Tuesday, September 9, 2008

The Kernel of Truth in the Christian Nation Claim

But America Still Turned Out to be Founded on "Unitarian" Principles.

I just read a neat article by one William G. McLoughlin, late professor at Brown University. It was in "Essays on The American Revolution" edited by Stephen G. Kurtz, and James H. Hutson.

The article is probably the best scholarly claim I've ever read of the kernel of truth inherent in the "Christan Nation" claim. The article understands that the ideas and ideals of the American Founding (i.e., the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, the Federalist Papers, the notion of inalienable rights) have little to do with traditional biblical Christianity. Yet, it stresses that under the original Constitution, religion was left to the states and vestiges of the old "Christian commonwealths" persisted at the state level for some time. Not in Virginia, at least not after 1786, when Jefferson's historic Statute on Religious Freedom became the law of the land, and never in Rhode Island which was Roger Williams' baby (Williams thought the idea of a "Christian Commonwealth" to be blasphemous; and that got him banished the John Winthrop's "Christian Commonwealth" in Puritan Massachusetts). But many/most states post 1789 had laws that favored or otherwise established "Protestant Christianity" in some sense.

The article tellingly asks: "How did the universal spirit of the rights of man become in the end a new national establishment that excluded non-Protestants from full religious equality?" [p. 209.]

That question exemplifies the nuanced dynamic that we need to appreciate. America was "founded" according to a certain set of ideals (see the Declaration of Independence). And those ideals that hold all men are created equal and endowed with unalienable rights also demand "full religious equality" be granted to, as Jefferson put it, "the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and Mahometan, the Hindoo, and Infidel of every denomination."

Yet, in 1811 in the State of New York, Chancellor Kent in "People v. Ruggles" could uphold a common law blasphemy conviction and state:

Nor are we bound, by any expressions in the constitution, as some have strangely supposed, either not to punish at all, or to punish indiscriminately the like attacks upon the religion of Mahomet or of the grand Lama; and for this plain reason, that the case assumes that we are a christian people, and the morality of the country is deeply ingrafted upon christianity, and not upon the doctrines or worship of those impostors.


Indeed the Courts in some states were still declaring "Christianity" to be part of the common law. And luminaries Joseph Story and John Marshall argued Christianity to have some kind of organic connection to American civil law. The culmination of the "Christian Nation" fervor reached its fever pitch in the Holy Trinity case where the Supreme Court declared American to be a "Christian Nation."

So there is rhetoric and practice from the Founding era and the hagiographic 19th Century that supports the Christian Nation claim. What destroys the Christian Nation claim (as I see it) is that America, though influenced by Christian morality was not founded on its orthodox Christian doctrines. Indeed those who most famously posited "American" principles like Thomas Jefferson, John Adams and Ben Franklin rejected all of Christianity's orthodox doctrines. And others like James Madison and George Washington ignored them. Further as noted above, the ideas contained in the Declaration of independence, Constitution and Federalist Papers have little to do with traditional biblical Christianity.

Why is the word "orthodox" important? To those who most vociferously defend America's public "Christian Heritage," "Christianity" defines according to its orthodox doctrines. Reject those and you reject Christianity and present some "non-Christian" system under the auspices of "Christianity" (as do presently the Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses and other supposed "cults"; back then instead of terming them "cults" as they do today, the orthodox would simply call such beliefs like those privately posited by America's key Founders, "heresy" at best, "infidelity" at worst).

What do original sin, the trinity, incarnation, atonement, infallibility of the Bible, and eternal damnation have to do with "Christianity"? If the answer is they are "negotiable" and "unimportant" then yes we can say America was founded to be a "Christian Nation." If those doctrines, on the other hand, are central to the Christian faith, then no, America cannot be said to be "Christian" in a public civil sense.

According to America's Founding thought (secretly posited, as it may have been) to be a "Christian" meant to be a "good person." As John Adams put it:

“I believe with Justin Martyr, that all good men are Christians, and I believe there have been, and are, good men in all nations, sincere and conscientious.”

– John Adams to Samuel Miller, July 8, 1820.


Indeed, this is the definition of "Christianity" that Adams used when he stated:

The general Principles, on which the Fathers Atchieved Independence, were...the general Principles of Christianity...[a]nd the general Principles of English and American Liberty....


