Monday, December 30, 2013

The Connecticut Model

As I have noted before, a number of scholars make a good case that whereas the Free Exercise Clause neatly incorporates via the Privileges or Immunities Clause of the 14th Amendment, the Establishment Clause does not. During the time of the American Founding, religion (as well as the rest of the Bill of Rights) was left to the states.

Perhaps the following observation is incorrect, but the states seemed arguably more unified in their commitment to Free Exercise principles than on Establishment policy. To emphasis the differences America's states had on Establishment policy during the Founding era, V. Phillip Munoz invoked "Virginia" and "Massachusetts" as book ends. Virginia, after T. Jefferson, J. Madison and their evangelical Baptist allies, was more secular (or disestablishmentarian). Massachusetts, after J. Adams, not only had a state establishment system, but was the last state to disestablish (it did so in 1833).

But I discovered some interesting things about Massachusetts' establishment. From the very beginning, unitarians were in positions of power in that state. Indeed, the defender of Massachusetts' establishment, President Adams, was himself a fervent unitarian when he termed it "[A] Most Mild and Equitable Establishment of Religion."

Further illustrating the religious liberalism of Massachusetts during this time was the trial of Universalist John Murray in 1783 where Judge Dana construed the State's religion clauses in a most liberal way to cover not just unitarians and universalists, but also non-Christians. It was ultimately the inclusion of unitarians that acted as a "poison pill" for Massachusetts' establishment that led to its end in 1833.

What I'm leading up to is, perhaps, we need to rethink the model of Virginia as a Secular Left and Massachusetts as a Religious Right state on Establishment policy during the time of the Founding. Perhaps Massachusetts had, for their day, a Religious Left establishment policy model.

A better candidate for a Religious Right model during America's Founding is Connecticut. See here. Perhaps Timothy Dwight, that great foe of "infidelity," exercised his political power to influence his state's religion policy towards illiberality. John Adams, himself, would have been prosecuted under Connecticut's laws for his anti-Trinitarian sentiments.

It's no wonder then in 1817, the year of Dwight's death, when Connecticut elected as Governor, Republican, Oliver Wolcott who would help his state finally disestablish the next year, Jefferson and Adams rejoiced.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Good Recent American Enlightenment Scholarship

John Fea recommends here. I'm especially interested in Mark Noll's book.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Daily Beast: "How George Washington Celebrated Christmas"

I know. Arguably a day late. Read it here, featuring the research of my friend Mary V. Thompson. A taste:
First, soak in this description of Christmas Pie, a traditional British dish that makes a Turducken seem modest. Heaped inside a sturdy crust were layers of meat—“a turkey, a goose, a fowl, a partridge and pigeon”—seasoned with nutmeg, cloves, mace, pepper and salt and slathered with four pounds of butter, all cooked together for at least four hours. Then there was Martha’s recipe for “great cake”—40 eggs, 4 pounds of butter, 4 pounds of powdered sugar, 5 pounds of fruit and a half pint of wine and brandy thrown in for good measure. Add in Washington’s extended family and a few select friends, at it was a welcome respite after nearly a decade on the run in more than 200 encampments.

Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Thockmorton: "Politifact Debunks Bryan Fischer’s Christianity Only View of the First Amendment"

Here is Dr. Thockmorton's post and here is the referenced article. A taste from the Politifact article:
Thomas Kidd, professor of history at Baylor University and the author of God of Liberty: A Religious History of the American Revolution, said "the founders were certainly aware of other religions besides Christianity, and discussed them at length in their writings." 
Kidd pointed us to a 1818 letter from John Adams: "This country has done much. I wish it would do more; and annul every narrow idea in religion, government and commerce," Adams wrote. "It has pleased the providence of the first cause, the universal cause, that Abraham should give religion not only to Hebrews, but to Christians and Mohomitans, the greatest part of the modern civilized world." 
Benjamin Franklin also weighed in on the subject. Jan Ellen Lewis, professor of history at Rutgers University, cited Franklin’s autobiography, when he praised a new meeting house built in Philadephia. [sic]
"The design in building not being to accommodate any particular sect, but the inhabitants in general," Franklin wrote. "So that even if the Mufti of Constantinople were to send a missionary to preach Mohammedanism to us, he would find a pulpit at his service."

Merry Unitarian Christmas

It's a tradition for me to wish everyone a Merry Unitarian Christmas every Christmas. See the post here.

Monday, December 23, 2013

HNN: "Is Christmas a Pagan Holiday?"

Here. A taste:
Now, this tiring “Christmas is a pagan holiday” stuff goes around every year, but most of the assertions that accompany it (like kissing under the mistletoe is a druidic fertility ritual) are never backed up by historical evidence: we’re just never informed where these assertions come from. This is because the historical evidence for non-Greco-Roman pre-Christian European religions is scant indeed. What we have been able to piece together comes mainly from the following: ....

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Dale Tuggy: "Does Mark teach that Jesus is God?"

I've argued or observed on these pages that the prevailing political theology of the American Founding was theologically unitarian (or at least, a lot of leading light Founding Fathers and their theological influences seemed to sympathize with it).

One argument goes, since the Bible clearly teaches the doctrine of the Trinity, an endorsement of unitarianism is necessarily rationalistic, or something that relies on man's reason as opposed to what the Bible really says.

That may be valid. Others assert the pages of the Bible itself, properly understood and interpreted teach theological unitarianism.

The distinguished theologian of classical theism -- Samuel Clarke -- was a theological unitarian of some sort (how Clarke exactly understood the doctrine of the Trinity is a subject for another post; at the very least he didn't hold to what the classic ecumenical creeds taught on the Trinity).

Clarke was a rationalist. But was it his "reason" or the pages of the Bible itself that led him to his views on the Trinity? That's a question I'll leave unanswered for the moment.

Dale Tuggy, a Professor of Philosophy at SUNY Fredonia, was influenced directly by Samuel Clarke's arguments to reject the classic doctrine of the Trinity, for something that might be more aptly called "biblical unitarianism." Or perhaps Dr. Tuggy, after Rev. Clarke is coming to unitarianism because his own reason so concluded. Anyway here is the link to the above mentioned title.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Fea: Was There a Golden Age of Christmas in America?

By John Fea. See here and here. A taste:
The Puritans of New England frowned upon the celebration of Christmas and outlawed it for more than half a century. They believed it was necessary, as Christians pursuing pious living, to separate themselves from the sinful behavior associated with the way the holiday was celebrated in jolly old England. And since few of these Christian American forefathers had anything good to say about materialism or commercialism, it is likely they would have similar feelings about the way we celebrate Christmas today.

Anniversary of Washington's Death

Today, that is. Mount Vernon has an excellence primary source documented account here. A taste:
... Craik went to him and Washington said, "Doctor, I die hard; but I am not afraid to go; I believed from my first attack that I should not survive it; my breath can not last long." Soon afterward, Washington thanked all three doctors for their service. Craik remained in the room. At eight at night more blisters and cataplasms were applied, this time to Washington's feet and legs. At ten at night George Washington spoke, requesting to be "decently buried" and to "not let my body be put into the Vault in less than three days after I am dead." 
Between ten and eleven at night on December 14, 1799, George Washington passed away. He was surrounded by people who were close to him including his wife who sat at the foot of the bed, his friends Dr. Craik and Tobias Lear, housemaids Caroline, Molly, and Charlotte, and his valet Christopher Sheels who stood in the room throughout the day. According to his wishes, Washington was not buried for three days. During that time his body lay in a mahogany casket in the New Room. On December 18, 1799 a solemn funeral was held at Mount Vernon.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Mount Vernon: GW's "Spurious Quotations"

From Mount Vernon here. The most notorious as it relates to America's founding political theology: "It is impossible to rightly govern a nation without God and the Bible."

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Throckmorton: "What’s behind David Barton’s war on Christian colleges?"

Read about it here. A taste:
Since evidence actually contradicts Barton’s accusations, why would he make them? Perhaps connecting the dots a bit, Barton also recently accused his Christian academic critics of being recruited by unnamed “secular guys” to critique his book The Jefferson Lies. Well that explains that. The reason Christian professors are coming out against his approach to history is because they have gone to the dark side, being recruited by shadowy “secular guys.” 
In fact, in the past couple of years, dozens of unrecruited Christian professors have raised public objections to many of Barton’s claims, historical and otherwise. For instance, Barton told Crossroads Church in Oklahoma City that there has been a “694 percent increase in violent crime since we took the Bible out of schools” in 1963. However, Barton failed to tell his audience that the post-1960s rise in crime peaked in the early 1990s. The crime rate has dropped dramatically since then. The murder rate now, for example, is about what it was before that Supreme Court case.

