Monday, July 6, 2009

Benjamin Rush to Richard Price on Theological Universalism

From this wonderful book of correspondence of Richard Price see this letter from Rush to Price, dated June 2nd 1787. We have seen Rush advocate for the Trinity, claiming that 99% of late 18th Century America wouldn't appreciate anti-Trinitarianism. I see that as hyperbole. A majority? Maybe. 99%? No. Here Rush likewise may be engaging in hyperbole when he speaks of the popularity of theological universalism, the notion that all men will be saved. Rush seems surprised that the liberal unitarian Richard Price has not as fervently embraced the idea of universal salvation as did Rush (I think Price was a theological universalist, but just not as fervent an advocate of that doctrine as was Rush).

Rush begins by noting that even before he had heard of the Unitarian (i.e., Arian and Socinian) controversies, he had embraced theological universalism:

I confess I have not and cannot admit your opinions, having long before I met with the Arian or Socinian controversies, embraced the doctrines of universal salvation and final restitution.

Rush then strangely notes that his Calvinist beliefs led him to the theological universalist position (elsewhere he claimed to have moved from Calvinism to Arminianism; but Rush might not, like theologians today do, view Arminianism and Calvinism as mutually exclusive positions):

My belief in these doctrines is founded wholly upon the Calvanistical account (and which I believe to be agreeable to the tenor of Scripture) of the person, power, goodness, mercy, and other divine attributes of the Saviour of the World. These principles, my dear friend, have bound me to the whole human race; these are the principles which animate me in all my labors for the interests of my fellow creatures. No particle of benevolence, no wish for the liberty of a slave or the reformation of a criminal will be lost. They must all be finally made effectual, for they all flow from the great author of goodness who implants no principles of action in man in vain. I acknowledge I was surprised to find you express yourself so cautiously and sceptically upon this point. Had you examined your own heart, you would have found in it the strongest proof of the truth of the doctrine. It is this light which shineth in darkness, and which the darkness as yet comprehendeth not, that has rendered you so useful to your country and to the world.

Rush seems to be saying to Price, look, you are an "enlightened Christian" like I am, and it's clear that we kind of Christians disbelieve in eternal damnation. I am shocked that you don't preach as fervently against the doctrine of eternal damnation as you do against the Trinity. Note also how Rush invokes the "tenor" of Scripture. A "spirit" of scripture as opposed to various literal proof texts which might trump. As I have noted before it was this same liberal, "abstraction" approach to scripture that led Rush to oppose the death penalty on biblical grounds.

Then in a letter to Price dated July 29, 1787, Price invokes the Trinitarian Universalist Elhanan Winchester as leading a veritable Universalist revival in America:

The bearer the Rev Mr Winchester has yeilded to an inclination he has long felt of visiting London, and has applied to me for a letter to you, for Americans of every profession and rank expect to find a friend in the friend of human kind. You are no stranger to his principles. I can with great pleasure add, that his life and conversation have fully proved that those principles have not had an unfavourable influence upon the heart. With a few oddities in dress and manner, he has maintained among both friends and enemies the character of an honest man. He leaves many sincere friends behind him. I know not how his peculiar doctrine of Universal Salvation may be received in London. But in every part of America it has advocates. In New England it continues to spread rapidly. In this city a Mr Blair, a Presbyterian minister of great abilities and extensive learning, and equally distinguished for his humility and piety, has openly professed his belief of it from the pulpit.

73 comments:

Tom Van Dyke said...

I'd think that universalism was much less controversial, since unitarianism is indeed an attack on orthodox Christianity and the beliefs of others.

In other words, attacking the Christ might be fightin' words, but attacking hell, who cares?

BTW, if anybody has anything on the unitarian-Congregationalist schism, I'd be appreciative for a point in the right direction. Several sources indicate the takeover of the Congregationalist churches was largely against the will of the majority of the congregants, sort of a political move by the elites. However, I haven't enough info yet.

But this seems a fascinating chapter in America's history of religion, ending up [where else?] in the courts:

http://books.google.com/books?id=4ysL0llgiWoC&pg=PA39-IA1&lpg=PA39-IA1&dq=unitarian+congregationalist+schism&source=bl&ots=B2YY-g7JPW&sig=W_wRtYjTQEV5BcsgN-qawjNynxA&hl=en&ei=hnNSStmjM4W0sgO_kcD9Bg&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=7

Jonathan Rowe said...

Tom,

I think you may be right that the Christology may be far more important and controversial than eternal damnation; however there are many who care. I recently saw a story on an evangelical preacher who converted to theological universalism; and he lost his entire church. And his mentor said he's now on the road to perdition!

Tom Van Dyke said...

Perhaps you're speaking of Carlton Pearson?

Yes, inventing your own version of a religion can lose you a pulpit [although he still has a smaller one], but it can also get you on Bill Maher, and NPR, who positively adore stuff like that.

Exactly why I'm interested in unitarianism perhaps "hijacking" Congregationalism by playing the political game. By secular lights---and they write the history---unitarians are the theological heroes of course and the "orthodox" are the cementheaded villains, but I don't see why that should be necessarily so.

Jonathan Rowe said...

Yup. That's him.

As regards the unitarians or others "highjacking," I see it as a perhaps lamentable reality of rule by the elites, especially in a republic as opposed to a democracy. That's the major difference between the concept. "Democracy" is mob rule. "Republic" means, though not as top down as a theocracy or monarchy, there are many checks from "wiser" sources on the mob will of the people. Many conservatives make hay of the rule by the courts as opposed to rule by the legislators who are accountable to the people; but if one looked at opinion polls, one would probably find just as great if not a greater distance between "the people's" opinion and "the legislators'," as between "the legislators'" and the "courts'."

This ties into the Richard Price-Benjamin Rush dialog. When cautioning him about preaching against the Trinity, Rush tells Price:

"A small pamphflet [sic] addressed by you to the Congress, and the legislature of each of our States, upon the subject, I am sure would have more weight with our rulers than an hundred publications thrown out by citizens of this country."

