Sunday, November 30, 2008

Christianity and Orthodoxy: Was Arius Christian?

Alot has happened in a day, and it looks like one Chris Smith (unknown to me, but I'll read more shortly as I catch up) has beaten me to the punch, but while I catch up let me post this outline of a position I was working on, which is suddenly rather topical.

CHRISTIAN: A name derived from that of Christ himself. The name refers to all those who have been anointed through the gift of the Holy Spirit in Baptism; hence, the followers of Christ, the members of the Christian Church. According to Acts 11:26 "it was in Antioch that the disciples were first called Christians" (1289). - Glossary of the Catholic Catechism

This post intends to illustrate the undesirability of conflating the terms "Christian" and "orthodox", emphasizing that we need both terms, one with a wide definition, the other with a narrow one, if we are to make any sense of history.

To begin with, as an appetizer, consider the natural-sounding expression "the Christians are debating orthodoxy again", or its historical equivalent "orthodoxy emerged from disputes in the Christian community". Neither expression is coherent if orthodoxy defines Christianity, for then orthodoxy cannot be debated among Christians; in any such debate, at most one side would be orthodox, and therefore at most one side could be Christian.

Historians of Christianity, of course, would like to say such things as "orthodoxy emerged from disputes in the Christian community", since that just makes sense. In order to do so, they need a broad sense of what Christianity is, so that both the "right" and the "wrong" (or winning and losing, or whatever) sides in a dispute about orthodoxy can be considered "Christian".

Thus, for instance, if I turn to my first (and still favorite) "A History of Christianity" by Kenneth Scott Latourette (American Baptist), in the preface I read:
Most of this will have to do with what we term Christianity. Christianity is a religion and as such is one of many religions. Its distinctive feature is that, as its name implies, it has Jesus Christ at its very heart. Yet Christianity is a synthesis of what the Christian regards as the Gospel, God's gift to man in Christ, and of the human response to it. Christianity centres about Christ, but it is compounded of the faith, Judaism, from which Jesus sprang and which prepared the way for him; of Jesus himself, his birth, life, teachings, deeds, death, and resurrection; of the faith of his immediate disciples in him; and of the several aspects of the many environments into which it has moved. Obviously, a well-rounded account of the history of Christianity will narrate the story of its geographic spread, taking account of the forms of the faith which spread... [and after another page of such generalities] If it is not to be distorted, the history of Christianity must include all the varieties of the faith. (xiv-xv)

Let's try to explore the bounds of this broad sense of Christianity with a test case, the Alexandrian priest Arius. If orthodoxy is defined in terms of, at least, the Nicene creed, and if the unorthodox are not Christians, then there should be no question of Arius' non-Christianity, since the Nicene creed was composed specifically to condemn him. But what is the story as reported by Latourette, i.e. as reported by a historian? The following is a severe abridgment of pages 151-164.

Two streams of thought emerged from the work of Origen, the conflict of which would result in the most serious division of Christianity to that time (4th century). One of the streams, today considered heretical, was championed early by Lucian of Antioch, who died in the persecution of 312, but whose work was carried on by his better known pupils, Arius of Alexandria and Eusebius of Nicomedia. I'll skip what the actual issues were (it's irrelevant to the question at hand). Arius and Eusebius were opposed by Alexander of Alexandria, Arius' bishop and immediate superior, and Athanasius (a deacon in Alexandria, later Alexander's successor as bishop). What could have remained a minor quarrel in a corner of the empire spread, in part because Arius composed a number of popular songs expressing his theology, which went viral (to use a modern term) and brought, for the first time in history, large masses of laypeople into what should have been an obscure theological quarrel. The Emperor Constantine called a council of all bishops in Christendom to resolve the dispute, in Nicaea, in 325 AD.

The council decided for Alexander and Athanasius, banished Arius, ordered the burning of his works, and published a creed (not our Nicene creed, but a first draft of sorts) that expressed the correct faith as determined by the council. After the council (at which Eusebius signed the creed), Eusebius was stripped of his see by the Emperor, and other supporters of Arius also lost their positions. Two years later, however, another gathering of bishops in the same city readmitted Arius to fellowship and reinstated Eusebius as a bishop, as it became immediately clear that while the council of 325 had been maneuvered into compliance, the Christian community at large was at least as suspicious of the apparently Sabellian [another heresy] doctrines of Alexander and Athanasius as it was of the doctrines of Arius and Eusebius. Besides, there was big politics involved: Arians dominated the eastern mediterranean, Nicaeans (as they came to be called) the west, Arians taught obedience to the Emperor, Nicaeans taught an independent sphere for the church (and within them, a growing splinter taught supremacy of the bishop of Rome). Within a year Eusebius was a principal advisor to the Emperor, and it would be the Arian confederate Eusebius who baptised the emperor shortly before his death ten years later.

