Thursday, June 26, 2008

The Bible as a Source for Founding Documents:

This post features commentary by Dr. Gregg Frazer on the Bible as an intellectual source of republicanism. I'd count the Bible/Christian principles as one source of many from which America's Founders believed man's reason could select the "rational" parts. But it was by no means the chief source. Pagan Greco-Roman principles, the interest in which had been recently rekindled during the Renaissance, received far more attention in the Federalist Papers. Given Christianity is compatible with a variety of different political systems, Christianity is arguably perfectly compatible with republicanism. But the principles of republicanism are for the most part a-biblical.

The fact that some parts of the Declaration and/or Constitution are not in conflict with verses in the Bible does not mean that the Bible was the source. This is especially important when — as in the case of the Declaration and the Constitution — the authors claim other sources, but do not claim the Bible as a source!

In a May 8, 1825 letter to Henry Lee, Jefferson identifies his sources for the Declaration’s principles. He names as sources: Aristotle, Cicero, Locke, and (Algernon) Sidney — he does not mention the Bible. Then again, the terminology in the Declaration is not specifically Christian — or even biblical, with the exception of “Creator.” The term “providence” is never used of God in the Bible, nor are “nature’s God” or “Supreme Judge of the world” ever used in the Bible.

In the hundreds of pages comprising Madison’s notes on the constitutional convention (and those of the others who kept notes), there is no mention of biblical passages/verses in the debates/discussions on the various parts and principles of the Constitution. They mention Rome, Sparta, German confederacies, Montesquieu, and a number of other sources — but no Scripture verses.

In The Federalist Papers, there is no mention of biblical sources for any of the Constitution’s principles, either — one would think they could squeeze them in among the 85 essays if they were, indeed, the sources; especially since the audience was common men who were familiar with, and had respect for, the Bible. The word “God” is used twice — and one of those is a reference to the pagan gods of ancient Greece. “Almighty” is used twice and “providence” three times — but neither is ever used in connection with any constitutional principle or influence. The Bible is not mentioned.

As for freedom and liberty in the Bible, it is always SPIRITUAL freedom/liberty — as a look at the verses you’ve listed IN CONTEXT shows. That is NOT to say that political liberty is an anti-biblical concept — it’s just not a biblical one. Arguing that it is a “Calvinist” concept does not make it a biblical one, either. The “disciples” of Calvin did not write inspired revelation.

The key Founders (J. Adams, Washington, Jefferson, Franklin, Madison, Hamilton, Wilson, & G. Morris) — those most responsible for the founding documents — were religious, but not Christians. They believed that religion was essential to produce the morality that a free society required, but that any religion would suffice. Their religious belief was a mixture of Protestantism, natural religion, and rationalism — with rationalism as the trump card and decisive factor. They retained elements of Christianity, but rejected the elements of Christianity (and of natural religion) that they considered irrational. However: of the ten CORE beliefs of Christianity (those shared by all of the major Protestant denominations of the day (and by the Catholics), they held to only one (or two, in some cases). Their belief system was, as I have termed it, theistic rationalism.

If the view of Adams, Jefferson, and Franklin that any/all religions were valid paths to God and that any/all religions would suffice to produce the morality needed was a “minority opinion” among the Founders, why were they chosen to write the philosophical (you say religious) document (Declaration)?


Brian Tubbs said...

Two quick points...

1) When Christians say that freedom is a biblical concept, what they mean is that when governments apply biblical standards of justice on society, there IS freedom in that society.

In other words...Romans 13 says that a government is charged with protecting and praising the innocent and punishing evildoers. Well, when a government DOES that, freedom for the innocent is the result.

2) I disagree with the commentary's declarative assumption that all those men, including Washington and Madison, were not Christian. The most that can be said is that there's some DOUBT as to Washington's and Madison's Christianity. As for the others, I'll grant that they were not orthodox Christians.

Lindsey Shuman said...

Just to start a debate (and I mostly agree with what you say, Brian) how would applying "biblical standards of justice on society" bring about freedom when the Bible justifies slavery and the subjugation of women?

Brad Hart said...

Lindsey brings up some good points, but I think Brian is trying to take a broader view here. Though I personally do not believe everything in the Bible, nor do I believe in its infallibility, I do think that there is some truth to what Brian states when he writes, when governments apply biblical standards of justice on society, there IS freedom in that society.

For example, the Bible was used to demonstrate the evils of slavery during abolitionism, just as it was used by slaveholders to defend slavery. Also, while Romans 13 does frown upon insurrection, there are plenty of other instances when the god of the Bible encourages the masses to embrace revolution and rebellion. For example, Moses, Joshua, David, and to a degree even Jesus himself by his declaration that he was "King of Kings."

Now, there can be no question that the interpretation of the Bible is made on an individual basis. What one person deems to be doctrine another will hail to be heresy. For this reason, I wonder if it is a mistake to dwell too much on one particular interpretation, in this case how the Bible supports slavery and the subjugation of women as Lindsey states, or the doctrine of Romans 13 as Jon has pointed out.

Jonathan Rowe said...

A quick point:

In his PhD thesis Dr. Frazer lays out his case for why Washington, Madison, and the others whose religious views are disputed are not "Christian."

As an evangelical, Dr. Frazer holds if you are not orthodox, you are not "Christian," regardless of what you may call yourself. And his case on GW is similar to what Paul Boller, David Holmes, Stephen Waldman, myself and many others have argued on the lack of evidence for GW's orthodoxy. And his case for Madison is similar to again Holmes' and James H. Hutson's case against his being an orthodox Christian.

Brian Tubbs said...

Lindsey, a lot comes down to how you define the "subjugation of women" and "slavery." I personally disagree that the Bible justifies either.

I think the Bible honestly records the deeds and MISDEEDS of its heroes and heroines. For example, the Bible records that David and Solomon were both polygamists, but the Deuteronomic law is clear that the kings were NOT to "multiply wives" (and this was written BEFORE David and Solomon). So, they were in VIOLATION of God's standards.

That's just one example. But that kind of thing is throughout Scripture.

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