Sunday, March 1, 2020

First Thoughts on Mark David Hall's New Book

I am slowly enjoying Mark David Hall's new book, "Did America Have a Christian Founding? Separating Modern Myth from Historical Truth." I think he makes a reasonable case for his position that America had a "Christian" founding. And I think it deserves popular success along with Drs. John Fea's and Gregg Frazer's books on the matter.

But, of course, I have to say something critical. And let me start with one glaring error. His title to Chapter Two is "The United States Does Not Have a Godless Constitution." I would quarrel with the title. America's Constitution technically is Godless. Rather, let's make the case that such fact doesn't necessarily mean America was founded to be a secular utopia or that the ACLU and Americans United For Separation of Church and State have it right.

Indeed, in the first paragraph of the chapter, he concedes the point, but terms it "trivial."

Rather, the glaring error is on page 24. Dr. Hall says the "Deity" was not mentioned in France's Declaration of the Rights of Man. No. All three Declarations of the Rights of Man invoke the Deity in generic terms, just like America's Declaration of Independence does.

There were indeed differences between America's and France's Revolutions. France's was more radical and influenced by the French Enlightenment; America's was more moderate and influenced by the Scotch Anglo Enlightenment. The American Revolution was influenced by the Glorious Revolution. And the French Revolution was influenced by both the Glorious and American Revolutions.

This may seem like a nitpicky point, but I think it's important. The religious conservatives who will sympathize with Dr. Hall's book might wish to portray the American founding as a "Christian" event, but the French as "atheistic." Just as the term "Christian" has multiple potential understandings, so does "atheist." The American founding has been portrayed as "atheistic." Sometimes the term "atheist" means "not orthodox enough." Other times it might refer to some kind of esoteric plan of philosophers.

Both the American AND French revolutions (along with the Glorius) appealed to a Deity and took place in the context of Christendom. All three events are connected in meaningful ways. But that's for another day's post.

Friday, February 14, 2020

Why We Shouldn’t Celebrate Presidents Day

We now enter the most pointless, uninspiring, vapid, and annoying holiday weekend of the year. I of course refer to the holiday widely, incorrectly, and inappropriately known as “Presidents Day.”

This moniker is so prevalent, so popular, so ubiquitous that I realize my criticism is futile and will mostly fall on deaf or uninterested ears (or, in this case, eyes).

But for those who care....

This is not Presidents Day Weekend. 

I know, I know. Everyone CALLS it “Presidents Day Weekend.” But.... it’s not.

Not officially anyway.

Again....not that anyone cares. And not that our society is going to change this moniker anytime soon. After all, “Presidents Day” has a nice “ring” to it. It rolls off the tongue much more easily than would be the case if we actually used the PROPER and LEGAL name for this weekend’s holiday.

We all know that, given the choice between Proper or Convenient, Americans will choose the latter every time.

But if you’ll indulge me....

There’s much more at stake than simple laziness or even ignorance.

The fact that Americans CALL this February holiday “Presidents Day” effectively equalizes ALL of our Presidents and makes this holiday about ALL those who served in the American presidency.

What’s wrong with THAT, you ask.

Well..... let me tell you.

Some of our Presidents don’t deserve holiday recognition. That’s right. Some of our Presidents have been more harmful than helpful to our country. And even those who perhaps did their jobs adequately, or even well, don’t necessarily deserve the same holiday recognition that we bestow on that great civil rights hero: Martin Luther King, Jr.

What’s more.... the very REASON we HAVE holidays (remembering that the word “holiday” stems from “holy day”) is to call Americans’ attention to WORTHY people or events. It’s to call Americans to higher principles - to get them to remember the WHY of our country, not just the WHAT of our history.

There was a time when Americans pretty much universally understood this. And thus they had no problem calling this February holiday by its proper, legal, and official name. The reason being.... they understood that the man for whom this February holiday is officially named... is worthy of universal recognition and esteem. That man of course is....

George Washington

Remember him?  You know..... the guy who fathered this country.  The guy who pretty much remains the only (humanly speaking) indispensable man in American history. Without Washington, it’s frankly inconceivable to think that the United States would even EXIST today.

Today, of course, few Americans even pay Washington much attention.

And when attention is paid to Washington, he’s normally maligned in a maelstrom of political correctness and so-called Social Justice Warriors. Never mind that most of Washington’s critics don’t even know much about the man. Facts don’t matter to them. They’ve caricatured him (along with the rest of the Founding Fathers) as white supremacist symbols of the WASP patriarchy. And that’s enough for them.

So much of today’s political disagreements - as well as discussions of history - degenerate into labels, tribalism, slander, and virtue signaling. Truth is lost in the mix. It’s a sad shame.

I have an idea.  I know it’s old-fashioned. I know it’s cliche.  I know it’s ... well... “out there” for a lot folks. But try this on for size....

How about....

We honor Washington for the good that he did and be grateful for what he did for our country while..... at the same time .... acknowledging his sins and failures and learning from those shortcomings?

You know.... kind of like... Hate the sin but Love the sinner?

I know that’s completely unfathomable in the vicious, slanderous, often binary world of politically correct social justice warriorism today. But....

It’s still the best way to go. And here’s why....


As the Bible tells us: “There is none righteous; no, not one.” (Romans 3:10).

Well... there was this ONE guy, but He’s on the special side. On the DIVINE side.

But setting Him aside...... all human beings are imperfect, flawed sinners. All of them.

Including you.

Including me.

Including George Washington.

And with that in mind....

It’s okay to have some heroes, so long as we remember that all of our heroes (again, except for that Jewish carpenter guy in the first century) are flawed. All of them.

The same is true for you, for your parents, for your significant other.

If you’re going to only love, honor, and respect people who are PERFECT or “perfect” according to YOUR personal standard of morality? Well.... you’ll never have ANY heroes or ANYONE in your life that you deem worthy of love, honor, or respect.

And that’s a sad and lonely way to live.

Not me.

I know George Washington isn’t perfect. He’s no Jesus. But....

  • He deserves his nation’s gratitude, honor, and respect. 
  • He deserves to be regarded as a hero.  
  • He deserves his own holiday! 


Happy George Washington Birthday Weekend!

Tuesday, February 4, 2020

Hall Responds to Frazer's Defense

Mark David Hall has emailed me his response to Gregg Frazer's defense of his criticisms of Hall's new book, Did America Have a Christian Founding? Separating Modern Myth from Historical Truth. I reproduce it below:


On January 10, in the comment section of American Creation, I wrote that

I'm not going to debate the details of [Frazer’s] review. I stand by my observation that anyone who reads it will conclude that it is inaccurate and unfair. If anyone reads the book and finds part of his critique to be fair, please let me know.

But I will give one example. Gregg's review begins "Both sides of the ‘Christian America’ debate employ the same strategy: posit a world in which everyone is either a Christian or a deist...” Gregg clearly thinks I'm in the first camp, and he is lumping me in with popular Christian authors who overstate their cases. Yet in the introduction to my book I make it crystal clear that I am not arguing that America's founders were all pious, orthodox Christians. I explain that we simply don't have the evidence to support this proposition in many cases. Moreover, in my chapter critiquing the assertion that "most" or "many" of America's founders were deists, I clearly state that Adams, Franklin, and Jefferson were not orthodox Christians.

