Monday, March 30, 2009

Half-Way House Infidels:

That might be the title to my eventual book on the American Founding. Another title I have in mind is "Noble Pagans: America's Founding Heretics." The term "infidel" as was used during the Founding era by the "orthodox" referred to strict Deists or atheists. Theological unitarianism, in which America's key Founders disproportionately believed, was viewed as a "half-way house" towards "infidelity." That term comes from Timothy Dwight quoting Wilberforce (see below).

Theological unitarianism was believed in by very bright influential thinkers in the early and mid 18th Century, but was largely closeted then. Unitarianism began to come out of the closet in the late 18th Century. By the early 19th Century Harvard University officially became Unitarian and open Unitarians held respectable positions in American society. But the "orthodox" didn't take that lying down.

Jedidiah Morse was one of the first notable "orthodox" figures to take on unitarianism. Indeed, the closeted nature of unitarianism in the mid 18th Century is evidenced by the dialogue between Morse and John Adams. Morse, apparently, wasn't aware of the existence of American unitarians in the mid 18th Century and tried to "low ball" the length of time in which unitarians had existed in America. As John Adams acerbically wrote to Morse:

“I thank you thank you for your favour of the 10th, and the pamphlet enclosed, entitled, ‘American Unitarianism.’ I have turned over its leaves, and found nothing that was not familiarly known to me. In the preface, Unitarianism is represented as only thirty years old in New-England. I can testify as a witness to its old age. Sixty-five years ago, my own minister, the Rev. Lemuel Bryant; Dr. Jonathan Mayhew, of the West Church in Boston; the Rev. Mr. Shute, of Hingham; the Rev. John Brown, of Cohasset; and perhaps equal to all, if not above all, the Rev. Mr. Gay, of Hingham, were Unitarians. Among the laity how many could I name, lawyers, physicians, tradesmen, farmers!...More than fifty years ago, I read Dr. Clarke, Emlyn, and Dr. Waterland: do you expect, my dear doctor, to teach me any thing new in favour of Athanasianism? — There is, my dear Doctor, at present existing in the world a Church Philosophick. as subtle, as learned, as hypocritical, as the Holy Roman Catholick, Apostolick, and Ecumenical Church. The Philosophical Church was originally English. Voltaire learned it from Lord Herbert, Hobbes, Morgan, Collins, Shaftsbury, Bolingbroke, &c. &c. &c. You may depend upon it, your exertions will promote the Church Philosophick, more than the Church Athanasian or Presbyterian. This and the coming age will not be ruled by inquisitions or Jesuits. The restoration of Napoleon has been caused by the resuscitation of inquisitors and Jesuits.
I am and wish to be
Your friend,
Quincy, May 15th, 1815.

But it was Timothy Dwight, President of Yale during the Founding and post-Founding era (1795-1817), who seemed the most prolific, notable critic of newly "outed" unitarianism. You can read Dwight's criticisms of unitarianism here. Dwight spends a great deal of time attacking the work of Joseph Priestley and Richard Price. This is notable because, in a sense, Dwight attacks "thought" that was a secret "motivator" to America's "key" Founding Fathers. Men like Washington, J. Adams, Jefferson, Madison, and Franklin idolized unitarians like Locke, Newton, Clarke, Price and Priestley. Dwight writes a great deal about them which I am slowly trying to digest. However, the following quotation of his stands out as exemplifying how the orthodox thought of unitarianism:

The observation of Mr. Wilberforce, therefore, seems to be but too well founded, when he says; "In the course, which we lately traced from nominal orthodoxy to absolute Infidelity, Unitarianism is, indeed, a sort of half-way house, if the expression may be pardoned; a stage on the journey, where sometimes a person, indeed, finally stops; but where, not unfrequently, he only pauses for a while; and then pursues his progress."

Sunday, March 29, 2009

More On Non-Trinitarians & Christianity:

One fascinating dynamic I've discovered researching the history of the American Founding & religion is many of the supposed "Deist" Founding Fathers actually thought of themselves as "Christians," but since they rejected Trinitarianism, the "orthodox" did not think of them as Christians, but something else.

The question is whether these "heretics" like America's key Founders and the philosophers they followed deserve the label "Christian" at all. If you listen to American orthodox theologians, they will commonly assert things such as "Christians believe in a Triune God," ergo, non-Trinitarians are not Christians. For instance listen to this very amusing debate between the "orthodox" late Bible answer man Walter Martin and the Arian-gnostic Roy Masters, whom some accuse of being a cult leader. In a nutshell: Martin: "You are not a Christian." Masters: "Yes I am."

I am going to reproduce some primary sources and scholarly material that illustrates this dynamic. First, I just discovered this excellent First Things obituary of religious historian Jaroslav Pelikan. (Thanks to co-blogger Kristo M. for alerting me to the existence of Pelikan.)

The first volume of his history of Christian thought, The Christian Tradition, begins: “What the church of Jesus Christ believes, teaches and confesses on the basis of the Word of God: This is Christian doctrine.” His life was devoted to the exposition and teaching of that Christian doctrine....By doctrine Pelikan did not mean just any teaching. He meant the central truths of Christianity: that God is triune, that Christ is fully God and fully man—those teachings that were solemnly declared in the ancient councils and are confessed in the ecumenical creeds. His historical study had convinced him that the most faithful bearer of the apostolic faith was the great tradition of thought and practice as expounded by the orthodox Church Fathers.

In the last generation, it has become fashionable among historians of Christian thought not only to seek to understand the Gnostics or the Arians but also to become their advocates and to suggest, sometimes obliquely, sometimes straightforwardly, that orthodox Christianity made its way not by argument and truth but by power and coercion. The real heroes in Christian history are the dissidents, the heretics, whose insights and thinking were suppressed by the imperious bishops of the great Church.

Pelikan never succumbed to this temptation. In the classroom, in public lectures, and in his many books, he was an advocate of creedal Christianity, of the classical formulations of Christian doctrine....

It's understandable why folks might view various heretics, particularly of the Arian bent, as heroes, because so many leading lights believed in these heresies. Indeed if we have to sacrifice Arians (those who believe Christ was divine but created by and subordinate to the Father) as "not Christian," we have to sacrifice, among others, John Milton. As the article notes:

He said he had been reading again Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment? Milton’s Paradise Lost (even though Milton was an Arian and probably a Pelagian, quipped Pelikan),...

Samuel Clarke is another Arian who comes to mind as typifying the kind of "Christianity" that so captured the minds of key Founders. For instance, as I noted in a recent post when asked to put his theological cards on the table, James Madison appealed to Samuel Clarke as authority, NOT John Witherspoon. Clarke was a "divine" in the Anglican Church. Here is what the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy writes about him:

In 1712, apparently against the advice of some of Queen Anne's ministers, Clarke published The Scripture Doctrine of the Trinity, which was accused of Arianism, the view that Christ is divine but created. The ensuing controversy culminated two years later in his humiliating promise to the Upper House of Convocation not to preach or write on the topic any longer. However, this act of submission did not silence the correct rumors that he, like Newton himself, was still an Arian. How much these suspicions of heterodoxy damaged his ecclesiastical career is unclear. However, Voltaire reports that Bishop Gibson effectively prevented Clarke's elevation to the see of Canterbury by pointing out that Clarke was indeed the most learned and honest man in the kingdom, but had one defect: he was not a Christian.

Isaac Newton, mentioned in the quotation, is another Arian whom the Founders greatly admired. John Locke was either an Arian or perhaps a Socinian. The Arian Rev. Richard Price, a friend of America's Founders and one of the first "out" Unitarians in England noted in an address:

Montesquieu probably was not a Christian. Newton and Locke were not Trinitarians and therefore not Christians according to the commonly received ideas of Christianity. Would the United States, for this reason, deny such men, were they living, all places of trust and power among them?

Again, this is important evidence that supports Dr. Gregg Frazer's thesis that "commonly received ideas of Christianity" in late 18th Century America did NOT consider non-Trinitarianism to be "Christianity." Every established church save the Quakers was in some way connected to a Trinitarian creed. Yet, unitarians abounded in those churches, indeed, abounded among the ranks of ministers in those churches. They faced a dillema. Those in higher positions of authority in the orthodox Trinitarian churches expected Trinitarian creeds to be recited, but the unitarians didn't want to recite those confessions. As Rev. Price put it:

Perhaps nothing more shocking to reason and humanity ever made a part of a religious system than the damning clauses in the Athanasian creed and yet the obligation of the clergy to declare assent to this creed, and to read it as a part of the public devotion, remains.

Finally here is Unitarian minister and President of Harvard in the early 19th Century, Jared Sparks, replying to a Trinitarian Christian critic who argued Unitarians are not Christians:

Your sweeping denunciation embraces all Unitarians of every age and country. If your charges are well-founded, Newton, Locke, and Chillingworth, were “no christians in any correct sense of the word, nor any more in the way of salvation, than Mohammedans or Jews?”