This is one of the Christian Nation crowd's most oft-repeated quotations. Taken out of context, it seems to support their claim. Reading the rest of the letter, it destroys it. Keep in mind Adams himself was not a "Christian" according to the way the Christian America thesis understands the term. And he said in that same letter Unitarians [Arians, Priestleyans, Socinians], Universalists, Deists and Atheists were all united the "general principles of Christianity" as he understood them:

Who composed that Army of fine young Fellows that was then before my Eyes? There were among them, Roman Catholicks, English Episcopalians, Scotch and American Presbyterians, Methodists, Moravians, Anababtists, German Lutherans, German Calvinists Universalists, Arians, Priestleyans, Socinians, Independents, Congregationalists, Horse Protestants and House Protestants, Deists and Atheists; and "Protestans qui ne croyent rien ["Protestants who believe nothing"]." Very few however of several of these Species. Nevertheless all Educated in the general Principles of Christianity: and the general Principles of English and American Liberty.


How could a Deist or even an "atheist" be "united" with the orthodox on any Christian principles? The answer is simple. According to Adams being a Christian meant being a good person. If an atheist was a good person, he was a "Christian."

So ultimately it was this unitarianism that presented itself under the auspices of "Christianity" that united the sects. But the plan was not for the unitarian ideals to immediately transform American society (such immediate transformation backfired in Revolutionary France), but for the transformation to occur slowly over time. But those changes did occur. American society gradually secularized because of its secret founding principles.

As Thomas Pangle put it, Jefferson's real goal was “conformity based on indifference; not diversity, but the tepid and thoughtless uniformity of Unitarianism in a society where Unitarians no longer have to defend and prove themselves.” This perfectly describes Adams' thoughts as well.

54 comments:

Phil Johnson said...

Now, this is the kind of paper I like to read.
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It is straight and to the point with no subterfuge or spin and. more importantly, it is useful.

Thanx

Tom Van Dyke said...

How do "unitarian" principles differ from "Judeo-Christian" principles? We must answer that.

Adams' formulation is pure sophistry. Judeo-Christian principles---or "unitarian" principles, if one must put a new brand name on them---differ from Greek or Roman ones, although good men surely existed in Greek and Roman days.

Adams saying something 20 years after he left the presidency does not make it so.

Dave2 said...

Jonathan Rowe wrote:
So ultimately it was this unitarianism that presented itself under the auspices of "Christianity" that united the sects. But the plan was not for the unitarian ideals to immediately transform American society (such immediate transformation backfired in Revolutionary France), but for the transformation to occur slowly over time. But those changes did occur. American society gradually secularized because of its secret founding principles.

When you write 'unitarian' here, do you mean 'latitudinarian'? After all, I very much doubt big-U Unitarianism could manage to unite many sects and denominations.

Also, if I'm not mistaken, do you never provide the name of the McLoughlin article. The Amazon page for the collection of essays doesn't list the names of the essays making up the book. Can you tell us what the article's name is? Thanks.

Jonathan Rowe said...

The book is at home so tonight I'll see if I can gather that info. The essay is a chapter in the book. It's called something along the lines of Religion's Impact on the American Revolution. Though that is a paraphrase. You are right that I should have included it.

Jonathan Rowe said...

Dave,

Yes "unitarianism" in this sense is similar to "latitudinarianism." Because of the confusion between capital U and small u unitarianism Dr. Frazer uses "theistic rationalism" of which unitarianism is an element.

The problem with "latitudinarianism": The way Peter Lillback uses the term "latitudinarian" to describe Washington's faith is that such exists within the context of orthodox Trinitarian Christianity. However "unitarianism" or "theistic rationalism" is an extreme form of latitudinarianism that transcends Trinitarian doctrines and reduces "Christianity" or "religion" to mere morality.

Jonathan Rowe said...

Tom,

If you check etiology of terms I think you'll find "unitarian" to be older than "Judeo-Christian." Also the "unitarian" or "theistic rationalist" ideas transcended Judeo-Christianity and in principle embraced things like Islam, Hinduism and Greco-Roman mysticism. I know this is where you start to get most critical of them.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Yah, Jon. If we were founded equally on Hindu principles, we wouldn't have hamburgers. If we were founded equally on Mohammedan principles, we wouldn't have Samuel Adams beer. Then you'd be squawking, I tellya.

