Sunday, December 14, 2008

Jerusalem or Mythological Rome?

That's one of the themes in Gary North's "Conspiracy In Philadelphia." I am going to reproduce this passage from Dr. North's E-Book because its analysis is so spot on:

We do not find authoritative references to the Bible or church history in either The Federalist Papers or the Antifederalist tracts. Adrienne Koch’s compilation of primary source documents, The American Enlightenment, is not mythological, even though it is self-consciously selective.36 There was an American Enlightenment, though subdued in its hostility to Christianity.37 Jefferson, after all, kept hidden his cut-up, re-pasted New Testament, purged of the miraculous and supernatural; he knew what his constituents would have thought of such a theology.38 He refused to publish this book, he told his friend, Christian physician Benjamin Rush, because he was “averse to the communication of my religious tenets to the public, because it would countenance the presumption of those who have endeavored to draw them before that tribunal, and to seduce public opinion to erect itself into that inquest over the rights of conscience, which the laws have so justly proscribed.”39 That is, if word got out to the American voters, who were overwhelmingly Christian in their views, regarding what he really believed about religion, he and his party might lose the next election, despite a generation of systematic planning by him and his deistic Virginia associates to get Christianity removed from the political arena in both Virginia and in national elections. (The book was not made public until 1902. In 1904, the 57th Congress reprinted 9,000 copies, 3,000 for use by Senators and 6,000 for the House.40 It was a very different America in 1904.)

The Framers rhetorically appealed back to Roman law and classical political models in their defense of the Constitution. Madison, Jay, and Hamilton used the Roman name “Publius” in signing the Federalist Papers. Publius was a prominent founder of the Roman Republic. The Antifederalists responded with pseudo-Roman names. Yet both groups were heavily dependent on late seventeenth-century political philosophy, as well as on early eighteenth-century Whig republicanism....41 They shared a common universe of political discourse, and trinitarian Christianity was what both sides were attempting to downplay. The political discourse of the age was dominated by classical allusions, not by Hebraic ones....

....What we must understand is that the U.S. Constitution is in large part a product of a rhetorical Enlightenment appeal back to the Greco-Roman world, yet it was in fact something quite modern: specifically, a reaction against the Puritanism of both seventeenth-century American colonialism and the Puritanism of the Cromwellian revolution of 1642–60.

To what extent was this verbal appeal back to Rome rhetorical? [Thomas] Pangle believes, as I do, that the Framers were essentially “moderns” rather than “ancients.” They were far more influenced by late seventeenth-century social thought than by the events of Roman history, let alone classical political philosophy, which had little impact on them except in a negative sense. “Generally speaking, the ancients, in contrast to the American Founders, appear to place considerably less emphasis on protecting individuals and their ‘rights’ – rights to private property and family safety, to property, to freedom of religion, and to the ‘pursuit of happiness.’”45 Also, he argues – I believe correctly – that the classical philosophers put virtue above fraternity and liberty.46 The Framers, while they discussed the need for virtue and religion – always carefully undefined – did so as defenders of political and economic freedom. Virtue was therefore instrumental for them – a means of achieving social stability and progress, liberty and security.47

This was also their view of religion. In this, they were not fundamentally different in principle from Robespierre, who established a formal civic religion of nature and reason in the midst of the Terror in 1794. De-Christianization was morally debilitating, Robespierre concluded; it had to be followed by the establishment of a new civic religion.48 He knew that men needed to believe in God’s sanctions in order to keep them obedient. Talmon calls this impulse “cosmic pragmatism.”49 The major figures among the Framers were wiser men than Robespierre, and more influenced by traditional Christianity, but they were Enlightenment men to the core. Their veneer and their constituencies were different from those of the French Revolutionaries, but not their theology. Their religion was civic religion. The difference is, they saw civic religion as a decentralized, individual matter rather than as a state affair; it was to aid the national government but not be part of the national government. John Adams, a theological unitarian, wrote in his autobiography, presumably for himself and not the electorate:

"One great advantage of the Christian religion is that it brings the great principle of the law of nature and nations, Love your neighbour as yourself, and do to others as you would that others should do to you, to the knowledge, belief and veneration of the whole people. Children, servants, women and men are all professors in the science of public as well as private morality. No other institution for education, no kind of political discipline, could diffuse this kind of necessary information, so universally among all ranks and descriptions of citizens. The duties and rights of the man and the citizen are thus taught, from early infancy to every creature. The sanctions of a future life are thus added to the observance of civil and political as well as domestic and private duties. Prudence, justice, temperance and fortitude, are thus taught to be the means and conditions of future as well as present happiness."50

Not a word about the atonement; not a word about the sacraments: the entire passage is geared to the requirements for public morality. The churches are viewed as effective educational institutions; no other institution could accomplish this task more effectively. Hence, Christianity is a good thing socially. The whole perspective is civic. pp. 27-32.


Tom Van Dyke said...

"Whatever one thinks of Christianity, it cannot be treated as negligible."---Eric Voegelin

Pangle, Voegelin, Strauss, etc., all here:

I urge all those interested in Jon's current line of argument to read a few pages commencing from p. 53.

