Sunday, June 28, 2009

"99 out of 100": Trinitarianism at the Founding

An American Creation Exclusive
by Tom Van Dyke

[Well, sort of exclusive. A little-known document dug up from the Founding era makes a shocking appearance here for nearly the first time on the internet, and things will never be the same...]

It's easy for us to slip into an epistemological nihilism about the religious landscape of the Founding: there were no Pew polls or polls of any kind back in the day. Who knows? One guess is as good as another.

And for a fellow who said his religion is private, we have more on Thomas Jefferson's musings on religion than from any other Founder. Together with his correspondence with the equally prolific John Adams, their confidential, post-presidential---voluminous---writings tend to get most of the ink. But while Adams and Jefferson were still in public life, they kept mum.

Mushed together with party boys Ben Franklin and Gouverneur Morris, who delighted [and delighted others] in their impiety, and negative inferences from the silences of men like Washington, Madison and Monroe, some historians have created a "Key Founders Theory," as if fewer than a dozen men could represent America's religion at the Founding.

Books upon books upon books have been based on this "Key Founders" method. But that's like looking for gold on the top of the rocks instead of under them, because the light is better. Unfortunately for all our wallets, nobody finds gold without panning for it or digging a little. Or a lot.

For what of the other 100-odd Founders, the signers of the Declaration, of the Constitution? What of the governors and legislators and delegates who ratified the Constitution, state by state by state? And what of Joe American? We're talking about a whole helluva lot of Americans here, not just a handful.

Now, one "key" Founder was Dr. Benjamin Rush, a Philadelphia physician, a surgeon in the Continental Army, and a signer of the Declaration. Seeking his support for a comprehensive plan for universal public education in 1786, Benjamin Rush wrote a letter to the British clergyman Richard Price, who was a long-time supporter of the American revolution and whose writings on religious tolerance and pluralism were of great influence in America, particularly in Rush's Pennsylvania:

"A small pamphflet [sic] addressed by you to the Congress, and the legislature of each of our States, upon the subject, I am sure would have more weight with our rulers than an hundred publications thrown out by citizens of this country.

It will only be necessary in this pamphflet [sic] to be wholly silent on those subjects in Christianity now which so much divide and agitate the Christian world. The wisest plan of education that could be offered would be unpopular among 99 out of 100 citizens of America, if it opposed in any degree the doctrine of the Trinity."

Rush to Price, May 25, 1786.

Rev. Price's strident anti-Trinitarianism [Jefferson kept his own a secret until he left public life] was coming to the fore around this time, and Rush's advice is clear---Price's influence would be diminished by his theological unorthodoxy.

In Ameri-kay, Ix-nay on the Inity-tray.

Some historians might say that Rush is prejudiced. True, he was a Trinitarian himself---but he was friend and correspondent to the pious [John Witherspoon], the impious [he was Franklin's frequent dinner companion], and the heretical [Price, Jefferson, Adams] alike. Neither was his Christian orthodoxy pure: Rush was heavily attracted to universalism, the belief that there is no hell and everyone will be saved.

Some historians might say that Rush's math is off. Surely true---it's not a scientific poll. Prudence dictates we dial back "99 out of 100" a bit. But shall we dial it back so far that "99 out of 100" becomes a minority? That would seem consummately cynical and dishonest absent strong evidence to the contrary. Non-Trinitarianism was growing a bit [and included many of Rush's own friends], but anti-Trinitarianism was a dead letter in America.

Dr. Rush's comment cannot be waved away or flushed down the memory hole. He was there in 1786, on the eve of the Constitution, at the Founding, and we weren't.

My thx to Jonathan Rowe for finding the gateway to The Letters to and from Richard Price: I was curious about Rush's original letter, which turned out to be far more explicit than I'd expected, with this "99 out of 100" business. I had seen Price's July 30 reply, and for the record, it was that to hush his anti-Trinitarianism "would be a hard restraint," especially since he was about to publish in England "a free discussion of these doctrines." [Strangely enough, Price did believe that Jesus was the Messiah and died for mankind's sins.]