This objection led Gregg to write more than 11,000 additional words attacking my book (I’m not exaggerating, count them). My decision not to engage Frazer in a line-by-line debate about the details of his review or his additional attacks on my book is the best decision I have made this year.

Friends have encouraged me to say more, so I’ll expand upon my observation that Gregg misreads or misrepresents my book. As noted, he contends that I argue that all of America’s founders were Christians. Yet on pages xxi and xxii I write that:

1. virtually all of the founders identified themselves as Christians, but “these facts alone are not particularly useful. These men and women may have been bad Christians, they may have been Christians significantly influenced by non-Christian ideas, or they may even have been Christians self-consciously attempting to create a secular political order.”
2. it would be more interesting to show that they were all sincere Christians, “yet sincerity is difficult for the scholars, or anyone else, to judge. In most cases, the historical record gives us little with which to work.”
3. “we might mean that the Founders were orthodox Christians. In some cases—for example, Samuel Adams, Patrick Henry, John Jay, Roger Sherman, and John Witherspoon—there is abundant evidence that they embraced and articulated orthodox Christian ideas. But the lack of records makes it difficult to speak with confidence on this issue with respect to some founders. Nevertheless, because of the many misleading statements on the subject, I demonstrate there is no evidence to support the popular claim that many or most of the founders rejected orthodox Christianity or were deists.” [And the endnote to this paragraph reads “by ‘orthodox’ I mean that they adhered to fundamental Christian doctrines as articulated in the Apostles’ or Nicene Creeds.”]
4. I will not argue that they “acted like Christians in their public or private lives.”
5. I will argue that the founders were influenced by Christian ideas. In making this argument, it is “important to note that nominal Christians might be influenced by Christian ideas, just as it is possible for an orthodox Christian to be influenced by non-Christian ideas.”

I honestly do not understand how anyone could read these pages and conclude that I am arguing that all of America’s founders are Christians. Even if Gregg meant to say that I am arguing only that all of the “key” founders were Christians, I clearly acknowledge that Franklin, Jefferson, Adams, Paine, and Allen are not orthodox Christians. These men all would have identified themselves as some sort of Christian, but I’ve already noted that this fact is uninteresting (see #1 above).

After the introduction, I have a chapter demolishing the claim that most of America’s founders were deists. Ironically, Gregg agrees with this assessment. I move on to argue that the founders were influenced by Christian ideas when they created America’s constitutional order. I then have three chapters that Gregg calls “brilliant” on religious liberty/church-state relations. In none of these chapters do I argue or assume that all of America’s founders were Christians.

Gregg misrepresents my book from the first sentence of his review. If I were to respond to every one of his claims, I would literally have to rewrite the book as I do with pages xxi and xxii above. I simply don’t have the time to do this. Let me encourage everyone to read the book and decide for yourself if his criticism are accurate.

Saturday, February 1, 2020

Frazer's Defense Completed

Dr. Gregg Frazer has sent a long, detailed final comment defending his review of Dr. Mark David Hall's book against the charge of "inaccuracy." 


To be clear: I only mentioned Lutz and his brand of evidence BECAUSE MARK RELIES ON LUTZ’S STUDY in order to diminish Locke’s influence.  I was not suggesting that Lutz’s view is the only – or even the best – scholarly effort or appropriate methodology. As I said, I have problems with basing much on mere countings of citations. I was responding to the evidence Mark offers and, apparently, finds compelling. Mark cites Lutz – but partially and conveniently; that was my point.  The source he cites does not really say what he reports it saying.  I am not accusing Mark of doing this intentionally; he may well have gotten caught up in making a point.

Another source that Mark cites (John Dunn) to diminish Locke’s significance is all about the GENERAL PUBLIC’S lack of access to Locke and the situation of “the American population at large” [my italics] – but the section in Mark’s book is “To Whom Did the Founders Turn?” – not the common people [my bold].  There was a huge difference between the highly educated founders and the common people.

It’s also important to note the Dunn wrote before Bernard Bailyn’s work with the pamphlet literature of the day was available.  Bailyn says that Locke was cited “(i)n pamphlet after pamphlet” and that “(t)he pervasiveness of such citations is at times astonishing” and that Locke’s influence approached being “dominant” and “wholly determinative.”

So, the common man was more familiar with the Bible – that’s a major reason why the Founders frequently referenced it; but the Founders were more influenced by Locke.  Mark mentions that the Bible was often quoted and applied without citation – so was Locke.

Continuing his argument that the Bible was “the most important source of authority for America’s founders,” Mark continues to equate reference to a biblical “phrase” or “expression” with influence.  He cites, of all people, Ben Franklin in support of this notion.  Franklin is perhaps the best example of the flaw in this line of thinking.  Franklin uses illustrations, stories, and familiar phrases from the Bible to embellish his arguments because people were familiar with it; but as far as I know, there is no example of Franklin actually drawing a principle from the Bible. 

I asked a prominent scholar regularly cited in Mark’s book for his top three examples from the Constitutional Convention of delegates basing a constitutional principle on a biblical principle.  That was about 10 years ago and I’m still waiting for the first example. 

Even in his famous call for prayer, Franklin makes it clear that his conclusion that “God governs in the affairs of men” is based on history and his own observations, not on belief because the Bible says so.  He makes two references to the Bible to ILLUSTRATE that idea (sparrows and Babel), but it is clear that he did not get the idea from the Bible.  [And that’s not a constitutional principle, anyway]

Anyone who doesn’t list Franklin as a theistic rationalist, lists him as a deist.  Clearly, the Bible did not have much influence on him.

In this section, Mark does not offer even a single example of a founder saying that he was influenced by the Bible – only that they used it for various purposes.  Again, Satan did the same thing (Luke 4:10-11) and, like a number of the founders, used it for his own purposes out of context.

In a stunning paragraph on page 30, Mark first says: “The Holy Scriptures were the most important source of authority for America’s founders, but they are not a handbook for politics.” Then, in the next sentence, he says: “So when the founders debated the War of Independence, the creation of a new state and national constitutions, … they turned to thinkers such as Locke and Montesquieu for guidance.”  The Revolution and the creation of the Constitution constitute THE FOUNDING.  So, Mark here admits that Locke and Montesquieu were more important sources for the founding than the Bible.  So, did America have a Christian founding?  No; by Mark’s admission, it was a Lockean and Montesquieuan founding.

Then he tries to dig his way out of the hole with another sentence: “They saw these authors as articulating ideas that were compatible with their Christian convictions.”  Really?  1) Who ever said that?  Where’s the evidence?  He says “they saw” this, but how does he know – who said it?  2) What ARE “Christian convictions” – we still have no definition of “Christian” and, consequently, cannot know what Christian convictions are.   3) Was the founding based on “Christian ideas” (whatever that means – he doesn’t ever say) or on ideas that were simply “compatible with” Christian convictions?  Can it legitimately be called distinctly/particularly “Christian”?  On what grounds/basis do we pick that one of several contributing elements?

