A group blog to promote discussion, debate and insight into the history, particularly religious, of America's founding. Any observations, questions, or comments relating to the blog's theme are welcomed.
Wednesday, March 31, 2010
Revisiting Charles Carroll
I hope to share several little excerpts over time, but I'll start with the following. While He may have been the only Catholic signer of the Declaration, his intentions and hopes for the document sound familiar. Carroll writes:
"To obtain religious, as well as civil liberty, I entered zealously into the revolution and observing the Christian religion divided into many sects, I founded the hope that no one [denomination] would be so predominant as to become the religion of the state."
What is most interesting about his point of view is that, of course, unlike the rest of the signers, Carroll's religion was essentially banned in his State, and indeed he had to go abroad to get a Jesuit education. He couldn't practice law in Maryland at times. His orthodoxy and genuine piety made religious liberty that much more urgent--not that it wasn't important to others, but Jefferson, for instance, would not have been too bothered in practice if his religion, whatever it was, was banned.
More about Charles Carroll later, the book is a good read.
Tuesday, March 30, 2010
Forgotten Founder, Drunken Prophet
Drunken Prophet? Sounds like my kind of Founder.
A few snippets from Michael P. Orsi's review of Forgotten Founder, Drunken Prophet: The Life of Luther Martin, by Bill Kauffman:
Lost in the mists of our historical mythology is the fact that America's Constitution was not always the "sacred text" it has come to be considered. Indeed, among America's Founding Fathers there were many who had deep reservations about the Federalist conception of government developed between the opening of the Constitutional Convention in 1787 and the adoption of the Bill of Rights in 1791.
The principal fear of the anti-Federalists, as they were called, was that the rights of the individual states would be usurped by the central government. It has taken almost 220 years for their fear to be fully realized, but the surreptitious nationalism which they saw embedded in the Constitution's text has largely become a reality.
Bill Kauffman chronicles the life and career of one of the leading anti-Federalists in Forgotten Founder, Drunken Prophet: The Life of Luther Martin. Perhaps the foremost advocate of "states' rights" and the personal freedoms they were intended to ensure, Luther Martin was a true Founding Father -- though far from a model of the sobriety and rectitude usually ascribed to those men whose profiles grace our stamps, coins, and paper currency. Contemporaries spoke of him as "perpetually in his cups, coarse and gross, pedantic and long-winded, sedulous and acidulous."
They also saw him as "convincing" in his forceful arguments against the proposed Constitution. In September 1789, two weeks after leaving the Convention in Philadelphia for the last time, Martin charged that the new Constitution was:
...neither wholly federal, nor wholly national -- but a strange hotch-potch of both -- just so much federal in appearance as to give its advocates...an opportunity of passing it as such upon the unsuspecting multitude, before they had time and opportunity to examine it, and yet so predominantly national as to put it in the power of its movers, whenever the machine shall be set agoing to strike out every part that has the appearance of being federal, and to render it wholly and entirely a national government.
Kauffman lays this trans-mogrification of the American idea at the feet of Alexander Hamilton and James Madison, and he doesn't mask his feelings about these two "arch-nationalists." He charges that Madison, usually lionized as the father of the Constitution, actually desired "the total abolition and destruction of state governments."
Of Hamilton he laments, "Burr should have killed [him] sooner."
---Michael P. Orsi
Saturday, March 27, 2010
Benjamin Rush on Confucianism, Islam and Christianity
Such is my veneration for every religion that reveals the attributes of the Deity, or a future state of rewards and punishments, that I had rather see the opinions of Confucius or Mahomed inculcated upon our youth, than see them grow up wholly devoid of a system of religious principles. But the religion I mean to recommend in this place, is that of the New Testament.
Rush was an interesting character. He was an orthodox Trinitarian Christian and said certain things which sound "Christian Nation" like. Yet, his orthodox Christianity was liberal and enlightened for the era. He was a theological universalist, believing all men would be saved through Christ's universal (as opposed to limited) atonement. And he thought the New Testament abolished the death penalty.
Rush described his creed as "a compound of the orthodoxy and heterodoxy of most of our Christian churches."
One thing that interests me about Rush's first quotation is his idea that Confucianism "reveals the attributes of the Deity, or a future state of rewards and punishments...." That was the deistic or theistic minimum that many key and non-key Founders -- not just the heterodox rationalist unitarians, but some/many orthodox figures as well -- believed most if not all world religions adhered to.
This was the idea of "natural religion" -- that all good men of all religions believe in Providence and a future state of rewards and punishments. That man's "reason" discovered this. And, as it were, such Providentialism existed beyond the Abrahamic, traditionally thought of monotheistic religions.
The way natural religion "fit" with Christianity was the Jewish and Christian scriptures helped to further clarify what man could discover from reason alone.
I question whether it's sound theology to "find" monotheism outside of the Jewish, Muslim, and Christian traditions (broadly defined). But they did. John Adams "found" Providentialism in, among other places, Hinduism and Greek God worship. Hinduism perhaps could be thought of as monotheistic. I've heard some Hindus argue their thousands of gods are really manifestations of the one God of the universe. This seems like Trinitarian logic taken to its ultimate extreme (instead of three manifestations of one God, it's thousands).
Also, for obvious reasons [Western Civ. has Greco-Roman along with Judeo-Christian origins AND the FFs highly venerated such Greco-Roman noble paganism], the way the Founders' universal monotheism fit with classical Greece and Rome interests me.
It may be a stretch to say, as John Adams did, Zeus worship is a "Christian principle." However, what about the ancient philosophers like Aristotle and Socrates or the Stoics of Rome like Cinncinatus, Cicero and Seneca?
It is my (albeit limited) understanding that many of these wise Ancients did not worship the city gods like Zeus or his Roman moniker Jupiter. Isn't that what Socrates was executed for?
Yet, they weren't atheists either? They did believe in some kind of metaphysical Providence?
So men like Aristotle, Socrates, Cicero and Seneca perhaps could be said to have worshipped the God of the Jewish and Christian Scriptures without knowing more about Him.
That's one way to view it.
I rarely, however, hear the evangelical promoters of the "Christian Nation" thesis expounding theology like this. Roman Catholics, maybe.
Evangelicals are more likely to say Aristotle, Cicero, the Hindus and Confucians DIDN'T worship the God of the Bible, were/are in a state of spiritual darkness period.
The Founders would have disagreed.
Friday, March 26, 2010
Mark Noll on Providential History & the American Revolution
Ordinary vs. providential
But what about God? Asked about the anti-supernaturalism of history, Noll made a distinction between what he called "ordinary" and "providential" history. Ordinary history, he said, limits itself to "evidence and causes and effects that almost everyone can be convinced might have taken place." While ordinary history might look quite secular, Noll sees it as fundamentally Christian in its presuppositions and worldview. He compared it to science. Christian scientists do their work with confidence because they believe that the world will make sense, and that God has made it possible for the human mind to understand the world.
So with the historian. "If I want to study the history of the American Revolution, I'm presupposing that something real took place, that the evidence left corresponds in some way to what really took place, that I'm intelligent enough to understand that evidence, that I'm able to put together a plausible explanation of cause and effect that might get us close to the truth," Noll said. "All those enterprises I see as implicitly dependent on a Christian view of God."
Noll seemed to imply that ordinary history, while it depended on God, would never have much to say about God. For as soon as someone contended that God had acted in a particular way, the subject would be too contentious to hope for general agreement.
I asked, therefore, about what Noll called "providential" history—history that assumed God's goodness to be at work in history and attempted to trace it. Noll resisted such an approach, saying he believed good providential history could be done, but that he has yet to see good examples of it. Providential history only made sense to "people who already shared your very specific religious position. If someone said the Reformation was God's way of bringing about a reform in the church, I knew that person wasn't a Catholic."
Noll's feelings stem partly from his early research in American history, when he studied how Christian ministers justified the Revolutionary War in their preaching. Most often they spoke of the Revolution as, literally, God's work. "When I really got into it, I came to the conclusion that this was hopeless, bogus. If you use Christian standards, it is very hard to say God brought the Revolution." American patriots painted England as the ultimate in godless tyranny, and drew parallels with the biblical escape from Egypt. Such arguments were nonsense, Noll says.
Noll warns that providential history must be driven by the best possible theology, which focuses on the Cross. "Very strange reversals take place in the Christian story focused on the Cross. The Christ is crucified. Good appears to fail. The monuments of historical goodness—Roman order, Jewish morality—conspire to do unspeakable evil. Good things come out of hopeless situations. Things that are not supposed to happen—the resurrection of the dead—happen, and happen at the center of the universe. If you think Christian theology has a lot of built-in reversals in it, then interpreting events becomes more complicated and not less."
