Monday, June 30, 2014

Research On Religion: "Mark David Hall on Religious Minorities in the U.S. Founding"

Mark David Hall always has something usefully informative to say on the matter. From Tony Gills' excellent podcast here, discussing, among other things, this book by Dr. Hall, et al.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Ezra Stiles: "I am a Jacobin"

As he, according to this source, declared in 1793. This is, as I understand, the zeitgeist of late 18th Century revolutionary-republican American political theology. What it has to do with "Christianity" is debatable.

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Ezra Stiles: Watts was an Arian on the Divinity of Christ

That's what Ezra Stiles asserted about Isaac Watts here. Quote:
When Dr Watts set out in Life he was clearly a Calvinist ...When the Arian Controversy got hold of the Dissenters in the public cause of the Rev. Mr. Pierce of Exeter about 1720: Dr Watts entered the Arian Researches, became plunged as to the real Divinity of J. C, as appears in the follow[ing] Publications of the last 20 years of his Life. But tho' he was an Arian on the Divinity of Christ, yet he never relinquished any of the other evangelical Doctrines, the real vicarious Satisfaction even plenary Atonem[ent], with Justific[ation] by Christs Righteousness &c.—One may perceive the same Thing in Seeds Sermons. The Ruin & Reco[very] retains the Deriv[ation] of Guilt & Corruption from Adam—& this is the Augustinian Notion of Original Sin. Dr Langdon's Plunges have a pretty extensive influence into his whole Theology.

HEATHER DIGBY PARTON: "Rise of a right-wing quack: Faux-historian David Barton’s shocking new influence"

At Salon here. A taste:
... Here’s just one example of his so-called scholarship being debunked by Chris Rodda, the senior researcher for the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, via Media Matters. She challenged Barton’s insistence that Thomas Jefferson dated his presidential papers with the phrase “in the year of our Lord Christ,” which indicated that the notorious theist was really a super-Christian (what with the added “Christ” and all). 
According to Rodda, the truth is quite different: Jefferson took pains to omit “in the year of our Lord” in his documents, instead using phrases like “in the Christian computation,” and “of the Christian epoch.” Further, according to Rodda, the evidence Barton provided of Jefferson purportedly using the phrase is, in fact, a preprinted form that Jefferson had no input into creating.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Jack Balkin: "The Evangelical Origins of the Living Constitution"

Jack Balkin informs us about John W. Compton's The Evangelical Origins of the Living Constitution (Harvard University Press 2014) here. A taste:
... The Evangelical Origins of the Living Constitution (Harvard University Press 2014) is an outstanding addition to the literature on American constitutional development. The book argues that the progressive critique of the Constitution in the early twentieth century that led to the New Deal was presaged and to some extent made possible by earlier social movements of evangelical Christians in the nineteenth century who sought to ban alcohol and lotteries. The idea that the Constitution's practical meaning must adjust to changing social conditions is often associated with the progressive critique of the 1920s and 1930s. But Compton shows that evangelicals made similar moves decades before in order to reshape constitutional understandings and justify government power to ban alcohol and lottery sales.

Monday, June 23, 2014

Ezra Stiles: Locke was an Arminian & Arian

This is what Ezra Stiles wrote in his literary diary in the year 1775. He's speaking of Locke as an interpreter and expositor of the Bible:
The Great Mr Locke saw that it was only here & there a place or Text that needed Illustration or Notes; but that the Idioms, or peculiar manner of Expressions, in different Languages, could not be understood in a literal Translation & therefore required a paraphrase. Accordingly he invented a new Mode of Scripture Commentary, by Paraphrase & Notes. This Mode received great Applause ever since even from those who differed from Mr Lock as to Doctrines & religious principles: but as his Arian & Arminian principles have had a general spread & Reception among the Chh of Engld & Dissenters the half Century past, so Mr Lockes Reputation as a Scripture Commentator has been exceeding high with the public.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Ezra Stiles' Esoterism

My readers know that I along with some friends, co-bloggers and and close readers am a (Leo) Strauss interested if not influenced scholar of history. I am not a Straussian because I don't endorse what they do. Still, they have done extremely important, meticulous, thoughtful studies of John Locke and America's Founding era and religion.

I think they drop the ball when they start claiming Locke and others like Ben Franklin as secret atheists. Still, there is something to the notion that when orthodoxy is enforced at the point of a gun either literally or metaphorically, the heterodox will speak in code to avoid facing the music.

Still, I think it's important to claim only that esoterism for which there is solid evidence. I see, among the notable, relevant figures I chiefly study, more solid evidence of hushed up theistic heterodoxy than secret atheism. I also see more public generic God words that could mean more than one thing to one person than blatant public lying.

So when Thomas Jefferson, as a public statesman, indeed as 3rd President of the United States, spoke publicly of "Providence," he could esoterically mean something unitary (in which he truly did devoutly, personally believe) that might convey "Triune" meaning to an orthodox listener who wished to "read that in." When Washington used "Providence" (his favorite God word), we really aren't sure what he meant; though I strongly suspect he meant something unitary.

The exoteric God words are generic. And the generic approach permits honesty of personal conviction. Such terms are compatible with secret heterodox esoteric meaning and a more orthodox meaning entrenched forces attempting to control public institutions might wish to read in.

Ezra Stiles, notable patriotic preacher of America's Founding era, President of Yale, and personal friend to many of America's "key Founders," was one of the few who later explicitly detailed his secret beliefs in "non-respectable" positions that could have earlier ruined his career and standing in "respectable" society.

