Monday, December 21, 2009

Gouverneur Morris and George Washington on Jesus' Lack of Instruction Towards Political Rulers

A common line that those who try to downplay the anti-homosexual messages in the Bible use is, "Jesus never once said anything about homosexuality." And they are right in that specific regard. However, other parts of the Bible, not many, but a one handful, quite instructively condemn homosexual acts. Where Jesus was silent, St. Paul, in Romans 1, was not.

A parallel dynamic arguably exists with regards to political rulers. Jesus had little to say (I know he did say "Render unto Caeser," directed more towards believers than "Caesers," and other tangential things about government -- that's why I said "little" not "nothing"); but St. Paul was fairly explicit in Romans 13.

With what follows, I want us to think about biblical hermeneutics regarding HOW the Bible's text was divinely inspired. We've oft-heard it said here that the "key Founders" thought PARTS of the Bible were inspired (some FFs, large parts, others, like Jefferson, probably a minority of the Bible; neither Jefferson nor J. Adams believed the Bible inerrant or infallible; but I'd bet Adams' Bible would be significantly "thicker" than Jefferson's). Jefferson cared about Jesus' words (but still doubted they were all recorded accurately in the biblical canon) and thought nothing of St. Paul's and those of the other Apostles. Still, those Apostles covered a great deal of subjects that Jesus didn't (for instance, the topic of this post, on political rulers). To a Bible believer -- one who believes the Canon infallible -- what is the significance of that? Are words recorded in the Bible from Paul and the other Apostles of the same level of authority (because, one might argue, they come from the Holy Spirit, the 3rd person in the Trinity) as Jesus' (the 2nd Person in the Trinity)? Or are the words of St. Paul et al. somehow "lesser" in a divine inspirational sense (after all it was Paul not Jesus who spoke in the book of Romans)?

As noted, with Jefferson we see belief in Jesus' words, but not those of St. Paul or the other Apostles as "divinely inspired." Arguably we see something similar with Gouverneur Morris.

The Bible in Romans 13 addresses the "rulers of mankind" in a way that is not unclear. Yet, Morris laments that Jesus never addressed them, as somehow Paul's clear words in Romans 13 were not sufficient in a way that Jesus' words would be.

In a letter to Washington, May 21, 1778, Morris, in the only known recorded place he referred to Jesus as "Savior," wrote:

Had our Saviour addressed a chapter to the rulers of mankind, as he did many to the subjects, I am persuaded his good sense would have dictated this text; Be not wse overmuch. Had the several members, who compose our multifarious body, been only wise enough, our business would long since have been completed. But our superior abilities, or the desire of appearing to possess them, lead us to such exquisite tediousness of debate, that the most precious moments pass unheeded away like vulgar things.

Washington responded (May 29, 1778) with his typical religious aloofness, though he does seem to categorize many passages of Jesus'/the Bible's words as "unavailing" hence, inadequate or incomplete guides:

Had such a chapter as you speak of been written to the rulers of mankind it would I am persuaded, have been as unavailing as many others upon subjects of equal importance. 26 We may lament that things are not consonent with our wishes, but cannot change the nature of Men, and yet those who are distressed by the folly and perverseness of it, cannot help complaining, as I would do on the old score of regulation and arrangement, if I thought any good would come of it.

Don't complain about reality; just grin and bear it. Washington that good Stoic he.

But back to the hermeneutics of America's "key Founders" like Jefferson and Morris. If St. Paul's words were as divinely inspired as Jesus', one wouldn't, it seems to me, need Jesus to speak on "rulers" any more than one needs Him to speak on homosexuality. St. Paul, divinely inspired by the Holy Spirit, already spoke on those matters and that would suffice. Yet if one believes Jesus', but not Paul's words were divinely inspired, then, yes, one would desire Jesus' thoughts on the matter while disregarding Paul's. (Simply disregarding St. Paul's words as Jefferson did and G. Morris probably did is quite an easy way to get around Romans 13's apparent textual prohibition on revolt.)

What do you think?


Daniel said...

