Tuesday, November 24, 2009

King of Ireland Responds about Christianity's Contributions to Modernity (My Thoughts Follow)

KOI (a K-12 public school teacher) often comments at Ed Brayton's Dispatches From the Culture Wars and has recently joined my group blog on the Founding & Religion, American Creation as a front page poster. He has also spent many hours debating Gregg Frazer on Romans 13 online. This is his response to my note on Jason Kuznicki's recent post at Cato Unbound on the contributions of Christianity (and classical society) to modernity (with some editorial changes by JR):


I think the best example I can give you to illustrate that there have been two general kinds of Christianity that compete and both use scripture to back them.

The Southern Slave Owners and the Northern Abolitionits fought a Civil War over whose version of what the Bible said would win out. The KKK uses the Bible to elevate one person or group above the other. They look at the Jewish race and how God favored them and say that the white race replaced them.

It is really two views of God. To keep this from going Theological again (Tom Van Dyke has a point that the History can be lost if we always go down the Theology road) let's just look at the two broad groups in History. I think the one group is obvious and talked about a lot. It is the Divine Right dogmatic group. The other is not talked about as much.

Tom has tried to show more than once a line of reasoning from Aquinas forward that found its way to Jefferson and company through Locke. The only question is whether this line of reasoning is Christian.

Based on these discussions I put that I am a “Rational Christian” under religion on my Face Book page. Reason has a big place in all this I am just trying to figure out how much.

I think it is this type of Christianity that changed this world. It came in opposition to the Dark Ages crap based on control. We are headed back to Feudalism gradually. Walmart and companies like it are no better than the landed class in the Dark Ages. We woke up and this ended in a modern society with a middle class.

It is shrinking by the day. We are on Hayek's "Road to Serfdom."

It's an interesting notion. As I understand it, what terms itself "Christianity" has been on the side of the Angels and Devils in contentious issues that history eventually resolves. As we all now know, slavery is of the Devil, abolition of God. History has consigned Divine Rule of Kings to the Devil, liberal democracy to God. And today, with issues like gay marriage, abortion, we argue over which issue goes to God, which to the Devil (as was done before issues like slavery and the "right" form of government were settled).

Sometimes the God/Devil dicotomy is entirely metaphorical, as the militant secularist atheist and Godfather of gay rights activism Frank Kameny coined the term "gay is Godly." The Bill O'Reilly-esq. paradigm of "secular progressives" v. "religious conservatives" seems more apt.

Sometimes it is less metaphorical. The very progressive "Christian" Chris Hedges has done this where he places the religious right/conservative Christian types as devils and the progressive pro-abortion, pro-gay marriage, anti-war types as the angelic Christians. Hedges of course claims Martin Luther King, D. Bonhoeffer as the angelic Christians in whose tradition he operates.

KOI is neither a secular leftist nor religious rightist, but is more (like me at my cohorts at Positive Liberty) "libertarian." Likewise, he is no Calvinist. Will he try to use his "rational Christianity" to vindicate libertarianism? Who knows?

KOI, in a sense, is not unlike many of America's key Founders and the philosophers they followed. Figures like Jefferson, Franklin, J. Adams, and their British Divine heroes Revs. Joseph Priestley and Richard Price termed themselves "rational Christians." I'm not sure if John Locke, Isaac Newton, John Milton or Samuel Clarke used that term but the "rational Christians" (what Gregg Frazer terms "theistic rationalists") sure as heck claimed them and purported to operate in their tradition.

Likewise they claimed those who operated on the side of "Whiggery," "republicanism," "political liberty," "unalienable rights" on the side of God, the others on the side of the Devil (and vice versa).

They too were militant anti-Calvinists and claimed God from Calvin: As Jefferson, in 1823, wrote to the likeminded J. Adams:

I can never join Calvin in addressing his god. He was indeed an Atheist, which I can never be; or rather his religion was Daemonism. If ever man worshipped a false god, he did. The being described in his 5. points is not the God whom you and I acknowledge and adore, the Creator and benevolent governor of the world; but a daemon of malignant spirit. It would be more pardonable to believe in no god at all, than to blaspheme him by the atrocious attributes of Calvin.

