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.
After taking the oath, Washington delivered a speech, a custom each President has since followed -- a speech that we know as the Inaugural Address. A portion of Washington's First Inaugural could accurately be described as a "sermon."
That portion of the speech follows:
"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. 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. 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."
Dictionary.com defines as Sermon as follows:
1.a discourse for the purpose of religious instruction or exhortation, esp. one based on a text of Scripture and delivered by a member of the clergy as part of a religious service. 2.any serious speech, discourse, or exhortation, esp. on a moral issue. 3.a long, tedious speech.
I have to chuckle at #3. Hopefully, my congregation wouldn't describe MY sermons that way. :-) And whether one wishes to think of Washington's first inaugural as "long" or "tedius" is for another discussion.
While the overall purpose of the inaugural address wasn't "religious instruction or exhortation," the portion provided above was definitely included for that reason. Washington clearly wanted to weigh in on a "moral issue" (see description #2 of Sermon) and was very much interested in providing some "religious instruction" (see #1).
The religious portion of Washington's Inaugural was not overtly Christian. In fact, it was broad enough to appeal to Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, Unitarian, Deist, and even some Freethinking audiences. But it would NOT have appealed to atheists, what few there were at the time. And its content certainly doesn't resonate with atheists or agnostics today, try as they might to ignore this part of Washington's speech.
George Washington clearly and unmistakably staked out monotheistic tenets in his Inaugural Address. He unequivocally embraced the existence of God, humbled himself before God, emphasized the crucial importance of prayer, and declared that the American people were "bound to acknowledge and adore" God.
These words were no mere rhetorical flourish. They reflect similar themes echoed in other speeches and writings, including his Thanksgiving Proclamation (which he would issue later that same year). What's more, Washington's sentiments were agreeable to the overwhelming majority of the American people and the vast majority of its leaders. The American people of the eighteenth century had no objection to and little discomfort in expressing their belief in, love for and dependence on God. That some do today is not, in the opinion of this author, a sign of progress.
Other than perhaps Thomas Paine, no American Founding Father would've even considered opposing the religious content of Washington's First Inaugural. In fact, some Founders such as John Jay (Washington's first appointee to the Supreme Court) would go even further.
Washington's Inaugural Address is clear evidence of what the late Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas once said: "We are a religious people, whose institutions presuppose a Supreme Being."
"Your university [of Virginia]is a noble employment in your old age and your ardor for its success does you honor but I do not approve of your sending to Europe for tutors and professors. I do believe there are sufficient scholars in America to fill your professorships and tutorships with more active ingenuity and independent minds than you can bring from Europe. The Europeans are all deeply tainted with prejudices both ecclesiastical and temporal which they can never get rid of. They are all infected with episcopal and presbyterian creeds and confessions of faith. They all believe that great Principle which has produced this boundless universe, Newton's universe and Herschell's universe, came down to this little ball to be spit upon by Jews. And until this awful blasphemy is got rid of, there never will be any liberal science in the world."
Our esteemed commenter JL Bell replies:
Looks to me like the “awful blasphemy” isn’t exactly the Trinity but the Incarnation—the idea that Jesus was [born] both divine and of human flesh.
Adams scoffed at the belief that the universe’s divine power (“that great Principle”) had become human (“down to this little ball”) and suffered for humanity (“spit upon by Jews“—not a metaphor for Jewish theology but an allusion to Jesus’s punishment and execution, as described in the Christian Gospels).
That's solid. But what of the rest? What the hell is Adams on about this time?
Adams' diary, April 24, 1756:
"...all the unnumbered Worlds that revolve round the fixt Stars are inhabited, as well as this Globe of Earth."
Aha. He's talking some serious E.T. here.
No, really---some serious ET, and it's not surprising.
The 18th century was a time of transition for the West, from a Christianized culture to a secularized culture. Deism, standing midway between Christianity and atheism, was the religion of transition.
To be more exact, deism was the religion of the Newtonians. At the end of the 17th century, Newton had used the materialist atomism, ultimately rooted in the thought of Epicurus and Lucretius, as a foundation for his geometrical account of nature. As a result, the closest Newton could come to Christianity was deism, in which a distant god created the atoms and gave them an initial shove. The Incarnation was simply jettisoned as cosmologically incompatible and therefore irrelevant.
Deist poet laureate Alexander Pope composed "The Universal Prayer," which praised the deist god as the creator of multiple worlds and was intended by Pope to replace the all-too-provincial Lord's Prayer. The works of the archdeist Voltaire, who called himself the new Lucretius, were shot through with multiple worlds peopled by extraterrestrials. On America's own shores, Benjamin Franklin included such cosmic pluralism in his personal articles of belief, even claiming that the plurality of extraterrestrials included a plurality of gods to watch over each of the suns.
Perhaps more clearly than anyone else of the time, the deist Thomas Paine realized that the existence of a multitude of worlds (and, thus, of extraterrestrials) was entirely incompatible with Christianity: "[T]o believe that God created a plurality of worlds at least as numerous as what we call stars, renders the Christian system of faith at once little and ridiculous and scatters it in the mind like feathers in the air." For those who attempted a reconciliation of such plurality with Christianity, Paine warned that "he who thinks that he believes in both has thought but little of either." Paine, convinced of plurality, chose deism.
Many eminent figures agreed. The existence of extraterrestrials made belief in the particularity of Christianity an embarrassment. The poet Percy Bysshe Shelley found it easy to believe in extraterrestrials but, as a consequence, "impossible to believe that the Spirit that pervades this infinite machine begat a son upon the body of a Jewish woman." John Adams wrote to warn Thomas Jefferson against hiring anyone at the University of Virginia who holds the "awful blasphemy" that the "great Principle which has produced... Newton's universe... came down to this little ball, to be spit upon by the Jews."
There's an irony there, that Adams is being as dogmatic about life on other worlds as those he condemns. But that's typical of Adams---as with his own unitarianism, his life's studies tended toward the confirmation of his earlier-in-life prejudices rather than a questioning of them. He left his "free inquiry" for ideas he'd already rejected, the ones he accepted were left unexamined.
But that's John Adams. In attempting to understand him as he understood himself, it seemed too sophisticated for him to be aware of Ørsted's proof of electro-magnetism or the influence of Kant and Schelling's philosophy on him.
On the other hand, it seemed too foolish for even John Adams to flatly exclude Trinitarians from being able to do good science. But in this one area, because of the theological forces aligned at that time, his criticism would be apt: Few if any European orthodox were open to a universe without the Incarnation at the center of it. There is no meaning or purpose to life without Christ.
As for Adams' speaking of the Jews "spitting on" Jesus, it has to be understood in terms of Adams' own non-Trinitarian Christianity, known as "unitarianism."
He wasn't a bigot, really, nor was he being hostile to the Jews here really. He was writing to Jefferson, who spoke of the Jews less kindly, and John Adams was more than a bit of a chameleon to his audiences.
Most interesting is a letter to a prominent Jew, Mordacai Noah, which reveals a bit of Adams' theological [if not sectarian] agenda, a commercial for Adams' own brand of Christianity, non-Trinitarian "Unitarian Christianity," which I feel comfortable putting under the umbrella of the clumsy term "Judeo-Christianity" in describing the God of the Founding:
I believe [that] . . . once restored to an independent government & no longer persecuted they [the Jews] would soon wear away some of the asperities and peculiarities of their character & possibly in time become liberal Unitarian Christians for your Jehovah is our Jehovah & your God of Abraham Isaac and Jacob is our God.
Add a little non-divine Jesus to Judaism, not be bigoted toward Jews for "spitting on Jesus," and we're all just one big happy "liberal" Unitarian Christian family.
That was John Adams, especially in his later life, after his public life. In the same year as this letter---all the sound and fury of his presidency, signifying nothing---and Adams himself described it that way, as a tale told by an idiot---had faded away from relevance and importance.
What was left, what Adams is saying here at the end of his 80th decade is that he's pretty deaf, denies he gives much of a damn whether his son John Quincy wins the upcoming Electoral College controversy that's been thrown into the House of Representatives, [still] hates religious authoritarianism, thinks the Jews might be OK with a little [but too much] of Christianizing [but need some Zionism], and he believes in E.T.
That's John Adams, folks.
