Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Brookhiser on Hamilton's Religion

This is from an address that Hamilton biographer Richard Brookhiser gave to the Family Research Council. That such conservative sources reinforce my interpretation of Hamilton's religion shows that among serious Hamilton scholars of whatever political persuasion this is not a matter of debate: He was not an orthodox Christian when he did his principle work founding America.

This part of his life is important because he goes through many phases. The people who knew him as a young man, namely a man named Robert Troup who went to King's College with him, remembered him being very devout--saying his prayers. Troup remembered saying prayers with Hamilton. One of the people who sent him to this country was a minister named Knox. So there were these influences operating on Hamilton early in his life.

It seems to me that when he got involved in the war, on Washington's staff, and in politics, he really put that aside. I don't see much emphasis of religion continuing to motivate him in this part of his career. He does ghost the farewell address and that has a famous paragraph about the importance of religion as a foundation of morality and this is something that should never be scanted or scoffed at. I do not agree with that particular argument--I am an admirer of Washington, obviously, and of Hamilton--but that strikes me as a little bit of an instrumentalist argument, that we better have religion to keep the peasants in line.

However, I think when Phillip is killed in 1801, Hamilton becomes religious again. A central part of his life is shattered and it is not just the grief that any man would feel if his son died in these circumstances--you always have to remember that in Hamilton's mind is his own father. His own father had left him; had shamed him by leaving. So Hamilton is always trying as a father to be better than James Hamilton. Then Phillip is killed. What does that say? You are not better, you are worse. Your father was a bum, but he never told you anything that got you killed. It must have been a blow that is hard to conceive.

By all accounts and memories of his children, he was devout again at the end of his life. He was probably trying to make sense of what had happened, sort of trying to put his view of the world back together. This is when he thinks of the Christian Constitutional Society. His letters to his wife about his final duel make it plain that his scruples against aiming at Burr are moral and religious ones.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Orthodox Christianity and Political Liberty

The following is Gregg Frazer's response to Positive Liberty commenter Andy Craig's thoughts on the Babka/Frazer dialog. I add some brief comments below:

Mr. Craig:

I am sorry that you have rejected Christianity, and I would like to clear up a couple of things.

Biblical Christianity is authoritarian in the sense that God has established various authority structures and cares deeply whether His people respect what He’s established. It is not authoritarian in the sense that it requires an authoritarian political system. There is nothing about Christianity that would keep a believer from enjoying living in a “world of individual liberty.” Christians can flourish under freedom just as much as can non-Christians.

Also, let me respectfully suggest that you’re missing the point in I Samuel 8. The people did not “convince” God to do “something He didn’t want.” First, you’ll notice that verse 6 says it was displeasing in SAMUEL’S sight — not God’s. Second, God isn’t “convinced” to give them a king — He turns them over to their own foolishness to allow them to discover that they would be much better off if they did not reject God and the blessings He has in store for them. Third, in the rest of the chapter, God is warning them of the consequences of their wrong desires — which He knows because He is omniscient, etc.

If you’re concerned about liberty, you should be happy with this incident. God allows them to experience the disastrous results of their choice to reject Him.

I would be interested in other places in which you believe the Bible is contradictory — because I do not believe it is contradictory in any way.

I am also intrigued by your denial of the authoritativeness of the Bible. Do you know of any other authority which accurately predicted hundreds of events in great detail hundreds of years in advance? Also, I suspect you find science to be an impeccable authority — despite the scientific errors which are discovered nearly every day. Have you yet figured out what you should/should not eat in order to avoid cancer? I can’t keep up with the conflicting “facts.”

Finally, I agree with you that Christians frequently act inconsistently with the teachings of their faith — but I see that as a bad thing — tragic, really.

As a political libertarian (and a non-Christian) if I wanted to argue the case for political libertarianism to a biblical orthodox Christian I would not argue the Bible endorses or is the source of the concept of political liberty as found in the Declaration of Independence (it does/is not). Rather I would argue the Bible is compatible with the idea of political liberty. And it makes good sense for orthodox Christians to endorse the concept. If, in the grand scheme of things, it's most important for Christians to "save souls" by missionary or conversion efforts (as opposed to fighting a "culture war") then it makes sense that an evangelical Christian chiefly be concerned that he has his political/religious liberty to proselytize effectively and in fact save souls.

In a closed, controlled society where just about everyone believed in the same kind of orthodox theology, it makes sense, from an orthodox Christian perspective, to forbid heresy, if it were just a matter of setting mousetraps to keep the house free of mice, as it were. Samuel Rutherford, though he may have been mistaken about Romans 13 on strict biblical grounds, rejected religious liberty on grounds entirely compatible with the Bible:

“It was justice, not cruelty, yea mercy to the Church of God, to take away the life of Servetus, who used such spirituall and diabolick cruelty to many thousand soules, whom he did pervert, and by his Booke, does yet lead into perdition.”

– Samuel Rutherfurd, “A Free Disputation Against Pretended Liberty of Conscience.” (1649).

However, the experience of religious disagreements within Christendom made such a political-religious consensus nigh well impossible. In short, if you give the civil magistrate the power to forbid religious heresy or enforce orthodoxy, chances are, you'll end up on the receiving end as a "heretic." Not only do Roman Catholics and evangelical/reformed Protestants irreconcilably differ on religious truths, but within Protestantism, the sects differ in meaningful ways. Even among the "sola scriptura" orthodox Trinitarian understanding of Protestantism, sects differ in such serious ways that if we didn't recognize religious/political liberty, dominant sects would use the power of the state to persecute dissident sects. Indeed, the rationale that I have just laid out is the story of how religious/political liberty came to Christendom. It wasn't a matter of "finding" these concepts in the Bible or the longstanding traditional understanding thereof, but rather through experience of warring and blood shedding among sects that concepts of religious and political liberty emerged and gained hold in Western Society as a way to "keep the peace," as it were.

Frazer Replies to Babka on Romans 13 and Revolt

The following is Gregg Frazer's latest response to Jim Babka's thoughts on Romans 13, Interposition and Revolt.

Mr. Babka:

The reason I talked about Romans 13 being read “poetically or allegorically” is because my position was identified in your post as “strict literalist.” So, since you identified it as such and obviously took issue with it, I assumed that you opposed a literally reading. My mistake, apparently.

To assuage your curiosity, I chose not to quote verses 3 & 4 because I did not consider them to be relevant to the immediate issue at hand — WHETHER we should be subject to government. Verses 3 & 4 are part of Paul’s argument as to WHY we should be subject, but they do not address WHETHER we should be subject — verses 1 & 2 answer that question clearly.

Since you are curious about my view of verses 3 & 4:
Verses 3 & 4 describe what governing authorities ARE — not what they SHOULD be. Paul says “rulers ARE not a cause of fear for good behavior” and government “IS a minister of God to you for good” and it “IS a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath upon the one who practices evil.” He is not listing characteristics which must (in the eye of the individual beholder) be achieved in order to count something as a legitimate governing authority. He was already crystal clear in the first two verses that the fact of their existence proves that they are legitimate.

However, NO GOVERNMENT IS PERFECT — AND SOME ARE BETTER THAN OTHERS. So, while ALL governments restrain evil, all are run by fallen human beings and, therefore, ALL will also commit evil to some extent. [Just as Kobe Bryant and I could play one-on-one and both of us would be playing basketball, but one of us would be much better at it] To say (as do Rutherford and Mayhew and, apparently, you) that a government which does evil loses its legitimacy is to say that EVERY government is illegitimate, because they all commit evil at some level at some time. It is also to add something to the text (as I mentioned) which is not there. Paul never says ANYthing about ANY government being illegitimate in Romans 13, however. In the 1930s, the country with the lowest crime rate in the world was Hitler’s Germany. In the 1970s, the country with the world’s lowest crime rate was the Soviet Union. So, despite the evil being perpetrated by these governments, they were, nonetheless, restraining evil, as well.

Your position also begs the question of how much evil a government must do before it loses its legitimacy — what it the limit/boundary? Is it one really bad act or two pretty bad ones or three slightly bad ones or ….? How do you know the limit/boundary? From where do you get it? The Bible doesn’t give a limit because it doesn’t recognize such an idea.

Re: “even Calvin agreed that the ruler was forbidden from tyranny” — yes, but he said that it was up to GOD to punish the tyrant, not man! That’s an option that neither you nor Rutherford/Mayhew seem to recognize. Just because a ruler is a tyrant, it does not follow that we are authorized/allowed to remove him. The question is not whether a ruler will be judged for being a tyrant, the issue is WHO HAS THE AUTHORITY to judge him. Calvin and I say that God has not given that authority to man — He retains it for Himself.

Re: “ALL RULERS WERE PRIMARILY ACCOUNTABLE TO THE LAW — Lex Rex.” I’m glad you identified the source here — the source is Rutherford, not Paul (or God).

An actual plain reading demonstrates that the commands in these verses apply to “every person” — which is what it says! As for your question concerning magistrates, to them it would mean that if there was an authority above them (what you’d call the “higher magistrate”), then they must be subject to them. By definition, your “lower magistrates” have an authority over them — so there’s no “terrible” confusion — they are to be scared of that higher authority!

Re your concept of Interposition: you say that lower magistrates are not required to obey an “unlawful order from a higher magistrate” — but THERE’S NO SUCH THING, according to verses 1 & 2! You then say that the lower magistrate is more accountable to the law than he is the king — this is where you’re adding to Scripture what simply is not there. You’re citing Rutherford’s ideas here, not the Holy Spirit’s (through Paul). Where is the law even mentioned in Romans 13?

If you mean that lower magistrates are not required to obey an order which requires them to disobey God, then I wholeheartedly agree with you. And not only lower magistrates, but no Christian should obey an order which requires disobedience to God.

BUT such a command is not “unlawful” and it does not make the government or ruler issuing such an order illegitimate. Paul never even hints at such a notion. Why did Jesus affirm Pilate’s authority over Him in John 19:11? Why didn’t he say that, as a representative of an oppressive, militaristic, godless empire which had conquered Israel, Pilate had no legitimate authority over the common people — much less over the Son of God in human flesh?

The real problem, though, is in conflating disobedience and rebellion. In one paragraph, you’re talking about a basis for disobedience and in the next, you’re talking about rebellion. Do you not recognize a difference between them? I agree, as I said above, that Christians should not OBEY an order which commands disobedience to God (Acts 5:29), but that does not legitimize REBELLION — whether led by a lower magistrate or not.

Throughout Scripture, the same principle can be seen: we must obey the government unless/until it commands disobedience to God; then, we must disobey, but REMAIN IN SUBJECTION (that is, still recognize the government’s authority) — usually by taking the punishment. That’s why Shadrach & his pals went into the fiery furnace and Daniel went into the lion’s den and why Paul wrote Romans 13 from jail! There are, however, NO examples of rebellion approved by God in Scripture. I’m sorry you didn’t like my comments re the Exodus, but I thought it relevant because it WAS referenced by the Founders, unlike your Interposition theory.

The key flaw in the Interposition notion is, as I explained but you did not comment upon, that Calvin gave very specific historical examples of what he meant — lower magistrates who WITHIN THE SYSTEM OF GOVERNMENT had the LEGAL AUTHORITY to “restrain the licentiousness of kings” and could do so “in accordance with their duty.” Calvin never says ANYTHING about rebellion or revolting on the part of the lower magistrates. He gave specific historical examples so that he would not be misunderstood on this point — but Interposition supporters ignore those examples and their implications and INSERT into Calvin’s discussion the idea of rebellion/revolution.

You ask “If a revolution is successful, and it results in a new government, wouldn’t that government also be established by God?” The answer, of course, is YES! It is irrelevant to the fundamental question, though — it has nothing to do with whether the revolution itself was right — unless you believe that the end justifies the means. Paul didn’t (Romans 3:8). So, if you’re asking me whether people living in the United States (like you and I) must be subject to the U.S. government, even though it came to be via revolution, the answer is: of course. Governments come into being through various means, but those means are irrelevant to the question of subjection. Paul was writing to Romans living under a ruler who likely poisoned his predecessor.

I wholeheartedly agree with you that what matters is what’s biblical — not what’s Calvinist. But when we discuss an idea which has no biblical basis, but supposedly originated with Calvin and is ascribed to him, we’re stuck talking about Calvin. The Bible doesn’t talk about “interposition” or “lower magistrates” or anyone’s right to rebel. I take up defense of Calvin because I believe he would not want to be identified with an idea he would find abhorrent.

I DID NOT DEFINE WHO IS OR IS NOT A CALVINIST or claim that people who call themselves Calvinists are not Calvinists! I denied that AN IDEA was Calvinist in the sense that Calvin taught it. He did not.

Apparently, you (like Mr. Van Dyke) have misunderstood my position regarding Protestant Christian influence in the Founding era. 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 term, theistic rationalism: 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 theistic rationalism 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.

Re our 2006 dialogue, please report what I said accurately. I did NOT say that Locke was not influenced by Rutherford. I said that there is NO EVIDENCE that Locke was influenced by Rutherford — and I have yet to see any, supplied by you or anyone else.

King George referred to the Presbyterian Parson’s Rebellion because there were many Presbyterian parsons involved in drumming up support for it. The question is HOW were they drumming up support? I said that Mayhew and West and others replaced Romans 13 with their own ideas, but they did not make the Interposition argument. No one in the Founding era made the lower magistrate argument — they followed Mayhew’s justification which allowed for all to participate in rebellion, not just lower magistrates.

Again, I did NOT say that what the Founders DID cannot be compared favorably to the Interposition idea in practice. I said that they did not mention such an idea or make a case for the Revolution based upon it. [I repeat: if someone has knowledge of a citation of this notion in the Revolutionary literature, I would appreciate seeing it -- I am interested to see if anyone at the time saw things in those terms or if, as I suspect, supporters of the idea simply read it back into their thinking] I will say that what they did bears far greater resemblance to the sources they DID CITE, such as Locke, than one they did not cite: Interposition.

Yes, Mr. Babka, God clearly used the American Revolution to bring about the government of this area which was ordained in His plan. Why would you think I would be hesitant to affirm such a thing? God often uses sinful acts of men to accomplish His purpose. [Judas's betrayal, Pharaoh's hard heart, etc.]

The “Doctrine of Interposition” was NOT “discovered by John Calvin,” but rather discovered by “his successors” (if, by that, you mean those who claim to be Calvinists — and I don’t care what you want to call them). The American Revolution looks a lot like Interposition in action to those who want to see Interposition in action. To others — AND TO THE REVOLUTIONARIES THEMSELVES — it looks a lot like Lockean theory.

Since you’ve discussed what amuses you about one of my points, I’ll say what amuses me. You can, in one paragraph, say that “what matters here is not what is Calvinist or not; what matters is what is Biblical or not” and then conclude that what the Bible (Romans 13) clearly says is not true “so long as it’s based” on a doctrine “discovered by John Calvin.”

Your final remark about me ignoring evidence concerning whether Calvinists were true to Calvin on this question makes me really curious to see what I’ve missed. I trust that it will be some explication of the historical examples given by Calvin to make sure that he wasn’t misunderstood. But wait, I’ve already investigated those in depth, so that can’t be it — because it’s something I’ve “ignored.” I suspect it will be quotes from Calvin saying that rulers are not free to be tyrannical — but that can’t be, either, because I’ve read Calvin in that regard and in context. So, I know that he said tyrants will be punished — but that we have no authority to do it.

So, you’ve got my curiosity stirred, Mr. Babka.

Potential readers: I apologize for the length, but without it I couldn’t answer most of Mr. Babka’s arguments/points without being misunderstood. I suspect I’ll be misunderstood at points, anyway.

Self-Improvement: America's Real Religion

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New Years is the moment for resolutions. From losing weight (attaining health of the body) to taking up yoga (achieving serenity of the soul), we aspire to be better than we are--reminding us that America’s real religion is the cult of self-improvement. Being good (or failing that, looking good) is our national religion.

