders of Jefferson and the French Revolution were not Thomas Paine style deists. Though some of these enlightened clergymen may have appreciated the likes of Paine, Voltaire and Rousseau (to an extent) it was not open infidels rejecting the "Christian" label who had respectable platforms for reaching the public (the works of the hard infidels were widely read in certain circles, but also viewed as subversive; you can imagine them being mailed in brown paper envelopes). Rather, it was clergy and theologians teaching such things as the perfectibility of man was a "Christian principle." A recurring theme is that the French Revolution would triumphantly usher in a millennial republic of "liberty, equality, and fraternity." This should illustrate a danger for orthodox Christians who wish to read in "republicanism" to the biblical record that clearly *isn't there.*

Philip Hamburger writes about this dynamic in Chapter 6 of "Separation of Church and State," entitled Keeping Religion Out of Politics and Making Politics Religious. And the Liberty Fund reproduces many of these sermons edited by Ellis Sandoz.

First let us learn about the Tunis Wortman, a theologian. Sandoz notes:

Wortman’s background and activities before the 1790s are unknown. He appears first as a New York City lawyer and man of the Enlightenment, a French-style partisan of liberty, and an apostle of the millennial republic. He viewed the French Revolution as the continuation of the American Revolution and as the European phase of history’s progress toward universal peace.



In the ensuing observations, I shall consider your duties as christians and as patriots. I shall make it my task to establish the following propositions.

1st. That it is your duty, as christians, to maintain the purity and independence of the church, to keep religion separate from politics, to prevent an union between the church and the state, and to preserve your clergy from temptation, corruption and reproach.

2d. That as christians and patriots, it is equally your duty to defend the liberty and constitution of your country.

3d. Although I am a sincere and decided opponent of infidelity, yet as it respects a president of the United States, an enmity to the constitution is the most dangerous evil; inasmuch as christianity is secure by the force of its own evidence, and coming from God, cannot be destroyed by human power; but, on the contrary, the constitution, is vulnerable to the attacks of an ambitious and unprincipled executive.

4th. That Mr. Jefferson is in reality a republican, sincerely attached to the constitution of his country, amiable and irreproachable in his conduct as a man, and that we have every reason to believe him, in sincerity, a christian.

5th. That the charge of deism, contained in such pamphlet, is false, scandalous and malicious—that there is not a single passage in the Notes on Virginia, or any of Mr. Jefferson’s writings, repugnant to christianity; but on the contrary, in every respect, favourable to it—and further, that there is every reason to believe the story of Mazzei a base and ridiculous falsehood.

Interestingly, Wortman defended Jefferson and called for separation of Church & State while attacking the harder "infidels."

If you are real christians, anxious for the honor and purity and interest of the christian church, you will feel a steady determination, to preserve it free from corruption. Unless you maintain the pure and primitive spirit of christianity, and prevent the cunning and intrigue of statesmen from mingling with its institutions; you will become exposed to a renewal of the same dreadful and enormous scenes which have not only disgraced the annals of the church, but destroyed the peace, and sacrificed the lives of millions. It is by such scenes and by such dreadful crimes, that christianity has suffered; by such fatal and destructive enormities which, since the days of Constantine, have been perpetrated without intermission, that the church has become debased and polluted; in language similar to that of Joshua, we have reason to exclaim there is an accursed thing within the tabernacle. The blood of many an innocent Abel has stained the ephod, the vestments and the altar. Religion has suffered more from the restless ambition and impiety of the church of Rome, than from all the writings of a Voltaire, a Tindal, a Volney, or even the wretched blasphemies of Paine.*


Experience suggests a more satisfactory but a more fatal reason; the crimes and abuses which have been committed in its name, cruelty and persecution, and intolerance have raised up an host of enemies, and accounts for the zeal, the bitterness and the vehemence of their opposition. It is the departure from the original purity of the system; the alliance with courts; the impurities and prophanity of spurious, amphibious, hermorphredite priests, the innumerable atrocities and persecutions, which have been perpetrated in the name of the most high, that has produced or encouraged the school of infidelity, and occasioned many an honest mind to believe that the establishment of christianity, is incompatible with civil freedom. Let me conjure you, then, to purify the altar, to keep things sacred from intermingling with things prophane, to maintain religion separate and apart from the powers of this world; and then, to use an expression similar to that of the infidel Rousseau, you will hasten the æra when all mankind shall bow at the feet of Jesus.

But what kind of "Christian" was Wortman? Four years earlier in 1796 in an "Oration on the Influence of Social Institutions," he noted that the spirit of the age (enlightenment) had "exalted the human character to a state of splendid greatness and perfectibility that no former age has ever yet realised or experienced." He cited Godwin for the proposition of the mind's "plastic nature" and railed against the "monkish and dishonorable doctrine which teaches the original depravity of mankind," which Wortman termed a "false and pernicious libel upon our species." Eventually human progress would perfect mankind. As Wortman wrote, mankind would "continue to make accelerated advances in wisdom and in virtue until he hath rendered himself the vanquisher of misery and vice, and until 'Mind hath become omnipotent over matter.'" (For more see the above link to Hamburger's "Separation of Church & State.")

In subsequent posts I'll detail more enlightened "Christians" who sympathized with Jefferson & the French Revolution. I don't think their views represented "mainstream" thought for the Founding era, but they were "the base" of the Jeffersonian Democratic-Republicans who represented half of America towards the end of the "Founding Era" (the 1790s).

Saturday, January 24, 2009

The Original Meaning of "Religion":

I'm still thinking about writing a scholarly article on the original meaning of the term "religion" in the US Constitution. Endless articles have been done on the original meaning of the religion clauses by much better scholars. They explore such things as whether the free exercise clause meant to include exemptions from generally applicable laws and exactly what the establishment clause prohibited, the erection of a national sect only (like the Church of England) or something more. See among others the work of Phillip Munoz, Philip Hamburger, Marci Hamilton, Douglas Laycock, and Akhil Amar. My article would focus on what "religion" means in the specific sense of whether it's "Christianity only" "religion in general" or something else.

How does the difference matter? If it's "Christianity only" then according to the original meaning of the religion clauses, non-Christian religions wouldn't have a right to freely practice their religion.

Does it even matter? In a sense yes; in a sense no. It doesn't matter in the sense that the question has been settled by judges and policy makers; even the most conservative jurists on the Supreme Court of the United States believe non-Christian religions are protected under the religion clauses. However, that "religion" originally meant "Christianity" is one of the central tenets of the "Christian America" thesis. I don't argue Christian Nationalists want to deny non-Christians the right to freely exercise their religion; though the Christian Reconstructionists (who are extremist and marginal) who borrow from Barton's work do. But I do sense these Christian America types argue non-Christians religions are lucky we Christians give them religious rights, because the original meaning of the Constitution holds we don't have to.

If you don't believe me, see mega-church pastor and Christian America promoter (David Barton speaks at his church) Robert Jeffress claim that "[n]o serious student of history doubts the framers of the First Amendment were referring to Christian denominations." Well, no, many serious students of history, for instance, the majority of the PhDs in history at prestigious universities, do not believe "religion" in the First Amendment meant "Christian sects." Though I have seen a few ultra-leftist "critical legal" theorists claim something like this in order to show just how unacceptable "originalism" is. [As the theory goes "rights" were intended to protect white, propertied, Protestant males only.]

But to the meat of the argument, the Constitution uses the term "religion" only once in the First Amendment and "religious" as in "no religious test" once in the unamended Constitution. My research concludes "religion" meant "religion in general" not "Christianity only," for all three clauses. Much groundbreaking work has already been done on the "no religious test" clause. This work demonstrates it did NOT refer to sectarian Christian tests only as Christian Nationalists argue, but rather abolishes all religious tests for public offices and permits, if the people so decide, the election of a non-Christian to public office. As Kramnick and Moore point out in The Godless Constitution the side that objected to the US Constitution on the grounds that it permitted non-Christians to be elected to office lost once the Constitution was ratified. However, the authors downplay the fact that their pious fears were largely assuaged by the fact that the "religiously correct" knew electors ultimately had the right to vote for "Christians only" if they so chose.

