Sunday, June 28, 2009

Were the Majority of America's Founding Population "Orthodox Christians" or Something Else (Deist, Unitarian, Theistic Rationalist)

The answer is there is no clear cut answer; we probably will never know. When I wrote my "briefly noted" article for First Things on James H. Hutson's quote book on the Founding & Religion I stated:

While all the Founders believed in a powerful Providence, there was a split between those who affirmed the tenets of traditional orthodox Christianity and those who subscribed to an Enlightenment-influenced "theistic rationalism." While orthodox Christianity dominated the views of the population at large and probably a statistical majority of those who signed the Declaration and framed the Constitution, an unconventional Unitarian theology seemed to engage the minds of certain key Founders—among them, those who played the most prominent roles in declaring independence and drafting the Constitution.

Were I to write another piece on the matter, I might use less strong words than "orthodox Christianity dominated the views of the population at large...." It's possible that most of the population were "orthodox Christians." It's likely that most were somewhat affiliated with a Christian system that professed "orthodoxy" and they didn't challenge said theological tenets. The more I think about it, however, the more I doubt that a statistical majority of Americans during the Founding era actually believed in things like Trinity, Incarnation, Atonement, and the infallibility of the Bible (i.e., "orthodoxy"). They might have; however, the record is just not clear that they did. The record IS clear that almost everyone from that era believed in Providence.

One notable study from that era showed that ONLY 17% were members of a church. That Founding era Americans were more likely to be in Taverns on Saturday nights than in Church pews on Sunday mornings. Other evidence shows that this may be a low ball. However the bottom line is that we just don't know whether a statistical majority of Founding era Americans accepted such theological tenets as Trinity, Incarnation, Atonement, etc.

John Derbyshire once notably said something like "the lazy Christian mind is reflexively Deist." Indeed, evangelicals should understand this given that their faith stresses the "narrow gate." Roger Williams, a fervent evangelical-fundamentalist, interestingly enough, understood this dynamic and used it as a cornerstone for arguing in favor of separation of Church and State and religious liberty. Williams argued the inevitable not only existence but perhaps statistical majority of the "unregenerate" in any given population of "professing Christians" makes the idea of a "Christian Nation" blasphemous.

“Deism” as a significant theological conversation ended at the end of America's Founding era. However as a theological “reality” — something in which nominal Christians believe — I think various kinds of deism and unitarianism are not only alive and well today, but probably have always been, again perhaps always dominated "Christendom."

As Jefferson himself put it:

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.
Forms of Deism and Unitarianism tried to give an intellectual account of this reflexive, default position into which nominal Christians fall. I can’t tell you how many professing Christians I speak with today — folks who haven’t spent too much time thinking about these issues — who believe God exists, that He wants humans to do good to other humans, that good people get into Heaven — but also that have no strong belief on matters like Trinity, Incarnation, Atonement, and infallibility of the Bible. A little while ago a Christian source did a story on this calling it a “new” religion of younger Americans. I noted that there was nothing “new” about this creed. Since the time of the American Founding it has arguably been the dominant creed, the “broad” gate, as opposed to the evangelicals’ “narrow” gate.

Why is this relevant: In arguing over America's Founding political theology, I oft-hear that we shouldn't focus on a "top down" view of things (i.e., the Christian-Deists/Unitarians/Theistic Rationalists elite "key Founders") but rather a "bottom up" view of things (i.e., the "orthodox" masses). Well, it's not clear that a statistical majority of Americans during the Founding era really were "orthodox Christians," but rather were nominal Christians who, if they really "candidly examine[d] themselves" would profess a creed something closer to Jefferson, Priestley, the "key Founders" than orthodox Christianity.


Tom Van Dyke said...

Geez, Jon, you've got more "theistic rationalists" than McCarthy had communists. This level of speculation is completely off the charts and cannot even be addressed.

Jonathan Rowe said...

No Tom. Read my language carefully. I admit we are dealing in the world of "speculation." The point is it's just as "speculative" to say that a majority of the American population were Trinity, Incarnation, and Atonement believing "orthodox Christians." I also noted that agnosticism on these issues was probably very widespread. Not: I disbelieve in the Trinity, etc. But, I dunno.

