Sunday, January 31, 2010

The Humane Society of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts

In my last post, I noted George Washington's letter to REVEREND JOHN LATHROP praising the original Humane Society of Massachusetts which Rev. Lathrop helped found.

That group is still around. You may view their official site here.

As this relates to Washington and religion, in "George Washington's Sacred Fire," Peter Lillback cites Washington's thoughts on Lathrop's sermon as evidence of his orthodox Christianity. Indeed, Lillback repeatedly notes Washington's special praise for the address, that he received it with "singular satisfaction." Lillback also claims said Humane Society was "deeply committed to historic Christianity." (p. 671.) Lillback's book defines "historic Christianity" as "orthodox."

The problem is, it's likely that Rev. Lathrop was not an orthodox Christian AND a number of the founders of the Humane Society were committed Unitarians.

From the official site:

Formally established in 1786, The Humane Society of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts elected James Bowdoin, the governor of Massachusetts and the founder of Bowdoin College, to be its first president. The other original trustees were Rev. John Clarke, Dr. Aaron Dexter, Rev. Dr. Simeon Howard, Rev. Dr. John Lathrop, Rev. Samuel Parker, Dr. Isaac Rand, Dr. John Warren, Dr. Thomas Welsh, Dr. Benjamin Waterhouse and Judge Oliver Wendell. In 1791, The Humane Society was formally incorporated in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

One of those unitarians, Dr. Waterhouse, corresponded with Thomas Jefferson. Jefferson felt comfortable writing what follows to Dr. Waterhouse:

... The doctrines of Jesus are simple, and tend all to the happiness of man.

1. That there is one only God, and he all perfect.
2. That there is a future state of rewards and punishments.
3. That to love God with all thy heart and thy neighbor as thyself, is the sum of religion.

These are the great points on which he endeavored to reform the religion of the Jews. But compare with these the demoralizing dogmas of Calvin.

1. That there are three Gods.
2. That good works, or the love of our neighbor, are nothing.
3 That faith is every thing, and the more incomprehensible the proposition, the more merit in its faith.
4. That reason in religion is of unlawful use.
5. That God, from the beginning, elected certain individuals to be saved, and certain others to be damned; and that no crimes of the former can damn them; no virtues of the latter save.

Now, which of these is the true and charitable Christian? He who believes and acts on the simple doctrines of Jesus? Or the impious dogmatists, as Athanasius and Calvin? ...

Regardless of whether the members of the Humane Society or, for that matter, Washington himself, were as extreme unitarians as was Jefferson, they all shared a very man centered theistic creed.

George Washington's Enlightenment Rationalism

George Washington's letter To REVEREND JOHN LATHROP, June 22, 1788, illustrates his self proclaimed Enlightenment rationalism. Rev. Lathrop, a purported unitarian, gave a discourse to the Humane Society of Massachusetts. Washington thanked Lathrop for sending him some kind of publication that related thereto. In what follows, I emphasized terms relevant to the thesis of this post:

Reverend and respected Sir: Your very acceptable favour of the 16th. of May, covering a recent publication of the proceedings of the Humane Society, 6 have, within a few days past, been put into my hands. I observe, with singular satisfaction, the cases in which your benevolent Institution has been instrumental in recalling some of our Fellow creatures (as it were) from beyond the gates of Eternity, and has given occasion for the hearts of parents and friends to leap for joy. The provision made for the preservation of ship-wrecked Mariners is also highly estimable in the view of every philanthropic mind and greatly consolatory to that suffering part of the Community. These things will draw upon you the blessings of those, who were nigh to perish. These works of charity and good-will towards men reflect, in my estimation, great lustre upon the authors and presage an �ra of still father improvements. How pitiful, in the eye of reason and religion, is that false ambition which desolates the world with fire and sword for the purposes of conquest and fame; when compared to the milder virtues of making our neighbours and our fellow men as happy as their frail conditions and perishable natures will permit them to be !

I am happy to find that the proposed general government meets with your approbation as indeed it does with that of the most disinterested and discerning men. The Convention of this State is now in session, and I cannot but hope from all the accounts I receive that the Constitution will be adopted by it; though not without considerable opposition. I trust, however, that the commendable example exhibited by the minority in your State will not be without its salutary influence in this. In truth it appears to me that (should the proposed government be generally and harmoniously adopted) it will be a new phenomenon in the political and moral world; and an astonishing victory gained by enlightened reason over brutal force. I have the honor &c. 7

The enlightened rationalistic creed of George Washington was theistic-Providential; it could present itself as "Christianity" or merely "religion"; but it was seemingly more "man centered" or humanistic than orthodox Christianity, especially Calvinism.

NEH Article on George Washington's Religion

The following is a good article by Orv Breitkreutz & Dr. Peter Gibbon on George Washington's religion (though it does, alas, slightly misquote GW's address to the Delaware Indians).

Here is a taste:

Several of the articles and books that were included in our assigned readings in the last three weeks have included allusions to George Washington’s religious beliefs, or lack thereof. We have learned that a variety of religious groups have claimed Washington’s allegiance, especially among the evangelical groups that became prominent in the nineteenth century. I recall, when visiting Freedom’s Foundation at Valley Forge a number of years ago, being impressed by the large statue of George Washington kneeling in prayer, apparently based upon Parson Weems’s dubious story so popular in both the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Even in the twenty-first century, television evangelists like Dr. James Kennedy and Timothy LaHaye (author of the Left Behind books) have claimed the General as a devout evangelical Christian. However, historians such as Peter Henriques call Washington a “theistic rationalist” who followed a “hybrid belief system mixing elements of natural religion, Christianity, and rationalism, with elements of rationalism being the predominant element.” Our astute historian Frank Grizzard, who has worked with the organizing and digitizing of Washington’s works for years, characterizes his religious beliefs as a mix of principles common to Stoicism, Freemasonry, and Christianity, in which Providence was conceived of as an “ ‘omnipotent,’ ‘benign,’ and ‘ beneficent’ Being that by ‘invisible workings’ in ‘infinite wisdom’ dispensed justice in the affairs of mankind. Astonishment and gratitude were owed this Being.” Many have expressed a bit of frustration because Washington seemed so reticent and reluctant to write down exactly what he believed concerning religion. In a famous letter to Dr. James Anderson (24December1795), we have evidence that he viewed his religious beliefs as “few and simple”:...

The article endorses Mary V. Thompson's (of Mount Vernon) "Latitudinarian" thesis. Thompson's "In the Hands of Good Providence: Religion in the Life of George Washington," is on my list. I've heard very good things about it.

I think the "latitudianarian" thesis is more or less correct, insofar as it does not contradict the "Christian-Deist," "theistic rationalist," "unitarian" thesis. These are, arguably, all different ways of saying the same thing. For instance, one could be a "Thomist," a "Roman Catholic," and an "orthodox Christian" without contradiction. Ditto with a "Presbyterian," a "Calvinist," and an "orthodox Christian" and so on.

There is a potential misuse of the latitudinarian thesis: In his 1200 page tome, Peter Lillback recognizes GW's latitudinarianism, but argues said movement was constrained by orthodox Trinitarian grounds.

Long story short: There was a "Latitudinarian" movement within the English Anglican Church. From the NEH article, quoting scholar D.F. Wright:

[Latitudinarians] became prominent churchmen. They included John Tillotson, Archbishop of Canterbury; Edward Stillingfleet, Bishop of Worcester; Simon Patrick, Bishop of Chichester and Ely; Gilbert Burnet, Reformation historian and Bishop of Salisbury; and Thomas Tenison, Archbishop of Canterbury. They reacted against the Calvinism of the Puritans and were broadly Arminian in outlook. They aligned themselves with progressive and liberal movements in the contemporary intellectual world....

Their comprehensiveness allowed only a narrow core of fundamentals in religion. They resisted the Laudian or High Church insistence on conformity in nonessentials such as church order and liturgy.

The capital L Latitudinarian movement occurred in late 17th Century England. They were friends with John Locke. It was still illegal to deny the Trinity in England during this time (it remained so until 1813). So, though the Latitudinarians were suspected of Arianism, Socinianism, few left smoking gun evidence of such and a case could be made that that movement occurred within orthodox Trinitarian grounds.

The problem is Washington was not part of that movement. He didn't call himself a "Latitudinarian" (just like he didn't call himself a "Deist," a "Unitarian" and rarely called himself a "Christian" either) or appeal to the authority of the figures named on that list. (And, though he commonly made biblical allusions as did practically everyone back then, he never proof quoted the Bible.)

