Meacham is wrong when he says the story of the Founding has “a particular resonance for our era” and that the Founders’ “time is like our time.” Despite all our current concerns about theocracy, religion then was much more powerful and pervasive than it is today, even though the percentage of church membership may have been smaller then than now; indeed, as Holmes correctly points out, the overwhelming religiosity of the Revolutionary era made the Founders appear “less devout than they were.” Jefferson and Madison and other rationalists were on the defensive against the forces of popular Christian enthusiasm. Franklin was only being wise in advising a friend in 1786 not to publish anything attacking traditional Christianity. “He that spits against the wind,” he said, “spits in his own face.” By contrast today it is the devoutly religious people who feel beset and beleaguered by an increasingly secularizing culture.
Despite Meacham’s claim, the Founders did not really “succeed” in assigning “religion its proper place in civil society.” Meacham can make that claim only because judges in the twentieth century have succeeded in incorporating the First Amendment into the Fourteenth Amendment and then relating it to the states, which was never intended in 1787. Like so many others who write about these matters, Meacham forgets the acute sense of a limited federal government that most late-eighteenth-century Americans had; and he tends to ignore the fact that the First Amendment then applied only to the federal government and not at all to the states.
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.
Monday, May 31, 2010
Gordon Wood on the Current Christian Nation Controversy, Part Deux
Gordon Wood on the Current Christian Nation Controversy
We can’t solve our current disputes over religion by looking back to the actual historical circumstances of the Founding [sic]; those circumstances are too complex, too confusing, and too biased toward Protestant Christianity to be used in courts today, and most of them are remote from or antagonistic to the particular needs of the twenty-first century. We do not, and cannot, base American constitutional jurisprudence on the historical reality of the Founding [sic]. . . . What Founders’ [sic] intent should we choose to emphasize? That of the deistic Jefferson and Madison? Or that of the churchgoing Washington and Adams, with their sympathies for religion? Or that of the countless numbers of evangelical Protestants who captured control of the culture to an extent most of the Founding [sic] elite never anticipated?Wood, who is a surefire winner for this year's Pulitzer Prize, is not alone in feeling that the recent culture wars over church and state, the founders and religion, etc. has clouded the truth. In his book, Founding Faith, author Steven Waldman states that:
In battles over prayer in school, courtroom displays of the Ten Commandments, and other emotional issues, both sides follow a well-worn script: The "religious" side wants less separation of church and state, and the "secularists" want more...For starters, many conservatives believe that if they can show that the Founding Fathers were very religious, they thereby also prove that the Founders abhorred separation of church and state...Some liberals, meanwhile, feel the need to prove the Founders were irreligious or secular and therefore, of course, in favor of separation...But in the heat of this custody battle over the spiritual lives of the Founding Fathers, BOTH SIDES DISTORT HISTORY...In fact, the culture wars have so warped our sense of history that we typically have a very limited understanding of how we came to have religious liberty.And Jon Meacham, in his book American Gospel states:
Both sides feel they are fighting for the survival of what's best for America: liberals for openness and expanding rights, conservatives for a God-fearing, morally coherent culture...The conservative right's contention that we are a "Christian nation" that has fallen from pure origins and can achieve redemption by some kind of return to Christian values is based on wishful thinking, not convincing historical argument...the secularist arrogance that religion played no role in America's founding is equally ridiculous.Yes, the virtual tug-o-war over America's "true" founding seems to be about everything except history! And is it possible that if we set aside the politics, religion, etc., we will find that the history doesn't prove a darn thing? In other words, perhaps these culture wars have nothing to do with the founders or early America but instead should be seen through a modern lens? Without the convoluted heritage of the founding?
Perhaps such a claim comes off sounding too unpatriotic, but I think Dr. Wood is right. Maybe we really "can’t solve our current disputes over religion by looking back to the actual historical circumstances of the Founding."
Ronald Reagan Occultist and Sorcerer!
... This book, The Secret Destiny of America, caught the eye of the future president, then a middling Hollywood actor gravitating toward politics.
Hall’s concise volume described how America was the product of a “Great Plan” for religious liberty and self-governance, launched by a hidden order of ancient philosophers and secret societies. In one chapter, Hall described a rousing speech delivered by a mysterious “unknown speaker” before the signing of the Declaration of Independence. The “strange man,” wrote Hall, invisibly entered and exited the locked doors of the Philadelphia statehouse on July 4th, 1776, delivering an oration that bolstered the wavering spirits of the delegates. “God has given America to be free!” commanded the mysterious speaker, urging the men to overcome their fears of the noose, axe, or gibbet, and to seal destiny by signing the great document. Newly emboldened, the delegates rushed forward to add their names. They looked to thank the stranger only to discover that he had vanished from the locked room. Was this, Hall wondered, “one of the agents of the secret Order, guarding and directing the destiny of America?”
At a 1957 commencement address at his alma mater Eureka College, Reagan, then a corporate spokesman for GE, sought to inspire students with this leaf from occult history. “This is a land of destiny,” Reagan said, “and our forefathers found their way here by some Divine system of selective service gathered here to fulfill a mission to advance man a further step in his climb from the swamps.”
Reagan then retold (without naming a source) the tale of Hall’s unknown speaker. “When they turned to thank the speaker for his timely words,” Reagan concluded, “he couldn’t be found and to this day no one knows who he was or how he entered or left the guarded room.”
Reagan revived the story in 1981, when Parade magazine asked the president for a personal essay on what July 4th meant to him. Presidential aide Michael Deaver delivered the piece with a note saying, “This Fourth of July message is the president’s own words and written initially in the president’s hand,” on a yellow pad at Camp David. Reagan retold the legend of the unknown speaker – this time using language very close to Hall’s own: “When they turned to thank him for his timely oratory, he was not to be found, nor could any be found who knew who he was or how had come in or gone out through the locked and guarded doors.”
Sunday, May 30, 2010
Happy 2nd Birthday, American Creation!!!
Saturday, May 29, 2010
The Lillback Roll
I've thought about trying to publish an actual in print scholarly review of the book somewhere, but figured that my "self publishing" in the form of blogging is sufficient.
But with the recent amazing Glenn Beck/Amazon thing, I'm not going to ignore this new wave of attention the book gets.
For those who don't know, I have concluded that Lillback (easily) demonstrates Washington was not a strict Deist (that is one who believes in an absentee landlord God), but does not prove GW was an "orthodox Trinitarian Christian" as the book purports to prove. And that's because the record shows that GW was not a strict Deist but does not demonstrate him an "orthodox Trinitarian Christian."
Because Washington's own words (in 20,000 pages of them found here) do not prove him an orthodox Christian, Lillback attempts to prove GW's "orthodoxy" through his membership in the Anglican/Episcopalian Church.
But that is one very complicated dynamic that raises more questions than it answers. Washington systematically avoided communion in that church. One possible explanation is GW, like the other the deistic and unitarian minded church members, didn't believe in what that act represents: Christ's Atonement. That's what GW's own minister, James Abercrombie, concluded.
Lillback, rather, argues it was because Washington had problems with the Church's Tory hierarchy. No doubt, GW and the other Anglican Whigs did. But that only proves that Washington et al. were in rebellion not only against Great Britain but the very doctrine of their church.
So why the Hell didn't they just exit the Anglican Church for the Baptists or Presbyterians, good orthodox denominations that didn't teach submission to the King as a theological duty? The only explanation is that they had a social or "club membership" attachment to Anglicanism which is exactly the point scholars who argue George Washington's deism make: He belonged to a church for social reasons while not believing in its religious teachings.