Oh and, just for fun, here is Sparks' argument that Locke's "Reasonableness of Christianity" was a secret unitarian tome (i.e., Locke didn't deny the Trinity but totally ignored the Trinity and related doctrines when declaring the "essentials" of Christianity, something that no Trinitarian would do, indeed something ONLY secret unitarians did in that place and time; and Locke was called out for it):

And Locke must still be considered a Unitarian, till he can be proved a Trinitarian ; a task, which it is not likely you will soon undertake. At all events, he had no faith in the assemblage of articles, which you denominate the essence of christianity, and without believing which, you say, no one can be called a Christian. His whole treatise on the Reasonableness of Christianity bears witness to this truth. For the leading object of that work is to show, that “the Gospel was written to induce men into a belief of this proposition, ‘that Jesus of Nazareth was the Messiah,’ which if they believed, they should have life.”* He says nothing about total depravity, the atonement, the “sanctifying spirit of an Almighty Surety,” nor any of your peculiar doctrines. Yet who has done more to elucidate the sacred Scriptures, or to prove the consistency and reasonableness of the religion of Jesus? Your rule, however, will take from him the Christian name.
David Barton's Other Distortions:

As American Creation we have a follow up written by Brad Hart on left-wing scholars who hold respectable positions in the academy who likewise engage in similar shenanigans. Hart's poster boy for a radical left wing version of Barton is Howard Zinn.

I am not going to term either Zinn or Barton "liars." That's a strong term. However I would agree that both are distortionists and propagandists. It may be impossible for historians not to read their biases into the record. But, it seems to me, using history for blatant propagandistic purposes is a lame thing to do.

Linked below is an example David Barton's "other" historical interests which just as badly distort the record as much as anything he's done with the American Founding. Barton is a partisan Republican and has held positions in the Texas Republican Party. Barton is now, also, an historian of the Civil War and "black history."

The Republican Party is not doing an effective job reaching out to blacks. I have no problem with Republicans trying to attract more minorities; I think it's a good idea. However, the video below well illustrates using history as propaganda to achieve political ends.

Barton's narrative connects modern day Democrats (the party who elected Barack Obama) with the racist Democrats who lost the Civil War and formed the KKK. What Barton doesn't mention is that it was the Southern White Male Conservative Christians (i.e., what Barton himself is) who actually are the heirs to the Confederates and the KKK. They were called "Dixiecrats." And they tended to be to the right of Republicans. Jerry Falwell, admittedly, was once such a racist Dixiecrat. The Dixiecrats are almost all Republicans now. I think most SWMCCRs have sincerely repudiated their racist past. Falwell, to his credit, repudiated his racist past. Not Trent Lott, but he was punished by the Republicans for his lack of repudiation. I don't think David Barton is a racist. And I don't think most SWMCCRs are racist. But blatantly distorting the record for political ends is not the proper way to do outreach.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

The Search For that Right Term:

Prof. Jared Farley, whose work I discussed here, left a comment on that thread.


Hi. This is Jared Farley from the exchange above. I've been reading through some of the stuff here and on Positive Liberty (very interesting) and I was wondering about how you define and differentiate between several terms you use: proto-Unitarian, Unitarian, Christian Deist & Theistic-Rationalist. (I know all of this stuff is confusing, as I have been trying to figure it all out myself, but I would like to learn more about your use of these terms.) Thanks.

This is a very good question. In my answer I am going to note many things that Prof. Farley already knows (I can tell by reading his work that he knows quite a bit about the historical record on the Founding & Religion). I am going to include these facts and arguments for the sake of a more general reading audience.

Those terms about which Prof. Farley asks are all different ways of describing pretty much the same thing -- the religious creed in which many key Founding Fathers (the first four Presidents, Ben Franklin and others) believed (or probably believed) that was neither strict Deism nor orthodox Christianity, but something in between.

All of those terms have their relative strengths and weaknesses and each views this hybrid creed through a different descriptive perspective. AND, importantly, the terms are not mutually exclusive. For instance one can be both a "Roman Catholic" and a "Thomist" without contradiction. Or one can be an "orthodox Christian" and a "Calvinist" without contradiction and so on and so forth. So when we say someone is a "theistic rationalist" and a "unitarian" we do not contradict ourselves.

The only time I used "proto-Unitarian" was after I saw Gordon Wood speak at Princeton where he used it. I think of those above mentioned Founders as small u "unitarians." I feel comfortable labeling Jefferson and J. Adams "unitarians" because they called themselves unitarians and otherwise rejected the Trinity (which in its strictest sense is all "unitarian" means).

However the capital U in Unitarianism connotes being a member of a Unitarian Church which Jefferson never was (he was a lifelong Anglican-Episcopalian). And with J. Adams, even though he claims to have been a theological unitarian since 1750 -- indeed he claims his own ministers in the Congregational Church were unitarians as of 1750 -- his Congregational Church didn't become "Unitarian" until sometime in the early 19th Century.

George Washington is not on record as calling himself either a deist or a unitarian, and rarely called himself a "Christian" either. Peter Lillback's 1200 page book can cite only one letter where Washington identifies as a Christian. The letter was to ROBERT STEWART April 27, 1763, where Washington uses the phrase "upon my honr and the faith of a Christian." There are also a few examples in the record of GW speaking to Christians in a "we" sense, and others where he speaks about "Christians" as though he were not a member of that group. But in any event, all of the other "key Founders" (J. Adams, Jefferson, Madison, Franklin) thought of themselves as "Christians" in *some* sense.

Washington never affirmed the Trinity or orthodox doctrines in his public and private writings. They reveal him to be a man of "religion," "prayer," and "Providence," not an orthodox Christian. I think the term "theistic rationalist" or "Christian-Deist" aptly describes his faith. I think "unitarian" might also as well. Dr. Farley's writings discuss Washington's systematic avoidance of communion and how that points strongly to Washington disbelieving in what the act symbolically represents: Christ's atonement. (That was the explanation John Marshall's family gave for why he refused communion in the same Episcopal-Anglican system to which GW, TJ, JM and many other "key Founders" belonged.) Though the strongest criticism against terming Washington a "unitarian" is that 1) he didn't call himself one, 2) I haven't found any smoking guns of GW affirming or denying the Trinity with his words, and 3) GW was not a member of the Unitarian Church.

Likewise James Madison rarely referred to himself as a "Christian" and is not on record calling himself a deist or a unitarian. Though, George Ticknor, founder of the Boston Public Library (himself a Unitarian) testified that

[Madison] talked of religious sects and parties and was curious to know how the cause of liberal Christianity stood with us, and if the Athanasian creed was well received by our Episcopalians. He pretty distinctly intimated to me his own regard for the Unitarian doctrines.

Like Washington, Madison was extremely vague in putting his specific religious cards on the table, but instead preferred to speak of "Providence" in naturalistic and rationalistic terms. That's why Dr. Gregg Frazer terms them "theistic rationalists." They were "theists" who believed in an active personal God, not "deists" who believed in an distant watchmaker.

Dr. Frazer also claims that they believed man's reason superseded a partially inspired Bible and in fact determined what parts of the Bible constituted valid revelation. This is his specific definition of the type of "rationalism" in which they believed. And certainly with Jefferson, J. Adams and a few others, one can make such a case. However, a few readers and co-bloggers are skeptical and demand more evidence -- more "smoking guns" -- to show that figures like Washington and Madison believed man's reason superseded a partially inspired, fallible Bible as the ultimate arbiter of truth or determined what was valid revelation.

There is however, a more general way in which they were "rationalists," and that is that they thought very highly of man's reason and believed reason could discover divine truths and consequently oft-spoke of God in naturalistic-rationalistic terms. Indeed, these key Founders invariably spoke of God using naturalistic or philosophical terms rather than using biblical terms. In his letter to TO FREDERICK BEASLEY on Nov. 20, 1825, Madison, when asked to put his theological cards on the table, speaks entirely in naturalistic-rationalistic terms and ingores Christ and the Bible. Also notable is that Madison appeals not to John Witherspoon for theological authority, but to Samuel Clarke another "Christian rationalist" who was a unitarian of the Arian bent and a minister in the Anglican Church. As Madison wrote:

I have duly recd the copy of your little tract on the proofs of the Being & Attributes of God. To do full justice to it, would require not only a more critical attention than I have been able to bestow on it, but a resort to the celebrated work of Dr. Clarke,...

The reasoning that could satisfy such a mind as that of Clarke, ought certainly not to be slighted in the discussion. And the belief in a God All Powerful wise & good, is so essential to the moral order of the World & to the happiness of man, that arguments which enforce it cannot be drawn from too many sources nor adapted with too much solicitude to the different characters & capacities to be impressed with it.

