Friday, March 6, 2009

The Orthodox Calvinist Case For Secularism

I've never heard of Daryl Hart, Residence in Scholar, Intercollegiate Studies Institute before listening to the address he gave to the Tocqueville Forum on the Roots of American Democracy, housed in the Department of Government at Georgetown University, here. Also giving addresses in that forum on public theology are Stanley Hauerwas, Gilbert T. Rowe Professor of Theological Ethics, Duke University Divinity School and the late (Rev.) Richard John Neuhaus, of First Things.

Hart comes to many of the same discoveries and conclusions on religion and public life that I have (no wonder I like his address so much). An orthodox Calvinist, Hart makes the case that politically conservative Christians, especially Calvinists, should embrace some kind of secularism (which he defines as government neutrality towards religion) because America's Founding political theology does not resonate with orthodox Christianity. The political theology of the American Founding is especially in tension with Calvinism.

The bottom line is America's Founding political theology is a unitarian theology of works, not an orthodox theology of grace. Though he doesn't cite Franklin's quotation, the following perfectly exemplifies the way "religion" was meant to resonate with the republicanism of the American Founding:

Faith is recommended as a Means of producing Morality: Our Saviour was a Teacher of Morality or Virtue, and they that were deficient and desired to be taught, ought first to believe in him as an able and faithful Teacher. Thus Faith would be a Means of producing Morality, and Morality of Salvation. But that from such Faith alone Salvation may be expected, appears to me to be neither a Christian Doctrine nor a reasonable one….Morality or Virtue is the End, Faith only a Means to obtain that End: And if the End be obtained, it is no matter by what Means.

-- “Dialogue between Two Presbyterians,” April 10, 1735.

Though George Washington was never so explicitly heterodox (for pragmatic reasons) his Farewell Address is pregnant with heterodox unitarian implications as it well illustrates this unitarian-utilitarian theology of works, as opposed to an orthodox theology of grace:

Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports….And let us with caution indulge the supposition that morality can be maintained without religion. Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.


Anonymous said...

Is it this Darryl Hart - A Secular Faith?

Tom Van Dyke said...

unitarian theology of works

Franklin didn't believe in salvation by works either, see his letter to Whitefield. He did say we serve God by being nice to the other guy, but that's an uncontroversial notion, see the Beatitudes.

Jonathan Rowe said...

I think that is one and the same.

Jonathan Rowe said...


I'm familiar with that letter. I'll have to read it again in detail; but what I took from it was Franklin didn't believe his conduct throughout his life merited salvation which isn't surprising because his behavior was often hedonistic. Perhaps Franklin thought he'd suffer some time in purgatory before getting into Heaven.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Well, Franklin's feeling was that salvation was a gift. Couldn't "earn" it through faith OR works.

A universalist? Yeah, that would fit his vibe.

I took a look at Daryl Hart's stuff. I'm no expert on Calvin, but even with a Two Kingdoms theology, society could aspire toward being the City of God, and it seems proper to resist the City of Man [government] when it infringes.

We may be on the cusp of government's infringement on conscience right now, although I won't go alarmist until this plays out a bit.

Further, it seems as members of a democracy, we are all citizen-rulers and obliged to do the right and just thing. It would seem proper within the Two Kingdoms scheme to vote against the wrong and unjust thing. I have a problem with Hart's "neutrality," as inaction in a democracy could still make one complicit in evil.

Phil Johnson said...

"The bottom line [in] America's Founding political theology is a Unitarian theology of works, not an orthodox theology of grace.".

That argument is made.
But, it was more than Unitarianism brought America through the Founding--beyond simple denominational doctrine. Something is always wrong with whatever ideology dominates our thinking.
There has always been, was, is, continues, and--seems it always will be--a reaching out for what's beyond humanity's present reach. The quest for the unknown.

That always informs the Spirit that is America.