Saturday, June 24, 2017

Public Discourse: "The Closing of the American Mind Thirty Years Later: A Symposium"

From the Public Discourse here. A taste:
Peter Lawler, one of America’s most insightful critics of popular culture, will treat Part One: Students, which includes some of Bloom’s most controversial arguments on subjects like rock music, the sexual revolution, feminism, and divorce. Michael Platt, author of an influential review of Closing and important essays on both Shakespeare and Nietzsche, will discuss Part Two: Nihilism, American Style. Paul Rahe will analyze Part Three: The University. Rahe, a distinguished intellectual historian, was a student of Bloom’s at Cornell University during the campus protests that Bloom narrates in this section. Those same protests caused Bloom to leave Cornell for the University of Toronto and Rahe to transfer to Yale University. Finally, Jon Fennell, accomplished philosopher of education, the driving force behind the establishment of the Classical Education program at Hillsdale College, and author of another early essay on Bloom and education, will write a summary and critique of the symposium.
This was the last piece Peter Lawler wrote before he died.  Allan Bloom, contra Lawler, did not think that America had an accidentally Thomistic Founding. Rather after Leo Strauss, Bloom thought America's Founding was Lockean (modern). And there was an accidental or esoteric influence that undergirded Locke; but it was a different Thomas. Hobbes not Aquinas.

In the above linked piece, Nathan Schlueter observes the contentiousness of Bloom's many theses. Another taste:
Like a great book, The Closing of the American Mind sparks intense disagreements. Is Bloom’s description of the principles of the American Founding accurate? Does he caricature the flat souls of his students? Do philosophical ideas really have the power he attributes to them? Is his genealogy of ideas accurate? How does he understand the relationship between philosophy and morality? What does nature teach about the moral life? Can the restoration of a Great Books education in the university really be the remedy for the crisis of the West?

Friday, June 23, 2017

More From Kidd on His Book on Franklin's Creed

This one has a video embedded. See here. A taste:
Thomas Kidd, distinguished professor of history and associate director of the Institute for Studies of Religion at Baylor University, has published a major new biography, Benjamin Franklin: The Religious Life of a Founding Father (Yale University Press, 2017).
I sat down with my co-blogger for TGC’s Evangelical History blog and picked his brain on Franklin, his evangelical sister, the type of Christian Deist he was, and whether there was a deathbed conversion. Below the video you’ll find a timestamp map to our half-hour conversation.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

George Washington & Thomas Jefferson Jointly Author Statement ...

Claiming that they don't just worship the same God as Muslims but that both "Adore" the same God. 

I was going to say they both claimed that Christians and Muslims worship and adore the same God, but that might be taken to mean that both Washington and Jefferson were "Christians," which we know, after examining the evidence and arguments for over the decade, is quite contentious.

So our American Creation co-blogger Pastor Tubbs claims the notion that Christians and Muslims don't worship the same God is "basic Christian doctrine." As I told him in the comments, I respect his position and think it's an entirely defensible argument for a traditional Christian believer to make. However, I do question just how "basic" this position is to "Christian doctrine."

There are plenty of traditionally minded small o orthodox Christians who believe Jews, Christians and Muslims worship the same God, just as there are plenty who support Pastor Tubbs' position.

America's key Founders -- the first four Presidents, Ben Franklin and a few others -- however, were firmly in the camp of believing Jews, Christians and Muslims did in fact worship the same God. Others too, unconverted Native Americans, pagan Greco-Romans and Hindus worshipped the same God as Christians.

This has been used as an argument AGAINST the "Christian America" thesis.

The theory of "natural religion" which America's key Founders endorsed held that men of all religions worshipped the same God whose existence could be detected from reason alone. And they strained to find monotheistic God worship in the what we might term polytheistic religions. Traditional Hinduism, Zeus worship was still "worshipping the same one true God" as Christians worship, but with those others, getting the details a bit wrong.

How is that possible? For one, the lines between and among monotheism, polytheism and henotheism aren't so easy to draw. The Bible doesn't speak of "One God" who is clearly distinct from everything else, but rather of a divine family with (arguably) One Chief. A Sky Father. Or Yoo Pater (Jupiter).

If there are, as the orthodox Trinitarians understand, a divine Three who are equally in charge, such has vexed much of the non-orthodox (and those trying to be orthodox) Christian world since the beginning. Worshipping a divine Three, to the Jew, Muslim and unitarian Christian raises the specter of polytheism.

After doing much meticulous research, I do not believe George Washington was an orthodox Trinitarian Christian. I do believe he was a theist who believed in an active personal God. And GW greatly supported the institution of "religion" generally (and "Christianity" as a particular of that genus).

Still, I understand, the smoking guns proving that Washington was in the personal religious belief camp of Franklin, Jefferson, and J. Adams aren't there. Washington didn't bitterly reject orthodox Trinitarian doctrine like Jefferson and Adams did or give us as much extant heterodoxy as Franklin.

In all of the over 20,000 pages of Washington's recognized public and private utterances, Jesus Christ is spoken of only one time by name and one other time by example, both in public addresses written by other people (aids and subordinates) but given under Washington's imprimatur (meaning he edited and otherwise approved of the addresses with his signature).

In one of them, GW mentions the "divine author of our blessed religion," which obviously refers to Jesus. That's the closest to a smoking gun that GW was an orthodox Trinitarian Christian. I would argue that such is consistent with Arianism, Socinianism, Mormonism, and many other things that are not orthodox Trinitarian Christianity. 

But still, I would concede that statement strongly resonates with orthodox Christianity.

So if we concede that a public address written by someone who is not George Washington, but rather for him, and that was, after GW's tweaking given under the imprimatur of his signature accounts for at the very least a "joint authoring," let us look at one GW did with Thomas Jefferson.

The letter was written on March 31, 1791. It was addressed to Yazid ibn-Muhammed, the new Emperor of Morocco, whose father had just passed and Washington sent his condolences as he introduced Thomas Barclay as the new American consul.

Here is how Washington closed the letter:
“May that God, whom we both adore, bless your Imperial Majesty with long life, Health and Success, and have you always, great and magnanimous Friend, under his holy keeping.”

Friday, June 9, 2017

Senator Bernie Sanders Disregards U.S. Constitution

Earlier this week, Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) grilled Russell Vought, President Donald Trump's nominee for the position of Deputy Director of the White House Office of Management and Budget, during Mr. Vought's confirmation hearings. Was it over Mr. Vought's economic views? Not really. The most significant grilling was over Mr. Vought's religious views, specifically his views regarding salvation for those outside of the Christian faith.

In early 2016, Mr. Vought's alma mater, Wheaton College, was rocked by controversy when one of its professors said Christians and Muslims worship "the same God." Mr. Vought defended Wheaton's statement of faith and its handling of the situation, saying (in an article for Resurgent magazine) that Muslims have a "deficient theology" and "do not know God because they have rejected Jesus Christ his Son, and they stand condemned." Now this is certainly offensive talk in our postmodernist age of political correctness, but it's hardly surprising.

What Vought said is basic Christian doctrine. Doubt me? Read the New Testament. Let's start with John 3:18, where Jesus tells Nicodemus (and us): "He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God." There's also John 3:16, John 14:6, Romans 10:9-10 and 13, and on and on and on and on. The Bible is certainly offensive to many people. That's why many people have tried to destroy it (unsuccessfully) over the years, but the Bible (and Christianity) have been around for 2000 years. Vought's beliefs are well within the mainstream of Christian thought.

What's most distressing for our purposes, however, is that this line of questioning even came up! Has Senator Sanders not read the Constitution? Who cares what Vought believes regarding heaven, hell, salvation, and the like? It doesn't matter! The only vested interest the government has in someone's religious beliefs are whether those beliefs will drive a person to commit violence (that's actual violence, not the verbal hurt-your-feelings, micro-aggression nonsense so many college campuses are worried about) against their fellow citizens or call for some kind of insurrection against the government. That's it. A person can believe (and express his belief) in God, Allah, or the atheists' favorite "Flying Spaghetti Monster," and it shouldn't be a matter of consideration for the U.S. Senate.

The U.S. Constitution clearly states that "no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States." (Article VI, Section 3). That means it's unconstitutional for a sitting U.S. Senator to consider an executive branch nominee's religious beliefs when deciding whether to consent to that person's nomination. For a senator to do otherwise shows (at best) ignorance of or (at worst) defiance of the Constitution of the United States. It also smells, in this case, of anti-Christian bigotry.

Are we going to respect that part of the Constitution or not? Clearly, Senator Sanders is not. And, for that reason, this American is glad he is not our President today.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

MDH on when America became the United States of America

Friend of the blog Mark David Hall of George Fox University weighs in. What annoys me most When Historians Attack is when they exceed the limits of their expertise. In this case, Harvard's Dr. Joyce Chaplin, a history instructor, presumed to lecture Harvard Law grad Sen. Ted Cruz--who as Texas Solicitor General argued [and won] in front of the Supreme Court--on the law.

Dr. Hall's credentials are in Political Science, and as such, straddles the two fields and clarifies:






RIP Peter Augustine Lawler

Lawlerfortwitter

Details here.

I began looking at the American Founding in studying the theory of "rights," which has a grounding in St. Thomas Aquinas and classical natural law theory.  However, it soon became apparent that little of the Founding rhetoric made clear sense without an understanding of its Protestant [anti-Catholic] milieu, particularly Reformed theology, commonly called "Calvinism." Even the quasi-Catholic Anglican church was influenced by Reformed theology, not to mention the sects explicitly so, such as Pilgrims, Puritans, Presbyterians, Congregationalists, and Baptists.

Thus I became a big fan of Peter Lawler's "They Built Better Than They Knew" thesis about the American Founding, that they ended up with an "accidental Thomism" anyway, i.e., classical Aristotle/Aquinas natural law.

As I’ve said many times before, we can see that our Declaration was a statesmanlike legislative compromise between Lockeans and Calvinists, and the result was a kind of accidental Thomism. Something similar can be said about the actual language of the religion clauses of the First Amendment, which point in the direction, contrary to Madison’s theoretical anti-ecclesiasticism, of freedom of the church.


