Friday, January 2, 2009

Ben Franklin and the Bible

Believe half of what you read, but fer God's sake, don't just read half of it!
by Tom Van Dyke



I'm continually stunned by those who flatly assert Benjamin Franklin was a Deist. After all, he says in his autobiography

"...I soon became a thorough Deist."

Just google "Franklin" and "deist." The number one entry---the one that's most often read---is from "infidels.org," whatever that is.

Chock full of convincing quotes, and convincing-looking documentation, it repeats Franklin's statement [ibid., p. 66] that

"...I soon became a thorough Deist."


And there are plenty more websites that do the same. The question is, why don't they read the rest of the paragraph?

"...I soon became a thorough Deist. My arguments perverted some others, particularly Collins and Ralph; but each of these having wronged me greatly without the least compunction, and recollecting Keith’s conduct towards me (who was another freethinker), and my own towards Vernon and Miss Read, which at times gave me great trouble, I began to suspect that this doctrine, though it might be true, was not very useful."


Why do they leave this part out?

I began to suspect that this doctrine, though it might be true, was not very useful.


Does that sound like a deist [or Deist] to you? Read it for yourself. And revisit Franklin's observation of his own behavior under the sway of deism. He's not only disappointed with his deist friends Collins, Ralph and Keith, but with himself:


"and my own [conduct] towards Vernon and Miss Read, which at times gave me great trouble..."


Deism isn't quite working for Franklin toward fashioning a moral and admirable life.

Franklin next says that his musings on metaphysics were also unsatisfying, per an Alexander Pope quote he misattributes to Dryden. But next, the most stunning revelation of all:

Franklin rediscovers the Bible.


"Revelation had indeed no weight with me..."

is a quote you'll find at infidels.org [ibid., p. 67!], but not the rest of its paragraph either. Hmmmm. Let's read the whole thing, then:

"Revelation had indeed no weight with me, as such, but I entertained an opinion, that, though certain actions might not be bad, because they were forbidden by it, or good, because it commanded them; yet probably these actions might be forbidden because they were bad for us, or commanded because they were beneficial to us, in their own natures, all the circumstances of things considered."


[The italics on "because" are Franklin's own.]

What Franklin is wondering here is whether perhaps the Bible forbids or recommends certain things because they are good for man, not simply because God commands them. This is a natural law interpretation of the Bible, the reconciliation of revelation and reason, that the Bible is given to man for his own good, not for God's.

Divine Command Theory is the idea that man must accept patent nonsense just because it's in the Bible or is said to come from God. DCT, they call it---and Plato's Euthyphro---nailed it some 2500 years ago.

But what does Franklin get from revisiting the Bible? [We're almost done here---hang on!] Let's give Ben the floor:

"And this persuasion [that the Bible is good for you---TVD], with the kind hand of Providence, or some guardian angel, or accidental favourable circumstances and situations, or all together, preserved me through this dangerous time of youth, and the hazardous situations I was sometimes in among strangers, remote from the eye and advice of my father, free from any wilful immorality or injustice, that might have been expected from my want of religion. I say wilful, because the instances I have mentioned had something of necessity in them, from my youth, inexperience, and the knavery of others. I had therefore a tolerable character to begin the world with; I valued it properly, and determined to preserve it."


Now, Franklin doesn't say for certain that the Bible came from God, or that Divine Providence or a guardian angel sent it to him. Perhaps the Good Book is just a good book, and chance and circumstance sent it his way.

But mebbe it wasn't just chance. Or mebbe God did give the Bible to man. Franklin doesn't know, but doesn't look a gift horse in the mouth either.

There are some stray points: Franklin writes elsewhere that the question of whether Jesus was God is something he gave no careful study or thought to, and that he'll find out soon enough after he's dead.

He's against the theological idea of "original sin," and is also troubled by certain passages in the Old Testament like Judges 4: Jael welcomes the evil Sisera into her tent, where she gives him some nice warm milk and he falls asleep. Then she hammers a tent peg through his head, all for the victory and glory of Israel and its God. Struck Franklin as more devilish than divine, and it certainly seems so at a face reading.

But what we have here in Ben Franklin is certainly not a simple man, but a relatively uncomplicated one, who has no time for doctrines and dogmas and the fights that follow. Is following the Bible a good way to live, in harmony with the natural law? Franklin seems to say possibly yes, even probably, like many or even most of us do.

