Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Actually Maybe It STARTED Going Downhill WITH John Witherspoon

This is according to Gary North's thesisFor some time I've noted Gary North's book on America's Founding and Religion. 

I have three reactions to his thesis.

1. According to Christian Reconstructionist premises, Dr. North is right: The American Founding is not consistent with "Christian Reconstructionism" and was driven by a different political theology.

2. What Dr. North identifies as small u unitarianism was that political theology.

3. Isaac Newton played an important role in establishing that "worldview" -- the principles on which America's Founders built.

Every thesis I've seen, in my opinion, overemphasizes certain thinkers as key to the American Founding and under-emphasizes others. Dr. Gregg Frazer probably overemphasizes Joseph Priestley while under-emphasizing Richard Price and others. John Locke certainly was important, but has been overemphasized to the exclusion of others.

But an overemphasis, taken in context, still may shine a much needed light on an otherwise much neglected source. Dr. North's thesis does this with Newton's influence on America's Founders worldview.

I just found Dr. North's "position paper" from 1991 which defends his thesis against critics. Like much of what North writes, it entertains while providing useful ideas.

On reviewing books:
The art of book reviewing is no longer taught. In the 1950’s, college-bound students wrote book reports throughout high school. Book reviews were common in college. In graduate school, they were mandatory. They are basic to any academic specialty. Scholarly journals rely on them. 
Every review must summarize a book’s thesis. A scholarly review must do the following: (1) identify the author’s “school of thought”; (2) present any unique features of the book; (3) note any serious errors; (4) evaluate the author’s performance in presenting his thesis; and (5) assess the book’s importance, especially in the academic field. A “plain vanilla” review ends here. 
Then there is the hatchet review. The reviewer has several tasks in addition to what we have already covered: (1) concentrate on the book’s weaknesses and errors; (2) show how these errors undermine the book’s general thesis; (3) show that the author ignored an alternative interpretation of the facts that he did get correctly; (4) show how he ignored other books or literature that point out the alternative interpretation; (5) show what the author should have concluded. The master of the hatchet review in the field of modern history was the late A. J. P. Taylor, the most prolific historian in modern times, whose books fill a large bookcase. 
Then there is the smear review. This is the critic’s substitute for a hatchet job. Writing a smear review is thought to be necessary in the eyes of some critics when they are unable to produce an acceptable hatchet job. The marks of a smear review are these: (1) it accents minor errors, or possible minor errors; (2) it implies that these minor errors are representative of the author’s scholarship and the book generally (3) it presents completely bogus errors as if they were real – imputed arguments which make the author look like a fool or a charlatan; (4) it ignores anything in the book that reveals the invented arguments as fakes. 
A lot of critics write smear reviews, thinking they are mere hatchet jobs. What I find is that virtually all of the reviews published about Christian Reconstruction are either plain vanilla reviews (not too many of these) or smear reviews. I never see a well-executed hatchet job. This saddens me. I regard a well-executed hatchet book review as one of the high- arts of modern civilization. It is fast becoming a lost art.
Here is the money quote of the paper that ties it to the above title on John Witherspoon:
The thesis of the third section of my book is very, very clear: it was what Jefferson, Adams, Washington, Franklin, and Madison did with natural law theory that mattered politically. They transformed the colonies into an apostate civil society. They got Christian legislators to vote for, and Christian leaders to approve, a halfway covenant (the Declaration of Independence) and then an apostate covenant (the U.S. Constitution). My book discusses how Witherspoon and the other Christian advocates of natural law theory were suckered: first, into a halfway covenant by Jefferson; and second, into Madison’s apostate covenant.

56 comments:

Tom Van Dyke said...

"[M]y book argues that natural law theory is a false rival to biblical law.

Putting Dr. North at odds historically and theologically with not only Roman Catholicism but with many Protestants, and nearly every Protestant in Founding era America. [The argument for natural rights--"endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights"--is a natural law argument for the existence of "natural rights."]

North's is a religious argument, from what's considered the far right of Christianity, Reconstructionism, also known as theonomy--government according to religion, in this case a Christian shari'a. He's entitled to his opinion about the Biblicity of natural law theory, but again, that's a theological argument above the historian's pay grade--and indeed a minority position. The traditional Biblical argument for natural law is

“When Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts”.

- Romans 2:12–16


http://www.ligonier.org/learn/devotionals/natural-law-romans/

Historians have no standing to enter into the controversy of the Biblicity of natural law. What we can safely say is that North's view did not prevail.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Here's an overview of the theological issues

http://www.firstthings.com/article/2007/01/protestants-and-natural-law-39

and their history. We can only be concerned with the history part.

Jonathan Rowe said...

Tom,

Very interesting link to First Things; it reminds me of how small a circle seems to be concerned with such pressing issues.

The room where we presented on Dr. Frazer's book at Gordon College was small and not even full. But in it, was one Dr. J. Daryl Charles.

Dr. Frazer, like Dr. North does not believe in the natural law.

The point I made to the small crowd was on "fideistic" grounds -- that is, the Bible alone with no natural to, at the very least, SUPPLEMENT it -- Frazer is right; there is no natural right to rebel against tyrants found in the Bible's text. Romans 13 seems absolute on its face.

But when you ADD natural law whose essences are discovered by reason to the mix and work out those principles with what's contained in the Bible text (you pretty much have to, as Samuel West and other Patriotic Preachers said, treat those discoveries as coming from God's mouth, that is, on par with whatever parts of revealed Scripture one believes God directly spoke to man) then it's a game changer.

You can work it all out so that there was a right to revolt against tyrants in the face of Romans 13.

Dr. Charles seemed to genuinely appreciate and agree with that point.

Jonathan Rowe said...

Tom,

In terms of the "history" of the "theology" that "prevailed," it seems to me that, obviously, natural law is part and parcel of Roman Catholicism.

But its status among Protestants is disputed.

First Things -- as is their right to do so -- is fighting to make sure natural law prevails among Protestants against the fideists. And so they are trying to "remind" folks of notable Protestants who endorsed the concept.

I think it's too early to say that the fideists like Barth, Schaeffer, North, Frazer, et al., have already lost.

wsforten said...

Frazer is mistaken on that point, Jon. The Bible does recognize a right to resist tyrants. I wrote about this in an article entitled "We the People" which was too long for you to read. Here is an excerpt that is relevant to this point:

One of the concepts inherent in the doctrine of popular sovereignty is that of the right of the people to resist the usurpation of power by a tyrant, and this right is recognized in the Scriptures as well. In fact, the book of Judges is literally filled with accounts of God raising up men for the purpose of delivering the nation from tyranny.

First, there was Othniel who delivered the nation of Israel through a military revolt against Chushanrishathaim. Then there is the account of Ehud who assassinated King Eglon and led the Israelites in a rebellion against their Moabite conquerors. Ehud was followed by Shamgar who delivered Israel after killing six hundred Philistines with his ox goad. After Shamgar, we learn of the efforts of Deborah, Barak and Jael in the revolt against Jabin. Then the Israelites were subdued under the Midianites, and God raised up Gideon to rebel against their tyranny. Gideon was followed by Tola and then Jair of whom we know very little, and they were followed by Jephthah whom we have already mentioned. Then came Ibzan, Elon and Abdon who are barely even mentioned before being followed by the mighty Samson and his lengthy feud with the Philistines.

