Tuesday, August 18, 2009

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.


J said...

Ah, so much for that Enlightenment Rationality, and Locke and Jefferson's emphasis on Reason over revelation.

Father Schaeffer's brings back the Old Time religion: i.e. scriptural infallibility, the "raving" of the Book of Revelation, Paul's order that the "just shall live by faith" (not works or reason)---Luther and Calvin's greatest hits.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

The "nature/grace" debate is as old as philosophy itself.

The liberal, Catholic or Arminian position is that nature is graced, while Schaffer, as a "reformed" would adhere to a "fallen nature" where some supernatural intervention is necessary through a "conversion experience", repentance, etc.

The liberal or Catholic view is a ritual absolution of sin and social structures which "train" from sin.

As "all truth is God's truth" the liberal does not distinguish "special revelation" as the "reformed" do with Scripture. The scriptures are a "mandate" for life in the Reformed view and this was the way the Puritans set out to "form' their "commonwealth".

Since all truth is truth, whether or not there is God, the individual should be free to choose what, where, and how he will "do" his job. The Christian can view this as "service to the Lord", while the secularist sees it as furthering the "good of humanity".

Does it matter that we have different ways of describing what we do, as long as we do what we do the best we can?

I don't think we can support any government that does not allow this freedom of choosing one's vocation, value and commitment. When we dissolve the personal, which government inevidently does, we loose what is part of being human. And none of us wants to live under a government that dissolves the "human" in his individuality.

Tom Van Dyke said...

I don't think Noll and Marsden come off particularly well, and Newsweek worst of all for using Noll simply as a weapon against Schaeffer.

That said, I do agree that without Aquinas and natural law, the Christian origins of the Founding appear to me to be much thinner. Although it was rumored that Schaeffer became quite congenial to Catholic thought near the end of his life, he was quite hostile to Aquinas in his salad days.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

The problem of determining what "natural law" is in today's scientific understanding is the question. It used to be a "cause and effect" Newtonian view, but is now understood in numerous ways.

When one "applies" "cause and effect" to individuals, it becomes more difficult to determine what has caused what and if it has caused...as genetics are also known now to "determine" behavior as well as one's environment.And what makes children respond different to the same family situations, discipline,...if not because of some "individual unique" identity/potentiality?

If one is defining "natural law" as the determinant of "criminal" or the social "norm", then that is what our distinguishes our country from others.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Aquinas on natural law. I cannot tell if you agree or disagree with him, Ms. VDM. Please advise.

jimmiraybob said...

TVD - your link gets a 404 error.

Brad Hart said...

Yes, this is a must read. Thanks for the post, Jon. In addition, Noll, Marsden and Hatch's "The Search for Christian America is every bit as interesting.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Thx, JRB. I have no idea why it doesn't work either. Operator error [mine], no doubt. But thx for trying to click.


Ms. VDM still has the floor.

bpabbott said...

Wow ... or *ouch*, those objections to Natural Law were painful to read, but the responses are quite excellent.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

Just as our understanding of science changes, due to new information, so do our understanding of social norms. Most reformers or revolutionaries understand something that is missing from society, which needs rectifying. These people bring change in the social, political and reliious realms through their commitment to their ultimate concerns and values.

From what I "understand" at this point in my journey, Kant's categorical imperative sounds similar to a "duty-based" virtue. Duty-based virtue is dependent on the conventional social norms and do not address the changes that need or must be acknowledged and/or made. Ethics trumps morality in this regard.

Natural law understood as the basis of "cause and effect" or the basis of "punishment and reward" are useful for social control, but do not uphold the ethical necessarily. The ethical is upheld by government that respects "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" for each individual, not the "collective whole".

Collectivism in political terms dissolves civil rights, as "the common good" becomes the "law" or goal of "outcome" based on whatever the leaders decide for all to support.

Virtue has to come from choice, not an enforced duty. Self governance is what free societies support and should continue to support. The question then becomes each individual's choice in self determination of value and the means of attaining the self governance to attain the most important values.

I am still learning and would appreciate any "correction", challenge, or affirmation. Thanks.

J said...

Aquinas's natural law derives from Aristotle, of course. and concerns morality and justice, not laws of nature, or causality.

Aquinas wants to determine if there is some a priori justice and then questions whether a distinction holds between distributive and normative justice (he says they are different, if I recall correctly).

There are number of issues raised; first, the whole state of nature problem (ie pre-society "justice") that Hobbes and Locke others bring up. Hobbes insists, contra-Aquinas (and contra-theologians) that NO law exists in a state of nature, and even if it does (as Locke wants to suggest--and I think Aquinas) that it's moot without some power of enforcement or coercion. Men make laws.

That's the Framers' position, I would suggest, even if some of them (Jefferson in the DoI) suggest some innate rights. The talk of innate and unalienable rights was intended for rhetorical effect, more or less: inother words, these rights are very important, Jefferson (following Locke a bit more than he does Hobbes) wants to say--non- arbitrary, and somehow objective. None of them--Jefferson,Locke, Aquinas, Aristotle--actually proves some a priori right or justice holds, however.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

Before language was born, "pre-society" lived by survival of the fittest.

It is only as language developed that societies could form and structure themselves around "common ideas".

But, are our ideas common and general concepts of the mind? Or are they dependent on our sense experience?

