Thursday, July 24, 2014

Frazer: "Problems with Matthew Stewart’s Nature’s God (not in any particular order)"

Note: Dr. Gregg Frazer sends over what is reproduced below:

Problems with Matthew Stewart’s Nature’s God (not in any particular order):

Thesis: “Spinoza is the principle architect of the radical philosophy that achieves its ultimate expression in the American Republic, and Locke is its acceptable face.  So-called Lockean liberalism is really just Spinozistic radicalism adapted to the limitations of the common understanding of things.”

My two favorite lines: a) Locke and Spinoza produce a “deeply atheistic proof of a God.”
b) Consciousness “may be found in animals, plants, and even frying pans and thermostats.”

Stewart argues that people falsely identify many with Christianity and that we should not accept their use of that term uncritically. He then enormously expands the meaning of “deism” (without substantiation or support) and expects the reader to accept his use uncritically. Regarding the examples that he does give to try to show this very broad notion of deism, some were instances of opponents calling someone a “deist” as an epithet – i.e. derogatorily; some were simply references to unitarianism, and some merely denials of orthodox Christianity.  Later, he also takes derogatory charges of “atheist” as proof of someone’s atheism.

This leads to another problem: like the prominent “Christian America” advocates, Stewart assumes (without proving) a false dichotomy: that one was either a Christian or a deist (i.e. that those were the only options).  So Christian America advocates find a quote that “proves” that someone disbelieved a deist tenet and proclaim them a “Christian.” Stewart does the same thing in reverse: if someone is not incontrovertably an orthodox Christian, he proclaims them a “deist.” [of course, there was at least one other option: theistic rationalism]

Stewart makes far too much of the content of individual’s libraries.  One need not agree with every book in one’s library.  I have LOTS of books with which I disagree (including Stewart’s) and others that I have not read.  One must have the books of those with which one disagrees in order to deal with them knowledgably.  Stewart assumes that if a particular person had a certain book in his library he must have agreed with it.  The Christian America people do that, too.

He also makes far too much of notes taken on texts.  His assumption is that if someone copied something from a text or took  notes on it, that the individual was, by that action, showing agreement with the text/passage.  The simplest way to demonstrate the falsehood of this notion is to confess that I took LOTS of notes on Stewart’s book – the margins are filled – but I agreed with very little of it.  If someone using Stewart’s methodology were to pick up my copy of his book, they might conclude that I loved it because I took so many notes.

Related to this, Stewart also makes a specific error made by the guru of the Christian America movement – he acts on the assumption that Jefferson’s Notes on Religion reflect Jefferson’s own opinion rather than merely encyclopedic entries of what others believed.  The fact that Jefferson begins a relevant section with “Locke’s system of Christianity is this” and that most of it is nearly verbatim from Locke does not dissuade Stewart or that guru from attributing it to TJ.

In this same vein, Stewart (like his Christian America counterparts) assumes without demonstrating that students agree with all that their teachers believe/teach.  As a college professor, I only wish that were true. J  This saves them from having to show that someone believed what they attribute to them [which they often did not] – they just have to show that their teacher believed it.

Another annoying tactic that Stewart shares with his counterparts on the other side of the argument is regularly suggesting that first drafts and/or initial discussions tell us more of what someone wanted or thought than their final draft!  He does it re the Declaration and the Bill of Rights.  I confess I’ve never understood this logic when used by the Christian America people and I don’t understand it here: what someone REALLY wants or REALLY means is what they rejected/changed?  Hmmmm.

Stewart suggests throughout that the whole American project was an assault on religion -- particularly orthodox Christianity.  Apparently, the political aspects were more or less a byproduct.  Also, his analysis is all about the Revolution; for Stewart, revolutionary thought is definitive for “the American Republic.”  This, of course, ignores the significant changes that came due to experience in the critical years between 1776 and 1787.

Related to that, to accept Stewart’s thesis, one must believe that Ethan Allen, Thomas Young, a twentysomething Ben Franklin who never grew up [America’s Peter Pan], and a partially and conveniently quoted Thomas Jefferson were THE key political/historical figures in the establishment of America.  Others matter only tangentially.

To accept his thesis, one must believe that the Revolutionary/Founding writers did not know who their REAL influences were.  They quoted (as Stewart admits in a footnote) men such as Pufendorf, Grotius, Beccaria, Blackstone, Montesquieu, Vattel and others – but the real driving intellectual forces on them were the ancient Greek Epicurus and the early modern Dutch philosopher Baruch Spinoza. More precisely, it was Epicurus channeled by and improved by Spinoza. Stewart wrote an earlier well-received book on Spinoza and sees the modern world through Spinozist eyes – and says we should, too.  There are a number of hyperbolic statements to this effect.

He gives a very poor, deficient, and one-sided account of Franklin’s prayer proposal at the Constitutional Convention.  It fits his argument the way he selectively and creatively reports it, though.

In order to be able to use his favorite adjective – “Locke-Spinoza” – Stewart terribly abuses John Locke to the point that Locke scholars will not recognize him.  He quotes Locke partially (with his own commentary interspersed to make it look like Locke’s), regularly uses ellipses to change the meaning of Lockean statements, and quotes Locke out of context.  These are also all very familiar tactics for Stewart’s Christian America counterparts.  He takes a square Locke and forces him into a round Spinoza.  He does the same regarding Jefferson – Jefferson is forced to conform with Spinoza whether he will or not.  To be fair, Stewart gives a warning/explanation for his distortion of Locke – he explains that he (basically) subscribes to the Straussian notion of “esoteric” interpretation (while disagreeing with what Strauss does with it).  In other words, as Stewart takes it, Locke did not know what he meant or was too cowardly to say what he meant, so Stewart must channel the real Locke and explain what he meant to say or would have said if he had the nerve.  This, presumably, makes it fine to ignore parts of sentences that are inconvenient and places in which Locke’s words are diametrically opposed to what Stewart wants from him.  Often, what Stewart leaves out of a passage or where he cuts it off is more telling than what he quotes.

The same is true with Jefferson, although Stewart actually quotes passages from Jefferson which contradict Stewart’s take and he just moves on.  One of those cases is absolutely critical for Stewart’s whole thesis.  He argues that the first sentence of the Declaration is the key to the whole American enterprise and that they key to that sentence is the idea that God and Nature are synonymous (not related – synonymous).  He says that Jefferson held this view (pretty important since he wrote the sentence) – but quotes from Jefferson on pages 189, 190, and 194 clearly show Jefferson saying the contrary!  Undeterred, Stewart proceeds as if his take is confirmed.

Also re Jefferson: Stewart takes very seriously Jefferson’s statement: “I am an Epicurean” – not so much Jefferson’s statement: “I am a Christian” or his statement: “I am a sect unto myself.”