From John B. Kienker in First Things: "In a superb chapter on John Courtney Murray, Lawler defends the American founders' "implicitly Thomistic" liberalism (from which we've strayed), which, despite its debt to Locke, retained a conception of rights firmly grounded in natural law. Following Murray, he credits a Calvinist influence with tempering the founders' own liberal impulses, allowing them to build "better than they knew." He hopes that perhaps our politics may again experience a similarly fruitful tension between today's evangelicals and secularists."


More from Lawler here and here. Requiescat in pace.

[Originally posted at newreformclub.com]

Friday, June 2, 2017

When Historians Attack: Harvard's Dr. Joyce Chaplin

One in an occasional series. Right-wing "pseudo-historians" such as the uncredentialed David Barton are easy pickins for the academic left, but when one of their own hijacks history for their own partisan politics, such guardians of historical accuracy are more easily cowed, if not fooled themselves.

From Jay Cost--not on CNN, of course, or the NY Times where our liberal friends might actually see it, but in the conservative The Weekly Standard:


Twitter has a remarkable power to make well-credentialed people look like fools. Case in point: Joyce Chaplin, who is the James Duncan Phillips Professor of Early American History at Harvard University.

In response to President Donald Trump's withdrawal from the Paris climate accords, Chaplin tweeted





Senator Ted Cruz would have none of this, and responded,

Chaplin, apparently forgetting that discretion is the better part of valor, responded


Chaplin is not just wrong, but embarrassingly wrong. A 17-year-old high school student should know better.

- First, the Treaty of 1783 was not a multinational accord. It was a bilateral agreement between the United States and Great Britain.

- Second, the Treaty was a recognition of the facts on the ground, which were that, after their defeat at Yorktown, the British had no chance of reclaiming their American colonies.

- Third, there was no "international community" in 1783, at least not in any sense that corresponds to what Chaplin suggests. While the Declaration of Independence is solicitous of world opinion, no extra-national entity existed to make such determinations.

- Fourth, insofar as the international community did exist, it was on the side of the United States. France, Spain, and the Netherlands were all lined up against Great Britain in the Revolution.

- Fifth, the Declaration of Independence explicitly lays out the moral logic of the Revolution, relying heavily on early liberal political philosophy, which set out the guidelines for legitimate revolution. It then was at pains to explain why those conditions were met.


- Sixth, Chaplin's logic leads to ridiculous propositions. Did the "international community" sanction the Glorious Revolution of 1688? Of course not. But, per Chaplin's logic, Queen Elizabeth II is not the legitimate monarch of Great Britain, but instead it should be Franz, Duke of Bavaria, who is currently the senior member of the House of Stuart.
Read the whole thing. Crossposted at newreformclub.com

Monday, May 29, 2017

Kidd on Franklin, Whitefield and Education

From Thomas Kidd here. From what I gather, George Whitefield thought that he and Ben Franklin practiced different religions. A taste:
As I show in my new religious biography of Franklin, Whitefield routinely pressed Franklin about his need to receive Christ as Lord and Savior. "He used indeed sometimes to pray for my conversion," Franklin recalled, "but never had the satisfaction of believing that his prayers were heard."
Franklin and Whitefield’s clashing ideas about faith also became an issue in the founding of the Academy of Philadelphia, a predecessor of the University of Pennsylvania. ...
Drawing on John Locke's Some Thoughts Concerning Education (1693), Franklin's Proposals Relating to the Education of Youth in Pennsylvania (1749) laid out plans for the academy, with educational goals of virtue and practical service. Theology and ancient languages (Greek, Hebrew, and Latin) were de-emphasized. English grammar was a primary emphasis, because it was more useful than "foreign and dead languages," Locke had written.
... Reading about moral exemplars in the past would remind students of the "advantages of temperance, order, frugality, industry, perseverance" and other virtues. It would also reveal the "necessity of a public religion," he argued. Franklin even noted that pupils would learn of the "excellency of the Christian Religion above all others ancient or modern." But on that subject, Franklin was terse.
For explanation of Christianity's value, he footnoted Scottish moral philosopher and Anglican minister George Turnbull's Observations upon Liberal Education (1742). Franklin restated Turnbull's view regarding the "excellence of true Christianity above all other religions." Turnbull had contended that Christianity was the best known source of virtue: "That the persuasion of a divine providence, and a future state of rewards and punishments, is one of the strongest incitements to virtue, and one of the most forcible restraints from vice, can hardly be doubted.," he wrote. Turnbull's view of Christianity's practical benefits tracked closely with Franklin's own convictions.
What, then, was the aim of the academy? What was the proper goal of education? For Franklin, it was to impress upon the students the desire "to serve mankind, one's country, friends, and family." Franklin knew that some potential supporters would balk at such a human-centered vision. Thus, in an extended footnote, he insisted that the aim of service to mankind was another way of saying the "glory and service of God." Here Franklin was re-stating his notion of true religion: "Doing good to men is the only service of God in our power; and to imitate his beneficence is to glorify him."

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

And the Antique of the Day is...

