Sunday, October 26, 2008


Francis Schaeffer would likely call it "pagan"
by Tom Van Dyke

I still prefer the admittedly imperfect term "Judeo-Christian" as more descriptive of the Founding's "civil religion" over "theistic rationalist" or the [per]mutations of "Deist," so I would not want to be accused of "peddling half-truths," as Jonathan Rowe's post intimates below.

Well, actually, Jon comes right out and says it's peddling half-truths. So if we may "unpack" this a bit:

First of all, the "Judeo-" part doesn't believe Jesus was God, and would not find the New Testament part of the Bible either infallible or even divinely inspired. So that clears the decks of "orthodoxy," the Atonement, the Trinity, and certainly Francis Schaeffer. [More on him later.]

Secondly, as Jon concedes, the medieval pre-Reformation ["Catholic"] Christian intellectual tradition quite took in the "pagan" Aristotle and the ancient Greeks, as did Judaism itself. The apostle Paul, who wrote most all of the Epistles, was himself a Roman citizen and often argued from his deep background in classical philosophy for his Mediterranean-rim audience, who were also steeped in it.

Moreover, the main American "Protestant" tradition was largely Anglican/Church of England, which was Roman Catholicism shed of the Rome/Pope part [The Book of Common Prayer even uses the word "catholick" to describe its own religion!]. John Locke often and approvingly mentions Rev. Richard Hooker, whose own philosophy/theology was a direct offshoot of the medieval "Catholic," Thomas Aquinas.

Episcopalians, Presbyterians and the various unitarian movements were not direct descendants of Martin Luther's theological Protestantism---"faith alone saves" as a shorthand---which was what informed the views of Francis Schaeffer and many in our contemporary evangelical movement.

Theologically speaking, Luther, Calvin, et al., are what "Christian" meant to Francis Schaeffer---he had an expressed distaste for Roman Catholicism, and saw "pagan" philosophy as a malign influence on true Christianity across the board. [And art! Do look at this link to Schaeffer's seminal How Should We Then Live?!]

That's the theological Francis Schaffer, at least the Schaeffer best known to many evangelicals these days. And that's OK, religious liberty-wise. [The interested or curious seeker will read this for the rest.]

But here's the story: It was Francis Schaeffer who was the strategist behind Jerry Falwell's "Moral Majority" political movement. The true enemy was "secular humanism," and it was Schaeffer who convinced Falwell to build an activist coalition of the likeminded including Jews [!] and Roman Catholics [!!!]

The theological Francis Schaeffer was not the same as the political philosopher Francis Schaeffer, or even the Francis Schaeffer as citizen/voter. We should keep this in mind as we attempt to penetrate the doctrinal beliefs of the Founders. Their [dis?]beliefs are of some academic interest, but their public practice is where the rubber really meets the road, and the main focus of this blog.

Mr. Rowe once wrote about Frank Pastore, the former MLB pitcher turned fundamentalist preacher. Pastore condemned Mormonism theologically, but said he could vote for Mitt Romney since he agreed with Romney on the issues, in that Moral Majority umbrella sort of way.

As a corollary to Shanna Riley's most recent [excellent] post, when we try to fit genuine human beings into boxes and labels, we lose the plot. Sam Brownback and Nancy Pelosi are putatively both Catholics; John McCain and Barack Obama both say that they are "saved" through Jesus Christ.

The rubber will meet the road November 4. Professions of faith and the labels we put on them don't look to be of much help. It's to the underlying philosophies of the individual persons, their worldviews---weltanshauungen---where we must look, and sussing them out is no small task. We don't even have a handle on George Washington or Ben Franklin, and you'd think that would all be settled by now.


Raven said...

Nope. Your interpretation of Judeo/Christianity doesn't work. You are trying to stretch thie definition so that it becomes all-encompassing, but it doesn't work. It reminds me of how politicians stretch the meaning of different terms to fit their positions (what is your definition of "inhale" Tom?).

Theistic Rationalism is the appropriate term here because it isn't exclusive to Christian/Jewish roots like your Judeo/Christian term is.

Sorry, but this definition doesn't even come close to hitting the broad side of a barn...WAY off.

Tom Van Dyke said...

You're probably right.

Phil Johnson said...

If I am to understand this post of yours, Tom, you are saying that the term, "civil religion", as used by the Founders is some kind of a mix between the Jewish and Christian religions. Is that what you are trying to say?

Bruce Miller said...

My understanding of the faiths of most of the Founders were based broadly in Protestant Christianity.

My concern about the term "Judeo-Christian" relates to the concern Phil raises. The term is typically used as a way of being inclusive. And the fact that politicians habitually use it is a good sign that no one is particularly offended by it.

But it is an inexact term when it comes to thinking about religion. Because Judaism and Christianity are two separate religions. Ecumenical understanding and cooperation is important. But that can only develop on the basis of mutual respect for the other religion. And that means, for a start, recognizing that they are two different religions.

I know this post is dealing with the Christain and/or Jewish religious influences on the Founders' thinking as compared to other religious and philosophical influences. But I thought I would leave this observation.

Tom Van Dyke said...

"Admittedly imperfect" is in the first sentence. I dislike the term less than the other ones, is all, "Deist" in particular, as that's all over the map. "Judeo-" takes out the mystical Christ part, which was a take it or leave it deal with the Founders. But although in theory some saw all religions as equal, they didn't know much about any of 'em except Christianity and the Bible---despite their protestations---and the other terms elide that fact.