Monday, January 31, 2011

Wikileaks Principles are "Those of the American Revolution"

So claims its leader. One reason why we spend so much time at American Creation discussing the Founding is people value the American Founding. Folks make an argument -- perhaps logically fallacious -- of appeal to the authority of the American Founding. It's like the argument ad populum. It may be logically fallacious, but in a democracy it has some value to it.

Interestingly, there are some conservatives who might agree with Assange's claim. The American Revolution was, after all, a revolution. Revolutions by nature defy prevailing political authorities.

Those conservatives who want to value the Founding but not revolutions, get around that by arguing, perhaps correctly, that the US Constitution, NOT the Declaration of Independence is what governs America.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

The Origins of the Ideas That Positioned America to Launch the Modern World

In light of Jon's request for more posts, and my insane lack of time lately,  I decided to post this from my Real Estate blog where I write about innovation a great deal. My interest in this topic started here at American Creation when I first started posting on the origin of ideas that lead to America that can be seen in my post about Alvin Toffler's Third Wave and Jack Goldstone's posts on what launched modernity. The focus on this post is not modern political squabbles. It is to open up our discussions to the right historical frame. So please no political hand grenades. 

Here is the post:

Those of us who blog about innovation, entrepreneurship, and the power of great ideas have to be encouraged that this was the theme of a large part of The State of the Union speech last night.

Here is an excerpt from the speech with some thoughts of mine below the fold:

"The future is ours to win. But to get there, we can’t just stand still. As Robert Kennedy told us, “The future is not a gift. It is an achievement.” Sustaining the American Dream has never been about standing pat. It has required each generation to sacrifice, and struggle, and meet the demands of a new age.
And now it’s our turn. We know what it takes to compete for the jobs and industries of our time. We need to out-innovate, out-educate, and out-build the rest of the world. (Applause.) We have to make America the best place on Earth to do business. We need to take responsibility for our deficit and reform our government. That’s how our people will prosper. That’s how we’ll win the future. (Applause.) And tonight, I’d like to talk about how we get there.
The first step in winning the future is encouraging American innovation.

None of us can predict with certainty what the next big industry will be or where the new jobs will come from. Thirty years ago, we couldn’t know that something called the Internet would lead to an economic revolution. What we can do -- what America does better than anyone else -- is spark the creativity and imagination of our people. We’re the nation that put cars in driveways and computers in offices; the nation of Edison and the Wright brothers; of Google and Facebook. In America, innovation doesn’t just change our lives. It is how we make our living. (Applause.)

Our free enterprise system is what drives innovation. But because it’s not always profitable for companies to invest in basic research, throughout our history, our government has provided cutting-edge scientists and inventors with the support that they need. That’s what planted the seeds for the Internet. That’s what helped make possible things like computer chips and GPS. Just think of all the good jobs -- from manufacturing to retail -- that have come from these breakthroughs.

Half a century ago, when the Soviets beat us into space with the launch of a satellite called Sputnik, we had no idea how we would beat them to the moon. The science wasn’t even there yet. NASA didn’t exist. But after investing in better research and education, we didn’t just surpass the Soviets; we unleashed a wave of innovation that created new industries and millions of new jobs.

This is our generation’s Sputnik moment.

Leaving all politics and the debates over the different avenues to bring the picture that President Obama is trying to paint here to fruition, I have to say that I whole heartedly agree with every word stated above. In fact, I am inspired. Nonetheless, I think Umair Haque hit the nail on the head when he tweeted, "'We need to think bigger'". Exactly. WAY bigger than Obama's thinking now. Like reimagining GDP, corps, bottom lines, jobs, etc..."

Again I am not going to delve into the politics and solutions today. My goal with this post is a Socratic one of making sure we are asking the right questions before we start looking for answers. With that said, I think the question we need to ask ourselves as a nation is what magnitude of a moment are we going to need to keep our preeminent place in the world today? Or perhaps more importantly the preeminent place that our ancestors that helped form the Western World handed to us?

I dare to say that challenging us to rise to the task of "Our Sputnik" not only lessens the magnitude of the moment at hand but leaves us sorely lacking a true understanding of what is really needed to forcefully take hold of it. I hate to keep going back to my Columbus analogy but I think it perfectly captures both aspects alluded to in the last sentence. Just like in his time, there is something truly transcendent hanging out there just beyond the horizon that will shape the next 500 years the same way he helped shape the last. I think the President missed his "moment" last night by appealing to generational change at the expense of the larger trends of history before us.

In short, We are not just transitioning from one generation to another but from one era of History to another. It is my contention that Columbus was the catalyst to the 2ndWAVE and it is going to take a generation looking for CHANGE beyond the horizon to catch the 3rdWAVE currently forming to take us there...

Another Recycled Post on John Adams' Unitarianism

I know this is a little low-brow but it's fun.

It's strange, you mention the term "Unitarian" and everyone assumes today's Unitarian-Universalist church. The term simply means denial of the Trinity. America's key Founders and today's UUs are "unitarians" according to a genus that also captures, among others, the Jehovah's Witnesses who believe in an odd version of the Arian hersey.

So when I said "John Adams was a Unitarian," the pious Reverend who responded to me immediately thought I was arguing JA was like today's UUs, not a claim I was making.

Over the next few months I want to further explore the "Christian-unitarian-universalism" (what Gregg Frazer terms "theistic rationalism") of the folks who influenced the "key Founders." Yes, we've explored the beliefs of the key Founders to death (and we will continue to beat the dead horse). But there are still things that, for instance, Samuel Clarke or Isaac Newton (and many others) said that we haven't explored. Those men were "Christian-unitarian-universalists." Does that term work? Can we hear that term without thinking it a contradiction in terms? When we say "they were 'Christian unitarian-universalists'" can we imagine that term without imagining Clarke, Newton, et al. joining a present day UU church? Or would they have indeed joined today's UUs, were they alive?

That said, on to my recycled post:

It's funny. See this thread on worldmagblog, which illustrates that stubbornness is intractable in human nature. Someone possesses an erroneous assumption. They are given more than adequate evidence refuting the assumption. Yet, they stubbornly refuse to let go of their error.

In this case, it's a fellow named Joel Mark who assumed that John Adams was an orthodox Christian, and not a Unitarian, was shown overwhelming evidence to the contrary, complete with references to primary sources, yet still refuses to let go of the notion that Adams was a traditional minded Christian. In one comment directed at me, he wrote:

Jon Rowe,

You are flat out wrong....John Adams was NOT a Unitarian. That was never how he identified himself or was identified and the Unitarians were not even around in Massachusetts or America in his prime years.

You are unreliable on this matter. maybe its just that your sources are poor. But you are wrong.

He further asks for "smoking gun" evidence demonstrating that Adams identified himself as a Unitarian. Ye ask, and ye shall receive. Here is Adams himself on the matter:

I thank you for your favour of the 10th and the pamphlet enclosed, "American Unitarianism." I have turned over its leaves and have found nothing that was not familiarly known to me.

In the preface Unitarianism is represented as only thirty years old in New England. I can testify as a Witness to its old age. Sixty five years ago my own minister the Reverend Samuel Bryant, Dr. Johnathan Mayhew of the west Church in Boston, the Reverend Mr. Shute of Hingham, the Reverend John Brown of Cohasset & perhaps equal to all if not above all the Reverend Mr. Gay of Hingham were Unitarians. Among the Laity how many could I name, Lawyers, Physicians, Tradesman, farmers!

-- John Adams to Jedidiah Morse, May 15, 1815. Adams Papers (microfilm), reel 122, Library of Congress.


We Unitarians, one of whom I have had the Honour to be, for more than sixty Years, do not indulge our Malignity in profane Cursing and Swearing, against you Calvinists; one of whom I know not how long you have been. You and I, once saw Calvin and Arius, on the Plafond of the Cathedral of St. John the Second in Spain roasting in the Flames of Hell. We Unitarians do not delight in thinking that Plato and Cicero, Tacitus Quintilian Plyny and even Diderot, are sweltering under the scalding drops of divine Vengeance, for all Eternity.

-- John Adams to John Quincy Adams, March 28, 1816, Ibid, reel 430.

These quotations are featured in James H. Hutson's fine book of quotations, pp. 220-221.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

James Madison and Samuel Clarke

Yes I know this is a recycled post. But American Creation is suffering from a dearth of posts, which is the DEATH of blogs.

