Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Does it Really Matter If George Washington Took Communion or Not? II

For many months now Jon Rowe, Tom Van Dyke, and I have been discussing Jon's claim, via Dr. Gregg Frazer, that founding era Christians had to come up with new and creative ways to interpret the Bible to justify their resistance to what they perceived was tyranny.  In short, Jon seems to think that these were "dissident" and "revisionist" views that were heavily influence by Enlightenment thinking.  Tom Van Dyke and I point to the fact that resistance theory has a long tradition in both Catholic and Protestant political theology that, by far, pre-dates the Enlightenment. 

This topic came up again in the comments section of Jon's post that references D.G. Hart's response to Peter Lillback.  The discussion starts on the topic of whether there was a Hebrew Republic and gradually shifts to resistance theory and what is orthodox Christian political thought or not?  Here is Tom Van Dyke setting the stage:

"That the Exodus was seen by the Founding era as not a liberation from the Pharaoh's bondage, but as an entry into an even worse theocratic bondage, is news to me."

To which Jon responds to here:

"That's the proper "orthodox" pre-Whig understanding of the Exodus narrative is what Frazer/Kraynak argue. The Tory ministers of the time argued something similar."

and here:

"Kraynak, Frazer, Zuckert all group GW, Jefferson and Langdon together as peddling the theistic rationalist Whig view of the Bible."


So essentially Jon is stating that anyone who argues that the Israelites left the bondage of Pharaoh to set up a Republic was inventing new rationalist tainted arguments to interpret the Bible.  He then quoted Dr. Gregg Frazer referencing Robert Kraynak:

"God is not bound by the covenant and keeps His promises solely out of His own divine self-limitation.”


I responded here:

"If Frazer is doing this then he is breaking his own rules and interjecting Calvinism here. This is also not sotierological which opens up the door to a discussion of what political thought is "orthodox". I would say we need to broaden the years of his chart to get to the right answer."(referring to Frazer's  chart on the LCD of orthodox at the founding)


My point was that Jon labels this point of view "orthodox" when it is really strict Calvinism and he references Frazer's chart on orthodoxy when this view has nothing to do with it.  I also pointed out the fact that this view is not sotierological and turns the discussion away from a one on personal beliefs toward one about what political thought is "orthodox"?  Which is the proper frame for this discussion to begin with. 


Jon responds here:

"Gregg argues it was more than just Calvinism, but the view that PREVAILED in orthodox Christianity."


Then Jon shifts the discussion from the Hebrew Republic to resistance theory in response to my question about why we do not focus more on what is and is not "orthodox" political theory rather than sotierology. In doing so he turns the discussion back to Romans 13 and begins discussing Calvinism not orthodoxy, yet again:

"I know there are some pre-Enlightenment sources of resistance. And MDH shows that the reformers, contra Calvin, inspired a lot of this. But, at least as far as I understand, the pro-resistance stuff was dissonant, arguably heretical (like Arianism) within Christendom until post-Calvin.
The Calvinist "resisters" were just that -- dissidents. Eventually the dissident view prevailed."


I responded with the following:

"Not in America. Also I guess Aquinas was a dissident by Frazer's logic then."


Jon responded here:

"No we've studied Aquinas' views on the matter and he is at best for both sides inconclusive on the right to resistance.
The best view that PREVAILED (again prevailed doesn't mean find some dissident thinker like Arias who anticipated what came later) for your side was that an unjust law could be disobeyed because it was "not law" but that rulers, no matter how bad, didn't lose their Romans 13 status as rulers."


and added this as well:

"America was "founded" in the 18th Cen. and Dr. Dworetz focuses on a view that PREVAILED up until around the 16th Cen. and was endorsed by Calvin, Luther and counter reformers.
Something started happening around then that led America to follow a political theological point that was, at best, dissident and heretical for most of the history of Christianity. That's why I see parallels with theological unitarianism and the FFs view on revolt."


