Thursday, August 30, 2012

Joseph Priestley As A Baseline

Since Thomas Jefferson's religious views are in the news, perhaps we should appreciate Joseph Priestley's theology as a possible baseline for judging Jefferson's.  Jefferson was a self proclaimed "sect" unto himself.  And he was bigheaded. So he disagreed with Priestley on a few things.  As we will see below, Priestley believed in the Resurrection and Jefferson did not.  Yet out of all of the "authorities" out there for whom Jefferson professed respect, Priestley got Jefferson's highest regards.

I observe non-sequiturs regarding Jefferson's writings, particularly the Jefferson Bible.  Let us assume that Jefferson believed in the divine inspiration of what made it into his cut up Bible.  Then what?  I think it proves that he wasn't a strict deist.  

But what was he and what does it prove?  Let me give an example of a non-sequitur I observed Glenn Beck make to David Barton on this.  They were marveling over the fact that Jefferson apparently left in supernatural passages, not consistent with strict deism.  Beck said something along the lines of (and Barton nodded his head), if TJ believed in Jesus' miracles, then he believed in his divinity.

That is a non-sequitur.

Joseph Priestley did not believe in Jesus' divinity, but believed in his miracles, resurrection and the divinity of Jesus mission.  Priestley thought 1. original sin, 2. trinity, 3. incarnation, 4. atonement, and 5. the plenary inspiration of scripture were false "corruptions" of true Christianity ("rational Christianity").  I (mistakenly?) thought Priestley believed in the virgin birth.  Maybe he did at one point.  I thought I read something from Priestley that argued for the compatibility of both the virgin birth AND Jesus 100% human, 0% divine nature.  The logic went something like this: those who argue for a divine Jesus say the virgin birth necessarily means Jesus is divine. No.  That is a non-sequitur.  Why?  Jesus was sent to be a second Adam to correct the first's errors. And the first Adam also was of divine origin but was 100% human, 0% divine.

That is just a paraphrase of what I remember.  I will have to read up on where I got it from and the context.  And that's because when Joseph Priestley proselytized his Socinian rational Christianity to the Jews, he made it quite clear that he disbelieved in the Virgin Birth along with the Trinity, etc.  As he wrote to them [paragraphs added for clarity]:
You expect that your Messiah will be lineally descended from David, and therefore you cannot be reconciled to the idea of Jesus being that Messiah, because Christians say that he had no human father; so that according to your rules of genealogy, he could not be said to be the son of David. But it is no where said that the person who is characterized by the title of Messiah, should be descended from David, but only that prince under whom you are to enjoy. 
However, the history of the miraculous conception of Jesus does not appear to me to be sufficiently authenticated.  The evidence of it is by no means the same with that of his public life, his miracles, his death and resurrection, which are all that the truth of Christianity requires, (and of which there were many witnesses,) and the original Gospel of Matthew, received by your countrymen, did not contain it. 
Your sacred books, as well as ours, being written by men, neither of them can be expected to be, entirely free from mistakes, or exempt from interpolations. Yours, as you must acknowledge, have, in a course of time, suffered in these respects. But it is sufficient for us both, that the great events, on which every thing that is of importance to our religion depends, are true. As to any thing that is not necessarily connected with such events, and therefore is not supported by their evidence, we should think ourselves at liberty to receive or reject it, according to its separate evidence.  
Myself, and many other Christians, are no believers in the miraculous conception of Jesus, but are of opinion, that he was the legitimate son of Joseph, who was of the family of David; and such seems to have been the opinion of the great body of Jewish Christians, who had more opportunity of informing themselves concerning the fact than the Gentiles had. But we are not less firm believers in all the public transactions of the life of Jesus, in his miracles, his death, and his resurrection ; and consequently, in his divine mission. With respect to his supposed miraculous conception, and other articles relating to Christianity, but not essential to it, do you examine and judge for yourselves.
So there you go:  You could disbelieve in 1. original sin, 2. trinity, 3. incarnation, 4. atonement, 5. virgin birth, and 6. the infallibility of the Bible, BUT STILL believe in Jesus' miracles, resurrection, and the divinity of his mission.  That's what Jefferson's theological mentor believed.  Though, as noted, Jefferson did not, like Priestley, believe in Jesus' resurrection.  

