Sunday, July 28, 2013

Throckmorton Answers Barber

See Warren Throckmorton's answer to Matt Barber's original. And be sure to check out Throckmorton's links to the Volokh Conspiracy.

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.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013

"American Creation" Migrates to "Old Life" or Would George Whitefield Think George Washington Needed to be Converted?

That's the title to John Fea's post here. I too agree that whatever he was, George Washington was not a "born again Christian."

Saturday, July 06, 2013

Friday, July 05, 2013

Wednesday, July 03, 2013

David Barton Just Ought to Get It Over With...

And convert to Mormonism. The "Americanist" political theology is far more consistent with Mormonism that was birthed in America, than traditional orthodox biblical Christianity.

Tuesday, July 02, 2013

Monday, July 01, 2013

Fortenberry on the Bible's Political Theory

Frequent American Creation commenter Bill Fortenberry sent me a link to an article he just wrote on the Bible's political theory. The article argues "the notion of popular sovereignty can be traced to the government of ancient Israel as recorded in the pages of the Bible."

I, for one, don't "see" principles of republican self government or political liberty in the pages of the Bible. But I understand that many ideas didn't just pop up out of nowhere during the Enlightenment but brewed for a long time previously in Christendom.

Republicanism traces to the Ancient noble pagan Greco-Roman tradition. Yet, Christianity was birthed there. (Well Christianity emerged in Rome after they transmogrified from a noble republic to an ignoble empire.)

But Mr. Fortenberry is not the first person to "see" republicanism in the pages of the Old Testament. The Whig propagandists -- indeed even Thomas Paine -- made similar arguments. Now, Paine, that Deist he who rejected every word of the Bible as special revelation, knew he was propagandizing.

But, perhaps caught up in the Whig-republican-revolutionary zeitgeist, seemingly sincere ministers preached something similar in their political sermons.

As Dr. Gregg Frazer reacts to them:
The sermons seem to depict God's role as something similar to Rousseau's legislator; He disinterestedly established the foundational law for the benefit of society, but did not live under it. In their version and consistent with democratic theory, God established it all [quoting Langdon's sermon] "for their happiness" rather than to achieve the fulfillment of a sovereignly determined plan. By their account, God submitted the laws to the people for their approval and acceptance (as per Rousseau's legislator). 
-- Frazer, PhD thesis, pp. 393-94.