The question is not Christianity as cosmic [or confessional] truth, but of Christianity as a real social, philosophical and even political phenomenon. Even the outliers like Jefferson and Adams refer to it as a best system of morals, or in Adams' case, the Bible as the best book in the world. When it comes to man's various religions and their effect on the Founding, one size does not fit all.

"Whatever one thinks of Christianity, it cannot be treated as negligible."

Our Founding Truth said...

There was an American Enlightenment, though subdued in its hostility to Christianity.37 Jefferson, after all, kept hidden his cut-up, re-pasted New Testament, purged of the miraculous and supernatural;>

Here is more wishful thinking. The enlightenment had virtually no effect in our country (freedom of conscience is a reformation doctrine espoused by Luther), with only one, maybe two arrogant men, and only Thomas Jefferson named as it's proponent.

The framers rejected reason as the authority, and all of it's proponents including: The French Revolution, Thomas Paine, Voltaire, Rousseau, Descarte, David Hume, etc.

Our country was based on protestant reformation principles, Natural Law, etc. that come from the Bible.

The FF's attacked the proponents of Reason as the authority, and exalted the Supernatural of God. Men such as:
George Mason
John Marshall
Joseph Story
Patrick Henry
John Jay
John Witherspoon
Benjamin Rush
Alexander Hamilton
George Washington
Governeur Morris
Robert Morris
John Adams
James Madison
Richard Henry Lee
John Hancock
Samuel Adams
Henry Laurens
James McHenry
Elbridge Gerry

and the list goes on. But Jefferson is more important than all these guys put together, what am I thinking?

Tom Van Dyke said...

To include John Adams or even Washington, Madison or G. Morris is an unnecessary overstatement of your case, and indeed a fatal one.

Our Founding Truth said...

To include John Adams or even Washington, Madison or G. Morris is an unnecessary overstatement of your case, and indeed a fatal one.>

I don't think so Tom, I have plenty of quotes of Washington, and Madison affirming the miraculous, and Adams and Morris attacking vehemently Hume and the French Revolution.

Our Founding Truth said...

Those guys affirmed reason like you and I do, but not over scripture, like enlightenment thinking does, which is why they attacked it.

Tom Van Dyke said...

I'd prefer to leave the burden of proof to the other side, that they disbelieved such things, because in a public sense, their silences indicate acceptance [whether or not they did so privately]. It's with the public that we are concerned.

I certainly do enjoy the attacks on the French Revolution, however, especially from Gouverneur Morris, who was by no means outwardly devout, and indeed was quite the bon vivant. For such a man to be offended by the absolute elevation of man's reason [or passion] above all other things is quite probative.

In the meantime, I think Voegelin's arguments are the proper path. Historical claims on the personal beliefs of the Founders are fraught with controversy and therefore vulnerability, so much so that the place of Christianity in the Founding is seldom discussed except in the most general ways. We occasionally make progress on that front around here.

Our Founding Truth said...

I certainly do enjoy the attacks on the French Revolution, however, especially from Gouverneur Morris, who was by no means outwardly devout, and indeed was quite the bon vivant. For such a man to be offended by the absolute elevation of man's reason [or passion] above all other things is quite probative.>

Adams and Madison, in my opinion, became more liberal as they aged. Morris, looking at his words, public and private, became more conservative; nominally Christian, because he called himself one. Not only did he despise the French Revolution, he mocked it, and its "Goddess of Reason."

This rant by Morris on reason contradicts Rowe's assertion of rationalist, but then again, he's not Jefferson, so he doesn't matter, right?:

"Those who slaughtered their prince and made havoc of each other; those who endeavored to dethrone the King of Heaven and establish the worship of human reason, who placed, as representative on the altar which piety had dedicated to the holy virgin, and fell down and paid to her their adoration, were, at length, compelled to see and to feel, and, in agony, to own that there is a God. I cannot proceed. My heart sickens at the recollection of those horrors which desolated France."

Gouverneur Morris, An oration, delivered on Wednesday, June 29, 1814, at the request of a number of citizens of New-York : in celebration of the recent deliverance of Europe from the yoke of military despotism

Morris' description of the revolution is intense, with more attacks on reason; the oration is quite moving.

But, next week there will be a post on Gouverneur Morris the rationalist, I can't wait!

Speak out against the deceit of revisionism!

Jonathan Rowe said...

I think the main problem with OFT is that he doesn't understand what a logical fallacy is. And, as such, he has no problem aggressively making almost all of them as he posits his understanding of the facts and the historical record.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Well, he was in the zone there for awhile. I hope you get a chance to read the Pangle-Voegelin thang.

Pinky said...

Between OFT & Tom, I have to side with the latter.
I don't think the reader can understand Jon's post without keeping Strauss, etal, in mind. And, if the reader has no knowledge of those philosophers and of what they have to say on the subject in question, it might even be impossible to understand what North is getting at.
Too much of it bears directly on what the ancients thought.
Our Founders were moving in a profoundly liberal direction and away from revealed ideologies even though they had enormous respect for Christianity.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Phil, what do you think of Voegelin's fundamental disagreement with Strauss?

Pinky said...

I'm still working on Strauss.
But, I will be checking that out.