Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Jefferson Welcomes the Swedenborgs to the Table of American Political Theology

I've previously written about George Washington's acceptance of the Swedenborgians. Below, we see Jefferson's.

Why America's Founders, especially the first four Presidents, supported "religion" in general/"Christianity" in particular is much misunderstood. It wasn't because they necessarily personally believed in the doctrinal contents of the specific religions to which they were friendly. It certainly wasn't because "they" (as a collective) were orthodox Christians who believed Christ's Atonement the only way to God. Rather, it was because they supported the sects' teachings on Providence, morality and consequently the civic utility said sects engendered.

The Founders seemingly played the doctrinal differences -- including differences on the Trinity and related orthodox doctrines -- of the different sects against one another to cancel one another out and bring civic peace (see Madison in Federalists 10 and 51 on factions and multiplicity of sects).

As my co-blogger Tom Van Dyke noted, they followed Voltaire's dictum:

If there were only one religion in England, there would be danger of tyranny; if there were two, they would cut each other's throats; but there are thirty, and they live happily together in peace.


That might explain why Jefferson invited John Hargrove (1750-1839) to deliver numerous sermons that PROSELYTIZED for Swedenborgianism to members of Congress. It wasn't because Jefferson believed in the exotic Christology -- that was neither unitarian nor trinitarian -- of the Swedenborgs. Rather, Jefferson wanted to send the message that the Swedenborgs were invited to the ecumenical party of American Founding political-theology, and one's orthodox views on the Trinity simply would not be a criterion -- part of a private, informal religious test, when Art. VI. Cl. 3 of the US Constitution bans formal religious tests.

With that, here Rev. Hargrove preaches Swedenborgianism to both houses of Congress and the President.

A taste:

This will appear irresistibly evident from the whole tenor of the sacred scriptures, particularly the 50th psalm (which indeed seems a literal extract from the 16th chapter of the first book of Chronicles)—but then, it should be known, that in the Deity, whom we call Jehovah-God, there exists a divine Trinity; not of persons however, but of essential principles, which principles, when rightly apprehended, we have no objection to call Father, Son, and Holy Ghost; or, to speak more intelligibly, the Divine Love, the Divine Wisdom, and the Divine proceeding Power, which trinity also, corresponds unto that, in every individual man, to wit, his will, his understanding, and their proceeding affections and perceptions; hence therefore, it is written that “God created man in his own image and in his own likeness.” [Bold mine.]

24 comments:

Tom Van Dyke said...

Absolutely. It was doctrine and sectarianism they feared. Better a Swedenborgian than a direct competitor.


"The National Fast, recommended by me turned me out of office. It was connected with the general assembly of the Presbyterian Church, which I had no concern in. That assembly has allarmed and alienated Quakers, Anabaptists, Mennonists, Moravians, Swedenborgians, Methodists, Catholicks, protestant Episcopalians, Arians, Socinians, Armenians, & & &, Atheists and Deists might be added. A general Suspicon prevailed that the Presbyterian Church was ambitious and aimed at an Establishment of a National Church. I was represented as a Presbyterian and at the head of this political and ecclesiastical Project. The secret whisper ran through them “Let us have Jefferson, Madison, Burr, any body, whether they be Philosophers, Deists, or even Atheists, rather than a Presbyterian President.” This principle is at the bottom of the unpopularity of national Fasts and Thanksgivings. Nothing is more dreaded than the National Government meddling with Religion.

John Adams to Benjamin Rush, June 12, 1812. Old Family Letters, 392-93; taken from Hutson’s The Founders on Religion, 101-02.

Joe Winpisinger said...

Jon stated:

" Rather, Jefferson wanted to send the message that the Swedenborgs were invited to the ecumenical party of American Founding political-theology, and one's orthodox views on the Trinity simply would not be a criterion -- part of a private, informal religious test, when Art. VI. Cl. 3 of the US Constitution bans formal religious tests."

The "Big Tent" left these differences aside for sure.

Ray Soller said...

IMAGINE - May 6, 2010:
The notion that President Obama seemingly played upon the doctrinal differences among members of the Congressional Prayer Caucus might explain why the president invited Michael Newdow, the outspoken Minister of the First Amendment Church of True Science, to deliver a sermon that PROSELYTIZED for Atheism to attendees at the National Day of Prayer ceremony. It wasn't because Obama believed in the exotic non-theism -- that was neither unitarian nor trinitarian -- of the FACTS Church. Rather, Obama wanted to send the message that the agnostics and the atheists were invited to the ecumenical handouts of the Faith Based Initiative, and one's unorthodox views on theistic religion simply would not be a criterion -- part of a private, informal religious test, when Art. VI. Cl. 3 of the US Constitution bans formal religious tests.

bpabbott said...

May 6th? ... I think that may happen a bit earlier ... say April 1st?

