Saturday, February 28, 2009

Summum Flunks Weirdness Test?

Where’s the proper line between church and state?

In a rare unanimous decision, this past Wednesday the U.S. Supreme Court overturned a ruling by the Tenth Circuit that would have forced the town of Pleasant Grove, Utah, to accept a granite pyramid inscribed with the “Seven Aphorisms” of a quirky sect called Summum.

The heavily Mormon municipality of Pleasant Grove already displays the Ten Commandments in its town park. (The Eagles Club donated the Decalogue years before.) So the argument went that in the spirit of fair play (and Constitutional law), the town should accept a monument etched with the precepts of a religion dating back to 1975, when Claude “Corkey” Nowells got a revelation from cosmic beings styled “Summum Individuals.”

After all, the First Amendment forbids the government from showing religious favoritism. That’s what the “no establishment” clause of the First Amendment is all about.

So if Pleasant Grove accepts “Thou shall not kill” and ”Do not commit adultery,” it should also display Summum’s metaphysical principles of Psychokinesis, Correspondence, Vibration, Opposition, Rhythm, Cause and Effect, and Gender. Right?

Wrong, said the Court. The display of the Ten Commandments was really about the town’s right of free speech, not about the establishment clause at all.

I’m not sure I follow the Court’s reasoning, or agree with it. But it’s hard to imagine another conclusion. The Supreme Court itself is housed in a building whose eastern façade is decorated with a frieze of famous lawgivers like Hammurabi, Solomon, Confucius, Lycurgus and Moses. Had Wednesday’s ruling gone the other way, Corkey Nowell’s image would presumably have joined that of Solon and company.
And the Court’s frieze seems to suggest that we are a religiously pluralistic nation, drawing on many legal (as well as faith) traditions. America is not by any means an exclusively Christian nation, nor was that the Founder’s intent.

But there are limits, too. One wonders how the Court might have ruled had the local mosque demanded Pleasant Grove display the Five Pillars of Islam, or the Dharmadatu requested a monument etched with the Four Noble Truths?

Either one might have made a more interesting case. As it was, the Seven Aphorisms just seemed too offbeat to the Justices. But the “weirdness test” won’t last long, nor should it.

Last fall, as the case went to Court, I wrote that a number of groups have filed amicus briefs, including the Anti-Defamation League, the Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty, Americans United for Separation of Church and State, and the American Jewish Committee.

They note that a diversity of religious opinion flourished in the American colonies during the 18th century—Quakers, Freethinkers, Universalists, Jews, Roman Catholics, Hutterites, Dutch Reformed and a multitude of other denominations--and that the Founders sought to maintain a strict neutrality toward these various religious traditions.

It is hard to argue with the reasoning of James Madison, who wrote in his Memorial & Remonstrance Against Religious Assessments: “Who does not see that the same authority which can establish Christianity, in exclusion of all other Religions, may establish with the same ease any particular sect of Christians, in exclusion of other Sects?”

Granting Pleasant Grove the power to erect a shine to the Ten Commandments, by Madison’s reasoning, means the town (or any other governmental body) could equally well erect a shrine to the goddess Kali, to the exclusion of non-Hindus. That would be bad.

Personally, I like the Ten Commandments much more than the Aphorisms of Summum. Some of the rules, like the ones about idol worship and not taking God’s name in vain, seem a bit dated. But prohibitions on murder and false testimony never go out of style. I predict that “honoring your father and mother” will be a precept that stands strong, long after Summum is forgotten.

But my own religious preferences weren’t meant to be written into law. So while I’m free to display the Commandments in my home and in my church, they shouldn’t be memorialized on Pleasant Grove’s town green.

Here’s my aphorism: Keep the Commandments in your own ethical life—but don’t keep them in the public park. That was the Founder’s view. And I think the God of Moses would probably agree.

Alexander Hamilton's Economic "Bailout"

In light of President Obama's recent address to Congress regarding the $750 billion plus economic stimulus package, I thought it might be fun to discuss America's first "economic bailout." After all, religious groups (then and now) believed in a moral code regarding government spending (which is how I will justify writing about this here). =)

As we all know, the eight-year war for American independence with Great Britain was extremely costly. At the war's conclusion, the thirteen separate states had each incurred a tremendous debt, due to the enormous economic burden brought on by the revolution itself. According to Alexander Hamilton, the nation's first Secretary of the Treasury, the total debt of the United States was a whopping $77.1 million (or roughly $750 billion by today's standards). Of this, $11.7 million was owed to foreign governments, $40,4 million was the result of domestic debt, and $25 million the result of war expenditures of the various states (Ellis, Founding Brothers, 55). As a result, each state's credit was shot leaving them with little credibility on the international stage.

It was under these circumstances that Alexander Hamilton proposed a "bailout" of sorts. Under his plan of assumption, Hamilton suggested that the nation's legitimacy on the international market might be improved if the federal government were to assume the entire debs of the various states. Not only would his plan call for a radical new concept in terms of the federal government's scope and responsibility, but it would remove a measure of state sovereignty when it came to economics.

As could be expected, not everyone was happy with the deal. Most opponents of Hamilton's plan were furious over the fact that Hamilton proposed to pay off at face value all of the war bonds, which had not only been purchased by the masses, but had been used as a means of payment to thousands of veterans of the war. What infuriated these opponents was the fact that the war bonds, which had become virtually worthless, had been sold by the masses to greedy speculators (many who were friends of Hamilton) for a fraction of their original worth. Once Hamilton proposed to pay off the bonds at face value, these speculators stood to make a fortune off of what had once been a worthless bond.

The anger over the war bond saga was evident across the nation. In a letter to James Madison, Dr. Benjamin Rush wrote the following, which captures just how polarizing and upsetting Hamilton's plan had become:

Never have I heard more rage expressed against the Oppressors of our country during the late War than I daily hear against the men who...are to reap all the benefits of the revolution, at the expense of the greatest part of the Virtue & property that purchased it.
James Madison and his Virginian comrade, Thomas Jefferson, felt the same. The idea of subjugating the economic sovereignty of the states to the federal government seemed like a violation of everything the Revolution had stood for.

To make a long story short, Hamilton's economic plan of assumption was finally supported by Madison, Jefferson and other influential Virginians, who had originally opposed it, in exchange for the nation's capital to be built on the Potomac. In a historical compromise, Hamilton conceded the location of the federal capital to his Virginian opponents, in exchange for their support of his economic plan. Simply put, the compromise killed two birds with one stone.

Historians have, for the most part, praised Hamilton's economic plan as a stroke of brilliance. The plan delivered the infant United States from the brink of economic turmoil and gave the federal government more centralized control over the economic future of the nation. The economic "bailout" of the states eliminated a large amount of the economic tension between the smaller, more vulnerable states and the larger juggernaut states like Virginia, who had a virtual monopoly on American commerce. By placing the economic future of the nation in the hands of the federal government, Hamilton foreshadowed the often-repeated debate in America between a powerful, centralized union and the independent sovereignty of the states.

My Guest Post

Dr. Paul Harvey of the Religion in American History blog recently invited me to make a guest posting on a new book entitled, The Making of a Catholic President, which deals with the 1960 election between John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon. You can access my review by clicking here.

A special thanks to Dr. Harvey for the invitation to guest blog at his site!

Joseph Story's Political Theology

At American Creation my friend Tom Van Dyke points to the learned Joseph Story's commentaries on the Constitution and religion. To his credit, Van Dyke gives us a long excerpt from Story, so we can read it in context. You can read the original here. Included in the longer except is the quotation that Christian Nationalists like to cite on behalf of the "Christian Nation" thesis:

§1871. The real object of the amendment was, not to countenance, much less to advance Mahometanism, or Judaism, or infidelity, by prostrating Christianity; but to exclude all rivalry among Christian sects, and to prevent any national ecclesiastical establishment, which should give to an hierarchy the exclusive patronage of the national government.

As I've noted before, one problem with the use of Story's quotation on behalf of the "Christian Nation" thesis is original meaning constitutional interpretation does not concern itself with the "real object" of various provisions of the Constitution's text, but rather the original meaning of the text itself. And, of course, the Constitution's text, says nothing of "Christianity," but rather uses the term "religion." There could be many "real objects" of various texts of the Constitution, which focused on specifically, unmoored from the Constitution's text could take on lives of their own. The Constitution says nothing about "Christian sects" only. That reading is as revisionist and "living" as the Wall of Separation concept.

However original meaning originalists can make a strong case, consistent with what Story writes later, that troublesome questions about "religion" v. "Christianity" and the US Constitution's text are placated by understanding that it was the states who were charged with resolving those nettlesome issues. The Federal government, as it were, would be burdened with a "hands off" restriction on involving itself in religious disputes.