Dave2 said...

Tom Van Dyke wrote:
Yah, Jon. If we were founded equally on Hindu principles, we wouldn't have hamburgers. If we were founded equally on Mohammedan principles, we wouldn't have Samuel Adams beer. Then you'd be squawking, I tellya.

This only makes any sense with the background assumption that we were heavily and seriously founded on Judeo-Christian principles. With that assumption in place, the claim that we were equally founded on Hindu or Islamic principles would indeed lead to the conclusion that such principles loom quite large in our public life, and we could perhaps expect bans on cow slaughter and alcohol sales. But without that assumption, nothing of the sort will follow.

For example, if we were only nominally founded on Judeo-Christian principles, then the claim that we were equally founded on Hindu and Islamic principles would only lead to the conclusion that those principles played some minor role in public life. Or if we were not really founded on Judeo-Christian principles, then the claim that we were equally founded on Hindu and Islamic principles would only lead to the conclusion that those principles didn't really play much of a role in public life.

So I think your attempt at a reductio fails.

Also, regarding the term "Mohammedan", here's what the OED has to say: "The term is not employed or favoured by Muslims, and its use is now widely seen as depreciatory or offensive."

Jonathan Rowe said...

What Tom might reply to the "Mohammedan" remark: That's the way the FFs used to refer to Islam (and usually they had positive or benign things to say about "Mohammedanism"). They referred to "Hindus" as "Hindoos."

Jonathan Rowe said...

I think this may belabor an obvious point: Hinduism and Islam can be quite "illiberal" as religions and of that, I don't value them and neither do I think did the Founders. What I do value about the Founders' "unitarianism," fanciful as it may have been, was the "liberal openness" in the way it dealt with "other" theologies. Contrast that to the at times meanness of the orthodox who would call non-Christian religion's "imposters." But then again, if Jesus is the only way to God....

Phil Johnson said...

Dave is probably making some good points.
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But, when it comes down to Christianity in America during the Founding era and among other points, we have to take Puritan thinking into consideration.
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Puritanism is exactly what it sez it its, a purifying activity.
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But, Americans in the Founding era had had the purification process right up to their eye balls, I'll betcha. At least, the majority had.
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Even so, the purity crowd has kept it up ever since and now they're on a roll once again. Sigh.
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Unitarianism--small u as well as capital grew out of the Enlightenment and a rational response to pre-modernist thinking. And, almost any study will show that it laid the groundwork for Transcendentalism--Thoreau, Emerson, etal.

I have a quote about the foundations of Unitarianism that I'll dig up--if I can find it. Something to the effect that it is the most complete expression of Christian thinking of all others.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Ah, dave2, someone to nibble at my ankles. Good.

The larger problem here is substituting terms for meaning. I use Mohammedan in its meaning at the time of the Founding. [I felt that "Mahometan" would be too obscure for the modern general reader, as would be "Hindoo."] I think people know what I mean, and although I accept your politically correct correction, please be assured that outside this blog, I use "Muslim" and "Islam." [Both these terms have religio-political connotations in 2008 that would be unhelpful here.]

Now my problem with John Adams---and many contemporary scholars---is that their explicit project seems to be to remove "Christian" from any necessary and essential understanding of the principles of the Founding. Aside from my purposeful use of "Mohammedan," I favor plain language. Indeed, our readership uses plain language, and that suits me fine, as it often leads to common sense instead of scholarly obfuscation.

And so, I argue that "Judeo-Christian" has pretty much an unambiguous meaning for many or most folks today, whereas "theistic rationalism" would likely be met with a blank stare. Even if one were to get the gist of it, there would be no way to know how it differs from the cold, distant non-Providential God of, say Aristotle or Tom Paine.

Troublesome, too, is "deism," which at the time of the Founding applied to a notion of God like Paine's, not Jefferson's, or even "unitarianism," which meant something different at the Founding than the Unitarian Universalist church we know today.

