Monday, February 9, 2009

Conyers Middleton, Progenitor of Theistic Rationalism

Conyers Middleton is one of the "divines" Dr. Gregg Frazer names in his PhD thesis as influencing the theology of the key Founders. As Thomas Jefferson wrote to John Adams, August 22, 1813:

You are right in supposing, in one of yours, that I had not read much of Priestley’s Predestination, his no-soul system, or his controversy with Horsley. But I have read his Corruptions of Christianity, and Early Opinions of Jesus, over and over again; and I rest on them, and on Middleton’s writings, especially his letters from Rome, and to Waterland, as the basis of my own faith. These writings have never been answered, nor can be answered by quoting historical proofs, as they have done. For these facts, therefore, I cling to their learning, so much superior to my own.


Middleton was an English clergyman. Like Jefferson and Adams he (obviously) considered himself a Christian. I don't know of his views on the Trinity (he was certainly greatly admired by many unitarians). What was special about Middleton was his "rationalism." He defended Christianity against deistic thinkers; however he did so while arguing the case of an errant, fallible Bible, one in which man's reason could determine the legitimate parts. The "orthodox" didn't care for Middleton's defense of Christianity. Men like Middleton, Priestley, Jefferson, Adams, probably felt comfortable with a label like "Christian rationalist" (they did use the term "rational Christianity"). But whether this theological system merits the label "Christian" is a matter of debate. It is NOT "Christianity" as the "orthodox" understand the term. The "orthodox" view this system not as "Christian" rationalism but "theistic" or "unitarian" rationalism.

A persistant reader and critic of my work at American Creation pointed to J. Adams' original writings that also endorse the work of Middleton. He researched Adams' quotation where he denied the infallibility of the Bible:

What suspicions of interpolation, and indeed fabrication, might not be confuted if we had the originals! In an age or in ages when fraud, forgery, and perjury were considered as lawful means of propagating truth by philosophers, legislators, and theologians, what may not be suspected?

– John Adams, marginal note in John Disney’s Memoirs (1785) of Arthur Sykes. Haraszti, Prophets of Progress, 296. Taken from James H. Hutson, The Founders on Religion, p. 26.


That's how the footnote looks in James Hutson's excellent quote book. However, in reading the original "Prophets of Progress" in context, it's likely that the 1785 refers to the date of John Disney's Memoirs; Adams' comment was likely done later.

Page 290 of "Prophets of Progress" describes the context of Adams' inquiry:

In all likelihood, it was Jefferson's admiration for Conyers Middleton that prompted Adams to make a thorough study of the latter's works, which in turn led him to John Disney's biography of Arthur Sykes, Middleton's inveterate antagonist. Had he read only these two writers, he would already have gained sufficient insight into the theological disputes of the period the half-century extending from Locke to Hume in which the battles between the Low Church and High Church parties were fought out, with the skirmish over Deism thrown in for good measure.


The following passage from "Prophets of Progress" well illustrates the middle ground both Adams and Middleton took that could be at once critical of both orthodoxy Christianity and strict deism:

Matthew Tindal, the Oxford freethinker, had published his Christianity as Old as the Creation, declaring that revelation is superfluous because the religion of nature is perfect in itself. The book drew forth some thirty answers, among them one by Daniel Waterland, vice-chancellor of Cambridge University. Middleton stepped into the controversy with his Letter to Dr. Waterland, showing how Tindal should have been answered. 29 The Letter, of course, made the fray even more violent, starting a separate tussle with Zachary Pearce, the future Bishop of Rochester. Adams seemed satisfied with Middleton's position. The latter charges that Waterland, instead of vindicating the Scriptures, had himself furnished matter for new scandal. [p. 291.]


As theistic rationalists both Middleton and Adams believed both reason and revelation were necessary. As "Prophets of Progress" continues:

Middleton accuses Tindal of attempting to abolish Christianity and set up reason as a national religion. ("Abolish Christianity! Set up reason!" Adams snapped: "The authority of reason is not stern enough to keep rebellious appetites and passions in subjection.") Tindal, Middleton contends, betrayed his ignorance of antiquity by magnifying the moderation of pagan governments. "Deistical cant," Adams reinforced him, adding, "Atheists are the most cruel persecutors.") The intolerance of this "rational Protestant," Middleton jeers, is even worse than Romish popery. ("Deistical popery," Adams chimed in.) [Ibid.]