That said, I want to address Story's "political theology" about which he writes in the excepts that Mr. Van Dyke quoted, what Story sees as the "ideal" way government and religion ought to co-exist with one another. Here is the the relevant part of Story's position:


How far any government has a right to interfere in matters touching religion, has been a subject much discussed by writers upon public and political law. The right and the duty of the interference of government, in matters of religion, have been maintained by many distinguished authors, as well those, who were the warmest advocates of free governments, as those, who were attached to governments of a more arbitrary character. Indeed, the right of a society or government to interfere in matters of religion will hardly be contested by any persons, who believe that piety, religion, and morality are intimately connected with the well being of the state, and indispensable to the administration of civil justice. The promulgation of the great doctrines of religion, the being, and attributes, and providence of one Almighty God; the responsibility to him for all our actions, founded upon moral freedom and accountability; a future state of rewards and punishments; the cultivation of all the personal, social, and benevolent virtues;—these never can be a matter of indifference in any well ordered community. It is, indeed, difficult to conceive, how any civilized society can well exist without them. And at all events, it is impossible for those, who believe in the truth of Christianity, as a divine revelation, to doubt, that it is the especial duty of government to foster, and encourage it among all the citizens and subjects. This is a point wholly distinct from that of the right of private judgment in matters of religion, and of the freedom of public worship according to the dictates of one’s conscience. [Bold mine.]

I want to turn your attention to what it was in Story's quotation that he did and did NOT say. He seems to endorse the idea that there is an Almighty God to whom we are accountable and that publicly policy should be friendly towards "piety, religion and morality" and a "future state of rewards and punishments." In addition this public religion "cultivat[es]...the personal, social, and benevolent virtues." As Story notes these are "the great doctrines of religion." Finally Story intimates these great doctrines are found with the "Christian revelation." Arguably, they are. However, the orthodox argue they are not the ESSENCE of the "Christian revelation."

Story never invokes orthodox Trinitarian doctrine (original sin, the trinity, incarnation, and atonement) as having any connection to this "public theology." Finally while Story invokes a future state of rewards and punishments, he never invokes eternal damnation, certainly not eternal damnation for all non-Christians, as part of this political theology.

Some possible reasons why Story doesn't incorporate these things into his political theology? One is he didn't believe in them and neither did America's key Founders -- the men who wrote the Declaration, US Constitution, Federalist Papers and otherwise posited the ideals of republican government and religion (Washington, J. Adams, Jefferson, Madison, Franklin, Hamilton, Wilson, G. Morris and others). This is where the personal and the political connect. This is why it's relevant to inquire into the personal beliefs, even in their private letters, of notable Founders.

Here is Story on what he DIDN'T believe about Christianity:


Washington, March 6th, 1824.

...The Unitarians are universally steadfast, sincere, and earnest Christians.

They all believe in the divine mission of Christ, the credibility and authenticity of the Bible, the miracles wrought by our Saviour and his apostles, and the efficacy of his precepts to lead men to salvation....They differ among themselves as to the nature of our Saviour, but they all agree that he was the special messenger of God, and that what he taught is of Divine authority. In truth, they principally differ from other Christians in disbelieving the Trinity, for they think Christ was not God, but in the Scripture language “the Son of God.”

And here is testimony from Story's brother, speaking to and through Story's son:

After my continued absence from home for four or five years, we met again, your father being now about eighteen years old, and renewed our former affection towards each other. At this time we were, from a similarity of sentiment, drawn more closely together. I allude particularly to our religious opinions. We frequently discussed the subject of the divinity and the humanity of Christ, and we both agreed in believing in his humanity. Thus you see that your father and myself were early Unitarians, long before the doctrine was preached among us by any one, unless I except Dr. Bentley of Salem.

In other words, Story was a Socinian Unitarian, believing Jesus was 100% human and not divine at all. And here is what Story thought on salvation:

This faith he retained during his whole life, and was ever ardent in his advocacy of the views of Liberal Christians. He was several times President of the American Unitarian Association, and was in the habit of attending its meetings and joining in its discussions. No man, however, was ever more free from a spirit of bigotry and proselytism. He gladly allowed every one freedom of belief, and claimed only that it should be a genuine conviction and not a mere theologic opinion, considering the true faith of every man to be the necessary exponent of his nature, and honoring a religious life more than a formal creed. He admitted within the pale of salvation Mahommedan and Christian, Catholic and Infidel. He believed that whatever is sincere and honest is recognized of God; — that as the views of any sect are but human opinion, susceptible of error on every side, it behooves all men to be on their guard against arrogance of belief; — and that in the sight of God it is not the truth or falsity of our views, but the spirit in which we believe, which alone is of vital consequence. [Bold mine.]

Now, Story obviously thought his "liberal unitarian Christianity" was "Christianity." Story's private creed informed his beliefs on public political theology. And whether this creed qualifies as "Christianity" is a matter of debate. And certainly the debate is one that no government ought to resolve. And America's Foundations hold that no government ought involve itself in this debate. As Madison believed, it's not government's place -- any government, federal, state or local -- to take "cognizance" of these issues.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Joseph Story on Religion and the First Amendment

Quite helpful to our exploration of religion and the Founding---some excerpts from Commentaries on the Constitution of the United States by Supreme Court justice Joseph Story, published in 1833.

Now, Story's work is admittedly from the post-Founding period, but it was James Madison himself who wanted the deliberations on the Bill of Rights kept secret, so that these laws would find their own feet: Just as we acknowledge that how the Ratifiers understood the language of the amendments is more important than the understanding of the Framers themselves, so too Madison contends that until laws are put into custom and practice and a common understanding is achieved, they aren't quite finalized. Custom and practice are the final establishment of the understanding of a law.

This is the principle behind the Supreme Court's reverence for stare decisis, a jurisprudence constante, if you will. A good principle, I think---what was legal yesterday should be legal today if we are not to sink into capriciousness, madness, and tyranny.

Therefore, although the post-Founding era is technically beyond the scope and focus of this blog, it's not until 1833 or so do we see the work of Madison, et al., on the Bill of Rights "settle in," by standards that Madison himself endorsed.

I've pulled together some relevant sections from Justice Story's work so that you, dear reader, don't have to; as a reward for my efforts, I boldfaced the final paragraph, which is particularly probative on federalism, religion and the Founding. Otherwise, Story's words are unedited except for omitting his copious footnotes. He is long but lucid, and makes for fairly effortless reading even after almost 200 years. There are guest appearances by William Blackstone and John Locke, as well as a few amusing de rigeur whacks at papism:

§ 621. In like manner there is a total absence of any qualification founded on religious opinions. However desirable it may be, that every government should be administered by those, who have a fixed religious belief, and feel a deep responsibility to an infinitely wise and eternal Being; and however strong may be our persuasion of the everlasting value of a belief in Christianity for our present, as well as our immortal welfare; the history of the world has shown the extreme dangers, as well as difficulties, of connecting the civil power with religious opinions.

In the actual situation of the United States a union of the states would have been impractible from the known diversity of religious sects, if any thing more, than a simple belief in Christianity in the most general form of expression, had been required. And even to this some of the states would have objected, as inconsistent with the fundamental policy of their own charters, constitutions, and laws.

§1863. Let us now enter upon the consideration of the amendments, which, it will be found, principally regard subjects properly belonging to a bill of rights.

§1864. The first is, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition government for a redress of grievances.”

§1865. And first, the prohibition of any establishment of religion, and the freedom of religious opinion and worship.

How far any government has a right to interfere in matters touching religion, has been a subject much discussed by writers upon public and political law. The right and the duty of the interference of government, in matters of religion, have been maintained by many distinguished authors, as well those, who were the warmest advocates of free governments, as those, who were attached to governments of a more arbitrary character.1 Indeed, the right of a society or government to interfere in matters of religion will hardly be contested by any persons, who believe that piety, religion, and morality are intimately connected with the well being of the state, and indispensable to the administration of civil justice. The promulgation of the great doctrines of religion, the being, and attributes, and providence of one Almighty God; the responsibility to him for all our actions, founded upon moral freedom and accountability; a future state of rewards and punishments; the cultivation of all the personal, social, and benevolent virtues;—these never can be a matter of indifference in any well ordered community. It is, indeed, difficult to conceive, how any civilized society can well exist without them. And at all events, it is impossible for those, who believe in the truth of Christianity, as a divine revelation, to doubt, that it is the especial duty of government to foster, and encourage it among all the citizens and subjects. This is a point wholly distinct from that of the right of private judgment in matters of religion, and of the freedom of public worship according to the dictates of one’s conscience.