;-)

p.s. Ray, I'd guess you knew that was coming :-)

Jonathan Rowe said...

Ray,

That's a good idea. I'd support Rev. Newdow giving sermons with a variety of other faiths at a public Presidential ceremony.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Is non-faith a faith? Or is it simply an anti-faith? Can it make its case without mentioning God, or His non-existence?

In other words, it's pluralistic for different religions to each give their visions of God, but surely it would be rude and improper to discourse on how competing visions other than one's own are wrong.

If atheism can discourse without negative mention of God [or any mention atall, necessarily], then I suppose it's not rude.

Otherwise, it's just disturbing the peace.

I suppose we could gather together to pray to nothing, but that rather seems a waste of time.

bpabbott said...

Re: "If atheism can discourse without negative mention of God [or any mention atall, necessarily], then I suppose it's not rude."

I suppose it is fair to qualify the expression of a difference of opinion as rude. But how is it that the burden lies exclusively with atheists?

Personally, I have no problem with the government encouraging its citizens to participate in the religious activities that they find most appealing to their life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness ... but I don't think it proper for the government to pick sides regarding he spiritual opinions of its citizens. I think our government was intended to support and protect the religious liberty of all its citizens.

Explicit Atheist said...

Tom Van Dyke said...

"In other words, it's pluralistic for different religions to each give their visions of God, but surely it would be rude and improper to discourse on how competing visions other than one's own are wrong.

If atheism can discourse without negative mention of God [or any mention atall, necessarily], then I suppose it's not rude. Otherwise, it's just disturbing the peace. I suppose we could gather together to pray to nothing, but that rather seems a waste of time."

No, its the other way around, the only rudeness here is the exclusion of some points of views. There is no good reason, in a government context, for any perspective regarding what is true or false with regard to faiths, including the appropriateness of having any such faith at all, to have a monopoly on access to the microphone and the public exposure.

The entire context of limiting participation to only those who prayer to a god is inappropriate. That is where all of the rudeness is located here.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Nice to see you, Mr. Atheist.

My point is that pluralism permits multiple voices, however not those that tell the other fellow his beliefs are wrong. That's disturbing the peace.

We must make a distinction between atheism and anti-theism, the latter being inherently negative. An atheist could give a proper invocation, like: Live every day like it's your last; live with character and virtue; be kind to your fellow man; share as much as you can because we're all brothers in humanity. the same sort of universal sentiments that theists try to politely share, although they add God in there somewheres.

But atheism [in contradistinction to anti-theism] is simply silent on God. That's cool.

America had experience from the first accommodating the conscientious objectors, namely the Quakers, and many good faith efforts were made on their behalf on all sorts of matters. But accommodation did not require the silencing or neutralizing of the prevailing ethos.
_____________

I suppose it is fair to qualify the expression of a difference of opinion as rude. But how is it that the burden lies exclusively with atheists?

I believe I covered that, Ben, with

surely it would be rude and improper to discourse on how competing visions other than one's own are wrong.

Surely, a fundie telling Jews in the gathering they're going to hell unless they accept Jesus as their personal Lord and Savior would be rude. The principle doesn't just apply to atheists.

bpabbott said...

Tom, you are correct. You did cover that, and I over looked it. I apologize.

My focus was on the suggestion that it is rude for atheists to assert God's non-existence, but not rude for theists to assert God's existence.

Of course, that is what I inferred, and is not the the same as what you intended.

So for clarity, examples of rude behavior would be; an atheist saying "only fools belief in God", or a theist saying "only fools don't believe in God".

... and that a theist saying "I believe" is ok, as would be an atheist saying "I don't".

Tom Van Dyke said...

Certainly "fools" is quarrelsome, no matter who says it. But I'm not sure I put affirmations and negations as equal, Ben, for the reasons given. It seems to me an agreeable atheist can be silent on God, and leave it at that. We can't put everything into law, and any free society depends on everybody making an effort to get along.

"I know that in my heart, that man is good, that what is right will always eventually triumph and there is purpose and worth to each and every life."

...might be an acceptable atheist affirmation, though it might make the hardcore Calvinist chafe because it conflicts with his view of human depravity. But then one can remind him it's Ronald Reagan's epitaph.

Strangely enough, I ran across one from the Stoic Marcus Aurelius that parallels the atheist invocation I suggested before:

"Always observe how ephemeral and worthless human things are. Pass then through this little space of time conformably to nature, and end thy journey in content, just as an olive falls off when it is ripe, blessing nature who produced it, and thanking the tree on which it grew."

Which is kind of a drag, but Calvin probably would have enjoyed the low view of man.

bpabbott said...

Tom, thank you for the honesty.

I'm of the opinion that an individual asserting atheism is no different than another asserting theism.