But still, as theistic rationlists, Adams and Middleton believed reason nonetheless trumped revelation. As Adams put it, reacting to John Disney's thoughts:

D[isney]: The union of all Christians is anticipated, as it has been demonstrated to be the doctrine of Christ, his apostles and evangelists, as also of Moses and the prophets. Nor is it less the language of the religion of nature than of revelation . . .

A[dams]: The human understanding is the first revelation from its maker. From God; from Heaven. Can prophecies, can miracles repeal, annul or contradict that original revelation? Can God himself prove that three are one and one three? The supposition is destructive of the foundation of all human knowledge, and of all distinction between truth and falsehood. [Ibid, p. 297-98.]


This perfectly typifies the "theistic rationalism," key to Founding thought: Reason & revelation were both necessary. Though "nature" discovered by "reason" was the first revelation God gave to man. NOTHING in revelation could contradict the findings of man's reason. Revelation's role was secondary, to support man's reason. Accordingly, reason proves God is unitary not triune in nature. And NOTHING in revelation could be taken seriously to contradict this immutable finding of man's reason. Either interpret revelation to accord with the findings of man's reason, or discard any revelation that doesn't accord with reason as false or corrupted.

Conyers Middleton believed in something similar, in fact, laid the intellectual groundwork for Jefferson and J. Adams to reach such conclusions. The following passage in "Prophets of Progress" sheds light:

Himself accused of atheism, Middleton was threatened with expulsion from Cambridge, where he was Librarian. He composed five or six more essays of similar nature, but wisely decided to keep them in his desk. They were first published in his Works, in 1752, two years after his death. [Ibid, p. 291.]


Middleton's most famous claim was his rejection of all miracles not recorded in scripture, i.e., those claimed by the early Church and subsequent Roman Catholic Church. On miracles, Middleton asserted "the credibility of facts lies open to the trial of our reason and senses." Middleton did not believe "irrational" revelation could come from God. He noted "if any narration can be shown to be false, any doctrine irrational or immoral; 'tis not all the external evidence in the world that can or ought to convince us, that such a doftrine comes from God." He rejected "that every single passage of the Scriptures, we call Canonical, must needs be received as the very word and as the voice of God himself."

Reason, of course, determined which parts of the errant Bible were vaid. The following text, written in 1906 on the history of English rationalism well describes Middleton's rationalist thought:

A volume of essays published after his death showed that Middleton was prepared to criticise the Apostles and Evangelists as fearlessly as he had criticised the Fathers. Peter and Paul were both capable on occasions of dissembling their dearest convictions. The Gospels exhibit irreconcilable discrepancies, proving their authors to have been uninspired and fallible, though honest historians. The gift of tongues did not imply a permanent mastery of foreign languages, and the New Testament is written in very bad Greek. More than a century was to elapse before an English clergyman could again express such opinions with impunity.


This premise of a fallible, partially inspired Bible that must submit to the test of reason "paved the way for a theistic rationalist [Thomas Jefferson] with a pair of scissors to determine for himself what portions of the Bible were legitimately from God...." [Gregg Frazer, PhD thesis, p. 250.]

26 comments:

Our Founding Truth said...

Jon:Men like Middleton, Priestley, Jefferson, Adams, probably felt comfortable with a label like "Christian rationalist" (they did use the term "rational Christianity").

The word rational does not refer to rejecting the supernatural, but someone who is not rational:

Webster's 1828
RA''TIONAL, a. [L. rationalis.]

1. Having reason or the faculty of reasoning; endowed with reason; opposed to irrational; as, man is a rational being; brutes are not rational animals.

Middleton, Priestley, Jefferson or Adams were not rationalists. Adams not only believed in the miracles of Jesus and the Apostles:

"The great and almighty Author of nature, who at first established those rules which regulate the World, can as easily Suspend those Laws whenever his providence sees sufficient reason for such suspension. This can be no objection, then, to the miracles of J [Jesus] C [Christ]."

-John Adams. Diary, 1 MARCH. 1756.

