Tuesday, May 31, 2011

John Adams Bases Constitution's Success on Public Morality

Can the United States of America flourish or survive in the absence of religion and morality? John Adams, the second President of the United States, did not believe so. In a letter to the First Brigade of the Massachusetts militia, John Adams famously declared:
"[W]e have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion. Avarice, ambition, revenge, or gallantry, would break the strongest cords of our Constitution as a whale goes through a net. Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other."
While many have taken Adams's words to mean he was endorsing an evangelical government and/or a "Christian nation," it's important that we not overreach or put words into his mouth. John Adams, in this letter, is not endorsing a particular Christian denomination nor is he advocating that the United States adopt the Bible as its legal structure in place of the Constitution. He's instead echoing the sentiments of his predecessor, George Washington, who stated that "religion and morality" are "indispensable supports to political prosperity."

Like Washington, Adams believed that morality and religion were inextricably intertwined. You can't have the former without the latter, and if you can find a latter system without the former, it is inherently flawed and should be set aside. A moral world view, underlined and shaped by religion, is essential to a healthy society, argued Adams. And the American Constitution was written with such a society in mind. Do we have such a society today?

44 comments:

Joy said...

No. But at least now we have Roe v. Wade/Casey v. Planned Parenthood, homosexual "marriage," public school anything without prayer, a whole herd of people with masters degrees+ who can't read on an 8th grade level, and federal departments of everything. And Benny Hinn, etc. All interrelated.

I found this blog looking for a debunking of David Barton. A friend of mine and I have had conversations about whether the Framers were, essentially, Southern Baptists (like her). She cites Barton a lot, is fond of saying Jefferson approved the Bible as a textbook, and once quoted the Adams quote in this post.

Thank you for these resources.

Jason Pappas said...

Unless someone shows me where Adams defines religion, quotes likes these have very limited meaning when trying to understand Adams' views on religion. As you correctly point out, one can not assume he is accepting contemporary notions of "Christian nation."

He may be using religion only as a source of ethical teachings. Most traditional religious thinkers see religion as providing a metaphysical basis for understanding life rooted in a supernatural realm and an epistemological means of deriving knowledge rooted in faith and authority--the authority of the Bible, Pope, or God directly. I don’t see any of the key elements of religion in Adams. Perhaps I missed the crucial passages.

Here’s my review of Adams’ early thoughts on the matter in a key document written as the revolution approached (as opposed to his musings as an old man):
http://americancreation.blogspot.com/2011/02/john-adams-on-virtue.html
It’s clear his ideas of virtue are a masculine type of Republican Virtue traceable to classical Rome. When he does talk about religion, he seems to refer to it mainly as an institutional source of ethical learning. I see no traces of the supernatural or faith-based elements.

Pinky said...

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"[W]e have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion."
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I think it would be difficult to say that all the persons reading this sentence would come away with the same understanding of what Adams means to be sahying.
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What does it mean? What, specifically, is he saying here?
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Brad Hart said...

"What does it mean? What, specifically, is he saying here?"

That the United States was founded to be a RELIGIOUS nation but not specifically a Christian, Judeo-Christian, Theistic Rationalist one.

In terms of semantics, religious nation just fits best.

Jonathan Rowe said...

As President Eisenhower said:

“Our form of government has no sense unless it is founded in a deeply felt religious faith, and I don’t care what it is.”

Pinky said...

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"That the United States was founded to be a RELIGIOUS nation but not specifically a Christian, Judeo-Christian, Theistic Rationalist one."
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I don't see that, Brad.
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Angie Van De Merwe said...

The problem is religion, as I understand it...

Religion is a "systemized" way of understanding metaphysical reality. This is NOT what the Founders had in mind, as they believed that one was free in conscience.

The question about the ethical will always be a "problem", as long as the nation state remains Sovereign, in the international arena, and the State/individual in the local arena...(I think the international arena becomes more problematic, because there is no basis of agreement between civilized and uncivilized societies...as to the value of a liberalized view of "law and order"..

Pinky said...

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I think--applying simple logic to president Adam's comment--we cannot come up with the conclusion that "the United States was founded to be a RELIGIOUS nation ...".

If anything, just the opposite conclusion can be laid down.
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Brad Hart said...

How?

Pinky said...

For clarity, here is the statement in total:
"[W]e have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion. Avarice, ambition, revenge, or gallantry, would break the strongest cords of our Constitution as a whale goes through a net. Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other."
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This part, "Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people.", does NOT make any claim that our nation was founded to be any kind of a religious nation. Instead it appears it is pointing at the tendency of such a people to be so restrictively divided so as to easily "break" our Constitution.
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But, maybe, in consideration of what appears as the "to be" view, a case might possibly be made that our Constitution was put together in such a way so that a moral and religious people could "live" peaceably with each other minus legal support for a specific religious perspective.
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But, I do not see how the comment can be used to say the Founders were creating the new society "to be" a religious nation. The national society already was made up of religious and moral people which was the major cause of the differentiation that existed among the various colonies and the newly evolving states.
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I think the question of semantics comes in here regarding the differences between a national society and of a nation per se.
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Perhaps you would show how the statement gives support to your "to be" view.
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Pinky said...