Jesus himself hints at this, when the legalistic Pharisees hassle him for the disciples gathering grain to eat on the Sabbath, an apparent violation of the inflexible Law. Jesus replies, "The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath [Mark 2:27]." God commands man to take a day off every week because it's good for man, not because it's good for God. Franklin's re-embrace of the Bible after a flirtation with deism is in that spirit. All he believes for sure is that's it's good for him.

Was Franklin a Christian? Hard to say. What is a Christian? Enough with the terms and definitions and pigeonholes. He liked the Bible and tried to live it. What that means is hard to put into scholarly terms, but it means something.

Ben Franklin was, you know, Christian-y.

36 comments:

Eric Alan Isaacson said...

"I began to suspect that this doctrine, though it might be true, was not very useful."

Hmmmm. Sounds like Franklin was a humanistic pragmatist and relativist, who evaluated religion's worth not in terms of its absolute "truth," but only in terms of what social good it may effect.

bpabbott said...

To be honest, I have little interest in whether one founder or another professed a particular faith. I have little interest because I find it irrelevant.

... at least until some attempt to associated correlatino with causation. Meaning, just because embraced Christianity does not mean they thought our Nation should be governed by religios doctrine.

I think most are familiar with the view of Jefferson and Madison regarding their opinions of the establishment clause. However, I'm not sure if many are familiar with Franklin's remarks of a related nature.

Regarding that ...
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"This Political Description of a Hypocrite, may (for ought I know) be taken for a new Doctrine by some of your Readers; but let them consider, that a little Religion, and a little Honesty, goes a great way in Courts. 'Tis not inconsistent with Charity to distrust a Religious Man in Power, tho' he may be a good Man; he has many Temptations "to propagate publick Destruction for Personal Advantages and Security:" And if his Natural Temper be covetous, and his Actions often contradict his pious Discourse, we may with great Reason conclude, that he has some other Design in his Religion besides barely getting to Heaven."

"But the most dangerous Hypocrite in a Common-Wealth, is one who leaves the Gospel for the sake of the Law: A Man compounded of Law and Gospel, is able to cheat a whole Country with his Religion, and then destroy them under Colour of Law: And here the Clergy are in great Danger of being deceiv'd, and the People of being deceiv'd by the Clergy, until the Monster arrives to such Power and Wealth, that he is out of the reach of both, and can oppress the People without their own blind Assistance."

"And it is a sad Observation, that when the People too late see their Error, yet the Clergy still persist in their Encomiums on the Hypocrite; and when he happens to die for the Good of his Country, without leaving behind him the Memory of one good Action, he shall be sure to have his Funeral Sermon stuff'd with Pious Expressions which he dropt at such a Time, and at such a Place, and on such an Occasion; than which nothing can be more prejudicial to the Interest of Religion, nor indeed to the Memory of the Person deceas'd. The Reason of this Blindness in the Clergy is, because they are honourably supported (as they ought to be) by their People, and see nor feel nothing of the Oppression which is obvious and burdensome to every one else."
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-- Benjamin Franklin, comparing the politicized clergyman with the regular clergyman, quoted in The New England Currant (July 23, 1722), "Silence Dogood, No. 9; Corruptio optimi est pessima."

Tom Van Dyke said...

I just got tired of people calling Franklin a Deist [heard it again on C-Span the other day], and decided to look it up for myself, as is my custom. These are the results.

I have no problem with either of the above comments except to note that Franklin's antipathy toward hypocritical clergy was near-universal in the Founding era, and I simply submit that not all religions or holy books are interchangable. Not all are equally "true."

And I think I made clear that I make no claim Franklin held that the Bible was divine truth, although it seems apparent he holds out the possibility. Thx for reading.

Pinky said...

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Some might find This NPR program interesting.
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Ira has an interview with Steven Johnson who has written a book that deals with the American Founding.
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It's a 26 minute program that you can hear now.
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Pinky said...

From the NPR site:
"Talk of the Nation, January 2, 2009 · How are the discovery of oxygen, the founding of the Unitarian Church and ecosystem science linked? Author Steven Johnson tells the story of scientist and theologian Joseph Priestley, a protege of Benjamin Franklin and friend of Thomas Jefferson, in The Invention of Air."

Our Founding Truth said...

This is why you can't use Franklin as an authority for anything. I personally believe he was a hypocrite by publically affirming and supporting Samuel Adams' "Rights of the Colonists."

But secretly he rejected it. He should have kept his mouth shut.

Franklin, also rejected the supernatural, but made an exception for Jesus turning water into wine at Cana.

I guess he felt free to determine with his own volition what a miracle was and was not.

Thanks for the post!

bpabbott said...

OFT: "This is why you can't use Franklin as an authority for anything."

sigh ... please do not suggest or imply that you speak for me, or that you opinion has any weight with me.

You should have responded: "This is why [*I*] can't use Franklin as an authority for anything."

You were not speaking on my behalf, but on your own.

Regarding Franklin, such sentiments is one reason he qualifies as a theist rationalist, and a BIG reason why I have so much respect and appreciation for him.

Franklin allows his reasoned mind to judge what is proper and moral ... that you find such a perspecitve so objectionable implies a strong message, and it 'tis not a flattering one.

Brian Tubbs said...

Good post, Tom. Franklin was not an evangelical Christian, but wasn't a pure Deist either. He certainly wasn't hostile to Christianity, though he (like several key Founders) was suspicious of dogma and some in the clergy.

Brad Hart said...

I loved the post, Tom! Well done.

To be honest, the word "deism" confuses me more and more each day. When we began this blog, I was sure that Franklin was a deist. Now I agree with you Tom.

So what the hell is a deist? I know the whole "absent clockmaker" analogy, but it seems to me that "deism: needs some clarification. I just don't see a good definition out there for the word. And to be honest, I don’t know if ANY of the founders can be conclusively labeled as a deist and nothing more. Even the most “deist-y” of the founders – Thomas Paine and Ethan Allen – at times acknowledged the hand of God/Providence/the Almighty/etc.

As for Franklin's beliefs, I think Eric got it right above when he writes:

"Hmmmm. Sounds like Franklin was a humanistic pragmatist and relativist, who evaluated religion's worth not in terms of its absolute "truth," but only in terms of what social good it may effect."

I am no Franklin expert but that makes a lot of sense to me!

OFT writes:

"This is why you can't use Franklin as an authority for anything. I personally believe he was a hypocrite by publically affirming and supporting Samuel Adams' "Rights of the Colonists."

But secretly he rejected it. He should have kept his mouth shut."


Ouch! Such a harsh attack! I guess I would not go so far as to call Franklin a hypocrite or state the he can't be used as an authority on anything. You can disagree all you want with his religion, but lets face the facts: Franklin was a GENIOUS! I don't agree with his religion either, but I don't want to discard him as a source.

bpabbott said...

Brad: "To be honest, the word "deism" confuses me more and more each day."

"Deism" is as misused as is the word "Christian".

For that reason I appreciate the less ambiguous "rational theist".

Kristo Miettinen said...

Tom,

Thanks for this - this is great. I am hoping to do something similar for Jefferson in coming days...

The part where Franklin says (of Christianity, or biblianity, or whatever) that it might be useful even if not true gets precisely at the distinction between theory of statecraft and personal belief that I have been trying to focus on. Franklin is perfectly capable of believing that we need to lean our society on something that might be, strictly speaking, false.

That said, as soon as you admit something is useful, you have to face the nagging suspicion that it is true. Especially if you are an American. We are, after all, the promised land of pragmatism, the theory that truth has no higher definition than utility.

Ben, as I have said, I agree with your point that personal beliefs are irrelevant per se, but you omit the other logical possibility when you ask whether their faith might extend to believing that we should be governed by that faith. The other option, very much alive in the case of Jefferson, Franklin, et al, is the possibility that our nation should be governed on Christian principles even though Christianity might be, in their subjective opinion, false. This is not a crackpot theory, this is an 18th century adaptation of Plato's Noble Lie.

Jonathan Rowe said...

The East Coast Straussians are notorious for being secret atheists who support the religious right and "Christian principles" in politics. But they have also done very interesting work debunking the Christian Nation idea, showing that the ideals of the American Founding were not biblical.

I can't agree with everything they've argued (like for instance that Locke was a secret atheist) but they do make for interesting and provocative reading.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Thx for the props on this. My approach has been to use historical scholars only as maps to find the original source, and read the actual person [very] closely for myself. Try to get in his head, as it were, instead of project what's in my head on him.

The only way to do that is take the quote and then read it in context with the larger piece it's taken from, which is why the "quote wars" are often unproductive or even misleading.

Since the scholars themselves disagree about pritnear everything anyway, none of them should be taken as, um, Bible truth. I suppose my approach is somewhere between Leo Strauss and John Calvin.

bpabbott said...

