Dr. Gregg Frazer has sent a long, detailed final comment defending his review of Dr. Mark David Hall's book against the charge of "inaccuracy."
To be clear: I only mentioned Lutz and his brand of evidence BECAUSE MARK RELIES ON LUTZ’S STUDY in order to diminish Locke’s influence. I was not suggesting that Lutz’s view is the only – or even the best – scholarly effort or appropriate methodology. As I said, I have problems with basing much on mere countings of citations. I was responding to the evidence Mark offers and, apparently, finds compelling. Mark cites Lutz – but partially and conveniently; that was my point. The source he cites does not really say what he reports it saying. I am not accusing Mark of doing this intentionally; he may well have gotten caught up in making a point.
Another source that Mark cites (John Dunn) to diminish Locke’s significance is all about the GENERAL PUBLIC’S lack of access to Locke and the situation of “the American population at large” [my italics] – but the section in Mark’s book is “To Whom Did the Founders Turn?” – not the common people [my bold]. There was a huge difference between the highly educated founders and the common people.
It’s also important to note the Dunn wrote before Bernard Bailyn’s work with the pamphlet literature of the day was available. Bailyn says that Locke was cited “(i)n pamphlet after pamphlet” and that “(t)he pervasiveness of such citations is at times astonishing” and that Locke’s influence approached being “dominant” and “wholly determinative.”
So, the common man was more familiar with the Bible – that’s a major reason why the Founders frequently referenced it; but the Founders were more influenced by Locke. Mark mentions that the Bible was often quoted and applied without citation – so was Locke.
Continuing his argument that the Bible was “the most important source of authority for America’s founders,” Mark continues to equate reference to a biblical “phrase” or “expression” with influence. He cites, of all people, Ben Franklin in support of this notion. Franklin is perhaps the best example of the flaw in this line of thinking. Franklin uses illustrations, stories, and familiar phrases from the Bible to embellish his arguments because people were familiar with it; but as far as I know, there is no example of Franklin actually drawing a principle from the Bible.
I asked a prominent scholar regularly cited in Mark’s book for his top three examples from the Constitutional Convention of delegates basing a constitutional principle on a biblical principle. That was about 10 years ago and I’m still waiting for the first example.
Even in his famous call for prayer, Franklin makes it clear that his conclusion that “God governs in the affairs of men” is based on history and his own observations, not on belief because the Bible says so. He makes two references to the Bible to ILLUSTRATE that idea (sparrows and Babel), but it is clear that he did not get the idea from the Bible. [And that’s not a constitutional principle, anyway]
Anyone who doesn’t list Franklin as a theistic rationalist, lists him as a deist. Clearly, the Bible did not have much influence on him.
In this section, Mark does not offer even a single example of a founder saying that he was influenced by the Bible – only that they used it for various purposes. Again, Satan did the same thing (Luke 4:10-11) and, like a number of the founders, used it for his own purposes out of context.
In a stunning paragraph on page 30, Mark first says: “The Holy Scriptures were the most important source of authority for America’s founders, but they are not a handbook for politics.” Then, in the next sentence, he says: “So when the founders debated the War of Independence, the creation of a new state and national constitutions, … they turned to thinkers such as Locke and Montesquieu for guidance.” The Revolution and the creation of the Constitution constitute THE FOUNDING. So, Mark here admits that Locke and Montesquieu were more important sources for the founding than the Bible. So, did America have a Christian founding? No; by Mark’s admission, it was a Lockean and Montesquieuan founding.
Then he tries to dig his way out of the hole with another sentence: “They saw these authors as articulating ideas that were compatible with their Christian convictions.” Really? 1) Who ever said that? Where’s the evidence? He says “they saw” this, but how does he know – who said it? 2) What ARE “Christian convictions” – we still have no definition of “Christian” and, consequently, cannot know what Christian convictions are. 3) Was the founding based on “Christian ideas” (whatever that means – he doesn’t ever say) or on ideas that were simply “compatible with” Christian convictions? Can it legitimately be called distinctly/particularly “Christian”? On what grounds/basis do we pick that one of several contributing elements?
Does any of this look familiar from, say, The Federalist Papers or other explanations from that time of the ideas in the Constitution and the source for them? What about the notes of the Constitutional Convention?
