Wednesday, April 15, 2009

America's Unorthodox Implicit Protestant Establishment

This Friday I'm going to catch a lecture at the James Madison Program at Princeton entitled Given that the Founders believed in and, in fact, built what Frank Sorauf once described as an “implicit Protestant establishment,” what are the coherent possibilities for an “originalist” jurisprudence of the Religion Clauses in the 21st century? Gerard V. Bradley, University of Notre Dame Law School; Princeton University; Witherspoon Institute Steven D. Smith, University of San Diego School of Law. Now I don't know anything about Sorauf's thesis; I'll find out later. And unlike Mark Lilla I do believe America has a "civil religion" which *may* be some form of an "implied Protestant Christianity." HOWEVER (you knew that was coming) it's NOT what most traditional Protestant Christians might think, on first reflection.

This reminds me of the debate my friend Dr. Gregg Frazer and co-blogger Kristo Miettinen are having on whether Thomas Jefferson qualifies as a "Protestant Christian." Jefferson did think of himself as one. And I think both learned debaters agree not only the basics of their personal theology (orthodox Trinitarian Christianity) but also on what it was that Jefferson believed in (that he fervently denied the Trinity and believed only parts of the Bible were inspired). The question centers more around semantics: Is this -- what Jefferson believed -- just another form of "Protestant Christianity," albeit a highly "unorthodox" one?

Unmoored from church authority over official doctrine, such "unorthodox Protestant Christianity" leaves the individual and voluntary groups free 1) to determine such matters, including which parts of the biblical canon are valid, and 2) perhaps to ADD additional revelation to the Bible. Here is how Nathan Hatch, president of Wake Forest University and one of the premier scholars of Religion and the Founding Era, describes the theology of Charles Chauncy, one of the Founders unorthodox Protestant Christianity and a key theological influence on the American Founding:

Charles Chauncy, pastor of Boston’s First Church for sixty years (1727-1787), is the most prominent example of an exclusive appeal to Biblical authority in order to unravel theological orthodoxy. Chauncy was persuaded to emphasize Bible study by reading the works of English divines, such as Samuel Clarke’s The Scripture-Doctrine of the Trinity (London, 1712) and John Taylor’s The Scripture-Doctrine of Original Sin (London, 1740). Both authors used a “free, impartial and diligent” method of examining Scripture to JETTISON, respectively, the doctrines of the Trinity and of Original Sin. [8]

During the 1750s, after the Great Awakening, Charles Chauncy spent seven years engaged in the approach to Bible study expounded by these English authors. In the spring of 1754 he wrote to a friend,

“I have made the Scriptures my sole study for about two years; and I think I have attained to a clearer understanding of them than I ever had before.”

His studies led him to draft a lengthy manuscript in which he REJECTED the idea of eternal punishment and embraced universalism.


On to modern day Christian Nationalism and folks who might be sympathetic to the idea of an "implicit Protestant Establishment." My co-blogger Brad Hart notes how many Mormons embrace the idea of a "Christian Nation," with a quotation from a prominent member of the LDS:

As Latter-day Saints and their families study the American constitutional system, one problem they encounter is that the most popular and widely respected sources present constitutional philosophy very differently from the intent of the founders. Fortunately, the Lord has anticipated this problem and has provided the correct standard to know in which direction to strive regardless of how popular or plausible a contrary direction may be made to appear. This He has done by declaring that He established the Constitution through wise men He raised up for that very purpose. [14]


So the Mormon says to the evangelical and the Roman Catholic, "yes it was 'our' Jesus Christ, the same Jesus, Mormons, evangelicals and RCs believe in, who 'founded' America." To which the evangelical and Catholic obviously reply, "what do you mean by 'our' kemosabe?"

And indeed the Mormon Jesus is a more authentic "Founder" of America, given Mormonism was formed post America, and their official theology legitimately incorporates the divine inspiration of at least some of the events of the American Founding.

When orthodox Christians claim to believe in the divine claims stated in the Declaration of Independence -- ideas that although attached to a monotheistic God have nothing to do with the Bible's text -- arguably they "Mormonize" their faith by adding divine ideas to Christianity that are not found within the biblical canon. Yet orthodox Christendom has been doing this ever since it embraced natural law theology (or "natural religion"), which likewise adds divine ideas discovered from reason as a supplement to the Bible.