Rather, Washington expressed a latitudinarian attitude on religious doctrine. Washington's latitudinarianism, based on the words he left, was constrained on Providential, not orthodox Trintiarian, grounds. That makes GW's latitudinarianism not meaningfully different from the Christian deism and unitarianism of the other "key Founders" (Jefferson, J. Adams, Franklin, etc.).

Indeed, the NEH article aptly defines what this theological system (whatever we term it) boils down to:

One early proponent is said to have reduced the Thirty-Nine Articles of the Anglican Church to five: “That God exists, that he should be worshiped, that man should order his faculties as the principal part of divine worship, that everyone is duty bound to repent his sins, and that rewards and punishments will follow our brief passage here” (Thompson 5).

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Washington Monthly On the Texas Education Controversy

See their article by Mariah Blake entitled "Revisionaries" here.

A taste:

Nevertheless, the allegations drummed up public outrage, and in April the board voted to stop the writing teams’ work and bring in a panel of experts to guide the process going forward—“expert,” in this case, meaning any person on whom two board members could agree. In keeping with the makeup of the board, three of the six people appointed were right-wing ideologues, among them Peter Marshall, a Massachusetts-based preacher who has argued that California wildfires and Hurricane Katrina were God’s punishment for tolerating gays, and David Barton, former vice chairman of the Texas Republican Party. Both men are self-styled historians with no relevant academic training—Barton’s only credential is a bachelor’s degree in religious education from Oral Roberts University—who argue that the wall of separation between church and state is a myth.

When the duo testified before the board in September, Barton, a lanky man with a silver pompadour, brought along several glass display cases stuffed with rare documents that illustrate America’s Christian heritage, among them a battered leather Bible that was printed by the Congress of the Confederation in 1782, a scrap of yellowing paper with a biblical poem scrawled by John Quincy Adams, and a stack of rusty printing plates for McGuffey Readers, popular late-1800s school books with a strong Christian bent. When he took to the podium that afternoon, Barton flashed a PowerPoint slide showing thick metal chains. “I really like the analogy of a chain—that we have all these chains that run through American history,” he explained in his rapid-fire twang. But, he added, in the draft social studies standards, the governmental history chain was riddled with gaps. “We don’t mention 1638, the first written constitution in America … the predecessor to the U.S. Constitution,” he noted as a hot pink “1638” popped up on the screen. By this he meant the Fundamental Orders of Connecticut, which called for a government based on the “Rule of the Word of God.” Barton proceeded to rattle off roughly a dozen other documents that pointed up the theocratic leaning of early American society, as the years appeared in orange or pink along the length of the chain.

Barton’s goal is to pack textbooks with early American documents that blend government and religion, and paint them as building blocks of our Constitution. In so doing, he aims to blur the fact that the Constitution itself cements a wall of separation between church and state. But his agenda does not stop there. He and the other conservative experts also want to scrub U.S. history of its inconvenient blemishes—if they get their way, textbooks will paint slavery as a relic of British colonialism that America struggled to cast off from day one and refer to our economic system as “ethical capitalism.” They also aim to redeem Communist hunter Joseph McCarthy, a project McLeroy endorses. As he put it in a memo to one of the writing teams, “Read the latest on McCarthy—He was basically vindicated.”

On the global front, Barton and company want textbooks to play up clashes with Islamic cultures, particularly where Muslims were the aggressors, and to paint them as part of an ongoing battle between the West and Muslim extremists. Barton argues, for instance, that the Barbary wars, a string of skirmishes over piracy that pitted America against Ottoman vassal states in the 1800s, were the “original war against Islamic Terrorism.” What’s more, the group aims to give history a pro-Republican slant—the most obvious example being their push to swap the term “democratic” for “republican” when describing our system of government. Barton, who was hired by the GOP to do outreach to black churches in the run-up to the 2004 election, has argued elsewhere that African Americans owe their civil rights almost entirely to Republicans and that, given the “atrocious” treatment blacks have gotten at the hands of Democrats, “it might be much more appropriate that … demands for reparations were made to the Democrat Party rather than to the federal government.” He is trying to shoehorn this view into textbooks, partly by shifting the focus of black history away from the civil rights era to the post-Reconstruction period, when blacks were friendlier with Republicans.

Barton and Peter Marshall initially tried to purge the standards of key figures of the civil rights era, such as César Chávez and Thurgood Marshall, though they were forced to back down amid a deafening public uproar. They have since resorted to a more subtle tack; while they concede that people like Martin Luther King Jr. deserve a place in history, they argue that they shouldn’t be given credit for advancing the rights of minorities. As Barton put it, “Only majorities can expand political rights in America’s constitutional society.” Ergo, any rights people of color have were handed to them by whites—in his view, mostly white Republican men.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

The Parson Weems Moment - 1854

"I am always at a loss to know how much to believe of my own stories." (from Tales of a Traveler, by Washington Irving, 1824)

In a recent e-mail exchange I was asked if I knew of "the Parson Weems moment," where the first mention of the story for George Washington adding "so help me God" had occurred.

I responded with the following material that is selected from So help me God in presidential oaths. The article is written by Mathew Goldstein and it contains a summary of the research carried out by Matt, myself, and others. A pertinent selection from the article follows:

The earliest known published claim that George Washington added that phrase to his oath appears in a book that was initially published in 1854 - The Republican Court; or, American Society in the Days of Washington, by Rufus Wilmot Griswold, 1854-1857, New York, page 141. Griswold says that he pieced together his account after having a conversation with Dr. [John Wakefield] Francis and Washington Irving during which time Irving had related "his recollections of the scene." Griswold then recalled Irving’s presence during the ceremony by saying, "He [Washington Irving] had watched the procession till the President entered Federal Hall, and from the corner of New street and Wall street had observed the subsequent proceedings in the balcony." [RS - The truth is that Irving was not located where he could see the procession as it moved up Broad Street.] Washington Irving was six years old at the time of George Washington's inauguration. The corner of New Street and Wall Street, ... is about 200 feet west from Federal Hall. From that distance and sideways viewing angle it is unlikely anyone would have a clear view of the activities or be able to hear what was said. Liza [Susan Morton (Quincy)] was watching from a balcony just across the street and she said she was "so near," that she "could almost hear him [George Washington] speak" when he took his oath. Yet somehow, Griswold claims to know that George Washington recited the "so help me God" phrase "with eyes closed". ... The [Dr.] "Reverend" R. W. Griswold was born in 1815 so he could not have been an eyewitness. Dr. Francis was born in 1789 and so he couldn't have been Griswold's source either.

Published three years afterwards was Life of George Washington, by Washington Irving, 1857, New York, volume 4, page 514. According to Pierre M. Irving and Washington Irving: A Collaboration in Life and Letters, by Wayne R. Kime, 1977, University Press, page 133, Irving had the idea for a Washington biography in 1825, started research by the early 1840s, and was writing by the early 1850s. Furthermore, it's clear that Washington's first inauguration was important to Irving's conception of that biography. Up until May 1855, he planned to end with that scene. Even after Irving decided to cover Washington's presidential terms, he wanted the first inauguration to be the climax of volume 4 (see pages 260, 297, and 326 of Pierre M. Irving and Washington Irving). That means Irving was mulling over the inauguration scene, possibly even drafting it, well before he published.

dot - dot - dot

The editor of the Memoir of the life of Eliza S. M. Quincy, ed. E S Quincy, Boston [Printed by J. Wilson] 1861, complains in a footnote at the bottom of page 52 that
The previous pages, which describe the entrance and inauguration of Washington, were sent to Mr. Irving, in 1856, at his request, by the Editor, and are inserted in his "Life of Washington," vol iv. pp. 510, 513, 514, but without reference to their source.
Eliza Morton Quincy was the younger sister to Jacob Morton, the person who it is said hastily retrieved the Masonic Bible for use during the inauguration. An excerpt of an earlier version of the same manuscript, published in 1856, which does not claim that George Washington appended "so help me God," can be found in the Century Magazine, volume 37, issue 6, April 1889, page 827, The Inauguration of Washington, by Clarence Winthrop Bowen. Two other accounts of the inauguration claiming George Washington appended "so help me God" were also published that year. Life and Times of Washington, John Frederick Schroeder, (Completed by Ben Lossing & R.W. Griswold), 1857 [published posthumously], Johnson, Fry, and Company, New York, pg 308 and Memoirs of Washington, by Caroline Matilda Kirkland, 1857, New York: D. Appleton, p. 438.