This obsession with perfecting both the inner and outer self goes back at least to the nation’s founders. As a youngster, George Washington studied 110 Rules for Civility and Decent Behavior that became a guide to his future conduct. The Rules included such practical advice as “Spit not in the Fire,” and “In the Presence of Others Sing not to yourself with a humming Noise, nor Drum with your Fingers or Feet,” essential tips for social decorum and worldly success. Biographer Willard Randall suggests that these homely proverbs, designed to create a gentleman, became more important to the future president that any official creed.

Think dieting is a recent fad? Thomas Jefferson reminded a granddaughter that “We never repent of having eaten too little.” That nostrum was included in “A dozen Canons of conduct in Life” that included other tips like “Never spend your money before you have it” and “Take things always by their smooth handle.” When angry, count to ten, the sage of Monticello reminded the little girl, or when very angry, count to a hundred. It’s not bad advice—but not otherworldly or intensely spiritual, either.

But Ben Franklin virtually invented the genre of self-improvement. In his autobiography, he relates how “I conceiv'd the bold and arduous project of arriving at moral perfection. I wish'd to live without committing any fault at any time; I would conquer all that either natural inclination, custom, or company might lead me into. As I knew, or thought I knew, what was right and wrong, I did not see why I might not always do the one and avoid the other.” He created a list of virtues he wished to acquire, from frugality and cleanliness to honesty and industry. Each week, he evaluated his own performance. Achieving perfection was a little more difficult than young Ben first imagined, however. He experienced particular shortcomings in the area of “Order.” Most objective historians would add that “Chastity” was never one of his personal strengths, either.

Our founders practiced a faith that focused on improving one’s own character, getting along with others, and enjoying the good things of life—not unworthy aspirations, if not strictly Christian, either.

What virtues do you want to cultivate in the New Year? What is your definition of success? Whatever resolutions you decide on, “Cleanse not your teeth with the tablecloth” remains a wise rule for ladies and gentlemen of the twenty-first century as it was for George Washington in the eighteenth.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Babka Replies to Frazer on Romans 13 and Interposition

Jim Babka has replied to Gregg Frazer's criticisms of his remarks on Calvinism, Romans 13 and Interposition. You can read it at Positive Liberty here.

The More Things Change The More They Stay The Same, Part II

I've blogged quite a bit how orthodox Trinitarian Christians (of the Protestant and Roman Catholic bent) tend to define Christianity as synonymous with orthodoxy. A lot has changed in America culturally and religiously since the Founding era. But this is not one of them. Here is the latest example from an article on WorldNetDaily entitled Focus on the Family website yanks Glenn Beck interview. From the article:

Focus on the Family, the evangelical organization founded by Dr. James Dobson, has removed from its website an interview with former CNN host Glenn Beck following complaints over the politically conservative TV personality's Mormon faith.

The original article about Beck's best-selling new book, "The Christmas Sweater," appeared on the ministry's CitizenLink website on Dec. 19, but three days later an article published on ChristianNewsWire criticized Focus for promoting a Mormon "as a Christian."

"While Glenn's social views are compatible with many Christian views, his beliefs in Mormonism are not," writes Steve McConkey of Underground Apologetics on ChristianNewsWire. "The CitizenLink story does not mention Beck's Mormon faith, however the story makes it look as if Beck is a Christian who believes in the essential doctrines of the faith."

FOF are using the test of orthodoxy to exclude Mormons from the concept of "Christianity."

Richard Price, who profoundly influenced the American Founding, and himself an Arian who believed Jesus a divine but created and subordinate being, discussed this dynamic during the Founding era. What follows is from his widely read address Observations on the Importance of the American Revolution, indeed an address that George Washington "read with much pleasure."

Price says a number of interesting things in the address. First, he identifies as a Christian and promotes Christianity:

When Christianity, that first and best of all the means of human improvement, was first preached it was charged with turning the world upside down.

But he also slams the Trinity and its inclusion as an essential doctrine which the clergy must read and to which the people must assent:

Perhaps nothing more shocking to reason and humanity ever made a part of a religious system than the damning clauses in the Athanasian creed and yet the obligation of the clergy to declare assent to this creed, and to read it as a part of the public devotion, remains.

Then in the context of arguing religious liberty and equality for all (not just "Christians"), Price asserts:

Montesquieu probably was not a Christian. Newton and Locke were not Trinitarians and therefore not Christians according to the commonly received ideas of Christianity. Would the United States, for this reason, deny such men, were they living, all places of trust and power among them?

Understanding this dynamic -- that Americans were divided over how properly to understand "Christianity" -- is essential for understanding the political theological problem of the American Founding. The Founders solved it by taking Trinitarian Christianity out of politics and replacing it with "religion" in general, or some more generic kind of "Christianity" that would include basically anything that terms itself "Christianity," without having to meet any kind of theological test. Hence are the Mormons Christian? Yes. Why? Because they call themselves Christian. That's what "Americanism" as the Founding Fathers delivered it to us is all about. That the Mormons didn't exist during the Founding is irrelevant to my point. Substitute for "Mormons" Arians, Socinians, theological Universalists, and the logic stands.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

New York Times on America's Religious Moderation

Continuing with the theme of "religious freethinking" among the American populace....

The New York Times article is entitled "Heaven for the Godless?" Here is a taste:

In June, the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life published a controversial survey in which 70 percent of Americans said that they believed religions other than theirs could lead to eternal life.

This threw evangelicals into a tizzy. After all, the Bible makes it clear that heaven is a velvet-roped V.I.P. area reserved for Christians. Jesus said so: “I am the way, the truth and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” But the survey suggested that Americans just weren’t buying that.

The evangelicals complained that people must not have understood the question. The respondents couldn’t actually believe what they were saying, could they?

So in August, Pew asked the question again. (They released the results last week.) Sixty-five percent of respondents said — again — that other religions could lead to eternal life. But this time, to clear up any confusion, Pew asked them to specify which religions. The respondents essentially said all of them.

And they didn’t stop there. Nearly half also thought that atheists could go to heaven — dragged there kicking and screaming, no doubt — and most thought that people with no religious faith also could go.

What on earth does this mean?

This is America's Founders religious vision in action.

America's "Unorthodox" Religion

In the post below, fellow blogger Jonathan Rowe aptly points out how religion in America -- both in the colonial era as today -- is not as orthodox as we might think. In addition to his comments, I would like to borrow from Pastor Robert Corwall's excellent blog. In a recent post, Pastor Cornwall posted an interesting survey, which demonstrates that most Americans are not nearly as orthodox as we might think. Cornwall writes:

An August Pew Forum poll, recently released, that reports that 65% of Americans believe that other religions are just fine as avenues to heaven. Indeed, atheists might be surprised to know that a majority think they'll be going to heaven as well.
In addition, the survey breaks down what specific segments of the population believe about the "saving powers" of other faiths.

The reason for my bringing this up here is because I am in agreement with the title -- and most of the content -- of Rowe's post below. Even though much has changed in America's religious landscape, there is still a great deal that remains the same. As Rowe points out, only an estimated 17% of the American population -- give or take a couple of points -- belonged to a particular church in Colonial America. And while these numbers are certainly influenced by other factors -- long distances to travel, illnesses, harvest season, etc. -- the numbers certainly do demonstrate the fact that religious affiliation was not nearly as cut-and-dry as we might think.

Historian Whitney Cross adds credence to this notion in his book, The Burned-over District, which, among other things, focuses on the influence of enthusiastic religion on the common citizen. As Cross points out:

The majority of churchgoers during the turn of the century found it supremely difficult to profess any one specific religion, and instead chose to attend a variety of different denominations without ever officially pledging their allegiance to one in particular (41).
This at least partially explains why so many religions of early America were so passionate in their revivals, demanding of the people's loyalty, and insistent in their assertions that their way was the ONLY way to God. Simply put, there were a lot of unaffiliated souls out there to be saved, and pastors faced a tremendous amount of competition in saving them.