As noted briefly above, Stewart – like many who desperately want Franklin to be a deist – keeps Franklin at 19 years of age or in his twenties.  Stewart’s Franklin apparently died at 28.  He quotes Franklin’s famous/infamous confession that he became a deist (at age 19), but somehow (like others) misses Franklin’s statement two pages later that he grew out of it.  Stewart is also apparently unaware of Franklin’s essay On the Providence of God in the Government of the World in which he explicitly rejects deism as irrational (at the ripe old age of 24).  Stewart also cites Franklin’s Dissertation on Liberty and Necessity to show Franklin’s agreement with Stewart’s thesis, but Franklin wrote that at age 19 and years later considered it an embarrassment – he burned as many copies as he could find. Stewart says “he never gave reason to think that he [Peter Pan Franklin] ever departed from the convictions acquired as [a] youthful bibliophile” [meaning his twentysomething position].

The book vastly overemphasizes Hobbes’s influence in America.

Stewart seriously mangles the meaning/interpretation of several biblical passages.  At one point, he admits concerning a passage written by the apostle Paul: “the ultimate implications of this intuition about God are dramatically different from anything Paul seems to have contemplated.” Then that should call into serious question your implications/interpretation!

Stewart has his own idiosyncratic notion of the meaning and purpose of the First Amendment.  By his account, it does not – and was not designed to – guarantee religious freedom.

He constantly uses unqualified, universal terms such as “the founders of the American Republic” and “America’s founders” when ascribing ideas – as if they were all of the same mind.  I doubt that  he’s ever heard of Roger Sherman.

His constant condescending, arrogant, and rather snarky jabs at anyone foolish enough to be religious or to believe in God is equal parts annoying and inappropriate in an academic work.  The last chapter is devoted to making fun of religion and those who are superstitious or gullible enough to believe in something beyond Nature.  “Alert” readers or persons are those who share his views.  Conventional religion relies on “make-believe” and “self-deception,” but his preferred philosophers produce “knowledge.”  Philosophical assumption and/or “doctrine” is fact/”truths.”  Those who refuse to bow to the “obvious” superiority of atheism, simply show “the tenacity of their ignorance” and promote “hallucinations of divine agency.”

He argues that deism was not limited to the elite (pg. 37), then proceeds to talk throughout about the difference betweent the views of the elite and those of the common people who were conventionally religious (e.g. pgs. 32, 35, 68, 73, 122, 274, 404-05).

He argues without substantiation re the Great Awakening: “the revival, while pretending to unite the nation, in reality unified it only in the belief that there are aliens in our midst.” 

He criticizes “enthusiasts” for making personal, sensory judgments, but approves of so-called “deists” making them – ostensibly because he approves of the judgments.

Like certain groups today, he attempts to stifle alternate views and studies with which he would disagree: “The new Christian nationalists [which, in his example, includes Mark David Hall, Daniel Dreisbach, et al and yours truly] represent a powerful force within American history, but their success consists chiefly in creating the illusion of a debate where in substance there is none.  … scholars tout their ‘even-handedness’ by giving equal credence to every ‘narrative’ of the history, however fatuous.  A version of this false equivalence can be found in [Hall, Dreisbach, & Morrison’s] The Forgotten Founders on Religion and Public Life.”  Those who do not know should be aware that there are no chapters from the “Christian America”/David Barton extreme in this book – they are all written by established scholars in the field from places such as Stanford, George Mason, American University, James Madison Univ., Notre Dame, Univ. of Texas, etc.  But because they do not subscribe to Stewart’s “everyone was an atheist deist” view, their views are “fatuous” and unworthy of inclusion in discussion!

Stewart may have included his own marching orders on page 333: “Like revolutionaries throughout history, Young and his gang understood that in order to change the future it is necessary first to change the past.”  That appears to be Stewart’s real project.

52 comments:

jimmiraybob said...

Well, that sure is a lot of words.

Bill Fortenberry said...

Well, aside from all the unnecessary jabs at the "'Christian America' advocates," this is finally a review of Stewart's book that I can agree with. I've not completely finished the book myself, but Frazer did a great job of summarizing and responding to a lot of what I've read so far.

jimmiraybob said...

Bill, this is not a review but a laundry list of hurried and pissy first impressions. No substance. I'm glad you liked it. As Dr. Frazer might point out though, you are handicapped by wearing Christian Biblical goggles...or glasses. You are now disqualified.

I'd be curious if Dr. Frazer would give it a passing grade if it were handed to him by an undergrad.

At best, any bullet point might form the nucleus of a further discussion.

As I'm about 70% into my reading I'd say that there are a number of incorrect or misleading points.



Gregg Frazer said...

jimmiraybob:
Note that it is not presented as a "review" -- but simply as "problems with." I specifically told Jon it was not a review.

As for "hurried ... first impressions": I read the 430-page book in great detail and wrote an actual review for a journal. I looked up his hundreds of citations and engaged his arguments. It is anything but the results of "first impressions."

I am curious what would count as "substance" with you.

I would not grade it at all if submitted to me by a student, as I never give mere "problems with" assignments.

Daniel said...

Did "deist" have the same fixed meaning in the 18th century that it had in the 19th? My impression is that it had not yet developed the narrow definition that we use.

jimmiraybob said...

FG - " I specifically told Jon it was not a review."

My own pissiness was direct more toward Mr. Fortenberry's agreeing with the "review" - his words.

Yes, it does seem like a list of problems, or, at least potential problems and, like I said, any one of the problem items would be a launching point for discussion.

What would count as substance, would include: 1) developing any of the problem points in greater depth and/or 2) engaging the larger ideas in depth.

I do have problems with "the problems" and will engage them as and if there's time.

The one "problem" that raised a bit of my ire was the accusation that Stewart "...sees the modern world through Spinozist eyes – and says we should, too;" an accusation based on his having written "...an earlier well-received book on Spinoza."

This is just an odd thing for one scholar to say about another scholar (with a relevant PhD) that has studied extensively in the area in which he's writing.

They say that one should write what one knows and certainly there's scarce popular information on the intellectual strain that he highlights.

Yes, he's writing as a reaction to the rise of Christian Nationalism and the severely distorted historical/political narrative that they are producing and relentlessly popularizing (and it's a distorted narrative that's being shouted by the Tea Party, southern secessionists, and 2nd American Revolution militias). So yes, he is writing with a viewpoint. But that is not a valid disqualification.

As I said, there are problems with "the problems." And, since you tacked them to the front door I assume you expect a response.


jimmiraybob said...

Daniel,

Deist is a term with a fairly fluid definition and no set membership rules. Back in the day it was often a term of derision along with atheist and freethinker.....much as many people see it today.

Some people today define "deist" narrowly in a way that fits their argument. Such as if when anyone being considered every uttered the term "providence." Some people would find this as solid evidence that the person being considered was not an atheist but a Christian, assuming that everyone has the same view of providence. Dr. Frazer points out that Stewart "...enormously expands the meaning of 'deism,'” and that appears true, at least compared to the enormously contracted definition most often used to get the dead into the Christian column.

Unlike Dr. Frazer who says that Stewart offers no substantiation of his expanded definition, I think that Stewart, having written a book about it, does offer a substantial defense. I am closing in on finishing the book and would highly recommend it. Sure, it may have problems but what book doesn't - that goes for any book ever written. Simply to point this out does not engage.