I responded with Aquinas and a few thoughts of my own:

"St. Thomas: “If any society of people have a right of choosing a king, then the king so established can be deposed by them without injustice, or his power can be curbed, when by tyranny he abuses his regal power” (“De Rege et Regno,” Bk. I, c. 6).
So was Aquinas dissident?
I am all for opening the discussion to a larger discussion of History beyond America. The trouble for you is that Frazer's thesis is dead on arrival if we do."


The trouble for Jon, and really Dr. Frazer whom Jon cites, is that to make resistance theory "dissident" you have to open the discussion up to more than American History, as he states, but when you do this it destroys your entire thesis because resistance theory was most certainly "orthodox" pre-Calvin.  In fact, it could be argued that when one looks at the larger history of Christian thought that Calvin was the dissident and revisionist considering his seeming rejection of natural law. 

I would restate the following from Jon above:

"Something started happening around then that led America to follow a political theological point that was, at best, dissident and heretical for most of the history of Christianity. That's why I see parallels with theological unitarianism and the FFs view on revolt."


to:

Long before the American Revolution natural law began to be interjected back into Christian political theory and produced a stream of thought that impacted the founding generation that was heretical to John Calvin and the branch of his followers that agreed with his rejection of natural law.



When the thoughts of Aquinas on deposing kings are brought into the light it becomes evident as to why Frazer wants to keep the discussion fixated on his soteriological chart and ignore the more germane discussion of political theology/philosophy and how Judeo-Christian ideas, peppered with natural law, influenced the founding.  I have to ask BOTH sides of this culture war, yet again:

 Does it really matter whether George Washington took communion or not?

18 comments:

Pinky said...

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For what it's worth:

"...resistance theory has a long tradition in both Catholic and Protestant political theology that, by far, pre-dates the Enlightenment. "
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Strauss appears to attribute those changes to the Enlightenment which, in turn, brought modernity into the picture.
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He claims that Spinoza was the main pioneer in bringing secularism into Western Civilization and, thus, America's democratic system of society. I'm assuming Strauss would have seen that resistance as being one of the main problems brought on by modernity.
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King of Ireland said...

Pinky,

I have got to guess that you have not read a word that Dr. Hall, Tom, or I have written because Strauss is wrong if that is what he says. Ponnet is 1556 which the same time as Calvin himself.

Pinky said...

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I have read most of it although it hardly interests me.
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I just offered my comment as I'm not caught up in any argument here.
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King of Ireland said...

I am not understanding your comment. How can anyone say that something that pre-dates the Enlightenment was influenced by it? I must be missing something here.

Pinky said...

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Leo Strauss was born in 1899.
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I merely made a remark about how Strauss might have considered this thinking. And I mentioned Spinoza who is often called the father of secularism which seems to affect modern thinking that is, in turn, so affected by the Enlightenment.
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King of Ireland said...

Saying that rational Christianity brought about the Enlightenment and saying that the Enligtenment influenced resistance theory are two different thiings.

I got what you are saying now and would agree. I do not think the Enlightenment is an evil thing per se. I think the "perfectability of man" that came up in the last thread on this has its problems and so did most if not all of the founders.

The part of the Enlightenment that throws the baby out with the bathwater is the one I oppose.

Pinky said...

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But, Strauss might argue that the Enlightenment was an evil thing as it has ushered in modernity which gives us liberal democracy that swings wide the doors to a hitler type dictatorship.
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Go figure! It's all there.
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Pinky said...

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So you might think about how straussian thinking can see the Enlightenment as an evil thing.
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Angie Van De Merwe said...

The question was "Does it matter whether George Washington took communion or not?"

And was the Enlightment "sanction" for the resistance or dissent of the Founders? Or was resistance thery that pre-dated the Enlightenment what drove the Foundeing?

It seem that both theories are correct and held in tension.

The Enlightenment was a new understanding about God and creation, while the resistance theory was the foundation of man's religious loyalty to God, first and foremost before any earthly king.

So, does it matter whether George Washington took communion? Not for those who held to a different view of God and creation, because they knew that God no longer was "bound" by the rulers upon earth, nor did it matter to those who were resisting the rulership of the British Crown, because they had their own commonwealth.