Tom Van Dyke said...

OK, I hear you, Jon, if we limit it to a sort of mellow indifference or acceptance. However, "theistic rationalism" or unitarianism must make their own place by some sort of evidence. Just because the American public accepted the republican [and often Biblical] arguments of some unitarian preachers doesn't mean they accepted their [often quietly expressed] theological unitarianism about Jesus, etc.

With that said, a level of agreement and support, then: Tocqueville admits even as he saw just about everybody being a member of some sect by 1830 or so, that we can never know what's in a man's heart. Further,

"The public, therefore, among a democratic people, has a singular power, which aristocratic nations cannot conceive; for it does not persuade others to its beliefs, but imposes them and makes them permeate the thinking of everyone by a sort of enormous pressure of the mind of all upon the individual intelligence.

In the United States the majority undertakes to supply a multitude of ready-made opinions for the use of individuals, who are thus relieved from the necessity of forming opinions of their own. Everybody there adopts great numbers of theories, on philosophy, morals, and politics, without inquiry, upon public trust; and if we examine it very closely, it will be perceived that religion itself holds sway there much less as a doctrine of revelation than as a commonly received opinion.

So, OK.

Therefore, we must return again to the "public religion," whatever that is, and that on the particulars, religion was left to the states, which requires looking even deeper into the Founding, well past the handful of so-called "key" Founders, past the 100 or so national Founders, but to the discussions and debates across the several states as well.

There is no Gordian Knot solution to this, eh?

Jonathan Rowe said...


I think the agnosticism on orthodox doctrines plays into the "unitarian/theistic rationalist" corner in this respect: It was the "orthodox" who back then and still in some respect today insisted that devout faith in the Trinity and cognate orthodox doctrines were prerequisites for "Christianity," and men like Jefferson, J. Adams, Franklin, Priestley, Price, et al. who vacillated between railing against the irrationality of orthodoxy on the one hand and stating, it really doesn't matter what one believes on the Trinity, that we can all be united theologically on the other. It was the unitarians in the Congregational Church who kept everyone together by refusing to discuss the Trinity and related doctrines. It was the Calvinists who actively disfellowed themselves from the unitarians.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Well, we start turning it into the Calvinists vs. everybody else, and "everybody else" mutates into some sort of "theistic rationalist" or unitarian.

I was trying to yield a little ground on the depth of personal belief and even add some backup, but give 'em an inch and...

Priestly and Price weren't even Americans fer crissakes.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

Whatever the Founders believed about the transcendent, they believed that the political realm should "bear the fruit" of their beliefs in equality under law and natural rights for all men, didn't they?

The practical problem that I am interested in is; How do we are a free society maintain these beliefs when there are those who would demand that religious law should interpret law? The "narrow gate" is politicized, where "real faith" is manifested only by adhereing to this way of understanding.

Do you think immigration policy should be "hard-line" against such beliefs? Or should we demand as a nation that such be assimulated into our culture, by learning our language, etc. In Virginia, an Islamic school would not submit their texts to be approved by the local state. If there is no "checks and balances" to the teachings, then how are we to protect against such radical indoctrination of children in our midst? But, then where are civil liberties, if we discriminate on that basis?

The Netherlands has already selected Gert Wilders to the European Parliament, a "radical" conservative, who is politicing against Islam and Muslim immigrants in his culture.

Tom Van Dyke said...

All pertinent questions, Angie, and what Europe is dealing with much more than America.

Still, Islam poses a unique challenge to "Enlightenment"/Western principles that no other religion does, and I see you caught between your rejection of evangelical fundamentalism and a certain liking for the USA the way it is.

Since I haven't been writing about current politics anywhere lately, I wrote at length in the combox of Jon Rowe's other blog, which I'd describe as "radical libertarian," so radical that they're completely silent on our new president's initiatives.

Anyway, the difference comes down to the "anything goes" pluralism that's eating up the Netherlands, so much so that "conservative" Geert Wilders is getting the gay vote out of fear and self-defense from Islam, or the French laïcité, which drives religious expression out of public life as much as is legal and possible, so much so that they want to ban the burqa and have already banned Islamic headscarves, crucifixes, yarmulkes and turbans from public schools.

