Monday, December 6, 2010

Not as Straightforward As You Think

WorldNetDaily chronicles a Christian Americanist critique of National Park Services tours.

The pastor in question, Todd Dubord, is quoted as stating the information he is trying to peddle is "'straightforward biography' and not subject to conjecture or private interpretation,..." The problem is the pastor's Christian America spin is not as straightforward as he is trying sell.

What follows is an email I sent to the author of the WND piece:


The pastor's history seems as bad as the tour guides. ME Bradford didn't "find 50, perhaps 52, of the 55 delegates to the Constitutional Convention professed to be orthodox, Trinitarian believers who were in good standing at various Christian churches." Rather he found they had some kind of affiliation with those churches. Bradford's figure is worthless. All 55 members, including his 3 Deists, had those affiliations. The problem is one could be affiliated with said churches for social network reasons and NOT believe in their official creeds and doctrines. Thomas Jefferson was Anglican and disbelieved in every single tenet of orthodox Christianity!

Likewise "Samuel Adams, Josiah Bartlett, Benjamin Franklin, Elbridge Gerry, John Hancock, Samuel Huntington, Thomas Jefferson, Thomas McKean, John Morton, Robert Treat Paine, Benjamin Rush, Roger Sherman, Richard Stockton, Thomas Stone" didn't all practice the same kind of Christianity and arguably half on that list wouldn't qualify as "Christians" according to "orthodox" standards. If Jefferson and Franklin qualify as "Christians" you are setting the bar pretty low for who gets to be a "Christian."

Feel free to forward this to Mr. DuBord.


Jon Rowe

I found Dubord's church's statement of doctrine here.

The question I pose to Rev. Dubord is how do you call these men "Christians" if many of them listed (Jefferson, J. Adams, Franklin, Robert Treat Paine, and others) disagreed with a great deal of these doctrines which your church endorses? Because they called themselves "Christian?" Is that the standard?

Listen, I understand the pastor's objection to certain prevailing ideas that the NPS may be parroting (some of the things the NPS is reported to have stated, on the other hand, are perfectly defensible -- for instance, just because the FFs attended a church doesn't necessarily mean they believed in the church's doctrines; or the FFs and religion issue is something, the finer details of which, folks have to research on their own and draw their own conclusions, because things can get complicated). But he and his don't get to write the tale either.

I am available, by the way, to help write a consensus oriented narrative that both sides could agree on.

But, if there is a solution to this culture war issue, that's it: Straightforward consensus oriented lowest common denominator facts that all sides can agree on. And the ME Bradford footnote is not one of them.

For Ben Franklin it would be something like:

1. Was affiliated with the Anglican and Presbyterian churches (even though he was one of Bradford's Deists!).
2. Believed in an active personal God, sometimes quoted the Bible as if he believed at least parts of it as legitimately revealed (i.e., speech at the Constitutional Convention).
3. In one letter wrote there are certain things in the Old Testament impossible to have been given by divine inspiration (i.e., didn't believe the Bible infallible).
4. In one letter doubted Jesus divinity while praising him as the greatest moral teacher.
5. Thought works were more important than faith for salvation.
6. Called himself a Deist at one point but then backtracked. Seemed comfortable with the "rational Christians" who doubted or denied Jesus' divinity (Joseph Priestley and Richard Price, the dissenters in England to whom he alluded in his letter to Ezra Stiles that doubted Jesus' divinity).


James Hanley said...

"'straightforward biography' and not subject to conjecture or private interpretation,...""
Heh, as if that's even possible.

"some kind of affiliation with those churches"
Indeed, I have "some kind of affiliation" with at least three churches (the one I grew up in and that my mom still attends, which appears to still consider me a part of their church family; the one I was baptized in; and the one I now currently attend (on those occasions I do attend) with my kids). Three different denominations, too! But then that's not so surprising, given I'm an agnostic and don't really share the faith and beliefs of any of them.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

I think most people skew the facts to support whatever it is that is important to them.

Christian Americanists have identified their faith with the nation-state. There is nothing wrong with identifying with a nation-state, as identification is a human trait. And then when these read "God", they immediately project their own "conviction" or understanding upon the Founder's meaning.

