Sunday, February 15, 2009

Coral Ridge, Again

Even though the late D. James Kennedy has passed, Coral Ridge Ministries keeps on repeating its propaganda special "One Nation Under God." So I'll still keep responding to it. The special includes some legitimate respectable scholars (Mary Thompson, James Hutson, Donald Lutz) along with some hacks (David Barton, Peter Marshall and Marshall Foster).

I'll respond to a point one of the respectable scholars, Donald Lutz of the University of Dallas, made. Lutz noted he discovered after significant research that many of the US Constitution's ideas were anticipated by state colonial constitutions. And those state colonial constitutions 1) were done for explicitly Christian purposes, 2) used explicitly Christian language, 3) cited the Bible with explicit verses and chapters, and 4) made coventants to God. As one Christian Reconstructionist scholar (who was NOT featured in the Coral Ridge special) noted about Lutz's work:

Donald Lutz, a Constitutional historian atthe University of Houston, argued that “The Pedigree of the Bill of Rights” could befound in the bills of rights in colonial charters, primarily authored by ministers. Three-fourths of the provisions from the U.S. Bill of Rights, in fact, were outlined in the 1641Massachusetts Body of Liberties, a Puritan document that came complete with Bible verses attached to each of the rights.


So let us turn to the 1641 Massachusetts Body of Liberties, and instead of focusing on what in that document parallels what's found in the US Constitution -- take Lutz's claim at face value that many of the ideas in the Bill of Rights were anticipated there -- let's focus on what the Founders DID NOT borrow.

The US Constitution, Declaration of Independence and Federalist Papers 1) claim no explicitly Christian purposes, 2) used no explicitly Christian language, 3) do not cite the Bible, and 4) make no covenants to God. Lutz said something about how the Declaration of Independence calls God as a witness and that could be a covenant. I'm sorry but that won't work. The DOI is a Lockean social compact, not a Puritan Covenant. And the French's Declaration of the Rights of Man likewise invokes the "Supreme Being" as a witness.

In other words, the Constitution and DOI if anything secularized the ideas found in the colonial charters that made their way into the Bill of Rights. The following passage from the The Massachusetts Body of Liberties represents NOT what America's Founders embraced in those colonial charters, but rather what they REJECTED.

94. Capitall Laws.

1.
(Deut. 13. 6, 10. Deut. 17. 2, 6. Ex. 22.20)
If any man after legall conviction shall have or worship any other god, but the lord god, he shall be put to death.


2.
(Ex. 22. 18. Lev. 20. 27. Dut. 18. 10.)
If any man or woeman be a witch, (that is hath or consulteth with a familiar spirit,) They shall be put to death.


3.
(Lev. 24. 15,16.)
If any person shall Blaspheme the name of god, the father, Sonne or Holie Ghost, with direct, expresse, presumptuous or high handed blasphemie, or shall curse god in the like manner, he shall be put to death.

[Page 274]

4.
(Ex. 21. 12. Numb. 35. 13, 14, 30, 31.)
If any person committ any wilfull murther, which is manslaughter, committed upon premeditated malice, hatred, or Crueltie, not in a mans necessarie and just defence, nor by meere casualtie against his will, he shall be put to death.


5.
(Numb. 25, 20, 21. Lev. 24. 17)
If any person slayeth an other suddaienly in his anger or Crueltie of passion, he shall be put to death.


6.
(Ex. 21. 14.)
If any person shall slay an other through guile, either by poysoning or other such divelish practice, he shall be put to death.


7.
(Lev. 20. 15,16.)
If any man or woeman shall lye with any beaste or bruite creature by Carnall Copulation, They shall surely be put to death. And the beast shall be slaine, and buried and not eaten.


8.
(Lev. 20. 13.)
If any man lyeth with mankinde as he lyeth with a woeman, both of them have committed abhomination, they both shall surely be put to death.


9.
Lev. 20. 19. and 18, 20. Dut. 22. 23, 24.)
If any person committeth Adultery with a maried or espoused wife, the Adulterer and Adulteresse shall surely be put to death.


10.
(Ex. 21. 16.)
If any man stealeth a man or mankinde, he shall surely be put to death.


11.
(Deut. 19. 16, 18, 19.)
If any man rise up by false witnes, wittingly and of purpose to take away any mans life, he shall be put to death.


12.
If any man shall conspire and attempt any invasion, insurrection, or publique rebellion against our commonwealth, or shall [Page 275] indeavour to surprize any Towne or Townes, fort or forts therein, or shall treacherously and perfediouslie attempt the alteration and subversion of our frame of politie or Government fundamentallie, he shall be put to death.


Numbers 1, 2, & 3 represent the antithesis of religious liberty. And indeed John Adams would have been executed by his Puritan Ancestors for the high handed blasphemie contained in his private letters mocking the Trinity. Indeed, all of the Founders arguably would have been executed unders this code for rebelling against Great Britain.

Of course principles like 4, 5, & 6 relate to the US Founding and that's because those values are secular, cross cultural, not distinctly Christian or however you want to put it. We could analyze the Ten Commandments the same way. The second tablet contains rules that are arguably secular; and those are the rules that parellel what's found in modern legal codes. Virtually all sane societies outlaw murder and theft, and otherwise accept some kind of notions of property rights. What's distinctively religious, Abrahamic, etc. about the Ten Commandments -- i.e., the first tablet -- has no proper place in the civil law precisely for that reason.