Mark’s next claim is: “When America’s founders spoke about ‘religion,’ virtually all of them – even those most influenced by the Enlightenment – meant Christianity.” That’s a VERY BROAD and SWEEPING claim, so one would expect broad and extensive evidence to be presented to confirm it – right? The ONLY evidence offered for this astounding claim is a statement by John Marshall that in America “Christianity and religion are identified.” But Mark omits the beginning of the sentence: “The American people are entirely Christian ….” Was that true? The latter half of the sentence is no more true than the first half. That’s why this is the only evidence Mark can present for this amazing claim. As I noted before, Marshall is a problematic witness.
Mark then says that a statement by Benjamin Rush is the “exception that proves the rule.” But you have to prove the rule first! Rush is hardly the sole “exception,” John Adams and Thomas Jefferson regularly discussed other religions. Mark reprints much of Washington’s letter to a Jewish congregation! There is NO reason to believe that others meant “Christianity” when they simply used the word “religion.” Mark objects to being lumped with less-than-stellar authors, but this is simply a David Barton talking point with, as far as I know, absolutely no evidence to support it – other than Marshall’s obviously suspect statement. It would seem that such a HUGE claim would have – and REQUIRE – more evidence supporting it than that.
To illustrate: on pg. 33, Mark prints a quote from Charles Carroll. In that quote, Carroll refers to “the Christian religion.” a) why does Carroll specifically identify the religion as “Christian” – why didn’t he just say “religion?” b) If Mark’s claim is correct, then Carroll’s statement is a reference to “the Christian Christianity!” That is nonsensical. Or is Carroll distinguishing to which “religion” he is referring and thereby recognizing that the term is broader than simply Christianity?
Later, on pg. 89, Mark repeats the claim. In that section – in the quotes that Mark includes – we have Abraham Baldwin recognizing “a different religious profession.” Mark suggests that he’s trying to protect Jews. But how can that be? If “religion” IS Christianity in the founders’ usage, then his statement must be understood as “a different Christian profession” – mustn’t it? He also recounts South Carolina’s statute referring to the “Protestant Christian religion” – but that would be nonsensical; it would mean the “Protestant Christian Christianity!” And Georgia’s law would require all officers of the university to be “of the Christian Christianity.” There are several references to “the Christian religion” in statutes and statements in this section of Mark’s book. They would all be nonsensical if his claim is correct. They would be repeated references to “the Christian Christianity.”
Why the need for these people and statutes to specify the Christian religion if “religion” was synonymous with Christianity to them? Why didn’t they just say “religion?”
Mark follows with a number of founders referring to the importance of – and need for – “religion and morality.” These are important statements about “religion” – but not necessarily Christianity. He says they must be interpreted as references to Christianity – even when they come from non-Christians and from people such as Adams and Washington who recognized other religions (remember Washington’s letter to the Hebrew Congregation that Mark highlighted earlier?). Why must we accept that as true without better or more evidence than Marshall’s questionable statement?
*This all comes back to Mark’s false dichotomy that there are only two options – so any reference to “religion” by guys who were not deists must be a reference to Christianity.*
In a section ironically entitled “Context Matters,” Mark criticizes John Fea’s comments concerning Washington’s 1783 “Circular Letter to the States.” While Mark is correct that Washington clearly refers to Jesus (of course without mentioning Him by name – Washington never did), he, like others, makes far too much of the reference to “the Divine Author of our blessed religion.”
First: Washington does not call for accepting the gospel or adopting Christianity or anything specific/unique to Christianity. He merely calls for imitation of Jesus’ virtuous “characteristics”: charity, humility, and pacific temper of mind. One could do the same with Gandhi, for example. This is consistent with his call for “religion and morality” and these are emphases of theistic rationalism and Hinduism and several other belief systems as well as Christianity. This was consistent with the theistic rationslist view that Jesus was a good moral teacher and example.
