Saturday, April 4, 2009

Understanding the Hybrid Religion of the Key Founders

Here at American Creation, my friend and co-blogger Tom Van Dyke in a comment questions whether those Founding Fathers who don't "fit" within the "orthodox Christian" or "strict Deist" box should be relegated to the "theistic rationalist" box that Dr. Gregg Frazer has described. As TVD notes:

Neither does a lack of orthodoxy mean that you're a "theistic rationalist." That's like saying if it's not a cat, it must be dog.

[...]

Hamilton is a complete unknown and it's completely unsupportable to claim him for unorthodoxy, and if Madison leaned Unitarian, it must be kept in mind that the unitarians' objection to the Trinity was based on a dissenting interpretation of the Bible, not a rejection of it.


My response is that there was a continuum of beliefs. If folks were not orthodox Christians, we don't then look to left field for explanation and say, well maybe they were "Hindoos." What Dr. Frazer's describes as "theistic rationalism" fits nicely to the left of orthodox Trinitarian Christianity and to the right of strict deism. Therefore if they weren't orthodox Christians or strict deists, it's likely that they fit somewhere in between and believed in this hybrid creed that could be termed theistic rationalism, Christian-Deism, or unitarianism.

Perhaps we need to better understand how on almost all central points that define "orthodox Christianity" v. "strict deism," (which tended to take polar opposite positions) what Dr. Frazer describes as "theistic rationalism" takes a middle ground approach. Thus, if someone doesn't fit within the "orthodox Christian" or "strict deist" box, it's reasonable to put them in the "theistic rationalist" box, even without "smoking gun" quotations to prove the FF believed in all points of "theistic rationalism." Those smoking gun quotations are there with Jefferson, J. Adams and Franklin. They are less so with figures like Washington, Madison and Hamilton. But, again, I think it's entirely reasonable to conclude the latter three were "probably" what Dr. Frazer terms "theistic rationalists," or if you don't like that term, "Christian-Deists," or "unitarians."

And with that, let us turn to Dr. Frazer's paper entitled Gouverneur Morris, Theistic Rationalist to better understand the paradigm.

First, what is "orthodox Christianity," what some argue the only proper understanding of "historic Christianity"?

In the eighteenth century, all of the major Christian sects in America officially espoused a certain set of beliefs. Various sects added to this core of fundamental beliefs, but none subtracted from it. So, in eighteenth-century America, those who did not hold these core beliefs were not considered Christians. The fundamentals of Christianity were common knowledge to contemporaries of the period. Despite disputes over church polity and sacramental issues which resulted in a number of sects, the period saw remarkable unanimity regarding central doctrines. According to the creeds, confessions, catechisms, and articles of faith of the major denominations in America during the period, all of them shared common belief in: the Trinity, the deity of Jesus, a God active in human affairs, original sin, the Virgin Birth, the atoning work of Christ in satisfaction for man’s sins, the bodily resurrection of Jesus, eternal punishment for sin, justification by faith, and the authority of the Scriptures.32 Even the Catholic Church, though irreconcilably separated from the Protestant churches, embraced all of these fundamental doctrines, which is further evidence of the consensus concerning the substance of Christianity. (p. 11).


Next, what is strict deism?

Natural religion was a system of thought centered on the belief that reliable information about God is best discovered and understood by examining the evidence of nature and the laws of nature that nature’s God established. Deism was the primary expression of natural religion in the eighteenth century. The critical elements of eighteenth-century deist belief were the effective absence of God and the denial of any written revelation from God.30 These two elements clearly separated theistic rationalists from deists. In addition, deism was in many ways as much a critique of Christianity as a religion of its own. Deist thought rejected virtually every tenet and fundamental of Christianity and deists were generally critical of Christianity’s central figure: Jesus.31 In short, deists wanted nothing to do with Christianity or its Christ. While theistic rationalists shared some ideas with deists, they had a much greater regard for Christianity and for Jesus than did most deists. (pp. 10-11.)


Now, what was the hybrid religion? From Dr. Frazer's Claremont article:

Although affiliated with various denominations, the major founders did not typically hold to the beliefs officially espoused by their denominations. Similarly, while Franklin and Jefferson are regularly listed as deists, they did not believe in the fundamental tenets of deism. The key founders shared a common belief which might be called theistic rationalism. Theistic rationalism was a hybrid, mixing elements of natural religion, Christianity, and rationalism, with rationalism as the predominant element. Accordingly, the founders believed in a benevolent, active, and unitary God who intervenes in human affairs. Consequently, they believed that prayers are heard and effectual. They believed that the key factor in serving God is living a good and moral life, that promotion of morality is central to the value of religion, and that the morality engendered by religion is indispensable to society. Because virtually all religions promote morality, they believed that most religious traditions are valid and lead to the same God.

Though theistic rationalists did not believe that Jesus was God, they considered him a great moral teacher and held a higher view of him than did deists. They believed in a personal after-life in which the wicked will be temporarily punished and the good experience happiness forever. Although they believed that God primarily revealed himself through nature, they believed that some written revelation was legitimate. Finally, while they believed that reason and revelation generally agree with each other, theistic rationalists believed that revelation was designed to complement reason (not vice versa). Reason was the ultimate standard for learning and evaluating truth and for determining legitimate revelation from God.


Now, let us examine how "theistic rationalism" is a hybrid, or in between "orthodox Christianity" and "strict Deism." First, on the Providence of God, the theistic rationalists sided with the orthodox Christians and believed in an active personal God.

On the other nine tenets of "orthodox Christianity" --

the Trinity, the deity of Jesus,...original sin, the Virgin Birth, the atoning work of Christ in satisfaction for man’s sins, the bodily resurrection of Jesus, eternal punishment for sin, justification by faith, and the authority of the Scriptures


-- the theistic rationalists sided with the deists and did not believe (or at least evidence belief) in them, with the exception that some theistic rationalists believed in the resurrection, though not of an Incarnate God.

