Sunday, March 29, 2009

More On Non-Trinitarians & Christianity

One fascinating dynamic I've discovered researching the history of the American Founding & religion is many of the supposed "Deist" Founding Fathers actually thought of themselves as "Christians," but since they rejected Trinitarianism, the "orthodox" did not think of them as Christians, but something else.

The question is whether these "heretics" like America's key Founders and the philosophers they followed deserve the label "Christian" at all. If you listen to American orthodox theologians, they will commonly assert things such as "Christians believe in a Triune God," ergo, non-Trinitarians are not Christians. For instance listen to this very amusing debate between the "orthodox" late Bible answer man Walter Martin and the Arian-gnostic Roy Masters, whom some accuse of being a cult leader. In a nutshell: Martin: "You are not a Christian." Masters: "Yes I am."

I am going to reproduce some primary sources and scholarly material that illustrates this dynamic. First, I just discovered this excellent First Things obituary of religious historian Jaroslav Pelikan. (Thanks to co-blogger Kristo M. for alerting me to the existence of Pelikan.)

The first volume of his history of Christian thought, The Christian Tradition, begins: “What the church of Jesus Christ believes, teaches and confesses on the basis of the Word of God: This is Christian doctrine.” His life was devoted to the exposition and teaching of that Christian doctrine....By doctrine Pelikan did not mean just any teaching. He meant the central truths of Christianity: that God is triune, that Christ is fully God and fully man—those teachings that were solemnly declared in the ancient councils and are confessed in the ecumenical creeds. His historical study had convinced him that the most faithful bearer of the apostolic faith was the great tradition of thought and practice as expounded by the orthodox Church Fathers.

In the last generation, it has become fashionable among historians of Christian thought not only to seek to understand the Gnostics or the Arians but also to become their advocates and to suggest, sometimes obliquely, sometimes straightforwardly, that orthodox Christianity made its way not by argument and truth but by power and coercion. The real heroes in Christian history are the dissidents, the heretics, whose insights and thinking were suppressed by the imperious bishops of the great Church.

Pelikan never succumbed to this temptation. In the classroom, in public lectures, and in his many books, he was an advocate of creedal Christianity, of the classical formulations of Christian doctrine....


It's understandable why folks might view various heretics, particularly of the Arian bent, as heroes, because so many leading lights believed in these heresies. Indeed if we have to sacrifice Arians (those who believe Christ was divine but created by and subordinate to the Father) as "not Christian," we have to sacrifice, among others, John Milton. As the article notes:

He said he had been reading again Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment? Milton’s Paradise Lost (even though Milton was an Arian and probably a Pelagian, quipped Pelikan),...


Samuel Clarke is another Arian who comes to mind as typifying the kind of "Christianity" that so captured the minds of key Founders. For instance, as I noted in a recent post when asked to put his theological cards on the table, James Madison appealed to Samuel Clarke as authority, NOT John Witherspoon. Clarke was a "divine" in the Anglican Church. Here is what the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy writes about him:

In 1712, apparently against the advice of some of Queen Anne's ministers, Clarke published The Scripture Doctrine of the Trinity, which was accused of Arianism, the view that Christ is divine but created. The ensuing controversy culminated two years later in his humiliating promise to the Upper House of Convocation not to preach or write on the topic any longer. However, this act of submission did not silence the correct rumors that he, like Newton himself, was still an Arian. How much these suspicions of heterodoxy damaged his ecclesiastical career is unclear. However, Voltaire reports that Bishop Gibson effectively prevented Clarke's elevation to the see of Canterbury by pointing out that Clarke was indeed the most learned and honest man in the kingdom, but had one defect: he was not a Christian.


Isaac Newton, mentioned in the quotation, is another Arian whom the Founders greatly admired. John Locke was either an Arian or perhaps a Socinian. The Arian Rev. Richard Price, a friend of America's Founders and one of the first "out" Unitarians in England noted in an address:

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


Again, this is important evidence that supports Dr. Gregg Frazer's thesis that "commonly received ideas of Christianity" in late 18th Century America did NOT consider non-Trinitarianism to be "Christianity." Every established church save the Quakers was in some way connected to a Trinitarian creed. Yet, unitarians abounded in those churches, indeed, abounded among the ranks of ministers in those churches. They faced a dillema. Those in higher positions of authority in the orthodox Trinitarian churches expected Trinitarian creeds to be recited, but the unitarians didn't want to recite those confessions. As Rev. Price put it:

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


Finally here is Unitarian minister and President of Harvard in the early 19th Century, Jared Sparks, replying to a Trinitarian Christian critic who argued Unitarians are not Christians:

Your sweeping denunciation embraces all Unitarians of every age and country. If your charges are well-founded, Newton, Locke, and Chillingworth, were “no christians in any correct sense of the word, nor any more in the way of salvation, than Mohammedans or Jews?”


Oh and, just for fun, here is Sparks' argument that Locke's "Reasonableness of Christianity" was a secret unitarian tome (i.e., Locke didn't deny the Trinity but totally ignored the Trinity and related doctrines when declaring the "essentials" of Christianity, something that no Trinitarian would do, indeed something ONLY secret unitarians did in that place and time; and Locke was called out for it):

And Locke must still be considered a Unitarian, till he can be proved a Trinitarian ; a task, which it is not likely you will soon undertake. At all events, he had no faith in the assemblage of articles, which you denominate the essence of christianity, and without believing which, you say, no one can be called a Christian. His whole treatise on the Reasonableness of Christianity bears witness to this truth. For the leading object of that work is to show, that “the Gospel was written to induce men into a belief of this proposition, ‘that Jesus of Nazareth was the Messiah,’ which if they believed, they should have life.”* He says nothing about total depravity, the atonement, the “sanctifying spirit of an Almighty Surety,” nor any of your peculiar doctrines. Yet who has done more to elucidate the sacred Scriptures, or to prove the consistency and reasonableness of the religion of Jesus? Your rule, however, will take from him the Christian name.

81 comments:

Tom Van Dyke said...

Well, Jon, the counterargument being made to you and Dr. Fraser by everyone this side of OFT is precisely Jared Sparks', but you don't seem to want to take yes for an answer.

"Your sweeping denunciation embraces all Unitarians of every age and country. If your charges are well-founded, Newton, Locke, and Chillingworth, were “no christians in any correct sense of the word, nor any more in the way of salvation, than Mohammedans or Jews?”

Sparks is obviously making a theological distinction between non-Trinitarian Christians and the other Abrahamic religions, and by extension, infidels as well. That some orthodox Christians did reject Sparks' argument---and do today---doesn't mean that political historians cannot accept it; it's apparent that the unitarians maintained a distinctly Christian character throughout that era.

I believe that's the counterargument both you and Dr. Fraser have received in a nutshell.

Jonathan Rowe said...

Tom,

I actually accept it as a valid counter-argument. What I'm trying to show is EVIDENCE that there existed many orthodox figures of the past as well as of the present era who apply such a test. Bishop Gibson for instance. Therefore the text is a fair one from the perspective of "historical orthodoxy." It might not be the ONLY one however; there is more than one way to look at this.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Yup. Your argument is stipulated: there was a palpable non-Trinitarian component to the Founding, so much so that it was accommodated in the Founding. The question of Jesus' divinity was mooted, by the agreement of all.

We move on to your delightful observation that we should not use "Christian" as a noun in any orthodox sense, as it carries too much controversy, not only now, but clearly then as well. For the sake of furthering and refining our discussion, I'm willing to stipulate that as well.

However, "Christian" as an adjective is---and must---remain in play for any honest account of the Founding. I used the word "Christian-y" once in reference to Ben Franklin's reading of and attempt to live the Bible.

It's as unscholarly a word I can think of, but it seems to me that it's quite intellectually and historically honest to discuss to what extent and degree just how "Christian-y" the Founding was.

It seems "we" [haha] reasonable folks have arrived at a consensus that surrendering our joint inquiry into religion and the Founding---our blog's purpose---to the battle between the extremes of orthodoxy and secularism is neither productive nor probative.

Jonathan Rowe said...

I think "Christian-Deist" and "Christian-Unitarian" are fair terms to describe those "key FFs."

Although in other circles (those very concerned with maintaining the purity of historic orthodoxy) I might also concede a term that does not include "Christian" in there (like "theistic rationalist" or "unitarian" by itself).

Tom Van Dyke said...

Jon, "unitarian" becomes problematic because of the contemporary Unitarian Universalists, who today aren't even necessarily "theists." [Theism = Monotheistic, a "personal" God.]

Leaving aside the arguments against it on its own terms, "theistic rationalist" should not be the only term that we can use to understand the Founding. To me, it's like willfully putting on a straitjacket.

