Sunday, May 16, 2010

William Livingston on New Jersey View on Religion & Government

In the 1947 Everson case, the Supreme Court essentially nationalized Madison and Jefferson's "Virginia Plan" on disestablishment. Subsequent scholarship has aptly noted, while the Founders generally agreed on religious liberty, they disagreed on establishment policy. Therefore, religion (especially establishment policy) was left to the states. Virginia was the most "disestablished" state. Massachusetts was the most "established" state. Most of the other states were somewhere in between. They tend to be ignored or at least less focused on.

Jefferson and Madison, of course, formulated the policy that prevailed in Virginia. John Adams to an extent, represents the Massachusetts' view. Adams helped write Mass.'s original constitution which contains its view on religion and government.

William Livingston, originally from New York, wrote on church-state issues, as a New Yorker, in the Independent Reflector magazine. Later, as governor of New Jersey, Livingston wrote, under the pseudonym "Cato," two addresses on church-state policy that referenced provisions New Jersey's state constitution. The addresses were published in 1788 in the American Museum magazine.

Here is the relevant provision of NJ's Constitution:

XVIII. That no person shall ever, within this Colony, be deprived of the inestimable privilege of worshipping Almighty God in a manner, agreeable to the dictates of his own conscience; nor, under any presence whatever, be compelled to attend any place of worship, contrary to his own faith and judgment; nor shall any person, within this Colony, ever be obliged to pay tithes, taxes, or any other rates, for the purpose of building or repairing any other church or churches, place or places of worship, or for the maintenance of any minister or ministry, contrary to what he believes to be right, or has deliberately or voluntarily engaged himself to perform.

XIX. That there shall be no establishment of any one religious sect in this Province, in preference to another; and that no Protestant inhabitant of this Colony shall be denied the enjoyment of any civil right, merely on account of his religious principles; but that all persons, professing a belief in the faith of any Protestant sect. who shall demean themselves peaceably under the government, as hereby established, shall be capable of being elected into any office of profit or trust, or being a member of either branch of the Legislature, and shall fully and freely enjoy every privilege and immunity, enjoyed by others their fellow subjects.


It's not as established as Mass., nor as disestablished (or religiously equal) as Virginia. Yet the rhetoric that Livingston uses to defend New Jersey's model is arguably more anti-clerical, anti-establishment, pro-religious liberty than Jefferson's and Madison's Virginia's documents.

Also notable is Livingston's Lockeanism. Although Jefferson and Madison's documents likewise build from a Lockean there is far more explication of Lockean theory in Livingston's two Cato addresses.

I've already uploaded the two "Cato" documents but it seems I am going to have to write out some of its passages before I get more folks to reflect on the ideas.

I just found on googlebooks, the February 18, 1778 address by Livingston, which I can copy, paste and reproduce.

"If, in our estimate of things, we ought to be regulated by their importance, doubtless every encroachment upon religion, of all things the most important, ought to be considered as the greatest imposition; and the unmolested exercise of it, a proportionable blessing.

By religion, I mean an inward habitual reverence for, and devotedness to the Deity, with such external homage, either public or private, as the worshipper believes most acceptable to him. According to this definition, it is impossible for human laws to regulate religion without destroying it; for they cannot compel inward religious reverence, that being altogether mental and of a spiritual nature; nor can they enforce outward religious homage, because all such homage is either a man's own choice, and then it is not compelled, or it is repugnant to it, and then it cannot be religious.

