Saturday, March 27, 2010

Benjamin Rush on Confucianism, Islam and Christianity:

See here:

Such is my veneration for every religion that reveals the attributes of the Deity, or a future state of rewards and punishments, that I had rather see the opinions of Confucius or Mahomed inculcated upon our youth, than see them grow up wholly devoid of a system of religious principles. But the religion I mean to recommend in this place, is that of the New Testament.

Rush was an interesting character. He was an orthodox Trinitarian Christian and said certain things which sound "Christian Nation" like. Yet, his orthodox Christianity was liberal and enlightened for the era. He was a theological universalist, believing all men would be saved through Christ's universal (as opposed to limited) atonement. And he thought the New Testament abolished the death penalty.

Rush described his creed as "a compound of the orthodoxy and heterodoxy of most of our Christian churches."

One thing that interests me about Rush's first quotation is his idea that Confucianism "reveals the attributes of the Deity, or a future state of rewards and punishments...." That was the deistic or theistic minimum that many key and non-key Founders -- not just the heterodox rationalist unitarians, but some/many orthodox figures as well -- believed most if not all world religions adhered to.

This was the idea of "natural religion" -- that all good men of all religions believe in Providence and a future state of rewards and punishments. That man's "reason" discovered this. And, as it were, such Providentialism existed beyond the Abrahamic, traditionally thought of monotheistic religions.

The way natural religion "fit" with Christianity was the Jewish and Christian scriptures helped to further clarify what man could discover from reason alone.

I question whether it's sound theology to "find" monotheism outside of the Jewish, Muslim, and Christian traditions (broadly defined). But they did. John Adams "found" Providentialism in, among other places, Hinduism and Greek God worship. Hinduism perhaps could be thought of as monotheistic. I've heard some Hindus argue their thousands of gods are really manifestations of the one God of the universe. This seems like Trinitarian logic taken to its ultimate extreme (instead of three manifestations of one God, it's thousands).

Also, for obvious reasons [Western Civ. has Greco-Roman along with Judeo-Christian origins AND the FFs highly venerated such Greco-Roman noble paganism], the way the Founders' universal monotheism fit with classical Greece and Rome interests me.

It may be a stretch to say, as John Adams did, Zeus worship is a "Christian principle." However, what about the ancient philosophers like Aristotle and Socrates or the Stoics of Rome like Cinncinatus, Cicero and Seneca?

It is my (albeit limited) understanding that many of these wise Ancients did not worship the city gods like Zeus or his Roman moniker Jupiter. Isn't that what Socrates was executed for?

Yet, they weren't atheists either? They did believe in some kind of metaphysical Providence?

So men like Aristotle, Socrates, Cicero and Seneca perhaps could be said to have worshipped the God of the Jewish and Christian Scriptures without knowing more about Him.

That's one way to view it.

I rarely, however, hear the evangelical promoters of the "Christian Nation" thesis expounding theology like this. Roman Catholics, maybe.

Evangelicals are more likely to say Aristotle, Cicero, the Hindus and Confucians DIDN'T worship the God of the Bible, were/are in a state of spiritual darkness period.

The Founders would have disagreed.

Friday, March 26, 2010

Mark Noll on Providential History & the American Revolution:

This was taken from a 2001 article at "Christianity Today":

Ordinary vs. providential

But what about God? Asked about the anti-supernaturalism of history, Noll made a distinction between what he called "ordinary" and "providential" history. Ordinary history, he said, limits itself to "evidence and causes and effects that almost everyone can be convinced might have taken place." While ordinary history might look quite secular, Noll sees it as fundamentally Christian in its presuppositions and worldview. He compared it to science. Christian scientists do their work with confidence because they believe that the world will make sense, and that God has made it possible for the human mind to understand the world.

So with the historian. "If I want to study the history of the American Revolution, I'm presupposing that something real took place, that the evidence left corresponds in some way to what really took place, that I'm intelligent enough to understand that evidence, that I'm able to put together a plausible explanation of cause and effect that might get us close to the truth," Noll said. "All those enterprises I see as implicitly dependent on a Christian view of God."

Noll seemed to imply that ordinary history, while it depended on God, would never have much to say about God. For as soon as someone contended that God had acted in a particular way, the subject would be too contentious to hope for general agreement.

I asked, therefore, about what Noll called "providential" history—history that assumed God's goodness to be at work in history and attempted to trace it. Noll resisted such an approach, saying he believed good providential history could be done, but that he has yet to see good examples of it. Providential history only made sense to "people who already shared your very specific religious position. If someone said the Reformation was God's way of bringing about a reform in the church, I knew that person wasn't a Catholic."

Noll's feelings stem partly from his early research in American history, when he studied how Christian ministers justified the Revolutionary War in their preaching. Most often they spoke of the Revolution as, literally, God's work. "When I really got into it, I came to the conclusion that this was hopeless, bogus. If you use Christian standards, it is very hard to say God brought the Revolution." American patriots painted England as the ultimate in godless tyranny, and drew parallels with the biblical escape from Egypt. Such arguments were nonsense, Noll says.

Noll warns that providential history must be driven by the best possible theology, which focuses on the Cross. "Very strange reversals take place in the Christian story focused on the Cross. The Christ is crucified. Good appears to fail. The monuments of historical goodness—Roman order, Jewish morality—conspire to do unspeakable evil. Good things come out of hopeless situations. Things that are not supposed to happen—the resurrection of the dead—happen, and happen at the center of the universe. If you think Christian theology has a lot of built-in reversals in it, then interpreting events becomes more complicated and not less."

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Robert Dale Owen on Romans 13:

This is perhaps the first notable example of a freethinker using the revolution/Romans 13 argument, claiming the Founding for anti-biblical principles. Plenty of devout Christians during the American Founding thought the revolution sinfully broke Romans 13. And for that and other reasons they remained loyalists.

As he writes:

In Paul's epistle to the Romans, the thirteenth chapter, at the first verse, we read: "Let every soul be subject to the higher powers; for there is no power but of God; the powers that be are ordained of God. Whosoever, therefore, resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God; and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation."

I know not what the private opinions of those sturdy patriots were, who, in the old Philadelphia State House, appended their signatures to the immortal document. But this I do know, that when they did so, it was in defiance of the Bible; it was in direct violation of the law of the New Testament. This I know, that, if deity be the author of the Christian scriptures, the signers of the declaration resisted the law, not of the King of England only, but of the God of heaven.

Needs it to remind you how emphatically the text quoted supports the conclusions thus drawn? "There is no power but of God." The power of George III., then, was of God. "He that resisteth the power resisteth the ordinance of God." The great scene on the fourth of July, then, was A Resisting Of God's OrdiNances. Jefferson, Franklin, John Adams, John Hancock, and all the rest, fought against God. George Washington led on his troops against God. Every revolutionary blow was directed against God's anointed; it was a blow aimed against the divine authority—an act of rebellion, subversive of the ordinances of God. Ay, let us not veil the truth! If a being who cannot lie penned the Bible, then George Washington and every soldier who drew sword in the republic's armies for liberty, expiate, at this moment, in hell-fire, the punishment of their ungodly strife! Then, too, John Hancock and every patriot whose name stands to America's Title Deed, have taken their places with the devil and his angels! All resisted the power; all, unless God lie, Have Received To THEMSELVES DAMNATION!

