Saturday, June 10, 2017

George Washington & Thomas Jefferson Jointly Author Statement ...

Claiming that they don't just worship the same God as Muslims but that both "Adore" the same God. 

I was going to say they both claimed that Christians and Muslims worship and adore the same God, but that might be taken to mean that both Washington and Jefferson were "Christians," which we know, after examining the evidence and arguments for over the decade, is quite contentious.

So our American Creation co-blogger Pastor Tubbs claims the notion that Christians and Muslims don't worship the same God is "basic Christian doctrine." As I told him in the comments, I respect his position and think it's an entirely defensible argument for a traditional Christian believer to make. However, I do question just how "basic" this position is to "Christian doctrine."

There are plenty of traditionally minded small o orthodox Christians who believe Jews, Christians and Muslims worship the same God, just as there are plenty who support Pastor Tubbs' position.

America's key Founders -- the first four Presidents, Ben Franklin and a few others -- however, were firmly in the camp of believing Jews, Christians and Muslims did in fact worship the same God. Others too, unconverted Native Americans, pagan Greco-Romans and Hindus worshipped the same God as Christians.

This has been used as an argument AGAINST the "Christian America" thesis.

The theory of "natural religion" which America's key Founders endorsed held that men of all religions worshipped the same God whose existence could be detected from reason alone. And they strained to find monotheistic God worship in the what we might term polytheistic religions. Traditional Hinduism, Zeus worship was still "worshipping the same one true God" as Christians worship, but with those others, getting the details a bit wrong.

How is that possible? For one, the lines between and among monotheism, polytheism and henotheism aren't so easy to draw. The Bible doesn't speak of "One God" who is clearly distinct from everything else, but rather of a divine family with (arguably) One Chief. A Sky Father. Or Yoo Pater (Jupiter).

If there are, as the orthodox Trinitarians understand, a divine Three who are equally in charge, such has vexed much of the non-orthodox (and those trying to be orthodox) Christian world since the beginning. Worshipping a divine Three, to the Jew, Muslim and unitarian Christian raises the specter of polytheism.

After doing much meticulous research, I do not believe George Washington was an orthodox Trinitarian Christian. I do believe he was a theist who believed in an active personal God. And GW greatly supported the institution of "religion" generally (and "Christianity" as a particular of that genus).

Still, I understand, the smoking guns proving that Washington was in the personal religious belief camp of Franklin, Jefferson, and J. Adams aren't there. Washington didn't bitterly reject orthodox Trinitarian doctrine like Jefferson and Adams did or give us as much extant heterodoxy as Franklin.

In all of the over 20,000 pages of Washington's recognized public and private utterances, Jesus Christ is spoken of only one time by name and one other time by example, both in public addresses written by other people (aids and subordinates) but given under Washington's imprimatur (meaning he edited and otherwise approved of the addresses with his signature).

In one of them, GW mentions the "divine author of our blessed religion," which obviously refers to Jesus. That's the closest to a smoking gun that GW was an orthodox Trinitarian Christian. I would argue that such is consistent with Arianism, Socinianism, Mormonism, and many other things that are not orthodox Trinitarian Christianity. 

But still, I would concede that statement strongly resonates with orthodox Christianity.

So if we concede that a public address written by someone who is not George Washington, but rather for him, and that was, after GW's tweaking given under the imprimatur of his signature accounts for at the very least a "joint authoring," let us look at one GW did with Thomas Jefferson.

The letter was written on March 31, 1791. It was addressed to Yazid ibn-Muhammed, the new Emperor of Morocco, whose father had just passed and Washington sent his condolences as he introduced Thomas Barclay as the new American consul.

Here is how Washington closed the letter:
“May that God, whom we both adore, bless your Imperial Majesty with long life, Health and Success, and have you always, great and magnanimous Friend, under his holy keeping.”

15 comments:

Tom Van Dyke said...

I think this misses the point of the theology. One can believe in the One True God and still go to hell, which is what specifically is at question here. The sinner, or whoever does not accept Jesus as GOD [OR ACCORDING TO SOME, AT LEAST THE MESSIAH] is spit out of luck, sorry.

When Jesus says "your faith has saved you," he is not speaking merely of a general monotheism, that God exists.

http://www.youngadultclc.org/meetings/2-15-your-faith-has-saved-you/

Brian Tubbs said...

To be clear regarding my personal beliefs.... There is only one God. In the sense that both Christians and Muslims are monotheists, they are both striving to best understand and worship that one God. But...

Christians believe Jesus is God. Muslims believe Jesus is a prophet. And...

When you study the theology of the Quran versus the theology of the Bible, there are SIGNIFICANT differences. And not just differences in practice, but differences in how each religious text describes God (or, as the Muslims say, Allah).

But, all that being said...

I love my neighbor - whether we're talking about my Christian neighbor, Muslim neighbor, Jewish neighbor, Buddhist neighbor, atheist neighbor, agnostic neighbor, etc, etc. And I believe that all Americans should be accorded the freedom to worship (or not worship) as they please. I believe in religious freedom for everyone.

Jonathan Rowe said...
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Jonathan Rowe said...

