Saturday, March 16, 2013

In Honor of James Madison's 262 Birthday

James H. Hutson's classic on James Madison's creed.  A taste:
... The strongest evidence produced by Noonan for Madison's exemplary faith are calculated compliments to Christianity, included in a document written to appeal to evangelical forces during a petition campaign in 1785, and a statement in 1833 in which the aged ex-president lauded Christianity as the "best & purest religion." This last assertion, however, sounds very much like the deistical maxim, frequently indulged by Jefferson, that the "pure" religion of Jesus had been unconscionably corrupted by the apostle Paul and the early church fathers.

43 comments:

wsforten said...

I tend to agree that one of the strongest evidences for Madison's faith is his public claim of the truth and the supremacy of the Christian religion in the "Memorial and Remonstrance." Most people tend to quote Madison's negative statements in that document, but fail to recognize his claim to be a Christian. In that document Madison wrote of Christianity that:

"Whilst we assert for ourselves a freedom to embrace, to profess, and to observe, the religion which we believe to be of Divine origin, we cannot deny an equal freedom to those whose minds have not yet yielded to the evidence which has convinced us. If this freedom be abused, it is an offence against God, not against man: to God, therefore not to men, must an account of it be rendered."

Here we see that Madison believed the Christian religion to be of Divine origin, and that he included himself among those who have been convinced of its truth.

Madison further wrote:

"The policy of the bill is adverse to the diffusion of the light of Christianity. The first wish of those who enjoy this precious gift ought to be, that it may be imparted to the whole race of mankind. Compare the number of those who have as yet received it, with the number still remaining under the dominion of false religions, and how small is the former! Does the policy of the bill tend to lessen the disproportion? No: it at once discourages those who are strangers to the light of Revelation from coming into the region of it: countenances, by example, the nations who continue in darkness, in shutting out those who might convey it to them."

In this statement, we can clearly discern that Madison viewed all other religions except for Christianity as false religion and that he desired for the true religion to be adopted by every one. This excerpt also shows us that Madison recognized the Bible as a Revelation from God.

Now, of course, Hutson would dismiss these statements as mere propaganda since they are part of "a document written to appeal to evangelical forces during a petition campaign," but I think this reveals a disingenuous aspect of Hutson's claims. He is quick to dismiss Madison's multiple attestations of the truth and the supremacy of Christianity as statements of mere political expediency, but he has no apparent problem with scholars who use a phrase from this document to identify Madison as a follower of John Locke.

This is very intriguing. James Madison stated early in his career that "there could not be a stronger testimony in favor of religion ... than for men who occupy the most honorable and gainful departments and are rising in reputation and wealth, publicly to declare their unsatisfactoriness by becoming fervent advocates in the cause of Christ." Twelve years later, we find him publishing a document in which he publicly identifies himself as a Christian and Christianity as the true religion ordained by God, and instead of noting the possibility that Madison was following his own advice, Hutson and other scholars conclude that he was merely using terms that would appeal to the sentiments of his readers. Then, this is further confounded by the claim that Madison's letter to Jasper Adams extolling the Christian religion as the best and purest religion was nothing more than an expression of Deism.

Hutson gives no evidence to support his dismissal of Madison's statements other than his own, obvious prejudice.

Jonathan Rowe said...

I'm very surprised you claimed Hutson has a "prejudice."

Though he does seem to subscribe to the analysis that Christianity defines, historically, through certain orthodox doctrines. And outside of that, it's something else, something you might call a form of deism. These "deists" thought Jesus' pure uncorrupted doctrines were divinely valid and that Niceanism or Athanasianism is corruption.

Whether it's proper to term these folks "deists" is debatable. Though I suggest you look at the work Deism from Joseph Walligore of University of Wisconsin; he shows that many of the historic deists are actually closer to what Dr. Frazer terms "theistic rationalists." (Walligore calls them "deists".) And the way you turn these deists or unitarians or theistic rationalists into "Christians," using your analytical tricks you can probably do that with all of the historic deists that Walligore identifies from Hobbes, to Rousseau, to Voltaire and turn them into "Christians."

wsforten said...

That's an interesting response, Jon. Are you claiming that anyone who claims that Christianity is the "best & purest religion" must be a deist? Perhaps you could explain why that phrase in particular is a purely deistic statement.

Jonathan Rowe said...

"Are you claiming that anyone who claims that Christianity is the 'best & purest religion' must be a deist?"

I am obviously NOT claiming that they MUST be a deist; but someone making such a claim CAN be someone who is not a "Christian" according to certain historically notable ways that Christianity defines. If they are not a "Christian," then what are they? That's the million $ Q.

