Wednesday, July 29, 2009

George Washington v. Fundamentalists

On the Swedenborgs. From a modern fundamentalist website:

Swedenborgianism is also known as The New Church, the Church of New Jerusalem.

Founder: Emanuel Swedenborg, born in Stockholm, Sweden in 1688. Died in 1772. Of course, members of this group deny that Emanuel Swedenborg is the author of the religion, but will admit that it draws it primary theology from his writings.

Headquarters: No single headquarters. The North American headquarters is located in Newtonville, MA.

Membership: 25,000 to 50,000 world wide.

Doctrines: Denies the Vicarious Atonement, the Trinity, and deity of the Holy Spirit. It holds to Christ as divine. All religions lead to God, though all are not equally enlightened. One of its goals is to bring the world together under a new religious understanding. It teaches a need for Christianity to undergo a rebirth — according to Swedenborgian interpretations. The Bible is the inspired word of God with two levels: the historical and the deeper spiritual one. Regarding the Trinity, a Swedenborg pastor said, "The Christian trinity of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are aspects of God just as soul, body, and activities are aspects of each one of us."

There is no personal devil. Instead, the devil is the personification of human evil. Hell is corrupted human society. The Scriptures are best interpreted through the writings of Swedenborg. Angels go through cycles of purity of character where they are sometimes closer and at other it times further from God. Swedenborg stated that the Acts and Epistles were not inspired as are the four Gospels and the Book of Revelation. There is no physical resurrection. After death, a person becomes an angel or an evil spirit. Angels are not supernatural creations of God. Position in the afterlife is based on "the kind of life we have chosen while here on earth."

At a person’s death, his mind falls asleep for three days in a place called the world of the spirits. Afterwards, he awakens and encounters spirits who’ve died before hand who help him adjust to the afterlife.


Origins: Emanuel Swedenborg was born on January 29, 1688 (died 1772) in Stockholm. His father was a Lutheran minister. Emanuel was very bright and had an inquisitive mind. He was particularly interested in science and religion. In the former, he was recognized as an expert in geology and he also studied astronomy, cosmology, and physics. In 1744 he was stricken with a severe delirium which seems to have affected his mind for the rest of his life since many trance states were attributed to him as his life progressed.

In 1745 he had a vision where loathsome creatures seemed to crawl on the walls of his room. Then a man appeared who claimed to be God. This apparition said that Emanuel was to be the one who would communicate the teachings of the unseen realm to the people of the world. He would be the means by which God would further reveal Himself to the world.

Publications: Arcana Coelestia: The Earths in the Universe. The 35 volumes of writings by Swedenborg.

Comments: This is a dangerous mystical non-Christian religion. Its denial of the Trinity and the Holy Spirit, the vicarious atonement, and rejection of Acts and the Pauline epistles clearly set it outside of Christian orthodoxy.

From George Washington:

To the members of the New Church at Baltimore.


It has ever been my pride to mind the approbation of my fellow citizens by a faithful and honest discharge of the duties annexed to those Stations to which they have pledged to place me; and the dearest rewards of my Services have been those testimonies of esteem and confidence with which they have honored me. But to the manifest interpretation of an over-ruling Providence, and to the patriotic exertions of United America, are to be ascribed those events which have given us a respectable rank among the nations of the earth. --

We have abundant reason to rejoice that in this land the light of truth and reason has triumphed over the power of bigotry and superstition and that every person may here worship God according to the dictates of his own heart. In this enlightened Age & in this Land of equal liberty it is our boast, that a man's religious tenets, will not forfeit his protection of the Laws, nor deprive him of the right of attaining & holding the highest offices that are known in the United States.

Your Prayers for my present and future felicity were received with gratitude; and I sincerely wish, Gentlemen, that you may in your social and individual capacities, taste those blessings which a gracious God bestows upon the Righteous.

G. Washington

And yes, the Swedenborgs of GW's day, after Swedenborg himself who, like the Mormons, claimed additional revelation, believed, more or less, what the fundamentalist website reproduced.

This is what Wiki said of ES:

At the age of fifty-six he entered into a spiritual phase in which he experienced dreams and visions. This culminated in a spiritual awakening, where he claimed he was appointed by the Lord to write a heavenly doctrine to reform Christianity. He claimed that the Lord had opened his eyes, so that from then on he could freely visit heaven and hell, and talk with angels, demons, and other spirits. For the remaining 28 years of his life, he wrote and published 18 theological works, of which the best known was Heaven and Hell (1758),[4] and several unpublished theological works.