For whatever reason, to my knowledge this section of Rush's letter becomes available in HTML on the internet for the first time here because my lazy self done typed it out. [It does appear in briefer form in James H. Hutson's The Founders on Religion, preview available here.] Why it's been so largely overlooked up until now, one cannot say, but it should never be ignored again by any sincere student of America's Founding.

And why so-called "Christian nationists" don't use it instead of so many crap arguments is beyond me. It should turn up on page 1 of a google. But that's their lookout, not mine.


Jonathan Rowe said...

Heh. I was waiting for you to address that quote.

Lindsey Shuman said...

Uh...what in the world are you thinking this proves? If you believe that some obscure quote from Rush proves America as a Christian nation then you are so very wrong. Just because a majority of the population is/was Christian means absolutely NOTHING! The majority of the pop. was also White and female. Does that mean America was founded as a White and feminine nation?

Give me a break! In the words of Jon Rowe, "you are throwing spaghetti at the wall and waiting to see what sticks."

How about we apply the same standards to your mundane quote here that you apply to Frazer's theistic rationalism. Do you think your argument would stand???

Lindsey Shuman said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jonathan Rowe said...

Well, I wouldn't put it as harshly as Lindsey, however I would say that this quote is hyperbole, just like Jefferson's quote.

Compare the two:


"The wisest plan of education that could be offered would be unpopular among 99 out of 100 citizens of America, if it opposed in any degree the doctrine of the Trinity."


"I remember to have heard Dr. Priestley say, that if all England would candidly examine themselves, and confess, they would find that Unitarianism was really the religion of all;…"

– Thomas Jefferson to John Adams, August 22, 1813.

So everyone was "Unitarian" or everyone was "Trinitarian"? The reality of the Founding was more nuanced. Trinitarianism had more socially institutionalized power. Price's pamphlet and Priestley's writings did indeed lead to a few orthodox lions like Timothy Dwight coming out and savagely attacking Unitarianism. But by that time, the rights of conscience were firmly entrenched so that Dr. Dwight et al. just had the power of the pen not the sword to do their fighting.

But look for more uncovering of Dr. Dwight's writings against Unitarianism in the future here. I've already given a little (for instance where he terms Unitarianism half-way house "infidelity").

bpabbott said...

"you are throwing spaghetti at the wall and waiting to see what sticks."

Was it Jon or Eric Issacson who first used that metaphor?

Jonathan Rowe said...

I used it against OFT.

bpabbott said...

That does describe the debate tactic of OFT rather nicely ;-)

Angie Van De Merwe said...

Would it "hold" if Unitarians/Universalists are humanitarians at heart, while Trinitarians are more interested in government and the functioning of society?

Universal rights (human rights) cannot be "held" in one's view, while holding to national interests/security, as these "conflict".

In our State Department, the USA has various "interests" in maintaing a "free and open" society, which is diverse in its interests...and allows the indiividual to choose where he will "play out" his life in commitment to those interests.

But, when one looks at the State Department and the various "interests" that "conflict" over various issues, one wonders how anything gets done in politics. This is where power and special interests sometimes influence what transpires, although, ideally, it shouldn't.

not too late said...

It seems to me somewhat odd the interest in the religion of the people instead of just the public figures. Certainly there is evidence that many of the leaders were religious zealots. However, I think some of the states or counties had laws requiring church attendance and regulating taverns. I mean, how religious are people when the leaders have to issue laws to make people people leave the bar and attend church?

Some European countries use payroll deductions for church members' contributions to their churches. That clears out the churches pretty fast.

jimmiraybob said...

Surely, by the mid-to-later 18th century the trend in America had been toward a greater acceptance of the individuals’ right of conscience, including on views such as the Trinity. The Constitution would not be what it is if this had been any other way. Religious tolerance within the founding populace was born, at least in large part, of having lived under the heavy hand of religio-civil governments – where religious intolerance had become codified into civil law, particularly regarding blasphemy against orthodox Christianity (yes, the early flirtatious experiments in theocracy were coming unraveled). By the later 18th century, it wouldn’t be a surprise to here a staunch advocate of the orthodox Trinitarian view making wildly exaggerated and/or biased claims as to the number of orthodox adherents in an effort to stop the bleeding. After all, why make the claim if no one was contesting the Trinity?

Although this covers some ground that has been covered before, I think that the following excerpt from Blasphemy, by Leonard Williams Levy (pp. 268-269), summarizes a trend that raises and answers the question, Why dost thou protest to such a degree?.

"America in the eighteenth century became increasingly more tolerant of aberrant beliefs once thought to be offensive and actionable [with respect to blasphemy and blasphemy laws]. “Indifference” is, indeed, perhaps more accurate than “tolerant.” Religious liberalism came to dominate American thinking. It took various forms – Christian rationalism, natural rather than revealed religion that conformed with reason and science, Unitarianism or some other form of anti-Trinitarianism, and deism – but all tended toward indulgence of language revealing beliefs that may have shocked evangelicals.

"Until the 1780’s, only intellectuals and the well-to-do in larger towns or on big plantations repudiated divine revelation, biblical inerrancy, miracles, the doctrine of the Trinity, virgin birth, and the divinity of Jesus. The repudiation, however, was expressed privately; in public, they tended to evince no more than skepticism. Almost half the signers of the declaration of Independence were skeptics who believed in natural religion. Although conservative clergymen complained in every generation about the decline of religion, a change was occurring. Ezra Stiles, the president of Yale and a devout Christian but a tolerant one, explained the change. Regretting the opposition to liberal establishments of religion, he observed that ‘it begins to be a growing idea that it is mighty indifferent, forsooth, not only whether a man be of this or the other religious sect, but whether he be of any religion at all; and that truly deists, and men of indifferentism to all religion, are the most suitable persons for civil office.23

Continued next comment

Angie Van De Merwe said...

Thank you, jimmiraybob...that was informative..

I just recieved a "science and religion" e-mail that states that the Pope has issued a statement about the necessity of "love and charity" in light of the global financial crisis and the G8 summit.

It seems that the practical issues always come down to which we think is most important, our interests or others interests. It doesn't seem that globalized concern has fared well on the world market...or has it? Each country must answer that for themselves, I guess....

jimmiraybob said...


"Nothing better signified the change than the fact that Massachusetts, once the center of intolerance, became most indulgent of religious liberalism. Nowhere else did so many reject Jesus Christ as God. Harvard College and Boston brimmed with skeptics, ant-Trinitarians, and the deistically inclined. Leading Congregational clergymen, including Ebenezar Gay of Hingham, who headed his church for nearly seventy years; Charles Chauncy, for sixty years the minister or the First Church of Boston; and another brilliant Boston clergyman, Jonathan Mayhew, repudiated the doctrine of the Trinity and championed individual judgment. More extraordinary still, James Freeman, who became head of King’s Chapel, the oldest Episcopalian church in New England, converted his church to Unitarianism, twenty of the twenty-four most important families were members of his church."

*This bio borrowed from this review: Dr. Levy is the Andrew W. Mellon All Claremont Professor of Humanities and Chairman of the Graduate Faculty of History at the Claremont Graduate School, and Editor-in-chief of the Encyclopedia of the American Constitution. His Origins of the Fifth Amendment: The Right against Self-Incrimination (MacMillan, 1968) won the Pulitzer Prize for History; he has also published Treason against God: A History of the Offense of Blasphemy (New York: Schocken Books 1981), xviii and 414 pp., $24.95; Blasphemy in Massachusetts: Freedom of Conscience and the Abner Kneeland Case (ed., 1973) and numerous other works.

