Thursday, May 31, 2012

Wish Me Luck

I'm going -- as an invited guest -- to the Christians in Political Science Conference at Gordon College in Wenham, Mass. I'm going to be on a roundtable with Dr. Gregg Frazer discussing his new book. It is this weekend. Wish me luck.

Gary Wills on the Mormon Constitution

Here. Joanna Brooks corrects.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Christian Nationalism Is Authentically Mormon

But it is not authentically Christian! From Andrew Sullivan here. A taste from a 1987 statement by Ezra Taft Benson:

Our Father in Heaven planned the coming forth of the Founding Fathers and their form of government as the necessary great prologue leading to the restoration of the gospel. Recall what our Savior Jesus Christ said nearly two thousand years ago when He visited this promised land: “For it is wisdom in the Father that they should be established in this land, and be set up as a free people by the power of the Father, that these things might come forth” (3 Ne. 21:4). America, the land of liberty, was to be the Lord’s latter-day base of operations for His restored church.... For behold, this is a land which is choice above all other lands; wherefore he that doth possess it shall serve God or shall be swept off; for it is the everlasting decree of God. And it is not until the fulness of iniquity among the children of the land, that they are swept off... 
I reverence the Constitution of the United States as a sacred document. To me its words are akin to the revelations of God, for God has placed His stamp of approval upon it. I testify that the God of heaven sent some of His choicest spirits to lay the foundation of this government, and He has now sent other choice spirits to help preserve it. 
We, the blessed beneficiaries of the Constitution, face difficult days in America, “a land which is choice above all other lands” (Ether 2:10).

Friday, May 25, 2012

Romney Is Mormons’ Path to the Christian Mainstream

From Noah Feldman here.  A taste:
And as a Mormon, Romney is a participant -- indeed, he is the most important participant -- in the long-term project of convincing mainstream American Protestants that Mormonism is a normal denomination like all the others. Given this historic opportunity to “normalize” Mormonism, Romney is acting not opportunistically but on deeply felt principle. By embracing evangelicals and being embraced by them, he is bringing Mormonism into the denominational scheme that characterizes mainstream American Christianity.

Short-term politics is therefore making a long-term historic difference. Evangelical Protestants who once believed that Mormonism was a deviant sect, not a legitimate denomination, may come to believe something very different as they prepare to cast their votes for a Romney. The practice of pluralism can come first. The beliefs can come later.

There is nothing unique about this cart-pulling-the-horse version of tolerance. The modern doctrine of religious toleration grew out of the wars of religion of the 17th century. When enough people had died, practical people -- especially politicians -- begin to see the benefits of leaving well enough alone. Once the government has dictated toleration, the citizens who must practice it need to find a good reason for doing so. Tolerance is the theory that justifies practical coexistence.

As Americans, we can pat ourselves on the back in celebration of increased toleration. The fact that it comes from a historically less-tolerant strand of American life just makes the victory for coexistence all the sweeter.

In historical terms, this change is business as usual. Catholics came to be seen as a legitimate Christian denomination only after years of oppression. Then came the acceptance of Jews. Mormons are the latest beneficiaries. Eventually, Muslims and Hindus will have their day as well.

Price of Normalization

Yet the consequences of turning Mormonism into just another denomination are epochal for Mormons. The doctrine of “be careful what you wish for” certainly applies.

On the one hand, Mormons no doubt believe, with reason, that their evangelizing efforts will be enhanced by a broad public perception that they are Christian. After all, American Protestants change denominations with little frictional effect. If all are worshipping Christ, the mode of worship seems altogether secondary.

On the other hand, seen through the lens of history, entering the mainstream poses major risks. If Mormons think of themselves as another Christian denomination, the risk of defection rises. The distinctive Mormon beliefs in a new scripture and in the possibility of joining the supernal realm for eternal life will come into jeopardy precisely because they mark differences with the Protestant mainstream. If you believe you are not that different from others, there will be a tendency to downplay those practices and beliefs that suggest otherwise.

Is Obama A Born Again Christian?

Very interesting article from Stephen Mansfield here. A taste:
Given the influence of these evangelical spiritual advisors, has Obama become a "born again" Christian?

Some would say he has.