Since so many of us here [and elsewhere] largely agree on the facts and on many of the arguments---you and I are included in this---insisting on a term that doesn't meet with mutual approval seems an unnecessary complication.

Unless terms have a common and agreed-upon meaning, they frustrate the purpose of language, which is to be a medium for the exchange of ideas and concepts.

Words have no inherent value, they're just words.

Unless we agree a dollar equals 4 shekels more or less, we can have no commerce in this marketplace of ideas.

And since Jared Sparks explicitly and vociferously [!] defends his and Founding-era unitarianism as "Christian," I can't stipulate that any term that elides [ignores, obviates, eradicates, obliterates!] "Christian" from the Founding has any currency at all.

Tom Van Dyke said...

And Judas Priest, Mr. Rowe, it's hard enough to stick to the stipulation that "Christian" be used as an adjective! Please forgive me in advance if and when I have a lapse.

Our Founding Truth said...

Tom:The question of Jesus' divinity was mooted, by the agreement of all.

This may be true to a certain extent, but openly, not at all secretly, the true Christians, Roger Sherman comes to mind, understood what the Bible said. The true Christian framers understood what true Christianity is. We can conjecture what the framers said, but ultimately, what the Bible says is supreme, and there is no contradiction whatsoever, that Jesus told everyone He was God, and the Holy Spirit wrote, through the Prophets and Apostles, that God was a Triune Being.

I think John Locke's record supports the claim he was a Christian. When called on the Trinity, he never once said he denied it, and he was true to the English Church. Having books on unitarianism, and unitarian friends mean nothing. Historians have distorted Locke's writings. He believed "Jesus is the Messiah" was all that needed to be believed to be saved. He said there were other "mysteries" in the Bible, that he didn't comment on, as well as inclusion of the trinity could be included in his statement of faith. History does not have John Locke denying the trinity, so why do historians say it? It makes no sense.

Our Founding Truth said...

Sparks:And Locke must still be considered a Unitarian, till he can be proved a Trinitarian ; a task, which it is not likely you will soon undertake. At all events, he had no faith in the assemblage of articles, which you denominate the essence of christianity, and without believing which, you say, no one can be called a Christian. His whole treatise on the Reasonableness of Christianity bears witness to this truth. For the leading object of that work is to show, that “the Gospel was written to induce men into a belief of this proposition, ‘that Jesus of Nazareth was the Messiah,’ which if they believed, they should have life.”* He says nothing about total depravity, the atonement, the “sanctifying spirit of an Almighty Surety,” nor any of your peculiar doctrines. Yet who has done more to elucidate the sacred Scriptures, or to prove the consistency and reasonableness of the religion of Jesus? Your rule, however, will take from him the Christian name.

Sparks isn't completely wrong. Locke believed the essentials of Christianity were inerrant in his "statement of faith" No one can deny the essentials if they aren't brought up, or denied when God prompts them to a person.

Locke affirmed inerrancy, and "mysteries" of the Christian Religion.

Tom Van Dyke said...

John Locke's language skates around the Trinity, if you read him carefully. I don't think you'll ever find him explicitly stating a belief in it. But Jared Sparks seems to be saying here that there's a Christian dimension to salvation that unitarians enjoy that the other Abrahamic faiths do not. Stick with the texts and you can't go wrong, and I think that's an agreeably Protestant sentiment. Place not your faith in any man, especially David Barton. Not even in John Locke.

Brad Hart said...

Van Dyke writes:

However, "Christian" as an adjective is---and must---remain in play for any honest account of the Founding. I used the word "Christian-y" once in reference to Ben Franklin's reading of and attempt to live the Bible.

It's as unscholarly a word I can think of, but it seems to me that it's quite intellectually and historically honest to discuss to what extent and degree just how "Christian-y" the Founding was.


Yeah, I think I can loosely embrace this term. Though it sounds terribly unsophisticated (no offence intended), "Christian-y" does tend to encompass a broader range of founders than the others. It is accepting of the devout orthodox, the anti-orthodox, the unitarian-leaning, the downright anti-religious but still accepting of Christian principles, the deists, etc.

So can we say that America is a "Christian-y" nation?

Our Founding Truth said...

Tom:John Locke's language skates around the Trinity, if you read him carefully. I don't think you'll ever find him explicitly stating a belief in it.

I don't think he skirted the issue. He spent five years defending attacks against his belief in the trinity. Only a fool would have denied the trinity and spend five years defending his character, telling his countrymen "I have written nothing against the trinity." They say Locke was unitarian because he didn't spell out essentials and had unitarian friends. That isn't good enough.

Without an admission of unitarianism, or denial of essentials he was taught at Oxford, why call him a unitarian? Everyone claimed he was a unitarian, why didn't he admit it? Why would he be afraid if all his friends, like Newton, and Rev. Price came out? He didn't need to hide his beliefs.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Yes. I've heard the argument. I don't claim Locke either way. However...

MIT professor and Newton scholar Thomas Levenson---
Isaac Newton was no Christian in any orthodox sense, and his heretical views could have cost him dearly. During his Cambridge University years, Newton denied the divinity of the Trinity and the co-equal status of Jesus with God the Father. Newton kept quiet about his growing commitment to this Arian heresy, but even so it nearly lost him his job. . . .


Hush hush. And Richard Price was born about 20 years after Locke died. But Locke got enough guff just for his evasiveness on the issue. There was a danger.

This is a sidelight to the real issue of the Founding anyway. There certainly were open unitarians, although unitarianism really comes out in the open as we approach 1800.

Jonathan Rowe said...

Only a fool would have denied the trinity and spend five years defending his character, telling his countrymen "I have written nothing against the trinity."

OFT you DO NOT understand this historical dynamic or else you wouldn't have written this. A fool? Locke could have been EXECUTED for denying the Trinity at that time and place in England. Or else banished, criminally punished in some way or have his reputation ruined. He was saving his ass and there is nothing foolish about that. And he never came out and said (I believe the Trinity). At least he had the courage not to lie and claimed to have been a Trinitarian when he danced around the question.

Kristo Miettinen said...

Hi Jon!

Of Pelikan, please note that he never succumbed to saying, of those in error, that they are not Christians. He would say that they were wrong (in politer terms), but never that they are not Christian. The obit expresses his style on this issue thus: "Pelikan knew, and his scholarship demonstrated, what many Christian theologians and Church leaders have forgotten, that over the Church’s long history, the orthodox and catholic form of Christian faith, what the Church 'believes, teaches and confesses on the basis of the Word of God,' has been the most biblical, the most coherent, the most enduring, the most adaptable, and yes, the most true."

Orthodoxy is most true, most excellent in many forms of excellence, but not the only kind of Christianity. Everyone who sincerely put Jesus in the center of their spiritual life was a Christian of some sort. Arius was no hero to Pelikan, but he was still part of the Christian movement, just a Christian in error.

This, to me, is the coherent way to view things, because otherwise "orthodox Christian" becomes a redundant expression, and we don't need the separate words.

By keeping "orthodoxy" narrower than "Christianity" we slice up the universe of seekers into more categories, and can think about them in richer ways.

Of course Pelikan's orthodoxy included orthodox ecclesiology, and it is this aspect of American unorthodoxy (nearly universal American rejection of orthodox ecclesiology, with downright hostility to Catholicism) that had such a profound impact both on the religious climate in colonial America, and on our forms of government.

Jonathan Rowe said...

Thanks Kristo. I'll have to study more his four points of orthodoxy. For purposes of my studies, the "American" understanding that looks to the first point only -- "Christology" -- I find more useful.

OFT might be surprised to find out that, according to this standard, he is NOT an orthodox Christian but Roman Catholics are.

Pinky said...

.
I first read Pelikan some thirty or forty years ago.
.
He started right out in the book I read explaining men build glass houses. If I recall correctly after all those years he had something to say about the Tower of Babbel.
.
I enjoyed listening to the “Roy Masters and Walter Martin radio debate.
.
Being a Unitarian makes sense to me.
.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Keep in mind also when pulling quotes and articles from the magazine First Things
that there have even been articles by rabbis on why they can't accept Jesus. FT's founder, Richard John Neuhaus [RIP] although Roman Catholic, was devoted to ecumenicalism, specifically of the Judeo-Christian sort.

http://www.catholicnewsagency.com/new.php?n=14757

One is tempted to say in the tradition of the Founding, but that might be a bridge too far. Regardless, the question of orthodoxy at the magazine is secondary to the role of religion in public life.

Our Founding Truth said...

Jon:Locke could have been EXECUTED for denying the Trinity at that time and place in England.