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Additionally, it seems that once a claim is made that our national society was created to be a religious nation, a precedent will have been set that would allow religious interests to impose rules of religion and morality as taking authority away from our Constitution which would--in turn--break it.
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Tom Van Dyke said...

"'Created' as a religious nation" is superfluous: as Pinky concedes, "The national society already was made up of religious and moral people..."

This is also the flaw, in my view, of the "Godless Constitution" argument, dating the United States of America as a nation only from the ratification of the Constitution.

Why, the Constitution itself dates the United States of America

Done in Convention by the Unanimous Consent of the States present the
Seventeenth Day of September in the Year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred
and Eighty seven and of the Independence of the United States of America the
Twelfth.


1776, for those keeping score at home. We already were the USA before 1787.

There's really no controversy that the Constitution is "Godless," ["In the Year of Our Lord" is a quibble]: the Almighty doesn't appear in the text.

The argument for a "religious nation" is a "soft" argument, poetic, philosophical. For the record, the Declaration of Independence, which refers to the Almighty several times, was included by Congress as one of the "organic" laws of the United States---again, not strictly legal, but philosophical.

This is Adams' point as well: without this "soft" understanding of itself as religious and moral, no law or constitution in a liberal republic like ours is powerful enough to govern.

Does Adams mean Christianity? Yes, I think he does, but more by default. The USA was overwhelmingly Christian, that's what we already were. To parse Adams any further is to be obtuse.

"Philosophy looks with an impartial eye on all terrestrial religions. I have examined all...and the result is, that the Bible is the best book in the world."

But this isn't to say Adams wouldn't have been open to another Holy Book [or philosophy book] as good or better. He just hadn't found one.

Full quote and link to his entire 1813 letter to Jefferson below.

Philosophy looks with an impartial eye on all terrestrial religions. I have examined all, as well as my narrow sphere, my straitened means, and my busy life would allow me ; and the result is, that the Bible is the best book in the world. It contains more of my little philosophy than all the libraries I have seen; and such parts of it as I cannot reconcile to my little philosophy, I postpone for future investigation.

http://www.beliefnet.com/resourcelib/docs/72/Letter_from_John_Adams_to_Thomas_Jefferson_1.html

Jason Pappas said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jason Pappas said...

It is interesting that Adams’ gives us repeated statements that our republic requires a moral citizenry and yet it is well known that he is skeptical that one can rely on morality--at least without ample checks and balances.

His writings circa 1770s and 1780s, show more concern with the kind of public morals that classical republicans wrote about. Where in 1776 does Adams talk about “turning the other cheek and loving his enemies?” Where in his revolutionary and constitutional written works does he talk about the theological virtues of “faith, hope, and charity?”

Pinky said...

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For some reason, Jason's comments make me think about the fact that some very important evolutions in Western thinking were taking place "circa" the Founding era. Thinkers like Kant, Burke, Hume, Hegel, Marx, and Mills were working out accumulated thinking in parallel with the Founding era. Some of them weren't even born until the nineteenth century. 1776 was right in the middle of all that evolution in political thought; so, I'm wondering how much influence our Founding Fathers had on their thinking as much as I wonder about how much they had on the Founders.
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Tom Van Dyke said...

Well again, I would caution about giving John Adams too high a place in the scheme of things. He wasn't a figure like Washington who you'd follow into battle, not the writer of soaring rhetoric like Jefferson or Paine.

Samuel Adams, his religious cousin, is more like that, and perhaps de-emphasized because his impact peaks with the revolution.

That said, Adams writes

the only principles in which that beautiful assembly of young men could unite, and these principles only could be intended by them in their address, or by me in my answer. And what were these general principles? I answer, the general principles of Christianity, in which all those sects were united, and the general principles of English and American liberty...

So it's the principles of liberty, not just "faith, hope, and charity," which is a Pauline [epistles] formulation anyway. But JAdams elsewhere does list the Sermon on the Mount and the Ten Commandments as his religion, and there's your "Judeo-Christian."

[As a unitarian, Adams would not believe Mighty Jehovah transmuted into some sort of Barney the Dinosaur with the Incarnation.]

Jason, this may be helpful---in 1765, Adams writes of the Puritans and their systems

"Whatever imperfections may be justly ascribed to them, which, however, are as few as any mortals have discovered, their judgment in framing their policy was founded in wise, humane, and benevolent principles. It was founded in revelation and in reason too. It was consistent with the principles of the best and greatest and wisest legislators of antiquity."