Romans 13 really doesn't have much (if anything) to say to rulers. It is addressed to the subjects, not the rulers. If it has any instruction to rulers, it boils down to: be a terror to evil and commend good. Washington's description of "unavailing" is apt.

Tom Van Dyke said...

"The reflection and experience of many years have led me to consider the holy writings not only as the most authentic and instructive in themselves, but as the clue to all other history.

They tell us what man is, and they alone tell us why he is what he is: a contradictory creature that seeing and approving of what is good, pursues and performs what is evil. All of private and public life is there displayed."

---Gouverneur Morris, "theistic rationalist"

from "An Inaugural Discourse Delivered Before the New York Historical Society by the Honorable Gouverneur Morris", September 4, 1816

Wow. GMorris sure got religion. Ibid.---

history of our day is, indeed, a school for princes;
and, therefore, the proper school for American citizens. Exercising, by their delegates, the sovereign
power, it is meet they know how to assert and how
to preserve their freedom. Let them learn the mis-
chief that follows in the train of folly.

Let them learn the misery that results from immorality. Let
them learn the crush of impiety. Let them learn,
also, for such we trust will be the final event, that
when the altars of idolatrous lust had been overturn-
ed, and those of Jehovah restored; when nations
severely scourged had sincerely repented, they were
favoured with as much civil liberty, and as much
social enjoyment, as consist with their absolute and
relative condition."

Read the whole thing. Religious as hell...

jimmiraybob said...

Where Jesus was silent [on homosexuality], St. Paul, in Romans 1, was not.

You'd think that the Son of God wouldn't have let that one slip by if it had importance for entry into the coming Kingdom.

Both Jesus and Paul spoke in Jewish apocalyptic terms and I don't see that Jesus was all that concerned with the mode of civil governance in the last few years (but strictly with internal spiritual readiness), whereas, Paul had to acknowledge and speak to on-going political realities in addressing his ministry to the gentiles/nations - especially, of Rome. Especially, as time kept dragging on without God's return.

Paul dealt with the relationship between the believer (or proto-believer) and the authorities of Rome in a very narrow, self-imposed temporal window with an expediency accentuated by the urgency of God's imminent return.

Both expected God's return in their time. Neither would have thought the last 1950 years to be possible. It would be interesting to see how Paul would have addressed the issues if he thought that he was writing a coherent doctrine for the ages instead of attending to fires in the various churches. In essence, Paul doesn't present a very palatable long-term plan for the relationship between rulers and the ruled. Maybe that's why emphasis during the revolution/founding was put more on studying the science of politics present and the historical record of governments/rebellions come and gone* - a very empirical rationalism.

*and I'm thinking specifically of Adam's, Madison, Jefferson, and Franklin as well as the more secular minded students of history.

On a side note:

Is there any other message that Paul could have given other than what he says in Romans 13 and not been branded as a rebel and executed or risk alienating potential converts (prepare for the coming kingdom now and in the meantime obey the authorities - it's only for a little while anyway)? In doing so, isn't he actually, in somewhat of a backhanded way, putting God's authority over the ruler's in that they are just playing a subordinate role to God until the end anyway at which time the faithful will inherit their eternal place in the presence of infinite goodness and grace? In today's parlance I believe this would be expressed less poetically as, "neener, neener, neener!"

Tom Van Dyke said...

You'd think that the Son of God wouldn't have let that one slip by if it had importance for entry into the coming Kingdom.

Matthew 19 gives Jesus' teaching on sexual matters.

King of Ireland said...

Daniel stated:

"Romans 13 really doesn't have much (if anything) to say to rulers. It is addressed to the subjects, not the rulers. If it has any instruction to rulers, it boils down to: be a terror to evil and commend good. Washington's description of "unavailing" is apt."

I would agree with this. I would also add that it seems like Washington and Morris are discussing forms not purposes. I have already said that I do not think the Bible really speaks much about forms and God leaves that up to us. I think most founders probably felt that way too. It seems like Morris wanted a chapter on the best form of government. History is the guide to that and Madison seems to have studied more diligently than most and his ideas basically ended up as the foundation of the Constitution.

bpabbott said...

