Saturday, November 1, 2014

Weller Reviews Frazer

Dylan Weller writing for the Law and Politics Book Review, Sponsored by the Law and Courts Section of the American Political Science Association here. A taste:
The first five chapters are the most enlightening, and well argued of the book. In chapters six and seven Frazer offers an examination of five other framers whose writings on religion were far less prolific than Jefferson, Adams and Franklin, but who Frazer argues should rightly be categorized as theistic rationalists as well. Because of the dearth of evidence available, there are greater leaps on the part of Frazer as he strains to group these figures under his heading. In one particularly surprising instance, Frazer writes of Gouverneur Morris' frequent sexual escapades, that the “…extent, duration, and brazenness of Morris’s immoral conduct must at least call into serious question the idea that he was a Christian” (p.191). This is a perilous line to follow in that it unleashes a swarm of questions concerning which immoral actions preclude one from being a Christian. And strange that this argument should be made in relationship to Morris’ sexual liaisons, rather than say, Jefferson’s ownership of, and sexual relationships with his slaves.

11 comments:

Joe Winpisinger said...

This review hits the nail on the head. While, I still maintain there are weaknesses in Gregg's thesis I have grown to respect the manner in which he elevates this discussion.

Tom Van Dyke said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Tom Van Dyke said...

Dr. Gregg Frazer PhD of The Master's College has been a friend of this blog, Joe, answering many challenges in our comments sections.

And strange that this argument should be made in relationship to Morris’ sexual liaisons, rather than say, Jefferson’s ownership of, and sexual relationships with his slaves.


I think Gregg's argument as presented against GMorris's Christianity is crap, but then Weller bringing in Jefferson's slaveowning/possibly banging Sally Hemings as a rebutal is total garbage.

So let's sort out the crap from the garbage?

Jon. Just explore Gouverneur Morris's "Christianity," which was minimal.

But he was in France during the Revolution and was appalled at the snarling anti-religousness/atheism.

And he gave a nice speech at a Bible convention after he left public life.

You could look it up.

And frankly, the cocksmanship of this one-legged Founder seems to have little independent confirmation. You could look that up too. And keep looking and looking.

Jonathan Rowe said...

If I recall correctly the details of G. Morris' cocksmanship was taken directly from his diaries.

Tom Van Dyke said...

One's own diary isn't independent confirmation.

I do think contradistinguishing religious types from benignly indifferent types is a false dichotomy, perhaps a left-wing reaction to the Christian America riff.

Many Founders were like Eisenhower, favoring religion in public life

"In other words, our form of government has no sense unless it is founded in a deeply felt religious faith, and I don't care what it is."

and I'd put GMorris there. The depth or shallowness of his own religious beliefs are of academic interest, but of no real socio-political importance.

Tom Van Dyke said...

FTR: I do think contradistinguishing religious types from benignly indifferent types is a false dichotomy, perhaps a left-wing reaction to the Christian America riff.

Or in Gregg Frazer's case, perhaps the reaction of a certain conservative strain of evangelicalism that opposes political involvement on the part of "Christianity"--a minority view on both the left and the right.

Still, in my view a false dichotomy, whether on the left or on the right.

Jonathan Rowe said...

C'mon Tom.

I'll be honest with you: This is the extent to which I believe Gov. Morris was a male slut, or "Lothario" if you will.

1. Richard Brookhiser said he was, and I trust his independent judgment; and

2. When Gregg Frazer's thesis made these assertions, his footnotes were to G. Morris' diaries.

When I tried to independently confirm it myself via G. Morris' diaries, I found a haystack (at least of what was available online) and was left looking for needles in a haystack.

So I was looking for, in modern parlance, "I fucked this married French Aristocrat and was trying to impregnate even though I knew she was married and that made the act all the more taboo." I knew however, in late 18th Cen. parlance he wouldn't have put it that way.

And I left without a smoking gun.

But if he "confessed" this in his diary, you wouldn't take that as something akin to a smoking gun?

Jonathan Rowe said...

"The depth or shallowness of his own religious beliefs are of academic interest, but of no real socio-political importance."

You may be right. But to some folks -- least one person who takes this blog seriously and to whom you have given props -- whether these Founders were "Christians" in an "actual" sense (i.e., whether they were "saved" because if you are not, then you aren't a "Christian" regardless of what you call yourself) -- matters.

Daniel said...

The personal moral and inward commitments and beliefs of individuals (even if private and personal) may give some insight into the era. Although the highly literate may not have been representative of most people, their writings can give some insight into cultural assumptions or outlook.

Morris' sexual achievements may indicate that was not a 'Christian' in terms of individual commitment but he may have been considered a 'Christian' by virtue of institutional affiliation or cultural commitment. Our culture tends to emphasize the former type of Christian identification. But the latter two were dominant (but under challenge) in the early 18th century. By the late 18th century, the individualist outlook was ascendant, but I'm not sure whether it was dominant until the Romantic era.

Tom Van Dyke said...

You may be right. But to some folks -- least one person who takes this blog seriously and to whom you have given props -- whether these Founders were "Christians" in an "actual" sense (i.e., whether they were "saved" because if you are not, then you aren't a "Christian" regardless of what you call yourself) -- matters.

As I said, of academic interest but not of historical impact. The footnotes, as it were.

There is no doubt that ronald Reagan had a significant alliance with the Religious right, but his own beliefs are murky to the point of being unknowable.
____

As for GMorris, he would not be the first to lie to his diary, esp in that age, when one fully expected it to be read if not published after his death.

Again, even if we take him at his word, tales of his cocksmanship were more for his personal reputation, not for his public one.

Maybe he was actually gay and it was all a front. ;-P

Jonathan Rowe said...

Well one thing that does interest me about G. Morris that G. Frazer et al. may have missed was that he (from what I remember) married late to a younger woman.

He may well have like Hamilton (and a lot of folks) become more conventionally religious as he aged, with the influence of his wife. And some of those quotes to which are referred may come from that time period.