The text is plain as language can make it; the conclusions irresistible. For my own part, did I believe the Bible and hope to reach heaven, I should feel certain not to find one revolutionary soldier there. ...

Saturday, March 20, 2010

The Opposite of the Lowest Common Denominator Approach:

But it's still fair.

I am not a history teacher. I teach law, business and political science. And my training is in law and business (JD/MBA/LLM, all from Temple). The nice thing about a "JD" is that it's a doctorate without a dissertation. It permits you to be a lawyer. And the study of law has historical and political science overtones to it. No wonder there are a glut of JDs.

I suggested history teachers at the K-12 level focus more on getting the facts straight -- facts on which all sides could agree.

On NPR I heard a history professor (at NYU) suggest a different approach but still fair. He brought up Howard Zinn's "A People's History," and contrasted it with "A Patriot's History," and suggested students read BOTH books at the same time to see what the controversy is all about. He thought that superior to the more milquetoast teach the facts that everyone agrees on.

He may be right.

To use an example closer to home, assign students BOTH David Barton's books AND Chris Rodda's and see what they think.

He also noted history an imperfect science and that at bottom, much we don't know. On a related note, John Fea notes how the term "revision" properly understood is a good thing. Revision in history, means correcting old errors with better information.

To use an example that I have been involved in: Paul Boller's "George Washington & Religion" is probably the most influential book on GW's personal creed. This is the book Peter Lillback wrote his to refute. Lillback offered more quantity than Boller; but both have the basic facts. Both agree Washington believed in an active Providence. And we have speculations from Lillback (for instance on why GW avoided communion) that push GW in the "orthodox" box to counter speculations from Boller (on for instance why Washington let the one and only reference to "Jesus Christ" in a public address, written by an aide, pass when in all other instances he systematically did not discuss JC) that push Washington out of that box.

I was rereading GW & Religion at the David Library and I'm struck by how many times Boller invokes "Bird Wilson's" argument for why GW wasn't a Christian. The problem is, it wasn't Bird Wilson, son of key Founder James Wilson, but rather a Calvinist covenanter named James Renwick Willson.

If Lillback wanted to make Boller look like a real doofus, he could have pointed that out. But...Lillback makes the same error. And so did Michael Novak, Brooke Allen, David Holmes, and many others.

That was the standard belief among scholars. And the error didn't originate with Boller either.

The error was caught relatively recently by James Kabala, a Brown PhD in history and currently, a community college professor. He did manage to recently put that revision in a peer reviewed scholarly article. But that revision is still in the process of taking affect.

But because Boller's work was so influential and because the early 1830s dialog that occured among Origen Bacheler, Robert Dale Owen, Rev. James Renwick Willson and Rev. James Abercrombie is central to Boller's analysis, we should study the primary sources and arguments they used very carefully. You can read the debate between Owen and Bacheler here. You can read Abercrombie's smoking gun letter here. And you can read Willson's infamous sermon here.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Frazer On Rodda, Barton, & the Aitken Bible:

Dr. Gregg Frazer sent me the following note, in response:

I haven’t taken the time to look at everything in this discussion – certainly not Ms. Rodda’s presentation (I’ve seen one of her videos) about the Aitken Bible – but I do have a couple of comments about it (the Aitken Bible).

As you know, I believe that the Left is just as wrong about the founders as is Barton; so if she’s claiming that they did not pass any resolutions favoring religion, she’s dead wrong and his photocopy of the resolution regarding that Bible is proof. They were not atheists or even rank secularists and they thought the promotion of religion (not necessarily Christianity) important to promote morality. If you want me to make this observation on the site to reassure Tom [Van Dyke] and others that I’m not (and never have been) arguing that there was no interest in or influence of religion, I will.

Re the Aitken Bible issue itself, I have a few observations:

1) the congressional resolution does not say anything about recommending them for schools, specifically (as Barton claims that it does on pg. 106 of The Myth of Separation and, I believe, in his videos). It supports the work in “the interest of religion, as well as the progress of arts” – but not, specifically, for schools.

2) the Congress did not authorize money to finance or purchase the Bibles, contrary to what I believe Barton has said on TV and (I think) on one of his videos. Again, on pg. 106 of The Myth, he says that Congress “approved his request” – but that’s not entirely true. He requested permission and funding – they granted permission, but not funding. This is a minor point, but it illustrates Barton taking some truth and magnifying it/expanding it to make it sound better for his position.

3) As Derek Davis points out in Religion and the Continental Congress 1774-1789, there may be another explanation for Congress’s action here than a desire to support the publishing of Bibles here in America: “Robert Aitken was the congressional printer who printed the Journals of Congress and, according to [Edwin] Rumball-Petre, undertook the publication of an American edition of the Bible at some financial risk [the financial risk is mentioned both in the committee’s report and the chaplain’s report]. When peace was proclaimed shortly after he published an unknown number of copies of his editions, the importation of cheaper Bibles was again made possible, and congressmen were among the first to realize that Aitken’s investment would be a loss.” Davis goes on the explain that the endorsement by Congress no doubt helped him “dispose of his published copies.”

4) The name of the committee may be an indication that Davis’s take is correct. They were called “a Committee of Congress on Mr. Aitken’s Memorial.” It appears that Mr. Aitken was the focus of their desired intent – not the Bible.

5) Finally, I would point out that the resolution highlights “the interest of religion” – but not the interest of Christianity.
Rodda Responds To Barton:

Chris Rodda left this comment at American Creation, responding to David Barton's comment:

Mr. Barton (if you really are Mr. Barton) ...

You say in your comment:

"I also want to address the portion of this video clip where Glenn Beck and I very briefly mention the 1807 Thomas Jefferson letter. I did not have the time in that segment to go into detail but if I did, I certainly would have put it in context."

Well, I would certainly like to see you put that "letter" in context, too. That is, if you want to make an attempt to put in in some other context than the following.

First, let's start with the fact that the document isn't even a letter. It's part of a ships' papers.

These documents, which every ship leaving the United States had to carry, were a fill-in-the-blanks form with columns translated into several languages, and were printed in quantity. Each new president signed a big stack of these forms, leaving all the other information blank, and then the blank signed forms were sent to the officials at all the ports, where they were filled out as needed. So, Jefferson did not personally write the date "in the year of our lord Christ." He just signed a bunch of blank ships' papers that someone had dated that way.

Mr. Barton claims in his description of this form on his website that "this is the explicitly Christian language that President Thomas Jefferson chose to use in official public presidential documents," and on the Glenn Beck show that "Jefferson added in the year of our lord Christ." This is completely untrue. (I'm being nice and not using the word "lie.")

Jefferson absolutely did not choose the language on this form. It's exactly the same language as the ships' papers form signed by Adams, the president right before him, and Madison, the president right after him. (I have images of the same form as it was printed during the Adams and Madison administrations if anyone doubts this.) The only difference is that the printer changed the name of the president, which appears at the top of the form, to whoever the current president was. Obviously, anyone who knows anything about Jefferson would know that he wouldn't have wasted taxpayer money by demanding that the forms be reprinted because of the way the date was written.

