According to the tally, there have been 65 comments in response to my brief post. Clearly, I cannot answer them all. I'd like to make a few brief comments, however.
Kristo: I think Acts 7:55-60 makes it clear that Stephen "counts" under my definition. For the purposes of the historical argument, though, I rely on what 18th century American Christians said Christianity was. It so happens that I agree with the 10 common elements that they affirmed as core doctrines.
Regarding the "key" Founders: I deal with eight, not five; and they represent the three most responsible for writing the Declaration and, arguably, the five most responsible for the content of the Constitution and putting it into effect.
"Majorities" of people simply assent to laws -- they don't frame them. Those who WRITE documents have influence over its content -- not those who merely assent to it. The U.S. Constitution, to which they assented, was "godless" and there was opposition to it on that basis -- but it was ratified anyway. The principles upon which it was based were identified as philosophical and historical (in the convention debates, The Federalist Papers, and their personal correspondence) -- not the Bible or the writings of church fathers/theologians. A number of those principles are non-biblical or even anti-biblical.
As for the Declaration, the fact that we're still arguing about its religious content 232 years later would please and amuse Jefferson. He intentionally wrote it such that everyone could read his own religious beliefs into it and, therefore, all would find it acceptable and supportable. The deist sees what he wants to see, the Jew sees what he wants, the Christian sees what he wants, etc. As theistic rationalists, Jefferson, Adams, & Franklin eschewed particular doctrine as divisive and, consequently, they had no doctrinal "dog in the race," so to speak. So, of course OFT sees Christian content because he wants to and secularists see deist language, etc. Such was the genius of Jefferson.
Jefferson (perhaps my least favorite Founder -- I'd love to leave him out) is important and included because he is most responsible for the content of the Declaration, the nation's formative philosophical document. Several complained in this discussion that TJ was the most aberrant where theology was concerned -- BUT THAT'S MY MAJOR POINT -- HE WASN'T ABERRANT AT ALL. The other seven I write about held fundamentally the same beliefs as Jefferson (Adams even said so).
Mr. Van Dyke: I would be the last person who would want Christianity or Christian influence "scrubbed" from anywhere. I began my project partly to correct the record concerning the Establishment Clause which the Court has butchered since 1947. BUT you can't scrub Christianity from places in which it doesn't exist. AND it does no favor to Christianity (rather, it harms it) when you ascribe the label "Christian" or "Christianity" to people or ideas or documents which are not really Christian. The Gospel becomes corrupted and muddled and the Word of God is tainted by non-biblical influences. It also exalts what God hates: generic, moralizing "religion."
To clarify my lack of desire to "scrub" any Christian influence away, let me say that there certainly were Christians involved in the Founding -- some of whom played important roles. For example, John Jay and Roger Sherman and John Witherspoon were Christians by my definition and by that of 18th century Americans. But they didn't have as much influence on the founding documents as the eight I studied.
As for the state constitution issue: the differences in the state constitutions point up the concerns of the theistic rationalists. There were many religious sects -- even among Protestants (especially among Protestants), so any attempt to establish any one of them on a national basis would have been disastrous and prevented a unified country. The theistic rationalists who were most influential in constructing and implementing the U.S. Constitution were in a perfect position to make a nonsectarian, non-Christian country because they did not adhere to particular (divisive, in their view) Christian doctrines. That is not to say that they didn't want the people to be religious or that they didn't want to promote religion -- they most certainly did. They did not, however, aspire to making a specifically "Christian" country and did not necessarily want the people to be "Christian." They wanted religion and religious people because the result would be a morality that would undergird the nation.
Jon: You were correct to take issue with my superlative concerning their use of "Christ" -- I should have said "almost never" or "very rarely." Turnabout is fair play: I have to take issue with you regarding your claim about the Bible's supposed "ambivalence toward chattel slavery." The form of slavery supported in the Bible is not what you think of as slavery, not the form of slavery practiced in the U.S., and not even the norm of slavery in the ancient world. Slavery in the Mosaic Commonwealth was voluntary and was actually a gracious provision for the poor. One who was economically inept could sell himself into slavery in order to provide for himself and/or his family. He was to be treated as a member of the family and strictly protected against any kind of abuse. There was not even a social stigma against the slave. Slaves were freed from their commitment after six years. In the Jubilee year, all slaves were released -- whether the six years were up or not. They could always be "bought back" at any time by any kinsman for the amount they owed. The kidnapping of persons to sell or use as slaves was a capital crime (Exodus 21:16). One could become a perpetual slave by one's own choice -- otherwise, it was not allowed.
Tuesday, December 16, 2008
Frazer Responds to Comments
I posted a note from Dr. Gregg Frazer on my blogs and at American Creation it generated a lively 65 comments. Frazer emailed me this response: