Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Review of Gregg Frazer's New Book by Russell Kirk Center

Here is another thoughtful review of Dr. Gregg Frazer's book on loyalists and the American Revolution by the Russell Kirk Center. A taste:
Their methodology deserves notice because it reflected their view of scripture along with a broader set of intellectual assumptions. Boucher deplored Jonathan Mayhew’s Lockean spin on Romans 13 for replacing “unerring standards of right and wrong” with “loose and debauched opinions.” Samuel Seabury condemned those who “have warped and forced particular expressions of the scriptures to make them comport with their own preconceived opinions.” Those rhetorical gambits, he said, deployed scripture to uphold positions that it could not support when seen by “a candid, unprejudiced mind.” 
Scripture enjoined obedience to civil powers, which St. Paul in Romans 13 describes as ordained of God. Other passages of scripture Loyalists invoked backed this view. If even the most vile tyrants like Nero deserved obedience, how could it be just to resist George III? Biblical references to liberty, Boucher insisted, meant freedom from sin rather than political or civil liberty. Indeed, war and the sufferings it brought marked God’s judgment on a sinful people. Loyalists calling their fellow Americans to repent faced resistance as Old Testament prophets had done for calling Israelites to account during their suffering. Eschewing armed resistance for submission to Patriot authorities or flight from their homes and property to safety in British lines, Loyalist clergy practiced what they preached.

Monday, December 30, 2019

Review of Gregg Frazer's New Book

I just ran across this thoughtful review of Gregg Frazer's new book on loyalists and the American revolution. A taste, quoting from Frazer's book:
It is perhaps symbolic, but also instructive, to recognize that ... the motto of resistance theology was the nonbiblical phrase "Rebellion to Tyrants is Obedience to God." In contrast, the catchphrase of the Loyalist ministers was "Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers" - the direct text of Romans 13:1 (p.38).
Expect more from Frazer and perhaps Mark David Hall later this week. 

Thursday, December 26, 2019

Throckmorton: "Does Romans 13 Support the Case for Keeping Trump?"

Warren Throckmorton links to an American Creation post on the matter. Back from 2008!

UPDATE: This post at American Creation blog is a nice summary of Calvinist views of Romans 13. Gregg Frazer, Dean of The Master’s University and historian of the founding era wrote to address Calvin’s perspective on political rebellion. In short, without some governmental sanction for resistance (e.g., impeachment), Christians should not rebel. However, impeachment and removal is built in to the Constitution and therefore legitimate. Christians should not appeal to Romans 13 as a reason to oppose impeachment.
My position is that Dr. Frazer's case is an airtight interpretation of Romans 13; but there is more than one way to skin a cat.

Saturday, December 21, 2019

Tillman: "A Religious Test in America?"

As usual, Seth Barrett Tillman uncovers some very interesting details in his research. From the abstract:
During 1776, but prior to announcing the Declaration of Independence, the Continental Congress instructed the state legislatures to call conventions to draft constitutions to regularize their local state governments so that each could be administered in the name of the People and absent royal governors and royal officers. North Carolina heeded the revolutionary call—in 1776, it implemented a new constitution with a bill of rights. One interesting feature of the 1776 North Carolina Constitution was that Article 32 imposed a religious test against non-Protestants. Article 32 stated: 
That no person, who shall deny the being of God or the truth of the Protestant religion, or the divine authority either of the Old or New Testaments, or who shall hold religious principles incompatible with the freedom and safety of the State, shall be capable of holding any office or place of trust or profit in the civil department within this State. 
This particular provision would remain on the books, and largely unenforced, until North Carolina revisited this issue in the 1835 North Carolina Constitutional Convention (which drafted amendments to the 1776 North Carolina Constitution which were subsequently ratified by the People). Still, in 1809, there was one apparent attempt to enforce the religious test provision. Jacob Henry had qualified for a second, annual term in North Carolina’s lower legislative house: the House of Commons. Henry was Jewish. On December 5, 1809, another member put forward a motion to declare Henry’s seat vacant based on the 1776 North Carolina Constitution’s religious test. The next day, the Commons adjudicated the motion, and it failed. Henry kept his seat.

