Thursday, February 11, 2016

George Washington's Defense of the Godless Constitution

One thing to keep in mind on the debate over the US Constitution's Godlessness, is that, however we understand the controversy, it wasn't "made up" by two Cornell professors.

In fact, I was reminded of George Washington's response to a group of Presbyterians who were concerned about the omission of a reference to the Christian religion in the US Constitution. Washington attempted to alleviate their concern writing:
The tribute of thanksgiving, which you offer to the gracious FATHER OF LIGHTS, for his inspiration of our publick councils with wisdom and firmness to complete the National Constitution, is worthy of men, who, devoted to the pious purposes of religion, desire their accomplishment by such means as advance the temporal happiness of their fellow men. And, here, I am persuaded, you will permit me to observe, that the path of true piety is so plain, as to require but little POLITICAL direction.
To this consideration we ought to ascribe the absence of any regulation respecting religion from the Magna Charta of our country. To the guidance of the Ministers of the Gospel, this important object is, perhaps, more properly committed. It will be your care to instruct the ignorant, and to reclaim the devious: And in the progress of morality and science, to which our Government will give every furtherance, we may confidently expect the advancement of true religion, and the completion of our happiness.
I pray the munificent Rewarder of virtue, that your agency in this work, may receive its compensation here and hereafter.
This same group of people -- the religiously correct "orthodox" -- also bothered William Livingston about the explicit lack of Christianity as the foundation for American law in the Articles of Confederation (which unlike the Constitution, isn't a Godless document, but rather, like the Declaration of Independence, appeals to God in a more generic sense).

As Livingston wrote:
[A]nd to have made the 'law of the eternal God, as contained in the sacred Scriptures, of the Old and New Testament, the supreme law of the United States,' would, I conceive, have laid the foundation of endless altercation and dispute....

To the effect ... that of promoting purity of manners, all legislators and magistrates are bound by a superior obligation to that of any vote or compact of their own; and the inseparable connexion between the morals of the people and the good of society will compel them to pay due attention to external regularity and decorum; but true piety again has never been agreed upon by mankind, and I should not be willing that any human tribunal should settle its definition for me.
The tone of the two statesmen are different. But the effect is the same. Government (at least the Federal one) is going to be hands off on religion; the religious ball rather is in the court of voluntary, private entities.

Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Boudinot to Samuel Bayard, a Second Time Today

I am going to copy and paste some of the 1796 letter from Elias Boudinot to Samuel Bayard that Bill Fortenberry tipped me off to. As Boudinot wrote:
It is a most remarkable event and one that soon cannot be forgotten, that in the year 1796, on the first disputed election for a President of the United States, the State of Pennsylvania who values herself on her attachment to the christian character should give 13 votes out of 15 for a President & Vice President who are open & professed Deists at the same time, it will also be remembered that in the house of Representatives in the Congress of the United States Dr Priestly had 27 votes for their Chaplain. These facts are too remarkable to escape the Pen of our future Historians & I confess they give such substantial evidence of our degenerating from the zeal of our forefathers, who first settled this wilderness, that those who retain any of their spirit have their fears greatly alarmed for the consequences.
The bold face is mine. What I put in bold reminds me of what the two Cornell scholars stressed in "The Godless Constitution."  Now, neither Thomas Jefferson nor Joseph Priestley were "Godless." (The same can be said of Thomas Paine.) But the authors of that book noted how the orthodox forces of "religious correctness" lamenting both God's absence in the US Constitution as well as the rise of heterodox men like Jefferson offended Providence and insulted the real "Christian" heritage of the planting period.

Christian Nationalists like David Barton on the other hand claim virtually all of America's Founders were "Christians" with a bare number of "Deists" here and there and that there was no "disconnect" between the political theology of America's colonial Planting and its Founding from 1776-1800 or so.

As the theory Barton rejects as "revisionist" goes, the colonial Planting involved orthodox covenants, done under the doctrine of the Divine Right of Kings and British colonial law. The Founding broke with such, not only with Divine Right of Kings and British colonial law, but the notion that governments should covenant with orthodox Trinitarian theology. Instead, we got a Godless Constitution and Article VI's "No Religious Test" Clause.

Rather, Barton claims it was liberal "revisionist" historians of the modern era who made up this understanding.

Boudinot in the above quotation seems to not only observe the disconnect, but also predicts how those future historians (Barton's "liberal revisionists") will have "substantial evidence" on their side regarding the difference between the Planting and the Founding.

Boudinot: Joseph Priestley got 27 House Votes to be a Chaplain

Learn something new every day. On social media Bill Fortenberry challenged John Fea about a quotation in his article that had Elias Boudinot lamenting that during the 1796 election, Pennsylvania saw 13 out of 15 votes cast for "open & professed Deists" Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr.