The laws of England, indeed, do not peremptorily inhibit a man from worshipping God, according to the dictates of his own conscience, nor positively constrain him to violate it, by conforming to the religion of the state: But they punish him for doing the former, or what amounts to the same thing, for omitting the latter, and consequently punish him for his religion. For what are the civil disqualifications and the privation of certain privileges he thereby incurs, but so many punishments? And what else is the punishment for not embracing the religion of others, but a punishment for practising one's own? With how little propriety a nation can boast of its freedom under such restraints on religious liberty, requires no great sagacity to determine. They affect, tis true, to abhor the imputation of intolerance, and applaud themselves for their pretended toleration and lenity. As contra-distinguished, indeed, from actual prohibition, a permission may doubtless be called a toleration; for as a man is permitted to enjoy his religion under whatever penalties or forfeitures, he is certainly tolerated to enjoy it. But as far as he pays for such enjoyment, by suffering those penalties and forfeitures, he as certainly does not enjoy it freely. On the contrary, he is persecuted in the proportion that bis privilege is so regulated and qualified. I call it persecution, because it is harassing mankind for their principles; and I deny that such punishments derive any sanction from law, because the consciences of men are not the object of human legislation. And to trace this stupendous insult on the dignity of reason to any other source than the one from which I deduced it in the preceding essay, I mean the abominable combination of King-Craft and Priest-Craft, (in everlasting indissoluble league to extirpate liberty, and erect on its ruins boundless and universal despotism,) would I believe puzzle the most assiduous enquirer. For what business, in the name of common sense, has the magistrate (distinctly and singly appointed for our political and temporal happiness) with our religion, which is to secure our happiness spiritual and eternal? And indeed among all the absurdities chargeable upon human nature, it never yet entered into the thoughts of any one to confer such authority upon another. The institution of civil society I have pointed out as originating from the unbridled rapaciousness of individuals, and as a necessary curb to prevent that violence and other inconveniences to which men in a state of nature were exposed. But whoever fancied it a violence offered to himself, that another should enjoy his own opinion? Or who, in a state of nature, ever deemed it an inconvenience that every man should choose his own religion? Did the free denizens of the world, before the monstrous birth of Priest-Craft, aiding by and aided by the secular arm, ever worry one another for not practising ridiculous rites, or for disbelieving things incredible? Did men in their aboriginal condition ever suffer persecution for conscience sake? The most frantic enthusiast will not pretend it. Why then should the members of society be supposed, on their entering into it, to have bad in contemplation the reforming an abuse which never existed? Or why are they pretended to have invested the magistrate with authority to sway and direct their religious sentiment? In reality, such delegation of power, had it ever been made, would be a mere nullity, and the compact by which it was ceded, altogether nugatory, the rights of conscience being immutably personal and absolutely inalienable, nor can the slate or community as such have any concern in the matter. For in what manner doth it affect society, which is evidently and solely instituted to prevent personal assault, the violation of property and the defamation of character; and hath not (these remaining inviolate) any interest in the actions of men—how doth it, I say, affect society what principles we entertain in our own minds, or in what outward form, we think it best to pay our adoration to God? But to set the absurdity of the magistrate's authority to interfere in matters of religion, in the strongest light, I would fain know what religion it is that he has authority to establish? Has he a right to establish only the true religion, or is any religion true because he does not establish it? If the former, his trouble is as vain as it is arrogant, because the true religion being not of this world, wants not the princes of this world to support it, but has in fact either languished or been adulterated wherever they meddled with it. If the supreme magistrate, as such, has authority to establish any religion he thinks to be true, and the religion so established is therefore right and ought to be embraced, it follows, since all supreme magistrates have the same authority, that all established religions are equally right, and ought to be embraced. The emperor of China, therefore, having, as supreme magistrate in his empire, the same right to establish the precepts of Confucius, and the Sultan in his, the imposture of Mahomet, as hath the king of Great Britain the doctrine of Christ in his dominion, it results from these principles, that the religions of Confucius and Mahomet are equally true with the doctrine of our blessed Saviour and his Apostles, and equally obligatory upon the respective subjects of China and Turkey, as Christianity is on those within the British realm; a position which, 1 presume, the most zealous advocate for ecclesiastical domination would think it blasphemy to avow.

The English ecclesiastical government, therefore, is, and all the religious establishments of the world, are manifest violations of the right of private judgment in matters of religion. They are impudent outrages on common sense, in arrogating a power of controlling the devotional operations of the mind and external acts of divine homage not cognizable by any human tribunal, and for which we are accountable only to the Great Searcher of hearts, whose prerogative it is to judge them.

In contrast with this spiritual tyranny, how beautiful appears our catholic constitution in disclaiming all jurisdiction ever the souls of men, and securing, by a law never to be repealed, the voluntary, unchecked moral suasion of every individual, 'and his own self directed intercourse with the father of spirits, either by devout retirement or public worship of his own election. How amiable the plan of entrenching, with the sanction of an ordinance, immutable and irrevocable, the sacred rights of conscience, and renouncing all discrimination between men on account of their sentiments about the various modes of church government, or the different articles of their faith."


That's all the 1822 googlebooks reproduces. It is most, but not all, of Livingston's 1778 address. (For more, again, see here.)

34 comments:

Tom Van Dyke said...

New Jersey only guaranteed rights for Protestants. And "religious principles" clearly refers to Protestant sectarianism. Not exactly Virginia.

XIX. That there shall be no establishment of any one religious sect in this Province, in preference to another; and that no Protestant inhabitant of this Colony shall be denied the enjoyment of any civil right, merely on account of his religious principles; but that all persons, professing a belief in the faith of any Protestant sect. who shall demean themselves peaceably under the government, as hereby established, shall be capable of being elected into any office of profit or trust, or being a member of either branch of the Legislature, and shall fully and freely enjoy every privilege and immunity, enjoyed by others their fellow subjects.