And while I agree with my fellow blogger in his assertion that the majority of Christians today, and in colonial times "just didn't seem to care too much" about the particulars of their faith -- i.e. Transubstantiation, the Trinity, infallibility of the Bible, etc -- I do disagree on one important point: I do not see how the modern mainstream interpretation of Christianity is compatible with Jefferson's assertion that Unitarianism is "really the religion of all." While most Americans may rejects or simply ignore certain specifics of their faith, most still do maintain an allegiance to the broad doctrines of Christianity, which never seemed to sit well with Mr. Jefferson. To be certain, Jefferson was a passionate reader of the Bible. His dissection of the "Good Book," which he hoped would bring to light the "true" doctrines of Christ is a good example of Jefferson's devotion to seeking after religious truth. However, Jefferson's dissection of the Bible also helps to reveal many of his particular beliefs. For example, his removal of virtually all of Christ's miracles, including his resurrection, shows that Jefferson thought little of the notion that Christ was divine. This belief in Jesus as nothing more than a "really super awesome" philosopher would not jive with most Christians -- then and now -- who, despite their lack of knowledge of certain particulars, still revere Jesus as the divine Son of God.

So while most Americans (then and now) lack an understanding of the particulars of their respective faith(s), and while the majority of Americans (then and now) maintain a loose allegiance (or no allegiance) to a particular faith, the fact remains that the majority of Americans (then and now) still hold the BASIC doctrines of Christianity to be absolute truths. What would Jefferson have to say about this I wonder???

The More Things Change, the More They Stay the Same

I remember to have heard Dr. Priestley say, that if all England would candidly examine themselves, and confess, they would find that Unitarianism was really the religion of all;...

-- Thomas Jefferson to John Adams, August 22, 1813.

At American Creation we are glad to have on board the Rev. Gary Kowalski, minister to the First Unitarian Universalist Society of Burlington, Vermont and author of Revolutionary Spirits: The Enlightened Faith of America's Founding Fathers (BlueBridge 2008). In the comments to his first post he discusses Thomas Jefferson's prediction to Benjamin Waterhouse in 1822 "that there is not a young man now living in the United States who will not die an Unitarian." Rev. Kowalski notes Jefferson "was wrong, but what if he had been right?" Well, Jefferson was wrong in one respect: Not "everyone" is a Unitarian in America today or became one when he predicted they would. Also Jefferson might have meant officially "Unitarian" in Church membership (which ironically enough, Jefferson was not, even though he embraced the "unitarian" identity). Jefferson might have meant the Trinitarian Churches (like the Anglican/Episcopal one he was formally affiliated with) would officially adopt Unitarian doctrines, which they have not. The official Unitarian Churches never became dominant in America during the 19th Century and presently are fairly small.

However, in the sense that Jefferson speaks of Priestley asking Christian men to candidly examine what they really believe and discover it really is "unitarianism" after all, I think most self identified "Christians" of today might qualify as would perhaps a majority during the Founding era.

It's doubtful that a majority of the population during the American Founding were members of orthodox Trinitarian Churches, thought of themselves as "regenerate" or "born-again" and devoutly believed in orthodox Trinitarian doctrine. In "The Churching Of America, 1776-2005: Winners And Losers In Our Religious Economy," authors Roger Finke and Rodney Stark, carefully following census data, documented that only 17% of the American population belonged to a church and more folks were taverns on Saturday nights than in churches on Sunday mornings. This data have been disputed and lack of orthodox religiosity is not the only explanation for such low church membership. However the notion that the Christian America apologists spout that huge majorities were evangelical/born-again/orthodox Trinitarian Christians is wishful thinking with little support in the historical record.

The dominant creed of most of today's younger Americans was discussed in this article from the Christian Post by R. Albert Mohler, Jr. It dissected a survey of younger folks, and labeled their creed, "Moralistic Therapeutic Deism--the New American Religion." In reading the article, I noted nothing new about this creed, as it looked very similar to what America's Founders believed. Indeed, that this religion was termed a type of "Deism" -- a religion associated with the 18th Century -- contradicts its description as "new." And though the survey was of the young, I really didn't see it as differing too much from the nominal Christianity or deism of folks of all ages.

The article reports:

When Christian Smith and his fellow researchers with the National Study of Youth and Religion at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill took a close look at the religious beliefs held by American teenagers, they found that the faith held and described by most adolescents came down to something the researchers identified as "Moralistic Therapeutic Deism."

As described by Smith and his team, Moralistic Therapeutic Deism consists of beliefs like these: 1. "A god exists who created and ordered the world and watches over human life on earth." 2. "God wants people to be good, nice, and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and by most world religions." 3. "The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself." 4. "God does not need to be particularly involved in one's life except when God is needed to resolve a problem." 5. "Good people go to heaven when they die."

The more I think about it, the stronger I conclude that what's described above as "Moralistic Therapeutic Deism," the sub-silencio unitarianism that Jefferson/Priestley alluded to in the above quotation, is actually the dominant belief system of those (not just the "younger") who call themselves "Christians" both today and during the Founding era. Evangelicals especially should understand this as their own religion teaches true Christianity as a "narrow path"!

This struck me especially the other night when I was speaking to a family member by marriage, one whom I don't know too well, a smart, well educated businessman who does quite well for himself and his family and a lifelong member of the "Roman Catholic" club. We discussed my blogs, my interest in religion and our religious beliefs. He believed in God, the afterlife was open to the supernatural and called/thought of himself as a "Christian" and a "Roman Catholic." Yet, when I asked him specifically about the Trinity, eternal damnation, the infallibility of the Bible, and his Church's official teachings, he expressed skepticism, doubt, or disbelief. He seemed fairly socially libertarian on various lifestyle issues.

But the rub is that these people don't think of themselves as "deists," "unitarians," "theistic rationalists" or "heretics," certainly not "infidels!" They think of themselves as "Christians" in some sense. 80% of the American population today presently self define as Christians as did (one survey shows) 98% did during the Founding era.

It's true that Jefferson et al. had to keep their religion on the down low. Washington and Madison were so good at hiding their religious cards that they leave much room today for debating exactly what it was they believed.

I think the major difference between the Founding era and today was that the forces of "religious correctness" (the "orthodox") had a great deal more social and institutional power that forced heterodoxy on the down low. That they had the power to keep the masses in line and the heterodox elite on the down low doesn't necessarily mean they had a nation that was statically majority orthodox in its personal beliefs.

The elite philosophical class of the Founding era, (the "thinkers" like Jefferson, Adams, Paine, etc.) thought long and hard about these theological issues and rejected orthodoxy out of hand, sometimes bitterly so. The common man just didn't seem to care too much. That his minister preached orthodox doctrines in which he might not really believe (or fully understand) didn't much concern him. Author John Derbyshire once noted something along the lines of "the lazy Christian mind is reflexively 'deist.'" (See Michael and Jana Novak's "Washington's God," p. 160. The exact quote is theirs and paraphrases Derbyshire.)

Very few folks during the Founding era (at least openly) like Thomas Paine or Ethan Allen embraced a "non-Christian" form of Deism that rejected going to church, the Christian identity. These "non-Christian Deists" wanted nothing to do with the Christians' Jesus, Church or the Bible. Yet, many back then as today who were formally associated with a Christian Church and a Christian sect in an identificatory sense held to beliefs that the orthodox of today would term "Deism," "heresy," "infidelity" or something else (when trying to come up with the right labels the orthodox tend not to include "Christian" in the label. Hence Dr. Gregg Frazer's "theistic rationalism," or the term "Moralistic Therapeutic Deism" as discussed in the Christian Post). When asked to define the "Deism" that dominated the key Founders, Richard Brookhiser termed it something like "active-Christ form Deism," meaning these "Deists" 1) believed in an active Providence, and 2) at least somewhat regularly worshipped in Christian Churches.

Albert Mohler describes how to tell a "real Christian" from this "other" system:

They argue that this distortion of Christianity has taken root not only in the minds of individuals, but also "within the structures of at least some Christian organizations and institutions."

How can you tell? "The language, and therefore experience, of Trinity, holiness, sin, grace, justification, sanctification, church, . . . and heaven and hell appear, among most Christian teenagers in the United States at the very least, to be supplanted by the language of happiness, niceness, and an earned heavenly reward."

