Saturday, June 21, 2008

Joseph Priestley's (and Richard Price's) "Millennial Politics":

Joseph Priestley, like America's key Founders he influenced, thought himself a "rational Christian" or "Unitarian Christian." He thought the infallibility of the Bible was a "corruption" of Christianity; but nonetheless, some of the Bible to be true. Interestingly, he thought the Book of Revelation and the Millennium to be legitimate parts of the Bible.

This puzzled his mentees John Adams and Thomas Jefferson who rejected that part of the Bible as illegitimate. It was Priestley's method of rationalism which he gave to them -- the confidence in man's reason to determine which parts of the Bible were legitimate, ala Jefferson taking a razor to the Bible and cutting out that which he deemed "unreasonable."

Priestley fervently supported the French Revolution, even in the midst of the reign of terror. And he used the Book of Revelation to justify his support. He didn't like the rise of strict Deism or atheism in France and wanted to convert everyone to his form of "rational" or "unitarian Christianity." He fused his unorthodox enlightenment rationalist theology with biblical millennialism, and saw the French Revolution as playing a key role in ushering in the millennium. In that he was not alone. Other preachers, some of them orthodox Christians, likewise believed the French Revolution was part of some larger event in the ushering in of a millennial republic of liberty, equality and fraternity. Richard Price, another British Unitarian Whig and friend of America's Founders, notably held to a position similar to Priestley's.

Anyway that's the summary of this article. Check it out if you can access the entire thing.

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