Saturday, September 30, 2017

Ben Franklin on the Ten Commandments and More

So I never inquired before on quotations from Ben Franklin on the Ten Commandments. After a little research I can only find one. Interestingly, American Creation's Tom Van Dyke's 2009 post came up in my search which aptly noted that the context of the quotation was Franklin acting the part of a "dirty old man."

In a flirtatious letter to Madame Brillon de Jouy, née Anne-Louise Boivin d'Hardancourt (March 10, 1777), Franklin states there are actually 12, not 10 Commandments.
People commonly speak of Ten Commandments. I have been taught that there are twelve. The first was increase & multiply & replenish the earth. The twelfth is, A new Commandment I give unto you, that you love one another. It seems to me that they are a little misplaced, And that the last should have been the first.
Chris Rodda's "Liars for Jesus" (Volume I) also references this quotation on page 423. She notes that Christian Nationalists who look for and cherry pick quotations to fit their narrative don't use this one.

Interestingly, I also found in Rodda's chapter on Franklin (11 in her book) a letter that deals with the Deism controversy. Franklin admitted that he was a "thorough Deist" when younger but soon abandoned that creed.  In 1728, in his early 20s, Franklin thought the God of the Universe was a Deistic, impersonal Creator who created a personal God that rules our solar system, one he would worship.

By the end of his life, I doubt Franklin continued to believe this. Where he ended up was belief in an active personal God but without endorsing any orthodox doctrine. Rather, the doctrine he did endorse was morality and doing good to our fellow man as the central purpose of all valid religions. And that Jesus -- about whose divinity Franklin had "doubts" -- was the greatest moral teacher.

Franklin had a friendship with the evangelical preacher George Whitefield. Whitefield tried and failed to convert Franklin to his creed. Rodda uncovers a letter from Franklin to Whitefield (Sept. 2, 1769) where, aged 63 at the time, Franklin addressing the doctrine of Providence, again, sounds like some kind of Deist:
I see with you that our affairs are not well managed by our rulers here below; I wish I could believe with you, that they are well attended to by those above; I rather suspect, from certain circumstances, that though the general government of the universe is well administered, our particular little affairs are perhaps below notice, and left to take the chance of human prudence or imprudence, as either may happen to be uppermost. It is, however, an uncomfortable thought, and I leave it.
Well America won the then brewing revolutionary war that was the subject of Franklin's 1769 letter to Whitefield. Franklin's speech as an old man at the Constitutional Convention reveals belief in a Providence who more actively personally intervenes in man's affairs.

Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Dreisbach: Liberty under law was always rooted in biblical principles

From Daniel Dreisbach's op-ed at The Hill

Most American founders regarded the Bible as a great handbook for nurturing morality and ethics; and even many who doubted the Bible’s divine origins appealed to Scripture. To be sure, the founders drew on and synthesized diverse intellectual traditions. Among them were British constitutionalism, Enlightenment liberalism, and classical and civic republicanism.

But the Bible was the most accessible, authoritative, and venerated text in 18th Century America. It was, by far, the most cited work in the political discourse of the age, referenced more frequently than the great political theorists John Locke and Baron de Montesquieu. The Constitution, as well as two dozen or so state constitutions framed in the wake of independence, was shaped by a legal culture and constitutional tradition influenced by Christianity and its sacred text. This includes measures separating and checking government powers in the hands of “fallen” public officials, mandating oaths of offices, and prohibiting double jeopardy.

...the Bible may have influenced some specific provisions written into the U.S. Constitution. To be sure, it is difficult to establish definitively that a specific constitutional provision was taken from a specific biblical passage; rather, it is more plausible that constitutional principles were indirectly influenced by biblical concepts that had long before found expression in western legal tradition, especially in the English common law, and, more recently, colonial laws.

Consider, for example, Article I, § 7, cl. 2 excepting Sundays from the 10 days within which a president must veto a bill. This is an implicit recognition of the Christian Sabbath, commemorating the Creator’s sanctification of the seventh day for rest (Genesis 2:1-3), the fourth commandment that the Sabbath be kept free from secular defilement (Exodus 20:8-11), and, in the Christian tradition, the resurrection of Jesus from the dead.

For one final example, the Fifth Amendment, crafted by the first federal Congress, prohibits double jeopardy, or trying a defendant twice for the same offense, which Saint Jerome in a late fourth-century commentary and legal scholars ever since have said was a principle found in the book of the prophet Nahum 1:9.

