Monday, December 28, 2009

Of My First Experiences With Anti-Unitarian, "Joel Mark"

American Creation readers may know of "Joel Mark" -- a right reverend -- from the post Frazer Responds to Joel Mark.

Here is one of my earliest dealings with the right Rev. This post is relevant because Joel typifies the misunderstanding of 1) John Adams' religious creed and 2) the Founding era understanding of "unitarianism." When one mentions "unitarianism," strangely, many folks, perhaps out of hatred for the religion, think modern day "Unitarian-Universalism," when founding era unitarianism simply meant disbelief in the Trinity, but rather in one unitary God. As such Jehovah's Witnesses are "unitarians."

An early notable discourse of mine with the anti-Unitarian (bigot?) Rev. Joel Mark commences:

John Adams Quotation of the Week:

It's funny. See this thread on worldmagblog, which illustrates that stubbornness is intractable in human nature. Someone possesses an erroneous assumption. They are given more than adequate evidence refuting the assumption. Yet, they stubbornly refuse to let go of their error.

In this case, it's a fellow named Joel Mark who assumed that John Adams was an orthodox Christian, and not a Unitarian, was shown overwhelming evidence to the contrary, complete with references to primary sources, yet still refuses to let go of the notion that Adams was a traditional minded Christian. In one comment directed at me, he wrote:

Jon Rowe,

You are flat out wrong....John Adams was NOT a Unitarian. That was never how he identified himself or was identified and the Unitarians were not even around in Massachusetts or America in his prime years.

You are unreliable on this matter. maybe its just that your sources are poor. But you are wrong.

He further asks for "smoking gun" evidence demonstrating that Adams identified himself as a Unitarian. Ye ask, and ye shall receive. Here is Adams himself on the matter:

I thank you for your favour of the 10th and the pamphlet enclosed, "American Unitarianism." I have turned over its leaves and have found nothing that was not familiarly known to me.

In the preface Unitarianism is represented as only thirty years old in New England. I can testify as a Witness to its old age. Sixty five years ago my own minister the Reverend Samuel Bryant, Dr. Johnathan Mayhew of the west Church in Boston, the Reverend Mr. Shute of Hingham, the Reverend John Brown of Cohasset & perhaps equal to all if not above all the Reverend Mr. Gay of Hingham were Unitarians. Among the Laity how many could I name, Lawyers, Physicians, Tradesman, farmers!

-- John Adams to Jedidiah Morse, May 15, 1815. Adams Papers (microfilm), reel 122, Library of Congress.


We Unitarians, one of whom I have had the Honour to be, for more than sixty Years, do not indulge our Malignity in profane Cursing and Swearing, against you Calvinists; one of whom I know not how long you have been. You and I, once saw Calvin and Arius, on the Plafond of the Cathedral of St. John the Second in Spain roasting in the Flames of Hell. We Unitarians do not delight in thinking that Plato and Cicero, Tacitus Quintilian Plyny and even Diderot, are sweltering under the scalding drops of divine Vengeance, for all Eternity.

-- John Adams to John Quincy Adams, March 28, 1816, Ibid, reel 430.

These quotations are featured in James H. Hutson's fine book of quotations, pp. 220-221.


J. L. Bell said...

The Universalist movement also has roots in Revolutionary New England, with the Rev. John Murray serving as a Continental Army chaplain early in the war and such men as Col. Richard Gridley, first commander of the American artillery, becoming followers. Unitarianism and Universalism have both evolved since then, of course—like every other form of faith I know.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Some commenter on some other blog was wrong about something? Keep us apprised, Jon.

The guy was obviously unaware of the unitarian Christian movement, and indeed it had a rather short life, mutating into transcendentalism by the mid-1800s. And of course today's Unitarian Universalists aren't recognizably Christian, in fact not even necessarily theistic.

I'm pretty confident John Adams would have been appalled at this report of a self-proclaimed "Christian witch" in the pulpit

of one of America's "Founding churches."

No wonder "Joel Mark" was appalled at the thought of the Founders being "unitarian," if that means "Unitarian Universalist."

[Which I'd estimate the large majority of Americans think it does.]

"The Trinitarians kept the faith, while the Unitarians kept the furniture." ---Old saying

Brad Hart said...

"I trust there is not a young man now living in the United States who will not die a Unitarian."
~Thomas Jefferson, letter to Waterhouse, June 26, 1822

He may have been a little late and a little presumptuous but recent polls on America and religion reveal that more and more people are beginning to align themselves with the definition of unitarianism that Jon mentions in his post.