I hope y'all will permit me to enter my own opinion of Mr. John Adams here, after all much frankly painful and careful and close reading of his writings---his own tale of his life and beliefs are those of an idiot told by an idiot. He was a good man, but a smallish man, not a great man---first clinging to his cousin Samuel Adams' coattails in igniting the American Revolution, then to George Washington's. When he was on his own, he destroyed Washington's Federalist party with his pettiness and the tyranny of the Alien and Sedition Acts, which permitted little political dissent, and downright made it illegal.
The American public couldn't wait to be done with him. Even his own party couldn't wait to be done with him, barely opposing Jefferson's takeover of the government.
Still, I like John Adams, irritating as he was to most everybody. We have that much in common, anywayz. But give me his son John Quincy anyday, who returned to the House of Representatives after he won, then lost, the presidency [yes, he won the election controversy of 1825, only to lose to Andrew Jackson in the rematch of 1830]; the John Quincy Adams who argued Amistad.
In that, John Adams truly fulfilled the American Dream: The father raised a better man than he. No higher praise could be given to any man.
[Or woman either, Abigail Adams. It takes two. But Abigail is yet another story, and she earns her own place in the history of America in her own right...]
I got an email from Joe Talmadge, a physicist at UW-Madison on the context of the following letter from John Adams to Thomas Jefferson which features the "awful blasphemy" quote that is sometimes/often repeated.
Recently I came across this quote from John Adams and I am genuinely puzzled as to what it means.
"Your university is a noble employment in your old age and your ardor for its success does you honor but I do not approve of your sending to Europe for tutors and professors. I do believe there are sufficient scholars in America to fill your professorships and tutorships with more active ingenuity and independent minds than you can bring from Europe. The Europeans are all deeply tainted with prejudices both ecclesiastical and temporal which they can never get rid of. They are all infected with episcopal and presbyterian creeds and confessions of faith. They all believe that great Principle which has produced this boundless universe, Newton's universe and Herschell's universe, came down to this little ball to be spit upon by Jews. And until this awful blasphemy is got rid of, there never will be any liberal science in the world."
I know who Herschel and Newton are, but I am puzzled what Adams is driving at. Here are a few questions:
1- What "great Principle" is Adams talking about? 2- How would Adams characterize Newton's and Hershel's universe? 3- I presume that "this little ball" is the Earth. How did this "great Principle" come down to the Earth. 4- Why in the world would it be "spit upon by Jews"? How would Adams characterize Jewish theology? 5- What prejudices does Adams perceive of Europeans, that they are so tainted with? 6- Am I wrong in perceiving that Adams is sympathetic with Newton and Hershel? Then why would Europeans be so opposed to their ideas? Why would American scholars be more sympathetic? 7- What "awful blasphemy" is Adams talking about? 8- What is "liberal science"? As opposed to ....?
I'm not sure how to answer all 8 questions (perhaps I'll let my readers do some of the work for me). However, I always assumed the "awful blasphemy" refers to the Trinity, because many other scholars read the passage that way. And apparently (?) Adams is worried that the Europeans Jefferson is trying to recruit will be too orthodox? I would have thought Adams -- a more moderate unitarian than Jefferson -- might be worried that Jefferson's European recruits would be too deistic. But it seems Adams is going in the other direction.
I don't know anything about Hershel but Adams and company loved Issac Newton (one of the first Enlightenment figures) and the rational scientific unitarian Christianity that Newton stood for.
The reader followed up with two other messages:
What I find puzzling is that if "awful blasphemy" refers to the Trinity, then it doesn't seem to have anything to do with the sentence before it. To me it appears he is contrasting the boundless universe of Newton and Herschel to a worldview that focuses only on what is happening on the Earth. Maybe I'm just not seeing how the Trinity folds into this. And why would Jews spit on this view? Did Jews of his time have a more expansive view of the universe? I can't imagine so. If the blasphemy was about the Trinity, then yes, Jews wouldn't agree with a Trinitarian view of religion. But they would reject all of Christian doctrine anyway --- why just pick on the Trinity? The whole thing is quite puzzling to me.
Going back to the quote, "They all believe that great Principle which has produced this boundless universe, Newton's universe and Herschell's universe, came down to this little ball to be spit upon by Jews. And until this awful blasphemy is got rid of, there never will be any liberal science in the world." William Herschel was a brilliant astronomer and musician. But he had his quirks. One of them was his belief that the universe was full of life -- that life existed even on the surface of the sun.
Could Adams be possibly saying that Europeans believe that in this great and infinite universe brimming with life everywhere, god, the great principle which made all this, picked of all places this little speck of dust, Earth, that lies in the great vastness, to send his son to be spit upon by Jews? The blasphemy is the concept that god would pick this one spot to show up in mortal form. And until this blasphemy is removed, the progress of science will be hindered.
I admit that this is far-fetched, doesn't accord with anything else I know of Adams, but yet it seems to be an explanation that makes sense (to me) based on what I'm reading. I'd be interested to hear what you think.
Honestly I don't know other than it seems J. Adams is ranting about disagreements he had with orthodox Christians in Europe. Doctrines like the Trinity, Incarnation, Atonement and Eternal Damnation really rubbed Adams the wrong way.
What's clear is that there are competing traditions. Just look here and here. Even here, over at Explicit Athiest, where Mathew Goldstein, has written a blog in response to Jonathan Rowe's blog entry of a week ago. His thoughts follow:
The harder questions are how to get there in a 1) constitutional and 2) policy sense (the two aren't always supposed to be the same).
Do we need a naked public square where the state is always silent on religious beliefs? Or perhaps a more open pluralistic public square where the state, in its public supplications, sometimes says things that you or I agree with, sometimes not.
I'm willing to endorse the latter position as long as its understood that if the pious Christians get the state chaplain microphone, sometimes the Hindus and the atheists get it too.
And I think that pluralism perfectly "fits" with the ideals of the American Founding.
Regarding the question about whether we need a "naked public square where the state is always silent on religious beliefs?": There are two major misconceptions in that one sentence. The first falsehood is the adjective "naked," the second falsehood is the phrase "always silent".
It should be obvious that a public square where government is silent on the truth of, or need for, religious beliefs would not be "naked." Such a public square would be fully clothed with the associated partisan voices of the individuals who are citizens of this country. This court decision does not strip the public square of any individual belief or expression. Government employees, including elected officials, can go to any public square and add their voices on any subject as free individuals on the same terms as everyone else, just like everyone else. What government employees don't get to do is speak on behalf of government on matters of religious beliefs just because they are government employees or elected officials. That makes the public square equitable, it doesn't render the public square naked. There is a critical distinction here that Jon Rowe, and other opponents of non-establishment of monotheism and theism, keep failing to acknowledge. A President’s statements of his own beliefs about prayer are less likely to be viewed as an official endorsement than a permanent statement from the government in the form of a statute encouraging all citizens to pray to "God" every year.
This court decision does not require that the state be "always silent on religious beliefs." Again, there is a critical distinction here that Jon Rowe, and other opponents of non-establishment of monotheism and theism, keep failing to acknowledge. In her decision, U.S. District Judge Barbara Crabb asserted that government involvement in prayer could be constitutional provided that it does not call for religious action, which the prayer day does. "It goes beyond mere 'acknowledgment' of religion because its sole purpose is to encourage all citizens to engage in prayer, an inherently religious exercise that serves no secular function in this context," Crabb wrote. "In this instance, the government has taken sides on a matter that must be left to individual conscience." Exactly right. Why is this distinction between acknowledgement and promotion so difficult for those who oppose non-establishment of monotheism and theism to acknowledge? Could it be that their reasoning is clouded by anti-atheism animus? Maybe there is a prevailing anti-atheist bias in this country as evidenced by Judge Scalia's attitude? Have you considered that possibility and its implications for this discussion, Jon Rowe?
Regarding Jon Rowe's final prescription for a policy of inviting non-Christians and atheists to the state chaplain microphone: How does that comment apply in the context of the NDOP Act? The NDOP Act allows for no accommodation of atheists and atheists don't want a National Day of Blasphemy Act. Multiple competing establishments of religion are not better than no establishment of religion and the constitution calls for the latter. In any case, there is no justification for a state chaplain microphone. There is no chaplain at my place of work, indeed there is no chaplain microphone at the workplace of anyone I know. I guess that means we all have naked workplaces where the state is always silent on religious beliefs. Can Jon Rowe explain why there is this need for introducing a chaplain microphone into official business at government workplaces?
