Sunday, May 31, 2009

Year of the Bible?

A misguided Georgia Republican named Paul Broun last week introduced legislation proclaiming 2010 as “The Year of the Bible.” One wonders, is it the Hebrew scripture that he wants to honor, the Roman Catholic Bible (which includes books like Tobias, Judith and Ecclesiasticus that Protestants exclude from the canon), the Greek Orthodox Bible (whose pages make room for the book of Odes), the Slavonic Old Testament (with its two books of Maccabees), the Ethiopian Bible (which includes Jubilees, the Book of Enoch and other unique testaments) or perhaps the Jefferson Bible, which our third President crafted in two versions during his first term in the White House and which excludes the miracle stories and resurrection from his version of the gospel?

Rep. Broun’s proposal reminds me of a quotation from the Reverend Edward Everett Hale, who served as chaplain to the U.S. Senate from 1903 until his death six years later (and who was the grand-nephew of Revolutionary War patriot Nathan Hale). Asked if he prayed for the Senators, Chaplain Hale replied, “No, I look at the Senators and pray for the country!”

There is a reason men like James Madison insisted on a division of church and state in our First Amendment, because they believed religious faith was stronger and healthier when entirely voluntary and non-coerced, not the product of Bible Bills or other government-sponsored programs.

The Good Book is an incredibly robust document, a collection of history, poetry, moral reflection and myth that has survived and evolved for thousands of years, revered by many as the word of God, and regarded as a centerpiece of Western culture even by those who deny it any divine inspiration. It has been translated into hundreds of languages around the world. Presumably Holy Writ needs no boost from Congress.

Representative Broun should find better outlets for his piety and return to minding the public’s business. The Bible doesn’t need his help.

Example of How Activists Misuse History of America's Founding & Religion

It shouldn't surprise that it comes from Pat Boone. In my last piece I cited an article by Alissa Wilkinson where she gave this bit of wise advice to conservative Christians:

[W]e lazily identify Christianity with a particular political system, rather than carefully examining the Bible to determine how we should understand and participate in various spheres of society—economics, politics, morality, etc.

When we understand the climate in which the country was founded, we can understand how the Founders could speak with a language that sounds Christian to our ears but not necessarily believe in the Bible as the totality of God’s revelation.

Pat Boone's article is a textbook example of confusion of his own evangelical faith for the theology of the American Founding. Boone's article responds to a pro-ACLU veteran who wrote the following:

Mr. Boone,

The ACLU is simply the Constitution in action, with particular emphasis on the First Amendment. If you don't like what the ACLU does, then either you really don't approve of the Constitution and the First Amendment themselves, or you don't fully understand what they say and mean.

As a combat veteran of World War II, I fought to preserve and protect our Constitution. So I joined the ACLU in 1950 and have strongly supported them ever since.

We most certainly do have an effort here in America to impose upon us the equivalent of an American Taliban. But that comes not from the ACLU, but from the ranting, raving Christian evangelicals and fundamentalists – the Christianofascists who are running rampant over America these days trying to cram their irrational theology and their silly Bible down our throats.

Well, our Constitution says that we don't have to accept that moral and intellectual fascism, and so – with the welcome aid of the ACLU we are vomiting back in your faces.

You "nutty" fundamentalists are the American Taliban, not the ACLU, and as long as we have the Constitution and the ACLU, you will not prevail.

I actually know the person (not very well, but through email) who wrote this note. He is an 80 something year old fervent atheist and a minor national figure in his own right. He sent me the following note when I asked him his opinion on the evidence of Christianity:

Without commenting at length, I meely point out that Cornthians was written around 54AD, some 24 years after the crucificion, in an eram without recorders, reporters, or other than word- of-mouth heasay. Similarly, the four gospels themselves were written (Mark) around 65-70 AD; Matthwe and Luke in the 70s,and John around 95. There were no tape recorders, or other means of recording. They are largely worthless as historical records. The whole thing, and the Christianity derived from it is a fraud, concocted for political purposes. resurrections don't happen. Period. Either the dead body was removed from the tomb, or he didn't actually die on the cross and revived later. There is no supernatural.

Here is how Boone responded to the writer's defense of the ACLU, broken down bit by bit with my comments following:

Are you aware, sir, that President Thomas Jefferson, "Mr. Separation of Church and State" himself, combined with Congress to appropriate tax funds to pay missionaries to "preach the gospel to the Indians"?

Chris Rodda debunks this notion:

[This] is based on a single treaty with the Kaskaskia, signed by Jefferson in 1803, which included a provision for a $100 annual salary for a priest for seven years, and $300 towards the building of a church. Of the over forty treaties with various Indian nations signed by Jefferson during his presidency, this is the only one that contained anything whatsoever having to do with religion. This had nothing to do with converting the Indians, as the words "missionary work" imply. The Kaskaskia were already Catholic, and had been for generations. These things were what the Kaskaskia wanted, and this being a treaty with a sovereign nation, there was no constitutional reason not to provide them.

Boone's article implies that a purpose of American government was to promote and convert those who didn't believe in Christianity to said faith. The Founders were more accommodating to religion than is Boone's atheist writer; however their ends were almost always secular. Think about it; Roman Catholicism was probably the least popular form of Christianity during the time of the Founding. Why would Jefferson, a man who hated "superstition" want to promote a sect of Christianity that was regarded as the most "superstitious." The answer is because that's the religion the Indians choose. In other words, this is an example of the religious indifference of the Founding. Any religion that the people choose we'll accommodate, even Roman Catholicism! That nuanced point, key to understanding American Founding political theology, is lost on Boone.

Back to Boone:

Our Founding Fathers, the creators of the Constitution you rightly admire, believed God created all men equal, and should at least hear about Him and His love for all of us, though they were free to reject it if they chose. Is this what you call "intellectual fascism"?

Again, this confuses the theology of the Declaration of Independence with biblical Christianity. The two are not the same. One might argue I am reading too much into Boone's words. However, carefully look at the letter to which he is responding: It attacks evangelical and fundamentalist Christians, of which Boone is one. Why would Boone use the words of the Founders in his defense if he didn't hear their words as evangelical speak?

But, the idea of God creating men equal is certainly incompatible with atheism; it's just a very broad based theology, not biblical Christianity.

Back to Boone:

You're a veteran, you say. How would you respond to the first military commander in chief this country ever had, Gen. George Washington, who in general orders to his troops on July 9, 1776, wrote, "The General hopes and trusts that every officer and man will endeavor so to live and act, as becomes a Christian soldier defending the dearest Rights and Liberties of his country."

Again, how do George Washington's words equate to a defense of politically active evangelical Christianity? On a personal note I think GW would like Boone more than the atheist because GW saw religion in general and Christianity in particular as having a salutary or civilizing effect on character, which is extremely useful for the military and self-government. I see Washington's statement as part of a unitarian theology of civil utility and man's works. The test of sound religion is that it produces virtue. And Christianity equates with being a good person, not necessarily someone who has accepted Christ as Lord and Savior. Ultimately Boone's quoting Washington is inapt to his argument.

Back to Boone:

Your ACLU is currently suing to prevent chaplains from praying in Jesus' name, and it would like to do away with chaplains altogether. What would they say to Gen. Washington?

Is the ACLU fighting to prevent Chaplains from praying in Jesus' name when acting as personal chaplains to military troops who are having their spiritual needs ministered to? I don't think so. Rather, it's when a Chaplain purports to pray on behalf of the entire nation. And Washington never ONCE was recorded publicly or privately praying in Jesus' name. In other words, the lawsuit is to get chaplains to pray more like George Washington did. That is, not in Jesus' name.

I know what Gen. Washington would say to them, because he already said, in his Farewell Address, Sept. 19, 1796, "Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of Patriotism, who should labor to subvert these great Pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the duties of Men and Citizens."

In light of these and so many other pronouncements by those who gave their lives and sacred honor to give us our freedoms – what is your definition of patriotism? And in light of their dedication to subverting these "great Pillars" Washington pronounced indispensable – what should we call the ACLU?

Again, this misfires. I know my atheist friend does indeed want to subvert all religion. But again, the context of his letter to Boone was an attack on politically active evangelical Christianity. That's not what Washington defends in his Farewell Address. Rather he defends the institution of "religion" generally defined. Most evangelicals are likewise spiritually at odds with Washington and the other key Founders because they don't believe in "religion" in general, but one specific path to God.

That is simply not what Washington or the American Founding are all about.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Alissa Wilkinson's Article on American Political Theology

Check out this great article at Patrol Magazine by Alissa Wilkinson, a graduate student at NYU, on American political theology that references "theistic rationalism."

Here is a taste:

The secularists—the most dogmatic “separation of church and state” folks—insist the Founders were Deists with little interest in organized religion, working toward a neutral, secular state where religion would have no influence in governance or policy-making. Equally noisy are the “Christian America” proponents, who insist that the Founders were devout Christians with explicit faith in Jesus Christ and established a governmental system based on Biblical principles. Any attempt to extricate governance from these principles is an attempt to destroy the very foundations of the country. References to “God” and “Providence” in the founding documents, such as the Federalist Papers and the Declaration of Independence, are explicit and intentional references to similar evangelical concepts.

