Thursday, March 31, 2011

Mormon Movie on Joseph Smith

The following is a brief movie produced by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons) on the life of Joseph Smith. I post it here for three reasons:

1.) Smith and the Mormon movement are an important component to American religious history, which is a key focus of this blog.

2.) I believe it can provide some general insight into the doctrine of "the restoration", which has been a topic that I think we may have misrepresented/misunderstood here at AC (not to mention many other blogs).

3.) It is made and produced by the Mormon church, and it has only been in recent years that the church has released these videos to the general public (as you can see it is on Youtube). Clearly this provides a pro-Mormon view of things but at least it gives you the Mormon angle on restorationism and Smith himself, as opposed to what are often misunderstood sources.

Anyway, I hope you will enjoy!

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Andrew Sullivan Touches On Among Other Things America's Civil Religion & Mormonism

Here. A taste:

It's easy to see where Romney, for example, gets his belief. Mormonism is the only all-American religion, placing Jesus in America itself ("I just got crucified, you guys"). But for Christians, the notion of God preferring one land-mass or population, apart from the Jewish people from whom the Messiah came, is obviously heretical. As a Catholic, I see no divine blessing for any country, and the notion that God would make such worldly distinctions strikes me as surreal as it did when I first wrapped my head around the phrase "Church of England". If God is God, one island on one planet in a minor galaxy is surely the same as any other, and the truth about our universe surely cannot be reduced to one country's patriotism. Yes, we can ask, as Lincoln did, for God's blessing. But seeking God's blessing is not the same as being God's country - with all the hubristic aggression that can lead to.

Some Straussians see Lincoln as the Second Founder and the abolition of slavery as the return of the West to natural rights. And it certainly seems true that in Lincoln's words and America's example, key ideas about human equality and dignity gained momentum - and you can hear those ideas today in the mouths of a new Arab generation, in a culture so alien to our own it is close to impossible to understand in its complexity. What deeper proof that these ideas are universal and true?

But this also reveals the limits of American exceptionalism. If America's ideals are universal, they cannot be reduced to the ownership of one country. And that country's actual history - as opposed to Bachmannite mythology - is as flawed as many others. Why, after all, did America need a Second Founding under Lincoln - almost a century after it was born? Which other advanced country remained so devoted to slavery until the late nineteenth century? Which other one subsequently replaced slavery with a form of grinding apartheid for another century? Besides, much of the thought that gave us the American constitution can be traced back to European thinkers, whether in Locke or Montesquieu or the Enlightenment in general. Seeing America as the sole pioneer of human freedom is to erase Britain's unique history, without which America would not exist. It is to erase the revolutionary ideas of the French republics. It's historically false.

But was the discovery of America some kind of divine Providence? The Puritans certainly thought so. And the blessing of a vast continental land mass with huge resources is certainly rare in human history. But, of course, that land mass was available so easily because of the intended and unintended genocide of those who already lived there - which takes the edge off the divine bit, don't you think? Call me crazy (and they do) but my concept of God does not allow for God's blessing of genocide as a means for one country's hegemony over the earth.

This is not to say that America doesn't remain, by virtue of its astonishing Constitution, a unique sanctuary for human freedom. ...

Sullivan took his PhD from Harvard in Political Science under Harvey Mansfield.

Christopher Hitchens on Religion in America

Sorry for my lengthy absence from the blog. In my effort to get back into the swing of things I thought I would start out nice and slow. The following is a video from a debate that included anti-religion extraordinaire Christopher Hitchens, in which the topic of religion's role in the American founding is mentioned. Of course, Hitchens takes his predictably anti-religion sentiment a bit too far (IMHO) but it is still interesting to watch. He has some good points:

John Fea on CSPAN

Check it out here.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

The God of the Enlightenment and Miracles

Check out this very insightful article by Dr. Joseph Waligore. A taste:

Most Enlightenment thinkers defined a miracle as God changing the usual order of the laws of nature. The vast majority of Enlightenment thinkers believed God had made the natural laws and could suspend them whenever he wished. For example, In his “Essay on Miracles,” the English deist John Trenchard said a miracle was when God altered the usual order of the universe: “A Miracle or actio mirabilis, is an action to be wondered at; as when God Almighty interposes, and by his omnipotent power alters the order he at first placed the universe in, or enables or empowers other beings to do so.”[v] Sometimes the Enlightenment thinkers used the words “particular providence” interchangeably with the word miracle. A particular providence happened when God or an angel cared for someone outside the general course of nature (which was seen as God’s general providence).[vi]

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Quote of the day: on faith and works

"It is in our lives and not our words that our religion must be read"

- Thomas Jefferson, quoted by Forrest Church in his introduction to The Jefferson Bible (Beacon Press:  1989).

Friday, March 25, 2011

Eugene Volokh On Bryan Fischer's Erroneous Claim

Here. EV makes an important point. I don't mean to keep beating the dead strawman. But Fischer makes one key error common among Christian America types: That the original Constitution protected "Christianity" and excluded other religions. The problem is, the Constitution doesn't say that; it says it protects "religion" not "Christianity." And there is evidence -- EV reproduces it -- that the Founders understood "religion" meant more than just "Christianity." Finally, the First Amendment uses the term "religion" in two clauses like a Siamese twin that shares one heart. It's logically impossible for the term "religion" to mean one thing for Free Exercise purposes and another for Establishment Clause purposes. The "thereof" in the FEC relates back to the term "religion" as used in the EC.

"The Distinct Claims of Government and Religion, Considered in a Sermon Preached Before the Honourable House of Burgesses, at Williamsburg,..."

Many thanks to a friend who was able to locate it at the library at Princeton University where it is located.

I haven't had a chance to look at it in detail yet. But I'll let any readers who so desire get a jump on it for future discussion.

Henley Sermon

Would Bryan Fischer Consider Joseph Story a "Christian"?

No. And arguably the theological system to which Joseph Story refers reproduced below is not necessarily "Christianity" as Fischer understands the concept. See Ed Brayton's link.

Fischer wrote:

The First Amendment was written by the Founders to protect the free exercise of Christianity. They were making no effort to give special protections to Islam.

Fischer misunderstands Story's quotation:

"Probably at the time of the adoption of the constitution, and of the amendment to it, now under consideration, the general, if not the universal, sentiment in America was, that Christianity ought to receive encouragement from the state, so far as was not incompatible with the private rights of conscience, and the freedom of religious worship. An attempt to level all religions, and to make it a matter of state policy to hold all in utter indifference, would have created universal disapprobation, if not universal indignation...

"The real object of the amendment was, not to countenance, much less to advance Mahometanism, or Judaism, or infidelity, by prostrating Christianity; but to exclude all rivalry among Christian sects, and to prevent any national ecclesiastical establishment, which should give to an hierarchy the exclusive patronage of the national government."

And Story's quotation, while interesting, is not determinative; the text of the Constitution is. And the text protects "religion" NOT "Christianity" only.

But we have to wonder what theological system Joseph Story even speaks of when he invokes "Christianity." Story himself, like many other elites during his time, seemed to believe in biblical unitarian-universalism and considered that true "Christianity." And, accordingly to such theology, Islam is a valid path to God.

Here is Story on what he DIDN'T believe about Christianity:


Washington, March 6th, 1824.

...The Unitarians are universally steadfast, sincere, and earnest Christians.

They all believe in the divine mission of Christ, the credibility and authenticity of the Bible, the miracles wrought by our Saviour and his apostles, and the efficacy of his precepts to lead men to salvation....They differ among themselves as to the nature of our Saviour, but they all agree that he was the special messenger of God, and that what he taught is of Divine authority. In truth, they principally differ from other Christians in disbelieving the Trinity, for they think Christ was not God, but in the Scripture language “the Son of God.”

And here is testimony from Story's brother, speaking to and through Story's son:

After my continued absence from home for four or five years, we met again, your father being now about eighteen years old, and renewed our former affection towards each other. At this time we were, from a similarity of sentiment, drawn more closely together. I allude particularly to our religious opinions. We frequently discussed the subject of the divinity and the humanity of Christ, and we both agreed in believing in his humanity. Thus you see that your father and myself were early Unitarians, long before the doctrine was preached among us by any one, unless I except Dr. Bentley of Salem.

