Sunday, August 31, 2008

Palin's Sloppy Scholarship 2.0

In 2006, when she was running for governor of Alaska, Gov. Palin answered a questionnaire that included the question, "Are you offended by the phrase 'Under God' in the Pledge of Allegiance? Why or why not?" Her answer:
Not on your life. If it was good enough for the founding fathers, its good enough for me and I’ll fight in defense of our Pledge of Allegiance.
Unless we are expanding the definition of "Founding Fathers" to include Eisenhower, I'm going to have to protest. 

Related: See these posts for discussion of the addition of "so help me, God" to the Presidential oath.

Palin's Sloppy Scholarship

I just discovered that majority of quotations from Palin's "Christian Heritage" resolution are misquotes. The actual underlying quotations do exist. She doesn't cite them exactly as they are in the originals. When scholars want to do this, they have to use ellipses "..." and brackets [] or else they make an error [sic]. Most of Palin's quotes are copying errors.

Let's break down her resolution beginning with the first quotation by Ben Franklin:

WHEREAS, Benjamin Franklin, at the Constitutional Convention stated, "It is impossible to build an empire without our Father's aid. I believe the sacred writings which say that, Except the Lord build the house, they labor in vain that build it (Psalm 127:1)."

This misquotes Franklin's speech at the Constitutional Convention [as recorded by James Madison] where he was recording as saying:

I have lived, Sir, a long time, and the longer I live, the more convincing proof I see of this truth that God Governs in the affairs of men. And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without his notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without his aid? We have been assured, Sir, in the sacred writings, that “except the Lord build the House they labour in vain that build it.” I firmly believe this; and I also believe that without his concurring aid we shall succeed in this political building no better, than the Builders of Babel:

Next Palin writes:

WHEREAS, George Washington enunciated, "animated alone by the pure spirit of Christianity, and conducting ourselves as the faithful subjects of our free government, we may enjoy every temporal and spiritual felicity."

This misquotes an address Washington gave to Roman Catholics by a few words, notably switching "ourselves" for "themselves." The bold is mine:

And may the members of your society [the Roman Catholics] in America, animated alone by the pure spirit of christianity, and still conducting themselves as the faithful subjects of our free government, enjoy every temporal and spiritual felicity.

Next Thomas Jefferson. Palin writes:

WHEREAS, Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration of Independence, wrote, "Can the liberties of a nation be secure when we have removed the conviction that these liberties are the gift of God?"

This misquotes Jefferson's "Notes on the State of Virginia" where he said:

And can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are the gift of God? That they are not to be violated but with his wrath? Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just: that his justice cannot sleep for ever . . . ."

In her defense, though, the words "Can the liberties of a nation be secure when we have removed a conviction that these liberties are the gift of God?" do appear on panel three of the Jefferson Memorial.

Next Madison, Palin writes:

WHEREAS, James Madison, father of the United States Constitution advocated "the diffusion of the light of Christianity in our nation" in his Memorial and Remonstrance.

What the Memorial and Remonstrance actually says:

12. Because the policy of the Bill is adverse to the diffusion of the light of Christianity. The first wish of those who enjoy this precious gift ought to be that it may be imparted to the whole race of mankind.

The George Mason quotation from the Virginia Declaration of Rights is accurate. And I haven't been able to confirm the Patrick Henry quotation in the original record.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Joe Biden's Views on Church and State

With all of the excitement surrounding the Republican and Democratic V.P. selections, I thought our readers might enjoy this. We have already seen a surge on the "blogosphere" with regards to the religious beliefs of the Republican V.P. candidate, Sarah Palin. It is likely that she will continue to be the focus of attention for the next week or so. As a result, I thought it might be beneficial to switch it up a bit.

The following comes to us from the personal blog of Melissa Rogers, which was linked to Ed Brayton's blog, Dispatches From the Culture Wars. It is an excellent summary of some of the public statements made by the Democratic V.P candidate, Joe Biden, in regards to his views on the separation of church and state, along with his overall opinion of religion in America. Enjoy:

In light of the big news of the day, I thought I'd post some excerpts from various statements and stories that reflect Senator Biden's views regarding religion's role in public life and church-state issues. Here are a few noteworthy excerpts:

From "The Fourth R: Conflicts Over Religion in American Public Schools" by Joan DelFattore (Yale University Press 2004):

At a 1995 Senate hearing on a proposed constitutional amendment that would have re-introduced school-sponsored prayer, among other forms of state-endorsed and state-subsidized religion, Senator Orrin Hatch argued that] [t]he government should foster spirituality . . . as an antidote to moral decay. Biden replied, "The coin of religious freedom, we must never forget, has two sides."

America is one of the most religious nations on Earth, he maintained, precisely because the government has stayed out of religion. In his view, the issue before the Senate was not whether religion was good but whether all Americans, including religious minorities, would benefit from increased government involvement with it.

From The Christian Science Monitor (August 2007):

"The animating principle of my faith, as taught to me by church and home, was that the cardinal sin was abuse of power," he said in an interview with the Monitor. "It was not only required as a good Catholic to abhor and avoid abuse of power, but to do something to end that abuse."

By the way, that statement helps shed some more light on an answer Biden gave at a Democratic presidential debate in September 2007 when he was asked what his favorite Bible verse was. (I thought this was a poor question for a presidential debate, by the way). Biden's answer to this question was: "Christ's warning of the Pharisees."
From the Associated Press (June 2006):

Calling the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks a greater shock to the American psyche than Pearl Harbor, U.S. Sen. Joseph Biden said Saturday that Democrats must demonstrate they can provide for national security to win back the presidency. . .

"The next Democrat, whether it's me or Sen. Clinton or John Kerry, whomever -- the Democratic nominee -- they'd better be able to ante up right in front of the American people two things: security and faith," he said. . . .

Biden also criticized Democrats for their sometimes patronizing approach to religion, saying believers of different faiths don't expect everyone to join them. "They just want to know we respect them," he said. "If we can't negotiate the faith issue, forget it, we won't win."

From an October 2007 interview with The Chicago Tribune:

[Senator Joe Biden:] How was it that in '92 and in '96, Bill Clinton could get a majority of the Catholic vote, and 40 some percent of the Christian vote and 78 percent of the Jewish vote, and how was it that that Al Gore and John Kerry couldn't do that? Because I think Democrats have it wrong. They think in order to get that vote, you have to demonstrate you're born again, or you have to quote the bible or you're a religious person. I don't believe that. I think the reason why Bill Clinton won that vote even though they knew he wasn't a paragon of virtue--and Al Gore was--was because when Bill Clinton sat in that fundamentalist pew, that Catholic cathedral, that Jewish synagogue, the guy sitting next to him believed Bill Clinton respected him, and respected his views.

The Democratic Party has become elitist. At fundraisers with wealthy guys, they are uncomfortable when I say that. I say let me ask you a rhetorical question: Do you think it's possible for someone to go to a fundamentalist church tomorrow, make an altar call, profess he's born again, and have a high IQ? They all smile. The truth is we have communicated--the elite in our party have communicated--that we really don't respect that.

Now theres a reason for that. They are so angry about the polarization of religion by the Christian right that they've said any talk of religion is bad. Well, I think it's about respect and I don't think that we should shy away from counterpunching. Saying hey, wait a minute, you want to talk about values? I'm your guy. Let's talk about values.
I really believe with every fiber of my being the vast majority of Americans agree with us-- about how to treat children, about the elderly, about the whole issue about dealing with the environment. We act like these people in the red states oppose us? They don't!

From the Associated Press (August 2007):

Biden, a practicing Catholic, acknowledged that he rarely has talked about religion in his 34-year Senate career, but suggested that would change if he wins the Democratic presidential nomination.

Let me also add a quick summary of Senator Biden's record on some major church-state legislation that ultimately became law and some other church-state issues. Biden supported the Equal Access Act of 1984, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993, and the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998. As the first excerpt listed above indicates, Biden opposed the Istook amendment, a proposed amendment to the Constitution that was designed to reintroduce school-sponsored prayer and to allow other forms of government-endorsed and government-subsidized religion. The Istook amendment was defeated in 1998.

Biden criticized a court decision that held that the Pledge of Allegiance with the words "under God" violated the First Amendment. He has spoken against teaching intelligent design alongside evolution in public school science classrooms, and he supported Clinton administration efforts to help public school officials, parents, and students to better understand religion's place in public schools under the First Amendment.

From a Christian Science Monitor piece on how Biden's faith informs his public work (August 2007):

"The animating principle of my faith, as taught to me by church and home, was that the cardinal sin was abuse of power," he said in an interview with the Monitor. "It was not only required as a good Catholic to abhor and avoid abuse of power, but to do something to end that abuse."

The issues that have most engaged Biden in public life draw on those teachings, from halting violence against women to genocide. At a personal level, his faith provides him peace, he says. "I get comfort from carrying my rosary, going to mass every Sunday. It's my time alone," he says. . . .