What’s confusing is that both camps can support their view with books, films, seminars, scholarly works, magazine articles, and more, all with direct quotations from the Founders themselves. And obviously, both sides can’t be right. So when it comes to the ever-raging debates about the foundations of our nation, which side should Christians take?


In [Gregg Frazer's] doctoral dissertation and some subsequent work, he says—I believe rightly—that these men were neither secularist Deists nor evangelical Christians, but “theistic rationalists,”...

To theistic rationalists, God would not do anything that they would not admire in the behavior of man. Order and morality were the highest virtues. Men had a free will and the ability to be moral, and God ultimately desired all men to live happily.


Religion was important to society in that it promoted morality—and thereby happiness—but the particular religion was relatively unimportant. Because the ultimate goal was a moral society, rather than one in which the “correct” religion was promoted, the Founders created an environment that recognized but did not impose or restrict the role of religion in society. (It’s worth noting that several Christian denominations opposed this idea of freedom of religion, since it would allow many people to practice religions that they did not believe led to the truth.)

...[T]he end result of this emphasis on morality and freedom was that theistic rationalism became the de facto national religion. Most people in early America identified with a Christianity of some stripe, and so these principles also became woven into the fabric of American Christianity and the dominant public desire for morality and order....Only when postmodernism erupted and new voices spoke out in the public sphere—minorities, women, people of other religions or no religion at all—were they challenged, spawning the debate that still rages today.

With this in mind, we can begin to understand the flaws in the views of those on both sides of the debate. Some of the most influential Founders did in fact believe in the value of religion for a moral, organized society—which weakens the position of the secularists. But they also did not believe that a theologically orthodox Christianity was the only or even the best option for promoting that society—undermining those who would have us believe we’re citizens of a “Christian nation.”

Happy 1st Birthday American Creation!!!

Happy 1st Birthday, American Creation!!! It was only a year ago that the four original contributors to this blog started emailing each other in a brainstorming effort to create an effective forum on the topic of religion and the founding. One year later here we are, having survived through the ups and downs that only the "blogosphere" provides.

Yes, after 620 posts, over 10,000 comments, and a wide assortment of contributors, commentators and readers, American Creation is still standing!!! Thank you to EVERYONE who has made American Creation so much fun. A special thanks to our readership, whose comments, interest and participation are what keep this blog going. Thank you to the various contributors (past and present). Your material is the "lifeblood" of the blog. Thank you for taking the time to produce quality material that is both enjoyable and intellectually stimulating. Hopefully we can raise the bar even higher in year #2 and produce even better postings!

Again, thank you to EVERYONE for your continued support of American Creation! We hope to be around for many years to come!

Friday, May 29, 2009

Newt Gingrich: Christian Nationalist

Historian wannabe and self-proclaimed Christian Nationalist Newt Gingrich has joined the ranks of David Barton and the other history revisionists. In his book, Rediscovering God in America, which was also made into a video/"documentary," Gingrich links up with David Barton and others to combat the "secularism" of the left by doing what most Christian Nationalists do...proclaim America to be the United States of Jesus:

Part I:

Part II:

Part III:

Part IV:

And here is the preview/trailer of Newt's Rediscovering God in America:

Give me a break, Newt! Quit preying upon the historical ignorance of the masses! Here's just a few examples:

1.) Newt states that Jefferson wasn't a deist. Ok, some on this blog have made that connection. However, he sure wasn't a Christian either, a simple truth (and Newt claims to be all about truth) that is omitted from his presentation

2.) Newt tries to connect the quotes on the Jefferson Memorial (many of them disputed by the way) with Jefferson's "Christianity." Just silly.

3.) Newt points to Jefferson's "Sworn on the altar of God" quote as proof of his piety. However, he forgets that Jefferson swore hostility to the ORGANIZED RELIGION of his day!!!

4.) The "Jefferson supported missionary work" comment is stupid. It was part of the treaty NEGOTIATED BY THE INDIANS THEMSELVES! Jefferson didn't create this on his own, he was simply honoring the wishes of the Indians in the treaty.

5.) Newt should be smart enough to realize that the Washington Monument was built roughly 65 years after the death of Washington himself. The "Laus Deo" inscription was NOT the idea of any single founder, but of the architect.

To sum up, Newt follows the same strategy of his cohorts David Barton, Peter Lillback, etc. He gives half truths mixed with patriotic innuendo to "inspire" a historically ignorant mass. Oh, and of course, Newt has to throw in the typical conservative obsession with Ronald Reagan in his final video...a point that has NOTHING to do with his overall argument, but still quite typical.

Poll Results: Who is the Best Historian of Early America?

The results of American Creation's first ever "scientific" poll are in. The question asked was, "Who is the best historian of early America?"

And the winner is...Gordon Wood!

With 28 out of 75 votes (37%) Gordon Wood topped the field. Here is a brief bio of Wood and some of his work, which can be found on his university website:

Gordon S. Wood is Alva O. Way University Professor and Professor of History at Brown University. He received his B.A. degree from Tufts University and his Ph.D. from Harvard University. He taught at Harvard University and the University of Michigan before joining the faculty at Brown in 1969. He is the author of many works, including The Creation of the American Republic, 1776-1787 (Chapel Hill, 1969), which won the Bancroft Prize and the John H. Dunning Prize in 1970, and The Radicalism of the American Revolution (New York, 1992), which won the Pulitzer Prize for History and the Ralph Waldo Emerson Prize in 1993. His most recent publication is The Americanization of Benjamin Franklin, which was awarded the Julia Ward Howe Prize by the Boston Authors Club in 2005. He is currently working on a volume in the Oxford History of the United State dealing with the period of the early Republic from 1789 to 1815. His new book, Revolutionary Characters: What Made the Founders Different, will be published in 2006. Professor Wood is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the American Philosophical Society.

Coming is second was renowned historian Gary Nash, author of the book, The Unknown American Revolution, a "must read" for everyone interested in the history of this era. Nash received 17 votes (22%).

Coming in third was "other" (meaning another historian not on the list) with 13 votes, while Mark Noll finished 4th and George Marsden and Joseph Ellis tied for 5th.

Thanks you everyone for participating in this poll! Please check out and participate in the newest poll found at the top right of this blog!

Thursday, May 28, 2009

George Washington on the Bible

Unfortunately I can't give a clear cut answer as to exactly what GW thought of the Bible, because he never told. However, I can make some general observations.

First, the record does not demonstrate that GW thought the Bible the inerrant infallible Word of God. It's possible; but I doubt it. It's even MORE unlikely that Washington, like the strict Deists, didn't believe in ANY of the Bible as divine revelation.

Washington quoted from the Bible quite a bit. Indeed in his new book, The Political Philosophy of George Washington, Jeffry H. Morris claims that GW quoted from the Bible more than any other source, including Joseph Addison's Cato, which came in second.

I'm enjoying reading Morrison's book and I agree with the overwhelming majority of what I have so far seen. He argues GW's political philosophy was a synthesis of classical Greco-Roman ideas, moderate British Enlightenment ideas, and Protestant Christianity. After Bernard Bailyn, I noted something similar in my entry on GW for the Cato Institutes's Encyclopedia of Libertarianism. However Bailyn/I analyze the synthesis with 5 prongs instead of 3. In the entry I wrote:

Harvard professor and historian Bernard Bailyn traces the ideological origins of America's founding-era republican thought to the following principal sources: Classical Greco-Roman antiquity; Biblical theology; English common law; Enlightenment rationalism, and the writings of British Whig theorists like Algernon Sidney, John Locke, and Joseph Priestly.

And George Washington's personal political philosophy was the same as American Founding's (or vice versa). Moreover, some of these categories bleed into one another.

I'm still looking in the footnotes to Dr. Morrison's book to see how he statistically concluded GW quoted the Bible more than any other source (like Cato). Though, to respond, 1) if the other classical sources (Aristotle, Cicero, Seneca) were added to Cato, would GW's classical quotes exceed his biblical quotes? And 2) simply quoting the Bible, even a lot, doesn't demonstrate one's opinion about the Bible's authoritative truth. Just as Shakespeare dramatically changed English language communication, the Bible changed Western Civilization's communication. Even today, atheists regularly quote the Bible to illustrate a point, as did strict Deists like Thomas Paine during the Founding era. Ben Franklin so mastered biblical style that when he transitioned from quoting the Bible to improvising his own words while pretending to quote the Bible, most of his everyday hearers couldn't tell the difference. Franklin used to do that as a parlor trick, by the by.

And Washington rarely if ever quoted the Bible in a clear authoritative way. But I am going to reproduce some of Washington's closest to authoritative dealings with scripture. I first want to deal with an address I've seen advanced as evidence of Washington's traditional Christian piety. In an undelivered First Inaugural Address, Washington supposedly said:

The blessed Religion revealed in the word of God will remain an eternal and awful monument to prove that the best Institutions may be abused by human depravity; and that they may even, in some instances be made subservient to the vilest of purposes.