Please do see my remarks at that other blog. They didn't get it, or they didn't want to get it. Hard to tell these days.

Me, I think Americans like America kinda "Christian-y," not too Christian, not unChristian, not anything goes. And, like Europe, definitely not Muslim either.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

Even thought I believe in freedom of individual conscience, I also believe that government is necessary to maintain the structure that "constructs" "life". This is why good government is so important! Without good government there is no indiviidual liberty, which we see right now, before our eyes in such countries as Iran. Therefore, the laws that we legislate affect our lives in a practical way.

I also believe that government should be "by consent of the governed", therefore, the public is to be informed of government's activities, so that there can be open consent or an expression of dissent. This is what free and open elections are about and the freedom of the press. Again, Iran does not adhere to this policy.

As to Providence, I believe this is an outdated view, if one believes that scientific discovery impacts our view of reality/god...God is not the "causal force", as in Aristotle. Men are the ones who construct society and impliment laws. God does not intervene in the affairs of men, at least this is not how we live our lives for the most part, if we are rational beings..

Providence was a way for the "peasant class" to be consoled about their "lot in life". (shut up and submit to god, as this is his will...)This blog site has been discussing in what manner Romans 13 should be understood...whether government authority is absolute or not. What maintains social order and unity is when each indiividual senses his part of the "whole" to is the "team-work" idea in leadership or organizational structures all function better when there is "consent", which is based on social contract...

Tom Van Dyke said...

The question, Angie, is whether law and government are the same thing as "society." The modern view says yes, but the traditional view says they are only overlapping spheres.

As for your rejection of Aristotle, that's the modern view, too. But don't accept that unquestioningly, either...

Mark D. said...

I think that there is a tendency to look at religion in the founding period through a modern lens -- of clearly delineated confessional traditions and denominational loyalities that don't necessarily reflect the reality of faith on the ground during the late colonial period and the early Republic.

When we say "unitarian" today we often forget that today's unitarians and the unitarians of the founding period are very different theologically. Unitarians during the founding for the most part believed in miracles, had a high view of scripture, identified themselves as Christians, and believed in the deity of Christ (and yes, while they denied the trinity they did believe that Jesus was divine -- this was one of the reasons why Emerson eventually left the unitarian movement in the early 19the century).

Likewise, religious traditions that are largely orthodox today -- I'm thinking here of the Baptists here) were often theologically radical in the 18th century.

Brad Hart said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Brad Hart said...

Good points, Mark. Yes, the terrible curse of presentism is one that seems to strike at historians and history buffs more than any other. Kudos for bringing that up.

So, keeping in mind what you just said, perhaps there is some credence to the notion that the founding was at least "Christian-y"???

Tom Van Dyke said...

Unitarians during the founding for the most part believed in miracles, had a high view of scripture, identified themselves as Christians, and believed in the deity of Christ (and yes, while they denied the trinity they did believe that Jesus was divine -- this was one of the reasons why Emerson eventually left the unitarian movement in the early 19the century).

Very nice, Mark. I agree with 90% of your formulation, but would say that although the Founding era unitarians largely believed that Jesus was the Messiah, not that he was divine, which would make him God. Or 1/3 of God.

A subtle distinction, but one they fought over heavily.


Still, we might add that unitarians like Rev. Richard Price still believed that Jesus died/sacrificed himself for mankind's sins.

And most all unitarians of the time argued from the Bible instead of against it, that not only Jesus spoke with Divine Authority, but the Bible itself speaks with Divine authority.

We haven't been able to get to these nuances much with the culture wars going on around here.

Perhaps we'll get a little time to breathe and a little space to discuss and explore what the Founding era believed.

[Believed on the whole, I mean, as there were many disagreements on the details.]

[And as you note, it was nothing like today. We have to take a step back, mebbe two.]

["The terrible curse of 'presentism'," Brad? How apt.]

Jonathan Rowe said...

The Socinians believed Jesus was 100% man, but on a divine mission. The Arians believed Jesus was divine, but created by and subordinate to the Father.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

Tradition overlaps society....

Yes, in the sense of traditional social structure of family and church. These social structures "form" society....which is made up of individuals. But, how? And is it healthy development, as the transcendent is not the "real world".