Arius, though, died in 336, the year before Constantine's baptism. He was, at that time, a member in full standing of the church (since his return from exile years earlier), though he never received communion from the hands of Athanasius, his archenemy and bishop of Constantinople (the city on whose streets Arius suddenly collapsed). One legend has it that God struck Arius down miraculously to prevent his receiving communion from Athanasius, another has it that Arius was poisoned.

Anyway, the doctrinal position of Arius never changed; it was the church that zigged and zagged between the Scylla and Charybdis of Arianism and Sabellianism, until the Cappadocians formulated what would become the orthodox doctrine on this matter, some 40 years after Arius' death. At the time of his death, Arius' doctrine was in the ascendancy, so much so that at least one bishop of Rome (Liberius) is believed to have accepted Arianism, albeit under imperial threat of exile.

The rest of the story is a mess of compromise, with the Nicaeans shifting toward the semi-Arians, and the Cappadocians cutting the Gordian knot of reconciling anti-Sabellianism with anti-Arianism. The Nicene Creed as we know it today reflects this Cappadocian synthesis (and is drawn from a Jerusalem Creed which in turn was influenced by the first Nicene Creed), and is commonly associated with the council of Nicaea of 381, although it was not actually adopted there. Its origins are, however, roughly from the 380s, and its theology is similar to the Cappadocian synthesis adopted at Nicaea in 381.

So, today Arianism is named a heresy, as proclaimed in a Creed written long after Arius died, but apart from two years' banishment, Arius remained a member of the church all his life, albeit with continuing personal feuds with his ecclesiastical superiors, including denial of communion by his archenemy Athanasius. Latourette winds down the story thus (p. 164):
By a slow and often stormy process the overwhelming majority of Christians had come to believe that the formula which bore the Nicene name contained the correct statement of the Christian faith on the questions which had been at issue. Today most of those who are called Christians continue to honor it, along with the Apostle's Creed, as the official authoritative formulation of their faith and employ it in public worship.

Latourette clearly leaves room for non-Nicene Christians, both in the 4th/5th centuries and today. For the historian, orthodoxy is tighter than Christianity. I suggest that based on his lifelong personal faith and devotion to Christ and his church, Arius is one of those non-Nicene Christians.

28 comments:

Tom Van Dyke said...

A fascinating account, Kristo, and thank you. It's true that heresies were hunted down by the Catholics [although the Spanish Inquisition started before Luther and the Albigensians were hunted down in the 1200s, way before Luther].

And the Puritans and other movements in the Reformation were quite exacting in who and who wasn't a Christian. Roger Williams, lionized by secularists for his "tolerance," seemed to have the tightest butt of all!

It's indeed a grand irony that Arius' man Eusebius was the one who baptized Constantine even after Constantine convened the Council of Nicaea to give the theological boot to Arius.

And let's not even get into monophysitism. Lord, it all makes my head hurt. To paraphrase Will Rogers, I'm not part of any organized religion, I'm a Christian.

Chris said...

Great post, Kristo. By the way, this issue has been hashed over a lot in recent years due to the rising prominence of Mormonism in the American public sphere. Daniel C. Peterson and Stephen D. Ricks' book Offenders for a Word contains many more quotes from historians, sociologists, and even orthodox church fathers that describe heretics as Christians.

In the first century it was common for philosophical schools to be founded around a single master, and for the disciples of that master to be called after the name of the master. This is clearly the spirit in which followers of the Way were first designated "Christians" in Antioch (as reported by the book of Acts). The trouble, of course, is that the actual content of Christ's teaching is precisely what is at issue in the battle of orthodoxy with heresy. One therefore cannot exclude a group on doctrinal grounds without a certain amount of special pleading.

I think there is validity, however, to raising questions about the Christian identity of those who self-consciously depart from some of Christ's teachings, or whose loyalties are admittedly not primarily to Christ. Thus when we start getting deists and Unitarians who no longer regard Christ as their normative standard or who are dismissive or skeptical of many of his teachings, I think we can justly say that such folks are "Christian" only in a nominal sense, and are beginning to shade into something else. So I would make a distinction between the likes of Arius and those of, say, Jefferson or Washington.

By the way, in case anyone is interested in reading a Christian historian's theological reflections on historic Christian diversity, I recommend Interpreting Christian History by Euan Cameron. I reviewed this on my blog a while back, but any Christian who has the time should really give it a read firsthand.

