Saturday, July 5, 2014

Two Reviews of "Nature's God The Heretical Origins of the American Republic"

A book by Matthew Stewart. Here is a more friendly review by the LA Times; and here is a more hostile review by Robert Tracy McKenzie.

From the later:
Apart from the hyperbole, what precisely is new about Stewart's reading of the founding? It's not his assertion that the religious views of the most prominent Founders were unorthodox. With apologies to David Barton, there is little evidence that the leading Founders were devout Christians who based their political philosophy primarily on Scripture. Whether we label them "deists" or "theistic rationalists" or "Enlightenment Christians," no historically sound argument can transform them into card-carrying evangelicals. Nor is Stewart being innovative in claiming that the Founders drew extensively from Enlightenment sources in thinking about the proper structure and function of government. Scholars of the Revolution almost unanimously agree with this, and that includes Christian historians who take religion's role with great seriousness. 
But the predominant view within the academy would complicate each of these conclusions. Scholars typically argue that the leading Founders were unorthodox, but not irreligious. Yes, they found much of value in Enlightenment philosophy, but they gravitated toward the Enlightenment's more moderate expressions, especially Scottish "Common Sense" writings that could be reconciled with Christianity. ...
Update: Here is a Q&A from the Boston Globe.


Tom Van Dyke said...

The LA Times is very fair. When a liberal writes a book, it's reviewed by a liberal. When a conservative writes a book, it's reviewed by a liberal.

jimmiraybob said...

Well, given the nature and range of the unorthodox religious positions that many of the leading founders/framers held*, it's hard to defend them against the charge of heresy...or heresies and of them being infidels to greater and smaller degrees. Certainly by European Christian standards of the time (Reformed and Catholic).

I've only gotten up to Chapter three (Epicurus's Dangerous Idea) but I'd say Stewart’s presentation is generally not new revelation following a year of reading Steven Nadler (on Spinoza)(1) and Jonathan Israel (on the moderate and radical Enlightenment)(2). However, Stewart does appear to succeed in tying together in greater detail some of the more radical elements of the Enlightenment with leading figures and ideas in the American founding and framing. (Have you ever wonder what Jefferson meant by declaring himself an Epicurean or why he referenced Pierre Gassendi or what was up with Giordano Bruno who was burned as a heretic? (hint: Epicurus and infinite worlds))

Stewart certainly writes with a viewpoint but the substance appears sound.

jimmiraybob said...

And, Chapter 4 (On The Genealogy of Nature's God) looks like it will be interesting. Time to get back to reading - might reach this one today.

Tom Van Dyke said...

"Deism, [Stewart] argues persuasively, “is in fact functionally indistinguishable from what we would now call 'pantheism'; and pantheism is really just a pretty word for atheism.”

Whatever, pal.

Tom Van Dyke said...

David Barton's take on history is many things, but "bigoted" is not one of them.

Matthew Stewart is a lying SOB.