Saturday, March 2, 2013

Reading About the "Hindoos" with John Adams

By Michael J. Altman here.

33 comments:

Tom Van Dyke said...

FTR, I have a very low opinion of Adams as a theologian, philoospher or thinker of any sort.

Here

http://www.beliefnet.com/resourcelib/docs/72/Letter_from_John_Adams_to_Thomas_Jefferson_1.html

His impression of Hindooism seems to be indistinguishable from what we might call "providential monotheism," the Judeo-Christian scheme, even featuring a creator-God*.

"Where is to be found theology more orthodox, or philosophy more profound, than in the introduction to the Shasta? "God is one, creator of all, universal sphere, without beginning, without end. God governs all the creation by a general providence, resulting from his eternal designs. Search not the essence and the nature of the Eternal, who is one; your research will be vain and presumptuous. It is enough, that, day by day and night by night, you adore his power, his wisdom, and his goodness, in his works. The Eternal willed, in the fulness of time, to communicate of his essence and of his splendor, to beings capable of perceiving it. They as yet existed not. The Eternal willed, and they were. He created Birma, Vitsnow, and Sib."

These doctrines, sublime, if ever there were any sublime, Pythagoras learned in India, and taught them to Zaleucus and his other disciples."

------------

*A single creator-God is not common in the old world. Many or most use a variation of male and female, yin and yang. For instance, Zeus murdered his father Cronos, who was the son of the "creators" Gaia [earth] and Uranus [the sky]. Or whatever.

In the begining there was only chaos. Then out of the void appeared Erebus, the unknowable place where death dwells, and Night. All else was empty, silent, endless, darkness. Then somehow Love was born bringing a start of order. From Love came Light and Day. Once there was Light and Day, Gaea, the earth appeared.
Then Erebus slept with Night, who gave birth to Ether, the heavenly light, and to Day the earthly light. Then Night alone produced Doom, Fate, Death, Sleep, Dreams, Nemesis, and others that come to man out of darkness.

Meanwhile Gaea alone gave birth to Uranus, the heavens. Uranus became Gaea's mate covering her on all sides. Together they produced the three Cyclopes, the three Hecatoncheires, and twelve Titans.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Oh, & BTW, this is the same letter [to Jefferson, 1813] where Adams call the Bible "the best book in the world.

Philosophy looks with an impartial eye on all terrestrial religions. I have examined all, as well as my narrow sphere, my straitened means, and my busy life would allow me; and the result is, that the Bible is the best book in the world. It contains more of my little philosophy than all the libraries I have seen; and such parts of it as I cannot reconcile to my little philosophy, I postpone for future investigation.



http://www.beliefnet.com/resourcelib/docs/72/Letter_from_John_Adams_to_Thomas_Jefferson_1.html

wsforten said...

Tom, you should read pages 82-87 of my book Hidden Facts of the Founding Era in which I address that exact quote. Adams was not endorsing Hinduism in this statement. He was merely suggesting that Priestley neglected to consider the Shastra as a source for the orthodox Christian teaching of the Trinity.

In my book, I provided the following quote from Elias Boudinot, one of the most orthodox of our founders, in which he cited the same teaching in the Shastra as evidence of a Hebrew influence on the religion of Hinduism:

One of the most prominent features in the Indian theology, is the doctrine of a Trinity, which it plainly inculcates; a subject by no means to be passed over in silence; but at the same time connected with the abstrusest speculations of ancient philosophy. It has been repeatedly observed, that the mythologic personages, Brahma, Veeshnu, and Seeva, constitute the grand Hindoo triad of Deity. – That, nearly all the Pagan nations of antiquity, in their various theological systems, acknowledged a kind of Trinity in the Divine Nature, has been the occasion of much needless alarm and unfounded apprehension, especially to those professors of Christianity, whose religious principles rest upon so slender a basis, that they waver with every wind of doctrine. The very circumstances which has given rise to these apprehensions, the universal prevalence of this doctrine in the Gentile kingdoms, is, in my opinion, so far from invalidating the Divine authenticity of it, that it appears to be an irrefragable argument in its favour. It ought to confirm the piety of the wavering Christian, and build up the tottering fabric of his faith.

The doctrine itself bears such striking internal marks of a Divine original, and is so very unlikely to have been the invention of mere human reason, that there is no way of accounting for the general adoption of so singular a belief by most ancient nations, than by supposing what I have, in pretty strong terms, intimated at the commencement of this chapter, to be the genuine fact, that the doctrine was neither the invention of Pythagoras, nor Plato, nor any other philosopher in the ancient world, but a sublime mysterious truth, one of those stupendous arcana of the invisible world, which through the condescending goodness of Divine Providence, was revealed to the ancient patriarchs of the faithful line of Shem, by them propagated to their Hebrew posterity; and through that posterity, during their various migrations and dispersions over the east, diffused through the Gentile nations, among whom they sojourned. I must again take permission to assert it as my solemn belief – a belief founded upon long and elaborate investigation of this important subject, that the Indian, as well as all other triads of Deity, so universally adored throughout the whole Asiatic world, and under every denomination, whether they consist of persons, principles, or attributes deified, are only corruptions of the Christian doctrine of the Trinity.

