Monday, March 30, 2009

Half-Way House Infidels

That might be the title to my eventual book on the American Founding. Another title I have in mind is "Noble Pagans: America's Founding Heretics." The term "infidel" as was used during the Founding era by the "orthodox" referred to strict Deists or atheists. Theological unitarianism, in which America's key Founders disproportionately believed, was viewed as a "half-way house" towards "infidelity." That term comes from Timothy Dwight quoting Wilberforce (see below).

Theological unitarianism was believed in by very bright influential thinkers in the early and mid 18th Century, but was largely closeted then. Unitarianism began to come out of the closet in the late 18th Century. By the early 19th Century Harvard University officially became Unitarian and open Unitarians held respectable positions in American society. But the "orthodox" didn't take that lying down.

Jedidiah Morse was one of the first notable "orthodox" figures to take on unitarianism. Indeed, the closeted nature of unitarianism in the mid 18th Century is evidenced by the dialogue between Morse and John Adams. Morse, apparently, wasn't aware of the existence of American unitarians in the mid 18th Century and tried to "low ball" the length of time in which unitarians had existed in America. As John Adams acerbically wrote to Morse:

“DEAR DOCTOR,
“I thank you thank you for your favour of the 10th, and the pamphlet enclosed, entitled, ‘American Unitarianism.’ I have turned over its leaves, and found nothing that was not familiarly known to me. In the preface, Unitarianism is represented as only thirty years old in New-England. I can testify as a witness to its old age. Sixty-five years ago, my own minister, the Rev. Lemuel Bryant; Dr. Jonathan Mayhew, of the West Church in Boston; the Rev. Mr. Shute, of Hingham; the Rev. John Brown, of Cohasset; and perhaps equal to all, if not above all, the Rev. Mr. Gay, of Hingham, were Unitarians. Among the laity how many could I name, lawyers, physicians, tradesmen, farmers!...More than fifty years ago, I read Dr. Clarke, Emlyn, and Dr. Waterland: do you expect, my dear doctor, to teach me any thing new in favour of Athanasianism? — There is, my dear Doctor, at present existing in the world a Church Philosophick. as subtle, as learned, as hypocritical, as the Holy Roman Catholick, Apostolick, and Ecumenical Church. The Philosophical Church was originally English. Voltaire learned it from Lord Herbert, Hobbes, Morgan, Collins, Shaftsbury, Bolingbroke, &c. &c. &c. You may depend upon it, your exertions will promote the Church Philosophick, more than the Church Athanasian or Presbyterian. This and the coming age will not be ruled by inquisitions or Jesuits. The restoration of Napoleon has been caused by the resuscitation of inquisitors and Jesuits.
I am and wish to be
Your friend,
JOHN ADAMS”
Quincy, May 15th, 1815.


But it was Timothy Dwight, President of Yale during the Founding and post-Founding era (1795-1817), who seemed the most prolific, notable critic of newly "outed" unitarianism. You can read Dwight's criticisms of unitarianism here. Dwight spends a great deal of time attacking the work of Joseph Priestley and Richard Price. This is notable because, in a sense, Dwight attacks "thought" that was a secret "motivator" to America's "key" Founding Fathers. Men like Washington, J. Adams, Jefferson, Madison, and Franklin idolized unitarians like Locke, Newton, Clarke, Price and Priestley. Dwight writes a great deal about them which I am slowly trying to digest. However, the following quotation of his stands out as exemplifying how the orthodox thought of unitarianism:

The observation of Mr. Wilberforce, therefore, seems to be but too well founded, when he says; "In the course, which we lately traced from nominal orthodoxy to absolute Infidelity, Unitarianism is, indeed, a sort of half-way house, if the expression may be pardoned; a stage on the journey, where sometimes a person, indeed, finally stops; but where, not unfrequently, he only pauses for a while; and then pursues his progress."

74 comments:

Tom Van Dyke said...

Well, to use orthodox overstatements like "half-way house" to get unitarianism's influence on the Founding to paganism is the road to half-truth, Jon.

It's tempting to overstate the importance of unitarianism and the "secret agendas" of some "key" Founders [the "scare quotes" are starting to pile up] as more than simply leading to the Founders taking the divinity of Jesus off the table by unanimous agreement.

Considering the near-universal revulsion at Thomas Paine's "infidel-ism," we cannot make the case for secularism here and certainly not paganism, only for non-sectarianism, pluralism.

And perhaps ecumenicalism, a word Mr. Magpie Mason introduced to the discussion and warrants careful consideration---"ecumenicalism" implying a baseline of agreement on fundamental issues, starting with there being a God, and only one, who spoke through the scriptures, and thereby has made His will known to man. Despite the sectarian hassles about what that will actually is and what those scriptures actually say, there still could be agreement on many matters, and there was.

The rest, they left to the theologians to squabble about among themselves. The government would not intervene or adjudicate American Christianity's intramural battles. As the weary mom says to the kids, work it out among yourselves.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Or to extend the metaphor, the kids couldn't agree on the toppings, so mom said fine, we still have to eat. Plain cheese pizza it is, add your own toppings if you want.

Jonathan Rowe said...

Okay. I like the last metaphor. But it's important to note that, accordingly the definition of "Christian" (or "religion" or "Judeo-Christian" or any other inclusive religious term we might think of) does not include Trinity. And it doesn't include eternal damnation, infalliblity of the bible and some other things. If we can get the "Christian America" proponents to "see" this, my work will be over.

Tom Van Dyke said...

I think Trinity has been stipulated by all those this side of OFT. I hate to drag David Barton in again, but I don't think even he's there. And that's part of the rub of using him and his errors as the Christian Nation punching bag.

I think Richard John Neuhaus' magazine First Things represents the proper center of the other side of the secularism argument. Jews and Christians of every stripe gather there, and do achieve an ecumenical baseline when it comes to religion in the public square.

First Things argues that it lies closer to the center of the religio-political landscape of the Founding than OFT's right or the secular left---that religion and faith are vital components of public life, but doctrinal hassles must remain secondary, although pluralism dictates that those hassles can and must be freely [and gloriously!] aired. Even the "orthodox" Samuel Adams said so and that he was quite happy with the establishment of that liberty.

Now, the Bible as the conveyor of God's will is sui generis, for the simple reason that there's only one Bible [!] and divine inspiration for any other text in man's history isn't remotely claimed by any of the Founders to my knowledge.

Now, the pluralism---the ecumenicalism of the previous argument---takes this into account.

Not only where there different interpretations of the King James Version on its plain reading in English, there was a wave of Biblical scholarship from the original Greek etc. [variant readings of that text---30,000 differences between the translations!, according to John Mill via Lori Stokes] that brought about even greater disagreement.

Still, this would miss the forest for the trees---to invoke the 10-90-100% David Barton Infallibility Equation here, I'm comfortable with asserting that the Founding agreed that over 90% of the KJV Bible said what it plainly said.

I submit, then, that this was their ecumenical baseline, the pizza everyone had for dinner.

As for eternal damnation, this is far beyond government's poor power to add or detract. And a damned good thing, too---I'd much rather take my chances with God than with man.

Our Founding Truth said...

Jon:I like the last metaphor. But it's important to note that, accordingly the definition of "Christian" (or "religion" or "Judeo-Christian" or any other inclusive religious term we might think of) does not include Trinity. And it doesn't include eternal damnation, infalliblity of the bible and some other things.

It includes all of the essentials of Christianity, known throughout the centuries. As Kristo pointed out earlier, infidelity was secret in the colonies, and unitarianism limited to a certain part of New England.

Tom Van Dyke said...

OFT, your viewpoint was courteously acknowledged in this discussion not just by me, but by Mr. Rowe. In fact, he explicitly wrote here that if he weren't obliged to stand as a counterpoint to your point of view, he might be able to open up and concede a this or that.

Please do take "maybe" as a provisional answer. It would be a waste to see this turn into Jon and you arguing the extremes once again, just as we had in the Barton "discussion," which was a complete and total waste of everyone's time, except as a release of steam like those fights in hockey and its fans' love of them.

Please do lay out as third man off the bench if only as a reciprocation of the courtesy I accord you and have always accorded you. Eternal damnation has been addressed, and the infallibility of the Bible looms next in the queue for discussion. Your opinion on the latter has already been registered.

The infallibility of the Bible is not at question here, which means your belief and creed is irrelevant. The question will be---when we get to it---it how fallible or infallible the Founding generation believed it to be.

Which I already began to address above, and which you must see fit to acknowledge in whatever further comments you make. Else, OFT, kindly butt out of Jon's and my conversation and colloquy that is getting by fine without you, and has done so for years.

OK? I'm sure you understand, Jim. Jon and I teach each other stuff and learn from each other by kicking it all around. Neither of us are today where we each started separately. That's why we hang out together, and why we brought it to this blog.

Our Founding Truth said...

I'm not referring to your conversation. I am talking about making a comment like "Christian" doesn't refer to the Trinity, eternal damnation, or inerrancy. That comment is laughable, evidenced by two thousand years of Protestantism. The Protestant Founding Fathers didn't start to change that. You, nor Jon, or I, get to invent what Christianity is, or what Christianity was to the framers, and only three or four guys get to decide for everyone what the answer is.

Sorry, ban me, I'm not going to stay silent and allow that to happen.

Our Founding Truth said...

I meant allow it without speaking out.

Jonathan Rowe said...

I am talking about making a comment like "Christian" doesn't refer to the Trinity, eternal damnation, or inerrancy.

And again, if that's how YOU want to define "Christian," then it's clear that America didn't have a "Christian" founding as Washington, J. Adams, Jefferson, Madison, Franklin, G. Morris, Wilson, Hamilton (before his deathbed) and many others either a) explicitly denied these things or b) didn't affirm these things.

It's not my side that would want to ban you, because you are making the "religious conservative" side look bad. :)

Our Founding Truth said...

And again, if that's how YOU want to define "Christian," then it's clear that America didn't have a "Christian" founding as Washington, J. Adams, Jefferson, Madison, Franklin, G. Morris, Wilson, Hamilton (before his deathbed) and many others either a) explicitly denied these things or b) didn't affirm these things.>

Blah Blah Blah! Same absurd distortions as three years ago. Same perverted "key founders" garbage doctrine. Only fools believe this nonsense.

Jonathan Rowe said...

Well no one is believing you here.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Jim, give it rest. Even the Bible doesn't say to make a nuisance of yourself, in fact it says just the opposite, Matthew 10:14.

Jon and I are talking here. Please return the courtesy you've been given, OK?

Tom Van Dyke said...

Oooops, too late.

Pinky said...

.
Why does anyone give a hoot about what OFT has to say on this matter? I don't get it. It's just blather.
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One of the most important reasons we study history is so that we are made aware of past mistakes in the light of which we have the ability to not repeat them over and over and again and again. Religiosity is a big mistake.
.
Jonathon Rowe made a very enlightening post with "More On Non-Trinitarians & Christianity" on the 29th and this present post adds to that. He shows religiosity is a mistake even though he does not come right out and say it.
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Religiosity was all over every person during those few centuries; but, the Founding shut it down.
.
And, taking OFT--as well as a few others that participate here--into consideration it is easy to see that they are inundated in religiosity. Their entire existence appears to all be about their religiosity. They are doing what they can to reimpose it on society. Barton is their hero.
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That would take us on the road back to the Dark Ages.
.

Kristo Miettinen said...

Jon,

Nota bene: "You may depend upon it, your exertions will promote the Church Philosophick, more than the Church Athanasian or Presbyterian."

Presbyterianism was as much non grata in Massachusetts as Athanasianism. Church structure mattered, alot.

I'll try to have a post on the topic in the next week...

Pinky said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Pinky said...

.
."Presbyterianism was as much non grata in Massachusetts as Athanasianism. "
.
Presbyterianism? Do you mean Calvinism?
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By the way, to anyone, am I correct in my grasp of the John Adams' quotation, that he is talking about the ideas that were developing to be Deism and Unitarianism, ie., the Church Philosophick?
.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Religiosity is a big mistake.

George Washington said the opposite, as did most all of the Founders, "key" or otherwise. You would not want to become the other side of OFT's coin.

Tom Van Dyke said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Pinky said...

.
"George Washington said the opposite."
.
Let's see your reference on where he said that religiosity was no mistake.
.
Religion: ▸ noun: a strong belief in a supernatural power or powers that control human destiny

Religiosity: ▸ noun: exaggerated or affected piety and religious zeal


.

Tom Van Dyke said...

re·li·gi·os·i·ty (r-lj-s-t)
n.
1. The quality of being religious.
2. Excessive or affected piety.


Your use of the second definition here is not helpful. Surely you can't expect anyone not to think you're speaking of the first.

Pinky said...

.
I'm the one who employed the word, religiosity. And I put it in context.
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George Washington's had his context.
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Darrett B. Rutman, in his book, American Puritanism: Faith and Practice, speaking of the centuries leading up to America's Founding writes,

"... religiosity pervades the air of that time. .... In England, men argued and finally fought their Civil War 'In the name of God, Amen.' Ships sailing from England's ports carried chaplains to pray for the souls of men and the subsiding of God-angried seas. England's expansion overseas was both commanded and justified by God. Thus the English migration to Virginia was that of 'a peculiar people, marked and chosen by the finger of God, to possess it, for undoubtedly he is with us' And in English colonies scattered around the Atlantic littoral, prayers were constantly sent heavenward from thousands of throats."