And the Founders, like Roger Williams, understood this. Whatever it is the Founders accepted from the earlier colonial charters, they rejected their approach on Church-State matters and their explicit Christian purpose for government.

Another important point is that, if Lutz is right that these earlier colonial charters are so important to the ideas of the 1776-1800 Founding, it's not at all clear from the record that the Founders consciously were aware of this. My friend and co-blogger Tom Van Dyke, after more notable scholars like Rodney Stark, has argued many important ideas of the Founding may trace back to Roman Catholic sources (the "schoolmen"). Algernon Sidney, whom the Founders did cite, was aware of and cited them. However the Founders may have downplayed Roman Catholic influences because many of their minds were clouded by anti-Catholic bigotry.

Likewise you may find a sprinkling of citations to the Puritans and early colonial charters in the mass of sources that the Founders DID cite on behalf of revolution and republicanism. But they are always intermixed with other non-colonial and non-Christian sources. Even if, in practice, the ideas of Christians closer to their time and place were more likely to influence them, in theory, the Founders were more likely to cite pagan Greco-Roman republican figures of old and pretended as though America was founded to be new, enlightened, republican Rome.

As Noah Webster summed up the enlightenment zeitgeist that captured the minds of the Constitutional Convention:

But the origin of the AMERICAN REPUBLIC is distinguished by peculiar circumstances. Other nations have been driven together by fear and necessity—the governments have generally been the result of a single man’s observations; or the offspring of particular interests. IN the formation of our constitution, the wisdom of all ages is collected—the legislators of antiquity are consulted—as well as the opinions and interests of the millions who are concerned. In short, in it an empire of reason.


The Coral Ridge special of course, ignores this dynamic. And to perpetuate the misunderstanding that the Founders consciously operated in the tradition of the earlier colonists who formed explicitly Christian governments, Peter Marshall cited the lie, nowhere found in the historical record, that George Washington handed out copies of the Fundamental Orders of Connecticut at the Constitutional Convention.

Marshall said GW did this because this great "Christian Statesman" wanted the US Constitution to have similar biblical foundations. The lie is necessary to give the impression that the FFs self consciously believed they formed the US Constitution on "biblical principles" when the historical record does not demonstrate this.

In reality George Washington thought of himself as the second coming of Cincinnatus, the great leader of noble pagan republican Rome.

6 comments:

Tom Van Dyke said...

Three-fourths of the provisions from the U.S. Bill of Rights, in fact, were outlined in the 1641Massachusetts Body of Liberties, a Puritan document that came complete with Bible verses attached to each of the rights.



So let us turn to the 1641 Massachusetts Body of Liberties, and instead of focusing on what in that document parallels what's found in the US Constitution -- take Lutz's claim at face value that many of the ideas in the Bill of Rights were anticipated there -- let's focus on what the Founders DID NOT borrow.



Why? You're arguing against an argument Lutz is not making, eh? There's a term for that...

Jonathan Rowe said...

Tom,

I respect Lutz. Yes, you are right I'm NOT arguing against him. Rather I'm arguing against the way Coral Ridge (and the proponents of the Christian Nation thesis) use or MIS-use his work.

They make it seem as though there was an unbroken tradition from the self consciously Christian covenanted colonial orders to the Constitution, DOI and Federalist papers. And that likewise the latter were self-consciously biblical Christian documents.

Your point about using ideas without being fully aware of where they came from well taken. However the FFs self-consciously thought they were founding a "novus ordo seclorum" on the principles of Providentialism, reason, and revived Greco-Roman republicanism.

Tom Van Dyke said...

I find the 3/4 part much more interesting. The Cincinnatus thing, the warrior-farmer, is a stretch with the "pagan" thing. Washington loved farming, and even micromanaged his farm in letters from the battlefield!

As he has the secularists on one side and the Gary Norths on the other, which is cool, I also very much liked the Roger Shultz essay.

http://www.contra-mundum.org/cm/features/01_infidels.pdf

as it makes many arguments I discovered on my own. [Although as I recall, Franklin's letter was not directed to Paine---the dates don't match up.]

I can also accept his delineation between "classical" and "radical" deism, although in my view monotheistic providentialism owes much more to the Judeo-Christian tradition than the classical deists [and their contemporary commenters] realize.

The section on John Witherspoon is of particular relevance.

Jonathan Rowe said...

Shultz is a Christian Recon. But if I can have Gary North, I guess you can have him. His paper bears more investigation.

Pinky said...

.
We are divided.
.
That our Founding Fathers were divided over religion is well established at this site.
.
We are caught in the ebb and flow of the Tides of History.
.
Far be it from me to attack this blog site just because I draw attention to the over indulgence of the forces of division that were at work in the Founding Era.
.
What was it that brought the Founding Fathers together so they could call this new order, The United States of America? It certainly wasn't their religiosity!
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Coral Ridge Ministries is important as an example of what divides us now and did so in the early years. We need to know about men like D. James Kenedy for their divisive nature.
.
We are learning the specifics of what divided the FFs. Could we learn more about the specifics that united them?
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They talked about it quite a bit, didn't they?
.

Tom Van Dyke said...


What was it that brought the Founding Fathers together so they could call this new order, The United States of America? It certainly wasn't their religiosity!

...

We are learning the specifics of what divided the FFs. Could we learn more about the specifics that united them?



Somebody hasn't been listening. It wasn't religiosity exactly, but it was a shared---and religiously-informed---worldview. Providence, natural law, endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights...

;-P