Schroeder and Kirkland mingled with Griswold and Irving in the same New York city literary circles. Nowhere, among these four authors, does anyone specify just how they came by their claim that George Washington included the words "So help me God." Schroeder, an Episcopalian minister, died on Feb. 26, 1857 before he completed his book. Griswold [who died on August 27th of that same year] had a hand in completing Schroeder's book. Kirkland mimicked Griswold and wrote, "..., he [Washington] was observed to say audibly, 'I swear!' adding, with closed eyes, as if to collect all his being into the momentous act - 'So help me God!'" It thus appears possible that the "Reverend" Griswold originated the assertion that George Washington appended "so help me God" and also had a hand in getting the other three authors to assert the same. [RS - It should be noted that the preface in Kirkland's book is dated "October,1856," which indicates that she was the next person to reproduce Griswold's version of Washington's oath. This could have left Irving in the awkward position of obligingly adding "so help me God" to Washington's oath of office, even if he hadn't been Griswold's original source.]

According to The Religious Beliefs of Our Presidents, by Franklin Steiner, 1936, most of Washington Irving's biography of George Washington is copied from the biography written by historian [Jared] Sparks, Irving did little if any original research for his popular biography of George Washington. Similarly, in his article on Washington in the Dictionary of American Biography (1936), J C Fitzpatrick wrote, "Washington Irving, Life of GW (5 vols., 1855-1859) is satisfactory from most viewpoints, though its reliance on [Jared] Sparks lessens the confidence it would otherwise command." Sparks biography, although well researched, was written in a biased manner that exaggerates and promotes Washington's status as Hero. The following description of the bias of Jared Spark's biography of George Washington is from The Americans: The National Experience by Daniel J Boorstin "Part Seven - SEARCH FOR SYMBOLS Ch. 39 - The Mythologizing of George Washington":
Sparks followed the style of his day. His biography, which prefaced the writings, was pious, pallid, and reverential. The Hero was of commanding figure, symmetrical features, indomitable courage, pure character, and perfect judgment; "his moral qualities were in perfect harmony with those of his intellect." Sparks' appendix, "Religious Opinions and Habits", was an ingenious whitewash in which Washington's failure to attend communion became an argument for his religiosity. "He may have believed it improper publicly to partake of an ordinance, which, according to the ideas he entertained of it, imposed severe restrictions on outward conduct, and a sacred pledge to perform duties impracticable in his situation. Such an impression would be natural to a serious mind . . . a man of a delicate conscience and habitual reverence for religion." There was no passage in Washington's writings, Sparks noted, which expressed doubt of the Christian revelation. In a man of such Christian demeanor, what more conclusive proof that he was a true and tolerant Christian?
The writings were edited in a similar spirit. In selecting a mere eleven [volumes] from what might have filled four times that many volumes, Sparks had ample freedom to ennoble his subject. While Sparks did not actually add passages of his own, he omitted passages at will without warning the reader and he improved the language when it seemed unworthy of the Hero. He explained all this in his introduction: "It would be an act of unpardonable injustice to any author, after his death, to bring forth compositions, and particularly letters, written with no design for their publication, and commit them to press without previously subjecting them to careful revision." Challenged later on his editorial methods, Sparks argued with charming naivete that he was really being true to his subject because Washington himself in his old age revised his early letters. Wherever Sparks had a choice he preferred Washington's own latter revision (again without warning the reader) in place of what had actually been written in the heat of the events. And Sparks made changes of his own. Where, for example, Washington had written of the "rascally crews" of New England privateersmen, Sparks emended the text to read simply the "crews." Washington's reference to the "dirty mercenary spirit" of the Connecticut troops became the "mercenary spirit," and their "scandalous conduct" was softened to their "conduct." "Old Put." became the more dignified "General Putnam." When Washington referred contemptuously to a small sum of money as "but a fleabite at present," Sparks improved it to read "Totally inadequate to our demands at this time." Sparks again and again and again changed the words to make them worthy of his Hero.
[end article]

For those SHMG proponents who suggest Irving could have had a source of his own, yes, that's always a conjectural possibility. However, please consider that Washington Irving, by his own admission, relied heavily upon the works of Jared Sparks. Sparks did not claim Washington had modified the presidential oath. In addition, Irving was acquainted with his contemporaries, such as James Kirke Paulding, William Alexander Duer, and Eliza Susan Morton, all of whom, earlier than Irving, had each published their version of Washington's first inauguration. None of these writers reported anything about Washington including "so help me God" as being part of the inaugural ceremony. Consequently, we can surmise that when Washington Irving wrote his description of Washington's inauguration it is evident that he took most of his narrative from Eliza Susan Morton Quincy and recirculated the Griswold's undocumented religious tagline.

If Irving had been responsible for priming Griswold with the story that Washington had added "so help me God" to his oath, it wasn't the first time he had planted those words on the lips of one of his literary heroes at a dramatic moment (see Tales of the Alhambra: to which are added Legends of the conquest of Spain, pg 262). One way or another, Irving probably wanted to plant his story with Griswold, because he felt that would boost his credibility in spite of his employing an unidentifiable source when he published Volume 4 of his biography of George Washington. It did stick, and has stuck around just as well as his Santa Claus myth, and his flat earth myth.

That's right, there's no smoking gun. Just a few dead people. It turns out, Griswold died of Tuberculosis in New York City on August 27, 1857. A friend, Charles Godfrey Leland, found in Griswold's desk several documents attacking a number of authors which Griswold was preparing for publication. Leland decided to burn them (see Arthur Hobson Quinn's book, Edgar Allen Poe: a critical biography, pg162).

R.I.P. Howard Zinn

Howard Zinn, the passionate political historian who has been a regular topic of controversy here at American Creation, died yesterday from a heart attack at the age of 87. For many, Zinn was the voice of the "little man" who often went ignored by traditional historians. For others, Zinn represented a radical interpretation of history that ignored both the "great man" and shunned the divine. But no matter your persuasion, there can be little doubt that Zinn did add something (good or bad) to American historiography. From the New York Times:

“A People’s History” told an openly left-wing story. Professor Zinn accused Christopher Columbus and other explorers of committing genocide, picked apart presidents from Andrew Jackson to Franklin D. Roosevelt and celebrated workers, feminists and war resisters.

Even liberal historians were uneasy with Professor Zinn, who taught for many years at Boston University. Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. once said: “I know he regards me as a dangerous reactionary. And I don’t take him very seriously. He’s a polemicist, not a historian.”

In a 1998 interview with The Associated Press, Professor Zinn acknowledged that he was not trying to write an objective history, or a complete one. He called his book a response to traditional works, the first chapter, not the last, of a new kind of history.

“There’s no such thing as a whole story; every story is incomplete,” Professor Zinn said. “My idea was the orthodox viewpoint has already been done a thousand times.”

“A People’s History” had some famous admirers, including the actors Matt Damon and Ben Affleck. The two grew up near Professor Zinn, were family friends and gave the book a plug in their Academy Award-winning screenplay for “Good Will Hunting.”

Oliver Stone was a fan, as was Bruce Springsteen, whose bleak “Nebraska” album was inspired in part by “A People’s History.” The book was the basis of a 2007 documentary, “Profit Motive and the Whispering Wind,” and even showed up on “The Sopranos,” in the hand of Tony’s son, A.J.

Professor Zinn himself was an impressive-looking man, tall and rugged with wavy hair. An experienced public speaker, he was modest and engaging in person, more interested in persuasion than in confrontation.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Samuel W. Calhoun v. Geoff Stone on the Christian Nation Debate

Samuel W. Calhoun writes a spirited response to Geoff Stone's "The World of the Framers: A Christian Nation?" A taste:

Professor Stone’s evidence for deism’s surpassing significance is flawed. By his own description of their beliefs, some of which were indisputably deis?tic, Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson do not belong in the “flat-out” deist category to which Professor Stone assigns them.[17] Deists thought that God does not “intervene[ ] in human history,”[18] yet Franklin believed that God “‘governs the World by his Providence.’”[19] Jefferson was “the primary drafter of the Declaration of Independence.”[20] Professor Stone characterizes this document as “a statement . . . of American deism,”[21] but its language shows the opposite to be true. If God does not interact with mankind, why did the signatories appeal to the “Supreme Judge of the World” to vindicate their honorable intentions, and also express confidence in “the Protection of divine Providence”?[22]

Another way to overemphasize the impact of deism is to overstate the decline of orthodox Christianity. Professor Stone does this in part by oversim?plifying the record concerning the complex issue of George Washington’s religious faith. A letter to Lafayette is quoted in which Washington said that he was “‘no bigot . . . to any mode of worship.’”[23] It is also claimed that “Washington’s personal papers . . . offer no evidence that he believed in . . . Jesus’[ ] divinity”[24]; that “[i]n several thousand letters, he never once mentioned Jesus”[25]; and that, “[a]s president, Washington was always careful not to invoke Christianity[, but h]is official speeches, orders, and other public communica?tions scrupulously reflected the perspective of a deist.”[26][JSK1]

Contrast this rendering with the fuller picture. Washington’s statement to Lafayette is accurately related as far as it goes, but Professor Stone omits the critical words that follow the quoted phrase: “Being no bigot myself to any mode of worship, I am disposed to indulge the professors of Christianity in the church, that road to Heaven, which to them shall seem the most direct plainest easiest and least liable to exception.”[27] Professor Stone is correct to suggest that had Washington been a committed Christian, one would expect to find more references to Jesus and Christianity in his works. But Professor Stone once again gives an incomplete account. First, at least one of his three specific claims about Washington’s use of language is incorrect.[28] Washington as president did not “scrupulously reflect[ ]” a deistic perspective. In an October 1789 Thanksgiving Proclamation, Washington referred to “Almighty God,”[29][JSK2] hardly a “deistic phrase[ ],”[30] and also urged that various “prayers and supplications” be offered,[31] a nonsensical entreaty had he shared the deistic belief that God does not “listen[ ] to personal prayers.”[32] Second, Professor Stone ignores two public occasions when Washington did refer to Jesus. In 1779, General Washington urged the Delaware Chiefs “to learn our arts and ways of life, and above all, the religion of Jesus Christ. These will make you a greater and happier people than you are.”[33] More importantly, Washington ended his 1783 Circular Letter to the Governors of All the States on Disbanding the Army by stating in his prayer for the Governors and their respec?tive States that

God would . . . dispose us all to do justice, to love mercy, and to demean ourselves with that charity, humility, and pacific temper of mind, which were the characteristics of the Divine Author of our blessed religion, and without an humble imitation of whose example in these things, we can never hope to be a happy nation.[34]

Prof. Stone responds. A taste:

In reading Professor Calhoun’s response, I was struck not only by his determination to refute almost every statement, but also by his sharply accu?satory tone. (I should note that, in a rare moment of magnanimity, Professor Calhoun generously acquits me of being “shrill,”[3] though I’m not at all sure I can return the compliment.) I have often challenged the work of scholars with whom I disagree, and they have often challenged me. But rarely have I seen so uncivil a tone as that evidenced by Professor Calhoun. Don’t get me wrong. I am a big fan of free speech and I would defend to the death Professor Calhoun’s right to be as uncivil as he likes. Indeed, if he truly believes that I “distorted” the evidence in order to “mislead” my audience, then he is certainly right to take me to the woodshed. But why would he accuse me of intentionally distorting the evidence and attempting to mislead my audience? Whatever happened to honest error (if error there be) and collegial disagreement? Professor Calhoun seems like a perfectly decent fel?low, so what is going on here? Why in God’s name is he so overwrought?

My puzzlement goes well beyond Professor Calhoun’s litany of quibbles and un-Christian tone. More substantively, he attacks me repeatedly for claims I never made. This is vexing. I was quite careful in my lecture to state pre?cisely what I was claiming. I made three claims that seem most relevant to this discussion: First, and most importantly, I claimed that the Framers did not intend to establish a Christian nation. Second, I claimed that the Framers believed that religion “should play a role in helping ‘to preserve the civil morality necessary to democracy,’” but that they also thought that “in the ‘public business of the nation’” it was “essential for the government to speak of religion ‘in a way that was unifying, not divisive.’”[4] And third, I claimed that when we consider what the Constitution “allows” in the realm of relig?ion, “it helps to know the truth” about what the Framers believed and “what they aspired to when they created this nation.”[5]

With respect to my first claim, Professor Calhoun concedes the point.[6] Thus, we can put aside the Christian nation issue. Ironically, in light of the fury of his attack, this was the primary point of my lecture, as was evident from its title—The World of the Framers: A Christian Nation?

One quibble with Prof. Calhoun's analysis of GW & the letter to the Delaware Indians (which like the 1783 Circular was not written by Washington but signed by him). The entire context of GW's correspondence reveals he wasn't URGING them to “to learn our arts and ways of life, and above all, the religion of Jesus Christ" but rather APPROVING of their already made decision to do so.

This is exactly what Washington said with MY EMPHASIS on how the phrase SHOULD read when one understands the context:

Brothers: I am glad you have brought three of the Children of your principal Chiefs to be educated with us. I am sure Congress will open the Arms of love to them, and will look upon them as their own Children, and will have them educated accordingly. This is a great mark of your confidence and of your desire to preserve the friendship between the Two Nations to the end of time, and to become One people with your Brethen of the United States. My ears hear with pleasure the other matters you mention. Congress will be glad to hear them too. You do well to wish to learn our arts and ways of life, and above all, the religion of Jesus Christ. These will make you a greater and happier people than you are. Congress will do every thing they can to assist you in this wise intention; and to tie the knot of friendship and union so fast, that nothing shall ever be able to loose it.

For more on the context see here. I noted that GW was replying to a REQUEST from the Indians a part of which read as follows:

5th. That the said Delaware Nation have established a Town where numbers of them have embraced Christianity under the Instruction of the Reverend and worthy Mr David Ziesberger whose honest zealous Labours & good Examples have Induced many of them to listen to the Gospel of Jesus Christ, which has been a means of introducing considerable order, Regularity and love of Peace into the Minds of the whole Nation — the[y] therefore hope Congress will countenance & promote the Mission of this Gentleman, so far away as they may deem expedient; and they may rely that the Delaware Nation will afford every encouragement thereto in their power.

It's a non-sequitur to conclude -- as some have -- that Washington was an orthodox Christian based on his expressed sentiments (written by aide, Robert Hanson Harrison) to the Delaware Indians. Rather Washington intuitively thought it a good idea for Indians to convert to the dominant religion of America and learn our other ways of life. George Washington thought the purpose of "religion," -- i.e., why Indians should convert to Christianity -- was civic utility. No evidence shows GW thought only Christianity true, other religions false (i.e., the orthodox position). Did he, GW wouldn't have twice (here and here), when speaking to unconverted Natives, termed God the "Great Spirit" suggesting unconverted Natives worshipped the same God Christians do.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Peabody on the Stone, Tillman et al., Christian Nation Debate

Bruce G. Peabody has posted his response to the debate among Geoff Stone, Seth Tillman and others on the "Christian Nation" controversy. His paper is titled "Analogize This: Partial Constitutional Text, Religion, and Maintaining Our Political Order," 2010 Cardozo L. Rev. de novo (forthcoming), available here.

Dare to Be Daniel, Dare to Obey the Speed Limit

Many of Gregg Frazer's lectures have been uploaded to The Master's College's Pulpit Files here. You can listen to a number of them where he discusses the Founding Fathers and religion.

This is the newest lecture. He discusses the Romans 13 obedience/submission dynamic that I've featured on my blogs.

It's a refreshing orthodox biblical perspective that you don't oft-hear. For instance, you'll hear Dr. Frazer justify, on biblical grounds, 1) the idea that Christians are to pay all of their taxes. All of them, even if you think they are unjust. And 2) Christians are to obey government simply because government said so; that is, unless government commands a believer to actively or by omission sin (for instance tell a believer to stop preaching the gospel). That's the one exception to the always obey rule. That means you drive the speed limit because government said so.

Gordon Wood Talks Empire of Liberty

The following is a wonderful presentation by mega historian and early American juggernaut Gordon Wood. Wood (who is my favorite historian) discusses his newest book, Empire of Liberty which is a surefire classic and a likely candidate for the Pulitzer Prize. The video is a little over an hour but well worth your time! Enjoy:

That Other George Bush:

Not W or HW. He was an early notable Swedenborgian convert. Learn about him here. And here. Here are some of his papers.

America's First Memorial

***My sincere apologies for going MIA the past few weeks. I realize that this isn't the most thought-provoking post in the world but I didn't want to let too much more time go without posting at least a little something. I promise to post better material in the near future.***


The United States has no shortage of monuments and memorials. Whether in the form of elegant architecture, massive stone carvings or beautiful tapestries, Americans have never shied away from paying homage to their past (and thank goodness).

Of all the famous monuments that span across this massive nation, one goes relatively unrecognized, and it just so happens that this monument happens to be America's FIRST official monument. On January 25, 1776 (the anniversary is just a few days from today) the Continental Congress authorized the first American war memorial in its then short history. It was dedicated to Brigadier General Richard Montgomery who was killed during the failed attack on Quebec the previous year. It was also at this battle that Benedict Arnold was wounded.