The problems with this quote are 1) it probably wasn't written by Washington, but by Colonel Humphreys; 2) Washington didn't give this as an address but canned it; and 3) he did so probably because it was not characteristic of his thoughts, so much so that Jared Sparks, one of the first biographer/archivists of Washington's, tore up the address into pieces and gave those pieces to his friends; that's why the address exists in fragment form. The following is what Paul F. Boller writes in "Not so!: popular myths about America from Columbus to Clinton":

The Humphrey's-Washington draft [of Washington's first inaugural speech] exists only in part today. What happened to it chills the blood of present-day historians and biographers. In 1827, years after Jared Sparks, Unitarian minister and editor of the North American Review, who was preparing to publish a collection of Washington's writings, came across the speech in Washington's handwriting and decided to suppress it, partly because he thought some passages in it were a bit strange and partly because he knew it had eventually been discarded. On May 22, Sparks asked the aging James Madison, who had thirty-eight years before, told him: "I concur without hesitation in your remarks on the speech of seventy-three pages and the expediency of not including it among the papers selected for the press. Nothing but extreme delicacy towards the author of the draft, who was no doubt Colonel Humphreys, can account for the respect shown to so strange a production." Sparks then blithely cut the manuscript into pieces and handed out parts of it to autograph collectors anxious to own something in Washington's own handwriting. Years later scholars attempted to reassemble the fragment, but succeeded in recovering only a third to one-half of the original. The anfractuosities of what survives are probably Sparks's doing, not Washington or Humphrey's.

What was a more mainstream and characteristic utterance of Washington on revelation (again not written by him, rather by David Cobb, but given under his name) is is 1783 Circular to the States:

The foundation of our Empire was not laid in the gloomy age of Ignorance and Superstition, but at an Epocha when the rights of mankind were better understood and more clearly defined, than at any former period, the researches of the human mind, after social happiness, have been carried to a great extent, the Treasures of knowledge, acquired by the labours of Philosophers, Sages and Legislatures, through a long succession of years, are laid open for our use, and their collected wisdom may be happily applied in the Establishment of our forms of Government; the free cultivation of Letters, the unbounded extension of Commerce, the progressive refinement of Manners, the growing liberality of sentiment, and above all, the pure and benign light of Revelation, have had a meliorating influence on mankind and increased the blessings of Society.

Now, even though Washington, in his other public and private sentiments, rarely if ever discussed what he thought of "revelation," I think we can stretch and conclude this was mainstream American Founding/Washington thought. Indeed, I quoted this in my entry on Washington for the Cato Institutes's Encyclopedia of Libertarianism. However I don't see this passage as proving Washington thought the Bible infallible or inerrant, but rather inspired in *some* sense. I certainly think this passage is consistent with the idea of the Bible as partially inspired. For one, the terms "pure and benign light" are enlightenment qualifers and perhaps indicate a deistic understanding of the Bible/the Christian religion.

As James Hutson commented on James Madison, in 1833, terming the Christian religion the "best & purest religion":

This...sounds very much like the deistical maxim, frequently indulged by Jefferson, that the "pure" religion of Jesus had been unconscionably corrupted by the apostle Paul and the early church fathers.

In preparing notes for the Memorial and Remonstrance, Madison discussed these two different approaches to the Bible/Christianity, the more "orthodox" approach that deemed the entire Bible inspired, and the "other" (more "deistic?", "unitarian?") approach that held "parts" of the Bible inspired:

5. What books canonical, what apocryphal?...

6. In what light are they to be viewed, as dictated every letter by inspiration, or the essential parts only ? Or the matter in general not the words?

In other words, contra the idea that you either accepted all of the Bible or none of it, there was a middle ground position in "Christendom" during the Founding, adhered to by many elite Whigs (many of whom unitarians) that believed "essential parts" only to be divinely inspired, or the Bible in a general sense, not each and every word, as inspired. Washington's utterances in the Circular are compatible with both the orthodox and the more deistic-unitarian understanding of scripture.

Washington's personal letters likewise give no definitive answer about his views of scripture. He oft-quoted the Bible along with classical and enlightenment sources, but did not disclose which sources he held the most authoritative. The following, to MARQUIS DE CHASTELLUX, April 25[-May 1], 1788, likewise illustrates the way GW approached these different ideological sources in his private letters:

While you have been making love, under the banner of Hymen, the great Personages in the North have been making war, under the inspiration, or rather under the infatuation of Mars. Now, for my part, I humbly conceive, you have had much the best and wisest of the bargain. For certainly it is more consonant to all the principles of reason and religion (natural and revealed) to replenish the earth with inhabitants, rather than to depopulate it by killing those already in existence, besides it is time for the age of Knight-Errantry and mad-heroism to be at an end.

That passage is instructive of Washington's personal and political philosophy, and quite amusing. It deals not only with sexual innuendo [making love, under the banner of Hymen], but also quotes Greco-Romanism [the infatuation of Mars], along with Enlightenment [the principles of reason and religion (natural)], and the Bible/Christianity [(and revealed)]. It also does not instruct which of these sources trumps the others.

Sober as a Judge?

George Will:

"Responding to early 19th-century rumors that they drank excessively, the Supreme Court justices decided to drink nothing on conference days -- unless it was raining.

At the next conference, Chief Justice John Marshall asked Joseph Story to scan the sky for signs of rain. When Story said he saw none, Marshall said: "Our jurisdiction extends over so large a territory that the doctrine of chances makes it certain that it must be raining somewhere -- let us refresh ourselves."

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

The George Washington/Ashbel Green Affair

Dr. Rush tells me that he had it from Asa Green that when the clergy addressed Genl. Washington on his departure from the govmt, it was observed in their consultation that he had never on any occasion said a word to the public which showed a belief in the Xn religion and they tho[ugh]t they should so pen their address as to force him at length to declare publicly whether he was a Christian or not. They did so. However he observed the old fox was too cunning for them. He answered every article of their address particularly except that, which he passed over without notice.


I know that Gouverneur Morris, who pretended to be in his secrets & believed himself to be so, has often told me that Genl. Washington believed no more of that system than he himself did.

That is what Thomas Jefferson wrote in his diary February 1, 1800, six weeks after GW's death. The "Asa Green" was Ashbel Green, Presbyterian minister, and eighth president of Princeton 1812-1822. Because this quote is oft-used by more skeptical scholars to debunk GW's "Christianity," (indeed I used it in an article) I am going to produce much of the additional scholarly record that surrounds said event (with minimal commentary).

First, Ashbel Green furiously denied Jefferson's analysis of the event, with vitriol. The incident did happen (we will see the letters as we read on) and I have no doubt that Jefferson honestly heard those things from Benjamin Rush and Gouverneur Morris. Whether their assessment (Jefferson's, Rush's, & Morris') is accurate remains debatable (on a personal note, I tend to think it is insofar as GW was not an orthodox Trinitarian Christian; I think he was a theist, who might have been a "Christian" in some broader non-orthodox Trinitarian sense; see also Forrest Church's summary of the controversy).

But let's see some of Rev. Green's reaction to Jefferson's note. You can read the whole long thing here; I am going to reproduce snippets.

In the " consultations of the clergy" on this occasion, it is our belief that not a single syllable was uttered importing that the President had "never on any occasion said a word to the publick which showed a belief in the Christian religion." Any such allegation, as we have shown above, would have been palpably false, if it had been made; and by the writer, as already intimated, it was known then, as well as now, that on leaving the command of the army, the General had used the language which we have quoted from his letter to the governors of the several states. We have, with a view to what we now write, conversed with the venerable Bishop White, whose name is the first on the list, and who was one of the committee, and he has assured us, that he has no trace of recollection that any thing was said in the two meetings of the clergy, relative to the neglect of the President to declare his belief on the subject of divine revelation: And the address shows, beyond controversy, that nothing was said "to force him at length to declare publickly, whether he was a Christian or not."


We do wish he had gone farther; we give it as our decided opinion, that every Christian man, whatever be his station or his circumstances, ought so frequently and explicitly to recognise his Christian faith and character, as not to leave to the enemies of his Saviour, any plausible opening for their false surmises and suggestions. But because we so think and speak, are we to be represented as saying, or insinuating, that every man, or any man, who thinks otherwise and above all, that President Washington, because he differed from us in this opinion, must be set down as an unbeliever in divine revelation? The absurdity and injustice of such a representation is too monstrous to need further exposure.


The Christian can neither resign it, nor modify it, from a regard to a political party or a patriotic favorite: and after the publication of these papers, the Christians of our land...will never hear the name of Jefferson, without such an association of it with his hatred of Christianity, as will sink him immeasurably in their estimation. In the close of a letter to Mr. Madison (vol. iv. p. 420) he says—"To myself you have been a pillar of support through life. Take care of me when dead." We verily think Mr. J. has left a hard and impracticable task to his friend. Not all the talents of Mr. Madison, great as we admit them to be; nor all the learning and eloquence of Unitarians, imposing as they certainly are; nor all the lauding and birth day celebrations of party politicians, however eminent in station, will be able to form "a pillar of support," which will durably sustain the reputation of the reviler of Christ and his cause -- "The memory of the just is blessed; but the name of the wicked shall rot."