Our American culture has undermined these social structures by defining ourselves by our "work", which has interefered with "family values" by demanding time consumption for the "success" of the parent. But, sometimes, it is just "survival", as to "making ends meet", or a "meeting the demands" of one's employer.

Traditional cultures believed in the "family name", which is a big sore spot for those of us who were socially ostricized because of divorce, death or disease of immediate family members. As a child, that is internalized, and is a hard "mountain" to overcome, as it affects everything, from one's self-concept to one's real world circumstances that create the environment of nurturance. And especially, if there are no important mentors to take the place of nuturance in one's life.

Fortunately (or unfortunately, by whatever lens one views it), America has come to "accept" for the most part divorced families, blended families, etc. The acceptance of society at least alleviates the osterization of the child, but it doesn't alleviate the absence of the parent, or the "whole" family.

The Church is also a social structure that inhabits a place in society to speak to those who need "consolation", as Freud would say. But, continuing to live in need of consolation leaves little room to grow. And compassion is not a value held by most. In fact, it is sentamentality and the childish belief that "life will be a happily ever after", instead of facing the reality, instead of living in an illusion. This is a healthy "coming to reality", which most in the Church do not live in...

The individual is also formed in school, where teachers inpact the students life through their encouraging the student to think beyond the box of "childish dreams" to real hopes about their life.

So, while society is made of these social structures, they are not the end-all, but the means of developing the individual.

As far as the modern paradigm, society has formed laws which protect individuals from emotional, sexual, physical abuse when these structure do not function properly. In this sense, society protects the individual from dysfunctional social structures, which do not respect proper boundaries. This is a necessary reformation of traditional "family values".

Just as a reformulation of the family within society's laws, the Church's re-formulation is also challenged. Science, or the real world, is not "pie in the sky", but engages the political realms. Theological jargon about salvation and heaven is an outdated and irrelavant message in today's world where religion becomes just as abusive as abusive families!

Tom Van Dyke said...

Oh, I think the afterlife is still of great concern to people.

As for science, it cannot tell us what is right or wrong. The best it can tell us is what's efficient, and the catastrophes of materialism have been far worse than those of religion.

Jonathan Rowe said...

The best it can tell us is what's efficient, and the catastrophes of materialism have been far worse than those of religion.

I don't know if I'd call the Nazis part of the "materialist" movement as the communist certainly were.

However, the crusaders didn't have access to technology or their fingers on the "button" thank God.

Tom Van Dyke said...

I'm not sure the prevailing crusades narrative is entirely kosher.

As for materialism, we have euthanasia in the Netherlands, and not all the dead were terminally ill. And unlike 5000 years of human history where at least most civilizations stopped letting their elderly parents die, nationalized health care can reverse that ethical progress by saving its limited resources for the younger.

Utilitarian ethics. An oxymoron if ever there was one.

bpabbott said...

I've never thought of communism as materialistic. Communism may have material goals, but it is lacking in material evidence.

Some might not share my amusement, but a good Russian friend of mine explained to me about 20 yrs ago that, when leaving his birth nation, he had an initial interest in learning more about religion. After a brief introductory experience he concluded it was no different than communism.

He justified his equivalence by explaining; They each sought an allegiance based upon unquestioning faith, and that each was ruled authoritatively.

Its not fair to describe all religion as such, but when religion goes bad such an equivalence often has merit ... and when civil and religious authority are wed things can really go bad :-(

Jonathan Rowe said...

Ayn Rand is a good rebuttal to the Communism = Atheism line. She was as militant an atheist as any of them and also a militant anti-Communist.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

I didn't read bpabbot's post as suggesting that communism equalled atheism, but that COMMUNALISM, or the collective, groupish mentality leads to a collective conscience, that can be easily led down a primrose path to where-ever the "big bad wolf" wants to go. Good leadership, whether teachers, mentors, advisors, political leaders, does not mind being questioned, in fact, should welcome it. Not only does openness to others in their insights suggest a humility and concern for another's understanding, but it also means that there are not "control issues" where authoritarianism could be the result.

Jonathan Rowe said...