Due to his exemplary leadership and bravery in battle, Montgomery was honored with the highest recognition the nation could afford him. The monument, which symbolizes Montgomery's bravery and intellect, was adorned with a plaque which reads:

This Monument is erected by the order of Congress 25th Janry 1776 to transmit to Posterity a grateful remembrance of the patriotism conduct enterprise & perserverance of Major General RICHARD MONTGOMERY Who after a series of successes amidst the most discouraging Difficulties FELL in the attack on QUEBEC 31st Decbr 1775. Aged 37 years.

Though obscured by years of progress, this monument, which still stands today at New York City's St. Paul's Chapel (directly across from where the World Trade Towers once stood), serves as a poignant memorial to all Americans (not only Montgomery) who fought and died in the American Revolution. Though virtually forgotten by the majority of the American populace, Montgomery retains a special spot in the pantheon of great American generals.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Two plus Two makes What?

Last week I received an e-mail announcement from Newt Gingrich telling of his latest speech, delivered to the John Locke Foundation in North Carolina. It sounds similar to the speech he delivered three months earlier in Wheeling, Ohio. One of the topics he delved into is what is the sum of two plus two. Here's a pertinent part:
I think the most important symbol ... or political slogan of the next 20 years is very simple: two plus two equals four. I know it's bold. It's out on the edge. But I want you to think about it. ... (Gingrich then told of how the Polish people used this as a sign to post in their communities, as a way to oppose the dictatorship.) What it said to the Polish people was if the government tells you that two plus two equals five, they're lying to you. If they tell you two plus two equals three, they're lying to you.

In the George Orwell novel ''1984,'' Orwell has the state torturer say to the innocent citizen he's torturing that if we tell you that two plus two equals five, you better believe us or we'll continue torturing you. And the citizen eventually gets tired of being tortured and says that yes, two plus two equals whatever you say, but in the back of his head he's thinking what if two plus two equals four? ... And it goes back to a play [or, more likely, a Pierre Sauvage's documentary Weapons of the Spirit] (in which it is said) that you can be executed for saying two plus two equals four because the establishment can't afford to have the truth spoken.
Gingrich goes on to illustrate that the current fiscal crisis resulted from the federal government's "new math" (my term) that essentially spelled out how people could buy homes even if their available resources didn't add up to the necessary cost of owning a home.
Ironically, in contrast to Gingrich illustrating how the federal government fell into the trap of not having the "truth spoken" when it comes to home ownership, he has promulgated the evangelical minded, federal establishment's view regarding the role of the religious codicil, "So help me God," as being part of our presidential inaugural history, which from a fact-based perspective is just another way of saying "two plus two makes five." Gingrich applied his own Orwellian arithmetic to part of his December 2006 and 2007 video broadcast, One Nation Under God: Religion and History in Washington, D.C. - Fox News Specials. Furthermore, as is his practice, when Gingrich gets hold of a good historical whopper he repeats it over and over again. See here and here.

Ultimately, I can dismiss Newt Gingrich as one who frequently prefers the "two plus two makes five" edition of history over the alternative. However, when it comes to members of the Senate Rules Committee, who in bold defiance of historical reality promote a confabulated view of George Washington's first inauguration as if it is totally based on fact, I get concerned. You can see the Rules Committee's recast version of the Gingrich video here, which can also be accessed from the website, Inaugural History - Facts and Firsts. An invitation to view the "So help me God" video - "a historical look at the Inaugural Ceremonies 1789-2005" appears first. A table with the column headings "Inauguration Dates - Presidents - Facts and Firsts" follows, where the first tabulated entry reads:

April 30, 1789 - George Washington - First Inauguration; precedents set include the phrase, "So help me God," and kissing the Bible after taking the oath.

This same table of inaugural Facts and Firsts is presented within A Guide to the Presidential Inauguration - Barack Obama - 44th President of the United States. See Page 9. The cited source is the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies, which is, of course, managed by the Senate Rules Committee.

If one turns to page 20, we see a longer version of George Washington's first inaugural ceremony as it originally appeared in the article, Barack Obama Presidential Inauguration - Reviewing Inaugural History. There the article reads:

The heart of the affair is the inaugural oath, first recited by George Washington on the balcony of New York City's Federal Hall, the original seat of government, on April 30, 1789.
The 35-word oath is prescribed in the Constitution, but Washington added the phrase "So help me God," and placed his left hand on a Bible hastily borrowed from a Masonic Lodge on Wall Street. Most later presidents have followed the founding father's precedent.
The truth of the matter is that "most later presidents" are not known to "have followed the founding father's precedent," It is true, most modern presidents beginning with the twentieth century have added "so help me God" to their oath of office, but the only known indication that this "precedent" can be traced back to George Washington only appears in print after the Eisenhower administration.

So, a person might ask, "What does this all matter? People make mistakes all the time."

What matters is that:

1) judicial opinions appear to have been corroborated even when based on an inadequate reconstruction of our historical past, such as the one offered by Associate Justice Antonin Scalia in McCreary v.ACLU:
That [the European secular model] is one model of the relationship between church and state–a model spread across Europe by the armies of Napoleon, and reflected in the Constitution of France, which begins “France is [a] . . . secular . . . Republic.” France Const., Art. 1, in 7 Constitutions of the Countries of the World, p. 1 (G. Flanz ed. 2000). Religion is to be strictly excluded from the public forum. This is not, and never was, the model adopted by America. George Washington added to the form of Presidential oath prescribed by Art. II, §1, cl. 8, of the Constitution, the concluding words “so help me God.” See Blomquist, The Presidential Oath, the American National Interest and a Call for Presiprudence, 73 UMKC L. Rev. 1, 34 (2004);
2) scholars, researchers, and students take statements that appear on federally sponsored websites as based on fact, even when that may not be true. Here's a recent example taken from a 2009 Cardoza Law Review article, What Oaths Meant to the Framers' Generation: A Preliminary Sketch, De Novo 280, by Steve Sheppard:
[I]t is a mistake to think that the Founding generation saw the oath as a thoroughly religious commitment. Indeed, Blackstone saw the Oath as a way of bringing religion to bear in enforcing an independent obligation, arising from the acceptance of office, not from the oath itself.

In many instances, the nature of the oath, and the obligations of it, were seen as effectively secular, and whatever religious trappings the oath brought were simply overlooked. Thus, when the oath of allegiance was taken by the executive and legislative officers, no reference to God was expected (in part, no doubt, owing to respect for the Religious Tests Clause). Whatever implied notion of religious significance in the oath is there was seen generally as an option, like the presidential oath, in which “So help me God” was added by the president-elect to the constitutionally required text, a practice that became a common custom. [24]

[24] President Washington chose to add the phrase in taking his own oath, and the custom has been continued as a matter of the choice of many, but not, all Presidents. See Inauguration of the President: George Washington. (RSUpdate: see 12/14/2010 AC blog.)

3) Ashville Daily Planet, Oct. 17, 2009 - Newt Gingrich spoke to an audience at Montreat College’s Anderson Auditorium:
Gingrich then asked, “Where do our rights come from? Not from the state.” To that end, he cited a passage in George Orwell’s “1984,” when there is an assertion by the state that if it says 2 + 2 = 5, then citizens must accept that as fact, articulating the belief that “power can redefine truth.” (no source found)

Jeremy Belknap, Theological Universalist

Not only did Rev. Jeremy Belknap believe in the Sabellian heresy, he also apparently believed in universal salvation, or at the least disbelieved in eternal damnation for any soul.

What follows are some of Belknap's comments on the matter, recorded in Sprague's "Annals of the American Unitarian pulpit." The "Murray" to whom Belknap refers is John Murray a Trinitarian Universalist who helped convert Benjamin Rush to Universalism. The "Chauncy" is Rev. Charles Chauncy, one of the first and most notable unitarian universalist ministers in the Congregational Church. And a "key Patriotic Preacher."

"My practice has always been to study the Scriptures in order to find out truth and duty. What there appears sufficient evidence for I admit as truth: where the evidence is not sufficient to induce belief, I allow myself to doubt. This every man has a right to do.

"As to the controversy about Murray, I never conversed with him but once—what he said was new and strange. On examining my Bible, I saw no reason to admit it, and therefore passed it by.