Jonathan Rowe said...

WSForten:

I think you err somewhat in the curt way you analyze the J. Adams' quotation. Note I haven't read your book, just what you have presented here. (And when we quote the Founders and let them speak for themselves, it's usually the analysis that is most contentious).

This part of Frazer's thesis (with which I agree) is that J. Adams believed all religions are valid in that they teach the basic truth as "Christianity" (or what J. Adams understood to be "Christianity" which, according to Frazer is not "Christianity" but "theistic rationalism"). Yet, Christianity is the "best" in a comparative sense because of the superiority of Jesus' moral teachings. So, as it were, Christianity would get an "A," Hinduism a "B" or "C." Whereas a more orthodox biblical notion might conclude Christianity gets the A, Hinduism the F.

That's not what Adams believed from what is reproduced here.

The quotation from Boudinat is interesting and does shed light. He seems to argue that the Trinity is a Truth (in which he believed) that we see existing in the Asiatic religions in corrupted form.

From Adams' quote it appears that he probably agreed with Boudinat that the concept of the Trinity (in which Adams disbelieved) appears in Hinduism and thus connects with orthodox Trinitrian theology. And where Boudinat saw Truth, Adams, a unitarian, saw falsity and corruption.

That said, at the beginning of J. Adams quotation, we still see this:

"Where is to be found theology more orthodox, or philosophy more profound, than in the introduction to the Shasta? 'God is one, creator of all, universal sphere, without beginning, without end. God governs all the creation by a general providence, resulting from his eternal designs. Search not the essence and the nature of the Eternal, who is one; your research will be vain and presumptuous. It is enough, that, day by day and night by night, you adore his power, his wisdom, and his goodness, in his works.'"

That is the generic theism that Adams saw in ALL world religions, including Hinduism and it rendered Hinduism a "valid" religion.

So when Adams follows with this --

"The Eternal willed, in the fulness of time, to communicate of his essence and of his splendor, to beings capable of perceiving it. They as yet existed not. The Eternal willed, and they were. He created Birma, Vitsnow, and Sib."

"These doctrines, sublime, if ever there were any sublime, Pythagoras learned in India, and taught them to Zaleucus and his other disciples."

-- Adams is noting Hinduism, just like orthodox Christianity, has its own version of the phony corrupt doctrine of the Trinity which he hated.

And that makes Hinduism the equivalent of Trinitarian Christianity: A religion that teaches Truth at its heart (a general monotheistic Providence) but has been corrupted by dogma (the Trinity).

Which leaves Adams' "liberal unitarian Christianity" (to use HIS term) the best, true, valid religion.






"Where is to be found theology more orthodox, or philosophy more profound, than in the introduction to the Shasta? "God is one, creator of all, universal sphere, without beginning, without end. God governs all the creation by a general providence, resulting from his eternal designs. Search not the essence and the nature of the Eternal, who is one; your research will be vain and presumptuous. It is enough, that, day by day and night by night, you adore his power, his wisdom, and his goodness, in his works. The Eternal willed, in the fulness of time, to communicate of his essence and of his splendor, to beings capable of perceiving it. They as yet existed not. The Eternal willed, and they were. He created Birma, Vitsnow, and Sib."

These doctrines, sublime, if ever there were any sublime, Pythagoras learned in India, and taught them to Zaleucus and his other disciples."

wsforten said...

Jonathan, you are right. My statement was rather terse. I sent you a copy of my book a while back, and it is only $2.99 on Amazon (and free for Prime members), but I should have taken the time to provide a more detailed explanation for the benefit of those who do not have access to my work. Here is an excerpt from pages 83-85 that should help explain my position on this particular quote:

Mr. Adams was discussing the book The Doctrines of Heathen Philosophy compared with those of Revelation which was written by Joseph Priestley in 1804. This is evident from his statement earlier in the letter of: "To return to Priestley - you could make a more luminous book than his upon the 'Doctrines of Heather Philosophers, compared with those of Revelation.'" Mr. Adams then proceeded to list several comparisons which he thought that Mr. Priestley should have included in his book. He asked:

"Why has he not given us a more satisfactory account of the Pythagorean philosophy and theology? He barely names Ocellus, who lived long before Plato. His treatise of kings and monarchy has been destroyed, I conjecture, by Platonic philosophers, Platonic Jews or Christians, or by fraudulent republicans or despots. His treatise of the universe has been preserved. He labors to prove the eternity of the world."

In the next paragraph, Mr. Adams continues his list by saying:

"Priestley barely mentions Timaeus; but it does not appear that he had read him. Why has he not given us an account of him and his book? He was before Plato, and gave him the idea of his Timaeus, and much more of his philosophy."

Then after a brief listing of the philosophies of Timaeus, Mr. Adams wrote:

"I wonder that Priestley has overlooked this, because it is the same philosophy with Plato's, and would have shown that the Pythagorean, as well as the Platonic philosophers, probably concurred in the fabrication of the Christian Trinity."

This statement provides a very important key to understanding Mr. Adams’ comments regarding the Shastra, for here we see the type of comparison that Mr. Adams wanted Mr. Priestly to make between the Christian and the pagan philosophies. Mr. Adams was disappointed in Mr. Priestley’s work because he focused solely on the supposed Platonic origins of the doctrine of the Trinity and did not consider the possibility of a Pythagorean origin for that doctrine. Mr. Adams continued to express this disappointment in the next paragraph where he wrote:

“Priestley ought to have told us that Pythagoras passed twenty years in his travels in India, in Egypt, in Chaldea, perhaps in Sodom and Gomorrah, Tyre and Sidon. He ought to have told us, that in India he conversed with the Brahmins, and read the Shasta, five thousand years old, written in the language of the sacred Sanscrit, with the elegance and sentiments of Plato. Where is to be found theology more orthodox, or philosophy more profound, than in the introduction to the Shasta?”

At this point, Mr. Adams recounts the portion from the Hindu scripture that I previously quoted, and he follows that recounting with this statement:

“These doctrines, sublime, if ever there were any sublime, Pythagoras learned in India, and taught them to Zaleucus and his other disciples.”

What Mr. Adams was noting was not the origin of his own theology but rather the similarity which exists between the Hindu trinity of Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva and the Christian Trinity.


By the way, the entire letter from Adams can be read here:

Adams, Charles Francis, The Works of John Adams, Second President of the United States, vol. 10, Little, Brown and Co., Boston, 1856, pg 85-86 (http://books.google.com/books?id=MZQ8AAAAIAAJ&ots=9GkP98k7lR&pg=PA85&pg=PA85#v=onepage&q&f=false)

Jonathan Rowe said...

Yes it's the very letter linked to above. And, as far as I'm concerned, my analysis stands. Adams saw Hinduism as very similar to orthodox Trinitarian Christianity: It taught Truth at its heart (general monotheism) and was corrupted by dogma.

Adams still says this about the Shastra:

"God is one, creator of all, universal sphere, without beginning, without end. God governs all the creation by a general providence, resulting from his eternal designs. Search not the essence and the nature of the Eternal, who is one; your research will be vain and presumptuous. It is enough, that, day by day and night by night, you adore his power, his wisdom, and his goodness, in his works.'"

That IS what Adams believed. Adams also saw this "Christian" "truth" in Zaleucus which was supposedly revealed by Athena hundreds of years before Christ.

wsforten said...

Adams did not say that about the Shastra; he quoted that from the Shastra. Nor does his quote end where yours does. Adams includes the Shastra's trinity as part of the same quote which you claim is an example of Adams' own, personal beliefs. If the part that you quoted is to be taken as an expression of what Adams believed, then the part concerning the Trinity must be taken in the same light.

Jonathan Rowe said...

Nope.

This is what Adams says about the Sastra:

"God is one, creator of all, universal sphere, without beginning, without end. God governs all the creation by a general providence, resulting from his eternal designs. Search not the essence and the nature of the Eternal, who is one; your research will be vain and presumptuous. It is enough, that, day by day and night by night, you adore his power, his wisdom, and his goodness, in his works.'"

And that IS what Adams PERSONALLY believed in.

It does not follow that Adams therefore must also personally believe in "The Eternal willed, and they were. He created Birma, Vitsnow, and Sib."

J. Adams didn't believe in the inerrancy of Hindu dogma any more than he believed in the inerrancy of the Bible.

My explanation "fits."

Jonathan Rowe said...

Also, the reason why I said Adams says this about the Sastra as opposed to "he quotes from" is I haven't read the Sastra, but I seriously doubt Adams was directly quoting from it. (Even though he does put it in quotes.)

When Adams "quoting" the Sastra sez, "you adore his power, his wisdom, and his goodness," that's Western style philosophical speak for generic theism. A monotheistic Providence with the attributes of wisdom, goodness and power. It may well appear in the Sastra, but I'd be surprised if it did. I think, rather, Adams was "reading in" his own religion of general theism to the Sastra.

wsforten said...