[Update as it turns out, I misread the conversation. Bill Fortenberry wanted John Fea to cite his sources. Fortenberry uncovered the letter with the "professed Deists" quotation.]

An additional piece of information I had not known about was the House of Representatives in Congress at the time gave 27 votes to Joseph Priestley to be their Chaplain. I wonder how many votes in total there were then? You can read the letter here.

We know there were a handful of "key Founders" who offer smoking gun quotations or other evidence that suggests they weren't "orthodox Trinitarian Christians." And there are another handful who like Boudinot have quotations and so on suggesting they were orthodox (ironically, the candidate the "orthodox" forces of religious correctness supported in 1796 turned out to be a flaming unitarian himself).

It's a non-sequitur to conclude, as some have, that except for a small handful of "Deists" (or people like Thomas Jefferson and Ben Franklin, whatever we call them), virtually all the rest were devout orthodox Trinitarian Christians.

No, rather, just about all of them, including Jefferson and Franklin, were in some way connected to churches that had an orthodox Trinitarian creed. But you could be a member of or in some way connected to such a church without believing in its official doctrines. Indeed, reformations happen and churches change. Some of the heterodox members might have distanced themselves from their orthodox Church because they didn't appreciate the orthodoxy. Others, on the other hand, may have stayed close to their church and tried to change it in the unitarian and/or universalist direction.

Monday, February 8, 2016

Hutson on Stewart

James H. Hutson on Matthew Stewart's book at Claremont Review of Books here. A taste:
How does Stewart go about proving this remarkable thesis? To show that Locke was an atheist, coached in the dark side by Spinoza, Stewart relies on an unpublished manuscript, “Apple and Worm,” sent to Stewart by an admirer in the Netherlands. There is a leaven of Gnosticism here as Stewart relies on secret wisdom conveyed by a secret text—a kind of Gospel of Thomas or a Second Treatise to the Great Seth. For scholars, such a secret document cannot, of course, have any credibility; they must rely on such evidence as Stewart publicly offers to prove a connection between Locke and Spinoza. Some of it is of the following variety: Locke lived in Amsterdam a few years after Spinoza’s death; or sentiments from Spinoza’s writings appear to agree with sentiments found at various places in Locke’s works, e.g., that the ancient Hebrews ascribed ordinary events to the intervention of God, that rebellion against tyrants was a natural right, and that the rule of law was necessary for the public good. Stewart then assumes that this limited commonality of ideas proves that Locke subscribed to all of Spinoza’s sentiments, including his religious ones.

[...]

There is a rich literature offering a variety of interpretations of Locke and different assessments of his relation to the American Founding. Stewart’s book has not benefited from it. He appears to believe that every mainstream scholar is a fraud. His favorite expression is “the common view gets the actual history of ideas almost exactly backwards” or “the common view” about the Enlightenment “amounts to a falsification of the history of ideas.” Page after page contains explanations of the folly of the “common view” or the “common conception.” Here, again, we encounter a whiff of Gnosticism which, according to Tobias Churton, holds that the received view conceals the truth and that a text has an “outer sense” for “ordinary” people and an “inner sense whose dimensions of meaning may be endless.” This attitude seems to have contributed to Stewart’s creation of a parallel universe in which atheists hijacked the American Revolution and “the contradictory impulses” of American religion today “belatedly converged along the path that begins with Spinoza and Jefferson.”

Fea: "Still Misleading America About Thomas Jefferson"

John Fea takes down David Barton here. A taste:
But no one drew the ire of the founders of the ABS more than Thomas Jefferson. When the primary author of the Declaration of Independence defeated John Adams in the presidential election of 1800 his followers described the victory as a natural extension of the American Revolution. The tyranny of the Federalist Party (of whom Boudinot, Jay, and most of the ABS founders were members) was over. The Federalist attempt at using Christianity as a means of keeping moral order in the country would now give way to a new age of liberty and religious skepticism.
Jefferson embodied everything that the ABS opposed. He rejected traditional Christian beliefs such as the deity of Christ and his resurrection from the dead. He did not believe that the Bible was inspired by God. He despised Calvinists of both the Congregational and Presbyterian variety. He supported the French Revolution, an uprising associated in the Federalist mind with atheism and the destruction of organized religion. He opposed established Christianity and called for the separation of church and state. And he believed that Christians were on the wrong side of history. As Jefferson famously wrote to his friend Dr. Thomas Cooper in 1822, “Unitarianism…will, ere long, be the religion of the majority from north to south, I have no doubt.”
Update: Raw Story picked up Fea's article. 

Saturday, February 6, 2016

Why Does Satan Have the Best Music?