And indeed this exclusivist language of orthodoxy is conspicuously missing from the key Founding Fathers' God talk. They either, like Jefferson, J. Adams and Franklin explicitly rejected it, or like Washington, Madison, Wilson, G. Morris, and Hamilton totally ignored it but talked of God and sometimes "Christianity" along more generic lines. As Alexander Hamilton described his own version of this system (and keep in mind Hamilton wasn't even a member of a Church when he made this statement) in 1779 when describing what he looked for in a wife:

In politics I am indifferent what side she may be of. I think I have arguments that will easily convert her to mine. As to religion a moderate stock will satisfy me. She must believe in God and hate a saint.

But as to fortune, the larger stock of that the better. You know my temper and circumstances and will therefore pay special attention in the treaty. Though I run no risk of going to Purgatory for my avarice, yet as money is an essential ingredient to happiness in this world, as I have not much of my own, and as I am very little calculated to get more either by my address or industry, it must needs be that my wife, if I get one, bring at least a sufficiency to administer to her own extravagancies.

A religious "moderate" who believes in God but hates a saint. The language of "Trinity, holiness, sin, grace, justification, sanctification, church, . . . and heaven and hell" completely absent. I included some of his other thoughts from the letter for context. Hamilton was smart and realized he could convert his wife to his politics, but doesn't seem concerned with converting his wife from a generic "moderate" religion to "real Christianity." He seems more concerned that his wife have a fat pocketbook. He also mentioned something about "Purgatory." The theistic rationalists believed in a Protestant Purgatory where bad folks are temporarily punished, but eventually saved. The orthodox, with rare exception, believe in Hell period. The orthodox evangelicals who want to claim Hamilton as a "Christian" during this era certainly don't believe in "Purgatory."

All that said, the debate continues. Does this widely held, long believed in creed of those who profess to be "Christians" but rejects or ignores "experience, of Trinity, holiness, sin, grace, justification, sanctification, church, . . . and heaven and hell," qualify as "Christianity"? And if not, what then do we term it?

Friday, December 26, 2008

Obama's Unitarian Roots?

Barack Obama bid farewell to the grandmother who reared him in a memorial service last Tuesday at the First Unitarian Church in Honolulu. Madelyn Dunham and her husband Stanley had first discovered Unitarian Universalism on the West Coast, living in Washington State, where they attended the East Shore Unitarian Church in Bellevue.

Many early U.S. Presidents had Unitarian connections, like John Adams (who is buried at the Unitarian Church in Quincy, Massachusetts) and Thomas Jefferson (who told his nephew Peter Carr that he had to be a Unitarian by himself, since there were no organized congregations near Monticello). John Quincy Adams, Millard Fillmore and Howard Taft were card-carrying Unitarians. But since Adlai Stevenson ran for the White House in the 1950’s, no Unitarians have been near the Oval Office.

Honolulu’s Unitarian Church first came to national attention in 1969, when it offered political sanctuary to U.S. servicemen protesting the war in Vietnam.

President-elect Obama described his grandmother as "a trailblazer of sorts, the first woman vice-president of a local bank" in Honolulu. He called her Toots, short for tutu, the Hawaiian word for grannie.

Perhaps our new president owes some of his intellectual curiosity and willingness to entertain varying opinions to the liberal religious principles of tolerance and respect for diversity that infused his upbringing. If so, it wouldn’t be the first time that Unitarianism has had an impact on our nation’s history.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Merry Christmas/Happy Hanukkah!

To every single contributor, commentator, subscriber, and reader of American Creation, have a very Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, etc. Thanks for a great year! I look forward to many more in the future!

Merry Christmas from the Moon

Remembering the important things, as these men did, seems longer ago and even farther away with each passing year, and to some, even more silly. But Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah to all those here gathered anyway, and may we smile today, give thanks, and be inspired in the coming year to perpetuate their silliness...

It was on Christmas Eve 1968 that the astronauts of Apollo 8, Frank Borman, Jim Lovell, and Bill Anders, became the first of mankind to see an earthrise from the orbit of the moon, and looking back on us, they spoke these words:

Anders: "We are now approaching lunar sunrise. And, for all the people back on earth, the crew of Apollo 8 have a message that we would like to send to you...

"In the beginning, God created the Heaven and the Earth. And the Earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. And God said, Let there be light; and there was light. And God saw the light, that it was good; and God divided the light from the darkness."

Lovell: "And God called the light Day, and the darkness He called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day. And God said, Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters. And God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament; and it was so. And God called the firmament Heaven. And the evening and the morning were the second day."

Borman: "And God said, Let the waters under the Heaven be gathered together unto one place, and let the dry land appear; and it was so. And God called the dry land Earth; and the gathering together of the waters He called Seas: and God saw that it was good."

And from the crew of Apollo 8, we close with good night, good luck, a Merry Christmas, and God bless all of you, all of you on the good earth."

It is good. God bless us, every one.

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

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Frazer Responds to Van Dyke

Gregg Frazer emails me this response to Tom Van Dyke's criticisms of his commentary:

Mr. Van Dyke: you continue to find my term idiosyncratic and unhelpful -- I suppose I shall have to try to muddle on without your approval.

Re the "religious-political landscape" issue: if you read my dissertation, you'd see evidence that it was also the political theology of the patriotic preachers and other educated elites -- not just the few key Founders.

It might also interest you to know that I did not conveniently select the eight key Founders -- they were selected by my dissertation committee chair because they were primarily responsible for the two founding documents.

Once again, speaking of begging the question, the Founders themselves never spoke of the "imago Dei" -- at least I point to what THEY claimed were their influences and sources.

Re your explanation of why they did not mention Christian sources: let me get this straight -- they did not know that they lived in an atmosphere influenced by Christian concepts, so they cannot be expected to include them in a list of multiple influences/sources?

How convenient for you that counter evidence cannot dent your view. What is the point of this entire discussion if, when faced with counter evidence, you simply reply with circular logic? We're spinning our wheels if you're going to resort to self-evident truths which cannot be dislodged by facts.

As a point of fact, Jefferson's original draft (which we have) DID include "their Creator" and "nature's God." What the Congress added was "supreme judge of the world" and "divine providence" -- both "God-words" as well, with no specific Christian or biblical content.

The fact that the Congress added non-Christian, non-biblical "God-words" to the Declaration actually supports my contention that theistic rationalism was the prevailing political theology -- and not Christianity. If they were trying to create a Christian nation, why didn't they insert Christian language/terms? Furthermore, if Jefferson and Franklin were such outliers where religion was concerned, why were they chosen to write the philosophical document? Would James Dobson and David Barton ask Barry Lynn or Madalyn Murray O'Hair to write such a document?

Again, I do not claim that the prevailing political theology undergirding the Founding was that of only a few key Founders!! On the contrary, I claim that that PREVAILING political theology can be SEEN in the writings of a few key Founders -- including the two founding documents. It would hardly be a "prevailing" political theology if it only existed in the minds of eight men.

I accept your apology, of course. I was not personally offended; I just wanted clarity.

Frazer Responds To Our Founding Truth

Dr. Frazer emailed me this response to "Our Founding Truth's" criticism of his remarks:

To "Our Founding Truth":

Once again, you're attacking claims that I did NOT make. I did not say that theistic rationalism was "formed" as the "religion" of the states or the nation. I said it was the political theology UNDERGIRDING the Founding. A political theology is like a philosophy -- it's not voted on or ratified, it is the collection of beliefs and ideas behind actions taken.

Christianity cannot be seen in many more key Founders. It can be seen in some Founders -- and I've never denied that, but not the key Founders and not in many. If you'd actually read my work, you'd see evidence that many of the patriotic preachers who supported the Revolution were theistic rationalists, too. If you knew the history of Yale University, for example, you'd know that it was started because of complaints that the preachers coming out of Harvard were not Christians. Yale followed Harvard’s bad production very soon after its founding.