Marcotte: "5 Christian right delusions about history"

By Amanda Marcotte here. A taste:
Barton has convinced the right to believe in their fervent wish that the Founders were religious and even theocratic with quote-mining and outright lying. He likes to whip out this John Adams quote: “There is no authority, civil or religious — there can be no legitimate government — but what is administered by this Holy Ghost.” Problem? Adams was summarizing the opinion of his opponents; that wasn’t Adams’ view at all.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Throckmorton: "David Barton’s Biblical Constitution: What If The Constitution Really Quoted The Bible?"

Here. A taste:
If the Constitution included such language, immigrants would have rights they don’t have now and there would no need for immigration reform. Rather, the Constitution invests Congress with the powers to make laws and establish policies (which could do what this verse suggests if the political process leads to that end). 
If the Constitution quoted Deuteronomy 17:15, the nation would need to discern somehow who God had chosen to be king. Also, in Deut. 17:20, the Bible notes that the chosen king’s descendants will rule a long time if the king follows God’s instructions. Clearly, our Constitution does not reflect those Bible verses. Furthermore, one does not need the Bible to see the reasonableness of requiring citizenship as a condition of political leadership.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

John Fea & Daniel Dreisbach

John tells us about it here. A taste:
On Friday night, following McKenzie's talk, the teachers were treated to a lecture by Daniel Dreisbach of American University. He discussed the ways the Founding Fathers used the Bible in their revolutionary-era discourse. Dreisbach made a compelling case that the Bible was very important to the founding generation as one of the sources (along with Whig political thought, Enlightenment thought, the classics, etc...) that influenced their political ideas. They quoted it, referenced it, and even appealed to its language without directly referencing it. Dreisbach did not dwell on whether or not the Founders used the Bible correctly (at one point he said that their constant appeal to the Book of Deuteronomy was "tortured"), but that was not his assignment.

Friday, November 15, 2013

America’s Moderate Liberalism: Rediscovering Montesquieu, Recovering Balance

By Paul O. Carrese here. A taste:
... But Montesquieu also argued that we are social beings, and naturally open to religious belief. We are shaped by culture and history, but philosophers and statesmen can push back. Thus he condemned slavery, harsh penal laws, religious persecution, and other forms of despotism. Montesquieu is neither a historicist liberal nor a Frenchified Lockean liberal. He embodies the moderate Enlightenment, and moderate liberalism.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Shain on Zuckert on Locke

Found here. A taste:
In Part Two, a section of three essays, we are introduced, although far more subtly, to another plank in the Straussian system of belief—that is, that anyone as clever as Locke could not possibly have been a believer in a different system of belief, one including a belief in God. The cornerstone to this contention rests on Zuckert’s insistence that Locke’s “‘official theory of revelation’ has many difficulties,” in particular, that “in order to verify any alleged revelation as a real revelation, reason must have rational knowledge of the existence of a revealing God…. But it is Locke’s view that reason is not in possession of such rational knowledge of the existence of a revealing God…. Since Locke lacks rational knowledge of a revealing God, he knows of no authentic revelation, including of course the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures.”

Wednesday, November 06, 2013

Forster: David Barton’s Traveling Medicine Show

By Greg Forster here. A taste:
Uh-huh. Given Barton’s history of outrageous fabrication, I wouldn’t bet the ranch on that “actual number.” In fact, it’s noteworthy that in National Review’s coverage of the story, the quotations most effusively praising Barton come from anonymous sources; the quotes from named sources mostly complain about the incumbent and lament that we need a real conservative. I can’t help but wonder why those sources felt the need to stay anonymous. If it turned out that the massive grassroots groundswell for David Barton consisted mostly of the same old David Barton Traveling Medicine Show hyping itself, my world would not exactly be turned upside-down.

Rodda: The Lies Used by Jay Sekulow to Defend an Oath Against Lying: An Open Letter to the Superintendent of the Air Force Academy

Writing at Huffpo here. A taste:
Optionally adding the words "so help me God" is, of course, anyone's right. These words, however, should not be a part of the official oath, where they inevitably lead to situations in which cadets are forced or coerced to say them. Therefore, the Military Religious Freedom Foundation (MRFF) has demanded that the words be removed. This, of course, has cause a media firestorm, and even proposed legislation to prevent the oath from being changed. 
The defenders of "so help me God" are claiming that things like this were the intent of the founders and have deep historical roots, and, as expected are using quite a few lies about American history to support this claim -- ironically lying to defend an oath in which cadets swear not to ... um ... lie.

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Rodda: "In the Interest of Historical Accuracy and Honesty, I Must Correct Myself"

Chris Rodda writing at the Huffington Post. A taste:
What is relevant about the members of that 1781 Congress who attended that church service, however, is that many of them were the very same men who, in 1778, wrote the oath signed by the officers of the Revolutionary Army -- an oath that not only didn't include the words "So help me God," but also left a blank space for each officer to fill in for themselves whether they were choosing to "swear" or "affirm."

West Coast Straussians, Harry Jaffa, Bad Originalism, and Teleocratic Fantasies

By Peter Haworth. Here is part 1; here is part 2.

From part 2:
If the sphere of religion was NOT viewed by the Framers to be within the legal jurisdiction of the Constitution’s Federal Government and if the Framers clearly understood religion to be the proper institution for inculcating virtues, then it follows that the Framers probably would not identify Jaffa’s identified virtues to be part of an explicit purpose of the Constitution’s positive law.

This conclusion is even further corroborated by the lack of evidence from the Philadelphia Convention that advancing virtue was implied by the “Blessings of Liberty” in the Preamble (or that it was otherwise a purpose in the Constitution). Again, the delegated-powers structure of the Constitution helps explain why this was the case. As mentioned previously, advocates of the Constitution (like Hamilton in Federalist 84) understood (at least in their public statements) the limited nature of the Federal Government’s powers. This entailed recognition that the States would retain the police powers involved in regulating morals. Since, then, advancing virtue was not seen as a Federal-level concern, the Framers naturally did not focus on this in their deliberations about the character and content of the Federal Government that they were creating in the Convention. Thus, even if the Framers did see some role for government in advancing virtue (e.g., even if they did not believe that religion alone was sufficient for inculcating the virtues), they would have viewed this as a function that properly belongs to the States, not the Federal Government.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Shain on Jaffa

Originally published in 2007, it was just recently re-published here.
According to Jaffa, then, the poorly defined natural-law doctrines embodied in the Declaration are fully incorporated in the positive law of the United States Constitution. It is, therefore, to the Declaration, and its condensed natural-law holdings, that Supreme Court Justices should turn for guidance in properly interpreting the constitutionality of positive law.29

Missing from this part of Jaffa’s account, though, are two things: facts and common sense. Simply put, Jaffa’s claimed connection between these documents is offered wholly without evidence. As Lino Graglia reminds us “the Constitution makes no mention of the Declaration of Independence, and Jaffa has not produced a single statement by anyone at the constitutional convention or during the rati-fication debates indicating that it was intended to incorporate the Declaration.”30 Of great interest here is the ex-change between Justice Scalia and Jaffa. Jaffa writes that “in response to a question of the relationship of the Constitution to the Declaration of Independence— and to ‘the laws of nature and of nature’s God’—Scalia responded as follows: ‘Well unfortunately, or to my mind fortunately, the Supreme Court of the United States, no federal court to my knowledge, in 220 years has ever decided a case on the basis of the Declaration of Independence. It is not part of our law.’ … [As Jaffa then explained] Scalia is simply mistaken when he says that the Declaration of Independence is ‘not part of our law.’”31 ...

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Thomas Kidd: Evangelical Christians, Deists and America’s founding

Read about it here. A taste:
As I show in my book God of Liberty: A Religious History of the American Revolution, the relationship between John Leland and Thomas Jefferson offers a more accurate picture than does the polarized choice of either a wholly devout or wholly secular American Founding. There was real spiritual diversity among Americans in 1776; not as much as one sees today, to be sure, but there was a significant range of beliefs. Indeed, one would be hard pressed to find more sharply different faiths than those of Leland and Jefferson. Leland was an evangelical preacher of incredible endurance and commitment, who traveled America’s byways telling thousands of listeners to put their faith in Jesus, the Son of God. Jefferson, by contrast, tried to keep his skepticism private, but in his retirement it became abundantly clear that Jefferson saw Jesus not as the Messiah, but only as a great moral teacher. For Jefferson, Jesus was not divine, and he did not rise from the dead. Jefferson even produced an edition of the Christian Gospels to this effect, with the miracles and resurrection of Christ literally snipped out with scissors.