§1866. The real difficulty lies in ascertaining the limits, to which government may rightfully go in fostering and encouraging religion. Three cases may easily be supposed. One, where a government affords aid to a particular religion, leaving all persons free to adopt any other; another, where it creates an ecclesiastical establishment for the propagation of the doctrines of a particular sect of that religion, leaving a like freedom to all others; and a third, where it creates such an establishment, and excludes all persons, not belonging to it, either wholly, or in part, from any participation in the public honours, trusts, emoluments, privileges, and immunities of the state. For instance, a govern-ment may simply declare, that the Christian religion shall be the religion of the state, and shall be aided, and encouraged in all the varieties of sects belonging to it; or it may declare, that the Catholic or Protestant religion shall be the religion of the state, leaving every man to the free enjoyment of his own religious opinions; or it may establish the doctrines of a particular sect, as of Episcopalians, as the religion of the state, with a like freedom; or it may establish the doctrines of a particular sect, as exclusively the religion of the state, tolerating others to a limited extent, or excluding all, not belonging to it, from all public honours, trusts, emoluments, privileges, and immunities.

§1867. Now, there will probably be found few persons in this, or any other Christian country, who would deliberately contend, that it was unreasonable, or unjust to foster and encourage the Christian religion generally, as a matter of sound policy, as well as of revealed truth. In fact, every American colony, from its foundation down to the revolution, with the exception of Rhode Island, (if, indeed, that state be an exception,) did openly, by the whole course of its laws and institutions, support and sustain, in some form, the Christian religion; and almost invariably gave a peculiar sanction to some of its fundamental doctrines. And this has continued to be the case in some of the states down to the present period, without the slightest suspicion, that it was against the principles of public law, or republican liberty. Indeed, in a republic, there would seem to be a peculiar propriety in viewing the Christian religion, as the great basis, on which it must rest for its support and permanence, if it be, what it has ever been deemed by its truest friends to be, the religion of liberty. Montesquieu has remarked, that the Christian religion is a stranger to mere despotic power. The mildness so frequently recommended in the gospel is incompatible with the despotic rage, with which a prince punishes his subjects, and exercises himself in cruelty. He has gone even further, and affirmed, that the Protestant religion is far more congenial with the spirit of political freedom, than the Catholic. “When,” says he, “the Christian religion, two centuries ago, became unhappily divided into Catholic and Protestant, the people of the north embraced the Protestant, and those of the south still adhered to the Catholic. The reason is plain. The people of the north have, and will ever have, a spirit of liberty and independence, which the people of the south have not. And, therefore, a religion, which has no visible head, is more agreeable to the independency of climate, than that, which has one.” Without stopping to inquire, whether this remark be well founded, it is certainly true, that the parent country has acted upon it with a severe and vigilant zeal; and in most of the colonies the same rigid jealousy has been maintained almost down to our own times. Massachusetts, while she has promulgated in her bill of rights the importance and necessity of the public support of religion, and the worship of God, has authorized the legislature to require it only for Protestantism. The language of that bill of rights is remarkable for its pointed affirmation of the duty of government to support Christianity, and the reasons for it. “As,” says the third article, “the happiness of a people, and the good order and preservation of civil government, essentially depend upon piety, religion, and morality; and as these cannot be generally diffused through the community, but by the institution of the public worship of God, and of public instructions in piety, religion, and morality; therefore, to promote their happiness and to secure the good order and preservation of their government, the people of this Common wealth have a right to invest their legislature with power to authorize, and require, and the legislature shall from time to time authorize and require, the several towns, parishes, &c. &c. to make suitable provision at their own expense for the institution of the public worship of God, and for the support and maintenance of public protestant teachers of piety, religion, and morality, in all cases where such provision shall not be made voluntarily.” Afterwards there follow provisions, prohibiting any superiority of one sect over another, and securing to all citizens the free exercise of religion.

§1868. Probably at the time of the adoption of the constitution, and of the amendment to it, now under consideration, the general, if not the universal, sentiment in America was, that Christianity ought to receive encouragement from the state, so far as was not incompatible with the private rights of conscience, and the freedom of religious worship. An attempt to level all religions, and to make it a matter of state policy to hold all in utter indifference, would have created universal disapprobation, if not universal indignation.

§1869. It yet remains a problem to be solved in human affairs, whether any free government can be permanent, where the public worship of God, and the support of religion, constitute no part of the policy or duty of the state in any assignable shape. The future experience of Christendom, and chiefly of the American states, must settle this problem, as yet new in the history of the world, abundant, as it has been, in experiments in the theory of government.

§1870. But the duty of supporting religion, and especially the Christian religion, is very different from the right to force the consciences of other men, or to punish them for worshipping God in the manner, which, they believe, their accountability to him requires. It has been truly said, that “religion, or the duty we owe to our Creator, and the manner of discharging it, can be dictated only by reason and conviction, not by force or violence,” Mr. Locke himself, who did not doubt the right of government to interfere in matters of religion, and especially to encourage Christianity, at the same time has expressed his opinion of the right of private judgment, and liberty of conscience, in a manner becoming his character, as a sincere friend of civil and religious liberty. “No man, or society of men,” says he, “have any authority to impose their opinions or interpretations on any other, the meanest Christian; since, in matters of religion, every man must know, and believe, and give an account for himself.” The rights of conscience are, indeed, beyond the just reach of any human power. They are given by God, and cannot be encroached upon by human authority, without a criminal disobedience of the precepts of natural, as well as of revealed religion.

§1871. The real object of the amendment was, not to countenance, much less to advance Mahometanism, or Judaism, or infidelity, by prostrating Christianity; but to exclude all rivalry among Christian sects, and to prevent any national ecclesiastical establishment, which should give to an hierarchy the exclusive patronage of the national government. It thus cut off the means of religious persecution, (the vice and pest of former ages,) and of the subversion of the rights of conscience in matters of religion, which had been trampled upon almost from the days of the Apostles to the present age. The history of the parent country had afforded the most solemn warnings and melancholy instructions on this head; and even New-England, the land of the persecuted puritans, as well as other colonies, where the Church of England had maintained its superiority, would furnish out a chapter, as full of the darkest bigotry and intolerance, as any, which could be found to disgrace the pages of foreign annals. Apostacy, heresy, and nonconformity had been standard crimes for public appeals, to kindle the flames of persecution, and apologize for the most atrocious triumphs over innocence and virtue.

§1872. Mr. Justice Blackstone, after having spoken with a manly freedom of the abuses in the Romish church respecting heresy; and, that Christianity had been deformed by the demon of persecution upon the continent, and that the island of Great Britain had not been entirely free from the scourge, defends the final enactments against nonconformity in England, in the following set phrases, to which, without any material change, might be justly applied his own sarcastic remarks upon the conduct of the Roman ecclesiastics in punishing heresy. “For nonconformity to the worship of the church,” (says he,) “there is much more to be pleaded than for the former, (that is, reviling the ordinances of the church,) being a matter of private conscience, to the scruples of which our present laws have shown a very just, and Christian indulgence. For undoubtedly all persecution and oppression of weak consciences, on the score of religious persuasions, are highly unjustifiable upon every principle of natural reason, civil liberty, or sound religion. But care must be taken not to carry this indulgence into such extremes, as may endanger the national church. There is always a difference to be made between toleration and establishment.” Let it be remembered, that at the very moment, when the learned commentator was penning these cold remarks, the laws of England merely tolerated protestant dissenters in their public worship upon certain conditions, at once irritating and degrading; that the test and corporation acts excluded them from public and corporate offices, both of trust and profit; that the learned commentator avows, that the object of the test and corporation acts was to exclude them from office, in common with Turks, Jews, heretics, papists, and other sectaries; that to deny the Trinity, however conscientiously disbelieved, was a public offence, punishable by fine and imprisonment; and that, in the rear of all these disabilities and grievances, came the long list of acts against papists, by which they were reduced to a state of political and religious slavery, and cut off from some of the dearest privileges of mankind.

§1873. It was under a solemn consciousness of the dangers from ecclesiastical ambition, the bigotry of spiritual pride, and the intolerance of sects, thus exemplified in our domestic, as well as in foreign annals, that it was deemed advisable to exclude from the national government all power to act upon the subject. The situation, too, of the different states equally proclaimed the policy, as well as the necessity of such an exclusion. In some of the states, episcopalians constituted the predominant sect; in others, presbyterians; in others, congregationalists; in others, quakers; and in others again, there was a close numerical rivalry among contending sects. It was impossible, that there should not arise perpetual strife and perpetual jealousy on the subject of ecclesiastical ascendancy, if the national government were left free to create a religious establishment. The only security was in extirpating the power. But this alone would have been an imperfect security, if it had not been followed up by a declaration of the right of the free exercise of religion, and a prohibition (as we have seen) of all religious tests.