Bloggers, like academics with their (our) lectures and ministers with their sermons, can recycle their posts. With that, on to James Madison's creed.

While very reticent to give the personal details of his creed, his most explicit discussion on the matter comes from his letter TO FREDERICK BEASLEY, November 20, 1825. Madison noted that in order to fully do justice to a theological work he'd have to "resort to the celebrated work of Dr. Clarke," which he "read fifty years ago...." Madison's philosophical argument for God is as follows:

The finiteness of the human understanding betrays itself on all subjects, but more especially when it contemplates such as involve infinity. What may safely be said seems to be, that the infinity of time & space forces itself on our conception, a limitation of either being inconceivable; that the mind prefers at once the idea of a self-existing cause to that of an infinite series of cause & effect, which augments, instead of avoiding the difficulty; and that it finds more facility in assenting to the self-existence of an invisible cause possessing infinite power, wisdom & goodness, than to the self-existence of the universe, visibly destitute of those attributes, and which may be the effect of them. In this comparative facility of conception & belief, all philosophical Reasoning on the subject must perhaps terminate.

Even at an old age, his mind is still very lucid. Though he read it 50 years prior, he still follows Clarke's argument quite closely. From Stanford's Encyclopedia of Philosophy:

The main lines of Clarke's argument are as follows. Since something exists now, something has always existed, otherwise nothing would exist now because nothing comes from nothing. What has existed from eternity can only be either an independent being, that is, one having in itself the reason of its existence, or an infinite series of dependent beings. However, such a series cannot be the being that has existed from eternity because by hypothesis it can have no external cause, and no internal cause (no dependent being in it) can cause the whole series. Hence, an independent being exists.

Clarke was an Anglican Divine, an Arian heretic, and a philosophical rationalist. Here is the Encyclopedia on his Arian heresy:

In 1712, apparently against the advice of some of Queen Anne's ministers, Clarke published The Scripture Doctrine of the Trinity, which was accused of Arianism, the view that Christ is divine but created. The ensuing controversy culminated two years later in his humiliating promise to the Upper House of Convocation not to preach or write on the topic any longer. However, this act of submission did not silence the correct rumors that he, like Newton himself, was still an Arian. How much these suspicions of heterodoxy damaged his ecclesiastical career is unclear. However, Voltaire reports that Bishop Gibson effectively prevented Clarke's elevation to the see of Canterbury by pointing out that Clarke was indeed the most learned and honest man in the kingdom, but had one defect: he was not a Christian.

I should note too that John Witherspoon, though a Calvinist/orthodox Christian, actually introduced Madison and his other students to Samuel Clarke's work at Princeton. Witherspoon was greatly influenced by Locke and the religious rationalists of the Enlightenment who were disproportionately non-Trinitarians. Witherspoon was not, contrary to misperceptions, teaching his students to be good orthodox Trinitarian Christians at Princeton, though that is what he preached from the pulpit. On matters of government, Witherspoon, first and foremost, taught his students to be good Whig-republicans.

Oprah Winfrey, "Christian"?

From the Immanent Frame. Though, they don't squarely address the issue.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011


At American Creation we've discussed what terms mean. "Christian," "Catholic," "Protestant," "Enlightenment," "Unitarian," etc. There are some irresolvable differences in understanding here; so it's better to clarify -- put on the table what we mean by these terms. Does "Protestantism," for instance, mean simply freedom from the Roman Catholic Church's Magesterium and the supposed "errors" of Rome? If so, those who believe in theological unitarianism, universalism, indeed even Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses could qualify as "Protestant Christians." (I'm not sure whether Mormons or JWs identify as "Protestants" as they DO identify as "Christians." I know theological unitarians and universalists, historically, have identified as "Protestant Christians.") Does Protestantism mean Sola Scriptura? Are doctrines like Trinity, Incarnation, Atonement, Eternal Damnation non-negotiables to the label "Protestant Christian"? (If so that would exclude our Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses, and theological unitarians and universalists.)

I found the following video from EWTN very informative. It discusses how many of today's evangelicals think of themselves as "born-again" Christians. In John 3, Jesus instructs Nicodemus on the necessity of being "born again" in order to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Yet the Bible is one thick ass book and there, all sorts of things are said by Jesus and OTHER "inspired" writers and speakers on requirements for entering the Kingdom of Heaven.

For instance, in Matthew 18:3, Jesus says, “Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”

Yet, there is no "become like children-Christian" movement like there is a "born-again Christian" movement. Yet, there is the same TEXTUAL support for BOTH kinds of Christianities. In, say, the year 2500, one could imagine such a movement.

Apparently Luther and Calvin, though they were "Protestant," "Reformed," "orthodox-Trinitarian," were not "born-again Christians," at least they did not preach being "born again" as an ELEMENT for when one becomes a "real" or "regenerate" Christian. Rather, they held to infant-baptismal regeneration, like the Roman Catholics.

Update: At my home blog my friend Ron comments:

Jon, although I no longer consider myself a Christian (in any conventional sense), as a Unitarian Universalist I've always identified with the term "radical protestant." To me, it represents a shift of authority (in assessment of truth) from a "top down" model (whether an infallible Church or State or infallible scripture) to more of a "bottom-up" paradigm of ultimate self-discernment of truth and meaning.

To me, being part of this "radically left wing of the Protestant Reformation" tradition in religion means that my spiritual ancestors were so stubbornly protestant that they increasingly refused to let anyone else (in any age, no matter how highly esteemed) do their thinking for them. It means that I can draw an identifiable line from the Minor Reformed Church of Poland (Socinians) to kindred spirits of freedom-inspired religion in the present day (whatever the title).

I would suggest that, to us, the term protestant is more about methodology than theology, not so much about particular beliefs as the approach used to determining those beliefs. (As I've commented elsewhere, if the name hadn't already been taken, UU's could have been called "methodists" in reference to their stubbornly protestant attitude applied even to matters of religion.)

Sunday, January 23, 2011

John Murray's Trial in Massachusetts

I know we discussed the Dedham decision in Massachusetts which ultimately resulted in that state's religious establishment ending in 1833. Long story short: The Mass. Supreme Court, staffed by some Unitarians at that time, held Unitarians were a "Christian" sect eligible for state establishment aid which pissed the orthodox off so much so that they pushed for disestablishment.

But apparently, in 1783 the Universalist John Murray was involved in a similar set of court cases, where the "heterodox" side also won. Murray's and the Dedham decision could be viewed as bookend cases in favor of a heterodox, heretical "Christian" establishment in Founding era Mass. That state is, as I have come to learn, a "book end" on Founding era establishment policy. On one end we have "Virginia" represented by James Madison and Thomas Jefferson which not only disestablished but also (in Jefferson's 1786 Statute on Religious Liberty) separated church and state to some significant degree. On the other, Mass., which enacted a mild "Christian" establishment, consistent with "liberty of conscience."

As it turned out, however, such establishment encompassed heterodoxy and heresy, incompatible with what CS Lewis would later term "mere Christianity." The evangelical Baptists of that day embraced Jefferson and Madison's Virginia view that more separated church and state. After reading these cases I understand why.

Indeed, I wonder whether John Murray's cases influenced Madison's notes for his Remonstrance that cautioned against courts, with their recognized common law powers of filling in gaps in the law, deciding what constitutes "Christianity" eligible for state establishment aid.

What happened? Because John Murray preached Christianity, properly understood, taught ALL MEN will eventually be saved, more "orthodox" types argued he should be disqualified from receiving state establishment aid.

As Thomas Whittemore's 1830 book on Universalist history notes (paragraph breaks added for clarity):

At the close of the last chapter we left Mr. Murray in Gloucester, surrounded by a few steadfast friends, who had erected a Meeting House, and seemed to be enjoying a brief respite from persecution. ... At the time this society came into being, the Constitution of Massachusetts had not been drawn up, the United States were involved in the war of the Revolution, and there seems to have been no regularly prescribed method for the formation of societies distinct from the original parishes.

The Universalists in Gloucester therefore, considered themselves as constituted a christian society, by framing and subscribing articles of association, and by electing their religious teacher.

In the summer of 1780, the new constitution for the state went into effect, in which it was provided "that the several towns, parishes, precincts, and other bodies-politic, or religious societies, shall at all times have the exclusive right of electing their public teachers and of contracting with them for their support and maintenance.