And so, even though "Judeo-Christian" is admittedly a more modern term than the others, and admittedly has its own flaws, it has a clean and unambiguous history. The others come with baggage in their transition to the present day.

Semantics aside now, the notion or foundation for God-given rights is something I find conspicuously absent in other religions and impossible to derive by philosophy and reason, whether ancient or Enlightenment. This is the core question, and I think the attempt to assign terms and words obscures more than it clarifies.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Ah, fellas, thx for jumping in about Islam while I was writing the above.

Phil, did you read the article I linked to about JQ Adams? As you recall, Eric Alan Isaacson proposed him as a Unitarian hero.

However:

"Predictably, Adams was often critical of what he heard or read of the emerging Unitarian denomination. He strongly rejected Joseph Priestley's materialism and ultra-rationalism, just as he was later to oppose the Transcendentalism of Ralph Waldo Emerson and Orestes Brownson, calling them "vipers" and "enemies of public virtue." To him Emerson's "Divinity School Address" was "crazy" and Brownson an advocate of "self-delusive atheism." Adams, feeling it was "everyman's duty [to] take the field" against these foes of public virtue..."

Very interesting fellow, this John Quincy Adams. I've added him to my to-do list. Perhaps you'll beat me to him.

bpabbott said...

Tom: "And so, I argue that "Judeo-Christian" has pretty much an unambiguous meaning for many or most folks today, whereas "theistic rationalism" would likely be met with a blank stare."

I think the problem with the term "Judeo-Christian" is that it excludes other influences, such as rationalism, enlightenment, and deism.

In the minds of a significant portion of the US population it excludes many liberal principles/perspectives.

Tom Van Dyke said...

I agree it has problems, Ben. But I continue to ask, what Enlightenment principles translate into God-given rights?

Moreover, there's quite a bit of reason in church history. Aquinas will do for a start. There's a prevailing bias that Christianity equals only the Inquisition, the Salem witch trials and snakehandling, but that's not a fair picture.

See Francisco Suarez---a Jesuit---against the divine right of kings, followed 100 years later by Locke and Algernon Sidney.

I get ahead of myself and the discussion, but as you know, I like to leave a trail of breadcrumbs. ;-[D>

bpabbott said...

I'm going to veer OT ... Tom's mention of materialism reminded me of a lingering question.

I see materialism as corrupting of religion in the sense that so much of religious doctrine speculates on the nature and history of life, the earth, etc.

These are answers to questions of a material nature.

What is the history of the claim that materialism corrupts religion?

... might it had originated from the perspective that doctrine should be of a spiritual nature, and that material content should be avoided ... Which I think that of Jesus was to a much greater degree than that of many Christians today.

bpabbott said...

Tom: "But I continue to ask, what Enlightenment principles translate into God-given rights?"

FIrst a qualifier; I'm not convinced that "God-given" is entirely consistent with the perspectives of all founders. Pre-existing rights, for sure.

In any event, enlightenment does not exclude religion.

So I ask; Why is "God-given" incongruent with enlightenment?

Dave2 said...

Tom van Dyke,

Re: "nibble at my ankles", there's no need for such sneering antagonism.

I raised the "Mohammedan" point not to condemn you. I just wasn't sure if you were taking a cheap shot at Islam or not. I personally don't mind at all when people take shots as Islam.

I think the term "deism" is frequently misused in this blog. Well, not exactly misused, but used without any sensitivity to history. The pure philosophical deism of Aristotle or Paine is not the most common view going under the name "deism" in the 17th and 18th century. Most self-described "deists" were also self-described Christians and the term "theistic rationalist", as used on this blog, seems to be almost an exact synonym for "deist" in the 17th and 18th century. The deist movement came from Protestant Christians stripping their religion of more and more 'mysteries' and 'superstition', with less and less emphasis on Scripture and the immediate testimony of the Holy Spirit, and more and more emphasis on the scientifically-informed empiricist philosophy of Locke and the Royal Society. But they still quite often believed in petitionary prayer, many of the main miracles of Christianity, and the inspiration of Scripture. Of course this is less true of the deists ranking among the philosophes, but in terms of historical influence, they were downstream of English deism.

