Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Hillsdale College Online Courses: "Was America Founded a “Christian” Nation?"

Check it out here. A taste:
Transcript:

John J. Miller:

Now, this is the most popular subject for debate on the discussion board. Let me boil it down to a simple question. Is America a Christian nation?

Mark Kalthoff:         

Well, that's a hot question. ...

15 comments:

JMS said...

As someone who teaches the history of religion in colonial America and the early republic at the lower end of the college spectrum, I'd say (stealing Larry Wilmore's tagline) that based on the transcript of the promo video (no syllabus or reading list was provided), what Hillsdale College is offering is rather "weak tea" to a very important historical question.

And before I challenge their assumptions and assertion, I do empathize with the professors who probably never anticipated that by putting a conversational video on YouTube, it might provoke lots of negative feedback.

Error #1 - To quote he most recent iteration I am aware of by Colin Woodard (who is following in the scholarship of Kevin Phillips and David Hackett Fischer), “there’s never been one America (let alone a "Christian nation," but rather several Americas (perhaps as many as eleven)—each a distinct nation.”

Error #2 - "If you could reach back through time and ask a typical American in the late 18th century how they self-identified religiously, they would say, 'I'm a Christian'." No they wouldn't. Anyone familiar with the primary sources of "late 18th century America" would know that is not how people wrote. Here are two famous examples:

1) [In Philadelphia] I dined at a tavern with a very mixed company of different nations and religions. There were Scots, English, Dutch, Germans, and Irish; there were Roman Catholics, Churchmen, Presbyterians, Quakers, New Lights, Methodists, Seventh-day-men, Moravians, Anabaptists, and one Jew. – Dr. Alexander Hamilton, Itinerarium (1744)

2) “Coming to speak of Pennsylvania again, that colony possesses great liberties above all other English colonies, inasmuch as all religious sects are tolerated there. We find there Lutherans, Reformed, Catholics, Quakers, Mennonists or Anabaptists, Moravian Brethren, Pietists, Seventh Day Baptists, Dunkers, Presbyterians, Freemasons, Separatists, Freethinkers, Jews, Mohammedans, Pagans, Negroes and Indians. The Evangelicals and Reformed, however, are in the majority. But there are many hundred unbaptized souls.” - Gottlieb Mittelberger, Journey to Pennsylvania (1750)

Error#3 - To their last point, i.e., how could the USA be a “Christian nation” and disagree about slavery using “Christian” arguments for and against? How about Sunday mail (i.e., Sabbath laws)? The US Postal Service did not stop Sunday mail delivery until 1912! How about Christmas as a “Christian” holiday? In general, Puritans, Baptists, Presbyterians, Congregationalists, and Quakers refused to celebrate the holiday. In areas of the country settled primarily by people of these religious affiliations, Christmas was a non-event. By contrast, those who belonged to the Anglican (or Episcopalian), Dutch Reformed, Lutheran, and Roman Catholic traditions generally approved of and celebrated the holiday. In 1856, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote “We are in a transition state about Christmas here in New England. The old Puritan feeling prevents it from being a cheerful hearty holiday; though every year makes it more so.” Later that year, the Massachusetts legislature finally made Christmas an official holiday in the state. It wasn’t until 1870, when President Ulysses S.Grant made Christmas a national holiday!

Students of all ages - look elsewhere.

Tallullah Eightwhistles said...

They claimed to be Christian, but in reality almost all the Presidents and signers of the Declaration of Independence were Masons.

Tom Van Dyke said...

JMS said...
As someone who teaches the history of religion in colonial America and the early republic at the lower end of the college spectrum, I'd say (stealing Larry Wilmore's tagline) that based on the transcript of the promo video (no syllabus or reading list was provided), what Hillsdale College is offering is rather "weak tea" to a very important historical question.

And before I challenge their assumptions and assertion, I do empathize with the professors who probably never anticipated that by putting a conversational video on YouTube, it might provoke lots of negative feedback.

Error #1 - To quote he most recent iteration I am aware of by Colin Woodard (who is following in the scholarship of Kevin Phillips and David Hackett Fischer), “there’s never been one America (let alone a "Christian nation," but rather several Americas (perhaps as many as eleven)—each a distinct nation.”