Again, the "theistic rationalists" believed most or all religions were valid, but Christianity was the "best" in a comparative sense because of the superiority of Jesus' -- the man, the created being -- moral teachings.

To Hutson and others this may be "deism." To Dr. Frazer it's "theistic rationalism." If you want to call it "Christianity" that's fine with me.

jimmiraybob said...

wsf - "there could not be a stronger testimony in favor of religion ... than for men who occupy the most honorable and gainful departments and are rising in reputation and wealth, publicly to declare their unsatisfactoriness by becoming fervent advocates in the cause of Christ."

Do you have a citation for the whole source document or the context in which it appeared?

Jonathan Rowe said...

JRB: The context is explained in the Hutson article. Check out what Bishop Meade said about Madison shortly after JM made that statement.

jimmiraybob said...

JR - Thanks. I started the Hutson article yesterday but was fairly exhausted from travel.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Again, the "theistic rationalists" believed most or all religions were valid, but Christianity was the "best" in a comparative sense because of the superiority of Jesus' -- the man, the created being -- moral teachings.

This is incoherent. There is an essential distinction between Jesus as a moral philosopher and Jesus as the Messiah, the bearer of divine truth, an essential difference between the Bible as a moral handbook and the Bible as the word of God.

If one believes the Bible contains the word and will of God himself, one believes in that God of the Bible, and is no mere deist, theist, or rationalist.

The existence [or not] of "revelation" is a big deal, reality itself hangs in the balance.

wsforten said...

Once again, that is an interesting response, Jon. You appear to be asking what someone could be who genuinely thought that Christianity is the best and purest religion but who was still not a Christian. The intriguing aspect of this is that, according to Hutson, there is no direct evidence against the possibility that Madison was a Christian. There is not a single statement in Madison's writings which contradicts the claim that he was a Christian. Thus, there is no real ground for pondering how Madison could both (1) believe Christianity to be of Divine origin, supported by convincing evidence, giving light to the world, supported by direct Revelation from God and proving all other religions to be false and (2) still not be a Christian.

The second proposition has never been proven. Hutson admits that there is no direct evidence for it from Madison's own writings, and in fact, his dismissal of the "Memorial and Remonstrance" seems to indicate that he recognizes the incompatibility of this document with the claim that Madison was a deist. Unfortunately for Mr. Hutson, several of the claims which Madison made in his "Memorial and Remonstrance" are found repeated in Madison's other writings. For example, in addition to the previously mentioned letters to William Bradford and Jasper Adams, Madison also stated in a letter to Dr. Caldwell that:

I concur with you at once in rejecting the idea maintained by some divines, of more zeal than discretion, that there is no road from nature up to nature’s God, and that all the knowledge of his existence and attributes which preceded the written revelation of them was derived from oral tradition. The doctrine is the more extraordinary, as it so directly contradicts the declarations you have cited from the written authority itself.

The addition of this letter to our consideration gives us three private letters in which Madison confirmed his personal belief in the statements which were made in his public "Memorial and Remonstrance." In particular, these letters affirm that Madison really did believe Christianity to be the true religion, divinely established by God and supernaturally revealed to man in the Bible. If you can produce evidence from Madison's own writings that he was not a Christian, then perhaps we can give consideration to various flights of fancy about the sort of strange, chimerical belief system which would allow the two propositions to both be true. Until then, however, I think that it would be best to conclude that the evidence supporting the first proposition is strong enough to label Madison as a Christian.

Frazer, of course, disagrees with this; but the best that he can do in support of the second proposition is accuse Madison of advocating religious freedom and denying pure Calvinism. This is a strange argument against the claim that Madison was a Christian, for as Hutson correctly notes, Madison was greatly influenced by the Baptists, and the Baptists have long been recognized as history's greatest champions of religious freedom. The Baptists have also been notorious for rejecting pure Calvinism. Thus, unless Frazer is willing to claim that the Baptists, whom he recognizes in his book as Christians, are not really Christians after all, then he is in no position to deny the Christian faith of James Madison. Besides which, I have already provided ample demonstration of the flaws inherent in Frazer's theistic rationalism.

Thus, it seems that the burden of proof is on your shoulders. You wish to know how Madison could both make the statements in his "Memorial and Remonstrance" and also not be a Christian, but you have not yet provided sufficient evidence to support the claim that he was not a Christian. Until you can do so, there is no reason to attempt to merge the two together.

wsforten said...

jimmiraybob, you can read the full text of Madison's "Memorial and Remonstrance" at this link:

http://books.google.com/books?id=f9AMr1LmG1MC&pg=PA1

You can also read Madison's letter to George Mason explaining why he wrote the remonstrance at this link:

http://books.google.com/books?id=V7jGAAAAMAAJ&pg=PA249

The text of the bill written by Patrick Henry which Madison was opposing can be read at:

http://atheism.about.com/od/secularismseparation/a/PatrickHentryChristianReligion.htm

Jonathan Rowe said...