I’ll throw this in just because:

In his autobiography, John Trumbull, the artist, reported being at a “freethinking dinner party” in 1793 at the home of Thomas Jefferson. Senator William Branch Giles of Virginia ridiculed Jesus, much to Trumbell’s consternation, while Jefferson smiled and nodded approval [oh to have been a stenographer fly on that wall]. Finally, David Franks, a bank official, took up the argument on Trumbell’s side. Trumbell turned to Jefferson and said, “Sir, this is a strange situation in which I find myself; in a country professing Christianity, and at a table with Christians, as I supposed, I find my religion and myself attacked with severe and irresistible wit and raillery, and not a person to aid in my defense, but my friend Mr. Franks, who is himself a jew.” Giles returned to the attack with ‘new virulence,” ending up with a rejection of God. Similarly, William Duncan, the playwright who praised Elihu Palmer’s deistic orations, recorded in his diary in 1797 that, at a meeting of his club attended by various luminaries, James Kent, the future chancellor of New York, “remark’d that men of information were now nearly as free from vulgar superstitions or the Christian religion as they were in the time of Cicero from the pagan superstition.”

Clearly hostile times for a Trinitarian.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Thx for all the comments. Rush's comment doesn't "prove" anything, but it will make at least some people think before they throw up their hands and say "we cannot know." Odd how facts make some other people angry, but that's uncontrollable.

As for Priestly's comment about England, I give that weight, too. As GBS said, "The English are not very spiritual people, so they invented cricket to give them some idea of eternity."

Having played cricket, I think he was onto something.

JRB provides further indication that non-trinitarism was the province of New England elites, and not representative of the nation as a whole, which as his Mr. Trumbell notes, "profess[es] Christianity."

As for Lindsey's note about women in America, the womenfolk of the "key" Founders tended to be far more orthodox, like Martha Washington, as Lindsey well knows. I didn't go into that to keep it clean, and indeed nobody has laid a glove on the facts as presented except to dismiss them, which the post rather predicted.

Lindsey Shuman said...

AHHH! There you go again complicating the obvious and obscuring the true point I was trying to make Tom! Ever think of running for Congress?

What "facts" have you "presented" here Tom? I see nothing but some mundane quote you took from Rush, which you then somehow glorify to be proof positive that all us "secularists" are a bunch of idiots for not seeing things your way.

As for the women thing, I know this will be hard for you to understand but I was making an ANALOGY! In your post you insinuate that becuase the majority of Americans were Christian that somehow makes America a Christian nation. I was pointing out the fact that the majority was also white and female. That's all. I said nothing of their religion because it was irrelevant to the analogy. Try to keep up.

Simply brilliant comments, Jimmyraybob. I love your stuff. When are you going to join us and turn your fantastic comments into actual posts?

Brad Hart said...

Ok, let's try to keep on topic here without getting into the predictable "TVD is Darth Vader" shall we, Lindsey?

Where do you get the notion that TVD is trying to pass this off as "proof positive" of anything, Lindsey? Read his comments. The first sentence he states, "Rush's comment doesn't 'prove' anything, but it will make at least some people think before they throw up their hands and say 'we cannot know.'"

I don't see him attempting to "throw spaghetti at the wall" so much as he is trying to defend the notion that the founding was, as he has put it in the past, "Christian-y" (which despite its almost Sesame Street feel seems to have a lot of truth to least in my opinion).

Speaking of spaghetti, I have looked over your past posts Lindsey I it seems to me that you haven't tossed a single meatball as of late. Usually you are just posting videos and such. Now, I know we all get busy and videos are a nice way of contributing at least something, but for you to accuse a contributor of "derailing" posts when you yourself are guilty of doing just that seems...well...silly.

Ok, now to get back to the post. I would like to point out one particular issue that I disagree with: Tom, at times I have heard you speak of Jefferson's (and Adams') religion as being something they kept private and between a select few people they could trust. I think this isn't entirely true. Many of the letters between Adams and Jefferson were published by newspapers of their time (yes, to the dismay of the participants). However, knowing that the public was occasionally reading their material, and knowing very well that posterity would read it as well, Jefferson and Adams still continued to reveal their "infidel" beliefs to one another, questioning many of the traditional orthodox beliefs of the day.

Simply put, my point would be this: those "private" writings of Jefferson and Adams weren't as "private" as we might think.

Tom Van Dyke said...

I don't think it's necessary to shout me down, Lindsey. You know capital letters are impolite on the internet, especially followed by an exclamation point. It makes you look shrewish and unreasonable. This is a clean piece of research.

