Saturday, December 8, 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.

Saturday, November 24, 2018

John Locke on Romans 13

Today, John Locke is held to be an Enlightenment philosopher, "Enlightenment" used as rationalism in contradistinction to religious faith and the Christian Bible. However, the Founders largely considered him simply a very smart and elegant Christian thinker. What is not largely known even among scholars is that Locke's final life project, after the [anonymous!] publishing of his historic Two Treatises of Government, was a study of Paul the Apostle's Epistles.


Re Romans 13:1,

"Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God; the powers that be are ordained of God. Whosoever, therefore, resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God; and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation."

this passage was and is the most troublesome political passage in the New Testament, and was responsible for literally millions of words exchanged on the question of political liberty. Men like John Calvin largely took it as an absolute prohibition against anything resembling revolution or revolt against even the meanest of rulers.


John Locke's treatment of Romans 13 is pretty straightforward: Christians are not exempt from obeying lawful authority just by virtue of being Christian. They have to obey the same laws as everybody else.

But on what is "lawful authority," Locke says Paul the apostle "is wholly silent, and says nothing of it," because for Paul or Jesus "to meddle with that, would have been to decide of civil rights, contrary to the design and business of the Gospel"---which of course was the business of salvation, of preparing for the next world, not this one.

Locke notes that it was Paul's intention and prudence, that such "sauciness, sedition or treason" was, in those times of Roman "insolent and vicious" rule, a "scandal to be cautiously kept off the Christian doctrine!" [The exclamation point is Locke's.]

Thus Paul's admonition is not one of political or theological right, but merely of prudence.

Founding era preacher William Ellery Channing made a similar argument about why the New Testament didn't explicitly ban slavery: "a religion, preaching freedom to the slave, would have shaken the social fabric to its foundation, and would have armed against itself the whole power of the state." Jesus didn't preach violent revolution, that his church would be arming itself against the whole power of the state. Indeed, we recall that many were disappointed he wasn't that kind of Messiah.

But that is not a Biblical endorsement of slavery either:

The perversion of Scripture to the support of slavery is singularly inexcusable in this country. Paul not only commanded slaves to obey their masters. He delivered these precepts: "Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God; the powers that be are ordained of God. Whosoever, therefore, resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God; and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation." This passage was written in the time of Nero. It teaches passive obedience to despotism more strongly than any text teaches the lawfulness of slavery. Accordingly, it has been quoted for ages by the supporters of arbitrary power, and made the stronghold of tyranny. 
Did our fathers acquiesce in the most obvious interpretation of this text? Because the first Christians were taught to obey despotic rule, did our fathers feel as if Christianity had stripped men of their rights? Did they argue, that tyranny was to be excused, because forcible opposition to it is in most cases wrong? Did they argue, that absolute power ceases to be unjust, because, as a general rule, it is the duty of subjects to obey? Did they infer that bad institutions ought to be perpetual, because the subversion of them by force will almost always inflict greater evil than it removes? 
No; they were wiser interpreters of God's Word. They believed that despotism was a wrong, notwithstanding the general obligation upon its subjects to obey; and that whenever a whole people should so feel the wrong as to demand its removal, the time for removing it had fully come. Such is the school in which we here have been brought up. To us, it is no mean proof of the divine original of Christianity, that it teaches human brotherhood and favors human rights; and yet, on the ground of two or three passages, which admit different constructions, we make Christianity the minister of slavery, the forger of chains for those whom it came to make free.

Thus Romans 13 can turn Christianity into the ally of tyranny by its acquiescence to it. Further, sayeth Locke, the "lawful authority" question must be decided by worldly standards, to be "determined by the laws and constitution of their country."

And so, if a legal argument to separate from Britain's constitutional monarchy could be made---and indeed the 27 "repeated injuries and usurpations" in the Declaration of Independence like "For imposing taxes on us without our consent" (taxation without representation) was such an attempt---then there was no theological impediment per Romans 13 to such a separation.

Further, Locke asserts "the doctrine of Christianity was the doctrine of liberty," using for his example that 
Christians were "freed" from observing the "Mosaical" law.

In other words, Locke is dispensing with any supernatural argument that unlawful rulers should be obeyed because it's God's will because Romans 13 says so. According to John Locke, it doesn't say that.



[ HT to Ben Abbott for the citation and link.]

CHAP. XIII. 1—7.
This section contains the duty of christians to the civil magistrate: for the understanding this right, we must consider these two things:
1. That these rules are given to christians, that were members of a heathen commonwealth, to show them that, by being made christians and subjects of Christ’s kingdom, they were not, by the freedom of the gospel, exempt from any ties of duty, or subjection, which by the laws of their country, they were in, and ought to observe, to the government and magistrates of it, though heathens, any more than any of their heathen subjects. But, on the other side, these rules did not tie them up, any more than any of their fellow-citizens, who were not christians, from any of those due rights, which, by the law of nature, or the constitutions of their country, belonged to them. Whatsoever any other of their fellow-subjects, being in a like station with them, might do without sinning, that they were not abridged of, but might do still, being christians. The rule here being the same with that given by St. Paul, 1 Cor. vii. 17, “As God has called every one, so let him walk.” The rules of civil right and wrong, that he is to walk by, are to him the same they were before.

2. That St. Paul, in this direction to the romans, does not so much describe the magistrates that then were in Rome, as tells whence they, and all magistrates, everywhere, have their authority; and for what end they have it, and should use it. And this he does, as becomes his prudence, to avoid bringing any imputation on christians, from heathen magistrates, especially those insolent and vicious ones of Rome, who could not brook any thing to be told them as their duty, and so might be apt to interpret such plain truths, laid down in a dogmatical way, into sauciness, sedition, or treason, a scandal cautiously to be kept off from the christian doctrine! nor does he, in what he says, in the least flatter the roman emperor, let it be either Claudius, as some think, or Nero, as others, who then was in possession of that empire. For he here speaks of the higher powers, i. e. the supreme, civil power, which is, in every commonwealth, derived from God, and is of the same extent everywhere, i. e. is absolute and unlimited by any thing, but the end for which God gave it, viz. the good of the people, sincerely pursued, according to the best of the skill of those who share that power, and so not to be resisted. But, how men come by a rightful title to this power, or who has that title, he is wholly silent, and says nothing of it. To [405] have meddled with that, would have been to decide of civil rights, contrary to the design and business of the gospel, and the example of our Saviour, who refused meddling in such cases with this decisive question, “Who made me a judge, or divider, over you?” Luke xii. 14.