But whatever effect may be produced on some minds by the more abstract train of ideas which you so strongly support, it will probably always be found that the course of reasoning from the effect to the cause, “from Nature to Nature’s God,” Will be the more universal & more persuasive application.

The finiteness of the human understanding betrays itself on all subjects, but more especially when it contemplates such as involve infinity. What may safely be said seems to be, that the infinity of time & space forces itself on our conception, a limitation of either being inconceivable; that the mind prefers at once the idea of a self-existing cause to that of an infinite series of cause & effect, which augments, instead of avoiding the difficulty; and that it finds more facility in assenting to the self-existence of an invisible cause possessing infinite power, wisdom & goodness, than to the self-existence of the universe, visibly destitute of those attributes, and which may be the effect of them. In this comparative facility of conception & belief, all philosophical Reasoning on the subject must perhaps terminate. But that I may not get farther beyond my depth, and without the resources which bear you up in fathoming efforts, I hasten to thank you for the favour which has made me your debtor, and to assure you of my esteem.

So regardless of whether Madison believed man's reason supersedes revelation as the ultimate arbiter of truth or believed the Bible inspired at all, he was clearly a "rationalist" in his theological thinking.

The term "theistic rationalist" also had advantages for folks who hold to an "orthodox Christian" point of view. Accordingly, if one rejects the Trinity, one is not a Christian. So look for another term and don't use "Christian" -- which defines specially and particularly -- in that term. This is also why the "orthodox" don't like the term "Christian-Deism" which conflates what they see as two mutually exclusive concepts -- a contradiction in terms. However, "Christian-Deism" is valuable in that it accurately describes how the religion of those key Founding Fathers was not "Christianity" or "Deism" but something in between and a hybrid of the two.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Rodda's Videos On Barton:

At American Creation we have reproduced Chris Rodda's videos responding to David Barton's critique of her and the Huffington Post just published it as well. Also, look for Ed Brayton's Dispatches From the Culture Wars to do a piece on it as well very soon.

Barton never debates his critics in a live setting and rarely responds to them. That he at least responded to Rodda is notable.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Lofton Responds Again:

John Lofton left another comment at Positive Liberty on the child of God, child of the Devil issue. Like Jim Babka, I realize I am not going to make any progress with Mr. Lofton on whether the Bible teaches everyone is a child of God. In fact, I would concede that Mr. Lofton's view is entirely defensible on uber-Calvinistic, fundamentalist grounds (i.e., that uber-fundamentalist Calvinists are properly reading what the Bible says, though I think there are many other sound, hermeneutic approaches).

But I am interested in showing Mr. Lofton that his personal theology is not the "American View," that of the Declaration of Independence. And that he might want to think about changing the name of his website to for instance, "the Calvinist View," or the "Christian Reconstructionist View." The following is a relevant portion of Mr. Lofton's comment:

ROWE: But more importantly, there is a rich history in Christendom of looking to more than just the Bible to discover God’s will.

LOFTON: In “history,” yes. But, not in the Bible itself. God’s Will is discernible only in God’s Word, what God Himself has said.

ROWE: The Roman Catholics, after Aquinas, who ultimately believed the Bible infallible…

LOFTON: Sorry, but if they believed the Bible infallible they would have stuck to the Bible only, as the Bible says we must do. Scripture neither says nor indicates that the Bible is insufficient and that we must go outside of Scripture for anything else.

ROWE: have their natural law tradition that supplements scripture.

LOFTON: However, Scripture says nothing about God’s Word needing anything to “supplement” it.

Now, this seems well within the mainstream of Calvinism. It was Francis Schaeffer's view. It's also Dr. Gregg Frazer's view (and I think John MacArthur's as well). Here is Dr. Frazer on why the natural law is not biblical:

II Corinthians 3:3 has NOTHING to do with natural law. It simply says that the quality of the lives of the people to whom Paul ministered were his letter of commendation -- the affirmation of his ministry.

Romans 2:14-15 refers to God's moral law, not some "law of nature." I challenge [anyone] to find "law of nature" or "Nature's God" in a concordance of the Bible -- you won't find either term because they're not biblical terms.

Gary North has also argued the natural law is not biblical. Yet, Jordan J. Ballor of the Acton Institute (a Thomistic thinktank) makes the orthodox Protestant case for the natural law.

Now, the Declaration of Independence invokes this very natural law, written by God and discovered by reason alone, as the source of its authority. There is argument as to whether what Locke (and America's Founders repeating his ideas) meant by "the laws of nature and nature's God" is the same as what Aquinas and Aristotle meant. Further there is debate as to whether America's Founders, like the Christian natural law thinkers, believed the Bible infallible and the natural law should act as a handmaiden (i.e., a "supplement") for the Bible. OR whether reason should trump and the Bible should supplement the findings of man's reason.

As Dr. Frazer noted:

So, I fully recognize that they lived in an age of “Christendom” and that it had some influence upon them. I also discuss Aquinas – the difference between [theistic rationalism -- what Dr. Frazer argues was the "political theology of the American Founding"] and Aquinas is what they did when reason and revelation appeared to conflict. For Aquinas, reason bowed to revelation and was designed to supplement revelation. For the [theistic rationalists], it was the other way around. Reason was the ultimate standard and revelation was a supplement to it. In fact, they determined what counted as legitimate revelation based on their reason. The key to your [James] Wilson quote (which I include in my dissertation, by the way) is which of the two ways of looking at law takes priority when they appear to conflict. Wilson said: “Reason and conscience can do much; but still they stand in need of support and assistance.” And “the Scriptures support, confirm, and corroborate, but do not supersede the operations of reason and the moral sense.” For Wilson, Scripture will be called upon to support and assist reason – not the reverse. That is the position of [theistic rationalism]. It is the opposite of the position of Aquinas – and Christianity.

Now, we can debate whether Dr. Frazer properly interprets James Wilson an an enlightenment rationalist who believed man's reason should trump scripture when the two may have conflicted (as Jefferson, J. Adams, and Franklin clearly believed). Wilson's position may well have been closer to Aquinas' than Dr. Frazer admits. However, the point is America's Founders turned to this law of nature [that included newly discovered "natural rights," again another concept not found in the Bible, or, some argue, even in the teachings of Aristotle or Aquinas] for their political theology. They may have disagreed on what could trump what, but, they could agree that this natural law discovered by reason that has its antecedents in Aristotle, was brought into Christianity by Aquinas, and then lived on it the works of Protestant thinkers like the Anglican Richard Hooker, whom Jocke Locke quoted, not only existed but would form the basis of their political order. And ultimately it was John Locke's newly discovered "rights teachings" which formed the centerpiece of the Declaration of Independence.

Yet, Mr. Lofton, seems to embrace the Declaration of Independence:

ROWE: However, to the extent that there is an “America View” of political theology represented by the Declaration of Independence and the personal beliefs the most important Founding Fathers, such holds that all human beings are children of God. It’s precisely that view that makes human rights “unalienable” and consequently “universal.” If the non-elect or non-regenerate are “children of the Devil,” Mr. Lofton, I would ask, why should a “Christian” government treat them equally as the Declaration of Independence demands?

LOFTON: Actually, the D of I says nothing about WHY we all have unalienable “rights” other than that we do, they come from God and it’s the role of government to protect such God-given rights. And since a Christian government must obey God’s Word this means that such government is no respecter of persons, meaning all persons (elect/non-elect/saved/unsaved) are under God’s Law. As St. Paul says: Love of neighbor means obeying the law of God re: your neighbor (Romans 13:10) — whether your neighbor is or is not saved..

Since Mr. Lofton rejects the natural law as even a supplement to an infallible Bible, it seems to me that the Declaration should speak very little, if not at all to him and his ideal political world. Thus, he should either give up his affinity for the Declaration of Independence, or rethink his position about the validity of natural law discovered by reason, used to supplement the Bible.

Finally I'll note the most notable Calvinist Founding Father, Dr. John Witherspoon, President of Princeton University, though he did give some fiery Calvinist sermons, when he taught politics at Princeton did not teach Calvin or the Bible but rather turned to Scottish rationalism, and, you got it, the laws of nature, discovered by reason. You can read his Lectures on Moral Philosophy here.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

America's Key Founders as "Judeo-Christians," "Apriarians" and "Jews":

"Were I to be a founder of a new sect, I would call them Apriarians, and after the example of the bee, advise them to extract honey of every sect."

-- Thomas Jefferson to Thomas B. Parker, May 15, 1819.

In order to settle the debate over what to call America's principle Founders [Washington, J. Adams, Jefferson, Madison, Franklin and others], perhaps we should term them "Apriarians." This system is neither strict Deism, nor orthodox Christianity. Dr. Gregg Frazer has suggested "theistic rationalism," a term I like. But not everyone does. My co-blogger at American Creation, Tom Van Dyke has voiced his disagreement with it (I need not reproduce that here) and instead offers, "Judeo-Christians." TVD would note, after Michael Novak that the "strict Deist" God is a non-interventionist one, but it's the "Judeo-Christian" God who is an active personal God. And all five of those above mentioned Founders believed in an active personal God.