Confucius, Baseball and Apple Pie
Good Discussion at Cato Unbound
Monday, March 22, 2010
Unalienable Rights: Unenumerated or Innumerable?
Where do they end?
by Tom Van Dyke
And no, one's nose has nothing to do with it, so don't even go there.
At the passage of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi said:
"In doing so, we will honor the vows of our founders, who in the Declaration of Independence said that we are 'endowed by our Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.' This legislation will lead to healthier lives, more liberty to pursue hopes and dreams and happiness for the American people. This is an American proposal that honors the traditions of our country."
Now, before anyone starts feverishly typing away on their comment before reading any further, this here American Creation blog is not about current issues, especially Dems vs. Reps. I warn y'all in advance, I'll delete anything that smells of Red State or Daily Kos.
[Although such folk have already stopped reading and started commenting. But I say this for the record, and for the regulars who know how we do things around here.]
This isn't about the health care thing, but it is about "rights." And "liberty," and the Founders and their understanding of both, since Speaker Pelosi brought up the subject. And her partisan opponents are arguing "rights" and "liberty" and the Founders in support of their position.
[Oh, go find your own link for the last bunch. It ain't very hard.]
In another forum I participate in, we're discussing the philosophical or even theological foundations for the idea of "rights" atall. Liberty, pursuit of happiness, the whole megillah. The Founding, Locke, the ancient Greeks, natural law, the moderns, Kant, Rawls, what have you.
We do a good job around here of discussing principles at arms-length from the issues, so I thought I'd take a chance with questions designed for clarity there that might be helpful here:
---Are all rights "natural," or are some political, civil, or "human"?
---Are rights innate or negotiated for in a contract with the state?
---Are rights innate or a matter of merit?
---What is the state of nature? What of liberty in the state of nature?
---What is the state of nature if man is a social animal [social "being," if we
prefer]? What becomes of liberty?
---What is liberty?
---If a social animal, and one incapable of self-sufficiency until age 5 or 7 or
so, what is his reciprocal obligation [duty?] to fellow man? To fellow man's
material estate? To fellow man's liberty? To fellow man's soul [if any]?
---By what right does one man rule another? Is man his brother's keeper?
---Are the laws of nature and the "natural law" the same thing?
---Is liberty a natural right?
---If so, is it limited by the social animal's duty or obligation to "society"
or the state?
---Or is "At the heart of liberty is the right to define one's own concept of
existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.
Beliefs about these matters could not define the attributes of personhood were
they formed under compulsion of the State." [?]
---Does "personhood" exist? Is there a "dignity of the human person"? Is that
dignity innate, or is it an assertion of a "convention"? Are "conventions" the
product of "social contract," and therefore by definition, arbitrary?
---Are positive laws [conventions, contracts] subject to validation first by any
higher laws [law of nature, "natural law"] or simply coeval laws [reason,
reasonableness], or, as the US Supreme Court answers, a blend depending on the
occasion where one "fundamental" right is in conflict with another: strict scrutiny, intermediate scrutiny, rational basis, and so on.
---What rights are absolute? All, many, some? Are all rights the same, civil rights, political rights, natural rights, human rights?
"Rights" is the most confusing and ambiguous word of our times. I thought we might seek a little clarity. It's the undercurrent of pretty much every post on this blog.
And this blog has been an oasis on the internet from the ignorant and partisan grenade-throwing, so I hope we can trust us with this---the questions underlying the questions. No bashing Obama or Pelosi or Beck. Use their arguments if you will, but leave them out of it. And no bashing Congress and the procedures about how the bill got passed. That's about politics, and about legalities, not about principles.
So, the genie's out of the bottle. But we've done a great job of managing Jeannie so far around here. Let's test our wheels. Let's test how 2010 matches up with 1776 and 1787.
Excerpt: Strangers and Pilgrims, Travellers and Sojourners
by Jeremy Dupertuis Bangs
AC recently received a note about one of our discussions from Dr. Jeremy Dupertuis Bangs, award-winning scholar and author of the new Strangers and Pilgrims, Travellers and Sojourners---Leiden and the Foundations of Plymouth Plantation, a "vast re-analysis of the Pilgrims' early history," which can be ordered directly at (508) 746-5058.
Dr. Bangs is one of the world's leading scholars not only on the Pilgrims in America, but he's the founder of a museum in Leiden on their history in 17th century Holland before the Mayflower. To put this in context, Dr. Bangs writes:
BY GOING THROUGH THAT FULL RANGE OF AUTHORITIES FROM ALL VARIETIES OF CHRISTIANITY AT THE TIME I DEMOLISH ONE OF THE MAJOR IDEAS ABOUT PURITAN NEW ENGLAND---MORGAN'S AND FISCHER'S IDEA THAT THE EXPANDED HIERARCHICAL INTERPRETATION OF THE COMMANDMENT ABOUT FATHER AND MOTHER TO INCLUDE ALL CIRCUMSTANCES OF AUTHORITY IN SOCIETY IS UNIQUE TO THE PURITANS. THAT'S A PRETTY IMPORTANT ABOUT-FACE.
An excerpt, Chapter 10, pp. 361-368:
What Is Meant by Father and Mother?
By noting how widespread, or conversely how limited, particular ideas of marriage were we should be in a position to determine whether Puritan or Pilgrim ideas of family life, whether in Holland or New England, were distinctive. For that purpose, we shall review how the Fifth Commandment was explained by several Puritan and Reformed theologians, including John Cotton, Zacharias Ursinus, Jacobus Arminius, and Jean Calvin, as well as by Martin Luther, Desiderius Erasmus, Alexander Nowell, and the authors of the catechism issued by Pope Pius V.
Epitomizing Puritan thought, the minister John Cotton, taught that the Fifth Commandment (Ex. 20: 12), “Honor thy father and thy mother, that thy days may be prolonged upon the land, which the Lord thy God giveth thee,” comprised obligations of respect in all hierarchical relations of authority, including marriage. “What is meant by father and mother?” he asked in 1623. His answer was that “the Lord here meaneth all those whom himself hath made superiors unto us, whether in authority, such as parents are to children, husbands to wives, masters to servants in the family, ministers to people in the church, magistrates to subjects in the commonwealth, or in age, as [the] old are to the young, or in others gifts, as the rich are to the poor, the wise to the simple, christians of greater grace & riper years to babes in Christ.” Cotton is here giving an expanded list of explicit examples of relations of authority, providing particulars for the opinion expressed by Jean Calvin, that this commandment was a general rule of subjection to authority because God had ordained things to be the way they are, and consequently such relations were divinely predestined. As we have seen, this expansion is suggested by Paul in the passages cited from Ephesians 6 and Colossians 3.
Cotton was not the first to reflect Calvin’s theological justification of existing ranks and obligations. The Geneva Bible’s marginal annotation explained the Fifth Commandment succinctly: “By the parents also is meant all that have authority over us.”
More and more specific examples were added to illustrate this basic synechdochal interpretive axiom. In 1602, Festus Hommius, later a Leiden professor and friend of John Robinson’s, published his translation of Zacharias Ursinus’ Treasure-Book of Christian Doctrine, that became the principal book of catechetical instruction in The Netherlands. Ursinus listed those in authority he thought were meant by the Fifth Commandment’s words “father and mother”: (1) parents, (2) guardians of orphans, (3) schoolmasters, teachers, and ministers of the church, (4) governors, both high-level and lower, (5) all old and aged people. A wife’s obligatory obedience to her husband was explicitly commanded elsewhere in the Bible. Ursinus commented that while sometimes evil people, unworthy of honor, are placed above us, honor was due to their office nonetheless, as having been part of the hierarchical structure instituted by God. Citing Acts 5: 29, he said that it is well known that one should not obey them if they exceeded the limits of their office either through laxity in enforcing obedience to the Ten Commandments or through unrighteous and cruel tyranny.
Jacobus Arminius held identical opinions about the Fifth Commandment, generally specifying the extrapolated subordinate relations as those arising in human society, whether in political situations, the church, school, or household, whether in time of peace or war, whether ordinary or extraordinary, permanent in authority or temporary, however short-term – in other words, always in all places.
In 1604, John Dod and Robert Cleaver first published their commentary on the Ten Commandments (A Plaine and Familiar Exposition of the Tenne Commandements) that was so popular among Puritans it went through at least twenty-four editions. Two were issued in Leiden by William Brewster, who re-published Dod and Cleaver’s Tenne Commandements in 1617, in English and Dutch editions. Moreover, the book is listed in several Plymouth Colony estate inventories. The Pilgrims’ evident enthusiasm for this book allows us to assume that they shared its viewpoint on most matters except the topic of Separation. The Pilgrims must have agreed, for example, with the opinion of Dod and Cleaver that if everyone (superiors, inferiors, and equals) properly obeyed the Fifth Commandment, there could be no sins against the remaining commandments forbidding killing, adultery, theft, false witness, and covetousness. “For all disorders in the other, do flow from hence, that either superiors are negligent in performing their duties of governing: or else inferiors are proud and stubborn, and refuse to obey their superiors; or equals be envious or ambitious between themselves.”