It seems though, rather than beat around an esoteric bush, often times he just lied. In 1751, believed to be near death and from which he would recover, Stiles gave an orthodox confession to an orthodox confessor while later admitting that not only did he NOT believe Christianity was "divine" at that time, but had never told another human being of his secret "infidelity." Keep in mind, Stiles was an ordained minister [a licensed preacher] at this time.

Years later, still a [now an ordained] minister, Stiles eventually became a believer in the divinity of the Christian religion. As I understand, the "converted" Stiles was "orthodox," though he never completed shook his "freethinking" nature. For instance, till his death in 1795, Stiles remained an ardent supporter of the French Revolution, and rationalized the then apparent excesses of the reign of terror.

Stiles was a notable, perhaps even a "key" player during America's Founding era. Arguably, he typified the revolutionary-republican, "Whig" political thought and its theology. And his life -- his words and deeds -- makes us question whether that theology and thought meaningfully accords with or derives from traditional orthodox biblical Christianity at all.

Saturday, June 21, 2014

Brayton: "Beck: Barton is Exporting His Lies"

Confused? Get clarified by Ed Brayton and read about it here.

Update: Here is Warren Throckmorton on the matter.

Drinks: "5 Colonial-Era Drinks You Should Know"

Next time at a bar, see if your know it all bartender can make you any one of these. A taste (or a sip):
Colonel Ethan Allen certainly didn't require liquid courage, but a few nights before he and the Green Mountain Boys raided Fort Ticonderoga, that's just what he sought. This drink was a popular, bracing blend of hard cider and rum, and Allen and his men downed plenty of them in the days before their pre-dawn raid of May 1775.

Though Allen and his crew usually hung their caps 47 miles south at Bennington, Vermont's Catamount Tavern, their local in the days before the raid was Remington's Tavern in Castleton; its room must have roared with testosterone as 80+ armed ruffians drank in its chambers.

Want to drink like they did? It's easy. Drop two ounces of dark rum in a glass, then top with hard cider—preferably one with a touch of residual sweetness. For a modern touch, garnish with a lemon twist.

Thursday, June 19, 2014


From my friend Mary V. Thompson here. A must read! A taste:
Five years later the Washingtons faced another crisis when Oney ran away. ... 
Martha Washington seems to have been terribly upset by the loss of Oney, and her husband made several attempts over the next three years to recover the young woman. Washington’s efforts to contact her were successful and, at one point, she seems to have been willing to return to Mount Vernon. Negotiations broke down, however, when she made a suggestion which Washington found completely unacceptable. Oney sent word that she would come back and “serve with fidelity during the lives of the President & his Lady if she could be freed on their decease, should she outlive them; but that she should rather suffer death than return to Slavery & liable to be sold or given to any other persons.”[51] Washington responded:
To enter into such a compromise with her, as she suggested to you, is totally inadmissable, for reasons that must strike at first view: for however well disposed I might be to a gradual abolition, or even to an entire emancipation of that description of People (if the latter was in itself practicable at this moment) it would neither be politic or just to reward unfaithfulness with a premature preference; and thereby discontent before hand the minds of all her fellow-servants who by their steady attachments are far more deserving than herself of favor.[52]

Sunday, June 08, 2014

Matthew Stewart: "Nature's God: The Heretical Origins of the American Republic"

This is a book I'll have to put on my reading list. Here is the author's website. And below is from Amazon's site:
Not only the erudite Thomas Jefferson, the wily and elusive Ben Franklin, and the underappreciated Thomas Paine, but also Ethan Allen, the hero of the Green Mountain Boys, and Thomas Young, the forgotten Founder who kicked off the Boston Tea Party—these radicals who founded America set their sights on a revolution of the mind. Derided as “infidels” and “atheists” in their own time, they wanted to liberate us not just from one king but from the tyranny of supernatural religion.
Thomas Young. That's a name I know very little about!

The book's thesis seems to focus more the "deistic" side of the American Founding.

Ben Franklin and Thomas Jefferson were "key Founders" and not strict deists. Rather, they occupied that "in between" position, whatever you want to term it: "Christian-Deism," "theistic rationalism," small u "unitarianism" (as neither Franklin nor Jefferson were members of the Unitarian Church; both, rather, were affiliated with Trinitarian Churches in whose official creeds they did not believe).

The others were not "key Founders," but nonetheless notable.* Thomas Paine and Ethan Allen were closer to the "strict deist" side. And Thomas Young ... well I have no idea there ... yet.

*At least Allen and Paine were notable. Whether Young is notable, I have to be convinced.

Monday, June 02, 2014

Fea: "George Washington and Religious Freedom at the New 'Cornerstone' Blog"

John Fea gives us the details here. His post is here. It responds to Thomas Kidd's original. Also featuring Marci Hamilton, Mark Noll and Matthew Franck. A taste from Fea's post:
... To the Swedenborgian congregation in Baltimore, Washington wrote: “in this land truth and reason have triumphed over the power of bigotry and superstition and that every person may here worship God according to the dictates of his own heart.” To the Baptists of his home state of Virginia, Washington affirmed that the Constitution would never “endanger the religious rights of any ecclesiastical Society.” He let them know that he would never have signed the Constitution if it rendered “liberty of conscience insecure” or allowed the “horrors of spiritual tyranny, and every species of religious persecution.” 
Washington took several other steps designed to end religious persecution and enhance religious freedom. For example, amid much protest from Christian clergy, he appointed John Murray, the founder of Universalism, as a chaplain in the Continental Army. ...