Thus, the whole power over the subject of religion is left exclusively to the state governments, to be acted upon according to their own sense of justice, and the state constitutions; and the Catholic and the Protestant, the Calvinist and the Arminian, the Jew and the Infidel, may sit down at the common table of the national councils, without any inquisition into their faith, or mode of worship.

Again, boldface mine there at the end. If you've made it this far, congratulations. If we're to "feel" the spirit of the times---and that's our objective---although we wish to avoid baptism, we still must wade in up to our eyebrows at least, and spending a little time with the elegant and erudite Joseph Story seems not a bad way to do it.

A common sense reason for banning religious tests for national office would be this, hinted at in § 1839:

But it may not appear to all persons quite so clear, why the officers of the state governments should be equally bound to take a like oath, or affirmation; and it has been even suggested, that there is no more reason to require that, than to require, that all of the United States officers should take an oath or affirmation to support the state constitutions. A moment's reflection will show sufficient reasons for the requisition of it in the one case, and the omission of it in the other. The members and officers of the national government have no agency in carrying into effect the state constitutions. The members and officers of the state governments have an essential agency in giving effect to the national constitution.

Since the states were constitutionally free to endorse one sect over another [§1866], but all the sects disagreed as to which was the true religion of Jesus Christ [§621], to take a religious oath for national office would make you a friend to some states, but the enemy of all the others!

"Impractible," as Justice Story would put it.

The full text, with footnotes, can be found here.


Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Thou Shalt Not...Seed Spill?

Colonial law books governing the morality of sex are vast to say the least. Early Puritan leaders were instrumental in establishing a codified system of laws that governed sexual morality, and provided a guideline of what was considered "acceptable" and what was considered "immoral." Along with these laws were the specific punishments that accompanied a particular "immoral" act. For example, bestiality and homosexuality were punishable by death. In fact, the first recorded execution in Massachusetts is that of a young man that was charged with "carnal lust" with animals.

One of the interesting laws that governed sexual practice in colonial America was that of "seed spilling." In Massachusetts, the practice of masturbation was severely condemned by the clergy. The law was inspired by the Biblical precedent in Genesis 38:9, which states, "And Onan knew that the seed should not be his; and it came to pass, when he went in unto his brother's wife, that he spilled it on the ground, least he should give seed to his brother." The subsequent verse then mentions god's wrath and how Onan lost his life for such a practice.

Citizens of the various colonies were encouraged to report the practice of "seed spilling" --which included a number of different sex acts but primarily dealt with masturbation -- wherever such cases were discovered. The initial punishment in Massachusetts for such a crime was death, following the Biblical precedent. The punishment was changed, however, in the latter parts of the 17th century to be "Four hours in the stocks."

The reason I bring up this law is because it illustrates an important aspect of American colonial society. Sexual deviance, though common in America throughout the colonial period, carried a strong religious condemnation that was very real for many people. Just look at the case of Joseph Moody. In the William and Mary Quarterly, Vol. 60, No. 1, historian Brian Carroll discusses how religious beliefs regarding sex impacted colonial society. In Moody's diary are written the following entries:

Thurs. [July] 19 [1722 ]. This morning I got up pretty late. I defiled myself, though wide awake. Where will my unbridled lust lead me? I have promised myself now for a year and a half that I would seek after God, but now I am perhaps farther away from him than ever before.

Mon. [April] 13 [1724 ]. Pretty Cold; wind from N. W. to S. fine weather. . . . I dined with the doctor and schoolmaster Abbott. Then with the doctor I called on Captain and Ensign Allen. I stayed up with my love not without pleasure, but I indulged my desire too freely, and at night the semen flowed from me abundantly.
The overwhelming sense of guilt that plagued Moody's soul gives us valuable insight into the moral mindset of colonial America. Even if sexual promiscuity was a common occurrence (and it most certainly was in colonial America), there were others who felt deeply about god's moral judgments that awaited them in the life to come.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Hallowed Secularism

That was the title of one of Andrew Sullivan's recent posts warning against the extremes of secularism. Yet, many of us are also wary of the extremes of sectarian religious politics (of the "Christian" or "Judeo-Christian" sort).

I endorse a softer secularism. And if it's proper to term what the Founding Fathers had in mind as "secular" it's certainly a "softer" form of secularism, not of the Hitchens or Dawkins type, not the kind that wants to see a "naked public square." Yet, the Founding Fathers wanted a pluralistic, not a "Christian" or even a "Judeo-Christian" public square.

I think truly "neutral" secularism is a laudable ideal. And though the Founding Fathers weren't entirely neutral -- for instance, they weren't neutral on whether God existed -- they did their best to be neutral under a generic Providence that was open to the idea that most or all world religions, including Islam, Hinduism, Native American spirituality, Greco-Romanism, Confucianism, and other creeds were valid ways to God.

The following is a clip from the Acton Institutes's special "The Birth of Freedom" featuring Princeton's Robert P. George arguing "secularism" isn't "neutral."

The problem is George doesn't define "secularism." I would agree that certain forms of hard secularism are not "neutral." And if that's what George is arguing against, I support him in his assertion. However, what I do support is a system of "neutrality" AND I would argue the classical liberal system of the American Founding is this form of neutrality among various competing worldviews. I think this IS what America's Founding Fathers stood for. And it's debatable whether this system is aptly termed "secularism." If it is, again, it's a softer form of secularism than what we see coming from the atheists like Dawkins or those who want to remove every single nominal reference to anything religious from the public square regardless of the context.

However, it seems to me, that a system of true neutrality is laudable. If modern secularism is not "neutral" as Prof. George claims, well then let us make it neutral or at least let us conceive of a system of such neutrality and argue whether such a system is laudable or accords with American Founding ideals.

I'm not sure whether the Everson (1947) SCOTUS case was properly decided. However it made some claims about neutrality which I think are entirely defensible and laudable according to the tenets of liberal democracy that America's Founders established: Government should be neutral among the various religions (regardless of whether those religions are "Christian" or "Judeo-Christian") and government should be neutral between "religion" and "irreligion."

In 2005, here is how I described the "classical secularism" of the Founding era:

The classical version of secularism is found in the writings of Madison & Jefferson -- like Madison's Memorial and Remonstrance, his Detached Memoranda, and Jefferson's Virginia Statute on Religious Freedom.

What's ironic about these pieces of "secularist scripture" (as Susan Jacoby puts it) is that they, like the Declaration of Independence, actually invoke "God." Jefferson's Virginia Statute begins, "Whereas Almighty God hath created the mind free..." and the Memorial and Remonstrance states "Before any man can be considered as a member of Civil Society, he must be considered as a subject of the Governour of the Universe..." which leads some critics to say: "Aha, this isn't secularism, this is 'Christian Nation' talk!" Not exactly.

First of all, this is classical secularism, not the modern version that would never invoke the supernatural. Second, the heart of classical secularism is not stripping all references to the supernatural from the public square but rather government neutrality. Neutrality between, not just the Christian sects, but all religions and between belief and non-belief. Men have unalienable free and equal rights of conscience. And these rights are universally applicable. Jefferson held that the natural right norms in his statute applied equally to "the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and Mahometan, the Hindoo, and Infidel of every denomination."

Third -- when the Founders did invoke God in their documents and their speeches -- they exercised great prudence in how they identified "God" and "religion." Both were almost always referred to in vague and undefined ways. While they often invoked a "Divine Providence," they also systematically refused to identify God in Trinitarian terms and rarely if ever invoked "Jesus Christ" or quoted verses and chapters of scripture.

And Jefferson and Madison both gave reasons why it was important to be so vague. If God were referred to in explicitly Trinitarian Christian terms, then the populace might get the impression that only such Christians have religious rights. Here is Jefferson.

Where the preamble declares, that coercion is a departure from the plan of the holy author of our religion, an amendment was proposed, by inserting the word "Jesus Christ," so that it should read, "a departure from the plan of Jesus Christ, the holy author of our religion;" the insertion was rejected by a great majority, in proof that they meant to comprehend, within the mantle of its protection, the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and Mahometan, the Hindoo, and Infidel of every denomination.

And Madison:

In the course of the opposition to [Jefferson's VA] bill in the House of Delegates, which was warm & strenuous from some of the minority, an experiment was made on the reverence entertained for the name & sactity of the Saviour, by proposing to insert the words "Jesus Christ" after the words "our lord" in the preamble, the object of which, would have been, to imply a restriction of the liberty defined in the Bill, to those professing his religion only. The amendment was discussed, and rejected by a vote of agst (See letter of J. M. to Mr Jefferson dated ) The opponents of the amendment having turned the feeling as well as judgment of the House agst it, by successfully contending that the better proof of reverence for that holy name wd be not to profane it by making it a topic of legisl. discussion, & particularly by making his religion the means of abridging the natural and equal rights of all men, in defiance of his own declaration that his Kingdom was not of this world.

