Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Van Dyke Replies to Frazer

Mr. Rowe, I would prefer you put Dr. Gregg Frazer's responses alongside mine in the appropriate comments section instead of on this blog's front page. This is getting silly. I don't mention Frazer at all in my own mainpage posts, and I'm unhappy with his unfortunate disparagements of me appearing in this space of late.

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.

Best regards,
Tom Van Dyke

34 comments:

Jonathan Rowe said...

My apologies Tom. I don't mean for this to degenerate into anything less than civil.

My thinking for posting these on the front page is simply this is an important dialog to have and relatively speaking the blogs aren't that widely well read. I'm just trying to get these ideas "out there."

Tom Van Dyke said...

No problem, Jon. Should Dr. Frazer and I cross swords again, I hope it's on level ground, and we'll leave the personal stuff out of it. I've already apologized for questioning his objectivity as a scholar as he's an evangelical. But in my view this has led to his definition of Christianity to be too weighted toward theological orthodoxy [the Trinity, Jesus died for our sins, etc.] and not enough toward its philosophical, sociological and cultural implications, which I believe are more useful for historical purposes.

You and he are certainly encouraged to disagree. That's what we're here for.

Our Founding Truth said...

But in my view this has led to his definition of Christianity to be too weighted toward theological orthodoxy [the Trinity, Jesus died for our sins, etc.] and not enough toward its philosophical, sociological and cultural implications, which I believe are more useful for historical purposes.>

Hi Tom,

Although I completely disagree with Frazer on how he interprets the founding fathers, I have to beg to differ with you on the definition of Christianity. Paul makes it clear what philosophy is in his epistles:

Col 2:8
Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ. (KJV)

and how ironic, next Paul mentions the Trinity:

9For in HIM (Jesus Christ) dwelleth all the fulness of the GODHEAD (Trinity)
bodily.

10And ye are complete in him, which is the head of all principality and power:

Tom, the Trinity is basically in every book of the Bible.

Tom Van Dyke said...

I don't mind disagreement, OFT, and frankly your disagreement with me helps my case and credibility. But your definition is theological as well. That's beyond the scope of this blog, my own interest and the interest of almost all who gather here, who prefer the more neutral ground of philosophy and history.

In this context, I'm not interested in what the Bible says as much as what the Founders believed it said, which certainly opens the door to the post-Biblical Christian thinkers' influence on their attitudes and dispositions.

There is no disputing the historical fact that the Trinity was debated in a significant number of circles; our job is to suss out just how many they were, and what was their political effect, not whether the Trinity actually exists or even whether the Bible says it exists or it doesn't.

As for the actual truth claims, I'm content to point out my puzzlement that Jefferson cites John 1 in the original Greek that "in the beginning was the Word [Logos]" but avoids John 1's syllogism that the Word was with God and was God, and the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us, which seems an Biblical argument for Jesus' divinity to me.

On the other hand, your quote from Corinthians 2:9 says that Jesus is with God bodily, which sounds closer to the Mormon conception of God as a corporeal being---and to Jefferson's as well, as it turns out---contra the orthodox Christian view of God being beyond time, space and matter.

Now I find these things mildly interesting [and only mildly], but to discuss them at any more length than passing mention would dilute the purpose of this blog, which is philosophical, political and historical, and theological only when it touches all of the other three. We cannot argue the truth about God without becoming something else entirely, which is a religious shoot 'em up.

And in fact, our Mormon contributors have been quite righteous about not pressing their own truth claims around here, stepping in only when there has been a misrepresentation of their faith and beliefs. That's an example that should be followed by all of us, regardless of our beliefs and persuasions. That would apply to contending the Bible preaches the Trinity, but also to anyone contending it doesn't. Such questions are simply above our pay grade.

Our Founding Truth said...

Getting back to this "reason" trip for 18th century america, I would say less than three per cent of historians and scholars adhere to this dogma.

Few historians of the period disagree that Revolutionary-era Americans were a British Protestant people who wished to be guided not by reason alone, but rather by revelation and/or inner illumination.