Saturday, December 14, 2019

Frazer and Fortenberry's Latests on Romans 13

Both Dr. Gregg Frazer and Bill Fortenberry are evangelical Protestants of the fundamentalist stripe. And one thing such Protestants are good at is disagreeing with one another. With that, check out the links -- audio lectures -- to their most recent comments on Romans 13 and the acceptability of rebelling against government under any circumstances.

Here is Gregg's. Here is Bill's.

Sunday, December 08, 2019

George Washington & Voltaire

That pic of George Washington is from the "Voltaire" medal. Supposedly, Voltaire really liked Washington so much, he help to create a medal of Washington's likeness.

That's a story in itself that this post won't go into (I myself need to learn more about it). I haven't seen much else to connect Washington to the "deist" Voltaire. Though Tom Van Dyke's post on Voltaire reminds me of one quotation of Washington's that sounds quite "Voltaire like."

As Voltaire said:
This is the country of sects. An Englishman, as a free man, goes to Heaven by whatever road he pleases.

And George Washington writing to his French friend, Marquis de Lafayette:

Being no bigot myself to any mode of worship, I am disposed to endulge the professors of Christianity in the church, that road to heaven which to them shall seem the most direct plainest easiest and least liable to exception.

This kind of makes Washington sound like an outsider to the faith, which perhaps he was. But, nonetheless, such a sentiment perfectly captures America's ideal of pluralism and non-sectarianism.

Saturday, November 30, 2019

The Siamese Twin Thesis of the Religion Clauses

The Law and Liberty site has another piece on the Establishment Clause and the doctrine of incorporation. This article is by James R. Rogers and treads much old ground. A taste:
... The Court’s decision to incorporate the Establishment Clause was subject to scholarly criticism early on. The debate over the appropriateness of incorporating the Establishment clause revived in the early 2000s as a result of a series of concurring opinions by Justice Thomas.
The criticism of incorporating the Establishment Clause of the U.S. national Constitution and applying it to restrict state governments via the liberty guarantee of the Fourteenth Amendment arose because incorporation is based on a fundamental misreading of the Establishment Clause, and a misunderstanding of the nature of religious establishments. Justice Clarence Thomas initially questioned the application of the Establishment Clause to the states in the 2002 case of Zelman v. Simmons-Harris. He wrote that the Clause “originally protected States, and by extension, their citizens, from the imposition of an established religion by the Federal government.” He added: “Whether and how this Clause should constrain state action under the Fourteenth Amendment is a more difficult question.”
Thomas pushed further in 2004 in a concurring opinion in Elk Grove Unified School District v. Newdow, “I would take this opportunity to begin the process of rethinking the Establishment Clause . . . the Establishment Clause is a federalism provision, which, for this reason, resists incorporation.” He reasserted his position a year later in Van Orden v. Perry, observing that “the Establishment Clause is best understood as a federalism provision—it protects state establishments from federal interference but does not protect any individual right.”
The Establishment Clause serves two purposes: it both prohibits Congress from Establishing a religion but it also prohibits Congress from meddling with state religious establishments.
Thomas followed and cited some notable scholars (not all of them conservative, for instance Akhil Amar) in the academy for the proposition that, as a federalism provision, the Establishment Clause resists incorporation. I think the argument is strong, but not quite airtight, for reasons I explain below.

In the comments, Dr. Ellis West chimed in:
The historical evidence simply does not support Prof. Rogers and Justice Thomas’ states’ rights interpretation of the establishment clause. See Ellis M. West, THE RELIGION CLAUSES OF THE FIRST AMENDMENT: GUARANTEES OF STATES’ RIGHTS? (2011), and reviewers unanimously accepted the book’s findings. Rogers’ interpretation is also based on the erroneous assumption, unfortunately perpetrated and maintained by the Supreme Court, that the establishment and free exercise clauses have different meanings. For the evidence that they were simply two different ways of saying the same thing, see Ellis M. West, THE FREE EXERCISE OF RELIGION IN AMERICA: ITS ORIGINAL CONSTITUTIONAL MEANING (2019).
While I look forward to reading Dr. West's book, I am not convinced, yet at least, the two different clauses are "simply two different ways of saying the same thing." But I do believe there is something special about the two clauses that resists separating them.