John Adams also believed in demon possession by Satan and his minions, showing he believed in all the miracles of the Bible; that of good and evil:

"Returned and din'd at Cranch's after dinnerwalked to Witchcraft Hill --An Hill about 1/2 Mile from Cranches where the famous Persons formerly executed for Witches were buried. Somebody within a few Years has planted a Number of Locust Trees over the Graves, as a Memorial of that memorable Victory over the Prince of the Power of the Air."

-Adams Diary, THURDSDAY AUG. [7 or 14] 1766.

Adams believed in the supernatural; what he did deny was the Deity of Jesus Christ, His Vicarious Atonement, and the Trinity of God. Where are the quotes prior to his retirement affirming fallibility of the Bible?

As stated several times earlier, what John Adams believed after he retired is irrelevant to this discussion.

John Adams rejected reason as superior to revelation, for he mocked a rationalist (Ben Franklin), which wasn't a mistake. Adams had known what Franklin believed for years:

"Adams, who knew Franklin well" p.4Brooke Allen, Moral Minority: Our Skeptical Founding Fathers.

"All Religions are tolerated in America, said M.M., and the Ambassadors have in all Courts a Right to a Chappell in their own Way. But Mr. Franklin never had any. -- No said I, laughing, because Mr. F. had no -- I was going to say, what I did not say, and will not say here. I stopped
short and laughed. -- No, said Mr. M., Mr. F[ranklin]. adores only great Nature, which has interested a great many People of both Sexes in his favour. -- Yes, said I, laughing, all the Atheists, Deists and Libertines, as well as the Philosophers and Ladies are in his Train -another Voltaire and Hume. [bold face mine]

-John Adams, 1779. JUNE 23 Diary

Adams knew Franklin believed reason (nature) superior to revelation, and laughed at him, proving he wasn't apart of Franklin's belief system.

Jon:He [Middleton] noted "if any narration can be shown to be false, any doctrine irrational or immoral; 'tis not all the external evidence in the world that can or ought to convince us, that such a doftrine comes from God."

Middleton rejected inerrancy, but believed in miracles, showing he wasn't a rationalist. Middleton rejected what he thought was the irrational parts, such as the tower of babel, but affirmed the miraculous:

"In the first Part, which contains a short Abstract or general Character of his Actions, we find not the least hint of any Miracle or the immediate Interposition of God; we are not told, how the People must have been cut in pieces, when overtaken by Pbaroah at the Red Sea; had not God miraculously opened a Passage for them thro' the midst of it: how they must have perimed for want of Water; had not God for their Refreshment made it to flow out of a Rock : how they must have starved for want of Food in the Desert; had not God in a wonderful manner sent it down to them from Heaven: but the saving of them thro' all these Difficulties, thro' want of Water, want of Food, is here solely imputed to the Care and CondutSt of Moses, and wholly turned to his particular Praise; till we come to the place you chiefly infill on; viz. that Moses with such laudable Designs" [bold face mine]

-Works of Conyers, p. 98.

In the above passage, Middleton is attacking Dr. Waterland for claiming Moses took credit for those miracles.

The term "theistic rationalist" is thus a by-word, a made-up definition with not one founding father, Christian philosopher, or divine, as its adherent.

Jonathan Rowe said...

The problem with everything you write OFT is that you don't understand the logical fallacies even as you make them.

It is a non-sequitur to assert, as you do, if you affirm the supernatural or miracles you cannot be a "rationalist" who believes man's reason trumps revelation. That's exactly what Adams, Jefferson, Priestley, Middleton, Franklin etc. were. Though they differed on the degree of the "miraculous" their reason would accept, they nonetheless agreed that all truth, including revelation & miracles must sumbit to the test of reason, God's first revelation to man.

Everything Adams wrote in the mid 18t Century is compatible with his after retirement quotations in the 19th Century.

Pinky said...

.
Just think how all this energy could be spent on extending inquiries into the developing creation of what America is becoming.
.
Or are we being led to believe there was something perfect about the War for Independence era and that we have to go back there and rededicate ourselves to the apotheosis of George Washington?
.
No one is ever going to change OFT's mind. He is stuck--period.

Our Founding Truth said...

Jon:It is a non-sequitur to assert, as you do, if you affirm the supernatural or miracles you cannot be a "rationalist" who believes man's reason trumps revelation.