Second, much is made of the use of the word “Divine” to describe Jesus here; the assumption is that Washington here is doing what he did not do anywhere else: express belief in the deity of Jesus. But (speaking of context) one must understand 18th-century usage of words when discussing 18th-century writing. According to the definitive multi-volume Oxford English Dictionary (which traces usage by time period), one definition of “divine” is: “of more than human or ordinary excellence; pre-eminently gifted; in the highest degree excellent.” It cites a 1680 reference to “Divine Shakespeare” and a 1711 reference to “divine Socrates” as examples. Even today, we might refer to a “divine” symphony or dessert; Bette Midler is called “the Divine Miss M.” It was common in that day to refer to phenomenal, outstanding, talented people as “divine.” It does not necessitate an indication of deity and, given the record of Washington’s writings – he never referred to Jesus by name and never affirmed His deity in any other place – the least problematic interpretation GIVEN THE overall CONTEXT is that he simply meant to say that Jesus was extraordinarily special.
Third, another meaning at the time was: “one who has officially to do with divine things; an ecclesiastic, clergyman, priest, or theologian.” At that time, people regularly referred to clergymen as “divines.” [A chapter in The Religious Beliefs of America’s Founders is entitled “’Divine’ Sources of Theistic Rationalism. It is a reference to clergymen – not to God.] Washington may simply have been describing Jesus as a prominent religious person.
There is no reason to assume that – in this one isolated instance – Washington was saying the Jesus was God.
Fourth, Mark says that applying “Fea’s logic” to the Lord’s Prayer, which begins “Our Father who art in heaven” could lead someone to conclude it was not “uniquely Christian.” Someone who did not look at the WHOLE context could conclude that, but not someone who read it in its overall context (the rest of Matthew or even just the rest of the Sermon on the Mount). What would someone conclude from reading the rest of Washington’s writings?
I wholeheartedly agree with Mark’s conclusions at the end of this section because they refer simply to “religion” and “religious” things. If one does not read “Christianity” and “Christian” into these comments, they are valid and correct conclusions.
On pages 37-39, Mark implies/suggests that the Calvinist view of human nature was the driving force behind the Constitution (what this chapter is about). He begins with the claim that the founders believed in Romans 3:23 – but there’s no evidence, no quotes, to confirm this assumption.
He then notes that “most Americans in the founding era” were Calvinists and talks about Calvinist influence on children. Even if those claims are true, they are irrelevant to the subject at hand, which is not most Americans, but those who wrote the Constitution. As noted above, most of the delegates to the Constitutional Convention were NOT Calvinists and none of them cited Calvin or other Christian thinkers. They cited people such as Montesquieu and Locke and they cited experience and history.
He also mentions a couple of Calvinist teachers of Madison and many other founders, particularly John Witherspoon. He does NOT mention that Witherspoon began his famous Lectures on Moral Philosophy [the course taken by the future founders] by describing moral philosphy as “an inquiry into the nature and grounds of moral obligation by reason, as distinct from revelation” (emphasis mine). He said that “there are but two ways in which we come to the knowledge of things, viz. 1st, Sensation, 2nd, Reflection” – not revelation. He regularly appealed to “reason” and “common utility” as the ground of argument – not revelation. Witherspoon was a Christian and a Calvinist, but he didn’t always – or necessarily at all – teach his students his Calvinism.
And, at that, not all of my students learn or agree with all that I teach them – and I suspect that is true of Mark’s students as well. The proof would be in the pudding – the extent to which Calvinist ideas came out in their writings. Mark and I disagree profoundly on that.
As I explain in the review, Mark “argues that Calvinism’s teaching concerning total depravity and sin caused the founders to embrace separation of powers, checks and balances, limited government, and federalism.” But, I explain: “the founders actually saw man as an alloy of virtue and vice. Madison said that the good/virtuous qualities in man are present ‘in a higher degree’ than man’s bad qualities and that self-government cannot work unless that is true (Federalist #55).”
Regarding use of the word “sin”: I point out in the review that the founders did not use the Christian or Calvinist word “sin.” They used less judgmental words such as “weakness” and “venality.”
The idea that man has a wicked side is hardly unique to Christianity – who said their efforts for separation of powers were driven by Calvinism or Christianity or even religious beliefs? As opposed to experience/history? What Madison and others said between the Articles and the Constitution and after was that their experience with the Articles and legislative dominance (“drawing all power into its impetuous vortex”) convinced them.
