Sunday, August 30, 2009

A Brief Note on the Idea that Religion was Left to the States during the American Founding

It's more or less an accurate statement insofar as the entire Bill of Rights was designed to apply to the Federal, not the state governments. I think the larger point that needs to be appreciated -- it's not just that "religion" was left to the states -- but that the original US Constitution was, by today's standard, a document that left the Federal government with an extremely limited reach. In many ways the US Founding from 1776-1791 was something "revolutionary," "anti-traditional," "enlightened" and simply "not Christian" (at least not in the traditional sense, certainly not in the reformed Calvinist sense).

Yet, the anti-traditional revolutionary implications of the American Founding are tethered greatly by the limited reach of the US Constitution as originally understood. It was a secular Godless document, but one whose secular godlessness was powerless to enforce against state and local governments.

In that sense, the American Founding was a very limited event. It was limited by the anti-statist, limited enumerated powers vision of the framers of the original Constitution. In other words, whatever was subversive about the ideals of the American Founders, they originally limited their own ability to "subvert" much of anything (including slavery) by establishing a very weak federal government.

Books and Pamphlets on Religion and Philosophy in George Washington’s Library

Mt. Vernon lists them here. It's an interesting list; I don't think it sheds much light on what GW exactly believed regarding his religious specifics. I've seen both sides of the debate try to make hay of the list. D. James Kennedy et al. focused on all of the pious sermons in the list. Indeed Kennedy liked to tell people how GW was a "collector of sermons." And the skeptics focused on the works of Joseph Priestley and the other "infidel" philosophers.

Much of the contents of said library were given to GW.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Ephraim Brasher’s gold doubloon

The Brasher Doubloon, the legendary early American coin, is the subject of a new lawsuit.

The Los Angeles Times reports:

Colonial-era coin at the center of lawsuit

The Brasher Doubloon is steeped in historic reverence and mystique. It dates to Colonial America and the dawning of the new federal government, when Spanish gold doubloons circulated alongside other foreign gold and silver as part of New World commerce.

The coin takes its name from Ephraim Brasher, a respected New York City gold- and silversmith who lived next door to George Washington. In 1787, Brasher began making gold coins, presumably to be used as currency for the soon-to-be-formed republic.

Seven of them remain and are sanctified as the first truly American gold coins. That fact, along with their distinctively American design and Brasher's friendship with Washington, attached a permanent legacy to the coins.

The coins are nearly identical, but one of them is first among equals. And it is that coin, worth $15 when Washington was president but most recently sold for nearly $3 million, that is at the heart of a lawsuit filed in Orange County Superior Court. Rare coin researcher William Swoger says he told the coin's owners that he had "specialized information" about the coin and that they reneged on finalizing a contract to pay him in exchange for the information.

Orange County coin dealer Steven Contursi and his Northern California partner, Donald Kagin, teamed up to buy the Brasher Doubloon in 2005 for $2.99 million, then the second-highest price ever paid for an American coin. Swoger's lawsuit alleges that he approached Kagin and Contursi several months ago and told them the coin was worth much more than they realized.

The key, he told them, is that the coin wasn't the first of the seven struck by Brasher beginning in 1787. Contrary to the prevailing view in numismatic circles, Swoger says it was the last, and probably not struck until 1793.

That later date is crucial, Swoger says, because this coin was fractionally heavier than the others and made to conform to a 1793 act of Congress that established weight standards for gold coins in the new republic. The other six coins are of identical weight and predate the formation of the new government, he says.

Kagin and Contursi "knew they had a unique coin," says Richard Herman, a Newport Beach attorney who is representing Swoger. "They knew it was very valuable, very rare. But they thought it was the first one [in the series] and not the last one. Turns out that makes all the difference in the world. One's a Colonial coin made by a jeweler, and it's a very nice coin, but the other is the first coin made for circulation under a law of the United States. That's heavy-duty."

One side of the coin shows an eagle with wings spread. Thirteen stars representing the original colonies surround its head, and its talons hold olive branches and the arrows of war. On six of the coins, Brasher's "EB" stamp appears on the eagle's wing. On Kagin and Contursi's coin, the "EB" stamp appears on a shield on the eagle's breast -- a unique design element that distinguishes it from the others and is part of the reason many numismatists call it America's most treasured coin.

One theory is that Brasher made the change for purely aesthetic reasons. But Swoger contends that, as the last coin in the series and made to conform to the congressional act, Brasher put it there to distinguish it from its predecessors.

According to the lawsuit, Swoger informed the owners that he had discovered information that would make their coin much more valuable and asked for a $500,000 fee. They countered with $250,000, the suit alleges, and then asked for a meeting at which Swoger would disclose the information.

Swoger met with Kagin, explained his thesis and was given a gold coin valued at $35,000 as a down payment, the suit alleges. Swoger alleges Kagin said he and Contursi would prepare a contract but never did. Swoger is suing for millions of dollars in damages.

On the advice of their attorney, Contursi and Kagin declined to discuss the matter. But Contursi, the president of Rare Coin Wholesalers in Dana Point and a two-thirds owner of the coin, wrote in an e-mail:

"I greatly regret that Mr. Swoger has chosen to sue me and my partner. We never sought anything from Mr. Swoger regarding the Brasher Doubloon and never benefited in any way from any information he volunteered to us. The lawsuit is utterly frivolous, and I urge him to withdraw it."

Armen Vartian, an attorney representing the coin's owners, said, "I don't think the complaint will survive a motion to dismiss."

In an interview, Swoger, who is 65 and lives in Lake Odessa, Mich., said he is confident he can prove the coin was the last in the series and not the first. He declined to provide details.

His attorney said an ad in a 1790s New York newspaper spurred Swoger's research about the sequencing of the doubloons. Swoger acknowledged that but said learning the exact weight of the historic doubloon -- that it was slightly heavier than the others in the set -- was what led him to conclude it was struck after the others and linked to the congressional act.

"Logic takes me right there," he said.

Asked if he'd been nervous about disclosing his information to Kagin without a contract, Swoger said, "Yes, I was, but how can they buy a pig in a poke? So, it was a necessary step."

Kagin subsequently said they weren't going to use his information and felt no need for further payment, Swoger said. "Whether they use it or not, I delivered it," he said. "They know it and now other people are going to know it. They can't give it back to me."

The lawsuit alleges that Swoger's theory would elevate the coin's value to $10 million.

"If I'm wrong and they can prove me wrong," Swoger said, "they owe me no money for the information. If my information is correct, it gives much more importance to Ephraim Brasher himself and his other gold coins, because it gives him a longevity that was not known before."

The lawsuit is an uncommon event in the world of rare-coin collecting, but there's no doubt that the Brasher Doubloon is fertile territory for intrigue.

"There's still quite a bit that's unknown about these coins," said Beth Deisher, editor of Coin World magazine, in a phone interview from her office in Sidney, Ohio.

The first "official" U.S. coin wasn't produced until 1793, she said. The country never authorized a $15 denomination, but that doesn't mean that a coin containing that precise gold value wouldn't be legal tender, she said.

Coin World will report on the lawsuit this week, but Deisher declined to express an opinion on it. Swoger has written for her magazine and is respected for his research in the coin-collecting world, she said. He has not published any documentation for his theory about the Brasher Doubloon.

And if Swoger's theory is correct?

"It would elevate the coin's historical importance," Deisher said. "Whether that translates to value is something that would have to be determined by the marketplace."

Copyright © 2009, The Los Angeles Times

Thursday, August 27, 2009

A Founder on Abortion

...and another, more
modern politician as well
by Tom Van Dyke

James Wilson was one of the most influential Founders---a Framer and Signer of the Constitution, signer of the Declaration of Independence, and who also served as a congressman and as a Supreme Court Justice.

From Of the Natural Rights of Individuals, Collected Works of James Wilson, vol. 2 :

I shall certainly be excused from adducing any formal arguments to evince, that life, and whatever is necessary for the safety of life, are the natural rights of man. Some things are so difficult; others are so plain, that they cannot be proved. It will be more to our purpose to show the anxiety, with which some legal systems spare and preserve human life; the levity and the cruelty which others discover in destroying or sporting with it; and the inconsistency, with which, in others, it is, at some times, wantonly sacrificed, and, at other times, religiously guarded.

In Sparta, nothing was deemed so precious as the life of a citizen. And yet in Sparta, if an infant, newly born, appeared, to those who were appointed to examine him, ill formed or unhealthy, he was, without any further ceremony, thrown into a gulph near Mount Taygetus...

At Athens, the parent was empowered, when a child was born, to pronounce on its life or its death. At his feet it was laid: if he took it in his arms, this was received as the gracious signal for its preservation: if he deigned not a look of compassion on the fruit of his loins, it was removed and exposed. Over almost all the rest of Greece, this barbarity was permitted or authorized.

In China, the practice of exposing new born children is said to have prevailed immemorially, and to prevail still. As the institutions of that empire are never changed, its situation is never improved.

Tacitus records it to the honour of the Germans, that, among them, to kill infants newly born was deemed a most flagitious crime. Over them, adds he, good manners have more power, than good laws have over other nations. This shows, that, in his time, the restraints of law began to be imposed on this unnatural practice; but that its inveteracy had rendered them still inefficacious.

Under the Roman commonwealth, no citizen of Rome was liable to suffer a capital punishment by the sentence of the law. But at Rome, the son held his life by the tenure of his father’s pleasure. In the forum, the senate, or the camp, the adult son of a Roman citizen enjoyed the publick and private rights of a person: in his father’s house, he was a mere thing; confounded, by the laws, with the cattle, whom the capricious master might alienate or destroy, without being responsible to any tribunal on earth.