I just noticed Peter Lillback wrote a song about George Washington & Christianity embedded below:


Compare that to Michael Newdow's tune on GW & SHMG. Sorry but Newdow's is better. Much better.

Paul Boller, RIP

He died in 2014. Blog brother Ray Soller tipped me off to this. I wrote Boller a note about Peter Lillback and Boller replied. If I can find the letter I might post the image.

Boller wrote a book which became the standard bearer on George Washington and religion that argued GW was *some* kind of Deist. The book doesn't argue GW was a Deist of the absentee landlord type. But perhaps Boller's book does deserve some blame for later scholars who mistakenly conclude GW was.

Lillback's book, self published (nothing necessarily wrong with that, but it was badly in need of an editor) attacks Boller in a mean spirited tone. Lillback's book is not without its virtues. It really does make a great reference for George Washington's quotations. And it does "step up" the game in terms of meticulously examining the scholarly record.

I was surprised by the polemical tone of Lillback's book because when I have seen him speak via video clips he comes across as a kind and gentle man with a very civil tone.

And I suppose, fighting fire with fire, I adopted the same harsh tone in my criticisms of Lillback.

I didn't want and do not want people to think Lillback's over 1000 page book gets the last word or demolishes Boller. He claims to have demolished the thesis that Washington was a "Deist." And if we define Deism as absentee landlord deity-ism, a creed that is bitterly dismissive of all revealed religions, then Lillback did indeed do this.

However, Lillback and those of his worldview have high standards for what it means to be a "Christian." This is why Lillback was desperate to prove GW an "orthodox Trinitarian Christian."

That's where he shoots too far. We might term GW a "theistic rationalist," a "Christian-Deist." Or perhaps a "Christian" in the very ecumenical, latitudinarian wing of the Anglican Church which downplays doctrine and really doesn't care too much about notions like the Trinity.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

Jesus' Role in Christian-Deism

As Dr. Joseph Waligore has pointed out, there were three notable figures from England who called themselves "Christian Deists": 1. Thomas Morgan; 2. Thomas Amory; and 3. Matthew Tindal.

They disregarded orthodox doctrines like the Trinity and the Atonement but still saw a special place for Jesus as Messiah.

We argue over which terms are proper. Sometimes it makes sense to attach a term to a movement that the thinkers did not use. For instance, the early "Thomists" or "Calvinistis" probably didn't use those terms to describe themselves (though such terms are entirely apt). However, the above three thinkers did accepted the label of "Christian-Deist."

Others, however with parallel views might not have self consciously understood themselves as "Christian-Deists"; but it still might make sense to attach such label to them. Thomas Jefferson, for instance, considered himself a "Christian" and a "Unitarian." He, like Franklin, tended to qualify his preferred version of "Christianity" with the adjective "rational" ("rational Christianity").

Jefferson did not, I don't think, consider himself a "Deist" and the only time of which I am aware he used that term, what he meant by it was the belief in one God. Hence Jefferson called the Old Testament Jews "Deists" because they believed in one God.

But in terms of openness to the supernatural doctrines of traditional Christianity (i.e., miracles) Jefferson was arguably less of a "Christian" than Morgan, Amory or Tindal were. Still, the label "Christian-Deist" may "fit" with Jefferson. (Or maybe Jefferson wasn't "Christian" enough, even though he understood himself to be one.)

The question then for whether it's appropriate to label the "key Founders" to be "Christian-Deists" is whether their beliefs mesh with the "Christian-Deism" as articulated by the above three: Morgan, Amory and Tindal.

With Ben Franklin, if we take what he detailed in the Samuel Hemphill affair as reflecting his personal creed, I think the answer is yes.

How this relates to Jesus. The "Christian-Deists" saw Jesus as Messiah, but in an unorthodox way. They were probably influenced by John Locke in this regard. As I understand it they didn't worry about the Trinity or other orthodox doctrines. Rather, they understood there is a natural law determinable by reason. And some brilliant philosophers (Aristotle?) can get the results without Jesus, but with much intricate intellectual work.

In fact Franklin explicitly notes in A Defense of Mr. Hemphill's Observations that before the coming of Jesus, "many would be able to save themselves by a good Use of their Reason and the Light of Nature."

I guess this depends on what it means by "many." That is, because man's reason is flawed such that your average Joe Sixpack can't properly understand Aristotle and hence, many also won't be able to save themselves by trying to live according to such principles.