Once again, we are being inundated by religiosity. A person can hardly be nominated for the presidency if he doesn't end his speeches with, "God Bless the United States", and he certainly could not be elected unless he did that. Not that there is anything wrong with saying that; but, that it is demanded of our leaders by people of every faith or non-faith. We are repeating that mistake of being inundated by religiosity. Everybody prays for everything.

A significant body of Baptists, for example, do not go along with such mixing of politics and religion.
.
In the context that I have used the word, religiosity, it is quite different from religion.
.

Jonathan Rowe said...

Pinky, as I read J. Adams' remarks, he positions deism and atheism ("church Church Philosophick") to his left and Roman Catholicism, Calvinism and in general orthodox Trinitarianism (Church Athanasian or Presbyterian) to his right and puts his own "Unitarianism" as a rational middle ground -- a true way -- between what is to his right and to his left. It well illustrates the middle ground or hybrid nature of unitarianism.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Pinky, if you prefer to be misunderstood, that's your right.

Pinky said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Pinky said...

.
It sure isn't my choice to be misunderstood.
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Perhaps you want to misunderstand me.
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I try to speak in a straight forward manner and when I'm not sure of what others are saying, I ask for clarification. Ideas do have a way of evolving and sometimes it takes a little doing to get a point across. Thin skin makes for a lot of bruising. It's not good to be too touchy.
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Thanks for your finer clarificatiopn, Jonathon.

bpabbott said...

Tom, when you questioned Phil' use of the word "Religiosity", he provided the definition he had implied.

As you had inferred something different, I think you were correct to question.

... but why the continued dispute?

Tom Van Dyke said...

I try to speak in a straight forward manner

Then don't use second definitions in your attacks, Phil, as they serve only to sneak in a dig at the first. That's common sense.

I'm a sympathetic reader and don't willfully misunderstand people. Now I know what you're saying.

You object to presidents saying stuff like, "God Bless the United States." OK. Why this is harmful, you have not said. Mentioning God in the public square will have us at each others' throats? Perhaps in 2009. Not for the first few hundred years of the republic.

In fact, it can be argued that such religiosity had quite a salutary effect, like in the Gettysburg Address.

The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us -- that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion -- that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain -- that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom -- and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

[Bold face mine.]

Pinky said...

Here's the Merriam Webster Definition of religiosity

One entry found.

Main Entry:

religiose
Pronunciation:
\ri-ˈli-jē-ˌōs\
Function:
adjective
Etymology:
religion + 1-ose
Date:
1853

: religious ; especially : excessively, obtrusively, or sentimentally religious
— re·li·gi·os·i·ty Listen to the pronunciation of religiosity \-ˌli-jē-ˈä-sə-tē\ noun

.

Pinky said...

.
It's so much fun to snap at the ankles of a giant.
.
heh heh heh

Tom Van Dyke said...

I said I understand you now once already, Phil, and gave an American Heritage dictionary definition as to why I did. I moved on, to the Gettysburg Address as a matter of fact. To the substance of your comment, such as it is.

Pinky said...

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Lest I be accused of not responding to a direct question.
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Tom writes, "You object to presidents saying stuff like, 'God Bless the United States.' "
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Where did I object to that?
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"OK. Why this is harmful, you have not said. Mentioning God in the public square will have us at each others' throats? Perhaps in 2009. Not for the first few hundred years of the republic."
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I never objected to that. What I objected to was the fact that a person could not be elected to the presidency unless he did say such things. And, that only as an example of what I meant in my use of the word, religiosity.
.
Is it all that important that you are smarter than someone as poorly credentialed as myself?

And, what is objectionable about religiosity is that it sets society up to be led by wolves in sheep's clothing.
.
You're not naive, Tom. But, you are digging for strawberries. And, that makes me suspicious of you.
.
This is time wasting and befuddling to those who would rather focus on the article involved.
.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Well, Pinky, your argument is still that an electorate that prefers a president who says "God Bless the United States" over one who doesn't has

exaggerated or affected piety and religious zeal

Your terms, not mine. I don't see the connection with the religious wars and persecutions of the 1600s, myself, but you have put it all under the umbrella of "religiosity" in various places. But that's cool. At least we understand each other now.

Pinky said...

.
More to the point, my respected friend, it's my hypothecation that religiosity, in the sense I have framed the term, was of such a force that it impacted the public comments of the Founding Fathers to make some persons believe they were acting on behalf of whatever faith one might have. Therefor, it puts the idea that America was Founded as a Christian Nation to a more serious test than any other surmisal. I am, further, thinking that the Adams letter quoted here in Rowe's article adds fuel to my thoughts as it shows movement from what some called English Popery to Secular thought.

We could get on with the article Lori Stokes supplied. It's my belief she opens some very important doors to our quest.
.

Tom Van Dyke said...

[Religiosity, the bad kind] was such a force that it impacted the public comments of the Founding Fathers to make some persons believe they were acting on behalf of whatever faith one might have.

Absolutely. Jefferson's evasions got him elected twice, when just enough people saw what they wanted to see to tip the balance.

However, I think you've been injecting "secularism" where there is some, but not much, at that period of American history. For instance, Adams' letter says the Church Philosophick is just as hypocritical as the Roman Catholic Church. Adams is certainly promoting a middle ground that is not "secularism."

We've been acknowledging Lori Stokes' post at length in Kristo's essay on Jefferson's bible studies. Extremely interesting and original research. Unfortunately, it got buried by the latest outbreak of Barton.

Pinky said...

.
"For instance, Adams' letter says the Church Philosophick is just as hypocritical as the Roman Catholic Church. Adams is certainly promoting a middle ground that is not 'secularism.' "
.
So, you say, Mr. Van Dyke. But, you haven't put any proof where your mouth is. That's what you seem to think is such an accusation against everyone else. But, you are violating your own rules here.
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Let's see what you have to show for your comments.
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Adams was, as I stated pointing to a movement away from popery and toward LIBERTY of thought when it came to things theological. Do you deny that?
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I didn't think so.
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So, let's get on with it.
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Kristo can speak for himself. But, like so many others, he doesn't get himself into situations where he is not in command. I have to hand it to you that you are able to jump in where "angels" fear to trod.
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Go for it.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Well, thx. I've been called a lot of things but a shrinking violet ain't one of 'em.

I trust the careful reader to agree about the Adams letter. Not so I say, so it says. The word "hypocritical" is a direct quote, and is key to understanding his argument.

It also comports with Adams' annotations of Middleton. Very apropos to our discussion in its metion of paganism, BTW:

http://www.archive.org/stream/johnadamstheprop002307mbp/johnadamstheprop002307mbp_djvu.txt

"("No revelation can contain anything false, irrational or im-
moral," Adams asserted.) 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 sub-
jection.") 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.)

Tom Van Dyke said...

Pinky, I was running out the door and regretted I didn't stand up for Kristo. I think he's fine with peer review and encourages it. Chris Rodda for one explicitly wrote she wasn't all that interested in Jefferson's theology. I think may folks aren't---if you're not a theist, theology is boring.