While it is true that 'pluralism perfectly "fits" with the ideals of the American Founding', it is also an irrelevant, trite, one-sided statement. Anything ranging from every citizen has a different belief to every citizen has the same belief fits with the ideals of the American Founding. It is not true that pluralism of beliefs is a goal of government according to the constitution, and an active government role in sponsoring a diversity of beliefs is what Mr. Rowe appears to favor. The constitution no more permits the government to promote a diversity of different beliefs then it permits the government to oppose a diversity of different beliefs. Furthermore, it is not the role of government to select which beliefs it will favor and which it will not favor regardless of the quantity or diversity of the beliefs it theoretically could choose to favor. People can pray individually and in voluntary groups before and after business and during breaks, privately or publicly. Why is that insufficient? Why must government sponsor prayers and assert in laws that a single God exists?
As Jon Rowe knows, the constitution was written by refugees seeking freedom of conscience and freedom from religious tyranny. They wanted a land where government would not tell them which church to support, what religious rituals to engage in or what to believe or disbelieve. They knew there can be no true religious liberty without the freedom to dissent. Whether to pray, or believe in a god who answers prayer, is an individual decision protected under our First Amendment as a paramount matter of conscience. Jon Rowe is mistaken in his refusal to acknowledge that the NDOP, which annually compels partisan religious speech on the president of the United States as an act of government, is a direct, and rather blatant, violation of the Bill of rights, just like Judge Scalia is mistaken when he says the constitution permits the disregard of atheists and polytheists.
What we hear from Coulter is how tolerant everyone is of everyone else's beliefs, that they respect atheists, that they favor pluralism and diversity, but the atheists are not tolerant, they are the problem. When I compare the NDOP Act with Coulter's words there is complete mismatch. The NDOP Act declares that a God exists and we should all pray to that God. The NDOP Act compels the president to annually issue a proclamation to that effect. Where is the pluralism and diversity here? There isn't any, its monotheism only. Where is the respect for atheists and polytheists here? There isn't any, we should all believe in a God and pray to that God. Who is being intolerant here? Its the monotheistic majority, not the atheist or polytheist minorities.
Stanley Fish on religion, but from a philosophical viewpoint, not a theological one. Not precisely about the Founding, but outlines the issues that underlie most of our discussions here, especially where this leaves us in 2010.
[For the record, I'm more with Habermas in his "post-secularism," but Dr. Fish does a fine job of outlining the parameters. To my mind, Habermas ends up paraphrasing George Washington: "And let us with caution..." The more things change, the more they remain the same.]
The most interesting---and liberating---thing about the Protestant Reformation was that each man must read and interpret the Bible for himself. Sola scriptura, the Bible only. The extra words of men have no authority above the Word of God as each man reads it, not the Pope or the "Magisterium" or the "Church" or even fellow Protestants and their churches either.
Somedays, a "proper" Christian just can't win, but then again, The Bible never said that one will:
Approaching Savannah on February 6, 1778, at Zubly’s ferry by Purisburg, they were surprised to meet Rev. John Joachim Zubly and his son coming away from the city. Zubly had been Savannah’s most renowned preacher, a Presbyterian, and his pamphlets supporting the American cause were read not only in the colonies but also in England.
At the second Continental Congress in Philadelphia in 1774 he had represented Georgia, arguing for moderation. He demanded representation in Parliament for the colonies, but he hoped for reconciliation rather than revolution.
In a sermon from 1775 to the Provincial Congress of Georgia (published as a tract in Philadelphia), Zubly preached that “A people that claim no more than their natural rights, in so doing, do nothing displeasing unto God; and the most powerful monarch that would deprive his subjects of the liberties of man, whatever may be his success, he must not expect the approbation of God, and in due time will be the abhorrence of all men.”
Moreover, he proclaimed that the idea “that government and tyranny are the hereditary right of some, and that slavery and oppression are the original doom of others, is a doctrine that would reflect dishonor upon God; it is treason against all mankind.”
His audience heard a criticism of the king but did not interpret this as an inexorable call to free their slaves. Zubly wrestled with biblical attitudes towards established authority: “The Christian religion, while it commands due respect and obedience to superiors, nowhere requires a blind and unlimited obedience on the part of the subjects; nor does it vest any absolute and arbitrary power in the rulers.”
Then he remarked, “We should fain obey our superiors, and yet we cannot think of giving up our natural, our civil and religious rights, nor acquiesce in or contribute to render our fellow creatures or fellow citizens slaves and miserable.”
Once again, his listeners understood that as a Presbyterian he opposed the claims of the Church of England to privilege and established superiority, and that as a colonist he objected to laws and taxes unjustly imposed. But they were not inspired to free their slaves, no matter how repugnant Zubly thought participation in enslavement would be to their freedom-loving souls.
In contrast to human laws, “The law of the Lord is perfect” (Psalm 19:7), Zubly quoted, and he repeated that “The Gospel is the law of liberty” – referring to James 2:12 (“So speak ye, and so do, as they that shall be judged by the law of liberty.”) No one, he thought, “can transgress [the law of the Lord] with impunity.” And as a Calvinist believing that the world and all its social hierarchy was predestined to be as it was, he could not avoid a literal application of Romans 13: 1-2 ( “Let every soul be subject unto 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.”)
Zubly’s unavoidable conclusion was unpalatable to the rebels: “Never let us lose out of sight that our interest lies in a perpetual connection with our mother country.” According to Zubly, a Christian was not permitted to rebel against the king, nor could a faithful Christian “acquiesce in or contribute to render our fellow creatures or fellow citizens slaves.”
Zubly’s fellow citizens of Savannah, in rebellion against the king and not wanting to hear that slavery was sin, had that very day banished him and his son from Georgia and had confiscated Zubly’s property, including his library of over a thousand volumes. The books were eventually tossed into the Savannah River. _____________  This and the following quotations are from Zubly’s sermon before the Provincial Congress of Georgia, 1775 with the title, “The Law of Liberty.” The Law of Liberty. A Sermon on American Affairs, Preached at the Opening of the Provincial Congress of Georgia. Addressed to the Right Honourable The Earl of Dartmouth. With an Appendix, Giving a Concise Account of the Struggles of Swisserland [sic] to Recover their Liberty. By John J. Zubly. Philadelphia: Printed and Sold by Henry Miller, 1775.
Jon Meacham, editor of NewsweekMagazine and author of the books American Gospel and American Lion (for which he won the Pulitzer Prize last year) has chimed in with an interesting article on the never-ending culture war over church-state separation and why religion should embrace the distinction rather than fight against it. He writes:
Here we go again. On April 15 a federal judge in Wisconsin ruled that the National Day of Prayer, slated for May 6, was unconstitutional. The usual voices have been heard rising in objection (Sarah Palin and Franklin Graham among them) and, proving yet again that President Obama is no radical, the administration announced its own plans to challenge the decision. One can make a reasonable case that the weight of custom puts the fairly banal idea of an occasionless, generic day of prayer (how many of you even knew that we have had such a day every year since 1952?) on the safe side of the Establishment Clause. But the right is, as ever, taking things a beat too far. Lest anyone try to convince you that God should be separated from the state, Palin said, our Founding Fathers, they were believers.
Governor Palin's history is rather shaky. Religious liberty—the freedom to worship as one chooses, or not to worship—is a central element of the American creed. Yes, many of the Founders were believing, observant Christians. But to think of them as apostles in knee breeches or as passionate evangelicals is a profound misreading of the past. In many ways their most wondrous legacy was creating the foundations of a culture of religious diversity in which the secular and the religious could live in harmony, giving faith a role in the life of the nation in which it could shape us without strangling us. On the day George Washington left Philadelphia to take command of the Continental Army, the Rev. William Smith preached a sermon at the city's Christ Church, saying: "Religion and liberty must flourish or fall together in America. We pray that both may be perpetual."
Arguments about the connection between religion and politics, church and state, have surely been perpetual. The civil and legal cases against religious coercion are well known: human freedom extends to one's conscience, and by abolishing religious tests for office or mandated observances, Americans have successfully created a climate—a free market, if you will—in which religion can take its stand in the culture and in the country without particular help or harm from the government.