Best,

-Chris

Jonathan Rowe said...

For the record, I think the argument is completely reasonable; I'm on record supporting the idea that Christianity can define broadly or narrowly and noting that if we define "Christianity" broadly to include these theological heresies the US could be said to have had an authentically "Christian" Founding.

However, I've also demonstrated that the proper understanding of "Christianity" is in dispute. And when one takes history into today's political-theological culture wars then there's going to be an unresolvable battle over "what is a Christian"? And we certainly don't want government resolving that battle.

The one nuance I've discovered and will never stop pounding on is the folks likely to cry the loudest "we are/were founded to be a Christian Nation" (as a political cry to "reclaim America") don't consider the theological tenets held by J. Adams, Jefferson, Franklin, probably Washington, Madison and many others to be "real Christianity" anymore than they consider Mormonism to be "Christianity."

Pastor Bob Cornwall said...

A good post. When we consider who is a Christian, we are always dealing with questions of boundaries. I'm more for focusing on the centerpoint -- Christ -- and leaving the boundaries fairly porous. Jefferson and Adams, along with Arius and Sabellius, were by their own definitions Christians.

To insist that the Nicene Creed be the definitive statement of who is in and who is out suffers from a major problem -- until 325 at the earliest and 381 at the latest -- there was no definitive statement.

As for Constantine, there's good evidence that suggests that he really didn't care about the theology, he just wanted one definitive statement so he could have control of the situation. Throughout the 4th century the question went back and forth. Remember too that it took some time to come to grips with the Holy Spirit and the 2 natures of Christ.

So, where do we go? If we look to the New Testament for guidance, we may need to keep things a bit more open. Oh, by the way, in 325 there still wasn't a definitive canon of the New Testament!

Pinky said...

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So much fuss...
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I liked Latourette's wording here, "... Judaism, from which Jesus sprang ..."
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I am not familiar with Latourette or his style; but, if I guess, he is saying that Jesus left Judaism by leaps and bounds--at least one giant leap. If so, I agree.
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If we are to search out the history of consummate Christianity, then we have to begin as early as possible in the religious history of the Jews and we end with its founder, Jesus. To come forward in time since Jesus in search for definitions of Christianity is to find something different than what was provided by Jesus.
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But, if we are to stay with Jesus in search of a definition of the religion he founded, we will run into great defugalties with the various denominations each of which claims to have the orthodox claim on what it means to be a true Christian. I expect that means present company.
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As a religion, Christianity is a rejection of the legalistic entanglements of the religiosity of Judaism and all other religions that make similar claims in supposing themselves to be the "way" of gaining legitimacy in God's sight. Christianity provides the individual the ability to relate directly with God sans the priesthood or any other mediators.
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America was founded on principles which leave the ideas of the relationship an individual can have with God up to the individual.
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Kristo Miettinen said...

Hi Jon,

I dispute your claim "I've also demonstrated that the proper understanding of 'Christianity' is in dispute", if by that you mean that you have demonstrated the applicability of a Reformed/Calvinist defintion of "orthodoxy" (i.e. one that omits ecclesiology, in which the Reformed/Calvinists are unorthodox) as a defintion of "Christianity" suitable for historians.

Can you name any general history of Christianity, anything with the stature of Latourette or Pelikan, or even Kung or Wills, that claims that Arius was not Christian? I doubt you can, but would be intrigued if you could come up with one.

As I have pointed out before, and will happily point out again, the defintion of "Christian" used in sectarian squabbles is not appropriate for history. What I am adding now, implied but perhaps not spelled out before, is that in mainstream history of Christianity the only arguments (and they are not really arguments, just differences of style in handling a vague term) are over exactly how wide the definition should be; that the definition should be wider than that of orthodoxy is, to my knowledge, undisputed.

Now, to your closer, that "the folks likely to cry the loudest 'we are/were founded to be a Christian Nation' (as a political cry to 'reclaim America') don't consider the theological tenets held by J. Adams, Jefferson, Franklin, probably Washington, Madison and many others to be 'real Christianity' anymore than they consider Mormonism to be 'Christianity.' " True. So what? What the 'reclaim America' crowd wants is the restoration of the kind of minimalist acknowledgment of Christianity that Adams, Jefferson, Franklin, and others were totally comfortable with. Public creches, voluntary prayer in public places (including schools), etc.

Barton is willing to embrace Franklin despite considering Franklin a Deist. The reclamation agenda is totally consistent with the wildest variations on a basic Christianity, and seeks no more than to roll back the standards of religiousness in American public life to the first half of the 20th century.