These Founders also had a self-interest in seeing that non-orthodox Christians had full and equal rights of citizenship: Jefferson and Madison -- as well as Washington, Adams, Franklin, Paine and others -- were not orthodox Trinitarian Christians, and as such in many states they would be subject to legal penalties, including being barred from holding public office -- because of their religious beliefs.

Whenever our Founders connected "rights" to their metaphysical religious beliefs, they always invoked their "natural religion" as opposed to "revealed religion." ("Natural" meaning what is discoverable by Reason, as opposed to Revealed in the Bible). Through unaided Reason, "natural" religion tells us that God created man with unalienable rights. It does not tell us that God is Christ or even that God revealed the Ten Commandments to Moses. It's possible that "Nature's God" and the Trinitarian God of the Bible are one and the same. Or "Nature's God" may be some non-orthodox, non-miracle performing God. By purposefully being vague our Founders left that answer to the private conscience of the citizens. To a Trinitarian, his God grants unalienable rights. To a Deist, it was his God who granted rights, and on and on.

Finally, it is wrong to say that our Founders just opened their Bibles and "discovered" that God grants men unalienable rights because nowhere in the Bible does it say that He grants men "unalienable rights," especially not the "liberty to worship as one pleases" (and the Bible frequently implies otherwise). So whereas the God of the Bible is a Jealous God who, in His First Command, forbids the worship of any other Gods but He, and elsewhere commands the community to immediately execute those who would tempt them to worship false Gods, Nature's God grants men an unalienable right to worship no God or Twenty Gods.

Rather, the challenge was to get orthodox Christians to interpret their Bible to be compatible with this Enlightenment discovery. And even before the Enlightenment, dissident Protestants like Roger Williams had begun to make similar arguments. You can see how Madison, in his above quote, encouraged such Biblical interpretations that were compatible with the notion of a "rights-granting" God.

The opponents of the amendment having turned the feeling as well as judgment of the House agst it, by successfully contending that the better proof of reverence for that holy name wd be not to profane it by making it a topic of legisl. discussion, & particularly by making his religion the means of abridging the natural and equal rights of all men, in defiance of his own declaration that his Kingdom was not of this world.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Founding Era Republican Enlightenment Clergy & Theology, Part III

This post focuses on the notion oft-repeated in Founding era political pulpits that the Ancient Israelites had a "republic." The Biblical record does not teach this. Such a notion is wholly a product of Enlightenment rationalism, not of historic orthodox biblical Christianity. And that's because the concept of liberal democratic theory-republicanism is chiefly a product of Enlightenment (not the Bible). Liberal democratic theory-republicanism holds universal rights are discovered through reason. It wasn't just the deists, but also unitarians and orthodox Christians who embraced this. As such, if the Bible is true (which many of them believe it was) its truth had to conform to liberal democratic theory-republicanism. Hence a major rewriting of the Bible took place in the political pulpits of the Founding era. In fact, I would argue the embracing of Locke's state of nature theory, combined with excessively using natural law reasoning and arguing the Ancient Israelites had a "republic" were all part of an ideological movement that terminated in the French Revolution. Indeed, as I have shown in pasts posts, many of these ministers and theologians believed the French Revolution would user in a millenial republic of liberty, equality and fraternity that fully vindicated the universal rights of man.

And with that, let us turn to Samuel Langdon's "The Republic of the Israelites an Example to the United States." (Langdon was the President of Harvard from 1774-80.) I am going to bold everything that is not biblical in Langdon's revisionist sermon.

As to every thing excellent in their constitution of government, except what was peculiar to them as a nation separated to God from the rest of mankind, the Israelites may be considered as a pattern to the world in all ages; and from them we may learn what will exalt our character, and what will depress and bring us to ruin.

Let us therefore look over their constitution and laws, enquire into their practice, and observe how their prosperity and fame depended on their strict observance of the divine commands both as to their government and religion.

They had both a civil and military establishment under divine direction, and a complete body of judicial laws drawn up and delivered to them by Moses in God’s name. They had also a form of religious worship, by the same authority, minutely prescribed, designed to preserve among them the knowledge of the great Creator of the Universe, and teach them to love and serve him; while idolatry prevailed through the rest of the world: and this religion contained not only a public ritual, but a perfect, though very concise, system of morals, comprehended in ten commands, which require the perfection of godliness, benevolence, and rectitude of conduct.


But the great thing wanting was a permanent constitution, which might keep the people peaceable and obedient while in the desert, and after they had gained possession of the promised land. Therefore, upon the complaint of Moses that the burden of government was too heavy for him, God commanded him to bring seventy men, chosen from among the elders and officers, and present them at the tabernacle; and there he endued them with the same spirit which was in Moses, that they might bear the burden with him. Thus a senate was evidently constituted, as necessary for the future government of the nation, under a chief commander. And as to the choice of this senate, doubtless the people were consulted, who appear to have had a voice in all public affairs from time to time, the whole congregation being called together on all important occasions: the government therefore was a proper republic.

And beside this general establishment, every tribe had elders and a prince according to the patriarchal order, with which Moses did not interfere; and these had an acknowledged right to meet and consult together, and with the consent of the congregation do whatever was necessary to preserve good order, and promote the common interest of the tribe. So that the government of each tribe was very similar to the general government. There was a president and senate at the head of each, and the people assembled and gave their voice in all great matters: for in those ages the people in all republics were entirely unacquainted with the way of appointing delegates to act for them, which is a very excellent modern improvement in the management of republics.

Moreover, to compleat the establishment of civil government, courts were to be appointed in every walled city, after their settlement in Canaan, and elders most distinguished for wisdom and integrity were to be made judges, ready always to sit and decide the common controversies within their respective jurisdictions. The people had a right likewise to appoint such other officers as they might think necessary for the more effectual execution of justice....

But from these courts an appeal was allowed in weighty causes to higher courts appointed over the whole tribe, and in very great and difficult cases to the supreme authority of the general senate and chief magistrate.

A government, thus settled on republican principles, required laws; without which it must have degenerated immediately into aristocracy, or absolute monarchy. But God did not leave a people, wholly unskilled in legislation, to make laws for themselves: he took this important matter wholly into his own hands, and beside the moral laws if the two tables, which directed their conduct as individuals, gave them by Moses a complete code of judicial laws.

Langdon's injecting words and concepts into the biblical record reminds me of Elizabeth Clare Prophet, a cult leader I used to watch for fun, who mixed all world religions into a New Age synthesis with ultra right wing politics. As someone who believed in the Truth of both Hinduism and Christianity, Ms. Prophet said Jesus said in John 8:7 "Let he who is without KARMA cast the first stone." Langdon does something similar with the Ancient Israelites and republicanism.

As Dr. Gregg Frazer reacts:

The sermons seem to depict God's role as something similar to Rousseau's legislator; He disinterestedly established the foundational law for the benefit of society, but did not live under it. In their version and consistent with democratic theory, God established it all [quoting Langdon's sermon] "for their happiness" rather than to achieve the fulfillment of a sovereignty determined plan. By their account, God submitted the laws to the people for their approval and acceptance (as per Rousseau's legislator).

-- Frazer, PhD thesis, pp. 393-94.

As for the actual politics of the Ancient Israelites, Dr. Frazer notes:

First, as [Robert] Kraynak pointed out, “the biblical covenant is undemocratic: God is not bound by the covenant and keeps His promises solely out of His own divine self-limitation.” Second, “(t)he element of voluntary consent is missing from the covenant with Israel….There is nothing voluntary or consensual about the biblical covenant; and the most severe punishments are threatened by God for disobedience.” Third, “insofar as the covenant with Israel sanctions specific forms of government, the main ones are illiberal and undemocratic;” including patriarchy, theocracy, and kingships established by divine right. Fourth, “the Bible shows that God delivers the people from slavery in Egypt and supports national liberation, not for the purpose of enjoying their political and economic rights, but for the purpose of putting on the yoke of the law in the polity of Moses.” Fifth, “the content of the divine law revealed to Moses consists, in the first place, of the Ten Commandments rather than the Ten Bill of Rights, commanding duties to God, family, and neighbors rather than establishing protections for personal freedom.” Finally, the combination of judicial, civil, ceremonial, and dietary laws imposed on the people “regulate all aspects of religious, personal, and social life.” The history of Israel, therefore, had to be radically rewritten to provide support for the demands of political liberty and for republican self-government.

