Saturday, November 29, 2008

Contemporary Orthodox Theologians Who Deny Non-Orthodoxy As Christianity

I was beginning to think it self evident that most orthodox Christian theologians define non-orthodoxy as "non-Christianity," but apparently this thesis needs a defense. My co-blogger at American Creation, Kristo Miettinen, a theologically and politically conservative orthodox Christian of the Lutheran bent, challenges me on my assertion. He writes:

You talk about "conservative theologically orthodox Christians of the Protestant, Roman Catholic, or capital O Orthodox Christian faith" as though I wasn't one. If you want to debate the (rabid radical) religious right, I'm right here in front of you. You speak of "conservative Christian audiences which eat up [David Barton's] work"; as for myself, I'll not go that far, but let's say I'm a conservative Christian who appreciates his work (such of it as I have read - about half of [Myth of Separation]). BTW thanks for introducing me to Barton. And I mean that sincerely; this is why I want you to cite the right wing nutjobs that you claim to be rebutting, I have a genuine interest in reading them, if they really exist.


Okay. Mr. Miettinen wants to know of theologically-politically conservative Christians who define "Christianity" with orthodox Christian doctrine and define unorthodox groups like the Mormons "outside" of the definition of Christianity. I should note off bat that Dr. Gregg Frazer is one such conservative evangelical whose PhD thesis argues these Protestant figures from America's Founding era were not "Christian" but something else (even though they tended to think of themselves as "rational Christians" or "unitarian Christians"). He showed on page 10 of his PhD thesis that all of the established Churches in late 18th Century America (except for the Quakers) held to orthodox Trinitarian confessions and creeds. They included Presbyterians, Congregationalists, Lutherans, Baptists, Anglican/Episcopalians and Roman Catholics. And as such it's "reasonable" for late 18th Century America purposes to define "Christianity" with orthodox doctrine.

But in any event here are some notable modern day theologians and figures who likewise define "Christianity" as synonymous with orthodox doctrine. Yes, Virginia, they do exist. And exist in abundance! What I reproduce will be very "Mormon heavy" in the sense that the test of "Christianity" = "orthodox doctrine" = the "Nicene Creed" is most likely to be flunked in contemporary America by the Mormons.

First Joe Carter, one of the most well respective conservative evangelicals in today's blogsphere:

If you tell me that you’re a "Christian" I take that to mean that you subscribe to a common set of doctrines outlined in either the Apostle’s Creed or the Nicene Creed. Both of these creeds are ecumenical Christian statements of faith accepted by the Eastern Orthodox Church, the Roman Catholic Church, and almost all branches of Protestantism. They outline what it means to be a "mere" Christian.


Next, Father Richard John Neuhaus of First Things Magazine, for the Roman Catholic take:

Christianity and the History of Christians

Beyond these doctrinal matters, as inestimably important as they are, one must ask what it means to be Christian if one rejects the two thousand year history of what in fact is Christianity. Christianity is inescapably doctrinal but it is more than doctrines. Were it only a set of doctrines, Christianity would have become another school of philosophy, much like other philosophical schools of the Greco-Roman world. Christianity is the past and present reality of the society composed of the Christian people. As is said in the Nicene Creed, "We believe in one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church." That reality encompasses doctrine, ministry, liturgy, and a rule of life. Christians disagree about precisely where that Church is to be located historically and at present, but almost all agree that it is to be identified with the Great Tradition defined by the apostolic era through at least the first four ecumenical councils, and continuing in diverse forms to the present day. That is the Christianity that LDS teaching rejects and condemns as an abomination and fraud.

[...]

Another Religion

Some have suggested that the LDS is a Christian derivative much as Christianity is a Jewish derivative, but that is surely wrong. The claim of Christianity is that its gospel of Jesus Christ is in thorough continuity with the Old Testament and historic Israel, that the Church is the New Israel, which means that it is the fulfillment of the promise that Israel would be "a light to the nations." The Church condemned Marcion’s rejection of the Old Testament, and she never presumed to rewrite or correct the Hebrew Scriptures on the basis of a new revelation. On the contrary, she insisted that the entirety of the old covenant bears witness to the new. While it is a Christian derivative, the LDS is, by way of sharpest contrast, in radical discontinuity with historical Christianity. The sacred stories and official teachings of the LDS could hardly be clearer about that. For missionary and public relations purposes, the LDS may present Mormonism as an "add-on," a kind of Christianity-plus, but that is not the official narrative and doctrine.