Or take another expositor of the Christian America idea (as my co-blogger Brad Hart cites her) Elizabeth Clare Prophet who wrote:

America is a land infused with sacred fire; America is born of God’s desire. I ask you then to secure the famous painting…of George Washington kneeling in prayer. I ask that this shall be a sign of those who love America in Christ, in God, in freedom. I ask that you give this painting to your friends who are Christians, who are religious, who are devotees, that you ask them to have it in their homes, and that you ask them to pray with you for the light and victory of America. [6]


Now, of course, an evangelical believer in the "Christian America" thesis would, without knowing more about Ms. Prophet, think "what a wonderful lady, I'd love to use her materials to homeschool my children." That is until they find out she believes in practically EVERY SINGLE world religion. But she's no liberal fuzzy Unitarian Universalist, but extreme right wing. She also believes Jesus Christ was an "Ascended Master," and that EVERY human being has the potential to become one (as her late husband Mark Prophet now is).

And that means humans eventually become God. Not "gods," but like some Hindus (by the way she believes in Hinduism as well) and almost a parody of Trinitarian logic, many different "personalities" of one God. Instead of just three distinct personalities of "one God," there are limitless potential distinct personalities of "one God." Her husband, Mark Prophet is now God, just as Jesus Christ is God.

As she speaks of her late husband, now the Ascended Master "Lanello."

"Looking at Mark Prophet's past lives, we see that they span the many cultures and religions of the world. Think about it. He was Noah, Lot, Ikhnaton, Aesop, the disciple Mark, Origen, Lancelot, Bodhidharma, Clovis, Saladin, Bonaventure, Louis XIV, Longfellow and the Russian czarevitch Alexis Nikolayevich."


She calls herself, among other things, a "Christian" and claims to follow a very "Christ" centered teaching. If you look at the figures she claims her husband was in past lives, the overwhelming majority of them were "biblical." I wonder if she qualifies as a "Christian" for "historical" purposes.

[Btw, her son, Sean Prophet is now an atheist and a friend of Positive Liberty. You can read his website here.]

But the Mormons and Elizabeth Clare Prophet, by the conscious design of America's Founders, get their rightful place at the table of America "implicit Protestant establishment," as just another eccentric "Protestant sect."

I claim this in part because I don't see Mormonism or Ms. Prophet's "eccentric" teachings as that much further removed from "historic Christianity" than for instance Swedenborgianism. So what do they believe?

That there is one God and that He is the Lord Jesus Christ. Within the single Person of God there is a Divine Trinity.


So off the bat, they are unorthodox in their Christology, not uncommon during America' Founding era. Though they, interestingly, are neither unitarians nor trinitarians. They also have an odd view of the "atonement" (they reject it as "satisfaction") and, like the unitarians, put more emphasis on works for salvation.

But here is where we get to Swedenborgianism's truly "eccentric" part. From Wiki (and yes, given the source, if it's wrong, please let me know; it's right as far as I understand):

At the age of fifty-six he entered into a spiritual phase in which he experienced dreams and visions. This culminated in a spiritual awakening, where he claimed he was appointed by the Lord to write a heavenly doctrine to reform Christianity. He claimed that the Lord had opened his eyes, so that from then on he could freely visit heaven and hell, and talk with angels, demons, and other spirits. For the remaining 28 years of his life, he wrote and published 18 theological works, of which the best known was Heaven and Hell (1758),[4] and several unpublished theological works.


Why is this important? Because George Washington, father of our country, explicitly WELCOMED them to a place at the table of America's "implicit Protestant establishment," its "civil religion." As he wrote to them:

To the members of the New Church at Baltimore.

Gentlemen,

It has ever been my pride to mind the approbation of my fellow citizens by a faithful and honest discharge of the duties annexed to those Stations to which they have pledged to place me; and the dearest rewards of my Services have been those testimonies of esteem and confidence with which they have honored me. But to the manifest interpretation of an over-ruling Providence, and to the patriotic exertions of United America, are to be ascribed those events which have given us a respectable rank among the nations of the earth.

