Sunday, August 29, 2010

Thoughts on Glenn Beck, Mormons, & the Mosque:

First check out Ed Brayton commenting on Stephen Prothero's article. The bottom line is Mormons, of all folks, should especially support the religious liberty rights of all. Their experiences in America should make them know better.

Which leads me to Glenn Beck's rally. He noted, it was about "God." And that he happily tithes 10 percent. Knowing how much Beck makes that's many millions of dollars going to the Mormon Church. And at that rally behind Beck was, among others, David Barton. I kept thinking whether Barton and the other evangelicals there really believe Mormons worship the same God they do; the Mormons claim they do; it's the evangelicals who often have a problem with it. See for instance, Barton buddy Brannon Howse's turning away from Beck for that very reason.

Beck extensively quoted from the American Founding. Did he misuse the Founders? Lincoln? Dr. King? It's beyond the scope of my post to answer that question.

However I will address one sense in which I think Beck's rally did authentically capture the spirit of the America's Founding political theology: The idea that Mormons, evangelicals, and others all worship the same God.

Had the Mormons existed during America's Founding, I'm convinced the Founders would have embraced them. At least the first four or so Presidents would have. They embraced the Swedenborgs, who I see as the closest analogy to Mormons. Swedenborgianism is as distant from orthodox Christianity as is Mormonism.

I get flack for stating that the "key Founders" (the first four Presidents, Franklin, G. Morris, Hamilton before his end of life conversion) were all agreed on the political theological basics. Not the finer details. Jefferson's Bible was his own. Adams, Jefferson, and Franklin all three agreed the biblical canon was errant and fallible. But anything beyond that (which biblical passages reflected error, which valid revelation) would be finer details where they disagreed.

So let's clarify: What was the main area that connects all of the "key Founders" in their personal and political theology: The idea that there is a Providence and future state of rewards and punishments. The other doctrinal issues (especially whether Jesus was 2nd Person in the Trinity) where religions differ are superfluous and insignificant.

That's the lowest common denominator of "religion" that all good men believe in. That's why Calvinists, Swedenborgs, Jews and, today, Mormons (perhaps even Muslims; at least the good Muslims who peacefully demean themselves under America's civil law, which I would argue is the overwhelming majority of them) can feel communion with the God who "founded" America.

If you don't believe they all worship the same God -- America's God -- you are being un-American.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Beckwith on D'Souza, Religious Dickering & "Mere Christianity":

There's a long story which I don't feel like recounting. The following passage of Dr. Beckwith's interests me:

There is a sense in which D'Souza is right. Yes, Christians from a variety of traditions can agree on much, and often work together in advancing the common good in a variety of causes both inside and outside their respective communities. And he is indeed correct that Christians, as well as other theists, should make a winsome and intelligent case against the philosophical materialism on which the most pernicious affects of secularism rely. D'Souza has made important contributions to advancing such a case, and even has been wisely circumspect in distancing himself, though respectfully, from those Christians who believe that intelligent design should play an integral role in the project of the Christian philosophy of nature. (My own pilgrimage on this matter may be found on the BioLogos website).

But there is a sense in which D'Souza is wrong. Although it is certainly true that the Apostle's Creed and Lewis' Mere Christianity reflect the barest one may believe in order to count as a "Christian," it does not follow that they are the basis by which one may define what counts as a "mere squabble." After all, if, let's say, a Unitarian were to tell D'Souza that he considers himself a Christian but cannot accept either the Creed or Lewis's "mere Christianity," D'Souza would say that the Unitarian is not a Christian based on the Creed/Lewis standard D'Souza embraces. But what if the Unitarian were to respond, "A lot of times, Christians spend a lot of time in intramural type debates and squabbles. Are you a Trinitarian or Unitarian; if you are a Unitarian, what type are: are you a humanist or theist; what position do you take on the resurrection of Christ?" Why is D'Souza's "mere Christianity" not just another position in a different squabble, at least according to the Unitarian?

The "Creed/Lewis" standard is something that evangelicals, Roman Catholics, Anglicans (like Lewis!) and capital O "Orthodox" agree forms a lowest common denominator of "mere Christianity." Anything that falls outside of that LCD (Jehovah's Witnessism, Mormonism, theological unitarianism) is not "Christian." There is a big gulf between that standard and "anything that calls itself Christian is Christian."

The American Founding, in a political theological sense, may be "Christian" according to the later, but not the former. Jefferson, J. Adams and Franklin clearly rejected this kind of "mere Christianity" (most folks don't know Adams rejected "mere Christianity" more clearly than Franklin did) and Washington, Madison, G. Morris, and many others are not provably "mere Christians."