Jesus perfectly lived out and captured these principles in such a way that ordinary people could understand and follow. This is what the Christian-Deist concept of Christianity republishing the law of nature refers to. In fact, John Locke has a line about Jesus' teachings being so clear that "ignorant fisherman" could follow them. So Jesus saves by perfecting and modeling virtue and teaching it in such a way that everyone could follow and hence yields a net increase in moral practice.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Berean Research on David Barton

See the proper hardcore Protestant evangelical fundamentalist view of David Barton's research and the American Founding here. A taste:
Trinity Broadcasting Network (TBN) announced that David Barton has been given his own TV show which first aired January 8. ...

Well this is interesting.  Glenn Beck will be a guest on the show?  Beck’s a member in good standing of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.  Um…Mormons reject the Trinity, as in the T in TBN. Do Jan & Sons not know that Mormons contend they’re the true remnant of the Christian church — the one true church?

Since Mormonism denies central doctrines of the faith it’s not Christian by any stretch.  In fact, Mormonism is considered a theological cult or a sect.  Don’t be fooled by the rumor that has been circulating for several years, fueled by David Barton, that Glenn Beck is a Christian and that he’s saved.  If this is true, then why would Beck keep the news from his friends and fans?  Moreover, a truly regenerate Christian would understand that he must cut all ties with the LDS Church and join a church where the true gospel of Christ is preached.

But Glenn Beck hasn’t cut ties with his church.  Instead he promotes Mormonism.
Yes that which believes Mormonism is "not Christian by any stretch" should also see the political theology of the American Founding as "not Christian by any stretch."

Sunday, January 24, 2016

James Pitt on the Christian Deist view of Justification

Dr. Joseph Waligore's article convinced me that the English Christian-Deist James Pitt is the likely source of theological inspiration for Ben Franklin in his dealings with the Samuel Hemphill affair.

In those writings Franklin rejects among others, the orthodox Protestant doctrine of Sola Fide, that men are justified through faith alone. As Franklin wrote:
Faith is recommended as a Means of producing Morality: Our Saviour was a Teacher of Morality or Virtue, and they that were deficient and desired to be taught, ought first to believe in him as an able and faithful Teacher. Thus Faith would be a Means of producing Morality, and Morality of Salvation. But that from such Faith alone Salvation may be expected, appears to me to be neither a Christian Doctrine nor a reasonable one.
Other writings of Franklin indicate he didn't like perhaps Thomas Jefferson did, believe in a "works alone" scheme of justification. But rather, simply Franklin rejected "faith alone." The conclusion is Franklin believed in some mysterious combination of faith and works, or perhaps, faith, grace and works, for salvation.

James Pitt wrote something strikingly similar. From Dr. Waligore's paper:
Pitt agreed that many biblical passages emphasized faith, but he disagreed with the traditional Protestant doctrine that people were justified by faith alone. Instead, Pitt reinterpreted these passages to say that faith was always related to virtue. To Pitt, faith meant “Faith of a moral nature; not a Sett [sic] of speculative Opinions; not Faith absolutely considered in itself; but Faith as it relates to Virtue.” He explained that true faith was a belief that God had ordered the universe so that morally good people would be rewarded in the next life. Pitt thought Christ came to teach this belief, and so he wrote, “This Faith in Jesus Christ, as the Messiah, or Sent of God, is a supernatural Means of believing in God, or acknowledging the Truth of this practical Proposition, That God will finally make Good Men happy.”64
Everything about what Franklin wrote relating to the Hemphill affair saw not just "faith" but "faith in Jesus Christ" as a means as opposed to an end.  Though faith in Jesus was the best means out of all of them.

James Pitt, Christian Deist

One of the English Deists featured in Dr. Joseph Waligore's article is James Pitt. He is noted as a possible influence on Ben Franklin's Christian Deism. Franklin was familiar with and published some of Pitt's work.

Quoting Pitt on the Trinity:
All those Controversies which have been so hotly agitated at the Expence of the Peace, and Blood of the Christian World, about the Person of Jesus Christ, concerning the Trinity, and a Thousand other Things, make us neither wiser nor better. We may embrace one Scheme, or t’other, or neither, as Evidence appears to us, and be equally good Christians, and faithful Subjects of the Kingdom of God.54
This mirrors Franklin's utter indifference towards that doctrine in his end of life letter to Ezra Stiles.

Later in the 19th Century, when such "heresy" could be preached openly in America with less controversy, we see the capital U Unitarians echoing such sentiments (while giving the spiritual credit to Unitarianism).

As James Freeman Clarke put it in 1838:
We are almost born Calvinists, Catholics, Swedenborgians, Universalists; for, as a man's nature is, so are his views of God and man, and thence, of religion; his nature develops, is modified, is changed, born again, and his elements of faith change likewise. If you would fix his faith, then, affect his spirit. And if you believe Unitarianism to be the truth, rest assured that the Catholic, and the Baptist, and the Presbyterian, and the Deist, while they are preaching in a Christian spirit, and aiding to spread that spirit, — are preaching Unitarianism. ...