The gentle Hindoo is laudably averse to the shedding of blood; but he carries his worn out friend or benefactor to perish on the banks of the Ganges.

With consistency, beautiful and undeviating, human life, from its commencement to its close, is protected by the common law. In the contemplation of law, life begins when the infant is first able to stir in the womb. By the law, life is protected not only from immediate destruction, but from every degree of actual violence, and, in some cases, from every degree of danger.

And in 1971, a US Senator wrote in reply to an inquiry:

Dear Mr. Donnelly:

I appreciate your letter containing your views on abortion. There are many moral and legal aspects arising from this complex issue which is gaining the acceptance of large numbers of women faced with unwanted pregnancies, while disturbing the consciences of a great many other Americans.

Opponents maintain that abortion is wrong from every theological, moral and medical aspect. Proponents are firmly convinced that the woman, alone, has the right to decide.

While the deep concern of a woman bearing an unwanted child merits consideration and sympathy, it is my personal feeling that the legalization of abortion on demand is not in accordance with the value which our civilization places on human life. Wanted or unwanted, I believe that human life, even at its earliest stages, has certain rights which must be recognized -- the right to be born, the right to love, the right to grow old.

On the question of the individual's freedom of choice there are easily available birth control methods and information which women may employ to prevent or postpone pregnancy. But once life has begun, no matter at what stage of growth, it is my belief that termination should not be decided merely by desire.

I share the confidence of those who feel that America is willing to care for its unwanted as well as wanted children, protecting particularly those who cannot protect themselves. I also share the opinions of those who do not accept abortion as a response to our society's problems -- an inadequate welfare system, unsatisfactory job training programs, and insufficient financial support for all its citizens.

When history looks back to this era it should recognize this generation as one which cared about human beings enough to halt the practice of war, to provide a decent living for every family, and to fulfill its responsibility to its children from the very moment of conception.

Edward M. Kennedy

Via Rod Dreher.

Kabala On Theocrats v. Infidels in Early 19th Century New York

A few years ago, I repeated an assertion of historical fact that is the dominant view in the academy: The beloved Bird Wilson (son of James) gave the sermon in Albany that termed all of the Presidents from Washington to Jackson "infidels," and not more than unitarians. A Brown University PhD in history named James Kabala alerted me that it was a different Wilson (a "Willson") who gave that sermon. He told me he noted this in his PhD thesis.

He has published this finding in a peer reviewed scholarly article entitled "Theocrats" vs. "Infidels": Marginalized Worldviews and Legislative Prayer in 1830s New York in the "Journal of Church and State." The article sheds light on an important and much misunderstood nuance of late 18th, early 19th Century America. Theocratic politics of the Calvinist covenanting variety, on the one hand, and deistic or atheistic infidel worldviews, on the other, were "non-respectable."

I think one could say the softer unitarian infidel worldview was also non-respectable, but was gaining respectability. In New England unitarianism became completely respectable by the early 19th Century. BUT these "unitarians" like the early Presidents whom Rev. Willson thunders against were able to "get by" because they nominally belonged to Christian churches for cover and when they started proselytizing for unitarianism they presented their creed under the auspices of "Christianity." In short, they wanted to further "reform" Christianity out of its orthodoxy. The strict deists and atheists wanted to abolish Christianity.

Despite slight disagreements with the way Dr. Kabala understands the religious views of the Founders, the article was a pleasure to read.

And I want to thank him for reference in footnote 10.

John Adams on Sam Adams' Religion

I found this today while carefully examining some of John Adams' letters on googlebooks. The letter is to TO WILLIAM TUDOR, 5 June, 1817.

You say, Mr. S. Adams "had too much sternness and pious bigotry." A man in his situation and circumstances must possess a large fund of sternness of stuff, or he will soon be annihilated. His piety ought not to be objected to him, or any other man. His bigotry, if he had any, was a fault; but he certainly had not more than Governor Hutchinson and Secretary Oliver, who, I know from personal conversation, were as stanch Trinitarians and Calvinists as he was, and treated all Arians and Arminians with more contempt and scorn than he ever did. Mr. Adams lived and conversed freely with all sectarians, in philosophy and divinity. He never imposed his creed on any one, or endeavored to make proselytes to his religious opinions. He was as far from sentencing any man to perdition, who differed from him, as Mr. Holley, Dr. Kirkland, or Dr. Freeman. If he was a Calvinist, a Calvinist he had been educated, and so had been all his ancestors for two hundred years. He had been, from his childhood, too much devoted to politics to be a profound student in metaphysics and theology, or to make extensive researches or deep investigations into such subjects. Nor had any other man attempted it, in this nation, in that age, if any one has attempted it since. Mr. Adams was an original — sui generis, sui juris. The variety of human characters is infinite. Nature seems to delight in showing the inexhaustibility of her resources. There never were two men alike, from the first man to the last, any more than two pebbles or two peas.

That sheds light on the kind of orthodox Trinitarian Christians who could well get along with deistic, unitarian, and rationalistic Founding Fathers.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

John Adams' Reasons For Theological Universalism

I usually cite the letter from Adams to Thomas Jefferson, September 14, 1813 for Adams' quote saying even if he were on Mt. Sinai with Moses and God revealed the doctrine of the Trinity to him there, Adams still wouldn't believe it because 1+1+1 = 3 not 1. However, later in the letter Adams also says some choice things regarding salvation and how he rejects the idea that only those who accept Christ, God the Son as Savior and His Atonement are saved. Adams reasons it's absurd to conclude God would create man knowing 9/10 would be subject to eternal misery.

As he wrote:

God has infinite wisdom, goodness, and power; he created the universe; his duration is eternal, a parte ante and a parte post. His presence is as extensive as space. What is space? An infinite spherical vacuum. He created this speck of dirt and the human species for his glory; and with the deliberate design of making nine tenths of our species miserable for ever for his glory. This is the doctrine of Christian theologians, in general, ten to one. Now, my friend, can prophecies or miracles convince you or me that infinite benevolence, wisdom, and power, created, and preserves for a time, innumerable millions, to make them miserable for ever, for his own glory? Wretch! What is his glory? Is he ambitious? Does he want promotion? Is he vain, tickled with adulation, exulting and triumphing in his power and the sweetness of his vengeance? Pardon me, my Maker, for these awful questions. My answer to them is always ready. I believe no such things. My adoration of the author of the universe is too profound and too sincere. The love of God and his creation — delight, joy, triumph, exultation in my own existence — though but an atom, a molecule organ- ique in the universe — are my religion.

Howl, snarl, bite, ye Calvinistic, ye Athanasian divines, if you will; ye will say I am no Christian; I say ye are no Christians, and there the account is balanced. Yet I believe all the honest men among you are Christians, in my sense of the word.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Carlton Pearson, Universalism

Here is an interesting article on Carlton Pearson an evangelical who embraced the Universalist doctrine.

To understand this scene, you’ve got to go back to the late 1990s and the vertiginous fall from grace of Bishop Carlton Pearson. Charming, engaging, self-deprecating, never holier than thou, and very funny, Pearson—an African American Pentecostal—had founded one of Tulsa’s most prominent megachurches. He had risen rapidly through the national power structure of evangelical Christendom, in league with the Rev. Oral Roberts, the Rev. Jerry Falwell, and the Rev. Pat Robertson. In his early forties, he was at the pinnacle of his career.

Then Pearson got a divine revelation, as he tells it. Watching a news report one night in the spring of 1996, he was getting worked up about the genocide in Rwanda. His assumption was that the victims were bound for hell, persecuted yet unsaved. Feeling angry at God, and guilty that he himself wasn’t doing anything about it, he recalls, he fell into a sort of reproachful prayer: “God, I don’t know how you can sit on your throne there in heaven and let those poor people drop to the ground hungry, heartbroken, and lost, and just randomly suck them into hell.”

He heard God answer, “We’re not sucking those dear people into hell. Can’t you see they’re already there—in the hell you have created for them and continue to create for yourselves and others all over the planet? We redeemed and reconciled all of humanity at Calvary.”

Everything Pearson thought he knew was true started unraveling, as he began to realize: The whole world is already saved, whether they know it or not—not just professed Christians in good standing, but Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, Hindus, atheists, gay people. There is no hell after you die. And he didn’t have the good sense to keep it to himself.

For the past decade, Pearson has led his followers on one rough ride. Branded a heretic in a formal tribunal by the Joint College of African American Pentecostal Bishops in 2004, he has lost almost everything: thousands of members; his close-knit staff; his building; use of his church’s name; rights to sermons, books, audio, and video; and lots of money. Worse than all that, he says, the venom he has felt from conservative Christians has been “much deeper, much more adamant, and more ferocious” than any racism he ever encountered.

This past year he and his remaining “wilderness wanderers,” as he calls them, have arrived at a place that feels like home: All Souls Unitarian Church. But the ride isn’t over yet.

[I edited a paragraph from American Creation that amounted to a statement of my personal theology; see my blogs for the missing paragraph.]

That dilemma as regards both the Trinity AND eternal damnation was present during the American Founding. And some Christian-unitarian-universalists (like Adams and Jefferson) indeed recognized they were just going to go with what their reason determined on these two issues, even if it conflicted with the Bible. If it did, they reasoned, the Bible's text must be corrupted and hence errant. So throw it out. Snip snip with your razor.