As for the foundation of rights, I fail to see how Christianity has anything more to offer than Judaism or Islam, and I fail to see how any of them have any advantage over a nonreligious view of things. Any claims to the contrary seem to be based on ignoring the Euthyphro dilemma and kindred points raised by such rationalists as Ralph Cudworth. I also fail to see how "the attempt to assign terms and words" figures in this issue, though I'd gladly hear more.

Tom Van Dyke said...

You can't play challenger all the time, Ben. Answer up. Enlightenment [capital "E"] is certainly used here in contradistinction to "religion."

You want to argue "pre-existing" rights instead, fine. Teach me something that Richard Rorty couldn't. Cheers.

Brad Hart said...

Excellent post and discussion. I am sorry that I got in on it so late.

To address one point made by TVD, he states:

"I argue that "Judeo-Christian" has pretty much an unambiguous meaning for many or most folks today, whereas "theistic rationalism" would likely be met with a blank stare."

I can see where you are coming from, however, bpabbott is right to point out that the term "Judeo-Christian" excludes the more "unitarian" views of our key founders. One of the reasons that I am fond of Dr. Frazer's term "Theistic Rationalist" is because I believe it incorporates what both TVD and Rowe are mentioning in this thread. The "Theistic" component suggests that religion was a central influence in America's founding. The "Rationalist" component notes that despite the "theism," the founders created a secular government giving all religion (and no religion for that matter) an equal share in America's founding legacy.

I guess for me, the term "Judeo-Christian" comes across as arrogant presumption (not that I think TVD is arrogant). It inherently suggests that Christian principles lay at the very heart of our founding documents, which I believe William McLaughlin has pointed out in this post.

Dave2 said...

Now I'm not sure if the discussion of "God-given rights" is historical or philosophical.

On the historical front, it was unorthodox Enlightenment Christians like Grotius and Locke who developed a theory of God-given natural rights. No surprise, then, that the Founders were themselves unorthodox Enlightenment Christians.

On the philosophical front, "God-given rights" fall short of being inherent rights grounded in the nature of man. What the Lord gave, after all, the Lord can take away, and we end up with the abhorrent conclusion that God could make it okay to rape people simply by taking their rights away. Indeed, this was the conclusion reached by Duns Scotus and other voluntarists.

Brad Hart said...

Oops...at the end I meant to say that William McLaughlin argued AGAINST religion in the founding documents.

Tom Van Dyke said...

But they still quite often believed in petitionary prayer, many of the main miracles of Christianity, and the inspiration of Scripture.

I call that Christianity, dave2. After all, there are 30,000 varieties.

Gotta go for the evening, but you too are invited to explore the foundation of rights, and the origins of them as expressed in the Founding. Not an easy subject, and it defied Rorty and Jurgen Habermas as well. A poke through my archived posts might give a hint as to where I'm coming from, as you and I have joined the program in progress.

Dave2 said...

Tom Van Dyke:
Teach me something that Richard Rorty couldn't. Cheers.

With all due respect to Richard Rorty, the fact that he endorsed a proposition in no way raises the likelihood of that proposition.

Dave2 said...

Tom Van Dyke wrote:
I call that Christianity, dave2. After all, there are 30,000 varieties.

Exactly. Most deists were Christians.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Grotius follows Suarez who follows Aquinas, dave2. Not an "Enlightenment" figure in sight until Locke.

Sorry I've got to duck out for now. To me, this has always been ground zero of this blog's entire inquiry.

Brad Hart said...

"But they still quite often believed in petitionary prayer, many of the main miracles of Christianity, and the inspiration of Scripture."

But again, the argument is AGAINST an orthodox interpretation of Christianity. As Jon states in the main post:

What do original sin, the trinity, incarnation, atonement, infallibility of the Bible, and eternal damnation have to do with "Christianity"? If the answer is they are "negotiable" and "unimportant" then yes we can say America was founded to be a "Christian Nation." If those doctrines, on the other hand, are central to the Christian faith, then no, America cannot be said to be "Christian" in a public civil sense.

Many key founders were clearly opposed to this "orthodox" interpretation of Christianity, which would naturally lead us to assume that they meant to create a secular nation.