THROCKMORTON: David Barton: There Are About A Dozen Colleges That Are Right

Check it out here. A taste:
What I get out Barton’s statement is that if you question Barton’s claims, then you are not right biblically, not pro-America, pro-Constitution, or right on American history. Reminds me of his claim that those who question him are just repeating our pagan training.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

CHARLES C. HAYNES: Dispelling the myth of a ‘Christian nation’

I'm not sure we at American Creation caught this back in August. A taste:
But in spite of this anxiety, drafters of the Constitution took the radical step of founding the first nation in history with no established religion.

Hart Reviews Fea

Darryl Hart reviewed John Fea's book "Was America Founded as a Christian Nation: A Historical Introduction." John Fea informed us here. A taste from Hart's review:
The last part of Fea’s book addresses the beliefs of the founders themselves. He features George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, and Benjamin Franklin, but includes a chapter on three “orthodox founders,” John Witherspoon, John Jay, and Samuel Adams. This is a subject where Christian nationalism has often turned the founders into devout and orthodox believers, partly at least to justify a reading of America as a Christian nation. Fea is not so sentimental, however. On Washington, he concludes that Christians may laudably celebrate his leadership, courage, civility, and morality, but not his Christianity. Washington’s “religious life was just too ambiguous” (190). Adams “should be commended ... for his attempts to live a life in accordance with the moral teachings of the Bible,” but was finally a Unitarian who denied the deity of Christ (210). Jefferson, likewise, was a great statesman who strived to live a moral life but “failed virtually every test of Christian orthodoxy” (215). Although a successful businessman and patriot, Franklin “rejected most Christian doctrines in favor of a religion of virtue” (227). Meanwhile, in the case of the orthodox Christian founders, Fea concludes that “Christianity was present at the time of the founding” but “merged with other ideas that were compatible with, but not necessarily influenced by, Christianity” (242). The best that can be said of Christianity’s influence on the American founding was that “all the founders believed ... that religion was necessary in order to sustain an ordered and virtuous republic” (246).

Friday, October 11, 2013

Saturday, October 05, 2013

Our Founding Fathers included Islam

That's the title to this article in Salon by DENISE SPELLBERG that is an excerpt from her book. A taste:
Amid the interdenominational Christian violence in Europe, some Christians, beginning in the sixteenth century, chose Muslims as the test case for the demarcation of the theoretical boundaries of their toleration for all believers. Because of these European precedents, Muslims also became a part of American debates about religion and the limits of citizenship. As they set about creating a new government in the United States, the American Founders, Protestants all, frequently referred to the adherents of Islam as they contemplated the proper scope of religious freedom and individual rights among the nation’s present and potential inhabitants. The founding generation debated whether the United States should be exclusively Protestant or a religiously plural polity. And if the latter, whether political equality—the full rights of citizenship, including access to the highest office—should extend to non-Protestants. The mention, then, of Muslims as potential citizens of the United States forced the Protestant majority to imagine the parameters of their new society beyond toleration. It obliged them to interrogate the nature of religious freedom: the issue of a “religious test” in the Constitution, like the ones that would exist at the state level into the nineteenth century; the question of “an establishment of religion,” potentially of Protestant Christianity; and the meaning and extent of a separation of religion from government.

Tuesday, October 01, 2013

Before David Barton, There Was Parson Weems

As Warren Throckmorton reports here. And here is the site to which Dr. Throckmorton refers.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Michigan Filmmaker Pushes Christian Nation Nonsense

That's the title to Ed Brayton's story here. A taste:
I’d never heard of Joseph Zabrosky, who grew up in Brighton, Michigan and now lives in nearby Howell, until I saw this article in a local paper. He’s apparently made a film called The Real One Nation Under God, which “uses a fictional storyline to make his argument that the Founding Fathers’ intentions and case law solidify Christianity as the country’s established religion.” And he makes predictably bad arguments in the article:

Thomas Jefferson’s Quran: How Islam Shaped the Founders

That's the title to a book review on The Daily Beast. This is the book. A taste from the review:
Spellberg, associate professor of history and Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Texas at Austin, seeks to understand the role of Islam in the American struggle to protect religious liberty. She asks how Muslims and their religion fit into eighteenth-century Americans’ models of religious freedom. While conceding that many Americans in that era viewed Islam with suspicion, classifying Muslims as dangerous and unworthy of inclusion within the American experiment, she also shows that such leading figures as Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and George Washington spurned exclusionary arguments, arguing that America should be open to Muslim citizens, office-holders, and even presidents. Spellberg’s point is that, contrary to those today who would dismiss Islam and Muslims as essentially and irretrievably alien to the American experiment and its religious mix, key figures in the era of the nation’s founding argued that that American church-state calculus both could and should make room for Islam and for believing Muslims.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

James Madison on UVA & Religion

The way Jefferson's UVA dealt with religion was and is controversial. Here is James Madison to Frederick Beasley on the controversy, dated Decr. 22. 1824.
The peculiarity in the Institution which excited at first most attention & some animadversion, is the omission of a Theological Professorship. The public opinion seems now to have sufficiently yielded to its incompatibility with a State Institution, which necessarily excludes Sectarian preferences. The best provision which occurred, was that of authorizing the Visitors to open the public rooms for religious uses, under impartial regulations (a task that may occasionally involve some difficulties) and admitting the establishment of Theological Seminaries, by the respective Sects, contiguous to the precincts of the University, and within the reach of a familiar intercourse, distinct from the Obligatory pursuits of the Students. The growing Village of Charlottesville also, is not distant more than a mile, and contains already Congregations & Clergymen of the Sects to which the Students will mostly belong.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Institute on the Constitution Misrepresents Study of Founding Era

That's the title to Warren Throckmorton's post here. A taste:
See the differences? Peroutka said Lutz and Hyneman studied the writings of the 55 framers. Not so. Lutz and Hyneman studied the “political writings of Americans published between 1760 and 1805.” Their review was not limited to framers. Furthermore, Peroutka said Lutz and Hyneman read the framers’ letters. Again not so. They specifically indicated that they did not read letters that were private.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Sandefur on Legislative Prayer

Check it out here. A taste:
The reason Jesus asked to be left out of such things, and why James Madison reiterated this when explaining why legislative prayers are unconstitutional, is because they knew that they aren’t about any real devotion or religion, anyway. They’re about showing off one’s credentials to one’s constituents and pacifying voters with professions of faith—and more, of making life uncomfortable for those who aren’t members of the same denomination.

Monday, September 16, 2013

New Post From Rodda on HuffPo

Check it out here. A taste:
The Jefferson Lies being pulled by Thomas Nelson did not make this book go away any more than it made Barton himself go away. Barton is still selling off the thousands of copies he bought back from Thomas Nelson, and, although his claim that the book has been picked up by Simon & Schuster is certainly just another one of his lies, I have no doubt it will be republished by somebody when the supply of Thomas Nelson leftovers runs out. Therefore, I've continued my debunking of Barton's little masterpiece of historical revisionism.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Politico on David Barton: What Will Evangelicals Do, Part Two

That's the title to Warren Throckmorton's post here. A taste:
Stephanie Simon told the tale. Although I have some skepticism about Barton’s sunny disposition, he says he is back and better than ever. Evangelical Senator, and probable contender for the GOP presidential nomination, Ted Cruz said he was not in a position to opine on academic disputes. However, there is really no dispute about which to opine. The verdict has been in for some time. Thomas Nelson delivered it just over a year ago. As noted, multitudes of scholars have united to send the same message. Where are the scholars defending The Jefferson Lies, or the claim that Congress printed the first English Bible, or that the Constitution quotes the Bible “verbatim?” We don’t need Mr. Cruz to opine on a dispute, we need him to open his mind to reality. ...