I don't buy that. Why didn't they at least imprison Newton, or Clark? The reason is there must have been a few unitarians in high places. So Locke, staying in the closet doesn't wash with me. Do you have anything else?

Jonathan Rowe said...

It doesn't matter whether it would wash with you. Deny the Trinity was not only a crime but a capitol offense during Locke's time. It was a crime on the books in England until 1813 and that it was removed during that year was one of the big motivators for Jefferson and J. Adams in 1813 to slam the Trinity so much that year.

Newton didn't openly deny the Trinity, but like Locke, still paid the price for his secret unitarianism. Locke wasn't a popular figure in England when he wrote but a rebel who had to scram for the Continent for his own safety because they wanted to nail his ass for his secret and subversive ideals.

This is what you do not get.

Tom Van Dyke said...

I'd amplify Jon Rowe's point to submit that it wouldn't take denying or defying the existing religious orthodoxy/political order to pose a threat to one's life or at least livelihood, but just questioning it.

Those were some really effed-up times, them 1600s in England. We Americans have no idea. Thx to our Founding Fathers, that's a true fact.

Our Founding Truth said...

Newton didn't publicly deny the Trinity? I think he did publicly deny it. He wrote I John 5 was an interpolation. He wasn't hung.

Locke was banished early on, I believe. I'm not sure if his work on his statement of faith was "The Reasonableness" or "Vindication" I believe those were late 1690's. He died in 1704?

Tom Van Dyke said...

Go look it all up, Jim, and please don't speak again until you do. Your errors are passing the 50% mark and you got 2 out of 3 wrong about Newton, Locke and Price. Come to think of it, you got all 3 wrong.

If you're not embarrassed, I'm getting embarrassed for you. Please, man, this is painful.

Pinky said...

.
Jon Rowe's statement, "It doesn't matter whether it would wash with you. Deny the Trinity was not only a crime but a capitol offense during Locke's time. " points up the enormous force of the Culture of Religiosity that existed during the several centuries that led up to America's Founding.
.
You lhad best say, "In the year of our Lord, Christ", if you knew what was good for you.
.

Our Founding Truth said...

Your errors are passing the 50% mark and you got 2 out of 3 wrong about Newton, Locke and Price. Come to think of it, you got all 3 wrong.>

I think he did publicly deny it. He wrote I John 5 was an interpolation>

I got half of it right, my bad on the first part. I wasn't sure about it, that's why I put "I think" anyway, everyone knew Newton's beliefs.

My bad on Rev. Price, he didn't know Locke, but he was open about his faith.

Locke didn't need to keep quiet, he never wrote anything contrary to the essentials of Christianity, so how did I get him wrong?

Tom Van Dyke said...

Chill, man. Don't write anything you haven't checked and double-checked. This isn't a bull session for college sophomores, and your mistakes aren't slightly off, they're off by a galaxy or two. Write less, and write better. Much less and much better. And this is coming from the only person here who has ever got your back, but Jim, I'm sick of your act.

And it's considered rude in America to pump your religious faith as true over any other, and it has been rude for over 250 years. You don't come off like you're knowledgeable or even sincerely devout, you come off like you were raised by wolves. "Christians" are not exempt from the rules of their society and there is ample biblical guidance on that.

Richard Price was born 20 years after John Locke died, fer crissakes, Jim, but you called them friends. You might as well said Nixon was Coolidge's vice-president.

OK? You occasionally contribute an invaluable piece of research around here, Jim, and that's of value. I just quoted one from the Prophets of Progress. But by the time you get done misusing your own evidence with your rudeness and lack of context, you end up discrediting your own case, like David Barton or the OJ Simpson prosecution team have done.

Please keep in mind what Mr. Rowe quite gently reminded you, of what John Adams wrote to Jedidiah Morse---by speaking ignorantly and acting like a fucking lunatic, you are not bringing anyone to your "true" faith, you are driving them to atheism. I assure you that as one who hasn't arrived at your "true" Christianity either, that's wise advice. I'll take atheism over whatever it is you've been selling.

I understand you, man. You're not a bad guy.

Our Founding Truth said...

And this is coming from the only person here who has ever got your back, but Jim, I'm sick of your act.>

I could care less if anyone on this blog has my back, because in reality, no one here has my back. I only wrote about Price because someone else mentioned him with Locke. Galaxies off? Give me a break! If you think misstating who a man's friends are is that important, why aren't you foaming at the mouth over such the discriminatory "key founders" theories, which limits the majorities voice, as well as the official statements of the three branches of our government?

And it's considered rude in America to pump your religious faith as true over any other, and it has been rude for over 250 years.>

Actually, it isn't rude it's truth! The fulfilled prophecies support the assertion.

Any you're so concerned about Religion. There has to be a consensus on what is true. If not, then we can't judge anyone as to Christianity and this country. There's no use in examining Jefferson's faith, if you can't compare it with the original.

Actually, the only people who are ignorant on this blog are ones that use foul language, and spread bogus theories, such as James Wilson and James Madison being rationalists, when they both affirmed miracles, as well as other "weird" doctrines, like "this one is a miracle, but this one isn't," talk about foolishness. I wonder what Shain and Hutson think of that.

I'm surprised I made it this long with such secularists on here like abbot, who said the memorial and remonstrance was written when Madison retired. Where is the outcry on that? Don't worry about it, I already know the score and who the umpire is.

Your immaturity is showing, I'm not selling anything, and my writing doesn't sell, or offend. You may want to consider who really is offending you.

Tom Van Dyke said...

I don't foam at the mouth at anything, Jim. And I give the "key" Founders method hell at regular intervals.

I'm not foaming at the mouth at you either. I used an off-color word because you're behaving like a fucking lunatic, and repulse far more than you attract. Plus I talk that way in real life. I'm from Philly, dude.

Actually, it isn't rude it's truth!

Jesus was never rude or angry. Maybe once with the moneychangers, but it was just the once, under very special circumstances and I shouldn't have to explain to a man like you the theological meaning of that incident.

Truth as license to violate the laws of society is contrary to the message of the New Testament. His Kingdom is not of this world. And Paul the Apostle, with his education in the philosophy of the ancient Greeks, could make his case and preach the word without offending anyone's intelligence and in their language, not that of a streetcorner preacher.

Why else would Mr. Locke have written "The Reasonableness of Christianity," and spent his final days concentrating on Paul's epistles?

It would be good for you and for this blog for you to take a break from all this. Study, pray, walk in the sunshine. This internet thing gets pretty intense and addicting sometimes.

Please feel free to write me privately instead. You are of value.

Jonathan Rowe said...

My opinion is OFT works very hard at doing research and brings important facts to the table. However, you often present them in a way that does not help your case at all, but makes you look bad.

The biggest problem I see with your arguments, Jim, (leaving aside rudeness and tone issues) is you don't understand the elementary dynamics of logical argument. Therefore you really needsto take a philosophy 101 class at your local community college. Almost every single post of OFT's has some kind of elementary philosophical error from special pleading to false presumptions, to straw man, to non-sequiturs. OFT needs to understand what these things are so he avoids making them.

Let me give an example:

Actually, the only people who are ignorant on this blog are ones that use foul language, and spread bogus theories,

Are the theories bogus because they aren't true or because the FFs didn't believe in them? Dr. Frazer for instance thinks the key FFs religious beliefs are "bogus" -- i.e., he believes since God is Triune, theological unitarianism is bogus -- but that doesn't mean they didn't believe in them.

such as James Wilson and James Madison being rationalists, when they both affirmed miracles,

This is an example of special pleading. Your specially plead definition of "rationalism." You can argue that when someone believes in miracles it's not very meaningful to term them a "rationalist," however that someone believed in miracles does not disqualify someone from being a "rationalist." "Rationalist" means someone who engages in a great deal of philosophical reasoning. Aquinas and Witherspoon were both orthodox Christians who believed the Bible infallible and both were "rationalist." TVD's critique that, yes, they may have been "rationalist" but that term is not meaningful enough to the debate is FAR stronger because it contains no logical error (as OFT's critique does).

as well as other "weird" doctrines, like "this one is a miracle, but this one isn't,"

Well didn't Ben Franklin and John Adams believe in exactly that? I also have evidence that Joseph Priestley and Richard Price believed in this as well. That shows that at the very least some smart influential folks of that era believed in this.

There is also a "false presumption" in OFT's argument as well. I have read the works of Madison AND Wilson to which he invokes and I certainly don't see them as affirming every miracle in the Bible, arguably they affirm no miracles at all. Madison at one point terms the "aid" that Christianity received during its early era as "miraculous." He could just as easily have been metaphorically speaking. I don't believe in miracles (at least not those that break the laws of science) but I use the term "miraculous" all the time metaphorically speaking. Likewise invoking the Bible as Wilson did, may have been metaphorical.

talk about foolishness.

