Saturday, April 16, 2022

Hamburger: "Separation of Church and State: A Theologically Liberal, Anti-Catholic, and American Principle"

For some time I have featured the work of Columbia law professor Philip Hamburger's "Separation of Church and State" with critical commentary. I just hope my criticisms are fair. 

The chapter to that book entitled A Theologically Liberal, Anti-Catholic, and American Principle is available online in its entirety so readers can decide for themselves if I'm being fair. I stand by my assessment; Hamburger is a brilliant scholar who meticulously documents the record, but at times weaves an utterly contentious narrative while doing so. 

For instance, the "Anti-Catholic" and "American" principle Hamburger documents is, as I see it, simply Protestant anti-Roman Catholic animus, that has been present since day one of the Reformation. Hamburger seems to argue in the chapter that the "liberals" are to blame for it and somehow got the theologically orthodox, conservative Protestants to go along for the ride in 19th Century America; but I don't think so. The creedally orthodox, Trinitarian Protestants have as much of a history of anti-Roman Catholic animus as the "liberals" in America and Europe since, again, day one of the Reformation.

The "liberals" as Hamburger describes them, and as I have noted before, were either theologically unitarian or doctrinally lax in the anti-creedal, anti-clerical sense. This theologically liberal Protestantism was also arguably key to the political theology of the American Founding. Arguably, it owns a great deal of the "spirit" of the 18th Century American Founding, not just the 19th century which is the focus of Hamburger's chapter. 

I've also featured the work of Dr. Gregg Frazer whose thesis describes the political theology of the American Founding as not "Christianity" or "Deism" but some kind of hybrid which he terms "theistic rationalism." One could argue that this "theistic rationalism" is actually a late 18th century version of "liberal Protestant Christianity" of the unitarian variant. Very similar to the "theologically liberal" American theologians of the 19th Century whom Hamburger tars with "animus." (Note, the 18th Century American Founders who adhered to this theology like John Adams and others also possessed such anti-RC animus.) 

The legendary 19th Century Unitarian figure William Channing features prominently in Hamburger's chapter as a notable expositor of this kind of "theological liberalism." But one need not even be identifiably self consciously theologically unitarian in order to qualify as an adherent to this kind of theological liberalism. Rather, one would need to be a self consciously anti-creedal and anti-clerical Protestant. Certainly, William Livingston and John Dickinson (basically 1/2 Quaker Whigs who didn't care for creeds or clergy) would also qualify in addition to the "key Founders" that Gregg Frazer identifies (the first four American Presidents, Ben Franklin, etc.). As would the Quakers and perhaps some Baptists who also eschewed creeds. Again, lots of important figures and forces of the 18th Century American Founding. 

Below is an interesting passage from page 13 of Hamburger's above linked article.
In addition, some Enlightenment Protestants attempted to reconcile religion and reason by accentuating what could be inferred from reason and by reducing religion to what was reasonable. Associating reason with the purity of their own faith, Protestants condemned Catholicism as not only unfree but also irrational and superstitious-thereby joining earlier Protestants who classed it with the mummery and horrors of paganism.

This completely resonates with the political-theological zeitgeist of the American Founding (or at least notable elements therein like the aforementioned "key Founders," Revs. Jonathan Mayhew, Charles Chauncy, and Brits. Joseph Priestley and Richard Price). But in this chapter, Hamburger apparently tries to tar it as a "bad guy" position by connecting it to animus and eventually the KKK.  


Tom Van Dyke said...

I think Mark David Hall's case for orthodox Calvinism as the driving force for revolution and independence is far more persuasive than the argument for the Enlightenment brand of unitarianism/liberalism/secularism which was the province of a handful of marquee elites.

Drawing from hundreds of personal letters, public proclamations, early state constitutions and laws, and other original documents, Professor Hall makes the airtight case that America’s founders were not deists; that they did not create a “godless” Constitution; that even Jefferson and Madison did not want a high wall separating church and state; that most founders believed the government should encourage Christianity; and that they embraced a robust understanding of religious liberty for biblical and theological reasons.