Thursday, November 22, 2018

St. George Tucker and the Theology of the Common Law

Legendary scholar Walter Berns had the following to say about the notion that "Christianity" was part of the "common law." As he wrote in Making Patriots:
Liberty of conscience was widely accepted at the time of the Founding, but this did not prevent some jurists and legislatures from insisting, at least for a while (and given our principles it could be only for a while), that Christianity was part of the law, meaning the common law. So it had been in England, and so, it was assumed by some (but not Jefferson), it would continue to be in America. But there was no disagreement about the place of the common law. Indeed one of the first things done by the states after independence was to declare (here in the words of the New Jersey constitution of 1776) that “the common law of England, as well as so much of the statute law, as have been heretofore practiced in this Colony, shall remain in force, until they shall be altered by a future law of the Legislature; such parts only excepted, as are repugnant to the rights and privileges contained in this Charter [or constitution].” 
But if the “rights and privileges” contained in the various state charters or constitutions included the right of liberty of conscience, and if, in turn, this right required, in Madison’s words, “a perfect separation between ecclesiastical and civil matters,” what did it mean to say that Christianity was part of the common law? Very little, as it turned out; and it turned out as it had to turn out. Consider, for example, the case of blasphemy in America…. pp. 32-33.
Berns then went on to note that to the extent that blasphemy prosecutions survived for a short period of time in the early American republic, it was redefined as something akin to a secular breach of the peace, with blasphemy now stripped of its religious character.

Berns' recitation of the above quoted part of the 1776 New Jersey constitution also illustrates the proper place the common law of England had in the newly founded America, in terms of its priority as a source of law: And that is, common law is below state statutory law. Later court decisions -- notably Erie v. Tompkins -- would hold that there is no such thing as general federal common law, consigning such common law to the state level entirely.

Still, we debate whether some kind of "organic" law exists in the brooding omnipresence in the sky up there, that could potentially inform all sources of law (from higher to lower). That such organic law, if needed, could serve potentially as the ultimate trump existing above the highest source of constitutional positive law.

That's where such a theory becomes controversial. If the uncodified, "brooding omnipresence" is consigned to a place where a state statute can trump it, such seems more contained, hence less controversial. If, on the other hand, it's justiciable by the Supreme Court (and American courts in general) and exists at a place higher than the US Constitution, such a powerful thing in the hands of judges becomes understandably more controversial.

What prevails among the experts in academia, government and the practice of law is legal positivism. Such teaches that "higher law," if it exists at all, is nothing judges may consult in their legal decision making outside of the existing positive law.

I think of someone like the late Justice Scalia, who was a devout Roman Catholic, believing in the natural law as his church taught it. But, he argued, such had no business informing judicial decision making. Rather, it was something legislators could consult in the realm of conscience (the executive could consult such as well when deciding for instance, whether to veto a law).

Just as the other non-judicial branches could, as they exercised their political power, consult whatever kind of specific revelation they wanted: Catholic, Protestant,  Mormon, Jewish, Hindu, Islamic, etc. Or whatever kind of ethical or political theory they fancied: Utilitarianism, Kantianism, Rawlsianism, etc.

After meticulously studying, for many years, the concept of this organic law of the brooding omnipresence as it was understood by America's founders, I have concluded the Christian religion, special revelation, etc. is not the source of such, even though such did often claim to have theistic underpinnings (i.e., the "Laws of Nature and of Nature's God").

Yet, we still have this notion coming from Blackstone himself that "Christianity is part of the common law." As noted above by Professor Berns, Jefferson disputed such a notion. But what might we make of such a notion, if applicable to the newly minted America of the late 18th and early 19th Century?

American founder and preeminent legal authority St. George Tucker (of Virginia) provided the answer as to what he understood the theology of the common law to be. I just completed a series where I reproduced Tucker's lengthy discussion on religion and politics, contained in Philip B. Kurland's "The Founders' Constitution" under the title of "St. George Tucker, Blackstone's Commentaries." In 1:App. 296--97, 2:App. 3--11 of said document, Tucker discusses, at length, his opinions relating to religion and government.

In this 1803 document, Tucker invokes the then existing state laws of Virginia and the US Constitution. He also includes a tremendous amount of words from (the Arian) Richard Price's "Observations on the Importance of the American Revolution and the Means of Making It a Benefit to the World" where Price explicates his Enlightenment ideal of religion and politics. This ideal is not wholly secular, but rather seems informed by an Enlightenment faith more "fit" for that era.

Here is a quotation from such (Tucker quoting Price) that encapsulates such zeitgeist:
It is indeed only a rational and liberal religion; a religion founded on just notions of the Deity, as a Being who regards equally every sincere worshipper, and by whom all are alike favoured as far as they act up to the light they enjoy: a religion which consists in the imitation of the moral perfections of an Almighty but Benevolent Governor of Nature, who directs for the best, all events, in confidence in the care of his providence, in resignation to his will, and in the faithful discharge of every duty of piety and morality from a regard to his authority, and the apprehension of a future righteous retribution. ... This is the religion that every enlightened friend to mankind will be zealous to support. But it is a religion that the powers of the world know little of, and which will always be best promoted by being left free and open.
One might ask, why did Tucker reproduce Price's thoughts on religion and politics in a document meant to capture Blackstone's authoritative teachings on the common law? The answer relates to purpose of Tucker's Blackstone project. Tucker meant more than just to reiterate Blackstone's teachings, but to transform and correct them for America.

 The following article by law professor Kurt Lash uncovers such purpose:
[T]he same generation that adopted the Constitution also challenged the uncritical acceptance of English common law. ...  
For example, St. George Tucker’s 1803 edition of Blackstone’s Commentaries was a hugely successful and influential effort to “translate” the rules of English common law so that they made better sense for a people whose legal system presumed the ultimate sovereignty of the people themselves.31 The United States was not just a new and independent legal entity, the country and its citizens had operationalized a new legal theory. The status of the government and the role of its courts were different on American soil, rendering problematic any wholesale adoption of Blackstonian common law. As historian Davison Douglas writes:  
"While serving as a law professor at The College of William and Mary during the 1790s, Tucker had his students read Blackstone, but he supplemented that reading with lectures in which he analyzed the ways that law in the United States—and specifically Virginia—had departed from English legal principles as a result of the American Revolution, the Virginia Constitution, and the United States Constitution. These lectures were “the first systematic effort by any figure in American law to describe the contours of the new system created by the amended Constitution.” Drawing extensively on his William and Mary lectures, Tucker’s Blackstone included eight hundred pages of essays on a variety of legal and political topics and more than one thousand footnotes in which Tucker examined Blackstone in light of American and Virginian law. Tucker worried about the effect Blackstone’s Tory sensibilities might have on his students. He thus emphasized to his students that the American Revolution and its aftermath had produced a revolution “not only in the principles of our government,” but in a variety of legal principles, such as the law of inheritance, that reflected the new nation’s republican values and that rendered Blackstone an unreliable guide to certain aspects of American law."
St. George Tucker’s “translation” of Blackstone found an eager audience. Again, according to Douglas, 
"Tucker’s Blackstone, the first major legal treatise on American law, was one of the most influential legal works of the early nineteenth century and the most comprehensive treatise on American constitutional law until around 1820. Not surprisingly, it was also one of the legal texts most frequently cited by the United States Supreme Court and relied upon by lawyers appearing before the Court during the first few decades of the nineteenth century."33
So I'm guessing that all of the material on religion and government complete with Richard Price's ideal kind of theology was Tucker's answer to Blackstone's claim that "Christianity is part of the common law."