That's a good point. The problem with communism was the same with Calvinist political theology: Authoritarianism. You don't need to find a God given "unalienable right" to freedom of conscience to understand that government should let people alone to figure out these issues. The problem with Calvinism and Communism (and to be fair much of Roman Catholic political theology before the modern age) was that government thought it could legislate comprehensive religious truth.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

Authoritarianism is in opposition to the "balance of powers" that our government upholds. Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely...

Tom Van Dyke said...

The sins of religion, and especially Calvinism, are nowhere near those of communism or materialism, under which all things are possible for "the greater good." This discussion has taken a turn to the abstract that bears only a surface reality to truth: For every Michael Servitus or burned witch, communism killed a million.

And materialism's body count [see above] grows daily, where Calvinism's has slipped to zero.

I'm sorry Angie was traumatized by a churchful of cementheads, but that doesn't make for a Christian gulag or 1984.

Jonathan Rowe said...

"And materialism's body count [see above] grows daily,..."

Sorry Tom but I don't see what's going on in the Netherlands, where folks -- folks who OWN their own lives and consequently have the right to terminate it -- voluntarily choose die as anything comparable to Servetus, the Crusades, the Inquisition, or the Communist Slaughter.

The Netherlands is actually quite a civilized place to live, from what I've been told.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

Although you may think that there is only one aspect of my "faith crisis", there are many and they culminated at around the same time, where now, it becomes impossible to regard Calvinistic understanding as at all probable. And I was not adhering to Calvinsism in total agreement anyway, as I thought their rationale was too tautological...

I cannot "stomach" someone chanting platitudes of "sweet by and bys", although this is nothing new with me, as I felt this way growing up...It is like Voltaire's "Candide"....that is my thought...and I also liked that piece of literature before I came to a "crisis", but it rings really true to me, now...

The real world is the world of the political or social where real people exist today, and we live our lives. Even those who believe that scriptures are divine revelation have to assent to the fact that we are not promised tomorrow. And those who adhere to the afterlife are buying into a way of understanding life, without realizing it. The Jews did not agree as to the afterlife...but christians think they have the absolute answer for certain...this is nonsense...

We construct our undestanding of reality, without even understanding that we do....therefore, i am on that path to find what and wherefore...and I certainly don't think that what I have understood to be the origins of Christianity is too enticing...Sects are ways of understanding oneself as "different" in some way...and I think it is only an attempt to find significance...not that there is any reality per se of that understanding...I just don't know...

Angie Van De Merwe said...

Perhaps, I have an aversion to conversion. I think that it is the height of presumption to assume about the transcendent for if one understands all about it, and the other must submit. That smacks of authoritarian attitudes about truth, which is not just absurd bur insensitive and presumptuous...

Tom Van Dyke said...

Angie, I don't subscribe to Calvinism. However, I believe there's a false choice presented---even in our historical discussions, between Calvinism and anything-else.

If Jonathan Rowe read the link provided, in the Netherlands there have been HIV-positive yet asymptomatic people "euthanasized."

Perhaps he thinks this is good, or perhaps he thinks we cannot say what is "good." This is our modern Enlightenment, and entirely "reasonable."

It is also an abolition of our humanity.

bpabbott said...

Calvinisms merits/demerits are not improved by the presence of erroneous ideologies, such as communism.

Such suggests a false dichotomy. There is no need to choose between ideologies. It is enough to prefer functional solutions, and to discourage the disfunctional.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

If I adhere to the "functional", which is "reasonable" as far as society is concerned, then that undermines the basis of concern that Tom has concerning life. Functioning in society is important, but is not the highest view of moral development.

If life is only valued because of it's function in society, then many will not be valued, as they are no longer an assest to society. So, there must be something more than the "flourishing of society" (the common good) that is of uptmost importance...if we believe that man is more than dust, molecules,a product of evolutionary chance, etc.

The value of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness were based on the understanding of a created order, which promised freedom of the individual to have these "inalienable rights". These are human rights, not society's rights.

But, when one has been treated as a commodity, because of the community or society's concern to be "good stewards", then one's life is de-meaned. This is using another's life without "social contract". Social contract leaves room for choice of place, which is just as important to humanity's right to freedom, as life itself.