How this might help an "originalist" interpretation of the religion clauses: Whether Washington was personally saying he had no problems with the theology or just being "diplomatic," one thing is clear: He tells the Swedenborgs they are covered under the US Constitution's "religion clauses."

There is debate as to what exactly was protected under the original federal Constitution. The term "religion" is used generically in Art. VI and the First Amendment. Some Christian Nationalists suggest it meant "Christian sects only." I disagree for a number of reasons. However, the issues in this case are, 1) what is "Christianity"? 2) is Swedenborgianism "Christianity"? And then 3) proceed with your conclusions under the irrefutable premise that whatever Swedenborgianism is, George Washington held it to be equally protected with all of the other "sects" under the US Constitution's laws.


Tom Van Dyke said...

George Washington v. Fundamentalists

Huh? The "fundies" argument is theological, Washington's nice letter is political.

What's funny is anti-Catholic bigotry has been present throughout American history, and we see it from secular quarters today, sometimes even on this very blog.

But for some reason, when the fundies do it, it's notable.

I guess our next post up should be George Washington v. Christopher Hitchens, and we'd probably be able to make a better case.

Jonathan Rowe said...

Re your first point Tom, I think you can sense this, (perhaps not) but for the purpose of other readers: One MAJOR problem I have with the "Christian Nation" thesis is that it 1) makes NO distinction between the political and the theological and 2) consequently sees no "political theological problem" in America's Founding. Or to the extent there may have been a "political theological problem" it was among "Christian sects," all of whom were orthodox Trinitarian, the Bible is the infallible Word of God types.

That's how they get "their" understanding of "Christianity" (the evangelical/fundamentalist kind) as the organic law -- Law with a capital L -- of the United States.

Post likes these, I think, helps to keep in perspective why they are wrong in this regard.

Tom Van Dyke said...

I don't know who "they" is.

You speak of Francis Schaeffer often as the "godfather" of Christian Nationism. Fair enough.

Here's an abridgement of his Christian Manifesto:

"And we face a very hidden censorship. Every once in a while, as soon as we begin to talk about the need of re-entering Christian values into the discussion, someone shouts "Khomeini." Someone says that what you are after is theocracy. Absolutely not! We must make absolutely plain, we are not in favor of theocracy, in name or in fact."

So let's find something in the Christian Manifesto to argue about, and we can get out of the kiddie pool of fringe fundie websites.

Jonathan Rowe said...

I'll give a number of evangelical megachurches and organizations who comprise "they."

Pat Robertson's 700 Club

Trinity Broadcasting Network

Coral Ridge under the late D. James Kennedy

Robert Jeffress' Church

Charles' Stanley's Church

This is just the surface; this is a representative sampling. They represent groups who have an EXPLICITLY orthodox Trinitarian, the Bible is the inerrant infallible Word of God understanding of "Christianity" (i.e., the types of folks who would assert "Mormonism isn't Christianity") but nonetheless without explaining the differences between their theological understanding of "Christianity" and a different political historical understanding of "Christianity," assert "America was founded to be a 'Christian Nation' and almost all of the FFs were 'Christian'." And they do this while relying on David Barton as paid speaker/consultant.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Well, I think posts about the 700 Club or TBN would be interesting, especially if backed with actual proof, not vague characterizations of their messages. Fringe types like this aren't worth the bother.

Y'know, the King had a very good point--- David Barton took on John MacArthur's theology and Gregg Frazer-type history in this essay from May 2009:

...with a far more "liberal" interpretation of Romans 13 than John Calvin's. Perhaps Barton shouldn't be lumped in with the fundies so routinely.

Jonathan Rowe said...

Okay. And we blogged about Barton on Romans 13, that very article.

HOWEVER, if he were taking a stand against fundamentalism and adopting a more moderate (for instance a KOI or Jim Babka approach) understanding of Christianity, it would be noteworthy. He's not. He tries to claim that his understanding of Romans 13 is the authentic fundamentalist one. Gregg and John MacArthur have the proper "the Bible is the inerrant, infallible Word of God; the world was created in six literal days" approach as regards Romans 13 and politics.

Anonymous said...