Barry Shain, Religious Conscience and Original Sin: An Exploration of America’s Protestant Foundations - David Womersely, Liberty and American Experience in the Eighteenth Century [2006]

[3]Ironically, given the broad agreement concerning the Protestant character of Americans, this fact is often set aside and otherwise overlooked by students of the period. See Stanley N. Katz, “The Legal and Religious Context of Natural Rights Theory: A Comment,” in Party and Political Opposition in Revolutionary America, ed. Patricia U. Bonomi (Tarrytown, N.Y.: Sleepy Hollow Press, 1980), 36–37, who observes that “curiously, however, neither the 1920’s nor the 1960’s interpretations took religious ideas seriously as a component of American opposition ideology . . . in what was, after all, still an intensely religious society”; Michael Novak, On Two Wings: Humble Faith and Common Sense at the American Founding (San Francisco: Encounter Books, 2002); James H. Hutson, Religion and the Founding of the American Republic (Washington, D.C.: Library of Congress, 1998); and Norman Hampson, The Enlightenment: An Evaluation of its Assumptions, Attitudes and Values (1968; reprint ed., New York: Penguin Books, 1986), 131, who writes of the eighteenth century that “it is something of an historical impertinence to consider the century as the age of Enlightenment since religion exercised a far greater hold over most sections of every society than it does today.”

For example, Henry May, the preeminent student of the Enlightenment in America, believes that this religious description accurately captures “most people who lived in America in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.”

Henry F. May, The Enlightenment in America (New York: Oxford University Press, 1976), xiv, and see 45–46,

"David Hackett Fischer, Albion’s Seed: Four British Folkways in America (New York: Oxford University Press, 1989), 1:423, who reports that of approximately 3,000 congregations in 1775, only 500 or 18 percent were Anglican (Episcopal) and the vast remainder were Reformed congregations."

Out of these congregations, for the rationalist label to hold, you would need to work the numbers to see who took communion.

I would say AT LEAST 95% of congregants communed. In light of the evidence that is too obvious to show, to say the majority of framers or people were rationalists, is absurd!

Tom Van Dyke said...

Barry Shain's complete essay is here. Agree or disagree with his arguments or conclusions, Mr. OFT is a fine bird dog.

http://oll.libertyfund.org/?option=com_staticxt&staticfile=show.php%3Ftitle=1727&chapter=81716&layout=html&Itemid=27

Our Founding Truth said...

On the other hand, your quote from Corinthians 2:9 says that Jesus is with God bodily, which sounds closer to the Mormon conception of God as a corporeal being--->

Sorry about the confusion.

9For in HIM (Jesus Christ) dwelleth all the fulness of the GODHEAD (Trinity)
bodily

I think the verse is pretty self-explanatory. There is three persons in the Godhead, and Jesus is fully God, and fully man, the second person in the Triune Godhead.

In this context, I'm not interested in what the Bible says as much as what the Founders believed it said>

This is the question. The evidence is skewed toward the traditional view. I think the framers were men of their word, and when they said "Christian" they meant the historical, traditional view. The minority viewpoint Frazer and Rowe proclaim is just that, a minority viewpoint, almost miniscule when compared to the whole. The only way they can prove their theory, is get a majority of framers to declare their position, and they only have one guy, out of all of them. Franklin contradicted himself on natural law while in public service, so he shouldn't count. John Adams believed in miracles as I've shown, his beliefs after he retired shouldn't matter either. That leaves Jefferson. One guy out of all the known Founding Fathers who denied the supernatural. It doesn't help their case.

As my earlier post touches on, this entire rationalist, natural law, unitarian, socinian, etc. offshoot of Biblical Christianity attributed to the framers has no legs whatsoever. That percentage is no more than three, with the great majority of historians on the traditional side.

Our Founding Truth said...

Barry Shain's complete essay>

I'm reading it right now. There are many other scholars who write on this; here's to good reading.

Tom Van Dyke said...

TVD: In this context, I'm not interested in what the Bible says as much as what the Founders believed it said>

OFT: This is the question. The evidence is skewed toward the traditional view. I think the framers were men of their word, and when they said "Christian" they meant the historical, traditional view. The minority viewpoint Frazer and Rowe proclaim is just that, a minority viewpoint, almost miniscule when compared to the whole.

I'm not onboard with your view, Mr. Goswick. And just because [or if] the Frazer/Rowe argument is a minority viewpoint doesn't mean it's not the right one either. Majority views have a history of starting out as minority ones.

Accordingly, my interest is keeping the discussion open-ended, although I don't discount the possibility that one "side" or the other is completely right. I'm not a lukewarm-water type who insists truth lies "somewhere in the middle." Ugh.