Kristo: "Ben, as I have said, I agree with your point that personal beliefs are irrelevant per se, but you omit the other logical possibility when you ask whether their faith might extend to believing that we should be governed by that faith. The other option, very much alive in the case of Jefferson, Franklin, et al, is the possibility that our nation should be governed on Christian principles even though Christianity might be, in their subjective opinion, false. This is not a crackpot theory, this is an 18th century adaptation of Plato's Noble Lie."

I don't see how I omitted anything.

Why do you assume that the founders might favor our nation to be governed by inflexible doctrines of one faith and not those of another? I see no evidence that they thought the doctrines of any faith had a place in governing.

My claim is that there is a lack of evidence to support the assertion that the founders desired christian doctrine to be part of law.

Can you provide such evidence? .. or have I misunderstood your position?

Tom Van Dyke said...

Ben, you substitute "doctrine" where Kristo writes "principles." You would not want to repeat the epistemological errors of that other fellow... ;-}

bpabbott said...

Tom:"Ben, you substitute "doctrine" where Kristo writes "principles." You would not want to repeat the epistemological errors of that other fellow... ;-}"

it is not my intention of painting Kristo in an objectionable color. However, I do think doctrines and principles are distinctive things (back to terms and definitions again).

I'm done for the day. I'll check back as time permits.

Kristo Miettinen said...

Ben,

If I misunderstood you, fine, and sorry (you did type pretty sloppy up there), but I understood you to limit your vigilance to the causal argument that the founders might have wanted to establish a Christian Nation because of their Christian faith (which argument you presumably stand ready to refute if someone offers it).

I suggested that you also have to keep your eyes open for the complementary argument, that the founders might have wanted to establish a Christian Nation in spite of their lack of Christian faith.

As for me, I don't, in fact, "assume that the founders might favor our nation to be governed by inflexible doctrines of one faith". I hope I have argued consistently that the nation was Christian (lesser point) and that the founders established a government suitable for such a nation (focus point).

To your characterization, let me point out that Christianity as I have been discussing it is not one inflexible faith but a faith-group, held together by a very flexible range of interpretation of the teachings and personal significance of one man (or GodMan).

I have also tried to point out that many principles which CN deniers imagine to be secular, like freedom of conscience, natural law, and Providence, are in fact Christian.

Pinky said...

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Kristo writes, "I have also tried to point out that many principles which CN deniers imagine to be secular, like freedom of conscience, natural law, and Providence, are in fact Christian."
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For starters, you might not have a good grasp on what it means to be secular. But, maybe you do. I don't know.
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I agree with you that "many principles" you connote "are in fact Christian". But, I'm quick to add that they are not only Christian.
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That doesn't detract from Christianity; just shows the Greco influence on Christianity.
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But, that's not your main point, is it, Kristo?
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I think many CN people are missing a major point in the issues involved and that is that this battle didn't start with the Founding of the United States of America; but, it has been raging for thousands of years.
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It should be easier to articulate. Maybe we could ask why it is so difficult a problem to settle.
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We keep wondering here if the Founders had Christian intentions and if this one or that one was an orthodox Christian or some spin-off on the edge. I'd like to see some answers to the question, "Were any of the Founding Fathers philosophers?"
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bpabbott said...

Kristo,

To be honest, my inquiry which invited a hand-slap from Tom was not intended to bait you (or anyone).

You and I have very differnt perspecitives and when we use terms like "prinicples" we may have very differnt understandings for what they mean.

Thus, I make it a habit to translate into terms that are less readily confused and then seek a clarification.

It is no my intention to paint you unfavorably, but rather to give you an opportunity to clarify ... which I think you've done quite nicely.

While I don't share you opinion, I don't fault you for it either.

Regarding your concluding sentence; "I have also tried to point out that many principles which CN deniers imagine to be secular, like freedom of conscience, natural law, and Providence, are in fact Christian."

In order to clarify my perspective and give you an opporitunity to refine my understanding of yours, I'd like to make two points.

(1) We should be careful in the use of the term "Christian Nation". Of those who assert we are a Christian Nation, there are some how do not favor liberty and would be pleased if we had Sharia as in Islamic nations. Most of those who reject the claims of a Christian Nation are focued on that perspective. Meaning that they interpret "Christain Nation" to be a political term. Of the others (pro or con) many see the "Christian Nation" claim as one regarding the proportion of followers of the Christian faith, and yet other see the "Christian Nation" claim as one regarding the cummulative inspired origins of our Nation.

