Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The "Orthodox" on Joseph Priestley

Lots of great new stuff -- primary sources in the area of history that I research -- continues to be uploaded. Expect much more like the following. In this book of correspondence of Rev. Joseph Priestley's, we see him communicating with an "orthodox" figure named "Dr. Kenrick." They discuss Priestley's potential to "convert" "infidel" philosophers like Hume to "rational Christianity":

"As to your concern for the conversion of infidels, I look upon it as the cant of a philosophical crusader, and am sorry I cannot coincide with you in your projected conciliation of the rational truths of philosophy, with the mysterious truths of Christianity. I am apprehensive that it is impossible, without endangering the cause of both, to bring them into too close a contact....It is a moot point with me, whether the really thinking and intelligent philosophers, whom Dr.Priestley wishes to convert, are greater infidels in their present state of unbelief, than they would be, if converted by him into rational Christians,..."

This is notable because the heterodoxy in which Jefferson, J. Adams, Franklin and probably others believed in (i.e., Joseph Priestley, Richard Price influenced theology) didn't present itself as "deism" or "infidelity" but "rational Christianity." But to the "orthodox," this "unitarian" "rational Christianity" was not much different than the "infidelity" of strict deism. Still it enabled Jefferson, J. Adams and Franklin to couch their political-theological plans under the auspices of "Christianity." Their republican project wouldn't have succeeded if done otherwise.

Priestley later explains (scroll down a few pages) what "rational Christianity" is all about:

If, for example, bread and wine, philosophically, i.e., strictly and justly considered, cannot be flesh and blood, the popish doctrine of transubstantiation cannot be true. So also if one cannot be three, or three, one, mathematically considered, neither can the Athanasian doctrine of the Trinity be true. It certainly, therefore, behoves every rational christian to prove the consistency of the articles of his faith with true philosophy and the nature of things.

This also, to me sheds light on Leo Strauss' argument that, however much they may agree on some or many things, reason and revelation ultimately boil down to inconsistent teachings.


Brad Hart said...

Thanks, Jon. I also found this passage (from the same source) to be quite interesting. It's just a couple pages down from your quotation (Pp. 256).

"If, for example, bread and wine, philosophically, i.e. strictly and justly considered, cannot be flesh and blood, the popish doctrine of transubstantiation cannot be true. So also if one cannot be three, or three, one, mathematically considered, neither can the Athanasian doctrine of the Trinity be true. It certainly, therefore, behoves every rational christian to prove the consistency of the articles of his faith with true philosophy and the nature of things."

If that's not rational (heretical) Christianity I don't know what is

Jonathan Rowe said...


It looks like we are thinking along the same track because before I read your note, I added it.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Yes, and Thomas Paine claimed he was saving Revolutionary France from atheism.

What we see in unitarianism and "Priestleyism" is a brief theological detour, one of many in Christianity's history.

If there was a lasting effect, it was to minimize the "Jesus Christ" talk at the Founding in favor of Almighty God, etc.

reason and revelation ultimately boil down to inconsistent teachings.

I guess you meant "incompatible" here. However, Locke appears to have believed Jesus was the Messiah, and Locke was a reasonable man.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

The practical or political realm was what our Founders were most interested in. Thus they 'used" "all men were created equal with certain inalienable rights"...They used theology for their own "forming purposes". This is what all visionaries do.

But, the real live human being whom they were ruling over are those that were guarunteed "these inaleinable rights". Thus, a limited government supports the view of the real live human being in the context of a free society.

Unlike our Founders, scientists, and shapers of society today "form" a "more perfect union through a monistic viewpoint. This is deterministic, oppressive and abusive of "human rights" and liberty of conscience.

These "elites" think that limited government would be a disaster, as most men are not capable of making a proper decision for themselves or their families.

I think this is where we are today. Responsibility is "out the window, except for what they deem as "right", which is social engineering at its core.

I don't think this view respects people.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Again, you put your finger on precisely the right question, Angie. And as much as I favor classical philosophy over the modern, each has its own paternalism, elitism. And it's not unjustified---

Aquinas [c. 1250 CE] certainly didn't make it all the way to the notions of liberty that the Founders did, but still when he says

"By nature all men are equal in liberty, but not in other endowments..."

he seems to make a breakthrough from the classical Greeks, and this might be credited to Judeo-Christianity, that we're all created in the "image" of God.