Does any of this look familiar from, say, The Federalist Papers or other explanations from that time of the ideas in the Constitution and the source for them?  What about the notes of the Constitutional Convention?

Mark’s next claim is: “When America’s founders spoke about ‘religion,’ virtually all of them – even those most influenced by the Enlightenment – meant Christianity.”  That’s a VERY BROAD and SWEEPING claim, so one would expect broad and extensive evidence to be presented to confirm it – right?  The ONLY evidence offered for this astounding claim is a statement by John Marshall that in America “Christianity and religion are identified.”  But Mark omits the beginning of the sentence: “The American people are entirely Christian ….”  Was that true?  The latter half of the sentence is no more true than the first half.  That’s why this is the only evidence Mark can present for this amazing claim.  As I noted before, Marshall is a problematic witness.

Mark then says that a statement by Benjamin Rush is the “exception that proves the rule.”  But you have to prove the rule first!  Rush is hardly the sole “exception,” John Adams and Thomas Jefferson regularly discussed other religions.  Mark reprints much of Washington’s letter to a Jewish congregation!  There is NO reason to believe that others meant “Christianity” when they simply used the word “religion.”  Mark objects to being lumped with less-than-stellar authors, but this is simply a David Barton talking point with, as far as I know, absolutely no evidence to support it – other than Marshall’s obviously suspect statement.  It would seem that such a HUGE claim would have – and REQUIRE – more evidence supporting it than that.

To illustrate: on pg. 33, Mark prints a quote from Charles Carroll.  In that quote, Carroll refers to “the Christian religion.”  a) why does Carroll specifically identify the religion as “Christian” – why didn’t he just say “religion?”  b) If Mark’s claim is correct, then Carroll’s statement is a reference to “the Christian Christianity!”  That is nonsensical.  Or is Carroll distinguishing to which “religion” he is referring and thereby recognizing that the term is broader than simply Christianity?

Later, on pg. 89, Mark repeats the claim.  In that section – in the quotes that Mark includes – we have Abraham Baldwin recognizing “a different religious profession.”  Mark suggests that he’s trying to protect Jews.  But how can that be?  If “religion” IS Christianity in the founders’ usage, then his statement must be understood as “a different Christian profession” – mustn’t it?  He also recounts South Carolina’s statute referring to the “Protestant Christian religion” – but that would be nonsensical; it would mean the “Protestant Christian Christianity!”  And Georgia’s law would require all officers of the university to be “of the Christian Christianity.”  There are several references to “the Christian religion” in statutes and statements in this section of Mark’s book. They would all be nonsensical if his claim is correct.  They would be repeated references to “the Christian Christianity.”

Why the need for these people and statutes to specify the Christian religion if “religion” was synonymous with Christianity to them?  Why didn’t they just say “religion?”

Mark follows with a number of founders referring to the importance of – and need for – “religion and morality.”  These are important statements about “religion” – but not necessarily Christianity.  He says they must be interpreted as references to Christianity – even when they come from non-Christians and from people such as Adams and Washington who recognized other religions (remember Washington’s letter to the Hebrew Congregation that Mark highlighted earlier?).  Why must we accept that as true without better or more evidence than Marshall’s questionable statement?

*This all comes back to Mark’s false dichotomy that there are only two options – so any reference to “religion” by guys who were not deists must be a reference to Christianity.*

In a section ironically entitled “Context Matters,” Mark criticizes John Fea’s comments concerning Washington’s 1783 “Circular Letter to the States.”  While Mark is correct that Washington clearly refers to Jesus (of course without mentioning Him by name – Washington never did), he, like others, makes far too much of the reference to “the Divine Author of our blessed religion.”

First: Washington does not call for accepting the gospel or adopting Christianity or anything specific/unique to Christianity. He merely calls for imitation of Jesus’ virtuous “characteristics”: charity, humility, and pacific temper of mind.  One could do the same with Gandhi, for example. This is consistent with his call for “religion and morality” and these are emphases of theistic rationalism and Hinduism and several other belief systems as well as Christianity.  This was consistent with the theistic rationslist view that Jesus was a good moral teacher and example.

Second, much is made of the use of the word “Divine” to describe Jesus here; the assumption is that Washington here is doing what he did not do anywhere else: express belief in the deity of Jesus.  But (speaking  of context) one must understand 18th-century usage of words when discussing 18th-century writing.  According to the definitive multi-volume Oxford English Dictionary (which traces usage by time period), one definition of “divine” is: “of more than human or ordinary excellence; pre-eminently gifted; in the highest degree excellent.” It cites a 1680 reference to “Divine Shakespeare” and a 1711 reference to “divine Socrates” as examples. Even today, we might refer to a “divine” symphony or dessert; Bette Midler is called “the Divine Miss M.”  It was common in that day to refer to phenomenal, outstanding, talented people as “divine.”  It does not necessitate an indication of deity and, given the record of Washington’s writings – he never referred to Jesus by name and never affirmed His deity in any other place – the least problematic interpretation GIVEN THE overall CONTEXT is that he simply meant to say that Jesus was extraordinarily special.

Third, another meaning at the time was: “one who has officially to do with divine things; an ecclesiastic, clergyman, priest, or theologian.”  At that time, people regularly referred to clergymen as “divines.” [A chapter in The Religious Beliefs of America’s Founders is entitled “’Divine’ Sources of Theistic Rationalism.  It is a reference to clergymen – not to God.]  Washington may simply have been describing Jesus as a prominent religious person.

There is no reason to assume that – in this one isolated instance – Washington was saying the Jesus was God.

Fourth, Mark says that applying “Fea’s logic” to the Lord’s Prayer, which begins “Our Father who art in heaven” could lead someone to conclude it was not “uniquely Christian.”  Someone who did not look at the WHOLE context could conclude that, but not someone who read it in its overall context (the rest of Matthew or even just the rest of the Sermon on the Mount).  What would someone conclude from reading the rest of Washington’s writings?

I wholeheartedly agree with Mark’s conclusions at the end of this section because they refer simply to “religion” and “religious” things.  If one does not read “Christianity” and “Christian” into these comments, they are valid and correct conclusions.

On pages 37-39, Mark implies/suggests that the Calvinist view of human nature was the driving force behind the Constitution (what this chapter is about).  He begins with the claim that the founders believed in Romans 3:23 – but there’s no evidence, no quotes, to confirm this assumption. 

He then notes that “most Americans in the founding era” were Calvinists and talks about Calvinist influence on children.  Even if those claims are true, they are irrelevant to the subject at hand, which is not most Americans, but those who wrote the Constitution.  As noted above, most of the delegates to the Constitutional Convention were NOT Calvinists and none of them cited Calvin or other Christian thinkers.  They cited people such as Montesquieu and Locke and they cited experience and history.

He also mentions a couple of Calvinist teachers of Madison and many other founders, particularly John Witherspoon.  He does NOT mention that Witherspoon began his famous Lectures on Moral Philosophy [the course taken by the future founders] by describing moral philosphy as “an inquiry into the nature and grounds of moral obligation by reason, as distinct from revelation” (emphasis mine).  He said that “there are but two ways in which we come to the knowledge of things, viz. 1st, Sensation, 2nd, Reflection” – not revelation.  He regularly appealed to “reason” and “common utility” as the ground of argument – not revelation.  Witherspoon was a Christian and a Calvinist, but he didn’t always – or necessarily at all – teach his students his Calvinism. 