There is a religious case against state involvement with matters of faith, too. Long before Thomas Jefferson, Roger Williams, the founder of Rhode Island, called for a "hedge or wall of separation between the garden of the church and the wilderness of the world," believing, with the Psalmist, that human beings were not to put their trust in princes. The principalities and powers of a fallen world represented and still represent a corrupting threat to religion: too many rulers have used faith to justify and excuse all manner of evil.
The idea of separation began, in fact, with Jesus. Once, when the crowds were with him and wanted to make him a king, he withdrew and hid. Before Pilate, Jesus was explicit: "My kingdom is not of this world," he said. Later in the New Testament, Paul argues that God shows no partiality among nations or peoples, meaning nations cannot claim blessed status, and says that "there is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus," which means the Lord God of Hosts is concerned with larger matters than whether one is an American or a Norwegian. A Christian nation, then, is a theological impossibility, and faith coerced is no faith at all, only tyranny. If God himself gave human beings free will—the choice to love him or not, to obey him or not—then no believer should try to force another to confess a faith.
The Founders understood this. Washington said we should give "to bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance"; according to the 1797 Treaty of Tripoli, ratified by the Senate and signed by John Adams, "the government of the United States is not, in any sense, founded on the Christian religion." Jefferson said that his statute for religious freedom in Virginia was "meant to comprehend, within the mantle of its protection, the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and the Mohammedan, the Hindoo and Infidel of every denomination." There are many precedents for the National Day of Prayer, but serious believers, given the choice between a government-sanctioned religious moment and the perpetuation of a culture in which religion can take its own stand, free from the corruptions of the world, should always choose the garden of the church over the wilderness of the world. It is, after all, what Jesus did.
Chattel Slavery presents a damned if you do damned if you don't dilemma for the Christian Nation thesis.
I've read the texts that deal with slavery in the Bible and I have concluded that the Bible does not abolish chattel slavery. When confronted with proof-texts like Colossians 3:22 -- "Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything; and do it, not only when their eye is on you and to win their favor, but with sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord." -- I am unconvinced by the responses that such really wasn't chattel slavery, but something else. They strike me as "weasel out" responses.
And Colossians 3:22 isn't the only place the Bible seems to indicate it's "okay" with slavery. I don't read the Bible as commanding slavery. But rather, not abolishing it, that is permitting it.
The anti-liberationist view of orthodox Christianity does provide a rational response. Look, life is a vapor and what matters is where you spend eternity. If you are a slave and a Christian and your master is unsaved, in terms of cosmic reality, you are in a FAR better position than him.
The anti-slavery biblical position strikes me as a liberationist reading of the Bible. And I see biblical liberationism using more of a "loose" hermeneutic (that is, not the proof texting, the Bible is the inerrant infallible Word of God hermeneutic).
Benjamin Rush is a good example of an orthodox Christian Founding Father who was a biblical liberationalist. Not only did Rush believe Christianity, properly understood, abolished slavery and commanded republicanism, but also that the Bible taught universal salvation and abolished the death penalty in the New Testament.
But...there are uber-orthodox, proof texter types who do believe the Bible does not support slavery. Gregg Frazer (of John MacArthur's church and university) is one. Now one could argue, in this modern age where the question of slavery is "settled," they are trying to do PR work for the Bible/orthodox Christianity.
Yet, not all of the anti-slavery biblicists from the Founding era were Benjamin Rush types or unitarians. In fact, some very notable anti-slavery activists of that era were uber-orthodox.
And that brings us to the damned if you do damned if you don't aspect of slavery and the Christian Nation thesis. The Founding Fathers -- not all but a good number of notables -- owned slaves. And the Founding made concessions with slavery. If permitting slavery is an authentic "Christian principle," then so much for "Christian principles."
And if it's not, then that's one glaring aspect of the American Founding that contradicts "Christian principles."
In fact, one of the uber-orthodox Calvinist covenanter types -- Rev. James Renwick Willson -- who decried the godlessness of the US Constitution and the infidelity of America's Founding Fathers, was an anti-slavery activist. And he used the fact that the Founding Fathers practiced and made concessions with slavery as a key argument for why America didn't have a "Christian" Founding.
6. Millions of men are held in bondage, under the most solemn sanction of the United States Constitution. Slaves had been introduced into the colony of Virginia, by a Dutch slave trader, many years before the commencement of the Revolution. The planters of the southern colonies, had formed the habit of executing their labor by slaves. Many, indeed a great majority of the people of the northern and middle states, were always adverse to Negro slavery. The members of the convention from the north were opposed, generally, to the slave trade. Yet some of the Boston and Rhode Island merchants had embarked a large capital in this traffic. The members from the south refused to accede to the formation of a permanent bond of union, unless their right both to hold slaves and to import them, was guaranteed by the constitution. Perhaps no topic excited in the convention a deeper interest than this one. Notwithstanding all that had been taught in the Declaration of Independence, all the treasure that had been expended, and all the blood that had been shed in the cause of freedom, yet the convention did guarantee the right of importing slaves, from the time of the adoption of the constitution until the 1st of January, 1808—a period of twenty years, three months, and thirteen days. I am thus particular, for every one of these days and even the hours must be accounted for to Messiah the Prince, "who came to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound."
The constitution says:—"The migration, or importation of such persons as any of the states now existing shall think proper to admit, shall not be prohibited by Congress prior to the year 1808." Art. I, Sec. IV, Specification I. The Convention blushed to name the Negro slaves and the slave trade, and used a circumlocution, as if a figure of speech would conceal that iniquity for which conscience was chiding them, when the article was penned and ratified. It will not avail to say, that the deed was merely passing it by. It was much more. The slave ships, with cargoes of African slaves, were as much under the protection of the American stars and stripes, as the flannel of Britain, or the bar iron of Sweden. It was a national slave trade.
As this species of property was acquired, under the sanction of the constitution, so it is retained under a solemn national guaranty. The United States are the slave holders, as well as the several states, and the individual masters. "Direct taxes," says the constitution, "shall be apportioned among the several states, according to their respective numbers, which shall be determined, by adding to the whole number of free persons, three-fifths of all other persons." U. S. Con. Art. 1. Sec. II. Specification II. These "other persons" are slaves, an abominable term, which they were as before ashamed to employ, while they sanctioned the evil. These slaves are then taxable property, by the letter and spirit of the constitution. So the article is expounded by Federalist, written by Messrs. Hamilton, Jay, and Madison, and by all writers on the national jurisprudence, who are quoted as the best authority. "The federal constitution, therefore decides, with great propriety, on the case of our slaves, when it views them in the mixed character of persons and property." Imported under the protection of the American flag, and secured to their owners by the plighted faith of the nation, as property, they are now held by the nation, as a part of its wealth; "when," to use the words of Mr. Jay in The Federalist, "a tariff of contribution is to be adjusted." Fed. No. LV, p. 296.
This doctrine is more distinctly laid down in other parts of the Constitution. "The United States shall protect each of them (the states) against domestic violence." Art. IV, Sec. IV. "Domestic violence" is a phrase, which, in this connection can neither be misunderstood, nor explained away. Since the slaves are taxed as the property of the nation, the constitution pledges the power of the U. States to sustain the master against any violent measures that the slave may employ to recover his freedom.
Again, "No person held to service or labor, in one state, under the laws thereof; escaping into another, shall, in consequence of any law or regulation therein, be discharged from such service or labor, but shall be delivered up on claim of the party to whom such service or labor may be due." U. S. Con., Art. I., Sec. IV. If the slave escapes from the state where he is enslaved, to another, where there are no slaves; that other is bound by the Constitution to deliver him up to the master who claims him.
Slavery indeed, is made one of the pillars of the government. "Representatives shall be apportioned among the several states, according to their respective numbers, which shall be determined by adding to the whole number of free persons, three-fifths of all other persons." Hence, the holding of Africans in bondage, is made one of the pillars, on which the fabric of American freedom is made to rest; thus committing the twofold evil of making slavery essential to the constitution, and of violating the holy and benign doctrine of representation, which is the palladium of religious and civil liberty.
That slave property is guaranteed by the constitution, has been solemnly decided by the representatives of the nation, in many legislative acts. After protracted argument, in Congress, on the question of admitting Missouri, with her slave holding constitution, into the Union, it was decided in favor of her admission, on the ground that slaves are held under constitutional guaranty.