     
The Magazine Antiques shared a Masonic moment on its social media today: an acquisition by an “outdoor history museum” in Massachusetts caught the attention of the magazine’s editor at large, who made it the magazine’s Antique of the Day. Check out this beauty:






Historic Deerfield is a village in the Connecticut Valley that preserves many facets of life in 18th century New England. It features historic architecture, museums, a library, and more to educate the public on the way we were during previous centuries. Here is how it catalogs the silver Masonic piece (you’ll forgive the Corinthians reference):

Probably New England, 1775-1800
Silver

John W. and Christiana G.P. Batdorf Fund, 2015.35

Introduced into the American colonies around 1730, Freemasonry achieved great popularity after the American Revolution. Enthusiasm for this fraternal society grew alongside interest in the intellectual movement known as the Enlightenment and new theories on equality.

Jewelry as well as other regalia played an important role in Masonic rituals and ceremonies. The symbols engraved on this medal are primarily drawn from the manual tools of stonemasons, such as the square and compass, the level and plumb rule, and the trowel.

This medal also makes use of the pigpen or Masonic cipher, a simple geometric substitution code, which replaces each letter of the alphabet with a different symbol. The inscriptions translate as “I Am that I Am” (1 Corinthians 15:10), and “Let there be light and there was light” (Genesis 1:3).

This silver medal descended in the Putnam family of Connecticut and may have been owned by General Israel Putnam (1718-1790) of Pomfret.
     

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Islam & the American Founding

John Fea points to a symposium on Denise Spellberg’s Thomas Jefferson’s Qur’an: Islam and the Founders taking place at the Immanent Frame.

A number of years ago, a co-author and I tackled this issue which you can view here.

America's Founders often used the term "religion" and when they did it's a mistake to conclude they meant "Christianity" to the exclusion of other religions like Islam. So if "religion" is granted rights and has restrictions placed on it, such applies to "religion" in general. Islam as a religion therefore gets equally protected under such principles as any form of Christianity.

Below is a quote from one of the authors at the Immanent Frame:
Today we often refer to “Judeo-Christian civilization” but, as Spellberg points out, this term excludes Muslims from that shared history. Spellberg’s book reminds us of the strong tradition of tolerance in the United States, but also of how it is easy to fall short of that goal. . . .
This is true. However, the actual history including both laws and social institutions is a bit more complicated. Yes, there was a remarkable degree of theoretical liberality and ecumenicism that saw Islam being given equal rights under the auspices of protecting "religion." Judaism and all of the various forms of Christianity, orthodox, unorthodox, whatever we might debate qualifies as "real Christianity" were with Islam, "religions."

There were also at the state level different ways of dealing with religion that varied by state. Roman Catholics, for instance, might have their full religious rights in one state, but not another.

If there was some kind of institutional zeitgeist, it was a preference for social Protestant Christianity as the "in" group. All others -- Roman Catholics, Jews, Muslims -- in the "out" group.

For instance, militant unitarians John Adams and Thomas Jefferson as formally and nominally connected to respectively the Congregational (Adams) and Anglican-Episcopal (Jefferson) Churches received cover under the auspices of Protestant Christianity's privileged social standing, along with those who actually devoutly believed in the orthodox creeds and doctrines to which those churches were grounded.

TGC: "Christian History: How David Barton Is Doing It Wrong"

Check it out here. A taste:
To reiterate: our answers will only be as good as our questions, so it’s important that we come to this study with an open mind, seeking to ask the best questions so that we can arrive at answers that correspond with reality.

Here is some further recommended reading for those who are interested:
For religious biographies of the Founding Fathers, you could start with:
For introductory guides on how to do responsible history—that is, how not to do history like David Barton—you could start with
Finally, here is a sit-down conversation with historians Mark Noll and George Marsden—co-authors with Nathan Hatch of The Search for Christian America (1983; revised in 1989). After the video, I’ve added rough time-stamps for their dialogue.

....

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Thomas Kidd Likes Rhodehamel's New Book, But . . .

In Thomas Kidd’s recent book review, A Secular Biography of George Washington, the author expresses a liking for John Rhodehamel’s new book, George Washington: The Wonder of the Age.”   He says it's a "model biography in many ways, but “[m]y primary complaint with Rhodehamel is that he gives short shrift to Washington and religion.”

Here’s a sample objection:
In some cases, Rhodehamel is determined to downplay or obfuscate religion in Washington’s life. For example, he spends considerable time dismissing (again, probably rightly) the idea that Washington ended his presidential oath with “So help me God.” Washington was too much a constitutional “literalist” to have done so. But Rhodehamel fails to mention that Washington placed his hand on a Bible (on loan from a Masonic Lodge!) when he swore the oath. That’s not prescribed by the Constitution, either, but it was probably of more significance than whether he said “so help me God.” At least Rhodehamel concedes that church bells rang once the oath was taken, and quotes (again without comment) Washington’s invocation of the “sacred fire of liberty” in his inaugural address.
Here, Kidd admits that Rhodehamel’s dismissive notion that Washington ended his presidential oath with “So help me God,” is “probably right.” However, then Kidd continues with “[b]ut Rhodehamel fails to mention that Washington placed his hand on a Bible,” which he feels “was probably of more significance than whether he said “so help me God.” But, the problem here is that no knows exactly why a Bible was included as part of the inaugural ceremony as conducted by New York Chancellor Robert R. Livingston. Using the Bible is definitely not prescribed by the United States Constitution, but including a Bible in a sworn oath as administered by Livingston was definitely in keeping with New York State legislation as spelled out by the “usual mode of administering oaths.” 

Furthermore, when it came to Washington’s second inauguration, and for all of the following presidential inaugurations, with the exception of Andrew Jackson, up to James Polk the significance of the Bible doesn’t show itself. But Kidd gives short shrift to that part of our inaugural history.


Friday, May 5, 2017

Benjamin Franklin: The Religious Life of a Founding Father

Details on Thomas Kidd's new book here. It looks to be a "standard bearer" on Franklin's faith. A taste:
My new biography of Benjamin Franklin is now ‘in stock’ at Amazon and other retailers! As I was writing my 2014 biography of George Whitefield, and I dug deeper into Whitefield’s relationship with Franklin, I became convinced that there was more to the story of Franklin’s religious life than his simple description of himself as a ‘deist.’

It turns out that Franklin published more on religious topics than any other layperson in eighteenth-century America. He knew the Bible intimately, because of his immersion in the Puritan milieu of his parents. And though he clearly doubted essential doctrines of Christianity, such as Christ’s divinity, he maintained vital relationships with evangelical friends and relatives including Whitefield and his sister Jane Mecom, his closest sibling.

...

Some endorsements and reviews of the book:

“A convincing portrait of Franklin’s religion as ambiguous, elusive, enigmatic, and whimsical.  He appears in the pages of this welcome book as a forerunner of many later Americans who believe in God, trust in providence, but cannot embrace any particular Christian creed.”—Mark A. Noll, author of In the Beginning Was the Word

...

“This illuminating and absorbing biography of Benjamin Franklin is the work of a perceptive historian and master storyteller. Thomas Kidd argues compellingly that Franklin’s religious experiences, from his Calvinist upbringing to adult relationships with Christians, are essential to understanding this man of science and reason.”Daniel L. Dreisbach, author of Reading the Bible with the Founding Fathers

Thursday, May 4, 2017

May the 4th Be With You

May 4 is of course Star Wars Day, which normally would have very little to do with our subject matter at this blog. But the staff at Mount Vernon changed all that by posting this clever meme which I thought I'd share....

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Peter Thiel on Straussian Jesus

Why I find Thiel fascinating. I don't know if "mislead" is the right word; Jesus did "hide the ball" which is how law students refer to the professor's "Socratic" method. Now I need to track down the John Locke quote Thiel refers to.


Update: Reader Daniel found the quotation:
"This concealment of himself will seem strange, in one who was come to bring light into the world, and was to suffer death for the testimony of the truth. This reservedness will be thought to look, as if he had a mind to conceal himself, and not to be known to the world for the Messiah, nor to be believed on as such. But we shall be of another mind, and conclude this proceeding of his according to divine wisdom, and suited to a fuller manifestation and evidence of his being the Messiah; when we consider that he was to fill out the time foretold of his ministry; and after a life illustrious in miracles and good works, attended with humility, meekness, patience, and sufferings, and every way conformable to the prophecies of him; should be led as a sheep to the slaughter, and with all quiet and submission be brought to the cross, though there were no guilt, nor fault found in him. This could not have been, if, as soon as he appeared in public, and began to preach, he had presently professed himself to have been the Messiah; the king that owned that kingdom, he published to be at hand. For the sanhedrim would then have laid hold on it, to have got him into their power, and thereby have taken away his life; at least they would have disturbed his ministry, and hindered the work he was about." The Reasonableness of Christianity (1695) http://oll.libertyfund.org/titles/locke-the-works-vol-6-the-reasonableness-of-christianity

Saturday, April 29, 2017

Resist, Revolt, Reason & Authority in the American Founding

I confess a fault in my friendship duties towards Mark David Hall. He wrote a book about Roger Sherman that goes into meticulous detail about reformation sources that influenced the American Founding. He even thanked me in that book (we featured some of the research at American Creation) but I haven't yet read the book.

But I will, one day. I promise.

I am familiar with the argument about Calvinist reformation sources as the inspiration behind the American resistance during the Founding era, in the face of Romans 13. (This article by David Kopel makes similar points.)

Among others, Daniel Dreisbach and Jeffry Morrison, who have collaborated with Dr. Hall are on the same page regarding the influence of Calvinist thought on America's Founding resistance movement.

Arguments contained in America's Declaration of Independence do seem to strongly parallel those of the reformation resisters, but there is more to the story.

This is the controversy: A plain textual reading of Romans 13 (a fundamentalist reading, if you will) seems to categorically forbid revolt. Yet, other parts of the Bible -- Acts 5:29 -- teach disobedience to man (Earthly government) when necessary to obey God. Other parts of scripture -- I Peter 2 (“honor the king”) -- also play in.