Christianity, Liberalism, Lillback, Beck and Ironies
The following is from Peter Lillback's interview on the Glenn Beck Show about Christianity and "social justice."
BECK: OK. Give me the origins of social justice.
LILLBACK: Well, let’s start in the context of Westminster Seminary. The man who started the school where I’m the president, J. Gresham Machen, wrote a book that revolutionized the 20th century. It was called “Christianity and Liberalism.”
And basically what he said is, is that liberals claim to be Christians, they use all kind of Christian vocabulary, but they give them different meanings. And that Christianity and liberalism are two different religions.
And that is the core of what you deal with now, really, a century after Dr. Machen started Westminster Seminary. The words are Christian, but they have been redefined. . . .
There are two ironies here: One is Lillback is speaking to a Mormon and this is exactly what conservative evangelicals have long accused Mormons of doing. Simply substitute "Mormonism" for "liberalism."
It was called “Christianity and [Mormonism].”
And basically what he said is, is that [Mormons] claim to be Christians, they use all kind of Christian vocabulary, but they give them different meanings. And that Christianity and [Mormonism] are two different religions.
And that is the core of what you deal with now, really,...The words are Christian, but they have been redefined.
The second irony is that Lillback himself, as a "Christian Americanist" has attempted to incorporate "liberalism" into HIS faith. That is, the American Founding was "liberal" in a small l sense. Classical liberalism. We are all -- even Pat Robertson and the late Jerry Falwell -- as Francis Fukuyama pointed out, liberal democrats to some extent. (Unless of course, you are a communist, fascist, anarchist, and I was going to say genuine theocrat like the followers of RJ Rushdoony; but even they, except Gary North, attempt to appropriate the American Founding.) That just means that you believe in voting among citizens to validate elections, elect representatives, etc. And that you believe in *some* concept of individual and minority group rights, antecedent to majority rule.
"Liberal democracy" as such is compatible with most forms of modern day lefty liberalism, righty conservatism and libertarianism. And, for a variety of reasons, all sides would love to claim their politics and personal preferences as the "owners" of the heritage of the American Founding and its classical liberalism. If "we" "own" the heritage of American Founding, the logic goes, then society should adopt our policy prescriptions.
Therefore, as conservative orthodox Christians, Peter Lillback, David Barton and others attempt to claim the American Founding and reconcile its liberalism with their personal theology.
So Peter Lillback for instance, would want to claim as many of the ideas as possible in the patriotic sermons of the American Founding (even though many of the most notable ministers weren't even "Christians" as Lillback understands the term, but unitarians, and otherwise believed in all sorts of things Lillback would regard as "heresy"). But Lillback would not want to touch the loyalist sermons.
As I pointed out previously, America's patriotic preachers were LIBERATION theologists, of the classical liberal variety. The idea that "rebellion against tyrants is obedience to God" or that God sides with the oppressed is no more or less "biblical" than the social justice teachings against which Lillback and Beck rail. And the patriotic sermons used the same method as the social justice sermons of "extracting" words and teachings from the Bible and giving them new meaning.
Peter Lillback on Glenn Beck on Social Justice
Cross Culture on Peter Lillback's "History"
The misuse and misappropriation of the Bible in this country is a rampant problem that orthodox Christians must fight against on a daily basis. So, it is disheartening to see those very people, whose ordained office and status requires them to jealously guard the Word of God, not only allowing it to be misappropriated but committing, or at the very least endorsing, the misuse of the Scriptures.
This month the Providence Forum, a group dedicated to promoting “a Judeo-Christian worldview” and “emphasizing America’s historical Judeo-Christian roots,” published a Philadelphia Faith and Freedom tourist guide and a flashy (if slow) website in order to commemorate Philadelphia’s celebration of National Bible Week. The well-designed guide highlights many of the main tourist attractions, as well as a few off the regular itinerary (including Westminster Theological Seminary, which is headed by Providence Forum President Dr. Peter Lillback!). The guide seeks to show the influence of the Bible in Philadelphia and American history. Each site on the tour has a Bible verse connected with it. Many of the verses used are moral aphorisms, such as the quote attached to the City Tavern from Proverbs 27:17. “As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another” (NIV). Many of these connections, however, strain credulity, such as tagging Deuteronomy 28:12 to the Second National Bank, “Thou shalt lend unto many nations, and thou shalt not borrow” (KJV).
Making out the Bible to be a book of moral sayings is bad enough since that rips the Bible out of its redemptive-historical context and ignores Christ. However, the guide does not stop there, but makes comparisons between the leaders of ancient Israel and George Washington crossing the Delaware:
Washington’s bold and dangerous move reflected his bold and constant trust in God’s providence His [George Washington's] actions reflect the virtues of Joshua 1:8 and Proverbs 3:5-6. Joshua 1:9 declares, “Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go” (NIV) Proverbs 3:5-6 says, “Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight” (NIV).
Did God command George Washington to cross the Delaware? Tying American patriots to Ancient Israel is dangerous business, especially since, according to the Reformed view, Israel is now Christ’s Church and Christ fulfilled the promises made to Israel.
One of the most inappropriate citations comes in the entry on the National Constitution Center:
The U.S. Constitution limits power by dividing government into three branches: executive, legislative and judicial. This seems to be anticipated by Isaiah 33:22, which says “For the LORD is our judge, the LORD is our lawgiver, the LORD is our king; it is he who will save us” (NIV). This passage suggests the three branches of our federal government.”
The American Constitution is “anticipated” by Isaiah! It is not only a historical error and incredibly presumptuous to make such a claim, but it is offensive to any sort of sensible exegesis. The constitution, no matter what the Mormons and some Evangelicals say, is not an infallibly divine document. It is the product of men and a certain historical context.
Throughout the guide, the connection is made between the Christian liberty promised in the Scriptures and the liberties fought for in the American Revolution. In the entry on Fort Mifflin it says that the fort “stands as a silent testimony of the resolve of the American people in the Revolutionary War to stand fast in the liberty that had been bequeathed to them by Penn’s Charter. As Galatians 5:1 says, ‘It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery’” (NIV).
It is true that many in the Revolution made this connection between Christian Liberty and Political Liberty. It became common parlance in political sermons at the time. The guide cites one such sermon in the entry of Christ Church which was where the Rev. Jacob Duche preached on Galatians 5:1 which says “Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ hath made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage” (KJV). “In his message, Duche connected the spiritual liberty Christians have in Jesus Christ with the liberty they should have through a just government.”
The liberty Paul is talking about in this passage is freedom from the condemnation of the Law and sin. It is freedom from divine judgment because of the vicarious atonement of Jesus Christ. Paul is certainly not making any statement about political liberty. After all, it may be true that George Washington was a devout Christian. It may also be true that Benjamin Franklin. who is held up as a model throughout the guide, was a Christian as well (although his deist credentials are pretty strong). But it is also true that King George and many of the British soldiers and Tories claimed to be a Christians and were a members of the same denomination as George Washington. Just because political sermons during Revolution made this assertion does not make it any less of a grievous error....
One More From Hart on Lillback and Beck
A similar understanding of the relationship between the religious and the social, or the theological and political is at work recently in the Manahattan Declaration, the very statement that Lillback recommended to Beck at the end of their interview, when he said:
I would like to tell all of your listeners and Glenn, you personally, that you need to put your signature on the Manhattan Declaration. Chuck Colson spoke to me about this some months ago and he said, “Would you help me sign it?”
And I had the privilege of being one of the first 100 signatories. And basically, he said this — we need to bring together the movement of people across this country who are willing to die for what they believe in. And the things that are being challenged where the government is going to come to force us out of the convictions are the sanctity of life, our definition of historic marriage and our resounding commitment to protect rights of conscience of religious liberty.