We value social contract, as it protects those that are parties in it, no matter what position they hold. Equality under law.

So, function should not be a ultimate value for anyone that is humane or believes that humans are more than monetary means of a "greater end" for the common good...

bpabbott said...


What functional means depends upon the individual using it. How you've used it is not in the manner I had intended.

My intended use of "functional" was with regards to the individual. As; Does a solution to a problem function for the individual who wishes to solve the problem? ... or does is the solution disfunctional (i.e. makes the problem worse).

In general, what I'm describing is prefering what is constructive and what is destructive.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

Thank you for clarifying...but my use of function is two-fold...getting the individual to respond in a way that attains the goals or purposes of leadership within a certain community is what is "constructive". As the individual has "found his place" without recognizing that leadership as prescribed that place for him all along. If leadership has prescribed a "constructive" scenario for the individual, where it agree with the individual's values, and goals for his own life, then, there can be an agreement as to the "social contract". Then, both the individual, the leader, and the "community" that is served is "happy".

Functions are complex ways of getting the "most value" out of resources. This is a constructive, economic, functional approach to organizations (and treaties in international relations)...

So, yes, I believe that "using the right language" is a necessary means of gaining co-operation and allowing the individual to find his highest fulfillment..

Tom Van Dyke said...

The Netherlands is actually quite a civilized place to live, from what I've been told.

Uh-huh, Jon. "Civilized" meaning what? We help an HIV-positive person with no symptoms kill themselves? A girl who's afraid she'll become anorexic again? Another person who suffered from depression? Did you read the link I posted?


In a society where "choice" is the only good, then anything goes. As usual, I don't know if people don't get it, or refuse to get it. Just tell me it's fine that "society" or the state or the "social contract" says this is good, and assists such self-destruction.

Hell, just give 'em free cigarettes, which will mellow 'em out and give 'em 50 years to reconsider their decision before tobacco kills 'em, if at all.

"Civilization?" I have no idea what you're talking about. If The Golden Rule means I kill you if you want to be killed and vice-versa, then it's not only garbage, it's evil.

Something's very wrong here.

bpabbott said...

On the other hand, the Netherlands doesn't put the unwilling to death; has less than half the incarceration rate as the US; and is closing prisons due to decreases in crime.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

Thanks bpabbott,

Tolerance is a major cultural value in the Netherlands and has long adhered to euthanasia, etc. ...freedom of choice.

It would be interesting to see if there was a correlation between the decrease in crime and the tolerance of the culture.

Crime is a definition that is determined by "law" and determines what the cultural norm is. Crime is defined as subversion of authority when there is an authoritarian regime, whether religious or political. Crime exists in such regimes due to the narrow definition, whereas, tolerant cultures don't label as narrowly what behavior is deviant.

Tolerant countries do not frustrate the individual's feelings of "control" and responsibility for his own life, which is based upon how his has formulated his "world". It leaves room for a creativity of reasonable understandings and the wherefores. Everyone has their reasons, which we may or may not agree with....A lack of choice or a deterministic stance toward a person does lead to "reactional behavior"...History has proven this in many revolutions and reforms...where an authoritarianism subverts individuality.

So, the religious right are wrong, in this sense, as they seem to "speak for God", when God has not so spoken. It is their interpretation of what "defines" the word "life". Even those who believe in the supernatural would adhere to how each man is accountable to his own "master".

Consevatives need to get "out from behind" the apologetics of Frances Schaffer and think for themselves, and struggle with the discoveries of science and try to bridge the bridge the gap, whenever there seems to be one. Instead, conservatives hold their stance and definitions without realizing the widening divide and the hinderance of any critical engagement.

Jonathan Rowe said...

Well I don't think the state should "assist" people killing themselves. However an individual owns his life; so if he wants to end it for whatever reason that's ultimately his choice. I think under 99% of the circumstances it's a terrible choice to make however. As hippie Phila. DJ Pierre Robert put it, suicide is a permanent solution to a temporary problem.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

"a permanant solution to a temporary problem"..

Not necessarily. Many, my brother included, had physical problems that remained undiagnosed, painful, expensive, and de-moralizing. Who determines what quality of life should mean for an individual? Desparate people do desparate things.