These are the same "Christian principles" [and those of "liberty"] Adams speaks of later. Reasonable, of course, but Biblical---"revelation"---as well. I think this directly addresses your comment here.

There's more along these lines in the full text: A Dissertation on the Canon and Feudal Law---John Adams


http://teachingamericanhistory.org/library/index.asp?document=43

Pinky said...

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It doesn't seem like any of the Founders finds a high place in the "scheme of things" except that, in union, they were the main actors in the greater movement that was unfolding in Western Civilization. So far, the Founding of America is the greatest accomplishment of that movement. Jefferson and Madison do seem to be more motivated intellectrually than the others.
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The Founders got up from their writing desks and took responsibility for change.

Marx didn't come along until well after the Founding; but, he was influenced by the Founding and the French Revolution that followed so closely at its heels. And, he, and others branched off. History is still unfolding. To zero in on America's Founding as though it were a done deal seems to promote the "end of history" idea to me.
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I haven't seen much here that relates the Founding to the greater Western movement. It seems there is a strong focus on the specifics of what was taking place within the Thirteen Colonies.
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Tom Van Dyke said...

Pinky, you have an interesting notion. It's my opinion that the non-Anglo Western World skipped over Locke and the Founders and went right to modernity---Rousseau, Hegel.

See also Himmelfarb

http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2008/mar/09/politics.society


In fact, you might put the UK more in the continental camp now. It does stand astride the US and EU.

Pinky said...

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I guess I don't see the events of history being single threaded. I would say that history is like a deep river that flows in a steady stream every once in a while coming to a rapids over rocks and boulders as it moves on to the next stage. The "End of History" idea is ridiculous.
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Many different threads are intermingled. I know most everyone knows these things; but, it's probably good to put it on the table.
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The more perspectives we have the better view we get of the subject.
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Tom Van Dyke said...

Yes, Phil. Including Himmelfarb's perspective as above.

The whole point is to unravel the threads, else we look at muddy water and see only muddy water.

To unmix your metaphors.

;-)

Jason Pappas said...

I’m aware that Adams whitewashes the Puritans (as well as the Reformation) in his “Dissertation on the Canon and Feudal Law” just as he vilifies the Catholic Church and everything before the Reformation. A taste:

“Since the promulgation of Christianity, the two greatest systems of tyranny that have sprung from this original, are the canon and the feudal law.”

This doesn’t sound like praise of religion to me. Of course he only means to damn 80% of Christian history to that point in time.

“Thus, as long as this confederacy lasted, and the people were held in ignorance, liberty, and with her, knowledge and virtue too, seem to have deserted the earth, and one age of darkness succeeded another, till God in his benign providence raised up the champions who began and conducted the Reformation.”

So much for Aquinas, Petrarch, and the Renaissance! Despite 15 centuries of that dreaded combo of canon and feudal law he could still see religion as a positive now that the English finally got it right!

“It was not religion alone, as is commonly supposed; but it was a love of universal liberty, and a hatred, a dread, a horror, of the infernal confederacy before described, that projected, conducted, and accomplished the settlement of America. ... The leading men among them, both of the clergy and the laity, were men of sense and learning. To many of them the historians, orators, poets, and philosophers of Greece and Rome were quite familiar; and some of them have left libraries that are still in being, consisting chiefly of volumes in which the wisdom of the most enlightened ages and nations is deposited, ...”

Enlightened? How?

“They saw clearly, that of all the nonsense and delusion which had ever passed through the mind of man, none had ever been more extravagant than the notions of absolutions, indelible characters, uninterrupted successions, and the rest of those fantastical ideas, derived from the canon law, which had thrown such a glare of mystery, ...

However, his main point is that the Puritans and their successors established and maintained extensive educational institutions so that “The consequences of these establishments we see and feel every day. A native of America who cannot read and write is as rare an appearance as a Jacobite or a Roman Catholic, that is, as rare as a comet or an earthquake.”

He mainly gives examples of institutional religion as a source of education. Of course, all educational institutions were denominational. From that point on he talks about the great achievement in liberal education. Here the “Enlightenment” Adams appears:

“The true source of our sufferings has been our timidity. We have been afraid to think.”

This is long before Immanuel Kant asked the question “What is Enlightenment?” and answered it “Dare to think!”

He does have a positive disposition towards religion but it seems more general. The major thrust of the matter is freedom from the tyranny of the forces of canon and feudal law and the rise of liberal education. Here’s his best religious sentiment:

“Let the pulpit resound with the doctrines and sentiments of religious liberty. Let us hear the danger of thralldom to our consciences from ignorance, extreme poverty, and dependence, in short, from civil and political slavery. Let us see delineated before us the true map of man. Let us hear the dignity of his nature, and the noble rank he holds among the works of God, that consenting to slavery is a sacrilegious breach of trust, as offensive in the sight of God as it is derogatory from our own honor or interest or happiness, and that God Almighty has promulgated from heaven, liberty, peace, and good-will to man!”