And this is exactly what happens when the Free Exercise Clause gets incorporated to apply to state and local governments, but the Establishment Clause, because it's a federalism provision, does not. Interestingly, it was Professor Philip Hamburger who gave me this epiphany. Now, Hamburger does not think the Establishment Clause ought to incorporate; but rejects the doctrine of incorporation altogether.

So Hamburger's position is consistent. If the two clauses ought to rise and fall together because they can't be separated, his view is they fall together because nothing incorporates.

You might call this insight the "Siamese twin" thesis of the First Amendment's religion clause. When Hamburger explained it, he didn't use the Siamese twin analogy (I think you can attribute that to me), but rather invoked Wittgenstein. It was from a discussion Hamburger was having with fellow scholars of the religion clauses and he noted there were some Supreme Court cases where certain forces were advocating the term "religion" have one meaning for Free Exercise purposes, but another meaning for Establishment Clause purposes.

Hamburger noted from a linguistic perspective (I think that's when he appealed to Wittgenstein) such is a logical impossibility because even though they are two separate clauses, they use the term "religion" only once! The term "religion" is used in the Establishment Clause, but "thereof" in the Free Exercise Clause that relates back to the term in the Establishment Clause. That's why we  call them "clauses"; they are part of the same sentence.

It's like two Siamese twins who share the same heart.

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

Hall: "A Nuanced Report Card on Religious Liberty"

From Mark David Hall, writing at the Law and Liberty site. Dr. Hall reviews Steven Waldman's new book on religious liberty, which I hope to say more about later. But in the meantime, from Hall:
Steven Waldman has produced an excellent overview of the development of religious liberty in the United States. It is well-written, as one would expect of a journalist (the Beliefnet.com founder is a veteran of Newsweek, among other publications), but also well-researched and reasonably nuanced. Experts on particular eras or subjects will find details about which they can justly complain, but on the whole, Sacred Liberty: America’s Long, Bloody, and Ongoing Struggle for Religious Freedom deserves high marks. 
Just one of the book’s 18 chapters is devoted to the early colonies. Waldman overstates the extent to which Puritans enforced repressive laws with “sadistic enthusiasm.” Yet he is certainly correct that no colony—not even Rhode Island or Pennsylvania—embraced a modern, liberal conception of religious freedom. 
America’s Founders rejected Old World approaches to church-state relations. They shared a commitment to protecting religious liberty, and many Founders were coming to question the efficacy of religious establishments. These views contributed to the adoption of a constitution that banned religious tests for federal offices, and to the crafting of a First Amendment that says, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”

Saturday, November 23, 2019

Sandefur on Thompson's New Book

At National Review, Timothy Sandefur reviews C. Bradley Thompson new book which seems destined to be a classic. A taste:
Thompson’s presentation is valuable because it helps correct modern mischaracterizations of the revolutionaries’ natural-law theories and shows just how rigorous and thorough their thinking was. His exploration of such questions as the relationship between natural rights and natural law, and between Lockean thought and the republican theories that the Founders drew from the ancient Romans, does justice to the ingenuity and depth of Revolutionary-era thinking.  
In fact, America’s Revolutionary Mind stands as a refutation of two noxious trends in recent American historiography. The first, which Thompson mentions only briefly in a few endnotes, is the effort to downplay the impact of Locke’s ideas on the Founding Fathers. Scholars of the “classical republican” persuasion have argued that, important as Locke may have been, American revolutionaries were more influenced by Greek, Roman, and Puritan writers who placed less emphasis on the rights of the individual than on the stability of society, the importance of tradition, and the need to sacrifice for the common good. Thompson, by contrast, argues that “America’s revolutionary mind is virtually synonymous with John Locke’s mind” and backs that argument up with an arsenal of examples.  
While the Founders certainly consulted the writings of such classical thinkers as Aristotle and Cicero, Thompson argues that they modified the ancients’ republicanism in light of their Lockean commitment to liberty: “For traditional republicans going back to ancient Greece and Rome, the sacrifice of individual interests for the common good was the ultimate standard of moral and political value,” he writes. But thanks to the influence of now-forgotten intellectuals such as Massachusetts minister Jonathan Mayhew, who wove Lockean theory together with Christian doctrine, the Founders adopted “a new and improved understanding of republicanism” that focused on what the Declaration calls “happiness and safety,” the twin pillars of the bourgeois commercial republic.