We have abundant reason to rejoice that in this land the light of truth and reason has triumphed over the power of bigotry and superstition and that every person may here worship God according to the dictates of his own heart. In this enlightened Age & in this Land of equal liberty it is our boast, that a man's religious tenets, will not forfeit his protection of the Laws, nor deprive him of the right of attaining & holding the highest offices that are known in the United States.

Your Prayers for my present and future felicity were received with gratitude; and I sincerely wish, Gentlemen, that you may in your social and individual capacities, taste those blessings which a gracious God bestows upon the Righteous.

G. Washington


John Adams likewise had a similarly lax understanding of America's "implied Protestant establishment." When explaining to Thomas Jefferson how American independence was achieved under the "general principles of Christianity," he then further clarified exactly what kind of "Christians" were united under these principles:

There were among them Roman Catholics, English Episcopalians, Scotch and American Presbyterians, Methodists, Moravians, Anabaptists, German Lutherans, German Calvinists, Universalists, Arians, Priestleyans, Socinians, Independents, Congregationalists, Horse Protestants, and House Protestants, Deists and Atheists, and Protestants “qui ne croyent rien.” [Protestants who believe in nothing.] Very few, however, of several of these species; nevertheless, all educated in the general principles of Christianity, and the general principles of English and American liberty.


Not just unitarians [Arians, Socinians, and "Priestleyans"] but universalists and deists, atheists and Protestants who believe in nothing have an equal place at the table of America's implict "Christian" establishment. Adams, who generally was an anti-Roman Catholic bigot, was generous enough to name them too as "fitting" within America's civil religion, its "IPE."

And even though Roman Catholics faced tremendous bigotry in America from the Founding era onward, presently (at least since JFK's election) they are accepted at the table of America's civil religion along with the Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses, Elizabeth Clare Prophet, the Swedenborgs as just another eccentric Protestant sect.

We've truly come full circle. Welcome to "authentic American religion" 1776-2009.

32 comments:

Anonymous said...

It would be too lengthy to comment on your entire essay, so I will limit myself to an observation or two.
You use of quotations assume too much. Your quote of George Washington's letter in which he is essentially thanking church members for their support, and then somehow equating that with embracing unorthodox views of its leader are a stretch. It's more reasonable to view it as a modern president who addresses a church of a religion which he does not share and, for diplomatic purposes, assumes to share belief in a common deity, despite deep doctrinal differences.
Also, what you inferred from the Adams quote was even more of a stretch. When he writes that all those different ideological groups were "all educated in the general principles of Christianity", that doesn't imply that he thought they embraced all its doctrines. One can be educated in any number of world-views without adopting their doctrines. And, the fact that the quote given was preceded by noting that Adams was explaining to Jefferson that American independence was achieved under the "general principles of Christianity" certainly seems to argue for the fact that he indeed thought that to be the case, despite the evidence he gives in support.
Moreover, atheists do indeed adopt theistic principles in their daily lives when they affirm moral notions (which, if atheism were true, would be a product of a delusional mind, since no universal imperative exists to bind anyone to any obligatory duty).

Kristo Miettinen said...

Jon,

I think you fail to see the distinction between the civic religion upon which our civil institutions were molded, and the scope of religious freedom that those civil institutions and that civic religion welcomed/tolerated.

Not every welcomed/tolerated sect was part of the civic religion; e.g. no specifically Swedenborgian insights undergird our civil institutions.

Also, I'll not speak for Gregg, but I think he thinks there is more at stake in his and my exchange than you reduce it to (I think so too).

As for your Adams quote, I would draw a differen point from the Atheists being "all educated in the general principles of Christianity, and the general principles of English and American liberty". This is consistent with what I have said of Jefferson and others: that their personal faith is not the ultimate arbiter of what they thought was the appropriate civic religion.

Even an atheist can reach the conclusion that it is better for civil society to found a Christian Nation than an Atheist one, let alone acknowledge that like it or not, that is what the nation is.

After all, even Plato taught the importance to society of a religion that he thought was an invention, a "noble lie".

But do fill us in on the proceedings! Sounds interesting.

Pinky said...
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Pinky said...
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Pinky said...

Geez. Maybe I'll get it right this time.

I come to learn.
.
Previous articles and discussion threads have introduced me to Barry Shain and, as I read this most recent article by J.R., I wonder about twenty-first century interpretations of Revolutionary Era Americans thinking on things theological.

