Monday, June 15, 2015

Fea: "The Author's Corner with Steven K. Green"

Check it out here. A taste:
JF: In two sentences, what is the argument of Inventing a Christian America?

SG: I argue that idea of the nation's Christian founding is essentially a national identity myth, constructed by the generations immediately following the constitutional era in an effort to sanctify the founding and give meaning to their hopes and aspirations for the nation's future.  As a result, we need to understand the purposeful origins and limitations of the idea of the nation's Christian origins.


Bill Fortenberry said...

So he's basically just another conspiracy theorist. I'll probably glance through the book eventually just to see if he presents any unique arguments, but I doubt that I'll find anything particularly interesting.

Psych Nairobi said...

Thanks for that. I still think religion has a place in society

Jonathan Rowe said...

A lot of his articles on which the book is based are available online.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Without knowing what he means by "a Christian America," it's impossible to know what "myth" he's dispelling.

Bill Fortenberry said...

Well, Jon, let's consider his article: "The Fount of Everything Just and Right? The Ten Commandments as a Source of American Law." In that article, Green makes the claim that "Locke held that the law generally was not traceable to divine standards of right and wrong." He cites Locke's "Letter Concerning Toleration" in support of this claim, but Locke's argument in his "Letter Concerning Toleration" is primarily a religious argument. Locke never claims that the law is not traceable to divine standards. Rather he claims that the divine standard requires the law to be tolerant of religious beliefs.

Note, for example, Locke's statement of:

Let any one have ever so true a claim to all these things, yet if he be destitute of charity, meekness, and goodwill in general towards all mankind, even to those that are not christians, he is certainly yet short of being a true christian himself. “The kings of the gentiles exercise lordship over them,” said our Saviour to his disciples, “but ye shall not be so,” Luke xxii. 25, 26.

This is not a denial of a divine standard but rather a full reliance on the divine standard established by Jesus Christ. Locke continues in the same vein with statements such as:

If, like the captain of our salvation, they sincerely desired the good of souls, they would tread in the steps and follow the perfect example of that prince of peace, who sent out his soldiers to the subduing of nations, and gathering them into his church, not armed with the sword, or other instruments of force, but prepared with the gospel of peace, and with the exemplary holiness of their conversation.


The toleration of those that differ from others in matters of religion, is so agreeable to the gospel of Jesus Christ, and to the genuine reason of mankind, that it seems monstrous for men to be so blind, as not to perceive the necessity and advantage of it, in so clear a light.

And when Locke laid out his three arguments to support his claim "that the whole jurisdiction of the magistrate reaches only to these civil concernments; and that all civil power, right, and dominion, is bounded and confined to the only care of promoting these things; and that it neither can nor ought in any manner to be extended to the salvation of souls," he did not appeal to secular principles but rather to the principles of the Christian religion.

Bill Fortenberry said...

His first argument was:

Because the care of souls is not committed to the civil magistrate, any more than to other men. It is not committed unto him, I say, by God; because it appears not that God has ever given any such authority to one man over another, as to compel any one to his religion ... Whatever profession we make, to whatever outward worship we conform, if we are not fully satisfied in our own mind that the one is true, and the other well-pleasing unto God, such profession and such practice, far from being any furtherance, are indeed great obstacles to our salvation. For in this manner, instead of expiating other sins by the exercise of religion, I say in offering thus unto God Almighty such a worship as we esteem to be displeasing unto him, we add unto the number of our other sins, those also of hypocrisy, and contempt of his Divine Majesty.

This entire point is based solely on the Christian principle that it is impossible to please God without faith. This principle is stated explicitly in Scripture in Hebrews 11:6 where we read:

But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.

Locke's second argument appeals to the same principle in that it states:

The care of souls cannot belong to the civil magistrate, because his power consists only in outward force: but true and saving religion consists in the inward persuasion of the mind, without which nothing can be acceptable to God.