"Yes," says Dubois, "I know he's born again. I've asked him and he's described his faith in detail. He believes what the majority of Christians believe. And the experience of the presidency is strengthening his Christian muscles, making him a calm, confident, certain believer in Jesus Christ." Joel Hunter agrees: "There is simply no question about it: Barack Obama is a born again man who has trusted in Jesus Christ with his whole heart."

Yet not everyone is as convinced. Among them is Jerome Corsi, the Harvard Ph.D. who wrote "The Obama Nation," raising serous questions about Barack Obama's birth, religion, political affiliations and policies during the presidential race of 2008. "Barack Obama's Christianity is a religion of political convenience," Corsi, a Roman Catholic, has said. "You find in him no orthodox Christian doctrine, a heavy dose of Marxism, a heavy dose of race, but a very poor brand of Christianity. His faith is essentially Marxism transplanted onto a watered-down version of Christianity. I just don't see much fruit that indicates he is a Christian regardless of what he has learned to say or read to the public."

Equally suspicious of Obama is David Barton, a historian whom Time magazine has called "a hero to millions" for his renditions of American religious history. Barton allows that Obama may be, in some form, a Christian, but insists that given the administration's policies it doesn't seem to matter. "He might have a Christian faith but it clearly isn't a biblical faith. What difference does it make, politically speaking, if the man is a Christian personally if he doesn't let that Christian faith shape his policies? And Obama clearly does not have biblical policies in any form."

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Gary Scott Smith on Obama's Faith and American Exceptionalism

An outstanding article here. And here is a lecture on American exceptionalism.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Faux history for the GOP

From Warren Throckmorton at Salon here.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Page 94 of The Search For Christian America

I'm enjoying this book. From what I can tell, it was written to Francis Schaeffer. That's implicit throughout the book. The authors respected Schaeffer as a Calvinist theologian, but thought he greatly erred when he put on his historian and political scientist hats. Schaeffer was, as well, a Sola Scriptura evangelical who disbelieved in the natural law and the Church's incorporation of Aristotle. This is key; because what Noll et al. write that is reproduced below doesn't work unless one accepts this premise. Natural reasoning as such is "secular" because it is not from the Bible. Theistic natural law merges God and natural reason. It's the natural law (as discovered from reason) with God to make it binding (not everyone accepts you need God to make the natural law binding in an "ought" sense; but America's Founders seemed to believe this). The authors argue that without a grounding in the Bible, it was easier for later secularists to separate God from nature.
I know this post could to lead to arguments. But one minimal point on we should all agree: The political theology of the American Founding was not Francis Schaeffer's which believed in the Bible, but not natural law (which has its origin in the noble paganism of Greece and Rome and was later incorporated into the Church by Aquinas). Hell, I'm not even sure if Schaeffer's Calvinist resisters like Rutherford believed in this. (I'm no expert in them; but I've seen evidence that they believed in the natural law and like Aquinas, cited Aristotle as an authority on part with early Church Fathers; John Knox did; though I can't vouch for what he argues.)

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Jefferson's July 25 1788 letter to Derieux

I took a pic from Lenni Brenner's book that reproduces everything Jefferson and Madison said on religion.
As I understand the letter, Jefferson admitted he had for his entire adult life been a theological unitarian.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Getting Jefferson Right: When did Jefferson question the Trinity?

I was about to write this post, but I see Professor Throckmorton wrote it for me. Here.

Jefferson on Who Gets Into Heaven

To William Canby, September 18, 1813:
I believe, with the Quaker preacher, that he who steadily observes those moral precepts in which all religions concur, will never be questioned at the gates of heaven, as to the dogmas in which they all differ. That on entering there, all these are left behind us, and the Aristides and Catos, the Penns and Tillotsons, Presbyterians and Baptists, will find themselves united in all principles which are in concert with the reason of the supreme mind. ...

Tuesday, May 08, 2012

What's In Jefferson's Bible

We've heard the claim Jefferson made his Bible(s) to cut out the supernatural parts. David Barton using, as Warren Throckmorton and others have shown, erroneous scholarship claims, no, Jefferson's Bible was for the purpose of evangelizing the Indians.