Now, so far, I've spoken of "religion" in the First Amendment and not differentiated between the Free Exercise Clause and the Establishment Clause. And I've done so for good reason. And that's because, even though the FEC and the EC deal with two different concepts, the term "religion" is used only once. As the clause reads, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;..." Note the term "religion" is used once in the EC and the term "thereof" is used in the FEC. The "thereof" in the FEC relates back to the term "religion" in the EC. It is logically impossible for something to qualify as a "religion" under the FEC, and not under the EC. This is a profound observation legal scholar Philip Hamburger makes at the 1 hour and ten minute mark in this video.

Hamburger notes some Wiccans have argued they are a "religion" for Free Exercise purposes, but not for Establishment Clause purposes. He correctly counters that such construction of the First Amendment is logically impossible because the term "religion" is used once for both of the clauses. It's like Siamese twins who are two distinct entities but share the same organ, like a heart. And in this case the term "religion" in the Establishment Clause is the "heart" that both the EC and FEC share.

I bring this up because I've seen some Christian Nationalists argue that non-Christian religions are protected under the First Amendment's Free Exercise Clause, but the Establishment Clause meant "Christian sects only." That construction of the Constitution's text is logically unsound and hence not viable. Some of them (the Christian Reconstructionists) might argue "religion" for BOTH clauses meant "Christianity" only. And that would pass the logical construction test; but the historical record shows non-Christians had rights under the term "religion" in the First Amendment.

The first rule in constitutional interpretation is we begin with a sound, logical construction of the text. Often the text is broad and "indeterminate," can support multiple meanings. But just because a text can support multiple meanings doesn't mean it can support anything. For instance the text of the Second Amendment clearly refers to some kind of "guns," but is indeterminate regarding whether government is permitted to distinguish between handguns and howitzers. But if someone argued the Second Amendment guarantees a right to play tennis, it would flunk the text test. Likewise arguing the Free Exercise Clause covers non-Christian religions, but the EC covers only "Christianity" flunks the test of logical construction of the Constitution's text.

Christian Nationalists are fond of offering a quotation by Joseph Story (a theological unitarian who thought unitarianism was "Christianity") to prove their point where Story noted:

The real object of the First Amendment was not to countenance, much less to advance Mahometanism, or Judaism, or infidelity by prostrating Christianity; but to exclude all rivalry among Christian sects and to prevent any national ecclesiastical establishment which should give to a hierarchy the exclusive patronage of the national government.

Now, Story's quotation may shed light on the underlying aim of the First Amendment (which may have had multiple underlying aims). However, it still cannot trump the TEXT of the Constitution, which uses the term "religion" not "Christianity" and where the term "religion" MUST by logical necessity cover the same faiths for both clauses.

So we come back to the blog where Christian Nationalist minister Robert Jeffress left a comment using Joseph Story's quotation to attempt to prove "religion" in the US Constitution originally meant "Christianity" only. The blog's host, Dr. Bruce Prescott, effectively countered with George Washington's 1790 letter to the Jewish congregation in Newport, Rhode Island:

The Citizens of the United States of America have a right to applaud themselves for giving to Mankind examples of an enlarged and liberal policy: a policy worthy of imitation. All possess alike liberty of conscience and immunities of citizenship. It is now no more that toleration is spoken of, as if it was by the indulgence of one class of people that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights. For happily the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection, should demean themselves as good citizens.

Now this is one piece of many evidences. But that it came from the Father of America makes it quite compelling. This proves "religion" in the First Amendment meant more than just "Christianity" where the meaning of "religion" in the Free Exercise Clause, by logical necessity, defines the meaning of "religion" in the Establishment Clause and vice versa.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Bishop James Madison, American Jacobin:

As Thomas Jefferson wrote of his friend Bishop James Madison, cousin to key Founder James Madison, one of the first bishops of the American Episcopalian Church, the first bishop of the Diocese of Virginia and eighth President of William & Mary, (1776–1812):

[F]or I have sworn upon the altar of god, eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man. But this is all they have to fear from me: & enough too in their opinion, & this is the cause of their printing lying pamphlets against me, forging conversations for me with Mazzei, Bishop Madison, &c., which are absolute falsehoods without a circumstance of truth to rest on; falsehoods, too, of which I acquit Mazzei & Bishop Madison, for they are men of truth.

The context of Jefferson's letter to B. Rush was he slammed the orthodox Trinitarian clergy who termed him an "infidel." Jefferson felt comfortable discussing his heterodoxy with Bishop Madison. While I don't know of all of Jefferson's "conversations" with Madison, this letter where Jefferson talks highly of Adam "Wishaupt," founder of the Bavarian Illuminati, seems quite telling. Jefferson certainly wouldn't feel comfortable uttering sentiments like this to Timothy Dwight, Jedidiah Morse or the other orthodox clergy who typified the "religious correctness" of the Founding era. The following passage in Jefferson's letter to Bishop Madison is telling of the "Christianity" or "republican religion" that Jefferson, Bishop Madison, Richard Price and Joseph Priestley all shared:

Wishaupt seems to be an enthusiastic Philanthropist. He is among those (as you know the excellent Price and Priestley also are) who believe in the indefinite perfectibility of man.

Now, Jefferson, Price, and Priestley were all theological unitarians. Was Bishop Madison? I don't know. I have found no evidence (so far) where he denied the Trinity. And David L. Holmes (top historian at William & Mary, and currently faculty advisor to the Bishop James Madison Society at William & Mary) terms him as probably an orthodox Trinitarian Christian in his stellar book "The Faiths of the Founding Fathers." He was a Bishop in the Episcopal Church, whose official doctrines were orthodox, after all.

After reading up on Bishop Madison, I have my doubts. If he were an orthodox Christian, he was nonetheless one imbibed in radical enlightenment philosophy and turned, not to orthodox Christian principles to justify "republicanism" but rather theistic rationalist principles. Because of Madison's involvement with enlightenment radicalism, the orthodox at the time accused him of being an "infidel." Here is Bishop Meade, an Episcopal historian of the Founding era, on the matter:

It has been asserted that Bishop Madison became an unbeliever in the latter part of his life, and I have often been asked if it was not so. I am confident that the imputation is unjust. His political principles… may have subjected him to such suspicion. His secular studies, and occupations as President of the College and Professor of Natural Philosophy, may have led him to philosophize too much on the subject of religion, and of this I thought I saw some evidence in the course of my examination; but that he, either secretly, or to his most intimate friends, renounced the Christian faith, I do not believe, but am confident of the contrary.2

What kind of "Christian faith" Bishop Madison professed -- that of the orthodox or the unitarianism of Jefferson, Priestley, and Price -- remains unknown. Though, I think what I uncover here should cast serious doubt on his orthodoxy and clearly show him as the Enlightenment radical that he was. To which we might react: This guy was a BISHOP in the Episcopalian Church?!? This demonstrates how firmly entrenched Enlightenment principles, even those of the radical French philosophes, were in elite American Founding era circles.

Key evidence that Bishop James Madison adhered to radical Enlightenment philosophy is found in the article entitled "Bishop James Madison and the Republic of Virtue," by Charles Crowe, published in The Journal of Southern History, in 1964. (Hopefully, you'll be able to access the entire article as I can at my college of employment).

Like many of the pro-revolt "Whig-republican" preachers of the Founding era (both unitarian and trinitarian) Bishop Madison "revised" the biblical record and "read in" a republicanism that is not there. Where the Bible speaks of a KINGDOM of Heaven, Bishop Madison, we are told, spoke of a REPUBLIC of Heaven.

Madison's radicalism is evident in his 1795 Sermon MANIFESTATIONS OF THE BENEFICENCE OF DIVINE PROVIDENCE TOWARDS AMERICA, where he noted:

How was the human race to be restored to their inherent rights, rights, which the God of nature consecrated at the birth of every individual?...How were those sentiments of equality, benevolence and fraternity, which reason, and religion, and nature enjoin, to reassume their sovereignty over the human soul,...? How could the principles of a revolution so important, so essential for the happiness of the human species, be generated, but by raising up, as it were, a new race of men, in some remote, some blessed clime, where, from their infancy, unfettered by those errors, which time appears to sanctify, they should be trained not only to a knowledge, but to a just sense of the duty of asserting and maintaining their rights; and above all, where the love of equality, the basis of all rights and all social happiness, should be congenial to man? This favoured region, favoured indeed of heaven, is America. It is here, a knowledge of those political truths, which the immortal Sydneys and the Lockes of former years investigated with philosophic eye, bursts spontaneous forth. It is here, that men, led by the hand of nature, their minds unawed and unobscured by opinions and customs as barbarous and unfriendly to social rights as the dark chaotic ages, which gave them birth, see and acknowledge as axioms, what philosophers have toiled to establish by deductions, long and intricate. It is in America, that the germs of the universal redemption of the human race from domination and oppression have already begun to be developed; it is in America, that we see a redintegration of divine love for man, and that the voice of heaven itself seems to call to her sons, go ye forth and disciple all nations, and spread among them the gospel of equality and fraternity.

