Friday, March 19, 2010

Frazer On Rodda, Barton, & the Aitken Bible

Dr. Gregg Frazer sent me the following note, in response:

I haven’t taken the time to look at everything in this discussion – certainly not Ms. Rodda’s presentation (I’ve seen one of her videos) about the Aitken Bible – but I do have a couple of comments about it (the Aitken Bible).

As you know, I believe that the Left is just as wrong about the founders as is Barton; so if she’s claiming that they did not pass any resolutions favoring religion, she’s dead wrong and his photocopy of the resolution regarding that Bible is proof. They were not atheists or even rank secularists and they thought the promotion of religion (not necessarily Christianity) important to promote morality. If you want me to make this observation on the site to reassure Tom [Van Dyke] and others that I’m not (and never have been) arguing that there was no interest in or influence of religion, I will.

Re the Aitken Bible issue itself, I have a few observations:

1) the congressional resolution does not say anything about recommending them for schools, specifically (as Barton claims that it does on pg. 106 of The Myth of Separation and, I believe, in his videos). It supports the work in “the interest of religion, as well as the progress of arts” – but not, specifically, for schools.

2) the Congress did not authorize money to finance or purchase the Bibles, contrary to what I believe Barton has said on TV and (I think) on one of his videos. Again, on pg. 106 of The Myth, he says that Congress “approved his request” – but that’s not entirely true. He requested permission and funding – they granted permission, but not funding. This is a minor point, but it illustrates Barton taking some truth and magnifying it/expanding it to make it sound better for his position.

3) As Derek Davis points out in Religion and the Continental Congress 1774-1789, there may be another explanation for Congress’s action here than a desire to support the publishing of Bibles here in America: “Robert Aitken was the congressional printer who printed the Journals of Congress and, according to [Edwin] Rumball-Petre, undertook the publication of an American edition of the Bible at some financial risk [the financial risk is mentioned both in the committee’s report and the chaplain’s report]. When peace was proclaimed shortly after he published an unknown number of copies of his editions, the importation of cheaper Bibles was again made possible, and congressmen were among the first to realize that Aitken’s investment would be a loss.” Davis goes on the explain that the endorsement by Congress no doubt helped him “dispose of his published copies.”

4) The name of the committee may be an indication that Davis’s take is correct. They were called “a Committee of Congress on Mr. Aitken’s Memorial.” It appears that Mr. Aitken was the focus of their desired intent – not the Bible.

5) Finally, I would point out that the resolution highlights “the interest of religion” – but not the interest of Christianity.


Kristo Miettinen said...

Barton deserves better than this.

Frazer claims, incorrectly, that "the congressional resolution does not say anything about recommending them for schools, specifically (as Barton claims that it does on pg. 106 of The Myth of Separation...)".

What Barton actually claims on page 106 is that *Aitken* recommended them for schools. Technically, the best-known recommendation wasn't from Aitken's own pen, but from Alston, Ewing, and Marshalle (clergymen all) in the petition of 1777 (not Aitken's petition, but a predecessor), but if Barton got it wrong, Frazer got it wronger.

Frazer claims, incompletely, that congress granted permission, but not funding. They did more than that, as Barton stresses. They granted an *endorsement* to be used as Aitken saw fit. In the same paragraph Frazer claims, incorrectly (as best I can tell) that Aitken sought permission *and funding*, presumably in the same petition (the one Barton was referring to). I can find no support for Frazer's claim that Aitken's petition requested funds.

Aitken may well have been involved in the eventual effort to get congress to buy copies of his Bible for distribution to returning soldiers (an idea credited to Rodgers and supposedly endorsed by GW), but that was later, after his Bible had already proven to be a commercial flop and he had inventory-disposal problems.

Aitken did indeed request more in his petition than he got, but what he sought was something like KJV-style status for his Bible as an authorized version. His words were that he wanted his Bible to "be published under the Authority of Congress," and that he "be commissioned or otherwise appointed & Authorized to print and vend Editions of the Sacred Scriptures" (h/t Wikipedia).

What he got was a congressional committee researching the textual accuracy of his version (itself a remarkable concept - just think about that happening today) with the assistance of the congressional chaplains, and in the end finding his version accurate and recommending it for use.

Also, a final nit: that the committee was called "a Committee of Congress on Mr. Aitken’s Memorial" doesn't mean that they were a committee appointed to help out Aitken, it means they were a committee appointed to address Aitken's petition - his memo, if you will, or his "memorial". From my dictionary (Funk & Wagnall): "memorial ... 3. (Law) A memorandum filed for record."

Gregg Frazer said...

1) On page 106, in the sentence immediately following his quoting of the endorsement, Barton says: "Congress, composed of America's premier group of statesmen and patriots, was neither ashamed of nor reticent about placing their whole-hearted endorsement on the use of the Bible FOR SCHOOLS ...." [my emphasis]

Is that not Barton (incorrectly) claiming that they recommended it for schools? If so, then I was not incorrect in my claim.

2) I did not deny that Congress recommended the Bible. I denied that they recommended it "for schools, SPECIFICALLY" and again "but not, SPECIFICALLY for schools." [my emphasis] They, in fact, did not recommend it specifically "for schools," as Barton claims.

3) My claim was "incomplete" because I wasn't disputing the fact that it was endorsed -- so there was no reason to mention it.

4) While Kristo cannot find any support for my claim that Aitken requested funding, I can. It is on page 146 of Derek Davis's Religion and the Continental Congress 1774-1789. There Davis says of Aitken: "he petitioned Congress for an endorsement of his project AND FOR FINANCIAL SUPPORT." [my emphasis] Perhaps Mr. Davis is wrong, but I was citing a reliable, published source -- not just throwing bombs. It may be that Mr. Davis considered Aitken's request to be "commissioned" as a request for funding -- I don't know.

If Aitken did not, in fact, request funding, then I stand corrected.

5) I said regarding the name of the committee that it "MAY be an indication" that they were trying to help Aitken. Kristo offers a different interpretation -- and apparently has more confidence in his interpretation than I do in mine -- but I think my interpretation is just as reasonable/logical absent some evidence for the choice of the name.

Finally, let me reiterate that it IS significant that the Congress promoted religion in this way and that I have never argued that they did not promote religion -- quite the contrary. Again, the point of my thesis is to demonstrate that BOTH the Right AND THE LEFT are wrong about religion in the founding era. They certainly promoted religion (though not specifically Christianity) and considered it indispensable to a republic.