Wednesday, June 22, 2011

On the duty of preachers to address political issues

It is the duty of the clergy to accommodate their discourses to the times, to preach against such sins are most prevalent, and recommend such virtues as are most wanted.  For example, -- if exorbitant ambition and venality are predominant, ought they not to warn their hears against those vices?  If public spirit is much wanted, should they not inculcate this great virtue?  If the rights and duties of christian magistrates and subjects are disputed,should they not explain them, show their nature, ends, limitations, and restrictions, how much soever it may move the gall of Massachusettensis?
- John Adams, Novanglus, 1774, reprinted in In God We Trust:  The Religious Beliefs and Ideas of the American Founding Fathers, ed. by Norman Cousins (Harper & Brothers:  1958), pg. 90.

13 comments:

Angie Van De Merwe said...

Jonathan Edwards comes to mind, "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God"...such rantings, might not have the same effect today, as it had back then. Today, people are more educated, and have more civil liberties. But, perhaps, civil liberties is what the preachers today would rail against! (like the Moral Majority)!

jntskip said...

Angie,
I find it sad that you consider Edwards to have been ranting. Edwards is said to have been a practical slave to his notes and almost spoke in a monotone.
It is also sad that "Sinners in The Hands of An Angry God" is the message for which he is known, because the depth of his knowledge and wisdom are seen better in other of his works.
I think, too, that you must know little of Edwards, because you seem to view him as uneducated. Edwards was a great intellectual, and this nation has seen few such as he.

Jason Pappas said...

Good quote, Mark. It's one that I'd pick from his essay Novanglus. As a matter of fact, I did single it out in February:
http://americancreation.blogspot.com/2011/02/john-adams-on-virtue.html

I found it interesting that Adams is exhorting preachers to promote civic virtue and not just private or religious virtue. Is this Adams' call for the clergy to become "relevant?"

Angie Van De Merwe said...

jntskip,
I did NOT say that Edwards was uneducated. I said today America is more educated on civil liberties.

Edwards "ranted" in my terms, because he used "God" as a "whip" to "discipline" the "commonwealth"! That is a conservative view of God, as Judge, that will send people to hell, so that people will obey the social norm of the day...and wait for their reward in heaven.

The liberal, on the other hand, uses "God" as a means to embrace all cultures, religions, and peoples.

I don't care which one is believed, I am more interested in how we understand the Founding, as the Founding was not based on Edward's view, but a philosophical view. And even the natural law philosophical view is useful for liberal persuasion of human rights, while the Protestant aspect affirms "capitalistic" concerns...individuality,etc. We were a mix of people, interests, values and focus...but all people came to our shores for religious, economic, and political liberty!!

Angie Van De Merwe said...

I think I like what I posted the other day....


[A]ll laws must be based on individual rights and aimed at their protection.
“The Nature of Government,” Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal

Under objective law, what is the fundamental difference in the scope of private action versus government action?
A private individual may do anything except that which is legally forbidden; a government official may do nothing except that which is legally permitted.

“The Nature of Government,” Capitalism: The Unknown Ideal


[W]hen men are caught in the trap of non-objective law, when their work, future and livelihood are at the mercy of a bureaucrat’s whim, when they have no way of knowing what unknown “influence” will crack down on them for which unspecified offense, fear becomes their basic motive, if they remain in the industry at all—and compromise, conformity, staleness, dullness, the dismal grayness of the middle-of-the-road are all that can be expected of them. Independent thinking does not submit to bureaucratic edicts, originality does not follow “public policies,” integrity does not petition for a license, heroism is not fostered by fear, creative genius is not summoned forth at the point of a gun. Non-objective law is the most effective weapon of human enslavement: its victims become its enforcers and enslave themselves.


“Vast Quicksands,” The Objectivist Newsletter

Mark in Spokane said...

Jason, I missed your earlier post -- thanks for pointing it out to me. Yes, I think that that's what Adams meant -- he wanted a voice for religion in the public square that would challenge believers to develop those civic virtues that are necessary for a free society. I don't think, though, that he saw a very clear division between religious virtue and public virtue -- that's part of what he was addressing in that portion of Novanglus. They are linked -- civic virtue builds off of the spiritual and religious virtue of a people. That's a pretty consistent theme throughout Adams' writings.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

Mark,
Adams was the conservative. So, are you saying that today's atheist's have no civic virtue, because they have no religous or spiritual commitment?

As the last quote says, "the middle of the road" person are those that carry out the plans of the beauracrat. Is that civic virtue, then, to limit liberty to such as these? Is their virtue only in submitting to power? It is IF that position is a chosen one, and not a prescribed one! Is limitation of personal liberty what the Founders had in mind? I think not! Otherwise, we would still be a colony under England! But, this is what wrought the political debates in early American history, just as it does today!

Angie Van De Merwe said...

I personally think that the fundamentalist turn at the early part of the 1900's was what changed our national "color". Since then, America has been conditioned by "social" and commercial enterprises that affirm the fundamentalist's or evangelical change of events...and it is a interpretive change that has affected every aspect of our political life: the way Americans understand themselve....this development is similar to what happened, I think, in early Christian communities, that becamse a dominant religion. It is called "mythologiing" history...

Jason Pappas said...

Mark, the interplay of private virtue and public virtue is a topic of great interest. That was one of the reasons I singled out Adams’ thoughts on virtue in Novanglus. I sense to interplay between private and public virtue rather than a conflation. I’m still exploring the area. Later today, I’ll post quotes and comments on Franklin’s ethical writings. I also suggest some challenges for the modern reader (including myself, of course) when trying to understand the colonial mindset.

Mark in Spokane said...

I wouldn't say conflation, although I think for Adams that public virtue built on religious virtue -- e.g., his later comment that the Constitution was fit only for a religious people, etc.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

Jason,
Are you suggesting that the colonial mindset was a better one than we have today, concerning virtue? I would agree, but the quesiton is what defines virtue...

Is "fear of God" the beginning of wisdom, meaning that one cannot lead without some fear that "God" will come with a vengence to vindicate his "elect"? This is the Puritan's view...but those that believe that virtue is "doing good works" such as other "traditions" might not have that belief. Beliefs are irrelavant to civic virtue, in and of itself.

Those that suppose that their view of virtue is the eptiome of virtue are themselves understanding their view/definition as absolute, aren't they? and isn't that a perversion of personal liberty of conscience? One has to have some form of grasping one's "reality" and understanding of "life and liberty" to formulate what it means to be virtuous.

Jason Pappas said...

Well, Angie, see my post later tonight on virtue and let's continue the conversation then.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

Jason,
I'll look forward to it! This is really educational for me and I appreciate the opportunity to engage in the conversation, though I always try to look at 'the other side"....I just want people to be honest in their use of information. Sometimes because of the lack of information I have, I fear manipulation. But, then, a free society, will not remain one, without an educated populace...will it?