Like I said, Brian. Your position is completely in line with traditional orthodox Christianity ala Gregg Frazer that holds Jews, Christians and Muslims worship different gods. And that the God of the American Founding -- the God of the theistic rationalists (basically theological unitarians who don't believe Jesus fully God) -- was not the same God Christians worship.

You would differ with Dr. Frazer, though on how to categorize George Washington.

Frazer et al. too by the way would argue, "When you study the theology of the God of the American Founding versus the theology of the Bible, there are SIGNIFICANT differences. And not just differences in practice, but differences in how their religious teachings describe God."

Accordingly, the God of the American Founding was much more man centered than the God of the Bible.

On the other hand, George W. Bush. M. Volf and other orthodox Christians hold they all worship the same God. And they make a compelling case for it (look to Volf for the intellectual argument).

Ultimately I don't think this is a question that can be won through argument.

Tom might bring up something about Calvinism. Indeed, a Calvinist scholar for whom we all have great respect -- Carl Truman -- has said that unless you believe in the penal substitutionary theory of atonement like he does, you don't believe in the same Jesus as he does. It's about focusing on certain details and making big dividing differences over them.

Tom Van Dyke said...

The Calvinists are particularly sticky on doctrine--more than Catholics!!

Accordingly, the God of the American Founding was much more man centered than the God of the Bible.

I'm not sure I but this, say in the case of Ben Franklin, let alone the great number of orthodox Christians. I'm not sure you can put Ben down as a humanist. Christian charity--and Ben's is indistinguishable from it--is a function of love of God, not of man. His many statements about charity put it in the light of it being the best worship of God.

Jonathan Rowe said...

"That the most acceptable Service we can render to him, is doing Good to his other Children."

Franklin makes how we treat each-other central to his creed. Yes I would hope do unto others, charity, etc. would be important to all professing Christians. But it's the most important thing to Franklin.

As someone who is NOT a committed evangelical orthodox Christian of the Calvinist OR Arminian stripe I don't speak for them and consequently don't think they speak for the Bible, whichever edition or number of books (the 66 of the Protestants, 73 of the Catholics or even larger Eastern Orthodox canon).

I don't get the sense from them that what they take as central to the creed is what Franklin did. However, who has the better grasp of what the canon of scripture as a whole teaches is up for debate.

Tom Van Dyke said...


I don't get the sense from them that what they take as central to the creed is what Franklin did.


The New Testament story of the Sheep and the Goats. On Judgment Day, those who did not help their fellow man are condemned.

Franklin cites it directly. It is central to the battle of the Protestant [both Lutheran and Calvinist] battle against "salvation by works," which Luther and other Protestants accuse Catholicism of, which is in conflict with "Faith alone saves."

Again, do not take Franklin's rejection of his parents' Calvinist theology as being non-Christian. Many Christians reject Calvin, and indeed, by the tenets of "Protestantism." If you can reject the magisterium of Rome, you can certainly reject Calvin.

Anyway, this is main street Franklin [and Jefferson also left it in HIS "Bible"]. Service to fellow man is inextricable from faithfulness to God.

Matthew 25:31-46
New International Version (NIV)

The Sheep and the Goats
31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.

34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’

44 “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’

45 “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’

46 “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”






Jonathan Rowe said...

Yes that certainly IS a passage that those of "this" theology -- and I have no problem understanding it as a form of unorthodox Christianity that was on the cutting edge of theological liberality for the late 18th Century -- would focus on a passage like that.

As opposed to passages that insinuate you have to believe in the right doctrine because your imperfections offend God's holiness.

Like I said: who has the better grasp of what the canon of scripture as a whole teaches is up for debate.

Jonathan Rowe said...

Also, Franklin's letter to Stiles from which I quoted.

1. Belief in an active Personal God;
2. How we treat one another as central;
3. Doubts as to Jesus' divinity with props to Jesus as the greatest moral teacher;
4. Nothing about "doctrines of grace."

Tom Van Dyke said...

Yes that certainly IS a passage that those of "this" theology -- and I have no problem understanding it as a form of unorthodox Christianity

This is the problem here--it's normative Catholic theology, and even within "Protestantism," not an unacceptable one. How could it be "unorthodox?" It's right there in the Bible!

2. How we treat one another as central;

But Franklin also describes good works as a form of worship, in fact the highest one. God is still central, not man.

3. Doubts as to Jesus' divinity with props to Jesus as the greatest moral teacher

Jesus as ONLY a moral teacher, a philosopher? perhaps. Franklin doesn't say that either.


As for this comment thread, Franklin isn't probative in any case. The question is not who is God, but whether we believe the fellow next to us is going to hell and whether Bernie Sanders has a right to interrogate us on our beliefs.

As near as I can figure, the orthodox Christian position is that even the Christian sitting next to you in church may be going to hell, so Sanders' question is theologically ignorant.

Why, in his endorsement of the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats, even Ben Franklin thought some people were in for some serious heat in the afterlife. Bernie's interrogation is BS.


Jonathan Rowe said...

"This is the problem here--it's normative Catholic theology, and even within 'Protestantism,' not an unacceptable one. How could it be 'unorthodox?' It's right there in the Bible!"