There's a flip-side to that coin, which is: a miracle can meet the test of reason. No matter how hard you want that to be, it is illogical, and no one believed it.

For any of those quotes, Adams was not in a courtroom trying to win a case, or a debate. Adams was not intending to deceive.

As everyone can see, Adams is not rejecting the supernatural; he is rejecting the Trinity only:

"So Disney makes a strong plea for his own Unitarianisin:

D.: The union of all Christians is anticipated, as it has been demon-
strated to be the doctrine of Christ, his apostles and evangelists, as also of Moses and the prophets. Nor is it less the language of the religion of
nature than of revelation . . .

A.: The human understanding is the first revelation from its maker.
From God; from Heaven. Can prophecies, can miracles repeal, annul or contradict that original revelation? Can God himself prove that three are one and one three? The supposition is destructive of the foundation of all human knowledge, and of all distinction between
truth and falsehood. [bold face mine]
[Ibid, p. 297-98.]>

The evidence OVERWHELMINGLY supports not one founding father, Christian philosopher, or Christian Divine, believed in the trumped up definition of "theistic rationalist."

Jonathan Rowe said...

OFT:

You are just seeing things the way you want to see things. Click on the link to the 1906 book. They describe Middleton as an English Rationalist.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Well, here we are back on familiar ground with Jefferson and the confidential writings of John Adams 13 years after he left the presidency and public life.

There's a lot more to the Founders than that.

For the record, I'm inclined to read Adams' note about the witch trials and "that memorable Victory over the Prince of the Power of the Air" as sarcasm.

Our Founding Truth said...

Jon:OFT:

You are just seeing things the way you want to see things. Click on the link to the 1906 book. They describe Middleton as an English Rationalist
.

I think it's better to go by each others words.

Tom:For the record, I'm inclined to read Adams' note about the witch trials and "that memorable Victory over the Prince of the Power of the Air" as sarcasm.

I looked that over before as well, and I don't think it's sarcasm. I don't see a hint of sarcasm in the context.

"In the Morning rode a single Horse, in Company with Mrs. Cranch and Mrs. Adams in a Chaise, to Marblehead. [illegible] The Road from Salem to Marblehead, 4 miles, is pleasant indeed. The Grass Plotts and Fields are delightfull. But Marblehead differs from Salem. The Streets are narrow, and rugged and dirty -- but there are some very grand Buildings. Returned and din'd at Cranch's -- after dinner walked to Witchcraft Hill -- An Hill about 1/2 Mile from Cranches where the famous Persons formerly executed for Witches were buried. Somebody within a few Years has planted a Number of Locust Trees over the Graves, as a Memorial of that memorable Victory over the Prince of the Power of the Air. This Hill is in a large Common belonging to the Proprietors of Salem &c. From it you have a fair View of the Town, of the River, the North and South Fields -- of Marble Head -- of Judge Lynde's Pleasure House and of Salem Village &c.

MONDAY AUG. 18TH.
Went to Taunton. Lodged at McWhorters. [illegible]
TUESDAY [19 AUGUST].
Dined at Captn. Cobbs with Coll. G. Leonard, Paine, Leonard, young Cobb &c.
WEDNESDAY [20 AUGUST]." etc.

Where would the sarcasm be?

Jonathan Rowe said...

Let's go over the Adams/Disney dialog to prove my point.

D.: The union of all Christians is anticipated, as it has been demonstrated to be the doctrine of Christ, his apostles and evangelists, as also of Moses and the prophets. Nor is it less the language of the religion of
nature than of revelation . . .
[Bold mine.]

Keep this in mind. The RELIGION OF NATURE is what man discovers from REASON. It is as Adams notes below, the FIRST revelation God gave to man.

A.: The human understanding is the first revelation from its maker. From God; from Heaven.

Again Adams is talking of this "first revelation," that is, nature, what man discovers from reason.

Can prophecies, can miracles repeal, annul or contradict that original revelation? Can God himself prove that three are one and one three? The supposition is destructive of the foundation of all human knowledge, and of all distinction between truth and falsehood. [Bold mine.]

Adams says it PLAIN AS DAY. Prophecies AND MIRACLES CANNOT "unnul or contradict" the findings of reason. He just used the Trinity as a textbook example of a supposed "truth" from God that contradicted reason and hence could not be believed.