This is important to note: Madison's sermon was dressed up in explicitly Christian language, and indeed arguably has rights to the "Christian" label (I don't want to cast doubt on Madison's religious sincerity). The instructive lesson is that sometimes Enlightenment radicalism presents itself as "Christian." Think of Bishop Madison as one of the earliest "liberation theologists."

On page 61 of Crowe's JSTOR article, we are told that, in 1797, Bishop Madison supported the French Revolution and thought of the American executive power as an "organ of the general will." I've uploaded page 63 of Crowe's article which quotes Madison speaking in more detail about his endorsement of the "general will," (for those unaware, "general will" is a term/concept posited by Rousseau and is central to his political philosophy):

Bishop Madison's sentiments also illustrate that the American Revolution was key in inspiring the French Revolution and consequently, Jacobinism, or the idea of spreading "liberal democracy" or "republican revolutions" to the entire world. The model of the American Revolution, Madison noted, "will redeem the captive nations of the earth." Madison believed that the liberal democratic or republic revolution that America perfected

will not be arrested in its progress, until the complete restoration of the human race to their inherent rights be accomplished, throughout the globe. Let the tyrants of the earth set themselves in array against this principle; “they shall be chased as the chaff of the mountain before the wind, and like the down of the thistle before the whirlwind.”

Bishop Madison sounds not unlike the neo-conservative Straussian Francis Fukuyama (before he was spooked by the second Iraq War) when he noted to CSPAN's Brian Lamb:

Now, by the French Revolution, we don’t mean just the limited historical event; what we mean is the emergence of what we understand as modern liberal democracy because in the French Revolution, ultimately what it was about was a revolution in favor of the principles of liberty and equality. Now you could substitute the American Revolution for that because, I think in that kind of ideological sense, those two revolutions were equivalent. I mean, they were both revolutions to create what I earlier defined as a liberal democracy as a political system based on popular sovereignty with guarantees of individual rights.

[The thesis of Fukuyama's book, "The End of History and the Last Man," was that Bishop Madison's/the French Revolution's idea of global liberal democracy would soon bear fruition. Though as post-modern philosophers, the East Coast Straussians (of which Fukuyama is one), don't believe in any kind of viable, God-given, "natural rights" justification for liberal democracy (i.e., what was argued during the Founding era by Bishop Madison and America's Founders), but rather thought that a Hegelian sense of "History" would vindicate the concept.]
George Washington's Theistic Rationalism:

At American Creation, Tom Van Dyke comments:

I hear Hamilton and were Washington were "theistic rationalists" all the time, a speculation that is at worst false and at best is unprovable.

I'll save Hamilton for a later day and focus on Washington. I respectfully disagree. I could just as easily turn this around and state:

I hear Washington was an orthodox Christian all the time, a speculation that is at worst false and at best is unprovable.

Elsewhere Tom noted Washington's Farewell Address where he stated:

"The name of American, which belongs to you in your national capacity, must always exalt the just pride of patriotism more than any appellation derived from local discriminations. With slight shades of difference, you have the same religion, manners, habits, and political principles." [Emphasis added.]

In his PhD thesis, Dr. Gregg Frazer quotes this as evidence of Washington's theistic rationalism, not his orthodox Christianity. And that's because the people of the United States were not all orthodox Christians. So whatever this "same religion" was, it was NOT orthodox Christianity. Washington knew there were theological unitarians among them. Indeed, the 2nd & 3rd Presidents who followed him were theological unitarians. And one bit of eyewitness testimony from George Ticknor, founder of the Boston Public Library, claims Madison identified as a "unitarian." Washington himself may have been a theological unitarian (he certainly didn't talk in Trinitarian terms). Washington gave his imprimatur to an address by Richard Price that slammed the Trinity.

Washington also didn't seem to have a problem with the Trinitarian Universalists who denied eternal damnation. As he wrote to them:

I thank you cordially for the congratulations, which you offer on my appointment to the office I have the honor to hold in the government of the United States.

It gives me the most sensible pleasure to find, that, in our nation, however different are the sentiments of citizens on religious doctrines, they generally concur in one thing; for their political professions and practices are almost universally friendly to the order and happiness of our civil institutions. I am also happy in finding this disposition particularly evinced by your society.

Further, Washington defended the Universalist John Murray as a Chaplain.

Washington also didn't seem to have a problem with the Swedenborgians, who taught an extremely novel view of the Godhead that was neither Unitarian nor Trinitarian. As he wrote to them:

But to the manifest interpretation of an over-ruling Providence, and to the patriotic exertions of United America, are to be ascribed those events which have given us a respectable rank among the nations of the earth. --

We have abundant reason to rejoice that in this land the light of truth and reason has triumphed over the power of bigotry and superstition and that every person may here worship God according to the dictates of his own heart. In this enlightened Age & in this Land of equal liberty it is our boast, that a man's religious tenets, will not forfeit his protection of the Laws, nor deprive him of the right of attaining & holding the highest offices that are known in the United States.

Your Prayers for my present and future felicity were received with gratitude; and I sincerely wish, Gentlemen, that you may in your social and individual capacities, taste those blessings which a gracious God bestows upon the Righteous.

Washington also knew of Jews and recognized their civil and religious rights under US law, which destroys the claim that some Christian Nationalists posit that "religion" in the US Constitution originally meant "Christianity" only. As he wrote to the Jews of Newport, Rhode Island in 1790:

The Citizens of the United States of America have a right to applaud themselves for giving to Mankind examples of an enlarged and liberal policy: a policy worthy of imitation. All possess alike liberty of conscience and immunities of citizenship. It is now no more that toleration is spoken of, as if it was by the indulgence of one class of people that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights. For happily the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection, should demean themselves as good citizens.

Washington also knew of Roman Catholics in America and didn't seem to have a problem them. As he wrote:

And may the members of your society in America, animated alone by the pure spirit of Christianity, and still conducting themselves as the faithful subjects of our free government, enjoy every temporal and spiritual felicity.

Finally, on the American Indians. I've noted before, when speaking to unconverted Natives, twice Washington termed God "The Great Spirit" (actually prayed to that name) intimating that UN-converted Natives worshipped the same God that Christians do. I've also read every single time Washington approved of converting the Natives to Christianity and it was never for orthodox reasons. The orthodox reason is Indians are in a state of spiritual darkness, they worship a false god and need to be saved. Washington's reasons were either the Indians wanted to convert and/or converting the Indians to Christianity helped to better civilize and assimilate them.

So now go back and rethink the passage in Washington's Farewell Address where he noted, "With slight shades of difference, you have the same religion,..." Unitarian or Trinitarian (or like the Swedenborgs, neither), eternal damnation or universal salvation, Roman Catholic or Protestant, indeed perhaps Jewish, Christian, or Native American spirituality, it's all the "same religion," the differences among them being only "slight shades." This is not orthodox Christian political theology, but rather what Dr. Gregg Frazer has termed "theistic rationalism."

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Neil Diamond:

In one of my favorite movies, "What About Bob?" Bill Murray explained that he divorced his first wife because there are only two kinds of people: Those who like Neil Diamond and those who don't. I can't remember which one Bob Wiley was.

But anyway, I used to consider myself the latter kind. I knew Diamond was a talented songwriter, but considered him more "bubble gum," good at coming up with catchy, commercial friendly melodies, but in songs that were otherwise superficial (he did, after all, write the Monkees' hit, "I'm A Believer"). I'm starting to change my mind.

And that's mainly because of this performance he did with "The Band" on "The Last Waltz." I know Diamond co-wrote this song "Dry Your Eyes" with Robbie Robertson, and Robertson produced Diamond's "Beautiful Noise," the album this song is on.

"Dry Your Eyes" is majestic. It also, for some reason, reminds me of all this Obama-mania.