Matthew 19;

3Some Pharisees came to him to test him. They asked, "Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any and every reason?"

4"Haven't you read," he replied, "that at the beginning the Creator 'made them male and female,'[a] 5and said, 'For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh'[b]? 6So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate."

7"Why then," they asked, "did Moses command that a man give his wife a certificate of divorce and send her away?"

8Jesus replied, "Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning. 9I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, and marries another woman commits adultery."

10The disciples said to him, "If this is the situation between a husband and wife, it is better not to marry."

11Jesus replied, "Not everyone can accept this word, but only those to whom it has been given. 12For some are eunuchs because they were born that way; others were made that way by men; and others have renounced marriage[c]because of the kingdom of heaven. The one who can accept this should accept it."

I was no aware of this passage. Gratitudes to Tom for pointing it out.

In any event, I don't seen a condemnation of homosexuality here.

What I do see is the light of liberty!

Tom Van Dyke said...

What I get from Morris in the letter

is that the people in Congress are blowhards without a lick of common sense, which is why everything takes so long.

King of Ireland said...

I asked Tom the following question in another thread on Romans 13:

So Tom are we in agreement yet that Romans 13 was very much part of the national dialogue back then? Adams quote is theological and legal. It goes all the way back to Cain and Abel. God punished one to protect the image of God in the other. I know Abel was already dead but the idea was that he had value because he was made in God's image. The punishment was also to warn others. To fully understand the legal arguments one has to understand the theology they were based on. Interposition is a good place to start.

Tom eloquently responded with this that I think answers the question that Jon is trying to get at hear:

"I think Romans 13 is definitely in the background, or more precisely, between the lines of every political argument about government made by every Founder who was interested in pleasing God and living righteously before him, which includes just about all the Founders."

I think this simplifies things as far as political theology goes. It was this simplicity that kept the religious wars of Europe from spreading over here. They kept the private doctrinal battles out of the political discourse, united together under the banner of freedom, and fought to stay free.

In other words they focused on what united them not what separated them.

Brad Hart said...

I've said this before but perhaps it is worth repeating:

Aren't we possibly overplaying the significance of Romans 13? Yes, many theologians debated this I am sure but the common guy (the Joseph Plumb Martin), the regular patriot and even (in my opinion) the majority of founders could have given a shit! I enjoy the back-and-forth on this topic but isn't it possible that our sheer interest in religion and the founding might be overplaying the importance that Romans 13 had on the Revolution? Nobody (and certainly not the majority of people) were hooting and hollering about Romans 13 during the Stamp Act, Boston Massacre, Tea Party, Lexington & Concord, Bunker Hill, the Continental Congress, the Writs of Assistance, etc. Sure, maybe a few blips will pop up on the radar here and there but I very seriously doubt that the majority gave a care. They were pissed and not Brit, no "lobster back" and no BIBLE was gonna get in their way.

Sorry for being MIA as of stuff...tis the season.

Brad Hart said...

By the way, Jon, I think your post here may be proof of what I am talking about. Perhaps Morris and Washington did revere the Bible (as TVD hints at) but they didn't care enough to let a singular chapter prevent them from fighting the war they were facing. I;m sure everyone with a functioning brain realized that King George and Parliament were hardly the likes of Emperor Nero of old but they didn't care. The storm of revolution was brewing and they welcomed it. I'm sure there was a strong religious current that ran through that wave of revolution but it wasn't the only wave (and maybe it wasn't the strongest). And certainly St. Paul wasn't going to convince them that "all men are created equal" but you still must submit to an oppression you don't like because "God said so."

Assuming of course that you interpret Romans 13 that way. And perhaps many didn't, but again, I doubt they were going to be deterred by a Romans 13, 14 or 15.

King of Ireland said...


Tom turned me on to a paper that was presented at Princeton that addresses your concern. I have to take some time to see how to present it here but just for a preview the author has quotes from King George and a Hessian soldier calling the revolution, "The Presbyterian Revolution."