His enthusiasm is inspiring. His examples, as in the quotes I provided in the previous blog entry, tend to rely on religion as an institutional force (for better or worse) rather than a spiritual endeavor.

jimmiraybob said...

Do we have such a society today?

Adams would ask if they had such a society then.

Pinky said...

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Great post, Jason!
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Pinky said...

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Re the review on Himmelfarb's book:
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The review seems to point to the importance of what president Adams has to say about religion and morality.
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???
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And, the review sez she gives G.W. Bush positive credit for his support of religion in the political mix. Apparently she thinks the Brits should take an active role in promoting religion and morality that, according to her, is so missing in Western Civilization.
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Tom Van Dyke said...

Well, I posted an unsympathetic review of Himmelfarb for "balance." On the whole they had to concede she might have something there.

__________________

As for Adams, his anti-clericalism and anti-Catholicism were common in the day. However, this should not be taken as antipathy for Christianity.

And the public John Adams was on the board of an org raising money to build Boston's first Catholic Church! If this is to be taken as support for "religion in general," OK, I buy that.

Pinky said...

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Hey, Tom! I hear Californiay is a little on the chilly side this weekend.
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It seems to me from what I'm learning here that almost all of the Founding Fathers were big time intellectuals. Each of whom bonded with all the others to form the cadre of courage that led the Colonists to establish America's sovereignty. Great men each who risked his life and fortune for us. What a perfect set up they gave to the world.
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Generally intellectuals are not strong actors. But, these heroes raised the standard of doing the most good for the largest number with the least pain to the smallest number.They raised the bar high to all who follow for what it means to be a true American patriot.
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I think most populist conservatives have got it wrong when it comes to patriotism. I watched a lot of the Faith & Fairness Colitiion Conferance on C-span yesterday. A strange lot! Do a 'Net search and you'll see what I mean.
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BTW, how about baking a cake for my 80th birthday which takes place this coming July 3.
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Just didn't want you to forget the big occasion which will be celebrated nationally next day on the Fourth.
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Pinky said...

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Coalition, that is.
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Tom Van Dyke said...

Ah, thx, Phil and congratulations on yr 80th, you big lug.

To

It seems to me from what I'm learning here that almost all of the Founding Fathers were big time intellectuals

as Jason cites JAdams,

"A native of America who cannot read and write is as rare an appearance as a Jacobite or a Roman Catholic, that is, as rare as a comet or an earthquake.”


I'm sure that's an exaggeration. However, it seems that people then were familiar with ideas, both classical and "Enlightenment," as well as well-versed in the Bible.

a)There wasn't sports or People Magazine or i-pods or the zillion useless factoids we use to distract ourselves these days. Folks back then were more familiar with the Important Things---hey, because paper was so expensive, it was only worth printing the important things worth reading over and over!

b) Admittedly, the pool of ideas was smaller: in the least, they all knew what each other were saying even if they didn't agree. Modernity hadn't really set in yet, and Kant and Hegel and Marx and Rawls, and you get the idea. In a way, we're a lot more a Tower of Babel, talking half-formed ideas past each other a lot. They enjoyed a clarity, a common language of ideas, that we lack.

the most good for the largest number with the least pain to the smallest number

That sounds more like utilitarianism, a modern [1800s] idea, or the "rights talk" of the 20th and 21 century. There was a communitarianism that was taken as a given [Barry Shain's "Myth of American Individualism"] but religious tolerance isn't the same thing as same-sex marriage. [In fact, SSM is opposed on communitarian grounds as being disruptive of society.]

Which brings us to your mention of "Faith & Fairness," sponsored by an LGBT organization. These are rather tall theologico-political weeds for me, and likely a blend of theology and politics that's as valid as the Moral Majority's or any other. But I don't really get into that hereabouts and mostly not elsewhere either, as it's theology and my argument is that theology only extends to those who share one's own.

For the record, there were no Roman Catholics, Muslims or evangelicals on those "interfaith" panels, which rather illustrates my point. You'd have to share the theology of the people on those panels for any of their "Faith & Fairness" arguments to have any meaning.

Pinky said...

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I'll venture to say that we could get involved in a deep conversation about your take on "theology" and "politics" in our society.
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The overwhelming majority of Americans see themselves as identifiable as Christian today. As such, they are being manipulated to vote their religious beliefs. It's the latest denomination of Christianity being hyped in the dominating media. The Holy Church of Cable Television with all sorts of pastors from Mother Angelica to Benny Hinn and beyondd. Personally? I'd settle for Jimmy Swaggert.
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{ ;<}
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Tom Van Dyke said...

As such, they are being manipulated to vote their religious beliefs.

I think they should vote their religious beliefs. That's my take pure and simple. If you've got faith, live it. I respect anyone who does, whether I share their faith or not.