And, at that, not all of my students learn or agree with all that I teach them – and I suspect that is true of Mark’s students as well.  The proof would be in the pudding – the extent to which Calvinist ideas came out in their writings.  Mark and I disagree profoundly on that.

As I explain in the review, Mark “argues that Calvinism’s teaching concerning total depravity and sin caused the founders to embrace separation of powers, checks and balances, limited government, and federalism.”  But, I explain: “the founders actually saw man as an alloy of virtue and vice. Madison said that the good/virtuous qualities in man are present ‘in a higher degree’ than man’s bad qualities and that self-government cannot work unless that is true (Federalist #55).”

Regarding use of the word “sin”: I point out in the review that the founders did not use the Christian or Calvinist word “sin.”  They used less judgmental words such as “weakness” and “venality.”

The idea that man has a wicked side is hardly unique to Christianity – who said their efforts for separation of powers were driven by Calvinism or Christianity or even religious beliefs? As opposed to experience/history?  What Madison and others said between the Articles and the Constitution and after was that their experience with the Articles and legislative dominance (“drawing all power into its impetuous vortex”) convinced them.

Mark speaks of “foundational [my emphasis] Christian principles, such as the reality that … power tends to corrupt.”  Where does the Bible teach that?  In which creed, catechism, or confession of Christianity is that listed?  Which churches have that in their doctrinal statement?  This is not a “Christian principle,” it is an observed principle of human nature that is not inconsistent with what Christianity teaches – except that there will be no corruption in the Millennial Kingdom.

No political philosopher believed more in the depravity of man than Machiavelli – he didn’t get the idea from Christianity!  History shows human nature.

Mark notes that the founders regularly cited Montesquieu, but that “the founders were drawn to him because he addressed a dilemma that all Christian statesmen must face.”  Which founder ever said this?

Mark refers to a “broad and sweeping consensus among America’s founders that humans are sinful” – but the founders didn’t say that.  Where’s a supporting quote?

When trying to counter the influence of the Enlightenment, Mark refers only to a French Enlightenment figure and to the French Revolution; but the English Enlightenment was very different and less radical – and that’s what influenced Americans!

Mark (again ironically) quotes Louis Hartz when he appears to agree with a point Mark is making – but Hartz is the biggest Lockean influence supporter of all!  Hartz’s whole thesis is that America has worked because it’s based on a Lockean consensus!   So Mark’s arguments against the influence of Locke discredit his own witness.  Hartz claims that our only philosophical tradition from Europe is Lockeanism.

Regarding the section on natural law and natural rights (p. 42ff): natural law is not a distinctly Christian notion – it began with the pagan Cicero.

Mark again assumes without demonstrating that the concept of “natural rights” is a Christian concept.  It may be promoted by Christians, but that does not make it a Christian concept. If it did, the “Christian” view of a lot of issues would be schizophrenic.  Where does the Bible teach natural rights?  Which confessions, creeds, and catechisms include natural rights?  What makes it a Christian concept?

Mark refers to “the Christian – especially Protestant – conviction that tyrants may be actively resisted.”  This is not a “Christian” conviction (the Bible doesn’t teach it and it’s not in any creeds/etc.).   It is a view held by some Protestants, just as some Protestants are Yankee fans and some are Dodger fans, but neither is a “Christian” position because neither Jesus nor the Apostles taught it.  I invite a listing of Scriptural passages that promote or even allow “active resistance” to tyrants.  Speaking of Calvin, even he could not find any.

Mark presents a caricature of the opposing viewpoint (rather than dealing with the actual argument) by saying that a direct reading of Romans 13 “seems on the surface to require Christians to obey even evil rulers.”  But it doesn’t require Christians to “obey” evil rulers, but to be “subject” to them (like the numerous examples in Scripture such as Shadrach & his friends, Daniel, and even the Apostles). They did not “obey” the rulers’ commands to disobey God, but they did remain “subject” to them.  Like so many, Mark changes the word in the passage to make his argument.  They are different Greek words with different meanings.

Mark concludes this section on natural law and natural rights with: “it is clear that the founders valued them, at least in part, for theological reasons.”  Why is that clear?  No proof has been presented – just claims.   And no proof has been given that the “theological reasons” were Christian rather than theistic rationalist.

He says: “It is true that some judicial or procedural rights, such as the right to trial by jury, were drawn from other sources.” This is an admission that the system is a “mixed” one.  On what grounds, then, do we pronounce it distinctively “Christian?”

Turning to the right to life, Mark contradicts the entire previous section’s claim of the supposed influence of Calvinism when he opens this section by saying that the founders had a “high view” of human nature!  Which is it?  Did they believe in Calvinism’s total depravity or did they have a high view of human nature?  You can’t have it both ways.  If he means that they had a high view of human life, that’s a defensible and non-contradictory notion.  But that’s not the claim here.

As I (accurately) report in the review: “Hall claims that America’s founders ‘were committed to the core Christian idea that all humans are created in the imago Dei (image of God).’ This is the only one of his ‘Christian ideas’ that is distinctly or uniquely Christian; but no evidence to support this claim is given from a founder other than James Wilson quoting Psalm 139, which does not mention the image of God.”  I first asked Mark about five years ago for a single quote from a founder expressing belief in this Christian idea.  None has been forthcoming and there is none in his book – just a claim (again).

The Wilson quote expresses belief that God created man, but nothing about the image of God.  Virtually everyone before Darwin believed that God or god or gods created man; that much is hardly a uniquely Christian idea.  The one Christian idea is presented without supporting evidence.

On page 49, Mark claims that they “regularly appealed to Scripture to support their arguments for liberty,” but the passages quoted are about spiritual liberty (as all “liberty” passages in the Bible are) – not political liberty.  Although they’re out of context and not what the Bible teaches, Hall claims that “it is clear that America’s founders understood civic liberty in a thoroughly Christian context.” Really?  Misapplying the Scripture to make God say what He does not say is a “thoroughly Christian” approach?  I make this point in the review – inaccurate?

Mark notes: “The founders distinguished between liberty and licentiousness” – but so did Plato and most political philosophers throughout history.  This is no indication of Christian influence without some founder making that connection.

Although Mark broadly and categorically calls my review “inaccurate” – which implies that the part in which I praise his treatment of religious liberty must also be inaccurate.  I stand by my evaluation here, as well.  I agree with his commentary regarding Roe v. Wade and freedom of speech – but they do not uniquely/specifically reflect Christianity or require belief in Christianity. I agree with his take on the First Amendment and overuse of Jefferson and the so-called wall of separation; Mark is excellent in this area and provides real evidence. I agree that they supported promoting “religion” and morality – with the caveat that “religion” simply meant “religion” to them and not necessarily Christianity.

Mark concludes this section by claiming that “there are excellent reasons to believe that they were influenced by the Bible and Christian political ideas.”  I wish he had given some of those excellent reasons; I don’t see any.