Monday, September 09, 2013

Politico: David Barton’s Political Usefulness Trumps Scholarship For Evangelical Groups

That's the title to Warren Throckmorton's story here. And here is the Politico article. A taste from Politico:
Led by Warren Throckmorton, a professor of psychology at Grove City College, the Christian scholars tore apart the new book, pointing out a bevy of errors and distortion. Several pastors picked up the thread, organizing a boycott of Barton’s publisher, the Christian publishing house Thomas Nelson. The critiques gained so much steam that Barton’s book was voted “the least credible history book in print” in an online poll by the History News Network. 
Barton rejected the barrage of criticism as mean-spirited, politically motivated and just plain wrong. But in August, his publisher withdrew “The Jefferson Lies.” A senior executive explained to NPR that Thomas Nelson couldn’t stand by the book because “basic truths just were not there.” 
It was a stunning repudiation of Barton’s credibility. 
But to his critics’ astonishment, Barton has bounced back. He has retained his popular following and his political appeal — in large part, analysts say, because he brings an air of sober-minded scholarship to the culture wars, framing the modern-day agenda of the religious right as a return to the Founding Fathers’ vision for America. 
“It has been shocking how much resistance there is to critically examining what Barton says,” said Scott Culpepper, an associate professor of history at Dordt College who has critiqued Barton’s scholarship. “I really underestimated the power of the political element in evangelicalism.”

Sunday, September 08, 2013

Saturday, September 07, 2013

Eric Nelson at Notre Dame

Check out the video below.

Monday, September 02, 2013

Other Paradigms

Perhaps I should add a little clarity to my last post where I wrote "I think [Dr. Gregg Frazer] provides a very useful analytic paradigm supported by solid research. Though, I admit there are many other potentially valid paradigms." But then, I wrote
But what if such a theist and a rationalist didn't even believe in the Trinity, Incarnation, and Atonement? (The first four Presidents and Ben Franklin!) Then, it seems to me, that they don't deserve the label "Christian" for historical purposes. Those tenets have historically been viewed as more central to the faith.
When I wrote that passage I was speaking within Dr. Frazer's paradigm. If someone disbelieves in the Trinity, Incarnation and Atonement but still thinks of themselves as a "Christian" in some sense, I don't have a problem terming them such with all of the scholarly qualifications.

David L. Holmes and Joseph Waligore term them "Christian-Deists." Gary North who does have a PhD in history from University of California, Riverside terms it small u unitarianism, that is theological unitarianism not denominational Unitarianism. Though we should probably credit more mainstream scholars with that paradigm. Cushing Strout, for instance.

And of course, there was that classic note that my friend and noted attorney and Unitarian Universalist Eric Alan Isaacson sent me cautioning me to be more generous in my understanding of who gets to be a "Christian." As he wrote:
Hi Jonathan, I’m troubled by those who insist that only people who believe in one way can be “true Christians.” If Mormons consider themselves followers of Jesus, that’s good enough for me to regard them as Christians. If Trinitarian Evangelicals regard themselves as followers of Jesus, I’ll consider them Christians too — even though, so far as I can tell, Jesus never claimed to be God. 
If someone like John Adams and Thomas Jefferson and the Rev. Dr. Joseph Priestley honored Jesus and endeavored to follow his teachings, they should not be denied the name “Christian” merely because others who claim that name have embraced any number of extra-biblical doctrines.
Mr. Isaacson then went on to discuss the classic case of Hale v. Everett, which we've discussed before but should revisit and examine in more detail.

Sunday, September 01, 2013

Fortenberry Keeps Pulling Me Back In On Frazer

I've done a great deal of work discussing, analyzing and promoting Dr. Gregg Frazer's work on the American Founding over the past few years. I think he provides a very useful analytic paradigm supported by solid research. Though, I admit there are many other potentially valid paradigms. His book, I understand, sold quite successfully. So I thought my work was largely done and I could move on to other matters.

But Mr. Bill Fortenberry insists on dragging me back in. See the comments here.

At issue is Dr. Frazer's 10 point test for determining who is a Christian according to late 18th Century American historical purposes and how that contrasts with the points in which the theistic rationalists believed. In particular the "Christian" notion that all of the Bible is inspired, "inerrant" if you will v. the theistic rationalist notion that the biblical canon was fit for man's reason to scrutinize and determine which parts were valid, which were error.

Fortenberry concludes, absurdly to me, and indeed using a "reductio ad absurdum" mechanism that Dr. Frazer's method proves himself (and all other self identified Bible believing Christians) to be a "theistic rationalist."

Note, even though I by in large agree with Dr. Frazer's work, I don't agree with everything about it. I respect it as an authority while understanding that all earthly authorities are fallible and have potential problems. No one is perfect.

One area in which Frazer could have been clearer is which of the 10 elements are more central to the understanding of "Christianity" than the others. Though, his book was less than 300 pages and aimed to be both scholarly and accessible. Such demand for more explication, taken to its absurd extreme, could result in an unreadable book over 1000 pages.

I think Frazer is on strongest ground, historically, insofar as his test matches with the Nicene minimum understanding of "Christianity" that has a long accepted tradition that stretches from St. Athanasius to C.S. Lewis.

But Frazer's test isn't quite the same; it's more refined. For instance, the doctrine of Original Sin is one of those points. But (as far as I understand them) the capital O Orthodox Church doesn't believe in that doctrine. Yet they aren't part of Frazer's 10 point lowest common denominator test because (surprise) they didn't have much if any presence in late 18th Cen. America.

But still, an interesting question might be which, if any one of those ten points could an individual disbelieve in and lose or retain the label "Christian."

The problem with this question is that, ultimately, it's unanswerable on this side of cosmic reality. But because I, as above noted, see Frazer's strongest historical case as that which accords with the Nicene minimum understanding, I see the doctrines which that tradition clearly explicates as more important.

So if a particular person believed in 9 of the 10 points but rejected Original Sin (like the Eastern Orthodox) I'd be hard pressed to say that person isn't a "Christian." Or someone like Benjamin Rush who disbelieved in eternal damnation while still believing in the Trinity, Incarnation, and Atonement, I still see him a "Christian" -- a Christian universalist.

Or what if someone believed, as Fortenberry accuses Frazer, that man's reason determines which parts of the Bible are valid revelation and, as it were, the canon is "fit" to be edited. I dispute that such accurately categorizes Dr. Frazer. But even if it did, if that person still believes in the Trinity, Incarnation, and Atonement, I'd be hard pressed to say that person is not a "Christian." However, just as Benjamin Rush, because he rejected eternal damnation, is a "Christian-universalist," such a person would be accurately categorized as a "Christian rationalist."

But what if such a theist and a rationalist didn't even believe in the Trinity, Incarnation, and Atonement? (The first four Presidents and Ben Franklin!) Then, it seems to me, that they don't deserve the label "Christian" for historical purposes. Those tenets have historically been viewed as more central to the faith.

Thus, the term "theistic rationalist" would distinguish them from the "Christian rationalists" -- the latter believers in the Trinity, Incarnation, and Atonement who, with the former, thought man's reason could test for valid revelation and edit from the Bible that which doesn't pass "reason's" smell test.

Friday, August 30, 2013

More From Tillman on Stone

Here is a link to the Corner that features Tillman's comment. A taste:
Professor Geoffrey R. Stone—University of Chicago School of Law—was recently appointed to the NSA Surveillance Review Committee. Professor Stone has written on some subjects which may interest your readers.

Geoffrey R. Stone, The Second Great Awakening: A Christian Nation?, 26 Georgia State University Law Review 1305, 1333 (2010):

“This is the fundamental issue posed by the Second Great Awakening, and it remains a fundamental issue today. As citizens, advocates of Sunday closing laws, temperance legislation, the abolition of slavery, anti-abortion laws, prohibitions of stem-cell research, and law forbidding same-sex marriage are free to support such policies because they honestly believe they serve constitutionally legitimate ends; and they are also free to urge others to embrace and abide by their religious beliefs. But what they are not free to do, what they must strive not to do if they want to be good citizens, is to use the law disingenuously to impose their own religious beliefs on others.”

I guess some opposition to slavery is “disingenuous” if somehow connected to religion. Why does Stone think it so obvious that a citizen circa 1860 who had supported public policies seeking to limit or to overthrow slavery on sectarian religious grounds failed to live up to the aspirational goals of our constitutional order? Is it a matter of any concern that slave owners were, to use Professor Stone’s terms, “imposed” upon? One wonders why Professor Stone sees the legal order so clearly through the eyes of slave owners, rather than the slave who might have had his shackles loosened? Why cannot Professor Stone see that in our world of second bests, First Amendment church-state absolutism ought, in some circumstances, to give way to other values, and that in making that difficult weighing of competing values responsible persons should be loathe to declare our fellows bad citizens merely because they weigh things differently than we do?