I respect a Muslim who kneels down five times a day to his God a lot more than someone who lives his life---votes---pretending his God doesn't exist, putting him in a box and winding him up on Sundays.

As for being "manipulated" to vote religious beliefs, these charges usually mean they vote the way you don't.

;-)

And this was behind my umbrage at Mark Noll in the post below. He was more subtle about it, but a strong current among the accredited, academic establishment is the "moral evaluation" and theological judgment that the Religious Right is misled, manipulated if you will, by unsound "Christian" theology.

But they're simply doing what they slam Glenn Beck for, when he rails against "social justice" being preached from the pulpit as bad theology---the difference being that Beck is a bald and unapologetic partisan; these credentialed historians are operating under cover of the "historian's hat."

Me, I think Beck's fine arguing theologico-politically along those lines. So are these academics, but they must take off the "credentials hat," their "academic authority hat," and especially their "historian's hat," and put on their "partisan hat" just like the rest of us, Beck included.

And, it follows, that the real impropriety of David Barton is his wearing the "historian's hat" when he's really got a theology hat or a simply a partisan hat on. His opponents have a strong point there, but they don't get the irony that they're often guilty of the same charge.

Pinky said...

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As for being "manipulated" to vote religious beliefs, these charges usually mean they vote the way you don't.
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Be that as it may, it's significant to note that I come out of a very strong Evangelical family circle. My mother weas instrumental in bringing Christian Fundamentalism to North Eastern Michigan in the 1930s. It came out of California--Charles B. Fuller, and out of Texas, Frank Norris. (Check ém out on the 'Net and punch in Cecil Dye as well). There are two highly committed missionaries in my family. And, I was raised with the prayer that I would become a preacher. But, I got some "other" input that caused me to reject that "calling". I ended up in advertising and community relations. I left the "church" so to speak.
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But, I was on the inside circle of Fundamentalist Evangelicalism. I know the thinking quite well. I can be somewhat objecdtive about it. More than anyone can pass off with a flick of the wrist.
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The majority of Americans I referenced as belonging to the new denomication of Christianity are quite shallow in what they think are their "religious beliefs". In fact, they have to ask the more dedicated and serious Evangelicals to learn what they believe. "Sister, what do we believe about abortion?" That kind of stuff. They certainly don't need to understand why they believe--they just go with the popular flow. Some who werre raised as Catholics might not understand. There is no required cathechism for Evangelicals. It's all ala the Great Awakening experience.
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They ARE being manipulated.
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Pinky said...

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Tom, I haven't quite got it figured out; but, I think it's a spin on Calvinism as far as the "Chosen" are concerned. The new denomination out of the Cable Television Church really aren't the predestined; but, they are sorta fellow traveler types.
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Maybe some deep theologans have a better explanation?
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Tom Van Dyke said...

Yes, Phil, not coming from that background, I do underestimate how wack some of these fundies can be. When you or Angie or the hundreds of other ex-fundies I've come across on the internet start revving up on the topic, I get somewhat of an idea.

But when you presume to speak for all fundies and evangelicals, and drag them into your partisan politics, well, you're entitled, but I'm not interested in going into your tall weeds with you.

And of course, there's manipulation everywhere, and plenty of it's on the left---"social justice" pulpits, the institutional university left, and of course the mass-culture media.

Bigtime.

http://www.creators.com/opinion/ben-shapiro.html

There's a reason the product produced by the television industry is overwhelmingly biased to the left: Hollywood generally won't let anybody to the right get a job. As I show in my new book, "Primetime Propaganda: The True Hollywood Story of How The Left Took Over Your TV," Tinseltown is populated almost entirely by liberals who are motivated to use your television to propagandize on behalf of their favorite political causes. No matter what you watch — "Sesame Street" or "Glee," "Sex and the City" or "Friends" — television's creators are using your entertainment choices to proselytize you.

If conservatives get in the way — and they always do — the left simply cuts them out of the loop.


So for me, the "manipulation" question isn't even on the table. If the growing support in the polls for same-sex marriage is due to the exertions of leftist media and "Will & Grace," or if someone's opposed because their pastor tells them so, it is what it is.

Again, it's above my pay grade to judge how other people make up their minds.

Pinky said...

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Maybe I'm not making my points easy to grasp?
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I'm saying something about Post Modern Calvinism regarding some sort of a grading system on who is "chosen" and who is just along for the mortal ride. In order to understand Evangelicalism, you most certainly would have to be in on the inner circles of what is truly believed. It's just the way things are. That's not a negative judgment--just what might be called an objectively subjective observation.
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Pinky said...

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If conservatives get in the way — and they always do — the left simply cuts them out of the loop.