"And all moneys paid by the subject to the support of public worship and of the public teachers aforesaid shall, if he require it, be uniformly applied to the support of the public teacher or teachers of his own religious sect or denomination, provided there be any on whose instructions he attends; otherwise it may be paid toward the support of the teacher or teachers of the parish or precinct in which the said moneys are raised.

"And every denomination of Christians, demeaning themselves peaceably and as good subjects of the commonwealth, shall be equally under the protection of the law; and no subordination of any one sect or denomination to another shall ever be established by law."


Not withstanding the association of the Universalists in Gloucester into a religious society, they were taxed to defray the expenses of the old parish. A demand which seemed to them so unreasonable, they refused to satisfy; and thereupon their goods were seized by an officer and sold at auction. An action was instituted for the recovery of the property; and, after great solicitation, Mr. Murray consented that it should be brought in his name, he had hitherto refused any stipulated salary; but his friends being assured by their attornies that their case was hopeless, unless Mr. Murray became the plaintiff, he, at last, with great reluctance permitted it.

The question now to be decided was one of great importance; it was the first of the kind which had occurred under the new Constitution. Whether a society could be known in law, unless it were a body corporate, and what shall constitute a teacher of piety, morality and religion, were questions the decision of which affected not Universalists alone, but all other sects which dissented from the original parish.

The Universalists in Gloucester saw clearly the importance of the case to be decided, as it affected the interests of the various denominations in the commonwealth; and, advised by counsel of the highest standing, they moved forward with a firm and steady step.

VI. The case came on for trial in the year 1783. The ground taken by Mr. Murray's opponents was, that no teacher could have a right to recover the money paid by his sect, unless the person demanding it is the teacher of a town, parish, precinct, or a society legally organized, and vested with civil and corporate powers. It was furthermore objected, that Mr. Murray's followers had no name or appellation of Protestant Christians, and were not known in the country as a sect; and that Mr. Murray did not come within the meaning of the law, as he was not a teacher of piety, religion and morality. (Bold mine -> JR.)

"We beg leave to ask," said his opponents, "can a man who publicly discards the doctrine of God's moral government, of future rewards and punishments, urge, with a good face, or with any hope of success, the practice of morality? Can he consistently preach up morality, when he at the same time saps its very foundation, and cuts the nerves of Christian piety, by blending all characters together, and by making all equally holy, because equally united to Christ in his incarnation?"9

In reply the Universalists said, "whether he is a teacher of piety, religion and morality, cannot be determined from a revision of the motives he offers as to the rewards and the punishments which are to be bestowed or inflicted in another world. We believe that the question must be decided by the evidence of his urging the people to piety and morality, as the foundation of the greatest good which their natures are capable of, and as a compliance with the will of their Almighty Creator and Preserver, without going into an inquiry of his opinion respecting the quantity of punishment in a future state.

"That God will punish men for sin, in such a manner as will far overbalance the pleasures which can be derived from vice in this world, is so clearly pointed out in the gospel, that we are compelled to believe it; but whether the opinion of some learned and good men, who imagine that the wicked will be annihilated; or whether that of the learned Dr. Chauncy, Dr. Priestly, and many others, who believe that there is a temporary hell prepared for the ungodly, which is another state of probation, or any other opinion respecting that subject is best, every one must determine for himself. Neither statutes, penalties or rewards, can force, or allure, a man to consent to the truth of a proposition, without sufficient evidence received by a mind capable of examining, and applying of it.

"The idea, that it is necessary to the good order of civil government, that the teachers of religion should thunder out the doctrine of everlasting punishment, to deter men from atrocious crimes, which they may otherwise commit in secret, has long been hackneyed in the hands of men in power; but without any warrant from reason, or revelation for doing of it; for reason itself, without the aid of revelation, gave no intimation of a state of retribution; it was the Gospel which brought life, and immortality to light. God, in the civil constitution which he was pleased to form for the Jews, strongly prohibited murder, perjury, adultery, and many other crimes which men might then commit in secret; but in no one instance, gave an intimation, that the Jews should be punished in another world for their crimes in this. Had a threatening of that nature been necessary to the support of civil government, we might with propriety look for it there. It was not till the Christian Church was illegally weded to state policy, that men in power dared to hurl the thunders of the Most High at those who offended against government; and even then modesty forbade it, only as they arrogantly pretended to do it for the honor of God, and the advantage of religion."0

This case was kept in court for a long time. Trial succeeded trial, and review followed review, at Salem and at Ipswich, in 1783, 1784, and 1785. In the fall of the latter year a writ of review was again served, but the final decision was deferred until June, 1786, when a verdict was given in favor of Mr. Murray. The conduct of Judge Dana attracted particular notice. The view he had taken of the case in former trials was unfavorable to the plaintiff; but a revolution had passed in his mind. When he noticed that article in the Constitution which directs that monies may be applied by each person to teachers of his own religious sect, he said the whole cause depended upon the construction of that clause. He had before been of opinion it meant teachers of bodies corporate; he then thought otherwise; as the Constitution was meant for a liberal purpose, its construction should be of a most liberal kind; it meant, in this instance, teachers of any persuasion whatever, Jew or Mahometan.

It would be for the Jury to determine, if Mr. Murray was a teacher of piety, religion and morality; that matter, he said, had in his opinion been fully proved. The only question, therefore, before them was, if Mr. Murray came within the description of the Constitution, and had a right to require the money. "It is my opinion," he declared, "that Mr. Murray comes within the description of the Constitution, and has a right to require the money." Having been out all night, the jury returned a verdict in the morning in favor of the plaintiff.

VII. Thus protected in the enjoyment of their religious rights by the decision of the highest judicial tribunal in the commonwealth, and by the verdict of an impartial jury, the Universalists in Gloucester went fearlessly on; rejoicing that it fell to their lot to resist the beginnings of oppression under the new Constitution, and to test, at so early a period, its liberal provision in favor of the freest toleration. Additions were made to their number; Mr. Murray was their most constant preacher, and they were occasionally visited by other public laborers of kindred views; success, above their highest anticipations, crowned their exertions. ... (pp. 351-57.)

Very interesting. On the one hand we have folks arguing that those who deny eternal damnation are not "Protestant Christians," therefore, not "protected" under the state religion clause, and the other, a judge, apparently (I'm going to look this one up) who held Jews and Muslims are included under Massachusetts' mild religious establishment.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

1830 Book On Universalism

I found this via googlebooks. It examines universalism in Christendom in the modern era (modern for 1830). I plan on excerpting much more from this book. One thing that stood out was theological developments in Germany that seemed to parallel those in America and England -- what influenced America's "key" Founders.

We've heard the terms "theistic rationalism," "Christian-Deism," "Christian-unitarian-universalism," "rational Christianity" -- the mean between orthodox Christianity and Deism. The expositors of which combined both natural and revealed religion (Reason and the Bible) to arrive at this theology.

This passage on pp. 129-31 describes it in Germany along with a host of names of German theologians of whom I've never heard who believed in this:

In the latter part of this century the controversy took a still wider range. Disgusted at the errors, bigotry and arrogance of Catholics, Lutherans, and the Reformed, many of the learned in Germany turned from them in disgust: some, sickening at the name of Religion, became Atheists; others, charging upon Christianity the errors of men, took refuge in the comfortless speculations of Deism; but a third class, possessing the prudence to examine the Divine Word for themselves, saw clearly the distinction between the real and the alleged doctrines of Revelation, and asserted and maintained, with vigor and discretion, the purer system of Jesus Christ. The three principal and popular errors, which they opposed, were the doctrines of the Trinity, Atonement and Eternal Punishment.

VIII. Among these may be reckoned Gruner, Eberhard, Steinbart, Damm, Fuller, and the immortal Semler. Steinbart was teacher of divinity at Frankfort, on the Oder, and his sentiment was, to use his own words, "God can never punish any, more than is necessary for his reformation. He cannot mistake in the choice of his means, and must always reach his end. He would appear less lovely, if one creature should be forever miserable."9 He published at Zullichan the "Christian Doctrine of Happiness," in which, says the orthodox Erskine, "the unscriptural sentiments which have appeared in German books and journals, as to the divinity and atonement of Christ, are reduced to a system, with several additions of his own." Gruner, divinity-professor at Hall, in a compound of divinity, published in 1777, argues against the divinity and atonement of Christ, and the eternity of hell torments.1

This emphasis was mine. It's this "third class" which America's key Founders and the theologians and philosophers they followed could be placed in.