Congress has passed many laws, on the subject of slavery. By one act, the United States courts are vested with jurisdiction, in questions arising under the slave trade. By another, the mode is prescribed in which runaway-slaves shall be reclaimed and restored to their masters in the non-slave-holding states. By the several acts of Congress, fixing the ratio for representation, the doctrine and the practice of slavery are recognized (See Gorden’s and Brown’s Digests of the laws of the United States.). Many laws passed for the government of Louisiana, Alabama, and Mississippi, before they became states; all of the Floridas, and District of Columbia, now under territorial regime, respect slaves.
In all the territories, the United States government is the slave-holder; for the political sovereignty of the territory, is vested in no intermediate authority. All the slave laws of the District of Columbia are enacted by the federal legislature. No jurist in the nation has ever presumed to maintain, however adverse many of them are to slavery, that these legislative acts of Congress are unconstitutional.
In addition to all this mass of evidence, it may be added, that numerous cases have been, and are every year decided in the courts, in applying these acts; and every judge holds himself bound, by his oath of office, to apply the laws against the African slave, whenever any question arises, on the right of tenure between him and his master.
The late insurrection of the slaves in North Carolina and Virginia, has been quelled by the United States troops, ordered out by the President, as executor of the laws of the United States. So then, we have; 1st, the convention that framed the Constitution, embodying slavery in several parts of the fundamental law of the commonwealth. 2. The federal legislature enacting laws, under the provisions of the constitution. 3. The judiciary applying the law in adjudications of slave questions. 4. The chief executive magistrate enforcing slavery by the army of the United States.
Slavery is interwoven with the whole web and texture of the federal government. All this is in direct opposition to the 4th amendment to the constitution, which provides, that:—
"No person shall be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law." By what "due process of law" has the African been deprived of his liberty? Was it a "due process of law" to make war on the unoffending tribes of Africa, waste and destroy whole populous nations, and seize, bind in chains, and sell to the southern planters, a shipload of MEN? In 1830, there were in the United States 2,010,575 Africans, deprived of their liberty, by no other process of law, than that of wasting and destroying countries; and of binding and selling the unoffending children of poverty.
The United States legislature has passed sentence on their own doings. By a law passed since 1808, the slave trade is declared to be piracy.
In the whole annals of legislation, where shall we find any thing analogous to this? After prosecuting this trade nationally, for twenty years, three months, and thirteen days, Congress declares the doings of slave traders piracy; though they had traded under the protection of the national flag. What are we to infer, respecting him who holds property which he acknowledges to have been acquired by piracy? But there has been no national acknowledgment of the sin against God and man—no asking of pardon from God—no restitution. It is not wonderful that the United States Senator from Rhode Island, who had amassed a large estate by trading in slaves, always voted in the negative on the passage of the piracy bill through the Senate. We may well believe, that he saw before his mind’s eye, the pirate’s gibbet.
On the subject of the evil thus sanctioned by the highest human authority in this nation, Mr. Jefferson, in his Notes on Virginia, pp. 240-1, makes the following, among other very impressive observations:—"The whole commerce, between master and slave, is a perpetual exercise of the most boisterous passions, the most unremitting despotism on the one part, and degrading submission on the other."—"The man must be a prodigy who can retain his manners and morals, undepraved by such circumstances."—"Can the liberties of a nation be thought secure, when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are the gift of God?"—"That they are to be violated but with his wrath?" The following sentiment, though a thousand times quoted, will bear to be many times yet repeated:—"Indeed, I tremble for my country, when I reflect that God is just; and that his justice cannot sleep forever; that considering numbers, nature and natural means only, a revolution of the wheel of fortune, an exchange of situation is among probable events: that it may become probable by supernatural interference. The Almighty has no attribute which can take part with us in such a contest."—"With what execration should the statesman be loaded, who permitting one half the citizens thus to trample on the rights of the other, transforms those into despots, and these into enemies, destroys the morals of the one part, and the amor patriae of the other?" Twelve states do all this now, solemnly, deliberately, and under the forms of law. The convention that framed the National Constitution have done this. The United States Congress, Senate, and Executive, have been doing this, for more than forty-four years. They have thus dishonored Messiah the Prince, who is the friend of liberty; for he came to "proclaim Liberty to the captive, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound."
These moral evils embodied in the doctrines of the fundamental law of the empire, have produced practical results, over which every true disciple of Christ, and Christian patriot, will mourn.
Right after that Rev. Willson explains why the "key Founders" were not Christians but infidels, not more than "unitarians."
1st. Ungodly men have occupied, and do now occupy, many of the official stations, in the government. The clause of the Constitution, barring all moral qualifications, has not been a dead letter. There have been seven Presidents of the United States—and of each of them it may be said, as Jehovah says of the kings of Israel, after the revolt of the ten tribes, "He did that which was evil in the sight of the Lord."
Washington was raised up, in the providence of God, like Cyrus of Persia, and qualified for great achievements.—He was an able captain, and an instrument of much temporal good, as a statesman. Few, if any, prominent men, in any nation, have been endowed by the common gifts of the Spirit, with more ennobling qualities than the first President of this nation. His fame fills the civilized world. It is to the honor of the Protestant Religion, that this country produced such a man. What was Bolivar compared with Washington? All this praise may be awarded to one who, like the amiable young man in the gospel, "went away from Jesus sorrowful, because he had great possessions."
There is no satisfactory evidence that Washington was a professor of the Christian religion, or even a speculative believer in its divinity, before he retired from public life. In no state paper, in no private letter, in no conversation, is he known to have declared himself a believer in the Holy Scriptures, as the word of God. General eulogy, by a Weems, or a Ramsey, will not satisfy an enlightened enquirer. The faith of the real believer in the word of God, is a principle so powerfully operative, that you cannot conceal "its light under a bushel." "It works by love." "Out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaketh." Is it probable that he was a true believer in Jesus Christ and his Bible, when in times so trying, and in a Christian nation, he wrote thousands of letters, and yet never uttered a word, from which it can be fairly inferred that he was a believer? Who ever questioned whether Theodosius or Charlemagne believed the Bible? "He that is not against us is for us." And it is as true, that he who is not for us, is against us.
So I realize that this post is likely to ruffle a few feathers. After all, many people have very passionate feelings about the man from Nazareth known to billions of followers as Jesus the Christ. With this in mind, I will try to treat the topic with as much care as I can.
The very question posed in this post probably seems strange. After all, Jesus and his teachings, at least for the devout Christian, seem to transcend trivial political issues like church/state separation. Why would the Savior of mankind care about political ideology, governmental structure, etc. when he himself was called "King of kings and Lord of lords"? Shouldn't that suffice? Why would Jesus waste his time addressing the relatively mundane details surrounding issues like prayer in school, the oaths of the Pledge of Allegiance, the role (if any) that organized religion should play in the halls of government, etc., etc. etc.? Perhaps Gov.Mike Huckabee said it best when asked what Jesus would do as a modern politician:
And perhaps he is right. Surely Jesus would spend his time dealing with more important matters, right?
Not so fast.
While it is true that Jesus' primary goal was to bring people to him as the Savior of mankind, it would be both foolish and inaccurate to state that he cared nothing of the affairs of this world. And even though he made it clear that his "kingdom was not of this world," Jesus was, on occasion, quite vocal and passionate about the affairs this world.
Render to Caesar
During his ministry, Jesus was, from time to time, confronted by some of the more prominent members of Jewish society in an effort to confront him or catch him in a lie of sorts, all in an effort to discredit the man whom they esteemed as an enemy to their agenda. On one occasion, two different groups (the Pharisees and Herodians) confronted Jesus in an effort to "entangle him in his talk." Both the Parisees and Herodians hated Jesus (for different reasons) and believed that entangling him in his words, especially on hot-button political matters, might discredit him in the eyes of his followers. We read of what happened in Matthew 22:
15. Then went the Pharisees, and took counsel how they might entangle him in his talk.
16. And they sent out unto him their disciples with the Herodians, saying, Master, we know that thou art true, and teachest the way of God in truth, neither carest thou for any man: for thou regardest not the person of men.
17. Tell us therefore, What thinkest thou? Is it lawful to give tribute unto Caesar, or not?
18. But Jesus perceived their wickedness, and said, Why tempt ye me, ye hypocrites?
19. Shew me the tribute money. And they brought unto him a penny.
20. And he saith unto them, Whose is this image and superscription?
21. They say unto him, Caesar's. Then saith he unto them, Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's; and unto God the things that are God's.