There are a total of twelve judges mentioned in this book. We know very little about five of them, but of the other seven, we know that they each led a revolt against a tyrannical government and that their actions against those governments were all sanctioned by God.

It may be argued, perhaps, that the judges fought against foreign rulers who had invaded Israel and therefore cannot be used to justify resistance against one’s native government. There are two answers which can be given to this argument. First, it should be noted that several of the kings in the book of Judges had been established as the official rulers of Israel for many years before they were opposed. In the cases of both Ehud and Jephthah, Israel had been under foreign control for eighteen years, and in the case of Samson, Israel had been governed by the Philistines for forty years before God raised up a deliverer. Certainly a government which has been established for forty years can no longer be dismissed as a mere foreign invader. Nevertheless, even if we ignore the evidence in the book of Judges as being irrelevant, there still remains another example of resistance to tyranny which cannot be dismissed as resisting a foreign power. That example is found in the twelfth chapter of I Kings.

In this passage we read of the actions of Israel toward their new king, Rehoboam. After coming to Shechem for Rehoboam’s coronation, the people requested that the king lower their tax burden from the heavy taxes of Solomon his father. Rehoboam’s response was that of a tyrant. Instead of considering the needs of the people, he focused on his own desires and replied, “My father made your yoke heavy, and I will add to your yoke: my father also chastised you with whips, but I will chastise you with scorpions.” When the people heard this response, they denounced Rehoboam’s right to rule over them and said, “What portion have we in David? neither have we inheritance in the son of Jesse: to your tents, O Israel: now see to thine own house, David.” This, of course, angered Rehoboam, and he gathered an army with the intent of forcing the rebellious tribes to submit to his rule. But God sent a prophet to tell Rehoboam, “Ye shall not go up, nor fight against your brethren the children of Israel: return every man to his house; for this thing is from me.” Rehoboam wisely heeded God’s command and allowed the ten northern tribes to reject his authority and establish their own kingdom.

wsforten said...

In the remainder of the article, I also present quotes from various Christian theologians throughout history who have recognized the right to resist tyrants. The full article is available at: http://www.increasinglearning.com/we-the-people.html

Jonathan Rowe said...

Frazer isn't mistaken on that account; he's already answered the Othniel and other examples others have tried to throw at him.

http://americancreation.blogspot.com/2009/10/gregg-frazers-latest-response-to-king.html

Jonathan Rowe said...

You are also using imprecise language when you use the term "resist." It's fine, biblically, to "resist" in a certain sense: that is to passively disobey legal authority when they try to get you to sin.

This is an easy case as the Bible recognizes this in Acts 5:29.

Romans 13 still forbids REVOLT or Rebellion. The tyrants get to stay in power and the believer, who disobeys via Acts 5:29, must still submit ala Romans 13 to the civil legitimacy of the tyranny, even if it means being thrown to the lions.

Thus in a different sense, it's not okay to "resist." It's not okay to even "resist arrest" when the tyrants come after a believer to subject him to the tyrannical legal system.

You can disobey and submit.

This is fideism. And you need natural law as discovered by reason to get you out of it.

Jonathan Rowe said...

Here's another link where Frazer answers the claim that the examples of Othniel et al. somehow prove men have a right to revolt against tyrants in the face of Romans 13:

http://americancreation.blogspot.com/2010/03/john-calvin-taught-rebellion-to-tyrants.html

"Joe,

"I'll step one more time into the never-ending Othniel labyrinth.

"Calvin cites Othniel as an example of GOD bringing judgment on a tyrant -- NOT of men being justified in deciding for themselves that a ruler is unworthy of their subjection (rebelling).

"You persist in ignoring what I've said several times in response to your suggestion that the Othniel story invalidates (what I think is) the clear message of Romans 13.

"As I've said before, when I say that Romans 13 absolutely commands subjection, the absolute command applies to US (to men; to humans; to people living on earth; etc.), those for whom the Word of God was intended. It does NOT apply to God. So, while WE are absolutely not free to reject submission to authority and/or RESIST authority, GOD IS FREE TO DO SO. This is also what Calvin says. GOD BRINGS HIS JUDGMENT ON TYRANTS -- but it is not OUR place to do so.

"So, if GOD raises up someone as a deliverer, then HE (God) is bringing judgment. IF someone has direct revelation from God that God has chosen him for that role, THEN (and only then) is he justified in engaging in overthrowing authority. That is not a violation of the absolute command that WE not resist because it is GOD acting through an instrument of His choice.

"If God does not reveal to that deliverer that he has been chosen by God for this role and he chooses to rebel on his own volition, then his rebellion is just as sinful as mine -- and God uses his sin to accomplish His purposes (as He did Pharaoh, for example).

"ALSO:
"Judges 3:10 says the 'the Spirit of the Lord came upon him [Othniel],' but that does NOT mean that whatever he did was God's will from that point on. There are plenty of examples -- even here in Judges -- in which someone was imbued with the Spirit of the Lord and then did evil/wickedness. See, for example, Judges 8:24-27 and Judges 16:1. For that matter, all Christians are baptized with the Holy Spirit (the Spirit of the Lord), but we still sin and do evil."

wsforten said...

Notice Frazer's statement that "there are plenty of tyrants in the history of Israel after Saul who are not removed despite pleas from the people." This statement is directly contradicted by the example of Rehoboam which I presented above as well as the example of Athaliah in II Kings 11. In both instances, the people rose up in defiance of a tyrant and established a new ruler to lead them. Both of these cases are examples of revolts, and the first is even directly stated in the Scripture to be a rebellion.

Additionally, Frazer's comments about Othniel do not apply to all the judges. Jael, for example, was never given revelation from God to instruct her to kill Sisera, and Ehud's assassination of Eglon is never once stated to be commanded by God. Then there is Shamgar of whom we are only told that he killed six hundred Philistines with an ox goad, and several others. Then there was Jotham who cursed king Abimalech which on Frazer's view would probably be a violation of Exodus 22:28, and yet God used a rebellion of the people that He instigated in order to fulfill the curse which Jotham had made.

wsforten said...