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Geoff Stone's Christian Nation Sequel

We blogged about Prof. Stone's first Christian Nation article in extensive detail. I apparently missed the sequel entitled "The Second Great Awakening: A Christian Nation?" which you may access here. A taste:
Whereas the Framers believed that the principles of public morality could be discovered through the exercise of reason, the evangelicals insisted that it must be grounded in Christian revelation; and whereas the Framers maintained that public morality must be founded on the civic obligation to "do good to one's fellow man," the evangelicals declared that true public morality must be premised on obedience to God. 12 Indeed, the nineteenth-century evangelicals preached that only obedience to the Bible, not only in private life but in public law, could save America from sin and desolation.' 3 
The central premise of the evangelical political movement was that morality is necessary for republican government and that Christianity is necessary for morality.57 It therefore followed that Christianity is necessary for republican government. 58 The evangelicals believed that the "only sure foundation" for morality was the Bible, and that only the Bible could show Americans "how to live their lives." 59 As one historian has observed, the evangelicals of this era "edged perilously close" to declaring that only evangelical Christians could be "good citizens. 60 
In the early years of the nineteenth century, however, the evangelicals reignited this issue in what became a bitter dispute over Sunday mail delivery. In the first decades of our nation's history, the United States Post Office delivered mail on the Sabbath, and in 1810, Congress expressly ratified this practice by enacting legislation specifically requiring postmasters to deliver the mail "on every day of the week.",67 
In the end, Johnson's position carried the day, and the evangelicals' demand that the government cease Sunday mail service was defeated. This resolution held until 1912, when an alliance of ministers and postal clerks finally succeeded in getting Congress to end Sunday mail delivery.
There's a lot more, in particular discussions about the evangelicals and blasphemy, temperance, obscenity and slavery. Prof. Seth Barrett Tillman who notified me of the existence of this article, also said to pay careful attention to the following passage, with Tillman's emphasis on words that merit special scrutiny.
Indeed, some of the most ardent supporters of slavery, such as the Baptist clergyman Theodore Dwight Weld, enthusiastically cited biblical passages, such as Exodus 21,112 to prove that "God's Chosen People practiced chattel slavery and that God, far from issuing a blanket condemnation of the institution, prescribed legal rules for it." By the 1830s, Southern clergymen and politicians were frequently invoking the Bible in defense of slavery.113 At the time, each side thought it had the better of the argument."14

Dreisbach Reviews Frazer

Daniel Dreisbach reviews Gregg Frazer's book in the Journal of American Studies. Read it here. A taste:
Frazer's thesis is not new. Other scholars have expressed a need for a more nuanced accounting for the religious beliefs of the founders than simply a bimodal taxonomy of Christianity and deism, especially one that recognizes a hybrid system that drew on both Christianity and Enlightenment rationalism. Frazer acknowledges that scholars before him have coined and defined a variety of terms intended to describe this middle ground between orthodox Christianity and deism, using terms like providential deism, Enlightened Christianity, theological rationalism, Christian rationalism, and rationalist Christianity. Frazer provides a sophisticated description of theistic rationalism and argues that other terms fail to capture adequately the belief system of the major founders. 
Frazer gives little allowance that the influential founders were anything other than theistic rationalists. He is dismissive of evidence or interpretations that challenge his thesis. Neglected in the study, for example, is the devout Congregationalist Roger Sherman, who by most measures deserves to be studied alongside the consequential founders that Frazer does profile. ...

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Rodda on Joel Barlow

Joel Barlow is a figure from the American Founding I've much neglected. We have the "key Founders" -- the first four Presidents and Ben Franklin -- who I, after much meticulous research, see as something in between orthodox Christians and strict Deists, whatever we term them (Christian-Deists, theistic rationalists, small u unitarians, etc. etc.). There were some very important second tier Founders who were orthodox Christians -- Roger Sherman, Patrick Henry, John Witherspoon and others. And then there were some who were closer to strict Deism; Thomas Paine, Ethan Allen, Elihu Palmer are the ones we've stressed so far. We should probably add Joel Barlow to the list with Paine, Allen and Palmer.

In doing research on Barlow, I came across this nifty post on him by Chris Rodda.  A taste:
Much of Barlow's other writing during this time was for The Anarchiad, a satirical political paper anonymously published from time to time by his literary club, the Hartford Wits. Among the original members of this club was David Humphreys, who, in 1797, as Commissioner Plenipotentiary in Lisbon, was the official who approved Barlow's translation of the Treaty of Tripoli and submitted it for ratification. Among those rejected for admission to the club were Oliver Wolcott and Noah Webster, two of the very religious founders that David Barton makes a point of associating Barlow with in his biographical sketch. Barlow may have started out together at Yale with Wolcott and Webster, but couldn't have ended up more different from these former classmates in both politics and religion. While Wolcott and Webster were die-hard New England Federalists and Congregationalists, Barlow became a Jeffersonian Republican and a deist.
Noah Webster, by the way, may well have ended up some sort of pious Christian; but I'm not so sure he was so while the Constitution was being ratified. He seemed, like many others, caught up in the Enlightenment rationalist zeitgeist.

I think the French Revolution may have killed Webster's Enlightenment buzz.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Chris Rodda on the Michael Medved Show

In the comments section at American Creation, Chris Rodda and Tom Van Dyke are involved in a spirited discussions about, among other things her appearance on the Michael Medved show. Listen to it for yourself and decide how it went.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Anti-Trinitarianism and the Republican Tradition in Enlightenment Britain

That's the title of an article by Matthew Kadane, Assistant Professor of History at Hobart and William Smith Colleges, featured in, Republics of Letters: A Journal for the Study of Knowledge, Politics, and the Arts 2, no. 1 (December 15, 2010).

A taste:
WRITING IN THE OPENING MONTHS OF THE French Revolution and in response to the accusation of anti-monarchical republicanism, Joseph Priestley explained in self-defense that if he was a “unitarian in religion” he remained “a trinitarian in politics.”1 The republican-leaning Priestley was  making a subtle distinction, but if the image of a political Trinitarian who held faith in Commons, Lords, and monarch could concisely illustrate what was surprising, if not paradoxical,  about the political outlook of a religious Unitarian, it was because the link between republicanism and anti-Trinitarianism was so common.2  Milton had embodied it in the mid-seventeenth  century; so had the classicist John Biddle, the “father of English Unitarianism,” who crossed over with Harringtonian republicanism, as Nigel Smith has recently written, in his disdain of priestcraft, his “vision of an exemplary Son and a life of virtuous action.”3 Probably more active in late  eighteenth-century memories was the anti-Trinitarian moment of the late 1680s and 1690s. A  “Unitarian controversy,” triggered by a relaxation of censorship at the end of James II’s reign and by the publication of Stephen Nye’s Brief History of the Unitarians (1689), raged amid a revolutionary settlement with republican implications.4 These same implications could be drawn from  the revolution’s anti-Trinitarian ideologues, Locke and Newton.5 And as Restoration Tories seemed to foresee when they linked Whig-republicanism and Socinianism, what would the reduction of monarchical power suggest—a reduction like that the Glorious Revolution brought  about—if not a diminution of some degree of the monarch’s divinity?6 This may not have been Priestley’s idiosyncratic view in 1790, but it was implied by the mix of anti-Trinitarianism, republicanism, and appreciation for the Glorious Revolution that could be found in a group of his contemporaries: Richard Price, John Jebb, Theophilus Lindsey, Samuel Rogers, Charles James Fox, one-time subjects of the crown like Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin, and so on.7

Sunday, August 18, 2013

A Preview of the Next Volume of “Debunking David Barton’s Jefferson Lies”

By Chris Rodda here. A taste:
BARTON’S LIE: It was Jefferson who introduced the measure in the Virginia legislature calling for a day of fasting and prayer in 1774. 
THE TRUTH: Jefferson was just one of a number of the younger members of the Virginia legislature who formed an impromptu committee that, as he put it, “cooked up” a proclamation for a fast day. And, it wasn’t Jefferson who introduced the fast day in the legislature. Why? Because the committee members were concerned that the suggestion of a fast day might not pass if it came from them. They knew that nobody was going to buy that these young radicals, not even the quite religious Patrick Henry, were proposing this fast day out of genuine religious devotion. It would be obvious that they were merely using a fast day as a way of jolting the people of Virginia into an awareness of the seriousness of what was going on in Massachusetts. So, they got an older member of the legislature to introduce it, one who Jefferson described as having a “grave and religious character” that was “more in unison” with the tone of the proclamation that he and the younger members of the legislature had cooked up.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Robert Bellah, RIP

See John Fea for the obit. Bellah was, in our time, the most noted scholar of the concept of "civil religion" in America. Here is an actual, rather lengthy piece from Bellah on the topic. A taste: 
The Idea of a Civil Religion 
The phrase "civil religion" is, of course, Rousseau's. In chapter 8, book 4 of The Social Contract, he outlines the simple dogmas of the civil religion: the existence of God, the life to come, the reward of virtue and the punishment of vice, and the exclusion of religious intolerance. All other religious opinions are outside the cognizance of the state and may be freely held by citizens. While the phrase "civil religion" was not used, to the best of my knowledge, by the founding fathers, and I am certainly not arguing for the particular influence of Rousseau, it is clear that similar ideas, as part of the cultural climate of the late eighteenth century, were to be found among the Americans. For example, Benjamin Franklin writes in his autobiography,  
"I never was without some religious principles. I never doubted, for instance, the existence of the Deity; that he made the world and govern'd it by his Providence; that the most acceptable service of God was the doing of good to men; that our souls are immortal; and that all crime will be punished, and virtue rewarded either here or hereafter. These I esteemed the essentials of every religion; and, being to be found in all the religions we had in our country, I respected them all, tho' with different degrees of respect, as I found them more or less mix'd with other articles, which, without any tendency to inspire, promote or confirm morality, serv'd principally do divide us, and make us unfriendly to one another."