Again whether YOU think something is "foolish" has exactly NOTHING to do with whether a number of notable or "key" Founders believed in the doctrine. This is called the "reductio ad absurdum" logical error. This is so foolish it can't be true. Ah no, folks believed in things, things central to Founding thought in very influential quarters, that you and many other folks regard as "foolish."

I wonder what Shain and Hutson think of that.

And this is appealing to authority, another logical error. But re what Washington, J. Adams, Jefferson, Madison, Franklin and a few other of the "leading lights" believed, I'm sure they would agree with my side more than yours. My name is on the back of one of Hutson's books, after all.

Pinky said...

.
Philosophy 101.
.
Is this the
Shain you are writing about, Jonathon?
.
If so, he's a reference I'm using in my paper about religiosity.
.

Jonathan Rowe said...

That's him!

Tom Van Dyke said...

We linked to this Shain essay before:

http://oll.libertyfund.org/?option=com_staticxt&staticfile=show.php%3Ftitle=1727&chapter=81716&layout=html&Itemid=27

Our Founding Truth said...

I used an off-color word because you're behaving like a fucking lunatic>

Dude, you have some issues. I called a guy a monkey because he was being unreasonable, then I apologized. How is reciprocating words like, "delusional" with Jon, lunatic? Whatever. I've also noticed how this blog always attacks the Bible. Just look at the last view posts, or the one attacking inerrancy; that's fine, I'm not niave,(sp) you guys are only exposing your illegitimacy allowing people like raven spewing their hate.

You speak of minor errors on my part, what about yours? You either deliberately mocked the Bible, or misspelled four words in one sentence!

but that doesn't mean they didn't believe in them.>

If they didn't believe in them, why do you continue to present to us that they do?

however that someone believed in miracles does not disqualify someone from being a "rationalist." "Rationalist" means someone who engages in a great deal of philosophical reasoning.>

I disagree. We have to agree on what the definition of "rationalist" is, and if it was someone who does what you say, Jesus is a rationalist; I disagree.

Well didn't Ben Franklin and John Adams believe in exactly that? I also have evidence that Joseph Priestley and Richard Price believed in this as well. That shows that at the very least some smart influential folks of that era believed in this.>

That only a couple believed in this, and 90-95% didn't, supports my conclusion. It also tells us of the contradictions the rest of our founding fathers did not engage in.

I certainly don't see them as affirming every miracle in the Bible,>

The text doesn't imply metaphorically. Madison is explaining why Christianity doesn't need assistance, he's referring to the beginnning of the church, where God did many miracles to get the church going.

Wilson affirmed maybe the greatest miracle to ever happen in the universe; the entire earth flooding out and killing everyone and everything, besides Noah and his kin. Why call him a rationalist, when he affirmed the New Testament?

Off the cuff, the dictionary says, "rationalism" appeals to reason as the source of knowledge. Jesus, and the bible attack reason big time! Peter called Jesus the Son of God, and Jesus told him "flesh and blood did not reveal this to you." Rationalism is intellectual and deductive, where God's Word is based on faith through evidence by fulfilled prophecy, archeology, etc.

If a framer believed in something "foolish" he's more of an outlier, and his influence should be minimal, correct? One guy rejecting the supernatural, but not "this" miracle. Come on, man! Why do you think only one or two framers believed that?

I wonder what Shain and Hutson think of that.>

I didn't mean to appeal to their authority. I wondered what they thought, no one on here seems to hold the majority of framers as an authority.

I'm sure they would agree with my side more than yours.>

I highly doubt it.

Jonathan Rowe said...

That only a couple believed in this, and 90-95% didn't, supports my conclusion. It also tells us of the contradictions the rest of our founding fathers did not engage in.

Again, this support exactly what I warned you about. Every single freakin' time you post here you make an error in logic.

This one is another "non-sequitur" which is probably the most common logical error you make.

I have specific, smoking gun,= evidence that Jefferson, J. Adams, Franklin, Priestley & Price believed in this. It does not therefore follow that they were the ONLY folks who believed in this or that 90-95% of the other FFs DIDN'T believe this.

Moreover, from this fact (that I've only presented smoking gun evidence from 5 figures), it certainly does not follow that 90-95% of Founding Fathers or population at large would pass your very strict "born-again Christian" standard, which goes well beyond the mere "orthodox Christian" standard (I'll give you a hint, Roman Catholics pass the "orthodox Christian" standard as do "born again" Protestants because both accept the Trinity & the Nicene Creed; most "orthodox Christians" of the Founding era were probably not born again Christians because Anglicanism-Episcopalianism was the most common orthodox denomination and they didn't believe in the doctrine of being "born again").

Indeed, that such influential FFs as J. Adams, Jefferson (the 2nd & 3rd Presidents) and B. Franklin (acting governor of PA, prime player at the Constitutional Convention, co-drafter of the DOI) believed in these things and were selected to write the DOI demonstrates how LIKELY it is that many many other FFs (for whom we haven't presented the "smoking gun" quotations to satisfy you) also believed like they did.

Jonathan Rowe said...

One guy rejecting the supernatural, but not "this" miracle. Come on, man! Why do you think only one or two framers believed that?

The logical error that you present here is simple blatant factual error. It's not the case that only "one or two" FFs were "rationalists" like key Founders Jefferson, J. Adams and Franklin were. (Some were worse! They were Deistic rationalists like Paine, Allen and Palmer.)

And by the way, the definition of rationalism that Dr. Frazer uses -- accurately and meaningfully enough -- is that man's reason is the ultimate trump. One could believe in miracles or one could reject miracles and be such a rationalist. One could be a deist, a theist or an atheist and be such a rationalist. One could accept or reject the supernational and be such a rationalist. And one could believe NONE of the Bible is inspired or PARTS of the Bible were inspired and be such a rationalist. I doubt one would believe the Bible infallible and be such a rationalist, but Aquinas and Witherspoon come close (as they elevate reason to almost the same level as revelation).

John Adams' Sept. 12, 1813 letter to Jefferson is the quintissential statement of theistic or unitarian rationalism:

Dear Sir,

. . . the human Understanding is a revelation from its Maker which can never be disputed or doubted. There can be no Scepticism, Phyrrhonism or Incredulity or Infidelity here. No Prophecies, no Miracles are necessary to prove this celestial communication. This revelation has made it certain that two and one make three; and that one is not three; nor can three be one. We can never be so certain of any Prophecy, or the fulfillment of any Prophecy; or of any miracle, or the design of any miracle as We are, from the revelation of nature i.e. natures God that two and two are equal to four. Miracles or Prophecies might frighten us out of our Witts [sic]; might scare us to death; might induce Us to lie; to say that We believe that 2 and 2 make 5. But we should not believe it. We should know the contrary

Had you and I been forty days with Moses on Mount Sinai and admitted to behold, the divine Shekinah, and there told that one was three and three, one: We might not have had courage to deny it. But We could not have believed it.


Notice he sets out REASON as the ultimate standard but while doing so accepts the legitimacy of Moses, a revealing God, miracles, prophesies and the supernatural, but simply says that they MUST meet the test of reason. EVEN if Adams sees a miracle before his eyes, if it CONTRADICTS the test of reason (as the Trinity did) as rationalists, he and Jefferson couldn't believe it.

Again, just because you think this is "foolish" (as does Dr. Frazer) doesn't mean some pretty freakin' influential founders didn't believe it. They did and the problem with you, it seems to me, is that you can't handle the truth about the American Founding.

Jonathan Rowe said...

"Why call him a rationalist, when he affirmed the New Testament?"

And you write this after claiming Wilson believed in the flood which is written of in the Old Testmant. As rationalist Ben Franklin put it:

To which I may now add, that the[re are] several Things in the old Testament impossible to be given by divine Inspiration, [Franklin describes on passage of the OT in which he disbelieved]. If the rest of the Book were like that, I should rather suppose it given by Inspiration from another Quarter, and renounce the whole.

Notice Franklin, the rationalist, rejects PART of the OT, but does not "renounce the whole." Thus James Wilson affirming a PART of the Bible is compatible with the rationalism of Franklin, J. Adams, and Franklin.

As to why I term Wilson a rationalist, I don't know why you even ask as you know that I have smoking gun quotations to prove my case:

"These considerations show, that the scriptures support, confirm, and corroborate, but do not supercede the operations of reason and the moral sense."

This smoking gun shows at the very least Wilson held "reason and the moral sense" to at LEAST as high a level as revelation (which seems to me a "meaningful" definition of "rationalism"). In other words while he might not have come out and said "reason trumps revelation," he did come out and say "revelation does NOT trump reason."