A closer parallel might be with Islam. Islam is a derivative of Judaism, and Christianity. Like Joseph Smith, Muhammad in the seventh century claimed new revelations and produced in the Qur’an a "corrected" version of the Jewish and Christian scriptures, presumably by divine dictation. Few dispute that Islam is a new and another religion, and Muslims do not claim to be Christian, although they profess a deep devotion to Jesus. Like Joseph Smith and his followers, they do claim to be the true children of Abraham. Christians in dialogue with Islam understand it to be an interreligious, not an ecumenical, dialogue. Ecumenical dialogue is dialogue between Christians. Dialogue with Mormons who represent official LDS teaching is interreligious dialogue.


Next Clayton Cramer who is a notable, smart evangelical conservative and historian of the Second Amendment:

The Nicene Creed

I mentioned a few days ago a controversy brewing concerning the Idaho Prayer Breakfast's invitation of a speaker who is an Iranian convert from Islam to Christianity. In the course of that discussion, I explained that are certain core values that define various faiths, and trying to gloss over those differences is silly. I gave as an example of a core value of Christianity--really, a lowest common denominator definition--the Nicene Creed. At least from my reading, the Nicene Creed is one that the Eastern Orthodox Church, the Roman Catholic Church, and nearly all Protestant denominations, accept. (I don't know about the Unitarian-Universalist Church. "Is it true that if you are a Unitarian, bigots burn a question mark on your lawn?")

In the last thirty years, I will admit, you can find some of the more liberal denominations awash in theologians and clergy who deny significant portions of the Nicene Creed. For example, denying "Jesus Christ" was "the only-begotten Son of God" and at least reluctant to admit "He suffered and was buried, and the third day he rose again according to the Scriptures...." These are pretty much the exception, and I think you would find that most members of even these liberal denominations, to the extent that they have thought about it, would not take these positions.

One of my readers took exception to my claim about the Nicene Creed being a core definition of Christianity. He pointed out that the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Mormons) do not accept the Nicene Creed, and therefore the Nicene Creed is not the core definition of Christianity. I would say that a more accurate statement is that the Mormon Church, whatever you might want to think or say about it, is not a Christian church in the sense that Christians (and that's pretty much all divisions of Christianity) define it.

I'm not looking to pick a fight with Mormons. I have friends who are Mormons. I have a Mormon neighbor. I can tell you that if my choice is living in a community that is 70% Mormon, or 70% liberals, I would much prefer living in the 70% Mormon community. I can be pretty confident that Mormon parents will not be supplying marijuana, alcohol, or crack to their kids, or to my kids. I can be pretty sure that Mormons aren't going to be showing up at city council hearings demanding that the city license a lap dance joint, or asking the state to recognize gay marriage, or demanding that the government make enforcement of gun control laws a higher priority than rape. If my ten-year-old goes over to a Mormon home, I can be pretty sure that he and his playmates aren't going to find fur-lined handcuffs and pornographic movies in the mother's dresser. And that is what separates Mormons from liberals (at least, the kind that I had to live with as neighbors in Sonoma County).

Still, Mormon theology is different from Christianity, as defined by not only the Nicene Creed, but nineteen centuries of consensus. Let me start out by saying that I have worked with Mormons in the past who really did not understand Mormon theology. One of them had married a Mormon gal, attended Mormon churches, but did not go through the LDS educational system that effectively all Mormon young people attend. (And by the way: I wish that evangelical Protestants were this committed to educating their kids in our religion. They aren't. Not even close.)

Now, if you are LDS, and are comfortable with the LDS theology, fine, I'm not looking to pick a fight. I've had a few too many discussions with Mormon missionaries, and the whole notion that people can become gods, populating their own planets, is well outside Christian belief. If you are comfortable with it, fine, but it is as far outside of Christianity as Islam is outside of Christianity.