"Some years ago, Murray came into my parish. Some people wished to hear him, and asked me fur the liberty of the pulpit. I said it was mine when I wanted it, and theirs when they pleased to use it. They got him to preach. I did not attend; but, understanding that he had been on the parable of the tares and wheat, I took the liberty, as I thought was my duty, to preach the next Sabbath against what I deemed the errors adopted by his followers." [Here he read the sermon.] "These were then my sentiments, and they are the same now. I never had a doubt that faith, repentance and holiness, or a change from a state of sin to newness of life, is necessary to prepare us for Heaven.

"When the Chauncy controversy came abroad, which engaged every body's attention more or less, it was natural for me to incline to one side or the other. I was inclined to call in question the immortality of the wicked in a state of future punishment, though I had no doubt of the certainty of the punishment. There are difficulties attending the subject on every side in which it can be viewed; and, after much thought upon the matter, I am inclined to this opinion;—that the revelation which God has given us in the Scriptures is intended to regulate our present conduct in this world, and to give us to understand what will be the consequences, in the future state, of our good and bad behaviour here.

"I believe the resurrection of the just and the unjust; that the life which the just shall receive from Christ at their resurrection will be immortal; and that they shall never die any more; but doubt whether it can be proved from the Scriptures that the life which the wicked shall receive at their resurrection is immortal—if it can, it will follow that their misery will never end;—but am rather inclined to think that the life which they will then receive will be a mortal life, that they will be subject to a series of misery and torment which will terminate in a second death. Whether this second death is an utter extinction of being, or whether they will be delivered from it by another resurrection, are points which I cannot determine, nor do I think the Scripture affords us full satisfaction on these subjects; so that I expect no full solution in this world, and am fully contented with believing that the surest way for us is to believe in Christ, to fear God, and work righteousness in obedience to the Gospel, and thus secure our own happiness, without prying too curiously into the secret and future designs of God. The Apostles themselves declare,—'We know but in part, and we prophecy but in part.' If the chosen and inspired ambassadors of Jesus Christ were imperfect in their knowledge, how can we expect perfection in this life?

"If, upon this declaration of my mind, you see fit to recommend to the Society to recall the invitation they have given me to settle with you, I am content."

And then there is the following from "A history of the Unitarians and the Universalists in the United States," by Joseph Henry Allen, Richard Eddy:

Rev. Dr. Jeremy Belknap, pastor of the Federal Street Congregational Church, Boston, and one of the founders of the Massachusetts Historical Society, has left an avowal of his belief in Universalism. His correspondence with Ebenezer Hazard, of Philadelphia, has been published by the Historical Society. In it Hazard acknowledges receipt of a copy of Dr. Chauncy's pamphlet in 1782, inquires who is the author, and adds: "If it is unscriptural, I am too ignorant to be able to see it. I think, however, it does honor to the mercy of the Deity, without doing injury to divine justice." Dr. Belknap replies: "The design of emitting this piece was good, but I am not altogether pleased with its execution, because it seems to be an attempt to recommend the doctrine by the force of human authority. . . . However, the truth of the case is this: the doctrine of universal restitution has long been kept as a secret among learned men. Murray has published some undeniable truths concerning it, mixed with 'a jargon of absurdity; and one Winchester among you has followed his example. . . . As to the doctrine itself, of which you desire my opinion, I frankly own to you that I have for several years been growing in my acquaintance with it and my regard for it. I wished it might be true long before I saw any just reason to conclude it was so. ... But at present I do not see how the doctrine can be disproved, if the Scripture be allowed to speak for itself, and the expressions therein used be understood in their natural sense, without any systematical or synodical comments."

Monday, January 18, 2010

Jeremy Belknap, Sabellian

Rev. Jeremy Belknap (June 4, 1744 – June 20, 1798) was a notable Founding era minister, chaplain and friendly correspondent of George Washington.

William Sprague's "Annals of the American Unitarian Pulpit" reproduces Rev. Belknap's argument for Sabellianism. Basically, he thought orthodox trinitarianism was to close to tritheism. As he noted:

"According to Dr. Watts' view of the present subject,— 'The Father, the Word and the Holy Ghost, are the one living and true God.' To this proposition I give my ready assent. And whoever does so, whatever be his peculiar mode of explication, I will maintain has as just a claim to the character of Orthodox as they who do it in the Athanasian sense. And for any who adopt that or any other mode of explication, to monopolize Orthodoxy to themselves, is a degree of presumption unbecoming fallible creatures, especially those who allow that the Mode of subsistence in the Sacred Three is not ascertained in Scripture; and indeed it is inconsistent with the avowed Catholicism of the ablest and best writers, who are most partial to the general Calvinistic system.

"With respect to the idea of Personality, as applicable to the Father, Son and Spirit. Dr. Watts differed from many Trinitarians, as he denied (and I think with sufficient reason) that there are in Deity three distinct Infinite Spirits, or really distinct persons, in the common sense of that term, each having a distinct intelligence, volition, power, &c., thinking such a supposition inconsistent with the proper Unity of the Godhead; which is doubtless one of the most obvious and fundamental doctrines of revelation.

"But it is to be remembered that, with regard to the definition of personality, Trinitarians widely differ among themselves. While some suppose it to be Real, others think it only Modal or nominal; and others somewhat between both. Some of the two latter classes have charged the former with Tritheism; and to me it seems difficult to clear the doctrine from the imputation. Nor can I conceive what Tritheism is, if this hypothesis does not come under the description. To assert a mere Unity of Essence or Nature will not obviate the difficulty; for three Divine persons or beings, though of the same nature, or in other words, all of them Exactly Alike, (which seem-, to be the meaning of the term and is the popular idea,) would be, as really three Gods, as three human persons of the same nature, were they in all respects alike, would be three men. Such a sentiment, I think, ought to be zealously opposed as heretical.


— "As to those who use the common Trinitarian language in the Sabellian sense, (which, upon a close inquiry, I have found to be the case with some, and have reason to think it so with many,) they have little reason to cry out 'heresy' at the mode of interpretation for which I am here apologizing.

"That it should by any be stigmatized with the name either of Socinianism or Arianism, appears to me perfectly uncandid and unjust. The Ante-Nicene fathers adopted this hypothesis. And, if I understand the great Reformer Calvin aright, he, in like manner, conceived of the Word and Spirit of God, as the Wisdom and Power, of Deity personified. The pious Mr. Baxter adopted a like personification, and severely reproves those orthodox men, who anathematize them that espouse such a mode of explaining the Trinity. Certain it is that Socinians reject such kind of language, and disavow the notion of a Trinity in any form; not now to say any thing of the atonement, which they universally deny, but which those I am defending as strenuously maintain.

"As to Arians, properly so called, if I have any idea of their sentiments, they consider the Logos and the Holy Spirit as Created Beings; which I think with Dr. Watts, is an error, most manifestly repugnant to Scripture doctrine.

"It is true Dr. Watts maintained the man Christ Jesus to have been a created being. But if, on that account, his followers are justly charged with heresy, I know not who will be exempt; for I suppose all will allow that Christ was properly Man, and as such created. Some indeed maintain that he was a human Person as really as any other man is so, and on this ground deny that his Divinity was a Real Person, distinct from that of the Father, (for otherwise there would be two persons in Christ,) while others strangely and arbitrarily suppose (to avoid this last absurdity) that the manhood of Christ was merely a created Nature. But both allow the Deity of Christ to consist in the union of the Godhead and the manhood in the person of Emanuel, so that in Him God was manifest in the flesh.' This general argument I look upon as all that is essential to true orthodoxy, and a sufficient bond of union. How much farther Christian charity may safely extend, it is not my present business to inquire."

Unitarianism and Line Drawing

"Annals of the American Unitarian" pulpit by William Buell Sprague is a good free book that sources early Founding era unitarian theologians.

Though, they have an interesting definition of "unitarian." Theological line drawing -- especially the vexing question of "what is Christianity" -- by its nature invites disagreement. This book includes not just Arianism and Socinianism as unitarian doctrines but also Sabellianism. That doctrine teaches a divine Trinity -- Fathers, Son, and Spirit -- existing in ONE person, not THREE. Swedenborgs and "oneness Pentacostals" believe in, if not Sabellianism, something similar to it.