Jon, my primary contention is that you have consistently left off the last part of the quote and have somehow concluded that Adams made a distinction between the part which you often quote and the part which mentions the Hindu trinity. I have seen you quote this letter on several occasions, and with the single exception of your comment above, I have never seen you include the second part which mentions the trinity. Why is this? What evidence do you have to indicate that Adams approved of the first part and not the second?

Jonathan Rowe said...

Well in one sense you are right. The part about Adams finding Trinitarian corruption in the Sastra is a part of the story that I should have noted.

But my analysis still stands. So when you ask:

"What evidence do you have to indicate that Adams approved of the first part and not the second?"

The answer is because this IS what Adams personally believed:

"God is one, creator of all, universal sphere, without beginning, without end. God governs all the creation by a general providence, resulting from his eternal designs. Search not the essence and the nature of the Eternal, who is one; your research will be vain and presumptuous. It is enough, that, day by day and night by night, you adore his power, his wisdom, and his goodness, in his works.'"

Now, do you want me to go through J. Adams quotations where he endorses generic monotheism? That would be my proof.

Adams does the SAME THING (that year in a different letter to Jefferson) with ZEUS worship.

"θεμις was the goddess of honesty, justice, decency, and right; the wife of Jove, another name for Juno. She presided over all oracles, deliberations, and councils. She commanded all mortals to pray to Jupiter for all lawful benefits and blessings. Now, is not this (so far forth) the essence of Christian devotion? Is not this Christian piety? Is it not an acknowledgment of the existence of a Supreme Being, of his universal Providence, of a righteous administration of the government of the universe? And what can Jews, Christians, or Mahometans do more?"

wsforten said...

You are still truncating the quote. Adams said that the entire quote was orthodox theology, profound philosophy and sublime doctrine. You are claiming that Adams made a significant distinction between the supposed truth of the first part of his quote and the supposed error of the second part. I do not see any evidence of such a distinction. As far as I can tell, you are simply reading that into the text of the letter.

All Adams was saying in this letter was that he wished Priestley had traced the roots of the Christian Trinity to the influence of Hinduism on Pythagoras. This conclusion fits the context of the letter perfectly whereas yours requires the quote to be divorced from it context and even from itself.

Jonathan Rowe said...

Nope. I'm asserting based on Adams' own words what he believed. And the fact is Adams personally believed in this:


"God is one, creator of all, universal sphere, without beginning, without end. God governs all the creation by a general providence, resulting from his eternal designs. Search not the essence and the nature of the Eternal, who is one; your research will be vain and presumptuous. It is enough, that, day by day and night by night, you adore his power, his wisdom, and his goodness, in his works.'"


Do you dispute that Adams personally believed in this? And if so, how is that above quotation in any meaningful sense different from

"Is it not an acknowledgment of the existence of a Supreme Being, of his universal Providence, of a righteous administration of the government of the universe?"

Jonathan Rowe said...

And to reinforce further Dr. Frazer's point, he notes in his book the idea that one should worship a monotheistic God of 1. wisdom; 2. goodness; and 3. power is a deistic notion. Or at least, it's an enlightenment theistic notion, not a "Christian" idea.

And further, in drawing Frazer's "key Founders" together, they too used that language when describing the monotheistic deity they worshipped.

As James Madison wrote to F. Beasley (Nov. 20, 1825):

"The finiteness of the human understanding betrays itself on all subjects, but more especially when it contemplates such as involves 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 may perhaps terminate." (Bold mine.)

Now, TVD would note, the notion of a Providence whose attributes are 1. wisdom; 2. goodness; and 3. power is classical theism, a "Judeo-Christian" concept. If that's the case, then Adams is simply reading in Judeo-Christian theism to Hinduism and Zeus worship. But I think you are mistaken that Adams is simply quoting from the Sastra (however you properly spell that book). Or if he is, then I find it fascinating that such book teaches the notion of an overriding Providence whose attributes are wisdom, goodness and power.

Maybe such a notion isn't uniquely "Judeo-Christian" after all.

Jonathan Rowe said...

Something else. I don't speak for TVD. He can speak for himself. And I'm sure he will chime in. But, Mr. Fortenberry, I get the sense -- correct me if I am mistaken -- that you are trying to salvage the John Adams of 1813 as a biblical Christian. I've read every single letter that J. Adams wrote to Jefferson that year (I don't have them memorized) and I conclude Jefferson and Adams were very largely agreed in their very heterodox theology that year. I think it's a huge stretch to see this theology as biblical Christianity.

TVD would probably note, you err in trying to find rhyme or reason in J. Adams' theological musings that year. That he was probably drunk when he wrote those letters.

wsforten said...