One issue that needs to be confronted is the "rational Christians" of that era (whose namesake KOI invokes) tended to reject original sin, trinity, incarnation, atonement, eternal damnation, infallibility of the Bible, and so on. "Rational Christians" of course, hold that men have a right to revolt against tyrants and, if they address Romans 13 at all, formulate an understanding of that part of the Bible accordingly (ala Jonathan Mayhew).

That begs the question as to how authentically "Christian" "rational Christianity" is. Indeed, if one looks at the history of abolition in America, unitarians played disproportionate roles in leading the effort (and unitarians had some stinkers as well like John Calhoun).

It's tempting to take one's pet issues and put the God stamp behind it. I don't care if right wing Christians do this on the issues that I disagree with them (many have long standing theological arguments on which to based their claims). I do mind when they cherry pick America's Founders political theological God quotes -- even those that talk up Christianity as opposed to the more oft-invoked generic references to God, religion, and Providence -- and act as though their narrow orthodox theology owns America's political theological heritage.

Likewise, the Chris Hedges of the world don't own what's good in "Christianity" either.

For me, I'm just trying to step back and ask what is authentic historic Christianity -- complete with its dominant, dissident, and heretical strains -- and examine the contributions, pro and con. I think that requires taking the good with the bad, something that neither side wants. The friends of Christianity want to credit it with everything good and distance said from its mistakes. The enemies, the opposite. The truth usually lies somewhere in between.


bpabbott said...


I'm confident it is just a oversight, but I've always disliked "pro-abortionists". It smacks of an ad hominem, to me :-(

No significant numbers favor abortion.

No significant numbers are the enemy of a women's liberty.

The question is a matter how to handle the unavoidable clash between life and liberty.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

Thanks Jon,
As far as I can tell, the issues that one stamps as "Christian" or "biblical" are "self-identifying principles. Many times the quotes these people quote are only representative of the groups they belong to.

Religion is a form of "group identification", whether cultural, familial, or denominational.

One cannot believe in a personal interventional God of the "bible" and hold to what science has revealed.

Today, it is known that those who tend toward a religious view are "determined" by their brains. The same is the case for the pragmatists. I think that Ben said at one point that he had been raised in a secular environment with two Ph.Ds as parents, and his siblings all differ in how they understand "faith" (faith being how they understand life).

As to the political issues, I agree that history will 'settle down" to another "status quo", until another change faces society.

My concern though with science's power, now, is how to handle that power rightly, when we know so little about the "human"...or we are only touching the corners of all it means to be human...

King of Ireland said...

Angie stated:

"One cannot believe in a personal interventional God of the "bible" and hold to what science has revealed."

Why not? Science reveals nothing about the spiritual world because it does not have anything to say about it one way or the other. It tests the material world. That is it.

King of Ireland said...


Great job here. I followed up with a post today. Think Kuzinski would chime in over here? I would like to see what he would say about this.

Gregg Frazer said...


Not to get sidetracked, but I think "pro-abortion" is an appropriate designation UNTIL Planned Parenthood and NARAL and NOW and those promoting abortion "rights" agree to provide women with the necessary information to make an informed "choice." They steadfastly refuse to allow any literature or discussion of the unborn child in the womb -- no pictures of hands and feet, no discussion of fetal development, etc. In other words, no evidence that there is another person involved is allowed to "muddle" the "choice."

A number of years ago, before a debate with Kate Michelman of NARAL, Cal Thomas offered a deal to her. He said that he would come out in favor of "pro-choice" if she would come out in support of providing women with the necessary information to make an informed choice. She declined the offer.

Abortion is a multi-BILLION dollar industry -- there's no profit to be made in "choice."

Regarding "The question is a matter how to handle the unavoidable clash between life and liberty": in what other context in America does one person's liberty trump another person's life? [Except, of course, when life is forfeited due to one's own criminal guilt -- even then, there must be due process to protect the guilty]

Our religious liberty does not allow human sacrifice. Our freedom of speech ends when it threatens or leads to violence. Aren't freedoms supposed to protect life?

Gregg Frazer said...

WOW! The King of Ireland and I agree on something! "Science reveals nothing about the spiritual world .... It tests the material world. That is it." Well said, King.