Jonathan Rowe-

David Barton and his nonsense are fairly familar. But who is claiming that the 1st amendment applies only to Christians? I have not heard that one before.

Jonathan Rowe said...

If I am not mistaken this is part of Barton's thesis.

Robert Jeffress is one of many evangelicals who has claimed the First Amendment meant to protect "Christian" sects only. Check out the comments.

The interesting thing is that they rely on Joseph Story's commentaries for this assertion. Story, by the way, might not have accurately portrayed the original meaning of the First Amendment (remember these figures were no less fallible than we are). And Story's own personal definition of "Christianity" was theologically unitarian -- one that believed non-Christians, if they were "good" could achieve salvation. That's something that Rev. Jeffress and most other Christian Nationalists don't fully understand.

Tom Van Dyke said...

He tries to claim that his understanding of Romans 13 is the authentic fundamentalist one.

That's an intramural theological battle and none of our business.

How you can say as a historian that one side or the other has the "proper" interpretation is beyond me. It's a theological question.

I'll repost this link on
Ecclesiastical and Temporal Power in Vitoria, Suárez and Bellarmine.

The question had been kicked around by Christianity for ages, and as you recall, Locke responded directly to Filmer who responded directly to Bellarmine. The chain to the Founding is unbroken. The use of "proper" for John MacArthur is unwarranted, and in the least, we should stop lumping David Barton in with him and his ilk.

Jonathan Rowe said...

How you can say as a historian that one side or the other has the "proper" interpretation is beyond me. It's a theological question.

It's both. It's political/theological/historical.

The question had been kicked around by Christianity for ages,...

"Ages" might be too strong a word. But I might add, so too was the Arian heresy, and for much longer.

and as you recall, Locke responded directly to Filmer who responded directly to Bellarmine. The chain to the Founding is unbroken. The use of "proper" for John MacArthur is unwarranted, and in the least, we should stop lumping David Barton in with him and his ilk.

As noted before, Locke's/the FFs' understanding of Romans 13 was radically dissident for most of those "ages." By way of analogy to the Trinity, it would be as if Arians/Socinians got in power of the "political-theological" organs of the society and held that non-Trinitarianism, indeed even anti-Trinitarianism was the authentic "Christian" understanding.

Tom Van Dyke said...

As noted before, Locke's/the FFs' understanding of Romans 13 was radically dissident for most of those "ages."

Well, you're going to have to explain how, in the English civil wars of the 1600s, they executed one king and exiled another.

What you call radical was fast becoming the norm.

Jonathan Rowe said...

That was when dissidence was in the process of becoming dominant.

The ECW, btw, happen one thousand six hundred and some years after Christianity. It's 2009. The weight of Christian history is still on Gregg's and John MacArthur's side.

Anonymous said...

Jonathan Rowe

Thank you for the link. I did not know he went that far with the 1st amendment.

I read a couple of Barton books and watched a vhs presentation by him years ago. I nodded along as he talked about the Christian nation and how this is reflected in our state buildings, monuments,etc. At this point he is, of course, stating the obvious. We were (probably still are) a Christian nation culturally. As an outpost of Western Civilization, what else would we be? But when he turned to identifying non-Christian founders and Christians and arguing that the Constitution was based on the bible, I did not read any additional books. I hoped nobody else would either. Doesn't look like those hopes were fulfulled.

Jonathan Rowe said...

At my worst, I termed Barton a Moron. He's not though. He's slick. A moron wouldn't be able to build the enterprise he has. On a personal matter I think he's somewhere between a huckster and a goofball. Though when I criticize him, I go out of my way to be fair and tackle him on facts/logic issues and avoid the ad hominen attacks.

Anonymous said...

Jonathan Rowe

I am not sure what drives him. I wonder if it is "status anxiety" that Christianity does not get the respect or credit for its achievements(some real some not), a concern about public morality, or just crude evangelism. I see a parallel movement in science, when Christians express concern about the secular world view of modern science. They keep reminding anyone who will listen of great Christian scientists of the past (some of whom were, surprise, not orthodox). They, too, seem concerned that secular scientific world view will lead to immorality.

Thanks for your exchanges.

King of Ireland said...

Jon stated:

"consequently sees no "political theological problem" in America's Founding."

I did not get this. Can you explain it an maybe give an example.