Jonathan Rowe said...

Read the rhetoric of Livingston's address.

Tom Van Dyke said...

I did, Jon. He's arguing against the establishment of one church. Indeed, his earlier years at the Reflector were filled with opposition to the Church of England sending bishops from England [even though he was Presbyterian].

I've been reading your posts quite carefully, Jon. What we see in the NJ laws [and not just Livingston's own druthers] is still an establishment---for practical purposes---of Protestantism. I would think Livingston was probably personally opposed, but lost that battle. Livingston's rhetoric is just that and only that---rhetoric.

Jonathan Rowe said...

Well I'm glad someone is carefully reading these primary sources.

And, still, as the governor of a state during the time of the "Founding" period, and a singer of the US Constitution, his rhetoric cannot be dismissed as merely opinion. Every word that George Washington wrote in a private letter is looked to as Founding Era Scripture.

Livingston may not have been Washington (who is, to make a biblical analogy Moses). But Livingston's words will still be looked to as part of the "book" of scripture in the "Canon" of the Founding Fathers. The question is one of interpretation. Are all Founders created equal? Do the words of the "key" Founders get more weight than those of the 2nd and 3rd tier FFs?

Are the words of the lesser prophets in the Bible equal to Moses'?

Tom Van Dyke said...

Do the words of the "key" Founders get more weight than those of the 2nd and 3rd tier FFs?

No, not especially. You present Livingston's personal opinions as the "New Jersey View," according to the title of your post, but the New Jersey View is what they wrote into law, which is a religious test for Protestantism.

This is exactly what's wrong with the "key" Founders hermeneutic, which ignores how many battles Madison lost in the Founding and Framing, and why Jefferson had to keep most of his unorthodoxies private.

Mark David Hall was precisely correct when he noted that Jefferson and Madison are quoted 54% of the time in "secularist" Supreme Court opinions. They have little else to draw from.

Livingston is just another example of this flawed hermeneutic, since the New Jersey View was very restrictive toward favoring Protestantism, as proved by your own evidence.

In sum total, the combined 2nd and 3rd tier Founders who wrote and approved the New Jersey law or framed and ratified the Constitution count more than the personal opinions of any individual Framer.

Jonathan Rowe said...

Well I actually described it as Livingston ON the New Jersey view, which is what it is.

Tom Van Dyke said...

It depends how you write the story. Your lede and focus could have been "New Jersey Legally Protected Protestantism" and put in religious tests!

Livingston was virulently against established churches---sectarianism, if you will---but what's particularly controversial or out of place with the general sentiments of the Founders here? Uber-Calvinist Samuel Adams, in his Rights of the Colonists of 1772, invoked Locke as "proving" Christianity itself demanded the liberty of individual conscience.

Did Livingston speak out against this legal protection for Protestants only? That at least would be noteworthy.

Jonathan Rowe said...

Did Livingston speak out against this legal protection for Protestants only?

He did say, among other things:

"For what business, in the name of common sense, has the magistrate (distinctly and singly appointed for our political and temporal happiness) with our religion, which is to secure our happiness spiritual and eternal?"

"But whoever fancied it a violence offered to himself, that another should enjoy his own opinion? Or who, in a state of nature, ever deemed it an inconvenience that every man should choose his own religion? Did the free denizens of the world, before the monstrous birth of Priest-Craft, aiding by and aided by the secular arm, ever worry one another for not practising ridiculous rites, or for disbelieving things incredible? Did men in their aboriginal condition ever suffer persecution for conscience sake?"

"In reality, such delegation of power, had it ever been made, would be a mere nullity, and the compact by which it was ceded, altogether nugatory, the rights of conscience being immutably personal and absolutely inalienable, nor can the slate or community as such have any concern in the matter. For in what manner doth it affect society, which is evidently and solely instituted to prevent personal assault, the violation of property and the defamation of character; and hath not (these remaining inviolate) any interest in the actions of men—how doth it, I say, affect society what principles we entertain in our own minds, or in what outward form, we think it best to pay our adoration to God? But to set the absurdity of the magistrate's authority to interfere in matters of religion, in the strongest light, I would fain know what religion it is that he has authority to establish?"

Can't you see that suggesting that Protestantism is "established" in any sense over any other religions violates everything above quoted. According to Livingston, that idea is a "mere nullity" because government doesn't have any right to begin with to concern itself with such a matter.