I agree with you that there are not many definitions of Christianity, in reality. Only one definition is correct -- God's definition, as I said in my initial foray into this discussion. However, there are many definitions put forward -- which is what this blog was discussing when I reentered the discussion and what I meant by the comment you criticized.

Again, if you read my work, you'd see exactly the creeds and confessions to which I refer. They are:
Westminster Creed (Presbyterians & Congregationalists)
Augsburg Confession (Lutherans & some Reformed churches)
Philadelphia Confession (Baptists)
Apostle's Creed, Nicene Creed, Athanasius' Creed, & 39 Articles (Anglicans/Episcopalians)

These churches represented the vast majority of churches in 18th century America. They all agreed on ten fundamental doctrines. If someone did not adhere to those doctrines, he/she was not a Christian by their standards. The theistic rationalists only believed one of the ten core doctrines.

Let me add that Frazer notes the key Founders did NOT believe in the creeds of those churches even though many were formally affiliated with them. (For instance Jefferson, Madison, Washington, G. Morris, Franklin, Wilson and others with the Anglican/Episcopal Church against whose official doctrines they rebelled when they revolted against England. This is important: The Anglican Church it its official doctrines DEMANDED obedience to England. Revolting against England meant revolting against the official doctrines of their Church and casts into doubt that they believed in said Church's official teachings found in its oaths, creeds and confessions. In short, that Washington et al. were formally members of the Anglican Club is a weak place to rest their "orthodox Christianity.") There is smoking gun evidence that Jefferson, J. Adams, and Franklin disbelieved in orthodox Trinitarian doctrines and very good reason to believe Madison, Washington, G. Morris, Wilson and Hamilton (until near death) disbelieved in them as well. Though the evidence is, admittedly, less absolute than it is with Jefferson, J. Adams and Franklin.

Personally I regard J. Adams as central because he was so politically conservative and mainstream for the time, indeed likely to be thought of as a "Christian" and has said things that sound far far more "Christian" than Madison, Washington, and Hamilton (until the very end) ever did. Yet, when it came time to explicating exactly what it was he believed, he was virtually agreed with Jefferson and Franklin on the basics. In short, if Adams could be a "theistic rationalist"/"unitarian"/"Christian-Deist" what have you, then so too could have Washington, Madison, Wilson, G. Morris, and Hamilton (until the very end) AND many others.

Frazer, Babka & Romans 13

Gregg Frazer has emailed me the following response to Jim Babka's remarks on Romans 13.

Let me begin with a clarification: I am not a “MacArthur disciple.” I am a disciple of Jesus Christ who is a congregant of MacArthur’s church. I disagree with MacArthur’s position on several significant issues. I agree with him concerning Romans 13 because I believe his position to be correct – not because it is his position.

My position regarding Romans 13 is described in the post as “strict literalist.” I am quite comfortable with the “literalist” label – I’m not sure what “strict” adds to it. I would submit that if you do not read a passage literally that clearly, in context, is meant to be read literally, then you’re not reading the passage. Romans 13:1-2 leaves no wiggle room for variant interpretation. It is very straightforward and universal in its language. THERE ARE PLENTY OF DIFFICULT, AMBIGUOUS PASSAGES of Scripture which admit varying interpretations, but ROMANS 13 IS NOT ONE OF THEM. There are passages meant to be read metaphorically or allegorically or mystically or as poetry, etc. – but Romans 13 is not one of them.

In the overall context, Paul spent 11 chapters establishing the Christian’s theological position – the meaning and substance of salvation. Then, in chapter 12, he began to address what that means on a daily, practical basis. He says that Christians must “be transformed by the renewing of [their] mind” – that they must think differently than non-Christians (Rom. 12:2). This begins five chapters explaining how Christians ought to live in light of their salvation – of which chapter 13 details the political implications. So, if Romans 13 doesn’t make intuitive sense to those whose minds have not been transformed and renewed, no one should be surprised. It also would not make much sense unless the reader understands God’s very strong commands concerning, and emphasis upon, authority of all kinds (in politics, in the church, in the workplace, in the home) throughout Scripture.

If one does not hold to the “strict literalist” interpretation of Romans 13, one is not interpreting Romans 13, but substituting one’s own version based on one’s own preferences. One is adding words to the text, bringing in outside material and arguments which are not present in the text.

“Let every person be in subjection to the governing authorities”: this is a universal, all-inclusive statement. Who is not included in “every person?” Where’s the wiggle room?

“For there is no authority except from God”: this is a universal, all-inclusive statement. To which authority does it not apply? Where is the wiggle room?

“and those which exist are established by God”: this is a universal, all-inclusive statement. The only authorities to which it does not apply are those which do not exist. Where is the wiggle room?

“Therefore, he who resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God”: how could it possibly be more clear? AND THIS WAS WRITTEN TO THOSE LIVING UNDER NERO!! If it does not apply to those living under a tyrant, then the entire passage is nonsensical and would have meant nothing to the people to whom it was written!

Those who (creatively) construct alternate “interpretations” of Romans 13 insert qualifiers where none exist and produce a different passage altogether. Theirs is not an interpretation, but a replacement. They should not refer to Romans 13 at all.

The church understood the implications and instruction of this passage for 15 centuries – and so did Luther and Calvin. It is ludicrous and even libelous to refer to any support for rebellion as “Calvinist.” Here’s what Calvin had to say about rebellion in Book IV of his Institutes, chapter 20 (paragraph numbers included):

23. "And make no mistake: it is impossible to resist the magistrate without also resisting God."

25. "But reflection on the Word of God will carry us beyond. For we are to be subject not only to the authority of those princes who do their duty towards us as they should, and uprightly, but to all of them, however they came by their office, even if the very last thing they do is to act like true princes."

"Those who govern for the public good are true examples and signs of his goodness; those who govern unjustly and intemperately have been raised up by him to punish the iniquity of the people. Both are equally furnished with that sacred majesty, with which he has endowed legitimate authority."

26. "... we must honor the worst tyrant in the office in which the Lord has seen fit to set him."

27. "If we keep firmly in mind that even the very worst kings are appointed by this same decree which establishes the authority of kings, then we will never permit ourselves the seditious idea that a king is to be treated according to his deserts, or that we need not obey a king who does not conduct himself towards us like a king."

29. "But if you go on to infer that only just governments are to be repaid by obedience, your reasoning is stupid."

31. "And even if the punishment of unbridled tyranny is the Lord=s vengeance, we are not to imagine that it is we ourselves who have been called upon to inflict it. All that has been assigned to us is to obey and suffer."

There have been those who called themselves Calvinists who devised support for rebellion – but it was not Calvin’s position at all. This is why the patriotic preachers argued in terms of “Mr. Locke’s doctrine” rather than Calvin’s.

As for the “interposition” argument, I presume that it refers to the so-called “lower magistrate loophole” – i.e. the idea that lower magistrates can lead the people in rebellion/revolution. Calvin said nothing of the kind, however. Calvin explained that if, within the system of government, there were “magistrates established to defend the people” and “to restrain the licentiousness of kings,” then they should act “in accordance with their duty” to restrain “the licentiousness and frenzy of kings.” So that he would not be misinterpreted, Calvin gave historical examples of officials who were part of their respective governmental systems (ephors in Sparta; tribunes in Rome; demarchs in Athens) and were expressly given the authority to restrain rulers within the system. He never used any form of the word “rebel” or “revolt” – their actions were legal and a recognized part of the system of government – akin to the power of Congress to impeach and remove the American president.

This interposition notion is a clever, but very recent, invention. To my knowledge, no one in the American Founding era mentioned such an idea or made a case for the American Revolution based upon it. [if anyone did, I’d be very interested in the info] Jonathan Mayhew and Samuel West created their own replacement for Romans 13, but they did not bother with the lower magistrate idea. They simply declared that the people themselves can rebel and that it is a good thing.

While many in the revolutionary period were fond of making comparisons between the American Revolution and the exodus of Israel, it is important to note that the Israelites did not rebel against Pharaoh and throw off his rule. Rather, they took no action (God brought the plagues) and then they simply obeyed Pharaoh’s command to leave Egypt (Exodus 12:31).