Kristo Miettinen said...

Hi Chris!

I agree, of course, that religions that do not have Christ at their heart are not Christian, and I would add that Christianity is a vague concept, so that there can be legitimate borderline cases (i.e. cases where the problem of classification is not epistemic but ontic).

I have elsewhere suggested that Arianism is clearly Christian, Islam is clearly not (despite its high regard for Christ), and Mormonism is a plausible borderline case. But this was hastily drawn; I'm open to persuasion on moving the line a bit this way or that.

With Deism and Unitarianism, on the other hand, we compound the ontic problem of the vagueness of Christianity with the epistemic problem of the difficulty of pinning Deism and Unitarianism down, since these systems have historially meant disparate things in different times and places. Even if we could agree that founder X was Deist, and founder Y was Unitarian, we would still be somewhat in the dark as to what that meant with respect to Christ.

But all of this is somewhat secondary to the question of the degree to which Christianity of any sort had, or did not have, a special place in the society being established through the revolution. One can be a lapsed Christian, or even an atheist comfortable with Christian practices, and support the founding of a nation on a minimalist Christian basis, just as one can be a devout Christian and support the establishment of a completely secular nation.

Jonathan Rowe said...

Kristo,

The problem I have with your claim is twofold: First we aren't dealing with merely an abstract historical understanding detached from time and place. Yes, of course, Islam looks in and terms all of these folks who call themselves "Christians," "Christians" (as 80% of America today considers itself "Christian") and further they see some/many "Christian" Churches marrying same sex couples.

As the last observation was meant to intimate, this ideological battle is NOT taking place merely on detached historical grounds. Rather, as an academic exercise, this is an interdisciplinary dynamic that mixes the historical with the political and the theological. And I certainly have proven that politically and theologically, the definition of "Christianity" is in dispute and those who claim "Christianity" equates with orthodoxy and assert things like "Mormonism is not Christianity" make a defensible, albeit reasonably disputed claim.

As Judge Michael McConnell of the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals (one of the finest legal historians of the religion clauses, potential candidate for Supreme Court) put it in a recent court opinion:

The State defendants blithely assumed that they could lump together all “Christians” as a single “religion.” But the definition of who is a “Christian” can generate an argument in serious circles across the country. Some students at CCU are members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, or “Mormons.” Members of the LDS Church stoutly insist that they are Christians, but some Christians, with equal sincerity and sometimes vehemence, say they are not. In order to administer Colorado’s exclusionary law, government officials have to decide which side in this debate is right. Similar questions plague the religious taxonomy of Jehovah’s Witnesses, Christian Scientists, Unitarian-Universalists, various syncretistic groups and even (in some circles) the Roman Catholic Church.

To make matters worse, the Commission has (no doubt without animus) applied different standards to different religious traditions. When confronted with the question of whether Regis College was eligible for student scholarships, the Commission (and later the Colorado Supreme Court) focused on the particular denomination, which is Roman Catholicism, and concluded that the institution was eligible. In CCU’s case, however, the Commission focused on a broader category: all Christians….


My second problem with your claim will be addressed in my next post.

Jonathan Rowe said...

Now, to your closer, that "the folks likely to cry the loudest 'we are/were founded to be a Christian Nation' (as a political cry to 'reclaim America') don't consider the theological tenets held by J. Adams, Jefferson, Franklin, probably Washington, Madison and many others to be 'real Christianity' anymore than they consider Mormonism to be 'Christianity.' " True. So what? What the 'reclaim America' crowd wants is the restoration of the kind of minimalist acknowledgment of Christianity that Adams, Jefferson, Franklin, and others were totally comfortable with. Public creches, voluntary prayer in public places (including schools), etc.

Barton is willing to embrace Franklin despite considering Franklin a Deist. The reclamation agenda is totally consistent with the wildest variations on a basic Christianity, and seeks no more than to roll back the standards of religiousness in American public life to the first half of the 20th century.


I absolutely disagree with this. First Barton et al. don't embrace Franklin the Deist. What makes "Franklin and Jefferson" the Deists (which by the way, they weren't) acceptable to Barton and the Christian Nation crowd is that they are "outliers" who can be practically disregarded (they also try to claim that even the "Deists" Franklin and Jefferson had to turn to "biblically Christian" principles when helped formulate the Declaration and Constitution).

They absolutely resist the notion that the theological system as posited by Franklin and Jefferson was central to the American Founding (which I argue it was and that J. Adams, G. Morris, Washington, Madison, Hamilton before the end of his life and others also believed in).