I think the reason why Protestantism is singled out is, rather (again, going back to Locke) the concern that Roman Catholics were so likely to violate such natural rights of conscience that they had to be excluded from getting any power in the state.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Absolutely. Livingston's antipapism extended to the Church of England, which he saw [and probably accurately] as Roman Catholicism with just a change in management. The faces changed, the ecclesial oppression didn't.

But again, "establishment" and freedom of religious conscience are what he's speaking of here.

And in a related argument, something I've been meaning to bring out, that the American mind separated the question of salvation [the next world] from the theological questions of this world. [A wise choice.]

I can see an indirect opposition to New Jersey's legal favoritism toward Protestantism here, but it's not explicit. And I can see a Christian Nationist taking this very same evidence and presenting it as "proof" that Protestant Christianity was the baseline for America, or at least New Jersey, 180 degrees away from the "secularist" position.

Jonathan Rowe said...

I'm not sure if it's 180 degrees from the secularist position. When I debated Herb Titus he aptly noted Isaac Backus and John Leland as evangelical/fundamentalist allies of Jefferson and Madison in VA and the idea of separation of church and state as a "Christian principle."

Stephen Waldman makes a similar point.

Tom Van Dyke said...

But what is the point, Jon? Non-establishment of any particular brand of Protestantism as the "official" state church, was pretty popular in most states, and even Sam Adams was totally behind freedom of conscience as early as 1772. That's what Livingston's talking about.

Still, New Jersey gave a primacy to Protestantism that we'd find unthinkable today, but one that perhaps would not have troubled many or most Baptists of that era. New Jersey's constitution argues for the Christian nation thesis that privileges [Protestant] Christianity above all the other faiths, a position I myself don't insist upon, although in fairness, see it as not a totally bogus argument. The historical proof is right here.

[cont'd]

Tom Van Dyke said...

OK, so now we're off Livingston and New Jersey, and into the Baptists, who as #3 in the American Protestant scene behind the Anglicans and Calvinists, had good practical reasons to fear any establishments, since they lacked a majority anywhere.

Yes, they allied with the "secularists," if we can count Jefferson and more problematically, Madison, but it was really vice-versa. According to Hutson, it was the Baptists who carried the day for the Virginia Statute, not Madison's more secular/Enlightenment Memorial and Remonstrance.

http://americancreation.blogspot.com/2008/09/scholarly-malpractice-and-founding.html

Not that a more rigorous "separation of church and state" didn't appeal to the Baptists theologically. But who wrote the famous letter to Jefferson upon his election that received his even more famous reply?

Well, that would be the Danbury [Connecticut] Baptists, eh?

What did they fear? Being #3, of course, in a state [Connecticut] that had an "established" church, since even the First Amendment left religion to the states, by the Danburys' own admission.

Our sentiments are uniformly on the side of religious

liberty--that religion is at all times and places a matter

between God and individuals--that no man ought to suffer in name,

person, or effects on account of his religious opinions...

religion is considered as the first object of legislation; and

therefore what religious privileges we enjoy (as a minor part of

the state) we enjoy as favors granted, and not as inalienable

rights; and these favors we receive at the expense of such

degrading acknowledgements as are inconsistent with the rights of

freemen. ...[I]f those who seek

after power and gain under the pretense of government and

religion should reproach their fellow men--should reproach their

order magistrate, as a enemy of religion, law, and good order,

because he will not, dare not, assume the prerogatives of Jehovah

and make laws to govern the kingdom of Christ.



Sir, we are sensible that the president of the United States is

not the national legislator, and also sensible that the national

government cannot destroy the laws of each state; but our hopes

are strong that the sentiments of our beloved president, which

have had such genial effect already, like the radiant beams of

the sun, will shine and prevail through all these states and all

the world, till hierarchy and tyranny be destroyed from the

earth.


Well, I think "the radiant beams of the sun" was overdoing it a little, eh? Jefferson was no Barack Obama.

But to return to your core point, Jon, the Danburys explicitly acknowledge here that religion was left to the states; no president could overturn that, nor the Congress of "the national government."

[cont'd]

Tom Van Dyke said...

Oy. OK, to sum up, on a tangential but interesting [close reading] piece of textual analysis:

Jefferson's reply to the Danburys dodged this part:


"And may the Lord preserve you safe from every evil and bring you at last to his heavenly kingdom through Jesus Christ our Glorious Mediator."


Heh. Jefferson must have been rolling his eyes on the "Kingdom of Christ" and "Glorious Mediator" parts even more than "the radiant beams of the sun."

Obviously, the Danburys weren't quite onto Jefferson's own unorthodoxies, which also suggests that Jefferson at least partially succeeded in keeping his being "a sect onto myself" hidden from the American public. Priestley might have heard the scuttlebutt in his elite circles, but by 1802, the date of this exchange, the Danburys apparently hadn't or else they'd have tried another tack.

