Thursday, August 14, 2008

Cato Symposium on Political Theology

The Cato Institute was nice enough to reproduce a post of mine reacting to their symposium on political theology. The topic at hand was one Professor Mark Lilla's book entitled, "The Stillborn God." Lilla argues that America, a liberal democracy (for those politically illiterate folks, a "constitutional republic" is a FORM of a "liberal democracy") doesn't have a political theology because, as it turns out, the atheist Thomas Hobbes is the Founder of modern liberal democratic notions of government. Locke, Lilla and his fellow Straussians argue, was imbibed in Hobbes' teachings. (Indeed, Hobbes was the first to put forth the notion of the "state of nature" key to Locke's political theory.)

Anyway, here is an excerpt from my article:

In studying their public and private writings in detail I have concluded that America’s principle founders (Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Madison, and Franklin) were not closet atheists but really did believe in this rational, benevolent, unitarian deity who fit their republican ideals much better than the Biblical God could. The inescapable conclusion is that America does have a political theology; it is just not Christianity....Nature’s God was theologically unitarian, universalist (did not eternally damn anyone) syncretist (most or all world religions worshipped Him), partially inspired the Christian Scriptures, and man’s reason was ultimate device for understanding Him. He was not quite the strict Deist God that some secular scholars have made Him out to be. But neither was He the Biblical God. Rather, somewhere in between.

The political-theological problem America’s founders thus faced is they needed to and did appeal to a God that orthodox Christians did not worship. Such Christianity was socially and institutionally entrenched at the state level during America’s founding era. Though, some studies have shown huge portions of the American populace during the founding era were nominal or unchurched Christians. When the first four Presidents invoked this God in their public supplications, they systematically used generic or philosophical terms for God so as not to contradict either their heterodox opinions on God or the orthodox opinions of the masses (or least the churches to which the masses belonged). In doing so, they established America’s civil religion.


Anonymous said...

We sstarted out as a Christian nation but were sold out in 1954 when Lindon Johnson, a Democrat introduced a bill in Congress that offered churches tax exempt status for their silence in the pulpits regarding politicians. The spiritual and moral decline in America can be traced to that date when churches became a bond slave of the IRS. for the full story check out my jst published book

Phil Johnson said...

This is what I like about what some seem to think of as Endless Debate. :<)
You paper to the CATO people has opened my mind to hypothecation about the Founders. There was genius there and a lot of it. Too bad we don't see much of it around any more.
I think I agree that America was founded to be a Post Christian--post any sectarian nation and purposely so.

bpabbott said...

John, I'm confused by your comment. I assume you're critical of Johnson's position on religious establishments participating in politics?

I assume you imply that you're no fan of Lyndon Johnson ... although he is the same guy who placed "under God" in the pledge and "In God We Trust" on our money?