But Biden believes he can bridge much of that divide. "My views are totally consistent with Catholic social doctrine," says Biden, a six-term Democratic senator from Delaware. "There are elements within the church who say that if you are at odds with any of the teachings of the church, you are at odds with the church. I think the church is bigger than that.". . .

"My idea of self, of family, of community, of the wider world comes straight from my religion. It's not so much the Bible, the beatitudes, the Ten Commandments, the sacraments, or the prayers I learned. It's the culture," he writes. . . .

Biden was one of the first Catholic politicians of the Vatican II generation. From 1962 to 1965, the Vatican Council II produced documents that opened the door to ecumenical dialogue, freedom of religion and conscience, and greater involvement of the laity in affairs of the church, including saying the mass in English and more emphasis on individual Bible study.

"I was raised at a time when the Catholic Church was fertile with new ideas and open discussion about some of the basic social teaching of the Catholic Church," Biden says. "Questioning was not criticized; it was encouraged."

"[A Catholic teacher] led me to see that if you cannot defend your faith to reason, then you have a problem," Biden says. . . .

On the Senate floor, the tough votes also came early and often. In his first term, Biden faced the first of many votes on whether to curtail abortion rights for women. As a freshman Democrat, he was approached by all sides. He told them that while he personally opposes abortion, he would not vote to overthrow the US Supreme Court's 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that gave women the right to terminate a pregnancy. Nor, however, would he vote to use federal funds to fund abortion.

"I don't think I have the right to impose my view – on something I accept as a matter of faith – on the rest of society," he writes in his autobiography. . . .

"Joe Biden is one of the most sincere Catholics I've known in my 40 years as a priest," says Monsignor William Kerr, executive director of the Claude Pepper Center at Florida State University. The two men met by chance outside Biden's Senate office and began a conversation on faith and politics that has continued nearly 30 years. Monsignor Kerr recounts a conversation with Biden on Pope John Paul II's efforts to discourage President Bush from going to war in Iraq. He says that Biden told him: "I just have to tell you the pope's wrong on this, I'm going with the president. That was morality, this is politics."

Looking back on this decision, he writes, "I made a mistake." He had "vastly underestimated" the incompetence of the Bush administration in its conduct of the war. The "fantasy" of remaking Iraq in the US image was a goal that could not be imposed on a "fragile and decimated country," he writes in his new book. Instead, Biden proposes a partition of Iraq along sectarian and ethnic lines to help restore security for Iraqis – and more robust international diplomacy to help sustain it.

Without taking a position on how Catholics should vote, Biden makes a case for staying connected to the church and its culture. "If I were an ordained priest, I'd be taking some issue with some of the more narrow interpretations of the Gospel being taken now," Biden says. "But my church is more than 2,000 years old. There's always been a tug of war among prelates and informed lay members."

Democratic Candidates on Religion, Denver Post (July 2007):

In 2005, Biden told The News Journal (Wilmington, Del.): "This is a nation founded on the idea of the separation of church and state. After 200 years, why the hell would you want to start messing with that?" Biden also stated that his religion is "part of my spirituality, part of my identity." However, Biden supports abortion rights and federal financing for embryonic stem-cell research, stances that run in opposition to those of his church.

Sen. Joe Biden (D-DE), on separation of church and state:

"It was not written to prohibit the government's acknowledgementof God. In my opinion, the court's decision is dead wrong."

Joe Biden on teaching intelligent design in public science classes (The Hotline, August 2005):

Pres. Bush's comments last week "supporting the teaching of'intelligent design' alongside the theory of evolution in publicschool science classes has fueled concerns among some of thewall between religion" and gov't ";; could be breached. This is a nation founded on the idea of these paration of church and state. After 200 years, why the hell would you want to go messing with that?"

This is only a sample of the wonderful work done by Melissa Rogers. To read the entire piece, visit Melissa's blog here.

Some Words from a Faithful Commentator

***First off, I need to apologize to Phil Johnson (a.k.a. Pinky) for posting this so late. As most of you already know, Mr. Johnson (Pinky) is one of our biggest commentators, for which we are very thankful. Pinky sent this to me and requested that I post it here, which I am more than happy to do.***

I am almost certain arguments regarding the question of America’s creation could continue on world without end; but, I wonder to what avail.

It is not as though any answers we come up with will convince any of the several sides to the arguments they have been wrong. The problem has more to do with the fact that ideologues begin with an end result in mind and they will never quit until they either die or come down with a terminal case of Althzheimers–no matter what the evidence is against them. I bet the arguments began with the writing of the Declaration of Independence–even before.

To me, and maybe I’m all alone here, the important questions deal more succinctly with how we have come to be where we are to day as a result of where our Founders began. For example, "Did the Founding begin with the Mayflower Compact or was it even earlier?"

I see an unfolding of ideas that starts far back in antiquity and continues forward which belies the claims of Skinnerian psychology and shows that human thinking does evolve. Nothing is more indicative of that than world history. America is the peaking of the endless human search for self discovery. Plato tells us that Socrates pled, "The unexamined life is not worth living.". I wonder if we can ask that question as it applies to us as Americans. How do people in the rest of the world see us?

As I sit here at the keyboard, I am reminded again and again that I am who I am as a result of who I have been in relationship to all that I have learned and of whom I have known. I am evolving to be who it is that I am coming to be. So, how is it that I have come to be the American that I am? What did George Washington have to do with my being, Cotton Mather, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, John Hancock, Andrew Jackson, Jefferson Davis, U.S. Grant, Thoreau, Margaret Fuller, Abraham Lincoln, William Jennings Bryan, Dwight Moody, Theodore Roosevelt, Woodrow Wilson, and so many others that I cannot number.

But, I do know there is a line that runs throughout history that includes all my ascendents as well as those others that influenced them. I’m reminded of my dear old grandmother and I remember her sitting in her rocker one day singing, "John Brown’s body lies a molting in the grave...". That song had some meaning to her and, so, somehow it contributed to who it is that I have now come to be. What new things are out there impinging on me to make me be what I will be tomorrow? So, I see that this is the way it is for all of us–each one.

Whether America was founded as a Christian nation or not, is only of some academic importance. What is important is how we have come to be who it is that we are as a result of our Founding and of all that has evolved since then.

Palin & Christian Heritage

Barry Lynn and Jay Sekulow are debating the goods at their BeliefNet blog. Here is the exact proclamation:

WHEREAS, the celebration of Christian Heritage Week, October 21-27, 2007, reminds Alaskans of the role Christianity has played in our rich heritage. Many truly great men and women of America, giants in the structuring of American history, were Christians of caliber and integrity who did not hesitate to express their faith. Some of their legacies are evidenced as follows:

WHEREAS, the Preamble to the Constitution of the State of Alaska begins with, "We the people of Alaska, grateful to God and to those who founded our nation and pioneered this great land"

WHEREAS, Benjamin Franklin, at the Constitutional Convention stated, "It is impossible to build an empire without our Father's aid. I believe the sacred writings which say that, Except the Lord build the house, they labor in vain that build it (Psalm 127:1)."

WHEREAS, George Washington enunciated, "animated alone by the pure spirit of Christianity, and conducting ourselves as the faithful subjects of our free government, we may enjoy every temporal and spiritual felicity."

WHEREAS, Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration of Independence, wrote, "Can the liberties of a nation be secure when we have removed the conviction that these liberties are the gift of God?"

WHEREAS, James Madison, father of the United States Constitution advocated "the diffusion of the light of Christianity in our nation" in his Memorial and Remonstrance.

WHEREAS, Patrick Henry quoted Proverbs 14:34 for our nation, "Righteousness alone can exalt a nation, but sin is a disgrace to any people."

WHEREAS, George Mason, in his Virginia Declaration of Rights, forerunner to our United States Bill of Rights, affirmed, "That it is the mutual duty of all to practice Christian forebearance, love and charity towards each other."

NOW, THEREFORE, I, Sarah Palin, Governor of the State of Alaska, do hereby proclaim October 21-27, 2007, as Alaska's 9th Annual Christian Heritage Week in Alaska, and encourage all citizens to celebrate this week.

In meticulously researching the beliefs of these Founders I have concluded Henry and Mason were likely orthodox Trinitarian Christians. The other four were likely both unitarian (that is disbelievers in the Trinity) and universalists (that is disbelievers in eternal damnation) in their theology (even though they weren't associated with those Churches which really hadn't yet emerged, in all but a handful of instances). Further they believed the Bible only partially inspired. Such that Franklin et al. could quote the Bible one minute (the parts of it in which he/they believed) and the next minute talk about how "corrupted" the original text was.

My question to Palin would be is their rejection of the Trinity, eternal damnation, and the infallibility of the Bible also to be included in our celebration of America's "Christian Heritage"?