Yet others were insistent that the text of the Bible itself, properly understood vindicated both unitarianism and/or universalism. These include men like the trinitarian-universalists Benjamin Rush, John Murray, and Elhanan Winchester and unitarian-universalists like Charles Chauncy and perhaps other patriotic preachers like Jonathan Mayhew and Samuel Cooper.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Just an Update


As you know, we recently suffered some problems with spam comments, which caused us to resort to moderating all comments (our blog was even threatened with deletion over this mess). However, I am happy to announce that we have REMOVED the comment moderation option and have restored comments to their default setting. We have recently expanded the "Blog Administrator" powers to several of our regular contributors, which will hopefully provide more able hands to the task of deleting the spam. It just became too much for one person to do.

Hopefully the problem is fixed! Sorry if this caused any problems.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

A Taste of What I've Been Working On

I've been busying co-authoring an article for a public policy think tank. I'll give you the details once the article is published. It's going to be a policy article on why America was not founded to be a "Christian Nation," at least as not conventionally understood. I am acting as the plotter/researcher. My co-author will be the scripter and the one who puts the footnotes in their proper place.

Here is a taste of my plot line so far:

On Providence cite:

1) Hamilton's The Farmer Refuted

Good and wise men, in all ages, have...supposed, that the deity, from the relations, we stand in, to himself and to each other, has constituted an eternal and immutable law, which is, indispensibly, obligatory upon all mankind, prior to any human institution whatever.


[T]he supreme being gave existence to man, together with the means of preserving and beatifying that existence. He endowed him with rational faculties, by the help of which, to discern and pursue such things, as were consistent with his duty and interest, and invested him with an inviolable right to personal liberty, and personal safety.


The sacred rights of mankind are not to be rummaged for, among old parchments, or musty records. They are written, as with a sun beam, in the whole volume of human nature, by the hand of the divinity itself; and can never be erased or obscured by mortal power.

2) On morality being the central purpose of religion cite Ben Franklin's “Dialogue between Two Presbyterians,” April 10, 1735.

"Morality or Virtue is the End, Faith only a Means to obtain that End: And if the End be obtained, it is no matter by what Means."

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

Perhaps Jefferson:

Every religion consists of moral precepts, and of dogmas. In the first they all agree. All forbid us to murder, steal, plunder, bear false witness &ca. and these are the articles necessary for the preservation of order, justice, and happiness in society. In their particular dogmas all differ; no two professing the same....Among the Mahometans we are told that thousands fell victims to the dispute whether the first or second toe of Mahomet was longest; and what blood, how many human lives have the words ‘this do in remembrance of me’ cost the Christian world!…We see good men in all religions, and as many in one as another. It is then a matter of principle with me to avoid disturbing the tranquility of others by the expression of any opinion on the [unimportant points] innocent questions on which we schismatize, and think it enough to hold fast to those moral precepts which are of the essence of Christianity, and of all other religions.

–- Thomas Jefferson to James Fishback, Sept. 27, 1809

And maybe Washington's Farewell Address:

…Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, Religion and morality are indispensable supports....Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect that National morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle.

3) On the Founders' ecumenicism (all religions leading to the same God). Four good ones from John Adams.

It has pleased the Providence of the first Cause, the Universal Cause, that Abraham should give religion not only to Hebrews but to Christians and Mahomitans, the greatest part of the modern civilized world.

–- John Adams to M.M. Noah, July 31, 1818.

Where is to be found Theology more orthodox or Phylosophy more profound than in the Introduction to the Shast[r]a [a Hindu Treatise]? “God is one, creator of all, Universal Sphere, without beginning, without End. God Governs all the Creation by a General Providence, resulting from his eternal designs. — Search not the Essence and the nature of the Eternal, who is one; Your research will be vain and presumptuous. It is enough that, day by day, and night by night, You adore his Power, his Wisdom and his Goodness, in his Works.”

–- John Adams to Thomas Jefferson, December 25, 1813.

θεμις was the goddess of honesty, justice, decency, and right; the wife of Jove, another name for Juno. She presided over all oracles, deliberations, and councils. She commanded all mortals to pray to Jupiter for all lawful benefits and blessings. Now, is not this (so far forth) the essence of Christian devotion?

-- John Adams to Thomas Jefferson, October 4, 1813.

I believe with Justin Martyr, that all good men are Christians, and I believe there have been, and are, good men in all nations, sincere and conscientious.

-– To Samuel Miller, July 8, 1820.

One from Franklin:

Both house and ground were vested in trustees, expressly for the use of any preacher of any religious persuasion who might desire to say something to the people at Philadelphia; the design in building not being to accommodate any particular sect, but the inhabitants in general; so that even if the Mufti of Constantinople were to send a missionary to preach Mohammedanism to us, he would find a pulpit at his service.

That was taken from his autobiography.

You should also mention that as Presidents, when Washington, Jefferson and Madison spoke to unconverted Native Americans they addressed God as "the Great Spirit," exactly as the Natives did.

This is even further removed from orthodox Christianity than praying to "Allah" because at least Allah claims to be the God of Abraham, while the Great Spirit makes no such claim.

See GW, TALK TO THE CHEROKEE NATION, City of Philadelphia, August 29, 1796;


See TJ, Address to Indian Nations, 1802.

See JM, "To My Red Children," August 1812.

4) Jesus as not God.


The Trinity was carried in a general council by one vote against a quaternity; the Virgin Mary lost an equality with the Father, Son, and Spirit only by a single suffrage.

-- John Adams to Benjamin Rush, June 12, 1812.

An incarnate God!!! An eternal, self-existent, omnipresent omniscient Author of this stupendous Universe, suffering on a Cross!!! My Soul starts with horror, at the Idea, and it has stupified the Christian World. It has been the Source of almost all of the Corruptions of Christianity.

-- John Adams to John Quincy Adams, March 28, 1816.

If I understand the Doctrine, it is, that if God the first second or third or all three together are united with or in a Man, the whole Animal becomes a God and his Mother is the Mother of God.

It grieves me: it shocks me to write in this stile upon a subject the most adorable that any finite Intelligence can contemplate or embrace: but if ever Mankind are to be superior to the Brutes, sacerdotal Impostures must be exposed.

-- John Adams to Francis van der Kemp, October 23, 1816.


No historical fact is better established, than that the doctrine of one God, pure and uncompounded, was that of the early ages of Christianity; and was among the efficacious doctrines which gave it triumph over the polytheism of the ancients, sickened with the absurdities of their own theology. Nor was the unity of the Supreme Being ousted from the Christian creed by the force of reason, but by the sword of civil government, wielded at the will of the fanatic Athanasius. The hocus-pocus phantasm of a God like another Cerberus, with one body and three heads, had its birth and growth in the blood of thousands and thousands of martyrs....In fact, the Athanasian paradox that one is three, and three but one, is so incomprehensible to the human mind, that no candid man can say he has any idea of it, and how can he believe what presents no idea? He who thinks he does, only deceives himself. He proves, also, that man, once surrendering his reason, has no remaining guard against absurdities the most monstrous, and like a ship without a rudder, is the sport of every wind. With such persons, gullibility which they call faith, takes the helm from the hand of reason, and the mind becomes a wreck.

-- Thomas Jefferson to Rev. James Smith, December 8, 1822.

For Franklin, cite his milder unitarianism that tolerated the Trinity as a harmless irrationality.

As to Jesus of Nazareth, my Opinion of whom you particularly desire, I think the System of Morals and his Religion as he left them to us, the best the World ever saw, or is likely to see; but I apprehend it has received various corrupting Changes, and I have with most of the present Dissenters in England, some Doubts as to his Divinity: tho' it is a Question I do not dogmatise upon, having never studied it, and think it needless to busy myself with it now, when I expect soon an Opportunity of knowing the Truth with less Trouble. I see no harm however in its being believed, if that Belief has the good Consequence as probably it has, of making his Doctrines more respected and better observed, especially as I do not perceive that the Supreme takes it amiss, by distinguishing the Believers, in his Government of the World, with any particular Marks of his Displeasure.

-- Ben Franklin to Ezra Stiles, March 9, 1790.

I think we have enough with this; we could note Washington's and Madison's silence on orthodox doctrines. We could quote Washington's minister on how he wasn't a "real Christian" because he systematically avoided communion (suggesting he disbelieved in the atonement). We could also quote George Ticknor (founder of the Boston public library) testifying that James Madison was a closet unitarian. It may be too much.

Adams and Jefferson kept their anti-Trinitarian secret; the point we should drive home is not so much the FFs' political theology was "anti-Trinitarian," given many Trinitarian FFs and in the populace. But rather there was no way in Hell these unitarians in high positions of power were going to let Trinitarianism infect their national Founding politics.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Patrick Henry vs. Sectarianism

Patrick Henry was among the most orthodox of Christians, and it took his retirement from public affairs for the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom to win passage after a number of previous attempts.

But lest we view Henry as a completely dogmatic cementhead, even he saw the problem with an oppressive state-established church, as we see here during the period when the Anglican church was the established church of Virginia, via Southern Appeal blog:

[Henry] once entered a courtroom where three Baptist preachers were being tried for preaching the gospel without approval of the Episcopalian church in Virginia. In the midst of the proceedings he interrupted with: “May it please your lordships, what did I hear read? Did I hear an expression that these men, whom you worships are about to try for misdemeanors, are charged with preaching the gospel of the Son of God?”