But, there is eyewitness testimony that corroborates Jefferson's claim. Arthur Bradford was a contemporary of Ashbel Green:

"I knew Dr. Wilson personally, and have entertained him at my house, on which occasion he said in my hearing what my relative, the Rev. Dr. Ashbel Green of Philadelphia, frequently told me in his study, viz., that during the time that Congress sat in that city the clergy, suspecting from good evidence that Washington was not a believer in the Bible as a revelation from heaven, laid a plan to extort from him a confession, either pro or con, but that the plan failed. Dr. Green was chaplain to Congress during all the time of its sitting in Philadelphia; dined with the President on special invitation nearly every week; was well acquainted with him, and after he had been dead and gone many years, often said in my hearing, though very sorrowfully, of course, that while Washington was very deferential to religion and its ceremonies, like nearly all the founders of the Republic, he was not a Christian, but a Deist."


"It was during his [Dr. Green's] long residence in Philadelphia that I became intimately acquainted with him as a relative, student of theology at Princeton, and a member of the same Presbytery to which he belonged. Many an hour during my student and clergyman days did I spend with him in his study at No. 150 Pine street, Philadelphia, listening to his interesting and instructive conversation on Revolutionary times and incidents. I recollect well that during one of these interviews in his study I inquired of him what were the real opinions Washington entertained on the subject of religion. He promptly answered pretty nearly in the language which Jefferson says Dr. Rush used. He explained more at length the plan laid by the clergy of Philadelphia at the close of Washington's administration as President to get his views of religion for the sake of the good influence they supposed they would have in counteracting the Infidelity of Paine and the rest of the Revolutionary patriots, military and civil. But I well remember the smile on his face and the twinkle of his black eye when he said: 'The old fox was too cunning for Us.' He affirmed, in concluding his narrative, that from his long and intimate acquaintance with Washington he knew it to be the case that while he respectfully conformed to the religious customs of society by generally going to church on Sundays, he had no belief at all in the divine origin of the Bible, or the Jewish-Christian religion."

As this link indicates, apparently Bradford's words come from an 19th Century Chicago Tribune article on Washington's religion written by BF Underwood.

So, let's read the text of the letter that may have been an attempt of the "orthodox" to set a trap for GW and GW's response where he played the part of "cunning fox."

To George Washington, President of the United States.


On a day which becomes important in the annals of America, as marking the close of a splendid public life, devoted for near half a century to the service of your country, we the undersigned, clergy of different denominations in and near the city of Philadelphia, beg leave to join the voice of our fellow-citizens in expressing our deep sense of your public services in every department of trust and authority committed to you. But, in our special characters as ministers of the gospel of Christ, we are more immediately bound to acknowledge the countenance which you have universally given to his holy religion.

In your public character we have beheld the edifying example of a civil ruler always acknowledging the superintendence of Divine Providence in the affairs of men, and confirming that example by the powerful recommendation of religion and morality as the firmest basis of social happiness,—more particularly in the following language of your affectionate parting address to your fellow-citizens:—

"Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of patriotism who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness,—the firmest props of the duties of men and citizens. The mere politician, equally with the pious man, ought to respect and cherish them. A volume could not trace all their connections with private and public felicity. Let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion. Reason and experience forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principles."

Should the importance of these just and pious sentiments be duly appreciated and regarded, we confidently trust that the prayers you have offered for the prosperity of our common country will be answered. In these prayers we most fervently unite, and with equal fervor in those which the numerous public bodies that represent the citizens of these States are offering for their beloved chief. We most devoutly implore the Divine blessing to attend you in your retirement, to render it in all respects comfortable to you, to satisfy you with length of days, and finally to receive you into happiness and glory infinitely greater than this world can bestow.

-- Philadelphia, March 3, 1797.

And here is GW's response:

Gentlemen: Not to acknowledge with gratitude and sensibility the affectionate addresses and benevolent wishes of my fellow Citizens on my retiring from public life, would prove that I have been unworthy of the Confidence which they have been pleased to repose in me.

And, among those public testimonies of attachment and approbation, none can be more grateful than that of so respectable a body as yours.

Believing, as I do, that Religion and Morality are the essential pillars of Civil society, I view, with unspeakable pleasure, that harmony and brotherly love which characterizes the Clergy of different denominations, as well in this, as in other parts of the United States; exhibiting to the world a new and interesting spectacle, at once the pride of our Country and the surest basis of universal Harmony.

That your labours for the good of Mankind may be crowned with success; that your temporal enjoyments may be commensurate with your merits; and that the future reward of good and faithful Servants may be your's, I shall not cease to supplicate the Divine Author of life and felicity.

-- March 3, 1797.

Another Fearless (but Flawed) Christian Nation Zealot

Yes, the woman I LOVE to read and follow, the one and only Chris Rodda, has thoroughly debunked another fraud. This time it isn't David Barton but instead is a MEMBER OF CONGRESS!!! The very dim-witted Michelle Bachman of Minnesota declared to the entire country that America truly is a "Christian Nation." Now, on the surface this may seem harmless enough. After all, millions of Americans feel the same way, so what's the big deal? Well, listen to the clip and see for yourself. Can you catch the mistakes?

That's right, Bachman uses the infamous Washington "prayer journal" to prove her point. Yes, the same "prayer journal" that is a proven fraud to everyone but Bachman. Oh, and you also have to love her comment about the founders signing the Constitution and the Bill of Rights on the same day. Come on, Congresswoman! This is History, 101 stuff!

You can read Ms. Rodda's entire thrashing of Bachman by clicking here.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Borat Visits the Founding

The Fairness Doctrine, Conservative Doomsday Rhetoric, and the Founders

***The Following comes to us from Dan Atkinson, who has asked that I post this here on our blog. Being that we have not had a guest post in a while, I thought it might be time to include one***


The following is a Godtube clip with the standard "evil liberal secularist" theme that permeates that site. And while I don't appreciate such themes I think this video serves to make a good point:

Yes, the founders would truly be appalled by the horrific "fairness doctrine." How could any of them tolerate an infringement on the freedom of speech? Case in point: the Alien & Sedition Acts of 1798

One of the main goals of the Alien and Sedition Acts was to “provide punishment of any persons who unlawfully combine or conspire together, with intent to oppose any measure or measures of the government...” In a nutshell, the Sedition Acts made it illegal to say anything untruthful about the President or Congress. Federalist supporters felt that this act would serve to protect their political aims. After all, many Federalist supporters believed that government should be put in the hands of only the elite of society. A good example of this was Alexander Hamilton and his supporters. As Paul Newman states “Hamiltonian Federalists’ pessimistic view of human nature prevented them from believing that the mass of citizens possessed the innate virtue of self-governance.” Today’s society no doubt interprets Hamilton’s statements as ludicrous, but to Hamilton (and many others) they were perfectly legitimate. There existed no precedent to this style of government. In Hamilton’s mind, trusting the public on a local or state level was far too risky.

Republican supporters however, had a very different view on the Sedition Acts. Not only did they see the Sedition Acts as tyrannical, but they deemed the actions of President Adams as, “the most abominable and degrading [language] that could fall from the lips of the first magistrate of an independent people.” Republicans were quick to point out the First Amendment to the Constitution, claiming that the Sedition Acts were in direct violation of a person’s freedom of speech. Clearly the Republicans were not going to lie by the wayside and let the Federalists have their way.

To counteract the Sedition Acts, the dynamic duo of Thomas Jefferson and James Madison introduced the Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions. These resolutions were designed to block the Sedition Acts, stating that a state had the right to decide the legality of a federal act. For Jefferson, the Kentucky and Virginia Resolutions became, “the one significant act of his vice presidency.” Jefferson assured the Republican supporters that, “the reign of witches would pass and the people would restore their government to its true principles.” Jefferson and Madison quickly allied a large number of supporters to their cause and despite some disapproval of their Virginia and Kentucky Resolutions, were able to successfully wage war on the Sedition Acts. Instead of sheltering the Adams Administration from hostile criticism, the Sedition Acts actually caused a greater political divide between Federalist and Republican supporters. In many ways, the handling of the Sedition Acts became a massive public relations nightmare for the Federalists. As James Sharp points out, “The Federalists believed that the opposition press presented a serious threat to their continuance in power, and therefore, to the stability of the government and the Constitution.” This move to suppress the voice of the people and the press became the eventual dagger that severely weakened the Federalist argument for many Americans and sealed Adams' fate to lose his bid for reelection.

So what's the point of all this? Whether in the form of a fairness doctrine or the Alien & Sedition Acts, attempting to quiet the voice of the people never ends good.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Washington Orders Inoculations

One of the most stirring scenes in the hit HBO miniseries John Adams is the inoculation of Abigail and her children. Instead of today's modern inoculation methods (which still cause many to squirm and even pass out) colonial inoculation was much more barbaric. The process involved the cutting of the flesh accompanied by the direct introduction of the smallpox virus into the bleeding tissue. As can be imagined, many within the colonial community saw inoculation as an insane method of treatment. There were even debates amongst medical practitioners as to its effectiveness.