Mark speaks of “foundational [my emphasis] Christian principles, such as the reality that … power tends to corrupt.” Where does the Bible teach that? In which creed, catechism, or confession of Christianity is that listed? Which churches have that in their doctrinal statement? This is not a “Christian principle,” it is an observed principle of human nature that is not inconsistent with what Christianity teaches – except that there will be no corruption in the Millennial Kingdom.
No political philosopher believed more in the depravity of man than Machiavelli – he didn’t get the idea from Christianity! History shows human nature.
Mark notes that the founders regularly cited Montesquieu, but that “the founders were drawn to him because he addressed a dilemma that all Christian statesmen must face.” Which founder ever said this?
Mark refers to a “broad and sweeping consensus among America’s founders that humans are sinful” – but the founders didn’t say that. Where’s a supporting quote?
When trying to counter the influence of the Enlightenment, Mark refers only to a French Enlightenment figure and to the French Revolution; but the English Enlightenment was very different and less radical – and that’s what influenced Americans!
Mark (again ironically) quotes Louis Hartz when he appears to agree with a point Mark is making – but Hartz is the biggest Lockean influence supporter of all! Hartz’s whole thesis is that America has worked because it’s based on a Lockean consensus! So Mark’s arguments against the influence of Locke discredit his own witness. Hartz claims that our only philosophical tradition from Europe is Lockeanism.
Regarding the section on natural law and natural rights (p. 42ff): natural law is not a distinctly Christian notion – it began with the pagan Cicero.
Mark again assumes without demonstrating that the concept of “natural rights” is a Christian concept. It may be promoted by Christians, but that does not make it a Christian concept. If it did, the “Christian” view of a lot of issues would be schizophrenic. Where does the Bible teach natural rights? Which confessions, creeds, and catechisms include natural rights? What makes it a Christian concept?
Mark refers to “the Christian – especially Protestant – conviction that tyrants may be actively resisted.” This is not a “Christian” conviction (the Bible doesn’t teach it and it’s not in any creeds/etc.). It is a view held by some Protestants, just as some Protestants are Yankee fans and some are Dodger fans, but neither is a “Christian” position because neither Jesus nor the Apostles taught it. I invite a listing of Scriptural passages that promote or even allow “active resistance” to tyrants. Speaking of Calvin, even he could not find any.
Mark presents a caricature of the opposing viewpoint (rather than dealing with the actual argument) by saying that a direct reading of Romans 13 “seems on the surface to require Christians to obey even evil rulers.” But it doesn’t require Christians to “obey” evil rulers, but to be “subject” to them (like the numerous examples in Scripture such as Shadrach & his friends, Daniel, and even the Apostles). They did not “obey” the rulers’ commands to disobey God, but they did remain “subject” to them. Like so many, Mark changes the word in the passage to make his argument. They are different Greek words with different meanings.
Mark concludes this section on natural law and natural rights with: “it is clear that the founders valued them, at least in part, for theological reasons.” Why is that clear? No proof has been presented – just claims. And no proof has been given that the “theological reasons” were Christian rather than theistic rationalist.
He says: “It is true that some judicial or procedural rights, such as the right to trial by jury, were drawn from other sources.” This is an admission that the system is a “mixed” one. On what grounds, then, do we pronounce it distinctively “Christian?”
Turning to the right to life, Mark contradicts the entire previous section’s claim of the supposed influence of Calvinism when he opens this section by saying that the founders had a “high view” of human nature! Which is it? Did they believe in Calvinism’s total depravity or did they have a high view of human nature? You can’t have it both ways. If he means that they had a high view of human life, that’s a defensible and non-contradictory notion. But that’s not the claim here.
As I (accurately) report in the review: “Hall claims that America’s founders ‘were committed to the core Christian idea that all humans are created in the imago Dei (image of God).’ This is the only one of his ‘Christian ideas’ that is distinctly or uniquely Christian; but no evidence to support this claim is given from a founder other than James Wilson quoting Psalm 139, which does not mention the image of God.” I first asked Mark about five years ago for a single quote from a founder expressing belief in this Christian idea. None has been forthcoming and there is none in his book – just a claim (again).
The Wilson quote expresses belief that God created man, but nothing about the image of God. Virtually everyone before Darwin believed that God or god or gods created man; that much is hardly a uniquely Christian idea. The one Christian idea is presented without supporting evidence.