I haven't seen any specific opposition to Shain; so, I'm not sure how to take his presentations relative to this article
.
Anyway, this road--down which Brad Hart & Jon Rowe are going--is quite interesting to me.

All flack to the contrary.

Our Founding Truth said...

“Chauncey:I have made the Scriptures my sole study for about two years; and I think I have attained to a clearer understanding of them than I ever had before.”

Chauncy, as well as Jefferson, was a poor example of applying Biblical Exegesis. The Deity of Jesus Christ, thereby Triune Nature of God, is in almost every book of the New Testament, as well as noted in the Old Testament. As Gregg Frazer noted, Jefferson rejected inerrancy without any valid reason, except his own volition.

Jesus claimed to be God on several occasions. Chauncey perverted Paul's admonition to "rightly divide the Word of Truth."

God, in His Sovereign Power has preserved His Words for us. The Biblical Text leaves no doubt as to what the Word speaks.

Our Founding Truth said...

Jesus claimed to be God on several occasions. Chauncey perverted Paul's admonition to "rightly divide the Word of Truth.">

Rather, that was Peter who said that.

Pinky said...

.
In the For What It's Worth department, the apostle Paul wrote to Timothy, his understudy, in 2 Timothy 2:15 "Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth."
.
Just to keep things straight.

Jonathan Rowe said...

Anonymous says:

You use of quotations assume too much. Your quote of George Washington's letter in which he is essentially thanking church members for their support, and then somehow equating that with embracing unorthodox views of its leader are a stretch.Well this isn't quite what I intended. I don't think GW "embraced" the Swedenborgs view of Christ or its founders eccentric claims to have visited Heaven & Hell. What I think is that he didn't care about them one whit because the "theistic rationalists" - "Christian-Deists," "unitarians" whatever term we call them were utterly indifferent towards DOCTRINE. And this "indifference" transcended the orthodox Trinitarianism to which all established churches save the Quakers formally adhered to in their creed. And by the way, despite the Quaker's refusal to take up arms, the FFs LOVED them, in part because they didn't have an orthodox Trinitarian creed.

There is a little bit of ironic tension in the writings of J. Adams, Jefferson and Priestley, where one day they rail against the Trinity (and related orthodox doctrines) as "corruptions" of Christianity; and the next day they say things like differences between Trinity & Unity, etc., just aren't important; we could all come together as "Christians" or believers in "Providence."

I see a some evidence that Franklin disliked the Trinity; and I see GW as being utterly unconcerned with it; he could have been agnostic on the Trinity as far as I can tell.

And I absolutely see that indifference present in George Washington's response to the Swedenborgs.

It's more reasonable to view it as a modern president who addresses a church of a religion which he does not share and, for diplomatic purposes, assumes to share belief in a common deity, despite deep doctrinal differences.But you have to keep in mind that it was WASHINGTON HIMSELF that established that precedent that many modern Presidents to this day still follow. Before the US, heads of state were affiliated with various churches and dissidents were lucky if they were tolerated and were treated like outsiders.

When GWBush for instance said Jews, Christians, and Muslims worship the same God, he was walking in a path that George Washington first charted.

Jonathan Rowe said...

Also, what you inferred from the Adams quote was even more of a stretch. When he writes that all those different ideological groups were "all educated in the general principles of Christianity", that doesn't imply that he thought they embraced all its doctrines. One can be educated in any number of world-views without adopting their doctrines. And, the fact that the quote given was preceded by noting that Adams was explaining to Jefferson that American independence was achieved under the "general principles of Christianity" certainly seems to argue for the fact that he indeed thought that to be the case, despite the evidence he gives in support.Well I don't argue that Adams was pushing atheism, deism or Protestants who believe in nothing. What I see him peddling is his own personal creed -- Priestleyianism! That is a "Christian" non-sectarianism that transcends orthodox Trinitarian doctrine.

And indeed he was writing to another Priestleyian, Thomas Jefferson.

Jonathan Rowe said...

Kristo,

You may be right on what's at stake with your exchange with Gregg and I'll leave it at that.

Re

I think you fail to see the distinction between the civic religion upon which our civil institutions were molded, and the scope of religious freedom that those civil institutions and that civic religion welcomed/tolerated.