(I mention 3 perspectives, but I also realize no individual fits neatly into any of them).

Personally, I have little vestd interest in what proportion of our nation's citizens are, or were, Christians. I also don't really care what the cummulative inspired origins of our Nation were.

My vested interst is in the liberty of the individual and the defense of it. For that reason it is only the first variant (the parallel of Sharia law) that has my attention.

It is still unclear to me exaclty where you fall in this perspective, but am of the impression that you do not favor the first.

(2) My second point is that while a reasoned mind can certainly conclude that "freedom of conscience, natural law, and Providence" are congruent with the Christian Faith, I do not think it proper to refer to them as Christian. They are also Buddhist, Pagan, Mulsim, Republican, Democratic, Libertarian, etc. My point here is that using an ideological term in a manner that implies such excellent ideals are uniquely the domain of a particular ideology is improper, imo. I find it improper because it is divisive.

In any event, thank you for the reponse. If my approach is frustrating for you, I apologize. As we have very differnt perspectives, it may take me quite some time to develop an insight into your's.

Pinky said...

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It's getting to be obvious that we're having trouble with our meanings regarding some of the words and terms that are getting tossed around here.
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Strauss has given me a lot of help in understanding this point. For example, he points out the interesting point that the Bible has no concept for the word, nature.
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And, Abbott points out the problem with principles and Christian Nation.
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Here's something that could use a little clarification. When we talk about Nature's God, just what is it that different parties mean regarding nature? Is this nature in the sense of the wild and pre-society or does it mean custom?
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When I think of Nature's God in relation to America's Founding, I imagine the colonists and pilgrims living on the edge of society and in the wilderness.
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Can anyone address this from the technical point of history?

bpabbott said...

Pinky: "When I think of Nature's God in relation to America's Founding, I imagine the colonists and pilgrims living on the edge of society and in the wilderness."

hmmm ... I'm totally confused. Can you offer more context.

Perhaps, if I offer my view you can help me undertand yours?

My understanding of Nature's God is that which prescribes the natural processes of the universe. Nature's God (in my understanding) is that which science seeks to understand.

It never occurred to me that the term "Nature's God" might be understood as something else :-(

Pinky said...

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Strauss talks about this
this book on page 253. I can bring it up using the finding word, charakter, spelled with a k. But, it won't let me make a copy. You might be able to bring the page up if you're interested. I lent my copy to my grandson.

I've always considered nature as it relates to living in the wild--away from civilization. I thought that Nature's God referred to the spiritual force experienced by human beings living outside of society--in the wild. But, after reading Strauss's lecture, I'm concerned my thoughts are not the same as what others share.
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So, when Christian Nationalists talk about Nature's God, I don't think they're talking about the same thing the Founders meant to connote.
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Kristo Miettinen said...

Hi Phil! (also relevant to Ben)

Of course, many of the principles (freedom of conscience, etc.) are not merely Christian. But I have, in my posts, endeavored to show either that they came to America through Christian channels, or that the particular form of the principle needed for the purpose that it was applied to in America was the Christian one. You've read my posts beginning to end, right? [:-)

Ben,

Who really wants Christian Sharia? When I first encountered Jon Rowe, over a year ago, he was saying the same thing as you. He pointed the finger at a person who shall not be named, but his name sounds like "fartin". Jon was calling him the "F" word, the one that rhymes with but does not mean "laud". I bought his book, and found little of what Rowe said was there. Can you point me to the hordes of darkness? I sense that CN deniers want a "secular Sharia", and point to nonexistent threats to scare us into conceding them their way as the presumptively least oppressive tyrants. Or is your position deeper than that?

To me, the "Christian Nation" question is just one of applied philosophy: what is a nation, and what does it mean for a nation to have human qualities? We all think of nations as aggressive, or progressive, or civilized, or narcissistic, etc., so presumably a nation could be Christian as well. What does that mean? Is ours such a nation? Was it such a nation in the past?

The relevance comes in, e.g., interpreting our constitution. You may be liberty-obsessed, and may therefore want the constitution to protect you from religious encounters in public life that you perceive to be infringement of your freedom from religion. But what we want the constitution to protect and what it does in fact protect are two different things, and we have to be open to the possibility that passages in the constitution do not mean what the ACLU assures us that they mean (just as I have to accept that the constitution does not always say what I want it to say either).

bpabbott said...