The allusion to the possibility that the ordinary earnest Christian could determine when his political or social superior was “negligent in performing the duties of governing” carried with it, on the one hand, the hint of rebellion against royal authority that was an essential part of the Separatists’ claim to congregational autonomy for appointing their own ministers, and, on the other hand, implied the authority that justified wives’ complaints against mistreatment by their husbands. All were familiar with Acts 5: 29 (“We ought rather to obey God then men”), but to act on the conviction that a ruler was unjust required courage.
To emphasize this implication of the Fifth Commandment was to admit the possibility of righteous criticism against a ruler by any serious Christian, even to call for such criticism. John Gigordus, studying theology at Geneva under Calvin’s successors Theodor Beza and Antonius Faius (Antoine de la Faye), had explicitly defended this position about the Fifth Commandment, warning that “We are yet to take heed, that we yield not to our Parents, Magistrates, or yet to any man, more than is meet: that is, that we have them not in Gods stead. And therefore, they do grievously sin, who hold, that whatsoever pleaseth the Prince, ought to have the force of a Law.” Furthermore, “Yet can neither the subjects with a good conscience obey their Magistrates, when they command them things that are manifestly impious and unjust, nor the flocks yield obedience unto their false Pastors, who go astray from the will of God.” But, backing away from this firm call for personal responsibility to oppose injustice and defend the truth, Gigordus reined in his plea for the revolutionary duties of conscience and echoed Calvin by stating that open revolt was not directly authorized by the commandment. “Yet it is not lawfull for private men, to rise or oppose themselues violently against the Magistrates, that deal tyrannously with them: but it is their duty, when any such thing cometh to pass, either to betake themselves to prayers and patience, (which notwithstanding must not carry us away from that which God requireth of us,) or to fly unto them unto whom the Law hath given authority to bridle and to restrain such tyrants.”
By analogy, a wife oppressed could ask the church to bridle and restrain a vicious husband, but she had to pursue the appropriate hierarchic channels within the church patriarchy. As Calvin put it, the fault of the husband did not absolve the wife of her duty of obedience. That, at least sometimes, appeals to church leaders evidently did succeed in curbing cruel husbands is seen in the records of Leiden’s Walloon Church consistory. The problem was not supposed to arise, however, for the ideal of Christian marriage was that there be mutual love and understanding, with no place for any such brutality. Wife-beating, like cruel treatment of children, was punished with excommunication.
Calvinists thought hierarchical patterns of authority were established by God. This was, however, not a specifically Calvinist innovation; in fact, it was no innovation at all. A much milder, yet ultimately similar, version is seen in Martin Luther’s Larger Catechism (1530). Luther approaches the same commandment (following the alternate numbering, as the Fourth Commandment) with an emphasis on the love and honor due from children to their parents. Luther does mention rather far into his discussion that by analogy members of a household are to treat their master as in a child-father relationship, and that subjects owe similar honor to civil governors, and that church members owe such respect to their pastors. “Thus we have two kinds of fathers presented in this commandment, fathers in blood and fathers in office […] Besides these there are yet spiritual fathers […]” Luther does not discuss the subordination of wives to husbands in reference to this commandment. Nor does he, at this point, discuss the godly obligation to oppose tyranny, instead informing subordinates that rebels have no favor or blessing. No remedy is suggested besides the thought that rulers should be wise, just, and God-fearing, because God “does not wish to have in this office and government knaves and tyrants.”
Again, the expanded interpretation of hierarchical relationships is part of Erasmus’ explanation of the Ten Commandments (1533). “This precept doth not only appertain to fathers & mothers: but also it appertaineth to bishops/ to teachers/ & to officers and rulers/ which after a certain manner do bear the room [place] and stead of parents.” Alexander Nowell, author of the official catechism of the Church of England (1562, translated into English 1570), explained the scope of the commandment as extending beyond parents to “all those to whom any authority is given, as magistrates, ministers of the church, schoolmasters, finally, all they that have any ornament, either of reverent age, or of wit, wisdom, or learning, worship, or wealthy state, or otherwise be our superiors.”
The Roman Catholic catechism issued in 1566 by Pope Pius V explains the “Fourth Commandment” by asserting that “We are bound to honour not only our natural parents, but also others who are called fathers, such as Bishops and priests, kings, princes and magistrates, tutors, guardians and masters, teachers, aged persons and the like.” This catechism instructs that wicked and unworthy rulers “should not be obeyed, since in such a case they rule not according to their rightful authority, but according to injustice and perversity.”
Calvin, Erasmus, the Church of England, and the Roman Catholic Church thus agree on this wide-ranging interpretation of the commandment regarding hierarchic social authority, and Luther also eventually gets around to including some degree of assumption of the extrapolated expansion of the commandment. There is not and therefore cannot be anything distinctively Puritan in such an application of the commandment, where Edmund S. Morgan would have us see a salient characteristic contrasting, explaining, and defining Puritan family life in seventeenth-century New England.
The pervasive assumption of the righteousness of hierarchic paternalistic authority underscores the extraordinariness of Robinson’s rigorous exegesis that led him to conclude that Paul had made a mistake in forgetting that women have an obligation to speak out in church under some circumstances, as discussed in Chapters 7 and 8.
This universal reverence for customary patterns of authority, when applied to marriage, led to John Cotton’s question and answer, “What is the honor which the husband & wife do equally owe the one to the other? To cleave one to another in delightful love, in trust, in care, to please one another in one house & in one flesh, to help one another in doing good & not evil, the one to the other, in soul, in body, in goods, & good name, in bearing the burdens one of another & in holding up, & ordering their family with both their hands together.”
Footnotes below, in the comments section.
Sunday, March 21, 2010
Robert Dale Owen on Romans 13
As he writes:
In Paul's epistle to the Romans, the thirteenth chapter, at the first verse, we read: "Let every soul be subject to the higher powers; for there is no power but of God; the powers that be are ordained of God. Whosoever, therefore, resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God; and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation."
I know not what the private opinions of those sturdy patriots were, who, in the old Philadelphia State House, appended their signatures to the immortal document. But this I do know, that when they did so, it was in defiance of the Bible; it was in direct violation of the law of the New Testament. This I know, that, if deity be the author of the Christian scriptures, the signers of the declaration resisted the law, not of the King of England only, but of the God of heaven.
Needs it to remind you how emphatically the text quoted supports the conclusions thus drawn? "There is no power but of God." The power of George III., then, was of God. "He that resisteth the power resisteth the ordinance of God." The great scene on the fourth of July, then, was A Resisting Of God's OrdiNances. Jefferson, Franklin, John Adams, John Hancock, and all the rest, fought against God. George Washington led on his troops against God. Every revolutionary blow was directed against God's anointed; it was a blow aimed against the divine authority—an act of rebellion, subversive of the ordinances of God. Ay, let us not veil the truth! If a being who cannot lie penned the Bible, then George Washington and every soldier who drew sword in the republic's armies for liberty, expiate, at this moment, in hell-fire, the punishment of their ungodly strife! Then, too, John Hancock and every patriot whose name stands to America's Title Deed, have taken their places with the devil and his angels! All resisted the power; all, unless God lie, Have Received To THEMSELVES DAMNATION!
The text is plain as language can make it; the conclusions irresistible. For my own part, did I believe the Bible and hope to reach heaven, I should feel certain not to find one revolutionary soldier there. ...
Saturday, March 20, 2010
Calling All Anti-Revisionists
The Opposite of the Lowest Common Denominator Approach
I am not a history teacher. I teach law, business and political science. And my training is in law and business (JD/MBA/LLM, all from Temple). The nice thing about a "JD" is that it's a doctorate without a dissertation. It permits you to be a lawyer. And the study of law has historical and political science overtones to it. No wonder there are a glut of JDs.
I suggested history teachers at the K-12 level focus more on getting the facts straight -- facts on which all sides could agree.
On NPR I heard a history professor (at NYU) suggest a different approach but still fair. He brought up Howard Zinn's "A People's History," and contrasted it with "A Patriot's History," and suggested students read BOTH books at the same time to see what the controversy is all about. He thought that superior to the more milquetoast teach the facts that everyone agrees on.
He may be right.
To use an example closer to home, assign students BOTH David Barton's books AND Chris Rodda's and see what they think.
He also noted history an imperfect science and that at bottom, much we don't know. On a related note, John Fea notes how the term "revision" properly understood is a good thing. Revision in history, means correcting old errors with better information.