Legal commentators have pointed to additional examples of the Bible’s influence on specific constitutional provisions, including provisions on cruel and unusual punishment, the number of witnesses required in cases of treason, affirmation in the alternative to an oath, and corruption of blood.

Although the delegates to the Constitutional Convention in 1787 readily conceded that the document they wrote was imperfect, there was a consensus that it was the best that could be framed under the circumstances. And some, such as Benjamin Rush, “believed the hand of God was employed in this work,” just as surely as “God had divided the Red Sea to give a passage to the children of Israel.”

Even the skeptic Benjamin Franklin, while disclaiming that the Convention’s work was “divinely inspired,” remarked that he could not conceive such a momentous achievement as framing “the new federal constitution” without it “being in some degree influenced, guided, and governed by that omnipotent, omnipresent and beneficent Ruler.”

Saturday, September 23, 2017

What's a Cult Anyway, Part II

Roy Masters presents himself as a Messianic Jew and a Bible believing Christian. He's not a Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox, which I suppose makes him Protestant by default. Masters is a "new" teacher in the sense that he innovated a certain theological understanding and attained a group of people who follow his comprehensive teachings.

He does not, however, wish to be seen as "New Age," or as a "cult leader." Rather, he asserts he falls squarely within the "Judeo-Christian" tradition. His comprehensive packaging of his theological teaching is indeed novel. However, I would argue the vast majority of the components of his teachings can be traced to earlier traditions in Christendom, many of them "dissenting" or "eccentric" traditions.

So here is what he believes, or claims to believe:

1. The God of the Jewish and Christian Scriptures.

On matters of biblical canon, I think he follows the Protestant canon (book of 66) with questions as to whether the Song of Solomon is inspired. If that book is, he rejects the sexualized reading of it. He may well believe some of books rejected by Catholic, Orthodox and Protestant traditions are inspired. I saw him quote the Gospel of Thomas in one of his lectures as though it were inspired. That may make him some kind of Gnostic (sorry Eric Vogelin fans).

2. The mystical tradition of Christianity. 

I don't know whether there is a connection between Gnosticism and Christian mysticism. But Roy Masters' devotee David Kupelian explicitly notes that tradition as authoritative:
Then there’s the famous 16th century Catholic priest, Saint John of the Cross, who authored the Christian classic “Dark Night of the Soul” and others. He said this: “Love consists not in feeling great things but in having great detachment and in suffering for the Beloved” (that is, for God). And this: “If you purify your soul of attachment to and desire for things, you will understand them spiritually. If you deny your appetite for them, you will enjoy their truth, understanding what is certain in them.” This is a mystery. We spend our lives coveting and acquiring the possessions and relationships we think will make us happy. And here we’re being told that to find true happiness, we must somehow forsake these very desires. How? And more importantly, why?

By the way, for his efforts at religious reform, John was imprisoned by religious authorities and flogged publicly every week, only to be returned to isolation in a tiny cell barely large enough for his body.

And what about Jean Guyon, the 17th century French author of many Christian books including “Experiencing the Depths of Jesus Christ”? She gently nudges believers in the direction of “retreating inward, and seeking after tranquility of mind” in order to do all things “as in the Divine presence.”
 3. A view of "the God within" and revelation that is like what old school Quakers taught. 

This may also parallel the above mentioned non-Quaker mystical tradition of Christianity. It's about being still and listening to your conscience in order to channel and truly understand revelation from God. Those Quakers were the group who focused most seriously on the 3rd Person in the Trinity -- the Holy Spirit -- as God who gets inside of man and speaks directly to him. Without it, no one will ever truly understand what the Bible means and how to properly put it together. It will just be citing verses and chapter of word blather.

Likewise Masters, after these Quakers teaches the Bible is NOT the "word OF God," rather the "word FROM God." True revelation is wordless! It's a wordless word that one receives in a state of stillness. Then, after channeling this "understanding," we do our best to put it into the imperfect words of language. The understanding precedes the language words.