He further concludes with this: “The constitutional order they designed, one characterized by federalism, separation of powers, and checks and balances, reflects their Christian commitments. Their understanding of rights and liberty is best comprehended by taking into account their Christian worldview.”  If that’s true, why did they have to manipulate and misapply Scripture out of context in order to support their supposedly Christian views?

As I state in my review: “Misusing and misapplying the Bible for one’s own purposes to advance an idea not actually taught in the Bible is not the act of a Christian and does not indicate Christian influence.”  Christians seek to understand what the Bible really says/means because it is the Word of God and they desire to obey it – not to skirt God’s commands or merely to give cover for sin that they desire to commit.

Christians regularly see non-Christians employ out-of-context “quotes” or information from the Bible to try to discredit it or to promote some preferred cause for partisan purposes.  That is not an indication of Christian “influence.”  Regarding the use of the Bible: EVERYTHING depends on HOW it is used – not just that fact that it is used or the number of times.

Using a hammer multiple times to bash in a skull does not make one a carpenter.

Mark mentions Jasper Adams’s 1833 sermon; he does not mention that Madison refused (when asked) to confirm Adams’s thesis that Christianity was the foundation of America’s political institutions.  This would have been a golden opportunity for a key founder to endorse the Christian America claim – but Madison did not (though prompted to).  Mark does mention that Marshall of course affirmed it.  That is the letter in which Marshall dubiously claims that “the American population is entirely Christian.”

On page 89, he again claims that “the vast majority” of the founders “meant Christianity” when they used the word “religion” – again without any supporting evidence.

Ironically, the best evidence in the book for Christian belief or influence in America’s founding is the 1775 call for thanksgiving by the Continental Congress. It actually mentions “Jesus Christ” and not a generic God-word.  I say “ironically” because the nation was not yet “founded” – it was still part of Great Britain because the War for Independence had not yet been won.  So, it’s not precisely evidence concerning the “founding.”

Another MAJOR problem here is the fact that this particular call for thanksgiving (along with others) was also a ploy/tactic designed to “smoke out” as-yet undiscovered Loyalists.  “Patriot” agents were sent to churches to report on which pastors/ministers participated appropriately and enthusiastically and which did not.  AT LEAST SIX CLERGYMEN DIED AS A RESULT.  One can read about this on pg. 26-27 of God Against the Revolution.

In his discussion of these calls, Mark stipulates that they certainly referred to a “Deity that most certainly intervenes in the affairs of men and nations” – but that would also be true of theistic rationalists (not exclusively/necessarily Christianity).

Mark emphasizes GW’s reference to “true religion and virtue” (italicizing true) – but that simply begs the question of what GW thought “true” religion to be.  Washington links it even here with “virtue” as he almost always did because he saw true religion to be good works. There is nothing specifically/uniquely Christian in the 1789 Thanksgiving Proclamation.

Four pages (116) after including two official public documents that serve Mark’s purpose in which John Adams advocates for political reasons beliefs that he vehemently opposed, Mark addresses the Treaty of Tripoli that Adams submitted to the Senate and signed.  But here he argues that it doesn’t really espouse what it says!  He says the language was merely for political purposes. Further: he gives as evidence that it didn’t really reflect public or senatorial opinion the fact that no one objected to it!  In the footnote, he mentions that CC delegate James McHenry complained about it four years later – but he doesn’t mention that three CC delegates voted for it as senators and key founder Adams negotiated and signed it.

So Mark recognizes that public documents are political devices – but not when they support his argument; then we’re supposed to accept them as heartfelt and indicative of the founder’s or nation’s will.  I contend that it is very problematic to make much of public documents because they are usually designed for political purposes.  As a rule, I only employ them to counter claims made from other public (aka political) documents.

Mark’s arguments and evidence beginning on pg. 125 simply demonstrate that it is not possible to have a Christian nation.  God certainly does not – ever – allow false religion in the Bible.

William Penn and others may think that punishing unbelievers breeds hypocrites and false conversions, but God instructs His people to expel (at least) unbelievers from the only nation to be rightfully identified with God (Mosaic Commonwealth) and from the other biblical community of God’s people – the church.

No one in this section makes a biblical argument; it’s logic, pragmatism, and a better idea than God as to what causes Christianity to flourish.  God says remove unbelievers and keep the assembly pure.

Where is the evidence that this is God’s will and not just man’s? What makes these “Christian premises”? [pg. 131]

Mark (ironically again) relies heavily upon Elisha Williams’s 1744 sermon to support a supposed Christian right of conscience.  Mark correctly reports that Williams makes “Protestant arguments” – not biblical arguments.  Williams cites “reason” or “rational” 15 times in the section that Mark employs and refers to Locke 4 times in addition to a detailed explanation of a Lockean theory.  Williams cites 1 verse of Scripture (Psa. 115:16) in support of a rational argument (not derived from it).  I again say “ironically” because Williams bases the sermon on the guy that Mark discounts as an influence (Locke) and during a time when Mark says Locke had little influence.

An argument is not “Christian” simply because it is made by a Christian (if, indeed, Williams was a Christian). And someone declaring freedom of conscience a “sacred right” does not make it so unless God makes the declaration – which He did not do.

In the review, I also point out that the notion that people have a right to decide whether and how to worship God “as their consciences dictate” is not a Christian principle.  If this is inaccurate, ssomeone would need to point out where the Bible teaches that – as opposed to the teaching throughout the Old and New Testaments that those who do not worship the true God and worship Him the way He demands will go to hell.  And Paul’s teaching that anyone who teaches any other gospel than the true one is “to be accursed” (Gal. 1:8-9).

The founders clearly embraced religious liberty – as do I – but not from Christian principles.

Again on page 151, Mark lays out the same false dichotomy – Christianity or deism.

In footnote 50 on pg. 172, Mark says that the number of theistic rationalists was a “handful.”  How does he know that?  For how many of the 55 CC delegates has he done the research?  He holds an expansive view of who counts as a founder – has he researched hundreds of them to allow such a generalization?  This is yet another broad claim without any supporting evidence.

He himself says that we don’t have information for most – why is “Christian” the default identification?  Does the Bible say that most people are Christians or that the way is narrow?  What makes one a Christian?  Mark never says.

What did Jesus say?  Matt. 7:16-20; 21-23

Calling something “Christian” because it was influenced by “Christian ideas” first begs the question of what those ideas were.  Second, what makes them “Christian?”  Third, whether they are distinctively Christian ideas or simply ideas not in conflict with Christianity. Fourth, whether those ideas were determinative, and fifth, whether those ideas were specifically chosen to bolster a conscious attempt to make the thing “Christian.”

FINALLY: Mark employs a clever strategy:

1) never define Christianity or what it means to be a Christian
2) show that someone is not a deist
3) give a brief disclaimer that that doesn’t mean that they are Christians
4) provide no evidence that they actually believe in the doctrines of Christianity
5) then repeatedly refer to their actions as being motivated by the Christianity that you’ve merely asserted, but haven’t demonstrated

Also: if someone that doesn’t fit your thesis is cited by founders, it’s because they were not really influential; really influential people didn’t have to be cited because everyone knew.