In other words, Story was a Socinian Unitarian, believing Jesus was 100% human and not divine at all. And here is what Story thought on salvation:

This faith he retained during his whole life, and was ever ardent in his advocacy of the views of Liberal Christians. He was several times President of the American Unitarian Association, and was in the habit of attending its meetings and joining in its discussions. No man, however, was ever more free from a spirit of bigotry and proselytism. He gladly allowed every one freedom of belief, and claimed only that it should be a genuine conviction and not a mere theologic opinion, considering the true faith of every man to be the necessary exponent of his nature, and honoring a religious life more than a formal creed. He admitted within the pale of salvation Mahommedan and Christian, Catholic and Infidel. He believed that whatever is sincere and honest is recognized of God; — that as the views of any sect are but human opinion, susceptible of error on every side, it behooves all men to be on their guard against arrogance of belief; — and that in the sight of God it is not the truth or falsity of our views, but the spirit in which we believe, which alone is of vital consequence. [Bold mine.]

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Book TV: Steven Johnson "The Invention of Air"

The Rev. Joseph Priestley was an amazing guy who influenced many Founders, most notably Jefferson, J. Adams, and Franklin all of whom knew and interacted with him.

This is a video clip from CSPAN's Book TV on the most recent notable book about Priestley. We may know Priestley from our discussion of religion. But to the rest of the world he is known as the guy who discovered oxygen (which if you read the book you'll find out is a half truth).

How Religious Were the Founding Fathers? - Gordon Wood

If I am not mistaken, we haven't featured this one before from Wood. This is from ForaTV.

Monday, March 21, 2011

This is NOT ME!

Thank God. Jonathan Rowe, RIP. He was the more notable public intellectual named Jonathan Rowe. Yet, if you google "Jonathan Rowe" in a search engine, you'll probably end up at one of my sites. That led to a lot of folks confusing us over the years. I made email contact with him over this and had a few good laughs. Never met him personally. Seemed like a nice enough guy.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Murray Rothbard on the Enlightenment and its Origins

He's always worth a read. Here, followed by a taste.

The Enlightenment was a general movement in European thought in the 18th century that stressed the power of human reason to discern truth. Generally, it was dedicated to natural law and natural rights, although in the later years of the century it began to shade off into utilitarianism. While scholasticism was compatible with an emphasis on natural law and natural rights, it was generally discarded and reviled as ignorant "superstition," along with revealed religion. In religion, therefore, Enlightenment thinkers tended to discard Christianity, attack the Christian Church, and adopt skepticism, deism, or even atheism.

In this atmosphere corrosive of Christian faith and values, it is remarkable that the Scottish Enlightenment was linked very closely with the Presbyterian Church. How did this happen?...

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Liberality and Its Limits

In this delightful article (hat tip: Jon Rowe below) Philip Hamburger explores liberality as a sentiment at the time of our founding. The article is quite lengthy but it raises interesting questions, some of which Tom deals with below.

The liberal sentiment is put forth as another factor in contrast to individual rights and republican civil virtue. There is some notion that these factors conflict even as the author mentions in his concluding section (p1284) “ ... few Americans yet had reason to question the essential compatibility between liberality and virtue ... “ So we have in addition to the supposed conflict between individual property rights and civil republicanism the pull of liberal sentiment.

Liberal sentiment is described as “generosity” as opposed to “selfishness”, open and broadminded instead of “prejudiced”, seeing the greater interest over the “narrow interest” or “parochial interests”, etc. Liberality in religion is more ecumenical, not merely tolerant. Appeals to Christian charity encourage going “beyond the ‘vulgar Attachments of Family and Friends’ to embrace ‘the whole human Species.’” (p1230).

It is not too surprising that appeals to liberal sentiment abound during the ratification of the constitution. The “more perfect union” requires a less parochial, less narrow focus. The narrow interests on the state level led to tariff and trade wars. I’d argue that this is proof of the failure of liberal sentiment and the need for the protection of objective law. Also, where was this sentiment in the period leading up to the revolution? Wasn’t it Britain that saw Americans as parochial ingrates unwilling to shoulder their share of the Empire’s burden after England protected the Colonies by fighting the French and Indian War?

Liberality seems more in the eye of the beholder. Hamilton played to such sentiments when he saw the greater good of the union overcoming narrow parochial interests. However once in power he rediscovered parochial self-interest when he opposed calls for America to repay the French by joining them in their revolutionary struggle. Liberality, it seems, can go to far.

Hamburger notes that during “the 1787 Constitutional Convention ... Roger Sherman opposed a motion to prohibit religious tests. Hesitating to object on the merits, this Connecticut politician ... argued that the prohibition was ‘unnecessary, the prevailing liberality being a sufficient security against such tests.’ ... In voting for the motion prohibiting religious tests, most framers probably understood that religious dissenters might not always be amble to count upon the liberality of others ...”