Now, I am not just accepting the claims of those Protestants who criticize Mormonism. Mormon missionaries with whom I have talked have made statements that fit exactly into these claims--for example, that God lives on Sirius B. (Sirius B is a star, not a planet.)

One thing that does bother me quite a bit is that the website of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints presents their basic beliefs in a form that is profoundly mainstream Protestant. Yet, when you read websites defending Mormonism, you start to see that there many of Mormonism's positions are radically different from Christianity--and there has been a long history of Mormonism entertaining or internally debating positions that are, as I said, well outside the mainstream of Christianity....


Next, former baseball star and now conservative Christian columnist Frank Pastore who wrote:

Just as Christians and Jews, by definition, cannot ignore their differences over the resurrec-tion and the New Testament, so too Christians and Mormons cannot ignore the differences be-tween the Bible and the three books of Mormonism: the Book of Mormon, Doctrines and Cove-nants, and the Pearl of Great Price.

Yet many Mormons in recent years have taken to calling themselves Christians, and a grow-ing number of Christians are willing to speak of Mormonism as something akin to another Chris-tian denomination. But, Mormonism is not a Christian denomination, nor is it merely “a non-Christian religion.” To be theologically precise, though perhaps politically incorrect, Mormonism is a cult of Christianity (www.apologeticsindex.org/c09a01.html) — a group that claims to Chris-tian while denying one or more central doctrines of the Christian faith.

The polytheism of Latter Day Saints is a striking contrast to the monotheism of the Bible. The Mormons also deny original sin (central to a Christian understanding of the human condition) and believe that Jesus was conceived through sexual intercourse between God the Father and Mary. I could go on, but Mormonism has far more that distinguishes it from the historic Christian faith than unites it to Christianity.


Next from "Worldview Weekend" which promotes David Barton's "Christian America" idea more than most any other source I've seen:


And so you see, 45% of Christians know what thousands of the media elite do not: Mormonism is not Christian.


Next, the late Bible Answer Man, Dr. Walter Martin:

Mormon theology is polytheistic, teaching in effect that the universe is inhabited by different gods who procreate spirit children, which are in turn clothed with bodies on different planets, "Elohim" being the god of this planet (Brigham�s teaching that Adam is our heavenly Father is now officially denied by Mormon authorities, but they hold firm to the belief that their God is a resurrected, glorified man). In addition to this, the "inspired" utterances of Joseph Smith reveal that he began as a Unitarian, progressed to tritheism, and graduated into full-fledged polytheism, in direct contradiction to the revelations of the Old and New Testaments as we have observed. The Mormon doctrine of the trinity is a gross misrepresentation of the biblical position, though they attempt to veil their evil doctrine in semi-orthodox terminology. We have already dealt with this problem, but it bears constant repetition lest the Mormon terminology go unchallenged.

On the surface, they appear to be orthodox, but in the light of unimpeachable Mormon sources, Mormons are clearly evading the issue. The truth of the matter is that Mormonism has never historically accepted the Christian doctrine of the Trinity; in fact, they deny it by completely perverting the meaning of the term. The Mormon doctrine that God the Father is a mere man is the root of their polytheism, and forces Mormons to deny not only the Trinity of God as revealed in Scripture, but the immaterial nature of God as pure spirit. Mormons have gone on record and stated that they accept the doctrine of the Trinity, but, as we have seen, it is not the Christian Trinity. God the Father does not have a body of flesh and bones, a fact clearly taught by our Lord (John 4:24, cf. Luke 24:39).


Finally, responding to one of my posts at Positive Liberty, the very bright, young, orthodox Christian missionary, attorney and scholar Joshua Clayborn asks:

I’d be curious to see a legitimate, respected member of the [o]rthodox community that does not consider [o]rthodox to be Christianity.

31 comments:

Brad Hart said...

Interesting post, Jon. As a devout practicing Mormon, I can echo virtually everything you site above. I am a former missionary for my church (I served in northern Chile from 1997-1999. Most Mormon missionaries serve this typical two-year mission). During that time and since, I have met a large number of people who criticize Mormonism as being an "infidel" religion and far from traditional Christianity. And guess what...I completely agree. If "Christianity" is limited to a person's adherence to the Nicene Creed then I will gladly NOT call myself a Christian. However, if Christianity is defined by one's devotion to the teachings of Christ then yes, I am a Christian.

