Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Robert P. Kraynak on Gregg Frazer's Book

From Dr. Robert P. Kraynak of Colgate. Kraynak's review is online now. Check it out here. A taste:
According to Frazer, America's Founders created a national religious creed that underlies our republican institutions, even though it is hard to pin down precisely because it is more than "deism" and less than orthodox Christianity. To capture the Founders' religion, Frazer invents a new term, "theistic rationalism," which emphasizes rational belief in God and morality rather than faith in the revealed mysteries of the Biblical God (14-20). It was a hybrid religion, combining Enlightenment ideas of a Creator God who is the Intelligent Designer of a rational cosmos and elements of Christian belief in a providential God who intervenes in history and supports a moral code of benevolence and political freedom. Frazer shows how theistic rationalism became a republican religion of God-given natural rights and civic duties, whose expressions in America were the Declaration of Independence and public rituals of civil religion ...


... He tips his hand at several points, for example, when sympathetically discussing the Christian scholar James W. Jones, whose book The Shattered Synthesis (1973) criticizes the "arrogance" of the American Founders for deliberately altering and diluting Christianity for political purposes. Jones traces their error to theologians like Charles Chauncy (1705-1787) who remade God and the Bible in the image of man by insisting that God's "benevolence" bound Him to the humanistic idea of nonjudgmental acceptance of every sincere person--preparing the way for the Unitarian universalist claim that everyone goes to heaven (55-62). In the last lines of his book, Frazer judges this transformation of religion with benevolent severity: "God became whoever they preferred Him to be and made only those demands they wished Him to make. They had truly created a god in their own image" (236). In other words, the American Founders and their theological authorities were guilty of idolatry by remaking God into a republican humanist.
For the record, Kraynak, like Frazer, is influenced by the Straussian school and one of the figures whom Frazer positively sources for his book.


Tom Van Dyke said...

Gregg is a fideist. What makes him a Straussian?

Jonathan Rowe said...

Straussian influenced.

Tom Van Dyke said...

I have no idea what "Straussian influenced" means in Gregg's fideistic context. Kraynak is at least a Platonist [and studied under Mansfield].

Jonathan Rowe said...

It means a bunch of footnotes in his book go to among others Harry Jaffa, Walter Berns, Michael Zuckert, Thomas Pangle and Robert Kraynak.

Tom Van Dyke said...

thx, but unhelpful without actual ideas attached

about the only links between Strauss and Frazer I find on Google
are you linking them

Jonathan Rowe said...

Maybe I'm onto something. I first became aware of Frazer through an article published by the Claremont Institute that was derived from a PhD thesis from Claremont Graduate University. The book was published by U. Kansas Press.

Straussians in the academy helping to facilitate the ideas and processes that bring the work to public.

As for ideas, Frazer has never committed himself to the notion that Locke was a secret atheist; but a great deal of his book follows Michael Zuckert's line that Locke's ideas don't come from traditional Christianity, but somewhere else.

Tom Van Dyke said...

OK, that works, although I still question whether the Founders saw the secret "esoteric" Locke that the historians of philosophy such as Zuckert do. The Straussians, as philosophers first, need only assay Locke in that light.

Gregg is an historian of America, however, and so needs to associate this esoteric Locke with the Founders themselves, and I see that as a much tougher nut.