Here are some potential problems with the term "Judeo-Christian." First it's an a-historical term. The term was not used during the Founding and the Founders didn't call themselves "Judeo-Christians." But they didn't call themselves "theistic rationalists" either. Both Van Dyke and Frazer would argue their terms are properly "descriptive" however.

The second problem is it suggests some special relationship between Judaism and Christianity, but that excludes other "non-Judeo-Christian" faiths. And that dynamic didn't quite exist during the Founding era either. You had "Protestant Christianity" as the dominant faith and the "in" group. Jews and Roman Catholics tended to be cast "outside the box" with Muslims, pagans and infidels. There were only a very small number of anti-Christian Deists or atheists who wanted nothing to do with Jesus, the Bible or the Christian label. But there were an huge number of "deistic" or "unitarian" minded folks, most of whom were formally or nominally associated with a Protestant Christian Church. Though they may not have been regular attendees or communicants and they otherwise didn't believe in their Church's orthodox doctrines. Men like Ben Franklin, Thomas Jefferson and George Washington could feel like "insiders" in a way that Jews, Muslims, Roman Catholics, non-Christian-Deists and atheists couldn't precisely because they maintained formal and nominal connections to Protestant Christianity.

Another potential problem with "Judeo-Christianity" is that it could mean a lowest common denominator between Judaism and Christianity; but then we'd have to throw out Jesus and the New Testament. And the Founders didn't do that.

But my biggest problems with the term "Judeo-Christianity" is that I see a number of orthodox Christians invoking that term and then seeking to use the "Judeo" part as a "handmaiden" to orthodox Christianity. From their self-serving perspective, it's not surprising they would do this because Judaism does indeed play an extremely special role as an antecedent to orthodox Christianity. But that clearly doesn't describe the "Judeo-Christianity" of America's key Founders.

Maybe this is just the result of an encounter I had with an orthodox Christian named Gordon Mullings, which was the blatantest, grossest example of this dynamic of attempting to use Christianity's Judaic roots to serve as a handmaiden for orthodox doctrine. He wrote:

As to the idea that the biblical, Judaeo-Christian worldview is ill-defined or hard to outline, that is laughable. Yes there are disputes or debates over relatively narrow points of doctrine [we are here speaking of worldviews not theologies and schools of thought within a worldview], or because of ignorance and twisting of the scriptures, but the core of that worldview is long since on public record as bith [sic] NT documents and subsequent easily accessible creedal statements, regularly publicly recited, e.g. the Nicene creed - which aptly summarises the faith once for all delivered unto the saints.

Did you get that? He just equated the "Judeo-Christian" worldview with the Nicene Creed. And Jews, like America's key Founders, reject almost every single word of the Nicene Creed, or at least after the first paragraph. The kind of "Judeo-Christianity" as represented by the "theistic rationalists" (or the "Apriarians") can reject, often bitterly and mockingly, the Nicene Creed.

I remember once explaining to a group of people, via email, "theistic rationalism," how it was neither strict deism nor orthodox Christianity and one commenter noted, "they sound like they were Jews." There may be some truth to that. When I hear Rabbi Shmuley Boteach debate Jesus I hear a lot of Jefferson, J. Adams and Franklin. He sees Jesus as a great moral teacher and Rabbi, but rejects Him as Messiah. They may have seen Jesus as a "savior" in some sense but rejected the Trinity or Jesus' divinity. AND Boteach asserts that parts of the New Testament were likely fabricated (Jefferson, J. Adams and Franklin would certainly say something similar about the Old Testament). Boteach also discusses the Jewish doctrine of how men are saved by their virtue, which is also what those Founders believed.

So, ultimately if there is a "Judeo-Christian" or even a "Christian" theology that undergirds the American Founding, it's so ecumenical that it includes lots of things (Trinity denial, universal salvation, rejection of the infallibility of the Bible; today it would have to include such things as Mormonism, Jehovah's Witnessism, cafeteria Christianity and embrace of the Gnostic Gospels) "historic" Christians don't consider "real Christianity" at all.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Children of God v. Children of the Devil Redux:

Former Washington Times columnist John Lofton responded to my thoughts at Positive Liberty on the issue of whether Christianity teaches all are children of God or only the regenerate are children of God, the others, children of the Devil. I feel I owe Mr. Lofton a response, given his amusing debate with music legend Frank Zappa.

Mr. Lofton originally asked me:

Cite for me, please, one Bible verse, one Scripture, that says, or indicates, that “EVERYONE” is a child of God. Thank you.

I replied:

I can’t. You have to take a more liberal interpretation of scripture to get the idea that we are all children of God.

To which he replied:

Thank you, Mr. Rowe for saying, truthfully, that you cannot not cite
one Bible verse, one Scripture, that says, or indicates, that “EVERYONE” is a child of God — that your view is based on “a more liberal interpretation of scripture to get the idea that we are all children of God.” So, what do you make of John 8:44ff? And how does your “more liberal interpretation of scripture” hermeneutic differ from, say just making stuff up about what God says because you want to believe what you want to believe? Thanks again.

First on what Scripture, properly understood, actually teaches, though I intensely study parts of the Bible that are relevant to my political-theological studies, I am not an expert in all biblical hermeneutic arguments. There are plenty of scriptures that on their surface seem contradictory, but good hermeneutics can "iron out." Just because I can't (yet) make the "sola-scriptura" case that all human beings are children of God doesn't mean that case can't be made. For instance, all five points of Calvinism are disputed on sola-scriptura grounds.

But more importantly, there is a rich history in Christendom of looking to more than just the Bible to discover God's will. The Roman Catholics, after Aquinas, who ultimately believed the Bible infallible, have their natural law tradition that supplements scripture. And there are also those Protestants like my friend Jim Babka who look to the natural law and findings of science while rejecting the Bible as infallible (but still believing most of it to be God's inspired Word). Now, they may be "believing what they want to believe." OR they may be discovering God's Will. Or maybe the atheists are right and you are all washed up.

I'm personally not much invested in a theology that says all humans are children of God. However, to the extent that there is an "America View" of political theology represented by the Declaration of Independence and the personal beliefs the most important Founding Fathers, such holds that all human beings are children of God.

It's precisely that view that makes human rights "unalienable" and consequently "universal." If the non-elect or non-regenerate are "children of the Devil," Mr. Lofton, I would ask, why should a "Christian" government treat them equally as the Declaration of Independence demands? There is plenty of textual authority in the Bible for UNEQUAL treatment of individuals and entire groups of people who were God's enemies, (children of the devil, as it were).

Thursday, March 19, 2009

The Christian Nation Thesis -- an Attempt to Reconstruct a Deconstructed Myth:

Brad Hart, my co-blogger at American Creation shares with us part of his Master's thesis that he's working on. The idea is to portray the "Christian America" movement as an "imagined community" (after Professor Benedict Anderson's book "Imagined Communities"). Another co-blogger Tom Van Dyke, in the comments, voices his dislike of Hart's thesis. Van Dyke asserts Hart's thesis "rests on the assertion that the Christian nation argument is a discontinuity from American history, a new phenomenon, and as you clearly assert, built on a lie ['rewriting history']."

Van Dyke accurately points out similar arguments have been made for a long time. See for instance Jaspar Adams'. Van Dyke could have added to that the Holy Trinity case (1892), BF Morris' "The Christian Life and Character of the Civil Institutions of the United States," and George Washington the Christian. Hell, TVD could have invoked Parson Weems' revisionist account of George Washington.

The problem is the Christian Nation idea is a myth. It was debunked by modern scholars and, since the 1970s, figures like Peter Marshall and David Barton are trying to "reconstruct" what has been "deconstructed." But ultimately the "imagined community" of "Christian America" has very old roots. What might make for an interesting BOOK (certainly too much for a paper) is to trace the origins of the Christian America idea, show when and how it was deconstructed, examine the attempt to "reconstruct" the myth and compare the difference between what was "deconstructed" and what Barton et al. are trying to "reconstruct."

If you listen to Barton et al. speak, modern scholars (PhDs in the academy) are the chief enemy. They are the "revisionists"! Well, no. For the most part (as I see it) they are right and he is wrong. Though they tend to have their own mythical pitfalls as well (i.e., the Founders were a bunch of Deists). The hard truth for those who believe in sacred cows is sometimes/often the debunkers or deconstructors are in the right. There was a brilliant episode of The Simpson's with Donald Sutherland that played this angle up.

As Allan Bloom taught, philosophy itself is about debunking sacred cows. Socrates was guilty as charged.