Our nation has allowed for change over time, and this is what makes it free. Those that adhere to an infallible or inerrant text, don't believe change is necessary, because their understanding is "eternal", or timeless. And change threatens, not just their identity, but the nation itself.

Although I am no Christian Americanist, I do believe that we must protect our Constitution from being desecrated by those that think that globalization is the "ideal". Our nation's viability and very existence is at stake. And there is much more to loose than one's identity. The loss will be civilization itself.

Tom Van Dyke said...

5. Thought works were more important than faith for salvation.

I don't know why you keep writing this, Jon. Franklin explicitly says otherwise in his letter to Whitefield, 1751:

"You will see in this my notion of good works, that I am far from expecting to merit heaven by them. By heaven we understand a state of happiness, infinite in degree, and eternal in duration. I can do nothing to deserve such rewards."

I think it's fine you correct others, but nobody's completely free of error.

As for the article, it is indeed scandalous that Park Service functionaries hid the "Laus deo" [praise be to God] on the model of the Washington monument.

Jonathan Rowe said...

I keep writing it because Franklin said:

“Faith is recommended as a Means of producing Morality: Our Saviour was a Teacher of Morality or Virtue, and they that were deficient and desired to be taught, ought first to believe in him as an able and faithful Teacher. Thus Faith would be a Means of producing Morality, and Morality of Salvation. But that from such Faith alone Salvation may be expected, appears to me to be neither a Christian Doctrine nor a reasonable one….Morality or Virtue is the End, Faith only a Means to obtain that End: And if the End be obtained, it is no matter by what Means.”

– “Dialogue between Two Presbyterians,” April 10, 1735.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Well, the 1751 letter supersedes the 1735 one, and is far more explicit.

I agree Franklin opposes "faith alone saves" by quoting the Epistle of James, that faith without good works is dead, and further that "A virtuous Heretick shall be saved before a wicked Christian."

However, it's clear that by 1751, he does not endorse the idea that good works can get you into heaven, although it certainly appears that in 1735, he argues that the lack of them can keep you out.

Had you been content with saying Franklin rejected "faith alone saves," I would have no qualms here, Jon.

Two interesting things about the 1735 "Dialogue between Two Presbyterians":

1) Franklin has written a dialogue, and although he clearly agrees with character "S" in the dialogue, Franklin is still arguing in the character of a Presbyterian minister, not as Ben Franklin.

[Remember, he's trying to save Rev. Hemphill's job here.]

Otherwise we could use his reference to "Our Saviour" as Franklin's own belief, which it appears it wasn't. Franklin is arguing "S" conforming to Presbyterian orthodoxy.

Second [again] the question of doctrine and heresy---especially via Protestantism---echoing Locke:

We have justly deny'd the Infallibility of the Pope and his Councils and Synods in their Interpretations of Scripture, and can we modestly claim Infallibility for our selves or our Synods in our way of Interpreting?...

...[T]here is no such Thing as voluntary Error. Therefore, since 'tis an Uncertainty till we get to Heaven what true Orthodoxy in all points is... I hope this Misunderstanding will soon be got over, and that we shall as heretofore unite again in mutual Christian Charity.

bpabbott said...


Motives with which Benefits should be conferred Faith and Good Works Example of Christ

Philadelphia 6 June 1753


I received your kind letter of the 2d instant and am glad to hear that you increase in strength I hope you will continue mending till you recover your former health and firmness. Let me know whether you still use the cold bath and what effect it has.

As to the kindness you mention I wish it could have been of more service to you. But if it had the only thanks I should desire is that you would always be equally ready to serve any other person that may need your assistance and so let good offices go round for mankind are all of a family.

For my own part when I am employed in serving others I do not look upon myself as conferring favors but as paying debts. In my travels and since my settlement I have received much kindness from men to whom I shall never have any opportunity of making the least direct return and numberless mercies from God who is infinitely above being benefited by our services. Those kindnesses from men I can therefore only return on their fellow men and I can only show my gratitude for these mercies from God by a readiness to help his other children and my brethren. For I do not think that thanks and compliments though repeated weekly can discharge our real obligations to each other and much less those to our Creator. You will see in this my notion of good works that I am far from expecting to merit heaven by them. By heaven we understand a state of happiness infinite in degree and eternal in duration I can do nothing to deserve such rewards. He that for giving a draft of water to a thirsty person should expect to be paid with a good plantation would be modest in his demands compared with those who think they deserve heaven for the little good they do on earth. Even the mixed imperfect pleasures we enjoy in this world are rather from God's goodness than our merit how much more such happiness of heaven. For my part I have not the vanity to think I deserve it the folly to expect it nor the ambition to desire it but content myself in submitting to the will and disposal of that God who made me who has hitherto preserved and blessed me and in whose fatherly goodness. I may well confide that he will never make me miserable and that even the afflictions I may at any time suffer shall tend to my benefit.

bpabbott said...

The faith you mention has certainly its use in the world I do not desire to see it diminished nor would I endeavour to lessen it in any man But I wish it were more productive of good works than I have generally seen it I mean real good works works of kindness charity mercy and public spirit not holiday keeping sermon reading or hearing performing churcL ceremonies or making long prayers filled with flatteries and compliments despised even by wise men and much less capable of pleasing the Deity The worship of God is a duty the hearing and reading of sermons may be useful but if men rest in hearing and praying as too many do it is as if a tree should value itself on being watered and putting forth leaves though it never produced any fruit.

Your great master thought much less of these outward appearances and professions than many of his modern disciples He preferred the doers of the word to the mere hearers the son that seemingly refused to obey his father and yet performed his commands to him that professed his readiness but neglected the work the heretical but charitable Samaritan to the uncharitable though orthodox priest and sanctified Le vite and those who gave food to the hungry drink to the thirsty raiment to the naked entertainment to the stranger and relief to the sick though they never heard of his name he declares shall in the last day be accepted when those who cry Lord Lord who value themselves upon their faith though great enough to perform miracles but have neglected good works shall be rejected He professed that he came not to call the righteous but sinners to repentance which implied his modest opinion that there were some in his time so good that they need not hear even him for improvement; [1] but now a days we have scarce a little parson that does not think it the duty of every man within his reach to sit under his petty ministrations and that whoever omits them offends God I wish to such more humility and to you health and happiness being your friend and servant.

B Franklin [2]

[1] In all the printed copies which I have seen this passage is found as follows which implied his modest opinion that there were some in his time who thought themselves so good that they need not hear even him for improvement The words here Italicized are not contained in the original draft They must of course have been interpolated by some later hand. The sense evidently requires that they should be omitted.

[2] Soon after writing this letter Franklin set out on a tour to New England In writing from Boston July 16th to his friend Hugh Roberts he said I have had a delightful journey hither and have felt but one hot day since my arrival On the road I often thought of you and wished for your company as I passed over some of the best punning ground perhaps in the universe My respects to Mrs Roberts and to all our old friends of the Junto Hospital and Insurance I purpose to set out on my return in about ten days Mr Roberts it seems excelled in the art of punning some amusing specimens of which are found in his letters to Franklin.

Jonathan Rowe said...

Had you been content with saying Franklin rejected "faith alone saves," I would have no qualms here, Jon.

Putting BF's two sentiments together that might be a fairer LCD bullet point.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Cool, Jon.

If you can follow me here, Franklin's theology is orthodox in this way: salvation is a gift.

If "faith alone saves" is strictly true, then "believing" would be an act of will, and in essence, a person could save himself.

That would negate it as being a gift from God, eh?

It's sort of in the zone of "grace," which as we know was a great theological controversy with Protestants back in the day, and indeed Aquinas was accused of not "getting it" when it came to grace.

I haven't spent much time on it, but reams and volumes were written in the early days of Protestantism on the topic of grace. Today, I think it barely moves the meter even among Protestants. [Except the Darryl G. Hart types, I reckon.]


Ben, thx for spelling out the Franklin letter.

"I can only show my gratitude for these mercies from God by a readiness to help his other children and my brethren."

This, I think, is the key point about Christian charity [and love as agape] that's missed by many Christians and almost all nonChristians.

We love our neighbor because we love God. That's the dynamic. [Indeed, our neighbor's very hard to love.]

I saw someone point out recently about Jesus' Two Great Commandments

Mt 22:36 “[Jesus], which is the great commandment in the law?” And he said to him, ’You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the law and the prophets.”

That you love God with your whole person, but love your neighbor only as much as you love yourself.

[Indeed, wouldn't it be absurd to love yourself with your whole heart, mind and soul? Well, I guess some New Age thingees might say that, but I think it lacks a certain humility and disregard for our own imperfections.]

Anyway, there's a person very close to me who has no interest in church and I've never heard speak a work concerning doctrine.

Yet every once in awhile, in an unguarded moment, a love of God comes out with a stunning intensity. The rest of the time, this person quietly lives those commandments when it comes to other people.

As I think about it, this person reminds me so much of Franklin, or at least the Franklin we see in his writings. {Neither one is a perfect person, mind you.]

We turn Franklin into a theological football---especially when it comes to his antipathy toward doctrine---but in his unguarded moments, the intensity of Franklin's love for God comes through, and he followed that Second Great Commandment quite often. [Like building Philadelphia's first hospital, and a dozen other things.]

He was certainly uncertain about Jesus' divinity, but if you follow me here, and if I've written clearly enough, Franklin was a follower of Jesus as Jefferson never was, as some mere Great Moral Teacher. Franklin followed Jesus theologically---the relationship between man and God, and the obligations to our fellow man that flow from that.

Franklin didn't give a hang for churchy doctrine, but he practiced Christian charity in the true theological meaning of it, as Jesus laid it out.

And that's it for today from TVD on theology.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

Love for God and neighbot can be a condition for Church acceptance, but it can never be enforced, as it must be a matter of choice. Could you imagine a peace-maker making it an imperative for one party to "love the other" while not giving the party any voice or knowledge about what the peace-making ia all about? Without mutuality, one would hinder equality under law, which is necessary if we value fairness.

Love has to be mutual, if it is to be healthy, as there is really "no agape", there is self-understanding and self-acceptance, in the light of God, which orients a person toward "good works" out of gratitude. But, in reality, there is no alturism/agape, just as there is really only the story of God.

Self-denial, self-abnegation, and other self-defeating behaviors and attitudes, only enable the ignoble and further "evil". Team-work means that each member is valued, the leader is only one part and can only be respected as much as he respects others.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Love has to be mutual

Well, that's not what Jesus said. Franklin either. Loving your neighbor as he loves you, "mutuality," is something the merest pagan or tyrant can do.

Self-denial, self-abnegation, and other self-defeating behaviors and attitudes, only enable the ignoble and further "evil".

Well, that's a horse of an entirely different color. I certainly don't expect someone who doesn't love himself to be able to love me!

Angie Van De Merwe said...

Love is a choice means that a person is free to choose. If one is unhealthy, as I believe most fundamentalists are, then, one is not free, one is bound, determined, and dependent on one's ability to "perform" religiously to gain the approval of "God" or other religious people. And this is the glitch in the mix. One must only be wise in who and what they choose to love.

Family dysfunctions play themselves out in the larger world. And these are roles that are taken on because they are the only reality that a person knows or understands. "Heroism" can be a "role performing" dysfunction, and depending on the role, can be self-defeating. So, everything that looks "rosy" on the outside, ain't!

Love is acceptance of one's personal quirks, and being aware of when these might be a stumbling block to yourself of others. It is also an acceptance of other humans as fallible, and quirky. It is not demanding that others be different (perfection). It is embracing the ugly with the good, so it is forgiving, but it does remember when offenses have mounted and there is no sorrow for the damage. Then, love must protect, others and/or oneself.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

BTW, I believe liberals have a "hero" mentality. Some could be suffering from such family roles, or seeking to prove themselves in some way. The liberal seems to want to save the world, and demand others do the same. And they think that if one doesn't perform like they think one should, then one is deficient in some way. This is an idealistic way to view things, because we can't really love what we don't know, and where we haven't understood the costs.

Conservatives are more realistice in their understanding of the world. They don't assume that the "ideal" will happen in the here and now, but approach things with the scrunity of real world experience. I think the Founders developed our government with this thinking.

Tom Van Dyke said...

What is that bumper sticker?


Angie Van De Merwe said...

Sorry, Tom.
Jesus talk leaves me cold, as it smacks/smells of super-spirituality. Something that I run from and really want nothing to do reminds me of charismaniacs that believe they can hear "God's voice" for everyone! So, I hope you were kidding!

Tom Van Dyke said...

Well, that's definitely above the pay grade of this blog.

But yes, I was kidding, within the context of the discussion.