[The charges against the preachers were dismissed.]

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Religion Left to the States?

Or Were the State Constitutions
Hated by the Founding Fathers?

Tom Van Dyke, my very worthy blog brother, recently posted a list of several preambles of various state constitutions, in an effort to prove his theory that religion was intended to be left to the states. Mr. Van Dyke is far from alone in his conclusions. Several notable scholars have also come to the same conclusion. And while there are some good arguments to back such a conclusion, I remain somewhat undecided on this issue. It's not that Mr. Van Dyke presents a weak case...quite the contrary. I believe that this particular point is the single most provocative and legitimate issue that could possibly be used by the "Christian Nation" crowd.

Now, it is not my intention to dispute Tom's conclusions in this post. As I mentioned above I remain somewhat undecided on this particular issue. Instead, I want to simply site what I see to be a strong counter-argument to the "religion was the domain of the states" argument. In his book, Unruly Americans, historian Woody Holton's central thesis is that the federal constitution was created primarily out of a disdain for the state constitutions -- which were seen as being "too democratic" and "too misrepresenting" for a legitimate republic to function. Holton writes:

The textbooks and the popular histories give surprisingly short shrift to the Framers' motivations. What almost all of them do say is that harsh experience had exposed the previous government, under the Articles of Confederation, as too weak. What makes this emphasis strange is that the Framers' own statements reveal another, more pressing motive. Early in the Constitutional Convention, James Madison urged his colleagues to tackle "the evils...which prevail within the States individually as well as those which accrued to our national character and interest from the inadequacy of the Confederation."

Madison, preoccupation with what he later called "the internal administration of the States" was by no means unique. On the eve of the convention, expressions of concern about the weakness of Congress, numerous as they were, was vastly outnumbered by the complaints against the state governments. "What led to the appointment of this Convention?" Maryland Governor John Francis Mercer asked his colleagues. Was is not "the corruption & mutability of the Legislative Councils of the States?"

Once the Constitution had been sent out to the thirteen states for ratification, its supporters affirmed that some of the most lethal diseases it was designed to cure were to be found within those same states. William Plumer of New Hampshire embraced the new national government out of a conviction that "our rights & property are now the sport of ignorant and unprincipled legislatures." In the last of the Federalist Papers, Alexander Hamilton praised the Constitution for placing salutary "restraints" on the "ambition of powerful individuals in single states."

What was wrong with the state assemblies? Given the modern perception that the Founding Fathers had devoted their lives to the principle of government by the people, it is jarring to read their specific grievances. An essay appearing in a Connecticut newspaper in September 1786 complained that the state's representatives paid "too great an attention to popular notions." At least one of those Connecticut assemblymen thoroughly agreed. In May 1787, just as the federal convention assembled, he observed that even the southern states, which under British rule had been aristocratic bastions, had "run into the extremes of democracy" since declaring independence.
Simply put, if Holston's thesis is correct it means that state Constitutions became of little consequence, since they were esteemed to be a threat to effective Republican government. Having a Christian text or invocation of God would be nothing more than just that...text. Now, I still remain unconvinced that the Founders' sole purpose for establishing a new Constitution was to eradicate the evils of state power. In addition, the Founders did compromise some power in the federal constitution to the states (not originally but later in the Bill of Rights). So clearly not everyone had such a powerful disdain for state power.


Was John Adams a Conspiracy Nut?

John Adams considered himself a "Christian," believed in an active God, denied virtually every tenet of Trinitarian orthodoxy, yet still believed the Christian religion was a "revelation" (i.e., God speaking to man). Yet, he denied the infallibility of the Bible and thought it had been corrupted.

When giving his reasons for why he believed the Bible was an errant, corrupted text, Adams goes off on a conspiracy tangent. As he wrote to Jefferson July 9, 1813:

No sooner has one party discovered or invented any amelioration of the condition of man, or the order of society than the opposite party belies it, misconstrues it, misrepresents it, ridicules it, insults it, and persecutes it. Records are destroyed. Histories are annihilated or interpolated or prohibited; sometimes by Popes, sometimes by Emperors, sometimes by aristocratical, and sometimes by democratical assemblies, and sometimes by mobs.

Aristotle wrote the history and description of eighteen hundred republics which existed before his time. Cicero wrote two volumes of discourses on government, which, perhaps, were worth all the rest of his works. The works of Livy and Tacitus, &c., that are lost, would be more interesting than all that remain. Fifty gospels have been destroyed. Where are St. Luke’s world of books that were written?

If you ask my opinion, who has committed all the havoc? I will answer you candidly. Ecclesiastical and imperial despotisms have done it to conceal their frauds.

Why are the histories of all nations, more ancient than the Christian era, lost? Who destroyed the Alexandrian library? I believe that Christian priests, Jewish rabbis, Grecian sages, and Roman emperors, had as great a hand in it as Turks and Mahometans. Democrats, rebels, and Jacobins, when they possess a momentary power, have shown a disposition both to destroy and to forge records, as Vandatical as priests and despots. Such has been and such is the world we live in.

And the following is from an interesting letter to F.A. Vanderkemp Dec. 27, 1816:

Jesus is benevolence personified, an example for all men. Dupuis has made no alteration in my opinions of the Christian religion, in its primitive purity and simplicity, which I have entertained for more than sixty years. It is the religion of reason, equity, and love; it is the religion of the head and of the heart.


Christianity, you will say, was a fresh revelation. I will not deny this. As I understand the Christian religion, it was, and is, a revelation. But how has it happened that millions of fables, tales, legends, have been blended with both Jewish and Christian revelation that have made them the most bloody religion that ever existed? How has it happened that all the fine arts, architecture, painting, sculpture, statuary, music, poetry, and oratory, have been prostituted, from the creation of the world, to the sordid and detestable purposes of superstition and fraud?

The eighteenth century had the honor to discover that Ocellus of Lucania, Timæus of Locris, Aristotle, Tacitus, Quintilian, and Pliny, were in the right. The philosophy of Frederic, Catharine, Buffon, De la Lande, Diderot, d’Alembert, Condorcet, d’Holbach, and Dupuis, appears to me to be no more nor less than the philosophy of those ancient men of science and letters, whose speculations came principally from India, Egypt, Chaldea, and Phœnicia. A consolatory discovery, to be sure! Let it once be revealed or demonstrated that there is no future state, and my advice to every man, woman, and child would be, as our existence would be in our own power, to take opium. For, I am certain, there is nothing in this world worth living for but hope, and every hope will fail us, if the last hope, that of a future state, is extinguished.

You should read the entirety of both letters for more context. I excerpted what I thought was important to get Adams' view of "Christianity."

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

In Answer to the "Godless Constitution" Thesis

That's because religion was left to the states.

Alabama, 1901: "We, the people of the State of Alabama, in order to establish justice, insure tranquility, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, invoking the favor and guidance of Almighty God, do ordain and establish the following Constitution."

Alaska, 1956: "We, the people of Alaska, grateful to God and to those who founded our nation and pioneered this great land, in order to secure and transmit to succeeding generations our heritage of political, civil, and religious liberty within the Union of States, do ordain and establish this constitution for the State of Alaska."

Arizona, 1911: "We the people of the State of Arizona, grateful to Almighty God for our liberties, do ordain this Constitution."

Arkansas, 1874: "We the people of the State of Arkansas, grateful to Almighty God for the privilege of choosing our own form of government; for our civil and religious liberty; and desiring to perpetuate its blessings; and secure the same to our selves and posterity; do ordain and establish this Constitution."

California, 1879: "We, the People of the State of California, grateful to Almighty God for our freedom, in order to secure and perpetuate its blessings, do establish this Constitution."

Colorado, 1876: "We, the people of Colorado, with profound reverence for the Supreme Ruler of the Universe, in order to form a more independent and perfect government; establish justice, insure tranquility; provide for the common defense; promote the general welfare and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for 'the State of Colorado.'"

Connecticut, 1818: "The People of Connecticut, acknowledging with gratitude the good Providence of God in permitting them to enjoy the blessings of liberty, free government, do, in order more effectually to define, secure, and perpetuate the liberties, rights, and privileges which they have derived from their ancestors, hereby, after a careful consideration and revision, ordain and establish the following constitution and form of civil government."

Delaware, 1897: "Through Divine Goodness all men have, by nature, the rights of worshiping and serving their Creator according to the dictates of their consciences."

Florida, 1885: "We, the people of the state of Florida, grateful to Almighty God for our constitutional liberty, establish this Constitution..."

Georgia, 1777: "We the people of Georgia, relying upon the protection and guidance of Almighty God, do ordain and establish this Constitution."

Hawaii, 1949: "We, the people of Hawaii, grateful for Divine Guidance, and mindful of our Hawaiian heritage and uniqueness as an island state, dedicate our efforts to fulfill the philosophy decreed by our state motto: 'Ua mau ke ea o ka aina i ka pono.'"

Idaho, 1890: "We, the people of the State of Idaho, grateful to Almighty God for our freedom, to secure its blessings and promote our common welfare, do establish this Constitution"

Illinois, 1870: "We the people of the State of Illinois, grateful to Almighty God for the civil, political and religious liberty which he hath so long permitted us to enjoy and looking to Him for a blessing on our endeavors... do ordain and establish this Constitution for the State of Illinois."

Indiana, 1851: "WE, the people of the State of Indiana, grateful to ALMIGHTY GOD for the free exercise of the right to choose our form of government, do ordain this constitution."