But I for one am always still learning: for instance, I began all this with a certain chauvinism toward Aquinas and "Catholic" thought [although that's a misnomer, as he came before the Reformation]. But our discussions on this blog have opened/educated me to the affect of the Reformist thinkers on the Founding.

I'm enjoying the Barry Swain piece very much meself; even if I don't agree chapter and verse, he lays out properly formulated premises and provides plenty of source quotes from the Founding era. What more could we ask?

He also has a tremendously interesting "minority" view that despite all the talk of "individual conscience," the real dynamic at play in the Founding was the various sects, states, and communities working to secure their own rights, as domination by any one of them was impossible. It requires more exploration.

And so, when Swain writes,

And this transformation of the logical grounds of American personal and corporate rights from an amorphous-mixed English historical basis to a natural-rights foundation, Christian in its joining of Catholic natural-law elements and Protestant concerns with personal inwardness and communal localism, occurred remarkably rapidly during the Revolutionary years.

It occurred with such speed that the English historical origins of most claimed right were forgotten, so much so that by the end of the century, moderates like James Wilson actually looked back on the “historicism” of Blackstone’s understanding of the origin and basis of English rights with contempt...


I go, hmmm. Perhaps I haven't been barking up the wrong tree after all. Cool.

Please do keep throwing your spaghetti against the wall around here, James. I think far more of it sticks than you're given credit for.

Our Founding Truth said...

And just because [or if] the Frazer/Rowe argument is a minority viewpoint doesn't mean it's not the right one either.>

The post before, you said all that matters is what the framers believed, and right or wrong doesn't matter.

Majority views have a history of starting out as minority ones.>

But as is obvious to see, not in this case. The majority view was already on stable ground.

I'm enjoying the Barry Swain piece very much meself; even if I don't agree chapter and verse, he lays out properly formulated premises and provides plenty of source quotes from the Founding era. What more could we ask?>

Me too. The Adams quote he mentions about his election sermon that threw the election, is interesting. What I think happened is Hamilton took a lot of Federalists with him. If Hamilton and Adams could have kept their friendship, he would have beaten Jefferson in a landslide.

Jonathan Rowe said...
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Jonathan Rowe said...

The minority viewpoint Frazer and Rowe proclaim is just that, a minority viewpoint, almost miniscule [sic] when compared to the whole.

A majority of whom? The position Frazer and I take is well to the RIGHT of that which prevails in the historical academy, which is a decidedly leftist/separation of Church and State reading of the Founding.

Barry Shain's position is the "rare bird" among actual scholars in the academy. I suppose with the influences of megachurches and their attachment to the "Christian Nation" thesis, if you polled the population, you might get a statistical majority. Not that that would do you much.

Statistical majorities are known for the ignorance of basic facts that experts in their field consider elementary. It's not that they are stupid. They know what they need to know to get their job done, to live responsible lives and to function in their world. I, for one, am a total ignoramus when it comes to car parts and try NOT to let on to the mechanics how little I know. Likewise a typical GOOD mechanic probably couldn't name the first four Presidents or the first four commandments.

So even if you could show that a majority of boobus Americanus supports your position then whoop ti do you win with the Homer Simpson crowd. The experts, on the other hand, either agree with me or are to the left believing in things like "the Founders were Deists" and the First Amendment guarantees a "separation of Church & State.

December 24, 2008 7:36 PM

Jonathan Rowe said...

If you read Barry Shain's article he has a term for what Dr. Frazer calls "theistic rationalists": "Christian humanists." So figures who thought of themselves as Christians, thought the Bible was partially inspired, rejected the Trinity and eternal damnation and excessively used reason /nature in their arguments are "Christians" but also "Humanists" -- "Christian humanists." What think we of that term?

Jonathan Rowe said...
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Jonathan Rowe said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Our Founding Truth said...

This movement Swain speaks of was not a secret or rationalist spark, it was an open movement:

At greater distance, however, stood the religious conservatives who defended an older understanding of Christian communalism and who spoke and wrote as if the support given to the freedom of conscience and religious freedom during the Revolution had gone too far and was beginning to serve the forces of infidelity. Delivering the Massachusetts election sermon of 1784, Moses Hemmenway enunciated a central theme of the 1780s when he warned that

we should take heed that Liberty of thinking for ourselves, or the right of private judgment become not an occasion of infidelity, or skepticism. . . . Liberty of conscience must not be abused into a pretence for neglecting religious worship, prophaning God’s sabbath and ordinances, or refusing to do our part for the support of government and the means of religious instruction.