What most people don't know when it comes to inoculation during this time period is that General George Washington actually ordered the soldiers of the Continental Army to be inoculated. Washington was a strong supporter of inoculation, believing that the medical procedure would greatly reduce the chances of natural infection. Though the procedure had many skeptics, Washington firmly believed that the benefits of inoculation far outweighed the risks. In fact, Washington became so paranoid about the spread of smallpox during the early years of the war that he literally became obsessed with inoculating the troops. During the siege of Boston, Washington's concern about the spread of smallpox caused him to issue an order stating that no soldier could enter the city unless he had been infected with smallpox in the past.

Washington's experience with smallpox during his youth was probably the primary determining factor in shaping his opinion on inoculation. During a trip to the Caribbean with brother Lawrence, Washington was infected with smallpox. In fact, Washington carried a few pockmark scars on his face to remind him of this nearly fatal encounter. His experiences during the French & Indian War had also confirmed to Washington that inoculation was essential for any army. During the war, Washington witnessed several British raids that were unsuccessful, due to the depleted manpower of the British Army all brought on by the "bloody pox."

In his highly acclaimed Washington biography, His Excellency, historian Joseph Ellis makes the claim that Washington's decision to inoculate the Continental Army was one of his finest moments:

Washington understood the ravaging implications of a smallpox epidemic within the congested conditions of the encampment, and he regularly quarantined patients that were infected with the virus...And although many educated Americans opposed inoculation, believing that it actually spread the disease, Washington strongly supported it...When historians debate Washington's most consequential decisions as commander in chief, they are almost always arguing about specific battles. A compelling case can be made that his swift response to the smallpox epidemic and to a policy of inoculation was the most important strategic decision of his military career.
In today's modern world we enjoy the benefits of understanding the scientific advancements of modern medicine. As a result, the decision to be inoculated is a "no-brainer" of sorts because of our understanding of infectious diseases. For colonial Americans, however, this was very much a roll of the dice. Fortunately for the Continental Army, Washington was brave enough to take the gamble.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Book Review: A Midwife's Tale

***Since we have decided to broaden the scope of American Creation a bit to include other topics besides religion, I thought this might be an appropriate and interesting way to kick things off.***

A Midwife’s Tale: The Life of Martha Ballard, Based on Her Diary, 1785-1812. By Laurel Ulrich. (New York: Random House Inc., 1990. Pp. 352.)

Laurel Ulrich’s A Midwife’s Tale is essentially the personal history of a typical New England woman, living and adapting to the inevitable changes brought on by the creation of the American republic. And while this seemingly insignificant life story seems rather ordinary and irrelevant to the historical record, historian Laurel Ulrich effectively weaves in how the overall changes brought on by the American Revolution led to dramatic changes in the lives of the common person. In essence, Martha Ballard’s story becomes a case study of how ordinary Americans experienced and dealt with change. As a result, this in-depth look into the diary of Martha Ballard (along with several other supporting documents), lets us better understand the day-to-day responsibilities of women, mothers, daughters, midwife’s, families, and communities that all coexisted in the years immediately following America’s war for independence.

As a work of micro history, Martha Ballard’s diary cannot, by itself, disclose all of the social and cultural traditions her day. This diary can, however, serve to augment other sources of historical significance, allowing us to come to a better understanding of this unique historical era. Laurel Ulrich’s ability to weave the diary of Martha Ballard with other historical documents, gives the modern reader a better understanding of how and why Martha Ballard’s story is relevant and worth learning.

Laurel Ulrich’s application of the diary of Martha Ballard is used to address a wide variety of topics that were prevalent in the early American republic. First off, Ulrich recounts the role of a midwife in eighteenth century America by discussing the types of medicines used, the variety of ailments that were common, and the medical prowess of the practitioners. Above all, Ulrich makes it clear that to care for the health of others was the duty of all women during this time. “It would be a serious misunderstanding to see Martha Ballard as a singular character, an unusual woman who somehow transcended the domestic sphere to become an acknowledged specialist” (62). Instead, Ulrich insists that Martha Ballard was representative of the majority of women in the early American republic. Martha Ballard was a midwife, but also a wife and mother, which meant she had her “womanly” duties to attend to as well.

Ulrich also uses Martha Ballard’s diary to shed light on the economic practices of this period. Martha Ballard’s diary was not only an account of the daily events that took place, but was also a way to record debts owed and payments received (85). In addition, Martha Ballard’s entries help to demonstrate just how intricate the neighborhood trade economy was in eighteenth-century America. Ulrich mentions how Martha Ballard relied heavily on the labor of her children, neighbors, and hired hands. In fact, when the Ballard’s add improvements to their home, Ulrich explains that this was done because, “the house was every bit as much a workplace as the sawmill” (83).

One of the main issues addressed in A Midwife’s Tale deals with the sexual standards of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. As a midwife (and a mother), Martha Ballard regularly dealt with issues ranging from sexual promiscuity to rape. In fact, Ulrich devotes the majority of chapter three to the alleged rape of Rebecca Foster, and the convoluted court case that followed. Along with her involvement in “Mrs. Foster’s ravishment,” Martha Ballard was regularly involved in the births of children out of wedlock. Ulrich mentions that sexual activity outside of marriage not only carried a stiff social stigma, but also “accounted for more than a third of criminal actions” (148). Yet despite these social stigmas, Ulrich does not fail to illustrate just how "mainstream" sexual promiscuity was in eighteenth-century America. As a midwife, Martha Ballard encountered the fruits of this promiscuity first-hand, and was regularly used as a witness in court proceedings in her and other neighboring towns. Martha’s role in such cases was often to record the name of the father in her diary, essentially making it a legal record. Ulrich explains that it was common for midwife’s to ask for the name of the father during labor, believing that a woman would never lie “in the height of her travail” (149).

In terms of its historical value, Ulrich’s A Midwife’s Tale provides wonderful insight into what Martha Ballard might have called the mundane activities of everyday life. The combination of Martha Ballard’s diary with other historical sources can help us come to a better understanding of what life was like for a “common” wife, mother, and midwife. It also presents a personal description of the sexual practices, family relations, and economic issues that affected nearly every citizen during the early years of the American republic. As a work of micro history, Ulrich effectively demonstrates how seemingly irrelevant individual stories can and should be analyzed and compared with the larger, macro histories of a given era. With that said, it is still important for the reader to keep in mind that Martha Ballard's story, no matter how compelling and insightful, should not be accepted as a true representation of what all women thought and experienced during the late eighteenth century. After all, did Mrs. Ballard even care about or contemplate what it meant to be a woman in the eighteenth-century in the same way that author Laurel Ulrich does? Did Mrs. Ballard ponder the meaning of the revolution and its consequences as they related to her and her family? Maybe, maybe not. Either way the compelling factor of Ulrich's A Midwife's Tale is the fact that micro histories can and often do help shed light and perspective on a given historical topic. As a result, they are worth the time.

My overall grade of A Midwife's Tale: A-

Frazer Responds to King of Ireland Again

Once again, Gregg Frazer makes a very strong case from Sola Scriptura that rebellion against government is always wrong. This is King of Ireland's post to which he responds. And the following is what Dr. Frazer sent me through email:

There is far too much here for me to address everything, so I’ll have to respond to some of what I consider most important.

You ask from where I get the idea that people reject Christianity because of their sinful condition, but I told you where I get that idea: from the Bible. I quoted directly from John 3:18-19. If you don’t like my view, take it up with Jesus – He’s the one who said it; I merely quoted Him.

Of course, no one you encounter – whether here or on a foreign mission field – would recognize his/her own sin as that which causes him/her to reject Christianity, but that doesn’t change the reality. The issue is not what THEY think, but what God says.

As for your claim that you chose God, Romans 3:10-11 says that NO ONE does. Ephesians 2:1-9 is quite clear as to how someone is saved – and it’s God’s work, not ours. People will, of course, find that offensive – the Bible says they will.

If you think what I said about the two swords fulfilling prophecy is “nonsensical,” then, again, your beef is with Jesus. I merely repeated what He said in Luke 22:36-37.

As for the Judges 3 example, GOD may raise up a deliverer to accomplish His purposes – but the reason that the passage specifies that God raised him up and that the Spirit of the Lord was given to him is BECAUSE WITHOUT SPECIFIC REVELATION FROM GOD, what he did was wrong. It would be wrong for any person not specifically and specially “raised up by God.”

So, if you can point to revelation from God saying that He raised up George Washington and gave His Spirit to him, then I’ll agree that the American Revolution was a case in which it was right for someone to overthrow authority via rebellion.