But if Kristo's right, Jefferson was looking for a core, a transcendent truth, in Christianity to preserve.

I get the same thing out of this Adams letter. I read it as him really going after the Voltaire crowd, the closest analog to 2009's secular left. And secular right! They are openly hostile and contemptuous of all things religious, theistic and especially Christian.

The more I read---even of Jefferson and Adams, the least orthodox of the Founding era outside of Tom Paine---the less I'm convinced that Founding-era unitarianism has anything in common with the secularists then and now.

In fact, Founding era unitarianism seems to be in opposition to them. Think about it. Even Jefferson brought himself to sit through religious services that held in official US government buildings [like the Congress' and the Supreme Court's, as I recall]. The whole deal, both the services and Jefferson enduring them, must be accounted for.

You say I'm digging for strawberries, Phil, but I'm honestly surprised at how often they appear all on their own. You just have to know a strawberry when you see one.

Now, it might seem that Kristo is digging for them with his work on Jefferson's bible studies, but maybe he's just peeling back the weeds. Most of the people who talk about Jefferson's Bible have no idea of what they're looking at. Theology is boring. But for better or worse [and often for the worse], Jefferson and Adams are unquestionably doing theology.

bpabbott said...

Tom: "In fact, Founding era unitarianism seems to be in opposition to [secularism]."

I was unfamiliar with the Secular Right. I'll have to read some of what's there. It looks interesting.

When you wrote; "Founding era unitarianism seems to be in opposition to [secularists]", what is the qualification for secularists in this instance?

The reason I ask, is there is a wide gap between sectarians (as defined by "secularists"), and secularism (as defined by "sectarians").

Pinky said...

.
Strawberries grow above ground.
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Almost everyone, here, seems to be missing the pressure that a Culture of Religiosity puts on all the people.
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Everyone puts up a front of being religious in such societies. Otherwise you are persona non gratia.
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And, of course that forces presidents to go with the flow.. .

bpabbott said...

Phil: "Everyone puts up a front of being religious in such societies"

I think a quick comparison of the founder's private and public writings substantiates your point.

Further I suspect we are presently emerging from such superficial camouflage ... or at least many more are now willing to honest about their negative opinion of religion.

Pinky said...

.
Sooner or later, Ben, the question gets to be, "Why do we put up with the shenanigans of people like OFT and Barton?" Is it because we're so taken up in our own Culture of Religiosity? Are we afraid to call a spade a spade? Must we give in to the social pressure laid on us by their religiosity? We are nearly forced to give them the best seat in the house and heap honors on preachers when they come into our presence.
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I have been tagged for attacking Religionists just because I rebuke them. Jesus called them a Generation of Vipers.
.
.

bpabbott said...

Phil,

I think we have to tolerate such shenanigans to some degree or risk violating the our ideals and prinicples, esp. with regards to individual liberty.

Tom also raised a good point; we can drive more into their ideological arms if we treat them in a too heavy handed manner. That doesn't mean (I think) we can't call a spade a spade, but we need to do it in a proper way so as to not insult those interested parties who are following along.

Pinky said...

.
Someone just reminded me that I might be more open minded, Ben.
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You're probably correct.
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But, the other side of that coin is that putting up with the shenanigans of people like Barton, et al, might drive away some of the more open minded ones who may be lurking along as well.
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When we try to please everyone, we don't please anyone.
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Who said that?
.
..

Tom Van Dyke said...

Almost everyone, here, seems to be missing the pressure that a Culture of Religiosity puts on all the people.

Everybody gets your point, Phil. Your new favorite term is a pejorative and carries a string of arguments---none of which is self-evident---and ties any desire for religion to influence our polity to the excesses of 1600s England.

Ben, I think your definition is in the Adams quotes, as he is a friend to neither Voltaire nor the pope, Tindal nor Calvin, as he sees them all as equally dogmatic.

Pinky said...

.
And, everybody gets your point as well, Tom.
.
Except I don't.

How does culture of religiosity get to be a pejorative?
.
America was deep into that culture from the beginning.

Religiosity is as different from Christianity as Christianity is from Religiosity. The two are as different from each other as atmosphere is different from water and water is from atmosphere.
.
You seem stuck in some cathexis.
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It seems you're trying to get the game of "Let's discredit Pinky every chance we get." going at this blog.

I won't cooperate with you further and I'm not leaving to make you happy. How about dropping your anti-pinky campaign?

Pick on someone else for a while. Uh, Maybe Tom?



.

Tom Van Dyke said...

It's not personal, man. You keep dropping in your new phrase, in bold face, as a pronouncement. Then you say "Almost everyone, here, seems to be missing...etc."

Why would answering you be picking on you?

Who would disagree that religiosity as

exaggerated or affected piety and religious zeal

is bad?

However, how much

re·li·gi·os·i·ty (r-lj-s-t)
n.
1. The quality of being religious.

is OK?

Further, it was you who wrote about the 1600s and then wrote, "Once again, we are being inundated by religiosity," quite plainly making a comparison between then and now, an assertion that deserves at least some scrutiny.

Picking on you? Not at all. I think your opinion is shared by many and I think it should be discussed. However, I find the application of the your new term to the present day to be questionable, unless The Culture of Religiosity applies only to that of a small extreme minority and not to our culture as a whole.

Is that what you're saying?

To leave the subject of Pinky, then, I wanted to continue discussing Adams. His hostility toward the Voltaire crowd is interesting, and probative, especially since the Voltaire crowd so closely resembles many voices in 2009. They are not just nontheists or even atheists, they are anti-theists, a whole different bag of bananas.

Is ours a Culture of Anti-theism? No, not yet anyway, and Adams appears to have hoped that we never become one, God forbid.

bpabbott said...

Tom: "Ben, I think your definition is in the Adams quotes"

Com'on Tom. I asked about *your* words, not Adams'.

Besides, as are as I know the term "secular" was not part of Adams' language.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Well, you know my growing distaste for terms, Ben, as it's easy to exploit the multiple meanings and shadings of words to get any x to equal any y, even if there is no equality.

[Sophistry, equivocation, etc. My problem with the existence of 2 major meanings for "religiosity" as a basis for discussion.]

Now, a google shows the bland assertion that Thomas Jefferson's University of Virginia was conceived as "secular" in multiple places, even from ostensible scholars.

David Barton says it was not. Chris Rodda corrected me on saying that the various sects/denominations taught their own creeds there, which I'll accept provisionally since I can't get access to Volume 19 of Jefferson's writings, which Barton footnotes.

[Chris and I have been getting along fine, don't you think, as we have discussed things with respect and co-operation, not as adversaries. Cheers, Chris, if you're still here.]

But in doing so, Chris writes that "[t]here was NO religious instruction at the university until the 1840s." [Capital letters hers.]

Yet one of Barton's footnotes checks out independently, here.