22. When they had heard these words, they marvelled, and left him, and went their way.
There's a great deal to dissect in these eight verses. First off, the Pharisees and Herodians attempt to trap Jesus by appealing to his teachings regarding the supremacy of god. In Roman society, Caesar was esteemed to be a deity and those who rejected such teachings were often met with ridicule and scorn. Taxes were the predominant way in which homage to Caesar was acknowledged and as a result, any attempt to avoid them was met with severe consequences. So, in the minds of the Pharisees and Herodians, Jesus was trapped. If he answered that man should not pay tribute to Caesar he would be seen as an enemy of the state. But if he agreed with paying tribute, he would come off looking like a hypocrite, since Jesus had emphasized the supremacy of the kingdom of god to that of man.
So what was Jesus to do? Blast their argument to oblivion of course! Matthew tells us that Jesus "perceived their wickedness" and got right to the heart of the matter. By using a mere penny (most certainly a denarius in Roman coinage) Jesus completely and totally surprised (or as Matthew states "marveled") his audience by uttering the now famous phrase, "Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's; and unto God the things that are God's." This simple phrase completely baffled the Pharisees to such a degree that they simply walked away with their tail between their legs. Jesus came away the clear victor.
Church/State Separation as a Christian Concept
So why where the Pharisees and Herodians so baffled by Jesus' seemingly simple remark? After all, this wouldn't sound that profound of a rebuttal to politicians or theologians today. Well, let's keep in mind that we are speaking of the ANCIENT world; a world that had long fused the political and theological worlds together by establishing kingships, Caesars and other "divine" rulers. The notion of an independent church, separate and sovereign from the secular world, was more than just a novel concept. It was revolutionary. As a result, we can logically and rationally proclaim that a separation between church and state is very much a CHRISTIAN concept. As my blog buddy Brian Tubbs points out by quoting Dinesh D'Souza's bestselling book, What's So Great About Christianity:
D'Souza argues that the "separation of religion and government" was a "Christian idea" and that Jesus was the "first one who thought of it." D'Souza points to Jesus' confrontation with the Herodians and Pharisees in Matthew 22 as the birth of the concept.
D'Souza explains that, for the ancient Greeks and Romans, the "gods a man should worship were the gods of the state." Accordingly, "patriotism demanded that a good Athenian make sacrifices to the Athenian gods and a good Roman pay homage to the gods of Rome."
Well, along come the Christians, who refuse to worship the Roman gods. This was unacceptable to Roman authorities (at least prior to Constantine)...
In Matthew 22, Jesus clearly teaches that Caesar is entitled to certain "things" (and he implies taxes as being among those "things"), but draws a line of distinction. Caesar is NOT entitled to everything, only some things.
Likewise, Jesus implies a limit in the other direction. While God is sovereign and all-powerful, Jesus nevertheless explains (later to Pilate): "My kingdom is not of this world."
According to D'Souza, "God has chosen to exercise a limited domain over earthly rule, not because He is limited, but because He has turned over part of His kingdom to humans for earthly supervision."
Jesus of Nazareth was clearly in favor of a separation between church and state not because he wanted a secular society but because he wanted a moral one, and the best way to ensure that was to take religion out of the hands of the politicians. Jesus and his apostles had seen first hand what religious politicians (Pharisees, Herodians, etc.) had done to religion and Jesus clearly wanted no part of it. Rarely if ever did Jesus "trash talk" anyone but he certainly did with these types. As he stated in Matthew 12:34:
O generation of vipers, how can ye, being evil, speak good things? for out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh.
And throughout his ministry, Jesus would continue his insistence on church/state separation:
"My kingdom is not of this world." (John 18:36)
"You are from below; I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world." (John 8:23)
"No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will hold to one and despise the other. You cannot serve god an mammon." (Matthew 6:24.)
"The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors. But you are not to be like that. And I confer on you a kingdom, just as my Father conferred one on me." (Luke 22:25–26, 29)
"He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!" (Luke 18: 9-14)
And Jesus didn't stop there. Even when tempted of the devil and the masses to be made a king (a physical, worldly king since he was presumably already "King of kings") over all the land, Jesus flat-out refused:
"And the devil, taking him up into an high mountain, shewed unto him all the kingdoms of the world in a moment of time. And the devil said unto him, All this power will I give thee, and the glory of them: for that is delivered unto me; and to whomsoever I will I give it. If thou therefore wilt worship me, all shall be thine. And Jesus answered and said unto him, Get thee behind me, Satan: for it is written, Thou shalt worship the Lord thy God, and him only shalt thou serve." (Luke 4: 5-8)
"Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me." Jesus replied, "Man, who appointed me a judge or an arbiter between you?" (Luke 12:13–14)
"Therefore they gathered them together, and filled twelve baskets with the fragments of the five barley loaves, which remained over and above unto them that had eaten. Then those men, when they had seen the miracle that Jesus did, said, This is of a truth that prophet that should come into the world. When Jesus therefore perceived that they would come and take him by force, to make him a king, he departed again into a mountain himself alone." (John 6: 13-15)
But with all of his apparent disinterest (or insistence in a separation between church and state) in secular matters, Jesus was quick and fierce in his defense of religious sovereignty. In the only account of his resorting to violence, Jesus was more than willing to "throw down" with those who made a mockery of the temple:
When it was almost time for the Jewish Passover, Jesus went up to Jerusalem. In the temple courts he found men selling cattle, sheep and doves, and others sitting at tables exchanging money. So he made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple area, both sheep and cattle; he scattered the coins of the money changers and overturned their tables. To those who sold doves he said, "Get these out of here! How dare you turn my Father's house into a market!" (John 2:13–16)
For Jesus, the pollution of worldly distractions had defiled the Lord's temple; an offense that was far worse than the introduction of religion into government. Simply put, the temple of the Lord was to be free of secular distractions, political rhetoric and worldly wealth. It was a house of sacrifice and prayer. Politicians and greedy capitalists be damned! =)
In light of such evidence, it is abundantly clear that a separation of church and state was, and still is, a CHRISTIAN concept. The very founder of the faith saw tremendous advantages to both church and state when both are put in check and denied the right to overpower the other. Under such a system, religion and government would mutually flourish not as opposing forces but as equal partners in creating a free and moral world. One could not exist without the other, and one could not exercise dominion over the other.
Our Founding Fathers (both the ultra-pious and "infidel" types) had a perfect understanding of this concept. They saw that the establishment of a joint church/state government had brought nothing but misery to the world, and they were hell bent on ensuring that it wouldn't happen in the "land of the free":
"I am persuaded, you will permit me to observe that the path of true piety is so plain as to require but little political direction. To this consideration we ought to ascribe the absence of any regulation, respecting religion, from the Magna-Charta [Constitution] of our country." (George Washington, 1789, Papers, Presidential Series, 4:274).
"The Christian god is a three headed monster, cruel, vengeful, and capricious. If one wishes to know more of this raging, three headed beast-like god, one only needs to look at the caliber of people who say they serve him. They are always of two classes: fools and hypocrites
I do not find in orthodox Christianity one redeeming feature. Christianity neither is, nor ever was a part of the common law." (Thomas Jefferson, February 10, 1814).
"What influence, in fact, have ecclesiastical establishments had on society? In some instances they have been seen to erect a spiritual tyranny on the ruins of the civil authority; on many instances they have been seen upholding the thrones of political tyranny; in no instance have they been the guardians of the liberties of the people. Rulers who wish to subvert the public liberty may have found an established clergy convenient auxiliaries. A just government, instituted to secure and perpetuate it, needs them not."
"Experience witnesseth that ecclesiastical establishments, instead of maintaining the purity and efficacy of religion, have had a contrary operation. During almost fifteen centuries has the legal establishment of Christianity been on trial. What has been its fruits? More or less, in all places, pride and indolence in the clergy; ignorance and servility in the laity; in both, superstition, bigotry and persecution." (James Madison, "A Memorial and Remonstrance", 1785).
These quotes, and the thousands of others like them, do not illustrate an abhorrence of religion on the part of the founders, but instead illustrate the incredible depth of understanding they possessed with regards to Jesus' true teachings. In other words, the founders were able to cut through the B.S. and get at the core of the matter. A separation of church and state was THE FUNDAMENTAL COMPONENT to ensuring a free republic. Losing sight of this all-important concept was to lose sight of freedom itself, to lose sight of Jesus himself.