The close reading thing, O me brother. This stuff shouts clues to the open ear. When you first cracked open Livingston and New Jersey, I expected Virginia, although I did originally note that Livingston's early days at The Reflector had fewer allies than enemies. Clearly, Livingston did the political thing and let the preference and religious test for Protestantism slide. Otherwise, he'd have had no political career atall. If he was indeed "enlightened" and "secular," he hid it in the same way Jefferson and [perhaps] Madison did.

And for damned good reason. The Danburys never got a clue, even by 1802, or they never would have written Jefferson with that "Jesus Christ" stuff.

Jonathan Rowe said...

Well if you look at the chess match moves in the "Christian Nation" debate, the ANTI-Christian Nation side notes this dynamic doesn't prove a "Christian Nation," certainly not a "Judeo-Christian" nation, but a "Protestant Christian Nation" where Jews and Catholics are put in the same box as infidels, Muslims and pagans. (In short, making the "Christian Nationalists" defend something that's a hard sell.)

The problem is compounded when we have men like Jefferson and John Adams presenting their creed that rejected original sin, Trinity, Incarnation, Atonement, eternal damnation, infallibility of the Bible as a form of liberal Protestant Christianity. At least that they could claim it as a form of Protestantism gave them an excuse to push themselves inside the tent where Jews, Roman Catholics, Muslims and others were not allowed. They also attended the Anglican and Congregational Churches for that inside the tent social respectability.

Ray Soller said...

Jon,

You can add to "the same box as infidels, Muslims and pagans," all others being atheos.

The New World Encyclopedia explains that this "same box" mentality goes back a long way, "theism was the fundamental belief that supported the divine right of the State in both Greece and Rome. As such, any person who did not believe in the deities supported by the State was fair game to accusations of atheism, a capital crime. For political reasons, Socrates in Athens (399 B.C.E.) was accused of being atheos (or "refusing to acknowledge the gods recognized by the state"). Early Christians in Rome were also considered subversive to the state religion and were thereby prosecuted as atheists. As such, it can be seen that charges of atheism (referring to the subversion of religion) were often used as a political mechanism by which to eliminate dissent."

Daniel said...

There were practical, political reasons for limiting toleration to Protestant Christians. Appropos of Brads recent post of Montesquieu, Catholics owed allegiance to a foreign power, Anglicans had sworn allegiance to the English King. Muslims were associated with despotic government. There was a legitimate fear that ascendance of another religion could mean the end of descendance of republicanism. In later years, people made the same arguments against the toleration of communism. (Holmes. "The Constitution is not a suicide pact.")

Pinky said...

.
This item: XIX. That there shall be no establishment of any one religious sect in this Province, in preference to another; and that no Protestant inhabitant of this Colony shall be denied the enjoyment of any civil right, merely on account of his religious principles; but that all persons, professing a belief in the faith of any Protestant sect. who shall demean themselves peaceably under the government, as hereby established, shall be capable of being elected into any office of profit or trust, or being a member of either branch of the Legislature, and shall fully and freely enjoy every privilege and immunity, enjoyed by others their fellow subjects.
.
Is just a wee bit confusing. Is Livingston saying that any "Protestant" is to be treated equal to every other person as long as they demean themselves peaceably? Or is he saying that "Protestants" are to receive superior treatment?
.
Plus, I wonder what Livingston means by the word, Protestant, as he is using it. He does use, "any Protestant sect", in this item.
.

Pinky said...

.
Does he appear to be protecting all Protestant sects from all other Protestant sect?
.
If so, that raises a question about what the various sects had been doing to each other under rules painted with a broader brush.
.

Tom Van Dyke said...

"theism was the fundamental belief that supported the divine right of the State in both Greece and Rome. As such, any person who did not believe in the deities supported by the State was fair game to accusations of atheism, a capital crime. For political reasons, Socrates in Athens (399 B.C.E.) was accused of being atheos (or "refusing to acknowledge the gods recognized by the state"). Early Christians in Rome were also considered subversive to the state religion and were thereby prosecuted as atheists. As such, it can be seen that charges of atheism (referring to the subversion of religion) were often used as a political mechanism by which to eliminate dissent."

That's a very interesting line of inquiry, Ray, although not perhaps where you want it to lead. Or maybe you might.

Classical political philosophy, at least as expressed in real life by the Athenian democracy or the Roman republic/empire, was much more a melding of not merely "church and state," but state and religion, with no exceptions for individual conscience.