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Frazer's New Book Review at Christianity Today

Check it out here. A taste:
This book is a righteous tribute to Loyalist pastors, who took up their cause with integrity, erudition, and a sincere spirit of peace. Far from being dupes of the British elite or proxies of a tyrant, the Loyalist clergy saw themselves as true lovers of America who were equally committed to the flourishing of their communities. Frazer aims “to show that the Loyalists do not fit nicely into a simplistic category, were not ideologically shallow, and were not motivated by fear. They were ... well-meaning and seeking what they thought was best for their home: America.” 
One reason the Loyalist clergy have been misunderstood is that much of their writing was destroyed during the Revolution. Another reason, to put the matter simply, is that the Patriots were victorious, and the victorious party typically has the upper hand in shaping how the contest will be remembered. 
[...]

In grounding their support of the mother country in Scripture, Loyalist clergy often handled God’s Word more conscientiously than their Patriot counterparts. Frazer points out that pro-revolution pastors frequently read their own biases into passages like Romans 13, consistent with Jonathan Mayhew’s precedent-setting 1750 sermon on the 101st anniversary of the execution of Charles I, “A Discourse concerning Unlimited Submission and Non-Resistance to Higher Powers.” Furthermore, Frazer asserts that while the Loyalists appealed mainly to Scripture, history, and the law, Patriot clergy relied on “theory, fear, and John Locke.”  
The Bible formed the cohesive foundation for the Loyalists’ argument, and their commitment to a plain reading of Scripture stands in stark contrast to the often allegorical and typological interpretive methods favored by the Patriots. ...

Monday, November 12, 2018

Q&A with Christopher Grasso, author of Skepticism and American Faith: ...

Check it out at The Junto here. A taste:
Christopher Grasso earned his PhD from Yale in 1992, taught at St. Olaf College, and came to William and Mary in 1999.  From 2000 to 2013 he served as the Editor of the William and Mary Quarterly. ... 
JUNTO: Skepticism and American Faith is organized into four thematic parts, arranged chronologically: “Revolutions, 1775-1815,” “Enlightenments, 1790-1840,” “Reforms, 1820-1850,” and “Sacred Causes, 1830-1865.” What does attention to religious skepticism and faith tell us about revolution, enlightenment(s), reform, and the Civil War? 
GRASSO: Debates over the meaning of the American and French Revolutions prominently featured arguments about the role that religious faith ought to have in public life and patriotic citizenship. Was America a Christian nation? Did religious liberty include the freedom to be irreligious? With the separation of church and state, how could a Christian majority legitimately exert its power over non-believers in a democracy? Believing and doubting were rarely just matters of private predilection. From the founding, these issues linked the personal to the political. 
Americans in this period did not talk about “The Enlightenment” (a later historiographical construct), but they did argue about what it meant for a person or a society to become “enlightened,” and the role of skeptical reasoning and religious faith in that process. The dialogue of skepticism and faith, therefore, echoed through the effort to produce and disseminate knowledge in the early republic. American Protestants in particular anointed themselves as the vanguard of Western civilization, claiming all the “enlightened” values and practices previously championed by the eighteenth-century philosophes: free inquiry, open debate, the broad dissemination of print, and the triumph over superstition. But they always supplemented and corrected worldly learning with divine revelation. More radical champions of enlightenment argued that the truth claims of the churches and the Bible needed to be investigated, debated, and rationally evaluated just like any others, and rejected if found wanting.

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

On Gregg Frazer's New Book

Check the story out here. As it reads:
New from the University Press of Kansas: God against the Revolution: The Loyalist Clergy's Case against the American Revolution by Gregg L. Frazer
About the book, from the publisher: 
Because, it’s said, history is written by the victors, we know plenty about the Patriots’ cause in the American Revolution. But what about the perhaps one-third of the population who opposed independence? They too were Americans who loved the land they lived in, but their position is largely missing from our understanding of Revolution-era American political thought. With God against the Revolution, the first comprehensive account of the political thought of the American Loyalists, Gregg L. Frazer seeks to close this gap.

Because the Loyalists’ position was most clearly expressed by clergymen, God against the Revolution investigates the biblical, philosophical, and legal arguments articulated in Loyalist ministers’ writings, pamphlets, and sermons. The Loyalist ministers Frazer consults were not blind apologists for Great Britain; they criticized British excesses. But they challenged the Patriots claiming rights as Englishmen to be subject to English law. This is one of the many instances identified by Frazer in which the Loyalist arguments mirrored or inverted those of the Patriots, who demanded natural and English rights while denying freedom of religion, expression, and assembly, and due process of law to those with opposing views. Similarly the Loyalist ministers’ biblical arguments against revolution and in favor of subjection to authority resonate oddly with still familiar notions of Bible-invoking patriotism.

For a revolution built on demands for liberty, equality, and fairness of representation, God against the Revolution raises sobering questions—about whether the Patriots were rational, legitimate representatives of the people, working in the best interests of Americans. A critical amendment to the history of American political thought, the book also serves as a cautionary tale in the heated political atmosphere of our time.
Thanks to Marshal Zeringue for posting this.

Sunday, November 4, 2018

St. George Tucker, Religion & the American Founding, Postscript

A subtitle to this post is "the power of missing quotation marks." You can view the last of my series on St. George Tucker here

When it came to sourcing material, America's founders often operated according to a different set of rules. In the material I reproduced from Tucker, at least he explicitly attributes to Richard Price and otherwise puts in quotations some of the things that he quotes exactly. America's founders didn't always do this.

The problem is that Tucker (or perhaps whoever reproduced his work) misses some quotation marks. And it makes a difference. Tucker apparently endorses all of the words he reproduces from Price. But he makes it really hard to tell where his words end and Price's words begin.

Here is a link to the original. What follows is the offending original part of the quotation where quotation marks are not used in Tucker's original writing:

"In liberty of conscience says the elegant Dr. Price, I include much more than toleration." 

This is then followed by a great deal of words. It gives the impression that Tucker is paraphrasing Richard Price's sentiments. The problem is, starting with "[i]n liberty of conscience" Tucker begins quoting Price exactly. It should have read, "In liberty of conscience," says the elegant Dr. Price, "I include much more than toleration." 

Tucker then goes on to quote Richard Price verbatim so much such that arguably Price's exact words make up the majority of words in this document from The Founders' Constitution