Yes and you keep on giving interesting responses to my interesting responses. It could be that what Madison meant by "Christianity" is not what you mean by "Christianity" similar to how what a Mormon means by "Christianity" is not what you understand as "Christianity."

In terms of Madison believing all other religions "false," I wonder why he referred to unconverted Native American's "Great Spirit" as the same God he worshipped when speaking to them.

Do you think that Muslims who worship Allah worship the same God you do?

wsforten said...

Madison's reference to the "Great Spirit" no more makes him not a Christian than Paul's reference to the "Unknown God" makes him apostate. Both terms are generic references to a Supreme Being that was recognized by polytheistic cultures. It has long been the habit of Christian missionaries to start their ministry with a recognition of this Supreme Being and then slowly explain that the God of the Bible is this "God of gods, and Lord of lords." (Deuteronomy 10:17) Such language is found throughout Christian literature and its inclusion in the communications of our founders with the Indians is fully consistent with the claim that those founders were Christians.

Jonathan Rowe said...

But Tom in your favorite letter from Franklin where he is asked about Jesus the first thing that comes out of his mouth is,

"As to Jesus of Nazareth, my Opinion of whom you particularly desire, I think the System of Morals and his Religion as he left them to us, the best the World ever saw, or is likely to see;..."

wsforten said...

Let's not forget that Franklin also wrote:

Christ gave himself for us that he might redeem us from all Iniquity, and purify to himself a peculiar People zealous of Good-Works. And there is scarcely a Chapter in the whole Gospels or Epistles from which this Doctrine can’t be prov’d … I would ask these reverend Gentlemen, Does God regard Man at all? The Answer I suppose will be, That he does, but that it is upon the Account of Christ’s Merits; which I shall grant them, and allow it to be the Merits and Satisfaction of Christ that purchased such easy and plain Conditions of Happiness; but still it is our Compliance with these Conditions that I call inward Merit and Desert which God regards in us. (http://franklinpapers.org/franklin/yale?vol=2&page=037a)

And

Christ by his Death and Sufferings has purchas’d for us those easy Terms and Conditions of our Acceptance with God, propos’d in the Gospel, to wit, Faith and Repentance. (http://franklinpapers.org/franklin/yale?vol=2&page=090a)

Tom Van Dyke said...

But Tom in your favorite letter from Franklin where he is asked about Jesus the first thing that comes out of his mouth is,

"As to Jesus of Nazareth, my Opinion of whom you particularly desire, I think the System of Morals and his Religion as he left them to us, the best the World ever saw, or is likely to see;..."


Jon, you can't skip over the "Religion" part of "System of Morals and Religion."

However, I don't argue that Franklin believed the Bible was divine revelation, only that he was open to the possibility.

http://americancreation.blogspot.com/2008/11/ben-franklin-was-not-deist-ok.html

"Revelation had indeed no weight with me, as such, but I entertained an opinion, that, though certain actions might not be bad, because they were forbidden by it, or good, because it commanded them; yet probably these actions might be forbidden because they were bad for us, or commanded because they were beneficial to us, in their own natures, all the circumstances of things considered."

...

"And this persuasion [that the Bible is good for you---TVD], with the kind hand of Providence, or some guardian angel, or accidental favourable circumstances and situations, or all together, preserved me through this dangerous time of youth, and the hazardous situations I was sometimes in among strangers, remote from the eye and advice of my father, free from any wilful immorality or injustice, that might have been expected from my want of religion."
__________________

Bill, the link to the Franklin site goes only to its mainpage. Your quotes are relevant; it would help if you could pass along what letter or writing they're from.

Unfortunately for your argument [most of which I concur with], the first quote is from "A Defense of Mr. Hemphill's Observations" and the second is from "Observations on the Proceedings against Mr. Hemphill," two early texts that may or may not represent Franklin's own actual beliefs.

Jonathan Rowe said...

"the God of the Bible is this 'God of gods, and Lord of lords.'"

That's one of the problems with the Bible: Too many different ways to interpret it. Who are these other "gods"? Demigods?

This gives credence to Mormonism and Ben Franklin's proto-Mormonism where he noted Jehovah may be a higher created being, created by some even higher, less knowable all powerful Providence.

As he wrote in 1728:

"First Principles

"I believe there is one Supreme most perfect Being, Author and Father of the Gods themselves.

"For I believe that Man is not the most perfect Being but One, rather that as there are many Degrees of Beings his Inferiors, so there are many Degrees of Beings superior to him.