If Richard Dawkins, Angie, and others purporting to work strictly from a scientific point of view were intellectually honest, they could not be atheists -- science could only take them to agnosticism because science cannot prove either the existence or non-existence of God. It doesn't even try to -- such things are admittedly outside the realm/purview of science.

All of the Ph.Ds in the Science Dept. of the college at which I teach would be surprised (or chuckle) at your statement, Angie.

My concern regarding science is less how to handle its power rightly -- and more with the exorbitant, almost fanatical, faith that some have in its error-prone "power."

Jonathan Rowe said...


You make good points. The difficulty is determining when the zygote/embryo/fetus becomes a human being with life rights that trump other human beings liberty rights.

This explains why some libertarians who determine that right inheres at or shortly thereafter conception are anti-abortion/pro-life while believing that all victimless crimes (i.e., drugs, prostitution, gambling, pornography) should be or remain legalized.

It's a tough question; I certainly don't support the taking of innocent human life; whenever that inheres in the womb is when I believe the act wrong and no legal right to it. I'm just not sure when that point starts.

I do know one thing -- if I can be convinced that pain, reaction to stimuli occurs at a particular point -- I will not support the legal or moral right to abortion under any circumstance. If the act needs to be done to save the mother's life, then precautions to make sure the baby/fetus doesn't feel any pain MUST be taken beforehand.

bpabbott said...


I suspect your thoughts on abortion would be agreed upon by a majority, including myself.

bpabbott said...


re: If Richard Dawkins, Angie, and others purporting to work strictly from a scientific point of view were intellectually honest, they could not be atheists.

My understanding is that for many, atheism is not necessarily an assertion, but a lack/absence of a theistic belief, and a world view that lacks theistic elements ... a view that the supernatural is synoymous with "myth", or "superstition" ... at least that is my perspective.

Also, agnoticism is viewed by many to respect knowledge. While theism/atheism respects belief.

Dawkins is certainly an atheist, by belief. However, he is eager to admit that, regarding the existance of any and/or all Gods, he is agnostic.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Interesting distinction on atheism, Ben, and one I never thought of. I also agree with you & Jon about the majority view on abortion.

The funny thing is, a proper "agnosticism" presents its own problem---how should we proceed on an uncertainty on whether the fetus is a person? Give the benefit of the doubt to whom????

One could be practical---empirical---and recognize only that which we know for certain, the mother's rights.

But what if we're wrong about the fetus and it is a person?

On Law & Order, they're always talking about "depraved indifference"---acting with no concern for the unknown.

[Oh well, a little philosophical musing there. The legal reality is that Roe v. Wade took that moral and philosophical decision out of We the People's hands, where I believe it belongs.]

Angie Van De Merwe said...

Thanks bpabbott, I was just going to respond when you beat me to it, and you did a better job, too.

I have written before, maybe on another blog, that religion scares me for obvious reasons, today.

Science scares me because sometimes our technology runs ahead of our understanding of how we use it, or the ethical...

I believe that the reason why we are in a quandary as to how to approach globalism is because investors got in over their heads, before we had laws in place to know how to address the issues that make us interdependet, economically. Then, we become slaves of economic or busniess, instead of protecting the freedoms of individuals or humans from power or protecting liberty......at least that is what it seems to me...but is this the way law always works? Interpretation or a refinement of law is required when circumstance call for it....

bpabbott said...


I think agnosticism is similar to ignorance ... except that with agnostism the knowledge is usually unavaialble to us.

Ignorance doesn't appear to dissuade us from action. Rather it motivates many to action. For most it motives the pursuit to learn.

I think agnosticism motives the pursuit of knowledge also. However, in this instance the knowledge is unavailable. So we must apply reason to come to a position of what we are to believe.

I think both religion and science are each inspired by the unknown, and seek to fill the gaps in knowledge and understanding. That they come in conflict I think is due to errors in perspective.

"Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind."
Albert Einstein, "Science, Philosophy and Religion": a Symposium, 1941.

The above quote is well known, but few are familiar with the context.