By the way, Frazer's view of Calvin's doctrine is directly contrary to the view espoused by Calvin's disciple, Theodore Beza. In 1574, Beza wrote:

Since these principles which were demonstrated above concerning the origin of kings and other rulers have been established, it follows that they are not legitimate rulers who by force or deceit usurp that authority which by no right belongs to them. Of such tyrants there are two kinds: for some, in violation of the laws laid down and received, usurp tyranny over their fellow-citizens, as Julius Caesar under the feigned title of perpetual dictator took possession of the Roman commonwealth; and many other tyrants, particularly in Greece, crushed the liberty of their country. Others however, not content with that absolute power which they rightfully acquire over their own people, extend their dominions at the cost of their neighbors' liberty and increase them by means of fortified boundary-lines; for this reason have monarchies ever since the origin of the world achieved such wide dominions; of this the sacred writings offers us an example in Nimrod11 , as we also see that in this way the Israelites were generally oppressed by the neighboring peoples. Hence since those tyrants had no lawful right over the people of God, I maintain that the Israelites were free not merely to disobey the sinful commands of these peoples but even to set a just defense against their unjust violence, and that therefore the leaders of the tribes (of Israel) did a grievous wrong whenever they omitted to oppose the foreign foe with united courage and strength in defense of the liberty of their country, provided that the occasion for opposing him presented itself; for it admits of no doubt that even private individuals are bound by the law of both God and men to succor with all their power their country when oppressed and in distress, especially however when its religion and liberty are simultaneously endangered. For it was a true remark which the captive pirate dared to utter when he was dragged before Alexander; he declared that he differed in no way from (the king) but that the latter plundered the world with a multitude of ships whereas he did so with but a single vessel12 .

Objection. These remarks are not countered by objection which certain people are wont to make, namely that it is God by whom kingdoms and empires are transferred and exchanged and that therefore tyrants frequently gain the victory with the approval of God.

wsforten said...

Answer. Far be it for me that I should on that account either support the view of Lucan13 who dared thus to write that "license had been granted to crime", or that I should condemn as unjust the cause of Demosthenes because he was overcome compelled to yield while defending the liberty of his country against the violence of Philip of Macedon whereas Philip came off victorious14 . These examples I use not that the consciences of pious men may rest upon them as upon rules, but because they are famous and very well known to most people, and for the further reason that though these events occurred among heathen nations, yet they are not so far removed from the standard of justice that it may not justifiably be said that justice was on one side and injustice on the other. For I would not hold that we must judge by the favorable or adverse result alone whether an undertaking was just or unjust — as indeed Demosthenes answered his opponent Aeschines what was reproaching him with the unfortunate result of the battle of Charoneia. For, to speak as Christians rather, God is generally wont thus to punish the sins of men or so far make trial of his people that he assigns to their undertakings, however good and just in themselves, an outcome far other than they had themselves expected, as may best be seen in the war which the remaining tribes of Israel waged against the children of Benjamin15 . But for all that God remains no less just, by whatever means He enforces His judgments; nor must it be held that the nations had a less lawful cause against their hostile tyrants because they were cast down by some just judgment of God and fell to ruin. Hence I could never approve of the view of those who without any distinction or exception at once and indiscriminately condemn all tyrannicides on whom the Greeks formerly bestowed such exceptional rewards16 . As little does the view of those command itself to whom the majority of liberations recorded in the Book of Judges17 seen so foreign and strange that they are of opinion that these can in no way be adduced as examples. For however true it may be that those Judges of the people of Israel were moved and stirred to the performance of thEpigrammesose famous deeds by some divine and exceptional instinct, yet it does not immediately follow that the Israelites themselves, whether holding office or even as private citizens, could not in accordance with their ordinary right have expelled the tyranny of strangers who had been neither elected nor approved by the people. But that those liberations were effected by means of those men alone whom God summoned forth in a special way, does not go to disprove my contention, but rather demonst rates that the spirit of the Israelites had for their transgressions been stunned and broken by the just judgment of God. Therefore to follow those examples rightly and lawfully, I am of opinion that the following true means should be held fast, namely: if anyone strives to seize or has already usurped an unjust tyranny over others, whether he be a stranger or whether as a viper he leaps from the womb of his country that by his birth he may cause her death, then shall private citizen s before all else approach their legitimate magistrates in order that it may be the public enemy he cast forth by the public authority and common consent of all. But if the magistrate connives (at the attempt) or in some way refuses to perform his duty, then let each private citizen bestir himself with all his power to defend the lawful constitution of his country, to whom after God he owes his entire existence, against him who cannot be deemed a lawful magistrate since he either has already usurped that rank in violation of the public laws or is endeavoring to usurp it.

http://www.constitution.org/cmt/beza/magistrates.htm#ques5

Tom Van Dyke said...

The room where we presented on Dr. Frazer's book at Gordon College was small and not even full. But in it, was one Dr. J. Daryl Charles.

Dr. Frazer, like Dr. North does not believe in the natural law.

The point I made to the small crowd was on "fideistic" grounds -- that is, the Bible alone with no natural to, at the very least, SUPPLEMENT it -- Frazer is right; there is no natural right to rebel against tyrants found in the Bible's text. Romans 13 seems absolute on its face.


Jon, your/their argument has it completely backwards.

Of course there's a "natural right" to rebel against any authority that works against, not for, the common good. It's Romans 13 that says to grin and bear it--pre-empting natural law with God's Word in scripture.

"Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and the authorities that exist are appointed by God."

What the American revolutionaries [and the English civil war in the 1600s] had to get past was this biblical injunction via Romans 13. Which they did, as WS Forten shows us above in the Protestant [Calvinist!] Theodore Beza--which takes its form of objection and answer exactly from Aquinas' Summa Theologiae.

Illegitimate power need not be obeyed, even under Biblical injunctions such as Romans 13. Not only that, but in abstract principle they once again reconciled faith and reason Scholastically, the scriptures and the natural law in harmony on both the earthly and heavenly levels.

_____

First Things -- as is their right to do so -- is fighting to make sure natural law prevails among Protestants against the fideists. And so they are trying to "remind" folks of notable Protestants who endorsed the concept.

I think it's too early to say that the fideists like Barth, Schaeffer, North, Frazer, et al., have already lost.


Natural law has probably lost--it's that conservative evangelical protestants are joining Roman Catholics in making natural law arguments on the issues of the day, because you just can't thump Bible in the 20th/21st centuries, as you could for the first 2 centuries of American history. But at the moment, even Natural Law Theory is rejected by strict secularists.

As for Protestantism's struggle with natural law, the fideism of Karl Barth, Francis Schaeffer, et al., comes from 20th century figures. What's interesting is that Luther and Calvin didn't entirely reject natural law, and their successors/colleagues Philipp Melanchthon and Theodore Beza were completely comfortable with it.

The argument here at American Creation isn't whether Natural law Theory is philosophically or theologically valid, only that our Founding scheme of natural rights was entirely dependent on it.

And likely still is--no natural law, no natural rights, only political rights, to be fought for and won or lost vs. the Powers That Be.

The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.--Ninth Amendment

Tom Van Dyke said...

WS Forten: Nice find on the Theodore Beza, who was John Calvin's successor and often ignored.

I would ask that you edit these things up a little [a lot], and in the least put in some paragraph breaks. Perhaps bold face the key passages and ideas. I assure you that even the most sympathetic and interested reader has his eyes glaze over when greeted by a paragraph of some 1000 words. John Fea was quite right about the length of windedness in our recent worthy but boring discussion.

Jonathan Rowe said...