To illustrate this dynamic, there is a figure named James Renwick Willson, whom scholars mistakenly believe to be Bird Wilson (son of Founder James Wilson) who, in 1831 gave a sermon terming all of the Presidents elected thus far [Washington to Jackson] "infidels" and not more than "unitarians." While I can't speak for the accuracy of Jackson, Rev. Willson was probably right about Washington through JQ Adams. They were not more than "unitarians" and the "orthodox" considered that theology to be a softer form of "infidelity." But it was not the respected Bird Wilson who gave this sermon without controversy (as many scholars mistakenly report). Rather it was the unrespected Calvinist covenanter (folks who disagreed with the US Constitution because it contained no covenant to the Triune God) James Renwick Willson who was burned in effigy for that sermon! But like Socrates and his disbelief in what we now know to be false gods of the Greek City, Willson was right. The people just couldn't handle the truth.

I need not touch upon the controversy whether it's a good thing to debunk mythical sacred cows. The Simpson's episode with Donald Sutherland came down on the Straussian side that it was better for the people of Springfield to believe in the noble lie that Jebidiah Springfield was a true hero and a good man. But the Christian Nation idea has already been buried by scholars. The question, from my end, is whether we support the efforts of Peter Marshall, David Barton et al. to resurrect the myth and to that I say Hell no.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Leathley v. Farley Debate GW & Religion:

I hadn't heard of either of these folks before stumbling onto this debate in the Daily Jeffersonian. Jared A. Farley, Ph.D. is Assistant Professor of Political Science Ohio University- Zanesville. Pastor Steve Leathley is associated with the Bible Baptist Church - Cambridge Ohio. It's strange when encountering the "Christian America" debate how many of its promoters are pastors, and how many detractors are academicians. This certainly fits the narrative here. This is not to poison the well, the pastors could be right, the academicians wrong. Though, on this issue, it's usually, I have found, the academicians -- trained historians and political scientists -- who are right. It certainly is in this case.

The debate began with Pastor Steve Leathley's Feb. 25, '09 letter to the editor (I haven't yet seen the article or commentary to which he was responding) that claimed Washington as a "Christian." It's brief enough that I'll reproduce the entire thing:


On May 12, 1779, George Washington told a gathering of Indians, "You do well to wish to learn our arts and ways of life, and above all, the religion of Jesus Christ."

On another occasion he prayed, "Almighty God ... I beseech thee, my sins, remove them from thy presence, as far as the east is from the west, and accept of me for the merits of thy son Jesus Christ, that when I come into thy temple, and compass thine altar, my prayer may come before thee as incense; and at thou wouldst hear me calling upon thee in my prayers, so give me grace to hear thee calling upon me in thy Word ... for his sake, who lay down in the grave and rose again for us, Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen."

Obviously, when Washington spoke of "Providence," the "Grand Architect" and "Author of all Good," he knew exactly of whom he was speaking.

The trend in our day is to deny the Christian heritage of our country and replace it with "Deists" and "Moralists." However, even our 50 separate State Constitutions all acknowledge this Christian heritage (example: Ohio 1852, "We the people of the state of Ohio, grateful to almighty God for our freedom..." We that are Christian are proud of this heritage and simply ask that it be accepted as it is.

Pastor Steve Leathley


This letter actually helps prove that Washington, though not a "Deist" was the very "moralist" that Leathley invokes. The Daily Sacrifice Prayer is a debunked fraud. That the pastor would turn to it as a "smoking gun" shows just how little there is in the record that proves GW was a "Christian" as Pastor Leathley understands the term.

Dr. Farley left a comment at the bottom of Pastor Leathley's original post where he sheds light on the historical context. To which Pastor Leathley replied:


There is such a vast volume of material available attesting to the fact of George Washington's Christian faith that I could fill the "Mailbox" for months!

To those interested I would recommend the book "George Washington the Christian" published in 1919 and written by William J. Johnson. It can be read on-line at and it is a wonderful and thorough 299-page biography of our first President and his Christian faith. It speaks of the "Daily Sacrifice" prayers previously mentioned (beginning on page 23) in which Washington uses the titles "Jesus Christ" and "Saviour" repeatedly. The footnote (page 277) regarding this prayer book states, "Experts in Washington City, Philadelphia and New York are satisfied that it is Washington's handwriting without a doubt."

Jared Sparks (1789-1866), who was a noted historian and later became President of Harvard, wrote a 12-volume exposition on the life of George Washington (he also did a 10-volume work on Benjamin Franklin). After years of research and looking through all writings, correspondence, etc. he wrote the following the conclusion, "To say that he (George Washington) was not a Christian would be to impeach his sincerity and honesty."

John Marshall, who fought with Washington in the Revolutionary War and served with him at Valley Forge (and later became Chief Justice of the Supreme Court), said of Washington, "Without making ostentatious professions of religion, he was a sincere believer in the Christian faith, and a truly devout man."

George Washington's adopted daughter, Eleanor, wrote the following in a letter dated February 26, 1833, "I should have thought it the greatest heresy to doubt his firm belief in Christianity. His life, his writing, prove that he was a Christian."

Pastor Steve Leathley


Again, Pastor Leathley invokes the debunked Daily Sacrifice digging himself deeper in the hole. However, the quotations from John Marshall, Jared Sparks, and Nelly Custis are accurate. And again, we need to better understand them with historical context. The bottom line is "it depends on what the meaning of the word 'Christian' is." And that's something Prof. Farley does an outstanding job explaining. You can read his response here.

I say "outstanding" because the trap many modern academicians make is to term Washington a "Deist" which connotes Thomas Paine style belief in a non-intervening God, categorical rejection of revelation, and hostility to the "Christian" religion (in virtually any of its forms). This not only doesn't describe Washington, it also doesn't describe J. Adams, Jefferson, Madison, or Franklin -- the other supposed "Deists." On the other hand, Pastors like Leathley understand and define "Christianity" fairly strictly as well. From his own Church's articles of faith:

We believe the Holy Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments to be the super-naturally inspired words of God. These Scriptures, as contained in the 66 books of the Old and New Testaments, were inerrant and infallible, and the complete revelation of God to Man. We believe that just as God supernaturally inspired His words, so He has, in His divine providence, supernaturally preserved His words, inerrant and infallible, in the King James Bible, The King James Bible shall be the official and only Bible used by the church. (II Tim. 3:16-17; II Pet. 1:20-21; Ps. 12:6-7)

2. GOD
We believe in one God, eternally existing in three persons: Father, Son and Holy Ghost; each one equal in every divine perfection, but executing distinct offices in the great work of redemption. (Mt. 28:19; I Jn. 5:7)

We believe that the Lord Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of God, became man without ceasing to be God; having been conceived by the Holy Ghost and born of the virgin, Mary, in order that He might reveal God and redeem sinful men. (Is. 7:14; Lk. 1:35; Jn. 1:1-2)

We believe that the Lord Jesus Christ accomplished our redemption through His death on the cross as a substitutionary sacrifice; and, that our justification is made sure by His literal, physical resurrection from the dead. (I Pet. 2:24; Eph. 1:7; Lk. 24:39)

We believe that the Holy Ghost is a person who convicts the world of sin, righteousness and judgment; that He applies the Word of God to the heart of the listener; and that upon salvation, baptizes them into the body of Christ, indwelling and sealing them unto the day of redemption. (Jn. 16:8-11; I Cor. 12:12-14; Eph. 1:13-14)

We believe that man was created in the image and likeness of God, but that in Adam's sin, the human race fell, inherited a sinful nature, and became alienated from God; and that man is sinful and, of his own works, utterly unable to remedy his lost condition. (Gen. 1:26-27; Eph. 2:1-3; Eph. 2:8-9)

We believe that salvation is the gift of God brought to man by grace and received by personal faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, whose precious blood was shed on Calvary for the forgiveness of sins. (Jn. 1:12; Col. 1:14; I Pet. 1:18-19)

The evidence that Washington believed in even one of these articles is thin. And there is not a shred of evidence that he believed in all six. And I can attest this as one of the probably handful of people who read Peter Lillback's entire 1200 book, footnotes and all, that attempts to portray GW as an orthodox Christian. Lillback offers lots of evidence that GW was a man of religion, morality, prayer, and thougt the "Christian religion" (as Washington understood it) to be "good." But very thin evidence that GW believed in those 6 points that the "orthodox" believe define what it means to be a "mere Christian," at least a mere "Protestant Christian."

In short, there is a huge gulf between Thomas Paine style Deism on the one hand and orthodox Trinitarian Christianity (esp. of the "evangelical" or "born again" bent) on the other. It's clear that J. Adams, Jefferson and Franklin fit somewhere in that gulf, very likely that Madison did as well. And, it's likely Washington fit there as well. And Prof. Farley does a great job arguing this here.