By contrast we offer Samuel Adams, quite the Calvinist, writing in 1772,

And it is now generally agreed among Christians that this spirit of toleration, in the fullest extent consistent with the being of civil society, is the chief characteristical mark of the Church. Insomuch that Mr. Locke has asserted and proved, beyond the possibility of contradiction on any solid ground, that such toleration ought to be extended to all whose doctrines are not subversive of society.

And the new American republic even devised the principle of "conscientious objection" to accommodate the Quakers, who found a middle way between full participation in the republic---between respecting the "Gods of the City," and subverting them.

And they still participated in the society, helping to lead the charge against slavery.

If you read your Plato carefully, Socrates, under classical philosophy, never argues that the City has no right to remove him as a threat to the polity. that's how they thought back then.

America, on the other hand, offers the First Amendment, not available to Socrates. But since you argue Michael Newdow all the time, let's also note that even Socrates claimed no right to fuck up his own society.

In fact, Plato/Socrates scholars argue that if Socrates hadn't been so damn old, he might have chosen another course than death, which didn't mean a lot to the Greeks anyway, since the afterlife in Hades was gray and sucky.

This is what me might call the American way. You can talk all you want, perhaps even convince your fellow citizens that you're right, that we're better off without the Deity.

But if you, or when, Mr. Newdow argues that the US Constitution demands we expel the Deity from our polity, or try to diminish the principle that God is a reality and not just a theory, you have zero claim to the American Founding.

To every Founder---without exception---God was a reality, and I defy Mr. Newdow or any of his supporters to prove otherwise.

If they have legal arguments based on 14A or whatever, they have zero support in the Founding, which is the topic of this blog.

Even Thomas Jefferson [Jefferson again? OK, so be it.] loved God, the giver of not only liberty, but life itself, in his own way.

"God who gave us life gave us liberty. Can the liberties of a nation be secure when we have removed a conviction that these liberties are the gift of God?"

Perhaps you're moving on from your usual argumentation, Ray. I have no idea, since you usually play the Sphinx, but that would be cool.

bpabbott said...

Re: "To every Founder---without exception---God was a reality, and I defy Mr. Newdow or any of his supporters to prove otherwise."

As a point of clarification, Newdow does not take that position (at least, not to my knowledge).

Re: "But if you, or when, Mr. Newdow argues that the US Constitution demands we expel the Deity from our polity, or try to diminish the principle that God is a reality and not just a theory, you have zero claim to the American Founding. "

Again, this is not Newdow's legal position (again, as far as I know).

Newdow objections are largely focused upon the formal political theology introduced in the 21st century (largely the 1950's).

The one instance I'm unsure of is the Presidential Oath. Meaning it isn't clear when the Presidents began the habit of appending "so help me God" to the oath of office.

I've already taken a fork in the road ... but I'll take another and note that the debate on the oath of office is now documented in Wikipedia, here, and here

So as not to confuse my thoughts on this, I'd like to see such issues settled in a manner that mirrors the founding. Meaning the broad tent of Providence, and such, that embraces religion, but excludes religious doctrine.

Ray Soller said...

Tom, I agree that Greco-Roman culture was typical of its day in that it showed virtually no respect for individual conscience. The reason being is that the general concepts surrounding individuality hadn't surfaced any more than the arithmetic concept of "zero." As I see it, the individual we recognize today is mostly a product of horoscopic astrology as fostered by Augustus.

Even if I am the Sphinx you take me to be, that doesn't entitle you to say I subscrible to principles that I haven't enunciated or to demonize those of an atheos-tic persuasion.

My view of the founding era of American history is colored by a lifetime of reading about Mormon growing pains as a result of its belief in being a primitivist Christian religion supported by current day revelation. Sorry to say, but the Catholic and Protestant Christian community has generally taken this belief to be a very subversive belief despite the Samuel Adams quote claiming that the spirit of toleration ... is the chief characteristical mark of the Church.

jimmiraybob said...

...you have zero claim to the American Founding.

Nice. An updated version of Columbus planting the flag for God and country. At last we arrive at the much coveted Truth. Now, if we can just locate the Garden.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Ray, I think we're sort of saying the same thing, coming from different angles. Yes, the concept of the individual is rather missing in classical political philosophy, and religion to them is part of the ties, the ethos, that binds a state or people, i.e., The City. [Hobbes ends up in a similar place, just be looking at the nature of the political.]

Therefore, destroying that shared sense of Deity [even if polytheistic] is sedition to the Greeks and Romans. This idea rather carried on through the Middle Ages, and Protestantism had no small part in changing that.