But, if you are arguing that an orthodox interpretation is irrelevant, and that the founders felt the same, then I would be in complete agreement with TVD.

Brad Hart said...

Another key component to this argument is to keep in mind that "unitarianism" or "Theistic Rationalism" does NOT negate Judeo-Christian principles. However, using the term "Judeo-Christianity" as the defining mark DOES ignore unitarian principles, which the founders held to. The term "Judeo-Christianity" simply has too many holes in it.

Dave2 said...

I'm not sure what point you were making, but on Aquinas, Suarez, Grotius, and Locke: Grotius disagrees with Suarez on the question of whether moral obligation could exist without God.

In brief, Suarez agrees with Aquinas (or with what is presumably Aquinas's view) that moral good and evil is intrinsic to certain acts and not the result of divine command. However, he insists that moral obligation requires a divine command. Grotius, of course, rejects this in his famous etiamsi daremus: "And indeed, all we have now said would take place,1though we should even grant, what without the greatest Wickedness cannot be granted, that there is no God". His theory of natural rights did not require God to be part of the system (though he thought it helped).

Locke abandons this feature of Grotianism and returns to a more voluntarist view where divine commands become crucial for rights to exist.

God slips out of the picture gradually, as we go from Shaftesbury to Hutcheson to Hume, each of which was enormously influential on the Founders.

Dave2 said...

Brad Hart,

A lot of people on this blog and elsewhere treat Christianity and deism as being mutually exclusive. But this cannot be sustained, not unless you excessively tighten up the standards for Christianity (so that neither the Founders nor Origen count as Christians) or excessively tighten up the standards for deism (so that Matthew Tindal doesn't count as a deist).

That's what I'm objecting to.

Phil Johnson said...

Maybe some of us are missing the boat on the term, Judea-Christian, which is an oxymoron.
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It doesn't have any meaning. Instead, it is code that identifies that a person belongs to the Religious Right.
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Dave2 said...

Phil Johnson,

I agree that it's a political code word, but it's no more oxymoronic than 'Greco-Roman' or 'Finno-Russian'.

Brad Hart said...

Dave2:

I agree that too many people treat deism and Christianity as being exclusive, which is why I am in the unitarian/Theistic Rationalist camp. It makes a lot more sense.

Dave2 said...

Brad Hart: OK, so we're probably in agreement. I was mainly airing a pet peeve.

Brad Hart said...

You should consider joining us, Dave. Shoot Lindsey Shuman an email!!!

Phil Johnson said...

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There's more than one way of understanding Judeo-Christian.
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In a certain way, the two traditions are in opposition to each other even though one comes out of the other.
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I won't argue your pointl.

Dave2 said...

Brad Hart, thanks for the invite, but as soon as something becomes a responsibility (even just psychologically), my productivity tends to plummet! Better to keep this stuff in the 'idle time-wasting hobby' category.

Tom Van Dyke said...


But, if you are arguing that an orthodox interpretation is irrelevant, and that the founders felt the same, then I would be in complete agreement with TVD.


Good, Brad, because that's what I at least argue, although we have People v. Ruggles. But I see that as a lesser dynamic.

As for the rest of this, I'm not sure it leads anywhere. Since "Judeo-Christian" excludes the mystical identity of Jesus completely, I repeat my original question, How do "unitarian" principles differ from "Judeo-Christian" principles?

I do not know what the term "unitarian/Theistic Rationalist camp" might mean divorced from its Christian origins. Just don't, my fellows. "Deist" and "Christian" have already been mushed together in this discussion, That it might apply to most everyone except OFT and the Pope. [Neither of whom agrees with the other.]

As for dave2's contributions to the discussion, let's note that Grotius simply copies Suárez:

"...even though God did not exist, or did not make use of His reason, or did not judge rightly of things, if there is in man such a dictate of right reason to guide him, it would have had the same nature of law as it now has."

As previously noted, Suarez was a Jesuit, and I'll need some arguments as to why Hugo Grotius should be regarded as an "Enlightenment" figure. Since Grotius borrowed so heavily from Suárez, that would make the Thomist [meaning Aquinas] priest born in 1548 an Enlightenment figure too, I suppose.

[You see why I struggle with the facile use of terms, as they more formal we get, the more they confuse more than clarify...]