In the Manhattan Declaration, not only have the differences among Protestant denominations been placed in the background compared to the pressing social demands of the sanctity of human life and religious liberty. Also Roman Catholics, Protestants, and Eastern Orthodoxy are now united in the name of Christ and for the sake of the gospel to advocate certain moral and social causes in the public sphere....
Ooops. I think Lillback doesn't know that Mormons WERE NOT INVITED to sign the Manhattan Declaration because they are not "Christians" according to the MD's ecumenical orthodox Trinitarian understanding of "Christianity."
Sorry Glenn you can't sign unless you convert to "Christianity."
Darryl G. Hart on If George Washington Gets A Pass, Why Not William Ernest Hocking?
Well, one reason is that Washington was the nation’s first president and the U.S. Capitol has a whole lot of hullabaloo about him as a divine-like being (see the image of Washington’s apotheosis). Hocking, by contrast, was merely a professor of philosophy at Harvard University. As positions go, teaching at Harvard is not too shabby, but it runs well behind the founding president of the greatest nation on God’s green earth.
But when you read the religious statements of each man, you do begin to scratch your head about the relative orthodoxy of George Washington, regarded by most professional historians to be a deistical member of the Masons, compared to the theological liberalism of Hocking, who wrote the controversial report on American Protestant foreign missions, Re-Thinking Missions (you know, the report that led Machen to found the Independent Board for Presbyterian Foreign Missions and to Machen’s conviction and suspension from ministry in the PCUSA).
Here is Washington’s statement regarding a national day of thanksgiving
And here is a statement from Hocking about the aim of missions:
Whatever the merits of either statement, it is curious to note that Hocking at least mentions Jesus Christ while Washington rarely referred to the second person of the Trinity, except when using the conventional language of the Book of Common Prayer. (It is odd, by the way, for evangelicals to cling to the language of formal prayers when defending Washington’s piety when that same liturgical language was and is off limits in born-again worship where sincerity demands extemporaneous prayers and repudiates merely going through the motions of “prayer-book” religion.)
Which leads to the question: if we can make allowances for George Washington’s religious statements, don’t we have to extend the same generosity to Harry Emerson Fosdick, Hocking, and Pearl Buck? In other words, if you show charity to the American founders, don’t you have to extend the same to Protestant liberals? In which case, if we believed in the orthodoxy of the Founders, would we actually have communions like the OPC and the PCA?
What I get from all this: Lillback argues that "social justice" Christianity is not authentically "Christian." Hart properly points out, whatever the failings of "Christian authenticity" of social justice Christianity, it is FAR MORE identifiably and authentically "Christian" than what came out of the mouth of George Washington and many other "key Founders." And Hart is right.
Darryl G. Hart on Lillback on Machen on Beck
PCA pastor, Peter Lillback, invoked J. Gresham Machen the other night on the Glenn Beck show to clear up the host’s confusion about social justice and the churches. Beck, of course, thinks “social justice” is code for liberalism, big government, and Obamanian tyranny. But Lillback, who belongs to a communion where social justice in the form of “word and deed” ministry are prevalent, thinks a better, kinder, gentler, orthodoxer version of such justice exists. And on the show he did so by turning to, Machen, the most articulate defender of the doctrine of the spirituality of the church. Unfriggingbelievable!
Here is an excerpt from the interview:
BECK: OK. I wanted — let’s start at the beginning.
And, Peter, maybe you can help me. Just on — first of all, never happened — this is not in any founding document, social justice or any of that stuff, right?
LILLBACK: The phrase “social justice” cannot be found in Constitution or the Declaration of Independence.
BECK: OK. It also isn’t — it’s not found in the Bible.
Mr. Snerdling, stop the tape. God is not found in the Constitution, nor is Jesus Christ mentioned in George Washington’s deistical piety, but does that prevent folks from attributing Christianity to America’s founding documents and fathers?
BECK: OK. Give me the origins of social justice.
LILLBACK: Well, let’s start in the context of Westminster Seminary. The man who started the school where I’m the president, J. Gresham Machen, wrote a book that revolutionized the 20th century. It was called “Christianity and Liberalism.”
And basically what he said is, is that liberals claim to be Christians, they use all kind of Christian vocabulary, but they give them different meanings. And that Christianity and liberalism are two different religions.
And that is the core of what you deal with now, really, a century after Dr. Machen started Westminster Seminary. The words are Christian, but they have been redefined. . . .
LILLBACK: Well, let’s put it this way: Going back into the late 1800s, there were others that were wrestling with social problems.
LILLBACK: And we think of the name Washington Gladden or Walter Rauschenbusch. These were great theologians that were trying to address problems of orphanages and lack of education.
Stop the tape again! Gladden and Rauschenbusch, the leaders and theorists of the Social Gospel were “great” theologians? If so, in what class does that put Warfield and Hodge?
LILLBACK: And there have always been social problems that need to be addressed and they were calling the church to do it.
But what had happened is that they begin to lose focus in the truth of the Bible. They stopped believing — as you called it — the individual character of salvation. Instead of one coming to the cross to find Jesus Christ as a crucified, buried and risen savior, the one who saved sinners, they started to turn to society. And they said salvation is when the society feeds you, when it gives you clothes, when it gives a better hospital.
LILLBACK: When it keeps your house from burning.
Now, all of those things were good, but that’s not the gospel. Those are implications of the gospel.
And what liberalism did is that it said, we no longer can believe in Jesus as God or Jesus crucified and risen and coming again. We can’t believe that. So, what we’ve done is we kept all the language and we’ve changed its meaning.
And that is social justice thinking: It’s liberalism in the cloak of Christianity. That was Dr. Machen’s fundamental insight.
This is a very confused reading of Machen, Christianity, and liberalism, and we shouldn’t fault the Mormon Beck for not being able to raise the right questions....
You have to read the rest of the post in order to get why Hart criticizes Lillback. Look for a later post from me on how this relates to the American Founding.
The Immanent Frame on Lillback and Beck
A theologian and church historian, Lillback currently serves as president of Westminster Theological Seminary, a pillar of conservative Presbyterianism since its founding by J. Gresham Machen in 1929.
Once unknown outside of evangelical and Presbyterian circles, Lillback has made a name for himself as a defender of “America’s historical Judeo-Christian roots.” As head of the Providence Forum, he has authored several works on the nation’s religious heritage, including Wall of Misconception, Lessons on Liberty, and the Washington book. Board members for the Providence Forum include John Templeton, Jr. and Francis Irénée du Pont.
In 2007 Lillback spoke at a celebration of Jamestown’s quadricentennial sponsored by Vision Forum Ministries, an organization led by Doug Phillips, son of Constitution Party founder Howard Phillips. According to Lillback, “It was wonderful to see that, four centuries later, Americans are still celebrating the Christian worldview of Jamestown’s founders.” The same year he participated in an event at the National Constitution Center with Kathleen Kennedy Townsend and John DiIulio.
How did a seminary president become Amazon’s bestselling author? On Tuesday, May 18, Lillback made an appearance on the Glenn Beck Program with Jerry Falwell, Jr., chancellor of Liberty University. Though the focus was on the roots of social justice, Beck took the opportunity to plug Lillback’s George Washington’s Sacred Fire. Lillback thanked him for the exposure.
When Lillback called Beck “the best publicist in town,” he was on to something. On a March program, the broadcaster spoke of creating a virtual Glenn Beck University, promising to feature “some of the brightest minds in America.” In recent weeks, the FOX News personality has helped to publicize a version of America’s founding largely rejected by academic historians.