Institute on the Constitution: The American View or the Confederate View?

That's the title to Warren Throckmorton's post here. A taste:
In his treatment of the founders’ religious beliefs during the IOTC course, Peroutka cherry picks quotes from founders to make them all sound orthodox. Like David Barton, Peroutka portrays the founders as orthodox in order to tie the Declaration of Independence and Constitution to “the God of the Bible.” Most founders were theistic, but that doesn’t mean they all believed in “the God of the Bible” in the evangelical sense or that they deliberately set out to create a Biblical government. What is remarkable is how infrequently religion is mentioned in the founding documents.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Pauline Maier: R.I.P.

John Fea gives us the details here. Here is HNN's obit.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Income Redistribution & the Agrarian Law

And to conclude my riff on how the civil republican ideological sources influences the vision of today's politics, here is this post by Daniel Clinkman, "a PhD candidate at the University of Edinburgh writing a dissertation on the issue of feudal law and constitutionalism during the American Revolution." A taste:
... Throughout the history of western republicanism, from the Gracchi brothers of Rome, through Machiavelli, James Harrington, and Thomas Jefferson, theorists have agreed that unlimited wealth is distorting to politics and proposed an “agrarian law” to reduce the concentration of wealth and power in the hands of the few. In the pre-industrial age, land was a far more important component of wealth than was liquid capital, and proponents of agrarian laws sought to break up large estates while distributing lands to commoners. The most radical agrarian law, proposed by Harrington in his Commonwealth of Oceana, would have broken up large estates by capping all inheritances at the value of £2,000. Harrington estimated the aggregate value of English estates at £10 million, meaning that wealth could theoretically never be concentrated in the hands of fewer than five thousand equal land holders, and in practice would be even more widely distributed through the functioning of the actual economy. 
Agrarian laws were intended for an agricultural society; capital redistribution through progressive income taxation and estate “death” taxes are their modern equivalent. Therefore, it makes sense that a republic practicing both democracy and capitalism would redistribute wealth. There is nothing un-American or threatening to the established order in a tactically redistributionist regime that does not dissent from the underlying logic of private property. Indeed, redistribution has typically been proposed as a means of ensuring the stability of the existing political and economic regime, not undermining or overthrowing it.
I choose this post because as per Eric Nelson's thesis, the significance of the "Agrarian" laws (now a relic of the past) to today's day in age is the principle that it is valid for government, in democratic capitalist regimes, to use its coercive power to redistribute wealth for "balance." This is what governments in Western liberal democracies, including the United States currently do. It's a modern thing. Dr. Nelson argues the Hebrew Republic is responsible for this particular facet of modernity.

James Harrington On Equality

This is what The Founders' Constitution produces from Harrington's Commonwealth of Oceana 70--75, 1656.

A taste:
The third division (unseen hitherto) is into equal and unequal, and this is the main point especially as to domestic peace and tranquility. For to make a commonwealth unequal is to divide it into parties, which sets them at perpetual variance, the one party endeavoring to preserve their eminence and inequality, and the other to attain to equality. Whence the people of Rome derived their perpetual strife with the nobility or Senate. But in an equal commonwealth there can be no more strife than there can be overbalance in equal weights. Wherefore the commonwealth of Venice, being that which of all others is the most equal in the constitution, is that wherein there never happened any strife between the Senate and the people.

An equal commonwealth is such a one as is equal, both in the balance and foundation and in the superstructures; that is to say, in her Agrarian Law and in her rotation.

An equal Agrarian is a perpetual law establishing and preserving the balance of dominion by such a distribution that no one man or number of men within the compass of the few or aristocracy can come to overpower the whole people by their possessions in lands.

As the Agrarian answers to the foundation, so does rotation to the superstructures.
Equal rotation is equal vicissitude in government, or succession unto magistracy conferred for such convenient terms, enjoying equal vacations, as take in the whole body by parts succeeding others through the free election or suffrage of the people.
What's very cool is at the end of the passage, we see Harrington asserting "And as a commonwealth is a government of laws and not of men, ..."

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Property-Owning Democracy: A Short History

An interesting article by Ben Jackson of Oxford University here. A quote:
The earliest versions of this form of argument, articulated for example by such pre-commercial renovators of classical republicanism as James Harrington and Jean-Jacques Rousseau, were agrarian and austerely critical of commerce and luxury. ...
This is important because whereas I don't see, after much research, Rousseau as being influential on America's Founders (perhaps he influenced them by osmosis), Harrington was.

Eric Nelson, Hebrew Republic Video

Watch it here.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Eric Nelson & Hebrew Sources That Influenced Modernity

I've been discussing, of late, the notion that the concept of "republicanism" is contained in the Bible, specifically the Old Testament. I'm sorry, but perhaps I'm too much of a literalist in the way I read texts; but I don't "see" the concept there. For one, the Bible never uses the term "republicanism" or "republic" to describe the form of government of Ancient Israel.

Ancient Israel had a theocracy, not a "republic" and the form of government the Bible seems to speak of as most normative is monarchy.  Not just normative in an "is" sense, but in an "ought" sense as well; the Bible speaks of a "Kingdom," not a "Republic" of Heaven where Jesus' Kingdom is not of this Earth.

The concept of republicanism actually derives from the Greco-Roman tradition.

But that didn't stop many "key figures" from the "key era" that ushered in modernity (the 16th - 18th centuries) from arguing the Bible -- specifically the Old Testament -- to claim republicanism against monarchy.

Of actual, respectable and respected modern scholars, Eric Nelson of Harvard does cutting edge work demonstrating the influence of Hebrew thought on the concept of modern republicanism.

I use the terms respectable and respected because there is a cohort of Christian nationalists non-scholars who misunderstand and misuse many of these same sources in the record that demonstrate the influence of Hebraic thought on modern republicanism. They cite these sources to argue as though there was some golden age of Christianism in need of recapture. (Real scholars understand there wasn't.)

What Eric Nelson argues is modernism -- not in the radical sense, but in the ordinary, present bourgeois sense -- owes more to the understanding of Hebraic thought by the those who established modern republicanism (those British thinkers who influenced America's Founders like Sidney, Milton, Harrington and others) than a secular Enlightenment.

That is, it's not a mythic golden age we need to return to, but today's era of 1. regulated, managed capitalism that redistributes wealth when there are excesses, 2. popular sovereignty, and 3. religious toleration in which we currently live that is the result of the Hebrew Republic.

And yes, government bureaucrats who are elected democratically, get to decide how much wealth is too much. This is not Marxist egalitarianism that demands perfect equality according to need. But rather an egalitarianism more Rawlsian that accepts a need for some inequality for the system to function efficiently; but understands law and policy should step in and redistribute wealth for a more "just distribution."

Except these sources predate Rawls. You don't need continental Europeans Rousseau and then Marx to understand Egalitarianism's call for a kinder gentler distribution of wealth. You have James Harrington, a man who, unlike Rousseau, was greatly respected by America's Founders.

Now, I don't think Harrington's notion of "civic republicanism" prevailed among America's Founders. Though it did seriously influence them. As Bernard Bailyn noted there were five chief sources of thought that drove America's Founding: 1. Biblical; 2. Common Law; 3. Whig; 4. Enlightenment; and 5. Greco-Roman. To complicated matters further, a. these sources were not mutually exclusive; that is, they bled into one another; and b. they competed and conflicted with one another; that is, they often disagreed.

And, of course, this is just one paradigm where others might be valid.

I see America's Founding as more individualistically liberal than collectivistically republican. In short, Locke and Smith's more individualistic economic vision -- mainly because of James Madison --  prevailed over Harrington's more egalitarian economic vision.