I found the President [James Madison] more free and open than I expected, starting subjects of conversation and making remarks that sometimes savored of humor and levity. He sometimes laughed, and I was glad to hear it ; but his face was always grave. He 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.— TICKNOR, GEORGE, 1815, Letter to his Father, Jan. 21 ; Life, Letters and Journals, vol. I, p. 30.


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

I am, Sir,
James Abercrombie

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The Connection Between Heresy and Political Liberty:

A strikingly disproportionate number of notable theologians who influenced the American Founding and establishment of political “republicanism” were theological unitarians. These figures, British and American Whigs, were instrumental in arguing on behalf of the American Revolutionary cause and in convincing the populace that political liberty was a God-given “inalienable” right. These theologians also, in large part, shaped the personal religious creed of America’s key Founders.

None other than Mark Noll, the preeminent scholar of America’s religious history has noted “[i]t was only when Christian orthodoxy gave way that republicanism could flourish.” A characteristic feature of Founding era republicanism was the institutional separation of church and state and the recognition of liberty, especially religious liberty, as an inalienable right.

Viewed in historical context, the logical connection between religious heresy and political liberty becomes evident. Church and state were once one in Western Civilization. Protestantism itself was a "dissident" movement and as such, dissident Protestants were subject to terrible mistreatment by the Roman Catholic Church or other dominant Protestant sects. And it was through this experience of mistreatment that dissident Protestants first began to argue for religious and political liberty. The theological unitarians, because they believed in what the orthodox considered soul damning heresies, were the most dissident of the dissidents. Think of John Calvin having Michael Servetus burned at the stake simply for publicly denying the Trinity!

As such unitarian theologians who risked death by publicly proclaiming their secret religious convictions had compelling reasons to argue for the separation of church and state and the establishment of religious and political liberty.

In any event, I hope this serves as a partial answer as to why I think studying religious disputes, heresies, Trinity denial, etc. is relevant to the history of America and American liberty.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Post From Dispatches From the Culture Wars on Rights, God, the Bible:

Since King of Ireland, my co-blogger at American Creation, and I are discussing the idea of rights/God/the Bible, I thought I'd post parts of post I did when I guest blogged for Ed Brayton's Dispatches From the Culture Wars.


I think the Acton Institute does a credible job arguing a good scholarly case that religion or Christianity is necessary for human rights.


I think though, that, based on what the Bible says in its text and the history of the Christian West, groups like the Acton Institute will at best have a half-full argument. The other side will always have a half-empty critique. It's a "selective" reading of both the Bible and the history of the Christian West that supports notions of God given human rights, liberty and equality. And the most notable expositors of unalienable human rights were men like Thomas Jefferson who, though they believed in a rights granting God rejected every single tenet of orthodox Christianity as Jefferson did in his October 31, 1819 letter to William Short, where he listed by name and rejected the following:

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

So whatever belief in unalienable rights depends upon, it does not depend upon believing in those things; it is not by virtue of belief in those things that our notions of unalienable human rights derive.

In one of my favorite posts of his, Larry Arnhart explains the "half-empty" critique that skeptics will always be able to raise against traditional Christians who try to argue that the Bible and the orthodox Christian religion are where notions of human rights derive and must rest:

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.)

....And, of course, there is a continuing controversy over whether the Christian churches in Europe did enough to oppose Hitler. The German Lutheran Church was inclined to interpret the 13th Chapter of Romans as dictating obedience to the authorities. Martin Luther himself was brutal in his expression of anti-Semitism. How would Holloway explain cases like this? Would he say that the true doctrines of biblical religion always require universal love, and therefore any behavior by a biblical believer that violates universal love is based on a misinterpretation of biblical doctrine?

Friday, August 20, 2010

Brief Reply to King of Ireland on the Bible & Rights:

My estimable co-blogger King of Ireland has taken issue with my claim (along with Ed Brayton, Gregg Frazer, Robert Kraynak and others) that the Bible nowhere speaks to the concept of unalienable rights, especially an unalienable right to religious and political liberty.

I think the problem between us is one of semantics, that is we need to clarify concepts and premises underlying our claims. There is a certain "literal" interpretation of the Bible which looks at what the text says on its face and cites verses and chapters of scripture as specific prooftexts. The specific/literal approach, one many evangelicals are fond of following. In that sense, the Bible does not speak to unalienable rights, political or religious liberty. I've read the parts that supposedly do from cover to cover. It's an open and shut case. I'm hesitant to argue the issue further with the good King, because he can be, what Gary North has termed a "tar baby" when someone disagrees with him on an issue about which he is passionate.

After reading every single word that he and Gregg Frazer wrote on Romans 13 and rebellion this passage from North's article comes to mind:

Now, he expects you to refute him. No, he demands that you refute him. Can you refute him to his satisfaction? It would have been easier for the Pope to have persuaded Luther that he had it all wrong.

