Saturday, February 7, 2009

Brooke Allen Endorses Term "Theistic Rationalist"

Brooke Allen, author of Moral Minority, a book on the religious beliefs of the key Founding Fathers responds to the conversation between Joseph Ellis and the Novaks on the Founders & Religion on the Encyclopedia Britannica blog. In responding to Ellis' first post, she writes:

The Founders that I concentrated on in my book, Moral Minority: Our Skeptical Founding Fathers were the six I considered the most famous and influential: Franklin, Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Madison, and Hamilton. Like one of the respondents to Mr. Ellis’s first blog, it seems to me though while Mr. Ellis calls “diversity” the “dominant pattern” of these men’s beliefs, they actually had a great deal in common, all being what the blogger correctly calls “theistic rationalists.” None of these men, with the exception of Hamilton towards the end of his life, could strictly be called a Christian.

While I don’t see Washington as a pantheist, I think Mr. Ellis’s categorization of him as a Stoic is a good one; some of his contemporaries (as one can read in the letters of John Adams and Benjamin Rush) agreed with this description. To argue, as the Novaks do, that Washington’s use of 102 different names for the Deity is evidence of his adherence to Christianity is a fallacy; in fact, this practice indicates that he was a Deist rather than a Christian. When he made public pronouncements, he used vague and general names like this, without specific Christian connotations, so as to include all Americans, including Jews, Muslims, and American Indians. (One of the names the Novaks do not cite is “Great Spirit,” to which Washington assured his Native American listeners that he, like them, prayed.)

I am, of course, the blogger to whom she refers. Glad to see her endorse the term "theistic rationalist."


Tom Van Dyke said...
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Tom Van Dyke said...

Perhaps Ms. Allen hasn't seen the arguments about the inadequacy of the term that are often offered on this blog. She should stop by here now and then, and is cordially invited.

René Descartes was the father of "rationalism," was a theist [a belief in a "personal" God], yet still remained a devout Catholic.

If a devout Roman Catholic can be a theistic rationalist and so can Thomas Jefferson, there might be a flaw in the term.

For the record, I've seen and commented on Brooke Allen's disagreement with Michael & Jana Novak's book "Washington's God." I dig Michael Novak, but think the Novaks make a bridge far-too-far on Washington as anything resembling an orthodox Christian: the proof isn't there and I'm sympathetic to him being most influenced by stoicism.

However, the Founders' favorite, Cicero, a stunningly wise man, lost in time and space, a republican murdered by the caesarists, wasn't an "orthodox" Stoic!

Terms dissolve, only attempts at understanding remain: Reductionism is the enemy of truth. Mankind---man---is much more interesting than academia makes it.