And further, I think you miss what is at the HEART of the "Christian Nationalist" movement in which Barton plays a key role: They believe THEIR orthodox Trinitarian God FOUNDED America on political principles taken right from the Bible and as such used real regenerate orthodox Trinitarian men to play the leading roles (but even permitted a few outliers like Jefferson and Franklin to tag along). That's why they repeat claims like 52 out of 55 or 56 men who wrote the Declaration or were present at the Constitutional Convention were orthodox Trinitarian Christian (some have gone so far as to term them "evangelical Christians." And most notoriously, our commenter "Our Founding Truth" who loves Barton to the bone, termed them "born again Christians").

If it turns out that the key Founders were unorthodox theologically unitarian Christians who hedged on such issues as Christ's divinity, the infallibility of the Bible, eternal damnation, or Christ as the only way to God, that poisons their whole thesis; it debunks their myth. Everything I've seen from Barton is done to support this myth.

These folks tend to make no distinction between the political and the theological; indeed they have a saying that "politics is theology applied." And if that's true then I respond that the political theology of the American Founding is not what YOU would call "Christianity" but "theistic rationalism" or "unitarianism."

The Christian Nationalists have a term for what you have been arguing properly meets the historical definition of "Christianity": "Nominal Christianity." And they react to the notion that America was founded on "nominal" as opposed to "real" Christianity like Dracula reacts to a cross.

Think of me as the guy who is always trying to show them the cross.

Chris said...

Hi Kristo,

I'm going to have to disagree with a point that you made in reply to Jon. You wrote,

>>What the 'reclaim America' crowd wants is the restoration of the kind of minimalist acknowledgment of Christianity that Adams, Jefferson, Franklin, and others were totally comfortable with. Public creches, voluntary prayer in public places (including schools), etc.

That may be what some of the "reclaim America" folks want, but it certainly would not satisfy all of them. I quote from a website about Dominion Theology:

"Dominion theology (the belief-system behind the Reconstructionist movement) teaches that through the coming of Christ the believer has dominion over every area of life. We are now in the Kingdom of God (note the similar view of the Kingdom that the Vineyard movement takes, as well as the plethora of Christian songs being written implying that we are in the Kingdom at the present time), and as a result, we should be reigning with Christ over the earth (as Rev. 5:10 says). The question is when will we reign. If the Kingdom is on earth now, then we should have dominion now, so say the Dominionists. Many of us non-reconstructionists proclaim this same thought when we sing the popular Charismatic song "Majesty" (written by hyper-charismatic Jack Hayford), which invites us to "Come glorify Christ Jesus, the King" -- after all, "Kingdom authority flows from His throne unto His own." With this authority from the King, we are to reclaim the earth for Christ, not just spiritually, but socially, economically (it is no accident that one of the Reconstructionists' organizations is called "The Institute for Christian Economics"), and politically."

As the website notes, the influence of dominion theology can bee seen in the ideas of Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, Chuck Colson, Tim LaHaye, and Franky Schaffer, among others. That is not to say that all of these men buy into it wholesale, but neither are they mere minimalists. Many thinkers that we associate with the Christian Right believe that secular humanism-- with which they would associate most liberal/deist/Unitarian theologies-- is a Satanic threat to be combatted in the political arena by means of a sort of soft theocracy; this is a vision fueled by apocalypticism. They want, at the very least, non-evangelicals to be viewed as unpatriotic and/or un-American. The reintroduction of biblical and ethical education and teacher-led prayer into public schools is a hoped-for first step toward that goal.

(Incidentally, voluntary prayer is already allowed in schools, so long as it is student-initiated and not during class sessions. What is not permitted is mandatory, state-sponsored prayer. The latter is what Falwell wanted to re-legalize.)

Best,

-Chris

Tom Van Dyke said...

So the purpose of this blog now seems to be to hunt down Dominionists. Not much chance of intelligent discussion under that regime.

They believe THEIR orthodox Trinitarian God FOUNDED America on political principles taken right from the Bible

You keep saying that, Jon, but if you're going to take over the blog with such charges, you should prove them once in awhile, chapter and verse, including who "they" is.

Chris, I'm sorry, but I find your cited website insufficient as a source. Assertions like "so-and-so is under the influence of Dominionism even if they don't know what it is" seem more appropriate to the fever swamp than a board dedicated to finding truths.

You have an entire paragraph with terms such as Satanic, soft theocracy and apocolypticism that I can't even begin to parse for error and innuendo. And you'd have to show me exactly who considers non-evangelicals to be unpatriotic.