Friday, August 29, 2008

The Best Candidate in 08

I realize that I am straying from the real purpose and topic of this blog, but I had to say something. The stakes are just too high. Normally I would never do such a thing, but I feel this is the right thing to do. Please forget supporting Obama or McCain and lend your support for this candidate:

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Richard Price's Influence On the American Founding Part II

In my last post I noted that Price's religious beliefs were one step closer to traditional Christianity than were those of his Socinian friend, Joseph Priestley. Price writes about his religious beliefs in great detail in "Sermons on the Christian doctrine as received by the different denominations of Christians" which thanks to google books can be fully accessed. As noted before, eleven delegates to the Constitutional Convention including Franklin, Hamilton and Washington subscribed to the book with Washington ordering four copies.

Though Price seems to exalt "reason" and "nature" he still sees the Bible as the Word of God and believes Jesus as Messiah and in the miracles and prophesies contained therein. Still Price's sentiments conflict with historic orthodox Christianity. In his first Sermon "Of the Security of a Virtuous Course," Price makes a very works-like argument for salvation that would undoubtedly trouble the orthodox:

Christianity informs us, that good men will be raised from death to enjoy a glorious immortality, through that Saviour of the world, who tasted death for every man.

Doesn't orthodox Christianity teach that no man is good (but one)?

Price finds the notion of eternal damnation so disturbing that he hedges on its truth. But he's clear that you avoid the possibility by practicing virtue, and you risk it by practicing wickedness. As he notes:

To act righteously is to act like God. It is to promote the order of his creation....It must, therefore, be the likeliest way to arrive at happiness, and to guard against misery under his government....The Christian religion confirms this expectation in a manner the most awful, by teaching us that the wicked shall be turned into hell, with all that forget God; that they mall be excluded from the society of wise and good beings; and punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and the glory of his payer. It is, at least, possible this may be the truth. The arguments for a righteous government in nature, and for the truth of Christianity, have, at least, force enough to prove that it is not certain but that wickedness will produce the greatest losses and evils in another world; and that, consequently, there is a real and inconceivable danger attending it....

In a later sermon, Price makes an argument for the "essentials" of Christianity that almost perfectly parallels what John Locke taught in "The Reasonableness of Christianity." Basically he draws a lowest common denominator among Socinianism, Arianism, and Trinitarianism [Keep Locke, who influenced Price, in mind when you read this. To Trinitarians, the doctrine is central to Christianity. If one draws essentials of Christianity and leaves out the Trinity, then it's entirely reasonable to assume one is not a Trinitarian as Locke's critics did]:

And my chief intention, in the present discourse, is to attempt this, by shewing you, that Christians, of all parties, however they may censure one another, and whatever opposition there may seem to be in their sentiments, are agreed in all that is essential to Christianity....

In attempting this, I will recite to you those doctrines and facts of Christianity which all Christians believe, and which are so plainly revealed as to exclude the possibility of disputes about them....

In the first place; the Gospel teaches us that there is only one living and true God. This is a fundamental doctrine which the New Testament holds forth to us in almost every page. There is but one being good, says Jesus Christ, that is GOD. There are, says St. Paul, 'Gods many; but to us there is but one God, the Father....

But farther; the Gospel teaches us, with perfect clearness, that this one God is possessed of all possible perfection; that he is infinitely wife, powerful, righteous, and benevolent; that he is the moral Governor of the world, an enemy to all wickedness, and a friend to all goodness; and that he directs all events by his Providence so particularly as that the hairs of our heads are all numbered, and that a sparrow does not fall to the ground without him. It teaches us also to imitate, to serve, and to worship him, and to put our trust in him; and comprehends the whole of our duty in loving him with all our hearts, and in loving our neighbour as ourselves. It declares to us the necessity of repentance and a holy life; a future state of rewards and punishments; and a future period of universal retribution when all mankind mall be judged according to their works.

There are no doubts about any of these particulars among Christians; and they include all that it is most necessary for us to know. But the doctrines which most properly constitute the Gospel are those which relate to Jesus Christ and his mediation. Here, also, there is an agreement with respect to all that can be deemed essential; for there is no sect of Christians who do not believe that Christ was sent of God; that he is the true Messiah; that he worked miracles, and suffered, and died, and rose again from the dead, as related in the four Gospels; that after his resurrection he ascended to heaven, and became possessed of universal dominion, being made head over all things in this world ; and that he will hereafter make a second appearance on this earth, and come from heaven to raise all mankind from death, to judge the world in righteousness, to bestow eternal life on the truly virtuous, and to punish the workers of iniquity.

Now, this is all quite biblical and perhaps qualifies as "Christianity." Yet, upon reading Price's sentiments, traditional Christians might mistakenly impute belief in orthodox Trinitarian doctrines to Price as they have done with Locke and other Founding Founders who identify as "Christians" or otherwise praise "Christianity" in their quotations.

Price, remarkably liberal for his time and today, goes on to identify who it is that qualifies as "Christian" under his aforementioned "essentials":

These are the grand facts of Christianity, which Calvinists and Arminians, Trinitarians and Unitarians, Papists and Protestants, Churchmen and Dissenters all equally believe. More especially ; with respect to the purpose of Christ's mission, we all equally hold that he came to call sinners to repentance, to teach us the knowledge of God and our duty, to save us from sin and death, and to publish a covenant of grace, by which all sincere penitents and good men are assured of favour and complete happiness in his future everlasting kingdom.

The latitudinarian notion that Trinitarians, Unitarians and Roman Catholics are all true Christians remains disputed in Christian circles.

Price later explains the differences among Trinitarianism, Socinianism and Arianism and argues for Arianism as the rational and correct understanding of Christianity. This passage on the nature of Jesus Christ perfectly exemplifies Price's "liberal" Christian views that saw Jesus as Messiah and included Socinianism, Arianism and Trinitarianism within the ambit of "Christianity" while criticizing those views with which he disagreed:

Give me but this single truth, that ETERNAL LIFE is the gift of God through Jesus Christ our Lord and Saviour and I shall be perfectly easy with respect to the contrary opinions which are entertained about the dignity of Christ; about his nature, person, and offices; and the manner in which he saves us. Call him, if you please, simply a man endowed with extraordinary powers; or call him a superangelic being, who appeared in human nature for the purpose of accomplishing our salvation; or say (if you can admit a thought so shockingly absurd) that it was the second of three coequal persons in the Godhead, forming one person, with a human soul, that came down from heaven, and suffered and died on the cross: Say that he saves us merely by being a messenger from God to reveal to us eternal life, and to confer it upon us; or say, on the contrary, that he not only reveals to us eternal life, and confers it upon us, but has obtained it for us by offering himself a propitiatory sacrifice on the cross, and making satisfaction to the justice of the Deity for our sins: I shall think such differences of little moment, provided the fact is allowed, that Christ did rise from the dead, and will raise us from the dead; and that all righteous penitents will, through God's grace in him, be accepted and made happy forever.

Note how Price referred to the doctrine of the Trinity as "shockingly absurd" while conceding that Trinitarians are nonetheless genuine Christians. The Trinitarians of his day, and many today do not return Price's favor by considering his Arianism, biblical as it were, "Christian." Rather, such was settled in orthodox Christendom as a soul damning heresy in 325AD. And, today, the orthodox still hold to those standards set out in the Nicene Creed.

Yet, Price's theology and that of other liberal, enlightened Founding era theologians (Priestley, et al.) profoundly influenced the American Founding. Thus when one confronts a quotation from a Founding Father talking up "Christianity," don't assume it necessarily meant "orthodox Trinitarianism." The Founder just as well could be referring to Price's or Priestley's uber-latitudinarian "rational Christianity," whose status as "real Christianity" was disputed then and remains disputed today.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Richard Price's Influence, Part I & One-Half

The good and great Jonathan Rowe presents the estimable British parliamentarian as a witness for his thesis. Very smart guy, Mr. Price---at the very birth of the American nation, he advises it of the wonders and dangers of compound interest! [Compound interest makes the world go 'round, you know.]

Now, as Jon warns us about his Part II on Price, and since the question of the Trinity and Jesus-as-God is perhaps the longest-running theological conflict in Christianity, I admit I'm not terribly interested.

By more than a 1000 years, the controversy predates the Founding and even Martin Luther's Reformation c. 1500 CE---so I think the Trinity's impact on the Founding is negligible. Anabaptists were being massacred in Luther's time and backyard over counterscriptural impurities like infant baptism. Massacred with Luther's approval, BTW, when they got too uppity [per Romans 13, I imagine].

What's clear is that many Europeans got on leaky and diseased boats to escape such nonsense to the New World, and there was little enthusiasm for turning the Old World's cudgels upon each other again. On that much, they could agree or couldn't be bothered. [I like the latter explanation.]

Been there, done that. Everybody had an uncle or a grandfather who got cudgeled to death. I'm not aware of any great Trinitarian massacres in the colonies.