Waligore: "The Christian Deist Writings of Benjamin Franklin"

For those of you who can access the JSTOR article, the link is here. Dr. Joseph Waligore has done Yeoman's work updating the scholarly record regarding the multiple possible understandings of the term "Deism."

The form of Deism that arguably prevailed in England, as opposed to the continent, was Christian-Deism. Many of the ideas that drove the American Founding derived from Great Britain. America rebelled against her mother country using ideas that first appeared there. So it shouldn't surprise that the "Deism" of the American Founding, like that of England, would turn out to be more "Christian" than one might have thought.

Many things are great about this article. But my favorite is the American Creation blog gets a footnote. It's footnote 28. From page 7:
All of the Christian deists claimed to be Christian and the vast majority of them claimed they were the only ones advocating the Christianity Jesus taught. A better name for them might be “Jesus-centered deists” because they identified Christianity with Jesus’ moral teachings.28 Calling them “Jesus-centered deists” rather than “Christian deists” has the advantage of sidelining the contentious question about whether they actually were Christians. None of the Christian deists, however, described themselves as “Jesus-centered.” Instead, they all described themselves as “Christian.” Moreover, using the name “Jesus-centered deist” could be taken to imply that they should not be considered “Christian.” It is more historically accurate to refer to them as they referred to themselves, so I will stick with calling them “Christian deists.”

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Brookhiser: "Forrest McDonald, R.I.P."

This is another good one. A taste:
Forrest could be quite perky on smaller matters, too. He was one of the first serious historians to believe that Jefferson probably fathered children by Sally Hemings — although as soon as this became the orthodox view, Forrest became skeptical. As he once said to me, Jefferson was a sexagenarian with migraines when he was supposed to have sired his slave children, and what sense did that make? (Another historian said to me, of Forrest, that he wanted to be as un-PC as possible.) Another Forrest-ism: “The trouble with Franklin is he lies all the time.” That is harsh, but as one studies Franklin, one sees what Forrest meant.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Arnhart: "A Prehistoric Massacre in Africa Suggests that the State of Nature was a State of War"

Check it out here. A taste:
One of the fundamental debates in the history of political philosophy is over whether the state of nature was a state of peace or a state of war.  Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau all agree that the first human beings lived as foraging hunter-gatherers, but they disagree about whether this original human condition was generally violent or generally peaceful.  Hobbes claimed that without any government to enforce peace, life among these first human beings must have been an utterly lawless war of all against all.  Locke inferred from reports about hunter-gatherer bands in America that life in a state of nature could be a state of peace, but it could easily become a state of war.  Rousseau thought that the evidence refuted both Hobbes and Locke in suggesting that the first human ancestors were peaceful, and that war did not arise until the invention of agriculture led to a less nomadic and more settled social life.

[...]

Now that we have more archaeological and anthropological evidence than was available to Hobbes, Locke, and Rousseau, we are reaching the point where we might settle this debate.  I have argued that the evidence suggests that Hobbes was partly right, Rousseau was mostly wrong, and Locke was mostly right.  Locke was right in seeing that foraging human bands can enforce customary laws of cooperation that secure a peaceful life, but that in the absence of formal governmental rule, feuding often leads to war.

Tillman on McDonald

Forrest McDonald passed. There are many great appreciations on the Internet of him. I will focus on Seth Barrett Tillman's. A taste:
Dear Mr. Tillman:

            I have read your article on Art. I, s. 7, cl. 3 with care and interest. I find it historically absolutely convincing, and if you wish to quote me to that effect when you submit it to a traditional hard bound law review, you have my permission. I don’t think it likely to change the law on the subject, but it should certainly change historical scholarship.
            I note minor typos on pages 59 and 78, and fiercely object to the use of “she” when talking about the president—that is politically correct faddism, having no place in an article this serious—but I observed only two factual errors. . . .
            My congratulations on a well-done bit of scholarship.