The difference between the Declaration of Independence and Moses’ dealings with Pharaoh is found in one of your statements. You say that in both cases “people invoked the name of God to be relieved from the oppression of a tyrant” – but in Moses’ case he wasn’t simply “invoking” the name of God – HE HAD ACTUAL DIRECT REVELATION FROM GOD TELLING HIM TO DO WHAT HE DID. If I were to say: “in the name of the King of Ireland, I declare all rebellion to be unbiblical,” I’m invoking a name – but not legitimately! I have no instruction from you to do this – and you wouldn’t like it much, either. Neither does God like it when men make claims in His name that violate His clearly expressed Word.

God sometimes uses people to accomplish His ends, but often He does not. In the case of Moses, GOD sent the plagues which caused Pharaoh to let the people go – not Moses. Moses did not lead a revolutionary army. He spoke God’s words to Pharaoh and watched God work along with everyone else. Ultimately, he didn’t even disobey, but rather obeyed Pharaoh’s command to take the Israelites and leave (Exodus 12:31-32).

The fact that others (e.g. kings centuries ago) abused Scripture, misapplied it, and made false claims by interpreting it conveniently is not a valid reason for us to do the same today! According to your own testimony, you’re willing to reject what the Bible clearly teaches because some have used it to their own advantage. The fact that they’ve done so does not change what the Bible teaches!

You regularly use the term “legitimate authority,” but the Bible doesn’t use that term because ALL authority is legitimate. It would be like saying “canine dog.”

You want to know the difference between “disobedience” and “resistance.” To be in subjection/submission is to recognize the legitimacy of the authority over you – to recognize that they have rightful power over you to command you or make laws concerning you. To “disobey” is to refuse to comply with a particular law/command because it requires you to disobey God. To “resist” is to challenge the authority’s legitimacy, strike at it and attempt to deny and remove it.

Shadrach, Meschach, and Obednego “disobeyed,” but did not “resist.” They recognized the king’s authority and went into the fiery furnace – they didn’t fight back or organize a rebellion. Daniel disobeyed, but did not resist; he took the punishment and went into the lion’s den. To “resist” is to fight back – to deny the legitimacy of the authority.

When one disobeys a particular law but remains in subjection, one says that the law itself cannot be obeyed in contradiction to God’s command, but that the ruler (given authority by God) is not illegitimate and that his authority cannot be abrogated by making an unjust law.

You ask why, if disobedience is sometimes permitted, resistance is not also permitted. The answer is that God’s Word allows the one (under only one specific condition [Acts 5:29]), but explicitly disallows the other [Romans 13:2]. They are different things, so why should one necessitate the other?

As for the Jews under Hitler situation, I’ve addressed this numerous times, but I’ll try again:

Hitler had authority from God, as do all in authority. He sometimes used it for good (lowest crime rate in the world in 1930s) and often used it for great evil (massacring Jews and other well-known examples). ALL GOVERNMENTS DO THIS BECAUSE ALL ARE RUN BY FALLEN HUMAN BEINGS. The level of evil to which they rise varies, of course. The U.S. government today, for example, supports the murder of millions of unborn children and numerous other violations of God’s law. None of this makes the government illegitimate, removes its authority, or negates what Romans 13 clearly says.

[If governments that do evil are illegitmate, then there has never been a legitimate government in world history and Romans 13:1 is exactly the opposite of truth]

Believers living in Nazi Germany should do the same as believers living under any regime: submit to authority (without exception) and obey UNLESS/UNTIL the government asks you to disobey God. Then (and only then) you must disobey that particular law, but remain in subjection (as per Daniel, Shadrach et al, the apostles, etc.).

In the particular case: the government commands that you participate in murdering people – to remain obedient to God, you must disobey that command – but taking the next step to resistance and rebellion is not an option. You must remain in subjection (as per the believers to whom Paul was writing living under NERO!).

If you want to fight against the evil of Hitler, leave the country to get out from under his authority, become a U.S. citizen and return in war under the authority of the United States government.

Despite what you seem to suggest, war and revolution/rebellion are not synonymous! War is battle between two sovereign authorities. Revolution is attempted usurpation of authority by those UNDER an authority. You quote Ecclesiastes (and I, of course, agree with its truth 100%), but it does NOT say that there’s “a time for revolution.” You quote it accurately, but it is irrelevant to this discussion.

You ask how WE CAN KNOW when God is using a nation to judge another. The answer is that we can ONLY know WHEN HE TELLS US: I.E. THROUGH REVELATION (the Bible)! That’s where Peter went wrong at Jesus’ arrest – he THOUGHT he was defending the innocent against an evil aggressor, BUT HE DIDN’T UNDERSTAND GOD’S PLAN (and neither do we) – so HE FOUND HIMSELF FIGHTING AGAINST GOD’S PLAN and was rebuked. He didn’t get any “style points” for thinking he was doing the right thing, either.

You ask why not err on the side of what you perceive to be right. The answer is that we NEED NOT ERR AT ALL. All God asks of us is to obey His revealed Word. So, don’t resist authority and God handles the rest. God just wants us to be obedient to His commands – not to devise some clever plan of our own which violates His clear instruction.

I’m sure it seemed “nonsensical” to Gideon to go up against 135,000 Amalekites with just 300 men carrying pitchers and torches. But he just obeyed God and God took care of the sense of it (Judges 7-8).

I am not offended by your remarks – I’ve had worse said about me for standing up for what God’s Word says. If it is arrogant to present what the Word of God teaches as the truth – to take it seriously as it reads – then I’m guilty. But remember that I’m the one quoting Scripture just as it reads (Rom. 3; Rom. 13; John 3; Exodus 12, etc.). It’s always interesting to me that those of us who simply repeat what GOD says – word for word – are accused of arrogance; but those who devise their OWN system to work around it are, somehow, not arrogant.

I’m also not shocked that many people find what God says to be nonsensical – God said they would (I Corinthians 1:18-27, among other places).

Thursday, May 21, 2009

‘Freemasonry and the Quest for Liberty’

If you will pardon this unabashed publicity for an upcoming event in New York City, it does involve the Founding, and promises to discuss political liberty as a “spiritual value.”

At the Chancellor Robert R. Livingston Masonic Library
at the Grand Lodge of New York:

Freemasonry and the Quest for Liberty:
An Evening with James Wasserman.

Friday, May 29 at 6 p.m.

Join us for a lecture, discussion, and book-signing with James Wasserman, the bestselling author of “The Secrets of Masonic Washington: A Guidebook to Signs, Symbols, and Ceremonies at the Origin of America's Capital.”

He will share his thoughts on the crucial role Freemasonry played in the development of political liberty worldwide, and especially in the founding of the American republic. He will explore the idea that political liberty is a spiritual value, tracing its history from biblical times.

“The Secrets of Masonic Washington” provides an exquisitely illustrated tour of the spiritual, esoteric, religious, and mythic symbols of our nation's capital. From the magnificent monument erected to Freemason and first President George Washington, to the classic pantheon built to honor Enlightenment philosopher and Declaration of Independence author Thomas Jefferson, Washington, D.C. is a hymnal in stone.

This book is an archaeological expedition to a “lost city” whose mystical treasures and traditions are hidden in plain sight, a city designed and built as the beating heart of a spiritual entity that transcends all religions, whose very streets invoke the invisible energies that drive the evolution of human consciousness, a city inspired by a civic priesthood we know today as Freemasonry.

The $20 cost of the book includes a donation to the Masonic Library.

Thomas M. Savini, Director
Chancellor Robert R. Livingston Masonic Library of the Grand Lodge of New York
71 West 23rd St., 14th floor
New York, NY 10010

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

King of Ireland, Frazer, Fatalism & Romans 13

King of Ireland alerted me to his response to Gregg Frazer on Romans 13. It invokes a number of reductios to try to rebut Frazer's notion that the Bible categorically forbids revolt period.

The main reductio that I've seen from not just the King, but many others is "what about Hitler and Stalin"? But fundamentalist/Sola-Scriptura Christianity is supposed to be immune from such reductios. That is, the question is NOT, "oh how horrible it would be if Christians had to submit to Nazi and Communist tyranny" but rather, "what does the Bible actually teach on the subject?"

And Frazer, following John MacArthur makes a convincing case that the Bible actually and literally teaches revolt against government is always wrong, period. Here is what MacArthur wrote about Christians' biblical duty to submit to even communist tyranny:

A Testimony from the Soviet Union

I will never forget a conversation I had with Georgi Vins. He is a Christian who lived for many years in the Soviet Union. He met with our staff one day and we asked him what it was like to live under tyranny and repression in a communist country. He told us that Christians can’t pursue an education or a career. They have no say in the government and no freedoms to speak of. This question was then posed to him: How do you respond to that kind of government? He said, “We obey every law in our nation, whether it appears to us to be just or unjust, except when we are told that we cannot worship God or obey the Scripture. But if we are persecuted, put into prison, or killed, it will be a result of our faith in Jesus Christ, not because we violated some law in our nation.”

In Romans 13:1-7, Paul is saying the same thing Peter did: We have a serious responsibility to live out our justification by faith. Our self- sacrifice to the Lord (Rom. 12:1-2) should make us model citizens of our nation. We should not be known as protesters–as those who criticize and demean people in authority. We should speak against sin, injustice, evil, and immorality fearlessly and without hesitation. But we should give honor to those who are in authority over us. That is the biblical pattern for every age, every nation, and every Christian–it has nothing to do with America alone.

