Saturday, March 12, 2011

Paradigm For the American Founding

As I noted in this comment thread at Volokh, someone argued on behalf of America's "Judeo-Christian" heritage. We certainly have something that could be called a "Judeo-Christian" heritage but also have:

a) an Enlightenment heritage; b) a noble pagan Greco-Roman heritage; c) a freethinking, religiously inclusive and pluralistic heritage, one that tolerates, indeed sometimes celebrates heresy and dissent in dominant religious movements; and d) an ugly illiberal heritage along with it that violated the liberty and equality rights of women, blacks, religious minorities and so on and so forth.

And btw, Jews and Roman Catholics were often the victims of d).

And we might also want to think the "cool guys" aren't part of d). No the freethinking liberals of their time engaged in d). Jefferson has some embarrassingly racist stuff in Notes on the State of Virginia. The liberal unitarian Christian John Adams was an anti-Roman Catholic bigot and so on and so forth.

But remember too, the orthodox forces of religious correctness engaged in d) as well. As one of them put it arguing against the "No Religious Tests" clause in the US Constitution:


An anti-constitutional article written for the New York Daily Advertiser that same January and widely reprinted within days in Connecticut, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts papers pulled no punches about the social repercussions of Article 6. No religious tests admitted to national lawmaking: "Ist. Quakers, who will make the blacks saucy, and at the same time deprive us of the means of defence--2dly. Mahometans, who ridicule the doctrine of the Trinity--3dly. Deists, abominable wretches--4thly. Negroes, the seed of Cain--Sthly. Beggars, who when set on horse back will ride to the devil--6thly. Jews etc. etc." Not quite finished with the last, the newspaper writer feared that since the Constitution stupidly gave command of the whole militia to the president, "should he hereafter be a Jew, our dear posterity may be ordered to rebuild Jerusalem."

Source of Information:

The Godless Constitution, The Case Against Religious Correctness. By Isaac Kramnick and R. Laurence Moore. W. W. Norton & Company New York/London.(1996) pp 33


James Stripes said...

Even one of the most avid Bible students among the founding brothers, John Adams, was a child of the Enlightenment. His apologetics in defense of Christianity proceeded through active reading of the leading scholars of his day, and efforts to weigh and balance their claims against his own beliefs. In our day he might be a "climate change skeptic" who has become converted by the force of reason. Hence, he would find the passages in the Bible that favor stewardship far more compelling than than the few that call humanity "to fill the earth and subdue it."

Angie Van De Merwe said...

I guess no one wanted to comment on the post, since "nothing new" is prescribed.

I wonder why you use "noble pagan" to describe Roman and Greek background. Isn't using "pagan" presuppose a spiritual, or higher knowledge?

Enlightenment thinking still uses symbolism to describe reality, just as much as literary thinking does. The language of science happens to be math. But, I still question whether what we prescribe as definitive is really not. These theories only descrbe what we know at present. And even when we can describe something mathmatically, we, as humans don't understand its reality in "our" real world all of the time....

It is the same for religious language. As all language is descriptive of a reality that is sometimes beyond our understanding or "real world". And we we go to define what is meant by the language used, we limit.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

The paradigm for the American Founding can't be "the Bible" as prescribed by evangelicalism, as it is exclusive in its claims about "spiritual knowledge".

Since "pagan" Romans and Greeds spoke of virtue, this is the "standard" that the "gods" used for creating a "more perfect union". It is the "use of myth" to propiate "self understanding" and a defense of identity.

The virtue of the Greeks and Romans was "ordered liberty", which defined order as the "rule of law", and liberty, as individual conscience in regards to interpretive understanding of one's faith. America has many "colors" of faith and protects the "rights" of these in the First Amendment.

The problem today is when religious law seeks to undermine liberty. This is when the "culture wars" get ugly and divide the nation in two. No longer is htere a "more perfect union"!

Angie Van De Merwe said...

I.E. there is no special knowledge, revelation. Gnosticism isn't how one is "saved".

But, the secularist must also be careful to not prescribe how one is "saved" either. Behavior might be considered more important, but it cannot be defined to disallow different proirities, nor religious conviction.

bpabbott said...

Re: "No longer is htere a "more perfect union"!"

Nic-pic ...

As politics are currently dominated by debate and rhetoric, rather that rational discussion and reason, I think there is a lot of room for a "more perfect union".

However, I am quick to acknowledge things could be much worse.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

Yes, it could indeed be worse!