And, thank God, the founders didn't lose sight of either.
Professor Stone wrote, "In 1636, for example, only sixteen years after the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock, they adopted the 'judicials of Moses,' which provided that any person 'shall be put to death' who 'shall have or worship any other God, but the Lord God.'
The 1636 constitution of Plymouth Colony is published in: David Pulsifer (ed.), Records of the Colony of New Plymouth in New England, Printed by Order of the Legislature of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, Laws, 1623-1682. Boston: William White, 1861. constitution of 1636, pp. 6-26.
Nowhere in it is found the text or sentiment given by Professor Stone. Instead, the following general statement (spelling modernized):
p. 12: "That all trials whether Capital or between man & man be tried by Juries according to the precedents of the law of England as near as may be." ...
Capital offences liable to death. Treason or rebellion against the person of the King State or Common wealth either of England or these Colonies. Willful Murder. Solemn Compaction or conversing with the devil by way of witchcraft conjuration or the like. Willful & purposed burning of ships houses. Sodomy, rapes, buggery."
Religious disagreement was not a capital offense.
p. 57-8: 6 June 1651 "It is ordered That Whatsoever person or persons shall neglect the frequenting the public worship of God that is according to God in the places where they live or do assemble themselves upon any pretence whatsoever in any way contrary to God and the allowance of the government tending to the subversion of Religion and churches or palpable profanation of Gods holy ordinances being duly convicted; videlecet every one that is a master or dame of a family or any other person at their own disposing to pay ten shillings for every such default.
It is ordered That if any in any lazy slothful or profane way doth neglect to come to the public worship of God shall forfeit for every such default ten shillings or be publicly whipped."
[repealed also in 1651, p. 99-100]
p. 64 5 June 1655 "It was Enacted That such as shall deny the Scriptures to be a rule of life shall receive Corporal punishment according to the discretion of the Magistrate so as it shall not extend to life or Limb."
_____________ Late add---To several objections in the comments section, Dr. Bangs replies:
There is an important difference between Plymouth Colony (Pilgrims, "Mayflower," and the mythical Plymouth Rock landing) and that colony's laws of 1636 mentioned by Stone, on the one hand, and, on the other, Massachusetts Bay Colony (Puritans, Winthrop, et al.) and laws there in 1641 or in the colony of New Haven. To conflate the three may result in a convenient and usable narrative leading up to an admirable Enlightenment, but such oversimplification of colonial attitudes remains historically inaccurate.
The collection includes not just the most notable "Whig" sermons, but also some "Tory" loyalists.
I've long studies this dynamic and am known for seeming to endorse an understanding of "Christianity" that is anti-liberationist.
As it were, the "liberty" the Bible speaks of is entirely spiritual (freedom from sin or its consequences) not political at all. Jesus didn't overturn one social institution, not political tyranny, not divine right of kings, not chattel slavery.
And Christianity, properly understood, is entirely compatible chattel slavery and demands believers submit to government period, even if said government is a pagan tyranny as was Nero's, arguably the ruler Paul told believers to submit to in Romans 13.
Now I am not a "Christian." So it's really not up to me to personally endorse any version of the faith or say who gets to be a Christian. For my own personal reasons, anyone who calls himself a "Christian" gets to be one, even if he is a atheist. Jefferson thought himself a Christian and certainly passes my very easy to pass test for what is a "Christian."
But my own personal reasons are just that. There are competing definitions of what Christianity means. And some take their faith more seriously and define it more narrowly.
The Church itself, since at least 325 AD, has carefully guarded orthodoxy and put heretics in not a good place. There is interesting debate on whether heretics merit the label "Christian." I've uncovered quite a bit from orthodox believers who answer that question negatively. There's more to come.
Perhaps heretics merit the label "Christian" as an adjective, but not as a noun. Arians and Socinians, (or to use more current examples Mormons and Jehovah's Witnesses) as it were, are not "Christians," but believe in a "Christian-heresy."
But to bring us back to Sandoz's collection, historically up throughout the Protestant Reformation, the understanding of Christianity and liberation that I outlined above (I would argue) prevailed. That is, the "orthodox" guardians of the faith did not endorse the notions that the Bible teaches political liberty rights, a right to revolt against tyrants, any more than it teaches Arianism or Socinianism.
But if you look for *thought* that predates the Enlightenment that questioned the prevailing orthodoxy, you'll almost certainly find it. Indeed, "Christian" figures from the Enlightenment tended to embrace Arianism, something that goes back to 325 AD. Ditto with theological universalism (universal salvation, something in which a number of notable early church fathers believed).
It was after Henry the VIII, Luther and Calvin (all of whom, by the way, were with the Roman Catholic Church in endorsing the notion that men do not have God given rights to political and religious liberty, to revolt against tyrants, etc.) -- after much schismatism -- did authorities question their traditional understanding of the Bible and political liberty.
An interlocutor, trying to find official Catholic sources for the idea of resisting tyranny (I'm sure there is much "lower" Roman Catholic chatter, but we were trying to find top down authoritative sources), pointed me to POPE PIUS V'S BULL AGAINST ELIZABETH (1570).
Well, it doesn't say anything about believers having a God given right to resist tyranny, tyrants losing their Romans 13 status as "rulers," or "rulers" somehow having to pass a test of "godliness" or justice in order to qualify as "rulers." But it does speak of "usurpation."
And indeed, were there not a "usurpation" of power by Henry the VIII, the Church wouldn't have dealt with the circumstance in England POPE PIUS V'S BULL discusses.
But it was during that period -- after Henry the VIII, Luther and Calvin -- problems with persecution within Christendom (Catholic persecuting Protestants, vice-versa and Protestants persecuting each other) lead to more "liberation" talk. So much so that said talk became a "meme" within Christendom. And it was mainly those on the receiving end who did the loudest talking.
And Sandoz's collection features when the Christian liberation talk reached fever pitch.
The million $$ question, though, is: Is it sound theology? On a personal level, as a non-Christian, I really don't have an answer.
But I can make an analogy: I see the pro-liberty sermons in Sandoz's collection as classically liberal liberation theology. And that kind of liberation theology is about as authentically Christian and hermeneutically sound as modern collectivist liberation theology.
[The most notable anti-liberationist present day evangelical preacher is, of course, John MacArthur. You can hear him discuss the liberation theology of the emergent church here. The funny thing is every single criticism of MacArthur towards them could be raised against the Patriotic Preachers featured in Sandoz's collection.]
... [A] coterie of Christian evangelicals ... are attempting to infiltrate our educational system in order to brainwash the youth of America. They are in Texas.
For reasons peculiar to the textbook industry and the Texas educational system, the Texas Board of Education has enormous influence on the content of textbooks used throughout the United States. Conservatives and Christian evangelicals have taken over the Texas Board of Education and they are right now in the process of rewriting the American history our children will learn.
Among the propositions the Texas Board of Education is attempting to impose upon the next generation of Americans is that the United States was founded as "a Christian nation." What follows from this, of course, is that our Constitution and laws must be understood through the prism of this perspective. Although evangelicals have been pushing this line for two centuries, it is simply, factually, and historically false. But the members of the Texas Board of Education, who are not themselves historians, nonetheless persist in this effort to propagandize the youth of America. This is dangerous. It must be contested.
Christianity played a central role in the promulgation of early colonial legal codes. The Bible was the rock and foundation of early colonial law, and the Puritans, in particular, injected a fierce religious fervor into their laws. In 1636, for example, only sixteen years after the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth Rock, they adopted the "judicials of Moses," which provided that any person "shall be put to death" who "shall have or worship any other God, but the Lord God." Similarly, the 1656 "Lawes of Government" of New Haven colony expressly declared that "the Supreme power of making Lawes belongs to God only" and that "Civill courts are the Ministers of God."
By the late seventeenth century, however, the strict religious foundations of colonial law had crumbled. With the influx of large numbers of immigrants from widely diverse religious, ethnic and social backgrounds, the old Puritan beliefs and institutions faded, and as the new Enlightenment ideals of personal liberty, the "pursuit of happiness," and the power of reason spread through the New World, traditional sources of authority were increasingly called into question.
With fresh energy and bold new ideas, eighteenth-century Americans sought to achieve a profound transformation in their society, their government, their politics, and their religion. The great American experiment was born in the full illumination of the Enlightenment. In an Enlightened Age, -- an age dedicated to reason rather than revelation -- even the authority of Christianity was open to challenge.