"Now, even though the realms of religion and science in themselves are clearly marked off from each other, nevertheless there exist between the two strong reciprocal relationships and dependencies. Though religion may be that which determines the goal, it has, nevertheless, learned from science, in the broadest sense, what means will contribute to the attainment of the goals it has set up. But science can only be created by those who are thoroughly imbued with the aspiration toward truth and understanding. This source of feeling, however, springs from the sphere of religion. To this there also belongs the faith in the possibility that the regulations valid for the world of existence are rational, that is, comprehensible to reason. I cannot conceive of a genuine scientist without that profound faith. The situation may be expressed by an image: science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind."
[emphasis added by me]

The preceding paragraph is important to the context as well.

"For example, a conflict arises when a religious community insists on the absolute truthfulness of all statements recorded in the Bible. This means an intervention on the part of religion into the sphere of science; this is where the struggle of the Church against the doctrines of Galileo and Darwin belongs. On the other hand, representatives of science have often made an attempt to arrive at fundamental judgments with respect to values and ends on the basis of scientific method, and in this way have set themselves in opposition to religion. These conflicts have all sprung from fatal errors."

Taken together, these two paragraphs, place Einsteins words in the intended context.

Which in part is; Religion provides the motive, inspiration, and purpose for the pursuit of science.

Regarding knowledge (belief) & understanding of the spiritual / supernatural, religion is on its own in that pursuit.

[ p.s. I try to avoid passionate issues such as abortion, and thought I'd take the opportunity to take this tanget you provided for me ;-) ]

Tom Van Dyke said...

Well, Ben, we negotiated a ride through the rapids of abortion without upsetting the raft. Well done by all, but not something I'd like to do every day.


Leo Strauss said that theology must be open to the challenge of philosophy, and vice-versa.

I think Roman Catholicism holds up its end [near the end of Strauss' life, they joked how his classroom was full of priests].

I do not think modern [or post-modern] philosophy is holding up its end, although there are exceptions like Jurgen Habermas, which is why I quote him.

In the olden days, philosophy was open to the question of God; it was part of any reasonably philosophy curriculum.

Nowadays, I think there's an intentional segregation by the philosophical academy.

I like agnosticism as the proper philosophical stance---it proceeds in its reason and inquiries as if there is no God. But if the philosopher is a true human being, like any true human being, he must at least occasionally ask, what if there is?

And if there is, then what?

Gregg Frazer said...

I'm sorry, but I have to risk the rapids for one clarifying point. While you guys might represent the majority opinion regarding abortion -- and one that has a reasonableness to it -- those I would call advocates of abortion or "pro-abortion" are not willing to allow any of the kinds of evidence or considerations that Jon mentioned into the discussion. They don't want women to ask such questions or consider alternatives.

That, as I was trying to say, is why I call them "pro-abortion" rather than their preferred "pro-choice." They don't really favor choice; they promote abortion.

Gregg Frazer said...

Tom is a fan of Aquinas, so I'll point out that Aquinas said that there can be no REAL discrepancy between reason and revelation or between philosophy (including science in his day) and faith because the same God is the Author of both. So, if there appears to be a discrepancy, we have either reasoned incorrectly or we have wrongly interpreted Scripture.

Of course, my beef with the Einstein quotes is the implication that bp has logically drawn from them: that Scripture has nothing to tell us about scientific matters just as science cannot tell us about spiritual matters. Aquinas didn't believe that and neither do I.

The bottom line is that if God is God (i.e. infallible, omniscient, etc.) and if the Bible is His Word, then what it says about science must also be true -- or we shouldn't pay attention to what it says about spiritual things, either. Of course, we have to understand it properly (e.g. when it speaks literally or metaphorically or poetically or in anthropomorphic language). But when it says things in narrative, it must either be true or it's not God's Word. And it says things in narrative which have to do with science.

This is what I don't get -- maybe Tom or King can explain it to me. If the Bible is not God's Word and it is not infallible, WHY SHOULD WE PAY ATTENTION TO IT REGARDING ANY SUBJECT? Why follow it in spiritual matters? It doesn't claim to only be accurate in spiritual things.

If it IS God's Word, then we should follow it whether its convenient or intuitive or not. I don't see how you can rightfully have it both ways.