I'm going to quote below the entire passage of Price's, quoted by Tucker as it should have looked. I've put Tucker's words in bold:
"In liberty of conscience," says the elegant Dr. Price, "I include much more than toleration. Jesus Christ has established a perfect equality among his followers. His command is, that they shall assume no jurisdiction over one another, and acknowledge no master besides himself. It is, therefore, presumption in any of them to claim a right to any superiority or pre-eminence over their bretheren. Such a claim is implied, whenever any of them pretend to tolerate the rest. Not only all christians, but all men of all religions, ought to be considered by a state as equally entitled to it's protection, as far as they demean themselves honestly and peaceably. Toleration can take place only where there is a civil establishment of a particular mode of religion; that is, where a predominant sect enjoys exclusive advantages, and makes the encouragement of it's own mode of faith and worship a part of the constitution of the state; but at the same time thinks fit to suffer the exercise of other modes of faith and worship. Thanks be to God, the new American states are at present strangers to such establishments. In this respect, as well as many others, they have shewn in framing their constitutions, a degree of wisdom and liberality which is above all praise. 
"Civil establishments of formularies of faith and worship, are inconsistent with the rights of private judgement. They engender strife . . . they turn religion into a trade . . . they shore up error . . . they produce hypocrisy and prevarication . . . they lay an undue bias on the human mind in its inquiries, and obstruct the progress of truth . . . genuine religion is a concern that lies entirely between God and our own souls. It is incapable of receiving any aid from human laws. It is contaminated as soon as worldly motives and sanctions mix their influence with it. Statesmen should countenance it only by exhibiting, in their own example, a conscientious regard to it in those forms which are most agreeable to their own judgments, and by encouraging their fellow citizens in doing the same. They cannot, as public men, give it any other assistance. All, besides, that has been called a public leading in religion, has done it an essential injury, and produced some of the worst consequences. 
"The church establishment in England is one of the mildest sort. But even there what a snare has it been to integrity? And what a check to free inquiry? What dispositions favourable to despotism has it fostered? What a turn to pride and narrowness and domination has it given the clerical character? What struggles has it produced in its members to accommodate their opinions to the subscriptions and tests which it imposes? What a perversion of learning has it occasioned to defend obsolete creeds and absurdities? What a burthen is it on the consciences of some of its best clergy, who, in consequence of being bound down to a system they do not approve, and having no support except that which they derive from conforming to it, find themselves under the hard necessity of either prevaricating or starving? No one doubts but that the English clergy in general could with more truth declare that they do not, than that they do give their unfeigned assent to all and every thing contained in the thirty-nine articles, and the book of common prayer: and, yet, with a solemn declaration to this purpose, are they obliged to enter upon an office which above all offices requires those who exercise it to be examples of simplicity and sincerity . . . Who can help execrating the cause of such an evil? 
"But what I wish most to urge is the tendency of religious establishments to impede the improvement of the world. They are boundaries prescribed by human folly to human investigation; and enclosures, which intercept the light, and confine the exertions of reason. Let any one imagine to himself what effects similar establishments would have in philosophy, navigation, metaphisics, medicine, or mathematics. Something like this, took place in logic and philosophy, while the ipse dixit of Aristotle, and the nonsense of the schools, maintained, an authority like that of the creeds of churchmen; and the effect was a longer continuance of the world in the ignorance and barbarity of the dark ages. But civil establishments of religion are more pernicious. So apt are mankind to misrepresent the character of the Deity, and to connect his favour with particular modes of faith, that it must be expected that a religion so settled will be what it has hitherto been . . . a gloomy and cruel superstition, bearing the name of religion. 
"It has been long a subject of dispute, which is worse in it's effects on society, such a religion or speculative atheism. For my own part, I could almost give the preference to the latter . . . Atheism is so repugnant to every principle of common sense, that it is not possible it should ever gain much ground, or become very prevalent. On the contrary, there is a particular proneness in the human mind to superstition, and nothing is more likely to become prevalent . . . Atheism leaves us to the full influence of most of our natural feelings and social principles; and these are so strong in their operation, that, in general, they are a sufficient guard to the order of society. But superstition counteracts these principles, by holding forth men to one another as objects of divine hatred; and by putting them on harrassing, silenceing, imprissoning and burning one another, in order to do God service . . . Atheism is a sanctuary for vice, by taking away the motives to virtue arising from the will of God, and the fear of future judgment. But superstition is more a sanctuary for vice, by teaching men ways of pleasing God, without moral virtue; and by leading them even to compound for wickedness, by ritual services, by bodily penances and mortifications; by adoring shrines, going pilgrimages, saying many prayers, receiving absolution from the priests, exterminating heretics, &c. . . . Atheism destroys the sacredness and obligation of an oath. But is there not also a religion (so called) which does this, by teaching, that there is power which can dispense with the obligation of oaths; that pious frauds are right, and that faith is not to be kept with heretics. 
"It is indeed only a rational and liberal religion; a religion founded on just notions of the Deity, as a Being who regards equally every sincere worshipper, and by whom all are alike favoured as far as they act up to the light they enjoy: a religion which consists in the imitation of the moral perfections of an Almighty but Benevolent Governor of Nature, who directs for the best, all events, in confidence in the care of his providence, in resignation to his will, and in the faithful discharge of every duty of piety and morality from a regard to his authority, and the apprehension of a future righteous retribution. It is only this religion (the inspiring principle of every thing fair and worthy, and joyful, and which, in truth is nothing but the love of God to man, and virtue warming the heart and directing the conduct). It is only this kind of religion that can bless the world, or be an advantage to society. This is the religion that every enlightened friend to mankind will be zealous to support. But it is a religion that the powers of the world know little of, and which will always be best promoted by being left free and open."
Again, what Tucker didn't do was put in the quotation marks that I put in. Right after writing the words "free and open" Tucker then states:

"The following passage from the same author, deserves too much attention to be pretermitted:" ...

And it's correctly followed with quotation marks indicating the words are Price's. 

Below is how it looks, with Tucker's words in bold. But this time the quotation marks are NOT added by me but exist in the original. 
The following passage from the same author, deserves too much attention to be pretermitted: "Let no such monster be known there, [in the United States] as human authority in matters of religion. Let every honest and peaceable man, whatever is his faith, be protected there; and find an effectual defence against the attacks of bigotry and intolerance. In the United States may religion flourish! They cannot be very great and happy if it does not. But let it be a better religion than most of those which have been hitherto professed in the world. Let it be a religion which enforces moral obligations; not a religion which relaxes and evades them . . . A tolerant and catholic religion; not a rage for proselytism . . . A religion of peace and charity; not a religion that persecutes curses and damns. In a word, let it be the genuine gospel of peace, lifting above the world, warming the heart with the love of God and his creatures, and sustaining the fortitude of good men, by the assured hope of a future deliverance from death, and an infinite reward in the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Saviour."
If what I have written has confused any reader, you can compare the originals. Here is Price'shere is Tucker's.

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

St. George Tucker, Religion & the American Founding, Part V

See parts I, II, IIIand IV. This is the fifth and final part of the series and I hope you read my analysis at the end, because I think the post ends with a bang. 

Paragraph breaks added for clarity.
It is indeed only a rational and liberal religion; a religion founded on just notions of the Deity, as a Being who regards equally every sincere worshipper, and by whom all are alike favoured as far as they act up to the light they enjoy: a religion which consists in the imitation of the moral perfections of an Almighty but Benevolent Governor of Nature, who directs for the best, all events, in confidence in the care of his providence, in resignation to his will, and in the faithful discharge of every duty of piety and morality from a regard to his authority, and the apprehension of a future righteous retribution. 
It is only this religion (the inspiring principle of every thing fair and worthy, and joyful, and which, in truth is nothing but the love of God to man, and virtue warming the heart and directing the conduct). It is only this kind of religion that can bless the world, or be an advantage to society. This is the religion that every enlightened friend to mankind will be zealous to support.  
But it is a religion that the powers of the world know little of, and which will always be best promoted by being left free and open. The following passage from the same author, deserves too much attention to be pretermitted:  

"Let no such monster be known there, [in the United States] as human authority in matters of religion. Let every honest and peaceable man, whatever is his faith, be protected there; and find an effectual defence against the attacks of bigotry and intolerance. In the United States may religion flourish! They cannot be very great and happy if it does not. But let it be a better religion than most of those which have been hitherto professed in the world. Let it be a religion which enforces moral obligations; not a religion which relaxes and evades them . . . A tolerant and catholic religion; not a rage for proselytism . . . A religion of peace and charity; not a religion that persecutes curses and damns. In a word, let it be the genuine gospel of peace, lifting above the world, warming the heart with the love of God and his creatures, and sustaining the fortitude of good men, by the assured hope of a future deliverance from death, and an infinite reward in the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Saviour."