Thursday, November 07, 2019

A lesson on how not to write an article

So on social media, I am friends with David Boaz, an author and executive who works for the Cato Institute. He posted a link to an article about Thomas Jefferson and the Declaration of Independence that was critical of himself.

The author is one Robert Curry and the article appeared at The Federalist. Long story short, Boaz supposedly engaged in a mistake that is all too common among academics who study the American founding: he said Jefferson et al. took from Locke's 2nd Treatise and put such into the Declaration. And simply credits Locke for those ideas.

But when we read the article, we observe no "there there." Curry invokes a distinction between what Jefferson wrote in the Declaration and what Locke wrote in the 2nd Treatise but fails to tell us why the distinction is meaningful.

Curry notes that it has something to do with Jefferson's use of the term "unalienable" that was lacking in Locke's original which stressed "property." And how property was missing from the Declaration.  Rather it was replaced with "pursuit of happiness." But again, no clear explication of why the differences makes a difference.

But here is the strange thing; The Federalist article makes Curry look like an ignorant pedant. But he's actually not. When I googled him, I saw that fairly notable, informed people were supporting Curry's work and that he was affiliated with organizations, notably Claremont, with informed folks who do good work.

Indeed, Claremont published a longer article of Curry's which actually gets into better details on his thesis. Curry may still be wrong and I do think he uses too many words to make his point; but indeed there is a "there there" to his thesis.

You are just going to have to read the Claremont article to find out. And perhaps we can blame the editors at The Federalist for their weaker article.

Thursday, October 31, 2019

Warren Throckmorton: "Rick Joyner: Everything in the Constitution Comes from the Bible"

Check it out here. A taste:
For years, David Barton has promoted the false notion that everything in the Constitution comes from the BibleTwo summers ago, I read James Madison’s entire notes on the Constitutional Convention looking for the elusive biblical roots of the Constitution only to come up empty.  
Now self-appointed prophet Rick Joyner has taken up this message. ...
... As noted, I read through the notes on the entire Constitutional Convention looking for the biblical influences on the Constitution. Surely, if the framers meant for the Bible to be the foundation of the Constitution, they would have cited it in their debates. Even if they didn’t use chapter and verse, there would have to be some reference to phrases from the Bible for these claims to be true. In fact, there were few references to the Bible or Christianity. There were far more references to Greek and Roman democracies, prior governments, British law and common sense. For the hearty souls who wish to take that same journey, I humbly recommend the series and the endeavor to read Madison’s notes on the 1787 convention. 

Wednesday, October 30, 2019

Law & Liberty: Founding Deists and Other Unicorns

More from Law & Liberty on Mark David Hall's new book. A taste:
We need to know what the word plethora means before we can say we have a plethora of piñatas. So, too, we cannot consider whether or not America had a Christian founding without having an idea of what the phrase Christian founding actually means. At the start of Did America Have a Christian Founding?, Mark David Hall rightly analyzes the question his book asks. What determines whether or not America had a Christian founding? Hall considers a variety of options. Did the members of the founding generation identify themselves as Christians? Almost everyone did, with the exception of about two thousand Jews. But that doesn’t tell us much. People can be bad believers, or they can be good Christians self-consciously founding a secular regime. Sincerity of belief can be difficult to judge. Appealing to people’s practices only gives us a partial view. And there’s a theological issue, too. At what point does a historical figure become a non-Christian due to his privately held unorthodox beliefs, even if he publicly identifies himself as a Christian?

Sunday, October 27, 2019

Hall: "How Old Does a Monument Need to Be?"

From friend of American Creation, Mark David Hall, writing at the Law and Liberty site. As it concludes:
As I show in my recently published Did America Have a Christian Founding?an originalist understanding of the Establishment Clause does not require governments to scrub religion from public spaces.  The erection of building and monuments containing religious language, images, and symbols is, to borrow from Chief Justices Warren Burger’s opinion in Marsh v. Chambers, “deeply embedded in the history and tradition of this country.”  When buildings and monuments are erected should not be, from an Establishment Clause perspective, decisive. 
Civic friendship and prudence should inform decisions about the use of religious symbols today.  America is far more diverse than it was 100 years ago, so it would be inappropriate for a government to erect a massive cross to honor U.S. military members from different faiths. On the other hand, it is both constitutional and fitting to include crosses, stars of David, and other religious symbols in the 9/11 Memorial. The Establishment Clause does not require a religion-free public square, no matter how many times the Freedom From Religion Foundation insists that it does.
Also check out the dialog between Dr. Hall and Dr. Ellis West in the comments.