I know it's hard to see the document in the video, but if you look at the image of it on the WallBuilders website -- -- you can see it's the same document that Beck is holding in the video.

And, if it really is Mr. Barton who made the above comment, I'm still waiting for you to reveal the other alleged Jefferson document dated "in the year of our lord Christ" that you have long claimed to possess -- the one you've described as "his presidential act of October 18, 1804, from an original document in our possession."

Thursday, March 18, 2010

David Barton Apparently Responds to Chris Rodda:

I say apparent because an anonymous commenter at American Creation claiming to be Barton left the response. Based on years of experience, I believe this really is Barton. But for obvious reasons, the qualification is necessary.

First, co-blogger Brad Hart did a post that showed a clip of Barton on Glenn Beck. Below, he posted a clip of Rodda criticizing Barton for balance. Rodda chimed in the comments section. Then Barton left the following note:

Ms. Rodda,

Let me first apologize for anything I may have said or done that offended you. It's obvious that you have been offended by something I either said or did so I just want to say that I have never meant any malice towards you in any way. I'm sorry if this was the case. Over the years I have grown accustomed to being ridiculed, but I try to apologize in person whenever the opportunity arises.

You have a nice blog here and I commend you for your interest in American history, so I hope what I have to say regarding this particular article will not increase your disdain for me.

What I don't understand is why you continue to insist that my research is unsubstantiated when I provide an endless list of footnotes to explain and defend my positions. This is especially true of the Aitken Bible. I would invite you and everyone else here on your blog to visit my website:

There you will see a photocopied document of Congress' official endorsement of Robert Aitken's Bible. Your attempt to libel me by saying that I cannot provide any actual documentation is false.

I also want to address the portion of this video clip where Glenn Beck and I very briefly mention the 1807 Thomas Jefferson letter. I did not have the time in that segment to go into detail but if I did, I certainly would have put it in context. I don't presume to think that Mr. Jefferson was a Christian. But I do think it is abundantly clear that he was not an atheist as many history revisionists claim.

I admit to not watching your entire video response but I will try to when time permits. I also hope that you and I will be able to come to some sort of an accord. I believe that people do not need to agree on everything in order to be friends.

All my best,

David Barton

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

John Calvin Taught Rebellion to Tyrants is DISOBEDIENCE to God:

At least he did in Book IV, Chapter 20 of Calvin's "Institutes of the Christian Religion." I am aware of one passage from other commentaries of Calvin's on Romans 13 which teaches something slightly different. I'll deal with that later. I'm basing this claim entirely on Calvin's teachings in Institutes.

His teachings there could not have been clearer. Based on them, the Declaration of Independence is a 100% anti-Calvinist document; that is, if "Calvinism" stopped with Calvin.

Arguably it didn't. Later "Calvinists" like Samuel Rutherford and Philippe de Mornay, apparently (and for obvious reasons) not satisfied having to live out Calvin's teachings on submitting to political tyranny, made the most out of Calvin's idea of "interposition," and expanded it in the "living" philosophical sense (i.e., "living Calvinism," "living Constitutionalism," etc.), such that results could be achieved of which Calvin himself would not have approved.

Though I'm less familiar with their works than I am Calvin's, they still, like Calvin, stopped short of approving of "revolt." Rather, if the King violated the law, since "law was King," we could follow the law not the unlawful actions of a King. That's what Rutherford taught in Lex Rex. That's NOT what Calvin taught. And even Rutherford's more generous (than Calvin's) teachings do not countenance revolt.

[Again, since I'm less familiar with Rutherford, I'll try to be cautious with claims of later "Calvinists" who expanded "interposition" beyond what Calvin taught and would have approved.]

Whatever else the Founders said they did -- i.e., "we are resisting the unlawful actions of King George and Parliament" -- something that does square with Rutherfordian rhetoric -- they said they were revolting. They used the term "revolution" over and over again to describe what they did.

So while you may be able to, as some have, analyze the events of the American Revolution as intermediate magistrates fighting a war of self defense and resisting the unlawful actions of the British, you cannot square what the Founders said they did or the rhetoric they appealed to in the DOI with such a sentiment.

And orthodox Christian critics of the pro-revolutionary sentiments contained in the DOI might note that's EXACTLY why so many "Christians" -- some orthodox some heterodox -- initially approved of the French Revolution and thought its principles an extension of the American. Once you pollute Christianity with foreign principles (like rebellion is okay) it acts as a cancer. Hence, the French Revolution as the logical extension of the anti-biblical principles of the American Revolution.

That's what, among others, Gregg Frazer, Russell Kirk, Lino Graglia, and Roberts Bork and Kraynak might note.

Now, on a personal note, to satisfy my friend Jim Babka, I am not saying the American Revolution was anti-biblical or that there aren't understandings -- even traditional orthodox understandings -- of the Bible that are compatible with revolutionary thought.

Rather, my narrow claim is 1) Calvin didn't approve this. And 2) The Founders, though some of their actions and rhetoric was consistent with more generous notions of interposition (i.e., they oft-talked about how the the British violated British law in dealing with America), went beyond that and said they revolted.

Let's look at Book IV, Chapter 20 of Calvin's "Institutes of the Christian Religion" and settle the issue. He wrote:

For while in this unworthy conduct, and among atrocities so alien, not only from the duty of the magistrate, but also of the man, they behold no appearance of the image of God, which ought to be conspicuous in the magistrate, while they see not a vestige of that minister of God, who was appointed to be a praise to the good and a terror to the bad, they cannot recognise the ruler whose dignity and authority Scripture recommends to us. And, undoubtedly, the natural feeling of the human mind has always been not less to assail tyrants with hatred and execration, than to look up to just kings with love and veneration.

25. But if we have respect to the word of God, it will lead us farther, and make us subject not only to the authority of those princes who honestly and faithfully perform their duty toward us, but all princes, by whatever means they have so become, although there is nothing they less perform than the duty of princes. For though the Lord declares that a ruler to maintain our safety is the highest gift of his beneficence, and prescribes to rulers themselves their proper sphere, he at the same time declares, that of whatever description they may be, they derive their power from none but him. Those, indeed, who rule for the public good, are true examples and specimens of his beneficence, while those who domineer unjustly and tyrannically are raised up by him to punish the people for their iniquity. Still all alike possess that sacred majesty with which he has invested lawful power. I will not proceed further without subjoining some distinct passages to this effect. 657 We need not labour to prove that an impious king is a mark of the Lord's anger, since I presume no one will deny it, and that this is not less true of a king than of a robber who plunders your goods, an adulterer who defiles your bed, and an assassin who aims at your life, since all such calamities are classed by Scripture among the curses of God. But let us insist at greater length in proving what does not so easily fall in with the views of men, that even an individual of the worst character, one most unworthy of all honour, if invested with public authority, receives that illustrious divine power which the Lord has by his word devolved on the ministers of his justice and judgment, and that, accordingly, in so far as public obedience is concerned, he is to be held in the same honour and reverence as the best of kings. [Bold mine.]

Calvin could not have been clearer: Tyrannical Kings -- even the worst that you can imagine [i.e., Hitler or Stalin] -- don't lose their Romans 13 divinely ordained status.