Yes Frazer admits that Franklin's view of justification -- a combination of faith and works -- is more like that of the Roman Catholics than Jefferson's and J. Adams' which is even more "works oriented."

However, when I said "this theology" I wasn't simply referring to justification, rather the holistic thing. You can read Franklin's below. No this isn't "normative" Roman Catholic theology which is 180 on creedalism. Doubting Jesus' divinity is not normative RC theology.

http://www.beliefnet.com/resourcelib/docs/44/Letter_from_Benjamin_Franklin_to_Ezra_Stiles_1.html

Likewise I understand what you mean when you try to reduce what Franklin, J. Adams, Jefferson et al. do to "Protestantism" but the use of the term is still problematic.

Franklin, J. Adams and Jefferson all clearly reject "salvation through faith alone, through grace alone" etc. To many ears, that's not what "Protestant Christianity" means.

t van dyke said...

IIRC, Jefferson actually does believe some version of "salvation through works" as you'd expect of such a monstrous egotist. However, Franklin explicitly rejects it.

You keep trying to insert some sort of works-based humanism into Franklin's theology, but God--and God's mercy and goodness--is still central to his cosmology. Franklin does not have a theory of "justification" as far as I know. Dogma was never his thing.

You will see in this my notion of good works, that I am far from expecting to merit heaven by them. By heaven we understand a state of happiness, infinite in degree, and eternal in duration. I can do nothing to deserve such rewards. He that, for giving a draft of water to a thirsty person, should expect to be paid with a good plantation, would be modest in his demands, compared with those who think they deserve heaven for the little good they do on earth.

http://www.beliefnet.com/resourcelib/docs/67/Letter_form_Benjamin_Franklin_to_George_Whitefield_1.html

Jonathan Rowe said...

I think you are probably right that Franklin had no official "doctrine" on justification. Franklin's official doctrine is no official doctrine.

What you quoted from the letter to Whitefield suggest he didn't believe in "works alone." Elsewhere he makes it clear he doesn't believe in "faith alone." Hence deducing something like Franklin believed in some mysterious combination of faith, grace and works.

As for Jesus, unitarians tend to reject the Trinity and Incarnation together (they rise and fall together). As for the atonement, some outright reject that doctrine, others hold to an unorthodox understanding of it. It's hard to tell where Franklin stood here, if he stood at all.

It's clear he thought Jesus perfected morality. More men modeling him = more virtue = more salvation. Even if grace has to figure in there somewhere. It's not clear that such grace from the father has anything directly to do with Jesus' sacrifice on the cross (which according to some unitarians was part and parcel of the perfect moral modeling of Jesus). As opposed to the Father, in His benevolence simply showing grace and mercy.

t van dyke said...
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Tom Van Dyke said...


Franklin's official doctrine is no official doctrine.


:-)


What you quoted from the letter to Whitefield suggests he didn't believe in "works alone." Elsewhere he makes it clear he doesn't believe in "faith alone." Hence deducing something like Franklin believed in some mysterious combination of faith, grace and works.

Well, no. Salvation is a gift from God; Franklin is firmly there. You can no more "win" or "earn" your salvation via faith than you can by doing good.

Franklin's complaint is meaningful only in the Protestant--specifically Calvinist--milieu--that some/many "believers" seem to think their salvation is assured and are conspicuously bereft of Christian charity and kindness.

Again, my point is that Franklin, if not arguing AS a Christian, is arguing Christianity on its own terms, i.e., Biblically, not "humanistically," and I would say quite pointedly against the Calvinists, his parents' denomination.

Now, since this is your thing, not mine, Jon, I think it's incumbent upon you to see if Franklin ever referenced James 2. It's you who enlist fundamentalists such as Gregg Frazer, et al., to argue the Bible against the Founders. So let's take a closer look. Since they're dead, I'll argue back on their behalf.

The Epistle of James was not cut out of the "Protestant Bible," but remains the scriptural bone of contention between the Catholic position and the "Protestant" one of "faith alone saves."

You keep trying to make it the nub, but Christ dying on the cross for our sins ["The Atonement"] is actually a side issue here, and as you properly note, consistently a doctrinal matter of indifference/agnosticism to Franklin both as a young man and old.

[FTR the Book of James does not mention the Atonement theology.]

Over to you, Jon. This is your thing and as your most attentive reader anywhere I think I've held up my end of the dialogue.

Franklin could have written this. It's rather an intramural Protestant argument, not a humanist vs. Christian one.
___________________________________

14 What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith save him?

15 If a brother or sister be naked, and destitute of daily food,

16 And one of you say unto them, Depart in peace, be ye warmed and filled; notwithstanding ye give them not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit?

17 Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone.

18 Yea, a man may say, Thou hast faith, and I have works: shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works.

19 Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble.

20 But wilt thou know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead?

21 Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar?

22 Seest thou how faith wrought with his works, and by works was faith made perfect?

23 And the scripture was fulfilled which saith, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed unto him for righteousness: and he was called the Friend of God.

24 Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only.

25 Likewise also was not Rahab the harlot justified by works, when she had received the messengers, and had sent them out another way?

26 For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.