Error #2 - "If you could reach back through time and ask a typical American in the late 18th century how they self-identified religiously, they would say, 'I'm a Christian'." No they wouldn't. Anyone familiar with the primary sources of "late 18th century America" would know that is not how people wrote. Here are two famous examples:

1) [In Philadelphia] I dined at a tavern with a very mixed company of different nations and religions. There were Scots, English, Dutch, Germans, and Irish; there were Roman Catholics, Churchmen, Presbyterians, Quakers, New Lights, Methodists, Seventh-day-men, Moravians, Anabaptists, and one Jew. – Dr. Alexander Hamilton, Itinerarium (1744)

2) “Coming to speak of Pennsylvania again, that colony possesses great liberties above all other English colonies, inasmuch as all religious sects are tolerated there. We find there Lutherans, Reformed, Catholics, Quakers, Mennonists or Anabaptists, Moravian Brethren, Pietists, Seventh Day Baptists, Dunkers, Presbyterians, Freemasons, Separatists, Freethinkers, Jews, Mohammedans, Pagans, Negroes and Indians. The Evangelicals and Reformed, however, are in the majority. But there are many hundred unbaptized souls.” - Gottlieb Mittelberger, Journey to Pennsylvania (1750)

Error#3 - To their last point, i.e., how could the USA be a “Christian nation” and disagree about slavery using “Christian” arguments for and against? How about Sunday mail (i.e., Sabbath laws)? The US Postal Service did not stop Sunday mail delivery until 1912! How about Christmas as a “Christian” holiday? In general, Puritans, Baptists, Presbyterians, Congregationalists, and Quakers refused to celebrate the holiday. In areas of the country settled primarily by people of these religious affiliations, Christmas was a non-event. By contrast, those who belonged to the Anglican (or Episcopalian), Dutch Reformed, Lutheran, and Roman Catholic traditions generally approved of and celebrated the holiday. In 1856, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote “We are in a transition state about Christmas here in New England. The old Puritan feeling prevents it from being a cheerful hearty holiday; though every year makes it more so.” Later that year, the Massachusetts legislature finally made Christmas an official holiday in the state. It wasn’t until 1870, when President Ulysses S.Grant made Christmas a national holiday!


Kevin Phillips, author of the laughable 2005 screed "American Theocracy"? Sunday mail? Christmas holiday? On your official authority as an instructor at some community college?

Some guy named Gottlieb Mittelberger? That's your case?

Dude.

Ray Soller said...

There is little in [Kevin Phillips' book]"American Theocracy" [excerpt] that is wholly original to Phillips, as he frankly admits by his frequent reference to the work of other writers and scholars. What makes this book powerful in spite of the familiarity of many of its arguments is his rare gift for looking broadly and structurally at social and political change. By describing a series of major transformations, by demonstrating the relationships among them and by discussing them with passionate restraint, Phillips has created a harrowing picture of national danger that no American reader will welcome, but that none should ignore.
- 3/19/2006, NYT's Sunday Book Review: Clear and Present Danger, Alan Brinkley

Tom Van Dyke said...

The theocrats are coming! The theocrats are coming!

What a joke.

Art Deco said...

It appears to be JMS argument that the country cannot be a Christian nation because there is denominational variation and because they used to deliver the mail on Sunday. It also appears to be JMS argument that there is no such thing as genus and species in politics or religion.

Art Deco said...

The use of the term 'theocracy' and 'theocrat' is a satisfactory indicator that your interlocutor is a clown or a rhetorical gamesman.

Ray Soller said...

611/2016 - Trump Pronounces America a ‘Judeo-Christian Nation’ Because ‘That’s The Way It Is’

Tom Van Dyke said...

Actually, Trump said, "that's the way it's been." Not eloquent, but accurate. Nor did he go into Christian mores, only the religious freedom aspect. Leftist hack Hrafnkell Haraldsson misquoted Trump, trying to score cheap points and make him look bad.

The snotty and unprofessional Hrafnkell Haraldsson is the one who looks "like a six-year old" here, devoting most of his article to what Trump didn't say.


Brody: You’ve mentioned the founding of this country out in the speech. There’s a lot of folks that push back against this idea that we’re not a Judeo-Christian nation. Do you push back as well? In other words, do you believe this is a Judeo-Christian nation?


Trump: Well, and that’s the way it’s been, look, we won freedom for everybody, we won good things for everybody, but everybody has to be cognizant of the fact that we need a safe country, and that’s why I talked about radical Islamic terrorism. It’s a problem…we have to be smart and we have to be vigilant and we have no choice.

Ray Soller said...

Fact Checking: 6-10-2016 - David Body: We Are A Judeo-Christian Nation. Partial transcript (play video):

David Brody- “You mention the founding of this country in the speech. There are a lot of folks in this country that push back and say we are not a Judeo-Christian nation…do you believe this is a Judeo-Christian nation?”

Donald Trump: “Well that’s the way it is, and we want freedom for everybody, and we want good things for everybody but everybody has to be cognizant of the fact that we need a safe country and that’s why I talk about radical Islam and terrorism. [dot-dot-dot]

JMS said...

I only referenced Kevin Phillips in general (no particular book), along with David Hackett Fischer (Albion's Seed) and Colin Woodard as a line of U.S. historical interpretation soundly predicated upon the thesis that "there has never been one America, but many Americas." The point being, monolithic categorization like "a Christian nation" over-simplifies rather than explains the ethno-religious diversity of late 18th-century America. It explains nothing in historical context, and imposes a reductionist straitjacket on what was really going on.