On page 49, Mark claims that they “regularly appealed to Scripture to support their arguments for liberty,” but the passages quoted are about spiritual liberty (as all “liberty” passages in the Bible are) – not political liberty. Although they’re out of context and not what the Bible teaches, Hall claims that “it is clear that America’s founders understood civic liberty in a thoroughly Christian context.” Really? Misapplying the Scripture to make God say what He does not say is a “thoroughly Christian” approach? I make this point in the review – inaccurate?
Mark notes: “The founders distinguished between liberty and licentiousness” – but so did Plato and most political philosophers throughout history. This is no indication of Christian influence without some founder making that connection.
Although Mark broadly and categorically calls my review “inaccurate” – which implies that the part in which I praise his treatment of religious liberty must also be inaccurate. I stand by my evaluation here, as well. I agree with his commentary regarding Roe v. Wade and freedom of speech – but they do not uniquely/specifically reflect Christianity or require belief in Christianity. I agree with his take on the First Amendment and overuse of Jefferson and the so-called wall of separation; Mark is excellent in this area and provides real evidence. I agree that they supported promoting “religion” and morality – with the caveat that “religion” simply meant “religion” to them and not necessarily Christianity.
Mark concludes this section by claiming that “there are excellent reasons to believe that they were influenced by the Bible and Christian political ideas.” I wish he had given some of those excellent reasons; I don’t see any.
He further concludes with this: “The constitutional order they designed, one characterized by federalism, separation of powers, and checks and balances, reflects their Christian commitments. Their understanding of rights and liberty is best comprehended by taking into account their Christian worldview.” If that’s true, why did they have to manipulate and misapply Scripture out of context in order to support their supposedly Christian views?
As I state in my review: “Misusing and misapplying the Bible for one’s own purposes to advance an idea not actually taught in the Bible is not the act of a Christian and does not indicate Christian influence.” Christians seek to understand what the Bible really says/means because it is the Word of God and they desire to obey it – not to skirt God’s commands or merely to give cover for sin that they desire to commit.
Christians regularly see non-Christians employ out-of-context “quotes” or information from the Bible to try to discredit it or to promote some preferred cause for partisan purposes. That is not an indication of Christian “influence.” Regarding the use of the Bible: EVERYTHING depends on HOW it is used – not just that fact that it is used or the number of times.
Using a hammer multiple times to bash in a skull does not make one a carpenter.
Mark mentions Jasper Adams’s 1833 sermon; he does not mention that Madison refused (when asked) to confirm Adams’s thesis that Christianity was the foundation of America’s political institutions. This would have been a golden opportunity for a key founder to endorse the Christian America claim – but Madison did not (though prompted to). Mark does mention that Marshall of course affirmed it. That is the letter in which Marshall dubiously claims that “the American population is entirely Christian.”
On page 89, he again claims that “the vast majority” of the founders “meant Christianity” when they used the word “religion” – again without any supporting evidence.
Ironically, the best evidence in the book for Christian belief or influence in America’s founding is the 1775 call for thanksgiving by the Continental Congress. It actually mentions “Jesus Christ” and not a generic God-word. I say “ironically” because the nation was not yet “founded” – it was still part of Great Britain because the War for Independence had not yet been won. So, it’s not precisely evidence concerning the “founding.”
Another MAJOR problem here is the fact that this particular call for thanksgiving (along with others) was also a ploy/tactic designed to “smoke out” as-yet undiscovered Loyalists. “Patriot” agents were sent to churches to report on which pastors/ministers participated appropriately and enthusiastically and which did not. AT LEAST SIX CLERGYMEN DIED AS A RESULT. One can read about this on pg. 26-27 of God Against the Revolution.
In his discussion of these calls, Mark stipulates that they certainly referred to a “Deity that most certainly intervenes in the affairs of men and nations” – but that would also be true of theistic rationalists (not exclusively/necessarily Christianity).
Mark emphasizes GW’s reference to “true religion and virtue” (italicizing true) – but that simply begs the question of what GW thought “true” religion to be. Washington links it even here with “virtue” as he almost always did because he saw true religion to be good works. There is nothing specifically/uniquely Christian in the 1789 Thanksgiving Proclamation.
Four pages (116) after including two official public documents that serve Mark’s purpose in which John Adams advocates for political reasons beliefs that he vehemently opposed, Mark addresses the Treaty of Tripoli that Adams submitted to the Senate and signed. But here he argues that it doesn’t really espouse what it says! He says the language was merely for political purposes. Further: he gives as evidence that it didn’t really reflect public or senatorial opinion the fact that no one objected to it! In the footnote, he mentions that CC delegate James McHenry complained about it four years later – but he doesn’t mention that three CC delegates voted for it as senators and key founder Adams negotiated and signed it.
So Mark recognizes that public documents are political devices – but not when they support his argument; then we’re supposed to accept them as heartfelt and indicative of the founder’s or nation’s will. I contend that it is very problematic to make much of public documents because they are usually designed for political purposes. As a rule, I only employ them to counter claims made from other public (aka political) documents.
Mark’s arguments and evidence beginning on pg. 125 simply demonstrate that it is not possible to have a Christian nation. God certainly does not – ever – allow false religion in the Bible.
William Penn and others may think that punishing unbelievers breeds hypocrites and false conversions, but God instructs His people to expel (at least) unbelievers from the only nation to be rightfully identified with God (Mosaic Commonwealth) and from the other biblical community of God’s people – the church.
No one in this section makes a biblical argument; it’s logic, pragmatism, and a better idea than God as to what causes Christianity to flourish. God says remove unbelievers and keep the assembly pure.
Where is the evidence that this is God’s will and not just man’s? What makes these “Christian premises”? [pg. 131]
Mark (ironically again) relies heavily upon Elisha Williams’s 1744 sermon to support a supposed Christian right of conscience. Mark correctly reports that Williams makes “Protestant arguments” – not biblical arguments. Williams cites “reason” or “rational” 15 times in the section that Mark employs and refers to Locke 4 times in addition to a detailed explanation of a Lockean theory. Williams cites 1 verse of Scripture (Psa. 115:16) in support of a rational argument (not derived from it). I again say “ironically” because Williams bases the sermon on the guy that Mark discounts as an influence (Locke) and during a time when Mark says Locke had little influence.
An argument is not “Christian” simply because it is made by a Christian (if, indeed, Williams was a Christian). And someone declaring freedom of conscience a “sacred right” does not make it so unless God makes the declaration – which He did not do.
In the review, I also point out that the notion that people have a right to decide whether and how to worship God “as their consciences dictate” is not a Christian principle. If this is inaccurate, ssomeone would need to point out where the Bible teaches that – as opposed to the teaching throughout the Old and New Testaments that those who do not worship the true God and worship Him the way He demands will go to hell. And Paul’s teaching that anyone who teaches any other gospel than the true one is “to be accursed” (Gal. 1:8-9).
The founders clearly embraced religious liberty – as do I – but not from Christian principles.
Again on page 151, Mark lays out the same false dichotomy – Christianity or deism.
In footnote 50 on pg. 172, Mark says that the number of theistic rationalists was a “handful.” How does he know that? For how many of the 55 CC delegates has he done the research? He holds an expansive view of who counts as a founder – has he researched hundreds of them to allow such a generalization? This is yet another broad claim without any supporting evidence.
He himself says that we don’t have information for most – why is “Christian” the default identification? Does the Bible say that most people are Christians or that the way is narrow? What makes one a Christian? Mark never says.
What did Jesus say? Matt. 7:16-20; 21-23
Calling something “Christian” because it was influenced by “Christian ideas” first begs the question of what those ideas were. Second, what makes them “Christian?” Third, whether they are distinctively Christian ideas or simply ideas not in conflict with Christianity. Fourth, whether those ideas were determinative, and fifth, whether those ideas were specifically chosen to bolster a conscious attempt to make the thing “Christian.”
FINALLY: Mark employs a clever strategy:
1) never define Christianity or what it means to be a Christian
2) show that someone is not a deist
3) give a brief disclaimer that that doesn’t mean that they are Christians
4) provide no evidence that they actually believe in the doctrines of Christianity
5) then repeatedly refer to their actions as being motivated by the Christianity that you’ve merely asserted, but haven’t demonstrated
Also: if someone that doesn’t fit your thesis is cited by founders, it’s because they were not really influential; really influential people didn’t have to be cited because everyone knew.