Update: The book is from 1830, NOT 1822 as was originally reported and the error has been corrected.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Francis Salvador: Forgotten (or Perhaps Never Known) American Hero

Just off of Highway 52 in Charleston, South Carolina rests the beautiful and famous Washington Park. Along with being a popular location for weddings and other social gatherings, Washington Park also serves as the location for several historical monuments, including statues of George Washington, memorials for the southern Confederacy, and plaques dedicated to the memory of local and national heroes.

Amongst these various plaques, tucked away in an obscure corner of the park, resides an obscure memorial to one Francis Salvador:

The plague reads:

Francis Salvador
1747 – 1776
First Jew in South Carolina to hold public office
To Die for American Independence

He came to Charles Town from his native London in 1773 to develop extensive family landholdings in the frontier district of ninety six. As a deputy to the provincial congresses of South Carolina, 1775 and 1776, he served with distinction in the creation of this state and nation, participating as a volunteer in an expedition against Indians and Tories, he was killed from ambush near the Keowee river, August 1, 1776.

Born an aristocrat, he became a democrat, an Englishman, he cast his lot with America.
True to his ancient faith, he gave his life for new hopes of human liberty and understanding.

Erected at the time of the Bicentennial celebration of the Jewish community of Charleston.

Approved by the historical commission of Charleston SC

Chances are that most Americans have never heard of Francis Salvador. If I am being honest, I can't recall ever hearing about him until graduate school, and even then it was only in passing. In reality, Salvador's story isn't all that dramatic, which is probably one of the many reasons he goes relatively unrecognized. Yet despite his historical obscurity, Salvador's story is worthy of our attention, for it is a story of faith, patriotism and sacrifice.

Born in 1747, Salvador was the fortunate decedent of the very successful Joseph Salvador: businessman and leader of the Portuguese Sephardic Jewish community in Britain. Thanks to his sharp business instincts, Joseph Salvador had gained incredible wealth and prestige, which made him the natural choice to become the head of the British East India Company. In addition, Joseph Salvador also became an advocate for impoverished Jews living in Britain, whom he aided by assisting in their settlement in Georgia (a difficult prospect, since Jews were a relatively unwelcome group in the "New World").

Thanks to his family's success, Francis Salvador's early years were spent in luxury. But as is often the case with life, the storms of economic and world turmoil caused the Salvador family to lose much of its wealth and prestige. After the Lisbon earthquake of 1755 destroyed their Portuguese property and the East India Company collapsed, draining the family's resources, the Salvador family was left with only one prospect: immigrate to the American colonies (where they held property) and start anew.

Francis Salvador arrived alone at South Carolina in 1773. His hope was to establish himself on his family's land and then send for his wife (Sarah) and their three children. The timing of his arrival, however, brought a new set of unanticipated challenges that eventually pulled Salvador in a different direction. The fires of the American Revolution, which were blazing hotter with each passing day, led Salvador to become a passionate and vocal voice for American independence. Within a year of his arrival, Salvador won a seat in the South Carolina General Assembly. In 1774, South Carolinians elected Salvador to the Revolutionary Provincial Congress, which began to meet in January 1775, and in which Salvador regularly revealed his passion for the cause of independence.

In addition to his political service to South Carolina, Salvador also fought in the South Carolina Militia, where he earned the nickname, "Southern Paul Revere" for his brave late night ride to warn the countryside of an impending Cherokee attack. And though his service in both the militia and the elected assembly were, by all accounts, exemplary, Salvador's service to the cause of liberty was short-lived. During a military engagement on July 31st, 1776, Salvador was shot and later scapled by a group of hostile Cherokee Indians and local Loyalists. And though he lived long enough to see the militia defeat the Cherokee/Loyalist attack, Salvador eventually succumbed to his wounds and died at the tender age of 29.

The response to Salvador's death was felt throughout the colony. As historian Michael Feldberg points out in his book, Blessings of Freedom:
A Friend, Henry Laurens, reported that Salvador's death was "Universally regretted", while William Henry Drayton, later chief justice of South Carolina, stated that Salvador had "sacrificed his life in the service of his adopted country." Dead at twenty-nine, never again seeing his wife and children after leaving England, Salvador was the first Jew to die in the American Revolution. Ironically, because he was fighting on the frontier, Salvador probably never received the news that the Continental Congress in Philadelphia had, as he urged, adopted the Declaration of Independence.
Francis Salvador's legacy is usually nothing more than a side note in the history books. For the most part, Salvador is remembered for being the first Jew killed in the American Revolution and little more. And though his death is noteworthy, the life of Francis Salvador is deserving of much more than a simple side note or an obscure memorial. In reality, Salvador is the embodiment of what made the American Revolution special. He was a foreigner, a Jew and a wealthy English aristocrat who became a trusted comrade alongside his fellow native, Christian American revolutionaries.

Perhaps the words of his Washington Park memorial capture the true legacy of Francis Salvador best:
Born an aristocrat, he became a democrat; An Englishman, he cast his lot with the Americans; True to his ancient faith, he gave his life; For new hopes of human liberty and understanding.
***Interesting Side note: Despite Salvador's incredible service, the South Carolina Constitution of 1776 prohibited anyone not of the Christian faith from being elected to office. Interesting that the very state, which benefited from Salvador's impeccable service, would prohibit those of his faith from following in his footsteps.***

Primary Source From Elihu Palmer on Deism


He seems to describe a phenomenon of sectarian diversity within Christianity leading to an evolution towards Deism. A shorter way of describing it: Christianity rationalizes towards Deism.

A taste:

Another consideration still more powerful, accelerated the progress of moral improvement, and constantly diminished the force of attachment toward the Christian system. Every new sect discarded some of the absurdities of that from which it had separated, and passed a general sentiment of condemnation upon all those who were in the rear of this long and religious train. Luther and Calvin hurled their religious thunderbolts against the power and absurd tenets of the Church of Rome, and especially against the Pope, by whom this Church was governed. The Armenians, the Arians, the Socinians, and the Universalists, successively followed, with a purifying hand of reason, pruning and lopping off the decayed branches of the old theological tree, approaching still nearer to the source and principles of nature, till at length, by regular progression, the human mind discovered, that moral principle was placed upon a more solid foundation than the reveries of sectarian fanaticism. It has been in this manner that some portion of society has once more obtained a true idea of the religion of nature, or of that which may be denominated pure and simple Deism.

It is this religion which, at the present period of the world, creates, such frightful apprehensions in the household of faith, and threatens to shake to the centre the chief corner stone on which the Church is built. These apprehensions are daily disclosed by Christian professors, and they depict in such strong colours the fatal effects of Deism, that ignorant fanaticism believes it to be an immoral monster, stalking with gigantic strides over the whole civilized world, for the detestable purpose of producing universal disorder, and subverting all the sound principles of social and intelligent existence. Such are the horrid ideas which the enemies of this pure and holy religion are every where propagating amongst their credulous and deluded followers. This circumstance renders it necessary, that the true idea of Deism be fairly stated, that it may be clearly understood by those whose minds have hitherto been darkened by the mysteries of faith.

Deism declares to intelligent man the existence of one perfect God, Creator and Preserver of the Universe ; that the laws by which he governs the world are like himself immutable, and, of course, that violations of these laws, or miraculous interference in the movements of nature, must be necessarily excluded from the grand system of universal existence; that the Creator is justly entitled to the adoration of every intellectual agent throughout the regions of infinite space ; and that he alone is entitled to it, having no co-partners who have a right to share with him the homage of the intelligent world. Deism also declares, - that the practice of a pure, natural, and uncorrupted virtue, is the essential duty, and constitutes the highest dignity of man; that the powers of man are competent to all the great purposes of human existence; that science, virtue, and happiness, are the great objects which ought to awake the mental energies, and draw forth the moral affections of the human race.

I'm of the mind that Elihu Palmer, Thomas Paine, and Ethan Allen are the notable "Deists" of the American Founding; but none of them was a "key Founder." Likewise there were orthodox Christians among the Founders; but the "key Founders" (the first four Presidents, Ben Franklin and a few others) were neither strict Deists nor orthodox Christians, but something in the middle.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Biblical and Republican Rhetoric

This afternoon I delivered a benediction for the annual Martin Luther King Jr. commemoration of our local NAACP.   Thinking of what to say, I was reminded of how Martin managed to weave together the Republican and Biblical strands of our history, as in his 1963 “Dream” speech.