Well, if you've come this far, dear reader, pray, tarry a mite longer. Your correspondent's task is almost complete:

Richard Price's was a fine mind, and borderline sycophantic when it came to the new America. No surprise the Founders knew him and tuned him in regularly.

As is our custom around here, let's look at the record and read Richard Price in his own words, the original source. I'd think his "Observations on the Importance of the American Revolution" [with a Borat-like subtitle of "...and The Means of making it a Benefit to the World"] makes for a level starting point for our joint inquiry.

Let's read it. We wouldn't want to take the word of "scholars," after all. Like any of the rest of us, they're not immune to hearing what they want to hear. Best we inquire for ourselves. I might quote from Price's piece, if we get a discussion going.

There's a lot of worthy stuff there. What stood out to me was Divine Providence's hand in the Yankees' victory if not an American "exceptionalism;" a preference for "atheism" over "superstition;" a distaste for Aristotle ["ipse dixit"]; a generic but substantial praise for the significance of Christianity in human history; an objection to government persecuting those who deny the Trinity; and an explicit acknowledgement of a "Messiah who has tasted death for every man."

Those italics seem to be his, BTW. Interesting fellow, this Richard Price.

Richard Price's Influence on the American Founding, Part I

Richard Price, a British Unitarian Whig, profoundly influenced the American Founding. He was like an Arian version of his friend the Socinian Joseph Priestley. Price's religious views were probably one small step closer to traditional Christianity than were Priestley's. However, Price rejected enough of traditional Christianity (notably the Trinity) to make his views quite controversial for the late 18th Century.

Price, like Priestley, corresponded with and was highly respected by many American Founders. Relatedly, over the years I have described a dynamic folks sympathetic to a "Christian America" reading of history skeptically receive: In the late 18th Century virtually all of the established churches adhered to orthodox Trinitarian creeds; yet, many of America's Founders privately disbelieved in the creeds to which their churches held. This made them closeted or semi-closeted unitarian heretics. This was without question the case with J. Adams, Jefferson, and Franklin. And most likely with Washington, Madison, G. Morris, Hamilton, Marshall and many others.

So how was it that these notable Founders came to reject their churches' official orthodox doctrines? They were influenced by heretical unitarian theologians, many of whom were ministers of Christian Churches, and whose ideas powerfully influenced the late 18th century Whig-republican zeitgeist. Richard Price and Joseph Priestley were the two most notable British Whig unitarian theologians who were contemporaries of America's Founders. On the American side, Jonathan Mayhew and Charles Chauncy are notable examples. And from the early "Whig" era in Britain, John Locke, Samuel Clarke, and Isaac Newton were at least purportedly closeted unitarian heretic theologians. Given the latter three faced potential execution (like Michael Servetus) for "coming out" they left fewer "smoking guns" to prove their unitarianism (and it was officially a crime to publicly deny the Trinity in Great Britain until 1813). But unitarians from the mid 18th century onward claimed Clarke, Locke, and Newton, and for good reason.

America's Founders viewed these figures -- Locke, Newton, Clarke, Priestley, Price, Mayhew, Chauncy (and others) -- as philosophical giants. And as such, we should understand how, modeling them, so many Founding Fathers came to believe in the unitarian heresies, contrary to the teachings of their churches to which they officially or nominally belonged. These figures were like Abbie Hoffmans of their day -- quite popular in elite circles, less so among the masses. Figures like Mayhew and Chauncy who were more popular among the masses tended not to openly preach about their unitarianism, but didn't lie to their congregants either; they threaded the needle by simply not discussing the Trinity and related doctrines in their sermons. And this was exactly John Locke's strategy. But, rumors (which turned out to be true) abounded.

To illustrate this dynamic, a parishioner once said to a notable Founding era secret unitarian minister: "Dr. Barnard, I never heard you preach a sermon upon the Trinity." And he replied: "And you never will."

Yet, the orthodox who retained much social, institutional, and at the state level legal power viewed unitarianism as a soul damning heresy at best, downright infidelity at worst! Hence, the need to tread carefully when positing unitarian doctrines. Hence some founders like Washington, Madison and Hamilton carefully guarding their religious secrets and leaving little evidence of their religious specifics during an era when public figures were expected to pay homage to Trinitarianism.

Price and Priestley are notable in that they were among the first theological unitarians to come out of the closet publicly and preach the unitarian heresies -- Arianism in Price's case, Socinianism in Priestley's. And they were highly respected by America's Founders for it.

Priestley served as a spiritual mentor to Jefferson, J. Adams, and Franklin. And his son recounted that that "his lectures were attended by very crowded audiences, including most of the members of the Congress of the United States at that time assembled at Philadelphia, and of the executive offices of the government of the United States.”

– Joseph Priestley, Jr., A Continuation of the Memoirs of Dr. Joseph Priestley (Written by his Son Joseph Priestley), in John T. Boyer, ed., The Memoirs of Joseph Priestley, at 144 (Washington, D.C.: Barcroft Press, 1964).

Richard Price maintained friendly correspondence and personal interaction with Washington, J. Adams, Jefferson, Franklin, Rush and others. Carl B. Cone in an article entitled "Richard Price and the Constitution of the United States" published in The American Historical Review, Vol. 53, No. 4 (Jul., 1948), pp. 726-747, documents Price's profound influence on the American Founding. In particular, pages 732 and 733 chart the Founding Fathers who subscribed to Price's publication entitled "Sermons on the Christian doctrine as received by the different denominations of Christians." Among that list are eleven delegates to the Constitutional Convention including Franklin, Hamilton and Washington. Washington, who had nothing but praise for Price's work, ordered 4 copies! Now, this is not to say that every subscriber held to Price's Arian religious views. Rather, simply to show how profoundly influential his heterodox religious views were in elite Founding era circles.

Washington, Hamilton and Franklin, for instance, likely possessed religious views far more heterodox, less traditionally Christian, than Price's Arianism. Washington, for instance, far less often than Price appealed to the Bible as authority (Washington actually was never recorded so doing, though he like everyone else during that era, including Paine, made biblical allusions) and hardly ever discussed Jesus by name or person. Washington's 1783 Circular to the States, not written in his hand (and one of only two times Washington was officially recorded referring to Jesus by name or person), refers to "the Divine Author of our blessed Religion," a reference to Jesus Christ that is consistent with both Trinitarianism and Price's militant Arianism that saw Jesus as a Divine but created and subordinate being. (It may well be consistent with Socinianism that saw Jesus as 100% human, not divine at all, but on a divine mission.)

Indeed Price, the fervent Arian he was, unequivocally supported the sentiments of Washington's 1783 Circular, writing he was "animated more than he can well express by General Washington's excellent circular letter to the united states."

Part II will examine Rev. Price's "Sermons on the Christian doctrine as received by the different denominations of Christians" that Washington was so interested in that he received four copies.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Hobbes v. Locke in America

I was rereading Christopher Hill's often-intriguing book Puritanism and Revolution and came to his chapter on Hobbes. It seems relevant to the discussion here of Locke and of religion in the American Founding.

Hobbes and Locke were contemporaries in adulthood, though Hobbes' writings predate Locke's. Locke certainly was influenced by Hobbes' work. Both men address the question of how to reconcile natural rights, government authority, and religion.

For Hobbes, there was no such thing as natural rights. The idea of a "state of nature" is, as Hill puts it, "a logical abstraction rather than a piece of historical description." For Hobbes, humans without government were humans in chaos; the "natural state" was one of want, war, and ignorance.

Therefore, when nonconformists in Hobbes' day said that a government that did not respect natural law or natural rights could be legitimately overthrown, or at least not obeyed, he responded that this was nonsense. It is society, organized into government, it is government itself that creates all rights and laws, and so there is no way to use some imaginary pre-civilized era as a control over or yardstick for the legitimacy of a human government.

When it is the state itself that creates all rights, then the only way to decide what is just is to have the state decide. This seems like a harsh "might makes right" philosophy, but if you follow it through, it leads to both separation of church and state and religious tolerance. Because politics/government are purely and completely human-made, then religious belief or doctrine has no place in it. We created it, we run it, we make its rules, and we are the final authority over it. Because God is not at all human-made, politics has no place in religion. Humans cannot have authority over God, and therefore humans cannot say which religion is the true religion, and have no authority to persecute anyone for their religious beliefs.

In a democracy, then, the people make their own government and give it the right to decide what is just, and pursue religion privately with no government interference.

Locke, of course, did not agree with Hobbes that there was no natural law, and no natural rights. And it was Locke who appealed to the American Founders, for his philosophy grants our government a sort of spiritual authority, wrapping our human laws and decisions in the mantle of obeying a kind of cosmic justice. This is what makes it easy for people to rename natural law as God's law, specifially Christianity. We say, our laws are rational products of the Enlightenment, but they are also tapping into God's law, the world God made for humans before we started making governments. We're living how God meant us to live.