Among those rejecting the Christian America storyline are Lillback’s co-religionists, historians Mark Noll, Nathan Hatch, and George Marsden. Well-regarded scholars with strong evangelical commitments, this trio published The Search for Christian America back in 1983, arguing that “a careful study of the facts of history shows that early America does not deserve to be considered uniquely, distinctly, or even predominately Christian, if we mean by the word ‘Christian’ a state of society reflecting the ideals presented in Scripture. There is no lost golden age to which American Christians may return.” While acknowledging the influence of religion in colonial America, they also criticized the misuse of faith during the American Revolution.
There are a lot of good hyperlinks in the reproduced passage that I didn't include. Check them.
Friday, May 28, 2010
John Locke on "Christian-Deism"
As men, we have God for our King, and are under the law of reason: as christians, we have Jesus the Messiah for our King, and are under the law revealed by him in the gospel. And though every christian, both as a deist and a christian, be obliged to study both the law of nature and the revealed law, that in them he may know the will of God, and of Jesus Christ, whom he hath sent; yet, in neither of these laws, is there to be found a select set of fundamentals, distinct from the rest, which are to make him a deist, or a christian. But he that believes one eternal, invisible God, his Lord and King, ceases thereby to be an atheist; and he that believes Jesus to be the Messiah, his king, ordained by God, thereby becomes a christian, is delivered from the power of darkness, and is translated into the kingdom of the Son of God; is actually within the covenant of grace, and has that faith, which shall be imputed to him for righteousness; and, if he continues in his allegiance to this his King, shall receive the reward, eternal life.
Wednesday, May 26, 2010
The Profound Ignorance in Respect to Our Founding Continues
"Then by all means, please name one thing in the Bill of Rights that has an analog in the Bible. Just one. Good luck."
Here is the relevant part of my response:
"The biblical concept of imago dei and man being the workmanship of God was the foundation for Western thought on inalienable rights all the way up to the founding. This goes back to canon law but it most pronounced in Aquinas. He took this biblical concept and added it to the wisdom of the ages seen in Aristotle and produced Christian thought in regards to political theory.
It is this concept of inalienable rights thats taken to its logical conclusion in the bill of rights. So, are the bill of rights found in the Bible? No. Did Christian theologians use the Bible and the wisdom of the ages to come up with a rational for inalienable rights that is unique to Judeo-Christian thought? Yes."Here is one "insightful" comment that is disappointing to see from a group that prides itself on reasoned responses based on superior knowledge:
"The idea that Christianity has ever stood for inalienable rights would be comedy gold, indeed, if it didn't smell so much like bullshit"I do not produce this comment to mock Dispatches. Besides a small minority of obnoxious hacks, it is mostly intelligent and informed people that comment at the blog. In fact, much of what I know on this subject is from study that was spurred by the back and forth I had there with the Ed Brayton. With that said, the comment above points out the utter ignorance of otherwise intelligent people when it comes to our founding. The biggest catalyst to this ignorance is people that want to comment on history that has been influenced by Christian thought and the Bible but are so anti-religious they refuse to learn about either.
This results in a radical secularist myth that causes severe blow back like the absurd changes to the Texas standards for Social Studies. The Culture Wars go on and the truth loses out...
Tuesday, May 25, 2010
Book review: First in Peace by Conor Cruise O'Brien
In recent years, two of the best short biographies of this titanic figure of American history have been written by non-Americans. The first is by English historian Paul Johnson, George Washington: The Founding Father. The second is by Irish diplomat and political theorist Conor Cruise O'Brien, First in Peace. O'Brien, one of the great lights of historical writing before his passing in 2008, has written two previous must-read studies of other towering 18th century figures: Edmund Burke and Thomas Jefferson. O Brien's book on Jefferson is widely regarded as one of the most systematic deconstructions of the myths surrounding the Sage of Montecello ever written.
In his book on Washington - his last work - O'Brien seeks to explain Washington's terms as president and the effect they had on the course of the country once his terms were over. The book is short - 148 pages excluding index, notes and foreword (written by Christopher Hitchens) - yet despite its brevity, the book provides an insightful and detailed overview of its topic. O'Brien understands the characters of the time, and his distance as an Irishman from the natural affinity an American might have for our founding fathers provides him with a perspective unclouded by emotional attachment.
O'Brien divides his work into two sections, one for each term that Washington served as president. The common thread that binds Washington's two terms together, in O'Brien's telling, is the crisis in stability caused by the French Revolution. This crisis in stability rocked not only the European world, but also the New World as well, with French agents and their sympathizers attempting to anchor the young American republic firmly within the orbit of Revolutionary France. Much if not most of Washington's energy was devoted to thwarting this attempt to place the Union in a subordinate condition to the France, and his increasing reliance on Hamilton throughout his administration was due in large part to Hamilton's clear-eyed understanding of the danger that the French Revolution posed to stable and independent government in America.
Thomas Jefferson definitely comes across as untrustworthy and duplicitous in O'Brien's account. Scheming with his cohorts to bolster the influence of France, consumed with hatred for the British, disdainful of Washington and contemptuous of Hamilton, Jefferson's fundamental character flaws are highlighted in this book. Washington's growing suspicion of Jefferson -- his "lack of confidence" as O'Brien puts it -- builds as our first president slowly begins to realize that Jefferson is not simply voicing opposition to Washington's policies in cabinet, but that Jefferson is actively attempting to shape public opinion and official government policy against Washington's own policies. Eventually Jefferson resigns his post as secretary of state and leaves government, brooding in Montecello and working with Madison to form the first organized political party in our nation's history -- via the "Democratic-Republican clubs."
The Genet affair, the Jay Treaty, the difficult diplomatic relationship with Revolutionary France, Washington's reluctant decision to run for a second term, the Whiskey Rebellion, are all given a new perspective by O'Brien's reading of the underlying political turmoil within Washington's administration and our young country. While this turmoil is resolved within the administration with Jefferson's departure, it is not resolved within the nation as a whole.
As the Democratic-Republican clubs become active centers of direct opposition to Washington's policies, Washington began a carefully crafted endeavor to limited their influence. He denounced the clubs, referring to them as "self-created societies" - a term which O'Brien notes had the effect of "discrediting the societies as unpatriotic." Washington linked the clubs with the just terminated Whiskey Rebellion, doing tremendous damage to the incipient Jeffersonian party, damage that was so great that O'Brien characterizes it as a "demolition."
American views towards the French Revolution began to shift as a consequence, even more so after Washington maneuvered the Jay Treaty through passage in the Senate. While pro-French opinion-makers railed against Washington as a result, and Jefferson and Washington fell into an icy silence, Washington began improving the American relationship with Great Britain, all in an effort to ensure that American foreign relations would be balanced, preserving American independence and preventing the subversion of the Union to the side of any one European power. By the end of his administration, the relationship with the British was on a solid footing, and with Hamilton's assistance, Washington prepared his famous Farewell Address.
O'Brien's book is a delightfully written and insightful final work by a great historian and statesman. His insights about the deep impact felt in the fledgling American republic over the French Revolution are well-supported both by primary source documentation and by the work of subsequent historians amply quoted by O'Brien. The book is well worth a read.
Quote of the day from the Founders: on the purpose of government
Justice is the end of government. It is the end of civil society. It ever has been and ever will be pursued until it be obtained, or until liberty be lost in the pursuit. In a society under the forms of which the stronger faction can readily unite and oppress the weaker, anarchy may as truly be said to reign as in a state of nature, where the weaker individual is not secured against the violence of the stronger; and as, in the latter state, even the individuals are prompted, by the uncertainty of their condition, to submit to a government which may protect the weak as well as themselves; so, in the former state, will the more powerful factions or parties be gradually induced, by a like motive to wish for a government which will protect all parties, the weaker as well as the more powerful.- Alexander Hamilton (1755-1804).