"In conformity with the principles of our Constitution, which places all sects of religion on an equal footing, with the jealousies of the different sects in guarding that equality from encroachment and surprise, and with the sentiments of the Legislature in favor of freedom of religion, manifested on former occasions, we have proposed no professor of divinity; and the rather as the proofs of the being of a God, the creator, preserver, and supreme ruler of the universe, the author of all the relations of morality, and of the laws and obligations these infer, will be within the province of the professor of ethics; to which adding the developments of these moral obligations, of those in which all sects agree, with a knowledge of the languages, Hebrew, Greek, and Latin, a basis will be formed common to all sects..."

Teaching God, or at least the "proofs" of Him, then all the theology that follows from the proposition of God, our duties to each other, the moral life, and the etc. that flow therefrom.

Does any modern---secular---university instruct in such things?

So, I put it to you, Ben---does Jefferson's University of Virginia meet your or any definition of "secular"? Or is "non-sectarian" or Magpie Mason's "ecumenical" more accurate? Does all this fall above or below the threshold for the term "religious instruction?"

I'm really getting to hate terms, man. They really get in the way of the truth a lot. So, they're all yours, or anyone else who wants 'em. You define 'em and take my place on the gibbet for a change.

;-D

[Howz that for tying together all our loose ends? Secularism, Barton, epistemology, the 10-90-100 Question. Shame hardly anybody's reading by this point. Just you, me and the chickens. And Phil.]

bpabbott said...

Tom: "So, I put it to you, Ben---does Jefferson's University of Virginia meet your or any definition of "secular"? "

It is imporant to understand the context. I think a university may be secular even if it offers/sponsors sectarian classes or events. The important context is; does it require sectarian or religious participation, qualifications of its employees, and/or students?

Secular is not the same as anti-religion. It is more anti-sectarian, or anti-theocratic. Secularism doesn't require an absence of religion or religious activity, just the absence of required religious belief and/or activities.

I admit this example is difficult for me to discern one way or the other. Is the university respecting the religious beliefs of its students and faculty? or is its intent to indoctrinate?

In any event, In my understading, to qualify as "secular" the institution must not be pro or con on religion. In either event, the instituation is participaing in religion.

Pinky said...

.
"I'm really getting to hate terms." ;-D
.
I will put a paper together on the use of a term you have shown a particular distaste for, Culture of Religiosity.
.
It will bear historical references to original source material just to satisfy you. As it is a new "thing" for me, it may take a little time as there are other more pressing issues in my life.
.

Tom Van Dyke said...

OK, Phil. The 1600s are stipulated as bad, although one might keep in mind that their religiosity was the force that broke the king's sovereignty and invested it in the people.

Ben, now we have a problem with the term "religion." Does it mean Jesus-as-God or does teaching

"the proofs of the being of a God, the creator, preserver, and supreme ruler of the universe, the author of all the relations of morality, and of the laws and obligations these infer...adding the developments of these moral obligations, of those in which all sects agree..."

qualify as "religion?"

As Magpie Mason pointed out, hitting the dictionary


Main Entry:
1sec·u·lar Listen to the pronunciation of 1secular
Pronunciation:
\ˈse-kyə-lər\
Function:
adjective
Etymology:
Middle English, from Anglo-French seculer, from Late Latin saecularis, from saeculum the present world, from Latin, generation, age, century, world; akin to Welsh hoedl lifetime
Date:
14th century

1 a: of or relating to the worldly or temporal [secular concerns]


"secular" pertains to this world, but injecting God seems to throw a monkey wrench in that.

Neither do I get the impression that this instruction was elective like today's "comparative theology" classes; it seems to be the core curriculum.

I'm trying to get to the truth of the matter without the terms getting in the way. Would teaching the proofs of God and our obligations thereby pass muster in our "secular" public schools of today?

By the standards of the time, when universities were run by churches, the University of Virginia was "secular." But by the standards of 2009?

Pinky said...

.
Tom, "... The 1600s are stipulated as bad, although one might keep in mind that their religiosity was the force that broke the king's sovereignty and invested it in the people." Depending how some postmodernist might deconstruct your comment, their religiosity was the exact same thing that had everyone else in its bondage. It was their interpretation of Christianity that brought them to break with the king. It was all part of the Protestant Reformation. But, you knew that.
.
July 4, 1776, gave the
Coup d’etat to the king's sovereignty. It sure didn't end until then. I am putting a reply together that should satisfy you.
.
But, it probably won't seeing how you hate to admit anything....
.

Tom Van Dyke said...

I'll admit anything someone can prove. But you can't prove opinions.

You didn't answer my questions about how much or what kind of religiosity is OK.

First you complain about being ignored, then why I try to engage you, you complain about that, too. You wrote, "When we try to please everyone, we don't please anyone." You should have added, "But there's no pleasing some people."

Pinky said...

.
Give me a break, VanDyke. The entire proposal that America was or was not Founded as a Christian Nation is opinion. In that sense, the bloggers here search for evidence to either prove or disprove that idea.
.
I never complained about being "ignored"; but, must admit that it ticks me off the way you attempt to discredit participants with whom you have some issue--always trying to come out on top.

I'm sure that whatever I come up with on how religiosity impacted the Founding, you WILL be at your nastiest to discredit me one way or the other. In fact, it looks like you have already started your game.

People who can't take honest criticism don't deserve a lot of respect.
.

bpabbott said...

Tom: "Neither do I get the impression that this instruction was elective like today's "comparative theology" classes; it seems to be the core curriculum."

This is an important point. I don't know either.

Tom: "Would teaching the proofs of God and our obligations thereby pass muster in our "secular" public schools of today?"

Certainly, not!

However, I don't see evidence that these "proofs" and "obligations" were things that the students/faculty were obligated to accept. After all the 10 commandments adorn the USSC building, but that doesn't imply that they are formally apart of our Nation's governence.

I'm not making any claim, but only expressing skepticism of any conclusion in the absence of evidence.

Is there any evidence that the examples of theisitic philogophy were anything more than ceremonial philosophy, that could be embraced or ignored at the discretion of the individual?

Tom Van Dyke said...

It seems the students would be taught the proofs of God and of the moral obligations that follow. Whether they accept it all is moot.

I don't know what "ceremonial philosophy" is, and I dearly hope to discuss this without introducing even more terms. ;-}

Pinky said...

.
Terms
.
"Me things [Tom] doth protest too much."
.
Before postmodernism had such influence on the way we understand ideas, terms almost always had specific meanings...
.
In context, terms continue to be practical tools of language..
.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Only if their meaning is agreed upon by the discussants. Every formal debate begins with the definition of terms, otherwise whatever follows is Babel. As we illustrated here, in context.

I agree about the postmodern theories of language.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Or, better put recently by Peter Baker, "You can call a rattlesnake a 'rhythmic reptile' all you want, but you still can't let your kids play with it in the sandbox."

Pinky said...

.
TOM: "Only if their meaning is agreed upon by the discussants."
.
You're thinking about contract law, Tom. And, you don't mean discussants, you mean parties to the agreement.
.
In polite dialog, when one person uses a term and gives it definition. the other is bound to acceptance unless their purpose might be to befuddle and confuse the issue.

We shouldn't have to review such simple facts at this adult level. Get over it.
.

Tom Van Dyke said...

'When I use a word,' Humpty Dumpty said, in a rather scornful tone,' it means just what I choose it to mean, neither more nor less.'

'The question is,' said Alice, 'whether you can make words mean so many different things.'

'The question is,' said Humpty Dumpty, 'which is to be master - that's all.'

Alice was too much puzzled to say anything; so after a minute Humpty Dumpty began again. 'They've a temper, some of them - particularly verbs: they're the proudest - adjectives you can do anything with, but not verbs - however, I can manage the whole lot of them! Impenetrability! That's what I say!'

'Would you tell me, please,' said Alice, 'what that means?'

'Now you talk like a reasonable child,' said Humpty Dumpty, looking very much pleased. 'I meant by "impenetrability" that we've had enough of that subject, and it would be just as well if you'd mention what you mean to do next, as I suppose you don't mean to stop here all the rest of your life.'

'That's a great deal to make one word mean,' Alice said in a thoughtful tone.

'When I make a word do a lot of work like that,' said Humpty Dumpty, 'I always pay it extra.'

'Oh!' said Alice. She was too much puzzled to make any other remark.

Pinky said...

.
"I always pay it extra."
.
Old Humpty Dumpty. Didn't he fall off a wall?
.
Him, like the turtle on the fence post: Who put them there?

And, I try to pay extra when I do that with words as well, Tom. I try to explain what I mean and that is the extra payment we must pay--I agree. I don't expect anyone to be forced into the possibility of a false assumption.
.
But, then, what do I know?

bpabbott said...

Tom, I apologize in my delay. I've been rather busy the last several days.

Tom: "It seems the students would be taught the proofs of God and of the moral obligations that follow. Whether they accept it all is moot."
[emphasis mine]

You're right in the middle of what I'm expressing skepticism of. What is seems is not evidence of what is is.

Tom: "I don't know what "ceremonial philosophy" is, and I dearly hope to discuss this without introducing even more terms."

My point is that the quote provided may carry no weight. I'm inclinded to carry a currency with the words "In God We Trust" on it. However, I'm under no burdend to profess or hold such a belief. The term "In God We Trust" has been described as "Ceremonial Deism" (a term I think would be objectionable to beleiver and non-believer alike). As I dislike that term, I substituted a new one ;-)

Tom Van Dyke said...

I used "seems" to mean I'm not certain.

The quote provides a lot of weight if the proofs of God were core curriculum.

That's a lot more than "ceremonial deism."

bpabbott said...

Tom: "The quote provides a lot of weight if the proofs of God were core curriculum."

I don't see it. If the quote was from the curriculum, I would.

Tom: "That's a lot more than 'ceremonial deism.'"

If it is part of the curriculum, then I'd agree.

I should mention your negative bias regarding "terms" is matched by my positive bias for skepticism.

I'm not making a claim of what is more likely. My position is that I haven't seen enough evidence to merit a conclusion.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Agreed. It opens up an interesting door for further study, no more or less.

bpabbott said...

Wikipedia has an article on the University of Virginia. Which includes ...

"An even more controversial direction was taken for the new university based on a daring vision that higher education should be completely separated from religious doctrine. One of the largest construction projects in North America up to that time, the new Grounds were centered upon a library (then housed in the Rotunda) rather than a church—further distinguishing it from peer universities of the United States, most of which were still primarily functioning as seminaries for one particular religion or another.[13] Jefferson even went so far as to ban the teaching of Theology altogether. In a letter to Thomas Cooper in October 1814, Jefferson stated, "a professorship of theology should have no place in our institution" and, true to form, the University never had a Divinity school or department, and was established independent of any religious sect. Replacing the then-standard specialization in Religion, the University undertook groundbreaking specializations in scientific subjects such as Astronomy and Botany. (However, today the University does maintain one of the highest-rated Religious Studies departments in the U.S. and a non-denominational chapel, notably absent from Jefferson's original plans, was constructed in 1890 near the Rotunda.)"

I googled the quote to Thomas Cooper, and found a realiable reference to it ; The Jeffersonian Cyclopedia A Comprehensive Collection of the Views of Thomas Jefferson Classified and Arranged in Alphabetical Order Under Nine Thousand Titles Relating to Government, Politics, Law, Education, Political Economy, Finance, Science, Art, Literature, Religious Freedom, Morals, Etc By Thomas Jefferson, John P. Foley

It is accompanied by a more detailed description.

"In our University there is no professorship of divinity A handle been made of this to disseminate an idea this is an nistitution not merely of no religion but against all religion Occasion was taken at the last meeting of the Visitors to bring forward an idea that might silence this calumny which weighed on the minds of some honest friends to the institution In our annual report to the Legislature after stating the constitutional reasons against a public establishment of any religious instruction we suggest the expediency of encouraging the different religious sects to establish each for itself a professorship of their own tenets on the confines of the University so near as that their students may attend the lectures there and have the free use of our library and every other accommodation we can give them preserving however their independence of us and of each other This fills the chasm objected to ours as a defect in an institution professing to give instruction in all useful sciences I think the invitation will be accepted by some sects from candid intentions and by others from jealousy and rival ship And by bringing the sects together and mixing them with the mass of other students we shall soften their asperities liberalize and neutralize their prejudices and make the general religion a religion of peace reason and morality."
-- To DR THOMAS COOPER vii 267 FORD ED x 243 M 1822 See EDUCATION LANGUAGES and SCHOOLS

The complete reference (and link) is; The Jeffersonian Cyclopedia A Comprehensive Collection of the Views of Thomas Jefferson Classified and Arranged in Alphabetical Order Under Nine Thousand Titles Relating to Government, Politics, Law, Education, Political Economy, Finance, Science, Art, Literature, Religious Freedom, Morals, Etc By Thomas Jefferson, John P. Foley

Based upon these quotations, I think there if fair reason to conclude that U of VA was founded as a secular institution.

One point I was unaware of before my today was to Jefferson was joined by Madison and Manroe as member of the university's Board of Visitors.

Although Jefferson was largely responsible for founding the U of VA, the land underneath had belonged to James Monroe (I do not know the details of how the land went from Monroe to the University).

bpabbott said...

I tracked down complete copies of the letters from Jefferson to Cooper regarding the U of VA. The 1814 letter is below.