This is how Quaker Robert Barclay put it in 1675:
Nevertheless, because [the Scriptures] are only a declaration of the fountain, and not the fountain itself, therefore they are not to be esteemed the principal ground of all Truth and knowledge, nor yet the adequate primary rule of faith and manners. Yet because they give a true and faithful testimony of the first foundation, they are and may be esteemed a secondary rule, subordinate to the Spirit, from which they have all their excellency and certainty: for as by the inward testimony of the Spirit we do alone truly know them, so they testify, that the Spirit is that Guide by which the saints are led into all Truth; therefore, according to the Scriptures, the Spirit is the first and principal leader.a Seeing then that we do therefore receive and believe the Scriptures because they proceeded from the Spirit, for the very same reason is the Spirit more originally and principally the rule, according to that received maxim in the schools, Propter quod unumquodque est tale, illud ipsum est magis tale: That for which a thing is such, that thing itself is more such.
Yes, the "fountain" is the truth; the scriptures are not "the fountain," but rather a declaration of the "fountain." As we will see below, Roy Masters doesn't believe in the Trinity; but he does believe in the Divine. When I first read the above quoted passage by Barclay it reminded me of what Masters teaches. The divine within precedes the written Word and is instructive. Because the scriptures testify to that primary wordless fountain of truth, that is what justifies the words of scripture as valid and true. Not vice versa. Don't put the cart before the horse. The scriptures are the cart, not the horse.

(Before the Internet was invented Masters once noted "Bibles" are just books of paper, the inherent quality of which is no greater than toilet paper, fit to wipe your ass with. It's not the paper; it's not the print that is holy.)

4. Arianism

Masters does not believe Jesus is God, but rather the Son of God. The Son of God is NOT God the Son. Jesus was there "In the Beginning," (first born of creation). And Jesus is the "Word of God." But English translations improperly state that the Word OF God "was" God. Rather, like Scripture itself, the "Word of God" (Jesus) was "from God," not God Himself. So John 1:1 should be translated as saying "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was FROM God."

5. The Holiness Doctrine

This is something that Masters has gotten a lot of flack for. The media has said he claims to be "sinless." No. He claims rather that he DOES NOT SIN. But he used to before he was saved (as the Bible says no human except Jesus is "without sin"). This is exactly what evangelical revivalist Charles Finney posited. And Matthew 5:48 and I John 3:8-10 are the scriptural justifications for the doctrine.

6. An Augustinian View of Sex.

Masters believes, after Augustine, celibacy and chastity are the ideal. I'm no expert in Augustine and Masters' teachings here are a bit difficult to understand, but I try. Masters thinks that the "begetting"of the human species is somehow mysteriously tied to the fall of man. Sex is only appropriate between a married husband and wife. But even there it falls short of the ideal. Orthodox Protestants believe, if you are married most anything goes, even contraception. Catholics believe if you are married, as long as the sex is Thomistic, anything goes. Masters believes it's immoral for a man to be addicted to sex with his wife.

If a man is addicted to sex with his wife, it's a sign of not being saved. Indeed, if a young man is already saved, he, like Jesus and St. Paul, wouldn't need to get married, because he would have, out of his holiness, transcended his sexual desires. And part of the salvation process is for a married man to transcend his sexual desire for his wife and treat her like a father treats his daughter. (Similar to how Roman Catholic dogma says men and woman who aren't married in the eyes of the Church must live as "brother and sister" until they are. Masters uses the "father/daughter" analogy).

Along the way, while a man is getting saved, that's when children incidentally happen in the context of marriage. Masters is almost 90 and has five children and many grandchildren (and I think great grandchildren). Yet he brags about how he hasn't had sex with his wife in I think around 50 (or more) years.

7. Judeo-Christian meditation as essential for salvation. 

This is where Masters gets accused of being "New Age" and or "Eastern." You can listen to the meditation exercise here. There is no funny sounding mantra. However, it does sound like something from the meditation/mindfulness movement, which has eastern origins. The mindfulness way of life, I should add, also parallels Stoicism, which is a Western philosophy.

Masters argues his meditation is, unlike all the others, "Judeo-Christian" because it anchors you to the God of the Bible. Sure there are seeming similarities to Eastern teachings. But as the Stoic example demonstrates, sometimes different cultures come to the same or similar conclusions through different channels.

But the other meditation exercises are dangerous because they in a sense "work" like his does, but without anchoring you to the God of the Bible, which is what is special about his. Masters argues that being in a state of stress -- fight or flight, anger or anxiety -- is less than ideal, and signals an unsaved state. His meditation exercise supposedly makes you immune to stress. You don't get angry or experience anxiety, no matter what happens.

