Tuesday, March 21, 2023

Denominational Affiliation Tells Us Little

I recently was involved in a discussion where, alas, the name of David Barton came up. At this point, I think Barton is a distraction from the issues that interest us on religion and the American Founding. I prefer not to talk about him but move on to better things. If he writes another baboon like "The Jefferson Lies," I will cover it. But otherwise I'm no longer interested.

But I do want to note something I think important. Gregg Frazer wrote a critique of Barton's "America's Godly Heritage" found here. Let me quote from it:

Let us begin with monumental unsupported assumptions presented as fact. The video begins with the claim that 52 of the 55 delegates at the Constitutional Convention were “orthodox, evangelical Christians.” Barton does not supply any source or basis for this astounding claim, but I strongly suspect that the source is M.E. Bradford’s A Worthy Company. It is, to my knowledge, the only “study” that attempts such a determination and that produces 52 as a result. The extent of Bradford’s evidence is simply a list of the denominational affiliations of the 55 delegates. Mere affiliation with a denomination is, of course, no evidence whatever of “orthodox, evangelical” Christianity. This is particularly true since, in order to get to 52, one must include the two Roman Catholics. If mere denominational affiliation is proof of orthodox Christianity, one must also wonder why Barton is concerned today, since 86% of today’s Congress is affiliated with Protestant or Catholic denominations (compared with just 75% of the national population). Today’s Congress is apparently more “Christian” than the American public.

Frazer's point speaks for itself; but let's also note who the three supposed "deists" were: James Wilson, Ben Franklin, and Hugh Williamson. Now, none of these three "fit" the definition of "deist" that most scholars posit. Though, all three perhaps were heterodox "Christian-Deists"/unitarians/theistic rationalists of some sort. Mark David Hall convincingly argues Wilson's views were in accord with orthodox Christianity (but personally I don't see the smoking gun evidence that Wilson was an orthodox Christian).

But the larger point I wish to make is Bradford's notion is largely worthless. Denominational affiliation proves very little. Thomas Jefferson who rejected every single doctrine of Christian orthodoxy was not only affiliated with the Anglicans-Episcopalians, but was at one point a vestryman in said church. Moreover, all 55 of the delegates arguably could be proven to have such affiliations. 

Look, this is an intense debate subject to the most rigorous of scrutiny. And "both sides" equally share a burden of coming forth with smoking gun evidence to demonstrate their contentions. We've put "the key Founders" under the microscope and have found evidence of the heterodoxy of Jefferson, J. Adams and Franklin. And also good reason to believe Madison, Washington and Hamilton (before his end of life conversion) were not orthodox Trinitarians either. Further, we've found evidence of orthodoxy for such figures as Sherman, Jay, and many others.

But, there are plenty of lesser figures whom we simply haven't looked at in such intense detail. And it's wrong to assume one way or the other that they were orthodox Christians or some kind of unorthodox deists. Again denominational connection proves very little. Take for instance, George Clymer (who died in my zip code, lol)

Admittedly, I haven't studied the man in much detail. But this is taken from a site that seems sympathetic to the "Christian America" perspective. Let me quote it (and note, I haven't verified these details):

Religious Affiliation: Quaker, Episcopalian ?

Summary of Religious Views:

Clymer's father was Anglican. His mother had been raised as a Quaker, but she was rejected from that faith for marrying a non-Quaker. Because both his parents died when he was very young, Clymer was raised by Quaker relatives, but it appears that he did not become a Quaker himself, since his wife was disowned by the Quakers for marrying him. In general, religion seems not to have played much of a role in Clymer's adult life. At his request, Clymer's body was interred in a Quaker burial ground.

This doesn't sound like much of an "orthodox evangelical Christian" to me. But we do see the nominal connection to the Quakers and Anglicans. 

Monday, February 20, 2023

A President Who Broke with Tradition

On January 21, 2021, the day after President Biden took his oath of office a newly published author, Lindsay Chervinsky, posted an article with the title, Most Republican Lawmakers Have Failed John Quincy Adams – and The Constitution. Overall, it’s worth looking at. There is, however, a problem in the second paragraph where it states:

In March 1825, President-Elect John Quincy Adams broke with tradition and used a book of laws at his inauguration. He selected the book of laws, rather than a bible, so that he would be taking the oath of office on the Constitution of the United States. JQA’s model serves as a helpful reminder of how elected officials should act, and reminds us how far most Republican lawmakers have strayed from that high standard.

The problem with saying “John Quincy Adams broke with tradition” is that it’s not true. John Quincy Adams did not break with tradition when he “read the oath of office from of a Volume of Laws.” In doing so, he actually chose to follow the model set by George Washington’s second inauguration that took place in Philadelphia.

The precedent setting nature of Washington’s second inauguration is evident by thoroughly examining the March 1, 1793 - Cabinet Opinion on the Administration of the Presidential Oath, where there’s no mention of a Bible. In addition, the Philadelphia newspapers describing Washington’s second inauguration failed to mention a Bible, or offer any commentary on how federal Justice Cushing administered the presidential oath of office by selecting a text from which he read the presidential oath “rather than a bible.”

The fact is that all reliable firsthand accounts, describing presidential inaugurations from George Washington’s second inauguration through to the 1825 inauguration of John Quincy Adams, fail to mention a Bible.  The so-called “JQA’s model” was not established by John Quincy Adams. That distinction belongs to George Washington starting at his second inauguration.