Keep these things in mind when interpreting the Jefferson Bible.

Triumph of infidelity Rightly Attended An Electronic Edition

By Rev. Timothy Dwight, here.  It's a satirical poem.  It's the kind of thing that you have to read very carefully to understand.  As far as I understand it, the work attacks not just the "deists" but also the "soft infidels" like Rev. Charles Chauncy whose understanding of reason and revelation led him to deny both the Trinity and eternal damnation.  This is important because "the key Founders" -- without question, Jefferson, J. Adams and Franklin, and probably Washington and Madison -- believed in a theological system that was closest to Chauncy's, not Dwight's, and not that of the "hard deists."  Was it a form of "soft infidelity?"  Or was it a kinder, gentler form of "Christianity"?  I won't judge; I'll just throw the issue out there.

Anyway here is a passage from the poem:

There stood the infidel of modern breed,      
Blest vegetation of infernal seed,      
Alike no Deist, and no Christian, he;      
But from all principle, all virtue, free.      

To him all things the same, as good or evil;      
Jehovah, Jove, the Lama, or the Devil;      
Mohammed's braying, or Isaiah's lays;      
The Indian's powaws, or the Christian's praise.      
With him all natural desires are good; .
His thirst for stews; the Mohawk's thirst for blood:      
Made, not to know, or love, the all beauteous mind;      
Or wing thro' heaven his path to bliss refin'd:      
But his dear self, choice Dagon! to adore;      
To dress, to game, to swear, to drink, to whore; .
To race his steeds; or cheat, when others run;      
Pit tortur'd cocks, and swear 'tis glorious fun:      
His soul not cloath'd with attributes divine;      
But a nice watch-spring to that grand machine,      
That work more nice than Rittenhouse can plan, .
The body; man's chief part; himself, the man;      
Man, that illustrious brute of noblest shape,      
A swine unbristled, and an untail'd ape:      
To couple, eat, and die–his glorious doom–      
The oyster's church-yard, and the capon's tomb.

That is Dwight describing the "rational Christianity" of the American Founding, what Gregg Frazer terms "theistic rationalism."

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Saturday, August 25, 2012

John Adams Promotes Rational Christianity

In his letter to Jefferson 29 May 1818.  As he writes:
As Holly is a diamond of a superior water, it would be crushed to powder by mountainous oppression in any other country. Even in this he is a light shining in a dark place. His system is founded in the hopes of mankind, but they delight more in their fears. When will man have juster notions of the universal, eternal cause? Then will rational Christianity prevail. I regret Holly’s misfortune in not finding you, [Editor: Illegible word] [Editor: Illegible word] account, to whom an interview with [Editor: Illegible word] [Editor: Illegible word] [Editor: Illegible word] [Editor: Illegible word] a lasting gratification. 
Waterhouse’s pen, [Editor: Illegible word] [Editor: Illegible word] [Editor: Illegible word] [Editor: Illegible word] [Editor: Illegible word] [Editor: Illegible word] [Editor: Illegible word] [Editor: Illegible word] on with too much fluency. I have not [Editor: Illegible word] [Editor: Illegible word] [Editor: Illegible word] [Editor: Illegible word] [Editor: Illegible word] [Editor: Illegible word] activity, memory, or promptitude and [Editor: Illegible word] [Editor: Illegible word] [Editor: Illegible word] which he ascribes to me. I can [Editor: Illegible word] [Editor: Illegible word] [Editor: Illegible word] of the letters I receive, and those only [Editor: Illegible word] [Editor: Illegible word] [Editor: Illegible word] [Editor: Illegible word] [Editor: Illegible word] [Editor: Illegible word] pen.
I should check my Cappon Ed. to see what those Illegible words are.  I suspect Adams was very drunk and slurring his pen.

Update:  Here is a readable version.