Our Founding Truth said...

Adams says it PLAIN AS DAY. Prophecies AND MIRACLES CANNOT "unnul or contradict" the findings of reason. He just used the Trinity as a textbook example of a supposed "truth" from God that contradicted reason and hence could not be believed.>

I don't think so. The context is clearly not revelation, it is the trinity. And Adams says reason cannot affirm three are one and one are three. Even if the context is miracles, which it isn't, but if it is, the statement contradicts his earlier statements about miracles, especially in 1799, plus he's retired.

Sorry bro, you lose either way. The info on Middleton is good though.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Keep in mind that the Trinity was argued against by unitarians as a faulty interpretation of the Bible, not as an inherent error.

And until somebody argues how the Founders found reason and revelation to be in conflict with at least ONE concrete example, this continuing spat is academic. Christianity, says the esteemed Mr. Locke, is reasonable.

Jonathan Rowe said...

Can prophecies, can miracles repeal, annul or contradict that original revelation?

You are arguing with Adams' words.

Our Founding Truth said...

Looking at it closely, Adams could have become a rationalist, but certainly not a "theistic rationalist" where he believed in a few miracles.

If Jon is correct in it's interpretation, Adams, and the others deists as far as the supernatural goes.

He's retired anyway, but finding that link of Adams' notes was like finding candy in a cookie-jar.

Keep in mind that the Trinity was argued against by unitarians as a faulty interpretation of the Bible, not as an inherent error.>

Yeah, but if you read the entire thing, Adams hammers the canon. I agree, xtianity is totally reasonable.

Our Founding Truth said...

Jon:You are arguing with Adams' words.

You're doing the same thing with Marshall and the term "religion" Marshall says you can't claim religion is anything other then xtianity:

"The American population is entirely Christian, and with us Christianity and Religion are identified. It would be strange indeed, if with such a people, our institutions did not presuppose Christianity, and did not often refer to it, and exhibit relations with it." [bold face mine]

- Chief Justice John Marshall to Jasper Adams on May 9, 1833.

Jonathan Rowe said...

And until somebody argues how the Founders found reason and revelation to be in conflict with at least ONE concrete example,

I think we've offered quite a few from Jefferson, J. Adams AND Franklin. I know you don't like the fact that many of them are from 1813 or in their secret letters. What more are you looking for?

Jefferson, for instance, thought virtually every single word of Paul's was not "revelation" but corruption of Jesus' authentic message.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Not what I asked, Jon. The Founders. A public issue. Not theory, not Jefferson's confidential writings.

Jonathan Rowe said...

I'm sure many in the population did equate "religion" with "Christianity." But 1) many didn't, 2) Marshall's singular quotation is not dispositive, 3) the term "religion" is nonetheless a general term and on its face supports the meaning "religion in general" not "Christianity" in particular, and 4) Marshall himself as a unitarian well illustrates the problem with equating "religion" = "Christianity." Then what is "Christianity"? Is it orthodox Trinitarianism? Marshall didn't think so. When he said we are all Christians he meant, by logical necessity in a very general sense. Unitarians, Universalists, Trinitarians, those who denied the infallibility of the Bible. You have to add all of them together to get "we are all Christians." The orthodox knew better.

Jonathan Rowe said...

Tom,

Of course the FFs as a group didn't say "we the FFs believe this part of the Bible to be errant." No politician does this today. Even when Obama admits in interviews that his "Christianity" moderate or liberal (meaning he doesn't believe the Bible is infallible) he does so speaking in his personal capacity NOT as President of the United States. And it would be inappropriate for him to speak as a religious liberal in his Presidential capacity. And that's because religious conservatives are citizens to. I think his choices of both Rick Warren and Gene Robinson, in this sense, illustrated a prudential inclusion that resonates with Founding ideals.

But he did not and will (probably, hopefull) never get up there and say, "let me tell you as President of the United States which parts of the Bible I don't believe."

Our Founding Truth said...