"Additionally, Frazer's comments about Othniel do not apply to all the judges. Jael, for example, was never given revelation from God to instruct her to kill Sisera, and Ehud's assassination of Eglon is never once stated to be commanded by God. Then there is Shamgar of whom we are only told that he killed six hundred Philistines with an ox goad, and several others. Then there was Jotham who cursed king Abimalech which on Frazer's view would probably be a violation of Exodus 22:28, and yet God used a rebellion of the people that He instigated in order to fulfill the curse which Jotham had made."

If they were never given revelation from God to do what they did, then it makes their actions even less justifiable from the perspective of whether rebellion is sin. The Bible is replete with characters, indeed favored characters, who in some way did God's will, but did so while wrestling with some kind of sin in their lives.

In addition, this passage by Dr. Frazer answers these examples:

"GOD may remove a ruler or even raise up a deliverer to remove a ruler or use the sinful rebellion of people to remove a ruler – but we have no authority or permission to do so on our own initiative. It isn’t up to us to decide, but rather God. You talk of having 'a time to have the Spirit come upon you' -- as if that were up to you to generate. As if you were in control of the Spirit of God!!! God can send His Spirit; God can raise up a deliverer; God can determine that it’s time for a tyrant to fall – but that doesn’t mean we can or that we can simply decide that we are such deliverers!"

Jonathan Rowe said...

"Jael, for example, was never given revelation from God to instruct her to kill Sisera ..."

Is this what Ben Franklin was talking about when he wrote:

"To which I may now add, that the[re are] several Things in the old Testament impossible to be given by divine Inspiration, such as the Approbation ascrib’d to the Angel of the Lord, of that abominably wicked and detestable Action of Jael the Wife of Heber the Kenite. If the rest of the Book were like that, I should rather suppose it given by Inspiration from another Quarter, and renounce the whole."

-- To John Calder (unpublished), Passy, Augt. 21. 1784.

http://franklinpapers.org/franklin/framedVolumes.jsp?vol=42&page=146

Tom Van Dyke said...

In addition, this passage by Dr. Frazer answers these examples:

"GOD may remove a ruler or even raise up a deliverer to remove a ruler or use the sinful rebellion of people to remove a ruler – but we have no authority or permission to do so on our own initiative. It isn’t up to us to decide, but rather God. You talk of having 'a time to have the Spirit come upon you' -- as if that were up to you to generate. As if you were in control of the Spirit of God!!! God can send His Spirit; God can raise up a deliverer; God can determine that it’s time for a tyrant to fall – but that doesn’t mean we can or that we can simply decide that we are such deliverers!"


All of this is irrelevant to the American revolution: They did not rise up as individuals, but under the authority of the duly-constituted Continental Congress, and further argued that King George III's rule was illegitimate, an exception made for by both Aquinas and Calvin.

No offense to Dr. Frazer, but he is outranked here.

As far as Gregg's Biblical argument goes, it is correct--when the Hittite slays King Saul and looks for approval from new king David, David instead has him executed--nobody can kill God's anointed king, and Saul was anointed, even though he was a turkey. [2 Samuel 1:8-16]

Tom Van Dyke said...

Make that Amalekite. Oooops.

wsforten said...

Let's take a step back and consider what Frazer is saying here. He appears to be making two opposing claims. First he argues that the rebellions of the Judges were not sinful because they were instigated by God. Then, he argues that rebellions can be instigated by God and still be sinful. What we have here is not so much Frazer arguing against his opponents, but rather Frazer arguing against himself. Whenever his first argument begins to crumble, he conveniently switches to its opposite and uses that in an effort to defend the first.

Surely you can see the flaw in this logic. Frazer's second argument defeats his first. In order to avoid this flaw, Frazer has to read into Scripture something which simply is not there. He has to assume that the actions of the Judges were not just instigated by God but actually commanded by Him. What I have pointed out is that there is no record of such commands for most of the Judges. Frazer has to either produce those commands from his own imagination or denounce the majority of the actions of the Judges as wicked. He apparently realizes that no Christian scholar would accept his view if he denounced the Judges and so he has produced an imaginary set of commands to justify them against his own arguments.

(Of course, no one else is permitted to use imaginary commands in this manner. They must defend themselves against Frazer's second argument by relying solely on the recorded commands in Scripture.)

Frazer's argument is not only self-defeating, but it is also contrary to the record of Scripture, for Jael was neither commanded by God to kill Sisera, nor is there any record of her being raised up by God to deliver the nation of Israel. She simply recognized an opportunity to end the reign of a tyrant over her land, and she took it. Therefore, Jael's actions do not fit under Frazer's first argument of being instigated by God, nor do they fit under his ad-hock adjustment to that argument by being directly commanded by God. Therefore, it would seem, if Frazer is correct, that the actions of Jael would fit under his second argument of being wicked and sinful actions that God merely used in order to accomplish His will. However, the Bible records for us in Judges 5:24-27 that Deborah the prophetess sang great praises of Jael for her actions against Sisera.

Blessed above women shall Jael the wife of Heber the Kenite be, blessed shall she be above women in the tent. He asked water, and she gave him milk; she brought forth butter in a lordly dish. She put her hand to the nail, and her right hand to the workmen's hammer; and with the hammer she smote Sisera, she smote off his head, when she had pierced and stricken through his temples. At her feet he bowed, he fell, he lay down: at her feet he bowed, he fell: where he bowed, there he fell down dead.

Here we have the same prophetess whose words were sufficient to justify Barak's rebellion now pronouncing blessings upon a woman who acted without command from God to kill a government official. Thus Frazer's arguments would condemn as wicked the same act which was praised by the prophetess of the Lord. As Tom stated above, Frazer is outranked here. His argument is nothing more than an ad-hock assemblage of excuses to justify his own position. The biblical account clearly supports the right to use deadly force in rebellion against tyrants.

Jonathan Rowe said...

"Let's take a step back and consider what Frazer is saying here. He appears to be making two opposing claims. First he argues that the rebellions of the Judges were not sinful because they were instigated by God. Then, he argues that rebellions can be instigated by God and still be sinful. What we have here is not so much Frazer arguing against his opponents, but rather Frazer arguing against himself. Whenever his first argument begins to crumble, he conveniently switches to its opposite and uses that in an effort to defend the first.

"Surely you can see the flaw in this logic."

No because there is neither flaw in his logic, nor opposing claims.

For an analogy you can substitute the sin of rebellion with another really big, but related sin: taking a life.

Here's the logic: taking a life is a sin. If God instructs you to do it and it's valid revelation from God, you are excused (i.e. Othniel's actual revelation from God that excuses him from what otherwise would be the sin of rebellion).

If you don't get special revelation from God, it's the sin of murder (or in turn, rebellion). But when A murders B, it may still reflect God's will. Maybe God wanted B gone and used the sinful murder of A to accomplish that task.

This isn't just what Frazer says, it appears to be exactly what Calvin says when discussing these very concerns.

I have bolded Calvin's words where he notes that God may use the sinful actions of men to do His will.

"Herein is the goodness, power, and providence of God wondrously displayed. At one time he raises up manifest avengers from among his own servants, and gives them his command to punish accursed tyranny, and deliver his people from calamity when they are unjustly oppressed; at another time he employs, for this purpose, the fury of men who have other thoughts and other aims. Thus he rescued his people Israel from the tyranny of Pharaoh by Moses; from the violence of Chusa, king of Syria, by Othniel; and from other bondage by other kings or judges."

