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.