Saturday, December 29, 2018

Waligore on Unitarians

Dr. Joseph Waligore is working on a new book that will tackle, among other things, some of the unitarians who influenced the American founding and who otherwise were influential in Great Britain during the times that interest the American Creation blog.

In the comments section he gave us a little taste:
The best known of the liberal Dissenters were the Unitarians, Christians who rejected the doctrine of the Trinity, and often thought Jesus was merely human. Many scholars of American religious history, such as Gregg L. Frazer and Paul Conklin, assert that the religious beliefs of John Adams and Thomas Jefferson mean they were Unitarians. Furthermore these scholars assert these presidents’ mentor was Joseph Priestley, the most important Unitarian theologian. Chapter seven explains in detail how Jefferson and Adams shared the English deists’ emphasis on God’s goodness and total fairness. The scholars who think Priestley was Jefferson and Adams’ mentor also think Priestley shared their emphasis on God’s total goodness. Frazer declares that Priestley stressed God “was, fundamentally, benevolent, . . . [he] rejected biblical accounts of God’s wrath and vengeance.” What Frazer and other scholars do not understand is how much Priestley was situated in the tradition of the liberal Dissenters, and shared their beliefs about the Bible, particularly their belief in the accuracy of the Old Testament. The scholars of American religious history share religion scholar Bruce K. Waltke’s mistaken idea of Priestley’s view of biblical authority. Waltke, in his book on Old Testament theology, claimed Priestley, like French skeptics such as Diderot and Voltaire, had a liberal outlook on the authority of the Bible. According to Waltke, liberals put reason above revelation and so detract from the authority of the Bible by making reason the foundation of theological reflection. For Waltke, this means liberals approach the Bible with the same skepticism they apply to other ancient Near Eastern myths. Waltke asserts liberals consider the Bible stories as the product of human mythopoetic imagination, and so he thought liberals gave no more credence to the Bible’s account of God’s intervention in human affairs than they do to other Near Eastern myths. 

Waltke is claiming that anyone who believes in reason must treat the Bible as a myth. But Priestley shared with other liberal Dissenters a belief that reason supported the authority of the Old Testament. Priestley’s views will be discussed in detail in chapter seven when his views are compared to those of John Adams and Thomas Jefferson’s. Priestley’s beliefs on biblical authority were very similar to those of John Taylor, another prominent liberal Dissenter. Taylor was a minister and scholar who eventually taught at Warrington Academy, the most eminent Dissenter college. In fact, when Taylor died in 1761, Priestley replaced him as professor at the academy.

Taylor believed the Bible was not the fully inspired Word of God. However, he thought the historical parts of the Bible were written by men fully acquainted with the facts; meaning that he accepted the Old Testament accounts as true historical facts of what actually happened before Jesus was born. Taylor believed in the Garden of Eden, Noah’s Flood, and the destruction of the Tower of Babel. To explain how Moses could have a reliable account of far earlier events without being inspired by God, Taylor pointed to the biblical claim that Hebrew patriarchs lived for many hundreds of years. So while there were 1,656 years from the creation to Noah’s Flood, Taylor believed Methuselah lived with Adam for 243 years and received from him an accurate account of creation and the Fall. Methuselah then passed that knowledge on to Noah who also lived many hundreds of years. Eventually other long-lived patriarchs passed the knowledge to each other until it was given to Moses. Taylor reasoned that three people, Methuselah, Shem, and Jacob “were sufficient to hand down the Knowledge and Worship of the true God, from Adam to the time when the Children of Israel went down into Egypt, that is, through the Space of 2238 Years.” Taylor reasoned God let these patriarchs live so long precisely because there was no other way to accurately pass down this knowledge before the invention of writing. 

With this belief about the reliability of the Old Testament, Taylor believed a race of impious giants once lived on Earth, as well as the whole world was once covered by Noah’s Flood. More pertinently, he also believed God ordered the total extermination of Israel’s neighbors, the Canaanites, cursed whole peoples, and chastised whole nations with plagues, fires, and locusts. The other liberal Dissenters, including the Unitarians, also believed the Old Testament God performed these actions.

Sunday, December 16, 2018

Lester Kinsolving, RIP

Here at American Creation we spend a lot of time examining religious boxes. How do they define and how ought a particular historical figure be placed? Into what box do they fit?