WSForten: "In order to avoid this flaw, Frazer has to read into Scripture something which simply is not there."

What are you talking about? It's right there in Romans 13?!?

Jonathan Rowe said...

I also wonder if you think Dr. Frazer is reading this verse and chapter into the Bible, that is not there.

http://biblehub.com/1_samuel/15-23.htm

Jonathan Rowe said...

But I do agree that in order to reconcile the competing texts Dr. Frazer engages in some pretty sophisticated philosophical dithering. Which is par for the course, and something that Mr. Fortenberry does and every other smart interpreter of biblical texts do.

This is especially so of anyone who seeks to interpret the Bible as a book without contradiction. On its face, the Bible appears to be riddled with contradiction.

The Bible says rebellion is a sin? Or maybe not? Or maybe so.

Competing verses and chapters.

These apparent contradictions can be smoothed out only with a sophisticated hermeneutic. Then it's possible to construct interpretations where the Bible doesn't contradict itself.

But then we are left with an endless number of biblical understandings which may be internally without contradiction, but which contradict each other.

Every single letter of TULIP is disputable on these grounds.

As an outsider not wedded to any particular understanding of the Bible, that's how I see things.

One way out of this dilemma is to embrace the sense of contradiction in the Bible.

Or to do as Franklin did and simply use his own reason to conclude that what Jael did was sinful.

If the Bible appears to say otherwise (i.e., Deborah the prophetess) then, conclude, "that the[re are] several Things in the old Testament impossible to be given by divine Inspiration, ..."

jimmiraybob said...

As an years-long observer of these Romans 13 skirmishes here, it's interesting that there is still no clear Biblical authority justifying the American revolution. I'd guess that the AC discussions are a microcosm of what was happening in the colonies at whatever levels these kinds of discussions were taking place.

I imagine that if someone were a true believer in the cause of rebellion - or stood to profit greatly if successful - but agnostic about or skeptical of the need for Biblical justification, they would adopt wsfortens arguments and language if and when it would be advantageous. It might be difficult sorting out who was who with respect to actual religious affiliation based only on the remaining written words.

It does appear, however, from my perspective, that Dr. Frazer's argument is less convoluted and strained if Paul's straight-forward words are to be given credence.

Jonathan Rowe said...

JRB,

Agreed. It is precisely because the Bible does NOT clearly teach that rebellion against tyrants is permitted that the Patriots had to turn to natural law as discovered by reason to justify what they did.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Here's the logic: taking a life is a sin.

This is a misreading of the Bible. Murder, the unlawful taking of life, is a sin.

If you don't get special revelation from God, it's the sin of murder (or in turn, rebellion).

Not atall. To rebel against illegitimate authority [as the D of I argues] is not unlawful, therefore revolution was not murder.

Tom Van Dyke said...

I imagine that if someone were a true believer in the cause of rebellion - or stood to profit greatly if successful - but agnostic about or skeptical of the need for Biblical justification, they would adopt wsfortens arguments and language if and when it would be advantageous. It might be difficult sorting out who was who with respect to actual religious affiliation based only on the remaining written words.

It does appear, however, from my perspective, that Dr. Frazer's argument is less convoluted and strained if Paul's straight-forward words are to be given credence.


I don't have any problem with this outsider's judgment of a theological issue--but the problem is that it's an outsider's judgment of a theological issue, and thus above the historian's pay grade.

Further, there are deeper--and perhaps more authoritative-- arguments than Gregg Frazer's Biblical fundamentalism/literalism, from Aquinas, Calvin, and their successors, especially Calvin's successor Theodore Beza and the later Calvinists as documented here

http://www.davekopel.com/religion/calvinism.htm

So basically, one has to accept Frazer's fundamentalist theology to accept his history, the complaint always made in this space about his thesis.

[FTR, "fundamentalism" as we know it today is a rather recent American phenomenon, circa 1900.

http://www.wheaton.edu/isae/defining-evangelicalism/fundamentalism

"When used within the North American historical context, however, there are precedents for the use of this term which restores a sense of descriptive cohesion. Fundamentalism was a movement that arose in the late 19th and early 20th centuries within American Protestantism reacting against “modernist” theology and biblical criticism as well as changes in the nation’s cultural and social scene. Taking its name from The Fundamentals (1910-1915), a twelve-volume set of essays designed to combat Liberal theology, the movement grew by leaps and bounds after World War I."

IOW, Frazer is arguing from a theology that was not the norm in Founding era America. Our timeline is off.

Jonathan Rowe said...

"This is a misreading of the Bible. Murder, the unlawful taking of life, is a sin."

I'm not sure if that's the best biblical definition of murder; but yes, I understand the Bible, properly interpreted, tends to be a book of non-absolutes.

Maybe that's Frazer's problem; he's reading Romans 13 too literally.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Jonathan Rowe said...
"This is a misreading of the Bible. Murder, the unlawful taking of life, is a sin."

I'm not sure if that's the best biblical definition of murder; but yes, I understand the Bible, properly interpreted, tends to be a book of non-absolutes.

Maybe that's Frazer's problem; he's reading Romans 13 too literally.


I don't take the position that he is--it's above my pay grade. All we can do is argue what was in their heads in the Founding era.

Hey, they could have been lying to themselves. Some of their theological arguments are IMO pretty dishonest. But I do know that a lot of the prevailing arguments--and the best ones--are unfamiliar to us in the 21st century. Nobody has a copy of the Vindiciae contra tyrannos laying around, but can find Romans 13 pretty easily.

jimmiraybob said...

"...this outsider's judgment of a theological issue..."

If this is singularly a theological matter then why does it take up so much space here? If theology is not history then out with the whole lot. If theology or theological issues is/are history, in some sense or another, then there is no inside or outside when it comes to historical commentary.

I make no pretense to being a theological insider and that's the perspective offered. Although having been baptized into the RC as an itty bitty baby may give me an opening. :)

I have to wonder how many of the pew warmers in the colonies understood sophisticated theology any better than me? Yet I assume they would be counted as insiders. Maybe the warm tingly feeling in their bottoms from being pressed against the hard wood of the pew provided a special insight. If so, then I would have to claim some extra insider points.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Anonymous jimmiraybob said...
"...this outsider's judgment of a theological issue..."

If this is singularly a theological matter then why does it take up so much space here? If theology is not history then out with the whole lot. If theology or theological issues is/are history, in some sense or another, then there is no inside or outside when it comes to historical commentary.


It's not what the Bible says, it's what THEY thought the Bible says. The former is a theological argument in our own time and place [and eternally], the latter is history.

Damn right we could do without the former. The latter, esp in the Province of Protestantism's doctrine of sola scriptura [the Bible alone] is unavoidable in the study of religion and the Founding, in fact it's pretty central. Leaving aside the "pew-warming," the Bible was the common denominator, the lingua franca, of American theo/philosophical thought.

