So, I hope this is the last time I'll have to hog the podium on this, but some things need to get set straight. It's true I have not read his dissertation: my remarks are based on your summaries of it. But neither is he familiar with the counterarguments I have made on this blog, and he is wrong to assert I don't have any. I have plenty, such as the uniquely [Judeo-]Christian character of the Founders' notion of God when they weren't orthodox, which many or most were.
If Dr. Frazer wants to discuss, he's certainly welcome here, but printing out his broadsides sets us on an unequal footing, and is beginning to fall short of our usual standards of civility as well.
His "theistic rationalist" meme is often used by you on this blog. Dr. Frazer is of course free to "muddle on" with his idiosyncratic term and method of devising it; I reject it as far too narrow for our uses here on our homecourt. It's an interesting idea and deserves a place at the table, I suppose, but once employed, it closes the discussion, and I'll continue to object to it as inadequate.
And yes, it quite so that Christian concepts were "in the air" at the time of the Founding, and my sense of Christian also includes Christian theology/political philosophy from sources like Aquinas and the Reformation thinkers. I'm not of the sola scriptura persuasion, especially when it comes to the history of ideas.
As a case in point, Algernon Sidney, a contemporary of John Locke, is cited by many Founders as one of their sources. In this section of his Discourses Concerning Government, Sidney specifically credits the successors of Thomas Aquinas ["the "Schoolmen"] with a definitive refutation of the Divine Right of Kings. Now, Sidney is explicit here; but however well-read the Founders were, few were scholarly enough to know where their influences like Sidney got their influences from. The history of ideas is an intricate tapestry and Dr. Frazer's demand for explicit attribution of the sources of ideas is far too literal and unsatisfiable.
And Dr. Frazer continues to elide or ignore the question of natural law, specifically the Christian understanding of it that was acknowledged by the Founders, which is neither ancient per the Greeks nor “modern” per Hobbes [and perhaps Locke], but uniquely Christian. So when Dr. Frazer writes,
“The fact that Aquinas…or Calvin believed in a similar concept does not make it biblical or Christian,”
I reply that Christian thought is more than reading the KJV as if it just fell off a turnip truck. If Aquinas or Calvin contributed something unique to the Founding—--and it is well-argued that they did—--they certainly do come under the umbrella of Christianity.
Now, admittedly there are fine distinctions to be made between “natural law” and “law of nature,” but it’s incumbent upon Dr. Frazer to argue that the Founders made those distinctions. James Wilson, perhaps the most erudite and elegant thinker of the Founding era, and one of the most influential Framers of the Constitution, [rightly or wrongly] conflates the two:
“That law, which God has made for man in his present state; that law, which is communicated to us by reason and conscience, the divine monitors within us, and by the sacred oracles, the divine monitors without us. This law has undergone several subdivisions, and has been known by distinct appellations, according to the different ways in which it has been promulgated, and the different objects which it respects.
As promulgated by reason and the moral sense, it has been called natural; as promulgated by the holy scriptures, it has been called revealed law.
As addressed to men, it has been denominated the law of nature; as addressed to political societies, it has been denominated the law of nations.
But it should always be remembered, that this law, natural or revealed, made for men or for nations, flows from the same divine source: it is the law of God.”
In another place, Wilson speaks of our "sentiments of equity and justice, which God has engraven on the hearts of all men," certainly an echo of Paul's Epistle to the Romans. It would be incumbent on Dr. Frazer to counterargue that this was not the common understanding of natural law among the Founders. It certainly was Alexander Hamilton's, as expressed in his famous The Farmer Refuted.
I admit an unfamiliarity with Dr. Frazer's entire canon; what I know of it is from Jonathan Rowe's excerpts. However, Dr. Frazer is also unfamiliar with my admittedly uncredentialed musings: I do not assert that the United States was founded or created as a Christian Nation, as he intimates. But neither do I believe the ratification of the constitution changed America's essential qualities. What those qualities were will always be open to debate, and I continue to find Dr. Frazer's approach of little utility.
However, he's welcome to roll up his sleeves and work it out with us common folk. But as I imagine he's too busy, in future I'll be content with his replies to my comments being put where they belong, in the comments section. This format has me shouting up at Olympus and receiving thunderbolts in occasional reply, which has obliged me to take to our mainpage as well.
Thank you, Jon, and Dr. Frazer, who seems to read what I write and is invited to reply directly in the future, either in the comments section or my personal email. And should I ever write of him or his ideas on this blog's mainpage, any reply will of course be given the same placement. But right now, I'm stuck addressing him somewhere between the second and third person, between "you" and "he," and the friction created by this awkward method of communication increases the heat and diminishes the light. Let us find a better way.
Tom Van Dyke