"Also, when I stretch my Imagination thro' and beyond our System of Planets, beyond the visible fix'd Stars themselves, into that Space that is every Way infinite, and conceive it fill'd with Suns like ours, each with a Chorus of Worlds for ever moving round him, then this little Ball on which we move, seems, even in my narrow Imagination, to be almost Nothing, and my self less than nothing, and of no sort of Consequence.

"When I think thus, I imagine it great Vanity in me to suppose, that the Supremely Perfect, does in the least regard such an inconsiderable Nothing as Man. More especially, since it is impossible for me to have any positive clear Idea of that which is infinite and incomprehensible, I cannot conceive otherwise, than that He, the Infinite Father, expects or requires no Worship or Praise from us, but that he is even INFINITELY ABOVE IT.

"But since there is in all Men something like a natural Principle which enclines them to DEVOTION or the Worship of some unseen Power;

"And since Men are endued with Reason superior to all other Animals that we are in our World acquainted with;

"Therefore I think it seems required of me, and my Duty, as a Man, to pay Divine Regards to SOMETHING.

"I CONCEIVE then, that the INFINITE has created many Beings or Gods, vastly superior to Man, who can better conceive his Perfections than we, and return him a more rational and glorious Praise. As among Men, the Praise of the Ignorant or of Children, is not regarded by the ingenious Painter or Architect, who is rather honour'd and pleas'd with the Approbation of Wise men and Artists.

"It may be that these created Gods, are immortal, or it may be that after many Ages, they are changed, and Others supply their Places.

"Howbeit, I conceive that each of these is exceeding wise, and good, and very powerful; and that Each has made for himself, one glorious Sun, attended with a beautiful and admirable System of Planets.

"It is that particular wise and good God, who is the Author and Owner of our System, that I propose for the Object of my Praise and Adoration."

Tom Van Dyke said...

Jon, Franklin was 22 when he wrote that. He lived 'til age 83, by which time nothing like that had appeared in his writings and musings since.

wsforten said...

Let me apologize for the length of the following response. I began writing, and I just couldn't stop until I had written out the whole thing. Also, I have not taken the time to include any links, but all of the statements should be available via my previously provided link to the Franklin Papers. With that said, here is my response:

Did you notice the date on that statement, Jon. Franklin composed his "Articles of Belief and Acts of Religion" at the ripe old age of twenty-two. With this in mind, it would be reasonable to consider a few facts about Franklin's beliefs.

According to his autobiography, Benjamin Franklin decided to become a deist at the age of fifteen. However, he then wrote that "I began to suspect that this doctrine, though it might be true, was not very useful." Franklin moved to London at the age of seventeen while still a deist, and during that stay, he published a pamphlet with the motto, "Whatever is, is right." It was during this time, that Franklin began to doubt the truth of deism, and he recorded in his autobiography that he "doubted whether some error had not insinuated itself unperceived into my argument." He then said that he "grew convinced that truth, sincerity, and integrity in dealings between man and man were of the utmost importance to the felicity of life." It was about his conclusions of this time that Franklin wrote, "Revelation had indeed no weight with me, as such;" and he concluded that it was "the kind hand of Providence" which preserved him during this "dangerous time of youth."

The "Articles of Belief" which you quoted was written just two years after Franklin returned from London, and its wording is consistent with the time period after his rejection of deism but before his acceptance of the Bible as revelation from God. This transitional phase appears to have continued through 1731 when Franklin wrote his outline of "Doctrine to be Preached." In the mere ten lines of this outline that have been recovered, there is no reference to Scripture. There is, however, a marked difference between this outline and the "Articles of Belief" which Franklin had written three years prior. In this outline, Franklin completely abandoned his earlier concept of God as merely the God of our solar system with other God's above Him and instead fully embraced a single God who he identified as the "Father of the Universe." Franklin's "Doctrine" of 1731 described God as "infinitely good, Powerful and wise" as well as "omnipresent." At this time, Franklin also recognized the existence of an afterlife and wrote that men "are made more happy or miserable after this Life according to their Actions."

wsforten said...

This brings us to the consideration of Franklin's 1732 article "On the Providence of God in the Government of the World" in which he argued for the intervention of God in the affairs of men. This argument agrees with Franklin's "Doctrine" of the previous year in that it was predicated on "the Existence of a Deity and that he is the Creator of the Universe." It also agreed with that "Doctrine" in the claim that God is infinitely wise, powerful and good. The 1732 article, however, introduced several additional concepts which are not seen in the remnants of the earlier "Doctrine," though they might have been in the original. In particular, Fanklin's 1732 article included the conclusion "that the Deity sometimes interferes by his particular Providence, and sets aside the Events which would otherwise have been produc’d in the Course of Nature, or by the Free Agency of Men." This conclusion marks the first indication that Franklin recognized God's direct interference in the actions of men, and it is also the first evidence of Franklin's acknowledgement of the free will of man. This article also marks the first record we have of Franklin saying that men should pray to God for "his Favour and Protection." His previous prayer in the "Articles of Belief" was primarily focused on praising God, and the request in that prayer was only for aid in maintaining good virtue. The 1732 article, by contrast, stated that men should pray for God's direct intervention in their lives.