Thomas Jefferson Promotes Rational Christianity

In a very anti-Trinitarian context. It was to Timothy Pickering February 27, 1821. As Jefferson writes:
I thank you for Mr. Channing's discourse, which you have been so kind as to forward me. It is not yet at hand, but is doubtless on its way. I had received it through another channel, and read it with high satisfaction. No one sees with greater pleasure than myself the progress of reason in its advances towards rational Christianity. When we shall have done away the incomprehensible jargon of the Trinitarian arithmetic, that three are one, and one is three; when we shall have knocked down the artificial scaffolding, reared to mask from view the simple structure of Jesus; when, in short, we shall have unlearned everything which has been taught since His day, and got back to the pure and simple doctrines He inculcated, we shall then be truly and worthily His disciples; and my opinion is that if nothing had ever been added to what flowed purely from His lips, the whole world would at this day have been Christian.

Ben Franklin Promotes Rational Christianity

The rational Christians/unitarians of the Founding era seemed of two minds on the Trinity.  They vacillated between thinking the doctrine "unimportant" and a harmful irrationality.  If the Trinity is unimportant, all we need to believe is Jesus is Messiah, then we can get along and worship together (and unitarians and Trinitarians got along in Founding era churches precisely by ignoring the Trinity and focusing on common ground).  But if it's a harmful irrationality, then it must be purged.  Likewise if the Trinity is central to Christianity, then unitarianism must be purged.

With that, when Ben Franklin promoted "rational Christianity" in his 1772 letter to the Arian Richard Price, it was done in the context of promoting unitarianism.  As Franklin wrote:
If he had come to town, and preach'd here sometimes, I fancy Sir John P. would now and then have been one of his hearers; for he likes his theology as well as his philosophy. Sir John has ask'd me if I knew where he could go to hear a preacher of rational Christianity. I told him I knew several of them, but did not know where their churches were in town; out of town, I mention' d yours at Newington, and offer 'd to go with him. He agreed to it, but said we should first let you know our intention.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Jefferson Mentions Rational Christians and Deists

This is Thomas Jefferson's letter to Dr. Benjamin Rush, Monticello, September 23, 1800 where he notes his views on Christianity would not displease "the rational Christians" and "Deists."
I promised you a letter on Christianity, which I have not forgotten. On the contrary, it is because I have reflected on it, that I find much more time necessary for it than I can at present dispose of. I have a view of the subject which ought to displease neither the rational Christian nor Deists, and would reconcile many to a character they have too hastily rejected.
This reminds me of Locke in the sense that he purportedly wrote his "Reasonableness of Christianity" to convince the "Deists" that "Christianity" (as Locke understood the faith) was rational.

Lockean Rational Christianity

I'm going to revisit this post by Dr. Greg Forster that explains Locke's "rational Christianity." This post which criticizes David Barton also contains an important summary of how Locke viewed Christianity. As Dr. Forster writes:
Locke was (and still is) welcomed as an ally by theological rationalists. The Reasonableness was (and still is) attacked by theological conservatives; Locke wrote his two “vindications” of the Reasonableness in response to the conservative John Edwards, who attacked Locke’s theology as rationalistic in a book entitled Socinianism Unmasked. 
... Locke fought hard for the position that people could be saved in Jesus while denying the Incarnation, the Trinity and the Atonement. In Locke’s time that would have been a reference to Socinians and deists. Supporting this “latitudinarian” view of salvation was one of the primary motives of the Reasonableness, and it was on these grounds Edwards and others accused Locke of being a Socinian rationalist. Many interpretations of these facts are possible; Locke was certainly not a deist, and I believe there’s a strong case to be made that the charges of Socinianism and rationalism were overblown and that Locke does not deserve to be called a “forerunner of deism.” However, his influence was crucial to normalizing the presence of deism in Anglican theological discourse and the eventual admission of deists to Anglican membership. ... [I]n our time as in Locke’s time, it’s generally the conservative Christians who attack Locke’s theology and the liberals, rationalists, and secularists who defend it.
Viewing Founding era political theology as Lockean rational Christianity may be an alternative to Dr. Gregg Frazer's "theistic rationalism." Other notable scholars before Frazer used the term "rational Christianity" in this sense, which Frazer rejects because a theological system -- even if it purports to be "Christianity" -- that rejects Jesus as 2nd Person in the Trinity is not "Christianity." That begs the question whether it's fair to limit the definition of "Christianity" to the "orthodox." Though, that is what orthodox theologians -- from St. Athanasias to CS Lewis -- have traditionally done. It may be possible to categorize all 5 key Founders as "rational Christians" under Locke's more generous test for what it means to be "Christian."