Natural law and Calvinist resistance theory were known to everyone.

Anonymous jimmiraybob said...

"... it's what THEY thought the Bible says..."

But, there is no unified monolithic THEY. And, there was no unified monolithic understanding of what the Bible represented. And also too, there was no singular appeal to the Bible by the founders and framers. It was in the mix but of the thousands and thousands of appeals to Greek and Roman authorities there's only one obscure reference to Beza - and by your own reckoning Adams was a nut and possibly a drunk and his writings obscure and unrepresentative and unread.

Otherwise, please be so kind as to cite all of the founders/framers citations of Calvinist resistance theory. Please be also kind enough to cite all the disputation by the founders and framers on how to understand and how to apply the natural law to the polis they were creating. There must be a document somewhere that everyone else has missed where the founders and framers instructed the new citizens on how to reconcile the natural law to the positive laws that ware their stock in trade.

Surely there's a vast legislative record and literature on how the nation is founded on Aquinas and his understanding of natural law...Calvin and his understanding of natural law...or maybe Beza's understanding of the natural law......or Diderot's.......or the Stoics.........Or Hobbes..........or Locke........or some vague gut feeling about the natural law or.............well, someone's understanding of the natural law.

Of course, there is a passing to the natural law reference in the DOI.

I patiently await your boatload of citations.

And, what was up with the whole Goddess of Liberty thing. How Calvinist resistance theory is that? Maybe Beza worshiped this pagan goddess?

jimmiray"thelocaldude"bob said...

On a long shot, anyone in these parts at the SHEAR conference in St Louis?

wsforten said...

Actually, Jon, the command against killing supports my position rather than Frazer's. Let me explain why:

The prohibition against killing is found in Exodus 20:13 which simply states, "Thou shalt not kill." Now some would translate the word "kill" in this verse as "murder," but that translation obscures the fact that the same Hebrew word used here is also used in reference to manslaughter in Numbers 35. Additionally, Genesis 9:6 proclaims, "Whoso sheddeth man's blood, by man shall his blood be shed," and in Leviticus 24:17, we read "And he that killeth any man shall surely be put to death." The Hebrew word used in Leviticus is not the same as that used in Exodus but is the generic word for kill rather than the specific word used for both manslaughter and murder. Therefore, it is true that the Bible forbids the taking of human life.

Nevertheless, it does not follow from this prohibition that all killing is sinful. You see, the Law of God is just like other laws in the sense that it consists of generic statutes as well as particular explanations and exceptions to those statutes. And just like our laws, these explanations and exceptions are usually scattered throughout the entire legal code rather than collected together all in the same place. This certainly holds true for the exceptions and explanations for the prohibition against killing.

The first exception to this rule is rather obvious, for in Genesis 9:6, it is clearly stated that the sentence of death is to be carried out by another man. While Frazer may argue that this verse does not specifically state that the one carrying out this sentence would himself be innocent of the sin of killing a fellow human being, we can see in Numbers 35:27 that this was indeed the case. The executioner of a death sentence is not himself guilty of a sin. In fact, in Numbers 35:19 we read, "The revenger of blood himself shall slay the murderer: when he meeteth him, he shall slay him." This shows us that if a condemned man fled for his life, the executioner had the authority to kill that man on sight.

Other exceptions can be found throughout the Law, but let me share one which has direct bearing on the discussion at hand. Exodus 22:2 states that: "If a thief be found breaking up, and be smitten that he die, there shall no blood be shed for him." This exception is applicable to our current discussion primarily because it is generic. There is no requirement that the one smiting the thief receive a personal revelation from God in order to justify his actions. Anyone at any time who kills a thief caught in the act of burglary is justified before God.

There are two ways in which this exception can be applied to the topic of resisting tyrants. The first is that which was utilized by Aquinas when he wrote:

A man may be condemned to death in two ways. First justly, and then it is not lawful for the condemned to defend himself, because it is lawful for the judge to combat his resistance by force, so that on his part the fight is unjust, and consequently without any doubt he sins. Secondly a man is condemned unjustly: and such a sentence is like the violence of robbers, according to Ezech. 22:27, "Her princes in the midst of her are like wolves ravening the prey to shed blood." Wherefore even as it is lawful to resist robbers, so is it lawful, in a like case, to resist wicked princes.

wsforten said...

There is also an additional manner in which this exception can be used to aid our understanding of the right to forcefully resist tyrants. You claimed that "If you don't get special revelation from God, [taking a life is] the sin of murder." You based this on the fact that the prohibition against killing is stated as if it is an absolute prohibition. Yet, we have seen that one does not have to receive a special revelation from God in order to kill a theif without that action being a sin. Therefore, we can see a precedent. Absolute prohibitions in the Bible against a particular action are not to be taken as absolute if (and only if) the Bible lists certain exceptions to those prohibitions. In such cases, these prohibitions should be viewed in the same light as the absolute prohibitions against homicide in the legal codes of most states. In other words, they are to be viewed as general rules of conduct rather than as dictatorial absolutes.

This understanding then brings us to the consideration of the prohibitions against rebellion. Should these prohibitions be followed absolutely regardless of circumstances? Every Christian knows that the answer to this question is, No. Frazer himself admits that there is an exception to the prohibition against rebellion when he quotes Peter as saying, "We ought to obey God rather than men." Peter later wrote, "Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord's sake," but this absolute statement is obviously the same type of statement as the absolute prohibition against killing. We are required to submit to every ordinance of man in all cases except for those instances which are listed in the Bible as exceptions to this rule.

This is understood and accepted by all Christians. The debate is not over whether or not the prohibition against resisting authority is absolute but rather over the extent of the exceptions. Frazer claims that only passive, civil disobedience is allowed by the exceptions listed in Scripture, but I think that I have made a very good case for the claim that forceful resistance is permitted against tyrants. If Frazer is correct, then Jael sinned in killing Sisera, and the prophetess Deborah was wrong in pronouncing that Jael was blessed for her actions. I do not think that Frazer can defend that position, and indeed he has avoided discussing situations like those of Jael or Jehoiada which contradict his claims.

jimmiraybob said...

"We are required to submit to every ordinance of man in all cases except for those instances which are listed in the Bible as exceptions to this rule.

"This is understood and accepted by all Christians."

There are no other known instances in which all Christians agree so I find this very intriguing! I have done the math and anticipate that it will take 8.5 million years, what with births, deaths, de-conversions, conversions, works of Satan, vacillations and so on, to verify this claim.

In the meantime I will provide updates.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Of course, there is a passing to the natural law reference in the DOI.

I patiently await your boatload of citations.


Mebbe Bill Fortenberry is interested in your challenges. I'm not. Jonathan Rowe doesn't seem to be. Nobody else hereabouts as far as I see.

If you have something to say, jimmiraybobperson, just state your case--the floor is yours. This isn't a courtroom, it's a classroom.

Jonathan Rowe said...

"Frazer himself admits that there is an exception to the prohibition against rebellion when he quotes Peter as saying, 'We ought to obey God rather than men.' Peter later wrote, 'Submit yourselves to every ordinance of man for the Lord's sake,'..."