Not every welcomed/tolerated sect was part of the civic religion; e.g. no specifically Swedenborgian insights undergird our civil institutions.
I actually see an explicit connection between the religious liberty and full rights under the law (GW was telling the SBs that they had the potential to be elected President!) and the civil religion. Gregg sees this and so does Stephen Waldman in his excellent book that got props from among others William Bennett and Mark Noll. Waldman's a journalist and so he specializes in catchy phrases. His line is America wasn't "founded" on Christianity OR secularism, but religious liberty. As Gregg points out in his thesis if you are utterly indifferent on doctrine then it makes sense to grant religious liberty to just about everyone as long as it is theistic or "religious."

You are right that there is nothing particularly "Swedenborgian" about America's founding civic religion, but there is nothing distinctly Trinitarian, original sin, eternal damnation, infallibility of the Bible about them either.

As long as you believed in an overriding Providence, future state of rewards and punishments and perhaps something "special" about Jesus and the Bible -- which the Swedenborgians did -- you had your place at the table of American civil religion. The eccentric teachings of SBs DIDN'T have their place at the table, but rather were cast off as unimportant doctrine along with Trinity, Atonement, original sin, eternal damnation, infallibility of the Bible.

Pinky said...

.
Puritanism, it seems, has to be brought into consideration whenever the discussion is about America's Civic Religion.
.
Was it not all about coming to a place of confrontation between man and God? Wouldn't the pervasiveness of Puritan thinking have kept God on center stage?
.

Jonathan Rowe said...

BTW, I didn't add GW's letter to the Universalists for space reasons. One problem I have or worry about is writing posts that are too long and that will bore people. But there he makes it clear that this group who deny eternal damnation HAVE their place at the table of American civil religion. GW even stood up for one of them and appointed him as a chaplain when the more orthodox chaplains complained. GW also says that just about every religion about which he was aware in America had its place at the civil religion table:

GENTLEMEN,

I thank you cordially for the congratulations, which you offer on my appointment to the office I have the honor to hold in the government of the United States.

It gives me the most sensible pleasure to find, that, in our nation, however different are the sentiments of citizens on religious doctrines, they generally concur in one thing; for their political professions and practices are almost universally friendly to the order and happiness of our civil institutions. I am also happy in finding this disposition particularly evinced by your society. It is, moreover, my earnest desire, that all the members of every association or community, throughout the United States, may make such use of the auspicious years of peace, liberty, and free inquiry, with which they are now favored, as they shall hereafter find occasion to rejoice for having done.

With great satisfaction I embrace this opportunity to express my acknowledgments for the interest my affectionate fellow-citizens have taken in my recovery from a late dangerous indisposition; and I assure you, Gentlemen, that, in mentioning my obligations for the effusions of your benevolent wishes in my behalf, I feel animated with new zeal, that my conduct may ever be worthy of your favorable opinion, as well as such as shall, m every respect, best comport with the character of an intelligent and accountable being.
http://tinyurl.com/akhwp4

Tom Van Dyke said...

As long as you believed in an overriding Providence, future state of rewards and punishments and perhaps something "special" about Jesus and the Bible -- which the Swedenborgians did -- you had your place at the table of American civil religion. The eccentric teachings of SBs DIDN'T have their place at the table, but rather were cast off as unimportant doctrine along with Trinity, Atonement, original sin, eternal damnation, infallibility of the Bible.I buy that, Jon. As Madison pointed out in the debate over the Virginia statute on religious freedom, unless this pluralism were embraced, you'd have the courts settling the question of Who is Christian, something no one wanted.

As for atheists, well, we still have the question of federalism, as many states banned atheists from office and were free to do so under the constitution. As you note, there was a certain baseline for religious belief, basically a monotheistic, providential God.

IntelligentDecline said...

Slightly OT, but fascinating.

The John Adams letter to Thomas Jefferson published in The Works of John Adams, Second President of the United States: with a Life of the Author, Notes and Illustrations, by his Grandson Charles Francis Adams (Boston: Little, Brown and Co., 1856). 10 volumes. Vol. 10, referenced in this post, is also found in The Writings of Thomas Jefferson (ME), Vol. XIII; pg 290, with more content.

Tom Van Dyke said...