To move ahead, then, since the idea---or mention of---"Judeo-Christianity" sets so many noses out of joint---"the term 'Judeo-Christian' comes across as arrogant presumption" as Brad puts it [and I don't dispute you on this, Brad]---some way of actually discussing the reality and origin of these ideas must be arrived at without turning this entire inquiry into a mush.

Our friend Phil Johnson mentioned in previous thread that criticism of religion sets people's teeth on edge, and that nothing should be left off the table.

As Brad clearly illustrates, that door swings both ways.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Better to keep this stuff in the 'idle time-wasting hobby' category.

Dave2, if it's all the same to you, I'd rather you do that somewhere else than here.

Cheers.

Phil Johnson said...

TVD explains, "Our friend Phil Johnson mentioned in previous thread that criticism of religion sets people's teeth on edge, and that nothing should be left off the table."
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I did?
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I don't think so--not the part about teeth anyway.
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heh heh heh.

Dave2 said...

Tom Van Dyke wrote:
Dave2, if it's all the same to you, I'd rather you do that somewhere else than here.

Cheers.


No, it's an interesting blog. I'll probably stick around and make comments, despite (and to some extent because of) the increasing levels of hostility.

Cheers.

Dave2 said...

Oh, and Tom, the Suarez quote you give is deceptive (though I suspect you weren't intending to be deceptive).

When Suarez writes "...even though God did not exist, or did not make use of His reason, or did not judge rightly of things, if there is in man such a dictate of right reason to guide him, it would have had the same nature of law as it now has," he is not stating his own opinion. He is stating the opinion of radical intellectualists like Gregory of Rimini. Suarez goes on to criticize and reject such opinions.

In general: just because something is a Suarez quote, it doesn't mean it's Suarez's opinion. He has a tendency to lay out the opinions of others before giving his own.

You can read for yourself if you Google "Is the natural law truly a preceptive divine law?", which is the title of the relevant chapter of Suarez's De Legibus.

Brad Hart said...

Dave2 states:

"No, it's an interesting blog. I'll probably stick around and make comments, despite (and to some extent because of) the increasing levels of hostility."

Increasing levels of hostility??? Whatever do you mean??? =)

Actually, I think the hostility you speak of is relatively new. It has arisen in the most recent posts. Usually we are a kind and gentle crowd...right everyone??? =)

Phil Johnson said...

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I'm starting to wonder if ol' bugeyes isn't a little paranoid.
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ha ha ha
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Tom Van Dyke said...

Dave2, you are correct that Suarez is quoting St. Gregory. However, I disagree that Suarez attempts to rebut him. The natural law is not a function of God's will, which answers your previous Euthyphro objection as well.

A tangential issue in the scheme of things, however, but thanks for looking Suarez up, which is the show of good faith I was hoping for. The fact remains Grotius remains heavily in debt if not downright derivative of Suarez, despite some disagreements.

That which applies to the purposes of this blog, how "unitarianism" differs from Judeo-Christianity, or the "Enlightenment" explanation of rights, stands sadly unmolested.

[Paranoid, Phil? Heavens, no. The feeling that my time was being idly wasted started to come over me, and life's just too short for that, y'know?]

Dave2 said...

Just for the record about Suarez, I must insist that he rejects the intellectualism/rationalism of Gregory of Rimini and (say) Ralph Cudworth and Richard Price. Suarez presents an extreme intellectualist position (Gregory, et al.) and an extreme voluntarist position (Ockham, et al.), and he proceeds to try and find a compromise position that gets the best of both worlds (while avoiding the unsavory implications of the more extreme versions of these views). He agrees with the intellectualists that some acts are intrinsically good or evil, independently of God's will. And he agrees with the voluntarists that the natural law is a "true law"--i.e., it involves the command of a lawgiving superior. But how does he combine these two seemingly incompatible views? By drawing a distinction between moral good and evil (which is given an intellectualist treatment) and moral obligation (which is given a voluntarist treatment). As I put it earlier: "Suarez agrees with Aquinas (or with what is presumably Aquinas's view) that moral good and evil is intrinsic to certain acts and not the result of divine command. However, he insists that moral obligation requires a divine command". He compares this distinction to a distinction drawn by Aquinas between "sin insofar as it is contrary to reason" and "sin insofar as it is an offense against God"--the latter involving the special sort of moral obligation that requires a divine lawgiver.