But egalitarian's critique of the excesses of individualism exists in the ideological thought of the American Founding. And the egalitarianism thinker who most influenced America's Founders -- James Harrington -- used Hebraic sources to argue for his notion of a more "just distribution" as Rawls would later put it.

I learned that, and many other things, from Eric Nelson. Check out his book.

Friday, August 09, 2013

Where's that Simon and Schuster Edition of "The Jefferson Lies" David Barton's Been Promising?

By Chris Rodda here. A taste:
Exactly one year ago today, on August 9, 2012, Christian publisher Thomas Nelson took the virtually unprecedented action of pulling one of its books from publication due to the book's many inaccuracies. That book, of course, was David Barton's The Jefferson Lies. 
There were several factors that presumably contributed to Thomas Nelson's decision to take the drastic action of pulling Barton's book from the shelves. ...

Tuesday, August 06, 2013

Darwin, Locke, and Classical Liberalism

This post by Larry Arnhart raises some fascinating questions and points.  A taste:
Consequently, the nine critics are proponents of what they call "Christian classical liberalism" or "theistic classical liberalism" (19, 23,158-59). They also identify this with the liberal political thought of the American founders, and so they defend "the rich theistic classical liberalism embodied in the American founding" (159). I have inserted "Lockean" into the syllogism because the first nine critics generally appeal to John Locke as "the quintessential classical liberal" (198), although they also often identify Adam Smith as a paradigmatic classical liberal (9-10, 13-14, 158). 
The nine critics don't explain clearly what they mean by Christianity or how exactly specific doctrines of Christianity lead to classical liberalism. They sometimes refer to the "God of the Bible," the "biblical worldview," or "Judeo-Christian orthodoxy," which suggests they are embracing both the Old Testament and the New Testament, both Judaism and Christianity (19-20, 26, 154, 158-60, 171, 189, 193, 198). Does this exclude Islam? Gordon argues that the "Christian worldview" in its purity excludes "Islamic religious identity" (196). 
The only doctrinal teaching of the Judeo-Christian tradition that they mention is the idea of imago Dei: "In very broad strokes, this interpretation emphasizes both the dignity of human beings--as creatures fashioned in the imago Dei--and their depravity, having been subject to Adam's Fall" (11). It is the equal dignity of all human beings as created in God's image that they see as the foundation of classical liberalism, and so if Darwinism denies this imago Dei doctrine by teaching that human beings were "created from animals," Darwinism thereby denies classical liberalism (198) and promotes all the evils listed by Gordon that are bringing about the complete collapse of Western civilization. 
Although the nine critics generally agree that Christianity dictates the classical liberalism of Locke, they sometimes contradict themselves on this point. For example, Benjamin Wiker refers to Locke as a Deist and implies that Locke appealed to Christianity only for the sake of persuading "the less enlightened" (44). Wiker also identifies Hobbes as the true "father of modern liberalism" and explains: "In Hobbes we see the shift from morality rooted in natural law as defined by God and embedded in a teleological view of nature in which human moral goodness is defined by the perfection of our God-given nature, to morality entirely rooted in this-worldly passion and self-preservation embedded in an entirely non-teleological view of nature and human nature." Moreover, he indicates, "this seems a great anticipation of, and hence entirely compatible with, Darwin's account of the evolution of morality" (45-46). 
In his book Moral Darwinism, Wiker argues that Locke was a Epicurean materialist who promoted a science of hedonism that would later be fulfilled by Darwin. He also argues that insofar as Locke's ideas crept into the American founding, they became the seeds of moral corruption in American political life. Oddly, Wiker doesn't mention this in his contribution to Dilley's book.

Reviewing Schlereth's An Age of Infidels

By Jonathan Den Hartog here.

Step Aside Beza and Locke, Say Hello to Almain and Mair

The title to one of D.G. Hart's posts here.

Sunday, August 04, 2013

7 of John Adams' greatest insults

Check them out here.

John Adams on Revolutionary Principles

Here is one source for the quotation.
These are what are called revolution principles. They are the principles of Aristotle and Plato, of Livy and Cicero, and Sidney, Harrington, and Locke; the principles of nature and eternal reason; the principles on which the whole government over us now stands. It is therefore astonishing, if any thing can be so, that writers, who call themselves friends of government, should in this age and country be so inconsistent with themselves, so indiscreet, so immodest, as to insinuate a doubt concerning them.
— John Adams, Novanglus, No. 1.
Hat tip: TVD.

Weird History: Thomas Jefferson Got Mail Just Like Mikey Gets!

By Chris Rodda here.

John Locke's Biological Naturalism

By Larry Arnhart here.

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Saturday, July 27, 2013

No, the Puritans Did Not Found the Country

That's the title to Ed Brayton's post here that references the following post from Warren Throckmorton.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Three From Throckmorton on Barton

Here is one, two, and three. The bottom line is that Barton isn't taking criticism well.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Who Was John Calder?

I've often quoted Ben Franklin's letter to John Calder, dated Augt. 21. 1784 where he notes his opposition to PA's explicitly Christian state religious test for public office, one that Franklin, as acting governor of PA helped remove in part because he himself couldn't pass it! There Franklin says:
I agreed with you in Sentiments concerning the Old Testament, and thought the Clause in our Constitution, which required the Members of Assembly to declare their belief that the whole of it was given by divine Inspiration, had better have been omitted. That I had opposed the Clause but being overpower'd by Numbers, and fearing might in future times be grafted on [it, I Pre]vailed to have the additional Clause that no [further or more ex]tended Profession of Faith should ever [be exacted. I ob]serv'd to you, too, that the Evil of it was [the less, as no In]habitant, nor any Officer of Government except the Members of Assembly, were oblig'd to make that Declaration. So much for that Letter. To which I may now add, that the[re are] several Things in the old Testament impossible to be given by divine Inspiration, such as the Approbation ascrib'd to the Angel of the Lord, of that abominably wicked and detestable Action of Jael the Wife of Heber the Kenite. If the rest of the Book were like that, I should rather suppose it given by Inspiration from another Quarter, and renounce the whole.
During the time in which they were establishing religious liberty, heterodox freethinkers like Franklin and the other key Founders felt comfortable sharing their religious secrets with certain trustworthy friends. As such, these "heretics" tended to converse amongst themselves. So it shouldn't surprise that John Calder turned out to share similar religious convictions as Franklin. I want to again thank Bill Fortenberry for turning my attention to something important: this time it was John Calder's letter to which Franklin responded. Here is a big taste:
I now enter unwillingly on a subject so insignificant, but I must necessarily say something of myself, as an apology for what it might else be impertinent in me to mention. On the dissolution of the Religious Society of which Mr. Radcliffe and I were the Ministers, which happened soon after you left England I declined the stated exercise of the profession to which I was educated, and have ever since been a private member of the Church of Unitarian Christians in Essex Street at the opening of which you was present. There only I sometimes officiate occasionally as Minister and never but when necessity requires it. In the mean while, in a comfortable retirement about a mile from town, my books have been my principal companions, and the culture of a garden my chief amusement. Here I have for some years inwardly cheriched the hopes of seeing you again and endeavoured to save all I can, to transport me and my companions to Pennsylvania, where whether I accompany them or not I mean they shall be ultimately deposited in the Library of which you was the founder. Turned as I am the     of life, being but a year younger than your very good friends and mine Dr. Priestley and Mr. Lee and urged by no grievous necessities nor unfavourable prospects here, perhaps even the Friends I mention will condemn my resolutions. But with such undisclosed views I have long secretly sighed for a sight of the American Constitutions and have been within these few days in possession of my wishes. I concern myself chiefly with the Constitution of the state in which my views terminate, and I rejoice that it hav in all respects the preheminence. In its Council of Censors there is a resource for the removal of the objection, for I have but one, and therefore after what I have said, I know you will forgive my taking the liberty of mentioning it on the way of query.
Is the last clause of the Declaration in Sect. 10 of Chap. II reconcileable to the clause of the 2d Article of the Declaration of Rights which says, “Nor can any man who acknowledges the Being of a God be justly deprived of any civil right as a Citizen on account of his religious sentiments, or peculair mode of religious worship.” I cannot think that the State of Pennsylvania would have even endangered its welfare by admitting freely and universally to a denizonship in it, “all foreigners of good character” Christians or not Christians.
But passing from this, there are Christians and sincere worthy Christians who after all their pains to make up their minds on the subject of the divine inspiration of the Old Testament especially, must express themselves as our friend Mr. Lee did on another subject, when he said I have been a great part of my life, endeavouring to understand it, but I cannot yet tell you what a Libel is. If the State of Pennsylvania wishes to grant citizenship to all foreigners of good character who are Christians, why establish a declaration which some Christian foreigners of good character must object to? Is it an incredible thing that a man be really a Christian, who is not yet a Jew? Or is it indispensibly requisite that a man must first be a jew before he can be qualified to be a good    of the State of Pensylvania? May not the Friends of Christianity have connected it injudiciously, and injured its cause by connecting it more closely with Judaism than its Author and first publishers did? Are not the Evidences of Christianity and the evidences of Judaism destinct? Why then complicate them with each other so odd as that they must necessarily stand or fall together?
 This is what the site says about Calder:
Clergyman, author. 
Member of the Club of Honest Whigs, of which Franklin was also a member. 
Employed by the Duke of Northumberland as his private secretary at Alnwick Castle and in London. In charge of the private library bequeathed by Dr. Williams to nonconforming clergy. 
Assistant to Ebenezer Radcliffe, pastor of the Presbyterian congregation in Aldgate. 
After the congregation was dissolved in 1774, he declined to exercise his ministerial functions and devoted himself to writing. 
A private member of the Church of Unitarian Christians. 
Born in Aberdeen, Scotland.
The Club of Honest Whigs was disproportionately comprised of unitarians. That's why when Franklin told Ezra Stiles of his creed, he said, "I have with most of the present Dissenters in England, some Doubts as to [Jesus'] Divinity..." [Bold Face Mine].  Franklin, no doubt, was referring to his unitarian cohorts in the Club of Honest Whigs.