ID, the letter deserves a slow reading, a fisking, as it were. There is much there and we tend to quote-grab from it often around here.

I'd point out that John Adams often apologizes for his mental wanderings, probably because he wrote in ink, and didn't have access to cut-and-paste, let alone Delete.

Plus he wrote most of this stuff after he retired, getting loaded and writing to Jefferson, who was similarly situated, retired and drunk.

Not that it's irrelevant, but...well, actually, it is irrelevant.

IntelligentDecline said...

Tom Van Dyke, you are placing much more import into my previous post than was intended. I was not offering any analysis or critique of the letter, merely expressing a bit of surprise that I knew of it already, from the Jefferson (ME). However, upon revisiting the two versions later, I discovered the perceived extra content in the Jefferson (ME), was in reality only the addition of the salutations, and instead the main differences is more Paragraph breaks in the Jefferson (ME), as well as several words being all upper caps.

I am wondering why you felt it was necessary to assert that Adams and Jefferson were necessarily drunk when corresponding with each other in 1813. Are you privy to a Founder's historical ingestion timeline, I have heretofore been unaware of? At the time this letter was written, both Jefferson and Adams had almost 13 more years yet to live, and both seem to have been in good control of their mental faculties. Adams was often verbose in his letters. This one isn't even one of his longest to Jefferson. I've never felt this was caused from failing mental capacity, but instead the product of great intelligence, with an incredible breadth of focus. His apologies for rambling seem like polite allowances made for possibilities the reader would be incapable of following his drift in thought. And there was a wide landscape at that time for thought to drift across.

Adams and Jefferson were still just early on into their reconciliation, their mutual friend who had enabled it, Benjamin Rush, had just passed away. John Marshall's was primetime in his Jefferson slandering. TJ's intelligent former friend, Priestly, had gone psycho on him (i'm still getting up to speed on Priestly though); The War of 1812 was still early on, but New England, including many former Federalist Party members, was in main, vocally opposed to the War, and England was playing the North off the South. There were rumours of Federalists conspiring to secede, which must have pissed Adams off, but someone in that faction had managed to publish past private correspondence of Jefferson's criticising Adams. The South was blockaded, and the English were recruiting slaves into their military with promises of freedom and land holdings. Southern Agriculture had been flogged unmercifully by this, and that year Virginia first had a pest infestation, then a drought that decimated the coming harvest. The American military was tiny, ragtag and unprofessional. The militias were failing their first big test, plagued by inept leadership and geographical factionalism.

I think that covers a good deal of the drift. It's no surprise this Adams letter seems in contemporary reading excursive. Even though the quantity of study material is great, this blog's focus is very tight, and it's important to keep the contextual contours of time abstractly in mind. Your attempt to downplay the late life correspondences between Adams and Jefferson with derogations they were just past their prime rummies, seems driven more from agenda, than a search for truth, from my viewpoint as a newcomer here.

Lastly, I'll deviate with a spin towards the elliptic: net discourse is imbued with oblique spatiality; which often precipitates false assumptions about those one communicates with. The net is now 40, the public net 37. Commodore 64's 1st appeared 27 years ago, and within 2 years some were using them to shell into mainframes for net access. PseudoPuns offer little illumination into their users' age. Broad ranging estimates which cover the spread are better than wrong premises.

Jonathan Rowe said...

My understanding of the Founding & alcohol is that they drank a LOT. And that was partially because the alcohol was safer to drink than the water.

Jefferson had a mega wine collection. I don't know about Adams' wine collection. Gary Scott Smith uncovered an interesting piece of data that GW (who himself distilled whiskey) spent, I think 7% of his income (and GW was loaded for the time) on alcohol.

Anonymous said...