Mocking Gottlieb Mittelberger is no argument, "dude." I thought you only valued primary sources? I cited him as a common man eyewitness author of one surviving primary 18th-century journal to partially refute the grossly over-simplified Hillsdale assumption that people of that era referred to themselves as "Christian." In addition to what I cited before, he also noted this: "For there are many doctrines of faith and sects in Pennsylvania which cannot all be enumerated, because many a one will not confess to what faith he belongs.

Besides, there are many hundreds of adult persons who have not been and do not even wish to be baptized. There are many who think nothing of the sacraments and the Holy Bible, nor even of God and his word. Many do not even believe that there is a true God and devil, a heaven and a hell, salvation and damnation, a resurrection of the dead, a judgment and an eternal life; they believe that all one can see is natural. For in Pennsylvania every one may not only believe what he will, but he may even say it freely and openly.

Consequently, when young persons, not yet grounded in religion, come to serve for many years with such free-thinkers and infidels, and are not sent to any church or school by such people, especially when they live far from any school or church. Thus it happens that such innocent souls come to no true divine recognition, and grow up like heathens and Indians. . . .

Coming to speak of Pennsylvania again, that colony possesses great liberties above all other English colonies, inasmuch as all religious sects are tolerated there."

I questioned Hillsdale's assumptions, proposed a counter-argument, and provided evidence - you didn't.


JMS said...

As a follow-up to my first comment, Jon’s weblink did not take me to the Christian nation seminar to check on its syllabus and reading list. But the link did display a blurb about another Hillsdale College course, “Public Policy from a Constitutional Viewpoint”
Its three sentences contain a lot of bias and questionable assertions.

1) “The American Founders wrote a Constitution that established a government limited in size and scope”

Did it? There are no explicit or inherent limits on the geographic or institutional “size” of the federal gov’t. in the U.S. Constitution. “Scope” is more debatable, but why invoke early 20th-century “progressivism” as the progenitor of “big” gov’t., when the Federalists are nearer at hand? The Federalists, from Hamilton to John Marshall, invoked the constitutional “Necessary and Proper Clause” to authorize the exercise of many implied powers (e.g., a national bank), and their purpose was not “to secure the natural rights of all Americans.”

2) “By contrast, early Progressives rejected the notion of fixed limits on government, and their political descendants continue today to seek an ever-larger role for the federal bureaucracy in American life.”

This sounds like Glenn Beck, i.e., “progressivism” as a “disease” and “cancer” on American governance, or at least the Heritage Foundation. In terms of “bigger” federal gov’t. policies, after the Federalists flamed out, one would have to examine the Whigs (“internal improvements”) and then the Republicans, and how they expanded the “size” and “scope” of the federal gov’t. long before one can lay all of the blame on “progressivism.”

3) “In light of this fundamental and ongoing disagreement over the purpose of government, this course will consider contemporary public policy issues from a constitutional viewpoint.”

This implies that there is “a” constitutional viewpoint – one and only – which there wasn’t in 1787, and there isn’t today.

Again, caveat emptor.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Yes, it does sound like Glenn Beck, because Beck is correct. Early Progressive Woodrow Wilson did not respect the Constitution's limits on government via enumerated powers. Hillsdale makes it case here.

https://online.hillsdale.edu/document.doc?id=318

"Living political constitutions must be Darwinian in structure and in practice. Society is a living organism and must obey the laws of life, not of mechanics; it must develop. All the progressives ask or desire is permission—in an era when “development,” “evolution,” is the scientific word—to interpret the Constitution according to the Darwinian principle…."


Exactly representing the disdain the left has for the Founding principles.



As for Christianity, you're simply using the diversity of Protestant sects to attempt to define it out of existence. Old trick. At least Gregg Frazer allows Christianity exists, although he tries to define the heterodox out of it.

If you prefer "Protestant nation," I might be tempted to agree with that.



As for the author of the laughable screed American Theocracy, the less said the better.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Blogger Ray Soller said...
Fact Checking: 6-10-2016 - David Body: We Are A Judeo-Christian Nation. Partial transcript (play video):


Ray, I used Hrafnkell Haraldsson's own transcription of Trump's remarks, which Haraldsson himself distorted. Trump's remarks were quite innocuous, but that hack Haraldsson tried to weaponize them.

Tom Van Dyke said...

It's time the left just be honest about their disdain for the Founding princples. Judge Richard Posner is.


And on another note about academia and practical law, I see absolutely no value to a judge of spending decades, years, months, weeks, day, hours, minutes, or seconds studying the Constitution, the history of its enactment, its amendments, and its implementation (across the centuries—well, just a little more than two centuries, and of course less for many of the amendments). Eighteenth-century guys, however smart, could not foresee the culture, technology, etc., of the 21st century. Which means that the original Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and the post–Civil War amendments (including the 14th), do not speak to today. David Strauss is right: The Supreme Court treats the Constitution like it is authorizing the court to create a common law of constitutional law, based on current concerns, not what those 18th-century guys were worrying about.

In short, let's not let the dead bury the living.