Your rebuttal, such as it is, is misformulated. The point of the Rush statement is that anti-trinitarianism would be politically unpopular. That's why I left the womenfolk out, to keep the point clean. Non-trinitarianism as freedom of conscience isn't even at issue here.

However, to disregard the [largely more devout] religious attitudes of America's women in the larger question would be improper, too, but that's for another discussion.

And I'll continue to leave your insults unrequited. But I will acknowledge them, and note that you're taking advantage of my cheery nature and the knowledge I won't answer them in kind. Peace.

Lindsey Shuman said...

I'll say it again, Tom, my problem is not with your reasearch or opinions but with your tone. And don't try to pass yourself off as Mother Theresa here. How many people have you rubbed the wrong way over the months? I'm just trying to stick up for them before you end up running them off.


You of all people shouldn't get fussy about posting videos. I believe you've done your share of video posting as well. And as for my "not throwing a single meatball" well, my apologies. I guess I have been busy ATCUALLY MAINTAINING THE BLOG v. doing postings. You're a moderator. You of all people should know that it takes time to do that. I'm sorry that I don't have the free time to make AMAZING posts like you, Brad.

But yes, I agree about the Jefferson letters not being as private as we are lead to believe. Joseph Ellis states as much in "Founding Brothers."

Phil Johnson said...

It's pretty well accepted by almost everyone that Revolutionary Era Americans were almost completely under the influence of Reformed Protestantism; but, so what?
There was a division among Americans during the Founding Era and it amounted to a major trend; which reminds me of an advertisement put out by one of America's greatest ad agencies during the 1950s. It showed a stack of unsharpened pencils that had been balanced end on end and at the split second after the bottom one had been knocked over. All the rest of the pencils had begun to tumble and you could imagine some hands trying to stop their fall. The caption was, "Nothing is harder to stop than a trend!".

That early American trend was signified by the seeds of individualism that were bolstered by the Bill of Rights and the institution of the personal rights involved.

Since then, tens of millions and more Americans have developed--with the help of the First Amendment--to be individuals apart from the control of intrusive religionism. The idea that a person could think for themselves during the Revolutionary Era was almost unheard of. The struggle of individuals to realize their own self against the intrusive control of the group grew to a rage and, so, it continues to day.
Basically, it seems to me that THIS is what America is all about.
It seems sophomoric to claim that America was founded to be a Christian Nation. The Founding set America free from the intrusive control of all religions.
People, like everything else, evolve to be what they are coming to be.


Phil Johnson said...

Can you imagine a Governor Sanford in South Caroline in the year, 1790?

Brad Hart said...

Ok, Lindsey, once again we are officially "derailed." Congrats!

You claim that certain people are going to "scare away" the readers/contributors of our blog. Fine. That's a fair concern. However, couldn't this all have been handled in private. You have TVD's email, no?

As for the video thing, I have no problem with videos. Sometimes they make for excellent discussions and material. In addition, they diversify the blog, which I am all for. Yes, I have tried to find a balance between video postings and my own material, and I hope I have succeeded. If people don't like it oh well...this is, after all, just a blog, right?

I'm just stunned that you are doing the very same thing that you have accued others of doing. Why fight fire with fire? Seems sort of counterproductive.

Oh and as for not having the time to do posts and still serve as a "moderator" (whateverthehell that really is) I appreciate your efforts here. I don't think anyone thinks otherwise. But just remember that this is a blog, nothing more. And in my opinion blogs are meant to be fun. Who is here exclusively to work?

Jonathan Rowe said...

Let me note that Lindsey does an outstanding job of maintaining the blog.

Re unitarianism and private letters,...the times were a changin' as Bob Dylan put it. Think of how rapidly culture has changed over the past 25 years or so (even after the 1960s watershed).

Three's Company was risqué for its time. Carnal Knowledge (1971) was banned in GA as "obscene" (until the Supreme Court ruled that it was not).