I'll let you read his post for the evidence why the "Daily Sacrifice" is a fraud. However, what he says about Sparks, Marshall, and Custis is worth reproducing:

What Pastor Leathley neglects to point out, or does not understand, is that both Rev. Jared Sparks and John Marshall were Unitarian Christians and not traditional/orthodox Christians. Rev. Sparks was the minister of the Unitarian Church in Baltimore, Maryland, before accepting the presidency of Harvard University, a Unitarian school since 1805. Chief Justice John Marshall attended an Episcopalian congregation, but, like Washington, refused to partake in the Eucharist because of his personal Unitarian beliefs.


Here is a summary of a letter that John Marshall's daughter wrote concerning his religious faith: "The reason why he never communed was, that he was a Unitarian in opinion, though he never joined their society. He told her he believed in the truth of the Christian Revelation, but not in the divinity of Christ; therefore he could not commune in the Episcopal Church."
(see )


...[W]hen Rev. Sparks and Marshall spoke about Washington's faith their definition of what qualifies someone to be a "Christian" was not very strict and much different from what would qualify as a "traditional Christian" today. Pastor Leathley clearly does not understand this.


Pastor Leathley's final reference is to Eleanor Parke Custis Lewis's correspondence with Rev. Sparks about her step-grandfather's religious faith. Pastor Leathley conveniently neglects to mention that just a few lines before she writes that her step-grandfather had a "firm belief in Christianity", she also states that she would usually leave church services early with Washington on Eucharist Sundays. Apparently, her definition of Christianity, like those of Rev. Sparks and Marshall, was as vast as to include someone who rejected communion, and by inference the deity of Christ! Again, why else would Washington refuse communion, except that he could not accept what the Lord's Supper represents?????


Also, notice the part of the letter where she says, "I never witnessed his private devotions and never inquired about them." Yet, the letter makes clear that Nelly was clearly aware of the pious nature of her grandmother. I wonder why?????

Question- why would Nelly Washington agree to help a Unitarian minister write a book about her step-grandfather rather than one of the many more traditionalist Christian authors who also wanted to write a biography of him? Perhaps because she and the rest of Washington's family thought that a heretical Unitarian minister would present Washington's religious beliefs in a more favorable fashion, i.e., refer to him as a "devout Christian" because of Spark's own Unitarian beliefs...surely he thought himself a devout Christian?[]

The problem with Pastor Leathley's analysis is that he is attempting to make an ideological argument devoid of a complete understanding of the complexities of American religious history.


I want to stress that I am sure Pastor Leathley will eventually be able to find a quote seeming to give legitimacy to Washington's traditional Christian faith from someone who was not a theological Unitarian, but that will not really prove much. Why? Because even back during Washington's time you could find somebody to say just about anything. And just like today, there were people back then who wanted to BELIEVE that Washington shared their traditional/orthodox faith. So even if they had no evidence, they would simply say he obviously was a traditional Christian because they wanted to believe it was true. Furthermore, we have to remember that being a Deist or a Unitarian was not a very popular thing, and so in order to protect Washington's reputation and the Washington family's reputation, some people may have lied and said Washington was a devout Christian, but that does not mean much considering all the other bits of evidence we have. More likely than not, George Washington was a Unitarian was John Marshall, Thomas Jefferson, and John Adams (who actually attended a Unitarian congregation), among many others. (Notice I did not say Washington was definitely a Unitarian Christian.I cannot prove that. This is just my best guess based upon all of the evidence.)

Ultimately the question that remains follows -- the question that I would pose to Pastor Leathley: Is someone (regardless of how they self define and understand) who rejects or otherwise does not believe in those above reproduced six articles of faith from Leathley's church still able to be a "Christian"? If the answer is yes, then GW could be a "Christian." If the answer is "no" then Washington likely was not a Christian.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Waldman on Madison's Birthday and Legacy:

Hat tip Ed Brayton for noticing Steven Waldman's op ed in the Wall Street Journal on James Madison's birthday and legacy. Read the whole thing. I'll just excerpt some good parts:

James Madison is more responsible than any other single American for one of the nation's greatest characteristics -- religious freedom....You're probably aware that Madison is sometimes referred to as the Father of the Constitution for his pivotal role in guiding the Constitutional Convention. The original constitution took the historic step of forbidding Congress from limiting public office to people of a particular faith. That may seem obvious now, but at the time 11 of the 13 colonies had religious tests.

But consider this too:

It was James Madison who introduced into Congress the amendments that would eventually become the Bill of Rights. It was he who took the lead in ushering them through Congress and in particular fighting for a strong religious freedom clause.

It was also Madison who led the forces of religious freedom in one of the most important early battles on the topic. In 1784, Patrick Henry proposed that Virginians pay a tax to help support local churches. Madison led the opposition and successfully defeated this proposal.

And there's the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom....Jefferson did write this seminal document, but under his leadership it died in committee. Seven years later, while Jefferson was in France, Madison resurrected it and guided it through the Virginia legislature.

But Madison's most important contribution to religious freedom was not legislative, it was theoretical. It really was Madison who shaped the most holistic and effective theory of what religious freedom was and why we wanted it. For Jefferson, it was often about protecting the political system from religious interference.

Madison's emphasis was different. He believed that the main reason to have separation of church and state was to help religion. He came to this view in part because of an unusual but crucial alliance he built with evangelical Christians of his day. That's right. At that time, the evangelical Christians were the leading supporters of separation of church and state, and Madison was one of their greatest champions. They believed that not only was government repression bad but so was government help. Madison agreed and worked hand in hand with the evangelicals to press this point. In a crucial document called the Memorial and Remonstrance, Madison integrated the arguments of the Enlightenment intellectuals with the arguments of the evangelicals to create something much greater. Separating church and state would be better for both state and church.

This may be a concept that's a bit jarring to modern culture warriors. We've come to think that if you're pro religion you must surely want government to play a greater role in promoting religion. And if you're in favor of separation of church and state that you must want to reduce religion's role.

Madison and his evangelical allies had a completely different concept. They wanted to promote religion. They just believed that the best way to promote religion was for government to leave it alone.
What Would Have Happened If AIG Failed?

I've heard the claim AIG is "too big to fail." In the comments at Positive Liberty I noted and asked:

And if [AIG] are too big to fail then they were probably too big to be allowed to exist. I know that’s not a free market answer.

But what does free market economics say about firms who are “too big to fail”?

To which AMW answered:

I like to think that there is just economics, but that’s probably naive.

In other words, economics says, let them fail.

But what would happen if they did? Why do folks say they are "too big to fail"?
Naming Names:

As a libertarian I am against these bailouts in principle. But if government does give bailout $$, then all bets are off and we don't live in a free market world. It's like when bankruptcy law supersedes contract law. Likewise getting government bailout $$ takes us out of the free market world and puts us somewhere else where a different set of rules apply. And I quite frankly am more uncomfortable in that world than in free market world.

Government has every right to attach strings to bailout aid. But government is likely to mess things up royally with the rules that attach. I have no problem with Bill Gates making millions a year and acquiring billions in personal worth as long as Microsoft keeps making profits and gets no bailout money. But there is something sickening about a business being driven into the ground, getting government bailout $$ and then rewarding their executives with millions of dollars in bonuses. For that reason I have no problem with President Obama's $500,000 a year cap on payout to executives who take significant TARP $$. But I also agree that this could have unintended negative consequences, as could government trying to force AIG execs. to "give back" their bonuses to which they have a contractual right. I just saw Sen. Schumer say that if the execs. don't voluntarily give the money back, he willl see to it that all of it gets taxed. Perhaps he reads Balkinization.

Now, I'm not going to go as far as Sen. Grassley and say that the executives should kill themselves. Even Sen. Schumer's idea is too much government coercion for me. But I do think is a good idea to find out who these people are and how much money they get. I have heard Sen. Schumer and NY AG Cuomo call for disclosure of names. But I'm surprised that we can't figure out who these folks are through independent reporting. You can find the names of all of the board of directors of AIG here. It's amazing what you can find on the web these days.

Once we find out who they are, shame them into giving the money back. Send out the Bill O'Reilly and C and MSNBC reporters after their ass, get the cameras in their faces and harass them (non-violently, of course). I prefer that to government trying to find some way to undo the contracts. Then write a new law that would prevent this outrage from occurring again.

Update: On second thought, maybe enough is being done already.

Monday, March 16, 2009

American Indians & Property:

At Volokh, Ilya Somin's post discusses a myth I used to believe back in the day: that Native Americans had no concept of property. He talks about how this well fit with a Left-environmentalist narrative of Indians living in perfect harmony with nature. I seriously wonder whether Rousseau is the source of this myth. Rousseau is the father of the modern Enlightenment critique of property and he held the Indians to be "noble savages" living in some kind of romantic idealized state.