I think what most people are failing to do is to recognize the distinction between a biblical view of man's role in the world. Manking has duties toward God, i.e., those things which we might call "doctrinal" in nature, and those duties men have toward one another. I previously wrote that GW was only being diplomatic in tolerating the views of the group to which he was addressing. The author responded by noting that GW set a precedent hitherto absent from that which was common in Europe. But may I suggest that the nature of influence which Christianity infused into American political thought, and the reason GW would tolerate a sect with which he might disagree doctrinally, is that the influence of Christianity may have had more to do with the Bible's teachings about how men ought to relate to one another, rather than how they ought to relate to God. This doesn't leave God out of the equation , of course, because, for example, the FF certainly believed inalienable rights derived from God and not the state, so certain beliefs about God were still present. BUt even that belief has to do with mans relationship to one another, because it deprives the state from usurping the rights of men.
My point is only to say that disagreements over what the FF thought about doctrine may have nothing to do with the Christian character of our political system, because it was a Christian view of human interaction that mattered most.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Your attempt to downplay the late life correspondences between Adams and Jefferson with derogations they were just past their prime rummies, seems driven more from agenda, than a search for truth, from my viewpoint as a newcomer here.___
Well, Mr. Decline, I was having a bit of fun with the drunk part, although on second thought, my thesis about drinking and writing in ink seems tenable. I also do not find Adams a particularly coherent thinker, but that is admittedly opinion [although one shared by Alexander Hamilton].

However, the private post-presidential writings of Adams and Jefferson on religion are largely irrelevant. They had less presence in public life as post-presidents than say, [unfortunately] Jimmy Carter, and their thoughts on religion were largely unknown [especially Adams'] during their public life.

Since this material by Adams and Jefferson is so copious, they tend to hog the stage in these discussions. But that's like looking for something not where you dropped it, but somewhere else because the light's better over there.

But thx for the history lesson. There was a lot of stuff in there I didn't know about the immediate post-Founding period.

Tom Van Dyke said...

...that belief has to do with man's relationship to one another, because it deprives the state from usurping the rights of men.
My point is only to say that disagreements over what the FF thought about doctrine may have nothing to do with the Christian character of our political system, because it was a Christian view of human interaction that mattered most.
Mr. Anonymous, I think you've hit on something very interesting, if not pivotal, here. I saw the same argument today in a comparison of Trinitarianism to Islam, that the former, in having a more direct connection to man, makes how we treat fellow man more important, for his intrinsic worth, not just for virtue's sake or to please God.

Kristo Miettinen said...

Jon,

Your comments only reinforce my objection, but I'll have to make the point at greater length...

BLUF, as I pointed out in my inaugural post here, toleration wasn't an "obvious" idea, but a specifically protestant one.

In tolerating a broad range of religious opinion ("allowing a seat at the table" in your phrase) the founders were acting on protestant principles rather than general ones. But that takes more time to develop as a point...

Anonymous said...

Yes, exactly my point. Christianity, because it's message is and was spread through evangelism and not the sword, intrinsically allows for the freedom of beliefs of others. Jesus instructed his apostles to move on if someone didn't heed their message. He didn't instruct them to persecute them.
But notice it's the latter of the Ten Commandments, the half that addresses men's relationship to one another that is, and always tends to be, the focus of civil legislation (i.e., civil penalties for murder, theft, perjury, etc).
Some may note that in the past their were such things as blue laws, the forbidding of working on Sundays. Though some may view that as a doctrinal imposition, the notion of a day of rest was for the benefit of people, to give them rest, and to allow them the freedom to worship. The point is, it was something that substantially affected persons in a real way, rather than having an esoteric doctrinal nature about it.

Our Founding Truth said...

But notice it's the latter of the Ten Commandments, the half that addresses men's relationship to one another that is, and always tends to be, the focus of civil legislation (i.e., civil penalties for murder, theft, perjury, etc). >

Actually, religion is left to the states, enforcing civil prohibitions regarding religion.

Though some may view that as a doctrinal imposition, the notion of a day of rest was for the benefit of people, to give them rest, and to allow them the freedom to worship. The point is, it was something that substantially affected persons in a real way, rather than having an esoteric doctrinal nature about it.>

The seven day rest is strickly biblical, the Sabbath enforced by each state to this day in their own capacity.

Jonathan Rowe said...

You see, anon; you posit a certain "man centered" view of the Bible and traditional Christian religion and along comes OFT trying to posit (an indefensible) "holy" view of the American Founding and religion....

If keeping the Sabbath day holy has more to do with the glory of God than the good of man, then I'd argue it is totally out of tune with the ideals of the American Founding. If on the other hand, keeping one day of rest has a humanistic rationale to it, then it resonates with the ideals of the American Founding.

Jonathan Rowe said...

I previously wrote that GW was only being diplomatic in tolerating the views of the group to which he was addressing.But he was being MORE than tolerant. Read the letter carefully. He's saying you folks have FULL RIGHTS in the US Constitution, including the ability to get elected PRESIDENT of the US.

The author responded by noting that GW set a precedent hitherto absent from that which was common in Europe. But may I suggest that the nature of influence which Christianity infused into American political thought,...Honestley it depends on what you mean by "Christianity." They had been coming out of an era in which Roman Catholics persecuted ALL Protestant sects and most Protestant sects persecuted the RCs and one another. Christianity, by historical example was not "tolerant," or "rights granting" in this regard.


and the reason GW would tolerate a sect with which he might disagree doctrinally,I'd like to know HOW you might think GW disagreed with the SBs "doctrinally." I'm not arguing he was a closet SB. What I DO argue is he probabl thought like J. Adams, Jefferson, Madison and Franklin that the SB's eccentric teachings were harmless irrelevancies. That were it mattered, they got it right (i.e., belief in an overriding Providence and future state of rewards and punishments).

is that the influence of Christianity may have had more to do with the Bible's teachings about how men ought to relate to one another, rather than how they ought to relate to God.I don't know. If you cherry pick parts of the Bible, you might be able to find this. But for long periods of time within historic Christianity, the idea was government should go after soul damning heries because of the eternal consequences of believing in such. I see THAT as just as valid a "biblical principle" as toleration or liberty of conscience.

Jonathan Rowe said...

In tolerating a broad range of religious opinion ("allowing a seat at the table" in your phrase) the founders were acting on protestant principles rather than general ones.Well I see them as acting on "general Protestant" principles. If you say "Protestant" to certain orthodox Protestant Christians of the evangelical or fundamentalist bent, a certain "thing" comes to mind -- belief in infallibility of the Bible, the Trinity, "American orthodox" doctrine. That might not be what you mean; but that's how a lot of folks would read it.

And that reading of "Protestant" does not equate with "toleration" or "liberty of conscience." See for instance, Calvin having Servetus burned at the stake (and later Calvinists like Rutherford defending the act).

If on the other hand "Protestant" means simply "to protest" or "dissent" and includes such folks as Chauncy and Jefferson, then, I'd agree with you that "toleration" and "liberty of conscience" are "Protestant" things.

Tom Van Dyke said...

I'm very open to the Protestant dynamic of the individual conscience vs. ecclesiastical authority being key to the Founding, but Jon seems quite right that equating tolerance and Protestantism requires a helluva lot of qualifiers.

IntelligentDecline said...

Jonathan Rowe - you are assuming far too much about Founders' drinking habits.

In large urban areas, there were bound to be problems with the drinking water supply. Raw sewage was most likely dumped into the same water flows used for potable water. Only an idiot would have drunk river water from around the main docks, or anywhere near the stock yards and abattoirs.

This would not have been the same for rural Southern Plantations. It is also unlikely to have been the case for Yankee aristocratical families, like the Adamses, in Quincy. They lived on extensive estates with self-contained cistern systems, and likely had their own wells.

The example of Washington's distillery is absurd. The distillery was a commercial enterprise at Mt. Vernon, which used grain milled at Mt. Vernon's commercial mills. It offers no insight into George Washington's personal alcohol consumption habits.

Jefferson did have a fine wine collection. He also severely injured his right wrist in a riding accident while in France, that caused him chronic pain for the rest of his life, often making writing a painful and slow enterprise. It would no be surprising to learn that Jefferson tended to sip Cognac or Brandy while writing. This in no way indicates that Jefferson was a drunkard. Is a person who suffers from severe chronic pain, who takes small dosages of codeine throughout the day to alleviate the pain, necessarily an addled drug addict?

Tom Van Dyke said...

It was a joke, man.

John Adams could be incoherent---sorry, uncohesive as a thinker--- without alcohol. [I didn't throw that charge at Jefferson, who is cohesive.]

Neither is alcohol antithetical to theology. The name of God is on the lips of every drunk. At least all the ones I've ever drunk with. It's cool.

Jonathan Rowe said...

Tom.

Heh.

The Dark Avenger said...

His Sovereign Power has preserved His Words for us.

In several versions in the original languages they were written in, unless you're referring to those texts that are known as the gnostic gospels.