Someone like Lester Kinsolving demonstrates that people often don't fit so neatly into these boxes. Kinsolving, RIP was, politically, a right wing crack pot (sorry Brian, if you get to take a shot at AOC, I get to take a shot at Kinsolving).

He was also an Episcopalian priest and a devoted theological universalist in the tradition of Benjamin Rush, John Murray and Elhanan Winchester.

Saturday, December 08, 2018

Frazer on Locke v. Reformed Resisters as a Source

Gregg Frazer who has a new book out has been graciously participating in the comments at American Creation. I found this comment the most illuminating on a dispute that we have been engaged in for probably over a decade now.
"The facts" are that beginning with Elisha Williams in 1744, American preachers cited "the celebrated Lock," and Locke as "the noble Assertor of the Liberties of humane Nature." Peter Whitney cited "the great Mr. Locke" for his ideas; Samuel West (in his sermon that is second to that of Mayhew in terms of influence) identified "Mr. Locke" as the source of his ideas. Samuel Cooper said that the "principles and arguments" he was using were "grounded" in "the immortal writings" of Locke. John Tucker had an extensive quote from "Lock on civil Government" in the crucial part of his best-known sermon. 
[C]an [anyone] identify a single Patriot sermon that cites Calvin or Beza or "justifications of political resistance found within Reformed Protestantism." [A]s always, I'm open to such evidence. In Donald Lutz's acclaimed study of the influences on American Revolutionary thought, there is not a single Reformer in the list, but Locke is 3rd in terms of citations. Dreisbach's chapter on the Revolutionary sermons spends 18 pages on the 16th & 17th century Reformed guys and then 6 pages on actual American preachers -- almost exclusively Mayhew. He includes no citations by Patriot preachers of any of the Reformers he had introduced as the fundamental influences. Dreisbach is, of course, right that Mayhew does not cite Locke AND that he doesn't cite the Reformed guys either.  
So, whose arguments/principles are reflected in Mayhew's sermon? 
Mayhew's entire argument fits and flows perfectly from Lockean presuppositions and principles, but it includes elements completely foreign to the Reformers. Most notable of these is emphasis on a state of nature -- an idea anathema to Reformers who believed in the biblical record of the beginning of man and society as recorded in Genesis. 
Mayhew -- and the other Patriot preachers -- did not speak of "covenants" as did Knox et al, but rather of "contracts." They did not speak of "lesser magistrates" or of "interposition" or any of Beza's creative notions. Their arguments went right down the line of Lockean thought -- which is why Tucker seamlessly included extensive quotes from Locke in the middle of his sermon. Additionally, for his part, Calvin explicitly rejected any notion of rebellion -- as did Luther. So two of the most important and prominent voices of the Reformation were not even available to those who might have wanted to make Reformed arguments.  
Again, as I note in my first book ..., this is a primary reason that Mayhew's sermon was so influential. Those raised in Reformed churches and taught by Calvin to be subject to authority -- even tyrannical authority -- found in Mayhew a plausible excuse to rebel against an authority they found inconvenient or disagreeable. Mayhew's sermon was groundbreaking because it was new to those people -- not because it rehashed what they had already been taught. 
I think it's true that reformed resistance under law may well have softened up the congregants in America, making them more amenable to the arguments of Locke. But when we examine the sermons, it's Locke and not Rutherford et al. And, in a nuanced sense, Locke teaches something different from Beza et al. The difference between resistance under law and revolution.

Parts of the Declaration of Independence speak in the language of resistance under law; these are the parts where the Patriots made the claim that what Great Britain was doing violated British law. Other parts of the Declaration are revolutionary; those are the Lockean parts.

This is somewhat complicated. Locke was cited in sermons. These sermons understandably also cited the Bible. In Lutz's above mentioned study, Locke was cited during the period of time when the Bible was constantly being cited (the revolutionary period, the DOI). The later period when the Constitution was being framed and ratified, Lutz notes the biblical references dry up and it was more Enlightenment and other sources.

Yet I've also seen it argued (I think from Robert Kraynak) that references to Locke also start to dry up during the period of the Constitution's framing and ratifying. That those Enlightenment sources are non-Lockean. More Montesquieu than Locke.