When someone says the word dog and it is understood as a "common term", that does not mean that in specific instances that the term will bring the same meaning. For example, if someone says he sees a dog coming down the road, but someone he is speaking to is looking the other way and sees another kind of dog, then there is miscommunication. One sees a poodle, the other sees a German Shepherd. Then try to talk about what the dog needs. One needs a haircut, the other doesn't, etc. So, various "needs" of dogs can be discussed but it is only the side that wins the discussion that determines whether the poodle gets his haircut and the German Shepherd has to support that "need", or whether the German Shepherd gets the education he needs to be a guard dog and the poodle ends up supporting his "need"...

I think this is what politicians grapple with in coming to terms with budget limitations.

As to justice, which is recieving justice, in this regard? One serves the other's needs, at the "costs" of his benefit. Is this necessarily the cast in free societies? Or is there a much larger "world", where the individual can find another place and he won't have to support that "package"?

The individual won't have a choice if our representatives do not support or listen to the ones they work to represent. Nor will they be representing the public's interests if they undermine the Constitution's guarantees to citizens.

Tom Van Dyke said...

I'm sorry Ms. VDM, I'm still not following you very well.

Advances in science do not---cannot---affect the natural law, which is timeless [and placeless].

J, I'd say that the Founders believed in timeless notions of right and wrong, and certainly of rights as innate. In fact, James Wilson, a heavy-duty Founder, argues explicitly against Blackstone and Burke over the issue, as I recall, that rights are not given by the sovereign in a "social contract," but reside within man.

Much more than mere rhetoric, and in fact the Bill of Rights [and the refusal of some Founders to sign the Constitution because it lacked one] shows how important the concept was. Sovereignty resides not with the government, but with the people, who yield the central government only limited and enumerated powers.

Well, at least that was the plan. Doesn't look that way so much in 2009 here.

J said...

The Anti-Federalists were very concerned with rights, democracy, the popular vote, as was Jefferson in the DoI. The Federalists, and Madison in particular, were the ones writing the Constitution, however. Yes they included the Bill of Rights, yet at the same time the Senate itself was designed as a sort of control on the Congress.

considering the Judiciary (beloved by the Federalists) as another anti-Democratic force--especially after Marshall set up the SCOTUS-- we could not say the US was a democracy. It has democratic aspects of course--the popular vote itself--but it also has traditional republican (and Federalist aspects, such as the Senate, and judiciary. The modern populist sort of republicans have little in common with the older Hamiltonian sort.

So I don't really know what the point on natural law is, except perhaps as it relates to Locke's ideas of social contract (which posited a sort of pre-social obligation---posited, not really proven).

I doubt any of the Framers were following Aquinas, or even concerned with pleasing the "papal monarchy" (as Locke called it at times). Aristotle, maybe, to some degree: yet I content Aquinas often misreads Aristotle (as in the discussion of "natural law"). Aristotle, while perhaps not quite a Machiavelli, was no democrat either.

Jonathan Rowe said...


Jefferson said the four ideological sources for the DOI are Aristotle, Cicero, Locke and Sidney.

None of the framers consciously followed Aquinas. They did consciously follow those four and others.

I think the larger point is they got Aquinas from Locke. Not that Locke cited him either. But Locke purported to operate in the natural law tradition of Hooker. And Hooker was the Anglican heir to Thomism.

That's the claim.

Tom Van Dyke said...

The works of Thomas Aquinas had been around for over 500 years, and pervaded Western thought, just as we routinely quote the Bible or Shakespeare without even knowing it.

And seldom will you find Aquinas or any Catholic explicitly quoted in that era, because of its rampant anti-papism.
{Locke himself supported banning Catholics from public office since their allegience was to "a foreign prince.")

However, Aquinas was well-known among the intelligentsia: he was taught at Harvard College until 1690 or so.

And here, in the aforementioned Algernon Sidney's famous Discourse Concerning Government, he quotes the "schoolmen" [the successors of Aquinas] directly on the subject of liberty:

Tho the Schoolmen were corrupt, they were neither stupid nor unlearned: They could not but see that which all men saw, nor lay more approved foundations, than, that man is naturally free; that he cannot justly be deprived of that liberty without cause, and that he doth not resign it, or any part of it, unless it be in consideration of a greater good, which he proposes to himself.


So, of course, the Founding knew Aquinas. he was in the air they breathed.

J said...

Maybe read the Federalist papers, TvD. Publius discusses greek and roman political history at length. Catholicism does not appear (nor do the protestants,except when Madison gives vent to his fears of 'faction"--ie Lockean democrats, for the most part).

So again, I would agree the Framers were quite aware of classical and Aristotelian conceptions (ie roman republicanism), but they were not supportive of the scholastics (indeed the anti-scholasticism a key part of english empiricism as a whole). For that matter, it's questionable whether Aquinas on "natural justice" even jibes with, say, Aristotle's writing in the Politics, or Osiris forbid, Nichomachean ethics (not exactly equivalent to Lockean rights). Even Jefferson's quote suggests they went to the source--Aristotle (and probably Plato's Republic) rather than the Schoolmen.

Tom Van Dyke said...

But they did go to the schoolmen. I just proved it. Further, there are Grotius and Pufendorf, and especially Richard Hooker, all of whom the Founding era was well-acquainted with [see Hamilton's "The Farmer Refuted"], all of whom were in the mainstream of Thomistic natural law tradition.

But thank you for your opinion.

"The moral precepts delivered in the sacred oracles form a part of the law of nature, are of the same origin and of the same obligation, operating universally and perpetually."
---James Wilson, Of the Law of Nature, 1804

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