Thursday, December 22, 2011

The Economist on the Christian Nation Controversy

Here. Hat Tip Ben Abbott. A taste:

IN THE year of our Lord 1816 two grand old men of the American Revolution corresponded eagerly about the work they had recently done, in their rural retirement, on the Bible. Ex-President Thomas Jefferson thanked his old friend Charles Thomson, a co-sponsor of the Declaration of Independence, for sending a copy of his newly completed synopsis of the Gospels.

At a time when many modern Americans are arguing feverishly over the real significance of the nation’s religious and political beginnings, such letters can be dynamite. So let the contents of this exchange be noted carefully. Thomson, like most members of the first American Congress, which he had served as secretary, was a committed member of a church—in his case Presbyterian—but he still felt that there might be things in the Bible that organised Christianity hadn’t grasped. So he spent years re-translating the scriptures; the ex-president approved.


Tom Van Dyke said...

Another crap article, claiming the Founders were deists of the "blind
watchmaker" type. And of course, Jefferson was the outlier, not the
center, as he is used here.

Barton's just stupider than these clever types. He is not more wrong.

Jonathan Rowe said...

Well I think we have given short shrift to some of the non-key Founders. It's a mistake to assume they were either all Jeffersons or all Roger Shermans. I'm now interested in Charles Thomson's take and am going to research it. For me that makes the article worth it.

bpabbott said...

The author did qualify Jefferson as a Deist, and appears to imply something closer to the blind-watchmaker. While he doesn't explicitly make the assertion, I do think he is being deliberately misleading as to what Deism meant in the founding period (not a blind-watchmaker)

At the same time, he notes that others see Jefferson's theology to be closer to traditional Theism.

Regarding the charges leveled on Barton, I think his charge that Barton is guilty of advocating the “Christian nation” theory is fair and accurate. In this, Barton also appears to be misleading. I don't think he believes that our Nation was founded as anything close to Theocracy, but such is easily inferred by those who like the idea or are repelled by it.

In any event, the author does go on to include divisive partisan commentary that serves no other purpose than to increase the partisan divide of our society (which I think is as irrational on his part as it it on Barton's). But, I don't see any facts out of order.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Ben, the author puts Thomas Jefferson on one side and David Barton on the other. That's an absurd framing of the debate.

I heard a Freedom From Religion foundation guy on talk radio last night. President of the Florida Atheists. Almost called in. Did the "deist" riff pretty much like the Economist article does. But that barely even applies to Thomas Paine, and virtually none of the other Founders unless you scrape for Ethan Allen, whose furniture isn't half as good as Samuel Adams' beer.

Hell, Thomas Paine said he went to Revolutionary France to save them from atheism!

These atheists don't know dick, Ben. Present company excepted.


Phil Johnson said...

In 1816, G.W.F. Hegel was 46 years old. He wrote a lot about religion. And, religion had been a hot topic starting with Kant. I wonder--their ideas must have been circulating in the U.S.A. during the turn of that century. What records are there that Jefferson or any others were exposed to those burgeoning ideas on religion?

bpabbott said...

Tom, Good points.

Each time the media reports on the founders and religion the same mutually exclusive extremes are used to frame the discussion. Its always orthodox Christianity on one side and the absent watch-maker Deism on the other.

If we accept anyone who calls himself Christian, and/or regularly attended Christian service as being Christian, and accept that Deism of the founding period had a rather low water mark as well, then I think it fair to conclude many (most?) of the founders would qualify as favoring both.

The dichotomy of it must be the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit or the apathetic dead beat creator are just a battle between two ridiculous strawmen.

I think it would be wise and constructive to point out these errors in a civil manner so as to not polarizing those who are smitten by such errors. With some patience errors of opinion may be corrected.

Tom Van Dyke said...

smitten by such errors

Heh. Eloquent, elegant.