Very truly yours,
Forrest McDonald

Monday, January 18, 2016

OUP Blog: "Religious belief, fundamentalism, and intolerance"

By Desmond M. Clarke. Check it out here. A taste:
When Calvin endorsed the execution of Michael Servetus in 1553, he justified his decision by appeal to (1) the certainty of his own religious faith and (2) the obligation of civil authorities to protect the citizens of Geneva from what he classified as heresy. Théodore de Bèze later defended that rationale in a lengthy Treatise in 1560.
When the Jesuit Cardinal Bellarmine subsequently considered how the Catholic Church should treat heretics, he invoked Calvin’s principle; he quoted Bèze to show that the state must support the eradication of heresy and, if necessary, execute those whom the Roman church classified as heretics (i.e. Calvinists!).
The two Christian churches were symmetrically intolerant of each other. They each appealed to the certainty of their own (incompatible) religious beliefs and to a political theory based on their common reading of the Bible. There followed, in France, decades of religious wars, which petered out only with victory for the majority church at the end of the century.
Two centuries later, a biassed Catholic court in Toulouse sentenced an innocent Huguenot shopkeeper, Jean Calas, to torture on the wheel and public execution. He was accused of murdering his son to prevent him becoming a Catholic, although the son had taken his own life. This monstrous miscarriage of justice prompted Voltaire to write A Treatise on Toleration (1763), in which he pleaded with the civil authorities and the Catholic citizens of France to cease persecuting their Christian fellow citizens. For Voltaire, religious persecution was absurd, and it was inconsistent with the Christian command to love God and one’s neighbour.
The logic of intolerance has been remarkably consistent over many centuries, within different churches and cultures. ...

Monday, January 11, 2016

Santa Fe, Catholicism, and the Pitfalls of Fundamentalism in America's Founding

A few weeks ago, my wife and I decided to take advantage of an extended weekend by traveling to Santa Fe, New Mexico. In addition to the unbelievably awesome Mexican food, Santa Fe is also home to a number of fascinating historical monuments that predate the founding of the United States by more than a century.

Many Americans are probably unaware of the fact that Santa Fe is the second oldest city in the United States (St. Augustine, Florida is #1). Founded officially in 1607, Santa Fe became a haven for Catholic colonists who were determined to convert the local Pueblo Indians and extend the church's influence to the New World. Early Spanish settlers saw Santa Fe as an important outpost that served as an important launch pad into the rest of the North American continent. A number of relics from this time period still remain even today, to include the oldest church in the United States: La Mision de San Miguel.   Here are just a few pictures from our weekend excursion:

The outside of La Mision de San Miguel, which is the oldest church in the United States.

Inside the church

The altar of the church, which is built directly over a number of older Native American holy sites.  The altar itself and the artwork were built in 1735, since much of the original church was destroyed by Indians during the Pueblo Indian Revolt of 1680.

This bell was the most interesting artifact (IMHO) of all. Casted in 1356, the bell was originally intended to be used in a church under the control of the Moores. Somehow it made its way to Mexico and then later to Santa Fe in the late 17th century.  The bell is more than 100 years older than even Christopher Columbus.

And here is a short video of the church:


Our trip to Santa Fe caused me to think about how different the roles of Catholicism and Protestantism were in shaping the "New World." While Catholic Conquistadors like Cortes were busy conquering and converting in Mexico, men like Martin Luther were posting lists of grievances on church doors and pushing for reform. Spain's long war with the Moores had created a violent and even fundamentalist brand of Catholicism, while the emergence of Gutenberg's printing press was liberally spreading the message of Protestant reform far and wide.

It was the religious plurality of the British colonies in the New World that created a rich and vibrant soil. With Puritans, Anglicans, Quakers, Baptists, Methodists, etc. finding new havens in America in which to grow and nourish their brand of Christianity, America's religious experience evolved to become more like Baskin Robbins than Levi Jeans; 31 flavors instead of one size fits all.  The simple fact that American colonists (at least in the 18th century) now had a choice of religion meant that faith had become a democratic and (dare I say it) a capitalist enterprise.

Catholicism, while flourishing in Mexico, South America and parts of Canada, stood no chance in the British colonies. Though it is true that Maryland, founded by devout Catholic George Calvert, was created to be a refuge for English Catholics, the colony eventually came under Anglican rule in the beginning of the 18th century. What is surprising, however, is the fact that Protestants in Maryland itself accepted their Catholic neighbors, despite the massive anti-Pope sentiment that existed in the British colonies. Clearly America's Protestant diversity was liberal enough for even Catholics to find safe haven. This is no small thing, since the anti-Catholic sentiment of many Founding Fathers is a well known fact.

Why Catholicism did not flourish in the English American colonies is simple: it was far too conservative and allowed no wiggle room for the diversity of faith that was fundamental in American Protestantism.  As historian Mark Noll states in his book The Old Religion in a New World:
The religious situation that results in the United States reverses the pattern of Europe.  The only way for a denomination to become confessionally conservative is for it to become sectarian -- that is, to actively oppose marketplace reasoning; to refuse to abide by the democratic will of the majorities; to insist upon higher authorities than the vox populi; and to privilege ancestral, traditional and hierarchical will over individual choice.
In short, Catholicism fell victim to the same fate that currently infects many fundamentalist faiths today.  Instead of embracing the plurality of faith, fundamentalism doubles down on its rhetoric. It closes its borders, shuts its doors and secludes itself from the world.