A response might be this is fatalistic -- well yes it is fatalistic. So is the fundamentalist teaching on Hell. But again, we are in the realm of "reductios" to which fundamentalism is supposed to be immune. If the Bible teaches the vast majority of human beings -- including many of your loved ones and folks from history you admire -- are eternally damned, that's what it teaches period. Or, if the Bible teaches submit to all governments, including tyrants, that's what it teaches, period. One thing I admire about Drs. Frazer and MacArthur is their willingness to stick to their guns and follow their Sola-Scriptura premises all the way through, even when it leaves a bad taste in folks' mouths.

Though I would note, it's possible to have differing interpretations on Romans 13; Frazer's and MacArthur's, from my perspective, are closest to the "literal" interpretation of the Bible's text. Most theology that has argued for the right to revolt against tyrants "found" that right with a natural law supplement or somewhat "looser" or metaphorical interpretation of the Bible's text.

This (natural law discovered from reason, and loose/metaphorical interpretation of the Bible's text), and NOT Sola-Scriptura fundamentalism was, without question the political-theology that America's Founders and the patriotic ministers used to justify rebellion against tyrants. It was not "the Bible alone" that told men they have a right to rebel against tyrants because the Bible teaches no such thing. Figures like the unitarian Jonathan Mayhew had to look elsewhere to first find the right and then go back and attempt reconcile the Bible's text with the right to revolt against tyrants.

If only the evangelicals and fundamentalists who comprise Christian Nationalist forces understood this.

My Biggest Problem with David Barton

Okay, I've been admonished not to make my blogs a David Barton bash-a-thon. Rather focus more on positive aspects of what America's Founders believed in, including their serious religious arguments, not keep knocking down extremist strawmen. But that's the problem with Barton -- whatever the merit in the research he's done over the years -- he gives aid and comfort to ignorant goofballs.

I write this after running across one Pastor Paul Blair, Fairview Baptist Church who heads Reclaiming Oklahoma for Christ. You can look at the political context in which David Barton operates. It's a bunch of fundamentalist Christians who gay and Muslim bash and are paranoid about Hate Crimes laws that protect sexual orientation leading to the criminalization of Christianity!

From their website:

An estimated 1200 people gathered on Friday night with over 800 returning Saturday for this year’s event.

David Barton, Founder of Wallbuilders, shared from his vast collection of original documents regarding the irrefutable Christian faith of our Founding Fathers. Mr. Barton also shared results from recent elections and challenged Christians to make their voices heard at the ballot box this November.

And then this from the website's mission statement:

From Enoch to Noah; Moses to Samuel; Elijah to Nathan, Isaiah to Daniel; John the Baptist to Paul; from Jonathon Edwards to George Whitefield; John Peter Gabriel Muhlenberg to John Witherspoon; from Charles Finney to Dwight Moody to Billy Sunday – prophets and preachers of God have preached faithfully the Gospel of Jesus Christ and stood firmly for righteousness on this earth, to the common man and also to the king.

Fundamental, evangelical preachers nearly all agree that God established three great institutions on earth – the family, human government and the church. We know and preach that the family must be built on the Rock of Jesus Christ. We know and preach that the Church must be built on the Rock of Jesus Christ. So too, government was designed by God to be subject to and built on the Rock of Jesus Christ.

This Nation was founded upon those principles. Read carefully the words of the Declaration of Independence:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men…”

I came across this group from (where else?) Worldnetdaily. Here is a taste from their article:

According to President John Adams, colonial pastors were the single group most responsible for America's independence.

"They were the best educated of citizens, understood the precious value of liberty from tyranny and taught their congregations a true biblical worldview," he said.
You got that? This group believes, with Barton's help, that the Founding Fathers were a bunch of fundamentalist Christians and America's political theology was fundamentalist Christianity.

The only problem is that it isn't true. This group has no understanding of the ACTUAL political-theological-historical dynamic of the American Founding. And I think it's because actual history doesn't fit their present day political desires, where prooftexting the Bible into law is as American as Apple Pie.

They don't recognize that the most notable patriotic preachers like Jonathan Mayhew, Charles Chauncy, and Samuel West were theological unitarians and universalists and imbibed in natural law and enlightenment rationalism. Indeed they were EXPLICIT theological enemies of "the Great Awakening."

They don't recognize that J. Adams, Jefferson and Franklin were explicit theological unitarians and that men like Washington, Madison and others left no evidence of Trinitarianism or belief in the Bible as the infallible Word of God.

They don't recognize that the Laws of Nature and Nature's God is NOT shorthand for the Bible, but a natural theology discovered by reason, that perhaps fits within the classical and Christian natural law traditions (ala Aristotle-Aquinas-Hooker) or perhaps is something more modern (because the authors of the DOI, Jefferson, J. Adams, and Franklin, were men of the Enlightenment; Blackstone did NOT write the DOI; he was an English Tory who opposed the American Revolution).

They also fail to recognize the natural law thought in John Witherspoon. That when he taught politics, he didn't teach Princeton students the Bible or Calvinism but natural law and the rationalism of the Scottish Enlightenment (he termed it "moral philosophy"). Again, things discovered by reason, not what is revealed in the Bible.

Barton's involvement with these groups, in my opinion, taints his research and makes it hard for him to be taken seriously as a professional historian.

Founding Trekkes

The latest Star Trek flick took in $75 million at almost four thousand theaters nationwide on its opening weekend—not the biggest ticket bonanza in history, but close. What accounts for the persistent popularity of a sci-fi saga that began as a TV series over forty years ago, in 1966? Maybe the fact that Star Trek is a story about America--our dreams and values as a people.

It’s little known, but our Founding Fathers were fascinated with extraterrestrials. Deep space had just been discovered in the eighteenth century. Observations of the transit of Venus in 1761 confirmed the distance from Earth to Sun as 93 million miles, expanding the known universe by orders of magnitude. Philosophers like Immanuel Kant were speculating that the smudges of light astronomers were glimpsing through their telescopes might actually be “island universes” or separate galaxies, each containing billions of stars, many with planetary systems like our own.

John Adams mused, “Astronomers tell us with good reason, that not only all the planets and satellites in our solar system, but all the unnumbered worlds that revolve around the fixed stars are inhabited, as well as this globe of earth.” What rational Creator would have made such a lot of worlds, only to leave them devoid of intelligent life? Educated thinkers in the Age of Reason supposed that even the Moon and Sun might be inhabited. Pointing out that God left no part of the Earth unoccupied, Tom Paine asked, “why is it to be supposed that the immensity of space is a naked void, lying in eternal waste? There is room for millions of worlds as large or larger than ours, and each of them millions of miles apart from each other.”

Belief in a reasonable deity made our forbears theologically deviant. The Founders didn’t accept all the miracles of the Bible, for instance. Yet they had a quasi-religious faith in engineering and technology. Ben Franklin and Thomas Jefferson are renowned for their inventive flair. But George Washington, Adams, and James Madison would have been equally at home in our world of cell phones and rampant gadgetry. Tom Paine, when not discoursing on the Rights of Man, was busy tinkering with smokeless candles, iron bridges and planing machines. Warp drive? Just one more step for our nation’s inquiring, innovative spirit.

As with the crew of the Enterprise (whose very name is All American), our Founders were committed to religious and ethnic pluralism. Catholics, Protestants and Jews, immigrants from shtetls and barrios, could learn to co-exist, just like Vulcans, Klingons, and Romulans. And the “prime directive” for the United Federation of Planets sounds a lot like our own U.S. First Amendment. “As the right of each sentient species to live in accordance with its normal cultural evolution is considered sacred, no Starfleet personnel may interfere with the normal and healthy development of alien life and culture.” In other words, don’t interfere with other people’s holy traditions, whether they’re Amish or Betazoid. No proselytizing allowed.

Imagine: a self-governing association of peoples who thrive on diversity, use logic to solve their collective problems, and harness science for peaceful ends rather than for purposes of conquest or colonizing weaker races. Is it any wonder that Star Trek, even after eleven major motion pictures, still draws the crowds?

Throw in a computer that can materialize cappucinnos and it’s the American Dream!

Monday, May 18, 2009

A Brief Time-Out in the Culture Wars

Gordon Wood is winning this blog's "Best Historian of Early America" poll---and if you already haven't, you can vote on the right sidebar over there >>>>>

According to a writer from the conservative Claremont Institute, Dr. Wood is "the favorite historian of America's liberal establishment." Well, that would actually be Howard Zinn. Be that as it may, Gordon Wood has one advantage---his scholarship is generally thought of as scrupulous and honest.

Wood offers a needed historian's perspective and point of order in our current culture wars and their attending venom, on a panel discussing Michael and Jana Novak's book Washington's God: Religion, Liberty, and the Father of Our Country. [Click here to access the Google Books preview. I do not necessarily endorse the book's conclusions.]