And his third argument likewise appeals to the same principle:

The care of the salvation of men’s souls cannot belong to the magistrate; because, though the rigour of laws and the force of penalties were capable to convince and change men’s minds, yet would not that help at all to the salvation of their souls ... In the variety and contradiction of opinions in religion, wherein the princes of the world are as much divided as in their secular interests, the narrow way would be much straitened; one country alone would be in the right, and all the rest of the world put under an obligation of following their princes in the ways that lead to destruction.

And in case you missed it, Locke's third argument is also a reference to Matthew 7:13 which proclaims:

Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat:

Even when we turn to Green's claim that "John Locke rejected the Mosaic concept of law that had been popular among Puritans," we can see that Green was mistaken to conclude that "Locke held that law generally was not traceable to divine standards of right and wrong." Locke's very statement about the law of Moses not being obligatory on Christians was itself a religious statement based on the teachings of Scripture. Here is the context of Locke's claim:

Bill Fortenberry said...

But it may be urged farther, that by the law of Moses, idolaters were to be rooted out. True indeed, by the law of Moses; but that is not obligatory to us christians. Nobody pretends that every thing, generally, enjoined by the law of Moses, ought to be practised by christians. But there is nothing more frivolous than that common distinction of moral, judicial, and ceremonial law, which men ordinarily make use of. For no positive law whatsoever can oblige any people but those to whom it is given. “Hear, O Israel,” sufficiently restrains the obligation of the law of Moses only to that people. And this consideration alone is answer enough unto those that urge the authority of the law of Moses, for the inflicting of capital punishments upon idolaters. But however, I will examine this argument a little more particularly.

The case of idolaters in respect of the jewish commonwealth, falls under a double consideration. The first is of those, who, being initiated into the Mosaical rites, and made citizens of that commonwealth, did afterwards apostatize from the worship of the God of Israel. These were proceeded against as traitors and rebels, guilty of no less than high treason; for the commonwealth of the jews, different in that from all others, was an absolute theocracy: nor was there, or could there be, any difference between that commonwealth and the church. The laws established there concerning the worship of one invisible deity, were the civil laws of that people, and a part of their political government, in which God himself was the legislator. Now if any one can show me where there is a commonwealth, [38] at this time, constituted upon that foundation, I will acknowledge that the ecclesiastical laws do there unavoidably become a part of the civil; and that the subjects of that government both may, and ought to be kept in strict conformity with that church, by the civil power. But there is absolutely no such thing, under the gospel, as a christian commonwealth. There are, indeed, many cities and kingdoms that have embraced the faith of Christ, but they have retained their ancient forms of government; with which the law of Christ hath not at all meddled. He, indeed, hath taught men how, by faith and good works, they may attain eternal life. But he instituted no commonwealth. He prescribed unto his followers no new and peculiar form of government, nor put he the sword into any magistrate’s hand, with commission to make use of it in forcing men to forsake their former religion, and receive his.

Bill Fortenberry said...