What follows is the doctrine among others orthodox biblicists Drs. Gregg Frazer and Mark Noll have taken from such: Submission to government is absolute; revolt is categorically forbidden; obedience to government is a general rule conditioned on the (obvious) fact that if to obey government means to disobey God, obey God and not man. Yet, submit to the civil legitimacy of the tyranny whose civil law demands disobedience to God. Work within the confines of such system for individual justice and systematic change. But ultimately submit, even if it means being a martyr.

John Calvin in his Institutes of the Christian Religion teaches basically this with one important caveat: To the extent that the positive governing law permits lower magistrates to resist and suppress the lawless tyranny of higher powers, believers who constitute such lower magistrates can and should take advantage of this option.

The examples that Calvin gives are analogous to Congress by virtue of the constitutional process, impeaching and removing a President.

As dissidents, a great many of Calvin's followers had bad experiences with "higher powers" that persecuted them. Hence, they had incentive to, and did in fact flesh out and play up Calvin's teachings on interposition, on resistance through law. Hence Samuel Rutherford's "Lex Rex" (the King is not Law, rather "Law is King.")

And, as noted, a great deal of what America's Founders, in their conflict with Great Britain, said and did resonates with such. According to the doctrine, the extant positive law must be appealed to as the source of remedies. America's Founders did a great deal of remonstrating with the British authorities appealing to their rights as Englishmen. A great deal of the Declaration of Independence details how Great Britain failed to live up to its own standards of guarantee contained in existing British law.

But Great Britain -- King and Parliament ("Parliament" shorthand for the then existing power sharing arrangement) -- disagreed with the colonists' understanding of British law. So when there is disagreement, how is it resolved? Under extant British positive law, Parliament had the final say.

Of Parliament's power, Blackstone famously noted:
It can, in short, do every thing that is not naturally impossible; and therefore some have not scrupled to call it's power, by a figure rather too bold, the omnipotence of parliament. True it is, that what they do, no authority upon earth can undo.
As Gary North acutely observed: "Blackstone was wrong: beginning eleven years later, the American colonies undid a lot of what Parliament had done."

It's above my pay grade to say whether the American Revolution violated Romans 13. That biblical text was discussed quite a bit in Founding era sermons because it obviously had the potential among a nation whose demographic religion was "Christianity" to stand in the way of the revolutionary cause.

What I don't see however, from the Founding era sermons is a strong explicit reliance on Samuel Rutherford, et al. I'm sure the influence was there. But John Locke and his ideas were more often cited in the revolutionary pulpit. And Locke is not Rutherford; no evidence we have seen connects Rutherford to Locke and Locke made arguments that were more revolutionary in tone. Locke was also less concerned with answering the Romans 13 challenge and more interested in asserting a right to revolt found in nature discoverable by reason.

Later sermons would then apply Lockean principles to the Romans 13 challenge in more detail. Jefferson and company did not invent the theological arguments contained in the Declaration of Independence. The ideas had been brewing in the pulpit the years prior to the revolution and this 1776 sermon by the unitarian Samuel West best encapsulates theology of the Declaration of Independence and the American Cause. Romans 13 is explicitly dealt with there. Locke is cited; Rutherford and the Calvinist resisters are not. The basis for the right to revolt is found in essences in nature, discoverable by reason.

With that discovery in mind, then go and interpret and understand Romans 13 accordingly. This is how West deals with it:
The doctrine of nonresistance and unlimited passive obedience to the worst of tyrants could never have found credit among mankind had the voice of reason been hearkened to for a guide, because such a doctrine would immediately have been discerned to be contrary to natural law.
 On the explicit text of Romans 13, West asserts:
I know it is said that the magistrates were, at the time when the apostle wrote, heathens, and that Nero, that monster of tyranny, was then Emperor of Rome; that therefore the apostle, by enjoining submission to the powers that then were, does require unlimited obedience to be yielded to the worst of tyrants. Now, not to insist upon what has been often observed, viz., that this epistle was written most probably about the beginning of Nero's reign, at which time he was a very humane and merciful prince, did everything that was generous and benevolent to the public, and showed every act of mercy and tenderness to particulars, and therefore might at that time justly deserve the character of the minister of God for good to the people,-- I say, waiving this, we will suppose that this epistle was written after that Nero was become a monster of tyranny and wickedness; it will by no means follow from thence that the apostle meant to enjoin unlimited subjection to such an authority, or that he intended to affirm that such a cruel, despotic authority was the ordinance of God. The plain, obvious sense of his words, as we have already seen, forbids such a construction to be put upon them, for they plainly imply a strong abhorrence and disapprobation of such a character, and clearly prove that Nero, so far forth as he was a tyrant, could not be the minister of God, nor have a right to claim submission from the people; so that this ought, perhaps, rather to be viewed as a severe satire upon Nero, than as enjoining any submission to him.
Either Nero was "a very humane and merciful prince" when the epistle was written or perhaps the epistle should "be viewed as a severe satire upon Nero, than as enjoining any submission to him."  

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

The Revolution Revised: Gay, Black, Female, Marxist

Edward Rothstein, critic-at-large of the WSJ, reviews America's first museum of the Revolution. O'Sullivan's Law continues unabated.