That perfectly captures this essence that in a republic as opposed to a democracy it's these "key" rock star like figures whose opinions count a Hell of a lot more than the common man's. And that in turn, I think is why certain "key" figures get so much attention.

Jonathan Rowe said...

Re "inventing your own version of a religion," that's exactly the charge Dr. Frazer levels against the "theistic rationalists."

And indeed CP's problems with eternal damnation seem fairly similar to Rush's and Chauncy's. AND he reacted the "fatalism" of the evangelical view of eternal damnation, not unlike the way King of Ireland (and others) react against the Calvinist fatalist view of Romans 13. A big "reductio ad absurdum." That is, oh how HORRIBLE it would be if our unsaved grandparents are burning in Hell right now, and forever. Oh how HORRIBLE it would be if Romans 13 really teaches you have to submit to Stalin and Hitler. NOT, but what does a "literal" interpretation of various proof texts really teach, warts and all.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Yes, but your "key" figures kept quiet. Nice try tho.

I see Carlton Pearson was also covered by Dateline NBC and ABC News.

However, the story gets better. Bishop Pearson was just appointed pastor of a "New Thought" congregation, but hundreds of congregants are alarmed that he's not UNorthodox enough!

This is far less newsworthy to the secular narrative of the freethinking hero vs. the orthodox Christian cementheads, but it's a lot more ironic and therefore more amusing.

And it certainly makes the "orthodox" who gave him the boot look prescient, since he'll now head up a congregation with very little in common atall with evangelicalism.

________________

I do hope you'll look at the schism, though, per the URL above, and perhaps help me out. Fascinating, including its ultimate effect on Massachusetts' disestablishment of religion through legislation. I believe we assumed all along it was for "Enlightenment" reasons, but the truth seems a helluva lot dirtier.

It's sort of the coda, or at least the second act, in religion and the Founding. At this point, I don't have enough background for it to make total sense to me, and the book I URLed is a bit foggily written for a newcomer to the issue.

_____________

That is, oh how HORRIBLE it would be if our unsaved grandparents are burning in Hell right now, and forever...

Didn't I link to that thing from 1600 along the same lines?

http://www.jstor.org/pss/2671619

These dudes wear me out sometimes.

Jonathan Rowe said...

Tom,

I'm already on the book (not Levy's but the one about the spirit of the Puritans in 1831 that Levy's book cites). It was the "orthodox" who demanded disestablishment in Mass. in 1833; their argument was similar to Backus et al. with whom Jefferson and Madison worked in VA in the 1780s. However the motive was, "oh boy, the Unitarians (i.e., fake Christians, infidels) are now getting a whole lot of establishment $$ and that's not okay.

Jonathan Rowe said...

CP reminds me of something that happened over the weekend: I met a gay Episcopal Priest at a social occasion. It might have been a little rude of me to out of the blue ask him about his job and beliefs (I was told what he was by someone else) as I hear he had issues with a heterosexual family; but my quest to learn sometimes trumps. I wanted to see what his views on doctrine were. As far as I understand Bishop Spong, he's rejected too many of the orthodox doctrines (virgin birth, resurrection, etc.,) that he's now in Jefferson land of calling himself a "Christian" but, not believing in enough of the essential doctrines (though Bishop Spong claims he's plans on meeting St. Paul in Heaven and asking him if he were speaking of struggling with homosexual orientation when he spoke of the "law in your members"; my own opinion is Paul was probably speaking of some kind of struggle with sexual sin, whatever his issue was). But this guy told me that he believed in the Virgin Birth, the Resurrection, the Trinity, Incarnation, Atonement. Andrew Sullivan does as well (as far as I know). That means he's a "Christian."

Angie Van De Merwe said...

Christian is a "term", a "word" that has many meanings (obviously). But, why is it necessary to define? are people "afraid" of what is to transpire in the "by and by"? They want consolation of a heaven earned (in some way, either through faith or works). Why do people want to believe? Why do people feel it their "duty" to demand another change allegiances? Are these so certain of the way i which they formulate their 'reality" about somethint that is unseen and unprovable? It seems so ridicuous to me.

I still enjoyed your responses, though. Keep up the good work.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Thx, Jon. I leave salvation up to the Big Guy. I don't want a single sheep to be lost. The parable ends with the 100th sheep being found and brought back to the flock.

The Bible has no "alternate" ending being filmed to that one, unlike our movies.
____________

Yes, it was the "orthodox" who argued for "disestablishment"---that much I got---but it seems it was because their churches were stolen out from under them by the radicals who cared more about politics and legalisms.

That's the narrative I'm trying to nail down. Sort of what's happening in the Episcopal Church at this very moment?

Christians---true Christians, especially "Protestants"---would rather switch than fight. The unitarians [or whatever] want to cheat us out of our own church by manipulating the Congregational process? Fine, let them. The Bible---Jesus---says we should let them.

After unitarian pastors were elected by the elite, it seems the bulk of many Congegationalist congregations simply left rather than fight.

Let's explore this; it seems relatively unexplored. The prevailing secular narrative has the Congregationalist churches "converting" to unitarianism, but that might not be exactly how it went down. Seems it was a lot more, um, "nuanced."

King of Ireland said...

Jon stated:

" AND he reacted the "fatalism" of the evangelical view of eternal damnation, not unlike the way King of Ireland (and others) react against the Calvinist fatalist view of Romans 13. A big "reductio ad absurdum." That is, oh how HORRIBLE it would be if our unsaved grandparents are burning in Hell right now, and forever. Oh how HORRIBLE it would be if Romans 13 really teaches you have to submit to Stalin and Hitler."


I assume reductio ad absurdum means making things say something they are not. I would disagree with this. Let me give an example:

We had a discussion about what the FEAR of God meant one day in a Bible study. I did not like the inconsistencies and examples that all the people who had been Christian much longer than me used. So I went to study it out on my own.