As for strict separationism, I think the Baptists are more to blame/credit than the Enlightenment and it does not conform neatly with the modern secularist argument either.

As for the case for the Catholic Church supplying the rigor of the political theology of the Founding, Robert Reilly makes an excellent case here.

Tom Van Dyke said...

"Reilly argues that these dilemmas are not just false but unnecessary. He insists that the Founders did not cull their political insights — especially the Declaration’s central assertion about “unalienable rights” that come from a “Creator” and not man — just from contemporary Enlightenment thinkers but from a long philosophical tradition whose roots reach to Athens, Rome and Jerusalem.

If that’s true — and Reilly makes powerful arguments it is — it also forces us to reckon with modern biases, including the prejudice that a millennium of history, from the fall of Rome to the rise of the Renaissance, was one big “Dark Ages.”

What the Founders took from antiquity, they carried through medieval England — Catholic medieval England. Their commitments to the rights of persons; to government by consent of the governed (with roots in medieval orders like the Franciscans and Dominicans); to law as rooted in reason; and against unbridled divine right of kings were all part of their English heritage that was ultimately … Catholic.

Reilly admits to problems, the greatest of which is the long-term mischief nominalism wrought in Western thought. Largely the work of an Englishman, William of Ockham, it shifted law from an act of divine reason to an act of divine will and delinked it from objective reality, so that “the law is what God (or the judges) say it is” (Oliver Wendell Holmes, adapted). Reilly knows that nominalism was largely baked into Protestant DNA by its theology, but makes great efforts to say that Richard Hooker mitigated its baneful effects in Anglicanism and that the Founders were profoundly influenced by him."

David Tamanini said...

Sorry, but where in the following sentence is there language about separation of church and state. "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;" This was, after all, an amendment that was omitted from the Constitution. Looking into influences in the intent of the framers, in this instance, is useful for the purposes of argument only.

Jonathan Rowe said...

"Reilly admits to problems, the greatest of which is the long-term mischief nominalism wrought in Western thought. Largely the work of an Englishman, William of Ockham ...."

I tried to get through the Michael Hanby series responding to Reilly, but it was very dense and "inside baseball" from the trad. Catholic perspective.

But I note, Hobbes, Locke and Rousseau specialized in arguing their own "inside baseball" -- "state of nature"/ social contract and rights -- language. And that language does seem in tension with the Ancient natural right and then traditional Christian way of viewing things.

But even they didn't coin the term "State of nature." Who did? (As far as I know): William of Ockman.

So it seems to be that whatever it was about Protestantism that Reilly and the trad. Catholics have an issue with (the decentralized, individualistic element) was "on steroids" during the American Founding, especially when combined with its Enlightenment component.

So it's "Richard Hooker" to the rescue.

I'm skeptical.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Man is a social animal. Absolute freedom [as radical individualism] does not exist.

"To those that say there were never any men in the state of Nature, I will not oppose the authority of the judicious Hooker (Eccl. Pol. i. 10), where he says, “the laws which have been hitherto mentioned” i.e., the laws of Nature, “do bind men absolutely, even as they are men, although they have never any settled fellowship, never any solemn agreement amongst themselves what to do or not to do; but for as much as we are not by ourselves sufficient to furnish ourselves with competent store of things needful for such a life as our Nature doth desire, a life fit for the dignity of man, therefore to supply those defects and imperfections which are in us, as living single and solely by ourselves, we are naturally induced to seek communion and fellowship with others; this was the cause of men uniting themselves as first in politic societies.

Locke then tries to sneak in social contract theory, but by then it is too late.

But I, moreover, affirm that all men are naturally in that state, and remain so till, by their own consents, they make themselves members of some politic society, and I doubt not, in the sequel of this discourse, to make it very clear."