 This may be the sign of great public rhetoric in America.  Lincoln was a master at combining the two, and the Founding generation employed this technique skillfully, so that even Deists like Thomas Paine could invoke a divine blessing on the Revolution and its outcome, as in his pamphlet The Crisis:

I have as little superstition in me as any man living, but my secret opinion has ever been, and still is, that God Almighty will not give up a people to military destruction, or leave them unsupportedly to perish, who have so earnestly and so repeatedly sought to avoid the calamities of war.

The Biblical vocabulary lifts the people’s struggle for freedom above the plane of a naked collision of self-interest, endowing their aspirations for independence with ultimate significance.  At the same time, the Republican strain, skeptical and plainspoken, demands that policy choices (war or no war, for instance) have some down-to-earth, secular justification.  “Thus sayeth the Lord” is not an argument likely to carry much weight in a pluralistic public square.

Well, with these ruminations in mind, here’s the brief blessing I gave at today’s event:

Grateful for the labors of those past, giants like Martin and Rosa,
Let us be thankful too for the work still to be done,
Grateful that we have an opportunity to serve, to make a difference,
To bring release to the captives and good news to the poor,
To proclaim liberty throughout the land and to build a more perfect union,
A union where every child will have an equal start in life,
A union that invests more in people than in weapons of war,
Where hate has no place
And the scales of justice do not discriminate,
Where those whose sweat and toil built this great land can share equitably in the abundance they helped create,
Where the dreams of the fathers become the children’s realities.
May God bless us in this task and bless the nation this was meant to be.

More From Benjamin Rush on Trinitarian Universalism

The Trinitarian case for Universalism takes a piece from Arminian logic on the atonement, a piece from Calvinism (indeed a reductio against universal atonement) and puts them together to teach that result. Arminianism teaches Christ made a universal atonement, as opposed to a limited one. Calvinism says Christ died for His Elect only, else His blood would be wasted on the unsaved. Arminianism teaches Christ died for the unsaved too; they just reject His grace. The Trinitarian Universalists seemed to argue that 1) Christ made a universal, not limited atonement. And 2) indeed, His blood WOULD be wasted if even one single soul for whom He died was not saved. Hence, everyone is saved eventually.

I found a source of more letters from Benjamin Rush explaining the case for Trinitarian Universalism, in particular letters of his to Universalist guru, Rev. Elhanan Winchester.

A taste:

Your funeral sermon for Mr. John Wesley does honor to the philanthropy of your universal principles. I admire and honor that great man above any man that has lived since the time of the Apostles: his writings will ere long revive in support of our doctrine---for if Christ died for all, as Mr. Wesley always taught, it will soon appear a necessary consequence that all shall be saved.

-- To ELHANAN WINCHESTER, November 12, 1791.

Religion and the Presidency: Early Presidents

CSPAN has a done a great job updating its archives. I remember watching this when it came out in 2004. It was the first time I heard the term/paradigm "theistic rationalism." It was Gary Scott Smith of Grove City College who introduced that theory in a comprehensive discussion of George Washington's faith. Phillip Munoz also speaks (on Madison). And others.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

New Connecticut (Vermont) Declares Independence

On this day in 1777, the great state of Vermont decided to declare its independence not only from Great Britain but from the neighboring state of New York as well. For years, the settlers in the Vermont area had been asserting their right to break from New York, but were unable to do so. Thanks in part to the efforts of Ethan Allen and his "Green Mountain Boys," Vermont was able to finally able to gain its independence and maintain a relatively neutral stance during the American Revolution.

Origionally named New Connecticut, the state's delegates chose to adopt the new name of Vermont, which is an inaccurate translation of the French phrase "green mountain."

Vermont was also the first state to draft an official constitution. Its constitution was one of the most radical to say the least. It guaranteed every male (reguardless of property status) the right to vote, it abolished slavery (making Vermont the first state to do so), and it gave some rights (mostly property rights) to women. Despite their incredible efforts to gain independence, Vermont was finally incorporated into the United States in 1792, making it the first state outside of the original thirteen colonies to join the union.

The origional flag of Vermont was the same flag that was used by Ethan Allen and his Green Mountain Boys (a picture of the flag is posted at the beginning of this article). The flag has 13 stars in a scattared pattern, which was to represent the scattered and unsettled nature of the early United States. The green color is, of course, representative of the Green Mountains of Vermont.

Rick Warren and America's Founders Had no Problem With the Swedenborgs

WorldNetDaily differs with America's Founders on this issue.

As they write:

But critics point out the physicians who crafted the program apparently don't share the church's professed evangelical beliefs, espousing instead various forms of Eastern mysticism and the tenets of a Christian cult, Swedenborgism.


Oz, host of the Emmy-winning "Dr. Oz Show" and professor of surgery at Columbia University, says he is inspired by Emanuel Swedenborg, an 18th century cult founder who taught that all religions lead to God and denied orthodox Christian beliefs such at the atonement of Christ for sin, the trinity and the deity of the Holy Spirit.


McConkey pointed out the followers of what is called Swedenborgianism believe all religions lead to God and that Christianity must go through a rebirth. The group also denies the existence of a personal devil and believes the Bible is not inspired. When people die, the followers believe, they become an angel or an evil spirit.

Emanuel Swedenborg said he had a vision in 1745 in which he saw creatures crawling on walls. He asserted God then appeared to him as a man and told him to promote the new teachings to the world.

Check out my post from a few weeks ago at Dispatches From the Culture Wars on George Washington's friendliness to the Swedenborgians.

Thomas Jefferson, in fact, invited them to preach in the Capitol. Here is Rev. John Hargrove's sermon.

Oh and here Victoria Jackson says the following about Mormons:

On my first cruise, I'm meeting strangers who will be friends for life. One is Jerry Johnson. ... Jerry brings up Glenn Beck's Mormonism and I start to realize that the god Glenn Beck has been praying to for the healing of our land is not the God I've been praying to. I've had a fuzzy understanding of Mormonism, but, in a quest for truth, I listen to the facts Jerry is sharing with me and decide Beck has the freedom to worship any god he chooses, but he and Mitt Romney cannot accurately call themselves "Christians." I now realize why the 8/28 event had a strange element with the ecumenical lineup Beck brought onstage with him. Praying to "any" god is not what 2 Chronicles 7:14 meant.

Once again we see the dynamic of folks calling themselves "Christians" but, not being so, accordingly. The Declaration of Independence -- which was designed to foster such political theological communion between orthodox Christians and "others" like Mormons (or back then, Swedenborgs), Jews, unitarians, universalists, Providential Nature only believing deists -- should not resonate with Ms. Jackson and those who believe in her theology.

That is IF they understand what the DOI means. Sadly, they don't.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

WorldNetDaily Has Thing For "The Shack."

Over at my personal blog here. I discuss WorldNetDaily's problem with The Shack's universalism and their seemingly inapt invocation of CS Lewis.

Here is a passage which relates to American Creation's mission:

The article describes Lewis as an "evangelical." Arguably, that errs. Lewis was an orthodox Anglican. Indeed he famously articulated the notion of "mere Christianity" that united Protestants, Roman Catholics, Anglicans and capital O Orthodox Christians along a common ground of Nicene orthodoxy. If you didn't believe in Nicene Trinitarianism, you were not a "mere Christian," whatever you may have called yourself. That means among others, Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, probably George Washington, James Madison, John Locke, Isaac Newton and even John Milton himself were not "Christians" even though they all in some sense considered themselves to be.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Mark David Hall on American Political Theology

Mark David Hall delivers to Heritage. This is good. I watched the whole thing and wanted to do it justice with a line by line commentary. But I've waited too long, after Dr. Hall graciously sent the link to me, so I reproduce it now.

Dr. Hall's perspective is more sympathetic to a "Christian America" reading than mine. He does outstanding work and understands the right questions (along with blogfellows Tom Van Dyke, John Fea and others).

What Will Happen First?

1. Hal Lindsey who predicted the Rapture would happen in his lifetime will die of old age/natural causes (he's 81)?

2. Jesus will return?

3. Christian Americanists will stop citing David Barton's phony quotations.

The below video was from the end of the year 2010.