I think that Natures' God attempts to present how 17th and 18th century writers and thinkers - theologians, philosophers, ruffians and dreamers - viewed themselves.

As a modern, I would think that a good criteria to evaluate who was or wasn't a deist, would be to see who espoused a deity without any additional adornments. A philosopher's deity so to speak.

Ben Franklin proffered a deistic view in his early works and in his last letter to Ezra Stiles, just weeks before dying. He envisioned a deity, active in the world, and at least hoped for a hereafter with rewards and punishments. He does not specifically identify this Deity with Scripture or Christianity and as he said about his creed, "[it contained] ...the essentials of every known religion and being free of everything that might shock the professors of any religion."

Deist? This can be honestly and rationally answered in the affirmative.....as is.

And, as I've read, I've found that there are few pure deists and that many, Bruno and Gassendi come to mind, attempted to merge elements of the radical philosophy with Christian themes.

I should point out, since it hasn't been done yet, that Dr. Frazer is the author of The Religious Beliefs of America's Founders: Reason, Revelation, and Revolution (2014), which is available at Amazon. this is high on my 'buy & read' list. I fully expect that I will disagree with some of what he writes, but then, maybe I won't. I haven't to this point, and may not have, a problem with the term "theistic rationalist" but it is anachronistic - no preacher, to the best of my knowledge, every yelled this from the pulpit at Jefferson.

PS: Just for the Record, I am not in the "they were all deists" camp and have no problem with the fact that many founders were unequivocal and devoutly religious and Christian, orthodox and not so orthodox. But, the more I look into it, the deist term fits well on some of the founders. depending, of course, on how one defines "deist."

jimmiraybob said...

DF - Thesis: “Spinoza is the principle architect of the radical philosophy that achieves its ultimate expression in the American Republic, and Locke is its acceptable face. So-called Lockean liberalism is really just Spinozistic radicalism adapted to the limitations of the common understanding of things.”

I think that Stewart’s thesis is that a radical and heretical* philosophy circulated throughout Enlightenment Europe and made its way into the American colonies and founding. Spinoza and Epicurus (via Lucretious’ De rerum natura) did, undeniably, contribute to the architecture of the radical philosophy that pervaded Enlightenment thought throughout 18th century Europe and that can be traced to at least to Giordano Bruno in the late 16th century.

As to Spinoza’s influence on Locke, how much – how little, let the Locke scholars take it away. But it seems imprudent to deny some direct or indirect influence.

*But then what wasn’t heretical? ”Orthodoxy is my doxy - heterodoxy is another man's doxy. - William Warburton (1698–1779), bishop of Gloucester

I’ve compiled some additional sources that one can use to help bolster the Spinoza-Epicurus connection(s):

Stephen Greenblatt, 2011. The Swerve; How the Modern World Became Modern. Norton, New York. Pp 356.

Jonathan Israel, 2001, Radical Enlightenment: Philosophy and the Making of Modernity 1650-1750. Oxford University Press. Pp 810.

Jonathan Israel, 2011, A Revolution of the Mind: Radical Enlightenment and the Intellectual Origins of Modern Democracy. Pp 296.

This one was highlighted here at AC:

http://americancreation.blogspot.com/2012/03/jonathan-israel-enlightenment.html

Jonathan Israel, 2012, Democratic Enlightenment: Philosophy, Revolution, and Human Rights 1750-1790. Pp 1066.
Jonathan Israel, 2009, Enlightenment Contested: Philosophy, Modernity, and the Emancipation of Man 1670-1752. Pp 1024.

Steven Nadler, 2011. A Book Forged in Hell; Spinoza's Scandalous Treatise and the Birth of the Secular Age. Princeton University Press. Pp 304.

Anthony Pagden, 2013. The Enlightenment: And Why it Still Matters. Random House. Pp 501.

This one was highlighted here at AC:

http://americancreation.blogspot.com/2013/06/the-enlightenment-and-why-it-still.html

jimmiraybob said...

DF - To accept his thesis, one must believe that the Revolutionary/Founding writers did not know who their REAL influences were. They quoted (as Stewart admits in a footnote) men such as Pufendorf, Grotius, Beccaria, Blackstone, Montesquieu, Vattel and others – but the real driving intellectual forces on them were the ancient Greek Epicurus and the early modern Dutch philosopher Baruch Spinoza. More precisely, it was Epicurus channeled by and improved by Spinoza.

See previous comment.

Also, since when is including information in a footnote an “admission?” And, Stewart uses endnotes.

Also too, Stewart traces the intellectual elements of Epicurus’ and Spinoza's ethics and philosophy as they are received and used and abused by other intellectuals in their wake, whether radical philosophes or moderate purveyors or anti-Enlightenment clergy (It should be noted that not all clergy were anti enlightenment or anti radical ideas). The intellectual thread. It’s called transmission.

And, while some founders, such as Jefferson and Paine, left clear evidence in their writing…..and, apparently James Young and Ethan Allen too (of all people), others conveyed ideas that were remarkably similar to the radical philosophy, whether transmitted directly or indirectly through intermediaries such as Locke or Boligbroke or Pope, etc., strongly suggesting the result of transmitted ideas via a "Republic of Letters." I'd also add, a republic of taverns and coffee houses as well as churches. It’s Friday night and time for great hedonistic adventures, such as doing laundry and cleaning house, so I’m not going to look it up, but Stewart makes this very point.

jimmiraybob said...

GF - My two favorite lines: a) Locke and Spinoza produce a “deeply atheistic proof of a God.” b) Consciousness “may be found in animals, plants, and even frying pans and thermostats.”

I’m not sure why these are your favorites but the heart likes what the heart likes…..unless you were being snarky. Since a will take too long for now, I’ll do b.

Stewart is not making the assertion, as if it’s his own, that consciousness “may be found in animals, plants, and even frying pans and thermostats.” If someone reading this slice alone they might get the idea that Stewart was a crackpot. Frying pans and thermostats? I’d think he was a crackpot. And who wants to read a book by a crackpot? Some context:

Page 230 ”On the whole, this radical view of the self gives flesh to the intuition – obvious from experience yet previously withheld from science on the basis of common religious prejudice – that mind and body are deeply interconnected and that the consciousness and self-consciousness that come with them are always matters of degree. Consciousness, according to the radical view may be found in animals, plants, and even frying pans and thermostats, as some modern writers have suggested; but not all consciousness is created equal.104

Hey there, Stewart’s just making an assessment of the radical view and pointing out that some modern writers have extended it to modern appliances. Those darn modern writers. Good thing we headed off the potential caricature. Some people might have inadvertently not bought the book written by a kook.

Of course, this modest addition of context needs its own context to evaluate the argument that Stewart is making. The section that this snippet is in is titled “SELF” and starts on page 226.

As to a, let’s just say that atheist means non-theist or perhaps non-theistic in this context – perhaps a proof of “…the existence of God through the evidence of reason and the sense” (page 149). The Spinoza-Locke God definition discussion starts on page 148 and runs to roughly page 154 or page 159, with the given quote on page 154.