One might also see Madison’s initial rejection of the Bill of Rights as an appeal to the liberality of the people. Such a “Parchment Barrier” would be worthless if the people failed to embody the virtues and values therein. In the end Americans favor law over sentiment. Indeed, we have a written constitution unlike Britain. The fashionable schools of moral sentiment had a clear effect in the colonies but I still see the dedication to explicit law, rights, and principles as dominant. Besides, leaders of the Scottish school of moral sentiment, like David Hume, were Tories who opposed our Independence. Sentiment is fine but there's nothing like solid law.

Aristotle, like Cicero, discussed the virtue of liberality. For Aristotle one can fall short of the mark or exceed the mark. Hamburger’s following passage brings this to mind (P1261):

“the moral dangers of an undefined liberality could be a metaphor for the associated political risks. When, in the Constitutional Convention, Gouverneur Morris proposed that fourteen years of citizenship should be one of the qualifications for senators, james Madison objected because ‘it will give a tincture of illiberality to the Constitution’ ... Morris expostulated: ‘Liberal & illiberal--The terms are indefinite ... The Indians are the most liberal, because when a Stranger comes among them they offer him their wife and Daughters for his carnal amusement.” Morris defended his fourteen-year qualification ... “We should cherish the love of our country--This is a wholesome prejudice and is in favor of our Country--Foreigners will not learn our laws & Constitution under 14 years.”

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

John Fea on Kirby Anderson's Show

It's very good. See here and here.

Gahh, I don't Want Lester Kinsolving In My Corner

Oh well. Lester Kinsolving is, and has been for some time a Christian-Universalist

Humor aside, the relevance of this article is one could believe in something the orthodox regard as "heresy," indeed something that makes one theologically "liberal" or more "liberal" than the "orthodox" position, while not being a political "liberal" (in a modern day left wing sense). Because Kinsolving is anything but.

A taste:

I have often used the term "universalism" – in which I believe – and which is in the title of one of our nation's denominations. Universalism was advocated by second-century Christian theologian Origen, as well as the most brilliant of all the archbishops of Canterbury, William Temple.

In 1958, when I was rector of an Episcopal parish in Pasco, Wash., I preached a sermon titled, "The Damnable Doctrine of Damnation."

I said, among other things, that the New Testament contains far more references to God's forgiveness of all sinners than to his alleged preference for the hellfire and damnation – which, if true, His Son, Jesus, telling us to forgive 70 times seven, damnation would be heavenly hypocrisy.

My sermon was reported in one of the local daily newspapers, the Columbia Basin News. On the day following, the News, in another front-page story, headlined: "RECTORS CLASH OVER HELL," it was reported that Rev. Charles May of St. Paul's Church, Kennewick, just across the river, had denounced me.

"'There is no hell,' claims Kinsolving.

"'The hell there isn't!' retorts May."

There were reports that other clergy would demand that I be tried for heresy – all of which was reported in an article in Time magazine.

But no such trial ever took place.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Philip Hamburger on "Liberality" in the Founding Era

I spent most of the day with Philip Hamburger essay, "Liberality", on what "liberal" meant to the Founding era. [Dang, it's a PDF.]

My thanks and ours at AC to Jonathan Rowe for posting it. It's one of the best pieces I've ever read on the prevailing sentiments around the time of the Founding. I got a sense of the zeitgeist, the spirit of the times---what it felt like to be an American in those times with all those ideas flying around, so much more than the recent history/anthropology pieces whose focus is too narrowed onto a particular group or way of thinking.

"Liberalism" as used in the Founding era isn't quite what we think of today, not "progressive" or governmental or social programs in that FDR or LBJ way, so let's clear the decks of the partisanship thing first and foremost.

Hamburger also poses a serious challenge not only to the Whig Theory "republicanism" narrative of eminent historians Bernard Bailyn and Gordon Wood, and to their critics as well, the new generation of historians who do the race/class/gender thing.

So let's let the man speak for himself. A partial summary, and some thoughts:

Basically, young America's enthusiasm for "liberalism" was more an enthusiasm for the freedom from the old ways of Europe, both in its rigid aristocratic class system and the religious orthodoxy of the "established" Christianities, Roman Catholicism to be sure but also the Church of England [Anglicanism].

And for free trade! As we know from Adam Smith, commerce and the government [then and now] get a bit too cozy and corrupt, another encumbrance from the Old World to be shed. Nations that trade together stay together.

This "liberal" vision reminds me of nothing so much, as Francis Fukayama's "The End of History," where the world lives in peace under political, religious, and economic liberty, Western-style bourgeois liberal democracy.

Hamburger sharply notes that even GWashington falls victim to this rosy view of "historicism," that it was the old encumbrances and illiberalities of the Old World that brought about war itself, and may someday become unnecessary.

The fly in the ointment---the intruding reality---is man's nature, which is not rosy. "Eliphaz Liberalissimus" is the pseudonym of Rev. Ashbel Green, and his Important Matters, a Liberal Man's Confession of Faith [1792] is a devastating satire of the mind that's so liberal it abandons not only all tradition and belief, but common sense as well. "Liberty" indeed becomes license, and Green's satire is spot-on and prophetic about the mushy "liberalism" if not hedonism of our own age, where anything goes.

Except belief or principles, of course. Those things are "illiberal," eh?

There are limits to the wonderfulness of human nature. One of GWash's 1786 letters to John Jay, who'd become his confidant, puts it this way:

"Your sentiments, that our affairs are drawing rapidly to a crisis, accord with my own. What the event will be is also beyond the reach of my foresight. We have errors to correct. We have probably had too good an opinion of human nature in forming our confederation. Experience has taught us, that men will not adopt & carry into execution, measures the best calculated for their own good without the intervention of a coercive power. I do not conceive we can exist long as a nation, without having lodged somewhere a power which will pervade the whole Union in as energetic a manner, as the authority of the different state governments extend over the several States. To be fearful of vesting Congress, constituted as that body is, with ample authorities for national purposes, appears to me the very climax of popular absurdity and madness.


We must take human nature as we find it. Perfection falls not to the share of mortals. "

James Madison pops up now and then in Hamburger's essay: Fortunately for us and the new American republic, James Madison was quite the realist about man's darker side, and didn't fall into the rose-colored glasses "liberalism" that was all the buzz. And so he helped design the Constitution in 1787 with the "separation of powers" we still hold onto somewhat today, trusting the human beings in the new national government no more than the Articles of Confederation government of 1786.

Me, I think it's James Madison's non-rosy view of human nature that got our American republic into the record books of man's history. The American Constitution was ratified June 21, 1788. 222 years and counting...

Hamburger's essay brings one last thought to the fore: If you want to see where the "rosy" view of human nature and "republicanism" lead, just look to the French Revolution. The perfect republic will only come about when there are perfect men to rule it and populate it as citizens.

James Madison knew better:

"If men were angels, no government would be necessary."

The "liberalism" of the French Revolution was that the French were dumping their Old Order, the ancien régime of aristocracy, clericalism, and monarchy.

And they said, screw it. All bets are off. And we know how that turned out.

The American Revolution also dumped aristocracy, clericalism, and monarchy in favor of liberalism. The difference from the French version was that the American Founders weren't just forming a new government, they were forming a new nation not only to "secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves," but to "our Posterity."

All bets were on, and there you have it.

Christopher Hitchens on the Enlightenment of Late 18th Century, Philadelphia

Familiar names dropped include Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, Joseph Priestley and Benjamin Rush.

I think Hitchens gets it more or less right here. However, he has, I would remind made David Barton like errors on behalf of the secular left, previously.

Philip Hamburger, Liberality

I can't copy and paste from this PDF text. But Hamburger, whatever issues one may have with his analysis and conclusions, is one of the most meticulously learned legal historians of the American Founding period. There is a treasure trove of info in the above linked piece, full of terms that one could put into a search engine, googlebooks and so on, to deliver a wealth of primary sources. Eliphaz Liberalissimus, for instance.

The Devil and Doctor Dwight: Satire and Theology in the Early American Republic

You may access the article from Journal of Church and State, Wntr, 2004 by Thomas S. Kidd here.