In researching Calder, I also found this wiki on the Society for Promoting the Knowledge of the Scriptures. The site says this "was a group founded in 1783 in London, with a definite but rather constrained plan for Biblical interpretation.[1] While in practical terms it was mainly concerned with promoting Unitarian views, it was broadly based." Calder was affiliated with it along with many others, including Joseph Priestley and Richard Price. Their membership overlapped with that of the Club of Honest Whigs.

This political theological worldview, whatever we term it, captured the minds of many "key Founders" like Ben Franklin.

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Actually Maybe It STARTED Going Downhill WITH John Witherspoon

This is according to Gary North's thesis. For some time I've noted Gary North's book on America's Founding and Religion. 

I have three reactions to his thesis.

1. According to Christian Reconstructionist premises, Dr. North is right: The American Founding is not consistent with "Christian Reconstructionism" and was driven by a different political theology.

2. What Dr. North identifies as small u unitarianism was that political theology.

3. Isaac Newton played an important role in establishing that "worldview" -- the principles on which America's Founders built.

Every thesis I've seen, in my opinion, overemphasizes certain thinkers as key to the American Founding and under-emphasizes others. Dr. Gregg Frazer probably overemphasizes Joseph Priestley while under-emphasizing Richard Price and others. John Locke certainly was important, but has been overemphasized to the exclusion of others.

But an overemphasis, taken in context, still may shine a much needed light on an otherwise much neglected source. Dr. North's thesis does this with Newton's influence on America's Founders worldview.

I just found Dr. North's "position paper" from 1991 which defends his thesis against critics. Like much of what North writes, it entertains while providing useful ideas.

On reviewing books:
The art of book reviewing is no longer taught. In the 1950’s, college-bound students wrote book reports throughout high school. Book reviews were common in college. In graduate school, they were mandatory. They are basic to any academic specialty. Scholarly journals rely on them. 
Every review must summarize a book’s thesis. A scholarly review must do the following: (1) identify the author’s “school of thought”; (2) present any unique features of the book; (3) note any serious errors; (4) evaluate the author’s performance in presenting his thesis; and (5) assess the book’s importance, especially in the academic field. A “plain vanilla” review ends here. 
Then there is the hatchet review. The reviewer has several tasks in addition to what we have already covered: (1) concentrate on the book’s weaknesses and errors; (2) show how these errors undermine the book’s general thesis; (3) show that the author ignored an alternative interpretation of the facts that he did get correctly; (4) show how he ignored other books or literature that point out the alternative interpretation; (5) show what the author should have concluded. The master of the hatchet review in the field of modern history was the late A. J. P. Taylor, the most prolific historian in modern times, whose books fill a large bookcase. 
Then there is the smear review. This is the critic’s substitute for a hatchet job. Writing a smear review is thought to be necessary in the eyes of some critics when they are unable to produce an acceptable hatchet job. The marks of a smear review are these: (1) it accents minor errors, or possible minor errors; (2) it implies that these minor errors are representative of the author’s scholarship and the book generally (3) it presents completely bogus errors as if they were real – imputed arguments which make the author look like a fool or a charlatan; (4) it ignores anything in the book that reveals the invented arguments as fakes. 
A lot of critics write smear reviews, thinking they are mere hatchet jobs. What I find is that virtually all of the reviews published about Christian Reconstruction are either plain vanilla reviews (not too many of these) or smear reviews. I never see a well-executed hatchet job. This saddens me. I regard a well-executed hatchet book review as one of the high- arts of modern civilization. It is fast becoming a lost art.
Here is the money quote of the paper that ties it to the above title on John Witherspoon:
The thesis of the third section of my book is very, very clear: it was what Jefferson, Adams, Washington, Franklin, and Madison did with natural law theory that mattered politically. They transformed the colonies into an apostate civil society. They got Christian legislators to vote for, and Christian leaders to approve, a halfway covenant (the Declaration of Independence) and then an apostate covenant (the U.S. Constitution). My book discusses how Witherspoon and the other Christian advocates of natural law theory were suckered: first, into a halfway covenant by Jefferson; and second, into Madison’s apostate covenant.

Monday, July 15, 2013

All Down Hill After John Witherspoon?

By D.G. Hart here.

Religion and the American Republic

By GEORGE F. WILL writing for National Affairs. A taste:
Some of the founders, such as Benjamin Franklin, subscribed to 18th-century Deism: a watery, undemanding doctrine that postulated a Creator who wound up the universe like a clock and thereafter did not intervene in the human story. It has been said that the Deist God is like a rich aunt in Australia: benevolent, distant, and infrequently heard from. Deism seeks to explain the existence and nature of the universe. But so does the Big Bang theory, which is not a religion. If a religion is supposed to console and enjoin as well as explain, Deism hardly counts as a religion.

George Washington famously would not kneel to pray. And when his pastor rebuked him for setting a bad example by leaving services before communion, Washington mended his ways in his characteristically austere manner: He stayed away from church on communion Sundays. He acknowledged Christianity's "benign influence" on society, but no ministers were present and no prayers were said when he died a stoic's death. This, even though Washington had proclaimed in his famous Farewell Address (which to this day is read aloud in Congress every year on his birthday) that "religion and morality are indispensable supports" for "political prosperity." He said, "Let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion." He warned that "reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle."

The longer John Adams lived, the shorter grew his creed, which in the end was Unitarianism. Thomas Jefferson wrote ringing words about the Creator who endowed us with rights, but Jefferson was a placid utilitarian when he urged a nephew to inquire into the veracity of Christianity, saying laconically: "If it ends in a belief that there is no God, you will find incitements to virtue in the comforts and pleasantness you feel in its exercise, and the love of others which it will procure you."

James Madison, always commonsensical, explained — actually, explained away — religion as an innate appetite: "[T]he mind prefers at once the idea of a self-existing cause to that of an infinite series of cause and effect." When the first Congress hired a chaplain, Madison said "it was not with my approbation." 
Yet even the founders who were unbelievers considered it a civic duty — a public service — to be observant unbelievers. For example, two days after Jefferson wrote his famous letter endorsing a "wall of separation" between church and state, he attended, as he and other government officials often would, church services held in the chamber of the House of Representatives. Services were also held in the Treasury building.

Jefferson and other founders made statesmanlike accommodation of the public's strong preference, which then as now was for religion to enjoy ample space in the public square. They understood that Christianity, particularly in its post-Reformation ferments, fostered attitudes and aptitudes associated with, and useful to, popular government. Protestantism's emphasis on the individual's direct, unmediated relationship with God and the primacy of individual conscience and choice subverted conventions of hierarchical societies in which deference was expected from the many toward the few. 
Beyond that, however, the American founding owed much more to John Locke than to Jesus. ...
I think Will -- like a lot of folks -- doesn't quite get Franklin who was more theistic than deistic. Likewise, "Unitarianism" wasn't just John Adams' ending creed; it was the creed he held for his entire adult life.