Actually, Adams' reference to the Hymn to Zeus weakens your position. In that reference, Adams praised the Hymn solely because it evidenced a proper understanding of the devotion that creatures should have toward their God. That is why he asked "is not this ... the essence of Christian devotion?" He was not endorsing generic monotheism as you claim. He was simply saying that the Cleanthes got it right in the area of prayer and devotion. This is why Adams included the phrase "so far forth." This phrase denotes that he was praising these two lines of the Hymn and these two lines only.

You asked specifically about the statement, "Is it not an acknowledgment of the existence of a Supreme Being, of his universal Providence, of a righteous administration of the government of the universe? And what can Jews, Christians, or Mahometans do more?" This is nothing more than a restatement of the very words of Scripture in Hebrews 11:6 where we read, "he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him." As Adams recognized, this is the true nature of Christian devotion, and it is this same type of devotion that is mentioned in the Hymn to Zeus. In fact, as Adams points out later in the same letter, these same two lines from the Hymn were quoted by Paul in his argument against devotion to idols , and Adams says that Paul's "reasoning is irresistible."

That Adams was referring solely to the proper devotion that men owe to God, can be seen further in his statement towards the end of the letter that:

Moses says, Genesis i. 27: “God created man in his own image.” What, then, is the difference between Cleanthes and Moses? Are not the being and attributes of the Supreme Being, the resemblance, the image, the shadow of God in the intelligence and moral qualities of man, and the lawfulness and duty of prayer, as clearly asserted by Cleanthes as by Moses? And did not the Chaldeans, the Egyptians, the Persians, the Indians, the Chinese, believe all this, as well as the Jews and Greeks?

Here we have a restatement of the things which Adams found to be correct in the Hymn to Zeus, namely the existence of God, His creation of man in His own image and the necessity of prayer to Him. Adams is praising Cleanthes for understanding all of this correctly and not simply because he was monotheistic. In fact, he goes so far as to suggest (as Boudinot does of the Hindus) that Cleanthes obtained this insight from being influenced by the Hebrew Scriptures when he asked, "Why might not Cleanthes have seen the Septuagint?" There is nothing in this letter which indicates that Adams had adopted a generic monotheism.

Of course, you are likely to point out that Adams said, "I believe Cleanthes to be as good a Christian as Priestley," but even this is not an admission of generic monotheism. Cleanthes' Hymn to Zeus is remarkably consistent with Christian doctrine, and it would be reasonable for anyone reading just this Hymn to consider the possibility that Cleanthes was a follower of the true God.

Now, you said that Adams does the "SAME THING" with the Hymn to Zeus that he did to the Hindu Shastra, and I agree. Adams recognized in the Hymn to Zeus a certain agreement with Christian doctrine, and in the Hindu Shastra, he also found certain agreements with Christianity. In the former he discovered an agreement in regards to the devotion that man owes to God, and in the latter he saw agreement in the concept that God is both one and three at the same time.

By the way, you really should take the time to read Boudinot’s book The Age of Revelation.

wsforten said...

In regards to the quote by James Madison, let me simply state that I do not see how his statement differs from the doctrines of Scripture in any significant way. The recognition of a monotheistic God who is powerful, wise and good can be found all throughout the Bible. For example,

For thus saith the LORD that created the heavens; God himself that formed the earth and made it; he hath established it, he created it not in vain, he formed it to be inhabited: I am the LORD; and there is none else. (Isaiah 45:18)

He hath made the earth by his power, he hath established the world by his wisdom, and hath stretched out the heavens by his discretion. When he uttereth his voice, there is a multitude of waters in the heavens, and he causeth the vapours to ascend from the ends of the earth; he maketh lightnings with rain, and bringeth forth the wind out of his treasures. (Jeremiah 10:12-13)

He loveth righteousness and judgment: the earth is full of the goodness of the LORD. (Psalm 33:5)

Tom Van Dyke said...

I don't have a lot to contribute here but I find it all interesting. Adams is quite right when he wonders whether Cleanthes [C 300 BCE] had a peek at the Jewish scriptures, what with "image of God" part.

Now, TVD would note, the notion of a Providence whose attributes are 1. wisdom; 2. goodness; and 3. power is classical theism, a "Judeo-Christian" concept.

Well, I say that classical theism was snatched, grabbed and Christianized. The "First cause" mentioned in the Hymn to Zeus is both Aristotle and Aquinas' "proofs of God," which is "natural theology."

The Boudinot quote is interesting per natural theology, that different civilizations developing by separate means compatible notions of the One God might mean that God actually exists!

As for Adams, is he talking about the real Hindooism or just an impression formed from a few fragments? Who are Birma, Vitnow and Sib, apparently created beings?