Dave Welch Misses on Inaugural Prayers:

Sometimes I think we criticize David Barton too much. However, if you want a good example of why we keep hammering him, see Dave Welch's latest article from WorldNetDaily. In it he repeats one of Barton's phony, "unconfirmed" quotations. This one attributed to Patrick Henry:

"It cannot be emphasized too strongly or too often that this great nation was founded, not by religionists, but by Christians; not on religions, but on the Gospel of Jesus Christ. For this very reason peoples of other faiths have been afforded asylum, prosperity and freedom of worship here."

One reason why these quotations refuse to die, I think, is because they are so on point to the "Christian Nation" argument. Take them away and the Christian Nation claim practically collapses.

The overall context of Welch's post is that he disagreed with having an openly gay Christian Bishop, Gene Robinson, give a prayer at the Inaugural. He also balked at Robinson's objection to making the prayer too exclusively "Christian," and the intimation that public prayers should be inclusive. The following briefly captures Welch's argument:

Given the fact that Christianity has historically been recognized as the majority religion in the United States since our founding, it should not shock the good bishop that the inaugural prayers reflect that reality. Even given the increase of religious plurality and other religions in recent years, Christianity still receives the adherence of over 75 percent of Americans, according to the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life.

Since George Washington spontaneously added, "So help me, God," to the oath of the president in his first inauguration, recognition of our allegiance to, dependence upon and desire for blessings by God have been integral to the ceremony. Since the modern recording of inaugural prayers in 1937, all clergy have been Protestant or Catholic Christians, with eight rabbis participating through those years to recognize the deep, historic connection of those faiths.

I'll ignore the assertion of the historically unsubstantiated fact that "Washington spontaneously added, 'So help me, God,' to the oath of the president in his first inauguration," as that is the territory of my co-blogger at American Creation, Ray Soller. But yes, around 80% of Americans identify as "Christians" today as did 98% during the Founding era. Today that includes men like Gene Robinson and Obama himself. And during the Founding era it included men like Thomas Jefferson and the Rev. Jonathan Mayhew, a figure Welch appealed to in an earlier article, a theological unitarian, which according to Welch's strict standards for "Christianity," arguably disqualifies Mayhew from the "Christian" label.

Further if you examine the public God talk of America's first 4 Presidents, you see a systematic effort at generic, philosophical inclusive titles for God. They may have been compatible with orthodox Christianity, but were also compatible with all sorts of non-Christian theological systems. Even Justice Scalia in his dissent in the most recent Supreme Ten Commandments case caught this nuance when he wrote:

All of the actions of Washington and the First Congress upon which I have relied, virtually all Thanksgiving Proclamations throughout our history, and all the other examples of our Government’s favoring religion that I have cited, have invoked God, but not Jesus Christ.

Scalia therefore concludes: “This is not necessarily the Christian God (though if it were, one would expect Christ regularly to be invoked, which He is not)”....

This is what American Civil Religion is all about: Invoking a Providence, but doing our best to make such a concept as inclusive as possible in a religiously pluralistic society. The pluralism of the Founding era was not quite the pluralism of today (the Unitarians and liberal Christian Churches weren't marrying same sex couples). However, make no mistake, America was founded to be a religiously pluralistic nation, with all of those different "factions" -- some Christian, some not, and some debatable as to whether the term "Christian" is properly applied to them at all -- being united in an overriding undefined "Providence." That, not the phony quotation of Patrick Henry that Welch recites as capstone to his argument, is what America's religious Foundations are all about.

And if one's understanding of "Christianity" is theologically orthodox, holds Christ the only way to God, and other non-Christian (or even non-Trinitarian) religions to be "false," then the American Founding's concept of "publick religion" will not speak to you, and you should take such with a grain of salt and not rely on it in positing your worldview of "spiritual discernment."

Monday, January 19, 2009

Democracy V. Republic:

We often hear certain figures (mostly from the extreme political right) claim America was founded to be a republic not a democracy. That statement is a half truth. Some of the folks who utter it understand what they are talking about; many don't. And unfortunately, I see David Barton as one of the chief perpetrators of the "ignorant" understanding of the phrase.

The United States was founded to be a small l liberal small d democracy. All small d democracy means is voting (i.e., consent of the governed). And small l liberal means certain rights are antecedent to majority rule. The Declaration of Independence is the quintessential "liberal democratic" document. The US Constitution established the United States as a constitutional republic. And a constitutional republic is simply a form of "liberal democracy."

You do see quotations from the Founding Fathers criticizing the concept of "democracy" in favor of "republicanism"; but what they are really criticizing is direct democracy or mob rule. There are certain "republican" checks that must be built in to the democratic rule of the people. Chiefly, it's representatives not "the people" who make the laws. Another republican check is that certain individual rights are prior to majority rule. Ultimately, all of the following terms correctly describe the American system of government: "liberal democracy," "representative democracy," "representative republic" or "democratic republic." The following term does NOT: "direct democracy." And that's what the Founders criticized when they noted our form of government was a "republic" not a "democracy."

Now, on to David Barton's distortions of this dynamic. This should help explain why so many Christian Nationalists repeat "we are a republic, not a democracy" as a mindless mantra:

If you study the history of "republicanism", you see it was invented by Western Culture's noble pagan Greco-Roman heritage. The Greeks tried direct democracy, saw that it didn't work. And the Romans pioneered "republicanism." Indeed, the Founding Fathers looked back at noble pagan republican Rome with a great affinity. Indeed, when they wrote with surnames they picked ones from republican Rome, not the Bible. The Founders thought of themselves as new versions of Cato, Cincinnatus, Brutus, Novanglus, and of course Publius. Yet, what they were arguing for wasn't exactly what ancient Rome had, but rather something more modern. 18th Century republicanism was more of an Enlightenment construct.

The Bible spoke little to ideals of 18th Century republicanism. The authors of the Federalist Papers never quoted the Bible in support of the provisions in the US Constitution. But outside of the Federalist Papers, some Enlightenment thinkers and ministers did "read in" republicanism to the Biblical record. As rationalists, America's Founders and the ministers who worked with them picked and chose from all sources of world history, including the biblical record, what they thought "rational" and ignored or discarded the rest. And along the way they did a lot of "reading in" to those sources what they wanted to see to fit their "Whig" ideology.

When framing the Constitution, Noah Webster perfectly captured this Enlightenment zeitgeist that undergirded the US Constitution:

Of all the memorable eras that have marked the progress of men from the savage state to the refinements of luxury, that which has combined them into society, under a wise system of government, and given form to a nation, has ever been recorded and celebrated as the most important. Legislators have ever been deemed the greatest benefactors of mankind—respected when living, and often deified after their death. Hence the fame of Fohi and Confucius—of Moses, Solon and Lycurgus—of Romulus and Numa—of Alfred, Peter the Great, and Mango Capac; whose names will be celebrated through all ages, for framing and improving constitutions of government, which introduced order into society and secured the benefits of law to millions of the human race.

This western world now beholds an era important beyond conception, and which posterity will number with the age of Czar of Muscovy, and with the promulgation of the Jewish laws at Mount Sinai. The names of those men who have digested a system of constitutions for the American empire, will be enrolled with those of Zamolxis and Odin, and celebrated by posterity with the honors which less enlightened nations have paid to the fabled demi-gods of antiquity.

But the origin of the AMERICAN REPUBLIC is distinguished by peculiar circumstances. Other nations have been driven together by fear and necessity—the governments have generally been the result of a single man’s observations; or the offspring of particular interests. IN the formation of our constitution, the wisdom of all ages is collected—the legislators of antiquity are consulted—as well as the opinions and interests of the millions who are concerned. In short, in it an empire of reason.

Now, Webster wrote these words in 1787; later when the French revolted and tried to construct their "empire" on "reason," it didn't work so well and Webster, apparently, rethought his confidence in "reason" as the rock that undergirds the American republic. In the 19th Century Webster began talking like a Christian Nationalist, and consequently, offers Barton et al. many quotations. Here is the offending article from Wallbuilders.

