Sunday, July 28, 2019

Sekulow, et al. on Story's Unitarian Political Theology

Jay Alan Sekulow is currently one of the most important attorneys in nation (he's one of POTUS's key personal attorneys). In 2005, along with Jeremy Tedesco he wrote a law review article which essentially argues Joseph Story's Unitarian political theology drove the decision of Vidal v. Girard's Executors. A taste:
Joseph Story himself defined and defended his Unitarian beliefs in an 1824 letter to Attorney William Williams. In this letter, Story discussed the Unitarian beliefs that he developed:
The Unitarians are universally steadfast, sincere, and earnest Christians. They all believe in the divine mission of Christ, the credibility and authenticity of the Bible, the miracles wrought by our Saviour and his apostles, and the efficacy of his precepts to lead men to salvation. They consider the Scriptures the true rule of faith, and the sure foundation of immortality.
In his letter to Williams, Justice Story also clearly and unequivocally pointed to the primary theological difference between Unitarians and other Christian denominations: "In truth, they principally differ from other Christians in disbelieving the Trinity, for they think Christ was not God, but in Scripture language 'the Son of God.""
William Story later described his father's conversion at Harvard as being inspired, in part, by the beauty of the Cambridge countryside as opposed to the "sterile rocks and moaning sea of Marblehead."' Walking through the "flower-strewn fields, his heart assumed its natural hue of cheerfulness, and he no longer believed in the total depravity of man." Seeing the goodness of God displayed in creation, Story became convinced of divine beneficence. "And from being a Calvinist, he became a Unitarian."

Story's new religion seemingly recognized that no teaching could be heretical. He rejected any notion of bigotry or even proselytism. Instead, he
gladly allowed every one freedom of belief, and claimed only that it should be a genuine conviction and not a mere theologic opinion, considering the true faith of every man to be the necessary exponent of his nature, and honoring a religious life more than a formal creed. He admitted within the pale of salvation Mahommedan and Christian, Catholic and Infidel. He believed that whatever is sincere and honest is recognized of God; - that as the views of any sect are but human opinion, susceptible of error on every side, it behooves all men to be on their guard against arrogance of belief; and that in the sight of God it is not the truth or falsity of our views, but the spirit in which we believe, which alone is of vital consequence.
Keep the above in mind when we hear, as was referenced in the article, that Story believed Christianity was part of the common law. The above is what Christianity meant to Story. Sekulow et al. then demonstrates how Story's personal theology drove his legal opinions.

Saturday, July 20, 2019

Hamburger on Liberalism as Armed Doctrine

Check out the podcast from the Law & Liberty site. Here is Hamburger's book.

My brief thoughts:

I don't always agree with Professor Hamburger, but he's always worth reading.

One of the things that strikes me while listening to the podcast is what Hamburger refers to as "theological liberalism" has some meaningful connection with the concept of "primitive Christianity." And that term was invoked quite a bit during America's founding era.

A lot of academics and ordinary folks are under the misconception that 18th Cen. "theological liberalism" must mean something like strict deism. It's actually a much broader concept. The Unitarianism for instance of William Channing (who was an Arian) who Hamburger mentions in the podcast is a more typical theology.

Hamburger then notes much of theological liberalism defined itself in opposition to ecclesiastical authority, with the Roman Catholic Church being arguably the greatest "offender" against which to guard.

However, ecclesiastical, clerical and creedal orthodox Protestantism is also viewed with suspicion. High Church Anglicanism, which is Tory, is probably the 2nd biggest religious threat to the theological liberalism of the American founding.

But other kinds of Protestantism too would qualify. The idea of "primitive Christianity" is that Christianity was pure before an organized, ecclesiastical hierarchy took over and corrupted the faith sometime early on (like in the 4th Century).

Yes, Catholicism would be the main target. However it's not ONLY Catholicism; it's also many different kinds of Protestantism as well. Arguably it's all of orthodox creedal Protestantism that offends as well. This is why the theological liberals tended to like the Quakers, even if the liberals were Whigs and disagreed with the Quakers' refusal to take up arms.

Thursday, July 04, 2019

Seaton on God in the Declaration

Law and Liberty has another great one just in time for this July 4 season. It even mentions our friend Dr. Gregg Frazer's work. A taste:
To begin with the obvious: God is present in the Declaration. He is mentioned or referred to four times. He is presented as Creator, Legislator, Provident, and Judge. Men are created equal, Nature is lawful, and both are connected with God and his activity—precisely the activities of creating and legislating. These two features occur at the beginning of the document. The other two show up near the end. As scholarship has shown, the last two references were added to Jefferson’s draft by the Continental Congress. They have the effect of “beefing up” the portrait of the divine. Providence is protective and can be relied upon, the Supreme Judge scrutinizes human activity “the world” over and penetrates to the “intentions” of agents.[2] 
Gregg Frazer has called this theological package “theistic rationalism.” Theistic rationalism is halfway between the clockwork god of deism and the Christian orthodoxy of the day; its lodestar is Reason, not Scripture, creed, or tradition. It is a rationalistic religious faith tailored to classical liberal politics, one held by a number of founders, including. 
There is a good deal in the document to support this characterization. The Declaration’s deity is very much a political animal. His concern, his norms, bear upon men in political community, not in ecclesial communion. Nor is it just any sort of political community he favors, but one that explicitly acknowledges the Creator’s equal endowment of inalienable rights and is properly established to protect them. 
A political animal, the Declaration’s God also favors human liberty. He has created his human creature free and independent, for political and civil freedom. This helps account for the paradox that the signers of the Declaration expressly rely on Providence and the Declaration is a call to strenuous human action, revolutionary action in fact. The reconciliation is found in the fact that revolution is for freedom and independence, the known will of the Creator. God-given and God-willed, freedom must be humanly exercised, defended, and established. In this sense, this is an early form of liberation theology, a sober form, to be sure.

Wednesday, July 03, 2019

Den Hartog Reviews Frazer's Latest

Linked is a timely review by Jonathan Den Hartog of Gregg Frazer's latest documenting the loyalists' political theology in the American Revolution. A taste:
Although Samuel Seabury might not be a household name, fans of the musical Hamilton should be able to identify him. In the first act, a foppish clergyman enters to strains of harpsichord music to announce, “My name is Samuel Seabury, and I present free thoughts on the proceedings of the Continental Congress.” Our hero Alexander Hamilton then appears, and delivers a rap over poor Seabury’s objections, symbolizing the triumph of revolutionary ideas over archaic ones.   
The real Samuel Seabury (1729-1796) was an articulate New York Loyalist who wrote pamphlets such as Free Thoughts, on the Proceedings of the Continental Congress. To avoid attacks, Seabury signed them “A Westchester Farmer.” One of Hamilton’s earliest public pieces was an attack on Seabury called The Farmer Refuted. 
Students of American history (whether or not they have been to the musical theater) who want to learn more about Seabury and his Loyalist brethren have a fine new resource. It is Gregg Frazer’s God against the Revolution: The Loyalist Clergy’s Case against the American Revolution. In fact there has been a resurgence of writing about the Loyalists in recent years. Studies by Maya Jasanoff and Ruma Chopra have done much to situate Loyalists in the revolutionary moment. Frazer adds to this literature with a very specific goal: He wants to present, in a clear and logical way, the arguments made by Loyalist clergy. This affects the book’s organization. Chapters develop not chronologically but according to Frazer’s organization of the Loyalists’ arguments. He aims to let these speak for themselves as much as possible.