Iowa, 1857: "We the People of the State of Iowa, grateful to the Supreme Being for the blessings hitherto enjoyed, and feeling our dependence on Him for a continuation of these blessings establish this Constitution."

Kansas, 1859: "We, the people of Kansas, grateful to Almighty God for our civil and religious privileges establish this Constitution."

Kentucky, 1891: "We, the people of the Commonwealth, grateful to Almighty God for the civil, political, and religious liberties we enjoy, and invoking the continuance of these blessings, do ordain and establish this Constitution."

Louisiana, 1921: "We, the people of the State of Louisiana, grateful to Almighty God for the civil, political, and religious liberties we enjoy, and desiring to protect individual rights to life, liberty, and property... do ordain and establish this constitution."

Maine, 1820: "We the People of Maine acknowledging with grateful hearts the goodness of the Sovereign Ruler of the Universe in affording us an opportunity, so favorable to the design; and, imploring God's aid and direction in its accomplishment, do agree to form ourselves into a free and independent State..."

Maryland, 1867: "We the people of the State of Maryland, grateful to Almighty God for our civil and religious liberty, and taking into our serious consideration the best means of establishing a good Constitution in this State for the sure foundation and more permanent security thereof, declare..."

Massachusetts, 1780: "We, therefore, the people of Massachusetts, acknowledging, with grateful hearts, the goodness of the great Legislator of the universe, in affording us, in the course of His providence, an opportunity, deliberately and peaceably, without fraud, violence or surprise, of entering into an original, explicit, and solemn compact with each other; and of forming a new constitution of civil government, for ourselves and posterity; and devoutly imploring His direction in so interesting a design, do agree upon, ordain and establish the following Declaration of Rights, and Frame of Government, as the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts."

Michigan, 1963: "We, the people of the State of Michigan, grateful to Almighty God for the blessings of freedom, and earnestly desiring to secure these blessings undiminished to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this constitution."

Minnesota, 1857: "We, the people of the State of Minnesota, grateful to God for our civil and religious liberty, and desiring to perpetuate its blessings and secure the same to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution."

Mississippi, 1890: "We, the people of Mississippi in convention assembled, grateful to Almighty God, and invoking His blessing on our work, do ordain and establish this Constitution."

Missouri, 1875: "We, the people of Missouri, with profound reverence for the Supreme Ruler of the Universe, and grateful for His goodness, do establish this Constitution for the better government of the State."

Montana, 1889: "We the people of Montana, grateful to Almighty God for the blessings of liberty, in order to secure the advantages of a State government, do, in accordance with the provisions of the Enabling Act of Congress, approved the twenty-second of February A.D. 1889, ordain and establish this constitution."

Nebraska, 1875: "We, the people, grateful to Almighty God for our freedom, do ordain and establish the following declaration of rights and frame of government, as the Constitution of the State of Nebraska."

Nevada, 1864: "We the people of the State of Nevada Grateful to Almighty God for our freedom in order to secure its blessings, insure domestic tranquility, and form a more perfect Government, do establish this Constitution."

New Jersey, 1844: "We, the people of the State of New Jersey, grateful to Almighty God for the civil and religious liberty which He hath so permitted us to enjoy, and looking to Him for a blessing upon our endeavors to secure and transmit the same unimpaired to succeeding generations, do ordain and establish this constitution."

New Mexico, 1911: "We, the people of New Mexico, grateful to Almighty God for the blessings of liberty, in order to secure the advantages of a state government, do ordain and establish this Constitution."

New York, 1846: "WE, THE PEOPLE of the State of New York, grateful to Almighty God for our freedom, in order to secure its blessings, DO ESTABLISH THIS CONSTITUTION."

North Carolina, 1868: "We, the people of the State of North Carolina, grateful to Almighty God, the Sovereign Ruler of Nations, for the preservation of the American Union and the existence of our civil, political and religious liberties, and acknowledging our dependence upon Him for the continuance of those blessings to us and our posterity, do, for the more certain security thereof and for the better government of this State, ordain and establish this Constitution."

North Dakota, 1889: "We, the people of North Dakota, grateful to Almighty God for the blessings of civil and religious liberty, do ordain and establish this constitution."

Ohio, 1851: "We, the people of the State of Ohio, grateful to Almighty God for our freedom, to secure its blessings and promote our common welfare, do establish this Constitution."

Oklahoma, 1907: "Invoking the guidance of Almighty God, in order to secure and perpetuate the blessing of liberty; to secure just and rightful government; to promote our mutual welfare and happiness, we, the people of the State of Oklahoma, do ordain and establish this Constitution."

Oregon: Religious language is not found in the preamble, but Article I, Section 2 of the State Bill of Rights asserts that "All men shall be secure in the Natural right, to worship Almighty God according to the dictates of their own consciences."

Pennsylvania, 1874: "WE, the people of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, grateful to Almighty God for the blessings of civil and religious liberty, and humbly invoking His guidance, do ordain and establish this Constitution."

Rhode Island, 1843: "We, the people of the State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, grateful to Almighty God for the civil and religious liberty which He hath so long permitted us to enjoy, and looking to Him for a blessing upon our endeavors to secure and to transmit the same unimpaired to succeeding generations, do ordain and establish this Constitution of government."

South Carolina,1895: "We, the people of the State of South Carolina, in Convention assembled, grateful to God for our liberties, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the preservation and perpetuation of the same."

South Dakota, 1889: "We, the people of South Dakota, grateful to Almighty God for our civil and religious liberties, in order to form a more perfect and independent government, establish justice, insure tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and preserve to ourselves and to our posterity the blessings of liberty, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the State of South Dakota."

Tennessee, Section 3, 1870: "All men have a natural and indefeasible right to worship Almighty God according to the dictates of their own conscience."

Texas, 1845: "We, the people of the republic of Texas, acknowledging with gratitude the grace and beneficence of God, in permitting us to make a choice of our form of government, do, in accordance with the provisions of the joint resolution for annexing Texas to the United States, approved March first, one thousand eight hundred and forty-five, ordain and establish this constitution."

Utah: "Grateful to Almighty God for life and liberty, we, the people of Utah, in order to secure and perpetuate the principles of free government, do ordain and establish this CONSTITUTION."

Vermont, 1777: "Whereas, all government ought to be instituted and supported for the security and protection of the community as such and to enable the individuals who compose it, to enjoy their natural rights, and the other blessings which the Author of existence has bestowed upon man; and whenever those great ends of government are not obtained, the people have a right, by common consent, to change it, and take such measures as to them may appear necessary to promote their safety and happiness."

Virginia, Section 16, 1776: "That religion, or the duty which we owe to our Creator, and the manner of discharging it, can be directed only by reason and conviction, not by force or violence; and therefore all men are equally entitled to the free exercise of religion, according to the dictates of conscience; and that it is the mutual duty of all to practice Christian forbearance, love, and charity towards each other."

Washington, 1889: "We the People of the State of Washington, grateful to the Supreme Ruler of the Universe for our liberties, do ordain this Constitution."

West Virginia, 1862: "Since through Divine Providence we enjoy the blessings of civil, political and religious liberty, we, the people of West Virginia, in and through the provisions of this Constitution, reaffirm our faith in and constant reliance upon God and seek diligently to promote, preserve and perpetuate good government in the state of West Virginia for the common welfare, freedom and security of ourselves and our posterity."

Wisconsin, 1848: "We, the people of Wisconsin, grateful to Almighty God for our freedom, in order to secure its blessings, form a more perfect government, insure domestic tranquility and promote the general welfare, do establish this constitution."

Wyoming, 1890: "We, the people of the State of Wyoming, grateful to God for our civil, political and religious liberties, and desiring to secure them to ourselves and perpetuate them to our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution."

Via Michael Novak and Ashley Elizabeth Morrow

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Jefferson's "Tree of Liberty" Quote in Context

Over the past few weeks we have witness how the debate over healthcare has ignited the fires of political partisanship on both sides of the conservative/liberal spectrum. Whether taking the form of intense town hall meetings or fervent public protests -- in which some even chose to carry automatic weapons in public -- the debate over healthcare has caused scores of Americans to yet again invoke the founding principles of America to support their respective take on the issue.

In the wake of this public discourse one infamous and stirring quote has made its way onto the public stage: enter none other than Thomas Jefferson.

In 1787, Thomas Jefferson -- who was then living in France -- wrote a letter to his friend William Smith. In the letter Jefferson wrote the following words, which have, from time-to-time, been quoted to affirm the right of the people to rebel against one's government:

The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots & tyrants. It is it's natural manure.
Simple enough, right? Well, not quite. And while Jefferson's "tree of liberty" quote has become a favorite of many who oppose the current direction being taken by the Obama Administration, the quote has an important and often forgotten context.

As mentioned before, Jefferson was still living and working in France in 1787. At the time, Jefferson was deeply concerned about some of the proposals for the new United States Constitution -- particularly the role of the executive branch, which he saw as being far too powerful. In addition, Jefferson believed that the recent rebellion in Massachusetts -- which became known as Shays' Rebellion -- had heightened the fears of the American elite, causing them to throw their weight behind a stronger executive government. Shays' Rebellion was essentially an armed rebellion against taxes being levied at Massachusetts farmers. It's leader, Daniel Shays -- who had served as a soldier during the American Revolution -- used the legacy of the American Revolution to garner support for his cause. As a result, scores of patriotic Massachusetts men, most of whom were farmers themselves, resurrected the legacy of the "liberty tree" to fight the perceived injustices of the newly created government. As a result, America's governing class -- and yes, it was a class -- believed that a strong centralized government was the only surefire way to ensure America's future security.