Monday, May 24, 2010
Slave Perks at Washington's Philadelphia Executive Mansion
Being the curious creature that I am, I contacted Mary V. Thompson, Research Historian at Mt. Vernon Estate & Gardens, and author of the book, "In the Hands of Good Providence" - Religion in the Life of George Washington, to find out more about how Washington maneuvered around the Pennsylvania emancipation laws. The ever responsive Mary Thompson replied by pointing me to her article, Different People, Different Stories: The Life Stories of Individual Slaves from Mount Vernon and Their Relationships with George and Martha Washington, which informs the reader:
In November , when the presidential household moved in, there were up to thirty people living on the premises: Washington, his wife, Martha, and her grandchildren, Nelly and G. W. Parke Custis; Chief Secretary Tobias Lear, his wife, and the three male secretaries; eight enslaved Africans from Mount Vernon; and about fifteen white servants.
Slaves in the President's House
Pennsylvania's government was the first in the Western Hemisphere to take steps to abolish slavery. In 1780, it enacted the Gradual Abolition Law — prohibiting further importation of slaves into the state. But the law also respected the property rights of Pennsylvania slaveholders by freeing only the future children of enslaved mothers. Children born or living in the state before March 1, 1780, remained enslaved for life (or until 1847, when legal slavery finally ended in Pennsylvania). The 1780 law was lax regarding non-resident slave-holders living in Pennsylvania on a temporary basis. It provided a mechanism for these enslaved to legally obtain their freedom, provided they established a 6-month residency in Pennsylvania. To prevent this, non-resident slaveholders simply interrupted the residency by taking their slaves out of the state before the 6-month deadline. A 1788 amendment prohibited this rotation of slaves in and out of Pennsylvania. But Washington knowingly violated this amendment to the Gradual Abolition Law. He [privately] maintained that his presence in Philadelphia was a consequence of its being the national capital, that he remained a citizen of Virginia, and he was careful that neither he nor his slaves spent the six continuous months in Pennsylvania necessary to establish legal residency. Nine enslaved Africans worked in the President's House: Oney Judge, Austin, Moll, Giles, Paris, Christopher Sheels, Hercules, Richmond, and Joe (Richardson). Click here to read biographical sketches. Gradually, the enslaved Africans in the presidential household were replaced by white German indentured servants.
As a result, Washington devised a solution to his dilemma, which involved the planned distribution of a timely set of slave perks. The Mary Thompson's article goes on and describes the scheme:
It was during their years in Philadelphia that the Washingtons realized that there might be a problem with the status of their slaves who were in the city. On April 5th of 1791, Attorney General Edmund Randolph called on Martha Washington in the Philadelphia executive mansion, to let her know that three of his slaves had just told him they were going to take advantage of a Pennsylvania law, which allowed them to claim their freedom after six months residence in that state. (54 - Tobias Lear to George Washington, 4/5/1791, The Papers of George Washington, Presidential Series, Volume 8). When informed about this development, George Washington suggested, as a precaution against his and Mrs. Washington's slaves attempting a similar exodus, that they be sent back to Mount Vernon.
Edward Lawler also wrote a companion article, Washington, the Enslaved, and the 1780 Law. Here, Lawler counted up the out of state excursions for the President and his wife, Martha. According to Lawler, "The Washingtons made 14 trips from Philadelphia to Mount Vernon between March 1791 and October 1796, and used the trips to rotate their slaves out of Pennsylvania." The longest of which was Washington's tour of 1887 miles through the southern states (April 7 to June 12, 1791). Now, all together, that's a bundle of frequent travel miles, and that's not even counting the likely thousand trips back and forth from the slave quarters to the executive mansion via their underground slave tunnel. The usual way in which plantation slaves redeemed their accumulated perks was by enjoying a plantation owner sponsored dance, whiskey, and a big meal feast. You gotta figure that during the slave respites' in Mount Vernon the place had a lot of parties, 'cause in Washington's mind a perk, such as inscribed on the Liberty Bell, was out of the question - I do not think they [the slaves] would be benefitted by the change [to a free status], yet the idea of freedom might be too great a temptation for them to resist. At any rate it might, if they conceived they had a right to it, make them insolent in a State of Slavery. Washington to Tobias Lear, 4/12/1791
The strategy he hit upon, which he said he wanted done "under pretext that they may deceive both them and the Public," was to send them home to Mount Vernon with the story that they were either accompanying Mrs. Washington, were needed to cook for her at home, or to give them the opportunity to visit their own families and friends. This would effectively prevent any of those who were old enough to claim their freedom, from meeting the residency requirement after their first six months in the state.(55 George Washington to Tobias Lear, 4/12/1791, The Papers of George Washington, Presidential Series, 8:85-86).
Two weeks after Randolph's initial conversation with Martha Washington, Austin was sent home, as Washington explained to her niece, for the purpose of seeing his friends." Mrs. Washington showed that she, too, was capable of deception when it came to dealings with slaves, because she went on to say that "his stay will be short indeed[.] I could but illy spare him at this time but to fulfill my promise to his wife.(56)
Washington's secretary, Tobias Lear, later consulted with the Attorney General and fleshed out a more detailed plan to prevent any of the Mount Vernon slaves from being emancipated because of the Pennsylvania law in the future, but it differed little from the original strategy devised by the president and the first lady. Interestingly, Lear, who was a New Englander, was greatly troubled by both the plan and his part in it, and confided to Washington that "no consideration should induce me to take these steps to prolong slavery of a human being, had I not the fullest confidence that they will at some future period be liberated, and the strongest conviction that their situation with you is far preferable to what they would probably obtain in a future state. ... (57 Tobias Lear to George Washington, 4/24/1791, The Papers of George Washington, Presidential Series, 8:131-132).
Glenn Beck and GW's "Sacred Fire"
I've had much to say of the book over the past few years. I'm not going to rehash it here.
What I find interesting is the Barton/Lillback/Beck connection. Glenn Beck, though a political and religious conservative like Barton and Lillback, is also a Mormon. Mormons think of themselves as "Christian" and think of the American Founding as a divinely inspired event. I get the impression that many Mormons think of the Founders as proto-Mormon. And I've written that Mormonism incorporates some of the theologically eccentric non-orthodox elements of the American Founding into their teachings. (Such things as American Indians are the Lost Tribes of Israel; that God is a material being; and Franklin's idea that gods rule over solar systems.)
Obviously Beck, as a Mormon, cares not about proving the orthodox Trinitarian dynamic of the American Founding. Rather he's more concerned with proving America's Founders weren't atheist or strict deists, that they were more "religious" in a broad, ecumenical "Judeo-Christian" sense where Mormonism is another "Judeo-Christian" creed. And much of the stuff that Barton and Lillback have uncovered is useful in that regard.
However, evangelicals like Barton and Lillback are, or are supposed to be, more spiritually discerned than to let Mormons in their political-theological tent. How comfortable should they be with Beck in their tent and vice-versa? We often hear the term "Judeo-Christian" bandied about and used interchangeably with "Christian." What do those terms mean? Does Mormonism "fit"? A number of orthodox Christians have defined "Judeo-Christianity," when I pressed them, as orthodox Christianity where Judaism gets to tag along because of the special place the Jews have as an antecedent to historic Christianity.
Well, not only do Mormons not "fit" according to that understanding of "Judeo-Christianity," but neither do many "key" American Founders, arguably George Washington. But they all do fit in a broader understanding of "Judeo-Christianity" that includes Jews, orthodox Christians, Mormons, Swedenborgs, Jehovah's Witnesses, Arians, Socinians and various Trinity deniers, perhaps even Muslims.