Kristo: "Who really wants Christian Sharia?"

Anyone who justifies law on the basis of religious doctrine. Particularly those who exclude or object to non-religious justification.

Regarding "Secular Sharia". My initial reaction is to point out that our Constitution *is* secular ... but then I realized that we may be accepting / embracing different terms again.

What do you imply by the term "secular sharia"?

Kristo: "We all think of nations as aggressive, or progressive, or civilized, or narcissistic, etc., so presumably a nation could be Christian as well. What does that mean? Is ours such a nation?"

I don't think the comparison is what you'd like it to be. In this sense our Nation is aggressive, *and* progressive, *and* civilized, *and* (at times) narcissistic, *and* Christian, *and* Muslim, *and* Buddhist, *and* on & on & on.

The debate from my perspective has nothing to do with adjectives, it has to do with the basis *for* law.

Regarding what the constitution does an does not protect, and how the ACLU interprets it, I don't think we are even in the same ballpark. However, I also don't think it immediately relevent since the USSC will decide these things.

For the time being I remain focused on our use of common terms which appear to carry very different meanings for each of us.

Kristo Miettinen said...

Ben,

If justifying law on the basis of Christian doctrine is Christian Sharia, then does William Penn's Frame of Government (usually thought to be a landmark in tolerant government) qualify as establishing Christian Sharia?

I don't believe that our Federal constitution is secular. I believe that it is more or less exactly what Christian statesmen, legislating general government for a Christian nation in the latter part of the 18th century, would have produced according to Christian principles. The full scheme of government is the combination of the general and specific governments; to understand what is and is not in each part requires seeing the local and federal governments togaether, in how they complement each other.

Let me sharpen that point: I don't believe that any political writers prior to the revolution developed government on the forms of republican democracy on a secular or rationalist basis. Hobbes, to take a concrete example, would not have established government as we have it had he been in charge.

I'll shorten my reply by cutting directly to one final point: I don't think that the USSC decides what the constitution means (ratifiers do that); they have a responsibility to discover what it means, and we have decided as a matter of civics to cede to them authority on the matter (i.e. we do not want the branches of government arguing over constitutionality), but the USSC is a human institution capable both of error and of malfeasance. We may have decided to comply with their rulings, but that does not mean that their rulings are constitutive of constitutional law (pardon the two separate uses of "constitute").

Anyone who justifies law on the basis of religious doctrine. Particularly those who exclude or object to non-religious justification.

bpabbott said...

Kristo: "I don't believe that our Federal constitution is secular. I believe that it is more or less exactly what Christian statesmen, legislating general government for a Christian nation in the latter part of the 18th century, would have produced according to Christian principles."

hmmm ... I think you are confusing an anti-religion sentiment with secularism.

The Constitution is a secular government because it is not specifically religious.

As pointed explained on Wikipedia; "[...] eating and bathing may be regarded as examples of secular activities, because there is nothing inherently religious about them. Nevertheless, both eating and bathing are regarded as sacraments by some religious organizations, and therefore would be religious activities in their worldview. Saying a prayer derived from religious text or doctrine, worshipping through the context of religion, and attending Sunday School are examples of religious (non-secular) activities. However prayer and meditation are not necessarily non-secular being that the concept of spirituality and higher consciousness are not married solely to any religion but are practiced and arose independently across a continuum of cultures."

Thus, Christian principles, motive, inspirations, etc can be a part of the secular world (I think they necessarily are).

Why is it you view the Constitution as not being secular? Do you see it's principles as uniquely Christian, meaning that its principles exclude other faiths, ideologies, philosophies, etc?

Regarding your final sentences; "Anyone who justifies law on the basis of religious doctrine. Particularly those who exclude or object to non-religious justification"

It appears you did not complete your thought.

"Anyone who justifies law on the basis of religious doctrine [is an tyrant]" ? ? ? ?

Pinky said...

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"I don't think that the USSC decides what the constitution means (ratifiers do that); they have a responsibility to discover what it means, and we have decided as a matter of civics to cede to them authority on the matter (i.e. we do not want the branches of government arguing over constitutionality), but the USSC is a human institution capable both of error and of malfeasance. We may have decided to comply with their rulings, but that does not mean that their rulings are constitutive of constitutional law (pardon the two separate uses of 'constitute')." ----Kristo
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You can kick this ball all over the field, Kristo; but, in the final analysis, the U.S. Supreme Court IS the final arbitrator on law in the U.S.A.
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By the way, if you haven't spent a lot of time with Leo Strauss, you owe it to yourself to read this book of his.

bpabbott said...