This was the group that needed to be convinced that was on the fence. The author implies that the changes that Adams and the Continental Congress made to the Jefferson's drafts were done intentionally to reach this important faction that would be needed to fight the war.

He gives a lot of compelling evidence that backs up his stance that many did give a shit about what God thought and any exhortations to declare independence from the King would have to find ways around the Tory interpretation of Romans 13. Look at history and how many revolutions were averted with the tyrant claiming that God was going to punish the rebels. A casual watching of the Showtime series "The Tudors" backs this up.

King of Ireland said...


The lawyer in you is good and changing the subject but you still have not answered my question about Calvin and Interposition. I am pretty sure Frazer never addressed with me. You are misquoting Calvin because you read the first part of what he says about government having the sword and miss the part about when God intervenes and takes out a tyrant by raising up a deliver because the tyrant is violating God's clear intentions for leaders.

It goes back to what Adams says about magistrates in his proclamation I quoted and Scalia's out of balance view of Romans 13. Authority without responsibility is tyranny and no one other than those that support the Divine Right of Kings condones it. Certainly not Calvin.

Jonathan Rowe said...


I haven't changed subjects. I just haven't gotten to what you want. You have to be patient.

Brad Hart said...


Yes, I have heard of the "Presbyterian Revolution" before and may have even read the paper you mention. And while I am sure that many people did in fact teeter on the fence over this issue I see zero evidence that it ever caught on with the majority. Sure, I bet it was an issue but I question HOW BIG of an issue it was. Hell, even the Revolution itself wasn't a majority movement. Adams stated that about 1/3 favored, 1/3 opposed, and 1/3 didn't really care. My guess is this Romans 13/God sanctioning rebellion issue didn't even get that big. Maybe 1/3 of the 1/3 who favored revolution actually gave a care (and I think I am being generous in that assumption).

But then again, religion and the founding is our bread and butter so who am I to minimize our importance.

King of Ireland said...


I will wait then.

King of Ireland said...

It was more like on third was on the fence. There were the people that they needed to convince. Tom cited a post by Lori Stokes a few posts back that showed some sort of extreme change in his view of the King that ended in him supporting the revolution. Who knows what it was for sure but there is a good chance if he lived in Puritian country that heard some of the patriotic sermons. I think it a good chance this was a factor not just for him but for many.

But to the larger issue of the problems with a wrong use of Romans 13 in history I think a reading of the first of Locke's Two Treatises and the care an diligence in which he just slaughter's Filmer's argument with biblical arguments of his own point to just how much damage Filmer's essay had done. The Divine Right of Kings is based on Romans 13.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Yes and no, King.

As with most of these things, the truth's a little more complicated.

Tom Van Dyke said...

So too with Matthew 19. There is a lot of theology behind it that eludes a quick reading, or one that simply seeks loopholes.

The NYT Magazine had an article on Robert P. George this week, and infra is an exploration of "one flesh."

bpabbott said...


When it comes to Theology, I occasionally find it interesting to read, primarily when there are incompatible or inconsistent understandings that are each well reasoned (A quick Google of the Exception Clause indicates that Matthew 19 may be one of interest to me).

However, I'd be much more interested in what the Founder's thought.

Regarding that; Has anyone come across instances where the Founders expressed Theological opinions on Romans 13 (or Matthew 19)?

King of Ireland said...


The fact that a sermon by Jonathan Mayhew on Romans 13 that John Adams stated everyone read had a saying, "Resistance to Tyrants is Obedience to God" that was not only used by Jefferson but almost made it into the Great Seal may shed some light on how even the "Theistic Rationalists" felt about it.

One can make the case that they were true politicians and played to the Presbyterian faction but one cannot say that this theme was not discussed. Mayhew's sermon was on the anniversary of the death of Charles I who was on the wrong end of an interposition 100 years earlier.

Jonathan Rowe said...

Re Tom's second comment. Yes G. Morris "theistic rationalist." He was, as Gregg put it, "religious" but not "Christian."

Tom Van Dyke said...

False dichotomy between "orthodox Christian" and "theistic rationalist," just as it's a false dichotomy between "Christian thought" and the Enlightenment.