But there's more (the bold, again, is mine):

... When we hear that the king was appointed by God, let us, at the same time, call to mind those heavenly edicts as to honouring and fearing the king, and we shall have no doubt that we are to view the most iniquitous tyrant as occupying the place with which the Lord has honoured him. When Samuel declared to the people of Israel what they would suffer from their kings, he said, "This will be the manner of the king that shall reign over you: He will take your sons, and appoint them for himself, for his chariots, and to be his horsemen; and some shall run before his chariots. And he will appoint him captains over thousands, and captains over fifties; and will set them to ear his ground, and to reap his harvest, and to make his instruments of war, and instruments of his chariots. And he will take your daughters to be confectioneries, and to be cooks, and to be bakers. And he will take your fields, and your vineyards, and your oliveyards, even the best of them, and give them to his servants. And he will take the tenth of your seed, and of your vineyards, and give to his officers, and to his servants. And he will take your men-servants, and your maid-servants, and your goodliest young men, and your asses, and put them to his work. He will take the tenth of your sheep: and ye shall be his servants" (1 Sam. 8:11-l7). Certainly these things could not be done legally by kings, whom the law trained most admirably to all kinds of restraint; but it was called justice in regard to the people, because they were bound to obey, and could not lawfully resist: as if Samuel had said, To such a degree will kings indulge in tyranny, which it will not be for you to restrain. The only thing remaining for you will be to receive their commands, and be obedient to their words.

27. But the most remarkable and memorable passage is in Jeremiah. Though it is rather long, I am not indisposed to quote it, because it most clearly settles this whole question. "I have made the earth, the man and the beast that are upon the ground, by my great power, and by my outstretched arm, and have given it unto whom it seemed meet unto me. And now have I given all these lands into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon, my servant: and the beasts of the field have I given him also to serve him. And all nations shall serve him, and his son, and his son's son, until the very time of his land come: and then many nations and great kings shall serve themselves of him. And it shall come to pass, that the nation and kingdom which will not serve the same Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon, and that will not put their neck under the yoke of the king of Babylon, that nation will I punish, saith the Lord, with the sword, and with famine, and with pestilence, until I have consumed them by his hand" (Jer. 27:5-8). Therefore "bring your necks under the yoke of the king of Babylon, and serve him and his people, and live" (v. 12). We see how great obedience the Lord was pleased to demand for this dire and ferocious tyrant, for no other reason than just that he held the kingdom. In other words, the divine decree had placed him on the throne of the kingdom, and admitted him to regal majesty, which could not be lawfully violated. If we constantly keep before our eyes and minds the fact, that even the most iniquitous kings are appointed by the same decree which establishes all regal authority, we will never entertain the seditious thought, that a king is to be treated according to his deserts, and that we are not bound to act the part of good subjects to him who does not in his turn act the part of a king to us.

In short, Christians are to be obedient to tyrant Kings simply because they are Kings. Obedience to tyrannical Kings is obedience to God. This is Calvin 101.

But there's even more:

But rulers, you will say, owe mutual duties to those under them. This I have already confessed. But if from this you conclude that obedience is to be returned to none but just governors, you reason absurdly. Husbands are bound by mutual duties to their wives, and parents to their children. Should husbands and parents neglect their duty; should the latter be harsh and severe to the children whom they are enjoined not to provoke to anger, and by their severity harass them beyond measure; should the former treat with the greatest contumely the wives whom they are enjoined to love and to spare as the weaker vessels; would children be less bound in duty to their parents, and wives to their husbands? They are made subject to the froward and undutiful. Nay, since the duty of all is not to look behind them, that is, not to inquire into the duties of one another, but to submit each to his own duty, this ought especially to be exemplified in the case of those who are placed under the power of others. Wherefore, if we are cruelly tormented by a savage, if we are rapaciously pillaged by an avaricious or luxurious, if we are neglected by a sluggish, if, in short, we are persecuted for righteousness' sake by an impious and sacrilegious prince, let us first call up the remembrance of our faults, which doubtless the Lord is chastising by such scourges. In this way humility will curb our impatience. And let us reflect that it belongs not to us to cure these evils, that all that remains for us is to implore the help of the Lord, in whose hands are the hearts of kings, and inclinations of kingdoms. 658 "God standeth in the congregation of the mighty; he judgeth among the gods." Before his face shall fall and be crushed all kings and judges of the earth, who have not kissed his anointed, who have enacted unjust laws to oppress the poor in judgment, and do violence to the cause of the humble, to make widows a prey, and plunder the fatherless.

In other words, you submit to the tyrant, King, parent or whomever God placed in power over you. If they treat you unfairly, God will get them for it. On Earth, the buck stops with them.

After writing this, Calvin notes examples where Kings were removed.

Herein is the goodness, power, and providence of God wondrously displayed. At one time he raises up manifest avengers from among his own servants, and gives them his command to punish accursed tyranny, and deliver his people from calamity when they are unjustly oppressed; at another time he employs, for this purpose, the fury of men who have other thoughts and other aims. Thus he rescued his people Israel from the tyranny of Pharaoh by Moses; from the violence of Chusa, king of Syria, by Othniel; and from other bondage by other kings or judges. Thus he tamed the pride of Tyre by the Egyptians; the insolence of the Egyptians by the Assyrians; the ferocity of the Assyrians by the Chaldeans; the confidence of Babylon by the Medes and Persians, -- Cyrus having previously subdued the Medes, while the ingratitude of the kings of Judah and Israel, and their impious contumacy after all his kindness, he subdued and punished, -- at one time by the Assyrians, at another by the Babylonians. All these things, however, were not done in the same way. The former class of deliverers being brought forward by the lawful call of God to perform such deeds, when they took up arms against kings, did not at all violate that majesty with which kings are invested by divine appointment, but armed from heaven, they, by a greater power, curbed a less, just as kings may lawfully punish their own satraps. The latter class, though they were directed by the hand of God, as seemed to him good, and did his work without knowing it, had nought but evil in their thoughts.

This passage is consistent with Calvin's notion that God is in charge and if a King is unfairly tyrannical, God always has the power to control events and remove the King. Calvin draws two classes of people God uses as "instruments" of His will, here. One, people who delivered from tyranny using non-sinful means, and others, who delivered from tyranny using sinful means. As Gregg Frazer has pointed out, God in His Providence, sometimes uses the sinful actions of human beings (i.e., George Washington leading an armed revolt in violating of Romans 13 and other parts of the Bible) to accomplish His will. Other times, as with Moses, no sinful means are employed. Moses led no revolt. God brought on the plagues and Moses simply took his people and left just as Pharaoh instructed.

Now, there is probably more than one way to interpret these biblical passages and if others want to make a case for righteous biblical rebellion based on these stories, I'm all ears.

Just understand: Nowhere does Calvin in Institutes use these examples to justify what he just spent lots of words telling believers was forbidden. If you see that in the above reproduced passage, you see something I don't.

Immediately after mentioning that God can take revenge on unfair tyrants, Calvin discusses what has been termed "interposition." And again, to be clear, Calvin stresses private resistance of tyrannical authority is forbidden.