As far as relating this to our blog's theme, I think Mormons (and other "infidel" religions) are in a unique position to relate to a number of our key founders. John Adams, for example, called himself a Christian but at the same time made the following comments on traditional Christianity:

"The Trinity was carried in a general council by one vote against a quaternity; the Virgin Mary lost an equality with the Father, Son, and Spirit only by a single suffrage."
~Letter to Benjamin Rush, June 12, 1812.

and...

"The divinity of Jesus is made a convenient cover for absurdity. Nowhere in the Gospels do we find a precept for Creeds, Confessions, Oaths, Doctrines, and whole carloads of other foolish trumpery that we find in Christianity."

In addition, Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses, etc. share a similar situation with Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, James Madison, and others, in that these men are also regularly seen as "infidels."

I agree with your assertion that orthodoxy does matter to this ongoing argument. As you point out, prominent religious figures of the past (and today) used orthodoxy as the measuring stick by which all men and women were judged. With that said, I believe on a personal level that whether a founder was orthodox or not in their faith doesn't matter. I feel that the evidence presented in the seven month existence of this blog has proven that the overwhelming majority of our founders (even Thomas Paine to a certain extent) were indeed religious. Though they may not all have been ORTHODOX, the fact of the matter is that they DID BELIEVE in God in one form or another. For a "heathen" Mormon this is more than sufficient! =)

Tom Van Dyke said...

I was beginning to think it self evident that most orthodox Christian theologians define non-orthodoxy as "non-Christianity..."

I would think it's been that way for 2000 or so years.

But since Mr. Miettinen explicitly states that he has "defended the position that America was founded as an unorthodox Christian nation" [italics mine], and further draws a distinction between theological and socio-political uses of the term "Christian," I don't quite know where you're going with this.

As for Mormonism, since it didn't exist at the time of the Founding, we're getting a bit far afield. Mormonism itself is sui generis and is not closely analogous to unitarianism at the time of the Founding. It has some unique truth claims.

However, Frank Pastore, whom you quote, explicitly says that he would vote for Romney if he won the GOP nomination, highlighting the difference between the political and the theological:

"Conservative Mormons are among the finest people I've ever met, and they are critical allies in the culture war. I appreciate their contribution to advancing our shared values."

Indeed, it is those shared values, which I believe may called, not unfairly, Judeo-Christian principles that are at issue here and at the time of the Founding. It's no secret that they papered over their theological differences and built the nation on shared values, unless one wants to argue that we are founded on no values at all, or on secular values. Now, those are arguments relative to this blog.

Brad Hart said...

TVD writes:

"As for Mormonism, since it didn't exist at the time of the Founding, we're getting a bit far afield. Mormonism itself is sui generis and is not closely analogous to unitarianism at the time of the Founding. It has some unique truth claims."

Very good point. In the majority of cases, it would be foolish to compare Mormonism with unitarianism. However, I think Jon's point that both share an "infidel" reputation when it comes to their unorthodoxy is worthwhile.

Tom Van Dyke said...

The problem is that it conflates the theological and the political. If Frank Pastore can keep them separate, why can't we?

America has a fine tradition of believing the other fellow is a heretic [see especially Roger Williams!] and probably going to hell. They all Founded a nation together anyway.

[As for Father Neuhaus, I don't like seeing him dragged into any of this. His specific theological opinion of Mormonism has no real application to the controversies and purposes of this blog.]

Kristo Miettinen said...

Jon,

What a bizarre post from you. Do you really misunderstand me so completely? I doubt it. You can't afford to admit what I'm saying, so you pretend to argue against me while really addressing a phantom of your own making, rather as you deal with Barton.

First of all, you do realize, don't you, that for the historical question that we are discussing, it is not the opinion of "orthodox Christian theologians" that matters, but rather the standard appropriate for historians of Christianity.