This inestimable and imprescriptible right is guaranteed to the citizens of the United States, as such, by the constitution of the United States, which declares, that no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States; and by that amendment to the constitution of the United States, which prohibits congress from making any law respecting the establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;  

[A]nd to the citizens of Virginia by the bill of rights, which declares, "that religion, or the duty which we owe to our Creator, and the manner of discharging it, can be directed only by reason and conviction, not by force or violence, and therefore all men are equally entitled to the free exercise of religion, according to the dictates of conscience: and that it is the mutual duty of all to practice christian forbearance, love, and charity, towards each other."  

And further, by the act for establishing religious freedom, by which it is also declared, "that no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry, whatsoever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested or burthened in his body or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief; but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument maintain their opinions in matters of religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish, enlarge, or affect their civil capacities."
Now for the controversial part, my analysis:

First, Tucker does not argue for what might be termed "strict deism" -- as his deity is too personal and Christianish -- but he does argue for some kind of Enlightenment theology. The term "the Enlightenment" was something that was crafted later by historians and intellectuals; but when one sees terms like "a rational and liberal religion" and "[t]his is the religion that every enlightened friend to mankind will be zealous to support," we are dealing with Enlightenment speak.

Second, if not strict deism, then what? This theology presents itself under the auspices of Christianity, and it quotes a "passage from the same author." That same author is Richard Price and the passage was quoted from Price's "Observations on the Importance of the American Revolution, and the Means of Making it a Benefit to the World [1784]."

That address (which George Washington endorsed) is, at the very least, implicitly unitarian as Price was an Arian.

After arguing for his ideal political theology which also happens to be his personal faith, Tucker then notes that this theology is validated by the US Constitution and the various laws in Virginia. Political theology is more of an informal thing (a spirit if you will) than a formal thing, like an official religious establishment.

Perhaps Tucker inappropriately reads in his personal preferences to American law. He does seem a partisan advocate of the "Virginia view," which is more secular and "separation of church and state" oriented. This wouldn't be the first time an influential figure from the past has done this. Professor V. Phillip Munoz, a leading expert on originalism and the religion clauses, noted to me (and others in a private group) he thought Joseph Story's "Commentaries on the Constitution" inappropriately read the "Massachusetts view," which is more accommodating of religion and public life, into the US Constitution.

(Yes I know, Tucker's writings predate Story's. But this is how Whigs tended to operate.)

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

St. George Tucker, Religion & the American Founding, Part IV

See parts I, IIand III

Paragraph breaks added for clarity.
The church establishment in England is one of the mildest sort. But even there what a snare has it been to integrity? And what a check to free inquiry? What dispositions favourable to despotism has it fostered? What a turn to pride and narrowness and domination has it given the clerical character?  
What struggles has it produced in its members to accommodate their opinions to the subscriptions and tests which it imposes? What a perversion of learning has it occasioned to defend obsolete creeds and absurdities? What a burthen is it on the consciences of some of its best clergy, who, in consequence of being bound down to a system they do not approve, and having no support except that which they derive from conforming to it, find themselves under the hard necessity of either prevaricating or starving? No one doubts but that the English clergy in general could with more truth declare that they do not, than that they do give their unfeigned assent to all and every thing contained in the thirty-nine articles, and the book of common prayer: and, yet, with a solemn declaration to this purpose, are they obliged to enter upon an office which above all offices requires those who exercise it to be examples of simplicity and sincerity . . . Who can help execrating the cause of such an evil? 
But what I wish most to urge is the tendency of religious establishments to impede the improvement of the world. They are boundaries prescribed by human folly to human investigation; and enclosures, which intercept the light, and confine the exertions of reason. Let any one imagine to himself what effects similar establishments would have in philosophy, navigation, metaphisics, medicine, or mathematics.  
Something like this, took place in logic and philosophy, while the ipse dixit of Aristotle, and the nonsense of the schools, maintained, an authority like that of the creeds of churchmen; and the effect was a longer continuance of the world in the ignorance and barbarity of the dark ages. But civil establishments of religion are more pernicious. So apt are mankind to misrepresent the character of the Deity, and to connect his favour with particular modes of faith, that it must be expected that a religion so settled will be what it has hitherto been . . . a gloomy and cruel superstition, bearing the name of religion. 
It has been long a subject of dispute, which is worse in it's effects on society, such a religion or speculative atheism. For my own part, I could almost give the preference to the latter . . . Atheism is so repugnant to every principle of common sense, that it is not possible it should ever gain much ground, or become very prevalent.  
On the contrary, there is a particular proneness in the human mind to superstition, and nothing is more likely to become prevalent . . . Atheism leaves us to the full influence of most of our natural feelings and social principles; and these are so strong in their operation, that, in general, they are a sufficient guard to the order of society. But superstition counteracts these principles, by holding forth men to one another as objects of divine hatred; and by putting them on harrassing, silenceing, imprissoning and burning one another, in order to do God service . . . Atheism is a sanctuary for vice, by taking away the motives to virtue arising from the will of God, and the fear of future judgment.  
But superstition is more a sanctuary for vice, by teaching men ways of pleasing God, without moral virtue; and by leading them even to compound for wickedness, by ritual services, by bodily penances and mortifications; by adoring shrines, going pilgrimages, saying many prayers, receiving absolution from the priests, exterminating heretics, &c. . . . Atheism destroys the sacredness and obligation of an oath. But is there not also a religion (so called) which does this, by teaching, that there is power which can dispense with the obligation of oaths; that pious frauds are right, and that faith is not to be kept with heretics.
We see here that Tucker has some bitter words of criticism for certain kinds of established Christianity. Roman Catholicism is obviously a target -- probably the biggest offender -- of this "superstitious" Christianity that Tucker apparently sees as worse than atheism.

However, it's an all to common error of the "Christian nationalist" types to think it's only Roman Catholicism. No it's other forms of orthodox Protestant Christianity too. Here Tucker names Anglicanism. Tucker also notes it's not just congregants, but ministers as well in the Anglican church who didn't necessarily believe in official doctrine and dogma.

That's why the rules of evidence by which I operate refuse to concede that merely being formally affiliated (and in some cases the affiliation is informal!) with a particular church means we get to impute said church's doctrines into the particular individual.

This is, for instance, the only way to make George Washington into an "orthodox Christian," by imputing specific Anglican/Episcopalian teachings into his beliefs. Even though GW systematically avoided communion in said church. (Something forbidden by "official" Anglican/Episcopalian doctrine and dogma).