A taste:

The Devil & Doctor Dwight is unusual in its approach because it takes on book-length issues by asking what would seem an article-length question: what was Timothy Dwight up to in his relatively forgotten satiric poem The Triumph of Infidelity (1788)? Wells's answers offer an expansive and satisfying analysis of post-Revolutionary theological and political controversies. The key debate here is over the doctrine of Universalism. In 1784, Boston pastor Charles Chauncy published The Mystery Hid from Ages and Generations, explaining what he had long called "the pudding," the idea that all people would eventually be saved. Dwight saw this doctrine as the latest version of Pelagianism: the belief that man was inherently virtuous. More broadly, he saw Chauncy's universalism as symptomatic of a broader cultural self-deception led by the Enlightenment prophets of reason, progress, and democracy.

Dwight is best remembered as the president who redeemed Yale, albeit temporarily, from Enlightened skeptics. Republican critics called him the "Pope of Federalism," as he defended social order and revealed religion against Democratic-Republicans, skeptics, and untutored revivalists. The Triumph of Infidelity countered the Enlightenment narrative of continuous progress with a narrative of Satan's designs to trick people into overestimating human goodness.

As I've noted before, the first four Presidents and Ben Franklin seemed to have more in common with Rev. Chauncy's theology than Rev. Dwight's.

One question that demarcates Chauncy's theological worldview v. Dwight's is why does God command things? Is it for 1. His own glory? Or 2. man's good? The Dwights of the era answered 1.; the Chauncyes of the era and the key Founders answered 2.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Paradigm For the American Founding

As I noted in this comment thread at Volokh, someone argued on behalf of America's "Judeo-Christian" heritage. We certainly have something that could be called a "Judeo-Christian" heritage but also have:

a) an Enlightenment heritage; b) a noble pagan Greco-Roman heritage; c) a freethinking, religiously inclusive and pluralistic heritage, one that tolerates, indeed sometimes celebrates heresy and dissent in dominant religious movements; and d) an ugly illiberal heritage along with it that violated the liberty and equality rights of women, blacks, religious minorities and so on and so forth.

And btw, Jews and Roman Catholics were often the victims of d).

And we might also want to think the "cool guys" aren't part of d). No the freethinking liberals of their time engaged in d). Jefferson has some embarrassingly racist stuff in Notes on the State of Virginia. The liberal unitarian Christian John Adams was an anti-Roman Catholic bigot and so on and so forth.

But remember too, the orthodox forces of religious correctness engaged in d) as well. As one of them put it arguing against the "No Religious Tests" clause in the US Constitution:


An anti-constitutional article written for the New York Daily Advertiser that same January and widely reprinted within days in Connecticut, New Hampshire, and Massachusetts papers pulled no punches about the social repercussions of Article 6. No religious tests admitted to national lawmaking: "Ist. Quakers, who will make the blacks saucy, and at the same time deprive us of the means of defence--2dly. Mahometans, who ridicule the doctrine of the Trinity--3dly. Deists, abominable wretches--4thly. Negroes, the seed of Cain--Sthly. Beggars, who when set on horse back will ride to the devil--6thly. Jews etc. etc." Not quite finished with the last, the newspaper writer feared that since the Constitution stupidly gave command of the whole militia to the president, "should he hereafter be a Jew, our dear posterity may be ordered to rebuild Jerusalem."

Source of Information:

The Godless Constitution, The Case Against Religious Correctness. By Isaac Kramnick and R. Laurence Moore. W. W. Norton & Company New York/London.(1996) pp 33

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Future Blogging Ideas

I'm pretty busy at work (the way I like it). I don't view blogging as work; it's fun. I have no kids and I have to find something to do with my idle time. Plus writing -- getting yourself focused on the moment -- is a good way to get your mind involved in a project that helps pass the time.

But I am busy with work so I don't know how quickly my output will occur. A good blog has a new post every day. I think American Creation COULD have this if the other posters participated more; but I understand we all have busy lives.

So let me give some ideas on themes I'm going to explore in the near future and PERHAPS other co-bloggers and readers can help me RESEARCH the material beforehand.

1. I'm looking for a sermon. I know it exists in the library at Princeton (perhaps it exists at the David Library in Washington's Crossing as well). But I'd like to get it online. It is entitled "The Distinct Claims of Government and Religion, Considered in a Sermon Preached Before the Honourable House of Burgesses, at Williamsburg, in Virginia." It is by one Rev. Samuel Henley, an Anglican. It may have influenced Jefferson and Madison's "Virginia view" on religion & government. Rev. Henley was friends with Bishop James Madison who was a like-minded Whig with his namesake cousin and Jefferson. Rev. Henley was also tried for heresy and may have been a theological unitarian.

2. I want to explore more Timothy Dwight's "The Triumph of Infidelity." Dwight was President of Yale during the Founding Era and was more of an evangelical-fundamentalist kind of orthodox Christian. He was obviously an enemy of Thomas Paine, the French Revolution and that kind of "hard infidelity" that was strict deism. He was also an enemy of the unitarians, the softer infidelity that oft-presented itself under the auspices of "Christianity." Such "soft infidelity" thought of itself as "rational Christianity" and was very often unitarian and universalist in its theology. It's my contention that if the "key Founders" (the first 4 or 5 Presidents, Ben Franklin and some others) were "infidels," it was of this kind. Dwight explicitly takes on Rev. Charles Chauncy as one of these "soft infidels" masquerading as a "Christian." Again, the key Founders, as I see it, were more men of Chauncy's religion, not Dwight's.

3. I want to continue to explore the theological unitarianism and universalism of the philosophers and divines who influenced America's Founders. Men like Isaac Newton, Samuel Clarke, John Milton. I've given little attention to John Trenchard and Thomas Gordon and would like to do more with them.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Universalism In The News (The "Heart of Christianity"?)

This time it's Rob Bell.

A taste:

Universalism, in its broadest terms, preaches that everyone goes to heaven and that there is no hell. Critics say it represents a break from traditional Christianity, which they say holds that heaven and hell are very real places. In most Christian circles, universalism is a dirty word.

Perhaps it's my studies of the universalism of the Founding era that leads to this criticism. But, yes, SOME universalism holds there is no Hell; OTHER universalism holds there is a place of TEMPORARY punishment, whether we call it Hell, Purgatory of whatever. In fact the universalists of the Founding era were kinda hardcore in this regard. A typical "term" in Purgatory for many of them, I've read somewhere (forgive me for not getting you the footnote) was one thousand years.

As Benjamin Rush, a Trinitarian Universalist put in "Travels through Life," his autobiography:

At Dr. Finley's school, I was more fully instructed in those principles by means of the Westminster catechism. I retained them without any affection for them until about the year 1780. I then read for the first time Fletcher's controversy with the Calvinists, in favor of the universality of the atonement. This prepared my mind to admit the doctrine of universal salvation, which was then preached in our city by the Rev. Mr. Winchester. It embraced and reconciled my ancient Calvinistical and my newly adopted Arminian principles. From that time I have never doubted upon the subject of the salvation of all men. My conviction of the truth of this doctrine was derived from reading the works of Stonehouse, Seigvolk, White, Chauncey and Winchester, and afterwards from an attentive perusal of the Scriptures. I always admitted with each of those authors future punishment, and of long duration.

Heretofore I've operated under the assumption that though belief in universalism was some kind of "heresy" in orthodox Christianity, the issue wasn't as central as, say, belief in the Trinity. Indeed, a trinitarian-universalist could still be "Christian" according to orthodox standards whereas a unitarian-universalist could not. So for instance, even though Benjamin Rush and John Adams were both universalists and both THOUGHT of themselves as "Christians," Rush was a "Christian," but Adams was not. I still believe this (though for personal reasons, I don't determine who is a "Christian," who isn't; if you call yourself one, you are one, regardless of WHAT you believe or how you live your life).

But apparently, not all operate under the assumption that eternal damnation is less central than the Trinity in determining "real Christianity."

As Justin Taylor of The Gospel Coalition was reported saying:

"We’re talking about the big things here, things that have been historically defined as orthodox, " he said. "I have a high degree of confidence in what God is saying and what we can understand."

Though many things that separate Catholics, Protestants, and Orthodox Christians, “this isn’t one of them," Taylor said. "We’ve historically agreed on many things, the person of Christ, heaven and hell. This isn’t a peripheral academic debate. What Rob Bell is talking about gets to the heart of Christianity.”

I know the idea of some kind of rewards and punishments is at the heart of orthodox Christianity, but I have a hard time believing Hell, eternal damnation (as opposed to a LONG time) is one.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Fea's Book Arrives

John Fea's book was delivered yesterday. I've been having fun leafing through it. I really like what I see so far and hope it becomes a "standard bearer" in the "Christian Nation" debate. And I'm not just saying that because he thanks me on page xix.