The Framers of the American system of government were often quite critical of what they saw as Christianity's excesses and superstitions. They fervently believed that people should be free to seek truth through the use of reason and they concluded that a secular state, establishing no religion but tolerating all, best served that end.
Unlike the later French Revolution, the American Revolution was not a revolution against Christianity itself. But as men of the Enlightenment, most of the Framers did not put much stock in traditional Christianity. As broad-minded intellectuals and skeptics, they viewed much of religious doctrine as divisive, dangerous and irrational, and they challenged, both publicly and privately, the dogmas of conventional Christianity.
When we checked our mutt Smokey into the veterinary hospital last week, we were asked whether we wanted a DNR, Do Not Resuscitate, order. I’d never really contemplated advance directives for dogs before. After learning more, we decided CPR would be okay. But with a twelve-and-a-half year old canine, we didn’t want more heroic measures. Every life has its limits.
The incident reminded me of a letter John Adams penned to his friend the physician Benjamin Rush, back in 1813. It’s written under the persona of Adams' horse, “Hobby.” Hobby says he’ll try to shake a little animation into his Master for a few more months, maybe years. But what can his owner realistically look forward to at the age of seventy-seven? “How many Pains and Aches, which I cannot shake away, has he to endure? How much low spirits?” The horse foresees the fate that awaits a doddering Adams, “withered, fading, wrinkled, tottering, trembling, stumbling, sighing, groaning, weeping.” The thought occurs to Hobby whether he shouldn’t just stumble, accidentally-on-purpose, as an act of Charity—presumably putting a quick end to the senile equestrian, just as we humans compassionately release our animal companions when they’ve outlived their natural span.
I’m not sure if Adam’s letter could be said to reflect his views on mercy killing. That’s a big topic, and medical technology has done too much to transform the way we die to make any exact extrapolation possible. But it does suggest that some things never change.
Whether considering horses, dogs or men, we’ll always struggle with the question of when to fight gallantly and when to throw in the towel.
For Smokey, I know the point is swift approaching when it will be time for a dose of kindness. And when my day finally comes, I hope I’ll have a horse like Hobby—or another ministering angel—to send me quietly on my way.
Relax, this isn't a post about the upcoming political fight over President Obama's nominee to replace the soon-to-be-retired Justice John Paul Stevens. Instead, it is a brief discussion of the idea how the Constitution should be enforced against the government as held by the first Republican Party, the political party led by Jefferson, Madison and others -- the party that would finally morph into the Democratic Party under Andrew Jackson.
The problem of federal compliance with the Constitution. One of the structural constitutional problems in the early Republic revolved around the problem of enforcing the Constitution on the federal government itself. If the president or Congress decided to violate the Constitution's protections and requirements, how would their actions be restrained or reversed? The Constitution itself is silent on question, although insisting via the Supremacy Clause that the federal Constitution was the "supreme law of the land." (US Const., art. VI, cl. 2.)
The Federalist solution: judicial review. Federalist constitutional theory posited that the Supreme Court had the power to judicially review legislation enacted by Congress and signed by the president in order to determine its constitutionality. In a nutshell, if the Court found that the legislation in question was not constitutional, the legislation would be regarded as null and void. This approach to judicial review was advocated by Alexander Hamilton in The Federalist Papers, specifically No. 78. It also is the theory that was embraced by Federalist Supreme Court Chief Justice John Marshall in the landmark Supreme Court case ofMarbury v. Madison, 5 US 137 (1803).
Jefferson and Madison's radicalism. Jefferson was highly skeptical of the idea of judicial review, and Madison, while originally supporting the idea at the Constitutional Convention, eventually grew skeptical of judicial review as well. During the controversy over the Alien and Sedition Acts, both Jefferson and Madison proposed a different mechanism by which the Constitution's protections could be vindicated in the face of possible abuse by the general government: the doctrine of nullification.
Under that theory, a state could nullify constitutionally problematic federal legislation within that state's boundaries, effectively shielding its own state citizens from federal overreach. Sometimes referred to as interposition (from the idea that the state would position itself between its own citizens and the federal government), the Jeffersonian-Madisonian view lived on in American polity well into the 19th century. As the Jeffersonian Republicans morphed into the Jacksonian Democrats, the new Democratic Party's southern wing's leader, John C. Calhoun, was an ardent proponent of the idea, and much of Southern constitutional theory, both prior to the Civil War and during the Confederate period, was dominated by the idea.
Another Republican view. Interestingly enough, however, there was a strong view within the Jeffersonian Republican Party in support of the idea of judicial review, despite Jefferson and Madison's misgivings about the doctrine. One Republican proponent of judicial review was Virginia jurist St. George Tucker. Tucker, a federal judge, noted Republican and early proponent of the abolition of slavery, was a major legal theorist in the early Republic, and the author of the first major American edition of Blackstone to be published since Independence. Tucker published his edition of Blackstone in 1803, the same year the Supreme Court decided Marbury v. Madison. In Note D of the first volume of his edition of Blackstone, Tucker makes a strong appeal to the idea of judicial review as a bulwark of constitutional liberty:
The obligation which the constitution imposes upon the judiciary department to support the constitution of the United States, would be nugatory, if it were dependent upon either of the other branches of the government, or in any manner subject to their control, since such control might operate to the destruction, instead of the support, of the constitution. Nor can it escape observation, that to require such an oath on the part of the judges, on the one hand, and yet suppose them bound by acts of the legislature, which may violate the constitution which they have sworn to support, carries with it such a degree of impiety, as well as absurdity, as no man who pays any regard to the obligations of an oath can be supposed either to contend for, or to defend.
Specifically taking aim at the constitutionality of the Alien and Sedition Acts, the very acts that led his Republican brethren Jefferson and Madison to propose the radical idea of nullification, St. George Tucker writes a robust defense of the principle of judicial review:
If we consider the nature of the judicial authority, and the manner in which it operates, we shall discover that it cannot, of itself, oppress any individual; for the executive authority must lend it's aid in every instance where oppression can ensue from it's decisions: whilst on the contrary, it's decisions in favour of the citizen are carried into instantaneous effect, by delivering him from the custody and restraint of the executive officer, the moment that an acquittal is pronounced. And herein consists one of the great excellencies of our constitution: that no individual can be oppressed whilst this branch of the government remains independent, and uncorrupted; it being a necessary check upon the encroachments, or usurpations of power, by either of the other. Thus, if the legislature should pass a law dangerous to the liberties of the people, the judiciary are bound to pronounce, not only whether the party accused hath been guilty of any violation of it, but whether such a law be permitted by the constitution. If, for example, a law be passed by congress, prohibiting the free exercise of religion, according to the dictates, or persuasions of a man's own conscience or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people to assemble peaceably, or to keep and bear arms; it would, in any of these cases, be the province of the judiciary to pronounce whether any such act were constitutional, or not; and if not, to acquit the accused from any penalty which might be annexed to the breach of such unconstitutional act. If an individual be persecuted by the executive authority, (as if any alien, the subject of a nation with whom the United States were at that time at peace, had been imprisoned by order of the president under the authority of the alien act, 5 Cong. c. 75) it is then the province of the judiciary to decide whether there be any law that authorises the proceedings against him, and if there be none, to acquit him, not only of the present, but of all future prosecutions for the same cause: or if there be, then to examine it's validity under the constitution, as before-mentioned.
Union and liberty. Why is this important historically? Tucker's work demonstrates the strong appeal during the early Republic of the idea of an independent federal judiciary as a block to constitutional abuses by the federal branches. While some of the top-tier Founders within the Republican fold argued for a constitutional theory that would ultimately tear the Union apart, Tucker defended the idea of liberty under, rather than in opposition to, the Union of the states and the federal government established by the Constitution.
For Tucker, this Union was grounded in the supremacy of the Constitution and protected by the glory of Anglo-American government: a truly independent judiciary. Tucker's constitutional vision was consonant with the Federalist vision enunciated by Marshall, as well as the underlying logic of the Union that pre-existed the Constitution and was strengthened by it. Unlike Jefferson and Madison's proposed solution, which set the stage for Southern jurisprudence that would eventually justify the illegal attempt at succession, St. George Tucker sought to preserve both liberty and the Union. And did so through the principle of constitutional government and the mechanism of judicial review.