Sunday, March 21, 2010

Robert Dale Owen on Romans 13

This is perhaps the first notable example of a freethinker using the revolution/Romans 13 argument, claiming the Founding for anti-biblical principles. Plenty of devout Christians during the American Founding thought the revolution sinfully broke Romans 13. And for that and other reasons they remained loyalists.

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. ...


Tom Van Dyke said...

Exactly. Using the Bible as a weapon against those who believe in it, in an unholy alliance with the unwitting hyperorthodox.

A technique still being used hundreds of years later.


Jonathan Rowe said...

Tee hee.

King of Ireland said...

Tom hits the nail on the head.

King of Ireland said...

the other thing that seems the same is that the modern people who do this are about as ignorant of the controversy in Christianity over exactly what this passage means. They use a weapon they do not understand.

Laci the Chinese Crested said...

Although, there were fundamentalist trends (Scottish Covenanters) which saw one's obedience to god above worldly rulers. This trend was also common in the Puritan movement (note Massachusetts being a prime force in the rebellion).

I have to admit a curiousity in the conflict between these two trends.

Which was the stronger of the two?

I should add that I believe that Loyalist tendencies were more prominent than the US creation myth supports. Also remember the US Creation myth posits that it was the militia farmers and their guns, rather than professional armies (Continental, French, Spanish, et al) that brought abut independence.

Phil Johnson said...

A introspective reading of the Pauline text appears to be saying whatever governing force rises to the surface, that force is the expression of God and that it represents God's power at work.
Isn't there some thinking coming out of the reformation that certain people are put in positions of being primary movers? And, that the rest of us are destined to go along with whatever transpires?

Tom Van Dyke said...

Yes, Phil. We talk about Romans 13 pretty much endlessly on this blog. I guess you never noticed.

Nice to hear from you, Laci. It's certainly also ironic that the most strict Calvinists, the Puritans, were the family tree of the least strict, the unitarians. [And we might add, today's New England liberals.]

But by many accounts of that era, it was the Presbyterians [Calvinists] who were the most anti-monarchical, and some British called it a "Presbyterian" revolution.

As for the Loyalists, many had an additional conflict, that the King was also the head of the Church of England. Clergymen had explicitly sworn loyalty to him.

This Owen fellow had an interesting history: a 21st century type hero, as he was ahead of the curve on abolition and especially women's rights.

On the other hand, this "freethinker" fell for one of the biggest "Spiritualism" hoaxes of the day.

One is tempted to quote GK Chesterton here, but one won't.

Laci the Chinese Crested said...

An interesting aside, I was told that some Jacobites who were pardoned and sent to the Colonies after the 1745 rebellion swore allegiance to the King, which prevented their siding with the rebels. This would have been despite their religious feelings.

yes, the reformation has created some strange creatures, such as Unitarianism.

Daniel said...

The Puritans were very strict, but were not exactly conservative or traditionalist. Looking to Scholasticism and the Bible, they denounced the corruption of traditional church and of King.
It should not seem odd that such a movement bred a movement that went further in its rejection of authority. It is also worth noting that, while the Unitarian Church sprang from Calvinism, unitarianism had many fathers.