But it's unclear that a society can cohere without some shared ethos, which is why I object to Newdow's attacks on America's, simply that I find them unwise and imprudent, not particularly legally right or wrong.

There are many sensible atheists, Jews, and Muslims who feel a nominal Christianity does them no harm, and certainly the work here at AC shows that Christianity itself had a hand in bringing about religious tolerance and freedom of religious conscience as a political principle. It is the Golden Goose, or at least one of them.

As for objections to Mormonism, I'd say they're theological, and "tolerance" doesn't require one to drop his own theology, or permit someone to make a new version out of it without a peep.

Certainly Sam Adams and other Protestants of the day weren't shy about their theological objections to Roman Catholicism. That's part of the First Amendment, too.

bpabbott said...

Re: "But it's unclear that a society can cohere without some shared ethos, which is why I object to Newdow's attacks on America's, simply that I find them unwise and imprudent, not particularly legally right or wrong."

I'm in complete agreement that shared ethos is important, Is it necessary that the shared ethos exclude non-theists like Newdow?

I'd guess that if the Nation's God-speak were neutral to doctrine, Newdow (if he continued his objections) would find he has no standing for his case.

Tom Van Dyke said...

I'm in complete agreement that shared ethos is important, Is it necessary that the shared ethos exclude non-theists like Newdow?

I'd guess that if the Nation's God-speak were neutral to doctrine, Newdow (if he continued his objections) would find he has no standing for his case.


All great points, and all worth addressing. In reverse order, as closely read as possible, so not to skip anything:

a) He's actually been losing legally because he doesn't have any standing---on that very ground. As argued above, Mr. Newdow has endured no actual harm, Judge Crabb's recent decision notwithstanding.

b)The nation's God-speak is neutral to doctrine, intentionally, and from the very first, down to all that "Supreme Judge of the Universe" stuff the Continental Congress added to Jefferson's D of I text.

If I may re-offer my own rubric, the Founding dropped soteriology, the business of salvation and the concerns about the next world. No Jesus Christ as Savior, only the Creator who endowed man with unalienable rights.

That is, one's political and "human" rights in this world, as endowed by the monotheistic creator-God. Yes, that much is "doctrine," but I would not call that "doctrine." It's at the root of the D of I's core self-evident "truth claim," at the core of America's Founding ethos.

c) Does that "shared ethos exclude non-theists like Newdow?"

Only in that such individuals exclude themselves. Which is OK: "tolerance" and freedom of religious conscience "accommodate" them as well. Conscientious objection. But they have no claim per the Founding that the Founding ethos must be discarded to accommodate them. Certainly there is a real danger of a tyranny of the majority in politics, but the tyranny of a minority is far worse, and far lest justifiable in any political philosophy. You can't satisfy everybody unless you destroy the notion of shared ethos.

Whatever legal arguments have followed since the 14th Amendment or Everson in 1947, I don't have much interest in, because I consider it a Tower of Babel. Arguing 14A can lead anywhere---and it has. All I can offer is that the shared ethos of the Founding, of a monotheistic, providential, and rights-endowing God was shared even by the outliers such as Jefferson and Paine. To link Michael Newdow, et al., to the Founding ethos is historically unsupportable. That's all GWash was saying in his Farewell Address,

"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."

Ben, you agree a shared ethos is important, and GWash was making the same argument, no "truth claims" for Christianity here---it's simply a political philosophy argument.

And so, I do not think parsing the hell out of 14A is a shared ethos. It is legalism. Jesus hated the legalists. ;-)

So, seriously, what I really mean is that one need not share the prevailing, shared ethos, to benefit from it---a stable and tolerant society. Sufi Muslims are safer in the USA than in many Muslim countries, and there's no Sunni-Shia strife either, and Jews are safer in America than most anywhere, even the "secular" democracies of Europe. The sensible ones understand that.

Ray Soller said...

I'm not smiling when anyone can come to the conclusion: I do not think parsing the hell out of 14A is a shared ethos. It is legalism. Jesus hated the legalists. ;-)

This bit about Jesus hating the legalists, even if it can be traced back to the founding era, is a piece of Christian propaganda primarily aimed at undermining the Tanakh, the scriptual authority valued by the Jewish religion, for the sole purpose of promoting the supposed overruling authority of the so-called New Testament.

Tom, if you think you can show some historical facts from the gospels to support your claim, please do so.

Tom Van Dyke said...

is a piece of Christian propaganda primarily aimed at undermining the Tanakh, the scriptual authority valued by the Jewish religion, for the sole purpose of promoting the supposed overruling authority of the so-called New Testament.