Disclaimer: I have no idea what’s behind the idea of frying pans and thermostats possessing consciousness and am not sure if the “modern writers” are actually crackpots and kooks, I was just making a rhetorical point about common perceptions.

jimmiraybob said...

So, why is “Locke and Spinoza produce a ‘deeply atheistic proof of a God’” one of your favorite lines? Did you find it profound? Or silly? Did it adequately tie in with the rest of his discussion…or not? Truthful? Untruthful? Disturbing? It’s listed under “problems” but the reader has no way of knowing what the problem is. Extending this thought might help us find meaning and allow a more thorough analysis of Stewart’s argument.

jimmiraybob said...

So, why is “Locke and Spinoza produce a ‘deeply atheistic proof of a God’” one of your favorite lines? Did you find it profound? Or silly? Did it adequately tie in with the rest of his discussion…or not? Truthful? Untruthful? Disturbing? It’s listed under “problems” but the reader has no way of knowing what the problem is. Extending this thought might help us find meaning and allow a more thorough analysis of Stewart’s argument.

jimmiraybob said...

GF - Stewart suggests throughout that the whole American project was an assault on religion -- particularly orthodox Christianity.

I don't agree that Stewart suggests that "The whole American project" was an assault on religion (and, I haven't come across this statement yet in his book). However, some of the more radical ideas of some of the founders, or at least the ideas that were consistent with the radical philosophy, actually were perceived at the time as assaults on religion – or, more specifically, orthodox religion – particularly orthodox Christianity. (I assume that we’re all familiar with; the contemporary outrage from some Christian quarters over the “Godless” Constitution, the vitriolic attacks from the pulpits against Jefferson “the atheist” during the 1800 presidential campaign, the backlash against Paine when he got too cozy with the radical philosophy in his writing, etc.) And, there’s no reason to think differently today…..maybe, especially today.

There’s just no way to deny that some of the founders – some of the really important founders, from street level on up to Constitutional framers and ratifiers, held heretical beliefs according to the “orthodox Christianity” of the day (and certainly of today), and that these ideas had a pedigree that includes the radical, or modern, philosophy that was all the rage in Europe. Thus, the “Heretical” in the title.

Anonymous said...

GF - He quotes Locke partially (with his own commentary interspersed to make it look like Locke’s), regularly uses ellipses to change the meaning of Lockean statements, and quotes Locke out of context. These are also all very familiar tactics for Stewart’s Christian America counterparts.

Maybe he assumes that his readers will be sophisticated enough to distinguish what’s inside of quotation marks from what’s outside of quotation marks. I find this a useful strategy myself.

As to ellipses, I wholeheartedly agree that these can be misused by rascally individuals for nefarious purposes. However, every author uses them and not necessarily to mislead. The use of ellipses by even the most sainted of scholars can be questioned though. That is the nature of the beast – the author is making a judgment as to what is necessary to his/her argument and what is extraneous. I do wholehearted recommend filling in these gaps. That’s usually why authors list their citations. If, upon closer inspection, Stewart does establish a pattern of clear abuse to mislead then that would be significant and damning. If on the other hand, Stewart has judged some portions of passages as germane to his argument and other portions irrelevant or extraneous to the passage (face it, some authors have a hard time getting to the point and, as in the case of Bolingbroke for instance, can write mega sentences), then that is a judgment call and not necessarily an attempt to mislead.

And let’s face it, every sentence ever quoted is a sentence “out of context.” The question is whether it is used fairly – placed into a context that doesn’t distort its original meaning. At this point, every quote becomes contentious. Again, this can be hashed out but merely pointing out that something is out of context provides little to no information.

When does merely using standard literary methods become “tactics?”

(continued below)

jimmiraybob said...


And, not to be accused of distorting and unfair use of tactics, here’s the rest of the paragraph which adds no substance:
GF - He takes a square Locke and forces him into a round Spinoza. He does the same regarding Jefferson – Jefferson is forced to conform with Spinoza whether he will or not. To be fair, Stewart gives a warning/explanation for his distortion of Locke – he explains that he (basically) subscribes to the Straussian notion of “esoteric” interpretation (while disagreeing with what Strauss does with it). In other words, as Stewart takes it, Locke did not know what he meant or was too cowardly to say what he meant, so Stewart must channel the real Locke and explain what he meant to say or would have said if he had the nerve. This, presumably, makes it fine to ignore parts of sentences that are inconvenient and places in which Locke’s words are diametrically opposed to what Stewart wants from him. Often, what Stewart leaves out of a passage or where he cuts it off is more telling than what he quotes.

Wow. Stewart gives a fair warning. Way back in the endnotes. Spooky. Of course, some readers might consider this a clarification as to how Stewart arrives at his analysis – background – so that the reader can evaluate the validity of the argument.

I tell ya, I’m now really looking forward to reading your book GF. I want to see how you don’t use quotes or ellipses. Or, if you do, what sinister “warnings” you give hidden in the foot/end notes or whether you base an analysis on abstracted fragments. [rolling eyes]

To the point, merely saying that Stewart does these things provides no information. There’s just no substance here. No substance to substantiate. No substance to rebut. Maybe this helps satisfy your curiosity about "...what would count as 'substance' with..." me.

More clarification on this is needed. The point of being a scholar, an academic, is to help people expand their knowledge. I don't see this happening in your list of "problems."

Anyway, enough with this. nobody's reading this anymore.

But, just in case you are still reading, let me ask the question, what was the point of asking Jon to post a long list of "problems" with no preface and no conclusion? Were you hoping to stimulate a discussion? Maybe a series of posts where each "problem" point is expanded upon? Or is the reader at AC left with just a list? Did you find any value in Stewart's work? Would you recommend this book with the "problems" that you list as caveats for the reader?

Or, judging from the tone alone, I'm guessing, and that's all the reader can do, that you would not recommend this book? This is probably fine for Tom, whose review of the book is "shitty book" and Mr. Fortenberry who really agrees with your list. Neither of which have actually read the book.


OK, there were actually several questions.

There are considerably more problems with the "problems" but I reminded myself that this is a comments section and that to address them all here would be beyond the scope of the medium and pointless. I just hope that people who may be interested in the ideas that Stewart presents will give it a fair shot.

Off for the weekend.

Regards.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Or, judging from the tone alone, I'm guessing, and that's all the reader can do, that you would not recommend this book? This is probably fine for Tom, whose review of the book is "shitty book" and Mr. Fortenberry who really agrees with your list. Neither of which have actually read the book.


I read numerous reviews [with direct quotes] plus an interview with the author. What I said was that I would not pay $25 for his shitty book.

Now that others who have received review copies OR have paid the damn $25 confirm it's a shitty book--among the thousands every year spewed out by the leftist academy--I'm going to do something useful with my 25 smackeroos. See the X-Men movie or something. At least that fiction is an entertaining waste of time and money.

jimmiraybob said...

Tom,

If you want to take your $17.65 (Amazon price) and go see a movie instead that's fine. Feel free to have an opinion of and rage against the book without reading the book. I couldn't have said it better.