I think the Founders generally took the view that in creating our democracy they were fulfilling not only their human potential, but restoring cosmic justice.

But they remained a little Hobbesian, too. I think the Founders understood government to be a human creation which is best understood in human terms. And they knew that the authority to decide what was democratic, what provided liberty and justice for all, came from themselves and the citizens of the United States. If it did not, what would be the point? How would the U.S. government be new if it claimed godly justification, just as every government in history had done beforehand?

No, the Founders did not threaten dissenters with God's fury. They took a Hobbesian view that the government they and the people were creating would live or die on human merits, and in doing so raised the bar for what human law, what government, should accomplish.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Understanding Locke

Tom Van Dyke noted the infamous "mystery of life" passage in Supreme Court jurisprudence that irritates Justice Scalia and Judge Bork so much:

"At the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life." [Planned Parenthood v. Casey, 505 U.S. at __; quoted in Lawrence, 539 U.S. at 574]

I in turn noted that this passage wasn't all too removed from Locke; Van Dyke disagreed. I've never thought much about the "mystery of life" passage and admit that it's a bit mushy. But if I were to argue how Locke's ideals might support such a worldview, without the mushiness, I'd turn to Locke's self ownership principle.

Harvey Mansfield discusses this dynamic in this article, where he writes:

For Locke, then, the harmonizing of liberty and virtue begins from the harmonizing of liberty and religion. In the face of the apparent fact that the Christian religion tells men how to live, he must show, if he can, that it actually permits them to live in freedom. How does he proceed?

Locke gives two descriptions of the character of men in their fundamental relation to liberty. He says that they are the “workmanship” of God, that men are “his [God’s] property” and so belong to God; but he also says that “every man has a property in his own person.” These appear to be directly contrary because the “workmanship argument” (as it is called by Locke’s interpreters) would make man a slave of God whereas the idea of property in one’s own person sets him free to do with himself what he wishes. Thus Locke says, in accordance with the former, that men have no right to commit suicide (“everyone is bound . . . not to quit his Station wilfully”). But in accordance with the latter, though saying nothing directly about a right of suicide, he pronounces that in the state of nature, man is “absolute lord of his own person and possessions.” Yet Locke does not make a point of the contradiction between these two descriptions. It is rather as if he had forgotten what he said earlier or perhaps lost his train of thought. Yet Locke does not seem to be a woolly-minded fellow, and his reputation shows that both his friends and his enemies take him seriously. His political thought typically contains contradictions, of which this one is perhaps the most important, but he leaves the reader to do the work of establishing the contradictions and working out their implications. In this case and in other cases, Locke does not leave the contradiction as flat as I have reported it; he teases readers with possible routes by which it might be harmonized. But most of all, Locke lets readers do their own harmonizing by allowing them to combine two things they want to believe. Almost all of Locke’s readers would want to believe in the truth of Scripture, and many of them would like to think, or might be persuaded to think, that their belief is compatible with, or even entails, the notion of liberty that Locke sets forth.

The difference between belonging to God and belonging to yourself is not a small one....

Some folks have observed that Mansfield makes too much of the difference, that it is easily reconciled by noting God gives men a "leasehold" or "life-estate" over that which ultimately belongs to Him. Fine. However, even so Locke's ideal still demands that the individual, not the government purporting to "impose morality" have the ultimate Earthly say on how to live his life, in all but a few cases.

By way of analogy, the debate over Romans 13. That passage says:

Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained [1] of God.


For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil. Wilt thou then not be afraid of the power? do that which is good, and thou shalt have praise of the same: 4 For he is the minister of God to thee for good. But if thou do that which is evil, be afraid; for he beareth not the sword in vain: for he is the minister of God, a revenger to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil.

Okay, so let's say you have a tyrannical ruler, who is un-godly and doesn't quite seem "not a terror to good works, but to the evil." The context of the passage suggests that Paul was telling believers to submit to Nero. Indeed the dominant interpretation in the history of biblical orthodoxy teaches this. And Nero was indeed a pagan tyrant who ruthlessly persecuted Christians.

This dominant biblical interpretation teaches Nero was indeed a ruler ordained with God given authority. Therefore, the Earthly buck stops with him. Obviously his actions displeased the biblical God. And ultimately it's God's authority alone (not "the people's") to punish Nero for his evil behavior [and indeed Nero met an ultimately demise].

Another interpretation might suggest that since Nero didn't seem to be "not a terror to good works, but to the evil," he wasn't a "ruler." This interpretation has been a minority throughout Christendom, but has become more popular in the age of revolution where Christians attempt to biblically justify revolt against tyrannical leaders. But ultimately the early church fathers, medieval Roman Catholic Church, and first Protestant reformers disagreed with it. Indeed Calvin argued that "we must honour [even] the worst tyrant in the office in which the Lord has seen fit to set him" and "if you go on to infer that only just governments are to be repaid by obedience, your reasoning is stupid."

Back to Locke. According to him, an individual owns himself, but ultimately belongs to God. So where does the Earthly buck stop? Why, with the individual of course. So if I own myself, I can do whatever I want with my body, as long as it doesn't interfere with your right to do whatever you want with your body. And if I violate the natural law or God's will, it's up to God alone, not you or the collective to punish me for it. And indeed, individuals suffer consequences from drug and alcohol abuse, irresponsible promiscuous sex and the like. Someone who transgresses God's law by drinking too much and dying prematurely of cirrhosis of the liver suffers from violating God's law without the need for human intermediaries to step in on God's behalf to prohibit the behavior because it violates God's law. The individual owns himself, the earthly buck stops with him and, similar to Romans 13 and the tyrannical leader, it's up to God alone to punish him for using his body in a way that might offend Him.

[Note: Yes, of course there is HUGE tension between the traditional understanding of Romans 13 and Locke's self ownership principle. America's Founders, it should be noted, chose to follow Locke.]

So, how does this play out in 20th Century American constitutional jurisprudence [and remember, Locke, for good reason has been termed "America's philosopher"]? Justice Blackmun's dissent in Bowers v. Hardwick (the case holding states could criminalize sodomy, overturned in Lawrence v. Texas) held “the concept of privacy embodies the `moral fact that a person belongs to himself and not others nor to society as a whole.’” In Slouching Towards Gomorrah, Robert Bork responded: "There are 'moral facts,' but that is certainly not one of them." p. 104.

Well, John Locke is the author of the "moral fact" that an individual belongs to himself.

"Our Nation Was Founded on Judeo/Christian Principles"

John McCain's Take on America's Founding
at the Saddleback Faith Forum

And in fairness, here is Obama's take:

Really John? Our nation was founding on Judeo/Christian values? What would Jefferson, Franklin, Madison, etc. think of a forum like this? Your thoughts...

Sunday, August 24, 2008

The Constitution vs. Natural Law

What is truth?, asked Pilate
By Tom Van Dyke

Jonathan Rowe judiciously explores the Jaffa versus Bork debate below, and our commenters rightly identify the problems.

I adore Antonin Scalia's clarity, and I think he sets it all---and his judicial philosophy---out nicely in this speech about the Supreme Court's increasing invocation of "international law" as "precedent."

"[I]t has occurred to me that this notion of an overarching moral law that is binding upon all of the nations of the world -- and with which all the judges of all of the nations of the world are charged with interpreting -- has replaced the common law.

Those of you who are lawyers will remember that, in the bad old days, that is to say, before Erie RR v. Tompkins [304 US 64, 78 (1938)], the courts believed that there was a single common law, it was up there in the stratosphere.

Now, the state courts of California said it meant one thing, the state courts of New York said it meant something else, and the Federal Courts might say it meant a third thing. But one of them was wrong! Because there really is a common law, and it's our job to figure out what it is."

So until 1938, Scalia argues [admits?] that "common law" was the guiding light for judges, and I believe he's using "common law" interchangeably with "natural law" here, as it's in the stratosphere. Do what you think is right, hang the constitution. This seems to put "originalism" or even "original intent" on very shaky ground.

Let's hear him out:

"So in those days, any common-law decision of one state would readily cite common-law decisions of other states, because all the judges were engaged in the enterprise of figuring out the meaning of what Holmes called "the brooding omnipresence in the sky" of the common law. Well, I think we've replaced that with the law of human rights. Which is a moral law, and surely there must be a right and a wrong answer to these moral questions...surely there is a right and wrong moral answer. And I believe there is, but the only thing is, I'm not sure what that right answer is. Or at least, I am for myself, but I'm not sure it's the same as what you think."

Some excellent points here: Judges had a roughly "common" understanding of natural law, and together built up a rather coherent body of judicial interpretation. Precedent, stare decisis, gathered a certain force and respect. Scalia himself is no radical; a look at his decisions show a certain respect for the body of American common law that has built up over the last 200+ years.

And here is the key point: What is the natural law? It's a slippery notion and therefore a problematic notion---the natural law is absolute, but human understanding of it is necessarily subjective. Your interpretation is probably not mine 100% across the board.