I'm sure many in the population did equate "religion" with "Christianity." But 1) many didn't,>

No. Marshall wouldn't have said what he did. Only a very small minority, what, 2%, were not Christians. They all considered unitarians christian.

the term "religion" is nonetheless a general term and on its face supports the meaning "religion in general" not "Christianity" in particular,>

That's not what Marshall said. He said religion and xtianity are synonymous (sp)

Jonathan Rowe said...

Well you sure as hell had a lot of key Founders like Jefferson, Adams, Franklin and others equating "religion" with "religion," not "Christianity."

As they put it:

“It has pleased the Providence of the first Cause, the Universal Cause, that Abraham should give religion not only to Hebrews but to Christians and Mahomitans, the greatest part of the modern civilized world.”

–- John Adams to M.M. Noah, July 31, 1818.

“θεμις was the goddess of honesty, justice, decency, and right; the wife of Jove, another name for Juno. She presided over all oracles, deliberations, and councils. She commanded all mortals to pray to Jupiter for all lawful benefits and blessings. Now, is not this (so far forth) the essence of Christian devotion? Is not this Christian piety? Is it not an acknowledgment of the existence of a Supreme Being, of his universal Providence, of a righteous administration of the government of the universe? And what can Jews, Christians, or Mahometans do more?”

– John Adams to Thomas Jefferson, October 4, 1813.

“Where is to be found Theology more orthodox or Phylosophy more profound than in the Introduction to the Shast[r]a [a Hindu Treatise]? ‘God is one, creator of all, Universal Sphere, without beginning, without End. God Governs all the Creation by a General Providence, resulting from his eternal designs. — Search not the Essence and the nature of the Eternal, who is one; Your research will be vain and presumptuous. It is enough that, day by day, and night by night, You adore his Power, his Wisdom and his Goodness, in his Works.’”

– John Adams to Thomas Jefferson, December 25, 1813.

“Both house and ground were vested in trustees, expressly for the use of any preacher of any religious persuasion who might desire to say something to the people at Philadelphia; the design in building not being to accommodate any particular sect, but the inhabitants in general; so that even if the Mufti of Constantinople were to send a missionary to preach Mohammedanism to us, he would find a pulpit at his service.”

– Ben Franklin, Autobiography.

“Every religion consists of moral precepts, and of dogmas. In the first they all agree. All forbid us to murder, steal, plunder, bear false witness &ca. and these are the articles necessary for the preservation of order, justice, and happiness in society. In their particular dogmas all differ; no two professing the same. These respect vestments, ceremonies, physical opinions, and metaphysical speculations, totally unconnected with morality, and unimportant to the legitimate objects of society. Yet these are the questions on which have hung the bitter schisms of Nazarenes, Socinians, Arians, Athanasians in former times, and now of Trinitarians, Unitarians, Catholics, Lutherans, Calvinists, Methodists, Baptists, Quakers &c. Among the Mahometans we are told that thousands fell victims to the dispute whether the first or second toe of Mahomet was longest; and what blood, how many human lives have the words ‘this do in remembrance of me’ cost the Christian world!…We see good men in all religions, and as many in one as another. It is then a matter of principle with me to avoid disturbing the tranquility of others by the expression of any opinion on the [unimportant points] innocent questions on which we schismatize, and think it enough to hold fast to those moral precepts which are of the essence of Christianity, and of all other religions.”

– Thomas Jefferson to James Fishback, Sept. 27, 1809

“Faith is recommended as a Means of producing Morality: Our Saviour was a Teacher of Morality or Virtue, and they that were deficient and desired to be taught, ought first to believe in him as an able and faithful Teacher. Thus Faith would be a Means of producing Morality, and Morality of Salvation. But that from such Faith alone Salvation may be expected, appears to me to be neither a Christian Doctrine nor a reasonable one….Morality or Virtue is the End, Faith only a Means to obtain that End: And if the End be obtained, it is no matter by what Means.” [Bold mine.]

– Benjamin Franklin, “Dialogue between Two Presbyterians,” April 10, 1735.

Tom Van Dyke said...


“Both house and ground were vested in trustees, expressly for the use of any preacher of any religious persuasion who might desire to say something to the people at Philadelphia; the design in building not being to accommodate any particular sect, but the inhabitants in general; so that even if the Mufti of Constantinople were to send a missionary to preach Mohammedanism to us, he would find a pulpit at his service.”

– Ben Franklin, Autobiography.