I don't think I've ever read a more far out commentary on the media than that. .
The guy is a nut.
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At least that's my take.
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Speaking of partisanship, it seems there is a certain current flowing throughout history in Western Civilization. I am most interested in the cultural current I see as bringing America to the world. This idea is--as you might say--in a defugalty with other currents. I'd say America is in the white water part of history. Things are happening we have trouble seeing because we are so close to it. I support the flow that brought America into existence. If that makes me partisan, I wonder what party would claim me?
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By the way, I have a nephew who has worked decades in the Hollywood community--still does..
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I think partinsenship is a poor choice of words for us to use in description of our politics. A form of tribalism might be more like it.
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Jason Pappas said...

Adams is, of course, a Christian. The tough part is understanding what that meant to him. What I gather from reading is that he was highly influenced by Locke. Apparently Locke’s “Essay Concerning Human Understanding” was a major influence. He adopted Locke’s view that all understand comes from experience and reflection, including religion. He agrees with Locke that punishment in the afterlife is an important motivation to be virtuous (and Adams abandoned the Calvinist doctrine of pre-destination of his upbringing). With reason yielding ethical principles, revelation plays a secondary role. It appear that theology has become a handmaiden to empirical philosophy!

C. Bradley Thompson has a good discussion of Adams’ philosophy in his book “John Adams & the Spirit of Liberty” which evolved out of his doctoral dissertation (under Gordon Wood). He argues that Adams saw Christianity as an important educational institution (like I suspected above). He quotes the 1796 diary entry as typical of Adams’ view. Here it is:

“One great advantage of the Christian religion is that it brings the great principle of the law of nature and nations--Love your neighbor as yourself, and do to others as you would that others should do to you,--to the knowledge, belief, and veneration of the whole people. Children, servants, women, and men, are all professors in the science of public and private morality. No other institution for education, no kind of political discipline, could diffuse this kind of necessary information, so universally among all ranks and descriptions of citizens. The duties and rights of the man and the citizen are thus taught from early infancy to every creature. The sanctions of a future life are thus added to the observance of civil and political, as well as domestic and private duties. Prudence, justice, temperance, and fortitude, are thus taught to be the means and conditions of future as well as present happiness.”
http://www.constitution.org/primarysources/adamsdiary.html
 

This brings us back to the topic of Brian's original post of the role of religion and morality in the Republic.

jimmiraybob said...

I think that these excerpts, over several years, provide some hints as to Adam's views on religion and Christianity.

[from a letter to Thomas Jefferson, (28 June, 1813)] – “Who composed that Army of fine young Fellows that was then before my Eyes? There were among them, Roman Catholicks, English Episcopalians, Scotch and American Presbyterians, Methodists, Moravians, Anababtists, German Lutherans, German Calvinists Universalists, Arians, Priestleyans, Socinians, Independents, Congregationalists, Horse Protestants and House Protestants, Deists and Atheists; and ‘Protestans qui ne croyent rien ["Protestants who believe nothing’].’ Very few however of several of these Species. Nevertheless all Educated in the general Principles of Christianity: and the general Principles of English and American Liberty.”

[from a letter to F.A. Vanderkemp (27 December, 1816)] – “Jesus is benevolence personified, an example for all men. Dupuis has made no alteration in my opinions of the Christian religion, in its primitive purity and simplicity, which I have entertained for more than sixty years. It is the religion of reason, equity, and love; it is the religion of the head and of the heart.”

[from a letter to F.A. Vanderkemp (27 December, 1816)] – “Christianity, you will say, was a fresh revelation. I will not deny this. As I understand the Christian religion, it was, and is, a revelation. But how has it happened that millions of fables, tales, legends, have been blended with both Jewish and Christian revelation that have made them the most bloody religion that ever existed? How has it happened that all the fine arts, architecture, painting, sculpture, statuary, music, poetry, and oratory, have been prostituted, from the creation of the world, to the sordid and detestable purposes of superstition and fraud?”

[from a letter to Samuel Miller (8 July, 1820)] – “I have endeavored to obtain as much information as I could of all the religions which have ever existed in the world. Mankind are by nature religious creatures. I have found no nation without a religion, nor any people without the belief of a supreme Being. I have been overwhelmed with sorrow to see the natural love and fear of that Being wrought upon by politicians to produce the most horrid cruelties, superstitions, and hypocrisy, from the sacrifices to Moloch down to those of juggernaut, and the sacrifices of the kings of Whidah and Ashantee. The great result of all my researches has been a most diffusive and comprehensive charity. I believe with Justin Martyr, that all good men are Christians, and I believe there have been, and are, good men in all nations, sincere and conscientious.”

[from a letter to Samuel Miller (8 July, 1820)] – “By the way, I wonder not at the petition of the pagans to the emperor, that he would call in and destroy all the writings of Cicero, because they tended to prepare the mind of the people, as well as of the philosophers, to receive the Christian religion.”

Tom Van Dyke said...