-- Ibid, pp. 18-19, quoting Robert Kraynak, "Christian Faith and Modern Democracy," pp. 46-49.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Founding Era Republican Enlightenment Clergy & Theology, Part II

This one is from Israel Evans, A SERMON DELIVERED AT THE ANNUAL ELECTION, 1791. This is another of the many Founding era sermons from prominent ministers illustrating the "zeitgeist" that held Christianity, Enlightenment, republicanism and the American and French revolutions all went together, hand in hand. But whether they all really did remains debatable. Edmund Burke remonstrated against the French Revolution in 1790. In 1791, Burke's view was anathema in an America that supported the French revolution and thought it an extension of the American. And Evans' sermon exemplifies that zeitgeist. As he put it:

1. In this happy land of light and liberty, it is a truth fully established, that all men are by nature equally free. From this principle of natural liberty we derive an indefeasible right of being governed by our own civil constitutions. We the people are the source of all legislative authority. Upon this just, benevolent, pleasing, and even delightful principle, the constitutions, the laws, and the governments, of these federal states, will stand fast. All men who understand the nature, and feel the spirit, of such principles, are self-instructed to be their own legislators, either in one collected body, or by representation. When all the people can assemble, and personally contribute their aid in framing constitutions and laws for the government of themselves, then their liberty is most natural and most perfect. But since great loss of time, much expense, and many inconveniences, would attend this mode of legislation, the people have agreed, in free states, to select from the whole body, some of their brethren, whom they invest with legislative power. What shall be transacted by these delegates or representatives, consistently with the constitution of the people, must be acknowledged as the act of the people. In conformity to this plan, the people keep as near the possession of natural liberty, as is convenient and really useful; and while they are truly virtuous, they will enjoy as much perfect liberty as is necessary to preserve peace, establish justice, and secure political happiness. I shall only add further, under this particular, that when a free people have, according to their constitution, determined to legislate by representatives, they should take great care that the representation may be fully adequate to the importance and welfare of the people; the elections should also be perfectly free, and sufficiently frequent.


5. The liberties of a people cannot be lasting without knowledge. The human mind is capable of great cultivation. Knowledge is not only useful, but it adds dignity to man. When the minds of men are improved, they can better understand their rights—they can know what part they are to act, in contributing to the welfare of the nation. Freemen should always acquire knowledge; this is a privilege and pleasure unknown to slaves; this elevates the mind of man; this creates a conscious dignity of his importance as a rational creature, and a free agent. The happiness of mankind has been much advanced by the arts and sciences; and they have flourished the most among freemen. Slavery blots the image of the Creator, which was at first impressed upon man: it banishes knowledge, and courts misery. But men, enlightened, pursue with ardour the knowledge and recovery of their rights. Liberty is enlightened by knowledge; and knowledge is nurtured by liberty. Where there is wisdom, virtue, and liberty, there mankind are men. In all the dark ages of the world, tyranny has been established upon the slavish ignorance of mankind. Tyrants, in time past, secured their domination by darkening the minds of their subjects. In the present day, they tremble at the approaching light of knowledge and liberty. They turn indignant from the glorious illuminations of America and France. They hear with horrour the sound of freedom and the rights of men. They would still imbrute the human race, and make mankind forget that they are men. Be assured, my dear countrymen, knowledge is absolutely necessary to secure the blessings of freedom. If you wish to see your country not only free in your day, but also to feast your imaginations with the pleasing prospect of a free posterity for many ages to come; let me entreat you, to encourage and promote that knowledge which will enable the people successfully to watch all the enemies of liberty, and guard against the designs of intriguing men. [Bold mine.]


...The close of the eighteenth century, in which we live, shall teach mankind to be truly free. The freedom of America and France, shall make this age memorable. From this time forth, men shall be taught, that true greatness consists not in destroying, but in saving, the lives of men; not in conquering, but making them free; not in making war, but making peace; not in making men ignorant, but making them wise; not in firing them with brutal rage, but in making them humane; not in being ambitious, but in being good, just, and virtuous. Of France, it may be said, in the language of scripture, Who hath heard such a thing? Who hath seen such things? Shall the earth be made to bring forth in one day? Or, Shall a nation be born at once? Behold a nation of freemen, rising out of a nation of slaves! This gratifies the feelings of humanity and benevolence. We wish to see all men independent of all things but the laws of God, and the just laws of their country. And will any man blame me for saying, that, in America, every friend to justice and the rights of men wishes prosperity to that generous nation, who are allied to these United States, and who so powerfully aided them in securing their independence and peace. In the name of the Lord of hosts, let us pray, that no weapon that is formed against their freedom, shall prosper. [Bold mine.]

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

President for Life?

News sources in Caracas reported on President’s Day that Hugo Chávez won a referendum allowing the socialist leader to continue running for president of Venezuela indefinitely. He immediately announced plans to run for another six year term in 2013.

”The gates to the future have been opened wide,” said an emotional Mr Chávez from the balcony of the presidential palace, as a throng of ecstatic followers chanted in unison, ”Hey, ho, Chávez won’t go”.

Whether you love him or hate him, you have to admit that the prospect of Chávez–or anyone–as ruler for life is a scarey proposition.

What perfect reason to celebrate George Washington’s birthday this coming Sunday. After defeating the mightiest empire on earth, when he might have seized the reins of power permanently, General Washington retired to private life as a Virginia planter.

And after being elected to two four-year terms as President, the national hero voluntarily stepped down to transfer the office to his duly elected successor, establishing a precedent for presidential term limits that would remain in place till the time of Franklin Roosevelt and eventually be codified in 1947 in the 22nd Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

What a touching patriotic spectacle to see George Bush last month, climbing aboard a Marine helicopter to head back to Texas as Barack Obama moved gracefully to occupy the White House. Americans have been transferring power peacefully and democratically for over two centuries, a tradition that dates back to the father of our country.

It’s a lasting lesson for Hugo Chávez and the rest of the world, and a reason to celebrate George Washington on the 277th anniversary of his birth.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Coral Ridge, Again

Even though the late D. James Kennedy has passed, Coral Ridge Ministries keeps on repeating its propaganda special "One Nation Under God." So I'll still keep responding to it. The special includes some legitimate respectable scholars (Mary Thompson, James Hutson, Donald Lutz) along with some hacks (David Barton, Peter Marshall and Marshall Foster).

I'll respond to a point one of the respectable scholars, Donald Lutz of the University of Dallas, made. Lutz noted he discovered after significant research that many of the US Constitution's ideas were anticipated by state colonial constitutions. And those state colonial constitutions 1) were done for explicitly Christian purposes, 2) used explicitly Christian language, 3) cited the Bible with explicit verses and chapters, and 4) made coventants to God. As one Christian Reconstructionist scholar (who was NOT featured in the Coral Ridge special) noted about Lutz's work:

Donald Lutz, a Constitutional historian atthe University of Houston, argued that “The Pedigree of the Bill of Rights” could befound in the bills of rights in colonial charters, primarily authored by ministers. Three-fourths of the provisions from the U.S. Bill of Rights, in fact, were outlined in the 1641Massachusetts Body of Liberties, a Puritan document that came complete with Bible verses attached to each of the rights.

So let us turn to the 1641 Massachusetts Body of Liberties, and instead of focusing on what in that document parallels what's found in the US Constitution -- take Lutz's claim at face value that many of the ideas in the Bill of Rights were anticipated there -- let's focus on what the Founders DID NOT borrow.

The US Constitution, Declaration of Independence and Federalist Papers 1) claim no explicitly Christian purposes, 2) used no explicitly Christian language, 3) do not cite the Bible, and 4) make no covenants to God. Lutz said something about how the Declaration of Independence calls God as a witness and that could be a covenant. I'm sorry but that won't work. The DOI is a Lockean social compact, not a Puritan Covenant. And the French's Declaration of the Rights of Man likewise invokes the "Supreme Being" as a witness.

In other words, the Constitution and DOI if anything secularized the ideas found in the colonial charters that made their way into the Bill of Rights. The following passage from the The Massachusetts Body of Liberties represents NOT what America's Founders embraced in those colonial charters, but rather what they REJECTED.

94. Capitall Laws.

(Deut. 13. 6, 10. Deut. 17. 2, 6. Ex. 22.20)
If any man after legall conviction shall have or worship any other god, but the lord god, he shall be put to death.

(Ex. 22. 18. Lev. 20. 27. Dut. 18. 10.)
If any man or woeman be a witch, (that is hath or consulteth with a familiar spirit,) They shall be put to death.

(Lev. 24. 15,16.)
If any person shall Blaspheme the name of god, the father, Sonne or Holie Ghost, with direct, expresse, presumptuous or high handed blasphemie, or shall curse god in the like manner, he shall be put to death.