About two years after Franklin's article on the providence of God, a new preacher by the name of Hemphill arrived in Philadelphia, and Franklin wrote in his autobiography that "I became one of his constant hearers." It was shortly after Mr. Hemphill's arrival that Franklin published an article entitled "Self-Denial is not the Essence of Virtue." In that article, we find Franklin denying a doctrine that had been fundamental to his beliefs up to this time. He denied his previous claim that men would be rewarded by God according to their virtues. In this February 18, 1735, article, he wrote that "We do not pretend to merit any thing of God, for he is above our Services; and the Benefits he confers on us, are the Effects of his Goodness and Bounty."

Less than two months later, the Gazette published an article that many attribute to Franklin entitled "Dialogue between Two Presbyterians." If, as is frequently assumed, the character in this dialogue represented by the initial S. conveys Franklin's own opinions, then this dialogue shows that at this point in 1735, Franklin was still struggling with the proper relationship between virtue and belief in regards to salvation. In the dialogue, S. claims that "Morality or Virtue is the End, Faith only a Means to obtain that End." S. also said, "The whole, says he, need not a Physician, but they that are sick; and, I come not to call the Righteous, but Sinners, to Repentance: Does not this imply, that there were good Men, who, without Faith in him, were in a State of Salvation?" We will see in a moment that Franklin quickly resolved this error, but it is important to note that if Franklin actually did use S. to convey his own opinions, then this dialogue marks the first time that Franklin chose to support his theological writings with quotes from Scripture. Nor is this statement the only reference to the Bible in the dialogue. Throughout the course of the discussion, S. directly quoted no less than ten passages of Scripture in support of his position. This is a significant change from Franklin's earlier statement that "Revelation had indeed no weight with me."

wsforten said...

There is another even more significant change which should be noted at this point. In the dialogue, S. made the statement, "I suppose you think no Doctrine fit to be preached in a Christian Congregation, but such as Christ and his Apostles used to preach," and a few paragraphs later, he said, "Our Saviour was a Teacher of Morality or Virtue, and they that were deficient and desired to be taught, ought first to believe in him as an able and faithful Teacher." If these are the opinions of Franklin himself, then this dialogue marks the first recorded instance that I know of in which he referred to Jesus as the Savior and as the Christ.

In addition to publishing the "Dialogue between Two Presbyterians," Franklin also published three pamphlets in defense of Hemphill. In those pamphlets, we find Franklin shedding the last vestiges of his previously held deism and fully adopting biblical Christianity. The third of these pamphlets was entitled "A Defense of Mr. Hemphill's Observations," and in it, Franklin declared in no uncertain terms that "Christ by his Death and Sufferings has purchas’d for us those easy Terms and Conditions of our Acceptance with God, propos’d in the Gospel, to wit, Faith and Repentance." Here at last, he had arrived at pure Christian doctrine. He finally understood that there is a God, that sin separates men from Him, that no man is virtuous enough to regain fellowship with God, that the penalty for this failure is death, that Christ paid that penalty for all men through His own death on the cross and that it is only by placing faith in His sacrifice and repenting of our own failures that we can be brought back into favor with God. Here, Franklin speaks not as a mere deist or theist but as a true follower of Jesus Christ.

Now, some may claim that these pamphlets in defense of Hemphill were not intended to convey Franklin's personal beliefs. Ironically, however, many of those same individuals have used misconstrued quotes from these very same pamphlets in support of their claims that Franklin rejected Christianity. Frazer, for example, wrote the following in his book on the founding fathers:

In his defense of Hemphill, Franklin attacked the orthodox image of God as a righteous judge who must be satisfied as, in the words of one scholar, "repugnant both to reason and to God." On would expect him to oppose the doctrine that followed from that presupposition -- that is, that Christ came to offer an acceptable sacrifice. Indeed, Franklin tried to defend Hemphill against the charge that he denied "the true and proper satisfaction of Christ" by diminishing its significance and by changing the subject.

Frazer's conclusion is clearly contradicted by the above quote from Franklin's pamphlet, but his statement indicates that both sides of the argument accept Franklin's pamphlets in defense of Hemphill as expressions of Franklin's own opinions.