I've cited Pelikan, but I could add Kung, Latourette, and McManners (limiting myself to authors within arms' reach as I type this). By the standards of any serious history of Christianity that you care to name, heretics like Arius were Christian, despite not being orthodox. "Orthodox Christian" is not a redundant expression, it is an expression that picks out a subgroup among Christians.

I have no interest in knowing of "theologically-politically conservative Christians who define 'Christianity' with orthodox Christian doctrine and define unorthodox groups like the Mormons 'outside' of the definition of Christianity". Don't put words in my mouth.

I have no issue with the quotes that you muster, except to point out that they conflate christianity with their varying versions of orthodoxy, positions that are fine for anyone within a Christian community looking to judge his fellow men. From a sectarian standpoint, you get no bonus points for being a Christian if you fail to achieve salvation, and next to salvation (or lack thereof) nothing else matters, so the only relevant definition of "Christian" to a sectarian is whatever it takes to achieve salvation, which is orthodoxy at least, and probably more (varies by denomination).

This is fine, as I have told you before, for sectarian squabbles, but not for the historian. You aspire to be a historian (or at least to write a book on history), so it's time to stop playing silly games with sectarian definitions and start thinking like a historian. Except that as soon as you do, your position collapses. In order to defend the position you are wedded to, you have to cling to an unhistorical definition of "Christianity", and furthermore you have to pretend, against contrary evidence, that your opponents (like Barton) cling to that same unhistorical definition, when in fact they don't (for historical purposes).

BTW, in closing, your "bright, young, orthodox Christian missionary" is incoherent in the passage you cite. Of course orthodoxy is Christianity, it is the converse that is in question. Why didn't you catch this obvious error yourself before endorsing the quote? Jon, I am confident that you are smarter than you present yourself to be.

Tom Van Dyke said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jonathan Rowe said...

Kristo,

Now you are engaging in very uncharitable reading of my argument. I certainly didn't purposefully misread your argument. Let's step back and look at what you AND I wrote.

First my original comment:

Kristo,

I think the mistake you make is you think Barton's "Christian Nation" idea fits perfectly well with yours. It's true that Barton and some others have hedged on issues like the Trinity because they seem aware that many of these key "Christian" figures either disbelieved in or were uncertain on issues like the Trinity, Incarnation and Atonement. However to the conservative Christian audiences which eat up his work, to BE a Christian means to believe that Jesus was God the Son and made an infinite Atonement on the cross.

I submit YOUR position that holds theological unitarianism or Mormonism to be "Christian" (defensible and quite reasonable as it is) is anathema to conservative theologically orthodox Christians of the Protestant, Roman Catholic, or capital O Orthodox Christian faith.

I've heard too many of them state things like "Mormonism is not Christianity" and term theological unitarianism to be soul damning blasphemous heresies to be convinced otherwise.


You replied:

Jon,

You talk about "conservative theologically orthodox Christians of the Protestant, Roman Catholic, or capital O Orthodox Christian faith" as though I wasn't one. If you want to debate the (rabid radical) religious right, I'm right here in front of you. You speak of "conservative Christian audiences which eat up his work"; as for myself, I'll not go that far, but let's say I'm a conservative Christian who appreciates his work (such of it as I have read - about half of MoS). BTW thanks for introducing me to Barton. And I mean that sincerely; this is why I want you to cite the right wing nutjobs that you claim to be rebutting, I have a genuine interest in reading them, if they really exist.


Now, I explained to you that I wouldn't be rebutting everything you wrote in your long reply, but rather I'd take things one step at a time. I honestly thought that you didn't believe that there were any conservative Christian figures out there who equated Christianity with orthodoxy and defined non-orthodoxy OUT of Christianity. My sole point in that "bizarre" post was to demonstrate the MAINSTREAM idea among religiously conservative Christians that defines "Christianity" as synonymous with orthodoxy and non-orthodoxy as "not Christianity." Note some of the figures I cited buy into the "Christian America" idea and some don't.

[Joe Carter, for instance, DOESN'T buy into the "Christian America" idea particular because he understands America's key Founders were not orthodox and consequently "not Christians."]