I think Barton, Lillback and Beck need to be pressed on this. It irks me when politicized figures [mis]use the American Founding and religion and try and claim ownership for their own political authority. Lillback has said of George Washington to at least one evangelical revival, that he was "one of us." Well is Glenn Beck one of "you"? The "us" question relates to where the theological line is drawn. Not an atheist? Not a strict deist? Sure. Orthodox Trinitarian Christian? No. At least with Washington, not proven by Lillback or anyone else.
Sunday, May 23, 2010
Washington's Sacred Fire: A Surprise Hit?
The book is now the #2 Bestseller at Amazon.com. You can read a little about what Mr. Beck said about the book here.
It will be interesting to see what sort of impact this might have on the cultural discourse. The book has been discussed on the blog before, (here, among other places) and certainly the premise has been disagreed with. While I'm thrilled that thousands of Americans are running out to their local independent bookstores (or their giant corporate ones) and buying a history book, I'm curious if this will cloud the debate over the founders' religion.
I brought this up mainly to make everybody aware that a book on a Founder's religion was, apparently, at one time the best selling book in the country. It is interesting to note that the book was borderline out-of-print, this push from Beck will revive it from that status for sure.
So be prepared to see some follow-up on this in the media, as the public continues to investigate and debate the religious-ness of the greats.
Harry V. Jaffa on Bloom's "Closing"
[I edited something from this post for American Creation readers that does not relate to religion and the American Founding. For what I left out, see my post at Positive Liberty.]
I focus on Jaffa's criticisms of Bloom's understanding of the American Founding. Many of the points Jaffa makes are quite apt:
....Elsewhere Bloom asserts thatWhat was acted out in the American and French Revolutions had been thought out beforehand in the writings of Locke and Rousseau, the scenarists for the drama of modern politics (p. 162).
He adds that Hobbes had "led the way" and, as he proceeds, it becomes clear that he regards Locke as essentially Hobbes with a fig leaf covering the hedonism, atheism, and materialism that is so prominent in the former, but no less essential although concealed in the latter. We will return to this point presently. But think of it, the American and French Revolutions "scenarios" written by Locke and Rousseau! The embattled farmers who "fired the shot heard round the world" and the great protagonists in the world historical events that followed Samuel Adams, Patrick Henry, Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton, are mere actors, following a script. Do we not have here an historical determinism equal to Hegel's? Only the "cunning of history" is replaced by the cunning of the modem philosophers. But this is the purest nonsense.
Leaving the French Revolution to others, I comment only on the American Revolution and the American Founding....Bloom purports to write about "the American mind." But he is perfectly oblivious of the presence of this expression in one of the most famous documents of American history. In a letter to Henry Lee, May 8, 1825, Thomas Jefferson explained the sources, the purpose, and the manner of the writing of what Lincoln would call that "immortal emblem of humanity," and Calvin Coolidge (observing in 1926 the sesquicentennial of the event) called "the most important civil document in the world."But with respect to our rights and the acts of the British government contravening those rights, there was but one opinion on this side of the water. All American whigs thought alike on these subjects. When forced therefore to resort to arms for redress, an appeal to the tribunal of the world was deemed proper for our justification. This was the object of the Declaration of Independence. Not to find out new principles, or new arguments, but to place before mankind the common sense of the subject; in terms so plain and firm as to command their assent . neither aiming at originality of principle nor yet copied from any particular and previous writing, it was intended to be an expression of the American mind, and to give to that expression the proper tone and spirit called for by the occasion. All its authority rests then on the harmonizing sentiments of the day, whether expressed in conversations, in letters, printed essays or in the elementary books of public right, as Aristotle, Cicero. Locke. Sidney, etc.
We must...emphasi[ze]...Jefferson's emphasis upon the "one opinion" on this side of the water. There really was a "public philosophy" at the time of the Revolution and the Founding. The party conflict of the 1790s exceeded in intensity anything that has come after even that of the decade before the Civil War. Yet Jefferson, in his inaugural address in 1801, could say "We have called by different names brethren of the same principle. We are all Federalists, we are all Republicans." To speak as Jefferson did, in the letter to Lee, of the "harmonizing sentiments of the day," is to imply a consensus transcending the normal differences of opinion among a free people. Of "the elementary books of public right" mentioned by Jefferson, two are ancient, two are modern. I think it safe to assume that according to Jefferson's understanding of the American mind, that mind found harmonizing sentiments among the books of public right no less than among the conversations, letters, and printed essays. Certainly that would suggest that Americans then read John Locke's Second Treatise in its "harmonizing" sense, in which Locke quotes Hooker for authority for his doctrine, and through Hooker reaches back to Christian scholasticism, and through it to Aristotle.
Bloom not only believes that the English and American Revolutions were scenarios by Locke he says that "the new English and American regimes founded themselves according to his [Locke's] instructions" (p. 162). According to Bloom one can save oneself all the trouble of reading political and constitutional history like Bloom and just read Locke. But how does Bloom read Locke?
"Perhaps the most important discovery" upon which Locke's teaching was based, according to Bloom, was that "there was no Garden of Eden . . . Man was not provided for at the beginning God neither looks after him nor punishes him. Nature's indifference to justice is a terrible bereavement for man. He must [therefore] care for himself." (p. 163). The complete break with Biblical religion, as well as with classical philosophy, as represented by Aristotle and Cicero, is the necessary presupposition of Bloom's Locke.Once the world has been purged of ghosts or spirits, [meaning of any belief in God or immortality] it reveals to us that the critical problem is scarcity[.] What is required is not brotherly love or faith, hope, and charity, but self-interested rational labor (p. 165).
"Americans" says Bloom,are Lockeans: recognizing that work is necessary (no longing for a nonexistent Eden), and will produce well-being; following their natural inclinations moderately, not because they possess the virtue of moderation but because their passions are balanced and they recognize the reasonableness of that; respecting the rights of others so that theirs will be respected . From the point of view of God or heroes, all this is not very inspiring. But for the poor, the weak, the oppressed the overwhelming majority of mankind it is the promise of salvation. As Leo Strauss put it, the moderns "built on low but solid ground" (p. 167).
We need not dispute Bloom's interpretation of Locke to deny that the American mind has ever been the mind represented by that interpretation....[T]he words attributed to Strauss are not Strauss's but Churchill's albeit words Strauss himself frequently quoted. But can a regime to which a Churchill could give such unstinting devotion a regime in whose finest hour so many would come to owe so much to so few; a regime whose glory would not be of a day, but of a thousand years be a regime despised by God and heroes?
....Bloom's own account of the success of American Lockeanism is testimony to the proposition that this is precisely the kind of regime that the God of the Bible, who cares for the poor, the weak, and the oppressed would favor. Bloom to the contrary notwithstanding this is the kind of God most Americans have always believed in. This is what they believe when they sing "God bless America."
Let us again consult Jefferson, at his inaugural, declaring of the American mind that it is oneenlightened by a benign religion, professed, indeed, and practiced in various forms yet all of them inculcating honesty, truth, temperance, gratitude, and the love of man; acknowledging and adoring an overruling Providence, which by all its dispensations proves that it delights in the happiness of man here and his greater happiness hereafter (p. 333).
As far as I can see, everything Bloom says on subject of the American Founding is derived from his readings of Hobbes, Locke, or Tocqueville. I have found not a word of serious interpretation apart from his birdseed scatterings coming from an American source: not Jefferson, Washington, Madison, Hamilton, or Lincoln. No one has maintained more persistently than I have, during the past thirty-five years, the importance in the American Founding of Locke's teachings as they were understood and incorporated into their handiwork by the Founding Fathers. But to say that a radical atheism discovered in Locke's esoteric teaching was part of what they understood, believed, and incorporated into their regime when every single document bearing on the question contradicts it, and there is not a shred of evidence to support it is just plain crazy.