First of all Brian Tubbs' Original Post merely has Adams echoing a common sentiment that religion was important as a necessary support for a liberal republic. Nothing here that Washington didn't say in his Farewell Address, more famously and with greater impact.

Because I repeat my caution here that John Adams was not one of the foremost thinkers of the Founding. I found little evidence people cared much what he thought. His lengthy and complex "Defense of the Constitution" was virtually ignored. He is never quoted by his peers.

And too, I repeat my long-standing objection [sorry JRB] to making too much of Adams'---and Jefferson's--- post-presidential writings, which were private letters, not even books like Nixon or Carter's. And nobody gave a damn much about those, either. They were out of public life.

Much is made of the Jefferson-Adams theological correspondence precisely because there is so much of it, and easily accessible. But it does not jibe with how they conducted their public lives, esp John Adams. See his Thanksgiving proclamation of 1798, where he invokes what is unmistakably the Trinity: Father, Redeemer, and Holy Spirit.

But to engage where Jason and JRB are going with all this anyway, there is a fundamental question about the Bible---whether it is Divine Writ, the word of God, "revelation," that God spoke directly to man.

On this Adams is unmistakable:

"Neither savage nor civilized man, without a revelation, could ever have discovered or invented it."---Letter to Rush, 1810

God spoke directly to man. We cannot reduce Jesus to an ethicist or mere moral teacher, as I believe Jefferson did. To Adams, Jesus spoke with divine authority. This is where the theological rubber meets the road.

That he hated authoritarian churches and churchmen was not uncommon. But this is the difference between the separation between "church and state" and the separation between "religion and state," or more dramatically, a separation between "faith and state" or between "religious conscience and state."

The first is what the Founders certainly had in mind; the second illustrates the separation between state and society, the third and fourth the modern "secular" argument, but not the Founders'.

No man was expected to ignore his religious conscience. If God is real---and virtually every Founder thought God was real---that would not only be absurd, but despicable. Only a brute would ignore his conscience for the sake of politics.

Tom Van Dyke said...

To Pinky: Ben Shapiro has the evidence. The recordings are on the internet. You may call him a nut, but he's not really writing "commentary." He has the proof. Ignore it or don't.

http://www.creators.com/opinion/ben-shapiro.html

__________________

As to Calvinism, my own studies of Protestantism are recent, and there are 35,000 sects. Really, 35,000! What I have learned is that few Protestants know much about the other sects of Protestantism [and next to nothing of Roman Catholicism].

"Not 100 people in the United States hate the Roman Catholic Church, but millions hate what they mistakenly think the Roman Catholic Church is."---Fulton J. Sheen

So, you can keep hating on your fundie forebears, and frankly I'll never see things the way they do either. And perhaps John Adams was right about the theology

"I can never join Calvin in addressing his god. He was indeed an Atheist, which I can never be; or rather his religion was Dæmonism. If ever man worshipped a false god, he did."---Letter to Jefferson, 1823

but that's beyond our pay grade and I really oppose us getting into that sort of talk on this blog. It's out of line to bash Mormons or Muslims, so it stands to reason we don't bash Catholics or Calvinists either. And that's why I continually resist you and Angie, or our anti-religion types, from going there.

Now if you want to discuss theology, at arm's length and as the Founders saw it, like Adams does here, that's in bounds. But in the end, blogs are read by people, and I [and we, mostly] want all people to be able to read, enjoy, and learn from this blog without having to sort through political or sectarian BS, cow pies in the meadow. That's what I was getting at in my Noll post, that having to sort through a historian's own religious and political beliefs diminishes his own product.

"You know not the gratification you have given me by your kind, frank, and candid letter. I must be a very unnatural son to entertain any prejudices against the Calvinists, or Calvinism, according to your confession of faith; for my father and mother, my uncles and aunts, and all my predecessors, from our common ancestor, who landed in this country two hundred years ago, wanting five months, were of that persuasion. Indeed, I have never known any better people than the Calvinists. Nevertheless, I must acknowledge that I cannot class myself under that denomination. My opinions, indeed, on religious subjects ought not to be of any consequence to any but myself."
---Letter to Samuel Miller, 1820

And I quite agree with that last bit. John Adams' post-1801 letters on anything, especially religion, are of little or no consequence to anyone but hisself, esp where it contradicts how he conducted his public life.

And as we see, despite despising Calvin and Calvinism, John Adams would not be ungracious enough to start theology wars with family, friends and countrymen.

And isn't that what we're talking about here, Pinky? Genuine American pluralism, not the fake kind.

I hope this closes the circle a bit here between the Brian's OP, Jason and JRB, and you, Phil. And John Adams.

"In regard to religion, mutual toleration in the different professions thereof is what all good and candid minds in all ages have ever practised, and, both by precept and example, inculcated on mankind.