Sunday, January 26, 2020

Frazer's Defense Continued

Dr. Gregg Frazer emailed me his next installment defending his thesis contra Mark David Hall's.
In Chapter 2, Mark rightfully says that “it is necessary to consider the ideas that influenced the civic leaders who drafted and ratified the document [the Constitution].”  He is also rightfully critical of Matthew Stewart’s silly book claiming that Spinoza was a dominating influence.  
In order to try to support his claim that “the founders drew heavily from Christian ideas when they crafted America’s constitutional order,” he must try to prove that the claim that “the Constitution’s framers were influenced by rationalist, Enlightenment ideas” is “overstated and misleading.”  In order to do that, he must try to discount and diminish John Locke’s influence.  
Re Locke’s influence: his first argument is that Locke’s works were not readily available in America and, particularly, “The Second Treatise was not published in America until 1773 ….” In my review, that’s what I report that he says – so I don’t see how that’s inaccurate.  I add that he argues that despite the fact that the Bible was not printed in English in America until 1782 (that’s a fact; you can look it up), it was all-important.  I note that Elisha Williams based a sermon on the teachings of “the celebrated Mr. Lock” in 1744 – so he was already considered to be “celebrated” by then and that references to Locke are ubiquitous throughout the period.  Those are also facts.  
His second anti-Lockean influence argument is that, despite Locke being cited “with some regularity” in the 1760s and 1770s, Donald Lutz’s study shows that the Bible was “referenced far more often than [Locke’s] works.”  More on Lutz’s report on the Bible’s relative influence on the Constitution later.  In my review, I point out that Mark does not mention that, according to Lutz’s study, there were more Locke citations than to all Reformed thinkers combined and that Locke is mentioned in 19 of the 28 pages of Lutz’s chapter on important influences. Those are facts; I don’t see the inaccuracy.  Whether or not such enumerations are valuable evidence is debatable, but the key points here are: a) Mark presents such counts as valid evidence and b) Mark claims that Reformed thought was dominant.  By Mark’s standards of evidence, Lutz’s work actually shows that Locke is very influential and more influential than all the Reformers.  
Regarding Lutz’s study and the Bible’s relative influence: Mark reports that the study shows that 34% of all citations between 1760 and 1805 are to the Bible, while only 2.9% are to Locke.  There are some significant issues involved in Mark’s convenient reporting.  In this section of the book, which is about influences on the drafting, crafting, and ratification of the Constitution, Mark cites the numbers for the whole 45-years period, but does not mention this clarification by Lutz regarding “the pattern of citations surrounding the debate on the U.S. Constitution.”  Concerning the Constitution, Lutz says: “The Bible’s prominence disappears” and “the Federalists’ inclination to Enlightenment rationalism is most evident here in their failure to consider the Bible relevant.”  And: “The debate surrounding the adoption of the Constitution was fought out mainly in the context of Montesquieu, Blackstone, the English Whigs, and major writers of the Enlightenment.”  Unfortunately, I didn’t have room to present this evidence in the review.  
In the review, I suggest that these types of citation counts are problematic for a number of reasons.  First, merely counting the number of references is not a valid determiner of “influence,” “especially when the bulk of Bible references are simply illustrations, aphorisms, or statements taken out of context to support a concept that the Bible does not teach.”  As I note in the review, Satan quotes the Bible for his own purposes, but that hardly indicates its influence on him.  Second, Lutz explains that “positive and negative citations” are counted without distinction.  So, without evaluating all of them, one cannot simply “lump” them together and call them “influence.”   
I conclude this section of the review by pointing out that “the key for a Christian is not how many times the Bible is referenced, but how it is referenced.”  Rabid and reflexive critics of whatever I say would accuse me of claiming to know what the mysterious and incomprehensible Bible says, but I point out in the review that Mark himself admits that they took passages out of context – including the specific example I give.  I didn’t have word room in the review to include examples from Patriot preachers in which they admitted that they took passages out of context to make their own point that they admitted the Bible was not making.  [You can read those in my book God Against the Revolution]

Friday, January 24, 2020

Clarifying My Position on Categorizing America's Founders' Religious Beliefs

I have ordered Mark David Hall's new book and look forward to reading it. Let me say word about the dispute between Drs. Hall and Gregg Frazer on the categorization of terms to describe America's founders' religious creed and creeds.

We have "smoking gun" evidence that J. Adams, Thomas Jefferson and Ben Franklin were not "orthodox Trinitarian Christians" and flunk the Athanasian test for what it means to be a mere "Christian."

There is also smoking gun evidence that a great deal of founders who tend to be more "2nd tier" were orthodox Trinitarian Christians.

My position is that the standard of scrutiny we apply in order to categorize a founder in a particular religious box is so strict that no one is entitled to a "default" position -- like "they were all Christians" (meaning to some/many "orthodox") except for a handful like Jefferson, J. Adams and Franklin and a few lesser founders who were even more "deistic" than those three (Paine, Allen, etc.).

So take someone like John Marshall, an important and notable founding founder. But not a first tier "key" Founder like the first five Presidents, Franklin and Hamilton, etc. If you knew only a surface amount about him, you'd see that like a statistical majority of the Founders, he was an Anglican-Episcopalian. So if you wanted to fill in the details about what he "really" believed, you might look to the creeds, confessions and official positions of said church and make your categorizations accordingly.

But that would be wrong. That's a lazy error that those who are sympathetic to a traditional conservative Christian founding are likely to follow. It's just as wrong as the "they were all deists" or even concluding they were all the hybrid religion (whatever we call it).

The truth is we really don't know what a particular founder believed until we do the detective work. And when we do so for Marshall, this is what we discover.

From his daughter:
The reason why he never communed was, that he was a Unitarian in opinion, though he never joined their society. He told her he believed in the truth of the Christian Revelation, but not in the divinity of Christ; therefore he could not commune in the Episcopal Church.
And another quotation from U.S. Senator and former Maryland Governor William Pinkney Whyte:
He was a constant and liberal contributor to the support of the Episcopal Church. 
He never doubted the fact of the Christian revelation, but he was not convinced of the fact of the divinity of Christ till late in life. 
Then, after refusing privately to commune, he expressed a desire to do so publicly, and was ready and willing to do so when opportunity should be had. The circumstances of his death only forbade it ... 
He was never professedly Unitarian, and he had no place in his heart for either an ancient or a modern agnosticism.
And as we know, fellow Anglican/Episcopalian George Washington systematically avoided communion as well. Was it because he had a religious creed similar to Marshall's? I suspect so, but would admit, it's not a "smoking gun." It's certainly on the table of plausibility.

Finally, we can note that this creed isn't "strict deism." It believes in the Christian revelation and a special place for Jesus, even if it does not affirm Jesus' full divinity. In terms of what to call it and whether such qualifies as "Christianity" I will let others judge and decide.

Thursday, January 23, 2020

Frazer Defends His Review

Gregg Frazer email me a defense of his review of Mark David Hall's new book. The defense is against charges of inaccuracy.