Monday, October 29, 2018

St. George Tucker, Religion & the American Founding, Part III

See parts I and II

Paragraph breaks added for clarity.
In liberty of conscience says the elegant Dr. Price, I include much more than toleration. Jesus Christ has established a perfect equality among his followers. His command is, that they shall assume no jurisdiction over one another, and acknowledge no master besides himself. It is, therefore, presumption in any of them to claim a right to any superiority or pre-eminence over their bretheren. Such a claim is implied, whenever any of them pretend to tolerate the rest.  
Not only all christians, but all men of all religions, ought to be considered by a state as equally entitled to it's protection, as far as they demean themselves honestly and peaceably. Toleration can take place only where there is a civil establishment of a particular mode of religion; that is, where a predominant sect enjoys exclusive advantages, and makes the encouragement of it's own mode of faith and worship a part of the constitution of the state; but at the same time thinks fit to suffer the exercise of other modes of faith and worship.  
Thanks be to God, the new American states are at present strangers to such establishments. In this respect, as well as many others, they have shewn in framing their constitutions, a degree of wisdom and liberality which is above all praise. 
Civil establishments of formularies of faith and worship, are inconsistent with the rights of private judgement. They engender strife . . . they turn religion into a trade . . . they shore up error . . . they produce hypocrisy and prevarication . . . they lay an undue bias on the human mind in its inquiries, and obstruct the progress of truth . . . genuine religion is a concern that lies entirely between God and our own souls.  
It is incapable of receiving any aid from human laws. It is contaminated as soon as worldly motives and sanctions mix their influence with it. Statesmen should countenance it only by exhibiting, in their own example, a conscientious regard to it in those forms which are most agreeable to their own judgments, and by encouraging their fellow citizens in doing the same. They cannot, as public men, give it any other assistance. All, besides, that has been called a public leading in religion, has done it an essential injury, and produced some of the worst consequences.
The "elegant Dr. Price" is the legendary Arian philosopher Richard Price.

Sunday, October 28, 2018

St. George Tucker, Religion & the American Founding, Part II


Paragraph breaks added for clarity:
The right of personal opinion is one of those absolute rights which man hath received from the immediate gift of his Creator, but which the policy of all governments, from the first institution of society to the foundation of the American republics, hath endeavoured to restrain, in some mode or other.  
The mind being created free by the author of our nature, in vain have the arts of man endeavoured to shackle it: it may indeed be imprisoned a while by ignorance, or restrained from a due exertion of it's powers by tyranny and oppression; but let the rays of science, or the dawn of freedom, penetrate the dungeon, its faculties are instantly rarified and burst their prison. 
This right of personal opinion, comprehends first, liberty of conscience in all matters relative to religion; and, secondly, liberty of speech and of discussion in all speculative matters, whether religious, philosophical, or political. 
1. Liberty of conscience in matters of religion consists in the absolute and unrestrained exercise of our religious opinions, and duties, in that mode which our own reason and conviction dictate, without the control or intervention of any human power or authority whatsoever.  
This liberty though made a part of our constitution, and interwoven in the nature of man by his Creator; so far as the arts of fraud and terrors of violence have been capable of abridging it, hath been the subject of coercion by human laws in all ages and in all countries as far as the annals of mankind extend.  
The infallibility of the rulers of nations, in matters of religion, hath been a doctrine practically enforced from the earliest periods of history to the present moment among jews, pagans, mahometans, and christians, alike. The altars of Moloch and of Jehovah have been equally stained with the blood of victims, whose conscience did not receive conviction from the polluted doctrines of blood thirsty priests and tyrants. Even in countries where the crucifix, the rack, and the flames have ceased to be the engines of proselitism, civil incapacities have been invariably attached to a dissent from the national religion: the ceasing to persecute by more violent means, has in such nations obtained the name of toleration1
I find interesting the equivalence that Tucker draws among the different religious traditions, finding them all -- from Moloch to Jehovah -- culpable in the bloodstained game of religious persecution.

Saturday, October 27, 2018

St. George Tucker, Religion & the American Founding, Part I

One of the things we, along with many scholars, have done is play up "the key American founders" (the ones on American currency, etc.) perhaps to the exclusion of the 2nd and 3rd tier ones who comprised a statistical majority of their numbers.

This post will feature the writings of St. George Tucker of Virginia, not a key American founder. But a notable statesmen from that era, nonetheless. Perhaps this post will not satisfy those who look for a difference of opinion between the key founders on the one hand, and the lesser founders on the other. And that's because Tucker's views seem to exist somewhere right between Thomas Jefferson's and James Madison's (two key founders).

What I find interesting about this document labeled Blackstone's Commentaries, 1:App. 296--97, 2: App. 3--11 (named such, even though this particular text really has nothing to do with Blackstone's commentaries) is that it alludes to four major pieces of work from that era: 1. The Virginia state bill of rights, 2. the Memorial and Remonstrance; 3. the VA Statute on Religious Freedom, and 4. the US Constitution.

I'm going to publish this work in pieces. Below is the first excerpt, with some paragraph breaks added for clarity:
On the first of these subjects, our state bill of rights contains, what, if prejudice were not incapable of perceiving truth, might be deemed an axiom, concerning the human mind. That "religion, or the duty we owe to our Creator, and the manner of discharging it, can be dictated only by reason and conviction, not by force or violence." In vain, therefore, may the civil magistrate interpose the authority of human laws, to prescribe that belief, or produce that conviction, which human reason rejects: in vain may the secular arm be extended, the rack stretched, and the flames kindled, to realize the tortures denounced against unbelievers by all the various sects of the various denominations of fanatics and enthusiasts throughout the globe. 
The martyr at the stake, glories in his tortures, and proves that human laws may punish, but cannot convince. The pretext of religion, and the pretences of sanctity and humility, have been employed throughout the world, as the most direct means of gaining influence and power. Hence the numberless martyrdoms and massacres which have drenched the whole earth with blood, from the first moment that civil and religious institutions were blended together. 
To separate them by mounds which can never be overleaped, is the only means by which our duty to God, the peace of mankind, and the genuine fruits of charity and fraternal love, can be preserved or properly discharged. This prohibition, therefore, may be regarded as the most powerful cement of the federal government, or rather, the violation of it will prove the most powerful engine of separation. 
Those who prize the union of the states will never think of touching this article with unhallowed hands. The ministry of the unsanctified sons of Aaron scarcely produced a flame more sudden, more violent, or more destructive, than such an attempt would inevitably excite. . . . I forbear to say more, in this place, upon this subject, having treated of it somewhat at large in a succeeding note.
The language pretty strikingly speaks in terms of "separation" of church and state. I'm surprised that the secularists who like to cherry pick Jefferson and Madison haven't quoted from this more. The fact that the date of this document is from 1803 also fits Philip Hamburger's thesis that the Democratic-Republicans didn't speak in terms of "separation of church and state" until the early 19th Century.

That contention is one of the many analytical points where I think Hamburger gets it wrong. Whatever exact words they used, what Jefferson and Madison argued for in Virginia in the 1780s I think aptly could be termed "separation of church and state," even if they didn't use those exact words, but used others like "non-cognizance."

Rather, Tucker's view well represents what some scholars have termed the "Virginia view" (not the only one the American founders held on religious establishment issues). And the "Virginia" view, even in the 1780s, is one of "separation."

Friday, October 26, 2018

Old Article in First Things

The Internet is a strange place. In case you missed it, there has been a lot of growth in the online world over the past 20 years or so. There has also been a lot of opportunity with that growth. Much of it missed. If I only had bought Amazon when it first went public.