Unitarianism was "coming out" as it were towards the end of the 18th Century. John Adams admitted to his unitarianism to Jedidiah Morse (and to its old age) in the early part of the 19th Century in a way that he would not have in 1750 (when Adams' dates his conversion to unitarianism). Many of Jefferson's and Adams' letters were published (as far as I know) immediately after deaths, to the chagrin' of many folks. [I am actually interested in the fact about their letters published DURING their lifetimes.]

Ashbel Green, a contemporary of theirs, went apeshit when he became aware of Jefferson's private writing that used him to argue in favor of GW's "infidelity."

One thing I've said before and I'll stress again; there is a connection between the Founders' unitarian heterodoxy and their fervent insistence on Freedom of Conscience (this is where the private is related to the political): It made it safe for heretics like themselves to "come out" and be open about it.

Lindsey Shuman said...

Yes, I agree with everything you wrote, Jon.

thanks for the praise. In fairness I should point out that Brad does every bit as much as I do. Sometimes I get too much credit (blog "mother" labels and all). But yes, Brad you do an excellent job of keeping the blog nice AND making lots of posts.

I'll bury the hatchet with that.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Bury the hatchet with whom, Lindsey? But that's OK---the only times you start up like this is when I've made a good point. It's a compliment. But let he who has a good counterargument cast the first spaghetti.

That's all I'm interested in; I certainly don't expect much agreement, or even an "attaboy" for hours of meticulous and independent research and writing. And Brad, thanks for noting that I claimed no "proof" of anything at the outset. It's nice to be read with some care.

Jon/Brad, I certainly would agree that Jefferson in particular was writing for posterity and for his vision that unitarianism would become America's religion, replacing orthodox Christianity. But as Jon notes, what he kept secret and what was willingly published in his lifetime are both more relevant to the Founding landscape.

As for the issue at hand, if Washington's absence at communion is a significant historical fact [and it's gotten plenty of cyberink on this blog], surely so is Benjamin Rush's opinion that anti-trinitarianism was political poison.

And let's make the distinction, that non-trinitarianism was coming out of the shadows as a result of America's growing liberalization/tolerance/pluralism, but anti-trinitarianism was intolerant itself. Our designated Bad Guys, the orthodox, were no less fanatical or ill-tempered than the anti-trinitarians.

For most Americans, then as now, it might be fair to say they were sick of the whole thing, and a nice vague [as vague as possible] Christian-y thing suited them fine. Goldilocks comes to mind...

Lindsey Shuman said...

A good point, Tom? To what on earth are you refering?

Angie Van De Merwe said...

Are you using Golilocks like the "Trojan Horse"?

jimmiraybob said...

"JRB provides further indication that non-trinitarism was the province of New England elites, ..."

Amended accordingly:

"The wisest plan of education that could be offered would be unpopular among 99 out of 100 citizens of America (excluding those who it is inconvenient to count as American citizens), if it opposed in any degree the doctrine of the Trinity."

Phil Johnson said...

"The wisest plan of education that could be offered would be unpopular among 99 out of 100 citizens of America (excluding those who it is inconvenient to count as American citizens), if it opposed in any degree the doctrine of the Trinity."
A relative of mine who is an evangelical Reformed Baptist missionary asked another relative of mine, a Roman Catholic, of his concern for his "eternal soul".

The Catholic answered, "I let the church take care of that for me.".
I think that was the case with those 99 out of a 100 early Americans. They let the group to which they belonged and whose confession of faith they were forced to accept as their own by the pressure of the group take care of all their thinking when it came to any ideas of spiritual importance..
Unitarianism was a break away--at the root--from early American group-think that was imposed on all.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

There is no "salvation"...other than what man "makes of it" in his own mind, or society deems as understood as a cultural "norm".

So, you wouldn't suggest that the independent Baptist missionary "had it right", I hope? Each one of us has a journey that is personal as to its coming to maturity. Unitarians were universalists, weren't they? And their interests today lies in social justice, as it pertains to the world, as a whole. There is no understanding of individuality in this "rendering" is the only "context" of understanding morality, justice, etc.

Some think that American individualism is a lower level of moral "maturity", but on what basis is the individual being assessed? An "approved" outward expression of "moral concern"?