Actually, it was just a passing comment, to illustrate that to demand every bit of "justice" out of the law, or exercise every right under it for its own sake, is neither wise nor prudent.

Please substitute Shakespeare's Merchant of Venice, and its pound of flesh. And if that has too many Biblical echoes for you, too bad. It fits.

Ray Soller said...

Tom, I can recognize a passing comment when I see one. I can also recognize a dodge when I see one. You did not cite a single gospel passage showing that Jesus hated the legalists. My view of Jesus is one who taught to love one's enemies.

Turning Shakespeare's Merchant of Venice into another illustration demonstrating your point regarding legalism is just as troublesome. See Queen Elizabeth I - Jews and Catholics.

My thought of a better illustration regarding legalistic pitfalls that dates to the founding era would be the example where Washington followed the letter of the law by shuttling his slaves back and forth between Philadelphia and Mount Vernon so his slaves could not invoke Pennsylvania's Gradual Emancipation Law.

bpabbott said...

Good points Tom. I have one caveat.

Re: "b)The nation's God-speak is neutral to doctrine, intentionally, and from the very first, down to all that "Supreme Judge of the Universe" stuff the Continental Congress added to Jefferson's D of I text.

I think it unfortunate that the federal government's formalized God-speak of today is more divisive than that of the founding.

I look forward to Newdow bringing a case for which he does have standing and hope the USSC will make good use of the opportunity to reinforce providence over doctrine. Depending upon the merits of the case, the result could be for or against Newdow.

Tom Van Dyke said...


I think it unfortunate that the federal government's formalized God-speak of today is more divisive than that of the founding.


How so, Ben?
_____________

Ray, I'm through with you. I refute you substantively point by point, which you refuse to acknowledge or engage, then you move on to sillier and sillier points in an attempt to prove me wrong on something. Anything.

Now you're down to semantics on my casual use of the word "hate." Either you don't know what I meant because you don't know your Bible, or you're being intentionally sophistic and obtuse. Stop wasting my time.

I repeat my objection to Newdow's project, in the words of GWash himself:

"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. The mere politician, equally with the pious man, ought to respect and to cherish them."

I think what Newdow's up to stinks, especially this odious piece of propaganda: Newdow dresses up in a tri-cornered hat and presents himself as some sort of patriot, trying to exploit a piece of Founding-era trivia about whether Washington said "so help me God" in taking his oath---leaving a false impression by avoiding the facts that Washington swore on a Bible, thanked God in his "first official act," then went with Congress over to St. Paul's Chapel to pray.

Newdow's manipulation of your clever little SHMG riff is a half-truth, and I'm sure GWash would join in my revulsion. Patriot, my eye.

bpabbott said...

Me: "I think it unfortunate that the federal government's formalized God-speak of today is more divisive than that of the founding."

Tom: "How so, Ben?"

its largely a matter of degree, rather than offense.

As our society has become more religiously diverse and tolerant, government has formally added "In God We Trust" to all our currency, "under God" to the pledge, and instituted a National Day of Prayer.

I agree that all these things were done to reinforce a particular ethos, but they have also produced a bit of a rift in our society between law abiding and moral citizens. The rift is partly between theists and atheists, but also (and quite significantly) between those who object to the implied affront to liberty and those who favor the change.

I, for one, am quick to admit there are aspects of this trend that are both consistent with the founders and in opposition to their legacy.

I'd be happy to delve into some details of each of the examples, but I hesitate to start a discussion what might politicize the blog and its cooperative ethos ;-)

Tom Van Dyke said...

Well, i see what you mean. My view is not strictly legalistic---I think there's wiggle room, and we seem to agree that the Founding could support either principle, the separationism of Jefferson and Andrew Jackson, or the "accommodation" of an American consensus that the One, Providential God is a reality, not just one theological theory among many [or none].

And when I cite Washington, it's not as a legal authority or even a trumping Founding source, but as a man manifestly wise in political philosophy.

[Thx, Ben. I wrote a lot more but I think I'll save it for the mainpage. So far, we've steered around the culture wars, and I appreciate your cooperation. Cheers.]

bpabbott said...

Tom: "I wrote a lot more but I think I'll save it for the mainpage."

Its an interesting topic. I look forward to your post.

... I'll start gathering my thoughts!

Crystal Grace Chen said...

I'm a student who is working on a history project on William Livingston. I was wondering whether William Livingston was a federalist or an anti-federalists, and how can you tell? Like what actions show that he's an (anti)federalist. So far, I know that he was against slaves and he has something to do with the church, but would it be possible to explain a bit more about his background and stance (like in non-archaic language for nonnative speakers)? Thank you so much! :D