Pinky: "[...] the U.S. Supreme Court IS the final arbitrator on law in the U.S.A."

Very good point.

The constutition doesn't even make mention by what method or manner the court should reach its conclusions.

The court can use any means it sees fit to interpret the law. How the court should do its duty is an interesting and endless debate. See this link for exampe.

However, as the constitution grants the court great levity in this matter, debating how they should conduct their responsibility is rather moot.

As a lawyer, perhaps Jon will give us a perspective from his side (provided he's following this thread).

Pinky said...

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Nothing personal intended by me here.
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Ben wrote, "As a lawyer, perhaps Jon will give us a perspective from his side (provided he's following this thread)."
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I have such a low regard for lawyers that I cannot trust their word regarding the position of the Supreme Court in our Land. They can and often use mumbo jumbo to make their cases regardless of what the actual truth might happen to be.
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The Constitution is plain and it speaks to the authority of the Supreme Court--and it is part of the balance of powers that the Court has the authority to rule on legislation of Congress and the promulgations of Executive on any laws as to their rightful or wrongful condition.
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Pinky said...

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Anyone that thinks our society was not founded with a desire for the happiness of all Americans as far into the future as can be imagined is a nut case.
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It, therefore, gets to be extremely important for each one of us to recognize it is encumbered upon each of us to educate ourselves about the form of government under which we exist. We cannot leave our destiny up to any experts regarding their ideas of the theories involved. America was founded to be a liberal form of government the purposes of which are to secure certain unalienable rights to the People as individuals as weall as a society.
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With all due respect to those men and women who belong to the legal fraternities. I have nothing against them as persons who desire to improve their lot in life.
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Charles said...

"the constitution grants the court great levity"

I'm sure that many participants in this blog would agree and argue that some justices have floated off their foundations.

Pinky said...

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Charles opines, "...some justices have floated off their foundations."
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I'm sure you are correct that many will agree.
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However!
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Presidents nominate justices to the court and they are certified by the Congress and so, the justices carry a residual effect of our elected branches of government as far in to the future as the justice lives or decides to stay or is removed by impeachment.
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And in our liberal form of government (We the People as opposed to some other form) elect our officials based on ideological issues, we give the court the right to impose the prejudicial perspective of this justice over that.
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George W. Bush is the most recent example of the people electing ideological prejudice to weigh the choice of who will serve on the Supreme Court.
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Go figger!!.

Pinky said...

ERATA
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CORRECTION


I wonder why I am allowed to delete a post sometimes; but, not others.
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ANYWAY
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My last post has an error and it is corrected here:

The line that read, And in our liberal form of government (We the People as opposed to some other form) elect our officials based on ideological issues, we give the court the right to impose the prejudicial perspective of this justice over that.
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Should have read,
"And, WHEN WE, in our liberal form of government (We the People as opposed to some other form) elect our officials based on ideological issues, we give the court the right to impose the prejudicial perspective of this justice over that."
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Sorry for the error.

bpabbott said...

Pinky: "Anyone that thinks our society was not founded with a desire for the happiness of all Americans as far into the future as can be imagined is a nut case."

I am in total agreement.

The goal of our founding was "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness."

While these ideals / values may be compatible with religion, and while religion certainly inspired and motivated the founding, these ideals / values are secular because they do not inject specific religous postions and therefore encompass all faiths ... including the lack thereof.

bpabbott said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Pinky said...

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We are ten generations more or less removed from the Founding Fathers.
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It is almost impossible for us to put ourselves in their shoes to get an understanding of how they thought about what they thought. This is an important point of Leo Strauss's teachings dealing partly with his ideas about the death of history.
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I just finished Mapp’s thumbnail on Alexander Hamilton and am now reading the chapter on George Mason. No one can truly say they understand either of these men and the way they thought. All we can get is a glimmer of their perspectives on life. Even so, the Founders are a definite part of our American heritage and it behooves us to learn as much as we can about how they lived, thought, and carried out their day to day experiences. We must keep those lines of connection as alive as possible.
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For that reason, I appreciate this blog site and everyone who participates. Agreement with any who post here is of no consequence as every perspective adds to our grasp of how history plays out in our own day to day experience.
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