Barton needs to take a refresher course on philsophy and read up on, among other concepts, straw man, non-sequitur, and red herring. Barton notoriously engages in these and other fallacies. Even if true that Jefferson made one of his Bibles for a purpose of introducing Indians to "Christian" ideas (I put that in quotes because what Jefferson valued in "Christianity" were not the central doctrines of faith which he rejected) it does not follow that Jefferson did NOT cut up the Bible for the purpose of editing out that which he did not believe.

I need not reiterate the evidence here; Jefferson clearly states, in his letters, that he made his Bible to cut out that which he didn't believe -- what he thought corrupted -- and leave in that which he thought legitimate. Strangely enough Barton seems to understand (because the evidence is so overwhelming that he couldn't deny it) that Jefferson did not believe the entire Bible was legitimately revealed, that indeed Jefferson rejected entire BOOKS of the Bible. For instance, the book of Revelation which Jefferson terms "merely the ravings of a maniac no more worthy of explanation than the incoherences of our nightly dreams." Yes, Barton concedes this on pages 180-81. And Barton concedes Jefferson's unitarianism (how could you not?). Barton seems to want to make Jefferson a biblical unitarian. But still concedes Jefferson, at the very least, disbelieved in entire books of the Bible. Why he can't accept Jefferson wrote his own Bible to exclude the portions with which he disagreed is beyond me given how much else he concedes.

Also, strangley, Barton goes on about the Stone-Campbell movement as the hermeneutical key to understanding Jefferson's creed. It's true that movement of non-creedal, non-Trinitarian Christianity is closer to Jefferson than is orthodox Christianity (they were biblical non-Trinitarians). But if we need "outside" sources to help supplement our understanding of what Jefferson believed, why not go to sources Jefferson claimed as mentors? He didn't claim Stone-Campbell but rather Joseph Priestley and Conyers Middleton in his letter to John Adams, Aug. 22, 1813. Priestley, the most notable Socinian Unitarian of that era, rejected the Trinity. I'm not sure if Middleton did. But BOTH rejected the infalliblity of the Bible. Priestley termed the "plenary inspiration of Scripture" as one of Christianity's "corruptions." And Middleton made his own Bible before Jefferson did, cutting out that which he didn't believe.

On a final note, it helps to read the Jefferson Bible to see what's in it. I never accepted the claim that Jefferson cut out ALL of the supernatural from the Bible. Jefferson believed in an active personal God, which itself seems "supernatural." Jefferson disbelieved in a great deal of the supernatural. And Jefferson, unlike his mentor Priestley, explicitly rejected Jesus' Resurrection. Priestley rejected the Trinity, and as a Socinian, thought Jesus was 100% human not divine at all (Arian unitarians believed Jesus divine but created by and subordinate to the Father; higher than the highest archangel but lower than the Father). Priestley believed Jesus, as God's perfect human Son, resurrected as an example of what God would one day do for all good men. Jefferson believed in an afterlife where all good men would live in eternal bliss.

Jefferson and Priestley were BOTH materialists. That is, for Priestley, you didn't get an afterlife without a Resurrection. So it's not a stretch to conclude Jefferson believed in the future resurrection of all good men. And, according to Jefferson, who was the best man? Jesus. So even if Jefferson's Jesus, unlike Priestley's, had not yet been resurrected, he would be.

What I'm trying to lead to is the valuable Tom Van Dyke discovered Jefferson's Bible left in Matthew 25:31-46, Jesus' second coming and judgment, the future state of rewards and punishments. (The "rational Christians" of that era did believe in future punishment for the bad; just not eternal.) It could be that Jefferson mistakenly left those passages in. OR, I think based on what I've outlined above, it "fits" with the kind of Socinian unitarianism in which Jefferson believed.

Sunday, May 06, 2012

A Bunch of Barton Links

I thought I'd compile a number of recent current David Barton links into one post as opposed to a series of posts with links. First Barton was on the Daily Show again. Here Ed Brayton complains Stewart was too easy on him. Ed had a follow up post which links to this post of John Fea's on the matter. Here is Charles Johnson's post which links to Chris Rodda's Huffington Post article entitled Pseudo-Historian David Barton's New Jefferson Book is a Load of Crap -- and a Bestseller. Finally don't miss historian Martin Marty's take down of Barton (hat tip John Fea).

Saturday, May 05, 2012