C'mon fellows, there's a lot of animus boiling to the surface here and it's getting out of hand. We were doing so well there for awhile.

Jonathan Rowe said...

Tom,

Have you ever heard, "Ye ask and ye shall receive?" Barton is a little slippery, so I might have trouble pinning him down (though I think I probably can) re what you are asking. But I know I can nail D. James Kennedy (I've listened to enough of his sermons) as "they" and other like minded preachers. I know the dude is dead. But as long as Coral Ridge keeps broadcasting him every Sunday, I think he's fair game.

Tom Van Dyke said...

There is no doubt you can troll the dregs for some fish in a barrel to shoot. But routinely polluting perfectly intelligent discussions with the likes of D. James Kennedy is an alarming trend.

The special thing about this blog is that religion and the Founding is still fairly virgin territory even after 200+ years. It requires an incredible amount of interdisciplinary [history, philosophy, theology] knowledge and research to even begin to get a handle.

With that said [and done], it's quite possible for we resident duffers to come up with novel and incisive hypotheses that have not occurred to scholars, most of whom lack interdisciplinary skills. For us to throw such an exciting opportunity away on Dominionists seems to me an incredible waste.

Jonathan Rowe said...

Heh. So how come we haven't yet written papers and books on the matter? Or is is that years to come?

You are right that we shouldn't concentrate too much on "Dominionists." Though as I watched the documentary "Jesus Camp" yesterday (sorta funny if you take it with a grain of salt, but still realize how they portrayed evangelicals is not unlike how the producers of "Amos & Andy" portrayed blacks) I realize there are a lot of them out there (mainly thru the influence of megachurches) and are a big reality in contemporary American politics.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Heh. So how come we haven't yet written papers and books on the matter? Or is is that years to come?

Dunno. I've only been at this 4 or 5 years. My very first question was about what we now know as human rights, so here I am today. It's a 2500 year-old story, even more if you count the Book of Genesis. That's a lot to assimilate.

Chris said...

Hi Tom,

No animus in my above comment. The website I quoted was just a quick and dirty way to find a summary of dominionism without having to write it myself. The association of dominionism on Falwell, Robertson, and Schaeffer is something I've picked up from classes and conference papers, so I couldn't give you an immediate reference in that regard. You have to realize that I have spent most of my life in charismatic evangelical circles, so I have a first-hand familiarity with the apocalyptic, secular-humanism-as-Satan save-Amaerica-by-bringing-prayer-back-to-the-schools talk. It's more prevalent, I think, than you realize. Obviously I disagree with such talk, but I also sympathize with people who think this way. Many of them, in fact, are my close friends.

Best,

-Chris

Chris said...

Tom,

You also wrote,

>>You have an entire paragraph with terms such as Satanic, soft theocracy and apocolypticism that I can't even begin to parse for error and innuendo. And you'd have to show me exactly who considers non-evangelicals to be unpatriotic.

I can certainly understand why, to most people, terms like "Satanic" would seem to be vapid innuendo. It's hard for most people to believe that the fellow Americans really believe in "Satan". For most of us, he's on the order of Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny. But charismatics inhabit a universe wherein Satan is a very real, very personal being whose existence is no laughing matter. A mere three years ago (though it seems ages now) I was involved with a prayer ministry on the campus of a Christian university. The ministry was led by a friend and former roommate (named Jacob), who had a strong interest in what charismatics call "spiritual warfare". He and the other members of the ministry became convinced that Satanists and witches had come onto the campus and put hexes on it, and that this was causing a decline in both the physical and spiritual health of the campus. In one particular prayer meeting, Jacob saw a vision of a large dark angel with a sword who was poised to cut off the heads of everyone present. I could relate to you a number of other similar reports, but that probably isn't necessary. I was not sure whether I believed it at the time, but everyone else associated with the ministry certainly did. Suffice to say that for true believers in charismatic and Pentecostal Christianity, to call something "Satanic" is no empty innuendo. Nor, for that matter, is apocalyptic talk of the antichrist and the end times.

With respect to non-Christians being considered unpatriotic, I invite you to reflect on the meaning of the phrase "Christian nation". If America is a Christian nation, then non-Christians are definitionally outside of the mainstream and out of touch with the identity of the country. I have only rarely heard anyone express this thought out loud, but I believe it is a fairly natural implication of which most of us are at least passingly aware. If you look at studies of secularization, you will find that the nations that have resisted secularization tend to be the ones that have maintained strong ties between religious and national or ethnic identity. I think it's reasonable enough to suggest that that's because in such cultures there is a certain amount of social and political capital associated with being identified with the dominant religious group. If you are not a member of that group, then you are at least subconsciously suspected of not belonging to the nation, either. Robert Bellah called civil religion the "spiritual glue" that holds our nation together. Insofar as that civil religion is identified with Christianity, non-Christians will inevitably come unglued.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Robert Bellah called civil religion the "spiritual glue" that holds our nation together.