When I started blogging -- and I don't think I've ever done anything that big in the blogsphere (or really tried) -- it surprised me how some folks ended up taking note of me and throwing some work my way, that I never really sought out.

In the 13 plus years that I've been working full time at my job, I've always worked "overloads" which is the way my job describes overtime. I really don't have the time or interest to seek out publication in peer reviewed places. But I would argue, there is nothing about that process that makes the output superior to what I do other than perhaps having an editor who strengthens my writing.

I have a handful of very close readers who would call out any unprofessional errors within the week if not the day.

First Things was one of those places that asked me to write a "briefly noted" review, without my solicitation. You can now read it as it appears in the magazine.

The review was of James H. Hutson's "The Founders on Religion, A Book of Quotations."

Princeton University Press ended up putting my name on the back of the book.

No really.

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

The Profit Motive Keeps Our Union Together -- So Say Alexander Hamilton and Jay Cost

If you think our society's nosedive in civility and the increase in political and identitarian tribalism will lead to civil war... Take heart. It won't happen. That's the message of Jay Cost, writing for National Review. His prognosis is based on none other than Alexander Hamilton, who of course graces our $10 bill and was the subject of a spectacularly popular play in recent years.

In Federalist No. 12, Hamilton wrote that "[t]he prosperity of commerce" is, and will increasingly become, "the primary object of our political cares." He explained that the "interests" of the working citizenry are "intimately blended and interwoven." And this reality, claims Hamilton via and according to Cost, will insure American society today endures the turbulent, polarized affairs in which we find ourselves. 

To read Cost's full article, I direct you to National Review's site below...


It should be noted that the Founders also had much to say about religion and morality being important to preserving the glue which binds us together. See Washington's Farewell Address (which incidentally Hamilton had a hand in writing). But even if Cost is correct in his emphasis on economics, the glue only works so long as Americans embrace the system given to us by our Founders, namely free market economics. If the nation turns away from capitalism and more toward socialism, we may find Cost's hopeful optimism misplaced. 

Monday, October 1, 2018

Fea: The Author’s Corner with Gregg Frazer

It looks like our friend Dr. Gregg Frazer has a new book out entitled God against the Revolution: The Loyalist Clergy’s Case against the American Revolution (University Press of Kansas, 2018). John Fea has the details here. A taste:
JF: What led you to write God Against the Revolution?  
GF: My primary research interest is religion and the American Founding. I became re-acquainted with the sermons of Loyalist minister Jonathan Boucher while doing research on American Revolution-era sermons for my first book, The Religious Beliefs of America’s Founders. I have always been impressed with Boucher’s biblical argument and with his rational challenges to John Locke’s theories. Having analyzed the basic arguments and assumptions of the Patriot preachers in my first book, I became intrigued with the idea of examining the arguments of the Loyalist clergymen and, as they were the primary spokesmen of Loyalism, the political thought of the Loyalists in general. Irrespective of the title, the book covers all of the Loyalist arguments.
I can't wait to read it and hopefully we will have much more discussion about this book.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Ben Franklin on Religious "Diffidence"

In his autobiography Ben Franklin noted that at one point in his younger life he became a "thorough deist." Franklin immediately noted that he backtracked on the thoroughness of such creed. ("I began to suspect that this doctrine, tho' it might be true, was not very useful.")

Elsewhere in his biography, Franklin gives more detail on his change of approach. Paragraph breaks are added:
And being then, from reading Shaftesbury and Collins, become a real doubter in many points of our religious doctrine, I found this method safest for myself and very embarrassing to those against whom I used it. Therefore I took a delight in it, practising it continually, and grew very artful and expert in drawing people, even of superior knowledge, into concessions, the consequences of which they did not foresee, entangling them in difficulties out of which they could not extricate themselves, and so obtaining victories that neither myself nor my cause always deserved.  
I continued this method some few years, but gradually left it, retaining only the habit of expressing myself in terms of modest diffidence; never using, when I advanced anything that may possibly be disputed, the words certainly, undoubtedly, or any others that give the air of positiveness to an opinion; but rather say, I conceive or apprehend a thing to be so and so; it appears to me, or I should think it so or so, for such and such reasons; or I imagine it to be so; or it is so, if I am not mistaken. 
This habit, I believe, has been of great advantage to me when I have had occasion to inculcate my opinions and persuade men into measures that I have been from time to time engaged in promoting; and, as the chief ends of conversion are to inform or to be informed, to please or to persuade, I wish well-meaning, sensible men would not lessen their power of doing good by a positive, assuming manner, that seldom fails to disgust, tends to create opposition, and to defeat every one of those purpose for which speech was given to us, to wit, giving or receiving information or pleasure.  
For, if you would inform, a positive and dogmatical manner in advancing your sentiments may provoke contradiction and prevent a candid attention. If you wish information and improvement from the knowledge of others, and yet, at the same time, express yourself as firmly fixed in your present opinions, modest, sensible men, who do not love disputation, will probably leave you undisturbed in the possession of your error. And by such a manner you can seldom hope to recommend yourself in pleasing your hearers, or to persuade those whose concurrence you desire.
Shaftesbury and Collins were two of the "Deists" who influenced Franklin. Early in his life Franklin was imbibed in the game which we see played to this day of skeptics debunking conventional religious dogmas. Franklin claims he was quite good at it. But then opted for a different approach. The approach of making diffident arguments on issues that many hold dear.

More of a soft challenge than a hard one.

Saturday, September 1, 2018

Nothing New Under the Sun




“I have long been convinced that our Enemies have made it an Object, to eradicate from the Minds of the People in general a Sense of true Religion & Virtue, in hopes thereby the more easily to carry their Point of enslaving them.”—Samuel Adams to John Scollay, 30 April 1776






HT: Daniel Dreisbach

Friday, August 31, 2018

Thomas Jefferson Believed in the Resurrection

Just not of Jesus. At least not yet.

In his letter to to William Short, October 31, 1819, Jefferson listed the doctrines which he rejected:
The immaculate conception of Jesus, his deification, the creation of the world by him, his miraculous powers, his resurrection and visible ascension, his corporeal presence in the Eucharist, the Trinity; original sin, atonement, regeneration, election, orders of Hierarchy, &c.
Elsewhere Jefferson posited his materialism and rejected the concept of an immaterial soul. Such got Jefferson accused of secret atheism. Likewise, that John Locke was a materialist is a component in the equation that gets him accused of the same.

Yes, Jefferson following Locke and Joseph Priestley was a materialist. All three believed in or at least professed to believe in a creator God and in a future state of rewards and punishments. I'll skip Locke's particulars for the moment and note that Priestley the Socinian believed in the resurrection of the Messiah Jesus. Socinians like Priestley believed Jesus 100% man, 0% divine in His nature. But on a divine mission.

For Priestley the resurrection of the Messiah Jesus was God doing for the most perfect man what He promised to do one day for all good men.

John Adams too believed in the resurrection of Jesus. I can't tell whether Adams was an Arian or Socinian (I'm not sure if he knew what he was in that respect). What I am sure of is Adams bitterly and militantly rejected the doctrines of the Trinity and Incarnation and self identified as a unitarian.