... Although the Lord takes vengeance on unbridled domination, let us not therefore suppose that that vengeance is committed to us, to whom no command has been given but to obey and suffer. I speak only of private men. For when popular magistrates have been appointed to curb the tyranny of kings (as the Ephori, who were opposed to kings among the Spartans, or Tribunes of the people to consuls among the Romans, or Demarchs to the senate among the Athenians; and perhaps there is something similar to this in the power exercised in each kingdom by the three orders, when they hold their primary diets). So far am I from forbidding these officially to check the undue license of kings, that if they connive at kings when they tyrannise and insult over the humbler of the people, I affirm that their dissimulation is not free from nefarious perfidy, because they fraudulently betray the liberty of the people, while knowing that, by the ordinance of God, they are its appointed guardians.

That's the passage that later "Calvinists" like Rutherford would try to make the most of. But he gives examples of "popular magistrates" (not private men -- who as individuals have NO right to resist political tyranny) "appointed." Lower magistrates must act pursuant to recognized law, like Congress impeaching and removing the President. If there is no legally recognized mechanism for removing the tyrannical King, then tough luck.

In America in 1776, British Law was the recognized, existing law. And Blackstone -- the recognized expert on British law -- was clear that the King and Parliament (the particular way in which THEY split power) were the final EARTHLY arbiters of British law and rule.

Again, if one wants to argue, contra Blackstone, that America (the Continental Congress) was justified, as lower intermediate magistrates, in resisting the British on British legal grounds, fine. But America said it did more.

America said it revolted. And that's not consistent with Calvin, and arguable not with what the later, more generous "Calvinists" taught.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Lowest Common Denominators:

This Texas Controversy compounded with the years of meticulous study I've done on religion & the American Founding got me thinking about what K-12 students should be taught.

The problem is history is complex and there are great complex nuances to the religion & the American Founding issue. Given rational fear of K-12 historical ignorance I conclude we should be concerned they learn 1) raw facts, and 2) narratives both sides should be able to agree on, narratives "experts" like me might find too simple, but K-12 students might not.

Issues such as "was George Washington a Christian?" compounded with "what is the proper definition of Christian and does orthodox Trinitarian doctrine have anything to do with it?" are WAY beyond the call of what K-12 students should be expected to understand. Rather, we should expect them to be able to accurately recite who were the first X Presidents, what dates did they take office, where were they born and so on.

On three issues of contention -- Thomas Aquinas, John Calvin, and the American v. French Revolution -- the real story is too complex for K-12 students and teaching it the way the conservatives in Texas want distorts the record and will lead to misunderstanding.

First Aquinas: After years of intense study, I understand a case can be made for Thomas' silent influence on the Founding. Thomas Jefferson listed Aristotle, Cicero, Locke and Sidney as the four chief influences on the Declaration of Independence.

Jefferson probably would never have heard of Aristotle but for Aquinas who incorporated his teachings into Christendom. And Locke positively affirmed Richard Hooker, the Anglican heir to Aquinas' Roman Catholic natural law. Still, the FFs were, for the most part, anti-Roman Catholic bigots and thus, rarely if ever cited Aquinas as positive authority.

Second Calvin: Reading his Institutes, Calvin seemed to endorse an almost absolute duty of believers to submit to even un-godly pagan tyrannical rulers. He did leave one exception where lower magistrates, pursuant to a legally established and recognized mechanism, could work within the system to veto the rule of higher magistrates (similar to when Congress impeaches and removes the President).

Calvin did not recognize revolution. And whatever else the Founders said they were doing (i.e., resisting the unlawful actions of the British King), they said they were revolting. They used that specific term over and over again.

Yet, Calvin's exception, in the hands and minds of later Calvinists, evolved to a point where the concept of "revolt" could be sold to Presbyterians (with a little help from the natural law teachings of Locke).

Finally, the French Revolution. Texas wants to teach that this was a "different" event than the American. Of course, all individual events are different from all other individual events. The problem is, the two events had striking parallels along with meaningful differences.

The French Revolution, like the American, was theistic; both appealed to "God's" imprimatur. The two events seemed so similar at first that a great deal, probably a strong majority of, "Christian" American Founders supported the FR and THOUGHT it a continuation of the American.

Notable biblicists -- some orthodox and some heterodox (most sympathetic to the Democratic-Republican Party) -- thought Jesus would return in France at the success of their revolution to triumphantly usher in a global millennial republic of liberty, equality and fraternity. This was the first "End of History" thesis.

The French Revolution was similar to Iraq II. Both events had initial bipartisan support, with one party leading the way. Jefferson's Democratic-Republicans more enthusiastically supported the FR than the Federalist Party. And the Federalists, as a whole, jumped ship, before the DRs.

Historical hindsight being 20/20, the meaningful differences between the French and American Revolutions, why one worked and the other didn't, became more apparent after the FR's failure.

I think I've accurately detailed three complex historical dynamics. The problem, as I see it, is all three exist at a level of complexity that is appropriate for college and graduate level study.

K-12 students won't properly understand Thomistic or Calvinistic nuances during the American Founding anymore than they would Leo Strauss' theory of the esoteric, hedonistic, Hobbsean John Locke.

Rather, teach them, just the facts, ma'am.

Update: Don't take my "teach just the facts" too literally as some of the commenters at Positive Liberty have. Of course, good history teaching at whatever level involves telling compelling stories and making them come alive.

It's about what we expect students to learn. This is the kind of thing I would want K-12 students to master. And this I would save for college or graduate level history.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Social Groups, Humor and Bigotry:

A little while ago I raised the issue of whether it's okay to poke fun at the stereotypes of religious groups. I got responses like whereas race is 100% immutable and unchosen, religion is 100% chosen, 100% about beliefs and therefore "fit" to be mocked.

I think this view misses that we are talking about people who are members of social groups. And regardless of whether the basis for that social group is 100% genetic/immutable (race), 100% about chosen beliefs (religion), or something more complicated (i.e., being Jewish or gay) someone's social group basis merits some degree of respect as a citizen.

It is ironic, I note, that one group -- conservative Christians -- whose status is far more chosen and mutable than the other group -- gays -- tend to argue that gays aren't a real "social group" because their status really isn't "immutable."

As a fair minded libertarian pluralist I believe -- forget all of this fancy debate about mutable, immutable, chosen whacko religious beliefs and chosen perverted behavior -- if you are a part of a peaceful productive group of citizens as most gays, blacks and conservative Christians are -- you are a legitimate "social group."

I'm not a humor prude. To the contrary, I'm a longtime Howard Stern fan. And it's precisely because he's an equal opportunity offender that he resonates with me. There is a double standard in various circles where some groups are off limits.

That bothers me.

The truth is whatever social group to which you belong, there will be those among you who fit the garish stereotypes. I don't have a problem with poking fun at them as long as 1) all groups are fair game, and 2) we realize that most folks within that group DON'T fit the garish stereotypes.

Perhaps it's a failing on my part, but these clownish folks entertain me. I eat up Fred Phelps. And I'd love to see a debate on gay rights between Neal Horsley and Chris -- leave Britney alone -- Crocker.

I assume most folks know who Crocker is given his 30 million hits on YouTube.

Neal Horsley is the dumb ass who just got arrested for protesting Elton John's home with signs "Elton John must Die."

Elton's crime? He said he thought Jesus was a super intelligent, sensitive gay man. To which Horsley replies what Elton really meant was Jesus achieves orgasm by ........... Actually no. That's not necessarily what Elton meant. He could have meant Jesus had a homosexual orientation but lived a celibate life.