It’s only after Washington’s second inauguration and the next eight presidential inaugural ceremonies, a span of 36 years, where we find a president who broke with Washington’s no-Bible tradition. This break occurred at Andrew Jackson’s inauguration of March 4, 1829, where a District of Columbia Marshal appeared on the scene, and presented Andrew Jackson with a Bible. Here’s a snippet from a letter, dated March 11, 1829, written by Margaret Bayard Smith that describes the scene:

An almost breathless silence, succeeded [as Jackson started his speech] and the multitude was still, — listening to catch the sound of his voice, tho’ it was so low, as to be heard only by those nearest to him. After reading his speech, the oath was administered to him by [John Marshall] the Chief Justice. The Marshal presented the Bible. The President took it from his hands, pressed his lips to it, laid it reverently down, then bowed again to the people —Yes, to the people in all their majesty. . .  .”                                                

So, when we examine contemporary reports covering the time of our early presidents, it’s Andrew Jackson, not John Quincy Adams, who broke with the tradition of not using a Bible when swearing the presidential oath.

Friday, February 3, 2023

Rubin on George Washington's Approach To the "Christian Nation" Question

Writing at the Washington Post, Jennifer Rubin has an article entitled, "Think America Is A ‘Christian Nation’? George Washington Didn’t." 

I saw this from Dean Paul Caron's site. Quoting Rubin from Caron's site: 

The Jewish community in the United States is as old as its democracy. In August 1790, George Washington sent a letter to the Hebrew Congregation in Newport, R.I., thanking them for their well wishes.

He wrote: “The Citizens of the United States of America have a right to applaud themselves for having given to mankind examples of an enlarged and liberal policy — a policy worthy of imitation. All possess alike liberty of conscience and immunities of citizenship.” He added, “It is now no more that toleration is spoken of as if it were the indulgence of one class of people that another enjoyed the exercise of their inherent natural rights, for, happily, the Government of the United States, which gives to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance, requires only that they who live under its protection should demean themselves as good citizens in giving it on all occasions their effectual support.”

To a people long denied citizenship in the Old World, kept as a people apart from Christian neighbors, Washington was explaining something quite revolutionary: The United States does not simply forbear Jews; Jews are part of the United States. As the Touro Synagogue in Newport explains on its website: “The letter reassured those who had fled religious tyranny that life in the new nation would be different, that religious ‘toleration’ would give way to religious liberty, and that the government would not interfere with individuals in matters of conscience and belief.” ...

Those who view the United States as a “White Christian nation” would do well to ponder Washington’s letter. Its closing passage, which speaks in terms familiar to the people of the Torah, stands as an eloquent rebuke to that notion: “May the children of the stock of Abraham who dwell in this land continue to merit and enjoy the good will of the other inhabitants — while every one shall sit in safety under his own vine and fig tree and there shall be none to make him afraid.”

The Founding Fathers are often criticized (or excused) on matters of race and gender as men trapped in the blinkered vision of the past. But in this case, the most esteemed American of his time plainly saw beyond the common prejudices of his era. For that reason, he earned a special place in the hearts of American Jews. ... We Jews will remain part of the American experience so long as Americans of whatever faith or no faith heed Washington’s admonition.

Let me add, that some may claim, okay let's use "Judeo-Christian" instead of "Christian." But I have evidence that Washington viewed Islam as a legitimate monotheistic, non-Christian religion along with Judaism.

One thing is for sure, George Washington was "pro-religion" in a general sense. And he meant some kind of generic monotheism that transcended Christianity or even Judaism and Christianity.
(Washington himself was nominally Anglican and believed in a warm Providence. Plenty of terms have been used attempting to capture his personal creed, which seems a bit mysterious. But "warm deist," "Christian-Deist," and even more modern terms like "morally therapeutic deist" and "theistic rationalist" all seem applicable.)
To Washington, when he lauded "religion," he did not necessarily mean someone's "pet" version of "Christianity," which is the error that many Christian Nationalists make when they quote him.
If I were to describe Washington's creed in a way that was unique to him and him only it would be as some kind of noble pagan, a revived modern for the late 18th Century Roman Stoic like Cincinnatus or Cato, like here.

Friday, December 16, 2022

Samuel Seabury Leverages The Church of England into Communion With American Episcopalians

If it's fair to even call it "communion."

If we want to understand the political theology of the American founding and its attendant religious liberty and establishment issues, we need to understand the dynamic of how The Church of England (Anglicans) dealt with the separation.

The "official rules" of the Church of England held that the Monarch was head of both Church and State. The top clerical official is the Archbishop of Canterbury, who "reports" to the Monarch. If one did not affirm the Monarch's rightful place as leader of the Church, one could face severe legal penalties from both the civil magistrate as well as Church canons, up to and including excommunication

I've noted before the irony that so many of America's leading Founding Fathers were Anglicans, and what they technically did was rebel against the head of their Church. If they were "Anglican fundamentalist" (high church types who followed every single rule of the C of E down to the letter), they would have been Tories and submitted to the King, because that's what the Church officially taught. 