But for a materialist like Jefferson, if one doesn't believe in the doctrine of an immaterial soul, but one does believe in a creator God and an afterlife, it stands to reason that the resurrection of humans into new material bodies will be the mechanism God uses to accomplish such.

So even if Jefferson rejected the resurrection of Jesus, he probably believed that Jesus would be resurrected in the end with himself and all other good men.

Saturday, August 25, 2018

St. Athanasius and the American Founding

I will admit that I have not done comprehensive research on the topic of St. Athanasius and the American founding. But I am aware of a few notable founders who broached the subject. And all the results are negative towards the name "Athanasius" or "Athanasian."

So, in this post, I attempt briefly to explain who St. Athanasius was, what he was famous for, and why certain founders (or their British influences) would speak negatively about him.

If you want to know more explicit detail about him, start off with his Wiki page and follow the sources in the footnotes there. As I see it, he was notable for three things I list below.

The first is that he played a leading role in the Council of Nicaea that was meant to clarify (small o) "orthodox" church doctrine and anathematize Arianism. The three most notable ecumenical creeds of the early church are as follows: 1. Apostles; 2. Nicene; and 3. Athanasian. People debate when the Apostles' creed was written; it could have been before or after the Nicene. The origins of the Nicene creed are clearer: it was done in 325 CE. Likewise the exact date of the Athanasian creed is debatable; but it appears to be somewhat after the Nicene.

All three of the creeds were meant to clarify the nature of God and anathematize heresy. All three are Trinitarian in their character. The Apostles' creed is the least specific, the Athanasian the most so, with the Nicene somewhere in the middle. The Athanasian creed gets so specific it became clumsy for some orthodox churches to use for liturgical recitation. But make no mistake, the purpose of these creeds was for the early church to clarify the "orthodoxy" of the collective, universal (i.e., small c catholic) church.

So one possible meaning of "Athanasius" or "Athanasian" to America's founders is Trinitarianism in the form of a creed. And the most notable Trinitarian creed is the Nicene (not the Athanasian, ironically) where the doctrine of the Trinity was firmly articulated and where St. Athanasius played a leading role in the process.

So to use the term "Athanasian" in a negative sense might mean a Founder is signifying his theological unitarianism. For instance, John Adams in 1815 comes out of his unitarian closet and attempts to straighten out Jedidiah Morse, a notable orthodox Trinitarian enemy of Unitarianism at the time. Adams states:
In the preface, Unitarianism, is represented as only thirty years old in New England. I can testify as a Witness to its old Age. Sixty five years Ago, my own Minister the Reverend Lemuel Briant, Dr Jonathan Mayhew of the West Church in Boston, The Reverend Mr Shute of Hingham The Reverend John Brown of Cohasset, and perhaps equal to all, if not above all, The Reverend Mr Gay of Hingham; were Unitarians. Among the Laity, how many could I name Lawyers, Physicians, Tradesmen, Farmers? I could fill a Sheet, but at present will name only one. Richard Cranch a Man who had Studied Divinity, and Jewish and Christian Antiquities more than any Clergyman now existing in New England. 
More than fifty years ago I read Dr Samuel Clark, Emlyn, and Dr Waterland. Do you expect, my dear Doctor to teach me any new thing in favour of Athanasianism?
So when William Livingston slammed St. Athanasius in a letter to, again, Jedidiah Morse (but in 1787), he could have been signalling his unitarianism.

But St. Athanasius is also know for the creed which bears his name: the Athanasian creed. Ironically, scholars conclude he had nothing to do with the writing of that creed; it was as mentioned above, at Nicaea where Athanasius played the leading role. The Athanasian creed came later and is more wordy than the Nicene. The early church felt the need to add more words because it felt the need to further clarify what is orthodoxy, what is heresy.

The creed was adopted by not only the Roman Catholic Church, but also the Anglicans and many other (though certainly not all) orthodox Protestant churches.

One of the controversial "additions" that the Athanasian creed makes to the Nicene are the so called "damnatory clauses." It's the part at the end which says basically, not only do we believe in the Trinity and other aspects of orthodoxy against heresy, but if you don't believe in this, you are damned.

It's supposedly a "faith" of the universal church "which except a man believe truly and firmly, he cannot be saved."

Now keep in mind that many orthodox Protestants affirm this creed. Just as many orthodox Protestants believe in a small c catholic or "universal" church. I have encountered a few orthodox Trinitarian Protestants who say they believe in everything the Athanasian creed says except for the damnatory clauses. Meaning that you can have a mistaken view that qualifies as heresy, but not necessarily soul damning heresy.

Most of the fulminations against the damnatory clauses of the Athanasian creed in the 18th Century come from unitarians (as far as I have seen). So for instance, as the Arian Richard Price noted in an address that George Washington endorsed:
Perhaps nothing more shocking to reason and humanity ever made a part of a religious system than the damning clauses in the Athanasian creed and yet the obligation of the clergy to declare assent to this creed, and to read it as a part of the public devotion, remains.
The third thing that Athanasius is notable for is his work in establishing what constitutes the canon of the Bible. In other words, he helped write the Bible. When we say "write the Bible," this is what we mean: If one wants to believe that the Holy Spirit breathed all scripture, fine. However the Bible didn't just fall out of the sky or wasn't just discovered written in gold plates as a complete set of books.

The Bible isn't a novel; it's a canon that had to be complied. And from day one, there were disagreements on which books belonged. From day one (the first century) believers had "scripture." But what they didn't have was a book of 27 that comprised the New Testament or a book of 66 or 73 or some other number that comprised the Old and New Testaments.

Many orthodox Protestants seem under the misimpression that once the ink was dry on the last book in the New Testament in the first century, that all true believers simply knew that it was these 27 books that comprise the NT and those 39 that comprised the OT.

The problem with this is that it's not true; or at least there is no historical evidence for it. Again, they all believed in *some* scripture, but the process for determining "it's these books and not those" took hundreds of years to settle. And in reality, it's still not settled in that Protestants, Catholics and the capital O Orthodox each have canons with slightly different sets of books.

Long story short: the heretic Marcion came forth with the first written canon that struck many in the community as whack. So the community of believers got together and started a long process that attempted to answer him and settle matters of orthodoxy and canonicity.

Some mistakenly believe that Nicaea settled the matter of the canon. In fact, that was John Adams' impression. But Nicaea didn't deal with the canon, rather the Trinity. The reason why someone might make this error is because Athanasius not only played a leading role at Nicaea, but also in establishing the canon of the Bible.

In fact, the earliest historians can trace a complete list of 27 books of the New Testament is to Athanasius in the year 367. Now, let me be clear on what is meant here. Yes, all the books in the canon may well have been written in the first century. But what we are looking for is evidence of "it's these 27, not those other books." Terms like "mostly the NT" or "basically" won't cut it. Yes, much earlier, we can demonstrate figures believing in groups of books that are part of the NT. But you don't get those 27 until Athanasius and 367.

And even then it wasn't settled; that's just the earliest we can find those 27 as defined as "the list" of books that comprise the NT. Though it became formalized in the Third Council of Carthage in 397 AD.

So if one takes issue with what constitutes the canon of scripture, especially the 27 books which make up the NT, one might take issue with St. Athanasius.