If it says what I think you are saying I think it sums up the problem that more reasonable Christians have with strict secularists:

They do the same thing from the other side. More by omission than addition but it is still done do try and write God out of the founding at all. As far as if all religions or ideas for that matter being protected under the Constitution they believed in the protection of individual rights. That is for all. Any Christian who does not believe in it will if some sect they hate gets into power and seeks to impose their beliefs on them.

King of Ireland said...

As far as what drives Barton and many other's who think like his is that America has backslidden to such an immoral society that God is going to judge us. They see the only way out as another great awakening and a huge turning back to God ala Nineveh.

On the other end is the Frazer's and Mac Arthurs who figure that it does not matter either way and all that matters is that people get saved. They both want the Great Awakening but for slightly different reasons.

The former group tend to stay away from people they consider of the "world" and huddle around people that think like them. The latter tend to overlook the plight of man unless it is a "witness" that can open the door for the gospel to be preached.

That is general but probably right on in that I have visited and talked to people from about every type of church and have some insight into how they think. The whole pentecostal/charasmatic split from more traditional churches has its own "holiness message" and revival interests that turn off others that do not believe in prophecy and spiritual gifts as they do.

I threw it all out because none of it seems to be able to relate to the people that Jesus did. Hope that helps understand this whole mess a little better.

Anonymous said...

Yes, all of us will be outraged if we are under the scrutiny of any sect, much less, Shairia...just today a Muslim principle fired a Christian teacher here in the US. A father was tried and convicted of murdering his daughter for "honor". Things like this have been happening in Europe (the Netherlands), so much so that there have been various reactions...Britain has affirmed Shairia family law, while the Netherlands seems to be distancing themselves from enmeshment with the EU...

Our freedoms, and the First Ammendment and our protection of civil liberties in general is to be the "key' to Islam's political empowerment in the West...The civil liberties union just defended a Muslim scholar who wanted to enter the country, but was denied a visa due to his association with and charitable donations that could have had "terriorists connections"

I don't think that many understand the dangers of the radical side of Islam.

Tom Van Dyke said...

arguing that the Constitution was based on the bible

Mr. Square, that has never been argued on this blog. What is argued on this blog is that America, o any nation, is more than the sum of its laws.

Further, religion was left to the individual states, and the ratification of the Constitution changed not a single existing state law.


That was when dissidence was in the process of becoming dominant...

Indeed, 1600-1776 was a time of great change in the Anglosphere, a process that had started with John of Salisbury [who saw his friend St. Thomas Becket murdered by King Henry II in 1170---perhaps you saw the movie].

On this we should not disagree on the facts.

The weight of Christian history is still on Gregg's and John MacArthur's side.

Here you argue like a fundamentalist, Jon, as if we should ignore 1150-1776. No wonder our new friend "J" accuses us all of being Calvinists. I understand his confusion now.

King of Ireland writes:

[Strict secularists] do the same thing from the other side. More by omission than addition but it is still done do try and write God out of the founding at all.

Ah, now you're on to their game, attacking 25 bad quotes and ignoring the 50 good ones.

The fundies are guilty [and David Barton, too] are guilty of seeing only what they want to see in the Founding.


But the strict secularists are guilty of refusing to see what they don't want to see.

"And can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are the gift of God? That they are not to be violated but with his wrath?"

That's less understandable, and far less excusable.

Jonathan Rowe said...

Here you argue like a fundamentalist, Jon, as if we should ignore 1150-1776.

Or like Harry Jaffa (the point being those ideas may have been in the air since 1150; but they were dissident until around 1600 and even then went thru war and arguments for the dissident position to become dominant):

In "A New Birth of Freedom," Jaffa noted: "for more than a millennium and a half of the history of the Christian West, the prevailing opinion was that political authority descended from the top down, from God to kings and rulers, and that the obligation of the ruled was simply to obey."

Steven Dworetz, a respected Locke scholar argued:

Basing a revolutionary teaching on the scriptural authority of chapter 13 of St. Paul's Epistle to the Romans must rank as one of the greatest ironies in the history of political thought. This passage...served as the touchstone for passive obedience and unconditional submission from Augustine and Gregory to Luther and Calvin....The medieval church fathers as well as the reformers and counter-reformers of the sixteenth century all invoked this doctrine in denouncing disobedience and resistance to civil authorities.

Tom Van Dyke said...

I don't disagree. But that doesn't make it the "proper" theological interpretation. They also believed the sun revolved around the earth for 1500 years. So what?