Sunday, December 13, 2009

Fea on the God & Declaration of Independence

I want to link to this outstanding post by John Fea on God and the Declaration of Independence before I forget (he posted it on Dec. 5).

Here is how he sums it up:

The God of the Declaration of Independence is not only the author of natural rights and the judge of the world, but He also governs the world by His "Providence." The term "providence," as it was used in the eighteenth-century, was usually used to describe an active God who sustains the world through His sovereign power. This is not the distant God of the deist, but a God who is always active in ordering His creation. He performs miracles and answers prayers. By referencing "Providence," the members of Congress were affirming their belief that God would watch over them and protect them in this time of uncertainty, trial, and war. Whether they embraced all of the tenets of orthodox Christianity or not, most of the signers could affirm a belief in the providence of God.

In the end, some may be disappointed with the way in which Jefferson, his committee, and the Second Continental Congress did not produce a Declaration of Independence that was overtly Christian. The Declaration never mentions Jesus Christ, does not quote the New Testament, and fails to move beyond vague descriptions of God.

While we would be hard pressed to describe the Declaration as a uniquely “Christian” document, it certainly does reflects the theistic world view prevalent in the eighteenth-century British-American colonies.


Read the rest of the post for his analysis of the four times the DOI invokes God.

22 comments:

Pinky said...

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One thing is for sure, nothing seems to succeed like persistence.
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It's sure keeping these tired old arguments on the front burners.

King of Ireland said...

Pinky,

What is tired and old? Either the Declaration had Christian influences or it did not. We have barely scratched the surface of this topic or the religion left to the states one. In fact, a lot of what we are discussing in this historical context is finding to be relevant in a lot of what is being tossed around on other current event blogs.

Pinky said...

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What is tired and old is the continuos argumentation that seeks to find hidden motivation and underlying meaning in nearly every jot and tittle of the Founding documents that America was founded to be a Christian nation.
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King of Ireland said...

Jon,

I went on the read the rest of the article. Some good insights about who added what. I would say that the more overt references to Jesus being left out is good ammuniton against some in the Barton crowd.

I hesitate to say this because I think the conversation has switched for the better but I am starting to understand why you harp on the two different kinds of "Christianity" theme a lot. I hope you noticed that even in trying to move the discussion on about the ideas and political theology I have been tying that theme into a lot of what I say.

It really was two very different belief systems as far as how the looked at God, worshipped Him, and saw the path to heaven. But they seem to have been pressed together by circumstances to embrace a political theology that left room for all under a big tent.

That political theology in my mind is no doubt historically Christian and Liberal. It was influenced by the enlightenment and I hope most can see that I do not think that was a bad thing for the most part. That is the part of the Enlightenment that did not throw out the baby with the bathwater and reject God based on some tyrant jerks who used his name in vain to control people.

Just like any other movement in history, Christianity has is things to be proud of and its things to be ashamed of. I agree with you that most want to claim the former and sweep the latter under the rug. That is a dangerous thing to do.

Tom Van Dyke said...

What is tired and old is the continuos argumentation that seeks to find hidden motivation and underlying meaning in nearly every jot and tittle of the Founding documents that America was founded to be a Christian nation.

Pinky, the real problem is reading every jog and tittle through 21st century eyes. That's bad history.

To get into the 18th century head and get 18th century eyes takes a lot more honest work.

Removing the 21st century scales from your eyes, as it were. That's why you like Shain so much. Guelzo too. Dudes are in the zone. That's why we can call them historians.

Pinky said...

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I guess I've been around long enough to understand the difference between 21st century eyes and those of the past.
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seems to me you're projecting, Tom.
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King of Ireland said...

Pinky,

Who has said that America was founded to be a Christian nation? That is what some say Barton's argument is not mine nor anyone on this blog. My tentative view based on the limited evidence I have seen is that some Christian Principles are foundational in the evolution of the understanding of inalienable rights and equality that made that made there way into the Declaration of Independence.

The well has been so poisoned on all sides of this debate that we are all just talking past each other. I am guilty. A good discussion broke out about federalism and religion being left to the states it sat back column for days as no one posted anything. Then I moved it up top and we all, including me, start posting on different things.

I have been waiting to post on Amos and some of his insights into the Declaration of Independence and knew I should hold it and did for a day. Then got impatient and went ahead. I knew I was wrong when I did it. Then we had 6 other posts that same day that all drowned each other out.

This blog is like the Articles of Confederation. It is good because the big tent, loose relationships, and laid back nature have drawn a lot of diverse people in and produced some great conversations. Nonetheless, we need some structure that I think used to be here and is not anymore. We are like a class of kids that love to participate, know a lot about the subject, are well prepared, but so opininated that no one hears anyone else.

I hear the frustration in you when you say that you cannot get your voice heard in this setting right now. I am just one person but I think a little more coordination would help. Maybe everyone take a day of the week to make sure at least one thing new goes up everyday. Maybe a limit of posts per day on the active days. Maybe we all pick 3 or 4 topics to focus on for a while.

I am not sure but I see that all that everyone is saying ties together in some way but most do not see it because we are more busy talking than listening. I am guilty. I almost missed some important things Jon was saying about the 14th Amendment that I know I am going to need later in life because I was so worried about what I was trying to get across that I was not listening.

I think your points about localism and public vs. private( though I am not understanding a lot of what you are trying to get at with the latter) are a different way of looking at the whole federalism thing. But I do not think one can get a good understanding without reading Sandfeur's article Jon linked that talks about state and national citizenship and different views on it.