Oddly enough, I've come to respect your position. You have a narrative and don't want to jeopardize it with new information. And you say so....although not always very directly.

Enjoy the movie.

jimmiraybob said...

And I see that Bill Fortenberry has posted a review at Amazon....having never actually read the book or more than a stanza of Pope or a few lines of Bolingbroke. Congrats.

jimmiraybob said...

GF - To be fair, Stewart gives a warning/explanation for his distortion of Locke – he explains that he (basically) subscribes to the Straussian notion of “esoteric” interpretation (while disagreeing with what Strauss does with it).

Careful attention reveals that Stewart relies heavily on the work of Wim Klever (former lecturer Erasmus University Rotterdam) and other current scholars as well as contemporaries of Spinoza and Locke for his "distortions."

jimmiraybob said...

GF - Stewart seriously mangles the meaning/interpretation of several biblical passages.

I've seen you and Bill Fortenberry and Tom go round and round here about scripture, each accusing the other of mangling. What's the point? What's the baseline scriptural touchstone?

jimmiraybob said...

GF - In order to be able to use his favorite adjective – “Locke-Spinoza” – Stewart terribly abuses John Locke to the point that Locke scholars will not recognize him.

See above comments RE Wim Klever, etc. Look up Locke's Disguised Spinozism and engage.

jimmiraybob said...

GF - He constantly uses unqualified, universal terms such as “the founders of the American Republic” and “America’s founders” when ascribing ideas – as if they were all of the same mind.

A point of agreement. This kind of stuff annoys the he ..... heck out of me. But, certainly not a reason to condemn the whole work.

jimmiraybob said...

GF - To accept his thesis, one must believe that the Revolutionary/Founding writers did not know who their REAL influences were.

Oy vey! Stewart exactly acknowledges this fact - for instance, specifically pointing out that Spinoza was not a direct influence on the founders that were influenced by the radical ideas developed by Spinoza, but that the REAL influences, such as Locke, were in part or largely transmitting much of Spinoza's metaphysics, epistemology and ethics.

jimmiraybob said...

GF - Like certain groups today, he attempts to stifle alternate views and studies with which he would disagree

Holy Moly! He has no power to stifle any alternate views and studies. He has written a book He has presented a thesis. He has defended the thesis. He stifles nothing by not arguing against his thesis.

jimmiraybob said...

GF - Like certain groups today, he attempts to stifle alternate views and studies with which he would disagree: “The new Christian nationalists [which, in his example, includes Mark David Hall, Daniel Dreisbach, et al and yours truly]

Ohhhhhh. Now I get it. But, I don't think you read this right (note 4 page 444-446). But where is the reference to your work? Page?

jimmiraybob said...

Pant, pant pant....

Must pace myself.

jimmiraybob said...

GF - ...Stewart’s “everyone was an atheist deist” view...


Seriously? You think that that's what he says? I'm assuming that you've actually rea....wait a minute, you've stated that you have read the book, carefully. Hate to do this, but....[stage whisper], he does not say this - this is not his view. Bot everybody was a atheist deist. Seems hyperbolic.

Then again, I could be wrong....but, I'm likely not. But if you can somehow substantiate this I will give it due consideration.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Anonymous jimmiraybob said...
Tom,

If you want to take your $17.65 (Amazon price) and go see a movie instead that's fine. Feel free to have an opinion of and rage against the book without reading the book. I couldn't have said it better.

Oddly enough, I've come to respect your position. You have a narrative and don't want to jeopardize it with new information. And you say so....although not always very directly.

Enjoy the movie.


July 27, 2014 at 8:23 PM


The day you buy David Barton books is the day you can have an opinion on them, then.

jimmiraybob said...

David Barton has an extensive decades long record contained in video, audio and his web site. I have sat through his videos and audio, including his television appearances as well as read much at his web site. I have read vast passages of his The Jefferson Lies as well as read commentary on all of these sources. Many of his best, or worst depending on your perspective, critics have done so also and have done in-depth analyses and not just spit ballin'.

So no, I do not rely solely on second hand opinion or sparse quotes. the fact is, Barton has been on a decades long effort to distort the historical record while using gross errors of fact and gross distortions of fact. Over and over. To his credit he has made meager effort to at least be on the record that some quotes that he's used are not verifiable.

And, when I do take in what a Chris Rodda or Warren Throckmorten, for instance, say or write about Barton I do check it with primary sources. I realize that not everyone makes the effort.

If Barton makes a clean case that Christianity was important to the founding and that many of the founders were religious men of the Christian faith and that the Declaration and Constitution are consistent with Christian principle and that for many see biblical inspiration in their words and that this should all be put into the equation for how we view the founding and our times, then that would be entirely reasonable and he could cut his critics down to a couple of just plain old cranky people that do not understand the history.

But no, his campaign consists of things like insisting that the Constitution is Based on Scripture and contains verbatim Scriptural passages. And, people take him seriously.

So, there is no equivalency here. But, to be fair, you are right in that someone does not have to make any significant effort, or any effort at all, in order to have an opinion. And, yes, both "sides" do it.

Let us know how the movie turns out.

jimmiraybob said...

And I should add, that your opinion of Stewart's book as a "shitty book" is entirely valid for you in as far as it goes. It's just that some readers might be interested in the level of effort expended to get there.

Tom Van Dyke said...

"Jimmiraybob," are you being intentionally dishonest in ignoring what I've already written about reading the reviews and interviews of Stewart, where I provided direct quotes?

Or do you just flit in here every morning as a sparkling tabula rasa, making the same attacks again and again in hopes that people will forget?

I wrote this over a week ago when the subject first hit this blog, on the approving review in the left-wing The New Republic.

You promised there would be a fisking by the "legitimate" academy. I'm still waiting.

In the meantime, you've written nothing that suggests it's not a shitty book.

TNR: The Dangerous Lies We Tell About America's Founding

Myths may comfort us, but facts are our best weapon against Tea Party perversions


"a founding myth that...more than half of Tea Party members believe: that our Founding Fathers were religious men, and that America is therefore a “Christian nation.”

...

"[T]o what degree did the Founding Fathers consider themselves loyal to the version of Christianity that prevailed in America at their time? Not much, [Matthew] Stewart concluded after a decade of research.

"Deism, he argues persuasively, “is in fact functionally indistinguishable from what we would now call 'pantheism'; and pantheism is really just a pretty word for atheism.” Them’s fighting words.
_________________

TVD: Why does David Barton get all the flak and BS like this in the liberal The New Republic get a free pass from the Ivory Towers of Truth?

http://www.patheos.com/Resources/Additional-Resources/Founding-Fathers-Were-Not-Deists-John-Fea-02-02-2011.html

"The Dangerous Lies We Tell About America's Founding" indeed.

Tom Van Dyke said...

STEWART: So nature's God is one - a deity that operates entirely through laws - natural laws - that are explicable. And we have to approach this god through the study of nature and also evidence and experience. So it's a dramatically different kind of deity from that you find in most revealed religions.