[Page 274]

(Ex. 21. 12. Numb. 35. 13, 14, 30, 31.)
If any person committ any wilfull murther, which is manslaughter, committed upon premeditated malice, hatred, or Crueltie, not in a mans necessarie and just defence, nor by meere casualtie against his will, he shall be put to death.

(Numb. 25, 20, 21. Lev. 24. 17)
If any person slayeth an other suddaienly in his anger or Crueltie of passion, he shall be put to death.

(Ex. 21. 14.)
If any person shall slay an other through guile, either by poysoning or other such divelish practice, he shall be put to death.

(Lev. 20. 15,16.)
If any man or woeman shall lye with any beaste or bruite creature by Carnall Copulation, They shall surely be put to death. And the beast shall be slaine, and buried and not eaten.

(Lev. 20. 13.)
If any man lyeth with mankinde as he lyeth with a woeman, both of them have committed abhomination, they both shall surely be put to death.

Lev. 20. 19. and 18, 20. Dut. 22. 23, 24.)
If any person committeth Adultery with a maried or espoused wife, the Adulterer and Adulteresse shall surely be put to death.

(Ex. 21. 16.)
If any man stealeth a man or mankinde, he shall surely be put to death.

(Deut. 19. 16, 18, 19.)
If any man rise up by false witnes, wittingly and of purpose to take away any mans life, he shall be put to death.

If any man shall conspire and attempt any invasion, insurrection, or publique rebellion against our commonwealth, or shall [Page 275] indeavour to surprize any Towne or Townes, fort or forts therein, or shall treacherously and perfediouslie attempt the alteration and subversion of our frame of politie or Government fundamentallie, he shall be put to death.

Numbers 1, 2, & 3 represent the antithesis of religious liberty. And indeed John Adams would have been executed by his Puritan Ancestors for the high handed blasphemie contained in his private letters mocking the Trinity. Indeed, all of the Founders arguably would have been executed unders this code for rebelling against Great Britain.

Of course principles like 4, 5, & 6 relate to the US Founding and that's because those values are secular, cross cultural, not distinctly Christian or however you want to put it. We could analyze the Ten Commandments the same way. The second tablet contains rules that are arguably secular; and those are the rules that parellel what's found in modern legal codes. Virtually all sane societies outlaw murder and theft, and otherwise accept some kind of notions of property rights. What's distinctively religious, Abrahamic, etc. about the Ten Commandments -- i.e., the first tablet -- has no proper place in the civil law precisely for that reason.

And the Founders, like Roger Williams, understood this. Whatever it is the Founders accepted from the earlier colonial charters, they rejected their approach on Church-State matters and their explicit Christian purpose for government.

Another important point is that, if Lutz is right that these earlier colonial charters are so important to the ideas of the 1776-1800 Founding, it's not at all clear from the record that the Founders consciously were aware of this. My friend and co-blogger Tom Van Dyke, after more notable scholars like Rodney Stark, has argued many important ideas of the Founding may trace back to Roman Catholic sources (the "schoolmen"). Algernon Sidney, whom the Founders did cite, was aware of and cited them. However the Founders may have downplayed Roman Catholic influences because many of their minds were clouded by anti-Catholic bigotry.

Likewise you may find a sprinkling of citations to the Puritans and early colonial charters in the mass of sources that the Founders DID cite on behalf of revolution and republicanism. But they are always intermixed with other non-colonial and non-Christian sources. Even if, in practice, the ideas of Christians closer to their time and place were more likely to influence them, in theory, the Founders were more likely to cite pagan Greco-Roman republican figures of old and pretended as though America was founded to be new, enlightened, republican Rome.

As Noah Webster summed up the enlightenment zeitgeist that captured the minds of the Constitutional Convention:

But the origin of the AMERICAN REPUBLIC is distinguished by peculiar circumstances. Other nations have been driven together by fear and necessity—the governments have generally been the result of a single man’s observations; or the offspring of particular interests. IN the formation of our constitution, the wisdom of all ages is collected—the legislators of antiquity are consulted—as well as the opinions and interests of the millions who are concerned. In short, in it an empire of reason.

The Coral Ridge special of course, ignores this dynamic. And to perpetuate the misunderstanding that the Founders consciously operated in the tradition of the earlier colonists who formed explicitly Christian governments, Peter Marshall cited the lie, nowhere found in the historical record, that George Washington handed out copies of the Fundamental Orders of Connecticut at the Constitutional Convention.

Marshall said GW did this because this great "Christian Statesman" wanted the US Constitution to have similar biblical foundations. The lie is necessary to give the impression that the FFs self consciously believed they formed the US Constitution on "biblical principles" when the historical record does not demonstrate this.

In reality George Washington thought of himself as the second coming of Cincinnatus, the great leader of noble pagan republican Rome.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Happy Colonial Valentine's Day!

As we've discussed at length, holidays, and the means of celebrating them, were very different during the colonial era than they are today. Most of the holidays that are enjoyed today were hardly even recognized by the first generation of American, due to the fact that they had a very different set of social and cultural norms.

As far as Valentine's Day is concerned (a holiday that touches every girl's heart regardless of their era) the differences are almost night and day. First off, colonial America did not celebrate Valentine's Day with chocolates and cards. This does not mean, however, that they were void of celebration. Instead of a formal Valentine's Day, many colonial Americans joined in celebrating festivities that were based on the Roman holiday of Lupercalia. Lupercalia was a holiday to commemorate both Romulus and Remus, the two fabled founders of Rome. During Lupercalia, men would chase women around in goat-skinned clothing, hoping to be able to catch a virgin. The women were also lightly whipped with leaves as they were chased. The men were to laugh as loud as possible, in the hopes of scaring away the evil spirits associated with winter (this would also supposedly aid in female fertility).

In addition to these festivities, young colonial women regularly pinned five bay leaves to their pillow (four leaves on each corner and one leaf in the middle). The belief was that the leaves would inspire the dreams of the young damsel, who would recognize her true valentine in her dreams. Young women also wrote the names of the village men on pieces of paper, which were then rolled into clay. The clays were then dropped into a vassal of water, where the women would wait for the first clay piece to rise to the water's surface. It was believed that the first clay piece to rise to the top was the young woman's true valentine.

Early Dutch settlers in the American colonies also celebrated a few Valentine's Day customs as well. The most popular tradition of young Dutch women was the belief that the first man she laid eyes upon on Valentine's Day was to be her future spouse. As a result, many young women would arise in the morning, keeping their eyes shut until a friend or family member advised them. It was usually planned by the family to have a pleasing male awaiting the young woman's first gaze. One can only imagine how much fun it would have been to play a practical joke on these helpless girls! =) matter the historical era, young girls have always found a reason to get all sappy on their men during Valentines Day! =) Some things will never change!

Friday, February 13, 2009

John Witherspoon On Reason, Revelation & Politics

John Witherspoon was both an orthodox Christian and a philosophical rationalist, a man of the Enlightenment. There is evidence in the historical record of Witherspoon giving orthodox sermons. However, as President of Princeton University (then The College of New Jersey) when he taught James Madison and many other Founders political theory, Witherspoon turned to the teachings of the Scottish Enlightenment, not orthodox Calvinism. And that's because Calvinism spoke little to what the American Founders accomplished politically.

I blogged more about that here.

I must note that the "rationalism" he embraced, even if termed "enlightenment rationalism," Witherspoon thought entirely compatible with and complementary towards revelation. In this sense he was not unlike Aquinas. Witherspoon in his Lectures on Moral Philosophy wrote "[t]here is nothing certain or valuable in moral philosophy, but what is perfectly coincident with the scripture."

Here is how Witherspoon, in those Lectures, explained his view on how reason and revelation were supposed to work together:

If the Scripture is true, the discoveries of reason cannot be contrary to it; and, therefore, it has nothing to fear from that quarter. And as we are certain it can do no evil, so there is a probability that it may do much good. There may be an illustration and confirmation of the inspired writings, from reason and observation, which will greatly add to their beauty and force.

The noble and eminent improvements in natural philosophy, which have been made since the end of the last century, have been far from hurting the interest of religion; on the contrary, they have greatly promoted it, Why should it not be the same with moral philosophy, which is indeed nothing else but the knowledge of human nature?

Further, Witherspoon noted:

I am of opinion, that the whole Scripture is perfectly agreeable to sound philosophy; yet certainly it was never intended to teach us every thing. The political law of the Jews contains many noble principles of equity, and excellent examples to future lawgivers; yet it was so local and peculiar, that certainly it was never intended to be immutable and universal, It would be more just and useful to say that all simple and original discoveries have been the production of Providence, and not the invention of man.