And it is now generally agreed among Christians that this spirit of toleration, in the fullest extent consistent with the being of civil society, is the chief characteristical mark of the Church. Insomuch that Mr. Locke has asserted and proved, beyond the possibility of contradiction on any solid ground, that such toleration ought to be extended to all whose doctrines are not subversive of society."


That was Samuel Adams, of course. The Calvinist.

Jason Pappas said...

"Insomuch that Mr. Locke has asserted and proved, beyond the possibility of contradiction on any solid ground, that such toleration ought to be extended ..."

They may have had different denominations, different theological tenets, and different sacraments. But one thing is clear ... they agreed on Locke!

jimmiraybob said...

But to engage where Jason and JRB are going with all this anyway,...

First of all, I think that the quotes that I put up are consistent with Brian's point. Second, I do include a quote that references revelation (but see below).

...there is a fundamental question about the Bible---whether it is Divine Writ, the word of God, "revelation," that God spoke directly to man.

Where is the evidence that Adams felt that the Bible, in whole, was divine writ? (See Jon Rowe's post here.)

--"I admire your employment in selecting the philosophy and divinity of Jesus, and separating it from all mixtures. If I had eyes and nerves I would go through both Testaments and mark all that I understand.

..."
- (letter to Jefferson Nov. 15, 1813.)

The quote that you provide only shows that Adams' believed that Jesus' ministry was divinely inspired, providing a foundation ("discovery") upon which the Bible and Christianity could be built (and incorporating corruptions).

Where is the contradiction between the quotes I provided with how he lived his life? To synthesize what appears to be his view on religion (at least in part), 1) he finds the benevolence, kindness and moral teachings of Jesus consistent with early "primitive" Christianity ( roughly 1st-2nd century?), 2) Jesus was divinely inspired, 3) religion does not depend on ecclesiastical authority, 4) good and moral men throughout the ages are deserving of the appellation "Christian," 5) he greatly admired Ciccero's religious (Stoic) and political teaching which he saw as somewhat consistent with later (primitive) Christian teaching, 6) he felt that religion in general and Christianity principles specifically were important to instil the moral precepts necessary for the republican form of government.

These strains are evident in his earlier writings.

Distil this down and let me know how this much differs from what Brian posted.

And...

John Adams' post-1801 letters on anything, especially religion, are of little or no consequence to anyone but hisself,...

That is your opinion and I don't share it. If anything, his later writings, especially personal correspondence, are a more likely and candid expression of his world view, and even more importantly, provide clues as to a synthesis and mature evolution of his thinking. Your artificial constraints are too limiting to a true understanding or analysis.

Tom Van Dyke said...

...the Father of Mercies agreeably to those forms or methods which they have severally adopted as the most suitable and becoming; that all religious congregations do, with the deepest humility, acknowledge before God the manifold sins and transgressions with which we are justly chargeable as individuals and as a nation, beseeching Him at the same time, of His infinite grace, through the Redeemer of the World, freely to remit all our offenses, and to incline us by His Holy Spirit to that sincere repentance and reformation which may afford us reason to hope for his inestimable favor and heavenly benediction...---Thxgiving proclamation, 1798

Father, Son and Holy Ghost. This was the public John Adams, JRB.

Now we know that "Redeemer" to the private unitarian John Adams means less than "divine son of God." Yet this elision would be ignored by the orthodox reader.

And you still got yr Holy Spirit in there.

Further, "revelation" goes a bit past the "divinely inspired" locution that you've inserted in here, which is weak tea and conceals more than it reveals. Adams used the word "revelation," as in the word and will of God revealed directly to man, not just by mere "inspiration." There is a metaphysical threshold crossed there.

As for Adams believing the scriptures were corrupted, true. But no evidence of that, I think, before his studies in later life. You reject drawing a line on them, but many people believe things in their dotage they didn't when they were young and changing the world. [Often they're things they didn't think about one way or the other until later in life.]

Jonathan Rowe said...

"See his Thanksgiving proclamation of 1798, where he invokes what is unmistakably the Trinity: Father, Redeemer, and Holy Spirit."

I wouldn't go this far. On the surface, yes. But I've read theological arguments from modalists and other unitarians on why they could believe in this language without being Trinitarians. Mormons too I think. I might be good to ask our Mormon -- who are NOT Trinitarian -- authorities whether they agree with John Adams' language. Plus Adams was a self proclaimed unitarian since 1750. I know how Christian-unitarians deal with Father-Son in Father-Son-Holy Spirit; the Son is not God, but some kind of lower created subordinate being. I'm still trying to get a hold of how the more biblical unitarians view the Holy Spirit.

Tom Van Dyke said...

I wouldn't go this far. On the surface, yes.

Well, I acknowledged that it was on the surface. But I'm unaware that John Adams was out of the closet as a unitarian during his public life, which is my point.

As for the Holy Spirit, yeah, how about that one?