New Kidd Article on Barton-Jefferson

Here.  A taste:
Meanwhile, let's look at one of the key points in contention. Most historians prior to Barton described Thomas Jefferson as a life-long religious skeptic, but Barton writes in The Jefferson Lies that there "never was a time when [Jefferson] was anti-Jesus or when he rejected Christianity." Barton states that for much of Jefferson's adult life his faith was "nothing less than orthodox."

The Jefferson Lies commends Daniel Dreisbach, an American University professor, calling him one of the few Jefferson scholars who employs a "sound historical approach," so I asked Dreisbach whether he agreed with Barton. Dreisbach replied that he has a "very hard time" accepting the notion that Jefferson was ever an orthodox Christian, or that Jefferson ever embraced Christianity's "transcendent claims."

Barton told me that he does not necessarily disagree with Dreisbach. The Jefferson Lies states that by 1813, when Jefferson was 70, he had rejected the doctrine of the Trinity. Barton said he mainly wants to emphasize that Jefferson was no atheist or secularist.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Akhil Amar's New Article

It's very good.  It actually mentions David Barton (because his controversy is current).  It also stresses something about the attestation clause (In The Year of Our Lord) that I had not, until recently, been aware of. When confronted with the notion that this is God in the Constitution, I would usually note, it's just the way of customarily stating the date, not a statement of constitutional principle.  But even more, it wasn't even written or ratified by the framers.  As Amar writes:

As it turns out—though this fact has until now not been widely understood—the “our Lord” clause is not part of the official legal Constitution. The official Constitution’s text ends just before these extra words of attestation—extra words that in fact were not ratified by various state conventions in 1787-88.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Boykin Expands on Barton Lie

From Ed Brayton here.

David Barton Tells Glenn Beck a More Obvious Lie to Refute the Refutation of a Less Obvious Lie

From Chris Rodda here.

David Barton on Glenn Beck TV

It's here. I'm going to try to watch it (not sure if I can get through the whole thing).

No Surprise Here

On who is going to publish Barton's Baboon.

More Barton Links

Here are a bunch of them: First Jason Kerr; second The Daily News; third The Daily Beast, fourth and finally, TMP Muckraker.

Question on Jefferson and His Slaves

I sometimes so hyperfocus on the religion issue regarding America's Founders that I miss others. But I won't shooting my mouth off as though I am an expert in those areas only to have someone call out my errors. So someone please correct my understanding if I am wrong. My understanding of Jefferson and freeing his slaves is I think he desired to free his slaves like other founders did, but the problem was his spendthrift nature. He left his estate such debt problems that he ended up not being able to afford to free his slaves.

Is that a fair assessment?

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

The Blaze's New Article on Barton v. Throckmorton

It is surprisingly fair towards Throckmorton. Despite Barton's connection with Glenn Beck, they don't seem to be unquestionably buying what Barton sells.

Fea's Patheos Article on the Barton Affair

Here. It is must read.

NYT on the Barton Debacle

Here. (See if you can spot the NYT's error in the context of citing Gregg Frazer's point.)

Monday, August 13, 2012

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Rick Green Addresses Chris Rodda

Green is David Barton's 2nd in command. She finally got his attention here.

Wednesday, August 08, 2012

NPR on the David Barton Controversy


First Things/Forster on Barton on Locke

Greg Forster takes down David Barton's understanding of Locke. Note Forster is not only a conservative Christian but also, contra Strauss, very sympathetic to the notion that John Locke's ideas are NOT subversive of but rather compatible with traditional Christianity.

Tuesday, August 07, 2012

Bob Allen on Pastors' Boycott of Barton


Kidd @ World on The David Barton Controversy

By Thomas Kidd here. A taste:
Jay W. Richards, senior fellow at the Discovery Institute, and author with James Robison of Indivisible: Restoring Faith, Family, and Freedom Before It’s Too Late, spoke alongside Barton at Christian conferences as recently as last month. Richards says in recent months he has grown increasingly troubled about Barton’s writings, so he asked 10 conservative Christian professors to assess Barton’s work.