Saturday, October 12, 2019

Thomas Jefferson and Antilegomena

There is a Catholic fundamentalist writer named Timothy Gordon who has a book out that explores the intellectual heritage of America's founding and Roman Catholicism. It's done from the perspective that seeks to credit Roman Catholicism for many of the good ideas that we see in America's founding.

(He has an open invitation to plug his work at American Creation.)

I have seen Mr. Gordon accurately (in my opinion) use the terms "Protestant" and "Enlightenment" together where Protestantism precedes Enlightenment. As a term: "Prot-Enlightenment." From an historical perspectives, the thought movements are associated with various periods of time. You have in this order: Renaissance, Reformation (Protestant), Enlightenment.

And the political theology of the American founding was a nice "fit" somewhere between "Protestantism" and "Enlightenment." Hence we have David Holmes terming the theology "Christian-Deism." And Gregg Frazer, "theistic rationalism," which is a hybrid midpoint between Protestant Christianity and strict Deism.

With Protestantism, all individual believers were priests who could read the Bible and decide for themselves how to understand it. With Enlightenment, they could go further than the initial reformers did and continue to disregard ground the original reformers and Roman Catholics have in common, like the Trinity, Incarnation and other doctrines.

The reformers and Catholics dispute which books of the Bible themselves are inspired. The Catholic Bible has 73 books, the Protestant 66. There is tremendously complex history on how the Bible came to be and why Protestants and Catholics differ. The Catholics call the seven disputed books "deuterocanonicals," the Protestants call them "Apocrypha."

Those disputed books are part of the Old Testament. Catholics and the reformers agree on the 27 books that make up the New. But even in compiling the books of the New, there was debate and dispute. Just as there were disputed books of the Old, so too with the New. They call disputed New Testament books Antilegomena.

From the Wiki link:
The antilegomena or "disputed writings" were widely read in the Early Church and included the Epistle of James, the Epistle of Jude2 Peter2 and 3 John, the Book of Revelation, the Gospel of the Hebrews, the Epistle to the Hebrews, the Apocalypse of Peter, the Acts of Paul, the Shepherd of Hermas, the Epistle of Barnabas and the Didache.[2][3] 
During the period of Enlightenment, theological unitarianism became en vogue among some liberal theologians. But that's not a new idea. It goes back all the way to Arius and the Council of Nicea. Likewise, when Thomas Jefferson read books in the canon like the Book of Revelation and concluded it wasn't inspired, this had been done before with the Antilegomena.

But Jefferson did, seemingly, go beyond mere "dispute." As he put it:
[I]t is between 50. and 60. years since I read it, & I then considered it as merely the ravings of a Maniac, no more worthy, nor capable of explanation than the incoherences of our own nightly dreams.
Though, I have seen some "orthodox" believers criticize and reject books of the deuterocanonicals in a similarly harsh manner.

Sunday, September 22, 2019

Hall v Seidel on "Christian Founding"

Mark David Hall v. Andrew Seidel on whether America had a "Christian founding." Check it out here.

Great video debate.

Saturday, September 21, 2019

Facebook Thread on Biblical Forms of Government

The thread comes from a religious discussion group. If Facebook lets you view it, the thread is found here. It's useful, in my opinion, on the issue of Americanism and the universality of liberal democracy (that is the notion that it is the only viable form of government).