Philadelphia—

Opening on April 19, the anniversary of the 1775 Battles of Lexington and Concord, the museum’s building, designed by Robert A.M. Stern Architects (RAMSA), encompasses 118,000 square feet, with 32,000 square feet devoted to exhibition and theater space offering artifacts (flints used to fire muskets at British troops, the first newsprint Declaration of Independence) along with interactive touch screens, life-size sculpted figures arranged in historical tableaux, and children’s exhibits. The American Revolution has been given a state-of-the-art home blocks from Independence Hall and other museums chronicling the American experience.





But why has a museological debut taken so long?

Adding to complications, the Revolution has an almost sacral status associated with exceptionalism: The U.S. is the first nation created around a set of ideas. But in recent years this status has come under attack. How can the Revolution claim symbolic power when the early republic systematically overlooked half the human race by gender, and counted the enslaved as worth—in the Constitution—but three-fifths of a free man?
Such is the political landscape in which the new museum has come into being, its content overseen by its vice president of collections, exhibitions and programming, the historian R. Scott Stephenson, with Philip C. Mead as director of curatorial affairs and chief historian. The result is provocative, at times compelling—but also often skewed by contemporary tensions.

At first the account might seem traditional. At the climax of one cinematic program, the lighting shifts and the screen turns translucent, revealing the headquarters tent in which George Washington spent the war from mid-1778 until 1783. It had been in the Valley Forge Historical Society’s collection (which was entirely donated to the museum) and is now meticulously restored in this tribute to Revolutionary heroism.
But historical scholarship has become vastly more inclusive. So we are also reminded here not just of higher principles but of how they fell short for those who were enslaved—some 400,000 in 1776 growing to nearly four million by 1860—or for those who preceded the colonists, American Indians. Those histories—along with accounts of women’s roles—are part of this chronological narrative. One tableau shows an African-American redcoat—freed by serving in the British army—speaking with a slave who has not yet decided whom to support. A gallery devoted to New York’s Oneida includes life-size figures, voices in dialogue and a film evoking the tribe’s debate over allegiance (Washington said the Oneida “manifested the strongest Attachment to us”).
This accompanies an attempt to de-sacralize the Revolution. It is no longer portrayed as a struggle between colonists who were either far-seeing patriots or traitorous “loyalists.” The Stamp Tax is portrayed as unexceptional. Examples are given of “propaganda” from both sides. This Revolution poses dilemmas, not doctrinal clarity.
This strengthens the history but weakens the event’s symbolic power. And though much is still excellent (including a map tracing the war’s New Jersey battles in the winter of 1776-7, the armies’ movements represented by moving lights), a price is paid. What scenes, for example, are dramatized by tableaux? The Oneida debate, the African-American conversation about loyalty, a fight among Washington’s soldiers, Loyalist cavalry battling for the British—images having less to do with the war’s significance than with today’s preoccupations with identity-based tensions.
Inclusiveness can also create strange proportions. Why do we learn far more about Baroness von Riedesel—“one of perhaps a thousand women” who followed the British army—however impressive she was during the Saratoga Campaign, than we do about Gen. John Burgoyne, whose defeat in the that campaign upset British hopes? Why is Mercy Otis Warren, “perhaps the leading female political writer of the colonial resistance,” whose writings are said to have “galvanized American colonial protests,” given more attention than the Federalist Papers, with their fundamental arguments about the future design of the republic by Alexander Hamilton, James Madison and John Jay ?
The Revolutionary era encompassed some amazing innovations: “the first written constitution in the history of the world” in 1776 and, in 1775, the first anti-slavery society in history, founded in Philadelphia. But such details remain isolated. The exhibition tells us more about how the Revolution fell short than about how it transformed possibilities (the historian Alan Taylor might be happier here than Gordon S. Wood even though Mr. Wood is a member of the board). In one instance, curatorial taste turns truly bizarre: A display about “laboring men” seeking equality shows us a farmer’s sickle and a shoemaker’s hammer forming the icon of the old Soviet Communist Party.
There is, in fact, a recurring tilt leftward here. Thus, while the closing film properly treats the Revolution as a continuing project, finding extensions in civil-rights movements for African-Americans, gay people and women (and less properly in associating “Occupy Wall Street” demonstrations with “the fire of the Revolution’s promise”), it doesn’t recognize other aspects of that tradition: the importance of individual liberties, the inevitable messiness of the democratic process, and the exceptionalism that yet remains.

—Mr. Rothstein is the Journal’s Critic at Large. Appeared in the Apr. 13, 2017, print edition.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

‘Harvard Crimson: parchment MS of Declaration found in U.K.’

     
From The Harvard Crimson:

Two Harvard researchers have uncovered a second parchment manuscript of the Declaration of Independence—the only additional manuscript of its type ever to be found.

University Professor Danielle Allen and Emily Sneff, research manager of the Declaration Resources Project found the document, which Allen says dates to the 1780s and was likely produced for the Constitutional Convention. “No one has ever been aware of its existence,” she said. “From the point of view of thinking about American history, it's significant.”