I agree that a free society depends on everybody making an effort to get along. But doesn't that imply respecting each individuals liberty to hold any opinion he/she wishes?

Tom Van Dyke said...

Yeah, but you don't piss in the punchbowl, even if you have the "right." That's my point, put more graphically albeit less elegantly.

bpabbott said...
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jimmiraybob said...

TVD - Yeah, but you don't piss in the punchbowl, even if you have the "right." That's my point, put more graphically albeit less elegantly.

So, your opinion of an atheist actually exerting their right to free expression is equivalent to pissing in the punchbowl? The shut up and get along theory of constitutionally protected rights? Am I reading that right?

Tom Van Dyke said...

I don't think there is a constitutionally protected "right" as you see it to drive God from the public square. And I don't think you'll find a lick of support for such boorishness in the Founding. Floor's yours.

jimmiraybob said...

KOI - I don't think there is a constitutionally protected "right" as you see it to drive God from the public square.

Is that directed at me? When did I assert this? I merely asked if you were asserting whether an atheist should not exercise their right to public discourse?

Tom Van Dyke said...

I'm unaware that right's being abridged. Are you referring to anything specific?

When you speak of someone "exerting their right," do you not agree that all rights need not be "exerted," that good will and good sense, not to mention a bit of civility, is necessary for a free and functioning society?

The Founding ethos was unquestionably a belief in Providence, not as an abstraction, but as a reality, that God had blessed America and actively helped her. I think some people these days don't get that.

And where in the Constitution does it demand we abandon that ethos because some people in the 21st century don't like it?

jimmiraybob said...

I was trying to get at what you meant by: "Yeah, but you don't piss in the punchbowl, even if you have the 'right.' That's my point, put more graphically albeit less elegantly."

I was trying to get at if you were saying that an atheist may have a right to speak their mind, even vociferously, but they shouldn't in order to make things civil. I was asking if I was reading this right.

If it's "good will and good sense, not to mention a bit of civility," that "is necessary for a free and functioning society" then there goes talk radio and political discourse in general. This just seems so contrary to the larger ethos of the founding regarding rights of conscience, freedom of religion and open expression, and outright open rebellion that I thought I was reading it wrong. That's why I was asking for clarification.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Well, I think your vision of liberty here is still one of radical individualism, where society owes the individual, but it appears, never vice-versa. This wasn't the Founding vision, or at least some like Barry Shain argue that way.

But you've completely elided or missed my point above, about atheism vs. anti-theism, about the qualitative difference between affirmation and negation, and about unnecessary confrontation.

bpabbott said...

Tom, I think you quickly loose credibility by suggesting that liberty is not about the individual.

I must confess, I'm bewildered by your implication that confronting unsubstantiated assertions should be avoided because it is rude to those who embrace those claims.

Please note, I don't speak of an evangelical sort of atheism. I don's suggest that atheists go door to door and interrupt individuals in their private lives.

But I find it troubling that you imply (I infer?) that atheists should restrain themselves when theists actively invade the their private lives for the purpose of promoting a theological view.

jimmiraybob said...

But you've completely elided or missed my point above, about atheism vs. anti-theism,…

Maybe. I'm still trying to pin it down. I believe that you're saying that a quite atheist is a good atheist but an atheist that advocates his/her position - especially by attacked their opponent's position (s) - is a disturbance to the peace and civil order. I think that you also said that a quite Christian is a good Christian but a prothletising Christian is a disturbance to the peace....sort of:

Surely, a fundie telling Jews in the gathering they're going to hell unless they accept Jesus as their personal Lord and Savior would be rude. The principle doesn't just apply to atheists.

Then the Christian that tells the atheist that “they're going to hell unless they accept Jesus as their personal Lord and Savior” is being rude and creating a public disturbance? Isn’t this the corollary theism vs. anti-atheism argument?

As we all know there are voluminous historical and current Christian writings demonizing atheists and/or wrong belief. And I agree, it is rude and offensive and a blight on civil order.

jimmiraybob said...

Damned fingers. I assume that I meant "quiet."

Tom Van Dyke said...

I took you to mean "quiet," JRB. It's the difference between the sympathetic reader and the hostile one.

I meself have no time for hostile ones. They do not seek truth, they only want to win. Ankle-biters. Sophists. [Lawyers.]

Then the Christian that tells the atheist that “they're going to hell unless they accept Jesus as their personal Lord and Savior” is being rude and creating a public disturbance? Isn’t this the corollary theism vs. anti-atheism argument?

Yup.

"Exerting" rights is constitutionally protected, of course.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Supreme_Court_cases_involving_Jehovah%27s_Witnesses_by_country

There's a constitutional right to assholiness. There is a constitutional right to piss in the punchbowl. That was never our point here. It's not about our rights, it's about our duties to this fragile republic, to the punchbowl, JRB. Thx for the dialogue.