But even in Mother England, high church Anglicanism of the "fundamentalist" variety wasn't the only game in town in the C of E, even if perhaps it prevailed. Even King George III, about whose personal religious convictions I'm not exactly sure, I seriously doubt was an "Anglican fundamentalist" (even though that theology benefited his self interest). I'm assuming "the Christian King" was some kind of orthodox Trinitarian Anglican (?); but the attitude of the Monarchy towards America, up until things got heated with their dispute seemed to be one of (as the late Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan put it in an entirely different context) "benign neglect." 

The variety of Anglicanism that appealed to the Whig Patriots of the American founding was that of "low church latitudinarianism." Latitudinarianism literally means "doctrinal latitude." Now, most of these latitudinarians were probably "orthodox" on the Trinity and related doctrines; but not all of them. Or at least, their "doctrinal latitude" made room for more deistic and unitarian minded theists to feel comfortable in the Church.

If one wants a name of a latitudinarian figure that America's founders greatly respected, look up Bishop Benjamin Hoadly

Over in America during the revolution, Bishop William White was concerned that the conflict would fracture the Church. And his concerns were valid. As a matter of technicality, the Church of England only had jurisdiction in England. If America is no longer England, then the Church of England no longer exists there, even if the buildings and believers remain. Many of the believers left. The revolution indeed gutted the C of E in America. 

But when America successfully rebelled, the C of E in America, by necessity had to "start over." The Anglican hierarchy in England no longer had any power or jurisdiction over America. Ultimately what ended up happening was because Bishops White and Samuel Seabury (and other Anglican power players in America) were committed to historic Anglican orthodoxy, what emerged in American Episcopalianism was something traditional and orthodox.

It didn't have to be that way though. In New England, one of the Anglican Churches, King's Chapel went unitarian after the split. Indeed, if Bishop James Madison whom many suspected was heterodox, got his druthers and was in charge of rewriting the rules for Southern Anglicans and got his cousin and namesake and Thomas Jefferson to assist, we could have had a Unitarian Episcopalian system there too.

But what of the issue of "communion" among American and English Anglicans, post revolution? The first American Bishop was Samuel Seabury, a Tory loyalist and "The Farmer" whom Alexander Hamilton purported to "refute." He was jailed during the revolution for his loyalism. But after America won, he wished to remain and help rebuild the C of E in America, now as The Protestant Episcopal Church. 

Seabury traveled to Great Britain to get consecrated by the C of E. But he ran into a problem. The then extant rules officially demanded he take an oath of loyalty to the crown. Seabury wisely refused because he knew that wouldn't fly in America. But he got consecrated anyway by the Scottish Episcopal Church, composed of non-juring Bishops who "borrowed" from the Church of England's theology, but without recognizing any of their authority.

So at that time, Seabury was America's first and only existing Bishop and was in communion with a church that was in schism with the Church of England. This turned out to be a wise and strong move on Seabury's part. Great Britain ended up changing its rules to accommodate America's new situation. They apparently did NOT want American Episcopalians to be in communion only with the schismatic Jacobite Church.

So they relented and consecrated the next three American Bishops, William White, Samuel Provost and James Madison. In the Church of England. And I'm assuming without the "loyalty to the crown" oaths. 

Friday, November 25, 2022

John Adams' FU Letter to Jedidiah Morse

 This is another post of mine from 2008 on John Adams' response to one Jedidiah Morse on the concept  of Unitarianism. 

Adams was a fervent theological unitarian who militantly and bitterly rejected the doctrine of the Trinity. In 1815, he gets a letter from one Jedidiah Morse who attacked unitarianism, which was then growing in popularity.

Adams responded with an FU letter featured that you can read in its entirety here. To his credit, Adams tries to occupy a reasonable middle ground between the Trinitarian Calvinist fundamentalist "orthodoxy" Morse was trying to enforce and the more radical philosophical deism that was in the "air" of that era.

When Adams uses the term "Athanasianism," he refers to the traditional Trinitarian orthodoxy of St. Athanasius who defended the Nicaean creed in 325AD against Arius (Adams was on Arius' side). Athanasius also later first (meaning he literally was the first early church father or figure to do so) articulated the 27 books of the New Testament as an exclusive list in 367 AD (something Adams mistakenly thought was done in Nicaea; and Adams didn't have any kind of confidence in the biblical canon partly because of such).

But on to Adams' quotation:
... More than fifty years ago, I read Dr. Clarke, Emlyn, and Dr. Waterland: do you expect, my dear doctor, to teach me any thing new in favour of Athanasianism? — There is, my dear Doctor, at present existing in the world a Church Philosophick. as subtle, as learned, as hypocritical, as the Holy Roman Catholick, Apostolick, and Ecumenical Church. The Philosophical Church was originally English. Voltaire learned it from Lord Herbert, Hobbes, Morgan, Collins, Shaftsbury, Bolingbroke, &c. &c. &c. You may depend upon it, your exertions will promote the Church Philosophick, more than the Church Athanasian or Presbyterian. This and the coming age will not be ruled by inquisitions or Jesuits. The restoration of Napoleon has been caused by the resuscitation of inquisitors and Jesuits.

I am and wish to be 
Your friend, 
Quincy, May 15th, 1815.

