Sunday, April 24, 2011

My Response to Jon Rowe and Dr. Hanley

Below is a comment I posted under Jon's post on the paper he and Dr. James Hanley co-authored. Below that is what started as a comment(with some editing since it is now going main page) but got so long I decided to just do a post in response. It is probably better I do so in that I got busy and did not respond to their comments in a timely manner.  As usual both ask great questions that deserve and answer so here is mine:

Jon stated:

"Islam is an Abrahamic religion. So I'd like to ask why if imago dei is key why Judaism, Islam, Mormonism, certain forms of Deism are not equally entitled to that claim which would make America more a theistic or Providential nation in a political sense. NOT a "Christian Nation." I think there is a good political-historical basis for SCOTUS' "ceremonial deism" doctrine. Though I agree it treats atheists and polytheists like outsiders which is something I am not in favor of."

Ever since I read the paper on the History of Islam that was presented at your other blog this summer, I have wondered a great deal as to if Islamic Theology places any importance on imago dei. That would be a good study. With that stated, even if they did, their view of it would be very different to the Christian view in that Muslims see the characteristics of God differently then Christians do.

It was actually what led to the split according to my somewhat limited historical readings on the topic. Nonetheless, it seems that they believed that the Christians and Jews had perverted the original message as given to Abraham.

As far as Judaism I am no expert in Ancient Hebrew philosophy or the Jewish religion but I think the split with Christianity has nothing to do with different views on Imago Dei.

Mormons and other supposed offshoots along with your second comment outlining what a "Christian" is seems to stray off the tracks in my view. You appear to deem it more important to look at individual founders or influential preachers and analyze what they personally believed and if it was different than the "orthodox" at the time. The goal seems to be label them "non-Christian" and then use that as evidence that because "key founders" strayed from the path America was not founded to be a "Christian Nation".

This is poor evidence to support the bold claim you and James make in the paper. Or I should say in the intro that was posted here because I have not had time to read the paper. But as Tom says above, We have discussed this enough that I am fairly sure I know your thesis and how you go about supporting it.

I maintain that the more important questions:

1. What ideas influenced the founding of America?

2. Where did these ideas come from?

are the accurate frame in which this discuss should take place.

James/Dr. Hanley stated:

"I concur with Jon's response. I would also add that from my considered perspective, the Declaration of Independence is irrelevant to the understanding of the Constitution. The two are entirely separate documents, created for entirely separate purposes, and the DofI has only the barest of influences on the Constitution (in fact many anti-federalists saw it as an abandonment of the ideals of the DofI, which is a bit of an over-reaction, but as contemporaries their view is significant).

Consequently, whatever influence imago dei might have had on the DofI does not necessarily translate into any meaning whatsoever for the meaning of the Constitution.

I'm not saying no argument along your lines is possible, but I see it has having two tough objections to overcome, the one explicated by Jon and the one I've presented here."

First, I want to say that I have really enjoyed our interactions at your other blog and at Ed's blog over the years. I have found you to be fair and accurate though at times we disagree. I would say the same about Tom. I hope that both you can see that about each other at some point. 

Second, I want to apologize for some of my behavior at Dispatches. I discredited myself as a rational thinker and Christian. It was a rough time in my life that I am just coming out of now. 

In short, I value your opinion and most certainly invite you to sift through any thoughts I would have on this topic and others we both seem to enjoy discussing.

As far as your comment, I think it is fair but in my view I think you are wrong.

I go back to Jack Goldstone's paper a while back at Cato. He broadened the discussion to what launched the Modern World and maintained that it was a climate of liberty that allowed room for innovation. He took it in the economic sense but I think it can just as easily be applied to political innovation as well.

Kind of ironic we were speaking about it here at AC long before Obama and business leaders made it a hot topic a few months back when it was the main idea of his SOTU address.

Nonetheless, I would most certainly state that ideals expressed in the DOI were the back bone of the form of government we chose. 

If one looks at the words of Aquinas and the DOI on the same topic the similarity is un-mistakable. This tells me that at least 500 or so years(at the very least in that these ideas go back a lot further than Aquinas) of Western History was heavily impacted by the Bible and man's belief that we are made in the image of God. All Christian philosophy and theology flows from that tree.

In fact, as discussed here in the past, this root concept is at the foundation of the golden rule in that we honor God by loving his image in ourselves and as we begin to understand who he is it becomes clear who we are. It is this realization that should help deter us from marring that image in another.

One can most certainly choose not to believe it. But one cannot deny the central impact that this idea had on Western Thought for centuries. A system of thought that made it around the world beginning when Columbus set sail.

A system of thought responsible for both great evil and great good depending who promulgated it.

Gladstone seems to point out only the evil and in my view unduly dismisses the role that Christian thought had creating a climate of liberty that helped to launch the modern world.

Here is the excerpt of his paper that jumped out to me and profoundly changed my life:

What I believe is most critical to insist upon is the degree to which Europe itself had to repudiate central elements of its own history and culture — the absolute authority of hereditary rulers, the prohibition of diverse religious beliefs in any one society, the elevation of the rights and needs of political and social status elites above those of ordinary inhabitants — in order to develop and implement the idea of society as a community of free individuals sovereign over a limited state. Yet this was necessary if the marriage of engineering culture and entrepreneurship was to survive and flourish, and produce the economic and technological miracles of the last two centuries.

The DOI was based on the idea of "free individuals sovereign" and the Constitution was an attempt at a "limited state".   I think your argument, as outlined above, puts the cart before the ox. 


Daniel said...

Interesting. But I am not sure that Imago Dei, as you understand it, pre-dated the humanism that developed in the High Medieval.

Certainly the notion that we are made in the image of God is found in the Jewish and Christian scriptures. But the ethical consequence is primarily to live pure lives. Glimmers of humanism as we understand it, with its emphasis on the inherent dignity of the individual, can be found in Hellenistic Romances, but not so much in the ancient Jewish or Christian traditions.

And we don't much find it until the High Medieval period. With the rise of humanism and rationalism, Islamic, Jewish, and Christian thinkers began a process of re-thinking the faith. If you have some evidence that Imago Dei (in the humanistic understanding) pre-dated the flourishing of humanism, I would likely find it very interesting.

Joe Winpisinger said...


As I go through the work of Tierney I think this will answer your questions above.