Both the scientists and the religionists understood that earthly kingdoms are not the "kingdom of god".....

Angie Van De Merwe said...

I would further think that the self-governance that was the underlying value of the Founding was based on the virtues. Ben Franklin wrote much about these, didn't he?

The inner character bears out in actions and that was what the Founding was based upon. Because without virtue there is no law that can confine man's actions to right choices.

But, ironically, those that would adhere to this "standard" in England would look at the Revolution as a "bad choice"!

King of Ireland said...

""which gives us liberal democracy that swings wide the doors to a hitler type dictatorship"

That is absurd. Hitler and liberal democracy are polar opposites.

King of Ireland said...

Angie,

The question about GW and communion is somewhat snarky or sarcastic. The point I am trying to get across is that sotierological debates have no place in political theory. Locke agreed. It is only used to invalidate the political ideas of others by calling them heresy or dissident.

It is really no more than a sophisticated ad-hominem attack.

Pinky said...

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Yup, and I agree with you.
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It is absurd, KOI.
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But, check it out with some straussian you might know. It is at the base of their philosophy.
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Angie Van De Merwe said...

I'm going to be doing some reading on Spinoza as my husband and I are going to see a play about him on Sunday at the Jewish Center.

It seems that with any "new thought" there is resistance to change. And those that hold the "new thought" are punished by the social conformists of their day..One must question whether the social change is necessary and why..

Pinky said...

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Spinoza is a fascinating character in the line of history.
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I'd sure like to read your takes on the play you'll be seeing.
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Some attribute Spinoza with being one of the first to provide the ideas of liberal democracy.
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Tom Van Dyke said...

http://books.google.com/books?id=VyRarko9uOkC&pg=PA191&lpg=PA191&dq=spinoza+%22liberal+democracy%22&source=bl&ots=0SiE6Q-oPk&sig=qFYQfGQaGUjexeUvQDDSJ0SdA3U&hl=en&ei=_vo9TJf8GofWtQOQqanaCg&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=10&ved=0CEsQ6AEwCQ#v=onepage&q=spinoza%20%22liberal%20democracy%22&f=false

jimmiraybob said...

KOI - It is only used to invalidate the political ideas of others by calling them heresy or dissident.

It is really no more than a sophisticated ad-hominem attack.

I just finished reading Jesus Wars by Philip Jenkins. It could have been called How to Build, Maintain and Defend an Orthodoxy or A Dead/Disappeared Political Enemy is a Triumph for Orthodoxy.

The book recounts the Christian doxy wars in the 4th-5th centuries - highly fluid and very confusing keeping track of who was/wasn't a heretic and by who's authority in any given year (often reversing in short order). Jenkins makes reference to needing a score card.

I could be wrong but it seems like personal orthodoxy is in the eye of the beholder but "official" orthodoxy is the doxy commanding the greatest coercive force.

One of the more interesting tidbits that I was unaware of is the idea of roving monk armies/mobs instilling/enforcing various declared doxies.

The charge of heresy was/is a club and was/is meant to diminish and marginalize, or even get your political enemies dispatched to the great beyond for further judgment.

However, I think that the term orthodox/heterodox are generally useful terms for framing discussion regarding prevailing/generally accepted, dominant religious practice. But like any box the edges are always frayed and fuzzy and the closer you get the harder it is to find consensus on where the boundary is.

It seems that when it's said that someone had/has non-orthodox views when qualified by being contrasted relative to something/someone else it's useful.

King of Ireland said...

I hear ya JRB. The way the Trinity became official doctrine, from the accounts I have read, is shady at best.

That is why it is best to leave sotierology out of it. Soteriological differences have most certainly been used to diminish the poltical ideas of the minority parties or whoever was out of favor with the King or Pope.


I go back to what I brought up, and you added to, about how the Pope and Kings used the resistance writings to their own gain at times. Heck it seems to have started at at very least became prominent during the Investiture Crisis.