Maybe those religions today that are experiencing the exodus of its membership could learn a lesson here and avoid the same fate.

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Alex Knepper on the Founders, Hobbes & Locke

He posted this to Facebook.
Becky Chandler posted something to the effect that our Founders, though devoted Lockeans, were not influenced by Hobbes. This is false, because Lockeanism is a variant of Hobbesianism, but this requires a somewhat-lengthy explanation. This is most certainly a 'Straussian' account, but I have yet to see a convincing rebuttal:
Thucydides teaches us in the Melian Dialogue that legalistic justice originates between competitors of approximately equal strength; that when there is inequality between competing forces, there is only domination by the strong and submission on the part of the weak. Greco-Roman politics was defined by a relatively rigid -- though not ironclad -- social hierarchy, held in place by an understanding that certain types of people are by nature fit to rule over others. Democracy came into being in Greece when the myth of the 'great chain of being' became unbelievable -- the ancient parallel to the 'death of God' -- which untethered 'eros' and eventually led to the dissolution of antiquity.
Modern philosophers, starting with Machiavelli, sought to conceive of a new, more stable vision of justice -- one to replace the chain-of-being/hierarchy myth -- based on that which is common to all men. If we can conceive of a new vision and spin a 'rational mythology,' then we can reboot Western civilization, 'liberate it from the barbarians [Christians],' and avoid a repeat of the collapse of antiquity and the tragic thousand-year-reign of Christendom, which 'turned Europe into another appendage of Asia.' Hobbes knew his Thucydides -- as Nietzsche says: to be untimely is to know the Greeks -- and recognized that In order for there to be enduring justice among all people, they must be convinced of their essential equality. Anything else will result in another unstable hierarchy. In Hobbes we find the rational mythology called for (to those who had ears to hear) by Machiavelli -- the roots of materialism, egalitarianism, secularism, and natural rights doctrines, based on what Hobbes insisted was a purely technical account sufficient to cover the sweep of human experience. These planks of the liberal doctrine are designed to neutralize that which makes men distinct from one another -- especially religious belief, but also physical (and yes, even mental) strength, and ancestry. But most of all, what unites us is our common fear of death and our craving for security and safety. If we are all equal, then none of us stands any better chance than anyone else of surviving against the other -- so let's agree to pursue justice together rather than attempt to dominate one another. Hobbes was much-persecuted in his native Britain, though, and had to cloak his brutal attack against Christendom as a defense of monarchy.
When a little more time had passed and attitudes toward the Church continued to soften, Locke came along: Lockeanism is practical, humane Hobbesianism -- *democratic* Hobbesianism. But Hobbes himself knew his face-value doctrine was inhumane -- he simply had no choice but to cater to those in power if he wanted to avoid persecution. Hobbes would have undoubtedly approved of Locke -- and would have fully recognized himself in the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence.

Friday, January 8, 2016

Ratzinger on Scripture without revelation

Here. A taste:
... Revelation cannot be pocketed like a book one carries around. It is a living reality which calls for the living man as the location of its presence. In view of what has been said, we may, therefore, affirm that revelation goes beyond the fact of scripture in two respects: as a reality deriving from God it always extends upwards into God’s action; as a reality which makes itself known to man in faith, it also extends beyond the fact of scripture which serves to mediate it. This non-coincidence of scripture and revelation makes it clear that quite apart from the question whether scripture is the sole material source or not, there can never really, properly speaking, be a sola scriptura in regard to Christianity. ...
I want to say this reminds me of my recent readings on the Quakers. The written word proceeds from the Spirit and is thus secondary to it. The Spirit is a wordless Word.

Though there is an older tradition of something similar that preceded the Quakers. And that's Christian mysticism, which existed in the medieval Roman Catholic Church. Thinkers like Meister Eckhart and closer to today Thomas Merton.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Heirs to Forgotten Kingdoms & Pythagoras

Former President Bill Clinton recommends Heirs to Forgotten Kingdoms, by Gerard Russell. This from the official site:
Despite its reputation for religious intolerance, the Middle East has long sheltered many distinctive and strange faiths: one regards the Greek prophets as incarnations of God, another reveres Lucifer in the form of a peacock, and yet another believes that their followers are reincarnated beings who have existed in various forms for thousands of years. These religions represent the last vestiges of the magnificent civilizations in ancient history: Persia, Babylon, Egypt in the time of the Pharaohs. Their followers have learned how to survive foreign attacks and the perils of assimilation. But today, with the Middle East in turmoil, they face greater challenges than ever before.
In Heirs to Forgotten Kingdoms, former diplomat Gerard Russell ventures to the distant, nearly impassable regions where these mysterious religions still cling to survival. He lives alongside the Mandaeans and Ezidis of Iraq, the Zoroastrians of Iran, the Copts of Egypt, and others. He learns their histories, participates in their rituals, and comes to understand the threats to their communities. As more and more of their youth flee to the West in search of safety and prosperity, these religions face the dire possibility of extinction.
I haven’t read the book; though it’s on my list. I did watch a speech on the book given by the author which I have embedded.