In the post, there was also a mention of concern for political liberty in the Bible. Since the passages generally used speak only of spiritual liberty (freedom from the bonds of sin), I would be curious to hear what the author of the post had in mind. One of the most prominent loyalist preachers, Jonathan Boucher, made the observation that there is not a single passage in the Bible in support of political liberty.

The Bible mentions some form of the words “rebel” or “revolt” more than 100 times – and all in the negative. In most cases, the condemnation could hardly be stronger (e.g. I Samuel 15:23).

Finally, to say that no governing authority may be resisted (rebelled against) is not to say that no governing authority may be disobeyed under one certain circumstance. Scripture is clear (Acts 4:19-20 & 5:29) that individual commands which require disobedience to God must be disobeyed – but we must still remain in subjection (that is, we still recognize the government’s authority), which usually means taking the punishment (as per the examples of Daniel, Shadrach, Meschach, and Abednego, and the apostles themselves). Resistance denies and strikes at the principle of authority; disobedience in pursuit of obedience to God is directed at a specific command/law and does not challenge the legitimacy of the authority behind it. The earthly authority’s command is “trumped” by a higher authority’s command – but the earthly authority does not forfeit its legitimacy. [just as a state law cannot violate a national law, but a state government does not lose its legitimacy and authority by passing such a law]


Monday, December 22, 2008

Frazer's Most Recent Response

Dr. Gregg Frazer has responded to the latest feedback to his thoughts generated in this comment section at American Creation. His response follows:

Mr. Van Dyke: I would ask you to at least be fair in your criticisms of my views and intellectually honest by criticizing arguments/claims that I actually make and not attributing claims to me that I do not make.

I do NOT claim "that the religious-political landscape of the Founding can be reduced to [the often private] thoughts of a half-dozen or so "key" Founders." I claim that the prevailing political theology undergirding the Founding was theistic rationalism and that it can be seen in the beliefs of a few key Founders and those of a large number of ministers in the churches of the period -- and in the Founding documents.

THERE IS MUCH MORE TO THE "RELIGIOUS AND POLITICAL LANDSCAPE" THAN THAT -- WHICH I HAVE AFFIRMED ON NUMEROUS OCCASIONS -- INCLUDING THE POST TO WHICH YOU WERE RESPONDING. I recognize that there were a great number of religious sects in 18th century America, and representatives from many of them who played roles in the Founding.

If there is any "reductionism" going on here, it is ascribing the label of "Christian" too broadly.

Secondly, regarding your statement that "Dr. Frazer confesses he is appropriating the definition and understanding of 'Christian' to his own purposes as a self-proclaimed evangelical": I MADE NO SUCH CONFESSION! Quite the contrary, what I actually said (readers can go back and see) is that there are numerous definitions of the term "Christian" and that, for the purposes of understanding the period, I confined my work to the definition held by American Christians in the 18th century as put forward in their creeds and confessions. I noted that I have my own definition and that historians have several definitions and so on, but I did not use my own. I said that I agree with the 10 elements, but my own definition may include other elements as well -- as one could see in the definition I gave as my own. I hardly claimed to be "appropriating" the definition to my own purposes as an evangelical -- exactly the opposite!

You then made this accusation: "He casts everything outside it [definition of Christian] in his own idiosyncratic term of 'theistic rationalist,' which I regard as nonsense because of its limited scope." First, I explicitly do NOT cast "everything outside it" as theistic rationalism. I recognize deism, Judaism, atheism, Buddhism, Quakerism, and many other "isms" aside from the definition or my own "idiosyncratic" term. [it strikes me that most terms were considered idiosyncratic before being widely accepted] Second, if my term is so "limited" in scope, how could you make such a claim?

As to my term's "vagueness," I re-entered this discussion to try to clarify what "Christianity" is and how it should be dealt with by historians. "You guys" were in the midst of an ongoing argument over that term which has been raging for 2000 years. If my term is "vague," what do you say of the term "Christianity?" Of course, properly applied, it means something specific -- but so does my term. The fact that people can wrongly employ it or play games to try and manipulate it or willfully refuse to understand it doesn't change that fact.

Now, to the "smoking gun":

First, we're not talking here about the Declaration -- which is the only one of the two documents which mentions God -- Madison's commentary concerns the Constitution. Besides, the Declaration was never ratified, so there is no ratifier perspective.

Second, Madison's opinion is just that: Madison's opinion. IT IS VERY IMPORTANT, but it is not the sole authority or determinative -- it is an IMPORTANT contribution to the discussion, of course. If you consider Madison's opinion to be determinative and the end of discussion, then I would point out to you that Madison refused, when asked, to affirm Jasper Adams' contention that Christianity was the foundation of American civil, legal, and political institutions. So, apparently, the larger argument is over and we all at least agree that Christianity was not the basis (whether or not theistic rationalism is "nonsense").

Third, if one reads the context in which the Madison quote is found, one sees that his concern was for the primacy of the LANGUAGE of the Constitution. He was arguing for "THE SENSE IN WHICH the Constitution was accepted and ratified" and against reading it in light of "the changeable meaning of the words" -- against changes in "living languages" and against preferring the "modern sense" to the sense at the time of ratification. The language was not DETERMINED by the ratifiers.

Now, again, it is up to OFT to demonstrate that the "sense" of the words of the Constitution understood by the majority was somehow different than the sense understood by those who framed it. It seems highly unlikely that Madison would promote a sense different from his own – so he must have thought that the ratifiers shared his view.

The Madison quote has no relevance to the Declaration language debate, however. [And, if OFT says Jefferson's commentary on the Constitution is irrelevant, then Madison's commentary on the Declaration is similarly irrelevant.] Oh, wait, OFT decided at the end that Jefferson's commentary on the Constitution WAS relevant after all, because he thought he found a quote supporting his view.

I was shocked to find that OFT, who claims (if I remember correctly -- I apologize, if not) to be a Christian and concerned with what the Bible has to say, is a deconstructionist! He says that authorial intent "means nothing" -- is that how you approach Scripture? This is the root of the "living Constitution" nonsense and of the modern liberal assault on the Bible. The notion that what the author meant in what he wrote is irrelevant and that the author is "not responsible for the content" because we don't like what he intended is a view that I'm very surprised to see OFT ascribe to.

It also seems silly to me to suggest that the principles were "borrowed from Christian Church Fathers, and Christian Philosophers, mostly from the Protestant Reformation, taken from the Bible" when no one mentioned any of those sources at the Constitutional Convention or in the Federalist Papers. As for the Declaration, Jefferson told us the sources for its principles -- and he didn't mention any of these, either. He DID mention "Aristotle, Cicero, Locke, Sidney, &c," but according to OFT, Jefferson didn't know what his sources were. Apparently, he was divinely inspired and it "came out of the Bible through the Reformers."

As per my argument on Jefferson's intention (which I maintain IS important), OFT sees Reformation principles, the secularist sees deist principles, the Jew sees Judaic principles, etc. Jefferson's intent has been realized beyond his wildest hopes.

OFT asks whether I think some notions are "of man." I did not say that they were -- I said that THEY (the Founders) identified philosophical and historical sources for them.

Restrictions on who could serve in government were STATE restrictions which applied only at the STATE level. Article VI of the Constitution expressly forbade religious tests for national office.

OFT says "the people pass laws." No, that would be a democracy. The U.S. is a republic in which the people's REPRESENTATIVES pass laws (and write public documents).

II Corinthians 3:3 has NOTHING to do with natural law. It simply says that the quality of the lives of the people to whom Paul ministered were his letter of commendation -- the affirmation of his ministry.

Romans 2:14-15 refers to God's moral law, not some "law of nature." I challenge OFT or Mr. Van Dyke to find "law of nature" or "Nature's God" in a concordance of the Bible -- you won't find either term because they're not biblical terms. The fact that Aquinas (with whom OFT probably has very little in common) or Calvin believed in a similar concept does not make it biblical or Christian.