A qualified defense of Bloom: He understood much of what Jaffa argues when he wrote the book. Of course he was aware of the "God talk" of the American Founding. He wasn't stupid and he read the documents. His, after Strauss' idea is that Hobbes' and Locke's state of nature/contract and rights ideas are at their heart atheistic and materialistic. And ideas have consequences. Therefore, dressing these ideas up in God talk doesn't negate their inherently atheistic, materialistic nature. As Bloom wrote in "Closing":
When Bishops, a generation after Hobbes’s death, almost naturally spoke the language of the state of nature, contract and rights, it was clear that he had defeated the ecclesiastical authorities, who were no longer able to understand themselves as they once had. (pp. 141-2).
Saturday, May 22, 2010
The foundation of education in a republic
"The only foundation for a useful education in a republic is to be laid in religion. Without this there can be no virtue, and without virtue there can be no liberty."
- Benjamin Rush (1735-1813), American Founding Father.
John Fea on Romans 13, American Creation and Steven M. Dworetz
He quotes Steven M. Dworetz's The Unvarnished Doctrine: Locke, Liberalism, and the American Revolution. While I haven't read the book, I have read parts that Gregg Frazer quoted in his PhD thesis. Fea quotes the following passage:
Basing a revolutionary teaching on the scriptural authority of chapter 13 of St. Paul's Epistle to the Romans must rank as one of the greatest ironies in the history of political thought. This passage, proclaimed by George Sabine as "the most influential political pronouncement in the New Testament," served as the touchstone for passive obedience and unconditional submission from Augustine and Gregory to Luther and Calvin. "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. Whoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God; and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation. For rulers are not a terror to good works, but to the evil...For he is the minister of God to thee for good...."
The medieval church fathers as well as the reformers and counter-reformers of the sixteenth century all invoked this doctrine in denouncing disobedience and resistance to civil authorities. To them it seemed absolutely unequivocal. If civil rulers, as such, "are ordained of God," then resistance is in all cases a sin and, indeed, as Luther put it, "a greater sin than murder, unchastity, theft, and dishonesty, and all that these may include." In sum, Romans 13 easily earned its reputation in the history of political thought as the "locus classicus of passive-obedience theory."
I've learned a lot from among others Fea himself, Frazer, and a whole host of scholars of virtually every ideological bent. One thing I struggle with is this notion, now in vogue in Texas, that "Christian principles" played a key role in America's Founding. No doubt they were influential. But few "Christian Nationalists" seem willing to admit that "Christian principles" are often complicated, disputed and go both ways -- or, because they are so disputed are vociferously argued both ways -- on some of the most important issues during the American Founding as well as today.
It is a "Christian principle" that what the American Founders did in revolting against Great Britain was "a greater sin than murder, unchastity, theft, and dishonesty, and all that these may include." It's also a "Christian principle" that their revolt was okay.
I think a more honest way of putting it is, "the Bible was consulted as authority." Not the Koran or other holy books. Though other sources like Ancient Greeks and Romans were consulted as well. But the results may not have been what a particular believer in good faith thinks the Bible teaches.
For instance, unitarians of that era "consulted" the Bible and determined that Jesus was not God. Universalists "consulted" the Bible and found it taught all men would eventually be saved. Benjamin Rush "consulted" the Bible and found that it abolished the death penalty. Even today Barack Obama "consults" the Bible in support of socialized health care and Ted Kennedy "consulted" Leviticus of all places in support of hate crimes laws that protect sexual orientation.
Likewise both sides "consulted" the Bible on slavery. And certainly the Bible was "consulted" in support of the notion that heretics should be burned at the stake.
The Universalists On Elihu Palmer
The Articles of Faith, although couched in language that may seem to be designedly ambiguous, making allowance for a large diversity of opinion to be entertained by those who should accept them as a common platform, were no doubt intended as a statement of the Trinitarianism of the Convention. This is evident from the subsequent action of the Philadelphia church, organized by the union of the Murrayites and Winchesterians, in July, 1790, which at once accepted the Articles, in ruling out the application of an avowed Unitarian for membership, on the ground that their creed would not allow them to accept him. The Philadelphia church, writing to George Richards, March 14,1792, said: —
"No doubt Brother Gordon mentioned to you a Mr. Palmer who was preaching with us when he left this city for Boston. This young man offered himself to become a member of our church, but before the time for admitting him his sentiments were Buspected of being Socinian, if not Deistical. He was accordingly examined, and confessed that he did believe Jesus to be the natural son of Joseph and Mary, begotten by ordinary generation. This made his membership with us inadmissible at that time. He still continues the same, and hath withdrawn from us, and hath gotten other places to preach in, where he can preach that sentiment freely, and that to crowded audiences."
The person thus referred to was Elihu Palmer, a native of Canterbury, Conn., born in 1764. He has been called a deist, and probably was so later in life; but in 1792 his disbelief in the doctrine of the Trinity would have been likely to have gained him the reputation of being a deist, even if he had professed unwavering faith in revealed religion. Denied the fellowship of the Universalists, Mr. Palmer, with a few followers, obtained a room in Church Alley, and commenced preaching there in March, 1791. Somewhere in 1788 or 1789, John Fitch, the inventor of the steamboat, and Henry Voight, his associate in that enterprise, who were avowed deists, believing, as they claimed, only in "the God of Nature," discovered from conversation with others that there were a sufficient number of persons in Philadelphia in sympathy with their views to justify an attempt at an organization. It was not, however, till February, 1790, that they succeeded in perfecting their plans, and organized what they called "The Universal Society." In order to separate themselves and their society as much as possible from all Christian influences, it was resolved among the members to cease the use of Anno Domini, and to date their era from the establishment of "The Universal Society."
The announcement that Mr. Palmer was to preach on the date above mentioned, and the circumstances under which his meeting was held, attracted much attention throughout Philadelphia; and "The Universal Society," which at that time numbered forty members, especially interested themselves to give the persecuted man, as they styled him, all the aid in their power, and, if possible, win him over to themselves. The room where the meeting was held was. therefore crowded, — "The Universal Society," it may be supposed, being present in full strength. Mr. Palmer preached from Micah vi. 8 : "Do justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with thy God." In the sermon he combated the dogma of the deity of Christ; and the success of the effort was such that notice was given that on the succeeding Sunday he would preach again. This announcement, with the attendant circumstances, excited much feeling, remonstrance, and heated opposition on the part of the leading Christian people in the city. Bishop White was prominent in the crusade against the movement; and although the owner of the room in which the meetings were being held was a member of "The Universal Society" he could not resist the pressure brought against him, but closed his doors against the people on the day fixed for the second sermon. " The Universal Society " soon ceased to exist.1
Vol. i. — 20
Mr. Palmer then went to New York for a while, and afterwards returning to Philadelphia, Was attacked by the yellow fever in 1793, and became totally blind. He again removed to New York, where he became the head of the "Columbian Illuminati," established in 1801. He died in Philadelphia in 1806.
Friday, May 21, 2010
George Washington, David Barton and Unitarianism
I am going to respond to this post entitled "Episcopal Church." Barton writes the following:
A further example of how revisionism attempts to misportray the religious faith of George Washington recently appeared in an ad in a national magazine. 72 That ad (promoting a new book) claimed “George Washington was Unitarian” and not Christian. The only problem with the charge is that it is not true. All of George Washington’s religious ties were to the Episcopal church, which did not hold Unitarian beliefs; furthermore, Washington died in 1799, and the Unitarians did not even organize until 1818 – nineteen years after Washington’s death!