And so, Scalia sees a growing Tower of Judicial Babel:

"[A]nalytical reasons for newly imposed constitutional prescriptions or prohibitions that do not at all rest---as the original bill of rights did not at all rest---upon logic or analysis, but rather upon one's moral sentiments, one's view of natural law, one's philosophy or one's religion...Decisions on such matters, whether taken democratically by society or undemocratically by courts, have nothing to do with logic. So without something concrete to rely on, judicial opinions would be driven to rely on such philosophic or poetic explanations as "[a]t the heart of liberty is the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life." [Planned Parenthood v. Casey, 505 U.S. at __; quoted in Lawrence, 539 U.S. at 574]."

And so, Scalia argues (do read the whole thing---my excerpts may have made a hash of his point) that a common understanding of the natural law, and by this he means democracy as expressed through legislation, not the "judicial activism" of a select few, is the most constitutional way to reconcile our laws and the "natural law."

Now there's a major aesthetic weakness in his position and philosophy---although Scalia disagrees with Dred Scott because it overturned the Missouri Compromise, which was passed through a democratically elected congress, he cannot summarily declare slavery to be bogus because it offends his moral sentiments. Still, he invokes the Ninth Amendment as a "call to action" [see Planned Parenthood v. Casey]. The Missouri Compromise was patently constitutional in his view, and the Supreme Court was thoroughly wrong in declaring it unconstitutional.

It is thought by many historians that by taking moral decisions out of the hands of the people, the Supreme Court in Dred Scott, instead of expediently settling the slavery question as it obviously intended, led to "Bloody Kansas," John Brown's terrorism, and inexorably, The Civil War.

Scalia's prescription for the conduct of the judiciary isn't the ideal---the ideal, as Plato points out, is a philosopher-king who would make all the right and just decisions on the spot. We wouldn't need precedent, we wouldn't even need laws, really.

But in human history, philosopher-kings come along seldom if at all. For those pragmatists who subscribe to the notion of "a nation of laws, not men"; who still believe that right and wrong are absolutes, even if difficult to discern; and who believe the odds of getting 5 philosopher-kings on Supreme Court are statistically prohibitive, Justice Scalia's thesis of "common law" holds much food for thought.

America's Founding "Values"

It's often said that America was founded on "Judeo-Christian" values. This statement is somewhat fairer and more accurate than "America was founded as a 'Christian Nation.'" However, left alone, it still is not entirely accurate and has the effect of trying to exclude those of us who aren't Bible believing Christians or Jews from America's heritage. On the other hand those who argue America was intended to be a wholly secular Enlightenment nation distort history just as much. The truth is somewhere in between: America was founded on a confluence of three value systems, and as such was founded to be a pluralistic nation within the confines of the American Creed -- the Declaration of Independence (which in turn was constructed from those three value systems).

So what are those three systems? One is indeed biblical Judeo-Christianity. The second is Enlightenment rationalism. And the third is a "noble-paganism," a Stoic sense of virtue that draws its inspiration from Greco-Roman antiquity. As Thomas Jefferson summed up the value synthesis regarding its inspiration on the Declaration of Independence:

All its authority rests then on the harmonizing sentiments of the day, whether expressed in conversation, in letters, printed essays, or in the elementary books of public right, as Aristotle, Cicero, Locke, Sidney, &c. ...

In that letter Jefferson also said: "All American Whigs thought alike on these subjects." It was the Whigs who synthesized these value systems into their own "Whig-republican" culture or worldview.

The original proposals for the Great Seal also well illustrate this dynamic. The "Judeo-Christian" promoters, obviously, often stress Franklin's original one:

"Moses standing on the Shore, and extending his Hand over the Sea, thereby causing the same to overwhelm Pharaoh who is sitting in an open Chariot, a Crown on his Head and a Sword in his Hand. Rays from a Pillar of Fire in the Clouds reaching to Moses, to express that he acts by Command of the Deity.

"Motto, Rebellion to Tyrants is Obedience to God."

However the Judeo-Christian defenders often ignore the other two pagan proposals. John Adams' allusion to Greco-Roman paganism:

John Adams chose the allegorical painting known as the "Judgment of Hercules" where the young Hercules must choose to travel either on the flowery path of self-indulgence or ascend the rugged, uphill way of duty to others and honor to himself.

And Thomas Jefferson's mixture of Old Testament Israel with Anglo-Saxon paganism:

Thomas Jefferson also suggested allegorical scenes. For the front of the seal: children of Israel in the wilderness, led by a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night. For the reverse: Hengist and Horsa, the two brothers who were the legendary leaders of the first Anglo-Saxon settlers in Britain.

Overall I see these proposals as representing an enlightenment rationalist worldview that thought man's reason could pick and choose from the various tales of antiquity, be they biblical or pagan the "rational" parts that supported the Whig-republican worldview. As Noah Webster put it describing how this synthesis impacted the formation of the US Constitution:

IN the formation of our constitution, the wisdom of all ages is collected--the legislators of antiquity [Rowe: Webster names Fohi, Confucius, Solon, Lycurgus, Numa, Mango Capac, Zamolxis and Odin] are consulted--as well as the opinions and interests of the millions who are concerned. In short, in it an empire of reason.

Jaffa v. Graglia & Bork

For those who have time, you may want to check out this interesting past debate from National Review that is accessible online. It is relevant to American Creation in that it focuses on how the notion of "unalienable rights" and the organic law of the Declaration of Independence were intended to exist (if at all) in America's constitutional system.

It all started when Harry Jaffa, in his book, Original Intent and the Framers of the Constitution: A Disputed Question, trashed Robert Bork's and William Rehnquist's jurisprudence as "phony originalism."

So Bork responded in a review of Jaffa's book in National Review:

Written in dyspeptic prose, Original Intent and the Framers of the Constitution is one of the least coherent, least consequential, and most disingenuous pieces of constitutional theorizing on record: incoherent because Mr. Jaffa offers conclusions that cannot possibly be tortured out of constitutional text, history, or structure; inconsequential because, so far as is apparent, his argument has application only to one pre-Civil War case; disingenuous because he misrepresents not only that case but the Constitution itself. This may sound unduly harsh. I have tried to show that it is only duly harsh.

Later, National Review gave Jaffa equal time to respond, where he wrote:

The natural-rights theory enables us to distinguish the principles of the Constitution from the compromises of the Constitution. In Original Intent and the Framers of the Constitution I have tried to show how understanding this distinction in Dred Scott unravels many of the mysteries surrounding the equal-protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment today. Judge Bork, as a legal positivist, is no more able than Calhoun to distinguish the Constitution's principles from its compromises. Judge Bork tries to draw Lincoln's conclusion--plenary congressional power over property rights in the territories--from Calhoun's premises. But such plenary power can be inferred only from the doctrine of natural rights. Calhoun, and Taney, reached their conclusions only by severing the doctrine of states' rights--and hence of constitutional power--from its original foundation in natural rights. Judge Bork has done the same.

O.K., Judge, the ball is in your court ! Harry V. Jaffa

To which Bork replied:

Not really. After Professor Jaffa's latest effort, the ball has disappeared over the fence and is lying in the weeds, far from any court. Rarely has historical learning been deployed to so little effect. I am pleased Professor Jaffa has quoted my assessment of his book as "incoherent, inconsequential, and disingenuous." It cannot be said too often.

....It is time to bring this bootless discussion to a close. In doing so, I would remind Professor Jaffa that the first discussant to resort to the ad hominem, which is his standard style of argument, has no standing to complain if he is treated severely in return.

Shortly thereafter, Jaffa goes round II v. Lino Graglia. Graglia begins:

HARRY Jaffa has long engaged in a campaign of vilification against Robert Bork and William Rehnquist, a campaign I consider both sad and shabby. It is sad because he is attacking people who are on my and, he says, his side on the basic issue of constitutional law -- the issue of the proper role of the Supreme Court in our system of government. One must expect attacks on Bork and Rehnquist from Ronald Dworkin, Bruce Ackerman, and Larry Tribe, and one can derive satisfaction from refuting them. But Jaffa is a hard-core political conservative; he was an advisor to Senator Barry Goldwater at a time when the name Goldwater was a liberal epithet. Indeed, he claims to be responsible for the famous slogan about extremism in defense of liberty being no vice, a stroke of genius that surely cost Goldwater whatever slim chance he ever had of winning the election. More important for present purposes, he is also, he tells us, a staunch foe of the judicial activism that has served to make the Supreme Court the enacting arm of the ACLU's political agenda.

If Jaffa is opposed to judicial activism, why does he devote his time and energy to reviling its two most prominent and effective opponents in the past half-century -- excepting possibly only Learned Hand and the newer arrivals, Justices Scalia and Thomas? How is the public interest served by that? And reviled them he has. His campaign against them has been shabby because he has attacked them not as a friendly critic or a disinterested scholar but personally, bitterly, and arrogantly. He has written that Bork "no doubt in his own mind . . . has taken on something of the status of a martyred saint of conservatism," a statement for which he has not the slightest basis.

