Saturday, May 9, 2009

Christopher Hitchens on the Founders & Other Loose Ends

I was doing some research on my and my co-bloggers/blogbuddies' taking Christopher Hitchens to task for either misrepresenting or misunderstanding the religious beliefs of a number of America's Founders. See here, here, here, here and this relatively new post by Ed Brayton.

Here are some interesting passages from the posts. First, Timothy Sandefur on Jefferson's creed and how Jefferson might have been right in his prediction that at the very least, small u unitarianism would be the dominant creed among the American masses.

Jefferson was what in his day was called a “unitarian,” and expressed the hope that some day all Americans would be unitarians. The term “unitarian” back then isn’t to be confused with the modern Unitarian Universalist Church—instead, the term reflected a much more reasoned, watered-down version of Christianity, and a good case can be made that most Americans are, indeed, what Jefferson’s generation would have called “unitarians.”


In my post I again posed the Mormon analogy to the Founding Fathers. Asking whether notable Founders like Jefferson, Madison, were "Christians" is not unlike asking if Mormons are Christian? If Mormonism doesn't pass one's test for "Christian" then it's likely that none of the so called "key Founders" [the first four Presidents, Ben Franklin and some others] would either. That led to a Mormon taking umbrage with my suggestion that Mormons aren't "Christian."

[I try to make clear that Mormons aren't "Christian" according to a particular TEST that conservative Christians -- the ones most likely to defend the idea of a "Christian Nation" -- impose; and if Mormonism flunks the "Christian" test, then so did the personal and political theology of the men who wrote the Founding documents.]

He wrote:

Mr. Rowe,

I realize that it was not your intention, in writing this article, to falsely represent the “Mormon” religion as being ‘non-Christian’. In fact, the correct title of the “Mormon” church is, “The Church of JESUS CHRIST of Latter Day Saints”.

Now, what person, driving down the street, reading that sign on the side of a building could come to any other conclusion but that they were looking at a CHRISTIAN house of worship. The primary book of the religion is the very same Bible that is read and studied throughout Christianity. No doubt, your false conception (and that of the “evangelical Protestant and Catholic” critics [who, of course, are completely objective observers] arises from the fact that “Mormons” also hold as sacred another volume of Scripture entitled, “The Book of Mormon”....[T]he full title of the book is, “The Book of Mormon; Another Testament of Jesus Christ” and on the TITLE PAGE of the Book of Mormon, the purpose of that book is clearly stated. Is it to glorify a personage by the name of “Mormon”? Is it to to deify Joseph Smith, the ‘earthly founder’ of the religion? Let me quote, …..

“Which is to show unto the remnant of the House of Israel what great things the Lord hath done for their fathers; and that they may know the covenants of the Lord, that they are not cast off forever—And also to the convincing of the Jew and Gentile that JESUS is the CHRIST, the ETERNAL God, manifesting himself unto all nations…”

That is the stated purpose of the book, and, upon reading it, you would find the divinity of Jesus Christ to be its central theme, cover to cover. Its sole purpose is to promote Faith in and Obedience to Jesus Christ and the principles he taught. It testifies that He is the Savior of all Mankind, on all continents, all lands, and even the isles of the sea, not just the Jews in Israel. It fulfills the prohecy uttered from His own lips, “And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd.” (John 10:16) It tells of how, after His resurrection, he appeared to His disciples on the American continent, showed them the wounds in his hands and feet, taught them His Gospel, healed the sick, and basically re-enacted the same things He did during His ministry in Isreal. So, if the Protestants and Catholics have one book that teaches and testifies of Christ, and that qualifies them as ‘Christians’, then you might be able to argue that Mormons have TWICE the reason to call themselves Christians as others who profess to be, but you would have a difficult time supporting the argument that “Mormons” are not Christians !!!

13 comments:

bloggernacleburner said...

John, congratulations on getting your first shrieking mormon comment. There will be more. They tend do congregate around mentions of 'Mormon not christian' and yell. They also tend not to actually read the posts their shrieking about.

I love my co-religionists...

It's fitting that Bloom's characterization of Mormons as a particular example of his 'American Gnosticism' can be used as an example both backwards and forward in history. I'm also amused that this throws such a monkey wrench into the christian nation ideology.

I'm really enjoying this series, thanks

Jonathan Rowe said...

Thanks. And for the sake of the readers, you mean Harold not Allan Bloom.

Tom Van Dyke said...

How was that shrieking? Mebbe a few too many CAPITAL LETTERS, but it was quite respectful, and maintained not that Mr. Rowe is a liar, but is merely under a false impression about Mormonism.

I found it quite civil, and more so than some of the stuff I read around here. Sometimes even on our mainpage, sadly.

Brad Hart said...

Jon:

As a devout Mormon I have never found your comments on Mormonism/Mormon analogy with the founders to be inappropriate in any way. In addition, I also don't find this to be "shrieking" either. I do, however, have to disagree with one portion of the comment made by the commentator you cite. He states:

***"The primary book of the religion is the very same Bible that is read and studied throughout Christianity"***

Nope, he's wrong! The Book of Mormon is considered THE primary book of the Mormon Church. Now, that doesn’t mean that we don’t believe in the Bible. Instead, Mormons believe that both books serve to testify of the divinity of Jesus, however, there can be no mistake that Mormons place more emphasis on the Book of Mormon. As Joseph Smith stated:

***“I told the brethren that the Book of Mormon was the most correct of any book on earth, and the keystone of our religion, and a man would get nearer to God by abiding by its precepts, than by any other book.”***

In addition, one of the 13 Articles of Mormonism state:

***"We believe the Bible to be the word of God AS FAR AS IT IS TRANSLATED CORRECTLY. We also believe the Book of Mormon to be the word of God."***

It's also worth noting that most Mormons (and I include myself in this) are usually proud of the fact that we don't meet the "traditional" definition of Christianity. Though I consider myself (like all Mormons) to be a Christian, I admit that I do not believe in the infallibility of scripture, the traditional understanding of the trinity, etc.

My guess is the commentator simply thought you were "out to get" the Mormons by not calling them "Christians" in the traditional sense. But in reality I think you actually do Mormonism a great favor.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Brad, if as a self-described "devout Mormon" you consider yourself a Christian, surely you embrace the more expansive definitions of what "Christian" means when applied to the Founders, yes?

Brad Hart said...

Tom:

Yes I do. However, for the purposes of objectivity I try to look at the founders with my "Mormon glasses" off. If I were to give you my Mormon take on the founders I would say this:

America's founding was very much an event inspired by God. God raised the founders (a special and unique generation of talent) to perform the very task of establishing a new nation where freedom of religion, etc. were provided. It was because of this new nation that Joseph Smith was able to RESTORE Christ's authority and doctrine to the earth, which is the primary reason that Mormons esteem the founders to be such incredible men of God.

The reason that I hide away from such ideas here on this blog should be obvious: I don't want to be guilty of "preaching."

But yes, I do believe that Christianity is MUCH more than accepting certain creeds, etc.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Thx for your frankness, Brad. From what I know of it, your remarks are within the mainstream of Mormon theology.

Interesting view of the Founders, even the most skeptical of Christianity---it recalls how well the Bible speaks of the Persian king Cyrus, who released the Hebrews from the Babylonian captivity and set them back on the proper path.

Me, I often find myself defending evangelicals and fundamentalists, although I am neither. So too with Mormonism. I believe it's within the mainstream of religious pluralism as the Founders conceived it that religious conscience is as valid as any other conscience and has a place in our polity as much as "reason."

Values---whether religious or not---butt heads, and no society can survive without shared values. There is no other reasonable way to establish values than democratically, and better yet, by consensus, where most everybody can live with it.

I find it completely dishonest when religious values are shunted off to the side, as if only non-religious values are valid and self-evident.

That was emphatically NOT the Founding.

And if I can give you some props, Brad---and we've corresponded for many months---it's been your custom to speak of Mormonism only in an informative way, and mostly only to clear up misrepresentations or misunderstandings of it by others. You're a credit to your race, or whatever terms Mormons use to describe yourselves.

;-)

Brad Hart said...

Thanks Tom!

You write:

***"I believe it's within the mainstream of religious pluralism as the Founders conceived it that religious conscience is as valid as any other conscience and has a place in our polity as much as "reason."

Values---whether religious or not---butt heads, and no society can survive without shared values. There is no other reasonable way to establish values than democratically, and better yet, by consensus, where most everybody can live with it.

I find it completely dishonest when religious values are shunted off to the side, as if only non-religious values are valid and self-evident."***

I've been rereading Alexis de Tocqueville's work and he pretty much says exactly the same thing. In fact, I sense a future blog post coming on...we've desperately been needing more Tocqueville on this blog. He's only been mentioned 4 times in 600 posts!!!

Angie Van De Merwe said...

Institutions are to train or teach values that the society values. Our society as a free society holds that the child belongs to the parent and not the State. Therefore, the parent is responsible for training and teaching ultimately and finding the right school for the child. And it is the parent's right to have choice about their child's schooling.

On the other hand, what is important for the society in assuring that children are being raised and trained appropriately. Thus, we have national standards and accredidation in our institutions of education. While government assures that society functions the "best" it can, how does it do this and still allow the freedom to the individual family?

As the child grows, because we do not adhere to a caste society or system, then the young adult can pursue his dreams, and become other than his family or origin. So, dreams, and hopes are a mainstay in a free society like ours!

So, when it comes to "law", the law is useful to protect those rights to pursue life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness...

Tom Van Dyke said...

While government assures that society functions the "best" it can, how does it do this and still allow the freedom to the individual family?


Very key, Ms. VDM. The question of children often gets lost when we discuss the abstractions of "rights." I have no doubt that if there were no such thing as children, our society would look different. For one thing, we would never speak of "education" again. But since there are such things as children, the theme of education runs through virtually every philosopher since Plato.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

Children are viewed in such diverse ways that I find that it is important to teach what is really true according to psychological science, and not religious tradition.

For instance, I thought that my children had "original sin". It is important that his be defined, as children are not innately "evil", but are formable. In thinking that I was to be the "ideal christian parent', I had certain definitions, and understandings that were downright wrong. I even wonder if teaching "original sin" is even dangerous teaching, as it can be so distorted in seeing and understanding the child.

Education also should be evaluated so that the child is assured the best education that he can have. Thus, the states that do not require home schoolers to be accountable to state and national standards are also damaging to society's future.That is why I did not choose to educate my children at home, as I knew that I lacked the ability to do it...but unfortunately, I did not value education like I should have, when our children were at home. Why? because of some "religious ideal" that I thought was "more important...this is also damaging and hinders the development of full potential..

Angie Van De Merwe said...

Tom, I am sure you know about the Islamic school in Northern Virginia that was teaching hatred to Christians, Jews and the secular state. When the authorities were asked to submit their texts to governmental authorities, they would not release them...this is outrage, as we also have 'honor killings" in our country. Fortunately, we haven't allowed these killings to stand, in deference to cultural diversity or religious freedom...

Tom Van Dyke said...

Angie, although we're not agreeing on a lot [yet], we're speaking more the same language now. Clarity is more important than agreement. Thx. You make me think, too.

I realize you're coming from a rather strict [cementheaded?] evangelical/fundamentalist background and your reaction against it explains your POV. Evangelicals, etc. should indeed look at Muslims in America before they assert their "rights" and American principles, since whether they like it or not, what's good for the goose is good for the gander, and Muslims get the same "rights" as evangelicals.

As for the concept of "original sin," some of the wiser Founders had a nice mellow view of it, not as some cosmic ugliness we're all stained with at birth, but an admission that man's reason isn't pure, and he'll let his passions and desires "rationalize" his bad actions.

Children are viewed in such diverse ways that I find that it is important to teach what is really true according to psychological science, and not religious tradition...

Similarly, not only in our modern days, but in the days of the Founders and some philosophers like Immanuel Kant, "science" can't tell us anything about what is right and wrong. It's just past the capacity of "science," unless we run human society like an anthill, toward what's most efficient and utilitarian.

And once truth and reality reside only in our own heads as individuals, we close ourselves to any possibility of truth outside ourselves, that is bigger than ourselves.

That's not "open-minded." Mankind begs for more, we seek more, we beg for more, each individual, for meaning, why we're not just ants.