Friday, November 4, 2022

Revisiting George Washington and Richard Price

I wrote this in 2008. It's not bad. Though, I think I could have written a stronger piece. The point I take from intensely studying George Washington's personal and political theology is that, aside from certain minimal points on which we all should agree, Washington leaves a bit of mystery because of his silence on the matter.

The minimal points are as follows: 1. devout belief in a warm Providence; 2. the importance of "religion" (generally defined) in helping to promote the morality of a virtuous citizenry on which republics depend; and 3. because "Christianity" is a "religion," a general endorsement of "Christianity" without necessarily endorsing orthodox Christianity's narrow claims. 

I do NOT see Washington as a Trinity and Incarnation believing "orthodox Christian," but rather something else. But I would agree that there are ambiguities in the record (and, to me, they seem purposeful on Washington's part).

But it's in trying to "fill in" these gaps -- the "detective work" -- that leads to a temptation: To incorporate the words of other people and institutions and put them in Washington's mouth or at least into his personal convictions. So, Washington was an Anglican; and Anglicanism has spilled a lot of words on what it stands for. Let us then assume that this is what Washington believed. OR, Washington was a collector of sermons; let us then assume he believed in all the content of the sermons he collected. OR, Washington corresponded with various religious figures and organizations of his day and said nice things to them; let us then assume he agreed with them on all of their doctrinal points.

All of those assumptions I described above are problematic. 

As I noted in my above mentioned 2008 post, one of the theologians that was the subject of Washington's brief correspondence was the legendary British Arian Richard Price. Price gave an "address" -- perhaps it could be classified as a "sermon" because Price was among other things, a minister -- entitled "Observations on the Importance of the American Revolution." 

Price was a theologically liberal, rationalistic Arian. I use the terms "liberal" and "rationalistic" because Price actually uses those terms to describe his creed in this address:

It is indeed only a rational and liberal religion, a religion founded on just notions of the Deity as a being who regards equally every sincere worshipper, and by whom all are alike favoured as far as they act up to the light they enjoy, a religion which consists in the imitation of the moral perfections of an almighty but benevolent governor of nature, who directs for the best all events, in confidence in the care of his providence, in resignation to his will, and in the faithful discharge of every duty of piety and morality from a regard to his authority and the apprehension of a future righteous retribution. It is only this religion (the inspiring principle of every thing fair and worthy and joyful and which in truth is nothing but the love of God and man and virtue warming the heart and directing the conduct) — it is only this kind of religion that can bless the world or be an advantage to society. This is the religion that every enlightened friend to mankind will be zealous to promote. But it is a religion that the powers of the world know little of and which will always be best promoted by being left free and open.

I cannot help adding here that such in particular is the Christian religion. ...

Now, Price's personal "Christian" convictions were, as noted above, Arian (the belief that Jesus, the Son of God, is NOT God the Son, but rather a created being who is higher than the highest angel, but not fully God Himself). Though, Price's address doesn't stress the Arianism (as I initially first thought when reading it). 

Price does say the following: 

Perhaps nothing more shocking to reason and humanity ever made a part of a religious system than the damning clauses in the Athanasian creed and yet the obligation of the clergy to declare assent to this creed, and to read it as a part of the public devotion, remains. 

Again, Price was an Arian; the Athanasian Creed was a Trinitarian one that has "clauses" that "damn" people (like Price himself) for not believing in the Trinitarianism expressed there. However, other Trinitarian creeds, most notably the Nicene, were more central. Theologically unitarian Founding Fathers and their influences like Price often did use the term "Athanasian" as a shorthand for "Trinitarianism" (mainly because of St. Athanasius' role in defending the Trinity during the Council of Nicaea).  

But in rereading Price's address, it seems more of an attack on that particular part of the Athanasian creed than promotion of theological unitarianism. Though, Price does describe the "latitudinarian" landscape of the Church of England at his time and how unitarians and other dissenters like himself "fit in" there:

The Church Establishment in England is one of the mildest and best sort. But even here what a snare has it been to integrity? And what a check to free enquiry? What dispositions favourable to despotism has it fostered? What a turn to pride and narrowness and domination has it given the clerical character? What struggles has it produced in its members to accommodate their opinions to the subscriptions and tests which it imposes? What a perversion of learning has it occasioned to defend obsolete creeds and absurdities? What a burthen is it on the consciences of some of its best clergy who, in consequence of being bound down to a system they do not approve, and having no support except that which they derive from conforming to it, find themselves under the hard necessity of either prevaricating or starving? No one doubts but that the English clergy in general could with more truth declare that they do not, than that they do, given their unfeigned assent to all and everything contained in the Thirty-nine Articles and the Book of Common-Prayer; and yet, with a solemn declaration to this purpose, are they obliged to enter upon an office which above all offices requires those who exercise it to be examples of simplicity and sincerity. Who can help execrating the cause of such an evil?

Bold face is mine.  

"Latitudinarianism" means "doctrinal latitude." Not all latitudinarians were unitarian; but as I understand the record, some/many were. People part of the Church of England in Richard Price's day -- including ministers -- didn't necessarily buy into everything the Church "officially" taught. 

Well, what does this have to do with George Washington? 

For one, Washington endorsed Price's address. As he wrote to BENJAMIN VAUGHAN, February 5, 1785:

Sir: I pray you to accept my acknowledgment of your polite letter of the 31st. of October, and thanks for the flattering expressions of it. These are also due in a very particular manner to Doctr. Price, for the honble mention he has made of the American General in his excellent observations on the importance of the American revolution addressed, "To the free and United States of America," which I have seen and read with much pleasure.