According to a press release, the parchment, designated as “The Sussex Declaration,” is housed at the West Sussex Record Office in the United Kingdom and likely once belonged to the Third Duke of Richmond, who supported the colonists who rebelled against Britain.

Allen and her team believe the “leading possibility” for the parchment’s origin is that it was commissioned by Continental Congress delegate—and later Supreme Court Justice—James Wilson or one of his allies in order to advocate for the Constitution.

Sneff said that she uncovered the parchment in August 2015, after seeing a catalogue entry in the United Kingdom's National Archives for a manuscript of the Declaration on parchment. She and Allen soon realized its unique character.

Allen said the parchment “sheds light” on Wilson, who was “more important than people have realized.”

Most significantly, the parchment’s signatures are not grouped by states, as they are in the original parchment manuscript.

“The team hypothesizes that this detail supported efforts, made by Wilson and his allies during the Constitutional Convention and ratification process, to argue that the authority of the Declaration rested on a unitary national people, and not on a federation of states,” the press release said.

Additionally, the phrase “pursuit of happiness” is followed by a dash only, without a period.

Allen, a scholar of political theory and classics, established the Declaration Resources Project after writing her 2014 book “Our Declaration: A Reading of the Declaration of Independence in Defense of Equality.”

According to its website, its mission is to “create innovative and informative resources about the Declaration of Independence.”

“There are still questions to be answered about the text itself, the signers, and even how news of the Declaration spread around the new United States and eventually the world,” the website says.

Allen and Sneff are presenting their paper on the parchment at a conference at Yale University today.


Links added to the Crimson story by the blogger.
     

Sunday, April 16, 2017

When Historians Attack: Mark Noll, Part Deux

Mark A. Noll, who started as a professor at conservative evangelical gold standard Wheaton College and achieved his largest notoriety for his acidic takedown of his co-religionists, The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind [“The scandal of the evangelical mind is that there is not much of an evangelical mind”], has now become ensconced as the gold standard on early American religious history on his throne at putatively Catholic University of Notre Dame.

I registered my own objection to Noll's approach here, that he may conflate his historian hat with his theological one--with his left-liberal sentiments coloring both--but this broadside on similar grounds from one Glenn Moots of tiny Northwood University makes me look like a pussycat.



In the Beginning was the Word: The Bible in American Public Life, 1492-1783 by Mark A. Noll, Oxford University Press, 448 pages, $29.95
Notre Dame historian Mark Noll recently released the first of three promised volumes chronicling the use of the Bible in American public life. In the Beginning Was the WordThe Bible in American Public Life, 1492-1783 follows cultural and theological movement over three centuries: from the “Bible under Christendom,” to the “Bible over Christendom,” and finally to the “Bible against Christendom.” Unfortunately, Noll’s reliance on a reductive caricature of Protestant political theology causes him to give a false impression of how most colonial American Protestants deployed sacred and secular sources in their political thought. The result is a work of history whose questionable methods and underlying assumptions are every bit as telling—perhaps more so—than the historical chronicle itself.
...
But more pertinent to Noll’s charge against Allen, Biblical exegesis in favor of resistance and republicanism existed in America and Britain long before supposedly corrupting influences of “Whiggism” or “the Enlightenment” came on the scene. British Protestant arguments for resistance and revolution were advanced first by Marian exiles (who took some cues from the Lutheran Torgau and Magdeburg Declarations) and then by Noll’s ideal biblicists—the Puritans! (It must also be noted that all Protestant political arguments owed a debt to medieval precedent, too.)

When Massachusetts Bay colonists faced invasion from England in 1634, an invasion they feared was intent on taking their charter and imposing an Anglican establishment, their justification for armed resistance included both scriptural and legal arguments. There was not yet an “Enlightenment” to corrupt the supposedly “proper” reading of Romans 13 as unconditional obedience—just as there had been no Enlightenment to inspire the Roman Catholic conciliarists, the Marian exiles, or Cromwell’s New Model Army. Why, therefore, does Noll so readily charge these “Whigs” or “patriots” with using “Scripture to clothe what opposition politics created”? Noll’s insistence on the American Revolution as a departure from Protestant biblicism also implies a preference for pacifism. Noll writes, “Among the authors who did seek direct biblical guidance, Christian pacifists stood out by invoking the sacred page to defend positions that had been derived originally from Scripture.” However, wasn’t classical just war theory largely owed to Christendom?
We want Professor Noll to keep his historical studies coming, but one wonders how he can insist on dividing wheat from chaff in the Bible’s proper use. Will Noll cast abolitionists as biblicists, given that many of their polemics resemble the politicized ravings of the Revolution’s patriot ministers, whom Noll scorns? Will every war be condemned if its proponents used the Bible to justify it? What will Noll make of the civil rights era? Shouldn’t its wedding of political ideology (the Declaration of Independence or nonviolent direct-action) to the Bible—particularly in the work of Martin Luther King, for example—be due the same criticism he levels at the Whigs of the mid-eighteenth century who defended British rights and liberties?
Ideally, Noll will settle into simply telling this long and difficult story of America’s relationship with the Bible, and not seek to impose ahistorical categories on its use in public life.