Wherein lies the theory of genetic predisposition of "moral behavior" and/or concern?

Phil Johnson said...

Each one of us has a journey that is personal as to its coming to maturity
While that is true for us in the twenty-first century, it doesn't appear as though that was so for the 99 out of 100 Founding Era Americans who had their beliefs imposed on them by the group.
Angie, the entire reason I brought up the exchange between the Baptist and Catholic relatives had to do with the way religious beliefs were imposed on early Americans by the local community and congregations to which they belonged. The DID NOT think for themselves in the same sense that we do today.
There is such a thing as a group norm. We have one here and some members carry out the role of policing what goes on. Some are deviant and they eventually get run out of town on a rail. Check out OFT.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

Small town, small denominations, small minds, small busniesses all are similar as to how narrowly focused they can be, because those who police can maintain these specifically defined and narrowly focused norms.

But, of course, without specificity, there cannot be productivity that is measurable, which gives a sense of "success" needful especially for those in the "small pond".

CEO's, whether they be over business, political, or 'spiritual' are bent on understanding the larger world's 'needs" and where they "fit" in their vision. Fit is an important aspect of understanding how to define the organization to meet that specific need in a larger context.

Too bad i have understood this so late in life. But, I maintain that the individual must find their own place, whether that be affirmed by the local norm is irrelavant. The indiviidual can "move to another place"....

Daniel said...

Rush's and Priestley's statements may point to a split between elite opinion and common opinion. Perhaps the head scratchers were a sceptical bunch, while the masses didn't bother to show up in the church very often but were dead certain that the orthodox positions were TRUTH.

The isn't much different in our time. Take a look a the mainline churches where most of the upper ranks are sceptics of orthodoxy, most pastors are, but the people sitting in the pews are pretty orthodox, and the members who are rarely sitting in the pews even more so. (No, I have nothing to cite but my own observations.)

Tom Van Dyke said...

Rush's and Priestley's statements may point to a split between elite opinion and common opinion...

Interesting, Daniel. Your personal testimony is good too. Something to be discussed.

Brian Tubbs said...

Tom, I liked your post. I think you do a great job pointing out that Rush's statement, while hyperbole, shouldn't be dismissed altogether. It needs to be taken with a grain of salt, but still taken.

To those critical of Tom's post, he's NOT arguing that the United States was officially Trinitarian or that the US government was somehow "religious" or anything like that. All he's saying is that, based on Rush's comments, the overwhelming majority of the American Founders and the American people were comfortable with Trinitarian Christianity.

It's a valid point, considering all the posts we've read here at American Creation that have tried to argue the reverse - that the US was somehow trending away from Trinitarianism and toward Unitarianism or Deism.

I think the evidence goes the other way. Read Mark Noll. By the mid-1800s, the American public was even MORE Christian and evangelical than in the late 1700s. The trend was going toward evangelical Christianity not against it.

And that trend began with the Great Awakening, was tempered somewhat by the Enlightenment, and then broke loose with the Second Great Awakening.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

As I am no historian, but enjoy the debate here at American Creation because it is historically based, I question "trends" that would claim to uphold or defend "truth", "value", or "good". Nor just because this was so historically doesn't mean that the "trend" holds true today. But, American religion is prone to market driven ambition, it seems. Those who want to build a denomination like such things.

Fine for those who want to hold to "conversion type", revivalistic, emotion-driven, preaching. I personally am not interested. And I understand that Wesley was a revivalist, as well as an educated Anglican. His experience or anyone else's does not have to be universalized.

What does interest me is trends for the sake of treands, not the practical application of them. Why would these trends be? Why would these things "happen"? What promotes them? Experimental Theology is doing some of this type of research and understanding it from an existential, psychological, scientific viewpoint.

Jonathan Rowe said...

I'm working on a new post with Rush. In a later, very interesting letter, he seems also hyperbolic about his own belief in universal salvation. While he diminished unitarianism's influence, he seems to exaggerate universalism's influence, nearly arguing America was going thru a universalist revival.