But Horsley is just a very stupid man. How dumb? Just watch:

And (the best part) -- I'm not making this up -- Horsley has admitted to having sex with animals while growing up on his farm.
Brayton In HuffPo on Texas BOE:

Check it out here. Money quote:

Brayton called that interpretation "profoundly contrary to the historical record."

"John Jay, Alexander Hamilton and James Madison wrote the Federalist Papers to explain each and every provision of the Constitution to a population that was overwhelmingly Christian and convince them to vote for it. If they could have pointed to biblical sources for those provisions, that would have been a very powerful argument in favor of ratification. Yet not once is the Bible mentioned anywhere in those 85 essays. And not once, according to the notes of those in attendance, was the Bible ever referenced at the constitutional convention in Philadelphia to justify a concept or provision," according to Brayton.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Priestley on the Trinity, Reason & Revelation:

Joseph Priestley writes:

Let those then who are attached to the doctrine of the Trinity, try whether they cannot hit upon some method or other of reconciling a few particular texts, not only with common sense, but also with the general and the obvious tenour of the Scriptures themselves. In this they will, no doubt, find some difficulty at first, from the effect of early impressions, and association of ideas; but an attention to the true idiom of the scripture language, with such helps as they may easily find for the purpose, will satisfy them that the doctrine of the Trinity furnishes no proper clue to the right understanding of these texts, but will only serve to mislead them.

In the mean time, this doctrine of the Trinity wears so disagreeable an aspect, that I think every reasonable man must say with the excellent Archbishop Tillotson,* with respect to the Athanasian Creed, "I wish we were well rid of it." This is not setting up reason against the Scriptures, but reconciling reason with the Scriptures, and the Scriptures with themselves. On any other scheme, they are irreconcileably at variance.
Can of Worms:

I opened a can of philosophical worms with the idea that infinite time, infinite rolls of the dice means human beings will eternally recur in an atheistic universe. Andrew Sullivan linked to it once and then revisited the issue today.

One of the most common criticisms is "we do not know if either space or time is in fact 'infinite'" as one of Sullivan's readers put it.

I agree with this and, personally, do NOT assume time is infinite on both ends. My atheist, astronomer, interlocutor does.

I've noticed philosophical atheists oft-make that claim in order to assert the universe's uncreated self existence. And I've also noticed theists (usually orthodox Christians), attempting to argue the philosophical necessity for God, note the universe, time itself, had a beginning and thus the universe must have had a first cause.

On a personal note, as I see it, if time is NOT in fact infinite in reverse -- if time/space/matter/energy began at the big bang -- then, that does necessitate a prime mover or first cause.

Otherwise, the atheist asks for a first miracle to get the ball rolling.

What caused the prime mover? I don't know. Perhaps the prime mover is self existent. Or perhaps a self existent unknowable deistic cause created lesser active personal gods, one of whom is our Jehovah who created us. That's what Ben Franklin believed at one point in his life and is (as far as I understand) what the Mormons believe.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

William Livingston, Hater of Creeds and Ecclesiastical Authority:

I've been researching the religion of notable Founding Father William Livingston, a signer of the Constitution and former governor of New Jersey. In my last post on the matter, I noted Livingston slammed the Athanasian creed -- the quintessential Trinitarian creed which the unitarians of America's Founding era criticized.

Researching the matter further, I came across Livington's personal Thirty Nine Articles on religion which again slammed the Athanasian creed (and thereby the Trinity). Those and Livington's other writings found in the Independent Reflector can be found in this book.

Unfortunately, google books blocks important parts of Livingston's writings and the entire Thirty Nine Articles haven't yet been uploaded to the public domain provisions of the Internet.

So I went to the David Library in Washington's Crossing and researched them. Unfortunately, the microfilm copies I made don't read well enough for me to post them (for now). But, the good news is I read the entire articles and you will just have to trust my honesty and independent verification of the record.

The articles are a brilliant satire against the notion of "orthodoxy" or "religious correctness." Among other things, the articles chiefly target ecclesiastical authority, Roman Catholic doctrine, the Thirty Nine Articles of Faith of the Anglican Church, and the concept of orthodox Trinitarianism itself. Nowhere in the articles is the Trinity and cognate orthodox doctrines defended. The 39th Article of Livingston's Creed reads:

I Believe, that this Creed is more intelligible than that of St. Athanasius; and that there will be no Necessity for any Bishop to write an Exposition on the Thirty Nine Articles of my faith.

In Livingston's Thirty Nine Articles we see an important but not too well understood zeitgeist of America's founding era "Protestant Christianity." It's where Roman Catholicism and ecclesiastical authority are so suspect that doctrines like original sin, trinity, and even the "right" (that is the traditional) books and copy of the biblical canon become associated with such and, consequently, are written off as human corruptions.

The Quakers, as it were, who lack ecclesiastical authority and creeds become the most authentic expression of "Christianity," except for their theological refusal to take up arms against political tyranny.

And yes, that is expressed in Livingston's creed: See Article VI.
Texas BOE Decision:

My co-blogger at Positive Liberty, D.A. Ridgely, was on top of this first.

Here is the New York Times story.

And here is Ed Brayton's post with links to the Texas Freedom Network's live blogging.

And here is John Fea's post.

From the New York Times:

Cynthia Dunbar, a lawyer from Richmond who is a strict constitutionalist and thinks the nation was founded on Christian beliefs, managed to cut Thomas Jefferson from a list of figures whose writings inspired revolutions in the late 18th century and 19th century, replacing him with St. Thomas Aquinas, John Calvin and William Blackstone. (Jefferson is not well liked among conservatives on the board because he coined the term “separation between church and state.”)

“The Enlightenment was not the only philosophy on which these revolutions were based,” Ms. Dunbar said.

I'd like to get more to the bottom of the Jefferson erasure. I understand that the American Founding was more than just Jefferson. But, at the same time, you can't erase his monumental influence from the Founding. He was the author of the Declaration of Independence and the third President of the United States.

Aquinas was virtually never cited by the Founders (though there a story to be told on his silent influence). Blackstone, though important as a "common law" authority, was a Tory and a supporter of British absolutism. And Calvin likewise, in no uncertain terms, taught Romans 13 means submission to tyrants is obedience to God.

Though there is a story in how Calvinists-Presbyterians came to support revolt, even though Calvin, were he alive and applying his principles, would have supported the British and termed the American Revolution a sinful violation of Romans 13.

That story, however, is too nuanced for K-12 students (you can, by the way, study that story with Mark Noll at the Witherspoon Institute this summer).

One of the problems with tracing the Founding to men who anticipated their ideas is we are left with literally hundreds from which to choose. The men they most often cited, however, were figures from the Enlightenment and the British Whigs. And those two categories overlap, with John Locke being the quintessential "Enlightenment" and "British Whig" figure. Others include Algernon Sidney, Montesquieu, John Milton, Samuel Clarke, Isaac Newton, Joseph Priestley, Richard Price, James Burgh, John Trenchard and Thomas Gordon and on and on.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

By All Means, Let the Founders Speak For Themselves:

A commenter named "Rap" -- who apparently has Christian Nationalist sympathies -- left the following comment at Positive Liberty:

Here’s a thought, why not let the founders speak for them selves? Why should one “expert” or another edit what they actually said? Oh, I know…because it doesn’t fit in the elitist progressive agenda. After all they know more about the founders than the founders did of themselves. For example George Washington said to his mother after a big battle at fort Necessity and a new appointment:”The God to whom you commended me, madam, when I set out upon a more perlious errand, defended me from harm, and I trust He will do so now. Do not you?” Oops! The ACLU is going to be all over him! Wait…he’s dead. So I guess they will just keep hiding what he and the other founders said from our children!