Timothy Sandefur, if I remember right, pointed out in his book on property rights, property is "natural" in the sense that virtually all cultures recognize some form of property ownership (i.e., this is "mine"). Christopher Hitchens mentioned something similar in his article that refuted the notion that the Ten Commandments are the basis of American Civil law. Yes, thou shalt not steal or kill have parallels in the civil law. However, as Hitchens notes:

There has never yet been any society, Confucian or Buddhist or Islamic, where the legal codes did not frown upon murder and theft. These offenses were certainly crimes in the Pharaonic Egypt from which the children of Israel had, if the story is to be believed, just escaped.

There is nothing uniquely biblical about "property rights" or Locke's idea of an "inalienable right to property." Though Plato, Rousseau and Marx who represent the Western philosophical tradition of collectivism or critique of property rights fundamentally misunderstood human nature; and that's why Marx's project failed.
More on Privatizing Marriage:

It's not just some marginal figures who are coming around to the idea but now some serious legal scholars. See this article from Time Magazine:

In a paper published March 2 in the San Francisco Chronicle, two law professors from Pepperdine University issued a call to re-examine the role the government plays in marriage. The authors — one of whom voted for and one against Proposition 8, which ended gay marriage in California — say the best way out of the intractable legal wars over gay marriage is to take marriage out of the hands of the government altogether....

Instead, give gay and straight couples alike the same license, a certificate confirming them as a family, and call it a civil union — anything, really, other than marriage. For people who feel the word marriage is important, the next stop after the courthouse could be the church, where they could bless their union with all the religious ceremony they wanted. Religions would lose nothing of their role in sanctioning the kinds of unions that they find in keeping with their tenets. And for nonbelievers and those who find the word marriage less important, the civil-union license issued by the state would be all they needed to unlock the benefits reserved in most states and in federal law for married couples.

"While new terminology for all may at first seem awkward — mostly in greeting-card shops — [it] dovetails with the court's important responsibility to reaffirm the unfettered freedom of all faiths to extend the nomenclature of marriage as their traditions allow," wrote Douglas W. Kmiec and Shelley Ross Saxer. Kmiec voted for Prop 8 because of his belief in the teachings of the Catholic Church and his notion of religious liberty but has since said he thinks the courts should not allow one group of Californians to marry while denying the privilege to others.

As I recently wrote, the proposal does have a "Madisonian" logic to it.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Douthat on Political Theology in General and Me in Particular:

I'm glad to see the New York Times hired Ross Douthat to replace Bill Kristol as their new "conservative" Op-Ed columnist. I do admit though I'm a bit biased towards Mr. Douthat given the kind words he had for an article/blog post of mine on political theology. You can read Mr. Douthat's commentary on my article/blog post on political theology here.

Monday, March 09, 2009

Now THAT'S How to Quit Smoking...:

And keep your weight in check as well. From Stephen King's "Cat's Eye":

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Justice: Rights and Wrongs, Nicholas Wolterstorff:

Put that book on my reading list! Nicholas Wolterstorff "is the Noah Porter Professor Emeritus of Philosophical Theology at Yale University and a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences," and his new book from Princeton University Press will probably make about as serious an argument you can get for the proposition that human rights must be grounded in "biblical theism." (Note to the "Christian America" crowd: It's from sources like this that you should turn to for serious arguments, not "Wallbuilders" or "Coral Ridge").

The Immanent Frame is doing a lot of blogging on the issue of late. I like James K.A. Smith's critique the best. A taste:

Wolterstorff is out to tell the causal version of this story: the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures teach inherent rights, the church affirmed inherent rights, the Reformation recovered and expanded inherent rights, and modern liberal democracy universalized inherent rights (and stands in danger of losing a ground for them if it persists in its secularizing ways). But with just a smidgen of a hermeneutics of suspicion, this story could be told quite differently—namely, that a late modern Calvinist, who has bought into a liberal model of justice as inherent rights, is now (surprise, surprise!) finding just such a model of justice in a selective, tilted reading of the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures—and that insofar at the Reformation plays a role in giving rise to this paradigm, it’s to blame, not praise. (I don’t claim to have sufficiently marshaled the resources to actually pull off such an alternative account. I only want to sketch what it might look like.)

Wolterstorff cannot claim that "rights teachings" are explicit within the Bible's text, because they are not. Rather he claims (out of necessity) that they are "inherent." There is something to his point; the creation story, Imago Dei. However, inherent "rights" teachings is clearly a "selective" reading of the Bible. It is not, by necessity, the only proper "orthodox" reading of the good book. And it certainly was not that of Calvin or the early reformers. Samuel Rutherford, referring to Calvin's complicity in the death of Michael Servetus for simply speaking his unitarian conscience, aptly summarizes Calvin's teachings on the "rights of conscience," (the most unalienable or natural rights):

“It was justice, not cruelty, yea mercy to the Church of God, to take away the life of Servetus, who used such spirituall and diabolick cruelty to many thousand soules, whom he did pervert, and by his Booke, does yet lead into perdition.”

Samuel Rutherfurd, “A Free Disputation Against Pretended Liberty of Conscience.” (1649).

Note, I am sympathetic to the notion that human rights, by necessity, best rest on some kind of ultimate "higher power." I blogged about that at Ed Brayton's Dispatches From the Culture Wars, here and here. This leads to my second critique of Wolterstorff's thesis. His book seems to play into the modern culture war dynamic of "religious conservatives" arguing the Bible on the one hand v. the Godless secularists on the other. The actual account of our rights-oriented "Whig history" is more complicated to give the victory of "rights" to one side or the other. America's Founding Fathers grounded their idea of rights in a God -- an active personal God -- which might seem to give the victory to the "biblical" side. But their God was (or to some pretty damn important Founding Fathers was) a rationalistic Enlightenment God as much as He was biblical.

In a piece the Cato Institute reproduced, reacting to Mark Lilla's thesis (the subject of Cato Unbound that month), I noted the following on the rights granting God of the American Founding:

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.

Now, even if many of the Founding Fathers and the population at large didn't believe in this God, it's clear that Jefferson, Franklin, and J. Adams -- the men who wrote the Declaration of Independence -- did. Many other Founders probably did as well (see for instance my discussion of Madison below). And their benevolent unitarian deity is arguably the more authentic ultimate "rights-grantor." It's not as though they HAD to rely on the strict biblical God for their conception of "rights" because, as noted, the Bible's text does not explicitly speak of "natural rights." The "selective reading" of the Bible that seeks to glean universal human rights from the creation story fits perfectly with the benevolent unitarian deity of Jefferson, J. Adams and Franklin described above.

And arguably their God, not the orthodox Calvinist God, is a more useful grantor of rights. There is, let us not forget, another selective reading of the Bible that denies universal human rights. From one of my above linked guest posts at Dispatches From the Culture Wars, I quoted Larry Arnhart who wrote:

The case of slavery and "universalism" illustrates the problem....[M]any religious traditions have allowed slavery, and the Bible never condemns slavery or calls for its abolition. On the contrary, in the American debate over slavery, Christian defenders of slavery were able to cite specific biblical passages in both the Old Testament and the New Testament supporting slavery. Opponents of slavery had to argue that general doctrines such as the creation of human beings in God's image implicitly denied the justice of slavery. But they could never cite any specific passage of the Bible for their position. Here's a clear case of where the moral teaching of the Bible depends on our coming to it with a prior moral understanding that we then read into the Bible.

Moreover, the "universalism" of the Bible is in doubt. I don't see a universal morality in the Old Testament. Moses ordering the slaughter of the innocent Mideanite women and children, for example, manifests a xenophobia that runs through much of the Old Testament.

Now, of course, the New Testament does seem more inclined to a universal humanitarianism. But the Book of Revelation teaches that at the end of history the saints will destroy the Antichrist and the unbelievers in bloody battle. The bloodiness of this vision has been dramatized throughout the history of Christianity. (See, for example, Tim LaHaye's popular LEFT BEHIND novels.)

In my intense study of orthodox biblical theology I often see orthodox theologians argue that only "born again," "saved" or "regenerate" Christians are "children of God." The others are "children of the devil," as it were. And they have biblical textual authority for this proposition. Though they do concede these "children of the devil" were made in God's image. A more liberal reading of the biblical record holds EVERYONE is God's child. And it's precisely that reading -- that we are ALL children of God, regardless of status as "orthodox" or "real" Christians -- upon which the American Founding relied. The more orthodox-Calvinist understanding that casts aside the unregenerate as "children of the devil," it seems to me, is rife for casting away most or all of their inherhent human dignity as well. Look at how Moses dealt with the Mideanite "women and children of the devil."

[See also Ron Paul's debate with John Lofton on homosexuals. Ron Paul's notion that homosexuals are children of God far better resonates with the political theology of the American Founding than Lofton's uber-Calvinist idea that homosexuals are children of the devil.]

And with that I will end with James Madison's liberal unitarian theology that invoked the Native American's "Great Spirit" God as the same one Jews and Christians worshipped and held unconverted Natives in their unconverted state were "Children of God":

“....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.]