As additional evidence of this, we could note that Franklin's writings on religion subsequent to his defense of Hemphill were significantly different from his writings before that time. For example, three years after Hemphill's trial, Franklin wrote a letter to his parents in which he briefly mentioned his new religious beliefs. Here is what he said:

My Mother grieves that one of her Sons is an Arian, another an Arminian. What an Arminian or an Arian is, I cannot say that I very well know; the Truth is, I make such Distinctions very little my Study; I think vital Religion has always suffer’d, when Orthodoxy is more regarded than Virtue. And the Scripture assures me, that at the last Day, we shall not be examin’d what we thought, but what we did; and our Recommendation will not be that we said Lord, Lord, but that we did Good to our Fellow Creatures. See Matth. 26.

wsforten said...

Frazer said of this letter that Franklin here "confessed that his mother 'grieves' over his denial of the Trinity," but this conclusion ignores what we have previously learned about Franklin's beliefs. This letter notes that only one of Mrs. Franklin's sons was an Arian, but the other was an Arminian. Frazer completely ignores this distinction and merely assumes that Benjamin Franklin must be the Arian son. This is a remarkable oversight, for just ten pages earlier in his book, Frazer went to great lengths to prove that Benjamin Franklin was not a Calvinist. And indeed he was not, for we have already seen that he wrote of the free will of man in his 1732 article on the providence of God. Thus, Benjamin Franklin was most likely the son which Mrs. Franklin thought to be an Arminian, and it was his brother who had denied the existence of the Trinity. Aside from this, however, the thing to note about this letter is that Franklin responded to his mother's concerns by quoting Scripture. This was never his practice prior to his defense of Hemphill, and it serves to prove that his conversion to Christianity was genuine.

Of course, it could be argued that this letter marks a regression from the bold statement of faith in the Hemphill pamphlets because Franklin here writes that we will be judged based on our actions, but such an objection would be very much mistaken. In fact, that is the very same conclusion that Franklin's sister presented to him in a letter in 1743. Franklin's response to his sister's apprehensions should be sufficient to remove any doubt of his conversion. Here is what he wrote:

You express yourself as if you thought I was against Worshipping of God, and believed Good Works would merit Heaven; which are both Fancies of your own, I think, without Foundation. I am so far from thinking that God is not to be worshipped, that I have compos’d and wrote a whole Book of Devotions for my own Use: And I imagine there are few, if any, in the World, so weake as to imagine, that the little Good we can do here, can merit so vast a Reward hereafter. There are some Things in your New England Doctrines and Worship, which I do not agree with, but I do not therefore condemn them, or desire to shake your Belief or Practice of them. We may dislike things that are nevertheless right in themselves. I would only have you make me the same Allowances, and have a better Opinion both of Morality and your Brother. Read the Pages of Mr. Edward’s late Book entitled Some Thoughts concerning the present Revival of Religion in NE. from 367 to 375; and when you judge of others, if you can perceive the Fruit to be good, don’t terrify your self that the Tree may be evil, but be assur’d it is not so; for you know who has said, Men do not gather Grapes of Thorns or Figs of Thistles.

Here, Franklin provides a direct denial of the claim that he was relying on good works to gain entrance into Heaven, and to further allay the fears of his sister, he directs her to discover his beliefs about morality in the pages of Jonathan Edwards' account of the revival in New England. Within the pages that Franklin listed, is found a remarkable explanation of the proper role of morality in the life of the believer. Even today, Edwards is well known as one of the greatest theologians in America, and the deference to his teachings on morality indicates that Franklin had an appropriately Christian view of that subject. This is even further supported by a letter which Franklin wrote to George Whitefield in 1753 in which he said:

wsforten said...

You will see in this my notion of good works, that I am far from expecting to merit heaven by them. By heaven we understand a state of happiness, infinite in degree, and eternal in duration: I can do nothing to deserve such rewards. He that for giving a draught of water to a thirsty person, should expect to be paid with a good plantation, would be modest in his demands, compared with those who think they deserve heaven for the little good they do on earth. Even the mixt imperfect pleasures we enjoy in this world, are rather from God’s goodness than our merit: how much more such happiness of heaven!

All of this is consistent with the view that Franklin rejected deism and had fully committed himself to Christianity by the time of his defense of Hemphill in 1735. From that point on, there is a decided change in Franklin's religious statements. In place of the feeble reasonings of a young deist, we find a solid faith in the work of Christ and a firm reliance on the teachings of the Scriptures. In fact, Franklin was so convinced of the truth of the Bible that he argued in the Constitutional Convention that "We should remember the character which the Scripture requires in rulers." The evidence for Franklin's conversion is far too solid and secure to be shaken by the single admission of a particular doubt in his old age.

Tom Van Dyke said...

both sides of the argument accept Franklin's pamphlets in defense of Hemphill as expressions of Franklin's own opinions.