What I could have (and probably SHOULD HAVE) done -- it would take more work -- was feature ONLY figures who promote David Barton's "Christian America" idea/AND who define Mormons/non-Trinitarians out of the definition of Christianity.

I wonder if these were the "right wing nutjobs" that you claimed probably didn't exist and whom you stated you'd be interested in reading.

Jonathan Rowe said...

Actually Tom -- Father Neuhaus' opinions were entirely relevant to the point of my post. I needed a prominent Roman Catholic theologian's position [the others I quoted were all Protestant] and he's the most prominent one from First Things I could get for the position -- you can read it right there in his article -- that Mormonism is NOT Christianity because it flunks the historic standards for Christianity set out in the Nicene/Apostles' Creed.

Also it's not so easy to separate the political from the theological from the historical. Do you think the evangelical megachurches like Coral Ridge and Robert Jeffress who eat up Barton's work separate these issues? One day they are hearing assertions like "Mormons are not Christian" and the Davinci Code peddles blasphemous "non-Christian" positions because it denied the Trinity. And the next day they hear David Barton preach that almost all of our Founders were "Christians." I've debated plenty of conservative Christians who are resistant to the idea that many notable Founders were unorthodox-non-Trinitarians precisely because that would mean these "Christian" founders really weren't "Christians" to know they exist in abundance.

Steve-O said...

Kristo:

"You aspire to be a historian (or at least to write a book on history), so it's time to stop playing silly games with sectarian definitions and start thinking like a historian. Except that as soon as you do, your position collapses."

SO are we to assume that YOU are the TRUE historian here?

Pinky said...

.
Scribes and Pharisees are a peculiar sort of being--separated from humanity they position themselves to sit in Moses' seat deciding who will and not be seen as a Christian.
,

Brad Hart said...

I have to side with Kristo on this one. I think his views have been a little misrepresented here. It is almost as if we are seeing a mixing of the political Christian interpretations with the historical ones. I think its clear that Kristo is looking to the standard historical angle as opposed to the political/theological one that Jon is presenting.

I could be wrong. I am no mind reader, however, the quotations you mention, Jon do not (in my opinion) represent the standard historical perspective on this issue.

Brad Hart said...

With that said, I still believe that your comparison of orthodox religion v. unorthodoxy is both applicable and valid.

Jonathan Rowe said...

Okay. I am working on another post that clarifies my position, if I did misrepresent Kristo's position, it certainly was not intentional. And let me note, I'm NOT interested in fighting any kind of Tit for Tat battles here. I've got MY thesis and I'm going to stick to it. I think Kristo and I see eye to eye on the fact that many of the key FFs were NOT orthodox Trintiarian Christians and if America was founded as a "Christian Nation" orthodox Trinitarian doctrines like original sin, the Trinity, Incarnation, Atonement, and infallibility of the Bible must play NO determinative part in the definition of "Christianity."

However I DO dispute Kristo's understanding of David Barton and his "Christian Nation" acolytes. And I further dispute that "historians" would necessarily necessarily yield to the broader understanding "Christianity" in the "Christian Nation" question. And THAT is going to be the topic of my next post.

Brad Hart said...

J. Rowe writes:

"I've got MY thesis and I'm going to stick to it. I think Kristo and I see eye to eye on the fact that many of the key FFs were NOT orthodox Trintiarian Christians and if America was founded as a "Christian Nation" orthodox Trinitarian doctrines like original sin, the Trinity, Incarnation, Atonement, and infallibility of the Bible must play NO determinative part in the definition of "Christianity."

I am 100% in agreement and think that your thesis on this matter is the right one. If the Christian Nation crowd wishes to defend their angle they must do so without invoking orthodox Trinitarian principles. If, however, they wish to define their argument by appealing to the influences of "infidel" -- I.e. Theistic Rationalism, unitarianism, etc. -- Christianity I will gladly agree with them.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Actually Tom -- Father Neuhaus' opinions were entirely relevant to the point of my post. I needed a prominent Roman Catholic theologian's position [the others I quoted were all Protestant] and he's the most prominent one from First Things I could get for the position -- you can read it right there in his article -- that Mormonism is NOT Christianity because it flunks the historic standards for Christianity set out in the Nicene/Apostles' Creed.