The quotations criticizing democracy from the other Founders are apt; but, as we have seen, what they criticize is direct democracy. But what Barton quotes from Webster for how a republic defines is an extremely self-serving and distortionist definition. Here is what he reproduces from Webster:

[O]ur citizens should early understand that the genuine source of correct republican principles is the Bible, particularly the New Testament, or the Christian religion.13

The other quotations are from Founders explaining how they believed "law" ultimately traced to the divine. The Founders did believe in an immutable God given "natural law" discovered by reason. But they disagreed on the proper relationship between reason and revelation. The most notable "republicans" like Jefferson, J. Adams, Franklin and Madison were rationalists who believed man's reason penultimate for discovering that "higher law," in both private and public life. But I'm sure many other FFs disagreed. Because they disagreed on the Bible's proper role in politics (how to properly understand the Bible led to sectarian arguments which they were trying to avoid), they formed a consensus that, in politics, we would look to "reason" to determine God given natural law.

Now, that there is an immutable "higher law" that trumps majority rule (indeed it's the source of "unalienable rights") was one republican check on democratic rule. However, it's arguably not the sine qua non of "republicanism." If anything the central feature of republicanism v. direct democracy is representatives make the law, not "the people."

But to David Barton and those who follow him, the difference between "republicanism" and "democracy" is democracy is majority rule, republicanism is "God's law." And of course "God's law" simply reduces to the Bible to be used as a "proof-texting" trump as today's evangelicals currently do. So when Ben Franklin said America was given “A Republic, if you can keep it,” he apparently meant, according to Barton, that we must act like evangelical proof texters believing the Bible the infallible Word of God. And, by the way, Ben Franklin believed "that the[re are] several Things in the old Testament impossible to be given by divine Inspiration,..."

Barton's theory ignores the fact that the Founders turned chiefly to "reason" and avoided proof texting the Bible to determine the content of the God given natural law. As John Adams put it:

To him who believes in the Existence and Attributes physical and moral of a God, there can be no obscurity or perplexity in defining the Law of Nature to be his wise benign and all powerful Will, discovered by Reason.

– John Adams to Thomas Boylston Adams, March 19, 1794. Adams Papers (microfilm), reel 377, Library of Congress. Seen in James H. Hutson’s, “The Founders on Religion,” p. 132.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Bush Derangement Syndrome, Iraq & Liberal Democracy:

I wasn't entirely convinced Bush Derangement Syndrome existed until I made my farewell post at Dispatches From the Culture War and am getting nailed in the comments to it. And, I mean this as no insult to Ed; he has a great blog and I'm grateful that he invited me to guest blog. Let me further say I didn't vote for Bush either times (I voted Libertarian). And I do not support the Iraq War -- I think it was a mistake -- and never promoted it.

First of all on why Bush took us to war:

My post originally gave a "shout out" to my blogfather Timothy Sandefur who was a supporter of Bush's War in Iraq. He argued after Christopher Hitchens, that the War was for secular values against theocratic totalitarianism.

I do believe that the war was fought chiefly for liberal democratic values (small l, small d). And that Bush believes liberal democratic ideas are God-given human rights as he has told us, as the Declaration of Independence says. Whether liberal democratic values are "secular" is debatable, but I think you can make that case. For instance, Bush's Straussian advisors who pushed him into this war (who tend to be atheists) understand that the Declaration of Independence's ideas of "unalienable rights" to liberty and equality are NOT authentically Christian, but essentially modern ideas. So it's not too much of a stretch to say a war against Islamic fanaticism fought on behalf of universal human rights of liberty and equality is an essentially secular project. Or it's at the very least a "modern" project.

The problem is it didn't work; we could force those values on Germany and Japan (as we did), but could not on the Islamic world.

I also believe that Bush & his Straussians advisors were involved in a concerted effort to "reform" Islam to be a more moderate and enlightened religion (i.e., the idea that Islam is a "religion of peace" and that Muslims worship the same God Jews and Christians do). But whether that can work as well is not for certain; I see that as a work in progress and a noble one at that.

Some of Bush's critics -- mostly the paleoconservatives at the Lew Rockwell Crowd -- who have termed neoconservatives "neo-Jacobins" have a kernel of truth in their argument. While I can't speak for Cheney or other parts of Bush's administration, everything I've seen, read and heard from Bush supports my contention that he fought the war in Iraq chiefly to put an American footprint in the Middle East of liberty, equality, and modern democracy. The ends were noble (that is liberal democracy is the best form of government and we should wish to see all nations adopt it); the means were not. You can't "nation build" and establish liberal democracy by force in most of the illiberal un-democratic lands. According to internal theory of liberal democracy, the "people" in those lands have to "consent" to the liberal democratic (or "constitutionally republican") form of government.

And by the way, though I don't agree with the Straussians on many issues, I've learned much about political philosophy and the American Founding from them. While I'm not certain if the term "neo-Jacobin" is proper, the idea of fighting wars for liberal democratic values can be gleaned from the American Founding record. Though I wouldn't call them "Jacobins," America's Founders certainly were Francophiles. One of the many revisionist myths of the "Christian Nation" proponents is that the American Founders did not support the French Revolution. The opposite is true. The French were vital allies in defeating the British and a consensus among both the Founders and the population at large was the French Revolution was a continuation of the American Revolution, that eventually such a revolutionary republican spirit would sweep the globe and make this the *final* form of government.

And it wasn't just the deists, unitarians and rationalists who supported the French Revolution, but orthodox Trinitarian Christians, like Ezra Stiles, as well. Indeed ministers, whether heterodox unitarians like Joseph Priestley and Richard Price, or orthodox Trinitarians like Ezra Stiles synthesized such revolutionary republican ideas with the Bible and thought the French Revolution would triumphantly usher in a "millennial republic" of liberty, equality and fraternity.

Men like John Adams and Edmund Burke -- Whigs who supported the American cause, but opposed the French Revolution from the start -- were in the minority at the very beginning. And then, as with Iraq II and Vietnam, what began as a popular movement eventually began to lose support as things started to go wrong. And when it was all over, of course, we realized just how different the American and French Revolutions were, why the former succeeded and the later failed. And men like Burke and Adams got to say "I told you so" just like and Counterpunch are now saying "I told you so."

And again, I write all of this just to try and get some perspective on the last 8 years of Bush's Presidency. I don't support him or his failed war. And I think the Founding Fathers, though they CERTAINLY believed (as Bush does) that liberal democracy (i.e., what's written in the Declaration of Independence) was *the* form of government that all nations *ought* to adopt, and consequently would "cheer on" and support nations that revolted on behalf of "the rights of man," they were also wisely prudent about engaging in "foreign entanglements" on behalf of causes that we might like.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Guest Blogging:

FYI: This week I'll be guest blogging at Ed Brayton's Dispatches From The Culture Wars, while he is on vacation. I'm honored to be part of the very interesting and distinguished line up that Ed assembled for his guest bloggers: Radley Balko, Chris Rodda, James Hanley, Kevin Vicklund and DarkSyd (of Daily Kos fame).

As I noted in my intro post, because my posts can get meticulously detailed, I'll be writing shorter, highlight, posts there and linking to the longer work when necessary. Hopefully this will have an interactive synergistic effect among Dispatches, Positive Liberty and American Creation.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Different Ways of Defining Christianity:

One interesting nuance I've discovered when researching the FFs & religion issue is how many of the supposed "Deists" -- like Jefferson and Franklin -- arguably thought of themselves as "Christians" in an identificatory sense. The non-Christian deists like Thomas Paine, Ethan Allen and Elihu Palmer wanted nothing to do with the Christian label, any part of the Bible or Jesus.

This dynamic confuses both sides of the culture war debate -- the secular left & religious right who want to argue for a "secular" or a "Christian" founding, respectively. If we set the bar low enough, arguably Washington, J. Adams, Jefferson, Madison, Franklin, Hamilton, Wilson,...all the FFs except for the handful of non-Christian Deists would qualify as "Christian." You would need a repudiation of the "Christian" label not to be a Christian, according to this standard.

However, if you set the bar high enough, very few Founders -- even those who believed in orthodox Trinitarian doctrine -- would qualify as "Christian." For instance Roman Catholics believe in orthodox Trinitarian doctrine; but to many evangelicals, they are not "real Christians." The biggest problem I have with David Barton is that his main audience seems to be "born again" or evangelical Christians who set that high bar.

WorldNetDaily has an article by Michael Youssef that perfectly illustrates this theological dynamic. Youssef reacts to recent polls where 37 percent of self proclaimed evangelicals noted they didn't "believe that Jesus is the only way to salvation."