Now, I agree it's a bridge too far to treat this like a "smoking gun" that proves Washington agreed with every word of this address. 

But this is generally how Washington corresponded with various religious figures of his day who sent him items for his perusal. He gave polite, perfunctory "thank yous" and imprimaturs. But the different individuals and groups who sought his approval, which he most often gave, taught contradictory things on "doctrinal" matters and the like. 

So, it's also a mistake to cherry pick from the polite correspondence Washington had with more orthodox theologians and groups and assume that Washington personally shared their beliefs. Likewise, because Washington was affiliated with the Anglican Church, it's a mistake to assume he believed in all of their doctrines. If Washington were an Anglican fundamentalist, he'd be a Tory. And as we've seen above from Price's testimony, plenty of Anglicans, including ministers from that area "dissented" from or otherwise rejected "official" doctrine like that found in the 
Thirty-nine Articles and the Book of Common-Prayer.

As I look at the "big picture" I see Washington's personal creed as closer to Price's than that of the more traditional orthodox types of his day; however, even there, we have uncertainty. Washington could have been even further from conventional Christianity than Price was. He could have been more Socinian and Deistic (though, as noted above Washington clearly believed in a warm Providence). 

Monday, October 10, 2022

How Howard Zinn Hijacked History and Christopher Columbus

 From “Debunking Howard Zinn: Exposing the Fake History That Turned a Generation against America” by Mary Grabar. This excerpt originally appeared at The College Fix and is reprinted here by permission of the author.

Howard Zinn rode to fame and fortune on the “untold story” of Christopher Columbus—a shocking tale of severed hands, raped women, and gentle, enslaved people worked to death to slake the white Europeans’ lust for gold.

Today, that story is anything but untold. Zinn’s narrative about the genocidal discoverer of America has captured our education system and popular culture. The defacement of statues of Columbus with red paint had already become an annual ritual in many places.

Zinn is the inspiration behind the current campaign to abolish Columbus Day and replace it with “Indigenous Peoples’ Day.” High school teachers cite his book in making the case for the renaming to their local communities. In October 2018, San Francisco, Cincinnati, and Rochester, New York, joined at least sixty other cities in replacing Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples’ Day. Six states also do not recognize the holiday as Columbus Day. Many articles reporting on this trend cited Howard Zinn’s role in the change in attitude.

Stanford anthropology Professor Carol Delaney, who was quoted in a Courthouse News Service article to provide a counter-narrative, informed reporters that Columbus acted on his Christian faith and instructed his crew to treat the native people with kindness. But such inconvenient facts are inevitably drowned out by the Columbus-hate that Howard Zinn has succeeded in spreading.

Presumably extrapolating from the “many volumes” he had read, Zinn found the inspiration for the dramatic opening sentences of “A People’s History of the United States” [presented in full at the link by the aptly-named historyisaweapon.com—Ed.]:

“Arawak men and women, naked, tawny, and full of wonder, emerged from their villages onto the island’s beaches and swam out to get a closer look at the strange big boat. When Columbus and his sailors came ashore, carrying swords, speaking oddly, the Arawaks ran to greet them, brought them food, water, gifts. He later wrote of this in his log: ‘They . . . brought us parrots and balls of cotton, and spears and many other things, which they exchanged for the glass beads and hawks’ bells. They willingly traded everything they owned. . . . ’”

The quoted passage from Columbus’s log continues with Columbus’s description of the Arawaks. They are “well-built” and handsomely featured. Having never seen iron, they accidentally cut themselves on the Europeans’ swords when they touch them. The passage ends with Columbus’s now infamous words: “They have no iron. Their spears are made out of cane. . . . They would make fine servants. . . . With fifty men we could subjugate them all and make them do whatever we want.”

The ellipses in this passage are Zinn’s, not mine. Those omissions are essential to Zinn’s dishonest retelling of the Columbus story. By leaving crucial words out of the quotation, Zinn makes Columbus say something very different from what he actually said.

It’s unlikely that he even read as much of “Columbus’s journals” or the works of “Las Casas, the great eyewitness” as he claimed. The truth is that Zinn’s description of Columbus’s first encounter with the American Indians is lifted from “Columbus: His Enterprise: Exploding the Myth,” a book for high school students that Zinn’s friend and fellow anti-Vietnam War activist, Hans Koning, first published in 1976.

Zinn perpetuates Koning’s smears. In Koning’s telling and in Zinn’s, Columbus set out to enslave a uniformly gentle people for the sole purpose of enriching himself with gold. In fact, that is far from the truth. European efforts to find a sea route to Asia had been going on for hundreds of years. As William and Carla Phillips point out in “The Worlds of Christopher Columbus,” Columbus’s voyages of discovery were a continuation of Europeans’ ventures of sailing to Asia—at first, around Africa—that had begun in 1291. For centuries before Columbus, Portuguese and Spanish explorers had also ventured farther and farther out into the Atlantic Ocean.