  • Patrik Fridén Why is liberal democracy preferable? Monarchy is the only divinely inspired governmental model.
  • Jon Rowe Patrik Fridén: You are probably right. It's just I am a liberal democrat (small l and d).
  • Patrik Fridén Jon Rowe Monarchy just didn't reform itself enough and in time to keep the liberal masonic revolutionaries at bay.
    It should have become more Meritocratic and Technocratic and less Dynastic.
  • Jon Rowe Patrik Fridén: If we established the kind of monarchy that you desire, who would the monarch(s) be?
  • Patrik Fridén Jon Rowe It's impossible to tell at this moment. There are more factors involved, like who would lead such a revolt against the modern world? Initially it would be the leaders of such a movement that would take the helm, in order to establish the system of succession after their passing. Loyalty and morals somehow needs to be possible to measure as well, with the state-of-the-art scientific methods available. To me it would just be very important that such a regime would have councils of clergy and STEM-scientists as the highest bodies of power to appoint the Monarch. And that the Monarch is Catholic, or at least Christian.
  • Jon Rowe So I take it the Trump family would not do, unless they converted to a kind of Catholic Christianity?
  • Máire McGoldrick Patrik Fridén Is it? The Israelites were only given a king because they insisted on one, the government given to them by God was judges, not kings, and time and again in the bible the Kinds muck things up.
  • Patrik Fridén Jon Rowe Trump is very unsuitable for multiple reasons. Also, I am not American, nor am I in favor of continuing that republican experiment.
    If such a government comes it would be as the head of a Christian Imperium that spans many Western and Latin countries.

    Máire McGoldrick, God's Kingdom is still a Kingdom. Because it is the divine model of government.
  • Máire McGoldrick Patrik Fridén It is the model for God not for humankind, God is the king and there was and is nothing divine about us setting up kings.
  • Patrik Fridén Máire McGoldrick Yet, Jesus came from the line of David...
  • Máire McGoldrick Patrik Fridén He did, and he is the King but that doesn't mean that having kinds is the governance that God intended for humans, as I've pointed out they were only appointed because the Israelites wanted to copy all the local groups around them.
  • Patrik Fridén Máire McGoldrick And the Temple was not ordained by God, yet Jesus respected it as the House of His Father, even though it was an invention of David.
    Your point being?

    What makes liberal democracy or republics more godly? They are completely pagan inventions and the masons set them up as carbon copies of the pagan originals, which is why Washington DC is filled with pagan aesthetics.

    The only example of democracy in the Bible was when the Jews shouted "Barabbas!"
  • Máire McGoldrick Patrik Fridén The Temple was ordained by God - which is why it was respected by our Lord but then he became the living temple and the Veil of the Temple was rent asunder showing that God was no longer there - and your point was?

    You may be enamoured 
    by kingship, I am not, but please don't try to pretend that kingship is the only form that God has commanded, as I have pointed out the Israelites were NOT given kings until they wanted to copy the nations living around them - it was not God's divine plan for them to have kings.
  • Patrik Fridén It was David who wanted to build the Temple.
    And even if you go by the system of Judges, Prophets and Priests, it was not a republic or a liberal democracy. It was a Theocracy, which I am also in favor of.
  • Patrik Fridén The first Kings were anointed and appointed by clergy, just like I described how I want it.
  • Jon Rowe Patrik if you want an honest opinion from a classically liberal democrat (I'm a libertarian), your case would be stronger if you dropped the freemason part. Yes, of course you can demonstrate a connection between the freemasons and liberal democracy. But anything that ranks of conspiracy theory makes your case appear weaker.
  • Patrik Fridén Jon Rowe As a Catholic interested in history, it would be dishonest of me to leave out the Masonic element and hidden hand behind the "enlightenment" and the liberal revolutions. Even the Bolsheviks had that connection.
  • Jon Rowe "They are completely pagan inventions and the masons set them up as carbon copies of the pagan originals, which is why Washington DC is filled with pagan aesthetics."

    It's true they are pagan inventions. And yes, the architecture of DC is filled with 
    pagan aesthetics. They did not however, set the republics up as "carbon copies" of the originals. There were meaningful differences that accumulated in the 1800 years since antiquity.

    There is also the concept of noble paganism. If you are a Catholic, Aristotle's teachings were incorporated into the Church's.

    It's true many key Founders were Freemasons. But they were not all Freemasons. And I think the important thing is they saw masonry as benign and consistent with Christianity.

    There is little evidence of a nefarious freemasonic conspiracy behind the American founding.

On the last point I made let me note here: yes, America's founders thought something like the freemasonry with which some of them were involved was consistent and compatible with the "Christianity" they supported (or otherwise believed in). I don't make a judgment one way or the other. The "Whig history" that they promoted held that all of these various ideological sources which influenced them were consistent with one another. As Bernard Bailyn and others have shown, that might not be the case.