I came upon a verse that said not to fearful that the fear of God will keep you from sinning. It was in Exodus 15 I think. Some would interpret this to mean that we need to be afraid of God and that being afraid of Him will keep us from sinning.

But when one looks up the words in Hebrew it actually says not to be afraid of God and that reverance will keep one from sinning.

Some that see the Bible the way Frazer would look at this and say:

It says what it says and we need to be afraid of God. I used to be one of them. They think if they admit that things are hard to figure out and at times the Bible does seem to have some paradoxes that there minions will become atheists.

The sad fact is that these poor kids are so indoctrinated in what others teach and believe, that when they get out of the bubble and are challenged the vast majority of them throw it all out.

Romans 13 is a complicated verse that is not black and white when you look at the whole context of the Bible. There are many verses and stories from the Bible that seem to contradict a strict reading of this. Many avoid this tension and just give up.

I choose to realize that based on the fact that "there is a time for everything" something might be good for someone that is not good for someone else. This is too close to relativism for Frazer's ilk so many refuse to explore that tension.

I find that truth is found inside the tension.

King of Ireland said...

I used the story from Exodus because it seems to give some insight into the character of God. If someone has another view of the character of God they will choose to see it the other way.

In other words, Calvinists have a certain view of God that stresses his Providence and diminishes our ability to choose. That is their vision of God and it colors all that they believe.

Others have a certain view of God that diminishes His Providence and stresses our ability to choose. That is their vision of God and it colors all that they believe.

Some, like me are in the middle. My point is that Frazer and others like him come to Romans 13 with assumptions about the Providence of God that cloud their reading of it. Others, who diminish the Providence of God, come to Romans 13 with other assumptions that cloud their reading. Those in the middle, like me, come to Romans 13 with our assumptions about the Providence of God and the ability of man to choose that clouds are reading.

The first question is not what Romans 13 says. It is what is our view of God and where do we get it? I spent the weekend reading some of the old debates on Locke from this site. I think Jim Babka nailed it right on the head in his response to Frazer.

Why did that dialouge end? I learned a lot from it.

Jonathan Rowe said...

KOI,

I think the dialog ended because Dr. Frazer spent as much time (quite a bit) as he wanted and had other pressing personal matters to attend to.

There probably will be more rounds in the future.

Re the "reductio" what I meant was, when a particular understanding of the Bible seems so unpalatable, one closes one's mind to the possibility that it can be true and argues from the premise that it can't be true. I don't think there's anything necessarily wrong with this. If I decided to be a Christian I'd probably approach the Bible this way regarding the issue of eternal damnation.

The evangelical/fundamentalist/fatalist is suppose to be immune from those kinds of "reductios." If the Bible seems to say submit to even Stalin or Hitler, or that the overwhelming majority of folks go to Hell, or even that God hates people (not just the "sin" but the sinner himself) that's what it says.

Brad Hart said...

Tom:

If I am not mistaken (and God knows that I rarely am) I believe that John Adams (later on in his life) discussed the unitarian "hijacking" of Congregationalism.

Also, I know that Sydney Ahlstrom mentions this in his book, "A Religious History of the American People." This would be a topic worthy of a blog post (hint, hint?).

Jonathan Rowe said...

To be fair to the other side, EAI has noted that it was the Calvinist Trinitarians who wanted to actively disfellow themselves from the unitarians, not the other way around.

King of Ireland said...

Jon stated:

"The evangelical/fundamentalist/fatalist is suppose to be immune from those kinds of "reductios." If the Bible seems to say submit to even Stalin or Hitler, or that the overwhelming majority of folks go to Hell, or even that God hates people (not just the "sin" but the sinner himself) that's what it says."

My issue is that if one sums up all or most of what the majority of them believe then it would seem to = God hates people. But they will deny that conclusion to the end even if all of what they believe points to it.

I would say a version of Romans 13 that would tell a German not to take up a gun and defend the Jews from slaughter because God would rather have him submit to the leaders= God hates people.

So we have a dilemma if I am right: Frazer and company are going around telling everyone that God loves them and contradicting it with their belief system and interpretation of the Bible. When this obvious contradiction is pointed out they get mad and state that the observations of the opposition is tainted by pre-suppositions and ignore their own.

Jon,

I listened to your radio appearance. I think you are on to something important here. I do not always agree with you(as Tom would state minor quibbles) but I think you are close to setting the record straight.

However, I think you are off when you state that human rights and all are not found in the Bible. I am not a "Christian Nation" advocate. I do seek to help establish "just" Nations at some point in my life. That is a biblical principle. It is also an ancient Greek principle. It is an Enlightenment principle. I think you miss it in the first by over emphasizing the last two.

Tom Van Dyke said...

"For the normative self-understanding of modernity, Christianity has functioned as more than just a precursor or catalyst. Universalistic egalitarianism, from which sprang the ideals of freedom and a collective life in solidarity, the autonomous conduct of life and emancipation, the individual morality of conscience, human rights and democracy, is the direct legacy of the Judaic ethic of justice and the Christian ethic of love. This legacy, substantially unchanged, has been the object of a continual critical reappropriation and reinterpretation. Up to this very day there is no alternative to it. And in light of the current challenges of a post-national constellation, we must draw sustenance now, as in the past, from this substance. Everything else is idle postmodern talk." ---J├╝rgen Habermas

Angie Van De Merwe said...

There is two sides to the coin of what the Founders meant, I believe. They understood the relative of conscience, which should be based in merciful attitude toward those who differ....while, at the same time, they understood the need to establish justice for all. A fantastic understanding of universal values, but allowing the realtive as to its implementation. In this sense, our Nation is free from religious "co-ercion", as to behavior or belief but not dissolved from religious ideals.

The "ideals" were the basis of our Constitutional government and is what we seek to promote in American society elsewhere in the world. But, it seems that Obama seeks to protect individual boundaries of national identities, without furthering universal ideals. His is very postmodern, and very dangerous in today's world of religious intolerance.

Just today, it was reported that Biden had said something to the effect of respecting Israel's right to deal with Iran the way "she" saw fit. A few days later, the State Department backed away from that comment, because it implied that Israel had a "right" to dissolve another country's boundaries...so how do we "lead" as to respect of the "other" and dissolve the universals? We Can't!!

The World needs leadership and the USA used to be a "world leader", but now in the name of multicultural globalism, we have dismissed our role in the world based on someone's "paradigm" of "imperialism" and "post-colonialism"!!! This is a ludacrous proposition, as we cannot make a definitive commitment and decision when we are using different ways of understanding of evaluating the "universals"...and the universal has to be the individual liberties that we adhere to....otherwise, we limit religious freedom and justice for all!!!

Angie Van De Merwe said...

And unfortunately, I think, IMHO, that there has been a concerted effort to get the evangelical "on board" with globalistic "ideals", in the name of an exclusivist religion...and that is only heading for "Armageddon"...while the evangelical can be "duped" with terms such as "seeking God's Kingdom" on earth...etc. and given a pardigm that affirms multiculturalism, devaluing the ideals of the Enlightenment...just yesterday, I read where Rick Warren is not appealing to the evangelical to "reach out" to the Muslim world.

Hirshi Ali, who lived and experienced Islam, has warned us, as has Gert Wilders. But, all in the name of tolerance, and in the name of multiculturalism, we will let our walls doewn to promote commonality, and give up America in the meantime...It seems to be anti-thetical to the values of postmodernity to value freedom of the individual's conscience, as groupism wins the day...and Ali warned that the political realm was what Islam wants to rule and we are the Great Satan that is to be ruled...I hope that we are not seeing the result of our carelessness and de-valueing of our ideals, and our apathetic stance toward this nation's values...

Tom Van Dyke said...

Well, although I try to touch on lightly on current issues, what I would say is that to "reach out" to other cultures and value systems shouldn't mean that we dissolve our own, or deny that we have a unique culture and value system of our own that's normative and necessary for our own survival. This is what Habermas [an atheist liberal, mind you] is after.

bpabbott said...

This atheist was totally with you until you concluded with a seditious ad hominem.

:-(

Angie Van De Merwe said...

"an atheist liberal"...(as labeled by a conservative believer)

an atheist uses 'reason' as his primary means of addressing issues concerning policy and planning

an agnostic uses experience (existentialist), as these address behavior

and a believer uses text and tradition in addressing the issues...and this is where the secular/sacred debate comes from

The atheist see all truth as truth (whether one want to counter "god" or not)

The existentialist is a cultural relativist/postmodernist where truth is contextualized

and a believer absolutizes the text and/or tradition as the ultimate value...

Tom Van Dyke said...

Habermas describes himself as a "functional atheist." And his credentials as a gentleman of the left are unquestionable.

[He's also a pal of Pope Benedict. Cool guy.]

Pinky said...

.
What is the point of this article?
.
The questions about Unitarian Universalism or Reformed Protestantism's ideas about salvation: what have they got to do with American Creation?
Would someone, please, put that into context here?
.

King of Ireland said...

Phil,

I am assuming this post is in response to TVD'S post about 99% of the population being upset if someone came out against the Trinity. I think the larger context is what "Christianity" looked like at the founding. I assume that this is to help us along toward trying to figure what role that it played in the founding, if at all.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

If Habermas is a "functional atheist", does believe in the "functionality of religion"? And has the Pope and he have anything in collusion about how that plays our on the world scene, as the Pope just recently came our with a Charity in Truth, (or some such) "program".

I'm not accusing, just wondering...

Pinky said...

.
Thanks for the response, King.

By now, we KNOW beyond any doubt that religion and especially Reformed Protestantism played an enormous role in the Founding of America.
.
I think it is interesting that much of what transpired was in reaction against the intrusive nature of the popular Christianity of the day even though the majority of the uneducated population was consciously unaware of such..
.
W e have to be in denial not to see how the Bill of Rights was a reaction to that intrusive nature of Reformed Protestantism. It has and is continuing to take an extended amount of time for the Bill of Rights to come into full play; but, it is having an enormous effect on our way of life.

Things do--after all--evolve and our society is no different. Americans are still finding their identity. It is a glorious trip.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Angie, I'd say that Habermas avoids the laziness of abstracting "the utility of religion," as so many others do. He's speaking explicitly of the utility of Judeo-Christian principles.

Keep in mind he's European, and doesn't expect Europe ever to be as religious as the US. He calls his argument "post-secularism."

Angie Van De Merwe said...

Tom,
Is Habermas interested in a "global ethic" that unifies religious traditions in a global understanding?

The chaplain at M.I.T., I believe, is a Buddhist under the Dahli Lama. My husband met him at a conference on Science and Religion at Princeton. I think he believes that there must be a "secular ethic", and not a religious one. I agree, as ethics is about unifying people around what is universal. I believe that our nation's ideals are universal.

But, the question still remains, where do national interests trump international ones? In the case of national security, we cannot be lenient, but in ethics, we can. International law should be based on such. Is this what Habermas is interested in?

Tom Van Dyke said...

First, Habermas speaks explicitly of Judeo-Christian principles. Many---John Adams for one---try to "universalize" the origin of these principles. But Habermas and any honest student of the history of ideas [Richard Rorty for one] admits that they are not Buddhism, or materialism or humanism, or Islam or anything else.

That said, they can be "universalized"---indeed that's what John Locke's "The Reasonableness of Christianity" is about. Secular humanism is, to its embarrassment, totally derivative of Judeo-Christian principles, although it fancies itself to be "philosophical and reasonable." Ha.

Can Islam and Buddhism and Hinduism accommodate these principles? Perhaps. Hinduism in particular seems to be doing pretty well at it.

How universal these principles can become is the question. To some belief systems or philosophical systems, they may be incompatible at their roots.

To your nation-state question, Habermas likes the European Union, but there's a problem when it's a bureaucracy or an autocracy and no longer self-rule [democracy].

Neither can any political union survive without a shared set of moral/ethical values. It can't even form in the first place, except by force, as in an empire of conquest.

Habermas has no answers, just clarity on what a nation-state or society is---the polis is how the ancient Greeks tended to describe it.

Read about him for yourself. Certainly a lifetime of work by an excellent philosopher can't be conveyed in a comments section. And neither am I an expert in him, but thx for asking. Based on what you've written here and elsewhere, I think you'll like him.

http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/habermas/

Angie Van De Merwe said...

Thanks Tom, Habermas seems to be very interesting and thinks in so many areas that I am impressed. I must read more of him...

As to Judeo/Christianity, I don't think that a religion is the answer to anything. Whether one sees it as Frued or James, I think both are right. Religion is a means of consolation, which has many "sounds"...and ways of understanding.

I am weary of others trying to "convert" me to a certain way of thinking, knowing, understanding, etc. Brain-washing is not what I would call a ethical way of understanding a person. We do pre-judge each other in so many ways...and it takes time to really understand and know someone...and even then, people change over time...just as society...

Tom Van Dyke said...

Yeah, "brain-washing" is no good. I don't sell "religion," but I think people should hold themselves open to the possibility that there's a God.

A proper philosophical "agnosticism" holds open the possibility that there's a God. It's not much to ask of a reasonable person.

As for religion and the Founding, it's not controversial to point out there was/is a God, and the history of ideas, per Habermas---and me too---argues that Judeo-Christian principles were at the heart of the Founding.

In the present day, people try to deny that, but I think their affirmative arguments are lacking. Hence they attack minor-leaguers like David Barton, as they have no real arguments of their own.

Better they take a crack at Habermas, but mostly, they don't dare because he's out of their league.

bpabbott said...

As agnosticism respects knowing, rather than believing, I think it proper for reasonable theists (those who believe) and reasonable atheists (those who do not) to each acknowledge, or at least understand, that they cannot know and we are all agnostic in that sense.

As far as I can tell Habermas is well respected and honest man and does not misrepresent / distort facts in order to achieve an agenda. Perhaps Barton must resort to misrepresentations to compensate for a lack of cognitive skill, or of character. Neither of which appears to be in short supply in the case of Habermas.

While I have no qualms of holding Barton accountable, I do think it is more important to set the record straight. Barton will have to suffer his own reputation when those who follow him realized they've been misled.

Oh, and I was surprised to discover that David Barton is listed by Time Magazine as one of the 25 most influential evangelicals in America. He is 2nd on the list, but only due to his family name, as the list is alphabetized.

Pinky said...

.
Jurgen Habermas is a sociologist who has a special focus on social theory.
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Sociology, as we all know, is one of many schools of study in the fields of Communications Studies.
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Habermas is highly respected. He's been around for a long time. He associates with some post modern theorists.
.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

As Habermas is a social theorist, I suppose he is seeking a way in which to understand how society functions and why.

I noticed he also is interested in psyhological and societal development. He must see "conventional morality" as Kohlburg did, as a developmental process.

Since most people do not develp past the conventional stage, which is a religious one, then shouldn't we suppose that "theological universalism" is the "way to go" when it comes to "unifying all nations"?

I don't think that secular humanists base their understanding of Judeo-Christian, but are the remnants of a Judeo-Christian heritage. Secular humanist do not use religion to formulate "the way to live", but reason. They have gottne beyond the "belief systems" of conventional morality...Isn't this what our Founder's understood.

Is Habermas interested in finding a universal ethic that "speaks"..."world peace" is what he is after, and society's flourishing, as well as individual's development within society.

These are very complex, overlapping, and complicated issues, as they "colagulate" around the political (polis).

It seems he would be in agreement about the social contract, discourse, academic freedom, etc. all of these are values I also hold...

Pinky said...

.
I think you are right, Angie.
.
Here's something Barry Alan Shain has to say in the first paragraph of chapter six in his book.:

"America was a land shaped by the tenets of reformed Protestant theology and spiritual or Christian liberty had an important role to play in the formation. For spirituality awakened Christians this is the liberty that frees them from absolute servitude to sin and the necesity of adhering to the tenets of Mosaic law. But less expected than its central place in Christian thought is the degree to which Christian liberty shared elements with other, more secular senses of liberty. They too were characterized by an insistence on voluntary acceptance of a life of righteousness. Spiritual liberty was Revolutionary Americans most fundamental understanding of liberty--so much so that it set the standard by which other forms of liberty were judged."

Pinky said...

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Angie writes, "As Habermas is a social theorist, I suppose he is seeking a way in which to understand how society functions and why.".
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As you most likely know, social scientists never start out with an agenda to prove some point; but, they observe and draw conclusions they attempt to test.
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Talcott Parsons, sometimes called a Father of Sociology, did a great deal of work defining social theory dealing with America's earliest communal institutions. He gave religion equal standing with all other institutions as being one of the five main pillars of American society.
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Angie Van De Merwe said...

I, as well as Habermas, am not interested in theological idealism. The theological speaks about God, which will not be based on scientific investigation, but "ways of understanding" or "speaking about God".

The "real and functioning world" is what he is interested in and so am I. I am not interested in belief systems, not talking about them, as they reamin unprovable, as they are "explainations of faith". Faith, as James Fowler, understood is a symbolic way of understanding a transcendental realm. And we cannot agree on that realm as the basis is not based in reason, a primary emphasis of Habermas...even though he engages the post-modern.

Since Habermas is a historical materialist, he would agree as to a "theology of nature" (human nature) and not "natural theology" that was the basis of philosophical understaning of the Church Faithers and the Protestant Reformation. I am not interested in re-formulating and re-hashing "old stuff", because it is based in the Church, which has dubious origins.

I agree venhemously and am very adamant about being a part of the social contract. I, in no way, want someone to "peg" my or my husband's life based on some 'ideal' of theirs, as we are free moral agents and desire to be given the reapect of "engagement" when it comes to where our lives will make an impact. Freedom of information is a necessity, if there is to be an accountability in any form of government, or leadership.

The Globalist wants to engage those who disagree with them in a certain way, understanding that their "limite view" can be useful in "the larger scheme of things". But, isn't this presupposing what the individual is able to understand and not understand, limiting the individual's place, as well as doesn't it limit the individual's choice?

I am interested in the discussion as it concern human nature...

Tom Van Dyke said...

Swain: "more secular senses of liberty...were characterized by an insistence on voluntary acceptance of a life of righteousness."

Since morality is conventional [subject to society's values and mores], "free 'moral' agent" is a meaningless term, or as Habermas might put it, "idle postmodern talk."

Angie Van De Merwe said...

since Habermas wouldn't believe in revolution (I think this is his position), then he would allow change to come through academic engagement, communication arts of the media...but, the other side of the coin, is to "know one's context" and speak in conventional terms..I wonder by what means he has discovered when to discern confrontation of moral conventions that are unethical, and quietly silencing one's ethical opinion for the sake of moral order...

Order and change...individuals must make those changes in society in many ways...teaching, speaking out through political engagemnt (petition, protest, taking political office, changing policy through rhetoric,etc...

bpabbott said...

The morality of a society is a direct manifestation of the moralities of that society's individuals.

Reciprocity applies poorly in this instance.

As all (most) man are rational and accept the responsibility of forming opinions as to what is right and wrong, I think we are all free moral agents.

Pinky said...

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Shain's (not swain) point appears to be that after long centuries of Christianity's governing force over society in Western Civilization, secular thinking was pretty much informed by the same forces that informed religious thinking.

It was and remains, pretty much, the truth about our morality.

Isn't that so?
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Tom Van Dyke said...

True. That's Immanuel Kant, I believe, and Habermas [again, I believe] describes himself as a Kantian or neo-Kantian. The only "moral" option is to convince society to change.

However, no changes [or the status quo] are met with unanimity. But the "social contract" obliges the minority to go along.

However, Angie, this points out the contradiction I detect in your original position: the "social contract" is indeed with society, and that means a contract with its conventions, mores, and manners. The only true "free moral agent" is the one who holds himself outside or above society.

And as Barry Shain argues, such "radical individualism" as part of the American Founding is misinformation or myth.

Now, society might decide that its new moral standard is a sort of moral libertarianism, a "radical individualism," although that can also be read as a moral anarchy. In any case, that's just what Habermas is asking---whether a society can cohere, thrive or even survive without those conventions---shared values---that gave it life and sustenance to the present day.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Phil, I wrote "true" to Angie, not you.

I'd give your question a qualified yes, but "secular" didn't have the meaning it does today. Most of society was so imbued with religion that there wasn't the sharp distinction we draw today, and the word only applies to a few thinkers like David Hume. [There were people like Voltaire, but on the whole, Americans rejected them. John Adams comes to mind.]

And medieval philosophy didn't exclude God from reality as modern philosophy does, and that, I believe was the attitude of the Founding era. Just leaf through Locke and he talks about God all the time. You don't see that in modern philosophy.

Moreover, modern philosophy, with its relativism, utilitarianism, and so forth didn't exist yet either. All they had outside the Christian tradition were the pagan ancient Greeks and Romans, most of whom subscribed heavily to "virtue," which on the whole was far more compatible with Judeo-Christian tradition than modern-day philosophy and attitudes are.

George Washington's leanings toward Stoicism blended in with the zeitgeist just fine.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

I believe that while medieval philosophy was a means to ascertain truth, it is not what we have come to understand in modern science, which drives the understanding of a social contract, otherwise, there is an aristocratic understanding of leadership in authoritarian demands, plans, etc without individual input. The individual must have input under the social contract, otherwise, there is an abuse of power...
so rational engagement is with individual collaboration.

Traditional understandings limit reaons "place" in the discourse, because of a "faith stance" toward reality. This is untenuable, as to what man understands today. It bases reality in philosophy and not science. While there will be debate about which scientific theory will "win" public opinion based on "evidence", at least reason is engaged and not questions about the transcendent.

As to Stoicism, this was the prevailing philosophy that underwrtes Christian tradition. Stoicism has a traiditonal stance and understanding about God's providence in the world, which I do not believe and will resist with all of my being, because men are the ones that form government and good government allow civil liberties.

Moral order is a value but is not an absolute value for me, because an understanding of moral order can underwrite a dictatorial government, as well as an oppressive religious regime...individuals must be accountable to government, but the government must first be accountable to the individuals..just as was said that individuals make up the government...

Angie Van De Merwe said...

so, I will resent being viewed as a "function" of society, and not as a human being, valued for myself...those who maintain a leadership attitude do look at others in an aristocratic attitude, that really offends me. People are rational being and can be engaged in the public discours.

Information must be given and must be reasonable for individuals to be convinced of what should formulate policy...

Tom Van Dyke said...

Well, apparently you want to put the "social contract" on trial every morning, and further, you expect it, not you, to bear the burden of proof in justifying itself to you.

What you "resent" and what "offends" you is subjectivism writ large, isn't it? Can a society survive with such subjectivism as its "foundation?" [I use scare quotes because I question, like Habermas, whether it can be a foundation atall.]

Barry Shain, Tocqueville, and very relevant to the Habermas. Put much better than I could.

As for "information," I could get into the fact Congress is passing bills that we haven't even read, that even THEY haven't read, but I don't want to get too contemporary.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

doesn't the constitution demand that our leaders represent our values, desires, and part of that is knowing what it is they are legislating...
i do not mind at all to be a part of the social contract, in that i believe that those who represent me also represent my life values...for the more local context, surely employees are informed as to what the expectation is for the social contract to be upheld...
so, it would not only be for my own life, but i would resent it for anyone's life...and i have suffered personally for standing up for others when the social contract did not inform them...so i am not speaking of myself here, just a principle of the human being more important than some monetary goal, which i think habermas would also agree with...

in another post, i wrote about my indignation that the president did not speak for those who were protesting in iran...i guess in this sense democratic protexts are not accepted...for moral order? what about our revolution that demanded that the underclass be respected? there is two sides, but i have come to be weary of how the political scence works at times, and this is not a stoic attitude, nor an epicurean one...

Angie Van De Merwe said...

I thought good leadership helped everyone feel a part of a team, instead the team (in group)tells others(the outgroup) what to do, without them even knowing that the game was in progress...others have agendas that are important to implement because they are of ultimate value, for whatever that value is...

Tom Van Dyke said...

a principle of the human being more important than some monetary goal...

That's the primary point of the pope's new encyclical, Caritas in Veritate (“Charity in Truth”). It seems like you dismissed it earlier as some sort of "program," but it's not like that at all.

Pinky said...

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Tom wrote, "Most of society was so imbued with religion that there wasn't the sharp distinction we draw today,..."
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In other words, Tom, there was a "religiosity" that ruled the day?
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Hmmmm. Where have we heard that before?

Pinky said...

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"I thought good leadership helped everyone feel a part of a team, instead the team (in group)tells others(the outgroup) what to do, without them even knowing that the game was in progress...others have agendas that are important to implement because they are of ultimate value, for whatever that value is... "

I don't think you would not have liked living in Founding Era America where the most obvious character of society was an intrusive oversight of your every move and thought.
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It was not about the elevation of the individual to an active member of the team. At least, that appears to be the main point Shain makes in his book.
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Angie Van De Merwe said...

Whatever the Founders believed, it is also believed that society evolves, otherwise, women would not have the right to vote, nor would slaves.

Therefore, modern society is driven by power and might...money and politics...who one knows and how one gets "found". People do all kinds of things in hopes of getting to the "top", even if it means using legal means that are of dubious roots of heart...

But, there are ways to balance these power conflicts, which our courts are made for. Hopefully, every citizen holds people accountable for abuses of power...but most I think wouldn't take the time, money and effort. That is one's call to make. Is this a principle that should be protected for society at large? Or is this something that is an "ego" issue...the answer is a personal one, I think..

Angie Van De Merwe said...

As to Tom's question on "charity", I am not interested in furthering the Church. The Church discriminates along many lines. Just on another blog site, it was reported that nuns in the U.S. were being persecuted through investigation into their dress and commitment "outside the Church". I don't think that being cloistered away holds any value whatsoever. God is not subject to man's opinion or domains. The Church would define me as outside their camp....but certain values are too important to me..

Tom Van Dyke said...

Well, Angie, you make quite clear what you're "not interested in," what you "resent," and what "offends" you. One thing you wrote you're not interested in is sacred or secular.

However, as Phil notes, that was the Founding milieu. [Although "religiosity" carries a negative negative connotation, and that was our disagreement. "Religiousness" would be a neutral term.]

So, Angie, if you're "not interested," in such things, you're not interested in the main subject of this blog.

As for what we're not interested in, it's your or anyone's opinion of somebody else's religion or church. [We already gave someone the gate for some accurate albeit negative comments against Mormonism.]

It was you, Angie, who brought up the pope's latest encyclical, with negativity and mockery. I took my time in addressing your reflexive hostility. The encyclical is a piece of positive theology ["gift" being its core dynamic], not the negative sort of theology [Calvinism?] that you seem to continuously rail against.

If you're going to reject it out of hand, that's fine, but that makes you no more open-minded than the people you just left. And I wouldn't have brought it up at all if you hadn't mentioned it, and let your snark pass initially. However, it has some real answers to your off-topic musings, and I thought you might open yourself up to what it's really about instead of believing the newspapers, which invariably get theology wrong.

Now, anti-Catholicism has a long and deep history in America, so you're quite with the Founders there; however, around here---and by your own proclamation about what you're "interested in"---we keep that stuff to the absolute minimum. What the Church's position is about how nuns should conduct themselves is an internal matter, and no outsider's business.

OK?

Angie Van De Merwe said...

Fair, enough. I have no anomosity about Catholicism. I think that they have defined the Church. But, their view of charity cannot be the most important value for everyone.

As to the issue of internal affairs, that is very fair. The question would be does the Church have a right to intervene in the affairs of private lives. This is the issue of Church and State that was brought up, which has not been speicfically spelled out...in certain instances...

Tom Van Dyke said...

If you read Benedict's notion of charity---Christian charity---in this modern and materialistic and confused world, you might like it. It's actually a bold and fresh reevaluation of it.

And even the eminently logical ancient Greeks had no notion of "Christian charity," which is why the Founding-era talked about it often. Even John Locke. It was a bold new thing, and Athens and the Roman Empire failed because they lacked it.

There's something specific about Judeo-Christian principles that you don't find elsewhere in the world or in man's history. It would be a mistake to not research that for yourself before you make your judgments.

I guess I'm saying don't throw the baby out with the bathwater, Angie. Institutional Christianity has made virtually countless errors in its 2000-yr history.

Like all institutions. If governments are populated by men---and they are---then so are religious institutions. Take the best, leave the rest.

Hey, the last thing I want is the Catholic Church [or any church] running my government or a government anywhere. They been there done that, and started giving up on it about 1000 years ago with the Holy Roman Empire, which wags note was neither holy, Roman, or an empire.

The Puritans gave theocracy a shot and abandoned it damn quick. Within 100 or 200 years, there weren't even any Puritans left anymore. Let that be a comfort to you.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

Tom
Charity must be given as a choice because there is really no "should". Shoulds are social constructs that make meaning in society. This is why I react to those who impost their views as an absolute. No one can prove anything about God, or religion. This is why I agree to your religiousity and religionouss. That is a good disntinction.

As to my limited knowledge, John Locke believe in the 'blank slate" wouldn't that concur with social construction, as to the individual? He would not agree with Kant's CI or innate categories, which I think we do have, but interrept within our own contexts.

Charity is something that must be chosen because otherwise it ceases to be charitable and is an imposition from the outside. Therefore, conscience is just a socially imposed boundary, as to what is a social norm. Those who have been raise in such environments obviously would have a more sensitized conscience...

Skepticism is a natural state.Soe Rome falling because of a lack of morals is a super-intended "view".

The problem with scientists is that they believe that when they understand a part, they tend to use it wholisically and that is not just absurd but arrogant and dangerous.

The Founders used philosophical debate to form our country. So 'philopher kings' were the ones who formulated the "American Creation". Again, there is no "Christian" nation.

Pinky said...

We have at least one East Coast and one West Coast Straussian here. And almost all Straussians think they are elites among the mostly unwashed. Check it out.
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Angie, I agree with you for the most part. And want to add that our major problem as a society is the fact that we are held back by "prophetic" Christianity and other forces that support the idea of some already conclued and absolute truth.
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Americans need to cut that anchor loose so we can move courageously into the uncharted future where NO ONE knows the way the world is going to end.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

Pinky,
Thank you. Your responses seem to be conciliatory and clarifying,and mature whereas, Tom speaks directly, even confrontationally, and both of you speak as authorities...at least in my perspective.

I appreaciate the time both of you have taken to respond to me about these topics.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Well, I only seem confrontational--even brusque---to those whose presuppositions I question. When someone agrees with you, their manner becomes of secondary importance. Funny, huh?

Yes, Locke did believe in "blank slate," but I don't think he'd say---nor is it supportable---that we're simply programmed by our environments. Obviously, you have slipped your programming. I just question whether you've just substituted another set of programs---i.e., idle postmodern talk, as Habermas puts it.


The Founders used philosophical debate to form our country. So 'philopher kings' were the ones who formulated the "American Creation". Again, there is no "Christian" nation.


I could call that direct or confrontational, for instance. However, I'll simply say it's unsupported, and indeed Barry Shain explicitly argues otherwise, as does Habermas.

Pinky said...

I lent my Postmodern reader to my grandson. That's where I learned of Habermas. Here's a link to Habermas.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Very nice, Phil, and thank you. I was unfamiliar with that protion of his work, and it seems he really hit a nerve among the postmodernists with very knowing and specific criticisms.

All I really knew about Habermas is that I liked him, and as we see, "philosopher" probably fits him better than "sociologist."

Pinky said...

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Life is a mystery.
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One thing I have learned, so far, is that a human being can have more than one love; pursuits as well as persons. That's a part of my philosophy.
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If anyone here has not read Shain’s book, you must get a copy and read it carefully. I am sure you will find it most rewarding in the study of the people who lived during the Founding Era..
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Go to the site and read a page or two.
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Tom Van Dyke said...

If you'd like to write a short essay on it, we'll put it up on the mainpage.

Pinky said...

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Writing any essay is a scholarly task for me.
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I'm not sure what you mean by "it".
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Shain or the idea that life is a mystery?

Tom Van Dyke said...

Shain. Take your time. Just tell us what he's talking about. Most people don't know. It's a radical challenge to the prevailing narrative, either a "revisionism" or an anti-revisionism. In either case, interesting.

Pinky said...

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His discoveries are dynamic!
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I'll do some rereading and find a good paragraph and reprint it. Give me a couple of days. I have to work, you know.
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Tom Van Dyke said...

No, I didn't, but take as long as you like, Phil. You've invested a lot of time and thought in his book, so make the most of it.

Hey, we've waited through 300+ years of American history to get to this point, we can wait a tad longer!

Pinky said...

I've taken a job with a roofing contractor to build new relationships with commercial and industrial accounts.
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And, I'm trying to do some good helping out a couple of so-called addicts. That's a volunteer operation except for some expenses.
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Anyone has any experience in those areas, feel free to give me advice.
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Oh, and I've got a familial group of Evangelical Christians with whom I'm trying to hold some discussions in an online forum. It's interesting to see how fragile their beliefs are even though they are considered to be quite devout. I think a lot of "believers" have problems with doubts they cannot admit. Funny thing, they act as though they are afraid to consider any new information that might come their way. A person would think anyone with such strong beliefs would be looking for others to inform. Not!
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I learn a lot at this American Creation site and it helps me understand some things I might not otherwise be able to know.
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Who comes up with the words we have to copy when we do a post? Some of them are hilarious.
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I think the owners should learn about ways to market this site for a profit. The more popular the site, the more good it can do, the more good it does, the more value it has and thereby hangs a tale about profit. After all, we do live in a world driven by capitalism.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Well, that was Lindsey's idea, to grow the site. Unfortunately, I get in the way, challenging half-baked thoughts instead of saying how wonderful they are.

I've ruined the site, I admit. All we have to do is bash Christianists and David Barton 24/7 and we could be as hot as Ed Brayton's site, sneering at those idiot Christianists.

[Although Ed doesn't turn a profit from it, I don't think, it's a wonderful self-promotion tool. I reckon he turns a buck off it in the end.]

I think a lot of "believers" have problems with doubts they cannot admit.

Yeah, that's the most disturbing thing. Belief without doubt is boring, and means nothing, really. Fucking self-programmed robots. But it's all talk, Phil. Moses tappped the rock not once, but twice. Jesus doubted on the cross, didn't he? My God, My God, why have you abandoned me?

Belief despite doubt means something, even if belief comes and goes. But Phil, don't believe for a minute they don't doubt. All it takes is the death of a loved one, or a natural disaster. Or something like the Holocaust, which destroyed any belief in a loving and merciful G-d for an entire generation of Jews---and their children---scattered as they are to every corner of the earth as they are.

"Free will" means the freedom to doubt. Faith has no meaning without the presence of doubt. To deny doubt is to deny your humanity.

Pinky said...

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First off.
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A successful site is not made up of participants who are easily run off. It needs those with enough tenacity to hang on when things get hot..
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No one has destroyed the site. I worked in a factory near the heat treat department. Metal is made stronger when it is treated with heat and then squelched.

You do a good job here, Tom.

Aside from being human, that is.

But, then, we're all in the same boat in spite of what Strauss thought.
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Tom Van Dyke said...

Why, thank you, Phil.

And you highlight my major disagreement with Strauss.