Regardless, I have very little interest in his drunken ramblings after he leaves the presidency. More important is separating the public Adams [and Jefferson] from the retired ones.

Tom Van Dyke said...

"I shall never be a disciple of Priestley. He is as absurd, inconsistent, credulous, and incomprehensible as Athanasius."---Adams

http://oll.libertyfund.org/index.php?option=com_staticxt&staticfile=show.php&title=2127&search=priestley+witness+gospel&chapter=193533&layout=html

wsforten said...

Adams was speaking of real Hinduism, but he wasn't noting anything new. The fact that the Hindus worshipped a trinitarian god has been noted by both Christian and Hindu scholars for centuries. More information on this particular trinity can be found in the book Classical Hinduism which has a chapter entitled "The Hindu Trinity."

Jonathan Rowe said...

BF: "There is nothing in this letter which indicates that Adams had adopted a generic monotheism."

JA: "Moses says, Genesis i. 27: 'God created man in his own image.' What, then, is the difference between Cleanthes and Moses? Are not the being and attributes of the Supreme Being, the resemblance, the image, the shadow of God in the intelligence and moral qualities of man, and the lawfulness and duty of prayer, as clearly asserted by Cleanthes as by Moses? And did not the Chaldeans, the Egyptians, the Persians, the Indians, the Chinese, believe all this, as well as the Jews and Greeks?" (Bold mine.)

So all these groups, according to Adams, believed in the existence of an overriding monotheistic Providence. And that is not generic monotheism? Or do you assert all these groups really did worship the One True God of the Bible?

wsforten said...

Adams was simply saying that all of those groups believed that there is a God, that man was made in His image and that man both can and should pray to that God. Adams was not the first person to recognize that this concept is in all of man's religions. This has been noted by Christians for centuries. You can find similar statements in St. Augustine's City of God or even in Elias Boudinot's The Age of Revelation. As I said before, you really should read Boudinot's book. It provides an excellent contrast to the letters of Adams and Jefferson.

Jonathan Rowe said...

"Adams was simply saying that all of those groups believed Adams was not the first person to recognize that this concept is in all of man's religions. This has been noted by Christians for centuries."

So you are saying that Adams was speaking good Christian theology? That these non-Jewish and Christian peoples recognize "that there is a God, that man was made in His image and that man both can and should pray to that God"?

Jonathan Rowe said...

What do you think of this quotation by Adams?

"It has pleased the Providence of the first Cause, the Universal Cause, that Abraham should give religion not only to Hebrews but to Christians and Mahomitans, the greatest part of the modern civilized world."

– John Adams to M.M. Noah, July 31, 1818.

Jonathan Rowe said...

Re Boudinot. I'm sure his book makes for wonderful reading. And I'll put it on my list (I have read quotations from it). And I understand he was a good orthodox Christian. That doesn't mean everything that came out of his mouth is necessarily good Christian theology.

Much of what is eccentric (and by that I mean, not, as far as I understand, in accord with traditional Christianity) about Mormonism, for instance, traces to the eccentric theology of the American Founding. (Makes sense given Mormonism is a uniquely American Creation, whereas Christianity is not).

The idea that the American Indians were the Lost Tribes of Israel...that's an idea that Boudinot pushed. It's also not, as I understand, good Christian theology.

Jonathan Rowe said...

"As for Adams, is he talking about the real Hindooism or just an impression formed from a few fragments? Who are Birma, Vitnow and Sib, apparently created beings?"

He's referring to Brahma, Vishnu, & Shiva. He's saying Pythagoras, the Triangle guy, who, along with Plato, many unitarians blame the doctrine of the Trinity on, learned it from the Shastra, a 5000 year old text.

Adams doesn't apparently believe the Shastra teaches they are an eternal Trinity, but created by the "God [who] is one, creator of all, universal sphere, without beginning, without end. God governs all the creation by a general providence, resulting from his eternal designs. Search not the essence and the nature of the Eternal, who is one; your research will be vain and presumptuous. It is enough, that, day by day and night by night, you adore his power, his wisdom, and his goodness, in his works.'"

This -- the One God of Power, Wisdom and Goodness -- is the VERY same God J. Adams worshipped. It stands to reason that Adams is saying this God of the Shastra is the very same One God he worshipped, even though the Shastra, like the Christian Trinitarians, have their own version of the fabricated Trinity. In fact, they may be the source of this "Corruption of Christianity" to use Priestley's term.

Jonathan Rowe said...