Gordon Wood:

“The important point to make about the late 18th century, and I think Michael's correct about this, the society was very religious, much more religious than we are today. Religion really permeated American life at the end of the 18th century...In that sense we're talking about a very different world. Most ordinary people were more than just deistic or like Washington---they believed in Christianity, and believed in Christ with emotional fervor that I think Washington does not have...

I agree with Michael that it's been the last 100 years of the 20th century, in fact, the last half of the 20th century that our society has become much more secular and as a consequence we've tended to interpret the 18th century in a more secular way. But I think that's just a mistake. That was a very religious world. In fact, ordinary people were far more religious than the leaders. Washington is, among the founders, I think, probably as religious as any of them. Jefferson and Madison were, I think, truly Enlightenment figures in the sense that they had a Voltaire view of organized religion. As far as they were concerned, organized religion was a mess. But they were politicians as well and could not say too much about their views on religion.”

—Gordon Wood, NPR: On Point, February 20, 2006

And that's what we're really doing on this here blog, trying to recapture the truth about the religio-political landscape of the Founding from revision one way or the other, from Christian nationists, and from the secular nationists as well.

In another forum, Michael Novak adds:

"Please understand. We agree that the reason for the unparalleled strength of religion in America is “the separation of church and state,” as every Catholic priest and other clergymen he met, without exception, told Alexis de Tocqueville. Further, the American version of separation is quite different from the French version, which is poisonously anti-religious. (The French Jacobins, for example, placed a prostitute upon the altar of the cathedral of Notre Dame of Paris, as a symbol – of all things — for the goddess Reason.)

Jana and I do not think the American form of separation – it is accommodation, really — ought to be abridged, for it springs from Christian roots, and has a firm biblical basis. It is undergirded by this text among others: “Give to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” No doubt about it, it took Christians, Catholics especially, too long to see this; but it is undeniably part of their inheritance, which is constantly being plumbed for fresh resources.

Further, Jana and I favor the combination of arguments from faith and reason with both working together (like two wings) in the defense of human liberty. We tend to admire Christian stoics as well as just plain stoics, and skeptical, questioning Christians as well as just plain skeptics. After all, God sends his sun to shine and his rain to fall on all alike.

In actual human beings, we find, there is more overlap, more inter-penetration, of intellectual traditions than conventional wisdom usually portrays. In fact, we note, nearly all Americans draw intellectual nourishment from roots sunk down in traditions of reason and of faith alike. We do. And so – we believe – do women and men of the Enlightenment, such as Ms. Allen and Professor Ellis [Novak critics---TVD]. In this country, persons of the Enlightenment owe much to particular biblical conceptions and traditions; and Jews and Christians owe much inspiration to the Enlightenment."
And that's what it's really all about, in between the shouting, a whisper spoken when all the thunder dies away. The culture wars may now resume; we return to our regular program.

"America The Beautiful" on "America's Mountain"

O beautiful, for spacious skies,
For amber waves of grain,
For purple mountain majesties
Above the fruited plain!

O beautiful, for pilgrim feet
Whose stern, impassioned stress
A thoroughfare for freedom beat
Across the wilderness!

O beautiful, for heroes proved
In liberating strife,
Who more than self their country loved
And mercy more than life!

O beautiful, for patriot dream
That sees beyond the years,
Thine alabaster cities gleam
Undimmed by human tears!

America! America! God shed His grace on thee,
And crown thy good with brotherhood, from sea to shining sea!
These eloquent and patriotic words to the now infamous song, America The Beautiful have captivated the heart and soul of an entire nation for more than a century. Written in 1893 by English professor Katharine Lee Bates, the song has actually been considered on a couple of occasions to be a replacement to our current national anthem, The Star-Spangled Banner (an idea that I personally support). But do you know the origins of this timeless American anthem?

As mentioned before, Katharine Lee Bates was an English professor at Wellesley College in Massachusetts. In 1893, Bates accepted an offer to teach a summer semester at Colorado College in Colorado Springs, Co. During her trip, Bates was deeply impressed by the vastness of the American landscape. Upon her arrival to Colorado Springs, Bates could not help but notice the majestic mountain off to the west, known to everyone as "America's Mountain," or Pikes Peak as we know it today.

Impressed by the massive snow-capped mountain, Bates decided to take a train ride to the summit of Pikes Peak in June of 1893. While taking in the breathtaking scenery at 14,110 feet, the words to her legendary poem started to fill her head. The "purple mountain majesties above the fruited plain" were enough to cause Bates to publish her poem filled with American providential symbolism, which was quickly incorporated with the music of Samuel A. Ward to give us America The Beautiful.

In addition to being the inspiration behind America The Beautiful, Pikes Peak has enjoyed a rich tradition of American history that virtually dates back to our nation's beginning. With this in mind, here is some additional history of America's Mountain...Pikes Peak:

pre-1800s: Before the land was discovered by American explorers, Pike's Peak was one of the holiest sites for Ute Indians who lived on and around the peak. In fact, one of the "right of passage" for male Utes was to climb the peak alone and pray for guidance.

1803: The Pikes Peak area is obtained by the United States as part of President Thomas Jefferson's Louisiana Purchase. Colorado was on the fringe of the Louisiana Purchase, so very few Americans knew the topography of the land.

1806: President Jefferson dispatches Lt. Zebulon Montgomery Pike to determine the southwestern borers of the Louisiana Purchase. In the course of his trek, Pike decides to climb the peak on November 24th, but is unable to reach the summit due to the harsh Colorado winter climate. Pike gives the mountain its first "official" name as Grand Peak.

Zebulon Pike was the son of Army Officer Zebulon Pike, Sr., who served under George Washington during the American Revolution. After exploring the Pikes Peak region, Lt. Pike enjoyed a few more years of successfully exploring the western regions of the infant United States. Pike also served with distinction in the Battle of Tippecanoe and eventually served as a quartermaster in New Orleans during the War of 1812. As a result of his honorable service, Pike was promoted to the rank of Brigadier General in 1813, and was assigned to lead several outposts along the shores of Lake Ontario. Sadly, Pike was killed by falling rocks and debris during a confrontation with the British.

1820: Dr. Edwin James, a historian and naturalist (give it up for the historians!!!) becomes the first recorded person to reach the summit of Pikes Peak. He decides to rename the mountain James Peak for obvious reasons.

1840: The official name of Pikes Peak is adopted by Major John Charles Fremont in honor of Lt. Zebulon Pike.

1858: Julia Archibald Holmes becomes the first woman to climb Pikes Peak.

1860: Construction of the Ute Pass wagon road begins. The current road up Pikes Peak still follows most of this original wagon road.

1886-1888: The construction of the carriage road/train is built.

1893: Katharine Lee Bates writes, America The Beautiful, most of which she composed while on the summit.

1916: The first ever Pikes Peak Hill Climb is held. This is the second oldest automobile race in the United States, behind the Indianapolis 500.

What I find so interesting about the history of Pikes Peak is that it literally ties the history of the eastern United States -- where almost all of our nation's heritage and founding took place -- with its western future. The idea of "going west" to become your own man, where true independence and fortune awaited, was often captured in the minds of enthusiastic Americans with the image of Pike's Peak. America's Mountain as it is appropriately named symbolically joins the nation together as one. The east's rich history of American enlightenment and founding is able to link up with the west's rugged beauty and future thanks in part to this majestic 14,000 foot peak. No wonder Katharine Bates concluded her epic song with the words, "From sea to shining sea."

Being that I have the privilege to live in Colorado Springs (yes, my part of America is more beautiful than yours), I thought it might be appropriate to share a few pics from my family's visit to America's Mountain, Pikes Peak:

During the Colorado gold rush of the 1800s, travelers heading west used to regularly adorn the sides of their wagons with, "Pikes Peak or Bust." Cripple Creek, which is located close to Pikes Peak, was the location of Colorado's second largest gold mine, so naturally travelers and prospectors from the east would scan the horizon looking for their first glimpse of Pikes Peak.
At the base of America's Mountain, which is about 8,000 feet. Only 6,000 more to go!

On our way up the mountain we noticed that we were indeed, "Above the fruited plains."

Half way up the mountain, and the road is beginning to look like the old wagon rout of the 1800s (though a little better maintained)!!!

Yep, we are officially above timber line.

Looks like a highway to heaven!

And now we are walking in the clouds...literally!

We made it! 14,000 feet never felt so good...or so hard on the lungs!

A view of Colorado Springs and the frontier to the Great Plains from more than two miles high.

Here is my family (out of breath and all) at 14,110 feet.

Oh yeah, be careful while coming DOWN the mountain!

Yes, I know that this blog is about religion and the founding, but I think this post, in a roundabout way, meets that criteria. After all, Pike's Peak has been associated with American Providentialism ever since its discovery. The very words to America the Beautiful are evidence of this. Besides, it's good to feel ultra-patriotic every once in a while, which is exactly what Pike's Peak does for me. And though this blog can get a little cynical from time to time, it's important to point out that we live in one helluvanawesome nation!

For your enjoyment here is the most popular rendition of America The Beautiful by none other than Ray Charles:

And yes, my part of America really is more beautiful than yours!!! =)