He notes:

This would be like announcing that 37 percent of all Americans do not believe that there are 50 states. Or half of the British people denying that the English language is their language. You get the point of the ludicrousness of the use of the term "evangelical."


Perhaps it is easier to understand who is not an evangelical.

Anyone who places tradition, experience, or rationalism above the authority of the Scripture ... is no evangelical.

Anyone who places human needs, or reason, above the authority of the Scripture ... is no evangelical.

Anyone who claims credit for his or her salvation, or works to earn it ... is no evangelical.

Anyone who places "moralism," which is the de-emphasizing of the sinfulness of sin, above justification by faith alone ... is no evangelical.

Anyone who perceives the Cross as a mere example of love and not as the only cure for sin and means of salvation ... is no evangelical.

Anyone who minimizes the fact that God poured His wrath on His Son on the Cross so that only whosoever believes in Him shall be saved ... is no evangelical.

Anyone who views that act of God's pouring His wrath upon His Son on the Cross as "cosmic child abuse" ... is no evangelical.

Anyone who sees no need for personal conversion by repentance and faith for receiving eternal life ... is no evangelical.

Anyone who does not believe that once they are saved they will always be saved through the sustaining power, discipline and chastening by the Holy Spirit ... is no evangelical.

If you have concluded that all of these evangelical qualifications are defining a true Christian – you would be correct. For a true evangelical is a true Christian. The opposite, therefore, is true. If you do not believe these foundational truths, no matter what you call yourself, you are no true Christian.

If that's what he believes, fine. However, when folks like this think about America's "Christian" foundations, they should understand most Founding Fathers (I'm arguing beyond the "key Founding Fathers") were in that very position of thinking and calling themselves Christians but not being "true Christians." The Trinitarian Benjamin Rush who believed in universal salvation certainly flunked this standard. Indeed, many of the orthodox Trinitarian Christians of the Anglican/Episcopalian bent (I believe the largest Church of the Founders) probably flunked this standard. And even Alexander Hamilton who towards the end of his life appeared to convert to a form of orthodox Trinitarian Christianity that saw the Lord's Supper (as opposed to Christ alone) a central sacrament probably never met this standard.

In my last post I showed how Washington, J. Adams, Jefferson, Madison, Franklin, Wilson, and Hamilton often qualified their invocation of religion, Christianity and scripture with such adjectives as rational, reasonable, benign, benevolent, mild, tolerating, liberal, and unitarian. No evangelical would use those terms to describe their religion. Thus they flunk the Christian standard.

However, for historic purposes, this standard is too high. But for evangelicals who would like to believe in the "Christian Nation" idea, it's important to remind them of this dynamic: The Founders, even the many of whom were Trinitarians, were nonetheless not "real Christians" as you understand that term.

I think a more reasonable, defensible standard is orthodox Trinitarian doctrine, or the Nicene Creed. Every single established Church except the Quakers adhered to an orthodox Trinitarian creed. That would include not just evangelicals/reformed Protestants, but also Roman Catholics, and non-evangelical Trinitarians like the Anglicans-Episcopalians as "Christians." But even that standard is outright flunked by Jefferson, J. Adams, and Franklin and is not clearly passed by Washington, Madison, Wilson, G. Morris, and Hamilton until the very end of his life. There still is a bit of mystery with that last bunch, I would admit. Though their systematic silence on orthodox doctrines during an era when one's reputation could damaged for openly criticizing the Trinity points strongly towards closeted unitarianism.

We could lower the bar even further and permit anyone who calls himself a Christian to be a Christian even if he rejects every single tenet of orthodoxy, as Jefferson did in his letter to William Short, October 31, 1819, where he listed and 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.

If you can disbelieve in those things and still be a "Christian" because you call yourself one, then I agree that almost all of the Founders were "Christians" and America had a "Christian" Founding.

The problem is evangelicals who largely comprise the "Christian America" crowd utterly reject that definition of "Christianity" as sufficient. If like Mr. Youssef they care so much about preserving the cause of what they see as *real,* *saving* Christianity, they should reject the idea of a "Christian" Founding.

Friday, January 09, 2009

Enlightenment Adjectives the Founders used to Qualify Christianity And the Bible:

I am referring to terms like "rational," "reasonable," "benign," "benevolent," "mild," "tolerating," "liberal," and "unitarian." If you examine the systematic language that Founding Fathers like Washington, J. Adams, Jefferson, Madison, Franklin, Wilson, Hamilton and many others used when they spoke of "religion," "Christianity," and even the Bible, they often qualified such with Enlightenment adjectives or descriptors. I have argued (after more prominent scholars) that these Founders were not simply “taking” the Christian religion as they found it; they were actively involved in a project to make such kinder, gentler, more sober and rational, less dangerous, divisive and sectarian. For many conservative Christians the danger is this transforms Christianity into a different animal -- one that is no longer authentically Christian. To the orthodox, this ruins Christianity of its saving and redeeming (consequently its most important) attribute. I understand why the uber-orthodox evangelical scholar Gregg Frazer has concluded the key Founders' religion was a "generic moralizing" creed that the orthodox biblical God hates.

For instance, "rational" Christianity often ended up theologically unitarian and universalistic. A rational, benevolent God was unitarian not trinitarian and wouldn't consign anyone to Hell for eternity. These key FFs would say theirs was the "Christian God," properly understood; but whether such was the same God the orthodox worshipped is seriously debated.

I don't want to paint with too broad a brush. Many orthodox Trinitarian Christians of the founding era and of today are not Calvinists and are troubled by the idea of eternal damnation. Indeed Benjamin Rush's creed -- which he described as a mixture of orthodoxy and heterodoxy -- that denied eternal damnation but embraced orthodox Trinitarian doctrine might have been more mainstream than we realize and certainly seems mainstream among today's self professed Christians.

To counter this broad, tolerant reading of Christianity, the orthodox (especially Calvinists) might note Jesus said such DIVISIVE things as "I come not to bring peace, but to bring a sword"; but such statements in the Bible were anathema to the "Christianity" as endorsed by every single above mentioned key Founder. They disbelieved in the Biblical God's intolerant, jealous and vengeful nature. The only thing that likely aroused their God's wrath was violating the unalienable human rights of His children. And, as the key FF's understood God, ALL human beings were His children; many orthodox (especially Calvinists) believe if you aren't saved/regenerate, you are a "child of the devil."

The following passages quote every single above mentioned key Founder to prove the thesis. First James Wilson on Locke rejecting the intolerant, jealous, wrathful attributes of the biblical God.

The high reputation which [Locke] deservedly acquired for his enlightened attachment to the mild and tolerating doctrines of Christianity secured to him the esteem and confidence of those who were its friends. [Bold mine.]

Note Wilson qualifies Christianity with "enlightened," "mild" and "tolerating." If one argues the Bible says what it says whether we like it or not (i.e., the position of the orthodox who argue the Bible is infallible and inerrant) one wouldn't use those terms to qualify it. Consigning most human beings to Hell certainly isn't "mild" or "tolerating." Indeed the very First Commandment is neither mild nor tolerating. Quotations like this from Wilson lead me to conclude he did not believe the Bible infallible, the Trinity or eternal damnation.

Next, Alexander Hamilton defending "Christianity" against the harsh attacks of the extreme deism and atheism of the late stages of the French Revolution. Note: Hamilton probably became an orthodox Trinitarian Christian shortly before his death, after his son died in a duel. However, his defense of Christianity in the years prior was not an orthodox defense of Christianity, but rather seems a heterodox Enlightenment defense. In short, it was a "unitarian" or "theistic rationalist" defense. From Hamilton's 1794 document on the French Revolution:

It is not among the least perplexing phenomena of the present times, that a people like that of the United States—exemplary for humanity and moderation surpassed by no other in the love of order and a knowledge of the true principles of liberty, distinguished for purity of morals and a just reverence for Religion should so long persevere in partiality for a state of things the most cruel sanguinary and violent that ever stained the annals of mankind, a state of things which annihilates the foundations of social order and true liberty, confounds all moral distinctions and substitutes to the mild & beneficent religion of the Gospel a gloomy, persecuting and desolating atheism. [Bold mine.]

Again notice the qualifiers: The "religion of the Gospel" is qualified by the terms "mild" and "beneficent." Also note atheism was bad because it was "gloomy" and "persecuting." Hence Hamilton defended a religious creed judged by its benevolent and rational effects, not harsh "truth or be damned," "like it or not" standards.