----------------------------------------
Monticello, October 8, 1814

"Dear Sir, -- Your several favors of September 15th, 21st, 22nd, came all together by our last mail. I have given to that the 15th a single reading only, because the handwriting (not your own) is microscopic and difficult, and because I shall have an opportunity of studying it in the Portfolio in print. According to your request I return it for that publication, where it will do a great deal of good. It will give our young men some idea of what constitutes a well-educated ma; that Caesar and Virgil, and a few books of Euclid, do not really contain the sum of all human knowledge, nor give to a man figure in the ranks of science. Your letter will be a valuable source of consultation for us in our collegiate courses, when, and if ever, we advance to that stage of our establishment.

I agree with yours of the 22d that a professorship of Theology should have no place in our institution But we cannot always do what is absolutely best Those with whom we act entertaining different views have the power and the right of carrying them into practice Truth advances and error recedes step by step only and to do to our fellow men the most good in our power we must lead where we can follow where we cannot and still go with them watching always the favorable moment for helping them to another step Perhaps I should concur with you also in excluding the theory not the practice of medicine This is the charlatanerie of the body as the other is of the mind For classical learning I have ever been a zealous advocate and in this as in his theory of bleeding and mercury I was ever opposed to my friend Rush whom I greatly loved but who has done much harm in the sincerest persuasion that he was preserving life and happiness to all around him I have not, however carried so far as you do my ideas of the importance of a hypercritical knowledge of the Latin and Greek languages I have believed it sufficient to possess a substantial understanding of their authors In the exclusion of Anatomy and Botany from the eleventh grade of education which is that of the man of independent fortune we separate in opinion In my view no knowledge can be more satisfactory to a man than that of his own frame its parts their functions and actions And Botany I rank with the most valuable sciences whether we consider its subjects as furnishing the principal subsistence of life to man and beast delicious varieties for our tables refreshments from our orchards the adornments of our flower borders shade and perfume of our groves materials for our buildings or medicaments for our bodies To the gentleman it is certainly more interesting than Mineralogy which I by no means however undervalue and is more at hand for his amusement and to a country family it constitutes a great portion of their social entertainment No country gentleman should be without what amuses every step he takes into his fields I am sorry to learn the fate of your Emporium It was adding fast to our useful knowledge Our artists particularly and our statesmen will have cause to regret it But my hope is that its suspension will be temporary only and that as soon as we get over the crisis of our disordered circulation your publishers will resume it among their first enterprises Accept my thanks for the benefit of your ideas to our scheme of education and the assurance of my constant esteem and respect."
-- Thomas Jefferson to Thomas Cooper, October 8, 1914; The Writings of Thomas Jefferson By Thomas Jefferson, Andrew Adgate Lipscomb, Albert Ellery Bergh, Richard Holland Johnston, Thomas Jefferson Memorial Association of the United States

bpabbott said...

I tracked down complete copies of the letters from Jefferson to Cooper regarding the U of VA. The 1822 letter is below.

----------------------------------------
Monticello, November 2, 1822

"Dear Sir, -- Your favor of October the 18th came to hand yesterday. The atmosphere of our country is unquestionably charged with a threatening cloud of fanaticism, lighter in some parts, denser in others, but too heavy in all. I had no idea, however, that in Pennsylvania, the cradle of toleration and freedom of religion, it could have arisen to the height you describe. This must be owing to the growth of Presbyterianism. The blasphemy and absurdity of the five points of Calvin, and the impossibility of defending them, render their advocates impatient of reasoning, irritable, and prone to denunciation. In Boston, however, and its neighborhood, Unitarianism has advanced to so great strength, as now to humble this haughtiest of all religious sects; insomuch that they condescend to interchange with them and the other sects, the civilities of preaching freely and frequently in each others' meeting-houses. In Rhode Island, on the other hand, no sectarian preacher will permit an Unitarian to pollute his desk. In our Richmond there is much fanaticism, but chiefly among the women. They have their night meetings and praying parties, where, attended by their priests, and sometimes by a hen-pecked husband, they pour forth the effusions of their love to Jesus, in terms as amatory and carnal, as their modesty would permit them to use to a mere earthly lover. In our village of Charlottesville, there is a good degree of religion, with a small spice only of fanaticism. We have four sects, but without either church or meeting-house. The courthouse is the common temple, one Sunday in the month to each. Here, Episcopalian and Presbyterian, Methodist and Baptist, meet together, join in hymning their Maker, listen with attention and devotion to each others' preachers, and all mix in society with perfect harmony. It is not so in the districts where Presbyterianism prevails undividedly. Their ambition and tyranny would tolerate no rival if they had power. Systematical in grasping at an ascendancy over all other sects, they aim, like the Jesuits, at engrossing the education of the country, are hostile to every institution which they do not direct, and jealous at seeing others begin to attend at all to that object. The diffusion of instruction, to which there is now so growing an attention, will be the remote remedy to this fever of fanaticism; while the more proximate one will be the progress of Unitarianism. That this will, ere long, be the religion of the majority from north to south, I have no doubt

In our university you know there is no Professorship of Divinity. A handle has been made of this, to disseminate an idea that this is an institution, not merely of no religion, but against all religion. Occasion was taken at the last meeting of the Visitors, to bring forward an idea that might silence this calumny, which weighed on the minds of some honest friends to the institution. In our annual report to the legislature, after stating the constitutional reasons against a public establishment of any religious instruction, we suggest the expediency of encouraging the different religious sects to establish, each for itself, a professorship of their own tenets, on the confines of the university, so near as that their students may attend the lectures there, and have the free use of our library, and every other accommodation we can give them; preserving, however, their independence of us and of each other. This fills the chasm objected to ours, as a defect in an institution professing to give instruction in all useful sciences. I think the invitation will be accepted, by some sects from candid intentions, and by others from jealousy and rivalship. And by bringing the sects together, and mixing them with the mass of other students, we shall soften their asperities, liberalize and neutralize their prejudices, and make the general religion a religion of peace, reason, and morality.

The time of opening our university is still as uncertain as ever. All the pavilions, boarding houses, and dormitories are done. Nothing is now wanting but the central building for a library and other general purposes. For this we have no funds, and the last legislature refused all aid. We have better hopes of the next. But all is uncertain. I have heard with regret of disturbances on the part of the students in your seminary. The article of discipline is the most difficult in American education. Premature ideas of independence, too little repressed by parents, beget a spirit of insubordination, which is the great obstacle to science with us, and a principal cause of its decay since the revolution. I look to it with dismay in our institution, as a breaker ahead, which I am far from being confident we shall be able to weather. The advance of age, and tardy pace of the public patronage, may probably spare me the pain of witnessing consequences.

I salute you with constant friendship and respect."
-- Thomas Jefferson to Thomas Cooper, November 2, 1822.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Well, Ben, keep in mind we're just exploring this. I certainly admit I don't have all the facts.

Your quotes comport with what I was guessing. Whether or not they actually set up the schools for the various sects to run for themselves [in the university but not of it], i don't know, or if Chris was right that no religious instruction took place until 1840.

However [clearing throat], it's actually more significant that teaching the proofs of God and of our moral obligations therefrom was assigned not to a professor of divinity, but to the professor of ethics.

This is key, as you pointed out. For if the baseline curriculum included God in this manner, using the word "secular" is premature. Non-sectarian seems to fit better.

Now, "secular" has some bearing, in that there were no divinity degrees awarded at all, no professor of divinity. I'd guess if you went to a Presbyterian university and got a divinity degree, it'd really be a degree in Presbyterianism. By contrast, I imagine a divinity degree from Harvard in 2009 would be non-sectarian, and in its way could be called "secular."

Once again, terms terms terms.

What I find key here is that if the proofs of God were taught to all University of Virginia students and not counterbalanced by the arguments for atheism [which was still anathema in those days, I think], applying our modern understanding of "secular" misses something very fundamental.

I would, however, be comfortable with terming the curriculum as "theistic rationalism."

Hehe.

bpabbott said...

Tom: "Well, Ben, keep in mind we're just exploring this. I certainly admit I don't have all the facts."

Agreed.

Tom adds: "What I find key here is that if the proofs of God were taught to all University of Virginia students and not counterbalanced by the arguments for atheism [which was still anathema in those days, I think], applying our modern understanding of "secular" misses something very fundamental."

Regarding this, I'm sure we can find "proofs of God" taught in every University in the USA today. In some these "proofs" are intended to be accepted as true and in others they are presented as examples of proofs by believers, but there is no need for the students / faculty to accept them as true or proper. The former is non-secular while the latter is compatible with secularism.

Regarding the U of VA, were the "proofs" a mandatory part of the curriculum? ... and where the proofs presented as true and proper, or as examples of logical arguments seeking to prove God?

To be honest, I'm uncertain there were any "proofs of God" in any part of the curriculum at all.

To pursue these questions, I spent some more time with Google. Below is Jefferson speaking of the specific language in question.

---------------------------------------
"We have left ourselves but little room to speak of the profession of divinity. No provision is made for instruction in this department in the university of Virginia. As this is probably the first instance in the world of a university without any such provision our readers will perhaps be gratified with seeing the portion of the report in which this subject is mentioned.

`In conformity with the principles of our constitution which places all sects of religion on an equal footing with the jealousies of the different sects in guarding that equality from encroachment and surprize and with the sentiments of the legislature in favour of freedom of religion manifested on former occasions we have proposed no professor of divinity and the rather as the proofs of the being of a God, the Creator, Preserver, and supreme Ruler of the universe, the Author of all the relations of morality, and of the laws and obligations these infer, will be within the province of the professor of Ethics; to which, adding the developments of those moral obligations, of those in which all sects agree, with a knowledge of the languages of Hebrew, Greek and Latin, a basis will be formed, common to all sects. Proceeding thus far without offence to the constitution, we have thought it proper at this point to leave every sect to provide, as they think fittest, the means of further instruction in their own peculiar tenets.'

The result of this hazardous experiment it is not for us to anticipate. We feel as sensibly as the framers of the report the sore evil resulting to our theological schools from that diversity of sects which is made the ground of striking a chair of theology from the list of the Virginian professorships. With us, the evil operates in a different way, not in wholly depriving us of theological instruction but in splitting up the theological community, small enough at best for the support of an institution competent to supply the wants of our country, into two or three weak factions. It is the smallest evil of these parties that they divide that public patronage which is all wanted for the common cause. A sectarian spirit, most unfavourable to the improvement of Society and most uncongenial with the temper of Christianity is generated within the various theological camps pitched throughout our country. We are sure this is not a necessary division. The law has its Cassians and its Proculeians, as of old, but this does not throw its members into a bitter hostility with each other; and in our medical lecture rooms Brunonian sits down with Cullenian side by side. Why Calvinist and Arminian, Trinitarian and Unitarian should not be equally tolerant, we are at a loss to say. At any rate, we believe there is but one opinion in this part of the country relative to the necessity of pursuing theological studies, under the direction of academical method If there be therefore any considerable degree of justice in the foregoing remarks, it would seem that something like the continental universities is not a little to be desired among us."
-- The North American Review and Miscellaneous Journal
---------------------------------------

Based upon this explanation, it appears (to me) that the mention of "proofs"/etc are done in an accommodating and ceremonial spirit. Those words appear to have been written to appease theological sentiments as opposed to instilling and/or preserving theological sentiments.

In light of this, I'm even more skeptical that any "proofs of God" were part of the required curriculum. Of course my understanding is perpendicular to Barton's claim. Based upon this same information, Barton claims; "Jefferson personally ensured that religious instruction would occur, directing that the teaching of 'the proofs of the being of a God...'"

A reading of Barton's claim and a complete reading of Jefferson's words reveals that Barton ommitted all of Jefferson's comments that were not congruent with his claims ... the entire last paragraph, for example.

It appears (to me) that delibrately Barton has framed Jefferson's ceremonial accommodation as an institutional requirement.

Except for the accommodating ceremonial language does Barton offer any other evidence? This question led to me seek out a copy of the curriculum. From that search I located an outline, see pages 118 an 119. I notice that "Ethics" is implied to be a fifth of the responsibility of a single professor (of which there were 10).

This implies that "proof(s) of God" would be a fraction of 2% of the curriculum ... and we still do not know if these proofs were presented as examples of logical arguments or as literal proof of God.

While it is possible that the original U of VA would not qualify as wholly secular today, it appears (to me) to be the most secular educational institution in its place and time.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Oh, I don't want to defend David Barton or any of his claims. As previously written, I defend Barton only in the abstract against the incivility of the "liar" talk. "Liar" is a conversation-ender and there are bettter ways for civilized people to say Joe X is full of shit.


I also defend him in that zetetic way that we should use everybody, scholar or advocate, as compasses, not maps. I wrote about Howard Zinn in the same way. I think he's largely full of shit, but he can be of value as a compass, too. Should we believe 10 or 90 or 100%, you know. I say, check it out for yourself.

I dunno if your math is right at arriving at 2%. If the professor of ethics taught proofs of God and all the moral obligations that flow therefrom, 10% would be significant.

Regardless of the math, unless the professor of ethics taught non-God proofs and skepticisms, we must qualify the instruction as "theistic rationalism."

And so, I put it to you, Ben---is "theistic rationalism" consistent with the term "secular?"

There's a nub, too. In fact---as you've stipulated---our 21st century "secularism" would object strenuously to the "proofs of God" being taught in any form whatsoever in our public schools.

And that's a real damn nub, innit it?

Tom Van Dyke said...


While it is possible that the original U of VA would not qualify as wholly secular today, it appears (to me) to be the most secular educational institution in its place and time.


Ooooops, missed this one. I like to answer in full.

I thought we already agreed on this, and I wrote to that effect in the above. No counterargument here atall atall.

;-[D>