Knows Spinoza but never heard of Aquinas and natural theology.

http://www.aquinasonline.com/Topics/nattheol.html

Typical.

Gregg Frazer said...

jimmiraybob:

I don't have time to deal with each and every comment of yours on my comments. Here are a few responses:

You "got" me on a critical issue: Stewart does, indeed, use endnotes -- not footnotes. I am humbled and stand corrected.

Contrary to your suggestion -- and evident to anyone who actually reads what I wrote -- I do NOT criticize Stewart for using ellipses (a standard tool that I regularly use myself)! To quote myself, I said that he uses ellipses "to CHANGE THE MEANING of Locke's statements." I put it in caps this time so it would not be missed.

Re "It should be noted that not all clergy were anti enlightenment": I know that quite well, having argued and demonstrated the same in my book. To say that they were influenced by enlightenment thought is not to say they were influenced by Spinoza, however.

Re my two favorite quotes: I do not really see how someone can be "snarky" in merely printing two quotes without commentary (other than "favorite"). If you must know, they are favorites because they are so outrageous. In the context of the context that you provided for the frying pans and thermostats quote, he clearly presents that view favorably. It is among his examples of "a range of deep and fruitful inquiries that have since been made into useful sciences [previous paragraph]. And you will note that it includes the phrase "this radical view," which is found in the previous sentence and part of his explanation for why this is "fruitful" and "useful." His footnote -- excuse me -- endnote implies support for the source -- certainly no questioning, much less condemnation or scorn (which he is not averse to using). Finally, I did not say when I printed the quote that he was responsible for it. I think it is clear that he agrees with the quote; if you don't think so, then it probably isn't one of your "favorites."

By the way, as you point out, the section is about "self" and he clearly identifies with the "radical conception of mind" that produced the frying pans/thermostats statement. He certainly does not dissociate himself from this statement -- does he?

I don't quite understand why you are so fascinated by my favorite quotes, but the one about a "deeply atheistic proof of a God" sums up for ME (not necessarily for you or any other reader -- but we're talking about MY favorites) the absurdity of much of Stewart's argument and the way he concocts his own understanding and meaning of terms.

I guess we'll have to agree to disagree on whether he argues that it was all about an assault on religion. You and I -- and, to some extent, Stewart and I -- agree that there were some who held heretical views [THAT'S WHAT MY BOOK IS ALL ABOUT] among the founders. The question is: HOW heretical/radical were they? and from WHERE did they get their views? I argue that they did NOT get them from continental Europe, but from England, and that makes a HUGE difference. You haven't read my book, so I'll tell you that I do not argue that the key founders were Christians, but rather "theistic rationalists." You'll notice that I put the word "key" before founders in making my claim. One cannot legitimately make virtually any claim about "the founders" (as Stewart regularly does).

Gregg Frazer said...

jimmiraybob cont.:

As to Stewart's "warning" concerning his use/abuse of Locke, you will note that I said "warnings/explanations" -- as it could be either, depending on one's opinion. Thanks for ignoring that in order to have a basis for criticism. My following commentary was meant to demonstrate why I subscribe to the "warning" take instead of merely "explanation."

As I said, I use quotes and ellipses -- as all scholars do -- but I do not use them to change the meaning of the original statements -- as some do (inc. Stewart).

Again, this was not meant to be a "review" of the book. It was meant to be a red flag for people thinking of spending money on this book and investing several days of their lives (as I did) poring over it.

I meant to warn potential readers that, to be fair to Locke, they would need to have on hand copies of volumes I and II of Locke's "Essay Concerning Human Understanding" and his "Two Treatises of Government" and Victor Nuovo's "John Locke's Writing on Religion" because Stewart's use of them is not reliable. That's what a "scholar or academic" does -- he doesn't hold people's hands and spoon feed them.

Since you want an example, how about the bottom of page 348? There, Stewart patches together quotes from two different treatises to make Locke agree with Spinoza. The operative part of the quote is that [God] "tells us, that men, being once born, have a Right to their Preservation." Stewart then says: "Thus, Locke would have the faithful believe, our seemingly selfish and amoral pursuit of a proto-Darwinian Natural Right is really a selfless act of submission to the will of a God who demand that we defend ourselves in the name of his property rights." That sounds logical, doesn't it? The problem is that in the actual context, Locke is not making an argument for Natural Right or defending ourselves or even property rights. Stewart left out the last part of the sentence in his "quoting." What Locke actually said was "Men, being once born, have a right to their Preservation AND CONSEQUENTLY TO MEAT AND DRINK, AND SUCH OTHER THINGS, AS NATURE AFFORDS FOR THEIR SUSTENANCE ...." So, men have a right to eat and drink and to take advantage of what nature provides. Not exactly "proto-Darwinian" survival of the fittest talk -- such as Stewart indicated -- is it?

In his attempt to enlist Locke's support for a completely naturalistic discussion of the immortality of the soul (pg. 245-246), Stewart stresses that "eternal life stands only for the incompleteness of moral equations in this life" -- not so that "actions in this life receive their just consequences in the next." To his end, he partially quotes Locke: "All the great ends of morality and religion are well enough secured, without philosophical proofs of the soul's immateriality." Stewart cuts off a sentence here. The rest of Locke's sentence, though, gives a meaning opposite to that Stewart wants: "since it is evident, that he who made us at the beginning to subsist here, sensible intelligent beings, and for several years continued us in such a state, can and will restore us to the like state of sensibility in another world, and make us capable THERE TO RECEIVE THE RETRIBUTION HE HAS DESIGNED TO MEN, ACCORDING TO THEIR DOINGS IN THIS LIFE." Locke's point is the opposite of Stewart's. It is also worth noting that Locke here -- as he does consistently -- refers to God as a "being" who had a PURPOSE in creation and that he sustains it actively.

Gregg Frazer said...

jimmiraybob final:

I don't have time to go through all of them -- there are probably a dozen instances -- but how about one more? On page 223, Stewart quotes a couple of statements by Locke about tradition and then sums it up by saying of Locke: "The stories that are handed down through scripture, he suggests, are little more than 'the Hear-Say of an Hear-Say.'" But the "hear-say" quote is simply about tradition -- not SCRIPTURE! Scripture is nowhere mentioned in that entire section [IV:16:10] of Locke's "Essay"!! At the bottom of page 164, he brutalizes Locke's "Essay" IV:10:18-19; likewise the bottom of page 158 concerning "Essay" IV:16:4 & IV:18:9. He says that Locke refers to God as "a thinking thing," but Locke always uses the word "being" in that essay. And on and on it goes. On page 149, he says that Locke takes for granted "that God can ONLY work through the laws of nature," but Locke admits of the validity of revelation and says it is "above reason" in IV:18:9.

Not content with misquoting Locke, he misquotes John Trenchard on page 169 and Jefferson several times.