And we also have this:

The law of nature is immutable; not by the effect of an arbitrary disposition, but because it has its foundation in the nature, constitution, and mutual relations of men and things. While these continue to be the same, it must continue to be the same also. This immutability of nature’s laws has nothing in it repugnant to the supreme power of an all-perfect Being. Since he himself is the author of our constitution; he cannot but command or forbid such things as are necessarily agreeable or disagreeable to this very constitution. He is under the glorious necessity of not contradicting himself. This necessity, far from limiting or diminishing his perfections, adds to their external character, and points out their excellency.

So OFT, stop playing coy and stop lying to us (whether you are lying intentional or subconsciously, I'll not judge). You know damn well that it was more than "one or two" Founding Fathers who believed in "rationalism" and you know that I have good reason for terming, among others, James Wilson a "rationalist."

Our Founding Truth said...

It does not therefore follow that they were the ONLY folks who believed in this or that 90-95% of the other FFs DIDN'T believe this.>

It does follow, because they didn't write what you're talking about. If they did, by all means, let's see it.

of Founding Fathers or population at large would pass your very strict "born-again Christian" standard, which goes well beyond the mere "orthodox Christian" standard>

The burden of proof is on you. The framers believed in the first fundamental, communion would be a second test.

most "orthodox Christians" of the Founding era were probably not born again Christians because Anglicanism-Episcopalianism was the most common orthodox denomination and they didn't believe in the doctrine of being "born again").>

A particular sect has nothing to do with being saved. The framers knew how to be saved.

prime player at the Constitutional Convention>

You should take that one back.

also believed like they did.>

You need their affirmations, which I'm still waiting to see.

One could believe in miracles or one could reject miracles and be such a rationalist.>

Not when it comes to the bible. Christianity is based on the supernatural.

a revealing God, miracles, prophesies and the supernatural, but simply says that they MUST meet the test of reason.>

That is a contradiction; a miracles violates reason. Accepting one, and rejecting the other, is a contradiction. The definition doesn't work. It's a violation or it isn't.

They did and the problem with you, it seems to me, is that you can't handle the truth about the American Founding.>

The subjective intentions of three guys is irrelevant compared to the majority.

"These considerations show, that the scriptures support, confirm, and corroborate, but do not supercede the operations of reason and the moral sense.">

You take Wilson's words out of context. He affirmed miracles, so there can be no contradiction. Wilson believed revelation trumped reason, as he said revelation supereminently authentick over reason.

I have good reason for terming, among others, James Wilson a "rationalist.">

James Wilson believed in miracles, and he never said he denied parts of scripture. You need Wilson to affirm what Franklin said. I don't think you have it.

Pinky said...

.
Has anyone figured out the code OFT uses in his posts to designate quotations from other posters and his responses?
.
It's a tough row to hoe.

Jonathan Rowe said...

OFT has proven himself (esp. with his last post) to be a thundering loon who lives in his own world that he and only he understands.

If anything, OFT proves how the Christian America thesis corrupts the mind.

Jonathan Rowe said...

"Wilson believed revelation trumped reason,..."

OFT. Stop lying to us. I've already proven with a smoking gun quotation that James Wilson denied revelation trumped reason. If you continue to lie, you are going to get banned.

Our Founding Truth said...

OFT. Stop lying to us. I've already proven with a smoking gun quotation that James Wilson denied revelation trumped reason. If you continue to lie, you are going to get banned.>

You sound upset Jon. I never saw you like this when Raven used vularity and profanity, I wonder why?

James Wilson said "the scriptures are supereminently authentick over reason"

Webster's 1828
SUPEREM''INENTLY, adv. In a superior degree of excellence; with unusual distinction.

James Wilson believed in the supernatural.

You need Wilson's words rejecting miracles, not affirming them.

You're all upset about Wilson, because you don't have his words rejecting the supernatural or parts of the Bible. You use the same ploy with Madison, but I showed you misinterpreted him as well.

bpabbott said...

Jon: "If anything, OFT proves how the Christian America thesis corrupts the mind."

There appears to be a correlation, but I wouldn't go so far as to posit a cause-effect relationship ;-)

bpabbott said...

OFT/Ray/Jim: "You sound upset Jon. I never saw you like this when Raven used vularity and profanity, I wonder why?"

What is this some sort of "rope a dope" strategy?

The majority of your comments appear to be fraudulent, erroneous implications, or name calling.

Raven's comments may qualify as the latter, but she hasn't posted any explicit or implicity lies ... regarding dishonesty you're King of the blog ... congrats!

Tom Van Dyke said...

"Thus it is with regard to reason, conscience, and the holy scriptures. Where the latter give instructions, those instructions are supereminently authentick."---James Wilson

This quote is devastating to Jon's claim. We can attempt to "democratize" truth if we want, or go after OFT for previous errors, but that doesn't change the words right in front of our faces.

Jonathan Rowe said...

Tom,

I don't see how that quote at all refutes the modest claim I make which is James Wilson's textual claim is that "revelation does not trump reason." Do I personally believe Wilson believed "reason trumps revelation"? Yes. But he never went so far as to say that in so many words; rather he said what he couldget away with. But the passage that OFT or you invoke doesn't prove the point you'd like argue (revelation trumps reason). Rather, he is saying he holds the Bible in high regards. But nonetheless he still says:

"These considerations show, that the scriptures support, confirm, and corroborate, but do not supercede the operations of reason and the moral sense."

That's not something that can be argued away. It's a smoking gun. Revelation does not trump reason. Period.

Jonathan Rowe said...

James Wilson said "the scriptures are supereminently authentick over reason"

That's not what he says in the quote that Tom reproduced. Out of all of the FFs Wilson (at least in his public Works) was one who did his best to NOT play reason & revelation against one another. He actually said both were incomplete, both were necessary and both complemented one another. But he was clear in one regard: Revelation does NOT trump reason. I'm sorry, I rarely use the "l" word, but we've been at this long enough. To deny that is to lie.

Jonathan Rowe said...

"James Wilson believed in the supernatural."

OFT keeps on saying this as though it means something. It's irrelevant. All of the FFs from Jefferson to J. Adams, to Franklin believed in the supernatural -- if you believe in an active personal God, you believe in the supernatural. They were also rationalists who believed reason trumped and disbelieved in parts of the Bible.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Jon, what can I say? You haven't accounted for this quote.

"Thus it is with regard to reason, conscience, and the holy scriptures. Where the latter give instructions, those instructions are supereminently authentick."---James Wilson

YOU must show why "supereminently authentick" doesn't mean scripture is given primacy.

Now, this wasn't my original position on Wilson, which was only that revelation could never be in conflict with reason [which is an orthodox theological position], but this quote MUST be accounted for.

In the least we cannot put Wilson among those who believed "reason trumps revelation," whoever they might have been. All Wilson's writings belie that.

Jonathan Rowe said...

Tom,

I think I did account for that quote when I noted that Wilson did his best to NOT set reason & revelation against one another, but noted both were incomplete, necessary and complementary. For instance, right after he says what you just quoted he then goes on:

But whoever expects to find, in [Scripture], particular directions for every moral doubt which arises, expects more than he will find. They generally presuppose a knowledge of the principles of morality; and are employed not so much in teaching new rules on this subject, as in enforcing the practice of those already known, by a greater certainty, and by new sanctions.

So however "deficient" Wilson thinks reason, he also thinks the Bible to be deficient.

He winds the discussion up with the smoking gun that convinces me:

"These considerations show, that the scriptures support, confirm, and corroborate, but do not supercede the operations of reason and the moral sense."

I would concede that Wilson does not argue "reason trumps revelation" ONLY if you, OFT (the other side) concede Wilson does not argue "revelation trumps reason."

That -- that Wilson disbelieved "revelation trumps reason" -- is something "in the least" that we must conclude. All of his writings belie that.

bpabbott said...

Tom: "Where the Bible plainly says x, none had the arrogance [save Jefferson perhaps] to let their reason "trump" it."

Tom, are you expressing skepticism of an assertion? ... or favoring an opposing assertion?

Pinky said...

.
Something about some of the dialogue goes on here reminds me of a standing joke I have with a close friend.
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The two of us have very close acquaintances that often make statements and close them by quoting a biblical book, chapter, and verse--like John 11:35 or Isaiah 53:6.
.
We get a kick out of making a statements to each other and ending with quips like, First Tennessee, 5:4-7, or Second Smovkapopi, 7:22.
.
I have the sense that there is very little respect here for any empirical evidence one might produce; but, that what is so important is quoting something one of the Founding Fathers said as though that represents some sort of evidence or proof of scholarship.
.
Isn't empirical evidence the first door to understanding?
.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Jon, you didn't account for the quote. You walked past it.

