Monday, November 12, 2018

Q&A with Christopher Grasso, author of Skepticism and American Faith: ...

Check it out at The Junto here. A taste:
Christopher Grasso earned his PhD from Yale in 1992, taught at St. Olaf College, and came to William and Mary in 1999.  From 2000 to 2013 he served as the Editor of the William and Mary Quarterly. ... 
JUNTO: Skepticism and American Faith is organized into four thematic parts, arranged chronologically: “Revolutions, 1775-1815,” “Enlightenments, 1790-1840,” “Reforms, 1820-1850,” and “Sacred Causes, 1830-1865.” What does attention to religious skepticism and faith tell us about revolution, enlightenment(s), reform, and the Civil War? 
GRASSO: Debates over the meaning of the American and French Revolutions prominently featured arguments about the role that religious faith ought to have in public life and patriotic citizenship. Was America a Christian nation? Did religious liberty include the freedom to be irreligious? With the separation of church and state, how could a Christian majority legitimately exert its power over non-believers in a democracy? Believing and doubting were rarely just matters of private predilection. From the founding, these issues linked the personal to the political. 
Americans in this period did not talk about “The Enlightenment” (a later historiographical construct), but they did argue about what it meant for a person or a society to become “enlightened,” and the role of skeptical reasoning and religious faith in that process. The dialogue of skepticism and faith, therefore, echoed through the effort to produce and disseminate knowledge in the early republic. American Protestants in particular anointed themselves as the vanguard of Western civilization, claiming all the “enlightened” values and practices previously championed by the eighteenth-century philosophes: free inquiry, open debate, the broad dissemination of print, and the triumph over superstition. But they always supplemented and corrected worldly learning with divine revelation. More radical champions of enlightenment argued that the truth claims of the churches and the Bible needed to be investigated, debated, and rationally evaluated just like any others, and rejected if found wanting.

10 comments:

Tom Van Dyke said...

American Protestants in particular anointed themselves as the vanguard of Western civilization, claiming all the “enlightened” values and practices previously championed by the eighteenth-century philosophes: free inquiry, open debate, the broad dissemination of print, and the triumph over superstition.

Yes, he's onto something here. Rather rare among the secular left. Protestantism set the rules for free inquiry, not the philosophes, who came 100-200 years later.



But they always supplemented and corrected worldly learning with divine revelation.


Exactly. The Bible was not the handbook for government, but it was the backstop.

"The law of nature and the law of revelation are both Divine: they flow, though in different channels, from the same adorable source. It is indeed preposterous to separate them from each other."
---James Wilson, Of the Law of Nature, 1804


Even Locke admitted that even if the principles of Christianity could be deduced by reason, they never wore.


"[['T]is plain in fact, that human reason unassisted, failed men in its great and proper business of morality. It never, from unquestionable principles, by clear deductions, made out an entire body of the law of Nature. And he that shall collect all the moral rules of the philosophers, and compare them with those contained in the new testament, will find them to come short of the morality delivered by Our Saviour..."---Locke, The Reasonableness of Christianity

Jonathan Rowe said...

"Protestantism set the rules for free inquiry, not the philosophes, who came 100-200 years later."

That's not what he's saying. Rather he's saying the philosophes introduced the ideas of free inquiry which the Protestants, as "rule setters" later embraced.

Tom Van Dyke said...

If so, he's off by 100-200 years.

Jonathan Rowe said...

I wonder why you would say that.

But I suppose much of this depends on categorization. Locke is Enlightenment. However, some folks might claim him as "Christian" or "Protestant."

My own determination is that Roger Williams and the Quakers predated Locke and the Enlightenment in freedom of conscience issues; however they were viewed as the oddballs when they posited such novel ideas.

The Calvinist resisters like Rutherford were busy justifying what Calvin did to Servetus.

It became more normative for Calvinists to embrace freedom of conscience in that time period that historians have termed "the Enlightenment."

Tom Van Dyke said...

The Treaty of Westphalia [1648] was not the product of the Enlightenment; it was the product of Christendom facing the reality of what Martin Luther had wrought.

Jonathan Rowe said...

What is the significance of that treaty to "the 'enlightened' values and practices previously championed by the eighteenth-century philosophes: free inquiry, open debate, the broad dissemination of print, and the triumph over superstition."

Tom Van Dyke said...

Theological uniformity becomes subject to reality. Orthodoxy becomes impossible to enforce. The genie is out of the bottle.

Jonathan Rowe said...

But it wasn't until the enlightenment that the solving of such problem because normative.

The weirdos -- Roger Williams and the Quakers -- seem to anticipate the enlightenment philosophical solution with a devoutly held, but eccentric way of understanding the protestant faith.

The more enlightenment case found "essences" in "nature" through reason that related to the rights of conscience.

Did they really believe these essences could be "discovered" in nature through reason, or were they up to something else (practical problem solving).

Here is how Allan Bloom put it:

“[T]here was a conscious, if covert, effort to weaken religious belief, partly by assigning—as a result of a great epistemological effort—religion to the realm of opinion as opposed to knowledge. But the right to freedom of religion belonged to the realm of knowledge.”

The Closing of the American Mind, p.28.

Tom Van Dyke said...

“[T]here was a conscious, if covert, effort to weaken religious belief"

And well they were aware of it. But Jonathan Edwards was also well-versed in the "Enlightenment" and he was also behind the First Great Awakening and of course the Second Great Awakening took place right when St. George Tucker was peddling his crypro-deism.

And relgious pluralism was still a matter of practicality, as the Protestant Reformation continued to create sects by the sackful.


Pufendorf is your man. It is still a religious, indeed Protestant [albeit practical], not "Enlightenment" argument.

https://oll.libertyfund.org/pages/pufendorf-and-religious-toleration


Samuel Pufendorf’s De habitu religionis christianae ad vitam civilem (Of the Nature of Religion in Relation to Civil Life, translated as Of the Nature and Qualification of Religion in Reference to Civil Society) of 1687 is one of the remarkable pieces in this literature. It is exceptional, because the doctrine of toleration is developed within the framework of modern natural law, a doctrine for which Pufendorf is well-known as one of the founding fathers.

...

The Divine Feudal Law merits special attention with regard to Pufendorf’s attitude toward religion and toleration, for it has to be seen as a complement to the present work. In his later work Pufendorf clarifies that toleration is just one means among others for dealing with religious dissent. It should be applied only when the reuniting of religions or denominations proves impossible.6 In Pufendorf’s view, the reuniting of Lutherans and Calvinists was possible on the basis of a theological system containing the fundamental articles necessary for salvation. In contrast, the differences between Protestants and Catholics could never be overcome, and the present text and its context in European politics explain this opinion of Pufendorf’s.





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