Thus, Columbus’s mission was multi-faceted and inspired by several different motivations: “to reach the East Indies, so as to take Islam in the rear, and to effect an alliance with the Great Khan—a mythical personage who was believed to be the sovereign of all that region, and favorable to the Christian religion—and finally . . . to diffuse Christianity throughout that unknown continent and trade with the traditional sources of gold and spices.”

Desires to find new lands for more resources and to escape enemies and persecution are not impulses unique to Europeans. The natives of North America “in prehistoric times” themselves came from Asia and “crossed the land bridge across the Bering Strait to the lands of the Western Hemisphere.”

When he encountered naked natives instead of the Asian merchants he was expecting, Columbus did not jump to thoughts of working them to death for gold as Zinn, following Koning, suggests. For example, in his log entry for October 12, 1492, Columbus wrote, “I warned my men to take nothing from the people without giving something in exchange”—a passage left out by both Koning and Zinn.

But Zinn’s most crucial omissions are in the passage from Columbus’s log that he quotes in the very first paragraph of his People’s History. There he uses ellipses to cover up the fact that he has left out enough of Columbus’s words to deceive his readers about what the discoverer of America actually meant. The omission right before “They would make fine servants” is particularly dishonest. Here’s the nub of what Zinn left out: “I saw some who bore marks of wounds on their bodies, and I made signs to them to ask how this came about, and they indicated to me that people came from other islands, which are near, and wished to capture them, and they defended themselves. And I believed and still believe that they come here from the mainland to take them for slaves.”

In his translation of Columbus’s log, Robert Fuson discusses the context that Zinn deliberately left out:

“The cultural unity of the Taino [the name for this particular tribe, which Zinn labels “Arawaks”] greatly impressed Columbus…. Those who see Columbus as the founder of slavery in the New World are grossly in error. This thought occurred to [Samuel Eliot] Morison (and many others), who misinterpreted a statement made by Columbus on the first day in America, when he said, ‘They (the Indians) ought to be good servants.’ In fact, Columbus offered this observation in explanation of an earlier comment he had made, theorizing that people from the mainland came to the islands to capture these Indians as slaves because they were so docile and obliging.”

Zinn’s next ellipsis between “They would make fine servants” and “With fifty men we could subjugate them all and make them do whatever we want” covers for Zinn’s dishonest pretense that the second statement has anything at all to do with the first. The sentences that Zinn joins here are not only not in the same paragraph—as he dishonestly pretends by printing them that way on the very first page of A People’s History— but they’re not even in the same entry of Columbus’s log. In fact, they’re from two days apart.

Zinn’s highly selective quotations from Columbus’s log are designed to give the impression that Columbus had no concern for the Indians’ spiritual or physical well-being—that the explorer was motivated only by a “frenzy for money.”

But literally the explorer’s first concern—the hope that he expressed in the initial comment about the natives in his log—was for the Indians’ freedom and their eternal salvation: “I want the natives to develop a friendly attitude toward us because I know that they are a people who can be made free and converted to our Holy Faith more by love than by force.”

Zinn just entirely omits the passage in which Columbus expresses his respect and concern for the Indians. Zinn also suppresses—and, where he doesn’t suppress, downplays— the evidence from even the sympathetic Las Casas that the Indians could be violent and cruel. Zinn has to admit that they were “not completely peaceful, because they do battle from time to time with other tribes.” But, like Koning, he is eager to explain their violent behavior away, arguing, “but their casualties seem small, and they fight when they are individually moved to do so because of some grievance, not on the orders of captains or kings.”

In Zinn’s telling, the Arawaks—or black slaves, or Cherokees, or New York Irish, or whoever—must always be persecuted innocents and the condemnation of their sufferings must be absolute. The officially oppressed cannot be blamed even for any crimes they themselves commit, which are inevitably the fault of their oppressors.

According to Zinn, there’s no such thing as objective history, anyway: “the historian’s distortion is more than technical, it is ideological; it is released into a world of contending interests, where any chosen emphasis supports (whether the historian means to or not) some kind of interest, whether economic or political or racial or national or sexual.”

Once ideology has become a moral virtue, Zinn can discount standards of scholarship—such as those of the American Historical Association—as having to do with nothing more important than “technical problems of excellence”—standards of no importance compared to his kind of history, which consists in forging “tools for contending social classes, races, nations.”

Thus it would seem that the noble political purpose behind Zinn’s history justifies him in omitting facts that are inconvenient for his Columbus-bad-Indians-good narrative.

"Debunking Howard Zinn" is available from Regnery Publishing.

Sunday, October 2, 2022

Arnold's Article on James Madison, Anti-Christian Nationalist

This is is very thorough and well argued article from a brilliant young scholar, Gordon Dakota Arnold. He sympathizes with the perspective of more accommodation of traditional, conservative Christianity in public life. The article is a good reminder that America's Founders weren't always on the same page. But we can make observations like James Madison and Thomas Jefferson had a particular vision of church-state relations that was more secular and "separation of church and state" oriented. This has been called the "Virginia view" because Madison and Jefferson were both from Virginia and saw their vision validated in the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom

But there were other perspectives; the "Massachusetts view" was most notably articulated by George Washington and John Adams and permitted more expression of religion in public life and more interplay between church and state. 

But onto Arnold's article. A taste:

Was Madison a Christian?

