Sunday, August 29, 2010

Thoughts on Glenn Beck, Mormons, & the Mosque

First check out Ed Brayton commenting on Stephen Prothero's article. The bottom line is Mormons, of all folks, should especially support the religious liberty rights of all. Their experiences in America should make them know better.

Which leads me to Glenn Beck's rally. He noted, it was about "God." And that he happily tithes 10 percent. Knowing how much Beck makes that's many millions of dollars going to the Mormon Church. And at that rally behind Beck was, among others, David Barton. I kept thinking whether Barton and the other evangelicals there really believe Mormons worship the same God they do; the Mormons claim they do; it's the evangelicals who often have a problem with it. See for instance, Barton buddy Brannon Howse's turning away from Beck for that very reason.

Beck extensively quoted from the American Founding. Did he misuse the Founders? Lincoln? Dr. King? It's beyond the scope of my post to answer that question.

However I will address one sense in which I think Beck's rally did authentically capture the spirit of the America's Founding political theology: The idea that Mormons, evangelicals, and others all worship the same God.

Had the Mormons existed during America's Founding, I'm convinced the Founders would have embraced them. At least the first four or so Presidents would have. They embraced the Swedenborgs, who I see as the closest analogy to Mormons. Swedenborgianism is as distant from orthodox Christianity as is Mormonism.

I get flack for stating that the "key Founders" (the first four Presidents, Franklin, G. Morris, Hamilton before his end of life conversion) were all agreed on the political theological basics. Not the finer details. Jefferson's Bible was his own. Adams, Jefferson, and Franklin all three agreed the biblical canon was errant and fallible. But anything beyond that (which biblical passages reflected error, which valid revelation) would be finer details where they disagreed.

So let's clarify: What was the main area that connects all of the "key Founders" in their personal and political theology: The idea that there is a Providence and future state of rewards and punishments. The other doctrinal issues (especially whether Jesus was 2nd Person in the Trinity) where religions differ are superfluous and insignificant.

That's the lowest common denominator of "religion" that all good men believe in. That's why Calvinists, Swedenborgs, Jews and, today, Mormons (perhaps even Muslims; at least the good Muslims who peacefully demean themselves under America's civil law, which I would argue is the overwhelming majority of them) can feel communion with the God who "founded" America.

If you don't believe they all worship the same God -- America's God -- you are being un-American.

17 comments:

Pinky said...

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I recorded Beck's sermon from his rally yesterday and listened to it this morning.
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Another person who knows much more about the beliefs of the Latter Day Saints explained that he was connoting the differences between populist Evangelicalism and present day beliefs of the revelations of Mormons.
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But, I thought he sure knows how to pull the right strings for the Christian Right.
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Politics surely makes strange bedfellows.
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King of Ireland said...

"Jon,

This is about the most sensible thing I have seen written on this topic. In a political-theological sense it is most certainly the same God. The differences come when we get into more metaphysical issues. Not many of which are relevant at all to politics. I think the trick in the next decades will be to convince the Muslims of that. If it is possible. One must rely heavily on natural law to do so.

craig said...

I like George Mason and Madison who changed the religious clause in Virginia's Declaration of Rights of 1776 from a mere statement of the principle of tolerance to the first official legislative pronouncement that freedom of conscience and religion are inherent rights of the individual (about.com). Madison esp. seems that he wouldn't have used the Mosque to gain converts to his party.

King of Ireland said...

"Adams, Jefferson, and Franklin all three agreed the biblical canon was errant and fallible"

I am not so sure about Adams. If there is merit in the idea that Locke was talking about intuitive reason not discursive reason when he said all revelation should be subject to reason then I think Adams falls in line with this as well in many of the quotes that you often cite.


As I have stated before, I think Luther gets a bad rap for his statements on reason for the same reason. He was obviously instructed in the different types of reason being a Catholic Monk. It is probably why it seems he contradicts himself.

Tom Van Dyke said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Tom Van Dyke said...

So let's clarify: What was the main area of area that connects all of the "key Founders" in their personal and political theology: The idea that there is a Providence and future state of rewards and punishments.

Let us add


unalienable rights [God-given]

that sovereignty rests with the people [as opposed to Divine Right of Kings]

freedom of conscience [which Sam Adams called a Christian principle in 1772]

Ray Soller said...

Jon, I don't know how you can state with any assurance that the main area connecting all of the "key Founders" is that their personal theology included the idea that there is a "future state of rewards and punishments," especially when we look at Franklin and Washington. And, if you think about it, skepticism about a future life with or without an associated state of rewards and punishments is part of the reason why "so help me God" was not a mandated conclusion to either the presidential oath or the standard federal oath.