And what we see above fits with Jefferson and Adams' "theistic rationalist" notion that all religions at heart teach the same valid Truth -- the notion of a monotheistic Providence whose chief attributes are Wisdom, Goodness and Power -- and that all religions have their own corrupt dogma. The Christians have their corrupt Trinity. So do the Hindus. The Muslims have their corruptions too. But all, at heart, teach valid monotheistic Providentialism and morality.

As Jefferson wrote to James Fishback in 1809:

"Every religion consists of moral precepts, and of dogmas. In the first they all agree. All forbid us to murder, steal, plunder, bear false witness &ca. and these are the articles necessary for the preservation of order, justice, and happiness in society. In their particular dogmas all differ; no two professing the same. These respect vestments, ceremonies, physical opinions, and metaphysical speculations, totally unconnected with morality, and unimportant to the legitimate objects of society. Yet these are the questions on which have hung the bitter schisms of Nazarenes, Socinians, Arians, Athanasians in former times, and now of Trinitarians, Unitarians, Catholics, Lutherans, Calvinists, Methodists, Baptists, Quakers &c. Among the Mahometans we are told that thousands fell victims to the dispute whether the first or second toe of Mahomet was longest; and what blood, how many human lives have the words ‘this do in remembrance of me’ cost the Christian world! We all agree in the obligation of the moral precepts of Jesus; but we schismatize and lose ourselves in subtleties about his nature, his conception maculate or immaculate, whether he was a god or not a god, whether his votaries are to be initiated by simple aspersion, by immersion, or without water; whether his priests must be robed in white, in black, or not robed at all; whether we are to use our own reason, or the reason of others, in the opinions we form, or as to the evidence we are to believe. It is on questions of this, and still less importance, that such oceans of human blood have been spilt, and whole regions of the earth have been desolated by wars and persecutions, in which human ingenuity has been exhausted in inventing new tortures for their brethren. It is time then to become sensible how insoluble these questions are by minds like ours, how unimportant, and how mischievous; and to consign them to the sleep of death, never to be awakened from it. … We see good men in all religions, and as many in one as another. It is then a matter of principle with me to avoid disturbing the tranquility of others by the expression of any opinion on the [unimportant points] innocent questions on which we schismatize, and think it enough to hold fast to those moral precepts which are of the essence of Christianity, and of all other religions."


Tom Van Dyke said...

What do you think of this quotation by Adams?

"It has pleased the Providence of the first Cause, the Universal Cause, that Abraham should give religion not only to Hebrews but to Christians and Mahomitans, the greatest part of the modern civilized world."

– John Adams to M.M. Noah, July 31, 1818.


Well, actually, this puts Adams in the corner of "revelation" rather than "rationalism." And BTW, this nervy 1819 letter to Noah, a Zionist, has the gall to suggest the Jews will become Christians, albeit of his unitarian stripe!

"I really wish the Jews again in Judea, an independent nation, for, as I believe, the most enlightened men of it have participated in the amelioration of the philosophy of the age; once restored to an independent government, and no longer persecuted, they would soon wear away some of the asperities and peculiarities of their character, possibly in time become liberal Unitarian Christians, for your Jehovah is our Jehovah, and your God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is our God."

Adams is a Christian all right, just a sect of Protestantism that didn't stick.

__________

That Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva are created beings also gives Jonathan's take on Adams traction. Jesus, according to the unitarians, was a created being---although it should be pointed out that many unitarians interpreted the Bible as saying that Jesus Christ existed before time, i.e., not just any old created being, but a unique one.

Again, this parsing of the post-presidential Adams is of little importance. More interesting and helpful in this trinity business might be to look at the Holy Spirit. What we do know is that John Adams acknowledges the existence of the Holy Ghost in an official presidential proclamation in 1799. Why his babblings in private letters receive more attention is beyond me.

"...that they call to mind our numerous offenses against the Most High God, confess them before Him with the sincerest penitence, implore His pardoning mercy, through the Great Mediator and Redeemer, for our past transgressions, and that through the grace of His Holy Spirit we may be disposed and enabled to yield a more suitable obedience to His righteous requisitions in time to come..."

Jonathan Rowe said...

Yes just as the Arians view Jesus as some kind of super Angelic Being (the unique Son of God, first born of creation, higher than the highest archangel, but lower than God the Father) Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva could be a trinity of super angels created by God.

This reminds of Ben Franklin's flirtation with the proto-Mormon notion that some unknowable Providence created everything but our personal Jehovah is a created being who rules our solar system.

Tom Van Dyke said...

So we don't know what John Adams makes of the Holy Spirit. I doubt there's anything coherent about it. Adams seems to know what he doesn't believe, but it's hard to tell what he did.

See Comment 1 above. Like, whatever, dude.

wsforten said...