First Amendment/Religious Liberty as a Protestant Document/Concept

I want to make some points that clarify my American Creation co-blogger's valuable contribution to the American Founding/religion debate.

He writes:

The First Amendment was meant, as Justice Joseph Story says, to level all Protestant religions with each other, but not to equalize Christianity with Judaism and Islam. Alternatively, it did level all religions, even Judaism and Islam. But either way, it was only on the federal level.

First Joseph Story may have been an authority; but he was not *the* authoritative source for the First Amendment. He had nothing to do with its drafting and ratification. My friend Phillip Munoz of Notre Dame (and Princeton), who is about as authoritative a modern scholar of the F.A. as it gets, compared Joseph Story's commentaries to the actual sources of the drafting and ratification of the First Amendment and concluded Story misreads the Founding record. Similar to how scholars sympathetic to the secular left "read in" Jefferson's and Madison's "Virginia view" to define the meaning of the religion clauses, Story unfairly reads in the "Massachusetts' view."

Now, Story's quotation about the First Amendment being concerned, generally, with Christianity, not other religions, may shed light on the underlying aim of its religion clauses (which, in turn, may have had multiple underlying aims). However, it still cannot trump the TEXT of the Constitution, which uses the term "religion" not "Christianity."

This is an aside: I want to make sure we don't fall into the Christian Nationalist trap of concluding the First Amendment somehow was meant to cover, privilege or establish "Christianity generally," but not other religions. We all agree that, as originally conceived, the FA applied to the Federal government only. Whether the EC can be "incorporated" demands synthesizing evidence from the framing of the original bill of rights (late 18th Cen.) with the 14th Amendment (mid 19th Cen.). Munoz has concluded that, unlike the Free Exercise Clause, the Establishment Clause is impossible to incorporate. He may be right; however, as Akhil Amar argued, the original Equal Protection Clause -- which would demand government treat Christianity equal with Islam, Judaism, and other religions -- could do quite a bit of what SCOTUS currently has the Establish Clause doing.

Next, I want to clarify what it means to say the F.A. is undergirded by "Protestant Christianity." I argue that a "Protestantism" but not necessarily "Christianity" undergirds the notion of religious liberty. Protestantism meaning "to protest" or "dissent." The idea of freedom from ecclesiastical, authoritative interpretations of the Bible, most notably freedom from the Magisterium, but also freedom from non-Roman ecclesiastical authoritative teachings. Taken to its extremes -- which America's Founders did -- this means freedom from the very creeds that define the essence of what it means (historically, to many folks) to be a "mere Christian."

I wrote about this implicit Protestant establishment here. I quoted Nathan Hatch, president of Wake Forest University and one of the premier scholars of Religion and the Founding Era, describing the theology of Charles Chauncy, a key theological influence on the American Founding:

Charles Chauncy, pastor of Boston’s First Church for sixty years (1727-1787), is the most prominent example of an exclusive appeal to Biblical authority in order to unravel theological orthodoxy. Chauncy was persuaded to emphasize Bible study by reading the works of English divines, such as Samuel Clarke’s The Scripture-Doctrine of the Trinity (London, 1712) and John Taylor’s The Scripture-Doctrine of Original Sin (London, 1740). Both authors used a “free, impartial and diligent” method of examining Scripture to JETTISON, respectively, the doctrines of the Trinity and of Original Sin. [8]

During the 1750s, after the Great Awakening, Charles Chauncy spent seven years engaged in the approach to Bible study expounded by these English authors. In the spring of 1754 he wrote to a friend,

“I have made the Scriptures my sole study for about two years; and I think I have attained to a clearer understanding of them than I ever had before.”

His studies led him to draft a lengthy manuscript in which he REJECTED the idea of eternal punishment and embraced universalism.

Now, I point this out because terms need precise meaning. Perhaps I am being pedantic in claiming a "Protestant" but not necessarily "Christian" political-theology; but when some/many folks see terms like "Protestant Christian" or "reformed Christian" they sometimes improperly "load" or "read in" things. If "Protestant Christianity" can unite a Chauncy with a Calvin against Rome's monopoly on biblical interpretation, then the term is apt. However, to some/many, "Protestant Christianity" excludes Chauncy. And that's not what America's Founding political theology was all about. Perhaps I attack strawmen here. But my co-blogger to whom I respond has cited American Vision authoritatively. And it's precisely these folks who engage in such a misreading of the American Founding's political theology.

To them "reformed Protestantism" means Sola Scriptura, orthodox Trinitarianism, and TULIP. The "political Protestantism" of the American Founding does not necessarily include any of this. Again, it's something that can unite a Chauncy with a Cavlin, a Jefferson with a Henry (both Anglicans), the unitarian John Adams with his trinitarian cousin Sam (both Congregationalists).

Indeed even Joseph Story who seems a key figure for the "Christian Americanists'" attempt to read in a common law "general Christianity" to the American Founding was a biblical unitarian-universalist, and hence "not a Christian" according to minimums that "Christian Americanists" adhere to for what it means to be a "Christian."

And that highlights the problem with trying to argue some kind of "Christianity generally" was to be privileged by the American Founding. In order to privilege "Christianity generally" you had to agree on certain minimums of what it meant to be a "mere Christian" eligible for such privilege. As James Madison argued in his notes for the Memorial and Remonstrance, that was a task impossible for politics.

Finally, I note the idea of religious and political liberty as authentically reformed Protestantism is debatable. Calvin had Servetus put to death for denying the Trinity. The Puritans certainly didn't recognize religious liberty, but rather enacted a theocratic code that demanded the death penalty for, among other things, worshipping false gods. And when the proto-Baptist Roger Williams articulated his novel ideas on liberty of conscience, the dominant view of reformed Protestants/Calvinists reacted to Williams' ideas like Dracula does to a cross.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Gordon Wood Faults Historian Jill Lepore or being (wait for it) . . . a historian!

David Sehat puzzles over Gordon Wood's negative review of Jill Lepore's The Whites of Their Eyes

Enter Lepore. The Whites of their Eyes is, as much of anything, a meditation of the uses of history and an objection to the uses to which the Tea Party movement has put the American past. Lepore objects to their "antihistory" that conflates the past with the present and ultimately leads to "historical fundamentalism." This, I think, is the ultimate source of conflict between Lepore and Wood. Lepore spends most of the book offering various stories of the late eighteenth century that undermine a triumphant view of the period--the ways in which slaves, women, the insane, and the poor struggled in a frankly illiberal era--in order to show the strangeness of the past and the limitations that that strangeness imposes when trying to put the past to work in a nationalist celebration or a political movement. But Wood is, in fact, engaged in the nationalist celebration as a central component of his intellectual project. He believes that the United States is in some sense unique in providing a model of liberty for the world, and he looks to the founding moment, much as the Tea Partiers do, in a way that Smith calls "transhistorical."

His review bears out this tension. Wood begins by claiming that "Americans seem to have a special need for these authentic historical figures [such as Washington or Jefferson] in the here and now." But instead of taking this need seriously, Wood complains that Lepore, "an expert at mocking," does what academic historians do by "making fun of the Tea party." In her criticism of the movement's historical malapropisms and strained political gestures, Wood suggests that the book's implicit question is: "Don't these people realize just how silly they are?" This academic elitism further suggests to Wood a misunderstanding of history for "ordinary Americans" that someone like Lepore just can't seem to get.

This is where his review gets really weird. He never quite admits that the Tea Party's history is bad, or that their stance toward it is wrong-headed. Instead, Wood shifts into a discussion of memory, as opposed to history, and the emotional requirement of memory for, again, "ordinary Americans." As opposed to critical history, Wood asserts that ordinary Americans need a variety of mythical interpretations by which "humans have sought to sanctify their societies, buttress their institutions, and invest their lives and their nations with a sense of destiny." At one point Wood suggests that "Lepore is correct in believing that historians have a professional obligation to dispel myths and legends," but then he spends the next eight paragraphs trying to show the emotional thinness of critical history, which seems to suggest that professional obligations run contrary to human need--a somewhat bizarre stance for an intellectual and an educator. Since I've just published a book that seeks to dispel a myth (The Myth of Religious Freedom) I read this section of the review with great interest, but the more I think about it, the less it makes sense. It seems to be nothing so much as an intellectual defense of anti-intellectualism. He seems, against all protestations to the contrary, to be faulting the historian Jill Lepore for being (wait for it) . . . a historian!