The prosecutor is apparently unwilling to present his case – other than repeatedly to declare my guilt.  But I wish to be acquitted of the charge of “inaccuracy,” so I will present some of my defense – defense of what I said in the review and of some of what I couldn’t include in the review because of word limits by the publisher.  
We’ve already discussed my claim that Mark doesn’t recognize alternatives regarding the founders besides deism and Christianity (of some sort).  As far as I can see, the only place in the text in which another option is mentioned is pages XXVI and XXVII – but neither of these refers to founders.  Non-Christians are mentioned, but distinguished from the founders. Mark’s text says: “There were few non-Christians in late eighteenth-century America, but there were some, and most of America’s founders were convinced that the right of these non-Christians to believe and act according to the dictates of their consciences must be protected.” [my italics]  Then Washington’s famous letter to the Jews of Newport is quoted to show that Washington believed in religious freedom for non-Christian Jews.  The possibility of founders themselves being non-Christians is never suggested; they are depicted only as acting for others who are non-Christians.  
By the way, Mark claims that Washington’s use of his favorite “fig tree” reference shows that “Washington’s faith influenced his political beliefs and actions ….” [my italics]  But there is no “influence” of faith here – Washington employs a reference to relate to his audience – to illustrate or ellicit support. This is the way a number of founders used the Bible – simply for illustration or as aphorisms.  How does the fig tree reference influence Washington – to do what?  Furthermore: Part of GW’s letter says that “the Government of the United States … gives to bigotry no sanction” – but the law of God given to the Israelites did give sanction to bigotry in the 18th-century sense of the word (i.e. specific belief). God commanded them to punish heretics; so in this statement, the U.S. system is actually distinguished from the biblical system that God established.  Furthermore, in Washington’s statement, he expresses an expectation that God will make “us all … everlastingly happy.”  Does the Bible teach that God will make Christians and Jews (as such) alike happy in the after-life – or only those who confess Christ?  
On page 7, in arguing that they weren’t deists, Mark says regarding Washington, Madison, and Hamilton: “Yet, to my knowledge, no writer has ever produced a public or private journal entry, letter, or essay showing that these men rejected Christianity ….”  That’s a fair challenge to those who say they were deists.  Here’s my question: has anyone produced a public or private journal entry showing that these men affirmed the fundamentals of Christianity (deity of Christ; atoning work of Christ as satisfaction for our sins; justification by faith alone; resurrection; inspiration and authority of the Scriptures) – at least until Hamilton’s deathbed profession?  If it’s a fair challenge to those claiming a deist founding, isn’t that a fair challenge to Mark, who claims a Christian founding?  
On page 9, Mark cites John Marshall’s testimony that Washington was “a sincere believer in the Christian faith, and a truly devout man”; and on pg. 31, he quotes Marshall’s statement that in America “Christianity and religion are identified.”  But Mark only reports half of Marshall’s sentence; the first half is: “The American population is entirely Christian” [pg. 611 in Mark’s Sacred Rights].  Clearly Marshall had a very generous notion or definition of Christianity and what it means to be a Christian. It may fit Mark’s definition – we don’t know because he doesn’t give us one – but it is so broad and inclusive as to have no meaning at all. On this basis, what is the significance of Mark’s overall claim that America had a Christian founding?  Is it simply a claim that it was founded by Americans? Of course, Marshall’s statement also flies in the face of the reality of the Jewish congregation that Washington addressed.  Marshall is a problematic witness providing problematic evidence. 
In the section on the use of “God-words” by founders (11-15), Mark reminds us that orthodox Christians also used such words – even in the Westminster Standards.  That is true, but not the central point made by people like me who, like Mark, do not believe the founders were deists.  The distinguishing thing about the use of “God-words” by certain of the founders (those I call theistic rationalists) is that those were the only terms they used for God – that they used those terms IN PLACE OF biblical terms.  The Westminster Standards have dozens if not hundreds of references to biblical terms for God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit.  Theistic rationalists used “God-words” in place of such biblical terms.  The exception, of course, is that they used “creator” – but virtually everyone, including deists, believed in a creator prior to Darwin.  The question then becomes: Who is this creator God?  What is His nature?  How do we know?   
Another “God-word” issue is what they meant by the terms they used.  “Providence” is a particularly problematic term, as it was used by Christians, deists, and theistic rationalists alike, with each meaning something different. For some, “providence” was an impersonal force; for some, it was the religious equivalent of fate.  In fact, theistic rationalists (inc. Washington) sometimes used the impersonal pronoun “it” to refer to providence.  Gouverneur Morris, for example, used impersonal pronouns for providence and once said that “fortune” was “but another name for Providence.”  
The question isn’t whether Christians ever used “God-words,” but whether theistic rationalists ever used biblical terms for God – especially Jesus (the central/distinguishing person in Christianity).  
The fact that the Declaration’s references to “God-words” (in place of biblical terms) would have been “quite acceptable to Reformed Americans in 1776” merely demonstrates how artfully Jefferson wrote the document.  He used generic language that would bring maximum support.  Christians could read Christian content into it (as people still do today); deists could read deist content into it; theistic rationalists could read their preferred content into it – even Jews could read Jewish content into it.  It does not point distinctly or specifically to Christianity in any way.  
Mark phrases his conclusion of this section cleverly.  He says that “Jefferson may have believed in a vague, distant Deity” but that his fellow delegates “understood that ‘Nature’s God,’ ‘Creator,’ and ‘Providence’ referred to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.” [my emphasis]   The word “understood” following identification of an author implies that they understood and agreed with what the author meant.  But Mark here is actually saying that they replaced Jefferson’s understanding of who God is with their own.  Their “understanding” was not that God was vague and distant, but a God (as Mark concludes) “who is active in the affairs of men and nations.”  It’s a clever construction on Mark’s part because he makes it appear that Jefferson’s view and the view of others was identical – but it was not (in the case of those who believed in the Old Testament God).  That’s another issue: to identify God as the “God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob” is a clever way for Mark to refer to the God of Christianity without any specific or distinctive Christian element.  Why not “the Triune God of Christianity” – since his claim is that they were creating a Christian nation? 
Mark’s need to “lump” in everyone who believes in a God who is active in the affairs of men and nations as some sort of Christian leads directly into his complete mischaracterization of my concept of theistic rationalism as “a definition of deism” (15).  He knows better. I’ve contributed chapters to two books he has edited in which I explain exactly – in detail – what theistic rationalism was and I explain – at length, with evidence – the differences between it and deism and Christianity.  He knows the term was chosen to emphasize its distinction from deism (the definitive multi-volume Oxford English Dictionary notes that “theism” was a term used in the 18th century specifically to contrast with deism).  
In Mark’s brief description of deism, he says the “critical” point is that “deists did not think God intervenes in the affairs of men and nations.”  That and criticism of Christianity are the two elements of deism that he refers to over and over again.  Two of several ways in which theistic rationalists differed from deists is that they: a) believed in an active, present God who intervenes in the affairs of men and nations and b) they were more favorable to Christianity than deists – even sharing some Christian beliefs.  But Mark must “lump” theistic rationalism in with deism because he wants to say or suggest that certain founders were some sort of Christian without providing any evidence (which doesn’t exist) that they actually believed in Christian doctrines.  The way to do that is to posit a bipolar religious world of deists and Christians and show that they were not deists.  If there’s a third, middle option, he would be forced to provide positive evidence for their Christianity.  So he must discredit that third middle option, theistic rationalism, by relegating it to a branch of deism.  As I mentioned, I experienced this on the other side when a conservative figure urged me for political reasons to say that theistic rationalism was a branch of Christianity.  That should tell people not familiar with my evidence that theistic rationalism is not any kind of deism.  I expected better from Mark.  
On pages 16 and 17, Mark argues again for an outsized Reformed influence on the founding.  After dismissing Washington’s, Jefferson’s, and Madison’s Anglicanism in one sentence, he admits that Adams was the only member of a “Reformed church” in this group.  This leads to an example of the problem with relying too heavily on denominational identification.  He also concedes that Adams “moved rapidly toward Unitaritianism” – but he does not mention that Adams’s church officially turned Unitarian in 1750 (when Adams was just 15 years old)!  Adams’s church was not Reformed in its theology – only in its denominational name.  So it wasn’t really Reformed.  Was it the only such church?  
Mark then lays out estimates of how many Calvinist churches and colonists there were – but these superficial identifications do not tell us anything about the spiritual condition of those churches or their parishioners. He says – without evidence – that the Americans in these churches “are unrepresented” by the founders usually discussed and that those founders “constitute an unrepresentative sample.”  First, how does he know that?  Evidence?  Does he know how many of these externally identified “Reformed” churches still held to Reformed views?  Adams shared nearly exactly the same religious views as Jefferson (he said so), but he was a member of one of these “Reformed” churches.  How can one make the kind of generalization that Mark makes?  
More importantly, the discussion is about America’s founding.  The vast majority of Americans had nothing to do with that.  Even if they were paying attention, clever men such as Jefferson and Adams could keep them content with generically-phrased declarations or pious-languaged declarations of thanksgiving that helped to smoke out Loyalists, but had no lasting impact on the form of government.  Mark says these eight were unrepresentative and, on the next page, says that “there were not many elite Anglicans in America.”  But 36 OF THE 55 framers were NOT from “REFORMED” churches and 29 OF THE 55 framers were … ANGLICANS!  Whatever the religious identification of the populace, a majority of the guys who actually “founded” the country were Anglicans.  Of course, we don’t know what most of them actually believed – as Mark rightly points out.  He warns that we “should be careful not to read too much into this lack of evidence.”  He needs to take his own advice and not assume EITHER that these founders embraced deism OR that they embraced Christianity!  
Mark concludes that “it is obviously bad social science and bad history to generalize the views of the founders as a whole from the views of a few unrepresentative elites.” I agree. That works two ways; one should not make broad claims the other way, either.  That’s why in my book, I argue only that the eight guys I studied in depth were theistic rationalists; I don’t try to claim that “America had a theistic rationalist founding.”  I would add, however, that these “few unrepresentative elites” were the actual people who did the founding, so one might be on more solid ground to claim that influence.  A majority of them were NOT Reformed.