Anyway, just my thoughts. I could be wrong but I know at least I am guilty of it.

Tom Van Dyke said...

I guess I've been around long enough to understand the difference between 21st century eyes and those of the past.

Heh, Phil. You been alive a bit less than a century!

seems to me you're projecting, Tom.

Why do you betray my trust like this, Phil? I disagree with most of what you say, but I post it anyway on our mainpage at your request. I'm the only one around here who gives you and your opinions any respect or response. Why do you attack me personally like this?

That's not right, Phil.

King of Ireland said...

Tom,

I think he misread a comment you were making about all the jurisprudence talk and about getting back to the history as attacking him when you were kind of agreeing with him.

Pinky said...

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It appeared the discussions were heading toward a rehash of what has been posted here so often.
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Of all the participants here I sure have a good understanding on the difference between the mind set of the colonial period and how.
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Pinky said...

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In the list of complaints against the king, the first listed in the DOE is "He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good."
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It seems particularly interesting that what was meant by public is far different for us than it was for our ancestors during the Revolutionary era. Yet, the Public Good was number one on the list.
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Yet, if we understand their mindset here, some things fall right into place and we see how there is a struggle that continues to this day. For example, the current argument over health care.
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Does anyone else see this dichotomy?
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Pinky said...

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DOI
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Sorry about that.
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Joe Winpisinger said...

Pinky,

I think what you are talking about is the whole individual rights and public good dichotomy. It is the individualism vs. collective good tension. The latter is what they borrowed more from classical Greece and Rome. This is the theme of an entire chapter of the "We the People' cirriculum for HS government class. it is a great organization.

They teach the cirriculum in class for full credit and then go to a competition to debate it. I saw the best team in Va and those kids were great. Anyway, my judging group had that chapter where they talked about the tensions.

I think i see what you were getting at now and it is important. Individualism can run amok and ruin society. The NC ratification debate over the First Amendment captures this tension. It is on the site at U of Chicago that Ben linked.

If you want I can get a textbook and send it to you for "We the People".

Tom Van Dyke said...

It might help to explore Tocqueville's distinction between selfishness and individualism.

http://xroads.virginia.edu/~Hyper/DETOC/ch2_02.htm

Pinky, this applies quite starkly to your current studies of Shain, etc., and seems to be your missing link.

Pinky said...

Joe W.
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You bet I would like a copy.
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Send me the details to my email and I will respond to you directly.
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Pinky said...

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No, Tom, I read the copy at the link you gave.
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That has nothing to do with the dichotomy to which I'm addressing.
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The complaint made in the DOI was that the King's government had ignored the public good of the colonists. "He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good."
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What I'm addressing is the difference between the private and the public. The king being the wealthiest and largest property holder of all private persons. The public owned no property.
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But, there was a concept of the public good just as there was a concept of public liberty. But, the public owned no property and no wealth was owned in the name of the public. Not during the colonial days!
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The dichotomy on which I am focused is the one between the private and the public. In the case of the Founding generation that dichotomy had been between the public and the king as the wealthiest and largest land owner of all private persons.
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And, as we know, he was NOT the only wealthy person. Great wealth exists today. Don't forget, RHIP, rank has its privilege. And great wealth has great privilege.
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This all had much ado about the Founding and it seems that it is being ignored.
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Our ancestors didn't give their lives for some lockean or other philosophical ideas. There was a very practical aspect to the revolution and it related to the Public Good.
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King of Ireland said...

Phil,

I do not have your email. Mine is:

joewinpisinger@vzw.blackberry.net

Send me your address and I will make a call. It is a HS textbook but one of the best I have ever seen. It gives all the angles and allows the kids to think.

King of Ireland said...

Phil,

Tom's linked hits that concept. You are into the particulars. I think if you are more clear with the overall concept you are trying to get across you would get more traction. It is really collectivism vs. individualism. Both taken to an extreme are heinous. Madison seeks to walk this tight rope in most of his writings.

One minute he is wanting to impose a no religion test on the states and the next minute he is working with Jefferson on the Va and Ken Resolution of 1798. They, believe it not, used the "interposition" argument here. This all does tie together we are just talking past each other.

Pinky said...

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If you want to call the Revolution-Era American public the Collective and the king the individual, then maybe it's a collectivist/individual dichotomy. But, I think that's a stretch in the use of terms.
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I see a dichotomy with the focus of Revolutionary Americans on Public versus Private. I am having a problem articulating my point. But, I'm working on it. That first complaint in the DOI points to the problem the Founding generation faced.
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The problem expresses itself today in the issues regarding Health Care Reform our congress is trying to iron out. I'm getting it that this presents a problem for the positive liberty folks.
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King of Ireland said...

The king used "collectivism" and "statism" to snuff out the individual rights of the colonists. If one can get a people to indentify as part of the group more than or instead of as an individual he can gain control. Those in power can also promote selfishness in an attempt to produce anarchy that is always followed by calls for order at all costs. This historically ends on worse oppression than before. Much of what Madison writes on the fed papers addresses this tension and he developed his thoughts during his extensive study of the history of governments. Brilliant guy.

Pinky said...

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If one can get a people to indentify as part of the group more than or instead of as an individual he can gain control.
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So you say, King.
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I think you've got to show some authority for that.
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King of Ireland said...

Pinky,

Hayek's "Road to Serfdom" is a pretty good start. That is if one considers him an authority.