No he doesn't. Frazer draws a distinction between disobedience and rebellion. He thinks believers should OBEY all government ordinances as a general rule with the exception that when obeying government = sinning, then obey God not man.

Submission is absolute. Meaning when government comes to arrest, charge and punish you for your disobedience, then submit to the civil legitimacy of the system and work within the confines of the legal system for whatever defense you may have.

wsforten said...

Even that position is contrary to the Scriptures. The Apostle Paul certainly did not hold to Frazer's view.

In Damascus the governor under Aretas the king kept the city of the Damascenes with a garrison, desirous to apprehend me: And through a window in a basket was I let down by the wall, and escaped his hands. (II Corinthian 11:32-33)

As a student of Gamaliel, Paul was one of the most highly educated lawyers of his day. As he put it, he was "taught according to the perfect manner of the law of the fathers." Of Gamaliel, we read that he was "a doctor of the law, had in reputation among all the people." Surely, Paul would have known if the prohibitions against rebellion required him to peacefully submit to the will of the governor.

Jonathan Rowe said...

"This is understood and accepted by all Christians."

All Christians? What about the ones who believe they can cut out large portions of the Bible, including every word St. Paul said and still be "Christians."

"The debate is not over whether or not the prohibition against resisting authority is absolute but rather over the extent of the exceptions."

I'm glad you recognize that the Bible, properly understood, is a complicated book of non-absolutes.

My analogy to murder was imperfect because no analogy is perfect. A is A; A is not B. To compare A to A is to compare duplicates, not to make an analogy.

The taking of a life is generally prohibited with exceptions in the Bible; sure okay.

What about lying? Whether it is ever permitted is something, about which, I understand, interpreters of the Bible disagree.

"If Frazer is correct, then Jael sinned in killing Sisera, and the prophetess Deborah was wrong in pronouncing that Jael was blessed for her actions. I do not think that Frazer can defend that position, and indeed he has avoided discussing situations like those of Jael or Jehoiada which contradict his claims."

Oh I'm sure he could find a way to smooth out what might appear to be a contradiction in the Bible itself. Maybe he would find a way to explain how what Jael did was sinful and still hold the entire Bible to have been given by divine inspiration.

Maybe he could have convinced Franklin who was so certain what Jael did was "abominably wicked and detestable" that he concluded those portions of the Bible "impossible to be given by divine Inspiration."

Jonathan Rowe said...

"Even that position is contrary to the Scriptures. The Apostle Paul certainly did not hold to Frazer's view.

"In Damascus the governor under Aretas the king kept the city of the Damascenes with a garrison, desirous to apprehend me: And through a window in a basket was I let down by the wall, and escaped his hands. (II Corinthian 11:32-33)

"As a student of Gamaliel, Paul was one of the most highly educated lawyers of his day. As he put it, he was "taught according to the perfect manner of the law of the fathers." Of Gamaliel, we read that he was "a doctor of the law, had in reputation among all the people." Surely, Paul would have known if the prohibitions against rebellion required him to peacefully submit to the will of the governor."

To the contrary, Frazer is simply reciting what St. Paul said verbatim. It would be error for me to say "St. Paul held to Frazer's view" when it's simply Frazer taking St. Paul's words at their face value.

Regarding Paul's conduct, could it be that perhaps he sinned in this instance? Or was Paul someone who is without sin?

wsforten said...

It is certainly possible that Paul sinned in doing this, but it is very clear that he did not think that he had. His recounting of the event in II Corinthians is included in a list of things that he is bragging about.

D G said...

Jon, love the money quote from North. At least it is honest about the American founding compared to many Protestants who want the Declaration and Constitution and a Christian nation. It is virtually impossible to have both.

It also should give Tom pause since his constant invocation of Beza fails to include the confessional state that Beza along with most sixteenth-century European Christians desired. It's one thing to rebel. It's another to rebel and establish a state that does not acknowledge God. Beza would have called for another rebellion against Madison, Jefferson, Washington, and Adams.

jimmiraybob said...

" Beza would have called for another rebellion against Madison, Jefferson, Washington, and Adams."

I think, at least in spirit, that voice is alive and well today among some segments of society.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Blogger D G said...
Jon, love the money quote from North. At least it is honest about the American founding compared to many Protestants who want the Declaration and Constitution and a Christian nation. It is virtually impossible to have both.

It also should give Tom pause since his constant invocation of Beza fails to include the confessional state that Beza along with most sixteenth-century European Christians desired. It's one thing to rebel. It's another to rebel and establish a state that does not acknowledge God. Beza would have called for another rebellion against Madison, Jefferson, Washington, and Adams.


Beza is but the first step in Calvinist resistance theory, Darryl. You know that.

http://americancreation.blogspot.com/2013/06/mark-david-hall-responds-to-dghart.html

jimmiraybob said...

"Anonymous jimmiraybob "

Oh yeah, technically it's pseudonymous jimmiraybob. Or semi-pseudonymous jimmiraybob since my name is actually Jim.

But, here in the hills and hollers of flyover country they call me a lot of things including jimmiraybob. Jimmijoe too, which is 2/3 of the way to completely unraveling my pseudonyminity.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Anonymous jimmiraybob said...
"Anonymous jimmiraybob "

Oh yeah, technically it's pseudonymous jimmiraybob. Or semi-pseudonymous jimmiraybob since my name is actually Jim.

But, here in the hills and hollers of flyover country they call me a lot of things including jimmiraybob. Jimmijoe too, which is 2/3 of the way to completely unraveling my pseudonyminity.

July 20, 2013 at 4:03 PM



Actually, the Blogger program has been adding "anonymous" whenever I cut and paste someone's name without a Blogger account.

Since it was accurate, I decided not to bother fixing it, but I didn't add it.

Jonathan Rowe said...

D.G.,

Glad you liked the post and I agree that North's thesis is "honest about the American founding compared to many Protestants who want the Declaration and Constitution and a Christian nation. It is virtually impossible to have both."

Tom Van Dyke said...

What does "Christian nation" mean? That's only passable history if you ignore federalism, and the fact that the Constitution left religion to the states.

States were free at the time of the Founding to impose religious tests as they saw fit. All of them did. State tests limited public offices to Christians or, in some states, only to Protestants. The national government, on the other hand, could not impose any religious test whatsoever. National offices were open to everyone.

The surviving accounts of the Constitutional Convention indicate that the Article VI ban "was adopted by a great majority of the convention, and without much debate." We know that North Carolina opposed the prohibition; the Connecticut and Maryland delegations were divided. All the other delegates were in favor. But even some "nay" votes were not necessarily in favor of religious tests. Connecticut's Roger Sherman, for example, thought the ban unnecessary, "the prevailing liberality" being sufficient security against restrictive tests.

Of course the "prevailing liberality" was not very liberal. The clause was hotly disputed in some states during the 1788–1789 struggle over ratification of the Constitution. The objection was simple: "Jews," "Turks," "infidels," "heathens," and even "Roman Catholics" might hold national office under the proposed Constitution. As more soberly expressed by Pennsylvanian Benjamin Rush: "many pious people wish the name of the Supreme Being had been introduced somewhere in the new Constitution." The Religious Test Clause was thus a focal point for reservations about the Constitution's entirely secular language.