So ultimately if we want more "theology" in public life to provide the necessary support for "human rights," we are just as likely to be left with modern liberal Christian notions of God that suit Barack Obama's ideal vision for society than Pat Robertson's. Is that what Nicholas Wolterstorff is trying to accomplish? Such are the inherent dangers when dealing with "civil religion."

Saturday, March 07, 2009

What James Madison Can Teach Us on the Gay Marriage Controversy: Privatize Marriage just like Religion.

Responding to a proposed compromise on the national marriage debate by Jonathan Rauch and David Blankenhorn, Ryan T. Anderson and Sherif Girgis of the socially conservative Witherspoon Institute suggest a different compromise:

[U]nions recognized by the federal government would be available to any two adults who commit to sharing domestic responsibilities, whether or not their relationship is sexual. Available only to people otherwise ineligible to marry each other (say, because of consanguinity), these unions would neither introduce a rival “marriage-lite” option nor treat same-sex unions as marriages. Their purpose would be to protect adult domestic partners who have pledged themselves to a mutually binding relationship of care. What (if anything) goes on in the bedroom would have nothing to do with these unions’ goals or, thus, eligibility requirements.

Anderson and Gergis, following their mentor Robert P. George of Princeton University, object when government recognizes "immorality" to be publicly or politically legitimate in any sense.

David Link of Independent Gay Forum reacts:

With apologies to the traditionalists, the days when a majority of Americans simply closed their eyes to the loving – and sexual – relationships of same-sex couples are coming to an end.

There is no need to go so far out of our way to invent an entirely new category of relationship whose only point seems to be to grant same-sex couples some kind of rights while not acknowledging them in law as same-sex couples.

If the law must choose whether to "recognize" same sex relationships institutionally, no compromise will satisfy either side. However, there is a third way compromise: Government should not be in the business of "recognizing" which sexual relationships qualify as "marriage," or something like thereof.

The libertarian solution I endorse is to let everyone have that two person civil union that even sisters can get and abolish "marriage" as public legal institution. Leave the question of "marriage" entirely to private entities like churches. In short get government out of the marriage game.

The dispute over religion during America's Founding era is instructive. Back then almost everyone agreed that "religion" (broadly defined) was good for republican government. Today most people agree that mutually supportive relationships are good for society. As John Donne said, "No man is an Island."

And, back then, a consensus held that "Christianity" (again broadly defined) was the "best religion." And today, most agree that "marriage" is the best kind of mutually supportive relationship that benefits married individuals and society as a whole.

However, during the Founding era, the population disputed how "real Christianity" was defined (as we do today). And if government were to be in the business of supporting "the Christian religion," which in turn provided republican government with "indispensable support," it would have to first define "Christianity."

James Madison, who remonstrated against government support for "Christianity generally," understood the best solution when it came to intractable disputes was to get government out of the game and rather have it act as a neutral referee among competing "factions."

Madison believed if government had the authority to "take cognizance of" and hence define "religion" or "Christianity," someone's unalienable rights ultimately would be violated. As Madison wrote in the Memorial and Remonstrance:

Who does not see that the same authority which can establish Christianity, in exclusion of all other Religions, may establish with the same ease any particular sect of Christians, in exclusion of all other Sects?

Madison's solution was to privitize religion:

We maintain therefore that in matters of Religion, no mans right is abridged by the institution of Civil Society and that Religion is wholly exempt from its cognizance. True it is, that no other rule exists, by which any question which may divide a Society, can be ultimately determined, but the will of the majority; but it is also true that the majority may trespass on the rights of the minority.

Now substitute "marriage" for "religion":

We maintain therefore that in matters of [marriage], no mans right is abridged by the institution of Civil Society and that [marriage] is wholly exempt from its cognizance. True it is, that no other rule exists, by which any question which may divide a Society, can be ultimately determined, but the will of the majority; but it is also true that the majority may trespass on the rights of the minority.

Further "abolishing" the public recognition of religion (or marriage) does not equate with "abolishing religion" (or marriage). As Madison put it:

[F]or every page of [the Chrisitan religion] disavows a dependence on the powers of this world....[F]or it is known that this Religion both existed and flourished, not only without the support of human laws, but in spite of every opposition from them, and not only during the period of miraculous aid, but long after it had been left to its own evidence and the ordinary care of Providence....[F]or a Religion not invented by human policy, must have pre-existed and been supported, before it was established by human policy. [Bold mine.]

What I bolded is important because religious conservatives often argue that marriage is "pre-political," not an invention of human society, but something whose real definition human institutions can do nothing to change. Madison says the same thing about the Christian religion. But Madison's solution was not for government to recognize the "right" definition of "religion" only, but get government out of the religion business altogether and leave the disputed understanding thereof entirely to churches, private institutions and consciences.

As to the disputed definition "Christianity," whatever their sectarian differences, almost all of the recognized Churches (except the Quakers) adhered to an orthodox Trinitarian creed. There was, however, a minority of extremely bright, politically powerful theological unitarians (of which Madison likely was one) who thought of themselves as "Christians." But to the orthodox, terming unitarians "Christians" was like calling a dog's tail a fifth leg. And again, we see a parallel argument from opponents of same sex marriage: Terming a relationship between two men or two women a "marriage" is like calling a dog's tail a fifth leg.

In private notes he prepared for the Memorial and Remonstrance, Madison asked "What is Xnty?... Is it Trinitarianism, Arianism, Socinianism ? Is it salvation by faith or works also, by free grace or by will, &c., &c." Again Arianism and Socinianism were popular forms of the unitarian heresy believed in by many notable Founders.

Madison further asks, "What sense the true one for if some doctrines be essential to Xnty those who reject these, whatever name they take are no Xn Society?" Again notice the parallel to same sex marriage. Social conservatives argue same sex couples may call themselves "married" and certain governments may even recognize them as such; but they are not, in reality, "married."

Finally Madison stated if government takes cognizance of "religion" or "Christianity," "Courts of law" would have judge "what is orthodoxy, what heresy" and the end result would "Dishonor[] Christianity." And again to make the parallel to the same sex marriage dispute, courts of law HAVE judged whether same sex marriage qualifies as such and many believe this has "dishonored marriage."

Madison's ideal on church and state ultimately was adopted in Virginia with the passage of Thomas Jefferson's Statute on Religious Freedom. There was however, another ideal on religion and government put forth by John Adams (himself a unitarian) in Massachusetts. Government could take cognizance of and "mildly establish" "Christianity," but must still recognize religious liberty. Eventually, just as Madison predicted, a court -- the Massachusetts Supreme Court -- had to determine whether a Unitarian Church could get state establishment aid. And that Court, comprised of a number of Unitarian judges, held it could, that "unitarianism" was "Christianity," and hence eligible for government establishment aid. See the Dedham decision. To the orthodox, again, this was like terming a dog's tail a fifth leg. And THAT was what finally ended religious establishments in America, Massachusetts the last to do so in 1833.

If enough courts recognize same sex marriage, I wonder whether today's social conservatives will come to support abolishing civil marriage simply to prevent the state from recognizing same sex unions as "marriage." This compromise worked with religion, perhaps it can also work with marriage.

Friday, March 06, 2009

The Orthodox Calvinist Case For Secularism:

I've never heard of Daryl Hart, Residence in Scholar, Intercollegiate Studies Institute before listening to the address he gave to the Tocqueville Forum on the Roots of American Democracy, housed in the Department of Government at Georgetown University, here. Also giving addresses in that forum on public theology are Stanley Hauerwas, Gilbert T. Rowe Professor of Theological Ethics, Duke University Divinity School and the late (Rev.) Richard John Neuhaus, of First Things.

Hart comes to many of the same discoveries and conclusions on religion and public life that I have (no wonder I like his address so much). An orthodox Calvinist, Hart makes the case that politically conservative Christians, especially Calvinists, should embrace some kind of secularism (which he defines as government neutrality towards religion) because America's Founding political theology does not resonate with orthodox Christianity. The political theology of the American Founding is especially in tension with Calvinism.

The bottom line is America's Founding political theology is a unitarian theology of works, not an orthodox theology of grace. Though he doesn't cite Franklin's quotation, the following perfectly exemplifies the way "religion" was meant to resonate with the republicanism of the American Founding:

Faith is recommended as a Means of producing Morality: Our Saviour was a Teacher of Morality or Virtue, and they that were deficient and desired to be taught, ought first to believe in him as an able and faithful Teacher. Thus Faith would be a Means of producing Morality, and Morality of Salvation. But that from such Faith alone Salvation may be expected, appears to me to be neither a Christian Doctrine nor a reasonable one….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.

Though George Washington was never so explicitly heterodox (for pragmatic reasons) his Farewell Address is pregnant with heterodox unitarian implications as it well illustrates this unitarian-utilitarian theology of works, as opposed to an orthodox theology of grace:

Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports….And let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion. Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.