He attempts to stifle alternate views by discouraging his uninformed readers from considering them. See ENDNOTE #4 on page 445 in which he says there is no debate concerning the religious beliefs at the core of of the founding and calls those with whom he disagrees "fatuous." He says the controversy is "manufactured" and consideration of it would "impoverish our knowledge." He gives as an example the Hall/Dreisbach book -- which is NOT a "Christian nationalist" book and was written by an impressive list of scholars from prominent institutions -- not simply from Wallbuilders or Glenn Beck's website. I say "yours truly" because I contributed a chapter to that collection, so his slur applies to me, as well. For the record, Daniel Dreisbach is perhaps the foremost expert on religion and the founding and hardly a "Christian nationalist."

OK, it's an hour past time to go home. I wrote my "problems" to warn readers. If you think I'm wrong, read it -- but have original sources on hand, be ready to acknowledge Ethan Allen and Thomas Young as critically important to not just the Revolution, but the "American Republic", and blame yourself when you're slogging through it.

jimmiraybob said...

TVD - Knows Spinoza but never heard of Aquinas and natural theology.

Typical.

Please stop digging. Just as I would ask for the car keys from a friend that had drunk too much, I implore you to hand the shovel to a friend.

P. 155 "In a letter to an acquaintance, [Spinoza] sums it up with a phrase borrowed from Aquinas: "Between finite and infinite there is no proportion."

P. 339-340 "Theologians from Aquinas to the present drew upon Paul's inscribed hearts to construct a long and complex tradition of "Natural Law." "Engraved" hearts also happens to be a staple of deist literature, and are enthusiastically cited in the works of Spinoza and Locke , as well as Vanini, Tindal, Jefferson, and Allen, among others."

Tom Van Dyke said...

I was speaking of natural theology, "jimmiraybob," not natural law.

Sloppy.

Since Gregg Frazer has taken the time to answer you nearly chapter and verse, please do address him and his points, if you can.

Most of his objections are formal, IOW against Stewart's scholarly sloppiness.

You have almost ruined this thread, and Gregg exerted much care on what he posted.

You very first comment

Anonymous jimmiraybob said...
Well, that sure is a lot of words.


cheapened all those here gathered, especially yourself, especially as the first reply to a hard-worked-on post.

Por favor, nix, bro. I'm quite the internet gadfly meself, but the drive-by is not the proper form of address.

Gregg suffered through that shitty book; he deserves a straight-up reply.

[If not a medal.]

jimmiraybob said...

TVD - Sloppy.

Sorry that I couldn't service all of your needs. It was late and I thought that I'd pass along a little Aquinas for you. You'll have to read the book to see how he deals with natural theology.

jimmiraybob said...

TVD - You have almost ruined this thread, and Gregg exerted much care on what he posted.

It is funny that you consider yourself the keeper of thread civility. Carry on.

jimmiraybob said...

TVD - but the drive-by is not the proper form of address.

Again, funny that you consider yourself immune to use of the drive by. I guess that you don't read your own work as you gadfly across the tubes.

Anyways, see all comments after the first comment.

I am closing in on finishing the book? How was your movie?

jimmiraybob said...

Gregg,

Thanks for taking the time to address some of my comments above. I certainly don't expect every one to be answered just as I can't possibly address all of the points that you made, due to time constraints and the limits of the venue.

I am slogging through the book - giving a slow first read and making notes as I go. I will likely do a second and more critical read and focus more on some of the more difficult or controversial material.

I'm glad we agree that the post was not a review but a series of flags for potential readers. Obviously Mr. Fortenberry considered it a review, to which I responded. Dr. John Fea at the Way of Improvement Leads Home blog also recently cited it as a review.(1)

As I said somewhere above, each point that you make is a good starting point for further discussion and flagging certain points is a good exercise, but the shear volume of unanswered flags merited some response. Especially, since I think some of the criticisms miss the mark.

I have actually printed the list and have started using it for the purpose that you intended. I'm glad for your expansion on your criticism involving Locke, especially the page numbers. At some point I'll reread what I have already read and, since I'm at page 350 (rights and power) or so, will take your comments under consideration as I continue. As I said, if Stewart does paint a false picture with ellipses or the use of detached segments then that's serious. I don't know that it would completely derail the larger thesis which is generally supported elsewhere by other scholars that I have mentioned above and, as you also maintain.

I don't know enough, not yet having read the volume or volumes that you've written or contributed to. For what it's worth, from reading your comments here over the months and years and what little bits of The Religious Beliefs of America's Founders: Reason, Revelation, and Revolution (2), I've never gotten the impression that you are a Christian Nation advocate.

And one last thing, The thrust of Nature's God is about the transmission (reception, interpretation and use) of ideas. Stewart clearly says that Locke was the direct influence over the founders and not Spinoza (and, except for a few such as Jefferson and Franklin, it's hard to know that the name Epicurus or Lucretius would even register.

So, I agree that the critical reader should have primary sources at their finger tips when going through the book. I would add to Locke's treatises additional references such as Lucretious’ De rerum natura, Spinoza's Theological-Political Treatise and Ethics, and Wim Klever's Locke's Disguised Spinoza(3), which figures prominently in Stewart's work.

Tom "shitty book" Van Dyke is worried that I cheapened the thread. I would, of course disagree but I could be wrong. If you feel that way then I apologize - I certainly could have been less snarky and pissy and would have been so in a more formal setting but the blog comments sections are likely much more like the discussions that were had at the colonial town saloons rather than in the finer parlors and salons....I'm guessing. (or the back rooms and nearby saloons at modern history conferences) Again, I thank you for taking the time to engage.

Regards

PS Where you see stifling I see criticism and I have to say, Stewart made me much more curious about a certain book that you contributed to which bumps it onto and higher up on my reading list. Please be looking for the slight uptake in royalties. :)

1) @

http://www.philipvickersfithian.com/2014/07/sunday-night-odds-and-ends_27.html

2) Which I did plug in other comments above.

3) @

http://www.benedictusdespinoza.nl/lit/Locke%27s_Disguised_Spinozism.pdf

Art Deco said...

It is funny that you consider yourself the keeper of thread civility. Carry on.

You've offered 29 separate comments running on for about 5,500 words give or take. Maybe you ought to dial it back.

--

And for his next gig, Matthew Stewart signs on as Marci Hamilton's next co-author.

jimmiraybob said...

Art Deco, as of my last comment consider it dialed back.

I'm glad that my effort provided inspiration. I wish Matthew and Marci the best.

Tom Van Dyke said...



http://faithandamericanhistory.wordpress.com/2014/07/23/an-atheists-history-of-the-american-founding/

Although Stewart cloaks his argument in a 400-page narrative, the heart of his reasoning boils down to a simple syllogism: The ideas that matter in history are the ones that are true. Religious beliefs are, by definition, false. Ergo (philosophers say ergo a lot), religious beliefs couldn’t have mattered in the American founding. If lots of colonists back in ’76 thought otherwise, that’s because they weren’t as enlightened as the author. Too bad for them.

The thrust of my review was to call attention to Stewart’s a priori assumptions and to remind readers of historians’ quaint belief that historical assertions should be grounded in historical evidence. Stewart is correct to point out that the religious beliefs of many of the leading Founders were unorthodox, David Barton’s wish-dreams to the contrary notwithstanding. But Stewart errs badly in equating the views of the leading Founders with atheism, and he provides almost no evidence at all for his insistence that radical philosophy was widespread among the rank and file of colonial patriots. In short, the emperor has no clothes.

jimmiraybob said...