For Jefferson, this was a textbook example of how passions could cloud judgement, creating an atmosphere of panic and fear. As Jefferson states in his letter to William Smith:

Yet where does this anarchy exist? Where did it ever exist, except in the single instance of Massachusetts? And can history produce an instance of rebellion so honourably conducted? I say nothing of it's motives. They were founded in ignorance, not wickedness. God forbid we should ever be 20 years without such a rebellion. The people cannot be all, & always, well informed. The part which is wrong will be discontented in proportion to the importance of the facts they misconceive. If they remain quiet under such misconceptions it is a lethargy, the forerunner of death to the public liberty. We have had 13. states independent 11. years. There has been one rebellion. That comes to one rebellion in a century & a half for each state. What country before ever existed a century & half without a rebellion? & what country can preserve it's liberties if their rulers are not warned from time to time that their people preserve the spirit of resistance? Let them take arms
Simply put, Jefferson understood Shays' Rebellion to be a common and important component of republican government. Without it, the people could not be effectively represented and the communal "lethargy" would eventually destroy the nation. On the flip side, however, Jefferson also notes that the people are rarely if ever well informed on all issues. It is this communal ignorance -- Jefferson emphasises ignorance and not wickedness -- that Jefferson believes the government must endeavor to remedy. He continues:

The remedy is to set them right as to facts, pardon & pacify them.
The remedy is not suppression or rejection of public discontent, rather persuasion and public discourse.

So would Jefferson support the current public dialogue on healthcare? There's a good chance that he would. We can debate whether or not he would like the current rhetoric of the conservatives/liberals but I think it's hard to deny that Jefferson would be pleased to see the outpouring of public interest.

With that said, I doubt Jefferson would support actual blood being shed on the proverbial "Tree of Liberty." After all, enough blood has been lost thanks in part to this often misunderstood quote. It was Timothy McVeigh, the convicted Oklahoma City bomber, who was so very misguided by his poor understanding of Jefferson's words. On the day he chose to murder 168 of his fellow Americans, McVeigh was wearing a shirt that carried Jefferson's infamous words:

The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots & tyrants. It is it's natural manure.
May we ALWAYS remember to be cautious with the history we fail to understand!

We Interrupt This Program...

To all our faithful readers and commentators:

Due to a sudden influx of "spam" comments I have been forced to implement Blogger's COMMENT MODERATION service. As a result, your comments will not be immediately posted on their respective posts. I am sorry for the terrible inconvenience. Please know that this decision was made due to the spam comments and is NOT directed at anyone in particular. I will do all that I can to ensure that your comments are posted in as timely a manner as possible.

New Book Details Noll, Marsden, Schaeffer Correspondence

Francis Schaeffer and the Shaping of Evangelical America, By Barry Hankins is looking like a must read for scholars interested in the "Christian Nation" debate.

John Fea's website pointed me to this, a series of letters where Francis Schaeffer argued the Christian Nation thesis with Mark Noll and George Marsden. From Fea:

Second, Schaeffer was a leading force behind the emergence of the Christian Right in the late 1970s and early 1980s and was influential in promoting the idea that America was founded as a Christian nation.

It is on this latter point that Hankins really shines. His chapter on this subject is worth the price of the book. Hankins had access to a series of letters written between Mark Noll, George Marsden, and Francis Schaeffer on the topic of whether or not America was a Christian nation. Schaeffer chided Marsden and Noll for showing too much respect for secular scholarship and Marsden and Noll tried to convince Schaeffer that his view of the founding was utterly wrong. These letters provide the context for Marsden and Noll's book (with Nathan Hatch) The Search for Christian America.
You can preview this section of Hankins' book on Googlebooks.

This correspondence took place mainly in 1982. It's interesting, without knowing the content of the correspondence, I've already concluded some of the same points as Noll and Marsden. I've nailed the late Schaeffer numerous times on his, on the one hand, support for the "Christian Nation" thesis, and on the other, his dismissal of Aristotelian-Aquinas thought as authentically "Christian." Read page 217 if googlebooks lets you. The political theology of the American Founding typified "Nature" substituting for "Grace," something Schaeffer railed against and Noll and Marsden let Schaeffer know it.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Personal Note

Though I had previously never met the man, fellow AC contributor TVD and I are from sister townships in Bucks County, PA. I still live there; he doesn't. But when he recently visited we went out for drinks (emphasis on the plural) at a cool Levittown, PA bar.

We had lots of fun (and probably would have had lots more fun were it not for the fact that I had to drive home).

All I can say about the man is that hanging out with him, on the surface, he doesn't come across as the Burkean conservative that he is (he actually comes across as the guy in that picture with the oversized sunglasses)...that is, until he opens his mouth and starts philosophizing. Then what you read is what you get.

Sorry no pictures. That's something we forgot. Maybe next time.

And from my (and probably his) end, the out for drinks invitation is there for any AC contributors who come to Bucks County (TVD lives in LA most of the year). We have a number of Mormon contributors at AC and we will INSIST (or at least strongly encourage) you to break that tenet of your creed if you run into us.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Thomas Paine's Surprising Influence on Ronald Reagan

I am just finishing up John Patrick Duggin's book on President Ronald Reagan. Duggin brings up an interesting point that I hadn't realized, namely that Reagan was strongly influenced in his views by Thomas Paine. Paine is the one founding father that Reagan quoted the most, and much of Paine's ideology -- individual liberty, a suspicion of large institutions, hostility to taxation and government regulation, etc. -- is evident in Reagan's general approach to conservatism.

One particularly interesting point that Duggin makes is the Reagan's brand of conservatism was remarkably untraditional in its rhetoric. In several different contexts, Reagan quoted Paine's stirring line, "We have the power to begin the world anew" -- a very untraditional sentiment. Reagan embraced Paine's idea that human beings can liberate themselves from corrupt and oppressive structures in order to create a new order of liberty and individualism. While Reagan appealed to voters of a more traditionalist perspective, he was no disciple of Russell Kirk and even less a disciple of Edmund Burke. Behind Reagan's conservativism was a streak of radicalism that is underappreciated both by many current conservatives who tend to be overly hagiographic when speaking of the former president, and many modern progressives who ignorantly demonize him.

It is a fascinating twist of history that the most radical founding father -- Thomas Paine -- serves as a primary philosophical influence on the most successful conservative president of the 20th century. Any attempt to understand Ronald Reagan must take into account the influence of Thomas Paine on his work. And any attempt to appreciate Thomas Paine's influence on America must look to the impact his work had on the ideas, rhetoric and program of President Reagan.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Cramer on "Christian Nation" and Its Implications for Social Policy

In an article for Pajamas Media, Clayton Cramer argues how the idea that America is a "Christian Nation" has policy implications. In particular, he examines how a "Christian Nation" might deal with welfare.

A taste:

Social conservatives argue that this is a Christian nation and that it is both appropriate and reasonable for the Christian majority to make laws that reflect its moral code. As social conservatives became more successful in gaining office and influence a few years back, liberals began to argue that if this was a Christian nation, didn’t Jesus call us to help the downtrodden and suffering?

Who’s right? They both are, but it seems that many liberals and social conservatives are missing some important history....

William Blackstone’s Commentaries on the Laws of England, the most popular law book in the American colonies when the Revolution started, listed the rights that every Englishman enjoyed because they were a gift from God — including the right to life. And this even applied to “an infant, even before his birth.” This included not simply protection from criminal attack, but also:

The law … furnishes him with every thing necessary for their support. For there is no man so indigent or wretched, but he may demand a supply sufficient for all the necessities of life, from the more opulent part of the community, by means of the several statutes enacted for the relief of the poor.


Libertarians who want the government to not be in the business of caring for the poor are free to promote their beautiful theories all they want. But I would prefer if they emphasized that their position is not necessarily a conservative position. In spite of the best efforts of the ACLU, this is still predominantly a Christian nation. Yes, there are lazy people who take advantage of the welfare state (although it isn’t as easy as it used to be, since the 1995 reforms). But there are an awful lot of people who are dependent on the government because they have no choice in the matter. There are a fair number of single mothers out there trying to raise kids on their own because the father ran off, is sitting in prison, or is otherwise not being responsible.

And yes, some of these single mothers made really bad choices that put them in these situations. This is why whatever system we come up with to help those in need must not incentivize bad behavior. Inevitably, we need a system that has enough discretion to punish destructive behavior and reward improvements in behavior....

Over at my other blogs I put Mr. Cramer's thoughts into some "libertarian" perspective. Since that is not the call of American Creation, I will direct you there if you want to read the rest.

Friday, August 14, 2009

The "Lost Tribes" in the "New World"

The indigenous tribes of the "New World" have been a source of fascination not only for modern scholars, but for early American colonists as well. For hundreds of years, historians, anthropologists, archaeologists, and clergymen have argued over the origins of the diverse Native American tribes that once encompassed the entire face of North and South America. Even in our modern society, scholars of all types continue to argue over the origins of these indigenous tribes of the Americas, despite advances in genetics, cultural anthropology and history.