As for this moron who seems to hold fast to old D. James Kennedy nonsense, perhaps you should direct him to our blog for some much needed correction.

Brad Hart said...

I am anxious to see the doctrine of one god commenced in our state. But the population of my neighborhood is too slender, and is too much divided into other sects to maintain any one preacher well. I must therefore be contented to be an Unitarian by myself, although I know there are many around me who would become so, if once they could hear the questions fairly stated."

~Thomas Jefferson, letter to Dr. Benjamin Waterhouse, January 8, 1825

Jonathan Rowe said...


Heh, the "Christian witch" thing must have been the straw that broke the camel's back on EAI's post.

But seriously, the point of the post was not to discuss simply what someone somewhere got wrong, but rather to illustrate a common misconception about the term "unitarian" as it relates to America's Founding AND how that misconception is married to an anti-present day UU bigotry that many currently possess.

As I've noted to Rev. JM (Mark is actually his middle name) one reason why Gregg Frazer DOESN'T term folks like Adams "Unitarians" (as Adams and the others understood themselves) is because that term connotes modern day UUism, which Adams et al. were not.

THAT'S one important reason why he opts for "theistic rationalism" instead of "unitarianism." It's for clarity's sake.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Christian unitarianism, or as you say per Locke's definition [which I still dunno where it is in "Reasonableness"], simply Christian, since the Trinity had no impact on the polity, but Christianity [particularly natural law] certainly did.

Tom Van Dyke said...

And yes, the witch certainly broke my back in being able to bear the revisionism of UUism claiming any connection with the Founders' faith except for having legal possession of its churches. [Which largely sit empty...]

As for "bigotry," I dunno if that's the right word. One might fairly object to UUism offering itself as a religion in any meaningful sense of the term as an offense against common sense.

bpabbott said...


Regarding religion, in what meaningful sense if UUism an offense to common sense?

Are you referring to the lack of a theological creed?

What of religions with no theology?

I'm confused.

Jim Cooke said...

Good morning -
"The sentiment of religion is at this time, perhaps, more potent and prevailing in New England than in any other portion of the Christian world. For many years since the establishment of the theological school at Andover, the Calvinists and Unitarians have been battling with each other upon the atonement, the divinity of Jesus Christ and the Trinity. This has now very much subsided; but other wandering of mind takes the place of that and lets the wolf into the fold. A young man, Ralph Waldo Emerson, after failing in the everyday avocation of a Unitarian preacher and schoolmaster, starts a new doctrine of transcendentalism. Mr. Emerson declares all the old revelations are worn out; he announces the approach of new revelations and prophecies. Garrison and the non-resistant abolitionists, Brownson and the Marat democrats, phrenology and animal magnetism, all come in, furnishing some plausible rascality as an ingredient for our bubbling caldron of religion and politics."
John Quincy Adams
August 2, 1840 / Quincy, Massachusetts

Tom Van Dyke said...

Hehe. Well observed, Mr. Cooke. JQA saw through Emerson like an x-ray, and foresaw the mutation of unitarian Christianity into the "whatever" religion.

Which answers Mr. Abbott's interrog, at least to my own satisfaction. UUism doesn't even require theism. It has the religious content of, say, MTV.

It defines itself not by what it believes, but by what it does not believe. Except in Democratic Party politics, of course. In that there is great faith.

bpabbott said...


You're close to saying what I'm inferring ;-)

Your view is that religion and theism are synonymous? ... i.e. no supernatural equates to no religion?

Certainly that perspective is common. However, it is also incomplete. For example, UUism and Buddhism do not exclude the supernatural, and yet they are each commonly inclusive to what we call religion.

Wiki describes religion as;

"A religion is a set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe, especially when considered as the creation of a supernatural agency or agencies, usually involving devotional and ritual observances, and often containing a moral code governing the conduct of human affairs."

While that definition is broad, and consistent with common use, It is still incomplete as it doesn't encompass a system of belief for morality, meaning, purpose, origins, etc, in which supernatural assertions are absent.

What I'm leading to is the 1st amendment, and how its use of the term religion it is to be properly interpreted, or more importantly, what it was intended to mean.

Its an interesting topic, I think.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Well, Ben, let's just say this---if Unitarian Universal became the established church of the United States tomorrow, nobody would even notice.

Buddhism is interesting though. The "pure" form [without all the gods] is more like natural law, a metaphysics but without Deity, which actually comports with John Finnis' Thomism.

In fact, the Dalai Lama and the Pope have similar codes of sexual ethics. Howboutdat?