Next Thomas Jefferson, from his First Inaugural Address:

Let us, then, with courage and confidence pursue our own Federal and Republican principles, our attachment to union and representative government. Kindly separated by nature and a wide ocean from the exterminating havoc of one quarter of the globe; too high-minded to endure the degradations of the others; possessing a chosen country, with room enough for our descendants to the thousandth and thousandth generation; entertaining a due sense of our equal right to the use of our own faculties, to the acquisitions of our own industry, to honor and confidence from our fellow-citizens, resulting not from birth, but from our actions and their sense of them; enlightened by a benign religion, professed, indeed, and practiced in various forms, yet all of them inculcating honesty, truth, temperance, gratitude, and the love of man; acknowledging and adoring an overruling Providence, which by all its dispensations proves that it delights in the happiness of man here and his greater happiness hereafter — with all these blessings, what more is necessary to make us a happy and a prosperous people? [Bold mine.]

Notice the qualifiers "enlightened" and "benign." As I have also documented, in his private letters, Jefferson made clear that such an enlightened version of Christianity was, in the ideal, unitarian (in fact rejected every single tenet of orthodoxy) and anti-Calvinistic. And especially notice the compatibility between the words of the supposed outlier Jefferson (which he was not) and the words of every other Founder listed here.

Next: George Washington's 1783 Circular to the States. Note, this document was not written in GW's hand, but in that of an aid. GW signed it though. This address is only one of two places in either his public OR private writings where Washington mentions Jesus by name OR person. Some scholars therefore conclude the following as not characteristically Washingtonian. I disagree and conclude this was characteristic of the age.

The foundation of our Empire was not laid in the gloomy age of Ignorance and Superstition, but at an Epocha when the rights of mankind were better understood and more clearly defined, than at any former period, the researches of the human mind, after social happiness, have been carried to a great extent, the Treasures of knowledge, acquired by the labours of Philosophers, Sages and Legislatures, through a long succession of years, are laid open for our use, and their collected wisdom may be happily applied in the Establishment of our forms of Government; the free cultivation of Letters, the unbounded extension of Commerce, the progressive refinement of Manners, the growing liberality of sentiment, and above all, the pure and benign light of Revelation, have had a meliorating influence on mankind and increased the blessings of Society. [Bold mine.]

Again note how "revelation" is qualified with enlightenment terms, "pure and benign light." Some argue this address evinces that Washington believed the Bible -- harsh results and all -- trumped enlightened reason. But that is wrong. Were that so those enlightenment qualifiers would not have been used.

I understand why skeptical scholars deem Washington's Circular to the States -- written for public consumption -- to be an outlier: An aid wrote it and Washington almost never discussed either Jesus (by name OR person) OR his thoughts on revelation/the Bible. But this document endorses a decidedly enlightenment understanding of both. Though Jesus is spoken of as "divine," such categorization is consistent with not only Trinitarianism, but also Arianism (which views Jesus as a divine but created and subordinate being to God the Father) and perhaps Socinianism (which views Jesus as 100% man, not divine at all in his personal attributes, but on a divine mission). Indeed the enlightenment Arian thinker Richard Price enthusiastically endorsed this document when he wrote that he was "animated more than he can well express by General Washington's excellent circular letter to the united states."

Next, John Adams:

I really wish the Jews again in Judea an independent nation. For as I believe the most enlightened men of it have participated in the amelioration of the philosophy of the age, once restored to an independent government & no longer persecuted they would soon wear away some of the asperities and peculiarities of their character [and] possibly in time become liberal unitarian Christians for your Jehovah is our Jehovah & your God of Abraham Isaac & Jacob is our God.

-- John Adams to Mordecai Noah, March 15, 1819.

Note how Adams qualifies Christianity with "liberal" and "unitarian" as he champions "enlightened men."

Next, Ben Franklin:

That bodies should be lent us, while they can afford us pleasure, assist us in acquiring knowledge, or doing good to our fellow creatures, is a kind and benevolent act of God - when they become unfit for these purposes and afford us pain instead of pleasure-instead of an aid, become an incumbrance and answer none of the intentions for which they were given, it is equally kind and benevolent that a way is provided by which we may get rid of them. Death is that way. We ourselves prudently choose a partial death. In some cases a mangled painful limb, which cannot be restored, we willingly cut off. He who plucks out a tooth, parts with it freely since the pain goes with it, and he that quits the whole body, parts at once with all pains and possibilities of pains and diseases it was liable to, or capable of making him suffer. [Bold mine.]

-- To Elizabeth Hubbart, 1756.

Kind of a neat view of God. Though Franklin identifies life's purpose as "acquiring knowledge," "doing good to our fellow creatures" and enjoying God's kindness and benevolence, as opposed to embracing orthodox doctrines (the infinite sacrifice of Christ's atonement).

For James Madison, I am going to quote his address to the Cherokee Indians, "To My Red Children," August 1812:

"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!” [Bold mine.]

Note other above mentioned key Founders referred to God as "The Great Spirit" when addressing unconverted Native Americans. This is important because most orthodox regard the Natives' "Great Spirit" as a false pagan God. Madison's address also seemingly contradicts Trinitarian theology: Madison (reputed to be a theological unitarian) equated the "Great Spirit" with the Father. Some have argued the "Great Spirit" might be the Holy Spirit (3rd person in the Trinity). However, in referring to the Great Spirit as the Father, Madison would be confusing the distinct personalities of the Trinity.

Also, as noted above, many orthodox believe that only saved-regenerate Christians are "children of God" and Madison refers to unconverted Natives as his "Red Children" and the "Great Spirit" as "the father of us all" intimating that they as Indians qua Indians are God's children.
John Adams, Christianity, & Civil Religion:

Kristo Miettinen has a post at American Creation on John Adams' personal heterodox religion and his promotion of Christianity in the Massachusetts state constitution of 1780 he helped to pen. The relevant language in the state constitution is:

Article III

As the happiness of a people, and the good order and preservation of civil government, essentially depend upon piety, religion and morality; and as these cannot be generally diffused through a community, but by the institution of the public worship of God, and of public instructions in piety, religion and morality: Therefore, to promote their happiness and to secure the good order and preservation of their government, the people of this commonwealth have a right to invest their legislature with power to authorize and require, and the legislature shall, from time to time, authorize and require, the several towns, parishes, precincts, and other bodies politic, or religious societies, to make suitable provision, at their own expense, for the institution of the public worship of God, and for the support and maintenance of public Protestant teachers of piety, religion and morality, in all cases where such provision shall not be made voluntarily.

And the people of this commonwealth have also a right to, and do, invest their legislature with authority to enjoin upon all the subjects an attendance upon the instructions of the public teachers aforesaid, at stated times and seasons, if there be any on whose instructions they can conscientiously and conveniently attend.

Provided, notwithstanding, that the several towns, parishes, precincts, and other bodies politic, or religious societies, shall, at all times, have the exclusive right of electing their public teachers, and of contracting with them for their support and maintenance.

And all moneys paid by the subject to the support of public worship, and of the public teachers aforesaid, shall, if he require it, be uniformly applied to the support of the public teacher or teachers of his own religious sect or denomination, provided there be any on whose instructions he attends; otherwise it may be paid towards the support of the teacher or teachers of the parish or precinct in which the said moneys are raised.

Any every denomination of Christians, demeaning themselves peaceably, and as good subjects of the commonwealth, shall be equally under the protection of the law: and no subordination of any one sect or denomination to another shall ever be established by law.

The conundrum is how could someone with with views as heterodox as Adams support such a thing? Miettinen writes:

Adams knew that virtue sufficient for civil society was found in men of many faiths, and he arguably even would have called all such men "Christian" regardless of faith, e.g. a pious Muslim who was a model of civic virtue might be pleasing to God, and saved, and therefore living the life Christ intended (thereby qualifying as Christian), despite never hearing of, or believing in, Christ.

This is not nearly the same thing as believing that a society that inculcates Islam in its citizens has the same prospects of success and virtue as a neighboring society that inculcates Christianity. One religion is better than the rest, at least on Adams' view, and that was the religion intended by Adams for America. It was a broad vision of Christianity that embraced Unitarianism (then based at Harvard and surging in Massachusetts) but probably not Universalism (or Catholicism).