Not this side of the argument.

All of this is consistent with the view that Franklin rejected deism and had fully committed himself to Christianity by the time of his defense of Hemphill in 1735.

More likely is that Franklin committed himself to NO view. When he writes

And the Scripture assures me, that at the last Day, we shall not be examin’d what we thought, but what we did; and our Recommendation will not be that we said Lord, Lord, but that we did Good to our Fellow Creatures. See Matth. 26.

keep in mind that he may mean this provisionally: IF the Scriptures are true, THIS is what happens on Judgment Day.

Tellya the truth, this is always how I thought a true agnostic should live, at least mindful of Pascal's Wager.

Take Franklin at his word, then, when he says in the very sentence before:

What an Arminian or an Arian is, I cannot say that I very well know; the Truth is, I make such Distinctions very little my Study; I think vital Religion has always suffer’d, when Orthodoxy is more regarded than Virtue..

That's the real Franklin, until the day he died.
___________________

WS, I'll try not to be insulted that you don't check my links. ;-(
We should not overshoot the evidence,

Franklin wrote, "Revelation had indeed no weight with me, as such;" and he concluded that it was "the kind hand of Providence" which preserved him during this "dangerous time of youth."

I use the full quote above in this thread:

"And this persuasion, with the kind hand of Providence, or some guardian angel, or accidental favourable circumstances and situations, or all together, preserved me through this dangerous time of youth..."

Bold face mine. Again, I think you'll find if you read Franklin as being open [truly agnostic, "I don't know"], his apparent contradictions aren't contradictions atall, they're just leaving such questions open. Although I think his God is ultimately the God of the Bible [or at least indistinguishable from Him], Franklin prefers not to pin himself down on stuff he lacks certainty on. In this way he certainly is a rationalist.

wsforten said...

I have read your link, Tom, and while my previous comment was directed more towards Jon, I thought that it addressed your position as well. However, let me ask a question of yourself in particular. You mentioned that Franklin rejected the concept of original sin, but you did not provide a source for that claim. What did Franklin say that caused you to conclude that he rejected the idea of original sin?

Jonathan Rowe said...

From his 1735 A Defense of Mr. Hemphill’s Observations:

"But lest they shou’d imagine that one of their strongest Objections hinted at here, and elsewhere, is designedly overlook’d, as being unanswerable, viz. our lost and undone State by Nature, as it is commonly call’d, proceeding undoubtedly from the Imputation of old Father Adam’s first Guilt. To this I answer once for all, that I look upon this Opinion every whit as ridiculous as that of Imputed Righteousness. ’Tis a Notion invented, a Bugbear set up by Priests (whether Popish or Presbyterian I know not) to fright and scare an unthinking Populace out of their Senses, and inspire them with Terror, to answer the little selfish Ends of the Inventors and Propagators. ’Tis absurd in it self, and therefore cannot be father’d upon the Christian Religion as deliver’d in the Gospel. Moral Guilt is so personal a Thing, that it cannot possibly in the Nature of Things be transferr’d from one Man to Myriads of others, that were no way accessary to it. And to suppose a Man liable to Punishment upon account of the Guilt of another, is unreasonable; and actually to punish him for it, is unjust and cruel."

Jonathan Rowe said...

If Franklin were not an Arian, he sure as heck didn't seem to have a problem with them as he promoted the notable Arian Richard Price:

http://americancreation.blogspot.com/2012/08/ben-franklin-promotes-rational.html

wsforten said...

I would hardly consider that a promotion of Arianism, Jon. Franklin was asked about a church preaching "rational Christianity," and he did not even know if there were such a church in his town. He only offered to take his friend to Mr. Price's church as a favor to that friend. There is nothing in this letter to indicate that Franklin agreed with Price's teachings, and in fact, it appears that Franklin did not keep up with Price's ministry to any degree of significance since he had no idea of what Price's schedule might be for the upcoming Sunday.

Thank you for providing the quote from Franklin's defense of Hemphill. My point in asking for it was to show that the claim that Franklin denied the doctrine of original sin is based on a statement from that pamphlet. This supports my previous statement that both sides agree that these pamphlets contain Franklin's own opinions.

By the way, the doctrine which he rejected in that paragraph was not the doctrine of original sin as so many have supposed. Rather, Franklin was arguing against the Calvinistic doctrine of imputed guilt. This doctrine is very similar to that of original sin, but it differs in a few important particulars which Franklin claimed were erroneous.

Tom Van Dyke said...

What did Franklin say that caused you to conclude that he rejected the idea of original sin?

You're right, WS. I must have taken Jon's word for it, based on the Hemphill Affair writings. No, we cannot take those writings as his beliefs, although we might take them as hints.