I responded, yes by all means, let the Founders speak for themselves. Not phony “experts” like David Barton or Peter Marshall. Or this commenter him or herself. The quotation s/he tried to pass is nowhere to be found in Washington's official writings.

I did a google search and found it in some 19th and early 20th Century sources like the notoriously shoddy, revionist book George Washington, The Christian.

On a related note, Clayton Cramer encounters a bogus GW quote:

Government is not reason; it is not eloquent; it is force. Like fire, it is a dangerous servant and a fearful master.

As Cramer notes:

The problem is that when I search the George Washington Papers at the Library of Congress--it isn't there. Searching, the earliest example is from Christian Science Journal in 1902--and there's no citation.

Monday, March 08, 2010

If You Missed It III:

Friend and co-blogger Jason Kuznicki was quoted in the Richmond Times-Dispatch on the Fred Phelps/hate speech case:

The only remaining rationale for censoring hate speech -- or a similar incendiary expression of opinion, such as flag-burning -- is that it inflicts emotional pain. But the Cato Institutes' Jason Kuznicki makes quick work of this by asking a few simple questions: How are we supposed to measure emotional pain? If we could measure it, what level of pain would be sufficient to trigger punishment? If a news organization broadcasts a hateful message to Jews and gays simply by reporting on a demonstration by the WBC, then should the news organization also be held liable for damages? What else should we ban?

And if we are to balance rights against feelings, then what about the feelings of the members of the Westboro Baptist Church? Their willingness to subject themselves to nearly universal loathing suggests they must feel very strongly indeed. Weighed on a purely utilitarian scale against the broader -- but less intense -- feelings of their critics, their intensely felt feelings might win the day . . . especially if their emotional state were added to the feelings of the many people who cherish free speech, and would experience genuine dismay at an act of government censorship.

The wonderful thing about free speech, Kuznicki reminds us, is that it is compossible: One person's exercise of the right does not diminish anyone else's. But a regime in which feelings hold sway inevitably requires government to dismiss some people's claims as less worthy: If a wahhabi Muslim and a gay-rights advocate started denouncing each other's ideals, then whoever could claim to have been more wounded or demeaned would get to silence the other.

A regime of rights lets each of us defend the other's right to speak, without endorsing the message. A regime of feelings, on the other hand, inevitably pits religious and ethnic groups against one another in a war of perpetual indignation. Probably few things could make the Westboro Baptist Church more happy than that.


[Today, the Supreme Court granted cert. in the Snyder v. Phelps case.]
If You Missed It II:

Friend and blogbrother Ed Brayton appeared on the Rachel Maddow show to discuss the Rep. Stupak & "The Family" controversy.
If You Missed It:

Here is my friend, blogfather, and former co-blogger, Timothy Sandefur speaking on the Privileges Or Immunities Clause at Cato's forum on on McDonald v. Chicago. (He wrote Cato's brief for the McDonald case.)

Also, if you watch Sandefur, please stick around for Doug Kendall's speech. See Doug on McDonald's oral argument at Balkinization here.

Finally, the Volokh Conspiracy did outstanding work blogging the Privileges or Immunities Clause. See here.

Sunday, March 07, 2010

William Livingston, Unitarian:

I finally made my way over to the David Library in Washington's Crossing (not too far from where I live). I think one reason why I haven't been spending more time there is so much of what I am looking for is available online.

If you are looking for newish stuff, then copyright law prevents complete free access. However, given the late 18th, early 19th Century is "public domain," the originals from that period are freely available.

For instance, at the library I found a letter from William Livingston, Governor of New Jersey (1776–1790) during the American Revolutionary War and a signer of the United States Constitution, where he seems to deny the Trinity to the very orthodox Jediah Morse.

And when I came home, I found it online via googlebooks:

"Rev. Sir: I received your letter of the 26th of October yesterday. Since I sent a description of three of our Counties to Mr. Whittlesey, (whose death I sincerely deplore,) I have received that of one or two others, which shall be at your service, when you do me the pleasure of what you have given me the agreeable expectation,—I mean a personal visit at my Hermitage, alias Liberty Hall, in the vicinity of Elizabethtown.

"That I have received the descriptions of so few of out Counties as you mention, I now find, or at least am told, is my own fault. Although I had a number of copies made of your queries, immediately after you delivered them to me last fall and, as I thought a sufficient number to give one to each of out Council, yet some members of that Body tell me they went home without one, and that I promised to send them after the rising of the Legislature; but that they never received them. If the case be really so, (of which, however, I have not the least recollection, nor greater faith than I have in St. Athanasius!) I can atone for my neglect only by delivering them at our present sitting, and pressing those members to transmit to me their answers as speedily as possible. The Legislature expecting to adjourn next week, it is probable that I may receive them seasonably enough before your intended publication. ..."

In short, Livingston was accused of making a gaffe. In the context of saying he didn't have "the least recollection" of the incident, he said had no greater faith the incident happened than he has in St. Athanasius. St. Athanasius, of course, was to the unitarians of the Founding era, the man chiefly responsible for fabricating the Trinity.

The notion that I'd sooner believe in the Trinity than I would that, seemed to be a running joke among men involved in the Revolution. We've already seen evidence that Baron Von Steuben made the same joke to Timothy Pickering (causing Pickering to become a unitarian).

Saturday, March 06, 2010

Franklin on Priestley and Vice-Versa:

I just agreed to review Joseph Priestley and the Invention of Air for a national publication, available at most (though not all) Borders and Barnes & Nobles. I'll let you know more when the time of publication approaches.

In leafing through the book, I noted a great quotation of Franklin's on Priestley, one I had seen before but forgotten. It was to Benjamin Vaughan, October 24, 1788, the relevant part of which reads:

Remember me affectionately to good Dr. Price and to the honest heretic Dr. Priestly. I do not call him honest by way of distinction; for I think all the heretics I have known have been virtuous men. They have the virtue of fortitude or they would not venture to own their heresy; and they cannot afford to be deficient in any of the other virtues, as that would give advantage to their many enemies; and they have not like orthodox sinners, such a number of friends to excuse or justify them. Do not, however mistake me. It is not to my good friend's heresy that I impute his honesty. On the contrary, 'tis his honesty that has brought upon him the character of heretic. ...

Franklin admired men honest enough in theology to come to terms with their heresy.