It is quite likely that the beginning of Madison’s rejection of Christian nationalism is found in a rejection of orthodox Christianity more generally. Like George Washington, Madison was meticulous in his effort to keep his precise religious beliefs private, and he shied away from discussing theology or religious doctrine in all of his private correspondence. Whereas Thomas Jefferson and John Adams left ample evidence in their writings that they rejected the divine origins of orthodox Christianity, Madison’s papers never explicitly denounced doctrines such as the divinity of Jesus Christ or the resurrection.11 And yet, it is a mistake to rely upon arguments from silence as a means of bolstering Madison’s claims to orthodoxy. In 1774, when Madison the youth was studying under the Rev. John Witherspoon and considering a career in ministry, he praised the “advocates of the cause of Christ.”12 But after this, references to Jesus Christ in his private correspondence disappeared and he appeared to approach religion with more indifference. As an adult, Madison is said to have refused to kneel for prayer, and though he sometimes attended an Episcopal Church, he never joined it and never participated in holy communion.13 Friends of Madison, such as the Bishop William Meade, attested to his unbelief,14 and George Ticknor recounted a conversation he had with the President in 1815 wherein he “intimated to me his own regard for Unitarian doctrines.”15

But more disturbing than Madison’s apparent shift away from the evangelical theology of his youth is the sense one gets while reading his corpus that his final position entailed more hostility towards traditional Christianity than has often been acknowledged. As early as 1772, Madison included a striking note in his Commonplace Book, quoting from the Cardinal de Retz: “Nothing is more Subject to Delusion than Piety. All manner of Errors creep and hide themselves under that Veil. Piety takes for sacred all her imaginations of what sort soever.”16 Throughout Madison’s long career, he often returned to this theme about the political dangers of piety and religion. “Religious bondage,” he said to his friend William Bradford, “shackles and debilitates the mind and unfits it for every noble enterprize every expanded prospect” [sic].17 While Madison in one instance referred in passing to Christianity as the “best & purest religion,” it is likely that he, like his friend Thomas Jefferson, primarily praised it with a view towards its ethical precepts—precepts accessible to unaided, natural reason—and emphatically not its doctrinal claims uncovered within divine revelation.18 In fact, Madison thought that doctrinal orthodoxy needed to be eliminated in order to further the cause of progress and enlightenment. In a letter to Thomas Jefferson, Madison complained about “Sectarian Seminaries” in Virginia—almost certainly alluding to Calvinist or Reformed institutions of learning—and their incorporation into the Virginia state charter on the grounds that this would empower churches of “any creed however absurd or contrary to that of a more enlightened age.”19 Doctrines must shift and change with the times, and any attempt to ground the nation in a static doctrine of Christianity is a threat to progress.


Madison and the Great Divorce of Christianity and Politics 

Because he believed that religion is essentially a passion that causes rather than discourages faction, Madison also contended that it needed to be pacified for liberty to be preserved. The primary method of solving the political problem of Christianity was to encourage religious diversity and foster disunity. As Madison’s friend, neighbor, and first biographer William Cabell Rives reported, the President was fond of quoting Voltaire’s maxim that “if one religion only were allowed in England, the government would possibly be arbitrary; if there were but two, the people would cut each other’s throats; but, as there are such a multitude, they all live happy and in peace.”30 And Madison himself left no doubt that these were exactly his sentiments. He spoke in Federalist no. 51 of how the “multiplicity of sects” was the only security for the preservation of “religious rights.”31 In a letter to Thomas Jefferson, Madison celebrated the fact that the “mutual hatred” of Virginia’s Christian denominations “has been much inflamed.”32 He added: “I am far from being sorry for it, as a coalition between them could alone endanger our religious rights.”33 Where the Apostle Paul spoke of the need for harmony, unity, and love within the body of Christ, Madison preferred that the church be characterized by disarray, discord, and faction. Only then would Christianity fail to mobilize itself as a political force, and only then would the natural rights of individuals be safe from a majority faction. Madison’s view, too, contrasts with the more Pauline beliefs of George Washington, who celebrated the “harmony and Brotherly Love which characterizes the clergy of different denominations” because it further substantiated his conviction that “Religion and Morality are the essential pillars of civil society.”34 

Saturday, September 24, 2022

Lillback Repeats Phony Quotation

In 2022

Dr. Peter Lillback, President of Westminster Theological Seminary has done some legitimate scholarly work on the history of theology. I've criticized his 1200 page book that purports to show George Washington was an orthodox Trinitarian Christian. Though, let me note the book does have its virtue as a reference for all of Washington's words on matters of religion and government.

I would assume that Lillback is well aware of the "controversy" regarding the phony quotations that the "Christian America" crowd has spread which caused them much egg on their faces. 

But, alas, in 2022, he steps in it.

Now, if you turn to page 16, Patrick Henry, do you remember what he said? The man who said, “Give me liberty or give me death.” He said, “It cannot be emphasized too strongly or too often that this great nation was founded, not by religionists but by Christians, not on religions but on the gospel of Jesus Christ.”

The problem is Henry didn't say the "it cannot be emphasized ..." quotation.  I've been noting this since around 2005. 

I know that the older Patrick Henry backed off from his militant anti-Federalist sentiments; but around the time that the US Constitution was ratified, calling America a "great nation" probably would have made Patrick Henry want to puke. This was a man who objected to the phrase "We the People" in the preamble to the US Constitution because it intimated the US was a single consolidated nation as opposed to a collection of free, sovereign states. He wanted "We the States."