Here's Dr. Frazer's paper. Folks can read it for themselves.

Dr. Frazer writes:

I contend that it was his theistic rationalist beliefs which paved the way for Morris – and for the other key Founders – to fully support religious toleration.

Oh, please. Pure question-begging. Sam Adams was as orthodox as they come and he wrote in 1772 that "the Church" demanded tolerance.

Morris’s immoral conduct must call into serious question the idea that he was a Christian.

Heh. Gregg, you need to get out more.

His expressed beliefs put him at odds with deism and Christianity, but in line with theistic rationalism.

With deism, certainly; but not a single smoking gun re Christianity.

Not that I think he accepted orthodox Christianity, but it's conjecture either way. But "theistic rationalism" is a term of art, and as we see in Morris' speech to the NY Historical Society above, his biblical rhetoric has much more in common with today's Holy Rollers than with the children of the Enlightenment.

Regardless of Dr. Frazer's intention for his pet term "theistic rationalist," it carries a sense of the latter, not the former, and "Judeo-Christian," although itself inaccurate, is far more descriptive per Morris' frequent expressions of respect for religion and the Bible. Morris has far more in common with Samuel Adams than with the poster boy for "theistic rationalism," Thomas Jefferson.

Read the paper for yourself. Gregg presents the evidence fairly, but I disagree his is the most reasonable conclusion, or that "theistic rationalist" is helpful in understanding Morris as he was.

Neither do I think the light banter between Washington and Morris here supports any conclusion or even speculation about how they viewed the truth of the Epistles.

King of Ireland said...

Judeo-Christian vs. Theistic Rationalist I like it. I think the current debate over interposition could possibly decide the winner. This is because if it is proven that the DOI was based on a historically Christian idea that is grounded in image of God and neighborly love which were a Judeo idea and a Christian idea then the former fits, the latter goes away, and Frazer should have to write a new thesis paper.

I think my next post using an article that Tom sent me should go a long way toward crowning Judeo-Christian champion.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Dr. Frazer's razor is, no Trinity, no Christianity. My problem with that is that "theistic rationalism" scoops up whatever's left over.

Jonathan Rowe said...


I think the quibble over terms shows if anything size of the gulf between strict deism and orthodox Trinitarian Christianity. THAT paradigm, if anything has led to the most egregious false dichotomy that both secular left and religious right scholars often engage in.

If a figure appears to the right of strict deism but to the left of orthodox Trinitarian Christianity, Gregg has a tendency to label them "theistic rationalists."

I think according to the premises that he sets out it's a fair conclusion. But if the terms are insufficient, again, it illustrates the big gulf between strict deism and orthodox Christianity. We now have a tricotomy [is that even a word?] of terms and that's not enough.

bpabbott said...

"This is because if it is proven that the DOI was based on a historically Christian idea that is grounded in image of God and neighborly love which were a Judeo idea and a Christian idea then the former fits [...]"

Given Jefferson was the primary author .... sounds like a big if to me ;-)

Regarding Frazer's argument, my understanding is that it rests on an orthodox definition of what it means to be Christian. If you accept that definition, then I think he wins.

If you lower the bar so as to encompass all that is compatible, or better yet all that is not incompatible (define it for your purposes) then you might claim victory, but not over Frazer, but over a strawman replica.

bpabbott said...

Re: "Dr. Frazer's razor is, no Trinity, no Christianity. My problem with that is that "theistic rationalism" scoops up whatever's left over."

Very good point, I think, Tom. I liked the comment regarding a false dichotomy as well.

I see two such dichotomies being promoted.

(1) a narrow (orthodox) definition of Christianity vs Theistic Rationalism that takes all the remaining tasty bits

... and ...

(2) a broad ("liberal" isn't a broad enough term) definition of Christianity that encompasses all good principles (including those that precede the faith, and lay beyond its doctrines) vs the nasty, evil bits that remain.