Likewise, the fact that someone held a similar view centuries before does not make that view the source of a particular idea or principle. Plato and Confucius held some views similar to those of Jesus and the Apostle Paul -- does that make Plato and Confucius "sources" of Christianity? Of course not. One must show connection -- usually an affirmation from a writer that X or Y was a source. [As Jefferson did concerning the Declaration's principles, by the way -- he was under the apparently false impression that he knew from whence he got his ideas]


Rowe: Let me add that Dr. Frazer above asserts that the Declaration was not ratified which is, in the context that he uses the term "ratified," correct. Unlike the US Constitution, the Declaration was NOT ratified by state ratifying conventions. The Continental Congress on 4 July, 1776 approved, that is voted in favor of the Declaration of Independence. And some sources (websites) use the specific term "ratified." But the DOI was NOT ratified in the same sense that the US Constitution was by state ratifying conventions.

The Declaration of Independence and Interposition

My Positive Liberty co-blogger Jim Babka has encouraged me to explore further the Calvinist doctrine of "interposition" and the claim of right to revolt based on the Declaration of Independence. Here's how I understand the issue:

What the American Founders did DOESN’T at all fit with Calvin's understanding of Romans 13 or of interposition. However, there were some later Calvinists, Samuel Rutherford most notably, who enlarged Calvin's position on interposition as something close to but still not exactly what America's Founders later argued in principle and did in fact. Think of what Rutherford et al. argued in this sense as "living Calvinism." Systems of thought “live” and “evolve” much like the common law did. On my radio appearance with Jim and Herb Titus, Herb mentioned how Calvin/Calvinism, "planted a seed" that later bore its fruition in the American Revolution/Founding. I noted this could be true, but the idea of "planting a seed" was dangerous or contentious for those who want to argue their case from the right ("original intent"/"strict construction" or what have you).

Though I didn't have time to explain exactly what I meant in detail. I will here:

Sometimes ideas "grow" in ways that the Founders of such ideas would have neither expected nor supported. I noted, accurately, the Founding Fathers as "living Lockeans" in this sense. Jefferson's Virginia Statute on Religious Freedom and Madison's Memorial and Remonstrance were quintessentially Lockean documents. Yet, Locke was clear that neither Roman Catholics nor atheists "fit" into his vision of religious toleration. Jefferson and Madison on the other hand explicitly argued that religious rights belong to ALL. They were aware that they were extending Locke's ideas further than he personally planned. As Jefferson noted: "Where he [Locke] stopped short, we may go on."

So indeed the whole idea of "planting a seed" and seeing where ideas grow arguably could justify what some might term the "living Constitution" or at the very least results that contradict the Founders' intention of how the ideas were to be applied. Various scholars [many of whom quite conservative] blame the phenomenon of "the living Constitution" on the fact that America is broadly founded on ideals of liberty and equality and that America's founding courts inherited a judicial system where judges had long "made up the law" in their roles as common law deciders of cases and controversies.

Why Calvin would have been a Tory and Thought the American Revolution a Sin

What America's Founders did in declaring revolt was AGAINST what Calvin himself posited: Calvin's original Institutes Of The Christian Religion, Book Four, Chapter 20 can be found here. Calvin makes clear he thought that one must ALWAYS submit to government no matter who they are, or how tyrannical. There IS no right to revolt against tyranny. Dr. Gregg Frazer of The Masters College summed up his research on Calvin's original writings for the following article at WorldNetDaily. I am going to quote Frazer offering proof quotations that not only properly understand the context of Calvin's writings, but that cannot be "explained away" by "context" either:

Calvin said: "We are to be subject not only to the authority of those princes who do their duty towards us as they should, and uprightly, but to all of them, however they came by their office,even if the very last thing they do is act like [true] princes." And "we must honour [even] the worst tyrant in the office in which the Lord has seen fit to set him" and "if you go on to infer that only just governments are to be repaid by obedience, your reasoning is stupid." He warned, "Make no mistake: it is impossible to resist the magistrate without also resisting God." One more from Calvin: "And even if the punishment of unbridled tyranny is the Lord's vengeance [on tyrants], we are not to imagine that it is we ourselves who have been called upon to inflict it. All that has been assigned to us is to obey and suffer."...(Book IV, Chapter 20 of Calvin's "Institutes of the Christian Religion")

Frazer's Understanding of Calvin's Notion of Interposition

John Calvin does allow for a "lesser magistrate exception." Let's look at the original text (please forgive me if this translation of Calvin is slightly different than the one Frazer was citing; I don't know where to find that one online; ultimately I don't believe the translation affects the meaning):

For when popular magistrates have been appointed to curb the tyranny of kings, (as the Ephori, who were opposed to kings among the Spartans, or Tribunes of the people to consuls among the Romans, or Demarchs to the senate among the Athenians; and, perhaps, there is something similar to this in the power exercised in each kingdom by the three orders, when they hold their primary diets.) So far am I from forbidding these officially to check the undue license of kings, that if they connive at kings when they tyrannise and insult over the humbler of the people, I affirm that their dissimulation is not free from nefarious perfidy, because they fraudulently betray the liberty of the people, while knowing that, by the ordinance of God, they are its appointed guardians.

Frazer's comments from his PhD thesis:

So that he would not be misinterpreted, Calvin gave historical examples of officials who were part of their respective governmental systems and were expressly given authority to restrain rulers. He never uses any form of the word "rebel" or "revolt," however. Their actions were legal and a recognized part of the system of government -- akin to the power of the Congress to impeach and remove the American president. pp. 360-61.

In other words, the authority to resist the King MUST preexist in the governing positive law. Now, one could indeed make a case that what the American Founders DID was in accord with existing English positive law. And they acted as "intermediate magistrates." (It's a bit of a stretch, but one COULD, I think, make this case).

However, that's what they DID, not what they SAID. What they SAID is in the Declaration of Independence. Let's, again, look at the governing text:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

Now this has absolutely nothing to do with what John Calvin wrote in his Institutes of the Christian Religion regarding "interposition." Indeed, this is a clarion call for rebellion or revolt if governments don't meet certain "ends." This rhetoric cares nothing about the existing positive law or the status of the "resisters" as constitutional magistrates. If the existing positive law doesn't meet the natural ends of government, the theory goes, "the people" may "alter or to abolish it,..." In other words, they may revolt.

And when it came to discovering those "natural ends" of government, the Declaration does not turn to the Bible or John Calvin but "self evident" Truths discovered in "nature" or from "man's reason." Some have argued that "the laws of nature and nature's God" really refer to what's written in the Bible. But I don't see ANYWHERE in the Bible (other than that which might be derived from a sophistical reading of the good book) that clearly teaches: are...endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it,...

So when it came to "discovering" those "unalienable rights" in "nature" chiefly from "man's reason," the Founders turned to John Locke's doctrines as a proxy. And Locke never cited Calvin OR the subsequent Calvinists like Rutherford or interposition. And though Locke (a secret unitarian) claimed to be a Christian, believed Jesus the "Messiah," and often cited the Bible, his groundbreaking notions of "state of nature" and "unalienable rights" were still not at all biblical [that is found within the Bible's text] or even part of the classical Aristotelian understanding of politics. Rather, they were something modern.

Finally, regarding the preachers and pulpits who argued on behalf of revolt. You can read them here in Ellis Sandoz's Founding era collection of sermons. Sandoz's collection is not exhaustive. And the contents are not monolithic. But, overall, (especially when one concentrates on 1750 onwards) Locke, not Calvin, not Rutherford or any other Calvinist DOMINATES the pro-revolt sermons. And even when they read the Bible, they do so through a Lockean lens that takes Locke's a-biblical ideas that God grants men inalienable rights to life, political liberty, property, equality and "happiness" as "self-evident" givens, discoverable in "nature" -- without the assistance of the Bible. And those a-biblical "discoveries" from natural reason are given at LEAST the very same "Truth" status as that which is revealed in the Bible.

And also note, it's not just unitarians who elevated the discoveries of man's unaided reason in nature to the same level as scripture. It was also orthodox Trinitarians who did this, for instance, John Witherspoon, whom many folks are surprised to learn was a Locke imbibed philosophical rationalist.