Regarding the "authority" of scripture, the theistic rationalists took the classic middle ground position. Orthodox Christians believed the Bible was the inerrant, infallible Word of God, the strict Deist didn't believe ANY written revelation, and the middle position was belief that some of the Christian Bible was legitimately revealed by God, some was not. That begs the question on how to tell what was legimate revelation, and the answer is reason determines what God revealed in the Bible.

Further on Jesus, strict Deism views Jesus as either a fraud or at best (as Thomas Paine believed) a nice guy (a "benevolent" man). The theistic rationalists viewed Jesus as a great, indeed the greatest moral teacher man had ever seen. Some went so far as to view Jesus as a "savior" or "messiah" because of his perfect moral teachings (NOT because of His infinite atonement).

So when I see a Founder who didn't quite appear orthodox but also didn't seem to be a strict deist, I see it as entirely reasonable to conclude, as I do with Hamilton (before his deathbed) that he was what Dr. Frazer terms a "theistic rationalist." Again, if one doesn't like that term, then pick something else. Instead of arguing over the right term, it's more important to understand what it is that the Founder believed or likely believed.

With Alexander Hamilton in particular, no smoking gun evidence exists that shows he was an orthodox Christian till his deathbed. That he never joined a church and his clumsy understanding of the act of taking communion for which he begged at his deathbed evidences that he was an extremely immature orthodox Christian at death.

Regarding his supposedly conventional or "orthodox" youth, the only evidence that exists is one or two people witnessed him praying (something theistic rationalists did, btw) and therefore thought he was a conventional Christian.

According to scholars Douglass Adair and Marvin Harvey, from 1777 to 1792 there are only two letters where Hamilton mentions God at all. One of them was to John Laurens in Dec. 1779, describing what he looked for in a wife: “As to religion, a moderate streak will satisfy me. She must believe in god and hate a saint.”

That is theistic rationalism. Belief in an active Providence is necessary, everything else --

the Trinity, the deity of Jesus,...original sin, the Virgin Birth, the atoning work of Christ in satisfaction for man’s sins, the bodily resurrection of Jesus, eternal punishment for sin, justification by faith, and the authority of the Scriptures


-- are unimporant dogmas. Indeed it was this radical non-sectarianism, so radical that it transcended orthodox Trinitarian dogma, that was the "sine qua non" of "theistic rationalism."

As Hamilton put it elsewhere using the pagan surname PHOCION:

There is a bigotry in politics as well as in religions, equally pernicious in both. The zealots, of either description, are ignorant of the advantage of a spirit of toleration. It was a long time before the kingdoms of Europe were convinced of the folly of persecution with respect to those who were schismatics from the established church....Time and experience have taught a different lesson: and there is not an enlightened nation which does not now acknowledge the force of this truth, that whatever speculative notions of religion may be entertained, men will not, on that account, be enemies to a government that affords them protection and security. The same spirit of toleration in politics, and for the same reasons, has made great progress among mankind, of which the history of most modern revolutions is a proof. Unhappily for this State, there are some among us -who possess too much influence; that have motives of personal ambition and interest to shut their minds against the entrance of that moderation which the real welfare of the community teaches. [Bold mine.]


"Bigotry in religion" equates with attachment to sectarian dogma. Hamilton argues against such bigotry and for enlightenment and "moderation." In his letter to Laurens, Hamilton equates "moderation" with simple God belief period. Again, I realize these aren't smoking guns, but they give the overall tenor of someone who believed in an active personal God and that's it, none of the other tenets of orthodox Christianity. Thus, I think it's completely reasonable to categorize Hamilton before his deathbed as a probable "theistic rationalist," not an orthodox Christian.

48 comments:

Tom Van Dyke said...

But Hamilton did marry a "saint." You could look it up.


So when I see a Founder who didn't quite appear orthodox but also didn't seem to be a strict deist, I see it as entirely reasonable to conclude, as I do with Hamilton (before his deathbed) that he was what Dr. Frazer terms a "theistic rationalist."


In other words, if it's not a cat or a dog, it must be a mouse. Sorry, mate, I don't see that as entirely reasonable atall atall.

Jonathan Rowe said...

No Tom not “in other words.” Rather, if “orthodox Christian” is a “human,” and “deist” is a “wolf,” and if someone appears to be strictly neither but has characteristics of both, then perhaps “werewolf” is the apt categorization.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Actually, Jon, I might be a "werewolf" meself. We correspond privately all the time, but I do not think you could say for sure.

There are also other possibilities.

Jonathan Rowe said...

Tom. Heh. I was thinking the same thing myself about you (and I sometimes think Jim Babka as well). But what do you have against being such a “werewolf”? I might think of you and Jim as Christian-Deists (though I think both of you are Trinitarians and that would pass the “Christian” test). Though to some outsider like OFT, (or those likeminded) they might say you guys really aren’t “Christians.”

One thing I’ve learned in this LONG debate we’ve had is to be flexible in interpretive matters and learn to analyze and categorize things from different perspectives.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Am I a Trinitarian? Pls advise.

Jonathan Rowe said...

Well. Maybe this conversation best take place privately in email. But I get the sense, from what we've discussed, that you do believe the Trinity with some doubts. I don't want to "out" you any more than you feel comfortable. I'll delete this post if you ask.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Not atall, Jon, but deep thx for respecting my privacy. I wouldn't have asked publicly if I didn't want a public response.

David Gelernter's [a Jewish fellow] has a thesis worthy of consideration

http://www.amazon.com/Americanism-Fourth-Great-Western-Religion/dp/0385513127

...although I think it's overstating its case, as does "theistic rationalism."

Still, I'll embrace the idea that some great turn of human theological-political history or "human progress" happened at the Founding, despite how I shove Leo Strauss up Phil Johnson's [Pinky's] butt.

And if I had to choose between the Judeo-Christian David Gelernter's "Americanism" and the evangelical Gregg Frazer's "theistic rationalism," well, I would choose neither.

The floor remains open.

I hate terms, especially trying to define or describe the American Founding with a one-size fits-all term. It was a unique thing, sui generis. Better to discuss the reality and slip out of the straitjacket of terminology wherever practical and whenever possible.

Pinky said...

.
Meta-communicants?
.
How didn't anyone know that?
.
The article is more interesting for consideration.

Once again, it points up the struggle in which the Founding Fathers found themselves. How to deal with the norms of social pressures that otherwise inhibit intellectual growth? Most of the Founders were strong intellectuals, men like Franklin, Jefferson, Madison and Wilson.

If any gave in to one or another set of dogmas, they would have staggered there and that would have been the end of them. Look what happened to Thomas Paine, .
"A popular old nursery rhyme about Paine could as easily be sung today:

Poor Tom Paine! there he lies:
Nobody laughs and nobody cries.
Where he has gone or how he fares,
Nobody knows and nobody cares.
"

http://yoz.com/wired/1.01/features/paine.html

Raven said...

Can I ask you all a serious question? Why are fundamentalist Evangelical Christians such fucking retards? Why do we give them the time of day? It's like listening to someone aruge the legitimacy of a leporachaun, Santa, the Tooth Fairy. I just don't get it. These fuckers (Our Founding Truth being chief among them) are dumber than shit but hide their self inflicted delision under the cover of the Bible. They worship the damned Bible and not Jesus.

This will probably be deleted, but I do want to know why you all choose to listen to their horseshit. Isn't it obvious enough by now?

Jonathan Rowe said...

Raven,

Why don't you tell us how you really feel?

Seriously though. Fundamentalists are people too. And by the way, even though I find OFT to be way off base (I could say a lot worse, I'll bite my tongue) might I remind you that the Dr. Frazer I constantly refer back to is a fundamentalist (a literal 6-day creationist) not unlike OFT. You see, we can learn something from some fundamentalists.

Our Founding Truth said...

Every lawyer studied Blackstone more than anyone else. This a reason why only a few framers rejected reason as superior to revelation. Hamilton quoted Blackstone, and there is no evidence he, denied Blackstone's ideas on who the law of nature is:

"If we could be as certain of the [natural law] as we
are of the [revealed law], both would have an equal
authority; but, till then, they can never be put in
any competition together."
1 William Blackstone, Commentaries 42.

This law of nature, being coeval [existing at the same
time - ed.] with mankind, and dictated by God himself,
is of course superior in obligation to any other. It
is binding over all the globe in all countries, and at
all times: no human laws are of any validity, if
contrary to this; and such of them as are valid derive
all their force and all their authority, mediately or
immediately, from this original. [The doctrines thus
delivered we call the REVEALED or DIVINE LAW], and
they are to be found only in the holy scriptures.

-BLACKSTONE, COMMENTARIES, "Of the Nature of Laws in
General."

This is what is called the law of nature, "which, being coeval with mankind, and dictated by God himself, is, of course, superior in obligations to any other. It is binding over all the globe, in all countries, and at all times. No human laws are of any validity, if contrary to this; and such of them as are valid derive all their authority, mediately or immediately, from this original."—BLACKSTONE.

-Hamilton, 1775.

Here is the solid proof Alexander was an orthodox Christian, not a rationalist of any kind.

I have examined carefully the evidence of the Christian religion;and, if I was sitting as juror upon its authenticity, I should unhestitatingly give my verdict in its favor. I have studied it, and I can prove its truth as clearly as any proposition ever submitted to the mind of man.

~ History of the Republic of the United States, as Traced in the Writings of Alexander Hamilton and His Contemporaries, by J. C. Hamilton, volume 7, page 790

Hamilton knew the Christian faith has supernatural aspects to it, which would no doubt come up in his defense of it, if he had to prove it in court. Hamilton could prove the atonement, resurrection, etc. Hamilton also says he has studied it, meaning he diligently studied the scriptures.

Hamilton believed in the Gospel, which is the atonement, resurrection, virgin birth, etc. all the supernatural aspects of Christianity:

An attack was first made upon the Christian revelation, for which natural religion was offered as the substitute. The Gospel was to be discarded as a gross imposture, but the being and attributes of GOD[what rationalists believe], the obligations of piety, even the doctrine of a future state of rewards and punishments[what the heterodox believed], were to be retained and cherished.
In proportion as success has appeared to attend the plan, a bolder project has been unfolded. The very existence of a Deity has been questioned and in some instances denied. The duty of piety has been ridiculed, the perishable nature of man asserted, and his hopes bounded to the short span of his earthly state. DEATH has been proclaimed an ETERNAL SLEEP; "the dogma of the immortality of the soul a cheat, invented to torment the living for the benefit of the dead." Irreligion, no longer confined to the closets of conceited sophists, nor to the haunts of wealthy riot, has more or less displayed its hideous front among all classes.

-Fragment on French Revolution (unknown date of authorship) most likely after reason was exalted in 1794.

Hamilton affirms the miraculous of the Torah:

He [Gouverneur Morris] asks, "Why distrust the evidence of the Jews? Discredit them, and you destroy the Christian religion." Has he forgotten what this race once were, when, under the immediate government of God himself, they were selected as the witnesses of his miracles, and charged with the spirit of prophecy? or how they changed when, the remnants of the scattered tribes, they were the degraded, persecuted, reviled subjects of Rome, in all her resistless power, and pride, and pagan pomp, an isolated, tributary, and friendless people? Has the gentleman recurred to the past with his wonted accuracy? Is it so, that if we then degraded the Jews, we destroy the evidence of Christianity? Were not the witnesses of that pure and holy, happy and Heaven-approved faith, converts to that faith?


~ Speech before the New York Supreme Court in the case Le Guen v. Gouverneur and Kemble (1800)
SOURCE: History of the Republic of the United States, as Traced in the Writings of Alexander Hamilton and His Contemporaries, John Church Hamilton, volume 7, page 711



Hamilton attacked philosophy, and reason:

There is yet another class of opponents to the government and its administration, who are of too much consequence not to be mentioned: a sect of political doctors; a kind of POPES in government; standards of political orthodoxy, who brand with heresy all opinions but their own; men of sublimated imaginations and weak judgments; pretenders to profound knowledge, yet ignorant of the most useful of all sciences — the science of human nature; men who dignify themselves with the appellation of philosophers, yet are destitute of the first elements of true philosophy; lovers of paradoxes; men who maintain expressly that religion is not necessary to society, and very nearly that government itself is a nuisance; that priests and clergymen of all descriptions are worse than useless. Such men, the ridicule of any cause that they espouse, and the best witnesses to the goodness of that which they oppose, have no small share in the clamors which are raised, and in the dissatisfactions which are excited.

~ Vindication Of the Funding System #1 (1791?)

Hamilton says France denied the supernatural aspects of Christianity:

How clearly is it proved by this that the praise of a civilized world is justly due to Christianity;—war, by the influence of the humane principles of that religion, has been stripped of half its horrors. The French renounce Christianity, and they relapse into barbarism;—war resumes the same hideous and savage form which it wore in the ages of Gothic and Roman violence.

~ “The War in Europe” (1799)

Hamilton despised reason, for he believed it the same as atheism:

The cause of France is compared with that of America during its late revolution. Would to Heaven that the comparison were just. Would to Heaven we could discern in the mirror of French affairs the same humanity, the same decorum, the same gravity, the same order, the same dignity, the same solemnity, which distinguished the cause of the American Revolution. Clouds and darkness would not then rest upon the issue as they now do. I own I do not like the comparison. When I contemplate the horrid and systematic massacres of the 2d and 3d of September; when I observe that a Marat and a Robespierre, the notorious prompters of those bloody scenes, sit triumphantly in the convention and take a conspicuous part in its measures—that an attempt to bring the assassins to justice has been obliged to be abandoned; when I see an unfortunate prince, whose reign was a continued demonstration of the goodness and benevolence of his heart, of his attachment to the people of whom he was the monarch, who, though educated in the lap of despotism, had given repeated proofs that he was not the enemy of liberty, brought precipitately and ignominiously to the block without any substantial proof of guilt, as yet disclosed—without even an authentic exhibition of motives, in decent regard to the opinions of mankind; when I find the doctrines of atheism openly advanced in the convention, and heard with loud applause; when I see the sword of fanaticism extended to force a political creed upon citizens who were invited to submit to the arms of France as the harbingers of liberty; when I behold the hand of rapacity outstretched to prostrate and ravish the monuments of religious worship, erected by those citizens and their ancestors; when I perceive passion, tumult, and violence usurping those seats, where reason and cool deliberation ought to preside, I acknowledge that I am glad to believe there is no real resemblance between what was the cause of America and what is the cause of France—that the difference is no less great than that between liberty and licentiousness. I regret whatever has a tendency to compound them, and I feel anxious, as an American, that the ebullitions of inconsiderate men among us may not tend to involve our reputation in the issue.

~ To an Unknown Recipient (1793)

In reviewing the disgusting spectacle of the French Revolution, it is difficult to avert the eye entirely from those features of it which betray a plan to disorganize the human mind itself, as well as to undermine the venerable pillars that support the edifice of civilized society. The attempt by the rulers of a nation to destroy all religious opinion, and to pervert a whole nation to atheism, is a phenomenon of profligacy reserved to consummate the infamy of the unprincipled reformers of France. The proofs of this terrible design are numerous and convincing.
The animosity to the Christian system is demonstrated by the single fact of the ridiculous and impolitic establishment of the decades, with the evident object of supplanting the Christian Sabbath. The inscriptions by public authority on the tombs of the deceased, affirming death to be an eternal sleep, witness the desire to discredit the belief of the immortality of the soul. The open profession of atheism in the convention, received with acclamations; the honorable mention on its journals of a book professing to prove the nothingness of all religion; the institution of a festival to offer public worship to a courtesan decorated with the pompous title of "Goddess of Reason"; the congratulatory reception of impious children appearing in the hall of the convention to lisp blasphemy against the King of kings, are among the dreadful proofs of a conspiracy to establish atheism on the ruins of Christianity,—to deprive mankind of its best consolations and most animating hopes, and to make a gloomy desert of the universe.

-~ The Stand # III (1798; emphasis original)

Hamilton attacking reason again:

Is it the open profession of impiety in the public assemblies, or the ridiculous worship of a Goddess of Reason, or the still continued substitution of decades to the Christian Sabbath? Is it the destruction of commerce, the ruin of manufactures, the oppression of agriculture? Or, is it the pomp of war, the dazzling glare of splendid victories, the bloodstained fields of Europe, the smoking cinders of desolated cities, the afflicting spectacle of millions precipitated from plenty and comfort to beggary and misery? If it be none of these things, what is it?

~ Address to the Electors of the State of New York (1801)

Hamilton believed the supernatural providence for the Jews:

"The state and progress of the Jews," Hamilton remarked elsewhere, "from their earliest history to the present time, has been so entirely out of the ordinary course of human affairs, is it not then a fair conclusion, that the cause is an EXTRAORDINARY ONE -- in other words, that it is the effect of some great providential plan? The man who will draw this conclusion, will look for the solution in the Bible. He who will not draw it ought to give us another fair solution."


~ History of the Republic of the United States, as Traced in the Writings of Alexander Hamilton and His Contemporaries, John Church Hamilton, volume 7, page 711

Any attempt to place Alexander Hamilton other than an orthodox Christian, despite his lack of church attendance, contradicts the written record. His deathbed confession was the reason for his lack of church attendance:

Alexander Hamilton said, upon being asked by the Reverend Benjamin Moore "Do you sincerely repent of your sins past? Have you a lively faith in God's mercy through Christ, with a thankful remembrance of the death of Christ? And are you disposed to live in love and charity with all men," answered: "With the utmost sincerity of heart I can answer those questions in the affirmative – I have no ill will against Col. Burr. I met him with a fixed resolution to do him no harm – I forgive all that happened."

~ SOURCE: Letter by Reverend Benjamin Moore to William Coleman of the New York Evening Post (July 12, 1804)

Jonathan Rowe said...

OFT,

You are still demonstrating a lack of etiquette. It's rude to respond with too many words.

And, you might fool some folks who aren't aware of my argument and the overall record; but you aren't fooling the careful readers. My argument as you KNOW is that Hamilton became an orthodox Christian after his son died. And that's EXACTLY when he wrote the following:

I have examined carefully the evidence of the Christian religion;and, if I was sitting as juror upon its authenticity, I should unhestitatingly give my verdict in its favor. I have studied it, and I can prove its truth as clearly as any proposition ever submitted to the mind of man.

But you, of course, conveniently don't date that passage. The rest of what you write is a non-sequitur. That is, you "read in" orthodox Christian to the record (to his writings before Phillip's death) when such is in fact, not there. Who are we to believe? Every reputable historian who has studied Hamilton or you and "Hercules Mulligan" who admittedly never took a college course in his life and won't even tell us his real name or professional background?

Tom Van Dyke said...

Not bad, Mr. Goswick: although I don't think the quotes support all your arguments, it supports many of them. That Hamilton was hit by a bolt from the blue in the 1790s and became orthodox/religious all of a sudden, well, that argument carries its own burden of proof, so far unmet except by speculation and assertion.

And for anyone who's been asking the difference between the American and French revolutions, this will do for now. Perhaps it indeed took the French Revolution's "reason trumps revelation" ethos to illuminate what people like Hamilton [and Gouverneur Morris!] actually believed, revealing it even to themselves.

As for the rest of the predictable discussion, this will save some time. Some of the usual suspects are in attendance:

http://thefoundationforum.blogspot.com/2007/07/reason-vs-revelation-part-one.html

Jonathan Rowe said...

Tom,

The FR's motto wasn't just "reason trumps revelation," but revelation is a fiction. And scholars have already dealt with the post 1792, pre Phillip's death period of Hamilton's life which they describe as "opportunistic defense" of Christianity. He was still a "theistic rationalist," "Christian-Deist," or what have you during this time. OR, we could say every he wrote was consistent with Christian-Deism (Christian-Unitarianism). Those words attacking the French Revolution's descent into strict Deism and then atheism could have been uttered by John Adams or Joseph Priestley. OFT and Hercules Mulligan offer NO smoking gun of Hamilton's orthodoxy until after Phillip's death, close to Hamilton's deathbed.

Tom Van Dyke said...

But you [and your favored scholars] offer NO smoking gun for Hamilton's "theistic rationalism." I don't see how you can shuck the burden of proof for your assertion.

I don't have a dog in this fight. I'm much more interested in Hamilton's vociferous defense of natural law in "The Farmer Refuted"

http://press-pubs.uchicago.edu/founders/documents/v1ch3s5.html

per my comments above about Jon Meacham missing the entire ground of the Founding, as many putatively "educated" people do these days.

Jonathan Rowe said...

Tom,

You don't see Hamilton's discussion of what he looks for in a wife as telling (or about the Pastor who whores). Though, I can see you saying those same things too! LOL.

I am going to do a blog examining Hamilton's Christian death. Even though that event is a "smoking gun" that Hamilton died an orthodox Christian death, the kind of orthodox Christianity to which he converted saw communion as central. Yet, he apparently had little to no experience taking communion. He was a total clutz on the matter. I think that's telling of his spiritual immaturity (that is his "orthodox Christian" spiritual immaturity) at the time of his death, which suggests he died a newbie orthodox Christian.

Our Founding Truth said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Tom Van Dyke said...

Well, there are any number of ritual pieties that busy men intend "to get to someday," and the Eucharist certainly fits that. But it seems more logical that absent a smoking-gun Road to Damascus moment, the more reasonable assumption would be that the death of his son merely intensified Hamilton's existing religious belief.

The word "converted" needn't necessarily apply.

The epistemological problem here is a familiar one: each side demands iron-clad proof from the other, and grabs the uncertain middle for itself.

Still, I think the case for "theistic rationalism," tucking Hamilton's religious beliefs in with Jefferson's, is the weaker case.

"Negative inference" could demand some statement of orthodoxy from Hamilton before the 1790s, but I'd say that any man who wanted to be taken seriously as an intellectual shied away from thumping Bible. [As it is today.]

And since Hamilton quotes Blackstone approvingly in "The Farmer Refuted," and Blackstone speaks well of the scriptures, the same demands of negative inference would require Hamilton departing from Blackstone on this point in his writings, which I believe he never does.

[That would be a smoking gun, surely.]

And despite his frat house smacktalk about what he wanted in a wife, he did indeed marry a "saint," in 1780, and had 8 children with her.

I meself leave Hamilton's orthodoxy alone, since there is uncertainty. His rigorous embrace of natural law theory is plenty enough probative and relevant to our discussions.

Our Founding Truth said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Jonathan Rowe said...

I see Hamilton, like the rest of the key FFs citing Blackstone selectively and drawing from his work a God given "law of nature" and leaving alone ENTIRELY what Blacktone dithered about revelation. For my critical eyes, if a FF invokes a God given law of nature but does not invoke the Bible, he is ignoring the Bible and invoking something discovered by reason as I see Hamilton doing in the Farmer Refuted.

Our Founding Truth said...

I don't know why you deleted my previous posts on Hamilton's early years, but here is some more:

OFT and Hercules Mulligan offer NO smoking gun of Hamilton's orthodoxy until after Phillip's death, close to Hamilton's deathbed

Since Hamilton's language never changed during his lifetime, this statement has no teeth. Even if the above statement was true, which it isn't, Hamilton did use orthodox terms his entire life.

Rationalists never spoke like Hamilton, and never attacked philosophy, or affirmed the Gospel (Jesus died for the sins of the world, rose from the dead on the third day, etc.) like he did: "blasphemy against the King of kings" etc.

The Treaty of Luneville in Feburary, 1801 proves that Hamilton affirmed the Gospel (orthodoxy) before his son died on November 20, 1801, as well as affirming the "goddess of reason." The Treaty restored peace to europe, and stabilized France, while Napoleon took control of the Consolate in 1800, precisely what Hamilton wrote about in his Fragment on the French Revolution:

"An attack was first made upon the Christian revelation, for which natural religion was offered as the substitute. The Gospel was to be discarded as a gross imposture, but the being and attributes of GOD, the obligations of piety, even the doctrine of a future state of rewards and punishments, were to be retained and cherished.
...Symptoms of the too great prevalence of this system in the United States are alarmingly visible. It was by its influence that efforts were made to embark this country in a common cause with France in the early period of the present war; to induce our government to sanction and promote her odious principles and views with the blood and treasure of our citizens.

-Fragment, 1793 to 1800.

It's probably dated more closely to 1793, as it could be a rough draft of "The Stand, no III." because of its resemblance.

Also:

"pretenders to profound knowledge, yet ignorant of the most useful of all sciences — the science of human nature; men who dignify themselves with the appellation of philosophers, yet are destitute of the first elements of true philosophy; lovers of paradoxes; men who maintain expressly that religion is not necessary to society, and very nearly that government itself is a nuisance; that priests and clergymen of all descriptions are worse than useless. Such men, the ridicule of any cause that they espouse, and the best witnesses to the goodness of that which they oppose, have no small share in the clamors which are raised, and in the dissatisfactions which are excited."

~ Vindication Of the Funding System #1 (1791?)

Hamilton, by affirming the miracles of the Torah, affirmed the entire Old Testament, such as the scriptures Franklin, Jefferson, and the rationalists denied:

He [Gouverneur Morris] asks, "Why distrust the evidence of the Jews? Discredit them, and you destroy the Christian religion." Has he forgotten what this race once were, when, under the immediate government of God himself, they were selected as the witnesses of his miracles, and charged with the spirit of prophecy? or how they changed when, the remnants of the scattered tribes, they were the degraded, persecuted, reviled subjects of Rome, in all her resistless power, and pride, and pagan pomp, an isolated, tributary, and friendless people? Has the gentleman recurred to the past with his wonted accuracy? Is it so, that if we then degraded the Jews, we destroy the evidence of Christianity? Were not the witnesses of that pure and holy, happy and Heaven-approved faith, converts to that faith?


~ Speech before the New York Supreme Court in the case Le Guen v. Gouverneur and Kemble (1800)
SOURCE: History of the Republic of the United States, as Traced in the Writings of Alexander Hamilton and His Contemporaries, John Church Hamilton, volume 7, page 711

The evidence says Hamilton was an orthodox Christian, not even close to a rationalist.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Asked & answered, Jon. As previously noted, anyone who wants to be taken seriously as an "intellectual" doesn't thump Bible. Not "ignoring" it as much as reconciling reason to revelation, an old Thomistic technique.

Hamilton expressed quite a bit of Psalmist piety in his very young days and that can't be ignored. Such stuff usually goes dormant in expression more than becoming "theistic rationalism" and then swinging back again.

Although that certainly can happen, mind you. We all go through stages. But you share the burden of proof and have to argue that affirmatively, Jon, not just by swinging the "negative inference" door only in your favor.

The problem with "scholars," and you argue from some of them on the matter of Hamilton, is that as cynics or outright skeptics, they project their own skepticism onto their subject. They cannot understand that young psalmist as he understood himself. They don't understand why that randy young man married a "saint" instead of someone who would bring her girlfriends around for a three-way.

Jonathan Rowe said...

They don't understand why that randy young man married a "saint" instead of someone who would bring her girlfriends around for a three-way.

Heh. I noted a little while ago that you never who you fall in love with. As Woody Allen once noted, the heart wants what it wants. Now, that can lead to terrible results (in his case) or sometimes positive results.

I'm not a fan of the fundamentalism that former frat boy actor Stephen Baldwin converted to. But what I know of his personal story, the woman he married had that religious conviction long before he did. There also is a pattern in the Founding record (David Holmes' book discusses this) of "Christian-Deist" Founders having wives who tended to be more "religious" (or "orthodox") than their husbands. My own family (my mother's parents) had a similar pattern as did my next door neighbors growing up.

Jonathan Rowe said...

OFT,

I didn't delete your posts, but other "higher ups" on this blog did. That should send you a message: WATCH YOUR TONE.

On the substance of your comment, I still see you overstating your case. For instance, your write:

Since Hamilton's language never changed during his lifetime, this statement has no teeth. Even if the above statement was true, which it isn't, Hamilton did use orthodox terms his entire life.

This is flat out untrue. As we've shown Hamilton's language DID change as he did NOT speak in explicit orthodox Trinitarian terms until close to his own death (after Phillip died) and he did NOT use (or the record does not show him using) the kind of explicit orthodox language he used after Phillip's death previous to that event.

You could still argue he was a closet orthodox Trinitarian. But to say that he explicitly used orthodox language (language of "the atonement, resurrection, virgin birth,") is patently false. An UNCHARITABLE reading might term this a "lie." But these false assertions are still the kinds of things that might merit your posts being deleted.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Damned interesting, innit Jon, and opening up a big door. Philosophers, political philosophers, historians, and scholars like us [hehe] focus on the words of the Great Men and forget the women unless they're Carrie Nation or Sojourner Truth or any female figure who played in the man's man's man's world.

This brings to mind Tocqueville on the American woman, who although wasn't a voter or an officeholder, he saw as every bit the man's equal in the nit and grit and even in the theoretical discussions.

I'll look up the link if anybody actually gives a damn and can't find it for themselves.

But the madonna/whore thing is familiar to most humans, male and female. Push comes to shove [marriage] the men choose inspiration toward their best over satisfaction of the rest, and the women...well, they're women. I've only been married for 20 years---I don't claim to understand them.

But overlooking the women of the Founding sure seems to overlook a helluva lot of its reality. Mebbe as much as half of it.

Jonathan Rowe said...

That's one big credit to Holmes' book is that he examines the "Founding Mothers" and exposes them as more "orthodox" than their husbands.

Anonymous said...

ONE OF YOUR POSTERS IS A FRAUD...

Pinky said...

.
I've been thinking the same thing.
.
Care to give any clues? Send any emails?
.
Maybe a double poster--someone carrying on a dialogue with their own self under a pseudonym?
.

Our Founding Truth said...

This is flat out untrue. As we've shown Hamilton's language DID change as he did NOT speak in explicit orthodox Trinitarian terms until close to his own death (after Phillip died) and he did NOT use (or the record does not show him using) the kind of explicit orthodox language he used after Phillip's death previous to that event.>

Yes, Hamilton did use orthodox language before his son died. The word "Gospel" is orthodox language, that includes orthodox doctrines.

If he believed in orthodox doctrines after his son died, he became born again as Jesus said. What evidence do you have Hamilton became born again? Did he tell his family, his friends, etc? Why didn't he talk about his conversion like every other Christian does?

The historical record of converting to Christ is a big thing, that is not kept secret. You are claiming Hamilton kept it secret. Rationalists, like Jefferson, did not defend the Gospel(Jesus dying on the cross, etc.)

Tom Van Dyke said...


If [Alexander Hamilton] believed in orthodox doctrines after his son died, he became born again as Jesus said. What evidence do you have Hamilton became born again? Did he tell his family, his friends, etc? Why didn't he talk about his conversion like every other Christian does?


Well, Jim, that's a very good "negative inference" argument. If Hamilton had a Road to Damascus moment after his son died, repudiating the "theistic rationalism" of his adult years, we might expect he'd have told somebody. Anybody. Let it slip somewhere.

This isn't "proof," but many of the arguments for Hamilton's "theistic rationalism" or un-orthodoxy [all of them???] are from negative inference, that his writings show no Holy Rollerism until the 1890s.

The negative inference door should in fairness swing both ways.

Jonathan Rowe said...

Actually, there is evidence of a change though I doubt it will convince Jim.

For one see letter from Oliver Wolcott (close friend of Hamilton's) to A.M. Hamilton.

Genl. Hamilton has of late years expressed his conviction in the truths of the Christian Religion, and has desired to receive the Sacrament -- but no one of the Clergy who has yet been consulted will administer it. [Bold mine.]

This evidences a change.

Jonathan Rowe said...

The word "Gospel" is orthodox language, that includes orthodox doctrines.

Again another non-sequitur. Actually the "gospels" were the theistic rationalists favorite part of the Bible because they contained Jesus' moral teachings which they held in so high regard.

Jefferson might not the operative theistic rationalist to compare with Hamilton. Adams might be. Adams still believed in a partially inspired Bible the great moral teachings of Christianity while rejecting orthodox doctrine. It was for these reasons that Adams despised the French Revolution. Every Hamilton says while he defends the Gospel is consistent with the unitarian rationalist of John Adams.

Pinky said...

.
Thanks for bringing in the idea of a "Hybrid Religion".
.
It, I think, is very important to the entire Founding.
.
I will work on it at a different site...
.

Our Founding Truth said...

Actually the "gospels" were the theistic rationalists favorite part of the Bible because they contained Jesus' moral teachings which they held in so high regard.>

That may be the case with Jefferson and the rationalists with "gospels." The "Gospel" is supernatural, and contains all the orthodox doctrines of the faith. There is no doubt of this fact. No rationalist to my knowledge, affirmed the Gospel.

Wolcott:Genl. Hamilton has of late years expressed his conviction in the truths of the Christian Religion, and has desired to receive the Sacrament -- but no one of the Clergy who has yet been consulted will administer it.>

Nice! With his earlier declarations of Christianity, it's possible he then became expressive. That letter seems important, but his language stayed the same; referring to classical, philosophical language. After all, Hamilton never spoke greatly in orthodox terms. Many framers did not speak in Christian terms of today. That's a great find though!

This isn't "proof," but many of the arguments for Hamilton's "theistic rationalism">

Referring to pagan names and lack of use for orthodox terminology? I would think rationalist evidence would be words used by men such as: Jefferson, Paine, or Allen?

Jonathan Rowe said...

OFT,

Again you deal in a non-sequitur (a logically fallacy where your conclusions don't follow from the factual premises stated).

Factual premise stated: Hamilton in the mid-1790s defended "the Gospels" from the attack of the French Revolution.

Erroneous conclusion: Hamilton therefore believed the Gospels inerrant, infallible, and all of the miracles contained therein.

Remember the theistic rationalists defended "Christianity" because they believed in its moral teachings AND because they thought "religion" (in a general sense) was necessary for the morality upon which republican self government relied.

Today there are ATHEISTS who defend the Bible and religious conservatism, NOT because they believe it true but because they believe "religion," particularly traditional religion, necessary for good governance of the masses. They are known as the Straussians (some of the most notable conservative professors of political philosophy) and include such figures as the late Allan Bloom, Harvey Mansfield, Willian Kristol and of course, Leo Strauss himself.

Hamilton's fragment on the FR was done in the overall context of his lamenting the French Revolution's decline from strict Deism to atheism.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Oh, I think Hamilton's condemnation is much stronger than that:

"An attack was first made upon the Christian revelation, for which natural religion was offered as the substitute."

Deism is natural religion.

As for your quote about Hamilton's friend noticing his new religiousness, it's indeed a good counterfactual argument, but still doesn't indicate that he previously held a "theistic rationalism" to turn away from.

Our Founding Truth said...

Again you deal in a non-sequitur (a logically fallacy where your conclusions don't follow from the factual premises stated).

Factual premise stated: Hamilton in the mid-1790s defended "the Gospels" from the attack of the French Revolution.

Erroneous conclusion: Hamilton therefore believed the Gospels inerrant, infallible, and all of the miracles contained therein.>

Why would Hamilton use fallacies to words he kept private and never published?

Jonathan Rowe said...

The fallacy is YOURS not Hamilton's!

Our Founding Truth said...

Why would Hamilton say rationalists were atheists? It seems Hamilton did not agree with the religion of rationalist Thomas Jefferson. Did Hamilton not call Jefferson an atheist?

"In observing this, I shall not be supposed to mean that any thing ought to be done which integrity will forbid--but merely that the scruples of delicacy and propriety, as relative to a common course of things, ought to yield to the extraordinary nature of the crisis. They [legislature] ought not to hinder the taking of a legal and constitutional step, to prevent an Atheist in Religion and a Fanatic in politics from getting possession of the helm of the State."

-Alexander Hamilton Gov. Jay, New York May 7. 1800.

Jonathan Rowe said...

Well at the very least that shows Hamilton got Jefferson's religion wrong as Jefferson was not an atheist.

Keep in mind Jefferson's opponent was the theistic rationalist John Adams whom Hamilton supported. Stop using Jefferson as a baseline to judge Hamilton and instead use Adams.

Our Founding Truth said...

Well at the very least that shows Hamilton got Jefferson's religion wrong as Jefferson was not an atheist.>

That's my point. He didn't get Jefferson wrong. He knew exactly what he believed, called him an atheist because he was a rationalist. Not good evidence in support of your scheme.

Keep in mind Jefferson's opponent was the theistic rationalist John Adams whom Hamilton supported.>

I disagree. He called himself a unitarian. Adams mocked rationalists, like pseudo rationalist Franklin. Since when did Hamilton support Adams? He disliked Adams like Franklin did:

"Doctor Franklin, a sagacious observer of human nature, drew this portrait of Mr. Adams: “He is always honest, sometimes great, but often mad.“ I subscribe to the justness of this picture, adding, as to the first trait of it, this qualification: “as far as a man excessively vain and jealous and ignobly attached to place can be.”

to Charles Carroll
New York,
July 1, 1800.

Our Founding Truth said...

What I meant to say is Hamilton had a funny way of supporting Adams by undermining him, and splitting the party until it was too late.

Jonathan Rowe said...

The problem OFT, is that we've already given you a very reason and sound definition of "rationalism" which you don't accept. Rationalism means reason trumps. One could be an atheistic rationalist, a deistic rationalism, a theistic rationalist or an other kind of rationalist. One could believe in miracles and the Bible partially inspired (as Adams did) and still be a rationalist. One could, perhaps, even be an orthodox Trinitarian Christian and believe the Bible infallible and still be a rationalist. (This might desribe Thomas Aquinas and John Witherspoon.)

In Adams' case, he believed the Bible partially inspired and that man's reason determined which parts were valid. That's why he was a rationalist and everything Hamilton wrote till the end of his life (perhaps EVEN after he became an orthodox Christian) was compatible with this understanding of "rationalism."

Our Founding Truth said...

One could believe in miracles and the Bible partially inspired (as Adams did) and still be a rationalist. One could, perhaps, even be an orthodox Trinitarian Christian and believe the Bible infallible and still be a rationalist. (This might desribe Thomas Aquinas and John Witherspoon.)

I disagree, and I would say Tom and Kristo disagree as well. My conscience tells me reason cannot affirm ANY violation of the laws of nature. According to revelation, no person can be saved without affirming violations of the laws of nature.

Jonathan Rowe said...

I doubt Tom or Kristo would view things this way; not that that matters.

I wouldn't mind them chiming in though as I am always interested in what they have to say.

OFT: Appeal to authority is a logical fallacy.

Our Founding Truth said...

I'm firmly believe Hamilton was no rationalist, because he attacked rationalism and called it atheism:

"The animosity to the Christian system is demonstrated by the single fact of the ridiculous and impolitic establishment of the decades, with the evident object of supplanting the Christian Sabbath. The inscriptions by public authority on the tombs of the deceased, affirming death to be an eternal sleep, witness the desire to discredit the belief of the immortality of the soul. The open profession of atheism in the convention,1 received with acclamations; the honorable mention on its journals of a book professing to prove the nothingness of all religion1 ; the institution of a festival to offer public worship to a courtesan decorated with the pompous title of “Goddess of Reason”; the congratulatory reception of impious children appearing in the hall of the convention to lisp blasphemy against the King of kings, are among the dreadful proofs of a conspiracy to establish atheism on the ruins of Christianity,—to deprive mankind of its best consolations and most animating hopes, and to make a gloomy desert of the universe." [bold face mine]

Whatever Hamilton believed in before 1801, I don't see him as a rationalist. He knew what rationalism was, said it was atheism, and vehemently attacked it.

Jonathan Rowe said...

OFT,

You are making a "straw man" argument. Hamilton attacked the deistic and atheistic rationalism, not the softer form of rationalism in which he and the other key Founders believed.

Tom Van Dyke said...

I've previously noted that "rationalism" in the 1800s was a German theological movement that attacked miracles.

Dr. Frazer may use the word to denote something else, but I think the German movement ruins its usefulness as a term that makes sense to the general reader.

Even if we use Dr. Frazer's term as he understands it---rationalism meaning "anyone with a brain in his head---any term that applies to both Thomas Aquinas and Thomas Jefferson is of doubtful utility.