(the 2nd is over the top with regards to the participants of this blog, pls realize no offense or implications are intended)

There is, at least, one great fault with my qualification. That being that Theistic Rationalism (as I understand it) doesn't exclude Christian principles. Rather it takes the position that reason is to be placed firmly in her seat and applied to secure Christian principles from corruptions, and if the some of the most sacred doctrines fall, then so be it (of course it secures all good principles, not just those of Christian origin).

It looks to me like this is just what King/Joe is doing ... applying reason to judge what may and may not qualify as Christian.

King/Joe, please chime in and correct me if I've misrepresented you.

King of Ireland said...


"It looks to me like this is just what King/Joe is doing ... applying reason to judge what may and may not qualify as Christian.

King/Joe, please chime in and correct me if I've misrepresented you."

This is a political and historical discussion. In that light I could care less who was or was not a Christian. I could care less what definition what gives to what is and is not a Christian. I DO CARE ABOUT WHAT WAS AND WAS NOT A CHRISTIAN IDEA. More accurately Judeo Christian or not. I think Gregg asked the wrong question. The founding put the church differences aside and focused on the commonwealth. I have a quote from Locke coming that I think will shed light on this.

As far as Jefferson I plan to post on a paper that Tom gave me that gives strong evidence that Jefferson was vetoed by the Continental Congress on some things. Some big things that were added to his drafts.

I want to give Tom's insightful post on Scalia some room to breath. Then I will post it.

bpabbott said...


Re: "This is a political and historical discussion. In that light I could care less who was or was not a Christian. I could care less what definition what gives to what is and is not a Christian. I DO CARE ABOUT WHAT WAS AND WAS NOT A CHRISTIAN IDEA."

I'm confused. How can you not be concerned with the definition of what it means to be Christian, while you use the term?

What is it you mean by the adjective Christian?

... or perhaps, I should ask what qualifies as a Christian idea?

I'm hoping for some insight.

p.s. again no offense intended, just trying to understand.

King of Ireland said...

Ben stated:

"I'm confused. How can you not be concerned with the definition of what it means to be Christian, while you use the term?"

I am applying the adjective to ideas rather than people. I think the former germane to a political discussion and the latter a distraction.


If you really want to see where I am coming from you gonna have to go back and read my last 10 or so posts carefully. Otherwise you will get lost. I say that because I value your critique, want you to understand where I am coming from, feel that this subject matter is of utmost importance and most people today just ignore it to our own peril.

Please continue to ask questions if I am not being clear.

King of Ireland said...

Ben stated:

"or perhaps, I should ask what qualifies as a Christian idea?"

I think that is something we can all discuss but we must back up our opinions with historical facts from primary documents themselves. In other words, people say that many of Locke's ideas are Deistic or Rationalist. It depends what that means. If it means he did not believe is the God of the Bible that intervenes in the lives of mean then it is crap. Any reading of Locke's first Treatise blows this out the the water.

I guess my frustration with the Science crowd is they get mad when people jump to conclusions about scientific terms and concepts they do not even understand. It is the same for me when people come to theological conclusions about what Locke and others said when they have no clue about theology.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Regarding Frazer's argument, my understanding is that it rests on an orthodox definition of what it means to be Christian. If you accept that definition, then I think he wins.

Heh, Ben. Debate Rule #1: If you win the definition of terms, you win the debate.

Rule #2: See Rule #1.

Actually, you clearly identify what is a false "trichotomy":

"Strict "deism" didn't exist at the Founding, not even in Tom Paine. Fact is, Hume had destroyed "deism" philosophically by 1750, something we haven't even got into, because it's only a footnote to "religion and the Founding."

"Deism" is the straw man third of the false trichotomy between Christianity-as-Trinitarianism and the proposed "third way" of "theistic rationalism."

"Theistic rationalism," as presented by Dr. Frazer in his paper linked above, has a behind-the-scenes element of Protestant theology. But to anyone reading the term at face value, it's read as something outside the [Judeo-]Christian milieu, as a "neutral" term.

But if one uses the inaccurate term "Judeo-Christian," the meaning is still quite clear: the God of the Bible, of Abraham and Moses, the Bible being the revealed word of God, and it leaves Jesus' divinity or "dying for our sins" out completely, since Jews believe none of the latter.