On the whole, it seems reasonable to make moral philosophy, in the sense above explained, a subject of study. And indeed let men think what they will of it, they ought to acquaint themselves with it. They must know what it is, if they mean even to show that it is false.

On the very first page on Lectures, Witherspoon explains what "moral philosophy" is:

MORAL Philosophy is that branch of Science which treats of the principles and laws of Duty or Morals. It is called Philosophy, because it is an inquiry into the nature and grounds of moral obligation by reason, as distinct from revelation.

As noted above, when it came to political theory, there is no evidence that Witherspoon taught his students at Princeton the Bible or Calvinism. Rather he taught them this "moral philosophy" discovered by reason, as distinct from revelation, that was, Witherspoon asserted, ultimately compatible with the scriptures.

But make no mistake, compatibility with the Bible (and it's debatable whether Witherspoon's enlightenment political teachings WERE compatible with scripture) does not mean the Bible was from where Witherspoon's political teachings derived. As historian James McAllister summed it up:

The answer to the question regarding the biblical contribution to Witherspoon's teaching about the law and liberty is: almost nothing ... his theory of society and civil laws was based not on revelation but on the moral sense enlightened by reason and experience.

-- James McAllister, “John Witherspoon: An Academic Advocate for Religious Freedom” in A Miscellany of American Christianity, ed. Stuart Henry (Durham: Duke University Press, 1963), p. 218.

Gary Wills, Kevin Phillips and Jon Meacham on Religion in America

An interesting discussion:

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

American Atonement: Annotated Bibliography

Hello everyone and sorry for my absence. I know you ALL missed me (especially OFT). The following is the latest in my quest for the PERFECT grad school paper. By now you all know my topic. If not, I will refer you to my postings below on the "Christian Nation" argument and how it can be construed as an imagined community (or at least that is part of my premise for this paper). Anyway, here is a very general annotated bibliography of the sources I currently have, along with how I hope to use them in my paper.

Again, all comments, suggestions, constructive criticism is appreciated!!!

Secondary Sources:

Anderson, Benedict. Imagined Communities: Reflection on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism. New York: Verso, 2006

*Anderson’s book is the “cutting edge” source on nationalism. I plan on using
this book as a reference to the comparisons I hope to make between the
“Christian Nation” supporters and my belief that they constitute an imagined
community of sorts.
Diamond, Sara. Road to Dominion: Right Wing Movements and Political Power in the United States. New York: Guilford Press, 1995.

*Sarah Diamond explores a number of the smaller components that made up the
conservative right as a whole. And though she doesn’t explore the “Christian
Nation” concept very much, her work is helpful in providing a framework for my
research, in addition to the historical data she provides on the origins and
evolution of conservatism in the 1970s.
Goldberg, Michelle. Kingdom Coming: The Rise of Christian Nationalism. New York: Norton Publishing, 2006.

*Goldberg’s book takes an in depth look at how conservatism and Christian
fundamentalism merged to create “Christian Nationalism.” Many of Goldberg’s
views are similar to the research I will be working on, which is why her book is
an invaluable asset in my studies. However, Goldberg falls short of comparing
Christian Nationalism to an imagined community, which is where I hope my
research will expand upon much of what she has already written in this book.
Lambert, Frank. The Founding Fathers and the Place of Religion in America. Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 2003.

*Frank Lambert provides a very thorough and convincing argument in this book of
how the legacy of the Founding Fathers has been “hijacked” by Christian
apologists in an effort to restructure or rewrite America’s history as being
almost exclusively Christian. Lambert provides an ample number of
counterarguments to the Christian Nation claim, which are important to my
overall thesis as well.

Marsden, George. Fundamentalism and American Culture. New York: Oxford University Press, 2006.

*In this book, Marsden separates fundamentalism from traditional Evangelical and
orthodox Christianity by illustrating how fundamentalism relies of grass roots
convictions and a determination to “resurrect” the “traditional” Christian
values of America’s past. As a result, Marsden’s work provides a unique take on
how components of fundamentalist Christianity infiltrated both moderate
Christian sects and political entities to create a ultra-conservative coalition.

----------. Understanding Fundamentalism and Evangelicalism. New York: Oxford University Press, 1998.

*Much like his other book mentioned above, Marsden explores the differences
between fundamentalism and traditional Evangelical Christianity. In addition,
Marsden endeavors to demonstrate how fundamentalism helped to influence
traditional evangelical Christianity, especially in its support of conservative

Martin, William. With God on Our Side: The Rise of the Christian Right in America. New York: Broadway Books, 1996.

*Martin’s book describes in detail the merger between conservatism and
Christianity during the late 60s and 70s. Martin provides a list of prominent
and influential religious and political leaders who helped to lead the charge in
reshaping conservative politics. This book will be used almost exclusively for
its background.

Noll, Mark. The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1994.

*As one of the foremost historians of American religious history, Mark Noll
takes a in depth look into what he calls a “crisis” of the Evangelical mind.
According to Noll, a good portion of the evangelical community have simply
conformed to a set of beliefs and ideas regarding religion and politics. I plan on using Noll’s book a great detail in demonstrating how and why the “Christian Nation” belief has become so ingrained in the minds of religious devotees (of all denominations) today.
Snowball, David. Continuity and Change in the Rhetoric of the Moral Majority.

*Though I know very little of this book as of now, I am hopeful that it will
provide me with some valuable insight into the Moral Majority, its goals,
evolution, etc.
“When Worlds Collide: Politics, Religion and Media at the 1970 East Tennessee Billy Graham Crusade. (appearance by President Richard M. Nixon).” Journal of Church and State. March 22, 1997.

*This particular article, from the Journal of Church and State,
presents an interesting analysis of how evangelism via media outlets inspired
conservatism to adopt many of the same ideas, which helped to reshape and add
credence to the conservative movement of the 70s.
Wood, Gordon. Revolutionary Characters: What Made the Founders Different. New York: Penguin Press, 2006.

*Gordon Wood, a historian of early American history, provides a detailed look
into the lives of the key Founding Fathers. And while my research has little to
do with the history of early America, I do find Wood’s work quite helpful in
demonstrating why Christian Nation apologists have looked to the founders as a
“barometer” of sorts. It is through their endeavors to “rescue” the legacy of
our Founders that the Christian Nationalists have created this imagined American
community, and this is why I will rely on Wood’s analysis of the Founders and
their continued impact on America today.

Primary Sources:

Falwell, Jerry. Falwell: An Autobiography. 1996.

*As one of the primary figures of the “Moral Majority,” Falwell played a key
role in helping to reshape American conservatism. He was also one of the
principle ushers in the “wedding” of American conservatism with Christian
fundamentalism during the 70s and 80s. As a result, Falwell’s autobiography will
prove to be a vital first-hand source for my research.
Falwell, Jerry and Viguerie, Richard. The New Right We’re Ready to Lead.

*Though I still not have this book as of now, I have been told that it provides
an interesting dialogue on how Evangelical religion played such a powerful role
in American politics.
Kennedy, D. James. The Gates of Hell Shall Not Prevail: The Attack on Christianity and What you Need to Know to Combat it.

*Dr. D. James Kennedy, founder of the Coral Ridge Ministries, was perhaps the
most passionate proponent of “saving” America’s founding heritage. As a
successful and influential pastor, Kennedy became convinced that Christianity
was being eradicated from American society and that only Christians could save
it from the brink of destruction. His works are not only very enlightening to my
research, but help to recreate the atmosphere that surrounded the rise of the
Christian right in the 80s.
-----------. What if America Were a Christian Nation Again? Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc., 2003.

*Same as above

-----------. What they Believed: The Faith of Washington, Jefferson and Lincoln.
*Same as above.
Manuel, David and Marshall, Peter. The Light and the Glory: 1492-1793. New York: Ywam Publishing, 2009 (Originally published in 1979).

*The Light and the Glory is an extremely interesting source in that it captures
the essence of “America’s Christian Founding” in a fictional story. The book has
been extremely influential in reshaping how many devout Christians
understand the founding of America, and I believe it was an important work in
helping to establish an imagined “Christian Nation” community.
Viguerie, Richard. The Establisment v. The People.

*Viguerie, a prominent figure in the rise of the “Moral Majority,” wrote the
following book on why he believed the establishment had taken control over the
people. The “Christian” people of course!
Weyrich, Paul. Future 21: Directions for America in the 21st Century. 1984.

*In this book, Weyrich describes his (and other prominent Evangelical leaders)
direction that he hopes the United States will take in the 21st century. It is,
of course, a pro- Christian direction, which makes it an excellent source for my

If you have any other suggestions for sources (particularly strong primary sources) please let me know!