And on the other hand, "modern" philosophy seems to deny that we are not all equal in "other" endowments, although that's as plain as day: Think of how stupid the "average" person is, and then consider that half the people are dumber than him! Hence, we get the modern "radical individualism" that Barry Shain is so wary of, that we can all make up our own rules, and each set of rules is as valid and true as any other.

Which is belied by one look around the world, with all its sets of rules and varying outcomes, from America to the shitholes of the Third World, as if it were all luck of the draw.

This is the flaw that the recent blather at the United Nations overlooks---if we redistributed all the wealth of the world equally tomorrow, within 10 or 20 years the successful societies would be fine, and the shitholes would still be the shitholes.

"Respect" for people as equals is proper, but equal "respect" for societies and systems is madness. Some are better than others, the fundamental truth that modern radical egalitarianism and multiculturalism denies.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

I so agree with your last statement. But, are you saying that the educated should rule? This I do believe, as without education, there will be limited means of "wisdom" (learning from history). And that would be a disaster.

Experience also is of importance, but seems to be deemed insignificant these days. Otherwise, Obama would have never been elected.

I do think that progress has occurred in some ways, but in other ways, we are going backward.

Tom Van Dyke said...

And I agree with your response again, Ms. VDM, and I hate when that happens, contrarian that I am.


The thing that everybody misunderstands about Leo Strauss---and Plato, because Strauss was a Platonist---is that the "wise," the "philosopher," does not wish to rule.

What would be the point of being a philosopher-king? You could make things OK for the time being, but then you die and everything promptly falls back into idiocy, passions, and chaos.

So "teaching" is really sharing, because any "teacher" who cannot learn from his students is no "philosopher" atall, because nobody has all the answers.

Socrates said, all I know is that I don't know. If he had wisdom about how human beings are wired---and he did---he shared it, because wisdom can't be "taught."

Otherwise, it's just dogma. Anybody can "teach" dogma, because it's a one-way street. Bor-ing.

As if Europe going socialistic---or America going "secular"---in the past 50 years "proves" any success or progress.

Like Chou-enlai said about the "success" of the French Revolution, it's too soon to tell.

As for President Obama get elected, I don't blame the American people. The GOP offered a cranky old man and a rank beginner. The worst ticket since...

Well, Kerry/Edwards. I don't blame the American people for their choice in the 2004 election either.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

I am NO Platoist (as far as I understand). There is no "ideal". "Ideals" such as life and liberty are concepts in one's head and how they practically work out is a matter for democracy.

Tom Van Dyke said...

There is no "ideal".

Perhaps, but there is "better," and there is definitely "worse."

But Aristotle, who is far closer to the founding than Plato, says that although it's the nature of politics to disagree on the means, the ends may indeed be derived.

And you seem to postulate an ideal "means" all the time, if not the ends.

Angie Van De Merwe said...

The pragmatic ends are yes, better or worse, if one is talking about culture or government.

The "ideal" is the human being, the individual. Kant believed that a man should NEVER be a Means. I take that to mean that one's autonomy or person is absolute.

And even though the human is the 'ideal", each individual is different in every way. Therefore, though there is an "ideal", there is only the "ideal" in a specific individual, which is human development. So, humans cannot be negated as to their "consent".
(This is what is so disturbing about the healthcare "bill", a disregard for the public's "consent")

This is why it is SO important to support our form of government! Because, without the right governemnt, human are doomed to be limited in their ability to attain their potentiality and live under tyranny.

Tom Van Dyke said...

The "right" government you speak of corresponds to the "ideal," does it not?

Angie Van De Merwe said...

That is of first importance, I believe. Because, as I stated in the other post, without a proper form of government, a limited one, humans are not free moral agents, but slaves of a State supported system.

Tom Van Dyke said...

I do not know what a "free moral agent" is, and Hamilton seems to disagree with the concept.

"[Hobbes] held, as you do, that he was, then, perfectly free from all restraint of law and government. Moral obligation, according to him, is derived from the introduction of civil society; and there is no virtue, but what is purely artificial, the mere contrivance of politicians, for the maintenance of social intercourse."

What is the difference between free moral agency and moral anarchy?

Angie Van De Merwe said...

"FREE" does not mean free from law, but free under law. Free societies allow such liberty of conscience in regards to individual choice.

Moral anarchy is when the individual assumes he is above the law, or free from the law. And law is to protect society in general, in regards to another's interests, as well as one's own. This is why we have laws that protect the "contract", because we believe that the law will protect each persona's right in regards to the contracts agreement.

Tom Van Dyke said...

How does your position differ from Hobbes', then?

"Moral obligation, according to him, is derived from the introduction of civil society..."