If I'm not mistaken, you hint that you would respond to the Euthyphro dilemma by opting for the intellectualist horn of the dilemma: God commands what is right because it is right. I agree that this horn has much less disturbing consequences than the other horn. But it's also the sort of view that, in its essence, even a nonbeliever could accept. After all, if there is a fixed moral standard independent of God that in no way depends on his will, then morality will still retain its authority even if God turns out not to exist. So any advantage theism might have had over atheism when it comes to the foundations of morality ends up slipping away.

Tom Van Dyke said...

No, I don't embrace the Divine Command Theory per Euthyphro or, I imagine, Jerry Falwell. That would not be me.

However, [Suarez] insists that moral obligation requires a divine command".

I would agree with that, and a nice observation by Suarez. A neutral or social contract theory of respecting the other fellow's rights would not oblige us to fight for or protect them when unnecessary. And the Good Samaritan would have left that guy in the ditch. And of course, we would have a morally neutral state that does not tax us to care for the sick, widowed, orphaned and helpless.

As for sin, Suarez, like Aquinas, bears close examination. Perhaps another time, as we have strayed from the Founding. They aren't Jonathan Edwards and hell and brimstone, that's for sure.

Thx, dave2. Not bad, and not an entire waste of time. Per natural law and the Founding, I will defer to the Protestant Hugo Grotius' understanding of it [with perhaps a dash of Pufendorf], as the Founders' understanding of natural law was derived from Grotius. The Catholix are in there as source material, certainly, but Romish philosophy came to them only by osmosis.

Phil Johnson said...

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The more we get involved in this study of American history, the more I would like to know of the personal values of the Founders.
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There is so much quibbling over the idea of ortho and heterodoxies that we lose sight of the fact these people had personal values. How do the Founders values compare to the values we hold today?
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It seems to me that personal values are a better test than words that have long since lost their meanings over the centuries. Are the values the strong threads of American history?
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What ARE the enduring qualities that hold our society together? They certainly are not orthodox Christianity which is so divisive.
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bpabbott said...

OT

Tom, this story looks like something you'd have passions for

http://www.bjconline.org/cgi-bin/2008/09/judge_ca_high_school_was_wrong.html

Personally, I think the judge go it right.

Phil Johnson said...

AN EPIPHANY--so to speak.
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I am attending DVD lectures on the history of American Transcendentalism. Going through the one on Emily Dickenson for the third time, something dawned on me that shook my groundworks.
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You have to know a little bit about Dickenson and her personal struggle; but, she can easily be seen as the quintessential American in a sense that applies directly to the posts and commentaries at this site.
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When consideration is given to this idea of the religious and the secular division in America, we can enter on a stage that discusses the ideas of conservative and liberal ideologies.
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New England Puritanism relates to present day Fundamentalism not just in the religious and political sense; but, in the sense of our personal identity as well.

And, American Unitarianism (small and capital U) relates to present day liberalism not just in the religious and political sense; but, in the sense of our personal identity as well.
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So, Conservatism versus Liberalism. One seeks to restrain the self and the other seeks to free it to its fuller potential.
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I have written before that our Founding Fathers had a genius. It is displayed in our First Amendment that lays the foundation for self discovery. What a wonderful heritage our Founding Era gives to the world.
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Tom Van Dyke said...

One seeks to restrain the self and the other seeks to free it to its fuller potential.

"Truth, Sir, is a cow that will yield such people no more milk, and so they are gone to milk the bull."---Samuel Johnson

Phil Johnson said...

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Like I posted in another site, you're too much for words.
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Tom Van Dyke said...

Yah, I know, Phil. But until you've experienced Dr Johnson, you can't become a Transcendentalist because you yet have nothing to transcend.

Phil Johnson said...

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Why would I want to match wits with a mental giant, Tom? Why, I'd have trouble trying to nibble at your heels.
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It just doesn't make sense.
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But, if you'd like to enlighten me about Dr. Johnson, I'd be happy to follow along.