Some defenders of the Constitution argued, in response, that a belief in God and a future state of reward and punishment could, notwithstanding the test ban, be required of public officers. On this interpretation, Article VI banned only sectarian tests, such as would exclude some Christians from office. Others asserted that the requirement that officers take an oath to support and defend the Constitution necessarily implied a religious commitment. (See Oaths Clause, Article VI, Clause 3.)


http://www.heritage.org/constitution/#!/articles/6/essays/135/religious-test

wsforten said...

To understand the true purpose of the religious test clause, we must hearken back to the Corporation Act of 1661. This was the first of three Test Acts which were implemented in England and which remained in effect until 1828. Under these acts, no one could hold office in England unless he swore an oath of fealty not to God but rather to the doctrines of the Church of England. This was the kind of religious test which the founders prohibited. They had no objection to biblical qualifications. What they objected to was the requirement that all government officials be forced to swear allegiance to the codified doctrines of an established church.

The wisdom of this objection can be illustrated by an examination of the different doctrines of the Christian churches on baptism. Some churches teach that baptism is necessary in order for one to become a Christian while others teach that baptism is not necessary but merely symbolic. There is no reconciliation between these two views. Those holding to the first view often deny the Christianity of those holding to the second and vice versa. Therefore, if the founding fathers had permitted religious tests by saying that only Christians could hold office under the new Constitution, they would have placed us in the difficult position of allowing our government to determine which of these two views on baptism is correct. The churches would immediately have recognized that whichever church managed to obtain a majority representation in the new government would have the power to define all other denominations as non-Christians and force them out of the political arena entirely. This is exactly how the Test Acts were used in England, and it was one of the reasons that so many Christians had fled to America in the first place. Our founding fathers realized that the only way to prevent this abuse of the power of government is to eliminate the religious test requirements altogether.

That this is the view which the founders had in mind can be seen in the statement on this clause by Oliver Ellsworth. Mr. Ellsworth was one of the pivotal drafters of the Constitution, and he later became the third Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. In his defense of the religious test clause, Mr. Ellsworth first explained what was meant by the term “religious test”:

A religious test is an act to be done, or profession to be made, relating to religion (such as partaking of the sacrament according to certain rites and forms, or declaring one’s belief of certain doctrines,) for the purpose of determining whether his religious opinions are such, that he is admissible to a publick office.

He then proceeded to examine the most basic religious test possible and to demonstrate that it would be wrong for us to have such a test in America.

If any test-act were to be made, perhaps the least exceptionable would be one, requiring all persons appointed to office to declare at the time of their admission, their belief in the being of a God, and in the divine authority of the scriptures … But I answer: His making a declaration of such a belief is no security at all. For suppose him to be an unprincipled man, who believes neither the word nor the being of God; and to be governed merely by selfish motives; how easy is it for him to dissemble! how easy is it for him to make a public declaration of his belief in the creed which the law prescribes; and excuse himself by calling it a mere formality. This is the case with the test-laws and creeds in England … In short, test-laws are utterly ineffectual: they are no security at all … If they exclude any persons, it will be honest men, men of principle, who will rather suffer an injury, than act contrary to the dictates of their consciences. If we mean to have those appointed to public offices, who are sincere friends to religion, we, the people who appoint them, must take care to choose such characters; and not rely upon such cob-web barriers as test-laws are.

Jonathan Rowe said...

No religious tests means no religious tests. According to what was reproduced on Ellsworth a man "who believes neither the word nor the being of God" would be eligible to hold public office.

wsforten said...

That is true, but what Ellsworth gives us is the reason why that provision was permitted.

Jonathan Rowe said...

There were multiple reasons why the Founders disliked religious tests. But the main one is, ... the Founders disliked religious tests.

So take Ben Franklin, who would, apparently, pass your "Christian" test at the time he wrote was I reproduce below.

As acting governor of PA, Franklin helped remove PA's religious test which stated:

"I do believe in one God, the creator and governor of the universe, the rewarder of the good and the punisher of the wicked. And I do acknowledge the Scriptures of the Old and New Testament to be given by Divine inspiration."

Nothing there about Anglican or Baptist or any really overtly sectarian rituals of established churches.

But Franklin's rationale for being against this test was that this was a test he could not pass!

"I agreed with you in Sentiments concerning the Old Testament, and thought the Clause in our Constitution, which required the Members of Assembly to declare their belief that the whole of it was given by divine Inspiration, had better have been omitted. That I had opposed the Clause but being overpower'd by Numbers, and fearing might in future times be grafted on [it, I Pre]vailed to have the additional Clause that no [further or more ex]tended Profession of Faith should ever [be exacted. I ob]serv'd to you, too, that the Evil of it was [the less, as no In]habitant, nor any Officer of Government except the Members of Assembly, were oblig'd to make that Declaration. So much for that Letter. To which I may now add, that the[re are] several Things in the old Testament impossible to be given by divine Inspiration, such as the Approbation ascrib'd to the Angel of the Lord, of that abominably wicked and detestable Action of Jael the Wife of Heber the Kenite. If the rest of the Book were like that, I should rather suppose it given by Inspiration from another Quarter, and renounce the whole."

http://jonrowe.blogspot.com/2007/01/ben-franklin-on-pas-religious-test.html

Tom Van Dyke said...

But Franklin's rationale for being against this test was that this was a test he could not pass!

"America" is more than just the Constitution. The "Godless" Constitution argument cheats the existence of federalism, of the US being a union of [mostly] godly states.

Further, as Joseph Story notes, the prohibition was because of the differing sects in control of this state or that [or in the case of Virginia, none]. Unanimity was impossible, or worse 7 states could gang up on six.

http://www.lonang.com/exlibris/story/sto-343.htm

But it was sectarianism, not Christianity, that was the bugaboo they sought to avoid. The Union was still a union of [mostly] Christian states.

wsforten said...

According to the letter which you provided, Franklin was opposed to this particular religious test for the same reason as his correspondent. That correspondent was John Calder, and his letter to Franklin can be read at:

http://www.franklinpapers.org/franklin/framedVolumes.jsp?vol=42&page=146

Calder stated in his letter that there were many sincere, worthy Christians who doubted the inspiration of the Old Testament.

Jonathan Rowe said...

Well Mr. Fortenberry, that's good and interesting to know. It appears then, that Mr. Calder was another Christian-Deist/unitarian/theistic rationalist. Not surprising given heterodox freethinkers like Franklin and the other key Founders felt comfortable sharing their religious secrets only with certain trustworthy friends.

wsforten said...

I've just finished gathering together much of my research on the religious test clause, and I've published it in an article on my website. This article contains my above explanation of the purpose of the clause as well as a somewhat lengthy collection of quotes from men of the founding era which support my conclusion. The article is available at: http://www.increasinglearning.com/the-religious-test-clause.html