Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Thomas Kidd's Contribution to Cato Unbound

Here is a link to Thomas Kidd's contribution to the Cato Unbound symposium on the faith of the American founders. A taste:
The problem is that people in eighteenth-century Anglo-America did not always use our textbook definition of a deist. Deist could mean a person who denied God’s providence, but it could mean other things as well. Sometimes it referred to a person who was critical of Reformed theology and its emphasis on humankind’s lack of free will. Or someone who did not believe that the whole Bible was the Word of God. Sometimes “deism” meant monotheism. Sometimes the use of deism had no skeptical connotations at all, such as when it was used as an antonym for “atheism.” Franklin and others rarely unpacked all those variant meanings, but it would have surprised few people in Revolutionary America to find that a “deist” also believed in God’s providence. Among the various “Enlightenments” of the era, the French Enlightenment tended to be the most radically skeptical, even producing some atheists. Advocates of the British-American Enlightenment, scholars now understand, were mostly friendly to theism, if not Christianity per se. Often British Enlightenment thinkers had a reformist agenda for institutional Christianity, such as disestablishing the official state churches, ending tests of faith for elected officials, or repudiating Reformed or Calvinist doctrines such as predestination.  
Another reason that the founders’ faiths are elusive is that even the “deistic” founders, such as Jefferson and Franklin, knew the Bible and quoted it liberally. As Hall notes, George Washington, typically quiet about his own faith, loved to quote Micah’s peaceful image of the vine and the fig tree. ...

2 comments:

Tom Van Dyke said...

Disappointing. I hope Tommy's keeping his powder dry and not just keeping his skirts clean and voting present"

This is of mild interest:

Advocates of the British-American Enlightenment, scholars now understand, were mostly friendly to theism, if not Christianity per se. Often British Enlightenment thinkers had a reformist agenda for institutional Christianity, such as disestablishing the official state churches, ending tests of faith for elected officials, or repudiating Reformed or Calvinist doctrines such as predestination.

True but it still only tells us about certain British intellectuals, not what the American Founders did with that theorizing.

Predestination was far from anyone's mind. For one thing, even though arrogant Calvinists fancy themselves members of "the Elect," even they are forced to admit they have no way of knowing for sure. And even if you're dealing with one of the Damned, as a Christian you still have to treat them as a human being. I think Kidd barely hit the dartboard here.

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