Their response was negative. Some examples: Glenn Moots of Northwood University wrote that Barton in The Jefferson Lies is so eager to portray Jefferson as sympathetic to Christianity that he misses or omits obvious signs that Jefferson stood outside “orthodox, creedal, confessional Christianity.” A second professor, Glenn Sunshine of Central Connecticut State University, said that Barton’s characterization of Jefferson’s religious views is “unsupportable.” A third, Gregg Frazer of The Master’s College, evaluated Barton’s video America’s Godly Heritage and found many of its factual claims dubious, such as a statement that “52 of the 55 delegates at the Constitutional Convention were ‘orthodox, evangelical Christians.’” Barton told me he found that number in M.E. Bradford’s A Worthy Company.

Barton has received support from Mike Huckabee, Newt Gingrich, Michele Bachmann, and other political leaders. He questions how many of his new critics have actually read his work, especially The Jefferson Lies. Barton concedes that Jefferson doubted some traditional Christian doctrines, but argues that these doubts did not emerge until the last couple of decades of his life. He says that all of his books, including his latest, are fully documented with footnotes, and that critics who look at the original sources he is using often change their minds.

A full-scale, newly published critique of Barton is coming from Professors Warren Throckmorton and Michael Coulter of Grove City College, a largely conservative Christian school in Pennsylvania. Their book Getting Jefferson Right: Fact Checking Claims about Our Third President (Salem Grove Press), argues that Barton “is guilty of taking statements and actions out of context and simplifying historical circumstances.” For example, they charge that Barton, in explaining why Jefferson did not free his slaves, “seriously misrepresents or misunderstands (or both) the legal environment related to slavery.”

When Calvin and Qutb Went Smashing

By Philip Jenkins here.

David Barton’s Capitol Tour: Did Thomas Jefferson Spend Federal Funds to Evangelize the Kaskaskia Indians?

From Warren Throckmorton here.

Sunday, August 05, 2012

When Did Jefferson Become Anti-Trinitarian

I see Thomas Jefferson's July 25 1788 letter to Derieux as expressing unitarian sentiments, and claiming to have done so his entire adult life. Still, perhaps it isn't a smoking gun of anti-Trinitarianism (as Tom Van Dyke suggests). Yet, I think such smoking guns exist well before David Barton's claim of 1813. For instance, Jefferson's April 21, 1803 (while he was President!) letter to Benjamin Rush where Jefferson discusses his Syllabus. In the letter to Rush, Jefferson states:
To the corruptions of Christianity I am indeed opposed; but not to the genuine precepts of Jesus himself. I am a Christian, in the only sense he wished any one to be; sincerely attached to his doctrines, in preference to all others; ascribing to himself every human excellence; & believing he never claimed any other.
As I read the passage, Jefferson seems clearly to say that Jesus never claimed to be anything other than human. That is anti-Trinitarian. Likewise "Corruptions of Christianity" was termed by Jefferson's mentor, Joseph Priestley who defined those corruptions as Original Sin, Trinity, Incarnation, Atonement, and Plenary Inspiration of the Bible. Immediately after Jefferson sent his Syllabus to Rush, he then sent a copy to Priestley, with a note. Jefferson does tell Priestley there may be "a point or two in which [they] differ." Indeed, Jefferson later explicitly rejected the Virgin birth and Resurrection, both of which Priestley believed. Jefferson says to Priestley his Syllabus "omits" the question of Jesus' divinity. The Syllabus itself claims the issue of Jesus being a member of the Godhead is "foreign" to the view expressed in the Syllabus. The overall context of these communications seems firmly unitarian. Though I see the quotation to Rush that Jesus never claimed anything other than "human excellence" as anti-Trinitarian.

Barton Should Not Be Copied, Only Scorned

Ed Brayton takes on some secular leftist for engaging in errors like David Barton does, but for the other side.

Friday, August 03, 2012

Ed Brayton on the Fake Quotes that Live On

Here. Ed and I have been doing this for over 8 years and these fake quotes still persist.