In this case, I'm unaware of anything in Franklin's canon that would support a belief in original sin, and in my opinion, a belief in that doctrine would be totally out of character for him, both in his inductive sentiments about how God works and his near-complete avoidance of theology and doctrine. [The concept of original sin is at least arguably unbiblical.]

wsforten said...

When you say that the concept of original sin might be unbiblical, are you referring to the idea that there was an original or first sin, or are you referring to the Calvinistic teaching that the guilt of that first sin is imputed to every individual? The first of these two is entirely biblical, but I completely agree with the conclusion that the second is "arguably unbiblical," and I have no problem with concluding that Franklin would also agree.

Jonathan Rowe said...

Read the ENTIRE Franklin's quote again. He is not making the distinction between original sin and imputed guilt that WS makes. Franklin, like a lot of folks, lumps the two doctrines together as he rejects it.

wsforten said...

Is this the quote that you are asking me to read again?

But lest they shou’d imagine that one of their strongest Objections hinted at here, and elsewhere, is designedly overlook’d, as being unanswerable, viz. our lost and undone State by Nature, as it is commonly call’d, proceeding undoubtedly from the Imputation of old Father Adam’s first Guilt. To this I answer once for all, that I look upon this Opinion every whit as ridiculous as that of Imputed Righteousness. ’Tis a Notion invented, a Bugbear set up by Priests (whether Popish or Presbyterian I know not) to fright and scare an unthinking Populace out of their Senses, and inspire them with Terror, to answer the little selfish Ends of the Inventors and Propagators. ’Tis absurd in it self, and therefore cannot be father’d upon the Christian Religion as deliver’d in the Gospel. Moral Guilt is so personal a Thing, that it cannot possibly in the Nature of Things be transferr’d from one Man to Myriads of others, that were no way accessary to it. And to suppose a Man liable to Punishment upon account of the Guilt of another, is unreasonable; and actually to punish him for it, is unjust and cruel. (emphasis mine)

If so, perhaps you could explain where you have discovered a reference to original sin in this statement.

Tom Van Dyke said...

BTW, a very lively exchange at our friend John Fea's blog with up-and-coming scholar LD Burnett.

http://www.philipvickersfithian.com/2013/03/biography-and-american-religious-history.html

It is a fact that those familiar with the Bible have an edge over those who do not.

OTOH, they might take it too far...

Jonathan Rowe said...

Original sin is more than just Adam and Eve making a "first sin." It's a doctrine wherein something is passed down through a chain of succession and that humans are born subject to.

Not all sources make the distinction to which WS refers. Franklin sure doesn't.

Where does Franklin affirm the doctrine of original sin (sans imputed guilt)?

wsforten said...

I think that you may have misunderstood my position. My claim was not that Franklin affirmed original sin without affirming imputed guilt. My claim was that he rejected the concept of imputed guilt without rejecting the doctrine of original sin. I rely on the very paragraph which you provided as evidence for that claim, for there Franklin spoke only of imputed guilt and not, as you assert, of original sin. In order for you to claim that he blended the two together, you need to provide a quotation in which that can be seen.

Joe Winpisinger said...

I have brought this topic up before. That of whether the Founders were appalled by some of the doctrines of Christianity or Calvinism? Distinction must be made.

Tom Van Dyke said...

There were so many sects by the time of the Founding it's hard to say.

“There were not just Presbyterians, but Old and New School Presbyterians, Cumberland Presbyterians, Springfield Presbyterians, Reformed Presbyterians, and Associated Presby­terians; not just Baptists, but General Baptists, Regular Baptists, Free Will Baptists, Separate Baptists, Dutch River Baptists, Permanent Baptists, and Two-Seed-in-the-Spirit Baptists.”
---Gordon Wood

jimmiraybob said...

Yes, it was a congested milieu as Adams attested to in a letter to Jefferson (June 28, 1813)(1):

"Who composed that army of fine young fellows that was then before my eyes? There were among them Roman Catholics, English Episcopalians, Scotch and American Presbyterians, Methodists, Moravians, Anabaptists, German Lutherans, German Calvinists, Universalists, Arians, Priestleyans, Socinians, Independents, Congregationalists, Horse Protestants, and House Protestants,2 (note for original cited source) Deists and Atheists, and Protestants 'qui ne croyent rien(2).'"

1) http://oll.libertyfund.org/?option=com_staticxt&staticfile=show.php%3Ftitle=2127&chapter=193514&layout=html&Itemid=27
2) Generally translated as Protetants who/that believe nothing.

Jonathan Rowe said...

Yes, JRB and that diverse group defines the "general principles of Christianity" quote that Christian Nationalists are so fond of quoting out of context.

wsforten said...

What definition do you observe there, Jon?

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