Perhaps the most provocative of all the theories regarding the origins of Native American tribes is the belief that they are somehow a remnant of the 10 lost tribes of Israel. Even the earliest settlers and explorers of the New World were intrigued by the possibility of encountering a lost branch of the House of Israel in the New World. Christopher Columbus, the man credited with "discovering" the New World, proclaimed that these newly discovered "Indians" were, in fact, of Jewish origins. Columbus even suggested that Spain could, "recruit their bodies and their wealth to assist Europeans in a final crusade to crush Islam and reclaim Jerusalem" (Alan Taylor, American Colonies: The Settlement of North America, 33).

After the American Revolution, this fascination with Native American origins was carried to new heights. Despite the fact that no obvious proof could be found to substantiate the belief that Native Americans were in fact the lost tribes of Israel, scores of religious zealots hoped to uncover concrete proof for such claims. Just before embarking on their continental trek, President Thomas Jefferson wrote a brief letter to Meriwether Lewis and William Clark in which he instructed them to "acuire what knolege you can of the state of morality, religion & information among them [the Indians] as it may better enable those who endeavor to civilize & instruct them." In addition, Jefferson revealed a personal belief with Lewis, in which he expressed his hope that the trek west might provide evidence as to the whereabouts of the lost tribes of Israel (Stephen Ambrose, Undaunted Courage, 154).

In addition to the president, Dr. Benjamin Rush illustrated his hope for the discovery of the lost tribes of Israel when he wrote the following to Lewis and Clark:

At what time do they [the Indians] rise? What about baths? Murder? Suicide? Are any animal sacrifices in their religion? What affinity between their religious Ceremonies & those of the Jews? [my emphasis].
Though the Lewis and Clark expedition never returned with any evidence to support the Native American/lost tribes of Israel claim, the legend remained extremely popular throughout the early part of the 19th century. Ethan Smith, for example, who was not only a pastor to a small church in Vermont but was also a self-proclaimed expert on Jewish history, hoped to prove the Jewish roots of Native Americans by appealing to the Bible. In his 1825 book, View of the Hebrews, Smith endeavored to point out what he saw as similarities between Native American religious custom and that of ancient Judaism. As Smith states:

In all their rites which I have learned of them, there is certainly a most striking similitude to the Mosaic rituals. Their feasts of first fruits; feasts of in gathering; day of atonement; peace offerings; sacrifices. They build an altar of stone before a tent covered with blankets; within the tent they burn tobacco for incense, with fire taken from the altar of burnt offering. All who have seen a dead human body are considered unclean eight days; which time they are excluded from the congregation.
For Smith, this was ample proof of God's biblical prophesy that, "he [God] shall set up an ensign for the nations, and shall assemble the outcasts of Israel, and gather together the dispersed of Judah from the four corners of the earth" (Isaiah 11:12).

In the record of Imanual Howitt, who had traveled extensively throughout the United States in the early part of the 19th century, the Native Americans held a certain intrigue that permeated his writings. Howitt, though not a deeply religious man, had adopted the earlier opinion of William Penn, who believed that the "Indians...developed from the lost tribes of Israel." As a result, Howitt became a passionate advocate for the further study of Indian rituals and customs.

The fervor over the possibility of American Indians being of Jewish descent was only furthered when Barbara Simon published her book, The Ten Tribes of Israel Historically Identified with the Aborigines of the Western Hemisphere in 1836. Aside from quoting a plethora of biblical sources to defend her thesis, Simon also claims that early Mexican paintings found by Spanish conquistadors contain "allusions to the restoration of the dispersed tribes of Israel."

In addition to Simon's work, other books emerged during the early part of the 19th century in support of the Native American/lost tribes of Israel theory. Books like A View of the American Indians by Israel Worsley in 1828, American Antiquities and Discoveries in the West by Josiah Priest in 1835, and the before mentioned View of the Hebrews by Ethan Smith in 1825. All of these works combined to create a spirit of enthusiasm that deeply favored the Native American/lost tribes of Israel connection.

Perhaps the most popular -- and most controversial -- interpretation on the origins of Native Americans comes from Mormon founder and prophet Joseph Smith. During his youth, Smith claimed to have received a revelation from a heavenly messenger, who related to Smith the location of a hidden record of an ancient people:

He said there was a book deposited, written upon gold plates, giving an account of the former inhabitants of this continent, and the source from whence they sprang. He also said that the fullness of the everlasting Gospel was contained in it, as delivered by the Savior to the ancient inhabitants [my emphasis].
This record, which eventually became known to the world as The Book of Mormon was allegedly a scriptural account of God's dealings with a remnant of Jewish descendants who had migrated to America during ancient times. As the Book of Mormon's introduction puts it:

The Book of Mormon is a volume of holy scripture comparable to the Bible. It is a record of God’s dealings with the ancient inhabitants of the Americas and contains, as does the Bible, the fullness of the everlasting gospel.

The book was written by many ancient prophets by the spirit of prophecy and revelation. Their words, written on gold plates, were quoted and abridged by a prophet-historian named Mormon. The record gives an account of two great civilizations. One came from Jerusalem in 600 B.C., and afterward separated into two nations, known as the Nephites and the Lamanites. The other came much earlier when the Lord confounded the tongues at the Tower of Babel. This group is known as the Jaredites. After thousands of years, all were destroyed except the Lamanites, and they are the principal ancestors of the American Indians
[my emphasis].
Regardless of their origins, the role of religion in shaping the perception of early American society was extraordinary. The aura of mystery that shrouded the origins of the various Native American tribes kept early Americans in suspense for centuries -- and still continues to stir debate amongst various communities today. For a people who were primarily defined by Christian doctrine, the "Indians" of the New World became a living exhibit of their biblical doctrine. By clothing these native tribes in the robes of the lost tribes of Israel, Christian zealots found an additional motive for their further conversion to their brand of Christianity.

Christianist, Mormons, and Early Presidents

This is an old post I dug out of the archives of my other blogs. Contributor TVD reminded me of it in a recent comment.

The theological split between Mormons and conservative Christians may give Mitt Romney some problems securing the GOP's nomination. Check out this column by Christianist Frank Pastore. While he notes he could vote for Romney, he also has to include the following caveat:

Though I could vote for Romney, my ballot should not be seen as an endorsement of Mor-monism. Conservative Mormons are among the finest people I've ever met, and they are critical allies in the culture war. I appreciate their contribution to advancing our shared values. Yet as we make common cause, I should not be asked or feel pressured to compromise, weaken, or di-lute my theology. Allies need not obfuscate distinctives. We can unite politically and socially to advance our cause, but we must not blur the lines between our distinct religions.

Just as Christians and Jews, by definition, cannot ignore their differences over the resurrec-tion and the New Testament, so too Christians and Mormons cannot ignore the differences be-tween the Bible and the three books of Mormonism: the Book of Mormon, Doctrines and Cove-nants, and the Pearl of Great Price.

Yet many Mormons in recent years have taken to calling themselves Christians, and a grow-ing number of Christians are willing to speak of Mormonism as something akin to another Chris-tian denomination. But, Mormonism is not a Christian denomination, nor is it merely "a non-Christian religion." To be theologically precise, though perhaps politically incorrect, Mormonism is a cult of Christianity ( -- a group that claims to Chris-tian while denying one or more central doctrines of the Christian faith.

The polytheism of Latter Day Saints is a striking contrast to the monotheism of the Bible. The Mormons also deny original sin (central to a Christian understanding of the human condition) and believe that Jesus was conceived through sexual intercourse between God the Father and Mary. I could go on, but Mormonism has far more that distinguishes it from the historic Christian faith than unites it to Christianity.

So, though I am willing to unite with and befriend Mormons in common cause to advance our shared values, I am hoping to be a voice of clarity -- unwilling to allow Mormonism to be mis-taken for orthodox Christianity and unwilling again to disqualify a candidate simply because he is from a faith tradition so different from my own.

Attitudes like that, no doubt, will scare many fundamentalist Christians from voting for Romney. However amusing his article, Pastore makes one glaring historical error, very apt to whether "non-Christians" like the Mormons traditionally have had a place in the White House. He writes:

Historically, our largely Christian country has chosen to elect Christian candidates (not that there have been many non-Christian candidates). In the last two presidential elections, church attendance was the most reliable indicator of voting preferences. It's no coincidence that the Democrats this time around are determined to appear more religious (i.e., more evangelical friendly) in order to win the White House. Yet, if appearing more religious in this majority-Christian nation is an electoral advantage, then being from a faith other than Christianity pre-sents a new set of challenges. And therein lies the problem for the Romney campaign.

The problem for Pastore is if you define the Christian faith so narrowly as to exclude Mormons, you must also exclude our key Founding Fathers, including the first half dozen Presidents or so.

Some orthodox believers in the Founding era were aware of this dynamic. Rev. Wilson notoriously noted in 1831: "[A]mong all our presidents from Washington downward, not one was a professor of religion, at least not of more than Unitarianism." [Note: Though Till acts as if he is quoting Rev. Wilson directly, it seems he is quoting John E. Remsburg paraphrasing Wilson's sermon. See the primary source, Remsburg's book.]

He went on to say "the founders of our nation were nearly all Infidels, and that of the presidents who had thus far been elected [George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, James Monroe, John Quincy Adams, and Andrew Jackson] _not a one had professed a belief in Christianity_" (Remsberg, p. 120, emphasis added).

A bit of clarification. James Monroe, according to David Holmes, seems to have been, like the other key Founders a "theistic rationalist," which some see as a softer form of deism, or a more liberal, rational form of Christianity (Holmes calls him a Deist; Holmes labels theistic rationalists either "Christian-Deists" or "Unitarians." I get the impression that's exactly the kind of "deist" he argues Monroe was.)

John Q.Adams was born and raised a Unitarian like his father, but sometime during college converted to a more of a Trinitarian Calvinistic form of Christianity. Yet, JQA throughout the rest of his life seemed to vacillate between Unitarianism and Trinitarianism, and I'm pretty sure died a Unitarian.

I have never studied the religion of Andrew Jackson.

Though, most of these early Presidents did have some sort of formal or nominal connection with a church that professed orthodoxy; for instance, Washington, Madison and Jefferson were all Anglican/Episcopalians. However, these early Presidents/key Founders rejected those core teachings of Pastore's understanding of Christianity (and their own Churches') just as much as if not more so than Mormons do.

They weren't "strict deists" as some on the secular left mistakenly believe; their God was an active personal Providence. However, they bitterly rejected the Nicene Creed and core doctrines of orthodoxy which define Christianity for folks like Pastore. Adams and Jefferson were fervent theological unitarians who bitterly attacked the Trinity and its subsidiary doctrines as metaphysical insanities which stupified the minds of Christians.

True, they were publicly silent on their heterodoxy and their Churches, with the exception of Adams', still affirmed orthodoxy. (Even with Adams, though his Church preached unitarianism as of 1750, I'm not sure when his Congregation officially changed its creed to "Unitarianism." It could have been before or after his election to Presidency.)

But we no longer live in the 1700s. That these great leaders were no more "Christian" than Mormons are "Christian" is a fact of our diverse religious heritage which ought to be embraced. If more folks understood these early Presidents and Founders, like the Mormons, were of what folks like Pastore consider "a faith other than Christianity," perhaps the Romney campaign can spin this "challenge" or "problem" into a talking points solution. Or, on the other hand, raising this point might just tick off the Christianists and further alienate Romney. This history, though, as it relates to early Presidents and Founders, is on his side.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Carter, Civil, Public, & Natural Religion

Joe Carter has a good post over at the First Things blog that well understands America's civil religion, how it is not "Christianity," and how Christians can tolerate it as long as they understand to take it with a grain of salt.

Carter notes one reason why Christians shouldn't embrace America's civil religion (i.e., "under God" in the Pledge, "In God We Trust" on our currency, and generic Providential invocations of God made by the Declaration of Independence and America's key Founders) is the idea derives from Jean Jacques Rousseau of all people.

Now, I've meticulously researched the record and have found little that suggests the "key Founders," despite Jefferson's flirtation with his ideas, consciously followed Rousseau. Rather Rousseau's powerful ideas were absorbed through osmosis.

So because the Founders had better "intentions" than Rousseau, Carter, after Jon Meacham suggests we understand America's version of the "civil religion" as Ben Franklin's "public religion," something Christians can feel a little better about, but still shouldn't confuse with real, genuine orthodox Christianity.

Here is a taste from Carter's piece:

I think most of the Christians at both First Things and Front Porch Republic would agree that there is a vast and unbridgeable chasm between a deistic civil religion and orthodox Christianity. But the civil religion that our fellow citizens embrace is not the type Rousseau had in mind. It is very much a view that is rooted in the concept that America is a Christian nation (or at least a Judeo-Christian nation). For them, the “In God We Trust” on our coins might as well say “In Jesus We Trust.” The State is not only subordinate to the one true Sovereign (and don’t let the capitalized noun fool you—we’re still talking about Jesus here) but is expected to conform to his standards. Although this view can lead people to use Christianity to promote Americanism, more often it simply leads to criticism of the nation’s flaws. The fact that the country continually falls short of God’s standards is a constant annoyance for those who believe that the founding documents were wholly derived—at least in principle—from the Holy Scriptures. (Think I’m exaggerating? Talk to some of these folks and see if you don’t get the impression that they think the Constitution was inspired more by the Gospel of John than by John Locke.)

Those of us who champion a role for religion in the public square, however, cannot fully embrace this Christianized concept of civil religion. If we claim, as our friends and neighbors believe, that “under God” refers only to the Christian conception of God then we are either being unduly intolerant or, more likely, simply kidding ourselves. Do we truly think that our fellow Hindu, Wiccan, or Buddhist patriots are claiming to be under the same deity as we are?

And here is perhaps the most powerful and contentious part of Carter's post:

We can’t claim, as the Apostle Paul did on Mars Hill, that the “unknown god” they are worshiping is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The Pledge is, after all, a secular document and the “under god” is referring to the Divinity of our country’s civil religion. Just as the pagan religion of the Roman Empire was able to incorporate other gods and give them familiar names, the civil religion provides an umbrella for all beliefs to submit under one nondescript, fill-in-the-blank term.

While we should be as tolerant of civil religion as we are of other beliefs, we can’t justify submitting to it ourselves. That is not to say that we can’t say the Pledge and think of the one true God. But the god of America’s civil religion is not the God who died on the Cross.

This brings to mind both Freemasonry and the concept of "natural religion," both powerful influences on America's Founders. I've seen a simple reduction made by secular leftists that Freemasonry and natural religion equate with non-Christian deism. And that's not quite right. "Natural religion" means that which man can understand about God and His attributes from reason unassisted by the Bible. It holds that all good men of all religions (including non-Abrahamic traditions) worship the true monotheistic God. Not surprisingly this concept had its deistic and unitarian defenders. What might surprise some folks is, it had its orthodox Christian defenders as well. Their take was yes, all good men of all religions worship a monotheistic God. And, obviously, God is monotheistic. But non-Christians distort or otherwise err on God's attributes. Still, natural religion can be shown to parallel and reinforce the teachings of revealed religion.

I blogged about this here and I noted, Samuel Landgon, former President of Harvard University, probably the most prominent orthodox Christian expositor of "natural religion" of the Founding era. Samuel Langdon's lecture on natural v. revealed religion typifies the orthodox Christian pro-natural religion position of the Founding era.

Likewise Freemasonry was predicated the concept of "natural religion." Freemasonry was a system where anyone who believed in God -- Deists, Unitarians, Trinitarians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, etc. -- could belong. Freemasonry and orthodox Christianity are not necessarily mutually exclusive (indeed there were lots of orthodox Trinitarian Freemasons of the Founding era). Rather, orthodox Christians need to ASK whether, at its least harmful level, Freemasonry is in tension with orthodoxy. Arguably it is as orthodox Christian Freemasons, by necessity, take religious oaths along with Jews, Deists, Unitarians, Muslims and Hindus whose religions are incompatible with theirs.

Likewise, just because Samuel Langdon was (or appeared to be) orthodox doesn't necessarily give the concept of "natural religion" ANY value to orthodox Christians. Of course, when said Christians understand the CENTRALITY natural religion played during the Founding era -- it is THE RELIGION THAT UNDERLIES THE DECLARATION OF INDEPENDENCE -- they might wish to "find" value in it. But perhaps that's just wishful thinking.

By way of analogy, Elias Boudinot was, without question, an orthodox Trinitarian Christian, and a very important Founding Father. He also argued that the American Indians were Lost Tribes of Israel. Boudinot's orthodoxy along with the important place he occupies in American history should not give his theory any credence in fact for the simple reasons that 1) it's in all likelihood wrong, and 2) it has nothing to do with orthodox Christianity. Yet it's precisely this kind error of appeal to authority that David Barton and the "Christian America" crowd oft-make.

But much of this depends on the approach orthodox believers take. Orthodox Christians are not all monolithic. Many orthodox Christians argue Jews and Christians worship the same God; I've seen some argue Jews, Christians and Muslims worship the same God (I would assert that if you argue former, you must, by logical necessity argue the latter; but I don't have time to get into that in detail here). And some like Carter argue that Christians worship a Triune God, Jews, Muslims and everyone else, a false God. If one takes Carter's approach to orthodoxy, then the Declaration of Independence, America's Founding civil religion, the concept of natural religion all should not speak to one's personal religious convictions.

On the other hand, if one takes a more ecumenical approach and is open to the idea that Jews, Christians and Muslims all worship the same God, that, like Paul on Mars Hill, non-Abrahamic folks (for instance, unconverted Native Americans, worshipping "the Great Spirit") can unknowingly worship the Abrahamic God, then the Declaration of Independence, Freemasonry, America's civil religion and natural religion might resonate with one's personal faith.

Finally, as a philosophically minded fellow, I like it when folks shit or get off the pot, and follow their theory to its logical conclusions, consequences be damned. If one is going to take Joe Carter's approach, as Dr. Gregg Frazer does, then argue Christians worship a Triune God, all other religions a different God and this includes Jews, Deists, Unitarians, Muslims, Native Americans, Mormons, the God of the Declaration of Independence, America's civil religion and the key Founders.

On the other hand, if you are going to be ecumenical, cut the self serving sophisticated crap and admit that Jews, Christians, Unitarians, some/(most?) Deists, Muslims, Mormons and others all worship the same God, which could be the "Nature's God" of the Declaration of Independence. The idea that the God of the Declaration of Independence is a "Judeo-Christian" God that Jews and Christians, but not Muslims or others (Mormons?) worship is an indefensibly nonsensical assertion. The key Founding Fathers intimated that UNCOVERTED Native Americans who worshipped "the Great Spirit" worshipped the same God Jews and Christians did. If Paul on Mars Hill applies to "the Great Spirit," it certainly applies to Allah, the Mormons, Deists and Unitarians, and probably just about every other exotic world religion. At least that's the way Christian defenders of "natural religion" like Samuel Langdon would see it.