"Thus it is with regard to reason, conscience, and the holy scriptures. Where the latter give instructions, those instructions are supereminently authentick."---James Wilson

You must account for "supereminently authentick." I cannot explain it any other way except the obvious. Perhaps you can.


And neither is characterizing Wilson's view of the Bible as "deficient" very fair. That a cookbook doesn't tell you how to change a flat tire doesn't make it "deficient."

________________

Ben, except for one instance from Franklin, I can't think of examples where they said such-and-such a passage is unreasonable and therefore bogus, reject it.

Except mebbe for Adams and Jefferson, but once again, it's the same old two guys and they're the beginning and end of it.

Jonathan Rowe said...

Okay. I'll concede that using the term "deficient" to describe the Bible is unfair, but ONLY if we agree that Wilson didn't believe reason and the senses was "deficient" or that he otherwise slammed reason (because he didn't).

Putting the relevant passages together Wilson describes BOTH reason and revelation as necessary, complementary, but incomplete without the other.

Here is Wilson on reason:

Reason and conscience can do much; but still they stand in need of support and assistance. They are useful and excellent monitors; but, at some times, their admonitions are not sufficiently clear; at other times, they are not sufficiently powerful; at all times, their influence is not sufficiently extensive.

In other words, he talks up reason, elevates it to a particular level and then recognizes it has limits.

He does the SAME thing with the Bible:

But whoever expects to find, in [Scripture], particular directions for every moral doubt which arises, expects more than he will find. They generally presuppose a knowledge of the principles of morality; and are employed not so much in teaching new rules on this subject, as in enforcing the practice of those already known, by a greater certainty, and by new sanctions. They present the warmest recommendations and the strongest inducements in favour of virtue: they exhibit the most powerful dissuasives from vice. But the origin, the nature, and the extent of the several rights and duties they do not explain; nor do they specify in what instances one right or duty is entitled to preference over another. They are addressed to rational and moral agents, capable of previously knowing the rights of men, and the tendencies of actions; of approving what is good, and of disapproving what is evil. [Bold mine.]

Did you also get what I bolded? Wilson says the Bible was designed to teach men what they already knew, that much of reality already known via reason & the moral sense. He certainly doesn't say men are "lost" without the Bible. That speaks quite highly of reason and the senses.

This should help us better understand Wilson's smoking gun quotation that I reproduced. Revelation's role is to provide secondary supports to the findings of reason and the moral sense. Reason and the senses are man's primary guide. That's what the FFs mean when they say reason was the first revelation God gave to man. The Bible is the second revelation. That premise is "loaded" with a man centered assumption that easily leads to reason trumping revelation (because as Adams argued no written revelation could "trump" the first revelation of God to man -- what man discovers from his reason).

"These considerations show, that the scriptures support, confirm, and corroborate, but do not supercede the operations of reason and the moral sense."

Reading Wilson's Work in toto I don't see how you can see the "supereminently authentick" quote as giving primacy to scripture or revelation trumping reason. This is an out of context understanding that misunderstands Wilson's "Works."

I don't know if we are going to make further progress on this, but I assure you you aren't going to convince me that I am erring here.

Jonathan Rowe said...

OFT,

I am not upset because I generally don't get upset on these threads (I've seen many folks blow up; a talent that I think I have is patience re these kinds of debates).

You are, to use Animal House terminology on "secret probation" on this blog. Next step, double secret probation. Final step, being banned. It's not me. You have been the subject of numerous group emails among our co-bloggers and we are currently debating whether to ban you. I for one have been one of the folks who says, "I don't care what you all decide" and not push for banning you.

Tom Van Dyke said...

I assure you you aren't going to convince me that I am erring here.

How could I when you won't confront the evidence against your assertion, namely "supereminently authentick."

I think your hanging on "supersedes" is what's out of character from the rest of Wilson's work.

Further, your lengthy quote is just a restatement of Aquinas, et al.'s traditional understanding of natural law, that reason can discern it---and actually, Wilson elevates the innate "moral sense" over reason, as reason can be corrupted by the passions.

The "moral sense" knows right from wrong; anyone without a functioning moral sense can't grasp scripture anyway.

Regardless of whether Wilson elevates scripture through the "supereminently authentick" quote, we return to his---and the prevailing notion---that scripture is emininently reasonable, and cannot conflict with reason. Except for a single quote from Franklin about the Book of Judges, we---you---don't have a single quote from the Founders rejecting a single piece of scripture in the name of "reason."

The "reason trumps revelation" trope is moot.

Jonathan Rowe said...

Except for a single quote from Franklin about the Book of Judges, we---you---don't have a single quote from the Founders rejecting a single piece of scripture in the name of "reason."

Tom. What are you talking about? Jefferson rejected large parts of the Bible in the name of "reason." Jefferson rejected everything Paul wrote in the name of reason. Adams I think would meet this standard too.

Jonathan Rowe said...

How could I when you won't confront the evidence against your assertion, namely "supereminently authentick."

I think I did deal with it. But let's give it one more try by looking to Wilson in context.

Thus it is with regard to reason, conscience, and the holy scriptures. Where the latter give instructions, those instructions are supereminently authentick. But whoever expects to find, in them, particular directions for every moral doubt which arises, expects more than he will find. They generally presuppose a knowledge of the principles of morality; and are employed not so much in teaching new rules on this subject, as in enforcing the practice of those already known, by a greater certainty, and by new sanctions. They present the warmest recommendations and the strongest inducements in favour of virtue: they exhibit the most powerful dissuasives from vice. But the origin, the nature, and the extent of the several rights and duties they do not explain; nor do they specify in what instances one right or duty is entitled to preference over another. They are addressed to rational and moral agents, capable of previously knowing the rights of men, and the tendencies of actions; of approving what is good, and of disapproving what is evil.

These considerations show, that the scriptures support, confirm, and corroborate, but do not supercede the operations of reason and the moral sense. The information with regard to our duties and obligations, drawn from these different sources, ought not to run in unconnected and diminished channels: it should flow in one united stream, which, by its combined force and just direction, will impel us uniformly and effectually towards our greatest good.


Okay, I began with YOUR smoking gun quotation and ended with mine. This is how the original reads in context. And I didn't stop at an arbitrary point because the quotation is indeed the "end" or a summary of a long train of ideas.

Notice that right AFTER Wilson uses the "supereminently authentick" he IMMEDIATELY goes on to explain the limits of the Bible. This is EXACTLY what he does with reason when he notes:

Reason and conscience can do much; but still they stand in need of support and assistance. They are useful and excellent monitors; but, at some times, their admonitions are not sufficiently clear; at other times, they are not sufficiently powerful; at all times, their influence is not sufficiently extensive. Great and sublime truths, indeed, would appear to a few; but the world, at large, would be dark and ignorant. The mass of mankind would resemble a chaos, in which a few sparks, that would diffuse a glimmering light, would serve only to show, in a more striking manner, the thick darkness with which they are surrounded. Their weakness is strengthened, their darkness is illuminated, their influence is enlarged by that heaven-descended science, which has brought life and immortality to light. In compassion to the imperfection of our internal powers, our all-gracious Creator, Preserver, and Ruler has been pleased to discover and enforce his laws, by a revelation given to us immediately and directly from himself. This revelation is contained in the holy scriptures.

So the "supereminently authentick" quote is part of an overall context where he notes reason and revelation are both necessary, complementary, and incomplete without the other. But he SUMS things up with MY smoking gun quotation where he notes revelation does NOT trump reason.

And by the way, we aren't done, by a longshot, with the reason trumps revelation claim. There's still much to explore re the idea that reason is God's first revelation to man, the Bible is God's second. I am going to further explore how this theory has implications for reason trumping revelation. This is what connects Wilson to Franklin to J. Adams. And Adams explicitly, numerous times used this as a mechanism for reason to trump revelation. We are going to throw some Rev. Samuel West in there as well. The idea is all scripture must conform to reason. And if a particular scripture doesn't appear reasonable, throw it out. That idea was held by more than a few figures in the Founding era.

Pinky said...

.
And by the way, we aren't done, by a longshot, with the reason trumps revelation claim.
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Not by a long shot is right!.
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But, why do I see the invisible hand of religiosity laying heavy on what Wilson is saying if, as some claim, it wasn't there?
.
It seems to me that what Jon is pointing at here is all part of the struggle that must have been raging in the minds of so many of our Founders.
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In fact, is seems to me that the Founding can be seen as a total revolution of Western Civilization--the world was turned upside down on July 4, 1776.
.
And, it was the break from being ruled by the power created by religiosity. Maybe I should write, super religiosity?
.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Actually, Pinky, you're seeing the other hand, denying what is plainly there!