Five years later in Connecticut, Cyprian Strong emphatically asserted that “it is impossible, therefore, that civil government should take a neutral position, respecting religion or a kingdom of holiness. It must aid and countenance it, or it will discourage and bring it into contempt.” These pillars of rural New England Protestantism, following the war, were trying to re-create accepted limits to contain freedom of religion practice and that of conscience and, thus, to prevent any further separation of the moral ends jointly fostered by church and state.

Jonathan Rowe said...

Let me also give you a real world example re how even though technically appeal to authority might be a logical fallacy, it's still better to go with expert authority than majority view. (Likewise in law, as opposed to philosophy arguments from authority are NOT fallacious. Perhaps there's some good reason for that). Appealing to authority simply means you don't "prove" your case in a truth sense; however often when you appeal to authority, especially expert authority (i.e., my doctor told me this about my health, or my lawyer told me this about the law, as opposed to my cousin George told me this about medicine even though he has no medical degree and practices voodoo) you DO posit the truth. For instance, I could appeal to the authority of a math teacher for 2+2=4 and I'd be engaging in a logical fallacy (appeal to authority). But I'd still be right.

I'm having problems with my very expensive heating/air-conditioning unit and pulled out the long manufacturers warranty/instruction booklet and felt like I was reading another language. If I spend enough time learning that as I did learning law (to pass the bar exam) or studying THIS issue, I probably could become a certified technician in this area and fix it myself. Though, I don't have a whole lot of elbow grease and generally not good with my hands in a "technical" sense.

So when I call the contractor and pay +$100 to fix look at my problem, theoretically, I might be dealing with someone who doesn't know what they are talking about, won't fix my problem and will make things worse. But chances are, if they are a certified tech. in this area, have worked for a number of years without lawsuit or problems from government regulators, appealing to their "expert" authority (and paying them for it) will be a wise thing to do.

The experts in the historical academy who've studied the religion & the Founding issue laugh at the "Christian Nation" thesis ala David Barton's, politicized, propagandist methods, and have good reason for laughing.

As my Senator Arlen Spector (R. PA), who holds a law degree (a "Juris Doctorate" from Yale University School of Law) said of Barton in the Harvard Law Review: [Barton's] "pseudoscholarship would hardly be worth discussing, let alone disproving, were it not for the fact that it is taken so very seriously by so many people.”

Certainly appealing to expert authority (the majority of professionally trained historians who laugh at the Christian Nation thesis) is wiser than appealing to a statistical majority in the population who are utterly uninformed on the FFs and religion and probably wouldn't be able to tell you the difference between a deist, a unitarian, and a trinitarian.

bpabbott said...

TVD: "Mr. Rowe, I would prefer you put Dr. Gregg Frazer's responses alongside mine in the appropriate comments section instead of on this blog's front page."

Tom, if you really embraced such why do you turn the table and do the same to Jon?

How is this post by you not approriate for the comment seciton, but Frazer's is?

Do you find it approriate to critisize an individual for an error or your own?

"Why do you see the speck in your brother's eye,but do not notice the log that is in your own eye"
-- Mat, Mark, & Luke ;-)

Regarding Frazer, I find his posts excellent. If you find them challenging, then kudo's to Gregg for his writing and to Jon for his support.

Our Founding Truth said...

A majority of whom?>

You've been promoting it for two years!

If you read Barry Shain's article he has a term for what Dr. Frazer calls "theistic rationalists": "Christian humanists." So figures who thought of themselves as Christians, thought the Bible was partially inspired, rejected the Trinity and eternal damnation and excessively used reason /nature in their arguments are "Christians" but also "Humanists" -- "Christian humanists." What think we of that term?>

Jon, I'm sorry to correct you, again, but I have to tell the truth. My previous work on Erasmus and the attacks on him, gives me the knowledge to refute your last post.

Your mistake is not understanding what the word "humanist" meant back then. Just as catholics attacked Erasmus, so you attack the founding fathers.

Displaying 1 result(s) from the 1828 edition:
HU''MANIST, n. A professor of grammar and rhetoric; a philologist; a term used in the universities of Scotland.

1. One versed in the knowledge of human nature.

A humanist back then was not someone who denied the supernatural! On the contrary, it was someone versed in the classics, literature, and pursued knowledge.