Yes, that's your point, but I disagree with its relevance. Mormonism is NOT the religion of any of the Founders, it's quite different. Your argument is by analogy, and I do not think it's a true one. It is a bridge too far.

Is America founded on Judeo-Christian principles? I say yes. Is Mormonism founded on Judeo-Christian principles? So they claim. This is the key question, not doctrinal differences. A poke through the scores if not hundreds of sects at the Founding shows that doctrinal differences have always been the rule and not the exception in America.

Pinky said...

.
"Is America founded on Judeo-Christian principles? I say yes."
.
Then you should be able to make the case quite easily by merely outlining those "Judeo-Christian principles".

Tom Van Dyke said...

That our rights and liberties come from God is a good start. Kristo's argument for the Christian understanding of natural law is a powerful corollary, if not the lead argument itself.

bpabbott said...

Pinky: "Then you should be able to make the case quite easily by merely outlining those "Judeo-Christian principles"."

TVD replied: "That our rights and liberties come from God is a good start. Kristo's argument for the Christian understanding of natural law is a powerful corollary, if not the lead argument itself."

hmmm ... there are ample examples where individual rights are trampled by Judeo-Christian values. So I'm at a loss to agree.

Further if there are some principles that are specifically necessary for the founding, and those principles were embraced by men who called themselves Christians, that does not make those principles uniquely Christian ... *unless* those principles were (1) part of Christian doctrine, and (2) originated in Christian scripture.

In any event, regarding the principles which founded the nation, at least one of the founders expressed his opinion on the subject.

"The United States of America have exhibited, perhaps, the first example of governments erected on the simple principles of nature; and if men are now sufficiently enlightened to disabuse themselves of artifice, imposture, hypocrisy, and superstition, they will consider this event as an era in their history. Although the detail of the formation of the American governments is at present little known or regarded either in Europe or in America, it may hereafter become an object of curiosity. It will never be pretended that any persons employed in that service had interviews with the gods, or were in any degree under the influence of Heaven, more than those at work upon ships or houses, or laboring in merchandise or agriculture; it will forever be acknowledged that these governments were contrived merely by the use of reason and the senses."
-- John Adams, "A Defence of the Constitutions of Government of the United States of America" (1787-88),

Pinky said...

.
I think you are correct, Ben.
.
I think the case has been settled and a long time ago.
.
But, absolutists have a hard time letting go--they keep wanting to find an exception to the obvious.

Pinky said...

.
Too bad we don't have a jury with all these lawyers arguing their cases.
.
heh heh heh

Tom Van Dyke said...

Since you guys have no background [or, unfortunately, interest] in the history of Christian philosophy and theology, you have no way of making an informed judgment on their influence in the Founding. Sorry. The Adams quote does not mean what you obviously think it means.

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

.
"Since you guys have no background [or, unfortunately, interest] in the history of Christian philosophy and theology, you have no way of making an informed judgment on their influence in the Founding."
.
That's funny.
.
I was raised in a family that was instrumental in bringing Christian Fundamentalism to north eastern Michigan. Some of my family have made their living as missionaries. I breathed Christianity since I was a child back during the Great Depression of the 1930s..
.
I'm pretty well versed on the subject.

Brad Hart said...

I think you have a point, and I agree to a point. I am, however, interested in how you would confront the opposition on this issue. For example, one could argue (and I am in no way advocating this particular take) that Christianity, with its morals and doctrines, is based on older philosophies (Zoroastrianism, Platonism, etc. come to mind) As a result, this would negate Judeo-Christian principles from influencing the founding, since these principles themselves are based on older "pagan" teachings.

Your thoughts...

Tom Van Dyke said...

Quite so, Brad, that was precisely John Adams' project, to "universalize" Christian principles. He made some headway, but admits in a letter to Jefferson that the Bible is still "the best book in the world" and "contains more of my little philosophy than all the libraries I have seen."