Text emphasis my doing…

Thursday, January 6, 2011

The First Amendment: A Christian Document

The First Amendment was meant, as Justice Joseph Story says, to level all Protestant religions with each other, but not to equalize Christianity with Judaism and Islam. Alternatively, it did level all religions, even Judaism and Islam. But either way, it was only on the federal level. The real purpose of that amendment was merely to protect the state established churches from federal interference. Thomas Jefferson's letter of 23 January 1808 to Samuel Miller evinces a similar view. Therefore, the notion of incorporating the First Amendment onto states is absurd. Some of the men who ratified the First Amendment, actually believed in full religious liberty. Others, however, were merely jealous for their state established churches. So how the hell do you incorporate that into the states via the 14th Amendment?

Now then, if you read works of those who believed in full religious liberty (as opposed to merely jealously protecting the state church), works like John Locke's "A Letter Concerning Toleration," James Madison's "Memorial and Remonstrance Against Religious Assessments," Thomas Jefferson's The Virginia Act For Establishing Religious Freedom", Jefferson's Notes on the State of Virginia (s. v. "Query XVII"), and John Leland's The Rights of Conscience Inalienable; and therefore Religious Opinions not cognizable by Law: Or, The high-flying Churchman, stript of his legal Robe, appears a Yahoo, you'll see the following: that the justification for all these men, was based on the principles of Protestant Christianity. The underlying principle among them all, is that religion is within the jurisdiction and sovereignty of God alone, that no man on earth (whether pope or government official) has the authority to make laws regarding religion. Every man has the freedom to believe whatever he wants, and no man has the right to force him otherwise. The intent of religious liberty, according to these men, is to give all men the ability to worship God freely. In fact, John Locke and James Madison even say that an atheist has no right to religious freedom, because he doesn't believe in the God who granted that freedom in the first place. Similarly, Thomas Jefferson said elsewhere, "God who gave us life, gave us liberty at the same time. Can the liberties of a nation be secure when we have removed their only sure basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that those liberties are the gift of God?" For all these men, religious liberty was a Protestant Christian principle, viz. the opposition to popery, and the freedom of every man to read the Bible for himself and come to his own conclusion. If the First Amendment enshrines religious liberty (which is doubtful, as I show above, regarding states v. the federal government), then the First Amendment is itself a Christian document.

(In my humble opinion, if we extrapolate, we'll see that the concern of being allowed to worship God freely, applies to other areas of life as well, besides religion. If men must be free to worship God, without being compelled to join foreign religious and perform strange rituals not to their liking, does this not also mean that men must not be compelled to believe in or practice other ideologies, such as communism? The Framers spoke of religion alone, merely because religion was the ideology, par excellence. But if you read their concerns, you'll see that their concerns apply generally to all ideologies, not only religious ones. Why should I be forced to subsidize (with my taxes) a public school that teaches doctrines not to my liking? How is that different than forcing me to subsidize a church not to my liking?)

Returning to religious liberty being a Christian concept, in fact, James Madison explicitly credits Martin Luther in his letter of 3 December 1821. Madison is referring to Martin Luther's doctrine of the two kingdoms, in which the state possesses a temporal sword to punish crime and violence, and the church possesses a spiritual sword to punish heresy and inculcate orthodoxy, and neither may infringe on the other's jurisdiction. Both, however, are subordinate to God. Therefore, under Luther's doctrine, the state is separate from the church, but is still subordinate to God and subject to His commands. Christianity is binding on the state no less than on the church, only a different subset of the laws of Christianity is applicable to each, according to the station assigned by God. (Similarly, the fact that only kohanim (priests) can offer qorbanot (sacrifices), does not mean that everyone else is "secular.")

(In my humble opinion, when Locke, Madison, Jefferson, and Leland say that the state can have no jurisdiction over religion because men have not delegated to the state that power under the social contract, and that furthermore, they cannot, as religion belongs to God alone and cannot be delegated to anyone else (nemo potest dare quod non habet - one cannot give that which he does not have), it seems to me that what they are doing is, is giving a justification for Luther's doctrine. Luther distinguishes between the two kingdoms, but Locke et. al. are, I believe, offering a social contract theory-based justification for Luther. Given that it was Reformed Christians who are largely responsible for the invention of social contract theory, in the form of federalism, it seems fitting that Luther be justified based on a secular offshoot of Calvinism.)

So in fact, according to Madison, the morality of the United States's laws was to be a Christian morality. Again, the First Amendment was merely meant to equalize all Protestant sects with each other, but Christianity in the abstract was still to be supreme. The morality of the laws was to be an exclusively Christian one. There was to be no established church, enforcing dogma and ritual, but the state was still to enforce Christian morality. In fact, the First Amendment is very precise, speaking of a religious "establishment," and Jefferson speaks of the separation of "church" and state; the words "establishment" and "church" (as opposed to "religion") are chosen very deliberately, to refer not to religion or Christianity in the abstract, but rather, to concrete entities, to structured organizations. The First Amendment forbids the favoring of a church establishment (Baptist, Anglican, Congregationalist, Presbyterian), but not the favoring of Christianity in the abstract. No wonder that James Madison said, in a letter of 1833 to Jasper Adams, "I must admit...that it may not be easy, in every possible case, to trace the line of separation, between the rights of the religious and civil authority, with such distinctness, as to avoid collisions and doubts on unessential points." (Quoted in John Eidsmoe, Christianity and the Constitution: The Faith of our Founding Fathers (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1987), p. 110.) That's why even people like Thomas Jefferson and James Madison could issue Christian thanksgiving proclamations, calling for repentance and prayer to God. (Clarification: As Jefferson shows, in letter to Samuel Miller, he did not issue thanksgiving day proclamations as President of the United States. However, as Governor of Virginia, he did issue such proclamations. Evidently, Jefferson considered the First Amendment merely a technical legal impediment, but still felt that theoretically, the issuing of religious proclamations was legitimate for the government. On the state level, where no legal restriction existed, he was free to pursue this. This is all the more interesting, given that Jefferson himself authored the "The Virginia Act For Establishing Religious Freedom." Now, that act was not yet in effect when Jefferson was governor, but presumably, he still believed in its tenets. So apparently, Jefferson felt that while the First Amendment forbade the issuing of thanksgiving proclamations, by contrast, the not-yet-legislated "The Virginia Act For Establishing Religious Freedom," authored by him himself, no less, did not. So it is difficult to imagine how on earth we could incorporate the First Amendment via the Fourteenth, when apparently, the First Amendment was of such a peculiar character, limited to the federal government, and intended, according to some, to merely protect the state established churches from federal interference, and intended, according to Jefferson, to be legally more onerous and restrictive than what was morally necessary and proper for the states. Oh, and on the same day that Jefferson and Madison submitted their "The Virginia Act For Establishing Religious Freedom" - which Jefferson authored, and which Madison defended and advocated for with his "Memorial and Remonstrance Against Religious Assessments," the two being partners in the endeavor - James Madison also submitted a "Bill for Punishing Disturbers of Religious Worship and Sabbath Breakers." Just as Jefferson felt there was nothing wrong with issuing religious proclamations, Madison thought there was nothing wrong with punishing Shabbat desecrators. )

Thomas Jefferson, in his famous letter to the Danbury Baptists, speaks of the "wall of separation between Church & State." Now, writing to the Baptists, it makes sense that Jefferson made a reference to Roger Williams, who said, "...when they have opened a gap in the hedge or wall of separation between the garden of the church and the wilderness of the world, God hath ever broke down the wall itself, removed the candlestick, and made His garden a wilderness, as at this day. And that therefore if He will eer please to restore His garden and paradise again, it must of necessity be walled in peculiarly unto Himself from the world..." We should notice three things: (1) Jefferson is relying on Roger Williams, so Jefferson's doctrine of the separation of church and state is obviously a Christian one; (2) the purpose of the wall is to protect the garden of the church from the wilderness of the state, with the threat being not that the church will corrupt the state, but the opposite, that the state will corrupt the church; (3) the church is to be kept peculiarly unto God, which is the same concern we saw earlier, that religion is something that only God, not the state, has jurisdiction over.