Pinky said...

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I guess I agree with Ray Soller; but, his commentary opens up an entire field of inquiry far beyond the Founding. If we think about it deeply, we see that the very question, "What is life?", gets put on the table. "Are we really individuals or are we merely separate expressions of ever unfolding entities that only die when we have no descendants that continue life's experience?"
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We used to say back in the seventies, "Far out.".
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:<D

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Pinky said...

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Side note.

Gordon Wood will be live on C-span this coming weekend for 3 hours and he will interact with call ins.
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Some of our blogsters will want to tune in.
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I'll be watching.
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Brian Tubbs said...

Ray, are you suggesting that Washington did NOT believe in a Providence or that he did not believe in an after life?

Brian Tubbs said...

Ray, I would add the same questions with respect to Franklin?

Brian Tubbs said...

Jon, I don't agree with your assessment that doctrinal issues, including the deity of Jesus, are "superfluous and insignificant." I think some of those issues are crucial, and many of the Founders would've likewise considered them significant. It's unlikely, for example, that you'd get Noah Webster to refer to the deity of Christ as superfluous.

But I agree with you that monotheism combined with a future state of rewards and punishments was a common unifier, esp when you add TVD's clarification about God-given rights.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Brian, I'm sure there are some exceptions, but I can't recall any doctrinal hassles unless originated by a clergyman.

And here you are, a man of the cloth...

;-)

In fact, the Unitarian Controversy didn't break out into open war until around 1815. It was the custom for the Congregationalist churches to exchange sermons/preachers, and it wasn't until 1823 [or so] that an uberCalvinist refused to share his pulpit with a unitarian. The preacher---whose name escapes me at the moment---was brought up on charges, and a panel [which included William Ellery Channing] let him keep the pulpit, but only if he started sharing it again.

This is all working from memory, but eventually the deal broke down and the unitarian-Trinitarian schism commenced.

A long way of saying that among the non-clergy, it wasn't a huge issue until well after the Founding. This is my honest reading so far, at least.

King of Ireland said...

"Jon, I don't agree with your assessment that doctrinal issues, including the deity of Jesus, are "superfluous and insignificant"

Boy Jon, you cannot win you get it from both sides.


Brian,

I think Jon is saying that these things were put aside for political unity. Which is true.

Jonathan Rowe said...

It's a little complicated. In Gregg's thesis when he went into the words of Adams, Jefferson, and Franklin in detail and fleshed out "theistic rationalism" in detail he noted a waievering in their theology between bitterly rejecting the Trinity and orthodox doctrines as "corruptions" on the one hand (if that's the case then how could they feel communion with Trinitarians?) and terming those doctrines insignificant on the other (in that sense they COULD feel communion with Trinitarians).

I don't get any of the bitter rejection of the Trinity from Madison and Washington and I get less of it from Franklin than from TJ and JA. But I do get feeling the Trinity and other orthodox doctrines utterly insignificant from GW and JM for the sole reason that, with their words, their God talk, they virtually ignored the Trinity and other orthodox doctrines. So in that sense -- that the Trinity and orthodox doctrine are insignificant to politics, arguably to their own personal theology, I see that as tying the "key Founders" political and personal creed together in a baseline.

As to Webster and the other "orthodox" folks, who were more 2nd & 3rd tier Founder types, perhaps, were they in charge, they would have established a Trinitarian political theology. But because they were 2nd bannanas they followed the political-theological lead of the "key Founders."

I've been pressed on how I think this Trinity denial stuff is relevant. Well this is it.

Brian Tubbs said...

Let me clarify...

When it comes to the affairs of state (matters of political governance), I agree that the Founders considered doctrinal issues such as the Trinity, baptism, Communion, universalism, etc. to be unnecessary items for discussion.

My disagreement with Jon's characterization had to do with the Founders in their private views as well as in their relations with friends, family, and the church. In that domain, I think many of the Founders took such issues VERY seriously.

We know, for example, that George Washington read and collected sermons. (Did he read ALL the sermons sent to him? Probably not. But I'm sure he read a lot of them, perhaps most of them). We know that GW read the Bible and read sermons WITH his wife (and they no doubt discussed them between themselves). This tells me that they were interested in doctrine. They kept those discussions private between themselves, but there was interest there.

That's just one example. I could go on and talk about many Founders were wrote on matters of theology, who served on Bible societies, etc.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Quite right, Brian. Washington seemed fascinated by sermons, and commented on a few [mostly whether they were good or bad, not their content] in his diary.