Buddhism and other Eastern meditation exercises also promise something similar. But the difference is, by being anchored to the God of the Bible, the meditator will not sin. On the other hand, the Eastern meditator are anchored to nothing. So they can get immune to anger and fear, but go on sinning with a big grin on their face, like the Cheshire Cat.

A psychopath is someone who can do wrong without a sense of guilt. It's the difference between a stressed out angry compulsive person who does harm and feels guilt (not a psychopath) and someone in a calm and blissful state who can stick a knife in an innocent person and sleep peacefully that night (a psychopath).

Indeed, Buddhist monks score high on the psychopathy index.  It doesn't mean they are horrible people. Rather that they are calm and peaceful. So if they did choose to do wrong, they would feel peaceful about it. No guilt. Their meditation helps to anesthetize real and necessary guilt feelings. Masters claims his helps men to stop sinning and once they cease sinning entirely, they feel no guilt because there is nothing to feel guilty about.

There is a lot more to Mr. Masters' teachings, but I think the above captures 7 key points. I don't necessarily agree with everything he says. Rather I view him like Immanuel Kant viewed Emanuel Swedenborg. Kant had a love/hate fascination with Swedenborg.

But as a civilized gentleman, I'm trying to be fair. One thing about Mr. Masters' teachings that bother me is his theology is extremely politicized. Public figures Jesse Lee Peterson and the above mentioned David Kupelian are devotees. And they teach moral truth is on the side of the political Right. The extreme socially conservative Right.

My opinion is if there is a God, His truth transcends politics.

Saturday, September 16, 2017

What's a Cult Anyway?

A while ago, I introduced the notion into discussion forums populated by many evangelical Christians that the driving political theology of the American Founding, adhered to by certain "key Founders" -- leading lights, if you will -- was something halfway between Deism and orthodox Christianity. Some folks in these forums responded that such to them, sounded like a "cult." (Others simply wished to deny that what I reported was accurate.)

Indeed, certain evangelical-fundamentalist circles define "cult" by adherence to doctrines that are not "correct" as they understand what the Bible "really" means. In other words, if you are not "doctrinally correct," you risk the "cult" label.

But there has to be more than that, right? Arminians and Calvinists disagree with one another, sometimes call the other "heretics," but do they throw around the "cult" label in their accusations? (Not a rhetorical question, rather one I really don't know the answer to.)

It could be that orthodox Trinitarian doctrine -- something to which Arminians and Calvinists both adhere -- is the "safe ground" that avoids the cult label (but not necessarily the "heretic" label).

But I have heard evangelical-fundamentalist types term "Roman Catholicism" a cult. But Roman Catholicism adheres to orthodox Trinitarian doctrine! Protestant evangelical-fundamentalists disagree with one another here. Many, sensible in my opinion, evangelical-fundamentalists, though they may disagree with Roman Catholicism and indeed, fear its adherents are not really "saved," understand it's not proper to label such a "cult."

Why? In addition to endorsing orthodox Trinitarianism, Roman Catholicism also happens to be the largest Christian denomination in the world. And arguably the oldest. In other words, it's "normative," historic Christianity.

What then? In addition to being doctrinally incorrect -- especially on areas like the Trinity -- for a sect to be relatively new and relatively small, might help to establish its status as a "cult." This is why, in the above mentioned circles, Mormonism, Jehovah's Witnessism, among other creeds, qualify as "cults."

I still don't see why any of these criteria make "cult" status negative or wrong compared to the religious traditions that don't necessarily qualify for "cult" status.

Is it because of issues of "control"? All religions to some degree seek to control the behavior of their adherents. That's supposed to be a feature, not a bug. Fallen humans are by nature out of control and bound to cause trouble. "Religion" is something that is supposed to, for the sake of society and civilization -- at least according to George Washington in his Farewell Address -- keep them in line and make them into moral and productive citizens.

With that, see below a 35 year old video from CNN's "Crossfire" featuring one Roy Masters. The show terms Masters a "cult leader." On social media, Masters -- still alive at almost 90 -- frames it as a matter of the corrupt "media" smearing him. Masters is very conservative and integrates his political leanings into his theology. As such, the "media" establishment who tend towards the Left and have institutional biases against the Right, have not been kind to him.