This was back when the United States was commonly referred to in a plural sense, as in "The United States are," as opposed to "The United States is." 

But in any event, Patrick Henry still didn't say it

Saturday, September 10, 2022

Bolingbroke's Deism

I am still around and blogging, just busy with some work/life issues which is why you haven't heard from me in a while. One of the highlights of my Summer (2022) was peer reviewing a book on Deism which should be out shortly.

Here is the bottom line of this book: Most English, American and French "deists" believed in an active personal God, not a cold distant watchmaker. If the term "deist" isn't appropriate for the theology that posits an active personal God, then lots of folks, not just George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and Ben Franklin need a new term; so too do Robespierre and many of the French Revolution's "deists."

Though one thing that DOES tend to distinguish the English and American "deists" from the French is that the English and Americans retained more of their "Christianity." Someone like Bolingbroke, for instance, thought Jesus was on a divine mission, worked miracles and ascended to heaven.
But what DIDN'T Bolingbroke believe? Large parts of the Protestant canon. For instance, he thought the Book of Revelation was false in a nutty way and that everything St. Paul wrote was not in fact true revelation.

He also thought much of the Old Testament was not actual divine revelation. For instance, the supposed curses of Noah on Ham and Canaan. Bolingbroke actually wonders whether those parts of the OT were, instead of divine writ, simply the meanderings of Noah in a drunken stupor. (See this link.) 

If there is a better term than "deist" to describe this creed, I'm all ears. But if we call it either "deism" or "Christianity" we need to clearly define the terms to understand what we are dealing with.

Wednesday, July 27, 2022

The American Theory of Rights: Not in the Social Contract, but in the Natural Law

 James Otis might have become the foremost thinker of the Founding, except he was brained by a violent Tory in 1769 and was showing signs of mental problems before that.  But 'twas James Otis who got the intellectual arguments for the American vision of liberty off to a brilliant start in 1764:

"Government is founded not on force, as was the theory of Hobbes; nor on compact, as was the theory of Locke and of the revolution of 1688; nor on property, as was the assertion of Harrington. It springs from the necessities of our nature, and has an everlasting foundation in the unchangeable will of God."
This is the unique American theory of rights as expressed in the Declaration of Independence--the foundation of man's rights is "the laws of nature and of nature's God."

Here the erudite James Otis makes the essential distinction between various "Enlightenment" theories of government and rights [Hobbes and Harrington, yes, even contrary to John Locke!] and the uniquely American vision--our rights come prior to government, we don't negotiate our rights with the government, or with each other:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
Rights are prior to government, then

That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed...

And some years later, in 1790, James Wilson---one of the few signers of both the Declaration and the Constitution, and a future Supreme Court justice, reminds his audiences [that included President Washington] in his lectures on law of just how the American view of rights differs from the British "contract" view of 1688, the supreme legal theorist William Blackstone and Edmund Burke, and even John Locke and the Magna Carta:

"But even if a part was to be given up, does it follow that all must be surrendered? Man, says Mr. Burke, cannot enjoy the rights of an uncivil and of a civil state together. By an uncivil contradistinguished from a civil state, he must here mean a state of nature: by the rights of this uncivil state, he must mean the rights of nature: and is it possible that natural and civil rights cannot be enjoyed together? Are they really incompatible? Must our rights be removed from the stable foundation of nature, and placed on the precarious and fluctuating basis of human institution? Such seems to be the sentiment of Mr. Burke: and such too seems to have been the sentiment of a much higher authority than Mr. Burke -- Sir William Blackstone. 

And must we surrender to government the whole of those absolute rights? But we are to surrender them only -- in trust: -- another brat of dishonest parentage is now attempted to be imposed upon us: but for what purpose? Has government provided for us a superintending court of equity to compel a faithful performance of the trust? If it had; why should we part with the legal title to our rights?"

Here is the fatal flaw of "social contract" theory, the British understanding of rights and government according to Burke and Blackstone and Locke---We barter our natural rights with the government and receive "civil privileges" in return.

Wilson answers his own question, "Must our rights be removed from the stable foundation of nature, and placed on the precarious and fluctuating basis of human institution?"---a "social contract" with government...?


At first, the stirrings of rebellion among the American colonists came from acts of Parliament abridging their "rights as Englishmen." But in the end, the Americans realized that even their "contractual" rights as Englishmen weren't enough---

 Rights reside in man, not in where a man resides.

This is the American way.

Wednesday, June 15, 2022

When Historians Attack III—Princeton's Kevin M. Kruse Exposed

(One in what we hope is only a very occasional series: When Historians Attack--and misuse their scholarly authority: Part One [Joseph Ellis]; Part Two [Mark Noll]--TVD)

Phillip W. Magness in the libertarian Reason magazine on Princeton—and MSNBC—historian Kevin M. Kruse's own scholarly record.  

Kruse's academic fraud is pretty bad. Read for yourself.

Sugrue: Detroit is a logical site for such a close analysis.

Kruse: Atlanta struck me as a logical site for such an analysis.

It gets even worse:

Dr. Kruse is "Twitter-famous" for taking on ideological opponents like non-historian Dinesh D'Sousa on their questionable assertions but here Kruse himself is