Yes, superreligiosity clears things up. Your use of religiosity as carrying "excess" makes your new term contentious, not neutral.

Jon, all the stuff you're quoting is consistent with the Thomistic system of reason and revelation. Locke says something similar.

Now, is Wilson arguing against a sola scriptura view that makes little place for reason? Damn right. Viewing his arguments as against sola scriptura accounts for your objections.

As for Jefferson, stipulated, altho again this would refer to his private writings. The "reason over revelation" meme is markedly absent from the public discussions of the Founding era.

Pinky said...

.
I had to use the "term", super religiosity, to clear things up for you. Everyone else knew what I mean at the first drop. I was quite clear both in words and context.
.
Do you take pills or something?
.
.

Tom Van Dyke said...

I used the first definition of the word, you depend on the second, so I don't know who "everyone" is.

Moreover, you're simply creating a term for your personal opinion. The key word is "excessive," which is a purely subjective judgment. I asked you plainly what you consider "excessive;" you declined to respond.


I hate arguing sophistries, but I hate it even worse when people insist on employing them.

_________________

Jon, let's look at it another way, employing the "close reading" method of you-know-who.

We have two statements in apparent conflict, the "subsume" quote and the "supereminently authentick."

We cannot discard the latter by countering with the former. We must look to harmonize them both with Wilson's body of thought. [Illustrating the danger of quote-grabbing.]

Now, Wilson seems a man of religious devotion. He likes Hooker and has a Christian understanding of Locke. He speaks of natural law and scripture coming from "the same adorable source," an affectionate term for God, and indeed, the God of the Bible.

Now, you haven't proposed an alternate reading of "supereminently authentick" that comports with YOUR Wilson. But it comports fine with a religious Wilson.

Now, if we examine the "subsumes" quote it's in total harmony with a Locke "Reasonableness of Christianity" argument: Don't worry, all you skeptics, there's nothing in the scriptures that requires you to abandon your reason. We do not claim that scripture "subsumes" your reason---the occasion will not arise.

Completely Hooker/Thomistic, and we have seen Wilson's admiration of Locke. All in harmony with the larger body of Wilson's work.

Jonathan Rowe said...

Now, you haven't proposed an alternate reading of "supereminently authentick" that comports with YOUR Wilson. But it comports fine with a religious Wilson.

Tom, I agree that I haven't yet fully argued a "reason trumps revelation" meaning to Wilson. More on that later. (Personally I have faith that the evidence is there in Wilson's private writings, none of which we have so far uncovered.)

However I HAVE proposed a textual understanding of Wilson's writings that is smack dab in between the "reason trumps revelation" and the "revelation trumps reason" standard. And that is the "revelation does not trump reason" (and perhaps we could also say "reason does not trump revelation") standard.

In other words, a wash. Reason and revelation are BOTH elevated to the same "highest" of standards.

Tom Van Dyke said...

You're missing my point, Jon. My best reading of "supereminently authentick"---and you've provided no other---is Wilson believes that revelation is [supereminently] reasonable.

And if you'll forgive me for not digging up the quote again, Wilson has a suspicion against reason, as it's corruptible by our passions. He places his faith in the innate "moral sense," the "law written on our hearts," etc.

When Wilson speaks of reason favorably, he's undoubtedly referring to "right reason," which in his milieu still carries a theological sense.

I believe there's a Locke quote that says he trusts scripture and where his reason seems to be in conflict, he postpones the matter at hand. I can't remember where to find it, but as a Christian-Lockean, Wilson is surely echoing here.

[Wilson does explicitly differ with Locke's Essay on Human Understanding, since an innate "moral sense" is contra Locke's thesis.]

Jonathan Rowe said...

"My best reading of "supereminently authentick"---."

The problem I'm having here is what's written around those words "supereminetly authentick." That phrases that precede and succeed it appear designed to limit the Bible's influence.

"Where the latter give instructions, those instructions are supereminently authentick. But whoever expects to find, in them, particular directions for every moral doubt which arises, expects more than he will find."

What does he mean "where the latter give instructions?" He further explains the Bible's incompleteness with the succeeding phrase, "But whoever expects to find,..." And he also downplays the Bible's primary importance by stating things like

"They generally presuppose a knowledge of the principles of morality; and are employed not so much in teaching new rules on this subject, as in enforcing the practice of those already known, by a greater certainty, and by new sanctions."

Thus, however much I see Wilson limiting "reason and the moral sense" I also see him limiting the Bible.

Pinky said...

.
Here is what Merriam Webster on-line has to say about the word:


religiosity
One entry found.

Main Entry:
re·li·gi·ose Listen to the pronunciation of 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

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One definition--no first or second meaning, just one.

Here's the link.

http://www.onelook.com/?w=religiosity&ls=a

Tom Van Dyke said...

"Downplays the Bible's importance"? Just the opposite. "Supereminently authentick."

I was going to leave off there, but, if you're willing, let's play along with each other, like they did in Plato's dialogues. They were all good sports, and made arguments as opposed to arguing. Let's see where it leads.

Imagine Wilson's addressing his further remarks to the hardcore Holy Rollers, sola scriptura-ists. "But whoever expects to find...etc."

How shall man set up his government, then? The Pilgrims, for instance, tried to set up a system modeled after the Bible. Didn't work out all that well.

Therefore, the American system that established its baseline not at the Bible---and specifically keeping in mind the zillion interpretations of it---but at "natural law."

Now Wilson explicitly writes that the "natural law" flows from the same "adorable source" as the scriptures, so they cannot be in conflict.

Still, liberty as we know it was still a developing concept in man's history, and America was Ground Zero. Pluralism, nonsectarianism, as opposed to papacy---or Pilgrimism or Puritanism---where only one interpretation of the Bible was the "true" one.

Obviously, one couldn't look to the Bible, specifically the Old Testament, for a template of government, since pluralism and Judaism were incompatible.

Although this is not true in 2009! Judaism's diversity of sects has a ring of "protestantism" about it, eh? A There's quite a gulf between a Reform Jew and an Orthodox. Yet only a cleric wouldn't see them all as Jews.

You see where I'm going with this. American pluralism was indeed aBiblical. To return to Wilson, he's certainly arguing for a non-sola scriptura political solution.

But he does not deny the Bible as comprehensively compatible with "right reason."

No, he does not "limit" the Bible. Not at all, not in the least, no how, no way.

He acknowledges that it cannot provide a complete blueprint for the new American society, and also acknowledges that it was never intended to, an argument against any Holy Rollers who would argue otherwise.

Look, Jon, I'm just trying to emulate you-know-who and read James Wilson "as he understood himself," and I have no other agenda besides that.


I'm not saying I'm right about Wilson here, but my provisional argument at least reconciles the "subsumes" quote with the "supereminently authentick" quote, which you haven't managed to do as yet.

This is at the heart of playing along with each other, and at the heart of Socrates, Plato and all them other guys.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Give it up, Phil. You keep ignoring the first definition, and there are other dictionaries that make the distinction clearer.

Regardless, since "excessive" lies at the heart of your term, you're still using a term as a cover for your subjective judgment. But I'll stipulate your use of the second definition. You're right, I'm wrong.

But how much "religiousness" is excessive? You decline to answer and keep sending me links to a dictionary. Make your point and let's cut to the chase. Peace, bro.

bpabbott said...

Tom: "But how much "religiousness" is excessive?"

When a bit more diminishes the goal of religion, it is excessive ... no?

I think this is the problem with strict/literal adherence to any ideology.

Jonathan Rowe said...

Tom,

I think my reading makes textual sense as well. As I wrote:

[My] textual understanding of Wilson's writings that is smack dab in between the "reason trumps revelation" and the "revelation trumps reason" standard. And that is the "revelation does not trump reason" (and perhaps we could also say "reason does not trump revelation") standard.

In other words, a wash. Reason and revelation are BOTH elevated to the same "highest" of standards.


Though I do get your point. I see Wilson's Works almost as playing ping pong between reason and revelation which could lead to out of context quotes for each side.

I see him as limiting the Bible

"Where the latter give instructions,..."

Elevating the Bible

"...those instructions are supereminently authentick."

And then limiting the Bible:

"But whoever expects to find, in them, particular directions for every moral doubt which arises, expects more than he will find."

Though I think I agree with your overall point you made in your last post. I see him as describing the Bible as "incomplete" specifically when it comes to making a blue print for government, and not necessarily other areas of life.