Correcting you seems to be a regular theme on this blog, maybe you should pay me for this job, just joking. But seriously, the truth I give you, there is no price tag.

Jonathan Rowe said...

I find Frazer's posts excellent as well. The only area where I struggle is I'm still not content to say Washington, J. Adams, Jefferson, Franklin, Madison, Hamilton (until his near deathbed conversion) weren't "Christians" in *some* sense. And that's because they probably thought of themselves as "Christians" even as they rejected original sin, the trinity, incarnation, the atonement, eternal damnation, regeneration, the infallibility of the Bible and excessively used reason in their theology and truth seeking.

Who knows? Maybe Jefferson and the key Founders were right: Real Christianity is unitarian, not Trinitarian, and the Bible is only partially inspired. God termporary punishes the bad because of their works, whereas the "good" receive eternal bliss immediately upon death because of their virtuous behavior that saved them.

One thing I DO know is that no evidence shows the key FFs were "Christians" in a "born-again"/regenerate sense who believed in original sin, the trinity, incaration, atonement, infallibility of the Bible, eternal damnation. If THAT'S what you need to believe to be a "Christian" then they weren't "Christians" and we should look for some other term to describe their theological system, similar to how Mormons call themselves Christians, but evangelicals and Roman Catholics say NO YOU AREN'T. Just call yourselves Mormons and leave it at that. Similarly if Jefferson, Adams, Franklin and Madison thought of themselves as "unitarian Christians," as with the Mormons, the orthodox would say, you aren't Christians, just call yourselves unitarians and leave it at that.

Out of all of the figures I named Hamilton became an orthodox Trinitarian Christian at the very end of his life. I've seen the counterarguments put forth by OFT and his friend Hercules Mulligan and they are fallacious and unconvincing.

Published, scholarly Hamilton experts believed after Douglass Adair's defining work on the matter that while Hamilton may have had a pious youth, he was not an orthodox Christian during the time he did his main work Founding America. And didn't really become an orthodox Trintiarian regenerate Christian until near his death after his son died in a duel.

When Hamilton was dying he BEGGED for the Lord's Supper. Now, I realize the different Protestant sects think differently about the Lord Supper. But the form of orthodox Trinitarian Christianity Hamilton had come to believe in at the very end of his life saw the Lord's Supper as a CENTRAL sacrament.

But, Hamilton had not yet joined a church! If Hamilton were a Christian for all of those years, where had he been getting the Lord's Supper, which he saw as central, from? The most logical answer is that Hamilton had been pondering religion since his son died and had put off his official initiation to Christianity until the end when he died in his duel with Aaron Burr. His clumsy inexperience with the way he asked for the Lord's Supper from two different churches and was initially refused, demonstrates how little he knew the about the orthodox Christian religion when he died, how much of a "newbie" conversion it was.

This is why you will see published in a scholarly book -- indeed a book with a fairly religiously conservative tone edited by a big name in scholarship sensitive to religious conservative thought -- Frazer's piece entitled "Alexander Hamilton: Theistic Rationalist."

Our Founding Truth said...

Swain's use of the word "humanist" in the next paragraph proves your interpretation of the word is wrong:

"For as Princeton’s humanistic Witherspoon held, “Nothing can be more absolutely necessary to true religion than a clear and full conviction of the sinfulness of our nature and state.”

Witherspoon believed in the supernatural, cha ching!

Jonathan Rowe said...

Actually, they DIDN'T call themselves "HUMANISTS" back them. They tended to call themselves "Christians" and "unitarians."

Here is how Dr. Frazer summed up one of Barry Shain's most important "Christian humanists" Jonathan Mayhew, one of THE most important preachers who rallied the masses to declared independence and revolt against England.

It is also instructive to point out that Mayhew is not exactly the most reliable authority on what the Bible says. His reputation for unorthodoxy was so pronounced that his ordination had to be rescheduled because not enough ministers attended. He was a unitarian (did not believe in the deity of Christ) and a rationalist who believed that reason was the ultimate determiner of what counts as revelation. He specifically denied the doctrines of imputation, justification by faith, the virgin birth and original sin and held an unorthodox view of the atonement. He denied them because he found them to be unreasonable. Doctrines, which he called "niceties of speculation," were not of particular interest to him, though, because he believed that there were many roads to God and that one walked them through works. He listed Plato, Demosthenes, Cicero, Sidney and Hoadly among his intellectual influences. His quoted remark in the article that a king can "un-king himself" is completely without biblical foundation. Mayhew's view of Romans 13 had nothing to do with what Paul said and everything to do with what Mayhew found reasonable under the circumstances.

http://www.wnd.com/index.php?fa=PAGE.view&pageId=71614

So what do we call Mayhew? A "Christian" in any sense? A Unitarian? A theistic rationalist? A good old fashion heretic?