TVD's source - The ideas that matter in history are the ones that are true. Religious beliefs are, by definition, false. Ergo (philosophers say ergo a lot), religious beliefs couldn’t have mattered in the American founding.

Art Deco has informed me that I've already severely exceeded my word limit so I promise to keep this short.

If, for the sake of argument, Stewart insisted that all the founders were deists and heretics, wouldn't he basically be saying that all of the founders were of religious faith?

Professor and chair McKenzie appears upset that Stewart didn’t write the book by “engaging Christian scholars, whether historians or theologians.” Fair enough, I don’t get the impression that he did either. Oddly enough, many of those actually making the charges of atheism and deism and infidelity, etc., were contemporary 16th, 17th and 18th century theologians, preachers, priests, historians, fellow philosophers and pious orthodox lay commentators. So yes, let's kill the messenger.

The initial review and this extension of the review is really a defense of orthodox Christianity from perceived slights and a reviewer that uses the straw man charge would be best served reviewing their own work for possible like-offenses before hitting “publish.”

You once stated, in defense of Barton, that people could not see into his heart and, therefore, could not know his intentions. Apparently, professor and chair McKenzie has figured out how to get er done.

Oh yeah, I’ll have to put “ergo” on my list of evils to keep an eye out for as I continue reading Nature's God.




jimmiraybob said...

In a blog post entitled Scholarship and Blogging James F. McGrath makes the following point (1):

A blog post, like a popular magazine article, can be a great first point of entry into a field [jrb - or a book]. But if you want to have a full grasp of the reasoning and evidence, then simply reading more such articles and blog posts will not suffice. It is time to read books. Reading even one scholarly book on a topic will provide you with detail that a dozen superficial online articles and blog posts will not provide.(2)

The blog post was prompted by some frustration expressed by Larry Hurtado at his blog.(3)

For the record, I follow the work of both of these Christian scholars. While McGrath specifically cites "reading even one scholarly book" and Stewart's book is a popular-scholarly work, the principles the same.

Although, I certainly and seriously applaud Jon in pointing the way to so many reviews, both positive and otherwise.


1) Dr. James F. McGrath is Clarence L. Goodwin Chair in New Testament Language and Literature at Butler University in Indianapolis, Indiana, USA.


2) http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/2014/07/scholarship-and-blogging.html


3) From Larry Hurtado’s blog: I’m a scholar of the New Testament and Christian origins, with posts in higher education since 1975. In August 2011, I retired from my post as Professor of New Testament Language, Literature & Theology (University of Edinburgh) in which I served from 1996. Prior to that, I was in the Department of Religion, University of Manitoba (Winnipeg). My own research over the decades has focused mainly on the origins and development of “devotion to Jesus” in earliest Christianity, and also on textual criticism and the study of earliest Christian manuscripts as informative artefacts of ancient Christianity.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Anonymous jimmiraybob said...

If, for the sake of argument, Stewart insisted that all the founders were deists and heretics, wouldn't he basically be saying that all of the founders were of religious faith?


Heretics yes, deists no. Nice try, but refuted by Stewart himself:

"Deism, he argues persuasively, “is in fact functionally indistinguishable from what we would now call 'pantheism'; and pantheism is really just a pretty word for atheism.” Them’s fighting words.

FTR I relied on several direct quotes such as this in pronouncing his book shitty and unworthy of the time to read it and the money to buy it. You have gamely tried to rebut, but once again we prove that not even your estimable self can make his nonsense coherent.

jimmiraybob said...

Whatever Stewart means by "functionally indistinguishable," which can be derived from placing your quote into the context that it appears - the rest of the passage(1), deism is not the same as atheism. Deism involves, at a minimum, belief in a God - the Deity. And some deists, such as Franklin, believed in worshiping the Deity and a system of punishments and rewards after death. Sounds kind of religiony to me.

Seems I've rea in the past at these comments sections a similar criteria being argued as the Christian minimum.


1) Functionally indistinguishable is not the same as saying two or more things are the same.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Revelation breaks the line between religion and "the God of the philosophers."

If the Bible is truly the Word of God--even partially*--that's a completely different reality, a different universe, than one in which God is silent.

The question of Providence is similar although not quite as probative. Still, if God actively intervenes in human history, or if history is designed or bent by His Will, that's still a universe--a reality--that is essentially different from one where He is absent.

___
*Seems I've read in the past at these comments sections a similar criteria being argued as the Christian minimum.

If you're referring to what our friend Fortenberry might refer to as Locke's Minimum, the unitarian minimum, and one I agree with as the "Christian" minimum,

1) The Bible is the Word of God [even if adulterated by man, i.e., the papists]
2) Jesus is the Messiah [even if not divine Himself]

That's religion.

Jonathan Rowe said...

"1) The Bible is the Word of God [even if adulterated by man, i.e., the papists]..."

Tom,

I've observed when certain figures -- folks about whose proper religious categorization we argue -- refer positively to something known as "primitive Christianity," they mean they believe Christianity was corrupted by the "Church" early on.

For most (?) of these folks who value "primitive Christianity," the Church at Nicea was already corrupted.

And indeed, these folks think of the Nicene Church as Papists (and therefore illegitimate). [I guess "primitive Christianity" in this sense could be (or not) synonymous with the "ante-Nicene" Church, depending on how one looks at it.]

The problem is Anglicans, capital O Orthodox Christians and most reformed and evangelical Protestants wish to claim and feel in communion with the Church at Nicea and the Nicene Creed.

Folks like certain Baptists who believe both in the Trinity but think the Nicene Church was already Roman Catholic are the oddball outliers among Protestant Trintarians.

The exact time frame that "Papism" came in and "ruined things" is debatable among the different non-Roman Catholic sects. You never get the same answer depending on what non-Roman Catholic sect you ask.

And since the Church around the time of Nicea was the one who selected the books of the canon (i.e., "the Bible") some of the professors of "primitive Christianity" disregard entire books of "the Bible" and blame it on "Papism," i.e. the Church who wrote the Nicene Creed.

Indeed, many notable unitarians blame the doctrine of the Trinity on Papism.

For instance, John Adams:

"The Trinity was carried in a general council by one vote against a quaternity; the Virgin Mary lost an equality with the Father, Son, and Spirit only by a single suffrage."

-- To Benjamin Rush, June 12, 1812.

It's this same mindset that lead John Adams to both 1. reject the Trinity, and 2. think "the Bible" was an errant, corrupted book, that nonetheless contained "the Word of God" underneath the error and corruption.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Good stuff, Jon.

I don't know where to put Adams, and frankly don't care much. What we do know is that while in public life, he held himself out as a putative Trinitarian, unless you have some evidence to the contrary.

http://americancreation.blogspot.com/2011/06/john-adams-and-trinity.html

His drunken missives to Jefferson after he retired from public life amount to zip.

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