As this is a comments section forgive me for not looking up Bullah for context just now. But I agree with the statement at face value.

Insofar as that civil religion is identified with Christianity, non-Christians will inevitably come unglued.

Then they are the ones who are unglued, and that is their problem. If they enjoy the stability---and may I add tolerance and pluralism---of the American state, all I can say that there at least some Jews like Dennis Prager who are thankful and not angry about it.

Quakers, too, since the beginning of this here republic.

You have to realize that I have spent most of my life in charismatic evangelical circles, so I have a first-hand familiarity with the apocalyptic, secular-humanism-as-Satan save-Amaerica-by-bringing-prayer-back-to-the-schools talk. It's more prevalent, I think, than you realize. Obviously I disagree with such talk, but I also sympathize with people who think this way. Many of them, in fact, are my close friends.

Yes, I've come to realize I sometimes underestimate the problem. However, these folks, under pluralism, are entitled to their opinions and votes. That's the way the Founders set it up. Thankfully, they can only influence elections, not decide them. Barack Obama is our next president, and there are scarce few members of congress who could be called "orthodox" by their standards.

I understand that you grabbed that website out of a general laziness---I'm equally lazy, and trust the reader to separate the wheat from the chaff. Bad move.

However, although I meself can tell the difference, you also repeated some of that site's less persuasive arguments. I could tell the you from the them and addressed the "you" part.

Hey, Barack Obama snarfed a nice chunk of the "evangelical" vote from the GOP. And he got 80-90% of the black evangelical vote, even if they disagreed with him on virtually every social issue. Are we rational? Hard to say. The American electorate is what it is, and I've become a small "d" democrat, as the alternatives have historically proved themselves no better.

I'm just asking us to clean up a little around here, and bring our "A" games and tilt our eyes toward truth rather than error. There is a persuasive argument that goes back to the ancient Greeks that although we're not numerous enough to comprise the swing vote, folks like us influence it.

Truth, and even more so, clarity has a key role in a democracy, and even a bigger one in a republic.

Pinky said...

.
Chris is making a salient point here: "He and the other members of the ministry became convinced that Satanists and witches had come onto the campus and put hexes on it, and that this was causing a decline in both the physical and spiritual health of the campus."
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Being rational tells us to scoff away such comments; but, they are very critical to what is going on. Christianity is not always the nicety that it might seem. To say America is founded on Christian principles can be confusing. Quite a few Christians are as opaque as can be.
.

Pinky said...

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Of a course, there is a serious problem with rationalism no matter whatever subject the individual may consider.
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When we rationalize, we move toward what we think is the better choice and away from what we think is the worse.
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To consider the better is to say there is a perfect good toward which the better is only a movement in direction or that there is a worse from which there is a better in comparison. And, the worse is a movement toward a perfect bad. So, in order to rationalize, we must know definitions for good and for bad.
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To attempt to rationalize that America was founded as a Christian nation is to claim there is some definition of what it means to be Christian.
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Being rational isn't going to do us much good unless we agree on our terms.
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I doubt we will do that.
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Pinky said...

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In other words, the problem lies within Christianity itself.
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Chris said...

Tom,

Thanks for your post. Fortunately, I think I see signs that the religious right is in decline, at least in its more radical Robertson-esque variety. It seems to me that evangelicals today are losing some of their interest in the old wedge issues like abortion and prayer in schools, and are dedicating more of their attention and energy to issues like national security, international relations, immigration, and so on. Some of them are even on the right (and when I say right, I mean left) side of these issues! :)

As for pluralism and tolerance, I'm willing to assign to these ideas a more or less Christian origin. I think, however, that we also have to be aware of the extent to which these ideas sprang from necessity. The Anabaptist voluntary principle, which introduced Europe to the idea that church and state are not coterminous and that people should choose Christianity voluntarily rather than being forced to do so, arose only when Conrad Grebel and his associates failed to convince Zwingli to impose their radical reforms on the entire population of Zurich. The Dutch tradition of tolerance emerged out of the realities of the religious wars, and the pluralist philosophy of English Dissent was largely the result of such Dissenters' minority status in England. The impact of Newtonian science played an important role in the emergence of the ideal of tolerance, as well, since people now believed that the universe operated according to divine laws and the best way to facilitate that operation was to adopt a laissez-faire approach to governance. For these reasons, I don't think that saying America is a Christian nation really constitutes an explanation for the American tradition of tolerance and pluralism. Christianity was the medium; the explanation is modernity. Certainly Christianity was a suitable medium; particularly in its Protestant variety, it was quite capable of detente with tolerance and pluralism. But I wouldn't go so far as to say that Dennis Prager has Christianity itself to thank for the benefits he enjoys as an American, even if the "Christian" founding is conceded.