And BTW OFT, when are YOU going to write an article for WorldNetDaily or ANY publication.

Jonathan Rowe said...

Witherspoon believed in the supernatural, cha ching!

So did Mayhew, bla bling!

Jonathan Rowe said...

A majority of whom?>

You've been promoting it for two years!


It's been longer than 2 years. And I/we didn't just come out of right field. The "secular"/"separation" understanding has been dominant among the experts in the historical academy for almost half a century. The "middle ground" position that Frazer & I promote has also been put forth by Mark Noll, Nathan Hatch, George Marsden, David Holmes, Robert Kraynak, Michael Zuckert, Thomas Pangle, for a number of years. And more recently by best selling authors Jon Meacham and Steven Waldman.

Our position is far more dominant among experts of informed opinion, even best selling experts like Meacham, Waldman and Holmes than your "Christian Nation" nonsense that only does well in megachurches.

Our Founding Truth said...

Witherspoon believed in the supernatural, cha ching!

So did Mayhew, bla bling!>

Good for him. He wasn't a rationalist.

Our Founding Truth said...

Hey Tom,

Swain has the quote I've been looking for. I actually have the source on my blog, but I never found this entire quote.

Without a doubt, guaranteed, John Adams was NOT a rationalist!:

“The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked . . . [for] it must be remembered, that although reason ought always to govern individuals, it certainly never did since the Fall, and never will till the Millennium.”
Diggins, ibid., 84–85, 94. He is citing Adams, Defence, 3:289, 479.

I have it like this:

The passions and appetites are parts of human nature as well as reason and the moral sense. In the institution of government it must be remembered that, although reason ought always to govern individuals, it certainly never did since the Fall, and never will till the Millennium; and human nature must be taken as it is, as it has been, and will be.
Defence, 3:289, 479. Cf., Cited by Michael Novak, On Two Wings: Humble Faith and Common Sense at the American Founding (San Francisco, CA: Encounter Books, 2002), 49

But Swain's version has Adams quoting Jeremiah 17:9. I'm fairly certain he made this quote in 1787, but I have to check it.

Adams believed "the heart" [everyones heart] is deceitful above all things.

How could someone claim the human heart is the arbiter of truth, as rationalists believe, and claim the heart is deceitful above all things?

Thanks Swain, the truth will always come out in the end.

Tom Van Dyke said...

I'm OK with "Christian humanist," which acknowledges the philosophical and cultural effect of Christianity, and "humanist" implying theological heterodoxy.

I took to the front page because I was forced to, Ben, and indicated I hoped it would be the only time. As for your gutless personal remarks toward me, this is the only time I intend to acknowledge them, too. Until your comments contain something substantive, which I expect will be never, they are a waste of cyberink.

As for your views on majority views, Jon, I agree only as far as it applies to air conditioners. Arlen Spector's opinions on religion and the Founding are as worthless as Mr. Abbott's. I personally am pleased to see the respected scholar James H. Hutson turn up in essays like Swain's. He too seems to believe the "majority view"---the prevailing orthodoxy, if you will---is not quite accurate. I'm content with keeping the discussion open. The quote from Adams conveying a distrust of human reason is interesting.

Pinky said...

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You (all) raised points that are at issue.
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It was interesting to read your exchanges (most).
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I learn from these things.

bpabbott said...

Jon: "Certainly appealing to expert authority [...] is wiser than appealing to a statistical majority in the population"

This is an excellent point that I've seen many attempt to suppress via claims that it is unfair or elitist.

I'm surprised at how successful this tactic is. When traveling no one would substitute the expertise of a pilot for the opinion of the statistical majority, how is it that such an tactic is so quickly embraced in science and history?

Tom Van Dyke said...

The argumentum ad populum is perhaps an even greater logical fallacy than the argument from authority, but I see no evidence it's being made here. In the context of the Founding, what most people thought they were agreeing to when they ratified the constitution seems quite germane.