Neither did the unitarians, of course, although most accepted Jesus as Messiah and the Bible as true.

"Theistic rationalism" tries to scoop them up under its umbrella instead of Christianity's, but that ignores the completely Christian milieu of the Founding.

Or the near-universal belief that the Bible came from God.

"Theism" as applied to the Founding means nothing outside its Christian context.


Thx, Ben. You've been a catalyst in exploring this. And Robby George's theology on Matthew 19 was presented only as a clarification of your own non-theological reading. The interesting part was actullly on his arguments on natural law. I posted the link mostly because our mutual friend Jon Rowe is acquainted with Dr. George. It was presented as a tickle, not a theological argument, and for those who wanted to dig deeper into the issue on their own.

King of Ireland said...


They rallied around ideas not doctrines. I have a post that I think I am going to publish today that should clarify all this. At least what I am trying to get at.

bpabbott said...


If someone frames purpose, motive, goals, or such as being framed by science, they either don't understand what science is, or (perhaps) you've misunderstood them.

Personally, I like the way Einstein framed such sentiments as being the domain of religion, but not necessarily being of supernatural or divine origin.

In any event, I've enjoyed this discussion ... even if my part was more of a catalyst (as Tom put it) than of a participant ;-)

I do hope you give more thought to what you mean when you use the adjective, Christian. The word means different things to everyone. Your point will be lost if your context isn't clear (to me is still is not).

bpabbott said...


Thanks for the props! :-)

Regarding Theistic Rationalism and/or Judeo-Christian, I don't think either property frames the founding.

That Christianity was the primary theological influence is lost in the term Theistic Rationalism.

However, that the founding was the product of a Christian society with proportionately Judeo-Christian foundations, and not the product of individuals following orthodox doctrine is not made clear by the label Judeo-Christian.

It seems to me that either term is appropriate, if placed in the proper context.

Personally, I'd prefer the term Christian Rationalism ... not that it is perfect, but I think it is closer to the mark.

King of Ireland said...

Ben stated:

"However, that the founding was the product of a Christian society with proportionately Judeo-Christian foundations, and not the product of individuals following orthodox doctrine is not made clear by the label Judeo-Christian."

The former is true as far as political theology went. The second is debatable. This was right after the Great Awakening. But the first is really the topic of this blog.

bpabbott said...


Com'on Joe, you're just asserting it's debatable because you're a Tory at heart.

"The Tory ethos can be summed up with the phrase God, KING and Country."

... but, of course, I'm just kidding about the KING's ... um, I mean Joe's ... position ;-)

And I agree everything is up for discussion/debate.

Well everything except, perhaps, that Tories supported the American Revolution.

"During the revolution, particularly after the Declaration of Independence in 1776 [the use of the term Tory] was extended to cover anyone who remained loyal to the British Crown. At the beginning of the war, it was estimated that as much as 40% of the American population were Tories."
-- History of the term Tory: American Revolution.

I'm not a very good student of what qualifies as being orthodox Christian. I'd associated "God, King, and Country" with that, but perhaps that isn't correct ... it certainly isn't today, but what of the founding period?

Looking at Wikipedia, I notice that orthodox Christianity is essentially a derivative of the Catholic Church. Which is consistent with the position that the founding wasn't based upon orthodox Christian doctrine (at least from my superficial position, as I'm not a theological expert).

King of Ireland said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
King of Ireland said...


I assure you of two things:

1. I have studied the Bible more than most Theologians say they have from the perspective of a skeptic and former atheist.

2. Forget(there is another word I would like to use but can't) King and Country. Tyrant jerks need to be deposed. See my latest post where Mayhew preached intentionally on the anniversary of the death of the deposed Charles.

I am my grandfather's son. He went against the grain too! Google my last name. Aside from the socialism that he was wrong about I am him.

bpabbott said...


I don't question your theological understanding, nor did I mean to seriously imply that you favor the Tory perspective.

I just couldn't resist poking fun, when given the opportunity.