In my opinion, the Framers' political philosophy, regarding religious liberty, tended towards libertarianism, but their moral philosophy was always a Christian one. Libertarianism is merely a political philosophy, and can be paired with any moral philosophy. Ayn Rand chose Objectivism to accompany her libertarianism, while the Framers chose Christianity. Myself, I am a libertarian and tends towards the most separatist and radical view of separation, that the state should have nothing whatsoever at all to do with religion, believing that the truth is strong enough on its own, and believing that the state has no jurisdiction in such areas. (I also believe that public schooling is unconstitutional and illegal.) But the First Amendment means what it means, whether I like it or not.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Slacktivist on The Godless Constitution

Here. A taste:

I was very pleased to see the authors give Roger Williams his due as an essential American advocate of the Baptist principle of separation of church and state. Kramnick & Moore provide a fine overview of that doctrine, which is the central distinguishing tenet of Baptist Christianity. Actually, it's the only distinguishing tenet of Baptist Christianity. It's what "Baptist" means, with everything else Baptists tend to believe flowing from that (including the unwieldy individual freedom of conscience that allows us only to speak of what Baptists "tend" to believe). The teaching about voluntary, adult believer's baptism developed as a rebuke and rejection of mandatory state-church baptism as a rite of citizenship.

But what is most valuable to me in this unfailingly interesting book is the collection of voices from the opponents of America's "Godless Constitution." I had read most of the other side of this argument -- the side that won the argument because it was right. But I hadn't previously read the vehement objections of the losing side.

The viewpoint of that side is echoed today in the voices of the evangelical right calling for religious hegemony. Then, as now, the argument was that such hegemony was necessary to provide social order and a basis for morality without which the nation would be ungovernable. Then, as now, the advocates of a sectarian Constitution believed that only sectarian religion could provide a basis for such morality. And only their own sectarian religion at that.

So for the sectarian opponents of the Godless Constitution, then as now, the stakes were enormously high. The Constitution proposed by the framers in 1789, they said, was a form of national suicide. That Godless document -- with its separation of church and state, its disregard for the overarching sovereignty of God, its absolute prohibition against religious tests for public office and against the establishment or privileging of any official sect -- would bring rapid calamity and doom. Their warnings of the consequences of such a Constitution were dire, apocalyptic and unambiguous. If the Constitution did not establish an official sectarian Christian religion, they believed, then Christians would find themselves subjugated to some other established sect.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Pastor Rutherford Apologizes

Last week I posted my review of a video on the history of the Star-Spangled Banner. In the video, Pastor Dudley Rutherford of Shepherd of the Hills Church in California shares a story on the origins of our national anthem that wasn't completely historically accurate. The day after posting my review, Pastor Rutherford contacted me via email and shared his regret that some of the points in his video were a bit misleading.

Well, yesterday Pastor Rutherford posted a new video in which he expresses his regret and apologizes for his video on the Star-Spangled Banner. Take a look:

First, let me say how refreshing it is to see somebody who is sincerely interested in historical integrity. Pastor Rutherford, who is not a professional historian, has more "True Grit" (an excellent movie that you should see, BTW) than many professionals in the historical community. I personally know several historians who could NEVER admit when they had made a mistake because their pride, ego and Ph.D. get in the way. I hope that I can follow Pastor Rutherford's example when I get my history wrong in the future.

Let's be clear here, there are no winners or losers in this debate. Nobody has been proven wrong and nobody is keeping score. This is history, not hockey. Pastor Rutherford's apology is not an admission of guilt but rather a determination to get the history right. And as a result, he comes off the victor. Like I said, I sincerely hope that all of us here at American Creation (and the historical community in general) can learn for Pastor Rutherford's brilliant example. Admitting error leads to growth, persisting in one's mistake only makes the individual look like a fool.

Pastor Dudley Rutherford is no fool.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Quote of the day: virtue, happiness and the foundation of government

"All sober inquirers after truth, ancient and modern, pagan and Christian, have declared that the happiness of man, as well as his dignity, consists in virtue. Confucius, Zo-roaster, Socrates, Mahomet, not to mention authorities really sacred, have agreed in this. 

If there is a form of government, then, whose principle and foundation is virtue, will not every sober man acknowledge it better calculated to promote the general happiness than any other form?" 

- John Adams (1735-1826), Thoughts on Government  (April 1776).

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Charles J. Reid on Brian Tierney Part 3

Hello My Name Is Gratian And I Think I Might Have Something To Add To This Discussion

Hello again American Creation family! I hope you all remember me in that I do not think I have posted here since Summer. This was due to the time consuming re-launching of my real estate business after it turned out that the oil had not ruined the part of the Gulf Coast I live in forever after all.  Anyway, I am going to dive in and pick up right where I left off:  Charles J. Reid's review of Brian Tierney's book, The Idea of Natural Rights: Studies on Natural Rights, Natural Law, and Church Law 1150 to 1625.  Before doing so, I think it wise to summarize where we were in the discussion 4 months ago, the first two parts in this series, and the concept of a "zone of autonomy" being at the core of the Christian argument for natural rights. 

Four months ago we were involved in a debate over my challenge to the idea articulated by Ed Brayton, Gregg Frazer, and Jon Rowe that, "that the Bible nowhere speaks to the concept of unalienable rights, especially an unalienable right to religious and political liberty." I pointed to the work of Brian Tierney and his contention that the pre-Aquinas development of Canon Law heavily impacted the evolution of the Western Legal Tradition which in turn had great influence on our founding era idea of natural rights. Then I followed that general overview of Reid's book review with a post that began to sort through some of the details. I started with Reid's brief summary of the contributions of Justian, Gratian, and the "decretists" as he follows Tieney's account of the evolution of the idea of natural rights.

The "decretists" were the Canonists that sifted through the works of Gratian per Justinian and attempted to address some of the inherent contradictions they saw in his work. In the process they began to articulate a coherent case for natural rights that I think is summed up best by Rufius,

Rufinus began, "'a certain force instilled in every human creature by nature to do good and avoid the opposite.' ' This force, he continued, "'consists in three things, commands, prohibitions, and demonstrations. . . . It cannot be detracted from at all as regards the commands and prohibitions . .. but it can be as regards the demonstrations, which nature not command or forbid but shows to be good."'
The "demonstrations" alluded to above are actions that the Bible neither commands nor prohibits and leaves to each man's own discretion as to whether "nature" shows it to be "good".  It is my contention that our discussions of the differences between "Classically Conservative" vs. "Classically Liberal", "Enlightenment" vs. "Christendom", and "French Revolution" vs. "American Revolution" should all start with the question of, "Liberty" or "License" per Locke via Hooker

Thus, my question to Brayton, Rowe, Frazer, is how we can even begin to have this conversation about the "Christian" idea of rights until we enlarge the historical discussion to include the men I have mentioned above and their contributions to the Western Legal Tradition?

Saturday, January 1, 2011

WorldNetDaily Looks Forward to John Fea's Book

Fea's book, from the advanced look I got it, is going to be a great read. Here is Jim Fletcher.

In our country, publishers (and documentary producers) are able to produce material, led by conscience. We might disagree on various views, but we are free to produce, distribute and discuss those views.

A new book (one we'll review in the coming weeks) is John Fea's "Was America Founded as a Christian Nation? A Historical Introduction."

This subject settled in my mind recently as I saw a promotion of Fea's book from Publishers Weekly. It brought to mind the polar opposite views about our Founding Fathers that have filled bookshelves and DVD players for some time.

Personally, I am in the middle of my investigation into just what the Founding Fathers believed. The question first became fascinating to me more than a decade ago, during the events at Mount Vernon in 1999, the bicentennial of George Washington's death. Previously a guide had pointed to a spot along the banks of the Potomac, where in early December 1799, Washington had been marking trees to be cut. He fell ill shortly after and died before Christmas.

The subject of Washington's religious faith has been debated ever since. I found it interesting at Mount Vernon that of 100 or more titles about Washington in the gift shop, only one addressed his faith. The guides made no mention of it, and so I got an education into the extent of the sanitizing of such subjects from America's power centers today. The National Parks Service is not going to chip away at the wall of separation between church and state that … oh well, that's a subject for another day.

I did find it quite interesting that just outside the tomb of George and Martha Washington (moved to a spot closer to the house some decades after their deaths), stand stone pillars with Scripture chiseled into the stone. Some even speak of the resurrection, which I'd think would be a clue to Washington's real feelings about Christianity.

But then again, perhaps not.