Does this mean healthcare should be universalized to alleviate the problem of those who cannot afford healthcare? What happens to research intiatives when healthcare is universalized? Do those in communist regimes have as much scientific productivity as free societies?

Do we care? The liberal cares if the desparation is about poverty! Poverty is Only one amongst many problems that face mankind. And it seems that whatever the politically connected deem as important is the issue that gets most coverage. This is normal, I suppose, but is it "right"?

My definition of "right" is giving options, open information, freedom of choice, and an exchange of ideas, where policy is formed with the most information available. Then, the "losing side" does not think or feel overlooked, ignored, offended, disregarded and disrepected. People tend to "be on board" and be engaged whenever they feel "listened to", a part of "the team".

So, what is it that is deemed to be of most value? Quality of life? How is that defined? Quantity of life trumps quality? I don't think so. So, what defines quality? Power, Pleasure, Posision, Presitige, Purpose? Does one have a right to choose differently, than others? Does one have a right to choose quality over quantity?

What creates meaning and value for a person? Why do we assume that we stand in for "god"? Why do we make demands of another that we ouselves would not demand of ourselves? Do we change our convictions if we encounter similar problems in life that we heretofore, stood staunchly in absolutist terms against and maintained an absolutist position?

Is love tolerant, first and foremost? Yes, but then, love does have "hopes, dreams, desires" and these are what define "justice" for all. How we define norms in our laws, are what constitute and protect our civil liberties. Without basing "law" on the principle of freedom of conscience, would undermine diversity in regards to conviction, and opinion, and limit critical thinking and the discussion in the public square.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Well, let's just admit that we're banning "morality" and replacing it with subjectivity.

Morality here meaning simply a set of shared values a society holds. But in the name of tolerance we do away with them. ["Freedom of conscience" doesn't really fit here if in the context of the Founding, as it referred to private religious belief, not to denying a shared set of values existed. The US was founded on shared values, a "natural law," not on an anarchy of "conscience."]

Bringing in capital punishment here is inapt, since it ignores the question of guilt. What we see in the Netherlands is deciding that some innocent lives "aren't worth living," such as the 3-day old child with spina bifuda who was euthanized.

I know a gal who has survived into her teens with that very difficult and painful condition. Still, she would say her life is worth living. But that decision would have been taken out of her hands.

For we have two propositions: one that all human life is sacred and worth living; the other, that some lives aren't.

It seems that we cannot get around "morality" after all--- even the most "tolerant" simply substitute one morality for another.

The Netherlands as we know it is less than 50 years old. Only time will tell if a society can endure without a soul.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

I am sure we will have to agree to disagree, as your argument is based on "moral order" and what is to define what is legislated. Since conscience cannot be legislated (as it is an individualized conviction based on personal values, commitments and liberty), unless one wants to adhere to a certain "brand" of morality, which is prescribed by an absolute authority of some kind.

Which comes first, the chicken or the egg? I believe the chicken is most important because even though the structure of the egg is "good" during the incubation period, and without it, the chick could not become what it was designed to be...the "egg", or structure (tradition) is too conforming to allow the free expression of the full chick-a-dee...This is born out in many studies on moral developemnt, intellectural development...and faith development...

Our Founders were supporting a subversion of a "moral order" under the rule of a "King" and "kingdom". Individuals were being oppressed. Revolutionaries do subvert "order", but "order" is to serve the purpose of individuality, NOT society itself! Soceity is only made up of individuals that agree (social contract) about what is to be a "norm". Values are being "clarified" in our courts all the time. The Supreme Court is the sumpreme clarifier of what "interpretaion" will rule over the law. This is the conservative and liberal disagreement over our Constitution and whether law is to be evolving or not. The same goes with a religious community's understanding of a text of tradition.

Tradition, while good for "growing families" cannot be maintained in stone, otherwise, we have the Taliban. Nor can there be a lack of individual expression, otherwise, we have a dictatorship. The individual rules over order. And this was the "discussion" of Jesus over the Sabbath, circumcision and the shewbread, etc...religious rites are not to be the prominent and "main thing". Man is the epitome of creation, not "god's rules".

Angie Van De Merwe said...