Again notice what I emphasize in the relevant passage:

"[The Scriptures] generally presuppose a knowledge of the principles of morality; and are employed not so much in teaching new rules on this subject, as in enforcing the practice of those already known, by a greater certainty, and by new sanctions. They present the warmest recommendations and the strongest inducements in favour of virtue: they exhibit the most powerful dissuasives from vice. But the origin, the nature, and the extent of the several rights and duties they do not explain; nor do they specify in what instances one right or duty is entitled to preference over another. They are addressed to rational and moral agents, capable of previously knowing the rights of men, and the tendencies of actions; of approving what is good, and of disapproving what is evil.

"These considerations show, that the scriptures support, confirm, and corroborate, but do not supercede the operations of reason and the moral sense."

As I read the back drop of the Revolution and subsequent Constitution, there were Tory preachers arguing from tradition and sola-scriptura AGAINT the idea of a right to revolt or even the idea of "rights of man" at all. Jonathan Boucher comes to mind who noted the idea of political liberty was alien to the Bible.

Wilson here seems to confirm that the idea of natural rights or "rights of man" are not found within the Bible, that, we can have our Bible, but have to go outside of the Bible to find natural rights, what was central to the American Founding.

Pinky said...

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Tom sez, "Sock it to me!"
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Generally I get my best word definitions at One Look. There are almost always a dozen or more dictionaries shown where you can check out almost nay word. There are 19 different dictionaries for religiosity.
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Almost every source I've checked out shows the definition I'm using to be the first if not only meaning of religiosity.
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When we add the suffix, -osity, to any word or term, we generally mean to imply that the item is full of whatever is indicated. So, if I were to use the term, tomvandykeosity, in a way to describe some person or activity, the audience would know that there was a complete fullness of the quality being referenced.
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Ninteen sources are better than one.
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But, you do like to put people on. Makes you feel good inside?
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Strange.
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Anyway, to define a society as a culture is to say that the main characteristicc of that society rests on a certain characteristic. In this case, it was religion.

Are you trying to refute that point?

Tom Van Dyke said...

Tom: "But how much "religiousness" is excessive?"

When a bit more diminishes the goal of religion, it is excessive ... no?

I think this is the problem with strict/literal adherence to any ideology.


Ben, I find this a good answer, although the term "ideology" is once again pejorative.

"Ideology" in 2009 is considered a bad thing.

I think even Kristo, who in his own words is more "orthodox" than I've ever , has argued---and I think well---that the Protestant influence on the Founding was in opposition to "orthodoxy."

Especially when viewed in terms of clerics. America would figger out its own way both politically and theologically. That's why the Founders or their forefathers fled Europe in the first place.

Or, to be historically accurate, why they got the charters for their colonies and hired the boats to put the colonists on.

[Gotta do these boring qualifications sometimes so people don't gnaw at your ankles.]

Tom Van Dyke said...

Ah, joint inquiry is the bomb. Just hanging out, kickin' it, not playing courtroom drama. Thx, Jon.

...but have to go outside of the Bible to find natural rights, what was central to the American Founding.

Yes and no. An emphatic yes, though, and supported by Wilson here. Also the "no" is supported by Wilson here. The question of "human rights" is why I started studying not only the Founding, but "religion" and then the Founding too. Much more discussion is needed---it's the crossroads of humanity in 2009.

I'll add this---from your own Wilson quote:

nor do they [the scriptures] specify in what instances one right or duty is entitled to preference over another

This is our push vs. pull in 2009. Even if liberty is Biblically mandated---which I think the Founders, or at least the revolutionaries like Mayhew stated with confidence---then James Wilson's words are exceedingly wise.

If the Bible says x is good and also says y is good, how shall we tell which one is gooder?

Wilson clearly---explicitly---says here that the Bible can't tell us. Reason---right reason, I must add---is our only recourse.

nor do they [the scriptures] specify in what instances one right or duty is entitled to preference over another

If we submitted our contemporary moral dilemmas not merely to reason, but to what James Wilson undoubtedly referred to as "right reason," well, that would be a starting point for discussion across our cultural divide.

I think that in 2009, we do not recognize the existence of "right reason." Subjectivity and even relativism claim primacy under the guise of "neutrality."

Contra James Wilson.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Pinky, once one resorts to the dictionary, they've gone to the adversarial thing and abandoned communicating.

Your jabberwocky is wonderful and meaningful and I especially like your slithy toves. I couldn't agree more.

Pinky said...

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Like I said, Tom, you like to put people on. And, apparently, it makes you feel good on the inside.
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But, so what?
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You are completely confusing the issue I have put on the table. No where have I meant to demean the ideas of religion; although there is more than enough evidence to do that. My point was not that religiosity is an exaggeration of religious piety, etc. But, it is that America's Colonial period was steeped in a culture of religiosity.

And, you have put out a lot of effort here to discredit such an hypothesis as though it were an unworthy question. Since when is it an error to question authortiy--especially the self appointed type you represent?
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Civilization had been on a steady down hill race to armageddon with religion growing more and more influential in the life of every soul ever since the Crucifixion.

The question is begged at this site as to whether America was Created to be a Christian Nation or not.

Why cannot you take my question seriously? Is it too child like for you? What?
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Tom Van Dyke said...

Basically, when you write

But, it is that America's Colonial period was steeped in a culture of religiosity.

You're saying America was "excessively" religious at the time of the Founding. By YOUR own definition.

I disagree. I think without religion, it would have turned out like the French Revolution, very ugly indeed.

As for your snark that I "represent" some sort of self-appointed authority, it's the modern Voltaires who look down their noses at religiousness who are the new orthodoxy. I'm the rebel here.

Pinky said...

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Your term, snark, meant something in the 1940s when I first heard it. There were snarks and there were snarfs.
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I don't look down my nose at religiousness.
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Religiosity, in my mind, is a characteristic of a group of people--not an individual.
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My point about the culture of religiosity that I claim was broken in the coup d'etat of the American Revolution is, exactly that. The Founders created a nation in which the people would never be ruled by a culture of religiosity again.
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To me, I see religiosity meaning that religion pervades and informs every institution of society more so than any value of any other institution informs the institution of religion. That creates an imbalance that causes everything to go awry.
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My original statement was meant to be little more than the greatest compliment I could pay to men like our Founders.
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But, you had to make a hullabaloo out of it.
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bpabbott said...

Tom: "`Ideology' in 2009 is considered a bad thing"

I think that association is a result of those who elevate their `ideology' over reason. We could refer to such as dogma, but I think the point would be lost on many.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Yes, the environment at the Founding was to park dogma [ideology?] at the door. Still, that there's only one God who is providential and to whom man must answer is also a dogma that everyone agreed upon.

Which gets to my problem with your assertion, Phil. The arguments for liberty had a decidedly religious cast---Jonathan Mayhew's famous sermon, "endowed by their creator," etc.

And the revolution in 1600s England was rife with religiosity.

If you're saying the bad parts like witch trials and religious persecution are bad, who could disagree? But there's definitely a baby-and-bathwater thing going on here.

Pinky said...

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TOM: "The arguments for liberty had a decidedly religious cast---Jonathan Mayhew's famous sermon, 'endowed by their creator,' etc."
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Most certainly.

Christianity itself was heavily influenced the the religiosity of the time--everything was. And, that never stopped at the Founding; but, the shift continued and it wavers back and forth. Once again, some of the religious are making strong efforts to get behind the wheel. One might say there OFT is a bartonosity in the weeds.
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It seems you really aren't reading what I've written.

The religiosity didn't go away on July 4, 1776; but, the divine right of kings died in that moment and this novus ordo seclorum came into existence.

The world was turned upside down. And, the tools to set up a balance for society was brought into being that never existed before.

If we focus on the results of the Founding we might learn more about the purposes the Founders had in mind. They were--at least some of them--geniuses. Men likeThomas Jefferson, James Madison, and even Thomas Paine. They knew what they were doing. Is that a possibility or is that off topic here?
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YOU seem to be the decider.

Tom Van Dyke said...

The theory of Divine Right was abandoned in England during the Glorious Revolution of 1688–89.

We know this is true because the Wikipedia says so.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Divine_right_of_kings

Still, once again, Jefferson and Madison get all the credit, and religious forces get pushed to the side. But that's not how it happened.

http://americancreation.blogspot.com/2008/09/scholarly-malpractice-and-founding.html

Actually, we are discussing exactly what you say we should be.

Pinky said...

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The theory of Divine Right was abandoned in England during the Glorious Revolution of 1688–89.
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So? Are you trying to say that governments were formed in which the people had the authority over the king or whatever else the blighter might be called.
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Name one of any scale other than the U.S.A. before July 4, 1776.

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Tom Van Dyke said...

England, 1689.