Secondly, Foreigners, and such as were strangers to the commonwealth of Israel, were not compelled by force to observe the rites of the Mosaical law. But, on the contrary, in the very same place where it is ordered “that an Israelite that was an idolater should be put to death, there it is provided that strangers should not be vexed nor oppressed,” Exod. xxii. 21. I confess that the seven nations that possessed the land which was promised to the Israelites, were utterly to be cut off. But this was not singly because they were idolaters; for if that had been the reason, why were the Moabites and other nations to be spared? No; the reason is this. God being in a peculiar manner the king of the jews, he could not suffer the adoration of any other deity, which was properly an act of high treason against himself, in the land of Canaan, which was his kingdom; for such a manifest revolt could no ways consist with his dominion, which was perfectly political, in that country. All idolatry was therefore to be rooted out of the bounds of his kingdom; because it was an acknowledgment of another God, that is to say, another king, against the laws of empire. The inhabitants were also to be driven out, that the entire possession of the land might be given to the Israelites. And [39] for the like reason the Emims and the Horims were driven out of their countries by the children of Esau and Lot; and their lands, upon the same grounds, given by God to the invaders, Deut. ii. 12. But though all idolatry was thus rooted out of the land of Canaan, yet every idolater was not brought to execution. The whole family of Rahab, the whole nation of the Gibeonites, articled with Joshua, and were allowed by treaty: and there were many captives amongst the jews, who were idolaters. David and Solomon subdued many countries without the confines of the Land of Promise, and carried their conquests as far as Euphrates. Amongst so many captives taken of so many nations reduced under their obedience, we find not one man forced into the jewish religion, and the worship of the true God, and punished for idolatry, though all of them were certainly guilty of it. If any one indeed, becoming a proselyte, desired to be made a denison of their commonwealth, he was obliged to submit unto their laws; that is, to embrace their religion. But this he did willingly, on his own accord, not by constraint. He did not unwillingly submit to show his obedience; but he sought and solicited for it, as a privilege; and as soon as he was admitted, he became subject to the laws of the commonwealth, by which all idolatry was forbidden within the borders of the land of Canaan. But that law, as I have said, did not reach to any of those regions, however subjected unto the jews that were situated without those bounds.

Bill Fortenberry said...

And to further demonstrate that Locke's "Letter Concerning Toleration" was primarily a religious argument for toleration, consider the fact that Locke included such claims as:

no private person has any right in any manner to prejudice another person in his civil enjoyments, because he is of another church or religion. All the rights and franchises that belong to him as a man, or as a denison, are inviolably to be preserved to him. These are not the business of religion. No violence nor injury is to be offered him, whether he be christian or pagan. Nay, we must not content ourselves with the narrow measures of bare justice: charity, bounty, and liberality must be added to it. This the Gospel enjoins, this reason directs, and this that natural fellowship we are born into requires of us. If any man err from the right way, it is his own misfortune, no injury to thee: nor therefore art thou to punish him in the things of this life, because thou supposest he will be miserable in that which is to come.


God himself will not save men against their wills.

Clearly, Locke was not writing to deny that law is traceable to divine standards of right and wrong. Rather, he was claiming that the divine standard itself condemned the use of force to compel people to comply with the dictates of an established church.

Jonathan Rowe said...

It could be that Locke was arguing to a Christian populace. Or it could be that, even still, Locke was sincerely arguing from his unorthodox understanding of Christianity.

"[T]he business of law is not to provide for the truth of opinion, but with the security and safety of the commonwealth and of each man's goods and person. The truth is not taught by law, nor has she any need of force to procure her entrance into the minds of men.7"

Locke is saying here that the purpose of "the law" isn't to teach the truth of Christianity, as anyone in their particular "opinion" about the faith understands it. This is essentially an argument for secular government and against the notion of a "Christian State."

The issue of whether Locke was sincere in his argument is irrelevant. Roger Williams anticipates most of these arguments. And I don't think anyone doubts his religious sincerity. He makes a biblical Christian case AGAINST the notion of a "Christian State" and in favor of one that is in principle secular.

That Christian convictions can match up with such is great. They tried to make Jesus a king and He said His Kingdom was not of this Earth. He said "render" unto "Caeser" -- and that Caeser was a pagan tyrant. Ditto with Paul and Romans 13 where he instructed believers to "submit" to Nero.

So yes, there is a case that can be made that biblical Christianity supports secularism and separation of Church and State and rejection of the notion of a "Christian Commonwealth."

I don't think all the ink you spilled makes any meaningful point against what Green is trying to argue.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Jon, you haven't made clear--and perhaps he himself does not--what Green's "Myth" argument even is.

As for Locke, His "Reasonableness of Christianity" explicitly argues that the moral system contained in the Bible is true.

And he that shall collect all the moral rules of the philosophers, and compare them with those contained in the New Testament, will find them to come short of the morality delivered by our Saviour, and taught by his apostles; a college made up, for the most part, of ignorant, but inspired fishermen.