Best,

-Chris

Tom Van Dyke said...

the explanation is modernity

Necessity was a better explanation. We risk crediting all good things to "modernity" and its handmaiden, "secularism."

Newton's affect on cosmology is worth a look. However---and we return to Kristo's original post---his religion, although heterodox, was Christian. he believed the Bible was true; he thought that the prevailing interpretations were in error.

As for the rest of this mess, until someone establishes a direct link between
David Barton and Dominionism, we should be more exacting in our indictments.

Chris said...

Fair enough, Tom. I'll bow out for now. Best!

-Chris

bpabbott said...

TVD: "As for the rest of this mess, until someone establishes a direct link between David Barton and Dominionism, we should be more exacting in our indictments."

Personally, I think Barton is a pointless distraction for most, and a con to others.

Regarding your inquiry, many have associated Barton with Dominionism. As I'm entirely uninterested in the subject, I have not bothered to verify their arguments

However, some examples for those inclined to investigate are DailyKos, Church & State Magazine, Mainstream Baptist, PublicEye.org, Sullivan-County, and even Wikipedia's article on Dominionism.

Those are just the first several from a Google of "David Barton" Dominionism.

Kristo Miettinen said...

Folks, replies will be sparse for a while, as I'm TDY keeping America safe from something. But a few quick notes:

Jon,

Actually, I don't mind deally with "abstract historical understanding detached from time and place". You should try it. I know, you're enmeshed in political squabbles of today and cannot cede an inch to your enemies, but there are historically honest positions you could take, e.g. "America was founded as a minimalist Christian nation, and that worked for over a century, but in the last 60 years we have collectively decided to de-Christianize ourselves, and that is change I can believe in."

If, for you, "this is an interdisciplinary dynamic that mixes the historical with the political and the theological", then that is a personal choice you've made, that is not a "fact" that couldn't be otherwise. I can, and do, separate my political from my historical from my theological views. Combining them is a deliberate decision you (and perhaps your nemeses) have made, and it is a mistake.

As for Barton embracing Franklin, I read (and quoted to you from) chapter 2 of MoS. Where in Barton's own words do you read that Barton doesn't embrace Franklin the Deist? Do you even own any copies of any work of Barton's?

As for the unorthodoxy of the founders (which I agree with) debunking anything, nonsense. As I read Barton (you should try it), his argument acknowledges the diversity of the founder's beliefs and accomodates it.

I have asked you many times, and you always refuse, but let me ask again: if you're going to tell me that Barton doesn't say what I read in MoS, then cite where he says something different.

If you really want to "show folks the cross", you might start by showing them that Barton says what I say he says, instead of what you say he says. That would seem to serve your claimed purpose.

Chris,

Duly noted that voluntary prayers, under some but not all circumstances, have been re-admitted. Bible clubs can have prayers at their meetings, sports teams cannot, etc. For a while, though, even the Bible clubs couldn't.

As for the "reclaim America" crowd, I'm thinking primarily of Barton's final chapter in MoS, "the solution". No extremist nonsense in there, unless the staus quo ante qualifies as extremism.

As for folks who use terms like "Satan", the better approach is to realize that for them (I am one), Satan is ubiquitous (as is the Lord), and so can be discussed without thereby ratcheting up the rhetoric. Saying that Godless schools are Satanic is on a par with saying that heroin is from Satan, or (as we would be more likely to say), heroin weakens your ability to resist Satan's suggestions. Once you understnad who Satan is, for those of us who talk about him, you realize that Satan-talk can be, and usually is, moderate and rational.

Ben,

We've been down that road before, googling "Barton lies". Nothing there from Barton himself, just layer upon layer of critics citing critics. It's kind of like searching for George W Bush's lies. Most of America thinks they exist, but when some high-brow mag (I think it was the Atlantic) wrote a lengthy "expose" a year or two ago, the actual list of "lies" was anemic.

Tom Van Dyke said...

as I'm TDY keeping America safe from something...

Secret Agent Man.

Kristo Miettinen said...

Indeed. [:-)