After Masters posted this old video, many followers on his site made the expected comments on how the Left media establishment were characteristically smearing him then as they do today.

But they missed one important dynamic. CNN's "Crossfire" was a show that featured someone from the Left, and someone from the Right. The person on the Left who antagonized Masters was the late Tom Braden. I don't know much about him, and just learned that apparently he was the real life inspiration for the Dad from "Eight is Enough." The person on the Right was the late John Lofton, who was far more "conservative" than Masters, arguably to the Right of Attila the Hun. Lofton was a member of RJ Rushdoony's "Christian Reconstructionist" movement that sought to impose harsh Old Testament style punishments in today's civil society.

These "uber-orthodox" Protestant fundamentalist Christians like Lofton, as such, had no problem terming Masters -- who is not "doctrinally correct" according to fundamentalist Protestant standards -- a "cult leader." Lofton wrote, ironically, for the Rev. Moon owned "Washington Times" until he was fired for being too conservative for them.

Lofton said of Masters that he is “a false prophet and theological fraud.” I write of this because some of Mr. Masters' social media followers apparently thought these were two members of the Liberal media trying to smear him as a "cult leader."

They couldn't be more wrong, at least as it relates to the late Mr. Lofton.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

And Who Is David Currie?

Who is this David R. Currie sliming David Barton in the San Angelo [TX] Standard-Times?

I wear quite a few hats in San Angelo, and I love this community. I am writing this article as the retired executive director of Texas Baptists Committed and a longtime board member of The Interfaith Alliance in Washington, D.C.

David Barton is of course a GOP activist, heavily involved in questions of religion and government and usually in fierce opposition to the Democrats. [See The Great Texas Textbook Massacre.]

What Currie does not mention anywhere in his op-ed is the hat he wears as the current chair of the Tom Green County Democratic Party. Currie's bio does disclose he holds a PhD in "Christian Ethics."

I do not question Currie's Christianity. But I do question his ethics. This lack of disclosure is inexcusable. 

I'm also disgusted at Currie's attack in its misrepresentations of Barton's actual positions, as well as using the newspaper to urge fellow Christians to shun Barton. But let's just leave it here at Currie's ethics. This is political, and to pretend it's solely a Christian question is dishonest. And even if it were, on a Biblical level, completely inappropriate to take to the newspapers (see 1 Corinthians 6:1).

David Currie: "Opinion: The danger of David Barton's message"

From David Currie here. A taste:
I wear quite a few hats in San Angelo, and I love this community. I am writing this article as the retired executive director of Texas Baptists Committed and a longtime board member of The Interfaith Alliance in Washington, D.C.

I am deeply dismayed that reputable organizations have invited David Barton to speak to our community, because there is nothing reputable about the message he will bring. His message – which he has been proclaiming for over 25 years – is what I have fought against my entire career as a minister committed to upholding the truths of the Bible and as an American committed to the principles embedded in the U.S. Constitution. I firmly believe that religious liberty, as defined by our Founding Fathers, is the greatest single freedom ever adopted by a government.

David Barton very effectively twists the truth and presents quotes out of context and strategically selected partial quotes. He presents partial, twisted truth as absolute truth. The end result is a message that is an absolute lie – biblically, historically and constitutionally.

Monday, September 4, 2017

Liberty, Equality & God

“We must face the disturbing dilemma that modern liberal democracy needs God, but God is not as liberal or as democratic as we would like Him to be”-- Robert Kraynak

"Modern liberal democracy" as defined here relates to the notion that men are by nature free and equal. That's the small l "liberal" part of the equation. The "democratic" part means that political systems are validated by the "consent of the governed." That voting and majorities matter. Voting majorities often, but not always trump. Sometimes rights that are antecedent to majority vote, trump.

When Kraynak invokes "God," the God he invokes is generally that of orthodox Christianity, more particularly that of Roman Catholicism.

Is God so necessary as he asserts? A number of notable atheists have made the case that God isn't a necessary part of the equation for the objective, non-negotiable status of "rights" that are antecedent to majority rule. Ayn Rand believed this. As does my blogfather, the fervent atheist Timothy Sandefur. Though not an expert, I understand that some more traditional natural law philosophers have held God isn't necessary to prove the objective binding reality of the natural law.