Thursday, January 16, 2020

Trump Invokes Jefferson

For Religious Freedom Day. This was on January 15, 2020. A taste:
Religious freedom in America, often referred to as our “first freedom,” was a driving force behind some of the earliest defining moments of our American identity.  The desire for religious freedom impelled the Pilgrims to leave their homes in Europe and journey to a distant land, and it is the reason so many others seeking to live out their faith or change their faith have made America their home. 
More than 230 years ago, the Virginia General Assembly passed the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, which was authored and championed by Thomas Jefferson.  Jefferson famously expounded that “all men shall be free to profess, and by argument to maintain, their opinions in matters of Religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish, enlarge or affect their civil capacities.”  This statute served as the catalyst for the First Amendment, which enshrined in law our conviction to prevent government interference in religion.  More than 200 years later, thanks to the power of that Amendment, America is one of the most religiously diverse nations in the world.
Very nice. Now, I wonder who wrote this for the President. (Not that this is uncommon, from George Washington onwards, Presidents have had speech and other writers.)

Saturday, January 11, 2020

The Dialog Continues

There is an interesting dialog going on between, among others, two accomplished scholars -- Drs. Gregg Frazer and Mark David Hall -- in the American Creation comments section. Just how "Christian" was the American founding? And as usual the question of whether it's ever acceptable to "revolt" in the face of Romans 13 (which text prohibits revolt!) remains in the background.

Let me clarify my position on this: From a fideist, and especially "fundamentalist" perspective, the Tory loyalists were correct. But even if one believes in the natural law, that still doesn't necessarily get you around Romans 13's prohibition on revolution.

Many of the Tory loyalist for whom Dr. Frazer argues in his recent book, weren't fideists. They were Anglicans and as such, their theology incorporated Richard Hooker's natural law teachings. One could easily argue that a traditional understanding of the natural law doesn't get you around Romans 13 either.

But I do think you can get a *Christian* case for the American revolution and founding, ONLY if there is a natural right component to it. Or, at least, I have a hard time seeing how you can make an exegetical or sound theological case for such without natural law/natural rights.

What we discover is that you are either reliant on the more modern John Locke's or the scholastics' -- whether Catholic or Protestant -- doctrines of natural right. As Dave Kopel has noted:
A Huguenot using the pen-name Marcus Junius Brutus (the Roman Senator who assassinated Julius Caesar) went further with the 1579 book "Vindiciae Contra Tyrannos" ("Vindication Against Tyrants"). "Vindiciae" was organized like a Catholic Scholastic treatise. Like the other Geneva writers, Brutus owed a great debt to Catholic thought on the subject of Just Revolution.
And for the record, there is much more John Locke in the founding era sermons.

Friday, January 3, 2020

Frazer Reviews Hall

A taste:
Evidential Errors Abound  
Hall argues that Calvinism’s teaching concerning total depravity and sin caused the founders to embrace separation of powers, checks and balances, limited government, and federalism. But the founders actually saw man as an alloy of virtue and vice. Madison said the good and virtuous qualities in man are present “in a higher degree” than man’s bad qualities and that self-government can’t work unless that is true (Federalist #55).  
Hall regularly uses the words “sin” and “sinful” in relation to the founders’ views in this area, but they didn’t use the Christian or Calvinist word “sin,” preferring less judgmental words such as “weakness” and “venality.” The founders didn’t cite the Bible or Calvin when making these arguments and establishing institutions based on them. When not crediting Montesquieu, they cited “history” and “the least fallible guide”: experience.  
In 1744, Elisha Williams based a sermon on the teachings of John Locke, calling him (already by that time) “the celebrated Mr. Lock.” References to Locke are ubiquitous throughout the period. Hall argues Locke wasn’t influential, largely because his work wasn’t printed in America until 1773. But Hall argues the Bible was all-important—despite not being printed in English in America until 1782! It’s not clear why a reference to Locke must come from an edition published in America in order to indicate influence. Hall doesn’t mention that, according to Lutz’s authoritative study, there were more Locke citations than to all Reformed thinkers combined, and that Locke is mentioned in 19 of the 28 pages in Lutz’s chapter on influences.

Tuesday, December 31, 2019

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

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