Graglia hones in on what his (and Bork's) real problem with natural law is:

The last thing an opponent of judicial activism should want, I would think, is to authorize a Brennan, Douglas, or Blackmun to determine the content of "certain unalienable rights." Of course, the Justices have already undertaken to do this on their own, discovering such new "fundamental" constitutional rights as a right of "privacy," which somehow includes a right to an abortion.

THAT incorporating the Declaration and therefore "natural law" into the Constitution is a formula for judicial activism seems so clear to me that I have trouble understanding how it can be less than clear to anyone else.

Jaffa responds:

While I may agree with what Bork or Rehnquist says (or decides) concerning particular cases, I do not believe that legal positivism, grounded in moral relativism and philosophical nihilism, can effectively counteract that very same legal positivism when it appears in the form of liberal judicial activism. Alienation from the genuine principles of the American Founding, whether by those calling themselves conservatives or by those calling themselves liberals, can undermine fatally, not only constitutional law, but the loyalty and conviction of the citizens themselves, upon which everything else depends.

It should be noted that Justice Thomas has endorsed Jaffa's, not Bork's or Graglia's version of originalism.

Comment On John Adams & Rationalism

Reader Michael Heath sends along the following thoughtful comment to this post:

We could say that the Declaration of Independence refutes Trinitarian Christianity. But there’s a problem isn’t there? There were many Trinitarian Christians in the nation who supported the Declaration of Independence, the Revolution and Constitution. And they didn’t understand Nature’s God this way.

To add a couple of quips supportive of the argument that key founders distinguished between nature’s god and the Christian god, consider the following regarding the re-drafting of Jefferson’s first draft of the DofI by the drafting committee, comprised of Jefferson, Franklin, Adams, Roger Sherman, and Robert Livingston:

1) Jefferson’s first draft included the term, “sacred and undeniable” – here is the original draft: “We hold these truths to be sacred & undeniable; that all men are created equal & independant (sic), that from that equal creation they derive rights inherent & inalienable, among which are the preservation of life, & liberty, & the pursuit of happiness.”

It is believed that Franklin persuaded Jefferson to replace the religious label, “sacred and undeniable” with the reason/science-centric “self-evident”.

2) Jefferson referred to King George III to the “CHRISTIAN king of Great Britain” in a clause regarding slavery, all of which was deleted in the final draft.

These two changes, taken together, further emphasize the god of nature rather than the Christian God at least in terms of what Jefferson believed.

I agree that many of the founders and certainly many of the colonialists who signed on to revolt against Britain would not have subscribed to Jefferson, Adams, and Franklin’s theology and they certainly wouldn’t have gained a consensus regarding his attack on slavery. However, there is a natural progression regarding the framers’ contributions regarding the nature of God from the DofI to what we ended up with in the Constitution.

When I was at Independence Hall this past July, there was a little skit that evening that focused on only one issue, a three man fictionalized play where Franklin convinced Jefferson to remove “sacred and undeniable”, where the actor playing Dr. Franklin made a short, but very eloquent speech on why “self-evident” was so much more fitting relative to their shared religious and political philosophies. There were some very red faces in the audiences; I was beaming.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

An "Autobiography" of George Washington

I am proud to announce here at American Creation that this posting will arguably be the most bizarre in the history of our blog. To be honest, when I first reviewed this particular book I was expecting something different. But after perusing a few of its pages I am now left completely at a loss for words.

The "Autobiography" of George Washington, which was published in 2006, was allegedly written by Edith Ellis, a semi-famous playwright and spiritualist, who claimed she was receiving periodic visitations from George Washington throughout the 1940s and 1950s. Ellis stated that she had been chosen to be the official scribe for the dead angel/general/president because of her “objectivity.” During their various "visits," Ellis stated that Washington would regularly comment on his displeasure for the current state of American society. As a result, the General decided to publish his autobiography to help inspire the wayward American populace. Plans backfired, however, when Ellis passed away in 1960. About 20 years later, another spiritualist named Caroline Myss published the book.

Needless to say, the book is filled with obvious historical errors and a number of bizarre claims. Perhaps General Washington went senile in the afterlife and forgot obvious specifics, or perhaps Ellis was prone to delusions of grandeur -- i.e. was a blatant liar. Whatever the case, the book is absolutely laughable.

One of the most ridiculous assertions made in the "autobiography" has to do with Washington's religion. Ellis stated that Washington's reserved nature had caused some to misunderstand his "true" religious beliefs. One of the "autobiography's" main goals was to set the record strait regarding the General’s religion. Here are a few of the words of Washington's "heavenly spirit" regarding his religious beliefs:

My blessed mother was the one to whom I went to say my prayers each night, while my brothers gathered with my father each morning. It may seem strange to you moderns that we had no food until we had gathered in a room and read a chapter from the Scriptures and knelt in prayer, asking for help to make the coming day a profitable one in mind, body, and soul.
And then during the war and his presidency, Washington's religion took the following form:

The calamities of war had taken their toll on the entire army. It was only because of the tender blessing of Christ, Jesus that we were not torn asunder. God's glorious providence and endless mercy kept the army through the worst of nights. As for myself, the only solace I could keep was Christ in my heart. His angels drew round about and kept me up when things were at their worst...

Martha was never fond of my service in the presidency...Her concerns were eventually set at ease when she came to the knowledge of God's divine plan...Having sworn an oath upon the Holy Book of our Lord, I set out to restore our nation's Christian heritage. It was ever present in my mind that the peace and prosperity of America was eternally indebted to the merciful master of heaven
So if you are even in need of a good laugh, pick of a copy of An "Autobiography" of George Washington. I promise that it will bring a smile to your face even on your worst days!

Friday, August 22, 2008

Vote Adams in 00?

With all of the over dramatic political ads that I am sure you have all grown sick of, I thought this might be a nice respite. I have to give fellow contributor Caitlin Hopkins credit for the majority of this piece, since I found the following video on her excellent blog, Vast Public Indifference -- which you all must subscribe to if you have not already.

For most of the "campaign" 0f 1800 -- not really a campaign in the way we think of campaigns today -- Jefferson was labeled an atheist, rebel, etc. by the Adams people. One of the major reasons for such labels was due to the fact that Adams' supporters pounced upon some unpopular statements made by Jefferson on the issue of religion. The most popular statement that was scrutinized was from Jefferson's Notes on Virginia, in which he stated:

"The legitimate powers of government extend to such acts as are injurious to others. But it does me no injury for my neighbour to say there are twenty gods, or no god. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg."
Anyway, here is a funny youtube take on the 1800 campaign against Thomas Jefferson. Enjoy!

George Washington & The Clergy

This is Chapter 33 in Peter Lillback's 1200 page book on Washington's religion. This chapter illustrates Lillback's repeated use of three logical fallacies in his book. One he draws a false dicotomy between Deism and Christianity; that two, permits him to knock down a strict deist "straw man"; and three Lillback offers evidence from which it does not follow that Washington was an orthodox Christian, which is his thesis.

Washington did read sermons and corresponded with various religious figures, and almost always thanked them for their work in polite, perfunctory ways. Lillback constructs an argument that when Washington says positive things about the work of a particular religious figure, Washington essentially "internalizes" those beliefs. Further, Lillback argues all of these figures/sermons were "orthodox." Hence GW was "orthodox Christian." But, that's not the case. Most were orthodox because most Christian Churches were. Some of the notable orthodox figures for whose work Washington had kind words include William Linn (one of Jefferson's slanderous pious clergy enemies), Jedidah Morse and Timothy Dwight (they were hard core orthodox). Typically such figures or their cohorts would, unrequested, send Washington their sermons and GW would reply with a polite thanks, got it, very nice. The following to Rev. REVEREND ZECHARIAH LEWIS regarding the work of Timothy Dwight (President of Yale, and professed enemy of "infidelity") is typical:

I thank you for sending me Doctr. Dwights Sermons to whom I pray you to present the complimts. of Yr. etc.

Yet, I've stumbled upon a number instances where Washington gives the same perfunctory nods to explicitly UNORTHODOX figures whose work expressed heterodox content.

For instance, Richard Price, a British Whig divine who profoundly influenced the American Founding. He was an open Arian in the late 18th Century. He was sort of an Arian counterpart to his Socinian friend, the Rev. Dr. Joseph Priestley, another British Whig divine who profoundly influenced the American Founding.

Washington expressed his approval of Richard Price's work in a letter 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.

And you can read the contents of that sermon here. [I blogged about in in detail here.] The sermon professes to be "pro-Christian," and asserts Jesus Christ as Messiah and Savior. For instance it holds:

When Christianity, that first and best of all the means of human improvement, was first preached it was charged with turning the world upside down.