Why do you keep using this quote, Jon? All Franklin is saying is that he supported a public meeting house where all religions could speak. No more, no less.

Neither have I run across a single piece of writing by a Founder---"key" or otherwise---that indicates they understood a damn thing about Islam except that it was monotheistic and claimed the God of Abraham as well.

Perhaps you've run across one.

We're back to Jefferson and Adams yet again, with an unrepresentative sprinkling of Franklin. Franklin was also friends with, supported, and published the Great Awakening figure and revivalist George Whitfield, and contributed to the support of a number "orthodox" Christian churches as well.

I assert no conclusion from those facts either, but it's clear he provided far more material support to "orthodox" Christianity than he ever did to Islam or any other religion. The "Mufti" quote pales.

Jonathan Rowe said...

Tom,

That quote of Franklin's sheds light on his personal theology. He believed in an active Providence and a future state of rewards and punishment, that Jesus was the greatest moral teacher and hedged on or otherwise thought unimportant the question of Jesus' divinity.

By turning Christianity into a generic moralizing religion, Franklin could support most other religions, including Islam, as long as they taught an overruling Providence and future state of rewards and punishments which Islam did.

The effect of Frankln supporting the right of the people to choose whatever "religion" they wanted, of course, disproportionately helped orthodox Christianity. But the REASON for Franklin's support of orthodox Christianity had to do with Franklin's indiscriminate non-sectarian attitude (that transcended "Judeo-Christianity")

Look, I support vouchers as long as given on a non-discriminatory basis. That undoubtedly would help Roman Catholic schools. But my support for vouchers has little to do with my support of Roman Catholic theology. I DO appreciate the works of charity and education said Church and its institutions do. In other words, my support for vouchers that incidentially benefit the Roman Catholic Church and appreciation for the works of charity and education of the Catholic Church hardly makes my position "Roman Catholic." I see something similar with Franklin and his support for whatever "religion" the people choose -- be it Islam or orthodox evangelical Christianity -- that had the incidential effect of advancing orthodox Christianity because that's what the people choose. It was a "theistic rationalism" ideal of religion that had the incidential effect of advancing mainly orthodox Christianity.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Oh, please, with that "theistic rationalist" stuff again, Jon. To insist on one's own favored term violates the spirit of lingua franca, the gentlemanly and necessary agreement on a common language.

"Theistic rationalist" is a far too loaded term, like "anti-life" for abortion rights advocates. You can make your case without attempting to stuff that term down our throats, because if we routinely accept your loaded term even out of courtesy, we concede the entire discussion to your POV.

Yes, Benjamin Franklin was, in the abstract and as an American, non-sectarian. So am I. We keep eliding the "Judeo" part of "Judeo-Christianity," an imperfect term but one that elides the question of Jesus' divinity. Many [but probably not most] of the Founders thought Jesus wasn't God, but was a pivotal and divinely inspired figure in human history.

That will have to do in any uncontroversial use of "Christian" in terms of the Founding, as it takes in the Christian Unitarians. John Frigging Adams hisself admitted that Christianity was not of man, but divinely inspired. Surely we don't have to run through the quotes yet again.

That shouldn't be a controversial assertion, and should be stipulated by anyone interested in a lingua franca.

Unless you want to argue with what I just wrote...?



If you want to pack in the other Abrahamaic-monotheistic religion, Islam, that's your lookout. The Founders knew little about it [except in the abstract] unless you can prove otherwise.

A non-sectarian is quite pleased when someone prays to God and sees a Divine Hand in our lives. If they attempt to live the Bible as Franklin explicitly says he did, that's cool too, as is a belief in "natural law," which virtually all the Founders believed in. Name me a Founder who tried to live the Qur'an, or was acquainted with the Islamic interpretation of natural law as opposed to the Christian one, and mebbe we've got a topic of interest. Otherwise we're barking up the wrong tree.

Jonathan Rowe said...

Okay strike my use of the term "theistic rationalist" and insert "unitarian."

Tom Van Dyke said...

It's undeniable "unitarian" fits in there somewhere.

bpabbott said...

Unitarian Univeralism?

Tom Van Dyke said...

No. Unitarian Universalism is a relatively new thing, Ben. Did you read your link?