One of the things that struck me listening to this lectures is Russell’s focus on Pythagoras as a figure who connects the different ancient religions. It struck me because this wasn’t the first time I encountered such notion. I am well familiar with John Adams’ letter to Thomas Jefferson, dated December 25, 1813, where he discusses Pythagoras learning about the Trinity from the Hindus in India and bringing such doctrine into Ancient Greece, hence Western Civilization.

The context of this letter was John Adams criticizing Joseph Priestley, a man for whom Adams had great respect in a love/hate sort of way, to Thomas Jefferson, another Priestley disciple. Adams invoked Priestley’s book “Doctrines of Heathen Philosophers, compared with those of Revelation.” (1804)

Priestley was a freethinking Socinian Unitarian “Christian.” He believed Jesus Messiah, and that God spoke to man through revelation; but he also thought 1. Original Sin, 2. Trinity, 3. Incarnation, 4. Atonement, and 5. Plenary Inspiration of the Bible were “Corruptions of Christianity.” Socinians, if we don’t know, believe Jesus was 100% man, not at all divine in His nature, but on a divine mission. Priestley thought himself a “unitarian” and a “Christian,” not a “Deist.” But his creed wasn’t that different from those of the “Christian-Deists” who preceded him.

Indeed, this controversy had been covered before Adams wrote his aforementioned letter, and Priestley, his book. (Though Priestley may have explored these issues in earlier writings.) The very orthodox Christian American Founder Elias Boudinat in his 1801 book “The Age of Revelation” (written to counter Thomas Paine’s Deistic “The Age of Reason“) cited a 1794 book by Thomas Maurice. As quoted:
One of the most prominent features in the Indian theology, is the doctrine of a Trinity, which it plainly inculcates; a subject by no means to be passed over in silence; but at the same time connected with the abstrusest speculations of ancient philosophy. It has been repeatedly observed, that the mythologic personages, Brahma, Veeshnu, and Seeva, constitute the grand Hindoo triad of Deity. – That, nearly all the Pagan nations of antiquity, in their various theological systems, acknowledged a kind of Trinity in the Divine Nature, has been the occasion of much needless alarm and unfounded apprehension, especially to those professors of Christianity, whose religious principles rest upon so slender a basis, that they waver with every wind of doctrine. The very circumstances which has given rise to these apprehensions, the universal prevalence of this doctrine in the Gentile kingdoms, is, in my opinion, so far from invalidating the Divine authenticity of it, that it appears to be an irrefragable argument in its favour. It ought to confirm the piety of the wavering Christian, and build up the tottering fabric of his faith.
The doctrine itself bears such striking internal marks of a Divine original, and is so very unlikely to have been the invention of mere human reason, that there is no way of accounting for the general adoption of so singular a belief by most ancient nations, than by supposing what I have, in pretty strong terms, intimated at the commencement of this chapter, to be the genuine fact, that the doctrine was neither the invention of Pythagoras, nor Plato, nor any other philosopher in the ancient world, but a sublime mysterious truth, one of those stupendous arcana of the invisible world, which through the condescending goodness of Divine Providence, was revealed to the ancient patriarchs of the faithful line of Shem, by them propagated to their Hebrew posterity; and through that posterity, during their various migrations and dispersions over the east, diffused through the Gentile nations, among whom they sojourned. I must again take permission to assert it as my solemn belief – a belief founded upon long and elaborate investigation of this important subject, that the Indian, as well as all other triads of Deity, so universally adored throughout the whole Asiatic world, and under every denomination, whether they consist of persons, principles, or attributes deified, are only corruptions of the Christian doctrine of the Trinity.
Maurice’s book was written in part to rebut the “critical religious studies” of Deists like Voltaire (whom he names) that tried to explain away the doctrine of the Trinity. Boudinat following Maurice attempts to defend the doctrine as a divine Truth traceable to the Hebrews that then filtered its way to the Eastern regions and got corrupted by those religions. Adams followed Priestley and the Deists attempting to trace the “false” doctrine of the Trinity to Plato and perhaps before. Before Plato was Pythagoras, who encountered the Hindu Trinity.

In his book, Russell admits that Pythagoras and his followers viewed the concept of Trinity as something divinely true.