The letter is often quoted but always cherry-picked by one side or the other. A full and careful reading is necessary.

http://www.beliefnet.com/resourcelib/docs/72/Letter_from_John_Adams_to_Thomas_Jefferson_1.html

Zoroastrianism is of particular interest---Adams mentions it, although the Cyrus Cylinder

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cyrus_Cylinder

hadn't been unearthed yet. There is a very interesting history of the confluence of the Persian Empire and the Israelite exiles, and Cyrus is explicitly praised in the Bible as a good man.

Something I've been meaning to get to, but I'll let the cat out of the bag here.

Still, we are a long way from claiming that the Founders "rediscovered" the principles of the cylinder---even if that were true, it was [Judeo-]Christianity and its philosophical tradition that conveyed them to the Founding era, just as they conveyed Plato and particularly Aristotle.

bpabbott said...

TVD: "Since you guys have no background [or, unfortunately, interest] in the history of Christian philosophy and theology, you have no way of making an informed judgment on their influence in the Founding. Sorry. The Adams quote does not mean what you obviously think it means."

Tom, that's a bit of a strawman isn't it? Neither I, or Adams, claim that Christians and their theology did not influence the founding. Of course they/it did.

Which is quite a different thing than the claim that America is founded on Judeo-Christian principles. After all, what makes the founding inconsistent with the absence of Christian doctrine? ... or do you imply that even an atheist like me behaves in a manner consistent with Christian doctrine? ... in which case the claim is rather moot no?

Or do you see something specific about the formation of our Nation that is uniquely Christian?

Tom Van Dyke said...

I'll lean on Kristo's post on the Protestant understanding of natural law for now. I don't see anyone laying a glove on it and it must be counterargued; it cannot be driven around.

As for your own behavior, Ben, I do not know. It certainly could be you've picked up the conventions of a Christian culture without its theological foundations. That Western civilization is "running on fumes" goes the argument. I don't know how you confront moral dilemmas, where one value must take precedence over another conflicting one. I don't know how you approach the primary philosophical question, what is good? You don't say.

Further, as you admit, the question of natural law is foreign to you. But don't regret your honesty, it was apparent anyway. But you must address Kristo's thesis or you're simply not in the game.

bpabbott said...

Brad: "[...] this would negate Judeo-Christian principles from influencing the founding, since these principles themselves are based on older "pagan" teachings."

Good point.

As man becomes more enlightened he discards much of the theology/ideology of his ancestors, while improving upon his knowledge, ideals, and principles (discards the bad and collects/preserves the good). The process of improvement is that which is mort important, and the very nature of improvement means that one acts in a manner that is inconsistent with what was done before.

To imply that the founding is a result of Christian doctrine appears (to me) to embrace the Christian principles congruent with the actions of the founders while ignoring that which is not.

However, that is not my greatest critique of such a claim. There appears (to me) to be an underlying implication that the accomplishments of Christians (specifically the founders) is a manifestation of their faith. Such an implication casts such a broad umbrella that it cannot possible differentiate between the good, the bad, and the ugly. If only "the good" is to be qualified as Christian, the the term "Christianity" becomes so vague as to render it moot.

bpabbott said...

TVD: "I don't know how you approach the primary philosophical question, what is good? You don't say."

I've encountered such questions before. What alarms me is the implication (inference) that you don't know what is good, but hope morality is a manifestation of obedience.

Often obedience does produce moral acts, but we need to be sure those deciding are adept in their moral judgement.

I mentioned the other day that this is a purpose that religious leaders should aspire to.

I hope that those who follow will be drawn to the more morally skilled.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Too many inferences, too few affirmative arguments. I do not know what "morally skilled" means, and you refuse to tell us.

Anonymous said...

As for me, if the historical definition of what it means to be "Christian" must apply, then as a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, I will gladly opt out from that label, especially since under that definition Jesus Christ himself is not a Christian, the original twelve disciples are not Christians, and the apostle Paul was not a Christian. I will gladly stand by them in following what God says and not what any philosophized historical creed may explain about God.

The Savior didn't seem to have any qualms about breaking free from any historical, man-made traditions that the Jews tried to press upon him.

I know that knowledge of God can't rely on anything but revelation directly from God. As such, to conclude that the Bible is the ultimate authority on God, is to deny that God is the ultimate authority on God.