Now, if one takes a DIFFERENT interpretive approach on the Bible, I suppose you can get the concept of unalienable rights to political liberty and otherwise. It's where you take a general principle from the text -- indeed it then helps to supplement that general principle with natural law as discovered by man's reason -- and then draw specific conclusions therefrom.

In King's case it's the general principle that all humans are created in the image of God (Imago Dei) and therefore, possess inherent dignity. Note that general idea says nothing in the specific sense of unalienable rights, a right to worship freely, a right to be free from chattel slavery. But take that principle, throw in a some Aristotelian natural law as discovered by reason as a supplement. Come to your conclusions and then use that as an interpretive premise to overcome all of the many verses and chapters of the Bible which suggest that men in fact do not have a "right" to worship freely and to be free from chattel slavery and viola you have your preferred outcomes.

Me, I'm going to keep on stating the Bible does not teach the concept of unalienable rights, to political or religious liberty. And I think, at the very least, conservative evangelicals should agree with me.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

What Will Kennedy Do?

The Chicago Tribune agrees with my prediction on Prop. 8. Though, theirs is more of an endorsement of the idea. Mine is more of a prediction. As a libertarian, I'd like government to get out of the business of saying who is "married."

Monday, August 09, 2010

No, Mr. Beck, That Wasn't 'Some Professor' - That Was Me:

More from Chris Rodda, here.

Friday, August 06, 2010

Predicting Justice Kennedy:

I didn't have much to say on the newest Prop. 8 ruling, but what little I did say got linked by Andrew Sullivan, which I always appreciate.
William Hogeland on American Creation:

Author William Hogeland takes positive note of one of my group blogs, American Creation, here and here with some very nice and thoughtful observations.

Thursday, August 05, 2010

Clayton Cramer's Copyright Battle:

I like the work Clayton Cramer has done as an historian of the 2nd Amendment, disagree with him on social issues and constitutional interpretation issues relating thereto and think his rants on homosexuality are lamentable and bizarre, but what he's going through regarding the lawsuit that's been filed against him really sucks.

It's ironic in that all of his "problems" with gays, the ACLU, etc., it's some unscrupulous lawyer/businessman who buys copyrights dirt cheap for the sole purpose of suing bloggers who is doing him in.

It would be even further delicious irony if the ACLU stepped in and defended him.
Prop 8 Prediction:

The case will very likely be heard by the Supreme Court of the United States. Assuming Kagan is on the bench and the rest of the current lineup remains, I predict there will be 4 votes for gay marriage, 4 against with Justice Kennedy breaking the tie AGAINST constitutionalizing gay marriage. BUT Kennedy being Kennedy he very likely would "split the baby" by demanding a federal constitutional right to civil unions that grant all the rights of marriage other than the name.

Monday, August 02, 2010

Note to Evangelical on George Washington's Religion:

I was prompted to enter this discussion forum because my work was being cited there. Here is one of the notes I left:


... [M]y point about Glenn Beck wasn't to poison the well but rather get folks to think what is it that Beck, insofar as he fully understands what Lillback wrote (like most folks I doubt he read all 1200 pages), probably values about the book.

That GW was more religious and religion friendly, less deistic than most scholar conclude? Sure, most Mormons would value that. But that GW believed in orthodox Trinitarian doctrine? No, because Mormons reject that.

Re labels, David Holmes in his book "The Faiths of the Founding Fathers" (published by Oxford) labels the creed of the "key Founders" (the first 4 Presidents and Franklin) "Christian-Deism" as distinguished from the "non-Christian Deism" of Paine and Allen.

That is, all of the "Christian-Deists" were affiliated with Churches that professed orthodoxy, and these "Deists" believed in an active Providence, and seemed comfortable with the "Christian" label. Paine, Allen and Palmer were the ones who probably didn't consider themselves "Christians" and wanted nothing to do with the Bible. But even with them, there are instances to doubt their pure "Deism." They were all raised in a Christian culture and to an outsider looking in, most Muslims or Buddhists for instance, would label all of them from Washington to Witherspoon to Jefferson to Paine, Allen and Palmer, "Christians." Much in the same way that we look at someone like Saddam Hussein and conclude he was a "Muslim" when best that I can tell, he was a "Muslim-Deist" and a secular tyrant. (Hussein believed in religious pluralism, sadly, precisely because he didn't take his Muslim religion as seriously as for instance, Bin Laden does.)

The reason why, I think, we go thru these distinctions is when evangelical mega-churches and orthodox theologians get in the "history," culture-war game they see these issues thru their strict theological standards. Was Washington (and Jefferson, and J. Adams, etc.) a "Christian" according to certain cultural, historical and sociological standards? Yes, of course. Did he meet the minimal standards of "Christian" according to the strict test that evangelicals require? I seriously doubt it for the reason I lay out in my original article.
The Greatest Riff-Writer of his Generation Talks about the Greatest Improviser: