Saturday, August 22, 2009

A Taste of What I've Been Working On

I've been busying co-authoring an article for a public policy think tank. I'll give you the details once the article is published. It's going to be a policy article on why America was not founded to be a "Christian Nation," at least as not conventionally understood. I am acting as the plotter/researcher. My co-author will be the scripter and the one who puts the footnotes in their proper place.

Here is a taste of my plot line so far:

On Providence cite:

1) Hamilton's The Farmer Refuted

Good and wise men, in all ages, have...supposed, that the deity, from the relations, we stand in, to himself and to each other, has constituted an eternal and immutable law, which is, indispensibly, obligatory upon all mankind, prior to any human institution whatever.

[...]

[T]he supreme being gave existence to man, together with the means of preserving and beatifying that existence. He endowed him with rational faculties, by the help of which, to discern and pursue such things, as were consistent with his duty and interest, and invested him with an inviolable right to personal liberty, and personal safety.

[...]

The sacred rights of mankind are not to be rummaged for, among old parchments, or musty records. They are written, as with a sun beam, in the whole volume of human nature, by the hand of the divinity itself; and can never be erased or obscured by mortal power.

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


2) On morality being the central purpose of religion cite Ben Franklin's “Dialogue between Two Presbyterians,” April 10, 1735.

"Morality or Virtue is the End, Faith only a Means to obtain that End: And if the End be obtained, it is no matter by what Means."

–- “Dialogue between Two Presbyterians,” April 10, 1735.

Perhaps Jefferson:

Every religion consists of moral precepts, and of dogmas. In the first they all agree. All forbid us to murder, steal, plunder, bear false witness &ca. and these are the articles necessary for the preservation of order, justice, and happiness in society. In their particular dogmas all differ; no two professing the same....Among the Mahometans we are told that thousands fell victims to the dispute whether the first or second toe of Mahomet was longest; and what blood, how many human lives have the words ‘this do in remembrance of me’ cost the Christian world!…We see good men in all religions, and as many in one as another. It is then a matter of principle with me to avoid disturbing the tranquility of others by the expression of any opinion on the [unimportant points] innocent questions on which we schismatize, and think it enough to hold fast to those moral precepts which are of the essence of Christianity, and of all other religions.

–- Thomas Jefferson to James Fishback, Sept. 27, 1809


And maybe Washington's Farewell Address:

…Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, Religion and morality are indispensable supports....Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect that National morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.

http://www.vindicatingthefounders.com/library/washington-farewell-address.html


3) On the Founders' ecumenicism (all religions leading to the same God). Four good ones from John Adams.

It has pleased the Providence of the first Cause, the Universal Cause, that Abraham should give religion not only to Hebrews but to Christians and Mahomitans, the greatest part of the modern civilized world.

–- John Adams to M.M. Noah, July 31, 1818.

Where is to be found Theology more orthodox or Phylosophy more profound than in the Introduction to the Shast[r]a [a Hindu Treatise]? “God is one, creator of all, Universal Sphere, without beginning, without End. God Governs all the Creation by a General Providence, resulting from his eternal designs. — Search not the Essence and the nature of the Eternal, who is one; Your research will be vain and presumptuous. It is enough that, day by day, and night by night, You adore his Power, his Wisdom and his Goodness, in his Works.”

–- John Adams to Thomas Jefferson, December 25, 1813.

θεμις was the goddess of honesty, justice, decency, and right; the wife of Jove, another name for Juno. She presided over all oracles, deliberations, and councils. She commanded all mortals to pray to Jupiter for all lawful benefits and blessings. Now, is not this (so far forth) the essence of Christian devotion?

-- John Adams to Thomas Jefferson, October 4, 1813.

I believe with Justin Martyr, that all good men are Christians, and I believe there have been, and are, good men in all nations, sincere and conscientious.

-– To Samuel Miller, July 8, 1820.


One from Franklin:

Both house and ground were vested in trustees, expressly for the use of any preacher of any religious persuasion who might desire to say something to the people at Philadelphia; the design in building not being to accommodate any particular sect, but the inhabitants in general; so that even if the Mufti of Constantinople were to send a missionary to preach Mohammedanism to us, he would find a pulpit at his service.


That was taken from his autobiography.

http://www.pioneernet.net/rbrannan/whitefield/bfongw.htm

You should also mention that as Presidents, when Washington, Jefferson and Madison spoke to unconverted Native Americans they addressed God as "the Great Spirit," exactly as the Natives did.

This is even further removed from orthodox Christianity than praying to "Allah" because at least Allah claims to be the God of Abraham, while the Great Spirit makes no such claim.

See GW, TALK TO THE CHEROKEE NATION, City of Philadelphia, August 29, 1796;

To THE CHIEFS AND WARRIORS, REPRESENTATIVES OF THE WYANDOTS, DELAWARES, SHAWANOES, OTTAWAS, CHIPPEWAS, POTAWATIMES, MIAMIS, EEL RIVER, WEEAS, KICKAPOOS, PIANKASHAWS, AND KASKASKIAS, Philadelphia, November 29, 1796.

See TJ, Address to Indian Nations, 1802.

See JM, "To My Red Children," August 1812.

4) Jesus as not God.

Adams:

The Trinity was carried in a general council by one vote against a quaternity; the Virgin Mary lost an equality with the Father, Son, and Spirit only by a single suffrage.

-- John Adams to Benjamin Rush, June 12, 1812.

An incarnate God!!! An eternal, self-existent, omnipresent omniscient Author of this stupendous Universe, suffering on a Cross!!! My Soul starts with horror, at the Idea, and it has stupified the Christian World. It has been the Source of almost all of the Corruptions of Christianity.

-- John Adams to John Quincy Adams, March 28, 1816.

If I understand the Doctrine, it is, that if God the first second or third or all three together are united with or in a Man, the whole Animal becomes a God and his Mother is the Mother of God.

It grieves me: it shocks me to write in this stile upon a subject the most adorable that any finite Intelligence can contemplate or embrace: but if ever Mankind are to be superior to the Brutes, sacerdotal Impostures must be exposed.

-- John Adams to Francis van der Kemp, October 23, 1816.


Jefferson:

No historical fact is better established, than that the doctrine of one God, pure and uncompounded, was that of the early ages of Christianity; and was among the efficacious doctrines which gave it triumph over the polytheism of the ancients, sickened with the absurdities of their own theology. Nor was the unity of the Supreme Being ousted from the Christian creed by the force of reason, but by the sword of civil government, wielded at the will of the fanatic Athanasius. The hocus-pocus phantasm of a God like another Cerberus, with one body and three heads, had its birth and growth in the blood of thousands and thousands of martyrs....In fact, the Athanasian paradox that one is three, and three but one, is so incomprehensible to the human mind, that no candid man can say he has any idea of it, and how can he believe what presents no idea? He who thinks he does, only deceives himself. He proves, also, that man, once surrendering his reason, has no remaining guard against absurdities the most monstrous, and like a ship without a rudder, is the sport of every wind. With such persons, gullibility which they call faith, takes the helm from the hand of reason, and the mind becomes a wreck.

-- Thomas Jefferson to Rev. James Smith, December 8, 1822.


For Franklin, cite his milder unitarianism that tolerated the Trinity as a harmless irrationality.

As to Jesus of Nazareth, my Opinion of whom you particularly desire, I think the System of Morals and his Religion as he left them to us, the best the World ever saw, or is likely to see; but I apprehend it has received various corrupting Changes, and I have with most of the present Dissenters in England, some Doubts as to his Divinity: tho' it is a Question I do not dogmatise upon, having never studied it, and think it needless to busy myself with it now, when I expect soon an Opportunity of knowing the Truth with less Trouble. I see no harm however in its being believed, if that Belief has the good Consequence as probably it has, of making his Doctrines more respected and better observed, especially as I do not perceive that the Supreme takes it amiss, by distinguishing the Believers, in his Government of the World, with any particular Marks of his Displeasure.

-- Ben Franklin to Ezra Stiles, March 9, 1790.


I think we have enough with this; we could note Washington's and Madison's silence on orthodox doctrines. We could quote Washington's minister on how he wasn't a "real Christian" because he systematically avoided communion (suggesting he disbelieved in the atonement). We could also quote George Ticknor (founder of the Boston public library) testifying that James Madison was a closet unitarian. It may be too much.

Adams and Jefferson kept their anti-Trinitarian secret; the point we should drive home is not so much the FFs' political theology was "anti-Trinitarian," given many Trinitarian FFs and in the populace. But rather there was no way in Hell these unitarians in high positions of power were going to let Trinitarianism infect their national Founding politics.

21 comments:

bpabbott said...

Jon, If you'd like to add a fifth bullet on the principles of separation of C&S, the quotes by Jefferson and Madison are well know ... but Franklin had also expressed such. For example ...

"But the most dangerous Hypocrite in a Common-Wealth, is one who leaves the Gospel for the sake of the Law: A Man compounded of Law and Gospel, is able to cheat a whole Country with his Religion, and then destroy them under Colour of Law: And here the Clergy are in great Danger of being deceiv'd, and the People of being deceiv'd by the Clergy, until the Monster arrives to such Power and Wealth, that he is out of the reach of both, and can oppress the People without their own blind Assistance."
-- Benjamin Franklin

bpabbott said...

Regarding the Franklin quote, I neglected to provide a reference. Here's the link to Silence Dogood, No. 9

secular square said...

As a recent and somewhat occasional visitor to AC, I am not familiar with the ground covered already on the "Christian Nation" question. When I read some of the interchanges, I sense a lack of clarity about the main point of disagreement. At the risk of commenting ingorantly on something AC bloggers established already, may I offer a suggestion on clarifying the question.

Is it, WAS AMERICAN FOUNDED AS A CHRISTIAN NATION? In what sense? If it means dedicated to Jesus or the promotion of God's kingdom on earth (or to some eschatological vision of the future)it does not seem to be so. Lincoln, in my mind the best interpreter of the founders, said the nation was dedicated to a different idea: the proposition that all men are created equal.

Or is the question, WAS AMERICA A CHRISTIAN NATION WHEN FOUNDED? In this sense, surely the answer is yes. Most Americans of the early national period, whether or not they regularly attended church, surely had a Christian worldview. Of course, other intellectual traditions as well contributed to this world view. And the state constitutions (with acknowledgment of God as the source of our rights and even religious tests for office holding) and public buildings and monuments reflect that fact. As an outpost of Western civilization or Christendom, what else would it be?

There are other ways to formulate the quesition . . . you who are debating the issue maybe know the best formulation.

Jonathan Rowe said...

Thanks Ben.

That was just a taste. I have a lot more bullet points.

Tom Van Dyke said...

John Adams, Franklin, and of course Jefferson. The usual suspects and indeed, mostly the only ones.

But as Rev. Jasper Adams wrote in a highly praised [Justices John Marshall, Joseph Story] in 1833:

http://candst.tripod.com/jasp2.htm

What must have been the strength of the conviction of Christian Truth in the American mind, when the popular names of Franklin and of Jefferson among its adversaries, have not been able much to impair its influence. May a high reverence and sacred regard for this Heavenly Wisdom remain with us to the end of time, the crowning glory of the American name.

...and of course Franklin wasn't exactly an adversary, more an agnostic on the doctrines of the prevailing orthodoxy.

And of course, federalism left religion to the states.

Mr. Square puts it well:

Or is the question, WAS AMERICA A CHRISTIAN NATION WHEN FOUNDED? In this sense, surely the answer is yes. Most Americans of the early national period, whether or not they regularly attended church, surely had a Christian worldview. Of course, other intellectual traditions as well contributed to this world view. And the state constitutions (with acknowledgment of God as the source of our rights and even religious tests for office holding) and public buildings and monuments reflect that fact. As an outpost of Western civilization or Christendom, what else would it be?

The ratification of the Constitution changed the states' status quo on religion not an iota.

Jonathan Rowe said...

Secular Square:

The way I think this is relevant: We aren't just speaking of "demographics," as in the US is predominantly Christian in the same way that it's predominantly white. Rather we are speaking about the way government treats its people on account of their religion, similar to the way it treats its people on account of their race and gender.

We are also looking at how government treat "religion" and how the various religions inform government principles.

In that civil sense, America was not founded to be a "Christian" nation as conventionally understood. At least that's why I argue.

Jonathan Rowe said...

I do focus on Adams quite a bit because, the typical narrative -- and I think this is because that's the impression many of the Founding era got -- was that Franklin and Jefferson were the Deist outliers and that Adams was a conventional Christian.

In reality Adams was arguably was further to the Left on religious matters than Franklin. Yet, he was viewed as a pretty mainstream/conservative figure.

Tom Van Dyke said...

I don't know what "conventionally understood" means. There are a few fringe preachers whom you can argue that way against, but even David Barton doesn't argue what you're arguing against.

As for John Adams, I agree, and again it illustrates how successfully he kept his private thoughts on theology a secret, and for good reason.

BTW, your Hamilton #1 quote from Farmer Refuted is much more about natural law than it is about Providence:

I shall, henceforth, begin to make some allowance for that enmity, you have discovered to the natural rights of mankind. For, though ignorance of them in this enlightened age cannot be admitted, as a sufficient excuse for you; yet, it ought, in some measure, to extenuate your guilt. If you will follow my advice, there still may be hopes of your reformation. Apply yourself, without delay, to the study of the law of nature. I would recommend to your perusal, Grotius, Puffendorf, Locke, Montesquieu, and Burlemaqui. I might mention other excellent writers on this subject; but if you attend, diligently, to these, you will not require any others.

J said...

Franklin sums up the matter well:


"Morality or Virtue is the End, Faith only a Means to obtain that End: And if the End be obtained, it is no matter by what Means."

The chief architects of the Const. and DoI were obviously not concerned with preserving judeo-christian orthodoxy, but with using religion only as it pertained to Virtue; if "the End be obtained" (virtuous citizens) without religion, that would also suffice. That said, the Founding Fathers, especially the Lockean, Democratic sorts, were perhaps overly optimistic (the Federalists not quite as optimistic).

Jonathan Rowe said...

Well I think "conventional" Christianity is "traditional" Christianity. Of course there will always be arguments on things like TULIP, the Eucharist and whatnot. But there's that little thing called the Nicene creed whose historic importance to Christian "convention" can't be so easily explained away.

I think Barton plays games with his evangelical audiences. If he were to squarely address the issue of heresy with them I'd respect him more. But I'm not even so sure if he's fully aware of these issues as for instance, Noll, Frazer, or even Gary North is. As we've noted in one of Barton's articles he lists the Unitarian Jonathan Mayhew as one of the preachers of the "Great Awakening."

Jonathan Rowe said...

BTW, your Hamilton #1 quote from Farmer Refuted is much more about natural law than it is about Providence:...

It's about both; but more importantly it's about a rights granting God, one who grants unalienable rights through Nature, not necessarily revelation which is not mentioned in the Farmer Refuted.

Surely you can appreciate it will be a good thing for the think tank to be getting THAT.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Oh, yeah. And I'd say that the development of the notion of individual and political liberty per natural law achieved fruition uniquely in the American Founding. Even Britain took some time to catch up.

I was splitting hairs in that Providence is an active thing---a posteriori, as it were--- but liberty via natural law is an innate thing, an a priori claim, and also that the concept of "natural law" in the American Founding needs to enjoy center stage.

Otherwise, you get people claiming to find political liberty directly in the Bible instead of as a product of Christian and/or philosophical thought. You know how that song goes.

;-)

James Stripes said...

I'm looking forward to seeing the full article. Thanks.

I like your point about the place of Adams in the conventional narrative. I think the way that Adams framed his questions as statements cause many to misread his writings.

Brad Hart said...

I too am excited to read the completed article.

Brad Hart said...

Secular writes:

"Lincoln, in my mind the best interpreter of the founders, said the nation was dedicated to a different idea: the proposition that all men are created equal."

Are you sure? Wasn't it the founders who installed a constitutional protection for slavery? Didn't the very author of the DoI keep 300+ slaves in bondage? And let's not forget the rights of MANY others (classless whites, women, natives, etc.) The founders were great, but they were also elite gentrymen, who embraced the stereotypes of their day. Hardly indicative of a dedication to "all men [being] equal."

J said...

Hamilton's The Farmer Refuted

Note Ham's references to the dastardly .......David Hume's essay, THAT POLITICS MAY BE REDUCED TO A SCIENC---fairly indicative of Hamilton's Tory inclinations.

Ham. supported the AmerRev mainly for tea-bagger reasons: he wants lower taxes, and less govt. control (even if the govt was monarchical).

He also seems to suggest (as did Hume) that rights be somewhat controlled or limited to the....gentry. Which is to say, the "Farmer Refuted" serves as more evidence of the influence of Hume on the Framers (especially on the Federalists....tho' Franklin was friendly with Hume, and considered him a mentor as well).

bpabbott said...

I don't have an opinion regarding Lincoln's interpretation of original intent, but ... my understanding is that slavery was not mentioned in the constitution as a compromise between those who wanted to continue the practice and those who saw it as an affront to the new Nation's principles. The subject is all sort of tongue-n-cheeky.

So I don't see constitution as touching the issue at all. It neither explicitly preserves or extinguishes the practice of slavery. I think the founders as individuals each had a prefernce, but as a collective elevated the cohesion of the union of the 13 states as being more important that protecting or abolishing slavery.

Tom Van Dyke said...

I don't have an opinion regarding Lincoln's interpretation of original intent, but ... my understanding is that slavery was not mentioned in the constitution as a compromise between those who wanted to continue the practice and those who saw it as an affront to the new Nation's principles. The subject is all sort of tongue-n-cheeky.

Quite so, Mr. Abbott. The [in]famous Three-Fifths Compromise was what got the constitution done atall.

But so frequently overlooked in these discussions [I confess I didn't know until recently meself, shame shame] is:

http://www.usconstitution.net/consttop_slav.html

In Article 1, Section 9, Congress is limited, expressly, from prohibiting the "Importation" of slaves, before 1808. The slave trade was a bone of contention for many, with some who supported slavery abhorring the slave trade. The 1808 date, a compromise of 20 years, allowed the slave trade to continue, but placed a date-certain on its survival. Congress eventually passed a law outlawing the slave trade that became effective on January 1, 1808.

Slaveholders among the Founders like Madison and Jefferson surely understood [and, we hope, supported] that slavery's days were seen as numbered in the Founding era.

Of course, it didn't get resolved all that cleanly...

secular square said...

BHart:
It is difficult to know what to make of Jefferson and abolition==a mixture of idealism, self interest, and practical difficulties. He owned slaver, but he also in his Summary View of the Rights of British America argued that "The abolition of domestic slavery is the great object of desire in those colonies where it was unhappily introduced in their infant state." He also blamed the British government for slavery in his original draft of the DOI.During the early years of the war, Jefferson, George Wythe, and Edmund Pendleton served on a Virginia House of Delegates committee to revise the laws of Virginia.They drafted, but never submitted a plan for gradual emancipation. And law drafted by Jefferson permitting emancipation of slaves by individual owners, something illegal under the colonial government w/o approval of the Governor's Council, was passed in 1782. But then for many years after this Jefferson remained silent on the quesition of emancipation.

Pinky said...

.
In a way, the September/October 2009 issue of the magazine, ADBUSTERS deals with what some of us are doing here.
.
It's more than study for the sake of study to me.
.
I think Prof. Rowe's dealing here puts us at good advantage regarding those Founding years as they unfolded into the nineteenth century as well as things are coming to be today.


.

Pinky said...

In other words, more people should be interested.