I think you've nicely paraphrased what I think was the strongest undertow of the founding period. with; "f*ck King and Country" :-)

King of Ireland said...


I know you were kidding. Lets take that phrase and and sell it. I said the actual word in the comment I deleted but thought better of it because we do have pastors that post here that I do not want to disrespect. Have a good Christmas buddy!

Check out the post on The Big Tent I think we will find some common ground there.

Gregg Frazer said...

Tom, Tom, Tom,

Do you never tire of misrepresenting my views? I hope you got straw for Christmas so that you won't run out as you continue to make straw men.

You say: "Dr. Frazer's razor is, no Trinity, no Christianity." That, of course, is simply not true. The standard I took FROM THE 18TH-CENTURY CHURCHES THEMSELVES is a TEN-point standard -- not just one.

You say: ""theistic rationalism" scoops up whatever's left over" -- also not true. I recognize plenty of belief systems which are neither Christian nor theistic rationalism: Deism, Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism, Mormonism ... need I go on? There are particular elements of theistic rationalism which I identify in those I call theistic rationalists; I do not simply call anyone who's not trinitarian by that label. I also emphasize that theistic rationalism was a minority belief system.

Clarification: I do NOT call someone a theistic rationalist simply for being to the right of deism and to the left of Christianity -- they have to emphasize rationalism as the ultimate standard.

bp is quite correct that some of you guys have built a "straw man replica" and declared victory -- but not over my actual position.

But I take issue with his and others' description of the standard I've put forward as being that of "orthodox" Christianity. It is simply the standard of all of the major Christian denominations in 18th-century America -- denominations which disagreed vehemently on many things, but not the basic core fundamentals which constituted Christianity. It actually embraces a wide range of Christian denominations -- not just some narrow band.

bp is also correct when he notes that theistic rationalism does not exclude Christian principles, but rather places reason ABOVE them and as JUDGE of them.

bp is also correct when he points out the uselessness of talking about "Christian" ideas while expressing disdain for determining what "Christian" means.

It is also intriguing to hear that one is interested in "ideas" -- not "doctrines." What do you think doctrines are, if not ideas? My dissertation begins: "The Founders of the United States believed that ideas have consequences. Some of the most important and powerful ideas held by men are those concerning religion or those based on religious belief. Because they are so important and powerful, religious ideas inevitably influence political thought and practice. That was certainly true with respect to the American Founding."

Gregg Frazer said...

A problem (among many) with applying the term "Judeo-Christian" to the founding is that several of the key Founders did not believe in even the generic elements that Tom delineates. They did not believe in the God of the Old Testament because He was wrathful and it offended their sensibilities -- the same problem that many have today. Their understanding of God was dominated by the notion of "benevolence," so they could not accept the wrathful OT God.

They also did not accept the Bible as the revealed word of God -- they accepted certain PARTS of the Bible (very small parts at that) as revealed from God. They thought most of it flawed, corrupted, and the opinions of men.

So, even the few elements given to describe "Judeo-Christian" make the key Founders foreigners to that term.

Theistic rationalism does NOT ignore the generically Christian (hardly "completely Christian") culture of the Founding; in fact, the definition of theistic rationalism (as I've tried to make clear for months now) includes protestant Christianity as one of its three component elements.

And, again, there was no "near-universal belief that the Bible came from God." There was near universal belief that SOME of it came from God.

To say that "they rallied around ideas, not doctrines" ignores the fact that doctrines ARE ideas. And while it is true that they "rallied around" other types of ideas -- not just doctrines -- the broader ideas were influenced by their doctrinal beliefs.

bp: the problem with "Christian Rationalism" is that they weren't Christian! It would be akin to referring to a tiger as a "canine cat."

bpabbott said...

Gregg, I agree that the problem with "Christian Rationalism" is that it doesn't rely upon orthodox Christians, and thus will not accepted by those who embrace a rigorous standard for what qualifies as Christian.

My thought was that it does rely upon a society which was substantially influenced by Christian theology.

Thus, in this instance, my use of the term Christian refers to cats, in general, rather than to the Tiger.