Yet, it is also explicitly anti-Trinitarian [again Price was an avowed Arian Unitarian]. Price attacks the "Athanasian creed" which is the quintessential statement of Trinitarianism:

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.

The sermon further includes the following pro-unitarian, heterodox sentiments. In the context of arguing religious liberty and equality for all (not just "Christians"), Price asserts:

Montesquieu probably was not a Christian. Newton and Locke were not Trinitarians and therefore not Christians according to the commonly received ideas of Christianity. Would the United States, for this reason, deny such men, were they living, all places of trust and power among them?

So ultimately what can we conclude regarding Washington's positive thoughts about various sermons when he positively reacts in similar ways to the orthodox ideas of Timothy Dwight on the one hand and heterodox sentiments of Richard Price on the other? This is why I argue it is a non-sequitur for Lillback to conclude all of the nice things Washington said about the orthodox clergy and their sermons prove him an orthodox Christian. No. They merely show that he was more "pro-religion" than a cold Deist like Thomas Paine was.

Finally, there are other examples of Washington praising non-orthodox or heterodox ideas. For instance, here I noted Washington's praise for the Universalist Church who denied eternal damnation/asserted universal salvation. He basically said whatever it was he valued about religion for the way it supported republican government the Universalists had it.

Postscript: In the short future I will show more evidence on Richard Price's influence on Washington and many other Founders, including Alexander Hamilton. I will show Price's influence was especially high when the Constitution was being framed and ratified.

John Adams' Ultimate Statement of Rationalism

This exists in his 1813 letter, written in the context of Britain's repeal of a law that made it a crime to deny the Trinity, John Adams writes this to the militant anti-Trinitarian, Thomas Jefferson:

We can never be so certain of any prophecy, or the fulfillment of any prophecy, or of any miracle, or the design of any miracle, as we are from the revelation of nature, that is, nature's God, that two and two are equal to four....This revelation had made it certain that two and one make three, and that one is not three nor can three be one....Had you and I been forty days with Moses on Mount Sinai, and admitted to behold the divine glory, and there been told that one was three and three one, we might not have had the courage to deny it, but we could not have believed it.

Adams says even if the doctrine of the Trinity were revealed to him with Moses on Mt. Sinai, he still wouldn't believe it because man's reason proves 1+1+1=3 not 1. That is the penultimate example of reason trumping revelation. [Do you think it's a little bit arrogant too?]

Adams also says the same theory -- "the laws of Nature and Nature's God" -- which gives America its principles upon which it erected its government also reveals Nature's God to be unitarian!!! I could offer quotes that demonstrate the unitarianism of Jefferson and Franklin as well. And they together made up a majority of the drafting board of the Declaration of Independence. We could say that the Declaration of Independence refutes Trinitarian Christianity. But there's a problem isn't there? There were many Trinitarian Christians in the nation who supported the Declaration of Independence, the Revolution and Constitution. And they didn't understand Nature's God this way.

The problem is easy avoided by being vague and refusing to identify the attributes of God when publicly invoking Him any more than 1) He exists, 2) He created us and grants us rights, and 3) will Intervene to do Justice. This is what American Civil Religion is all about.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Justice Scalia on American Civil Religion

He well understands the concept until he gets to the Ten Commandments.

Justice Scalia, in his dissent in MCCREARY implies that "monotheism" has some type of constitutional privilege over non-monotheistic religions, at least in the context of government endorsement of monotheistic, over non-monotheistic religions. In that opinion he writes:

Besides appealing to the demonstrably false principle that the government cannot favor religion over irreligion, today's opinion suggests that the posting of the Ten Commandments violates the principle that the government cannot favor one religion over another....That is indeed a valid principle where public aid or assistance to religion is concerned...or where the free exercise of religion is at issue...but it necessarily applies in a more limited sense to public acknowledgment of the Creator.

If religion in the public forum had to be entirely nondenominational, there could be no religion in the public forum at all. One cannot say the word "God," or "the Almighty," one cannot offer public supplication or thanksgiving, without contradicting the beliefs of some people that there are many gods, or that God or the gods pay no attention to human affairs. With respect to public acknowledgment of religious belief, it is entirely clear from our Nation's historical practices that the Establishment Clause permits this disregard of polytheists and believers in unconcerned deities, just as it permits the disregard of devout atheists. The Thanksgiving Proclamation issued by George Washington at the instance of the First Congress was scrupulously nondenominational, but it was monotheistic.

Let me try to explain what I think is going on in Scalia's head. He is willing to entertain the notion that the Establishment Clause does more than forbid a national Church, that government may indeed be forbidden from favoring one sect over another in its mere acknowledgments, and he is looking to the historical record for evidence. What he finds is that all of the first four Presidents, like the Declaration of Independence, commonly invoked God in their public pronouncements. But he also finds that their invocations were "scrupulously nondenominational," so much so that they hardly can be termed "Christian" or even "Judeo-Christian." As Scalia notes, "This is not necessarily the Christian God (though if it were, one would expect Christ regularly to be invoked, which He is not)" and,

All of the actions of Washington and the First Congress upon which I have relied, virtually all Thanksgiving Proclamations throughout our history, and all the other examples of our Government's favoring religion that I have cited, have invoked God, but not Jesus Christ.

Scalia instead dubs him "the God of monotheism." And further notes, "[t]he three most popular religions in the United States, Christianity, Judaism, and Islam -- which combined account for 97.7% of all believers -- are monotheistic."

So Scalia doesn't really answer whether it is constitutional for government to endorse in its mere acknowledgments, one Christian sect over another, Christianity over Judaism, or Christianity and Judaism over Islam...but instead he concludes, based on the historical practice of the first four Presidents, it is constitutional to endorse "monotheism" over "non-monotheism." Monotheism therefore is a Lowest Common Denominator among Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.

With respect to public acknowledgment of religious belief, it is entirely clear from our Nation's historical practices that the Establishment Clause permits this disregard of polytheists and believers in unconcerned deities, just as it permits the disregard of devout atheists.

Scalia then connects such "monotheism" with the Ten Commandments themselves.

All of them, moreover (Islam included), believe that the Ten Commandments were given by God to Moses, and are divine prescriptions for a virtuous life....Publicly honoring the Ten Commandments is thus indistinguishable, insofar as discriminating against other religions is concerned, from publicly honoring God.

Here is the fatal flaw in Scalia's argument. He fails to include "another" monotheistic tradition within the Lowest Common Denominator, arguably the most important tradition for purposes of this discussion because it happens to be the personal religion of the first four presidents he mentioned: theistic rationalism. And the theistic rationalists did not necessarily believe that "the Ten Commandments were given by God to Moses." Nor did they ever say so in their public invocations of God.

These Founders did believe in a God, in fact believed that reason discovered God exists and grants men unalienable rights. But reason, not revelation is where ultimate truth is to be found. And these Founders disbelieved a great deal of revelation which they regarded as either unreasonable or unproven. And Moses divinely receiving those Commands was one of those truths about which our Founders were highly dubious.

For instance, here is Jefferson in an 1824 letter to Adams:

Where did we get the ten commandments? [The Bible] itself tells us they were written by the finger of God on tables of stone, which were destroyed by Moses; it specified those on the second set of tables in different form and substance, but still without saying how the other were recovered. But the whole history of these books is so defective and doubtful, that it seems vain to attempt minute inquiry into it; and such tricks have been played with their text, and with the other texts of other books relating to them, that we have a right from the cause to entertain much doubt what parts of them are genuine.

Adams likewise doubted that we had the right version of the Ten Commandments.

When and where originated our Ten Commandments? The Tables and The Ark were lost. Authentic copies, in few, if any hands; the ten Precepts could not be observed, and were little remembered.

If the Book of Deuteronomy was compiled, during of after the Babilonian Captivity, from Traditions, the Error or Amendment might come in there.

– John Adams to Thomas Jefferson, Nov. 14, 1813.

There is nothing in the private writings or public acknowledgments of the two other Presidents that contradict Jefferson's and Adams' sentiments here. They were all men of reason. Therefore, if we include the creed of the first four Presidents as part of the lowest common denominator of monotheism, we would have to exclude the notion that the Ten Commandments were divinely given by God.

What we would be left with in our LCD is this: There is a God; He grants us unalienable rights; He is concerned about human beings and will intervene, especially if we don't respect the unalienable rights of others and nothing more. The first four Presidents never more specifically defined God's attributes when publicly acknowledging Him.

In other words, a generic natural religion founds America's public order. "Nature" meaning what is knowable through reason, not revelation. Revealed religion is to be consigned to the private sphere of society (as Harvey Mansfield, Michael Zuckert and Walter Berns argue that our Founders, after Locke, intended).

"Natural religion," as it were is the religion of "all good men." And it does not teach that God revealed the Ten Commandments to Moses. Reason never "discovered" or "confirmed" that.