But I believe we're not talking about our actual topic of religion and the Founding, but are into one of those "meta-arguments" again. I like meta-arguments as exercises in abstract thinking, and so am not immune to their appeal either.

If "most scholars say x" is the formulation, it seems to me we're combining both fallacies!

My only point, in defense of the legitimacy of minority views, is best put in this quote I've been searching for:

"All truth passes through three stages. First, it is ridiculed. Second, it is violently opposed. Third, it is accepted as being self-evident."---Arthur Schopenhauer

As we all fancy ourselves free-thinkers around here as well as authorities on the history of ideas, I'd think that statement is uncontroversial, and anyone who dismisses its wisdom is a poopy-head.

Jon, Barry Swain's thesis about communities is certainly an outlier, which I'd like to meditate on and research.

But Swain's main thrust, that elevates the impact on the Founding of Protestantism and religiosity far above that of the Enlightenment and secularism [not exactly David Barton's, but from the same sector of the galaxy] is by no means idiosyncratic, as you can tell by the voluminous citations of other serious scholars in the notes to his essay, including our pal James H. Hutson.

[Yes, my appeal here is to both numbers and authority myself, but only in counterargument to your own invocation of them. Still, we'd agree it's important to establish an "authority" as at least somewhere in the ballpark.]

Moving on to an area of interest to both of us, I think Swain answers the "Straussians" Pangle and Zuckert quite effectively, as well as the secular academy [which, you must admit, favors its own as to who is "credible"]: simply that they get too theoretical, and underestimate the power of religious ideas when they don't discount them entirely.

I myself started exactly there when I came to this blog---from the Straussian perspective---not so much overestimating the influence of the ideas of Thomas Aquinas, et al., but vastly underestimating the power of Protestantism and especially Reformed Protestantism's [the John Calvin branch] mixture of faith, piety and anti-authoritarianism that made the Founding an actuality.

Because we can abstract the Founding all we want, but the real goal of the historian---unlike the political philosopher or the theorist---is to feel what it was like to be there. I find Swain's arguments most effective when he illustrates religious feelings [and theological questions!] that were "in the air," yes, including Romans 13, one of your favorite topics.

But as they intellectually-theologically crossed the bridge to revolution, they also feared the just God who would judge the nation they were setting up to replace the old regime.

Even Thomas Jefferson feared that just God ["I tremble for my country..."], yes?

[Despite some of our recent unpleasantnesses around here, I continue to find participation in this blog to be wonderfully nourishing. I learn something every day; if not answers, better questions.] Cheers.

Jonathan Rowe said...

Good comment to end it on for now.

By the way it's "Shain" not "Swain." If I didn't correct it now, every time you would have seen his name your mind would see "Swain" even though it's spelled "Shain." That's happened to me a few times and it's strange how the mind can "see" things like that.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Shain. Dang.

I look forward to taking up the cudgel against the East Coast Straussians. Swain put his finger on what's always bugged me about the whole deal. Funny, it was said that by the end of his tenure at the University of Chicago, Leo Strauss was "surrounded by priests." Go figure.

Jonathan Rowe said...

But...Dr. Frazer emails me to respond to Tom.

Mr. Van Dyke: first, I’ve tried to respond to you in the comments section, but, for some reason, the submissions haven’t gone through. So, I’ve emailed them to Jon and left it to him to put them where he thought best – I certainly was not trying to gain any kind of advantage based on where the discussions were placed. I am sorry if it appeared otherwise.

Second, I’m perplexed at your complaint of “disparagements of me” – I do not believe I have disparaged you. I have attacked your arguments, as you have attacked mine. You suggested that my argument begged a question or two; I responded that your argument begs a question or two. Then, I criticized “your explanation” and “your view” – not you. I criticized the quality of your response to one of my points as “circular logic” (which I believe it is) – but I did not disparage you personally.

Third, as for “standards of civility,” I am a relative newcomer to your discussion, so I have taken my cues from your (contributors collectively) comments and have merely responded in kind. You have aggressively and assertively attacked my term/concept and points of my argument – and I have done the same to yours. Where have I stepped over the line of civility? You repeat criticisms of my concept right after suggesting that civility is in jeopardy. So, is it that only my terms/concepts/arguments can be attacked without endangering civility?