But God does serve as a firm place to rest the principles. That's my position. Two notable left of center public intellectuals and John Locke scholars, the late Paul Sigmund and the currently living Jeremy Waldron, have argued for the "liberal democracy needs God" part of Kraynak's above noted formula. That is, you don't get universal human rights without God.

I have explored this issue for quite some time. See this link for what I have argued. Again, it's my position that God functions as a necessary guarantor of human rights in a clearer way than philosophy divorced from God does, even though I am open to arguments that the latter can "work."

However, what I have long stressed is that it's not any kind of traditional orthodox notion of God that is necessary. That, to the contrary, as Kraynak above notes, the more traditional notions of the deity, really aren't all that "liberal democratic" (as that term is defined above).

It's not my position that Thomas Jefferson spoke for all of even most of the Founders. Rather, that his God "worked," indeed, worked perfectly in the equation that makes God the necessary guarantor of liberal democratic rights. And Jefferson's God was devoid of the following features:
The immaculate conception of Jesus, his deification, the creation of the world by him, his miraculous powers, his resurrection and visible ascension, his corporeal presence in the Eucharist, the Trinity; original sin, atonement, regeneration, election, orders of Hierarchy, &c.
It is also my position that the texts of the Bible and orthodox doctrine qua orthodox doctrine do not speak to unalienable rights that are doctrinally grounded in nature, discovered by reason. There is a need for some kind of additional theory that is largely outside of holy texts of revealed scripture, though certain texts of revealed scripture can be used to incorporate such outside the text teachings and doctrines.

As we know Dr. Gregg Frazer has termed the political theology of the American Founding, hence the political theology of "liberal democracy" as articulated in America's Declaration of Independence, "theistic rationalism." That term, no doubt has its inadequacies. But so too do most other terms that have attempted to claim such ground. The Declaration of Independence is hardly a "Christian" document. It doesn't mention Jesus or quote verses and chapter of Scripture. Rather, what it does is mention a God of some sort in four places (using the titles Creator, Nature's God, Divine Providence and Supreme Judge of the World).

The term "Judeo-Christian" is no better than Dr. Frazer's "theistic rationalism" in its attempt to describe this political theology. That term is unnecessarily exclusive. How does the henotheistic God of Mormonism relate to "Judeo-Christianity"? Mormonism, unlike Judaism or orthodox Christianity, because of when and where it was founded actually incorporates the divine nature of America's Declaration and Constitution into its official teachings and arguably makes for a more authentic representation of the God of the American Founding than either traditional Christianity or Judaism do.

Likewise with Islam. That religion too believes in One True God. Like Judaism and Christianity, Islam has competing theories in how it understand the natural law. Like Judaism and Christianity, Islam has all sorts of competing varieties. I reject there is something in the nature of Islam that makes it impossible to be compatible with liberal democratic norms.

I do believe however, we can argue that Christianity is more compatible with liberal democracy for a number of reasons (indeed, Christendom, not Islam or Judaism birthed liberal democracy). I don't believe Islam by its nature is any less compatible with liberal democratic norms than is Judaism. And Judaism has found a way to reconcile itself with liberal democracy.

I can anticipate the objection by proof texting various Islamic holy texts and teachings that would defy universalism that liberal democracy teaches. I answer this by noting, after Larry Arnhart, that likewise problematic verses and chapters exist in both the Old Testament and the New. The New Testament is arguably more amenable to such universalism. However, Christianity too has its sects that problematically conflict with liberal democratic norms.

Think of Calvinism with its teachings on Election and Limited Atonement. In other words, if you are not of the Elect, then to Hell with you. Calvinism contributed to liberal democratic theory by making a case for "resistance" to higher powers under law. But on matters like free exercise of religion, those same "good guy" Calvinist resisters like Samuel Rutherford held it was just for John Calvin to have Michael Servetus burned at the stake for heresy.

Yet, by the time Calvinists Roger Sherman and John Witherspoon articulated their politics, they managed to find a way to make their religious creed compatible with late 18th Century American liberal democracy.

So Islam's problem, in my opinion, is that it has not adequately revised its understanding of the creed to make itself compatible with liberal democracy like even traditional versions of Christianity and Judaism have.

What to make of all this?

If we are going to come together and do our best to agree to a term that invokes a political theology necessary to the equation of providing the firm foundation for liberal democratic rights, what should it be?