Surprisingly, Priestley (probably mistakenly) concluded Franklin was a strict Deist or atheist (quotation forthcoming). Yet, in his letter to Ezra Stiles shortly before his death, Franklin expressed belief in a kind of "Christianity" that almost perfectly mirrored Priestley's:

Here is my Creed: I believe in one God, Creator of the Universe. That He governs it by his Providence. That he ought to be worshipped. That the most acceptable Service we can render to him, is doing Good to his other Children. That the Soul of Man is immortal, and will be treated with Justice in another Life respecting its Conduct in this. These I take to be the fundamental Principles of all sound Religion, and I regard them as you do, in whatever Sect I meet with them. As to Jesus of Nazareth, my Opinion of whom you particularly desire, I think the System of Morals and his Religion as he left them to us, the best the World ever saw, or is likely to see; but I apprehend it has received various corrupting Changes, and I have with most of the present Dissenters in England, some Doubts as to his Divinity: ...

"Corrupting changes" of course, refers to a term Priestley coined -- "the corruptions of Christianity." And it had specific meaning: 1) original sin, 2) trinity, 3) incarnation, 4) atonement, and 5) infallibility of the Bible. "The present Dissenters in England," of whom Franklin, following Priestley, considered himself like minded, "[d]oubt[ed] Jesus' [d]ivinity," and accordingly, rejected those "corruptions of Christianity," those five points, which to the orthodox formed the heart of "Christianity."

In the end, I think Priestley would be satisfied with the kind of "Christianity" Franklin, at his death, embraced.

Friday, March 05, 2010

Atheism, Reincarnation, and Immortality:

The three go together. The following is an email I sent to a member of a listserv I am on. (An 80 something fervent atheist with a PhD in astronomy from Harvard):

If time is infinite on both ends, then we have infinite rolls of the dice of probability. That means, however infinitesimally small the probabilities that brought "you" into existence, with enough rolls of dice, "you" will come into existence again, and again and again forever. And if time is infinite in reverse, "now" isn't the only time "you" existed.

Accordingly, "you" have always existed and always will.

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson is Not a Christian?

According to orthodox definitions no. City Journal profiles the anti-Rev. Jesse Jackson. They note:

Take Peterson’s vision of restoring the lost black family, which is unflinchingly religious and traditional. “There is a spiritual order to life that was ordained by God,” he tells me. “And that order is God in Christ, Christ in man, man over woman, woman over children. And it’s not an ego trip, it’s just a spiritual order, that men are subject to Christ and women are subject to men.”

At this point on the interview tape, you can hear me start to stammer hilariously. I don’t agree with everything he says, but. . . . And yet, at the same time I’m stammering, several thoughts crowd in on me. First, Peterson’s traditionalism is only an echo of Paul’s advice to married couples in Ephesians, not to mention John Milton’s deathless description of Adam and Eve: “He for God only; she for God in him.”

Milton, purportedly an "Arian," may not have been a Christian according to this understanding either.

Here is the offending passage:

It was another radio preacher who changed Peterson’s direction: Roy Masters, a British convert from Judaism, who advocated praying to God for self-knowledge and listening quietly for God’s response. Such prayers led Peterson to confront his anger, not against whites, but against his own parents, so that he came to understand himself outside the context of his skin color. He visited his mother and forgave her for her anger. She cried. He visited his father and forgave him for his neglect. The older man was grateful. For Peterson, the experience was liberating and set him on the path of ordination and a successful, directed life.

Yet, Roy Masters doesn't believe in the Trinity, adds books of the Gnostic Gospels to the biblical canon and teaches reliance on a meditation technique which he claims is "Judeo-Christian," not Eastern or New Age, as essential for salvation. You can listen to it here.

Likewise one of Rev. Peterson's Bible experts shocked "Joe Kovacs, author of 'Shocked by the Bible: The Most Astonishing Facts You've Never Been Told'" in claiming Jesus was not God.

The late Bible answer man, the very "orthodox" Walter Martin, claimed Masters was not a Christian and that his philosophy is peppered with anti-biblical and anti-Christian teachings. You can listen to this very fun, illuminating debate here.

Most if not all orthodox Christians, according to Masters, are not saved, but deluded into believing they are saved. Masters also teaches, interestingly, anger is a sin and that saved Christians do not sin (and there are verses and chapters of scripture for both ideas especially the latter; see among others, Matthew 5:48, and 1 John 3:8-10).

(Masters also brags that he stopped having sex with his wife when he was in his mid 40s. He's over 80 and still married.)

Masters' teachings on anger are a little harder to glean from the Bible. However, he might note when the Bible speaks of God's wrath or vengeance, it speaks of something that differs in kind with the emotion of anger human beings are subject to. "Anger" is arguably a mistranslation if, when discussing God's attributes, that English word ever attaches to a biblical translation. And when Jesus chased the money lenders out, he did so not subject to what human beings understand as "feeling angry." He just did the right thing (as he always did) and chased them out.

Anger, accordingly, shouldn't be expressed or repressed (you are damned either way). Humans shouldn't be subject to it. And as long as they are, they aren't saved. Do the meditation and eventually you cease to react in an emotional way to the stresses of life.

I distinctly remember Roy's son David, to demonstrate that you don't need to be subject to anger to do whatever, i.e., take a stand, righteously strike someone (some people think they need to get mad as Hell before they can stand up for themselves), noted: He could come home, find a man raping his wife, pull his gun out and righteously execute the man in defense of his wife -- what he would do -- all the while not being angry or upset.

This is, accordingly, what it means to be saved.

Is this "Christian?" Is it "Judeo-Christian"? As with Mormonism, this reminds me of parallels to the American Founding. You have very "Christian" sounding terminology like "God in Christ, Christ in man, man over woman, woman over children" mixed in with other arguably "alien" elements so a new creature emerges over whose proper religious identity or label is arguable.

That's why the "orthodox" argue "Mormonism isn't Christianity" even though Mormons call themselves Christians. Or that Dr. Gregg Frazer calls what presented itself as "rational Christianity" during the American Founding as "theistic rationalism," not "Christianity."

Monday, March 01, 2010

No Laughing Matter:

In my post on the propriety of laughing at parodies of religion, I may have had this on the back of my mind as the kernel of truth being parodied. However, the story is no laughing matter.

As Megan Dunham writes:

When my first child was born, a woman I had known many years handed me a book. She told me it would be helpful as I raised my daughter as it had helped her train her own kids. That book? To Train Up a Child, by Michael and Debi Pearl.

She quotes from the book:

“If you are just beginning to attempt to control an already rebellious child who runs from discipline and is too incoherent to listen, then use whatever force is necessary to bring him to bay. If you have to sit on him to spank him then do not hesitate. And hold him there until he is surrendered. Prove that you are bigger, tougher, more patiently enduring, and are unmoved by his wailing. Defeat him totally. Accept no conditions for surrender. No compromise. You are to rule over him as a benevolent sovereign. Your word is final.”

And then relates the following story:

Unfortunately, some parents have taken this teaching to its very literal and fatal conclusion. Maybe you’ve heard of this tragedy already, but just last week 7-year-old Lydia Schatz was “disciplined” to death by her homeschooling parents, Kevin and Elizabeth. Her 11-year-old sister Zariah was also hospitalized for extensive injuries. The parents used the teachings of the Pearls to “train” their children, whipping their kids with a quarter-inch plumbing supply line—the very thing the Pearls suggest parents use.
The Nerve of That Guy:

It's the Jamies' it's "Summertime Summertime." The most musically inventive song of 1958. What, does he think the song doesn't go with his shrimp?