As the book notes:

The word Unitarian, in its most general signification, denotes one who believes that God exists in one person only, in contradistinction to one who receives the doctrine of the Trinity. Under this generic name, however, are ranged several classes whose views differ widely from each other. Of these, the most prominent are the Sabellians, who maintain that the Word and Holy Spirit are only different manifestations or functions of the Deity; the Arians, who believe that Jesus Christ is neither God nor Man, but a Superangelical Being; and the Humanitarians, who regard Him as a mere Man. In respect to the influence of Christ's death, some suppose that it contributes to our pardon, as it was a principal means of confirming the Christian religion, and giving it a power over the mind ; in other words, that it procures forgiveness by leading to that repentance and virtue which constitute the condition on which forgiveness is bestowed; while others maintain that this event has a special, though undefined, influence in removing punishment, as a condition of pardon, without which repentance would be unavailing. Unitarians are generally Arminians, and most of them believe in the ultimate restoration of all men to holiness and happiness in the next world. But, in regard to the measure of authority that attaches to different portions of Scripture, as well as in respect to many of the details of Christian doctrine, there is great diversity. All, however, unite in rejecting human creeds as of no binding authority. Some idea may be formed of the very diverse views which are included under the general term,— Unilarianism, by comparing the sketch of Dr. Bezaleel Howard, or of Dr. Hezekiah Packard, with that of Dr. Priestley.

I'm not sure if it's proper to categorize Sabellianism as "unitarianism." It certainly isn't "orthodox" though. Previously when confronted with Sabellianism or like doctrines I recognize such as "heresy," but categorize them as neither unitarian nor trinitarian.

Though in categorizing Sabellianism as "unitarianism" that enables the book to capture even more notable Founding era preachers as "unitarians."

If those who don't believe in the Trinity, even Sabellians, are not "Christians" a heck of a lot of notable Founding era preachers were not "Christians."

Whether the historical-theological proposition is true is debatable. But it makes for a very interesting dynamic. The "Christian" or "Deist" question is such a false dichotomy. Here is a five point breakdown from most to least "orthodox."

1) Orthodox Trinitarians; 2) Sabellians; 3) Arians; 4) Socinians; 5) Strict Deists.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Christianity & Enlightenment:

Among my co-bloggers and commenters with whom I discuss the historical record, the question of "Christianity" v. "Enlightenment" oft-comes up. Which dominated the American Founding?

There are at least two problems with the way the question is framed. One, it's a false dichotomy; there were more than two ideological sources. Harvard historian Bernard Bailyn also names "Whig," "Common Law" and "Greco-Roman."

Secondly, the sources bleed into one another (that is, they aren't mutually exclusive). John Locke was a "Whig," a man of the Enlightenment, and called himself a "Christian." George Washington's virtues were arguably consistent with both "Judeo-Christianity," and "Greco-Romanism." GW was as much a "Stoic" as a "Christian."

Further, there will never be any kind of "settled" answer among men as to what's an authentic "Christian" tenet that distinguishes itself from an "Enlightenment" tenet. I hate to sound like a deconstructionist, but essentially this is a continuing "discursive" process.

Sorry to further pick on the men, but David Barton and Peter Marshall illustrate the false dichotomy from the "Christian right" perspective. As Peter Marshall noted:

Research has revealed that Enlightenment philosophy was far less influential in the thinking of the Founding Fathers than has been taught in recent decades.

He noted this as he misunderstood the "research" that supposedly supported his point.

David Barton has likewise tried to paint "Enlightenment" as Hume, Voltaire, Rousseau and whatever presented itself as either non-Christian or least identifiably "Christian" so as to "capture" the Founding for "Christian" sources.

Well, the American Founding, the "republicanism" thereof, and the Enlightenment the Founding Fathers followed presented themselves as compatible with and often under the auspices of "Christianity." Likewise Jefferson, J. Adams, Franklin and others presented their creed as "Christianity" not Deism.

Presenting something under the auspices of "Christianity" is instructive of the "history of Christendom" -- the good with the bad, the orthodox with the heresies -- but tells us little about the "mere Christianity" that draws lines over which there is reason to argue in the first place.

What's there to fight about if "Christianity" includes Calvin, Pat Robertson, Mormonism, the French Revolution, churches that perform same sex marriages and even self proclaimed atheists and witches? All of these things have presented themselves under the auspices of "Christianity."

As it relates to the Founding, the "Enlightened" Christians of the American Founding and their philosophical heroes like the aforementioned J. Adams, Jefferson and Franklin, Jonathan Mayhew, Charles Chauncy, Joseph Priestley, Richard Price, John Locke, Isaac Newton disproportionately embraced the Arian and Socinian heresies. Socinianism predates the Enlightenment and Arianism traces back to fourth century.

How authentically "Christian" are the Arianism and Socinianism that the "Christians" of the Enlightenment tended to embrace because they viewed said as more "rational" than the Trinity?

Likewise, Locke's understanding of Romans 13 that held men had a "right" to rebel against tyrants (when the text of the Bible says no such thing) that the unitarian Jonathan Mayhew and many trinitarian preachers followed. Is it authentically "Christian"? If not, is it "Enlightenment"? Is it both?

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Jefferson Welcomes the Swedenborgs to the Table of American Political Theology

I've previously written about George Washington's acceptance of the Swedenborgians. Below, we see Jefferson's.

Why America's Founders, especially the first four Presidents, supported "religion" in general/"Christianity" in particular is much misunderstood. It wasn't because they necessarily personally believed in the doctrinal contents of the specific religions to which they were friendly. It certainly wasn't because "they" (as a collective) were orthodox Christians who believed Christ's Atonement the only way to God. Rather, it was because they supported the sects' teachings on Providence, morality and consequently the civic utility said sects engendered.

The Founders seemingly played the doctrinal differences -- including differences on the Trinity and related orthodox doctrines -- of the different sects against one another to cancel one another out and bring civic peace (see Madison in Federalists 10 and 51 on factions and multiplicity of sects).

As my co-blogger Tom Van Dyke noted, they followed Voltaire's dictum:

If there were only one religion in England, there would be danger of tyranny; if there were two, they would cut each other's throats; but there are thirty, and they live happily together in peace.

That might explain why Jefferson invited John Hargrove (1750-1839) to deliver numerous sermons that PROSELYTIZED for Swedenborgianism to members of Congress. It wasn't because Jefferson believed in the exotic Christology -- that was neither unitarian nor trinitarian -- of the Swedenborgs. Rather, Jefferson wanted to send the message that the Swedenborgs were invited to the ecumenical party of American Founding political-theology, and one's orthodox views on the Trinity simply would not be a criterion -- part of a private, informal religious test, when Art. VI. Cl. 3 of the US Constitution bans formal religious tests.

With that, here Rev. Hargrove preaches Swedenborgianism to both houses of Congress and the President.

A taste:

This will appear irresistibly evident from the whole tenor of the sacred scriptures, particularly the 50th psalm (which indeed seems a literal extract from the 16th chapter of the first book of Chronicles)—but then, it should be known, that in the Deity, whom we call Jehovah-God, there exists a divine Trinity; not of persons however, but of essential principles, which principles, when rightly apprehended, we have no objection to call Father, Son, and Holy Ghost; or, to speak more intelligibly, the Divine Love, the Divine Wisdom, and the Divine proceeding Power, which trinity also, corresponds unto that, in every individual man, to wit, his will, his understanding, and their proceeding affections and perceptions; hence therefore, it is written that “God created man in his own image and in his own likeness.” [Bold mine.]

Heterodoxy as Compelling Analogy

Samuel Gregg's article blasting liberation theology illustrates why heterodoxy will always make for a compelling analogy.

He writes:

As time passes, liberation theology is well on its way to being consigned to the long list of Christian heterodoxies, ranging from Arianism to Hans-Küngism. But as Benedict XVI understands, ideas matter – including incoherent and destructive ideas such as liberation theology. Until the Catholic Church addresses the legacy of this defunct ideology – to give liberation theology its proper designation – its ability to speak to the Latin America of the future will be greatly impaired. [Bold mine.]

I am not pro-liberation theology (I am a pretty doctrinaire capitalist.) However, were I, and I saw that comparison to the Arian heresy, I could respond, "you mean liberation theology is as bad as the Christianity that Milton, Newton, Locke, Clarke, Price, Mayhew and many of America's Founding Fathers believed in"? All of the aforementioned names either were or likely were Arians.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Texas School Controversy: The Original Documents

Much has been written about the "three conservatives" [advocates David Barton and Rev. Peter Marshall along with an actual accredited historian, Daniel L. Dreisbach], in a Texas Death Cage Match against "three liberals" [all accredited professors, see below], about what should be taught in social studies and about American history in Texas schools.

Kewl. Let's get some popcorn.

Now, much of what has been written about all this is in the newspapers, and the truth has been the victim, since the papers favor the more sensational "culture wars" aspect. [Mostly, that the religionists Barton and Marshall are "out to lunch," or some variation thereof. Dog bites man.]