Fourth, your point about Sidney is a good one. IF you had made that point before instead of cavalierly replying that Christianity was “in the air” and in the water, then I would not have responded with the circular logic claim or the suggestion that your position is immune to counter evidence. As you’ll see in the next paragraph, if you’re arguing that the key Founders couldn’t help but be influenced indirectly (though not consciously or intentionally) by some Christian influences, then you’ll get no argument from me. That is part of my thesis.

Fifth, it is clear from this latest and from some of your earlier comments, that you and I are not nearly so far apart in our thinking as either of us thought. I apparently thought that you were making greater claims for the influence of Christianity in the Founding and the intentions of the Founders than you, in fact, do. Likewise, you seem to think that I reject any influence whatsoever by Christianity – which I do not do. I call your attention to the definition of my idiosyncratic, unhelpful term: it was “a hybrid belief system mixing elements of natural religion, Christianity, and rationalism; with rationalism as the predominant element.” I further argue that adherents of [my term] were raised in a nominally Christian environment, but were educated in Enlightenment thought – and that they believed that these three elements would generally complement one another. But when conflict between them could not be resolved or ignored, reason must play the decisive role. So, adherents were willing to define God in whatever way their reason indicated and to jettison Christian beliefs which did not conform to reason. But they retained those Christian beliefs which they considered reasonable. I argue as vehemently against the notion that they were rank secularists, atheist, or deists as I do against the notion that they were Christians. In fact, I developed my term specifically to separate what they believed from deism and secularism as much as from Christianity.

So, I fully recognize that they lived in an age of “Christendom” and that it had some influence upon them. I also discuss Aquinas – the difference between [my term here] and Aquinas is what they did when reason and revelation appeared to conflict. For Aquinas, reason bowed to revelation and was designed to supplement revelation. For the [my term here], it was the other way around. Reason was the ultimate standard and revelation was a supplement to it. In fact, they determined what counted as legitimate revelation based on their reason. The key to your Wilson quote (which I include in my dissertation, by the way) is which of the two ways of looking at law takes priority when they appear to conflict. Wilson said: “Reason and conscience can do much; but still they stand in need of support and assistance.” And “the Scriptures support, confirm, and corroborate, but do not supersede the operations of reason and the moral sense.” For Wilson, Scripture will be called upon to support and assist reason – not the reverse. That is the position of [my term here]. It is the opposite of the position of Aquinas – and Christianity.

I also deal at length with Calvin, but he was a hurdle that the would-be revolutionaries had to get over, not an intellectual support.

Finally, our disagreement over whether everything believed/taught by someone who was a Christian is, for that reason, “Christian” itself would make for another interesting argument. Aquinas, of course, was heavily influenced by the one whom he repeatedly refers to as “the Philosopher” (Aristotle). If Aquinas’ views are necessarily categorized as “Christian,” then Aristotle influenced Christianity. If, on the other hand, Aquinas’ views are simply those of someone who was a Christian, but subject to multiple influences, then the particular view may or may not be “Christian” – as a non-Christian influence comes to the fore. There are plenty of Christians who believe various ideas/notions, but not because they are Christians or not because they have thought about whether Christ would want them to. I am a Christian and a Green Bay Packer fan – does that make being a Green Bay Packer fan a Christian idea? If it does, then I would argue that your notion of Christianity is a lot broader than my concept is narrow.

This also points up the need to define what we mean by “Christian” and “Christianity” – terms which, apparently, we are no closer to agreeing upon than when I stepped into this discussion. If you’re going to use a sterile, generic meaning for “Christianity” – as in Christendom – then what’s the point of the discussion? Everyone – even those who Jon rightly points out are far to the left of he and I – recognizes some legitimacy to that. The issue is: what did the Founders intend? What did they believe and how did it influence the Founding project?

If I offended you, I apologize. That was not my intent.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Dr. Frazer---Gregg---thx for your deeply considered reply. As I wish to return the courtesy of such courtesy, I'll post the above note from you and my reply on our mainpage in the coming week. To simply dash off a reply would be disrespectful, and I certainly respect you and your work---and you're correct we aren't so far apart after all. Honest men tend to agree on the underlying facts even when their conclusions differ, and this is what makes for righteous dialogue.

And why I'm happy and proud to consider Jonathan Rowe my friend, for instance, the gentleman we have in common.

And if your often-referenced thesis were to somehow find its way to me, I have no doubt I'd learn a lot.

Cheers,---TVD