Yes, it is correct Christian theology to note that all religions recognize the existence of God, that man was created in His image and that man both can and should pray to Him. This is taught by the Bible in the following passages:

Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them. For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse: (Romans 1:19-20)

So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God. But I say, Have they not heard? Yes verily, their sound went into all the earth, and their words unto the ends of the world. (Romans 10:17-18 quoting Psalm 19)

I am sought of them that asked not for me; I am found of them that sought me not: I said, Behold me, behold me, unto a nation that was not called by my name. (Isaiah 65:1)

In him was life; and the life was the light of men ... That was the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world. (John 1:4-9)

God that made the world and all things therein, seeing that he is Lord of heaven and earth, dwelleth not in temples made with hands; Neither is worshipped with men's hands, as though he needed any thing, seeing he giveth to all life, and breath, and all things; And hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth, and hath determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation; That they should seek the Lord, if haply they might feel after him, and find him, though he be not far from every one of us: For in him we live, and move, and have our being; as certain also of your own poets have said, For we are also his offspring. (Acts 17:24-28)

etc., etc., etc...

In regards to Adams' letter to M. M. Noah, the comment which you quoted is nothing more than a statement of fact. All three of those religions trace their origin to Abraham. The Christians trace their religion through Christ, the Jewish through Isaac and the Muslims through Ishmael. There is much in the Bible about God's blessing on the nations that are now predominantly Muslim beginning with God's promise to bless Ishmael at Abraham's request in Genesis 17:20. Of course, this does not mean that the Muslim religion is correct, but it does show that the statement made by Adams is accurate.

Your statement that Adams did not "believe the Shastra teaches they are an eternal Trinity, but created" Is somewhat misleading. In Hindu theology, the creator was originally one god who made himself into three. Thus, the Hindus teach that their trinity actually is god even though it was created by him.

Jefferson's comments to James Fishback are fully consistent with the teachings of the Bible. Jefferson claimed that all religions agree on the basic underlying precepts of morality, and this concept is found in the Scriptures as well. For example:

For when the Gentiles, which have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law, these, having not the law, are a law unto themselves: Which shew the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and their thoughts the mean while accusing or else excusing one another; (Romans 2:14-15)

Tom Van Dyke said...

That's the Biblical foundation for "natural law," BTW, for those who came in late.

http://www.thepublicdiscourse.com/2011/01/2397/

Tom Van Dyke said...

I remember now doing some work on the

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trimurti


I confess to abandoning it all as it's difficult to locate a "normative" Hinduism, and I say this nonpejoratively: I can see a non-Christian getting frustrated with Christianity's 30,000 sects. And pardon my Wiki, but one of the Western scholars quoted in the link maintains that Hindu "trinitarianism" never really caught on---so Adams' explorations of the Hindoos and this whole mess might just be a bumble in the dark.


The gods and the sages told Vishnu, "We are getting a bit confused. You have told us that Brahma emerged from Vishnu's body. And yet you have also told us how Brahma was born inside a golden egg. Which of these is the correct account? Then again, you have told us that Shiva was born from one of Brahma's tears. But we have sometimes heard otherwise. Which is right? Please remove this confusion."

"There is no confusion," replied Vishnu. "Let me explain it for you."

Brahma was born from the golden egg right at the beginning, at the time of the original creation. But at the end of every kalpa there is a minor destruction when all living beings other than Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva die. When the destruction is over, creation has to start afresh.

At the end of the last kalpa, there was water everywhere in the universe. The heaven, the earth and the underworld, were all flooded with water. There were no gods and no sages. Only the great Vishnu slept on the water. He had a thousand hoods, a thousand eyes, a thousand arms and a thousand feet. This was his form of Ananta, the snake (naga).
---The Kurma Purana

http://hindumythologybynarin.blogspot.com/2012/04/brahma-vishnu-and-shiva-who-is-first.html

Is Hinduism monotheistic or polytheistic?

---Yes.

Hinduism embraces what the West calls polytheism (the Divine as Many), monotheism (the idea of One Creator), pantheism (seeing the universe as God), monism (the idea of One Reality equal in all things, yet transcending all) and more, without any sense of contradiction. It embraces the use of images, human, animal and naturalistic in form (idol worship), the use of symbols and geometric designs (yantras), the use of sacred sound (mantra), and purely formless approaches to the Divine as impersonal and Absolute through silent meditation. Hinduism can no more reject the depiction of a multiplicity of deities than it can reject the place of representational art as part of its comprehensive approach to the artistic realm, such as we find in Hindu temple iconography.


In fact, Hinduism better reflects the pagan and native traditions of the world like the Taoist, Shinto, Native American and Native African, the pre-Christian traditions of Europe of the Greeks, Romans, Celts, Germans and Slavs, as well as the ancient traditions of Egypt and Babylonia, than it does the Biblical traditions.