To use an example that I have been involved in: Paul Boller's "George Washington & Religion" is probably the most influential book on GW's personal creed. This is the book Peter Lillback wrote his to refute. Lillback offered more quantity than Boller; but both have the basic facts. Both agree Washington believed in an active Providence. And we have speculations from Lillback (for instance on why GW avoided communion) that push GW in the "orthodox" box to counter speculations from Boller (on for instance why Washington let the one and only reference to "Jesus Christ" in a public address, written by an aide, pass when in all other instances he systematically did not discuss JC) that push Washington out of that box.
I was rereading GW & Religion at the David Library and I'm struck by how many times Boller invokes "Bird Wilson's" argument for why GW wasn't a Christian. The problem is, it wasn't Bird Wilson, son of key Founder James Wilson, but rather a Calvinist covenanter named James Renwick Willson.
If Lillback wanted to make Boller look like a real doofus, he could have pointed that out. But...Lillback makes the same error. And so did Michael Novak, Brooke Allen, David Holmes, and many others.
That was the standard belief among scholars. And the error didn't originate with Boller either.
The error was caught relatively recently by James Kabala, a Brown PhD in history and currently, a community college professor. He did manage to recently put that revision in a peer reviewed scholarly article. But that revision is still in the process of taking affect.
But because Boller's work was so influential and because the early 1830s dialog that occured among Origen Bacheler, Robert Dale Owen, Rev. James Renwick Willson and Rev. James Abercrombie is central to Boller's analysis, we should study the primary sources and arguments they used very carefully. You can read the debate between Owen and Bacheler here. You can read Abercrombie's smoking gun letter here. And you can read Willson's infamous sermon here.
Friday, March 19, 2010
Frazer On Rodda, Barton, & the Aitken Bible
I haven’t taken the time to look at everything in this discussion – certainly not Ms. Rodda’s presentation (I’ve seen one of her videos) about the Aitken Bible – but I do have a couple of comments about it (the Aitken Bible).
As you know, I believe that the Left is just as wrong about the founders as is Barton; so if she’s claiming that they did not pass any resolutions favoring religion, she’s dead wrong and his photocopy of the resolution regarding that Bible is proof. They were not atheists or even rank secularists and they thought the promotion of religion (not necessarily Christianity) important to promote morality. If you want me to make this observation on the site to reassure Tom [Van Dyke] and others that I’m not (and never have been) arguing that there was no interest in or influence of religion, I will.
Re the Aitken Bible issue itself, I have a few observations:
1) the congressional resolution does not say anything about recommending them for schools, specifically (as Barton claims that it does on pg. 106 of The Myth of Separation and, I believe, in his videos). It supports the work in “the interest of religion, as well as the progress of arts” – but not, specifically, for schools.
2) the Congress did not authorize money to finance or purchase the Bibles, contrary to what I believe Barton has said on TV and (I think) on one of his videos. Again, on pg. 106 of The Myth, he says that Congress “approved his request” – but that’s not entirely true. He requested permission and funding – they granted permission, but not funding. This is a minor point, but it illustrates Barton taking some truth and magnifying it/expanding it to make it sound better for his position.
3) As Derek Davis points out in Religion and the Continental Congress 1774-1789, there may be another explanation for Congress’s action here than a desire to support the publishing of Bibles here in America: “Robert Aitken was the congressional printer who printed the Journals of Congress and, according to [Edwin] Rumball-Petre, undertook the publication of an American edition of the Bible at some financial risk [the financial risk is mentioned both in the committee’s report and the chaplain’s report]. When peace was proclaimed shortly after he published an unknown number of copies of his editions, the importation of cheaper Bibles was again made possible, and congressmen were among the first to realize that Aitken’s investment would be a loss.” Davis goes on the explain that the endorsement by Congress no doubt helped him “dispose of his published copies.”
4) The name of the committee may be an indication that Davis’s take is correct. They were called “a Committee of Congress on Mr. Aitken’s Memorial.” It appears that Mr. Aitken was the focus of their desired intent – not the Bible.
5) Finally, I would point out that the resolution highlights “the interest of religion” – but not the interest of Christianity.
Thursday, March 18, 2010
A Blog Milestone: 1000 Posts!!!
I am pleased to announce a HUGE milestone for our blog. We have officially reached 1,000 blog posts! That's right, in just under two years, our blog has reached an important milestone that I think we should be extremely proud of. As most of you know, the "blogosphere" is full of a wide variety of blogs that tend to come and go in the fast-paced world of the internet. Being able to maintain interest and active participation in a HISTORY BLOG of all things can be a difficult chore. But thanks to all of you we are still standing after 1000 posts! And make no mistake, it's because of all of our EXCELLENT contributors, readers, followers, etc. that American Creation is still going strong.
And like any group that is passionate about its purpose, AC has had its ups and downs. Some days we all see eye-to-eye on things, some days we don't. But in the end it is my belief that this blog's greatest strength is its CLASHING of ideas and beliefs. Contrary to other sites where one is essentially required to be of one specific opinion or hit the road, American Creation encourages disagreement (and I for one love it). Sure, we may not be for the faint of heart and we may sound quite harsh every once in a while, but that's the price you have to pay sometimes to get at the truth.
So here's hoping for another 1,000...heck...10,000 posts! Thanks again to one and all for making this blog so much fun!
Because We Always Need a Little Controversy...
on the "Bible of the Revolution"
(My Attempt at "Stirring the Pot")
I know that some of you hate posts like this but hear me out. First off, a little controversy never hurt anyone. Second, it's posts like these that are usually our most popular and attract the most new readers (I've done my homework on this matter and it's true).
So last night, David Barton made his triumphant first appearance on Glenn Beck's show. Among the many items they discussed was one that we have tossed around before: the "Bible of the Revolution." In this clip, Barton wows Beck with his old and torn copy of what he calls, "the American Bible." He goes on to mention that it was congress itself that authorized and printed these bibles, which were then distributed to the American citizenry, with specific emphasis in the nation's schools. The portion that I am referencing in this clip only lasts about 2 minutes. Unfortunately I couldn't get a separate clip, so you will see that the panel goes into other issues that don't concern this blog (so DON'T BRING THEM UP!!!). Just focus on the bible/Thomas Jefferson parts:
Well, as many of our readers are familiar, Chris Rodda made the following clip in an effort to debunk Barton's claim:
I hope Ms. Rodda will pay us a visit and explain in person some of the details surrounding this issue. I'm fairly unfamiliar with the details but would love to hear what you all think!
Wednesday, March 17, 2010
John Calvin Taught Rebellion to Tyrants is DISOBEDIENCE to God
His teachings there could not have been clearer. Based on them, the Declaration of Independence is a 100% anti-Calvinist document; that is, if "Calvinism" stopped with Calvin.
Arguably it didn't. Later "Calvinists" like Samuel Rutherford and Philippe de Mornay, apparently (and for obvious reasons) not satisfied having to live out Calvin's teachings on submitting to political tyranny, made the most out of Calvin's idea of "interposition," and expanded it in the "living" philosophical sense (i.e., "living Calvinism," "living Constitutionalism," etc.), such that results could be achieved of which Calvin himself would not have approved.
Though I'm less familiar with their works than I am Calvin's, they still, like Calvin, stopped short of approving of "revolt." Rather, if the King violated the law, since "law was King," we could follow the law not the unlawful actions of a King. That's what Rutherford taught in Lex Rex. That's NOT what Calvin taught. And even Rutherford's more generous (than Calvin's) teachings do not countenance revolt.
[Again, since I'm less familiar with Rutherford, I'll try to be cautious with claims of later "Calvinists" who expanded "interposition" beyond what Calvin taught and would have approved.]
Whatever else the Founders said they did -- i.e., "we are resisting the unlawful actions of King George and Parliament" -- something that does square with Rutherfordian rhetoric -- they said they were revolting. They used the term "revolution" over and over again to describe what they did.
So while you may be able to, as some have, analyze the events of the American Revolution as intermediate magistrates fighting a war of self defense and resisting the unlawful actions of the British, you cannot square what the Founders said they did or the rhetoric they appealed to in the DOI with such a sentiment.
And orthodox Christian critics of the pro-revolutionary sentiments contained in the DOI might note that's EXACTLY why so many "Christians" -- some orthodox some heterodox -- initially approved of the French Revolution and thought its principles an extension of the American. Once you pollute Christianity with foreign principles (like rebellion is okay) it acts as a cancer. Hence, the French Revolution as the logical extension of the anti-biblical principles of the American Revolution.
That's what, among others, Gregg Frazer, Russell Kirk, Lino Graglia, and Roberts Bork and Kraynak might note.
Now, on a personal note, to satisfy my friend Jim Babka, I am not saying the American Revolution was anti-biblical or that there aren't understandings -- even traditional orthodox understandings -- of the Bible that are compatible with revolutionary thought.
Rather, my narrow claim is 1) Calvin didn't approve this. And 2) The Founders, though some of their actions and rhetoric was consistent with more generous notions of interposition (i.e., they oft-talked about how the the British violated British law in dealing with America), went beyond that and said they revolted.
Let's look at Book IV, Chapter 20 of Calvin's "Institutes of the Christian Religion" and settle the issue. He wrote:
For while in this unworthy conduct, and among atrocities so alien, not only from the duty of the magistrate, but also of the man, they behold no appearance of the image of God, which ought to be conspicuous in the magistrate, while they see not a vestige of that minister of God, who was appointed to be a praise to the good and a terror to the bad, they cannot recognise the ruler whose dignity and authority Scripture recommends to us. And, undoubtedly, the natural feeling of the human mind has always been not less to assail tyrants with hatred and execration, than to look up to just kings with love and veneration.
25. But if we have respect to the word of God, it will lead us farther, and make us subject not only to the authority of those princes who honestly and faithfully perform their duty toward us, but all princes, by whatever means they have so become, although there is nothing they less perform than the duty of princes. For though the Lord declares that a ruler to maintain our safety is the highest gift of his beneficence, and prescribes to rulers themselves their proper sphere, he at the same time declares, that of whatever description they may be, they derive their power from none but him. Those, indeed, who rule for the public good, are true examples and specimens of his beneficence, while those who domineer unjustly and tyrannically are raised up by him to punish the people for their iniquity. Still all alike possess that sacred majesty with which he has invested lawful power. I will not proceed further without subjoining some distinct passages to this effect. 657 We need not labour to prove that an impious king is a mark of the Lord's anger, since I presume no one will deny it, and that this is not less true of a king than of a robber who plunders your goods, an adulterer who defiles your bed, and an assassin who aims at your life, since all such calamities are classed by Scripture among the curses of God. But let us insist at greater length in proving what does not so easily fall in with the views of men, that even an individual of the worst character, one most unworthy of all honour, if invested with public authority, receives that illustrious divine power which the Lord has by his word devolved on the ministers of his justice and judgment, and that, accordingly, in so far as public obedience is concerned, he is to be held in the same honour and reverence as the best of kings. [Bold mine.]
Calvin could not have been clearer: Tyrannical Kings -- even the worst that you can imagine [i.e., Hitler or Stalin] -- don't lose their Romans 13 divinely ordained status.
But there's more (the bold, again, is mine):
... When we hear that the king was appointed by God, let us, at the same time, call to mind those heavenly edicts as to honouring and fearing the king, and we shall have no doubt that we are to view the most iniquitous tyrant as occupying the place with which the Lord has honoured him. When Samuel declared to the people of Israel what they would suffer from their kings, he said, "This will be the manner of the king that shall reign over you: He will take your sons, and appoint them for himself, for his chariots, and to be his horsemen; and some shall run before his chariots. And he will appoint him captains over thousands, and captains over fifties; and will set them to ear his ground, and to reap his harvest, and to make his instruments of war, and instruments of his chariots. And he will take your daughters to be confectioneries, and to be cooks, and to be bakers. And he will take your fields, and your vineyards, and your oliveyards, even the best of them, and give them to his servants. And he will take the tenth of your seed, and of your vineyards, and give to his officers, and to his servants. And he will take your men-servants, and your maid-servants, and your goodliest young men, and your asses, and put them to his work. He will take the tenth of your sheep: and ye shall be his servants" (1 Sam. 8:11-l7). Certainly these things could not be done legally by kings, whom the law trained most admirably to all kinds of restraint; but it was called justice in regard to the people, because they were bound to obey, and could not lawfully resist: as if Samuel had said, To such a degree will kings indulge in tyranny, which it will not be for you to restrain. The only thing remaining for you will be to receive their commands, and be obedient to their words.
27. But the most remarkable and memorable passage is in Jeremiah. Though it is rather long, I am not indisposed to quote it, because it most clearly settles this whole question. "I have made the earth, the man and the beast that are upon the ground, by my great power, and by my outstretched arm, and have given it unto whom it seemed meet unto me. And now have I given all these lands into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon, my servant: and the beasts of the field have I given him also to serve him. And all nations shall serve him, and his son, and his son's son, until the very time of his land come: and then many nations and great kings shall serve themselves of him. And it shall come to pass, that the nation and kingdom which will not serve the same Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon, and that will not put their neck under the yoke of the king of Babylon, that nation will I punish, saith the Lord, with the sword, and with famine, and with pestilence, until I have consumed them by his hand" (Jer. 27:5-8). Therefore "bring your necks under the yoke of the king of Babylon, and serve him and his people, and live" (v. 12). We see how great obedience the Lord was pleased to demand for this dire and ferocious tyrant, for no other reason than just that he held the kingdom. In other words, the divine decree had placed him on the throne of the kingdom, and admitted him to regal majesty, which could not be lawfully violated. If we constantly keep before our eyes and minds the fact, that even the most iniquitous kings are appointed by the same decree which establishes all regal authority, we will never entertain the seditious thought, that a king is to be treated according to his deserts, and that we are not bound to act the part of good subjects to him who does not in his turn act the part of a king to us.
In short, Christians are to be obedient to tyrant Kings simply because they are Kings. Obedience to tyrannical Kings is obedience to God. This is Calvin 101.
But there's even more:
But rulers, you will say, owe mutual duties to those under them. This I have already confessed. But if from this you conclude that obedience is to be returned to none but just governors, you reason absurdly. Husbands are bound by mutual duties to their wives, and parents to their children. Should husbands and parents neglect their duty; should the latter be harsh and severe to the children whom they are enjoined not to provoke to anger, and by their severity harass them beyond measure; should the former treat with the greatest contumely the wives whom they are enjoined to love and to spare as the weaker vessels; would children be less bound in duty to their parents, and wives to their husbands? They are made subject to the froward and undutiful. Nay, since the duty of all is not to look behind them, that is, not to inquire into the duties of one another, but to submit each to his own duty, this ought especially to be exemplified in the case of those who are placed under the power of others. Wherefore, if we are cruelly tormented by a savage, if we are rapaciously pillaged by an avaricious or luxurious, if we are neglected by a sluggish, if, in short, we are persecuted for righteousness' sake by an impious and sacrilegious prince, let us first call up the remembrance of our faults, which doubtless the Lord is chastising by such scourges. In this way humility will curb our impatience. And let us reflect that it belongs not to us to cure these evils, that all that remains for us is to implore the help of the Lord, in whose hands are the hearts of kings, and inclinations of kingdoms. 658 "God standeth in the congregation of the mighty; he judgeth among the gods." Before his face shall fall and be crushed all kings and judges of the earth, who have not kissed his anointed, who have enacted unjust laws to oppress the poor in judgment, and do violence to the cause of the humble, to make widows a prey, and plunder the fatherless.
In other words, you submit to the tyrant, King, parent or whomever God placed in power over you. If they treat you unfairly, God will get them for it. On Earth, the buck stops with them.
After writing this, Calvin notes examples where Kings were removed.
Herein is the goodness, power, and providence of God wondrously displayed. At one time he raises up manifest avengers from among his own servants, and gives them his command to punish accursed tyranny, and deliver his people from calamity when they are unjustly oppressed; at another time he employs, for this purpose, the fury of men who have other thoughts and other aims. Thus he rescued his people Israel from the tyranny of Pharaoh by Moses; from the violence of Chusa, king of Syria, by Othniel; and from other bondage by other kings or judges. Thus he tamed the pride of Tyre by the Egyptians; the insolence of the Egyptians by the Assyrians; the ferocity of the Assyrians by the Chaldeans; the confidence of Babylon by the Medes and Persians, -- Cyrus having previously subdued the Medes, while the ingratitude of the kings of Judah and Israel, and their impious contumacy after all his kindness, he subdued and punished, -- at one time by the Assyrians, at another by the Babylonians. All these things, however, were not done in the same way. The former class of deliverers being brought forward by the lawful call of God to perform such deeds, when they took up arms against kings, did not at all violate that majesty with which kings are invested by divine appointment, but armed from heaven, they, by a greater power, curbed a less, just as kings may lawfully punish their own satraps. The latter class, though they were directed by the hand of God, as seemed to him good, and did his work without knowing it, had nought but evil in their thoughts.
This passage is consistent with Calvin's notion that God is in charge and if a King is unfairly tyrannical, God always has the power to control events and remove the King. Calvin draws two classes of people God uses as "instruments" of His will, here. One, people who delivered from tyranny using non-sinful means, and others, who delivered from tyranny using sinful means. As Gregg Frazer has pointed out, God in His Providence, sometimes uses the sinful actions of human beings (i.e., George Washington leading an armed revolt in violating of Romans 13 and other parts of the Bible) to accomplish His will. Other times, as with Moses, no sinful means are employed. Moses led no revolt. God brought on the plagues and Moses simply took his people and left just as Pharaoh instructed.
Now, there is probably more than one way to interpret these biblical passages and if others want to make a case for righteous biblical rebellion based on these stories, I'm all ears.
Just understand: Nowhere does Calvin in Institutes use these examples to justify what he just spent lots of words telling believers was forbidden. If you see that in the above reproduced passage, you see something I don't.
Immediately after mentioning that God can take revenge on unfair tyrants, Calvin discusses what has been termed "interposition." And again, to be clear, Calvin stresses private resistance of tyrannical authority is forbidden.
... Although the Lord takes vengeance on unbridled domination, let us not therefore suppose that that vengeance is committed to us, to whom no command has been given but to obey and suffer. I speak only of private men. For when popular magistrates have been appointed to curb the tyranny of kings (as the Ephori, who were opposed to kings among the Spartans, or Tribunes of the people to consuls among the Romans, or Demarchs to the senate among the Athenians; and perhaps there is something similar to this in the power exercised in each kingdom by the three orders, when they hold their primary diets). So far am I from forbidding these officially to check the undue license of kings, that if they connive at kings when they tyrannise and insult over the humbler of the people, I affirm that their dissimulation is not free from nefarious perfidy, because they fraudulently betray the liberty of the people, while knowing that, by the ordinance of God, they are its appointed guardians.
That's the passage that later "Calvinists" like Rutherford would try to make the most of. But he gives examples of "popular magistrates" (not private men -- who as individuals have NO right to resist political tyranny) "appointed." Lower magistrates must act pursuant to recognized law, like Congress impeaching and removing the President. If there is no legally recognized mechanism for removing the tyrannical King, then tough luck.
In America in 1776, British Law was the recognized, existing law. And Blackstone -- the recognized expert on British law -- was clear that the King and Parliament (the particular way in which THEY split power) were the final EARTHLY arbiters of British law and rule.
Again, if one wants to argue, contra Blackstone, that America (the Continental Congress) was justified, as lower intermediate magistrates, in resisting the British on British legal grounds, fine. But America said it did more.
America said it revolted. And that's not consistent with Calvin, and arguable not with what the later, more generous "Calvinists" taught.
Now Accepting Applications
Really there aren't any specific requirements to join AC. In reality we are simply looking for people who have a strong knowledge and interest in this topic. We sincerely want people who want to see this blog grow, so being able to post on a fairly regular basis is essential. One doesn't need a Ph.D. in history to apply (though we aren't shunning such credentials either). Again, we want people who share our passion for early American religion and blogging and want to join us in making AC a continued success. We are committed to assembling as vast an assortment of contributors as possible (for us, the clash of ideas is much more important than the simple "go with the crowd" attitude of many blogs), so don't let your personal opinion on this all-important topic dissuade you from joining us!
"Applicants" will be selected by the governing body of American Creation (the moderators). No favoritism will be given to long-time followers/readers of American Creation (but they are encouraged to "apply"). Our selection will be based on a number of factors, the most important being whether or not we feel you are an appropriate fit for AC's future goals. In other words, the selection process is intentionally vague. If we're being 100% honest, we'd like the freedom to consider ALL possibilities.
So, if you are interested in joining our team, please let us know via email. I won't divulge the emails of other moderators at this time (they are free to do so in the comments section if they feel so inclined) but you can contact me at: email@example.com Please provide any and all information that you feel is appropriate and could assist us in our selection process.
We hope to hear from you soon!
Tuesday, March 16, 2010
A Low But Solid Common Denominator
"Such being the impressions under which I have, in obedience to the public summons, repaired to the present station, it would be peculiarly improper to omit in this first official act my fervent supplications to that Almighty Being who rules over the universe, who presides in the councils of nations, and whose providential aids can supply every human defect, that His benediction may consecrate to the liberties and happiness of the people of the United States a Government instituted by themselves for these essential purposes, and may enable every instrument employed in its administration to execute with success the functions allotted to his charge."
And Washington felt that he was speaking not just for himself, but for the new American nation:
"In tendering this homage to the Great Author of every public and private good, I assure myself that it expresses your sentiments not less than my own, nor those of my fellow-citizens at large less than either".
And Washington continues, crediting the Almighty not only with the success of the American Revolution, but with the peaceful agreement among men how to govern themselves and each other---the U.S. Constitution:
"No people can be bound to acknowledge and adore the Invisible Hand which conducts the affairs of men more than those of the United States. Every step by which they have advanced to the character of an independent nation seems to have been distinguished by some token of providential agency; and in the important revolution just accomplished in the system of their united government the tranquil deliberations and voluntary consent of so many distinct communities from which the event has resulted can not be compared with the means by which most governments have been established without some return of pious gratitude, along with an humble anticipation of the future blessings which the past seem to presage. These reflections, arising out of the present crisis, have forced themselves too strongly on my mind to be suppressed. You will join with me, I trust, in thinking that there are none under the influence of which the proceedings of a new and free government can more auspiciously commence."
Not so controversial.
Lowest Common Denominators
The problem is history is complex and there are great complex nuances to the religion & the American Founding issue. Given rational fear of K-12 historical ignorance I conclude we should be concerned they learn 1) raw facts, and 2) narratives both sides should be able to agree on, narratives "experts" like me might find too simple, but K-12 students might not.
Issues such as "was George Washington a Christian?" compounded with "what is the proper definition of Christian and does orthodox Trinitarian doctrine have anything to do with it?" are WAY beyond the call of what K-12 students should be expected to understand. Rather, we should expect them to be able to accurately recite who were the first X Presidents, what dates did they take office, where were they born and so on.
On three issues of contention -- Thomas Aquinas, John Calvin, and the American v. French Revolution -- the real story is too complex for K-12 students and teaching it the way the conservatives in Texas want distorts the record and will lead to misunderstanding.
First Aquinas: After years of intense study, I understand a case can be made for Thomas' silent influence on the Founding. Thomas Jefferson listed Aristotle, Cicero, Locke and Sidney as the four chief influences on the Declaration of Independence.
Jefferson probably would never have heard of Aristotle but for Aquinas who incorporated his teachings into Christendom. And Locke positively affirmed Richard Hooker, the Anglican heir to Aquinas' Roman Catholic natural law. Still, the FFs were, for the most part, anti-Roman Catholic bigots and thus, rarely if ever cited Aquinas as positive authority.
Second Calvin: Reading his Institutes, Calvin seemed to endorse an almost absolute duty of believers to submit to even un-godly pagan tyrannical rulers. He did leave one exception where lower magistrates, pursuant to a legally established and recognized mechanism, could work within the system to veto the rule of higher magistrates (similar to when Congress impeaches and removes the President).
Calvin did not recognize revolution. And whatever else the Founders said they were doing (i.e., resisting the unlawful actions of the British King), they said they were revolting. They used that specific term over and over again.
Yet, Calvin's exception, in the hands and minds of later Calvinists, evolved to a point where the concept of "revolt" could be sold to Presbyterians (with a little help from the natural law teachings of Locke).
Finally, the French Revolution. Texas wants to teach that this was a "different" event than the American. Of course, all individual events are different from all other individual events. The problem is, the two events had striking parallels along with meaningful differences.
The French Revolution, like the American, was theistic; both appealed to "God's" imprimatur. The two events seemed so similar at first that a great deal, probably a strong majority of, "Christian" American Founders supported the FR and THOUGHT it a continuation of the American.
Notable biblicists -- some orthodox and some heterodox (most sympathetic to the Democratic-Republican Party) -- thought Jesus would return in France at the success of their revolution to triumphantly usher in a global millennial republic of liberty, equality and fraternity. This was the first "End of History" thesis.
The French Revolution was similar to Iraq II. Both events had initial bipartisan support, with one party leading the way. Jefferson's Democratic-Republicans more enthusiastically supported the FR than the Federalist Party. And the Federalists, as a whole, jumped ship, before the DRs.
Historical hindsight being 20/20, the meaningful differences between the French and American Revolutions, why one worked and the other didn't, became more apparent after the FR's failure.
I think I've accurately detailed three complex historical dynamics. The problem, as I see it, is all three exist at a level of complexity that is appropriate for college and graduate level study.
K-12 students won't properly understand Thomistic or Calvinistic nuances during the American Founding anymore than they would Leo Strauss' theory of the esoteric, hedonistic, Hobbsean John Locke.
Rather, teach them, just the facts, ma'am.
Update: Don't take my "teach just the facts" too literally as some of the commenters at Positive Liberty have. Of course, good history teaching at whatever level involves telling compelling stories and making them come alive.
It's about what we expect students to learn. This is the kind of thing I would want K-12 students to master. And this I would save for college or graduate level history.
Monday, March 15, 2010
On the political brilliance of Samuel Adams
Brayton In HuffPo on Texas BOE
Brayton called that interpretation "profoundly contrary to the historical record."
"John Jay, Alexander Hamilton and James Madison wrote the Federalist Papers to explain each and every provision of the Constitution to a population that was overwhelmingly Christian and convince them to vote for it. If they could have pointed to biblical sources for those provisions, that would have been a very powerful argument in favor of ratification. Yet not once is the Bible mentioned anywhere in those 85 essays. And not once, according to the notes of those in attendance, was the Bible ever referenced at the constitutional convention in Philadelphia to justify a concept or provision," according to Brayton.
Sunday, March 14, 2010
Thoughts on Adams' "Thoughts on Government"
John Adams published a wonderfully short and readable guide to constitution-making entitled "Thoughts on Government" in 1776, coinciding with a recommendation from Congress that the colonies should establish new governments. This essay of Adams' is a window into his thinking on why government should have the forms he was advocating. It is a short read, and well worth the effort.
Before getting into the details of government, Adams lays out an important point, perhaps easily overlooked today: the purpose of good government is to foster good society, defined as virtuous society, and this is clearly distinguished from a society of virtuous people. Adams puts it as follows:
"We ought to consider what is the end of government, before we determine which is the best form. Upon this point all speculative politicians will agree, that the happiness of society is the end of government, as all divines and moral philosophers will agree that the happiness of the individual is the end of man... [and] All sober inquirers after truth, ancient and modern, pagan and Christian, have declared that the happiness of man, as well as his dignity, consists in virtue. Confucius, Zoroaster, Socrates, Mahomet, not to mention authorities really sacred, have agreed in this."
Two points to take from this are:  Adams is reifying society, and specifically anthropomorphizing it (society is a real thing distinct from its members, and it has the same sorts of qualities that people have); and  happiness as a goal of people (and societies) is not what a casual reader might think is happiness (the philosophers' technical term for the casual sort of happiness is "contentment"), but rather happiness is virtue, or moral goodness.
Government does not exist to make individual people happy/virtuous; that is what mankind in general exists for ("the happiness of the individual is the end of man"). Instead, government exists for the complementary purpose of making society happy/virtuous ("the happiness of society is the end of government").
This matters because it addresses some of the foundation-level questions of the Christian-Nation hypothesis, such as "what on earth can it mean for a nation to be Christian?". An answer would be that if a nation (society) is an anthropomorphic entity, then it is a person capable of being Christian, or at least capable of acting as a Christian. In other words a nation is capable of humility, charity, forgiveness, contrition, and all the rest.
This also matters, of course, because of Jefferson's easily misunderstood phrase "pursuit of happiness" in the DoI, which readers in the founder's era would have understood as pursuit of virtue (self-development, moral improvement) rather than pursuit of entertainment or diversions. God didn’t give us a fundamental right to seek entertainment; or at least few in the founder’s era would have thought so. This is not to say that Jefferson agreed with Adams on everything, only that he used terms like “happiness” in the same way as Adams did, so that Jefferson and Adams could converse on these subjects without talking past one another.
Anyway, what has this to do with a Christian nation, rather than a merely anthropomorphic nation? Only this, that the founders would have taken the same approach to coercion of the conscience of a nation as they took to coercion of the conscience of individuals. As I have argued before, the Christianity of the founding era placed heavy emphasis and expended great theological energy on things we don’t think too deeply about anymore, and one of those things was non-coercion in conversion.
For a nation to be truly Christian it must first be truly free, and then in freedom choose to be Christian. If the constitution of the government of the nation is in any way an embodiment of the conscience of the nation, then it must not be hard-wired in any Christian sense, for to do so would preclude the conversion experience necessary for true Christianity. For the nation to be free it is also necessary, but not sufficient, that the government be well administered, and persistent good administration (generation after generation) was Adams’ pragmatic goal for the rest of the essay (“Nothing is more certain, from the history of nations and nature of man, than that some forms of government are better fitted for being well administered than others.”)
Anyway, there are all sorts of other gems in the essay, such as this swipe at English political philosophy: “A man must be indifferent to the sneers of modern Englishmen, to mention in their company the names of Sidney, Harrington, Locke, Milton, Nedham, Neville, Burnet, and Hoadly. No small fortitude is necessary to confess that one has read them. The wretched condition of this country, however, for ten or fifteen years past, has frequently reminded me of their principles and reasonings. They will convince any candid mind, that there is no good government but what is republican. That the only valuable part of the British constitution is so; …”
Another is this radical thought on what we now call second-amendment issues: “A militia law, requiring all men, or with very few exceptions besides cases of conscience, to be provided with arms and ammunition…”. This goes beyond a right to keep and bear arms, it recommends an entitlement to arms and ammunition.
Adams’ ending sums up his anticipated effects paternalistically: “A constitution founded on these principles introduces knowledge among the people, and inspires them with a conscious dignity becoming freemen; a general emulation takes place, which causes good humor, sociability, good manners, and good morals to be general. That elevation of sentiment inspired by such a government, makes the common people brave and enterprising. That ambition which is inspired by it makes them sober, industrious, and frugal.” The point, quite clearly, is not freedom for freedom’s sake, but rather freedom to make people morally better. So, as an end, the purpose of good government is happiness/virtue of society, and in pursuing that end a fortuitous effect will also be happiness/virtue of individuals.
Priestley on the Trinity, Reason & Revelation
Let those then who are attached to the doctrine of the Trinity, try whether they cannot hit upon some method or other of reconciling a few particular texts, not only with common sense, but also with the general and the obvious tenour of the Scriptures themselves. In this they will, no doubt, find some difficulty at first, from the effect of early impressions, and association of ideas; but an attention to the true idiom of the scripture language, with such helps as they may easily find for the purpose, will satisfy them that the doctrine of the Trinity furnishes no proper clue to the right understanding of these texts, but will only serve to mislead them.
In the mean time, this doctrine of the Trinity wears so disagreeable an aspect, that I think every reasonable man must say with the excellent Archbishop Tillotson,* with respect to the Athanasian Creed, "I wish we were well rid of it." This is not setting up reason against the Scriptures, but reconciling reason with the Scriptures, and the Scriptures with themselves. On any other scheme, they are irreconcileably at variance.
Can of Worms
What caused the prime mover? I don't know. Perhaps the prime mover is self existent. Or perhaps a self existent unknowable deistic cause created lesser active personal gods, one of whom is our Jehovah who created us. That's what Ben Franklin believed at one point in his life and is (as far as I understand) what the Mormons believe.
The Massachusetts State Constitution: Juxtaposing America's PLANTING and America's FOUNDING
During the second decade of the nineteenth century, writer Washington Irving developed an acute sense that his native land was no longer the same place it had been just a generation earlier. Irving had conservative and nostalgic sensibilities, and he sought to express some of his amazement at the transformation that had taken place in America by writing his story "Rip Van Winkle." Irving had his character Rip awaken from a sleep that had begun before the Revolution and had lasted twenty years. When Rip entered the village, he immediately felt lost. The buildings, the faces, the names were all strange and incomprehensible. "The very character of the people seemed changed. There was a busy, bustling disputatious tone about it, instead of the accustomed phlegm and drowsy tranquility."Yes, the convoluted world of early America was a swirling, evolving clash of ideas and beliefs that made the future seem different and uncertain. And among these changes to America's landscape, religion was a front and center issue for a people whose faith and devotion were changing as much as the rest of society.
"Rip Van Winkle" became the most popular if Irving's many stories, for early nineteenth-century Americans could appreciate Rip's bewilderment. Although superficially the political leadership seemed much the same...beneath the surface Rip, like most Americans, knew that "every thing's changed." In a few short decades Americans had experienced a remarkable transformation in their society and culture, and, like Rip and his creator, many wondered what happened and who they really were.
One of the central components to this evolution of American religion has been the role of state constitutions in the establishment and execution of religious devotion. For many who argue in favor of America's Christian heritage, these state charters serve as a barometer of sorts, which, in their opinion, lean clearly in favor of the "Christian Nation" thesis. On the flip side of that coin, others see these state constitutions as an irrelevant blip on the radar, a mere side show to more important issues concerning the nation's true heritage.
And while I agree that these state constitutions provide substantial evidence that religion has played a dramatic role on the grand stage of American history, I think we would be mistaken to conclude that these various state charters serve as conclusive proof that America is a "Christian Nation." These constitutions do not close the door on this ongoing debate but in fact complicate the issue. Yes, they do help to color in many of the details, affording us a clearer picture of America's true heritage but they are no Rosetta Stone. With that said, if we keep Rip Van Winkle in mind, we can see that these state charters clearly demonstrate the fact that American religion was (and still is) an evolving specie; that America's PLANTING and its FOUNDING are both exclusive and joined at the hip. So let us travel back in time a ways and see what Mr. Van Winkle may have seen. How would different American generations, which all existed within relatively the same time and place, differ on the role that religion should play in the "New World?"
Our guide on this journey will be the Massachusetts State Constitution. From its creation in 1780 and extending all the way into the third decade of the 19th century, the Massachusetts State Constitution became an important experimental rat in the laboratory of religion and government. Initially we would see that many of the first proposals that incorporated both religion and government were based on earlier Puritan roots. After all, codifying religion as a part of government was nothing new. Before and after the Protestant Reformation, religion had been a component of government that would seem only natural and necessary to the earliest (and even later generations) of American settlers. As historian Patricia Bonomi points out in her book, Under the Cope of Heaven:
According to traditional history, colonial leaders were above all with creating stable New World communities, and it was an axiom of early seventeenth-century political thought that a strong church was the handmaiden and bulwark of a stable state. The church's guardianship of morality and public behavior made it an ally of orderly government, an interdependence that statesmen acknowledged by granting official status to one church only. Every colony founded in the western hemisphere before the mid-seventeenth century, except Maryland, reproduced the Old World model of a single, established church...the privileged position of these churches was protected by laws restricting the religious and political rights of dissenters from the official establishment. Only through such an arrangement, so the leaders believed, might the colonists ward off the evils of religious strife and achieve the civic harmony essential to the survival of those imperial outposts situated so precariously on the rim of the civilized world.In consequence, it would seem appropriate for the founders of state constitutions to include religion as a component of good government. Or as those Right Guard commercials from the 90s would put it, "Anything less would be uncivilized."
So, in the wake of the newly declared independence from the home world, Massachusetts was forced to create a new government. In early 1777, delegates from the various counties gathered to draft the state constitution of Massachusetts. And in the process, religion became an issue of paramount importance. The question that plagued everyone was how should religion be represented. Should taxpayers be required to pay for the support of religion or should such a practice be done away with?
Well, to make a long story short, this first attempt to establish a state constitution failed miserably. Most counties outright rejected the new constitution because of disagreements over religious issues and the lack of a bill of rights. With that said, it is important that we recognize the fact that nobody was wanting to toss religion aside completely. When secularist historians of this era suggest that the earliest Americans tried to set up a secular government they do so by misrepresenting the fact that these debates came down to HOW should religion be represented, not WHY should religion be represented. Nobody in their right mind was willing to do without religion entirely. Instead, the question was how should religion be made manifest in a new government.
As mentioned before, religion had always been a component of government in the "Old World." The traditional understanding of the unity between church and state was often linked with the biblical admonition found in Isaiah 49, which states that "kings shall be thy nursing fathers, and their queens thy nursing mothers." In other words, the government (and the people it was supposed to represent) had the duty to be the "nursing father" of the church. The Library of Congress' website explains this relationship appropriately with the following commentary:
Congregationalists and Anglicans who, before 1776, had received public financial support, called their state benefactors "nursing fathers" (Isaiah 49:23). After independence they urged the state governments, as "nursing fathers," to continue succoring them. Knowing that in the egalitarian, post-independence era, the public would no longer permit single denominations to monopolize state support, legislators devised "general assessment schemes." Religious taxes were laid on all citizens, each of whom was given the option of designating his share to the church of his choice. Such laws took effect in Massachusetts, Connecticut, and New Hampshire and were passed but not implemented in Maryland and Georgia.But not everyone was pleased with the obligatory taxation. Isaac Backus, a Baptist preacher in Massachusetts, equated the obligatory "taxation without representation" of British Parliament to that of the Massachusetts government collecting taxes for a religion that many did not embrace. In addressing the pro-taxation crowd of Mass., Backus wrote:
Suffer us a little to expostulate with our fathers and brethren, who inhabit the land to which our ancestors fled for religious liberty. You have lately been accused with being disorderly and rebellious, by men in power, who profess a great regard for order and the public good; and why don't you believe them and rest easy under their administrations? You tell us you cannot because you are taxed where you are not represented; and is it not really so with us? You do not deny the right of the British to impose taxes within her own realm; only complain that she extends her taxing power beyond her proper limits; and have we not as good right to say you do the same thing? And so that wherein you judge others you condemn yourselves? Can three thousand miles possibly fix such limits to taxing power, as the difference between civil and sacred matters has already done? One is only a distance of space, the other is so great a difference in the nature of things, as there is between sacrifices to God, and the ordinances of men. This we trust has been fully proved.Such was the dilemma that plagued the authors of the Mass. Constitution. The heritage of America's PLANTING, which was deeply rooted in a church/state combination, was, for the first time, coming into question. The coup on government was spilling over to a coup of religious dominion. Again, this isn't to say that people were discarding religion entirely. Instead they were beginning to see that a singular faith was not needing the guarantee of protection that the civil power could afford.
But as we all know, the eventual ratification of the Mass. Constitution of 1780 DID provide for public taxes to fund religion. Despite all of the protests and petitions for change, the "old school" view of church and state won the day. It seemed that the "Nursing fathers" doctrine of America's PLANTING had survived another violent storm...at least for the time being
But not everything was the same. The Constitution of 1780 did have a few important concessions that broke from some of the traditional concepts of the Old World. First, no one single religion was promoted over another. Or as the writers of the document (James Bowdoin, John Adams and Samuel Adams) put it, "Religion was a matter between God and individuals."
But the consensus was that religion WAS a matter. As Article II and III of the 1780 Constitution state:
Art. II. It is the right as well as the duty of all men in society, publicly and at stated seasons, to worship the Supreme Being, the great Creator and Preserver of the universe. And no subject shall be hurt, molested or restrained in his person, liberty, or estate, for worshipping God in the manner and season most agreeable to the dictates of his own conscience, or for his religious profession or sentiments, provided he doth not disturb the public peace or obstruct others in their religious worship.The third article was of particular importance. The delegates informed the people that the “third article of the declaration of rights...provided for the free exercise of the rights of conscience” as they understood that these rights were more valuable to the people than other rights. So in essence, the compromise to allow for a multiplicity of religions was, in fact, an important distinction between America's PLANTING and its FOUNDING.
Art. III. As the happiness of a people and the good order and preservation of civil government essentially depend upon piety, religion, and morality, and as these cannot be generally diffused through a community but by the institution of the public worship of God and of the public instructions in piety, religion, and morality: Therefore, To promote their happiness and to secure the good order and preservation of their government, the people of this commonwealth have a right to invest their legislature with power to authorize and require, and the legislature shall, from time to time, authorize and require, the several towns, parishes, precincts, and other bodies-politic or religious societies to make suitable provision, at their own expense, for the institution of the public worship of God and for the support and maintenance of public Protestant teachers of piety, religion, and morality in all cases where such provision shall not be made voluntarily.
And all moneys paid by the subject to the support of public worship and of public teachers aforesaid shall, if he require it, be uniformly applied to the support of the public teacher or teachers of his own religious sect or denomination, provided there be any on whose instructions he attends; othewise it may be paid toward the support of the teacher or teachers of the parish or precinct in which the said moneys are raised.
And every denomination of Christians, demeaning themselves peaceably and as good subjects of the commonwealth, shall be equally under the protection of the law; and no subordination of any sect or denomination to another shall ever be established by law.
But the FOUNDING wasn't quite finished. Over the course of the next 50 years, Massachusetts would further its devotion to a more complete separation of church and state. In 1831, after a tremendous outpouring of protests from Unitarian, Baptist and other church leaders, the Mass. house voted 272 to 78 to revise article three. Eventually, Article XI was adopted in 1833 to replace Article III, effectively eliminating the requirement of public taxes on religion. In so doing, Massachusetts became the last of the original 13 states to remove the government sanctioning of an established church, overthrowing 200 years of tradition. In essence, America's FOUNDING had taken root.
And though I do not personally see how these state charters support any "Christian Nation" argument, I see the fact that they do confirm a deeply religious heritage. In many ways, charters like the Mass. Constitution serve to bridge the gap between America's PLANTING, which was a deeply Christian experience, and America's FOUNDING, which, in part, brought about the greatest explosion of religious freedom in history. But the bottom line is this: religion was, for the PLANTERS and the FOUNDERS very much in view. It was a constant reality that never disappeared over time. So while the Rip Van Winkle's of American religion may have been shocked to see the dramatic changes that took place (i.e. elimination of tax dollars to support religion, no sanctioning of a specific religious faith, etc.) the spirit of pious devotion and ecclesiastical preservation remained as solid as the day that John Winthrop proudly declared Massachusetts Bay to be a "shining city upon a hill."