There is no "right" answer. The best lowest common denominator compromise answer I have seen is one that was offered by Dennis Prager: "Ethical Monotheism." It's not as "mushy" as "generic monotheism" (a term I think actually describes America's founding political theology); it's not as problematically and erroneously exclusive as "orthodox Christianity," "Christianity" or "Judeo-Christianity." It's not quite as loaded as "theistic rationalism." It's more accurate than either "Deism" or "Ceremonial Deism." It includes within its ambit Judaism, Islam, Mormonism, the varieties of orthodox Christianity, unorthodox Christianity, and Deism.

Saturday, September 2, 2017

Library of Law and Liberty on Danielle Allen's Book

I think I missed this when it was posted in 2014. A taste:
This is an impassioned book about the Declaration of Independence. It comes from specific personal and pedagogical experiences, as its author, a classicist and political theorist at Princeton, winsomely reports.

Danielle Allen employs several techniques, some old, some new, in engaging and expositing her book’s central object: what she calls a close, “sentence by sentence” reading of the document, one that sometimes lingers over the meaning of a single term but that also draws upon modern theories of the uses to which language can be put. But while the methods are specific, the aim is quite grand and ambitious: to make the Declaration “our Declaration,” with “us” being not just all Americans, of whatever race or socioeconomic condition, but all humanity.

The Declaration has stirred Allen mightily. She describe teaching it as a transformative experience, and she has responded with all of her being, as a scholar, a citizen, and a human being. This is engaged scholarship in a fulsome sense.

Our Declaration: A Reading of the Declaration of Independence in Defense of Equality is also clearly conceived and written. ...
It even mentions our friend Gregg Frazer's book:
Like many today, she wants her egalitarianism to rest on a secular foundation. This, one suspects, is the deeper meaning of her oft-used term, “commitment,” which is what human beings do when they cannot affirm a principle on the basis of either faith or reason. Certainly, the naturalistic egalitarian anthropology she teases out of the text is more sketched than demonstrated, and with significant lacunae. For a better treatment of the character of the deity affirmed in the Declaration, one should consult Gregg L. Frazer’s The Religious Beliefs of America’s Founders (2012) and his useful concept of “theistic rationalism,” halfway between Deism and 18th century Christian orthodoxy. Allen gets close, but her manner of reading precludes her from considering, in a comprehensive view, the Declaration’s teaching about the deity.
Also check out this comment at the bottom by W.B. Allen who is, I'm pretty sure, Danielle's distinguished father. He swings to the Right; she swings to the Left. 

Friday, September 1, 2017

Fea: "The Author’s Corner with Jonathan Israel"

Check it out here. A taste:
Jonathan Israel is Professor Emeritus of Modern European History in the School of Historical Studies at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, New Jersey.   This interview is based on his new book, The Expanding Blaze: How the American Revolution Ignited the World (1775-1850) (Princeton, 2017).


JF: In 2 sentences, what is the argument of The Expanding Blaze?

JI: The book’s argument is that the American Revolution was the spark that created the expanding blaze that transformed the Western world by setting the basic model – democratic republicanism versus aristocratic republicanism- which shaped the early stages of the French Revolution (before Robespierre’s tyranny) and all the revolutionary movements of the Western world between 1782 (Geneva) and 1848. The key argument is that democratic versus aristocratic republicanism defines the inner logic of the American Revolution, and Radical Enlightenment versus ‘moderate Enlightenment’provides the ideological format, the ideas, that justify the two warring sides within the American Revolution.

JF: Why do we need to read The Expanding Blaze?

JI: The book is needed to help better situate the American Revolution than has been done in its world historical context and especially in its general Enlightenment context.

Nepca: "Was America Founded as a Christian Nation? Book Review"

Check it out here. A taste:
By John Fea
Westminster John Knox Press, 324 pages

For tens of millions of Americans, there’s no need to pose the question raised in the title of John Fea’s monograph. Most self-identified evangelicals adamantly insist that it was, and humanists and political progressives vigorously assert that the Founding Fathers intended that a “wall” be erected between church and state. You might expect Fea to side with evangelicals, given that he’s a believer and a professor at a Christian school, Messiah College. He doesn’t. Nor does he cast his lot with those who take the opposing view. As a historian, Fea sees nuances, not nostrums. His is a take that, depending upon the openness of the reader, will be seen as a rare middle view within a polarized nation, or will induce outrage.