Wednesday, July 6, 2016

TGC: Frazer on Metaxas' Latest

I missed this when it came out last month. From Dr. Gregg Frazer. A taste:
One of the more egregious historical errors is the claim that the “very first settlers on American shores” came “precisely” to gain religious freedom, along with the equally false claim that “in America the idea of religious freedom was paramount,” and that there was “a complete tolerance of all denominations and religions” from the beginning (34–35).

The first settlers to the American shores (that would become the United States) settled at Jamestown in 1607 and came seeking profits, not prophets. Like many on the Christian Right, Metaxas skips Jamestown altogether. He says: “Since the Pilgrims came to our shores in 1620, religious freedom and religious tolerance have been the single most important principle of American life” (70). The Pilgrims and Puritans did come seeking religious freedom, but only for themselves. They didn’t value or allow religious freedom for others.

In fact, the Rhode Island colony was founded by dissidents forced out of Massachusetts Bay because of religious nonconformity. Far from guaranteeing “complete tolerance,” all the way through the Founding era non-Christian religious groups and some Christian denominations were discriminated against in most of the colonies/states, and even persecuted in some. That persecution was, for example, what motivated James Madison and Thomas Jefferson to push for religious tolerance legislation.

Metaxas seems to make the common error of determining religious belief by denominational affiliation. He declares John Adams to have been “a committed and theologically orthodox Christian” (56). But Adams vehemently rejected the deity of Christ, the atonement, the Trinity, and eternal punishment in hell. Adams said that placing all religion “in grace, and its offspring, faith” is “anti-Christianity.” He believed the best source for “orthodox” theology was the Hindu Shastra, that philosophy was at least equivalent in authority to the Bible, and that pagans who became “virtuous” went to heaven. Adams outrageously said he wouldn’t believe in the Trinity even if God himself told him on Mt. Sinai that it was true.

Having decided that Plymouth was the first colony, Metaxas (like many on the Christian Right) proceeds as if the Pilgrims and Puritans founded America rather than simply Massachusetts (189). It’s worth mentioning that roughly 150 years passed between Plymouth and the founding of the United States. He proceeds as if John Winthrop’s “city on a hill” pronouncement was meant for—and applies to—all of America for all time and not simply to the colony the Puritans were establishing in pursuit of God’s will (234). It’s important to note that seven of the twelve other colonies were not founded for religious reasons. ... Similarly, because he approves of its guarantee of religious freedom, Metaxas claims that the charter of Rhode Island speaks for all of America (72). This is particularly ironic since the Rhode Island colony was founded by castoffs seeking the religious freedom denied them by the Puritans.

3 comments:

Tom Van Dyke said...

He believed the best source for “orthodox” theology was the Hindu Shastra, that philosophy was at least equivalent in authority to the Bible

Oh, I dunno. That's a big load to put on one drunken letter from 1813.

http://americancreation.blogspot.com/2013/03/reading-about-hindoos-with-john-adams.html

The Rational Right said...

Plymouth as the first colony, and by extension Mass. Bay, has a lengthy pedigree--even beyond religion. Professional, and non-professional historians (often New Englanders) writing after the civil war traced the roots of American civilization back to New England. And of course the there was some truth to it. I think esp. of the call of God to form a city on a hill and its transmogrification into the call of God to spread freedom and democracy. In their view, the South was deviant. In the 17th century, however, this was not so. The southern colonies, esp. Virginia, was well within the mainstream. Virginians probably more self consciously attempted to recreate Britain than any other colonists. It was the New Englanders that deviated from the mainstream.

Art Deco said...

Having decided that Plymouth was the first colony, Metaxas (like many on the Christian Right) proceeds as if the Pilgrims and Puritans founded America rather than simply Massachusetts (189). It’s worth mentioning that roughly 150 years passed between Plymouth and the founding of the United States.

No, Metaxes simply does not share your addled insistence that a country is 'founded' by the superimposition of a political architecture which was itself a set of incremental amendments to already existing models. The country was not founded in 1788. It was founded in 1607.