I am in no way suggesting that anything goes, as I believe in private property. I am not a communist. I believe that individual have the right to own the fruit of their labors, not society. I believe that the free market is of value to reward the work that is done. I believe that privacy is important, as it regards the individual's right to live his life is freedom from fear of intimidation and control that subvert a peaceful life...

Laws are made to protect these rights.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Angie, I dunno what you could disagree with, as I'm simply looking for clarity here, advocating nothing. As to the Netherlands, we shall see whether a society can dispense with morality and survive. It's too soon to tell.

I'm pointing out how your mix of modern views differs with the understanding under which America was Founded, that "freedom of conscience" as you use it isn't how they used it, and that "tolerance" as a society's highest [and only!] virtue isn't what the Founders believed either.

Neither did the Revolution relinquish order. Unlike the French, we were careful about that.

And you will have a difficult time defending your libertarian leanings of your second post using a modern vocabulary. "Tolerance" does not extend to economic liberty anywhere in the modern West. Neither, apparently, to the notion that human life is sacred [see above].

Jurgen Habermas is one of my faves, and has gone much deeper than the usual surface arguments. For the record, he's a "liberal" and a "functional atheist." But good thinkers defy labels, as truth has no affiliations. Here, he highlights the European war between multiculturalism and secularism re religion. As I have no dog in this intramural liberal fight, it's highly amusing, and like all good thinkers, Habermas clarifies and delineates the issues more than takes sides.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

I didn't say that I didn't believe in moral order, as I have argued for government in other places. But, I did say that we were "free from the Divine Right of Kings", which is far different from what conservatives believe about spiritual submission to "order".

These believe that God Rules over government, instead of men. These believe that to disobey government is to disobey God. It is an authoritarian view of government and government's right to exist. Government is "given by God". Though the Founders believed that government was "under God", that is different, isn't it?

The "Bill of Rights" guarantees civil liberties, which supports the individual's identification factors.

In regards to tolerance, multiculturalism, and religious pluralism. A moral order must demand that its citizens allow another the right of expression that is guaranteed by the Bill of Rights. But, I disagree that one's identity is tied soley to a particular religious tradition. It is if the person has internalized the values of a particual religious culture. Therefore, to discriminate against those who have not internalized religious commitments, is not affirming religious freedom or liberty of conscience.

Of course, the public will must take into consideration all opinions and re-evaluate the laws that support religious tolerance, whether secular or sacred.

As to co-operation and trust, that must be a determinatin of the individual in regards to whom one wants to be "yoked with".

Angie Van De Merwe said...

John Locke does agree that people have a right to revolt from tyranny. This is the promise of a liberal society. I really don't know how we are to "include Shairia law' when it goes against all understanding of a woman's right, and human rights in general...

As to the function of religion in maintaining social order, that, i guess still stands as to those that are conscience bound to submit to government.

bpabbott said...

It seems to me that the Dutch are pursuing individual Liberty, not immorality.

I am personally unaware of what gates must be passed prior to an individual being permitted to have the state assist in suicide ... anyone?

Tom Van Dyke said...

It's in the link.

And I did not write "immorality," Mr. Abbott, since my point was that morality is conventional: what is moral in one society may be immoral in another.

Angie, the Founders say often that governments are instituted by men. That some "conservatives" have a fatalistic view of Romans 13, that God for his own purposes allows bad governements and men must obey them, does not speak for "conservatives" as a whole, and speaks not at all of the fathers of the revolution.

Jurgen Habermas, very much a modern European, is "conservative" by their standards, calling for some recognition of religion, and of "tradition:"

"Particularly with regard to vulnerable social relations, religious traditions possess the power to convincingly articulate moral sensitivities and solidaristic intuitions. What puts pressure on secularism, then, is the expectation that secular citizens in civil society and the political public sphere must be able to meet their religious fellow citizens as equals.

Were secular citizens to encounter their fellow citizens with the reservation that the latter, because of their religious mindset, are not to be taken seriously as modern contemporaries, they would revert to the level of a mere modus vivendi - and would thus relinquish the very basis of mutual recognition which is constitutive for shared citizenship."

In other words, the door swings both ways, and it's not always "tradition" that should be on the defensive, since it at least has the virtue of having been road-tested.