So, as is the estimable custom of this here American Creation blog, instead of taking the second-hand word of historians---or in this case newspaper reporters---we'll look at the original documents, and let the characters speak for themselves:

From the TEKS website, PDFs only:

Social Studies Expert Reviewers [all]

David Barton, President, WallBuilders
Review of Current Social Studies TEKS

Jesus Francisco de la Teja, Professor and Chair, Department of History, Texas State University
Review of Current Social Studies TEKS

Daniel L. Dreisbach, Professor, American University
Review of Current Social Studies TEKS

Lybeth Hodges, Professor, History, Texas Woman's University
Review of Current Social Studies TEKS

Jim Kracht, Associate Dean and Professor, College of Education and Human Development, Texas A&M University
Review of Current Social Studies TEKS

Peter Marshall, President, Peter Marshall Ministries
Review of Current Social Studies TEKS

Have at them, fair and square. Marquess de Queensbury. But, please, no nukes.

I certainly don't like defending Barton and Marshall because they err a bit, and tellya the truth, I think Dreisbach overplays the Calvinist depravity angle.

On the other side, Jesús Francisco de la Teja seemed solely concerned with getting more figures with Hispanic surnames into the mix. Not that that's necessarily a bad thing. Just because he has a clear agenda doesn't mean he's wrong.

The other two "liberals," Hodges and Kracht, basically defend the current curriculum as dandy; however, Kracht noted that the teaching of history should have an "ideological neutrality."

Well, who could argue with that? Well, me, and here's why:

Hey, I strenuously object to revisionism regardless of its ideology. I think the "religious" case for the Founding is strong; the "biblical" of Rev. Marshall, not so much; but secular "neutrality's," not at all.

Now, do read the original documents for yourself. That's how we do it around here, and that's the real point of this post.

But the question in question is precisely whether the current curriculum is indeed "neutral," or if it's been purged of necessary historical facts about religion and the Founding.

Which is the secular academy's concept of "neutral." Form meets function. And that's what the activists Barton and Marshall are objecting to in the first place, that once you scrub the Founding clean of God and religion in the name of "neutrality," what you're teaching is an ideology of its own, and not the history of the Founding atall, atall.

And that's what this Texas dispute is about, as I see it. Not so much Fact A vs. Fact B, but how we as a nation must approach our history. And that's what this li'l blog is all about, eh?

Peter Marshall and the Texas School Controversy

Since both John Fea and Jonathan Rowe have given their opinions on Rev. Peter Marshall and quasi-historian David Barton's involvement with the reevaluation of Texas school curriculum [see "Texas Controversy Persists and Proper Ways to Understand "Christian Nation"], it seems only fair to let Marshall speak for himself:

My response to Texas Freedom Network's politically motivated, hackneyed and utterly wrong accusation that "Barton, Marshall and the board members who appointed them are pushing a religious agenda in public schools that would violate the establishment clause of the First Amendment" is: Nonsense!

Our "agenda" is that the accurate teaching of American history must include the Biblical motivations and worldviews of so many of those who discovered this continent, settled the original colonies, fought for our independence, and created our government.

One tiny but important quibble: Neither I nor David Barton "call for teaching the biblical foundations of a 'Christian America.'" Neither of us uses that phrase because it is confusing and misleading. In my books and talks I simply call for schools and textbooks to teach the Biblical foundations of America."

The paper has offered me the opportunity to write a guest editorial, but I have decided that I didn't want to take the time away from working on the civil war book to compose a 650-word article. In addition to the points in the Times editorial that I addressed there are others. For example:

"The Convention of 1787," writes historian Clinton Rossiter, "was highly rationalist and even secular in spirit."

That's not even remotely true. Rossiter was a respected historian, but he got this one wrong. Most of the delegates were practicing Christians, whose Biblical worldview shaped the thinking that went into the formation of the Constitution. About 40 percent of them were office-holders -- not merely members -- in Bible societies, dedicated to spreading the Word of God. Ben Franklin's famous plea for prayer at the opening of each day's business, even though it failed for lack of finances to pay a chaplain, was warmly received. The spirit of the convention was far more Christian than secular -- many of the delegates, including George Washington, attended a Fourth of July anniversary service at the Calvinist church, where Reverend William Rogers prayed for them. And at the successful conclusion of the convention, future President and chief architect of the Constitution James Madison (who was not normally given to enthusiastic Christian sentiment) wrote to Thomas Jefferson, who was in France: "It is impossible to conceive the concord which ultimately prevailed, as less than a miracle." In the Federalist Papers, Madison also stated: "It is impossible for the man of pious reflection not to perceive in it (the Constitution) the finger of the Almighty hand which has been so frequently and signally extended to our relief in the critical stages of the Revolution." Secular is hardly the right word to describe the Constitutional Convention.

Full text available here

Texas Controversy Persists and Proper Ways to Understand "Christian Nation"

Evangelical historian John Fea reports that he was called to give expert commentary in the following article. Here is a taste:

"I'm an evangelical Christian, and I think David Barton and Peter Marshall are completely out to lunch," said John Fea, a history professor at Messiah College in Pennsylvania, a Christian institution. "They are not experts on social studies and history. Neither of them are trained in history. They are preachers who use the past and history as a means of promoting a political agenda in the present."

Barton, a Texas-based GOP activist and nationally known speaker, and Marshall, a traveling evangelist whose father was a U.S. Senate chaplain in the 1940s, are aligned with American University law and history professor Daniel Dreisbach — one of four academics on the review panel — in the belief that America was intended to be a "Christian nation" with no separation between church and state.

Barton did not return calls seeking comment, and Marshall declined to be interviewed, writing by e-mail, "I don't have anything further to say other than what was said last Fall." The board heard from reviewers during a meeting in September.

Last summer, Marshall told The Wall Street Journal, "We're in an all-out moral and spiritual civil war for the soul of America, and the record of American history is right at the heart of it."

Yet, Fea regrets the "out to lunch" remark. Read his account here. I know the temptation to make ad hominem attacks on Barton and Marshall. While I will continue to criticize them, I'll try to watch the ad homs.

But Marshall's quote illustrates a problem with the "Christian America" movement. The movement is spiritual, not historical. And, ironically, nothing in evangelical Christianity requires one to believe God founded America using inspired Christians to His bidding.

And, to the contrary, it's just as valid an evangelical understanding of Romans 13 to view all rebellion, including and especially what occurred in America in 1776 as a sin, a sin on par with witchcraft.

Now, Mormonism, because of when and where it was founded, in its authentic tenets holds Mormon God founded America using divinely inspired men. And that's fine for one's personal religious convictions. Likewise it's fine if Barton and Marshall want to intermix a-biblical Americanist theology with biblical fundamentalism and hold it up as a personal creed. (Though it ironically pollutes the purity of their biblical fundamentalism.)

But when they bring this very personal, spiritual, cultural conviction to the public square under the auspices of "objective history," they should expect to be put under the microscope. Barton and Marshall's "Christian America" theory is about as objectively historically grounded as Joseph Smith's Prophesies about Mormon God Founding America. Imagine the reaction if THAT were foisted on non-Mormons in the public schools. And yes, Marshall's "The Light and the Glory" and Barton's "The Bullet Proof George Washington" are that "imaginative."

Another irony is, if America is a "Christian Nation" in a political theological sense, it's only by adhering to an ecumenical-historical understanding of political Christianity that is inclusive of all sorts of heresies that evangelicals deem "not Christian."

John Adams himself testifies to this in one of the Christian Americanists' favorite "proof quotes":

“The general principles on which the Fathers achieved independence were the general principles of Christianity.”

Adams then goes on and notes all the heretics (from the perspective of the "orthodox") this lowest common denominator of political Christianity includes:

There were among them Roman Catholics, English Episcopalians, Scotch and American Presbyterians, Methodists, Moravians, Anabaptists, German Lutherans, German Calvinists, Universalists, Arians, Priestleyans, Socinians, Independents, Congregationalists, Horse Protestants, and House Protestants, Deists and Atheists, and Protestants “qui ne croyent rien.” [Protestants who believe in nothing.] Very few, however, of several of these species; nevertheless, all educated in the general principles of Christianity, and the general principles of English and American liberty.

Not just orthodox Christians, but Arians, Socinians, followers of Socinian Joseph Priestley (which included Adams himself), Universalists and even "Deists and Atheists, and Protestants 'qui ne croyent rien.' [Protestants who believe in nothing.]"

The only way to square Adams' political understanding of Christianity with atheism is to conclude by "Christian," Adams means "a good person." Even an atheist could be a Christian if he were a good person. Indeed, as Adams elsewhere noted,

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.

How astonishing is it that the largely evangelical Christian Americanists embrace John Adams and his "general principles of Christianity" quotation.