I agree that Roman Catholicism was not Adams' cup of tea; Adams was arguably an anti-Catholic bigot. From a letter to Jefferson, May 1816:

"I do not like the reappearance of the Jesuits.... Shall we not have regular swarms of them here, in as many disguises as only a king of the gipsies can assume, dressed as printers, publishers, writers and schoolmasters? If ever there was a body of men who merited damnation on earth and in Hell, it is this society of Loyola's. Nevertheless, we are compelled by our system of religious toleration to offer them an asylum."

Adams also remarked to Jefferson in 1821: "Can a free government possibly exist with the Roman Catholic religion?"

However, Adams himself was a theological universalist in the sense of denying eternal damnation:

"I believe too in a future state of rewards and punishments too; but not eternal."

-- To Francis van der Kemp, July 13, 1815.

More importantly George Washington gave such theological universalism his imprimatur, which I think settles the matter that such was part of the civil religion. As he wrote to the Universalist Church in Philadelphia:


I thank you cordially for the congratulations, which you offer on my appointment to the office I have the honor to hold in the government of the United States.

It gives me the most sensible pleasure to find, that, in our nation, however different are the sentiments of citizens on religious doctrines, they generally concur in one thing; for their political professions and practices are almost universally friendly to the order and happiness of our civil institutions. I am also happy in finding this disposition particularly evinced by your society. It is, moreover, my earnest desire, that all the members of every association or community, throughout the United States, may make such use of the auspicious years of peace, liberty, and free inquiry, with which they are now favored, as they shall hereafter find occasion to rejoice for having done.

With great satisfaction I embrace this opportunity to express my acknowledgments for the interest my affectionate fellow-citizens have taken in my recovery from a late dangerous indisposition; and I assure you, Gentlemen, that, in mentioning my obligations for the effusions of your benevolent wishes in my behalf, I feel animated with new zeal, that my conduct may ever be worthy of your favorable opinion, as well as such as shall, in every respect, best comport with the character of an intelligent and accountable being.

When John Adams in his personal letters made odd comments equating Christianity with Zeus worship or Hinduism, I think he was out of the mainstream. However, the idea that the "end" of religion was to make men moral, and as such, if the "end" was met, the means didn't matter -- hence all good people were "Christian" -- was quite mainstream among the key Founders.

First Franklin:

"But that from such Faith alone Salvation may be expected, appears to me to be neither a Christian Doctrine nor a reasonable one….Morality or Virtue is the End, Faith only a Means to obtain that End: And if the End be obtained, it is no matter by what Means.”

– “Dialogue between Two Presbyterians,” April 10, 1735.

J. Adams:

“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.”

– To Samuel Miller, July 8, 1820.


"My fundamental principle would be the reverse of Calvin's, that we are to be saved by our good works which are within our power, and not by our faith which is not within our power."

-- To Thomas B. Parker, May 15, 1819.


"[F]or no man, who is profligate in his morals, or a bad member of the civil community, can possibly be a true Christian, or a credit to his own religious society.

"I desire you to accept my acknowledgments for your laudable endeavours to render men sober, honest, and good Citizens, and the obedient subjects of a lawful government."

-- George Washington, Letter to General Assembly of Presbyterian Churches, May 1789.

So subtract from civil Christianity justification through faith.

And for the sake of space I won't detail the key Founders' view on the Bible. I'll just assert it cannot be gleaned that they believed the Bible infallible. I have quotations from Jefferson, J. Adams, and Franklin rejecting such. And Washington and Madison never publicly held up the Bible an inerrant, infallible book. At best, a consensus dictates they believed the Bible at least partially inspired, many believing it more, some believing it less.

So we end up with a civil Christianity that lacks belief in 1) the Trinity and related orthodox doctrines, 2) eternal damnation, 3) justification through faith, and 4) the infallibility of the Bible.

And because virtue is central to this public creed, if it can be found in other religions, they too have a place at the table of "publick religion."

Is there a problem here? I would say yes. The same political theological problem exists today as it did during the Founding era. Lot's of things have changed since then, but this, I assert, is not one of them: The "orthodox" do not consider what's outlined in those four points to be "real Christianity." Rather, they are poison pills.

The way the Founders initially threaded this needle was leaving religion to the states. One irony of ironies is that Jefferson and Madison who handled state religion policy for Virginia that had the strongest degree of separation of Church & State and J. Adams who spearheaded Massachusetts' model that had the strongest degree of integration between Church & State possessed a personal religious creed that was agreed on the basics (i.e., a "rational Christianity" that denied the Trinity, Incarnation, Atonement, eternal damnation, and infallibility of the Bible).

And it's important to note that John Adams and many other New England Congregationalists thought this "rational Christianity" to be every bit of deserving public funds. But the orthodox did not. And that's because to them this "rational Christianity" was NOT Christianity, but, to use a present analogy, like Mormonism, a creed that calls itself Christianity but is not. When the orthodox scholar Gregg Frazer terms this creed "theistic rationalism" he is being true to this historic dynamic as well as the personal religious convictions of most orthodox Trinitarian Christians through out history.

The history of disestablishment in New England supports my analysis. In the mid to late 18th Century theological unitarians abounded as both ministers and laymen in the Congregational Church. Those very same churches also had orthodox Calvinists and the unitarians threaded the needle by just ignoring the divisive Trinitarian doctrines about which they differed. But slowly unitarianism came out of the closet. And when it did the orthodox Calvinists who did NOT think Unitarianism to be "Christianity" actively disfellowed themselves from the Unitarians and sought control over church property and establishment aid. They lost a series of decisions at the state level in Mass. (this was not a federal issue as of yet). Most notably was the Dedham decision which left much Church property and establishment aid in the hands of Unitarians.

As I noted above, this was, to the orthodox, a poison pill. That what they regarded as fake Christian heretics were getting government money under the auspices of being a "Protestant Christian" sect was too much for them. This was the impetus that led Massachusetts to finally disestablish in 1833.

Madison, of course, was well aware of these potential spats and that's what drove his Memorial and Remonstrance. Under the Virginia model, Christianity would get no public aid. As Jefferson's Statute (which Madison helped to see pass) famously notes:

that to compel a man to furnish contributions of money for the propagation of opinions which he disbelieves, is sinful and tyrannical; that even the forcing him to support this or that teacher of his own religious persuasion, is depriving him of the comfortable liberty of giving his contributions to the particular pastor, whose morals he would make his pattern,...

II. Be it enacted by the General Assembly, That no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry whatsoever, nor shall be enforced restrained, molested, or burthened in his body or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief; but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinion in matters of religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish, enlarge, or affect their civil capacities.

Madison's Memorial and Remonstrance argues for a "no cognizance" by government of religion standard. Madison, in his notes on the Mem. & Remon. informs in more detail why government has no right to take cognizance of religion. It has to do with this very issue that we are currently debating: What is Christianity?

In Roman numeral V of his notes, Madison ponders the question “What is Xnty?” This is relevant because in Patrick Henry's bill against which Madison remonstrated only “Christianity” and not other religions were eligible for aid. In V6 he discusses that some view the entire Bible as divinely inspired, some view only “essential parts” as divinely inspired; in V7 he notes some believe if a creed rejects certain key doctrines it is not Christian even if it calls itself Christian; in V8 he notes Trinitarianism, Arianism, Socinianism, (the latter two are forms of theological unitarianism) asking which of them would qualify as “Christian” under the bill; and in II6 he notes the case of “primitive Christianity,” “Reformation” and “Dissenters formerly.” He concludes that unless Christianity is specifically defined in the bill, judges might have to answer what is heterodoxy v. what is orthodoxy. And that in turn will “dishonor Christianity.”

So Madison believed that government itself had no natural right to decide what is Christianity? This is essential: If government is going to support Christianity and not other religions, it has to define Christianity, something by right, it could not do. And indeed, this is EXACTLY what ended up happening in Massachusetts. That state Supreme Court which had a number of Unitarians on the bench had to decide whether theological unitarianism qualified as "Christianity," and they held yes it did. To many orthodox this was akin to government declaring declaring a dog's tail is a fifth leg.

Of course, this problem is mostly obviated by government granting rights to "religion" in general as opposed to Christianity in particular. And this is exactly what was done in the US Constitution.