I suspect this passage was lifted from another article of Barton's and the "72" is a footnote. I'd like to see where the footnote is to. The blogpost doesn't say. The problem with Barton's assertion is that he appears to 1) knock down a straw man, and 2) peddle factual inaccuracies while doing so.
The inaccuracy: It's not true that Unitarians didn't begin to organize in America until 1818. King's Chapel -- an Anglican/Episcopal Church! -- was (arguably) "Unitarian" as of 1786. Joseph Priestley helped found the First Unitarian Church in 1796.
It would help to know the exact claim Barton is attempting to counter. He almost certainly either 1) misunderstands it, or 2) intentionally misrepresents it. No one is stupid enough to argue that George Washington was a member of an official capital U Unitarian Church (like the kind Priestley helped form).
The claim rather made is that Washington was a theological unitarian, like Jefferson, J. Adams, Franklin, and probably Madison. And theological unitarians, according to John Adams' own testimony, date back in America since at least 1750.
Jefferson and Madison were both, like Washington, formally connected with the Anglican/Episcopalian Church. There is no need to rehash Jefferson's religious creed here. His example shows one could reject every single doctrine of Christian orthodoxy while remaining an Anglican/Episcopalian and thinking himself a "Christian" and a "unitarian" at the same time.
Less evidence exists for Madison but we do have the following eye-witness account from George Ticknor, founder of the Boston public library:
I found the President more free and open than I expected, starting subjects of conversation and making remarks that sometimes savored of humor and levity. He sometimes laughed, and I was glad to hear it ; but his face was always grave. He talked of religious sects and parties, and was curious to know how the cause of liberal Christianity stood with us, and if the Athanasian creed was well received by our Episcopalians. He pretty distinctly intimated to me his own regard for the Unitarian doctrines.— TICKNOR, GEORGE, 1815, Letter to his Father, Jan. 21 ; Life, Letters and Journals, vol. I, p. 30.
If this is accurate, that would be another Virginia Anglican/Episcopalian "key Founder" and President who was a theological unitarian. This doesn't prove George Washington was anything, but rather shows it was not unheard of for American Founders to be formally connected to a "Christian" church that professed orthodox Trinitarian doctrine, but still privately believe in unitarian doctrines.
And as my last post noted, to be an Anglican Whig meant, by nature, belonging to an institution from whose official doctrines you dissent.
The claim that Washington was a unitarian stems from, among other things, 1) that he systematically avoided communion in his church, suggesting he didn't believe in what the act stood for: Christ's Atonement; and 2) that in the voluminous extant corpus of his recorded words, there is no orthodox Trinitarian God talk. Yet, there is lots of God/Providence talk. Which would make him a theological unitarian by default.
This is an argument that Barton doesn't even begin to address.
Finally, the exact claim Barton claims to address is “'George Washington was Unitarian' and not Christian." The "unitarians" of the day -- for instance Thomas Jefferson, John Adams -- tended to call and think of themselves as "Christians" as well. Further, they likely believed Jesus "Savior" or "Messiah" in some unorthodox sense. Jared Sparks who offers testimony on behalf of Washington's "Christianity" was himself a unitarian in this sense and considered his creed a form of Christianity.
That begs the question are "unitarianism" and "Christianity" mutually exclusive concepts? Or can one be a "Christian" and a "unitarian" like the proponents of the latter claimed? Are doctrines like original sin, Trinity, Incarnation, Atonement, eternal damnation non-negotiable tenets of "Christianity" or things over which rational Christians can in good faith disagree? So when Jared Sparks, for instance, claimed Washington a "Christian," I don't believe he meant Washington believed in original sin, Trinity, Incarnation, Atonement, etc., but rather that Washington wasn't an atheist or a strict Deist.
This is an issue Barton needs to clarify as well when claims Washington a "Christian" and not a "Unitarian."
Thursday, May 20, 2010
That's one reason why I am suspicious of the logic that goes: X Founder was an Anglican; Anglicans officially adhered to orthodox Trinitarian doctrine, found in oaths that they may have or did indeed take to the church; therefore, X was an orthodox Trinitarian. No, the oaths that Anglicans of the Founding era took were high church/Tory oriented. And many American Anglicans remained loyal precisely because they were devoutly attached to their church's official doctrines as contained in those oaths.
If they could rebel against their church's official theological teachings on the King of England's civil supremacy, then why not orthodox Trinitarian doctrine? Perhaps they had a commitment to historic orthodox Christianity that was unmoored from Anglican doctrine on loyalty to the King? Yes, perhaps.
But that needs to be proven. And proof of belief in such orthodoxy must involve something beyond their mere memberships or even taking oaths as means to an end in the Anglican church (i.e., to become a Vestryman as George Washington AND Thomas Jefferson were). As Whigs, they are already proven dissenters from official Anglican doctrine. Doctrines to which many Anglicans took oaths.
With that, what follows is from the chapter entitled, "The Crisis of the American Revolution: 1763–1783":
Inasmuch as the prewar debate over bishops caused conflict even among Anglicans, it is hardly surprising that the Church of England in America divided more than any other denomination over the War for Independence itself. Like their fellow colonists, American Anglicans covered a broad spectrum of political views—from patriots on the left, to neutralists and conciliators in the center, to loyalists on the right. The paradoxes within Anglicanism in the revolutionary era are quite clear. About three-quarters of the signers of the Declaration of Independence were Anglican laymen, yet throughout the war loyalism had a decidedly Anglican tinge.13 The greatest leaders of the revolutionary cause—statesmen such as Thomas Jefferson, George Washington, Patrick Henry, Alexander Hamilton, and John Jay—were members (at least nominally) of the Church of England, yet in some towns and villages “Tory” and “Anglican” were virtually synonymous.
Large numbers of Anglican clergy also had loyalist sympathies—a political stance that was generally linked to the relative weakness of the Church of England in the colonies where the loyalists served....Conversely, Anglicans were usually the most committed to the patriot cause where the Church of England was strongest, because in those colonies the clergy were maintained by local, not British governmental, sources.14 Although a precise calculation of the political views of all Anglican laypeople is not possible, a tally of the orientation of the approximately three hundred clergymen in America between 1776 and 1783 has been compiled. According to the historian Nancy Rhoden, over 80 percent of the clergy in colonial New England, New York, and New Jersey were loyalists, while less than 23 percent of the clergy in the four southern colonies adopted that stance during the war with Great Britain.15 In New England, where Anglicans were a small minority among Congregationalists and where the SPG had helped found most of the parishes, all Anglican clergy except two (Edward Bass of Newburyport, Massachusetts, and Samuel Parker of Boston) were loyalists. In New York, and especially in the lower four counties where Anglicanism was established, only one priest (Samuel Provoost) was a patriot. For most of the war, the city of New York served as a British military stronghold and as refuge for prominent loyalists, many of whom belonged to the Church of England. And in New Jersey, where all of the clergy were SPG missionaries, all but one of the clergy (Robert Blackwell, who served as a chaplain in the Continental Army) took the British side.16
Another reason why so many Anglican clergymen remained loyal to Great Britain is contained in the oaths taken by each minister of the Church of England at the time of his ordination. According to the canons of 1604, Anglican clergy were required to affirm that the king “within his realms of England, Scotland, and Ireland, and all other his dominions and countries, is the highest power under God; to whom all men . . . do by God’s laws owe most loyalty and obedience, afore and above all other powers and potentates in earth.”17 When he was ordained, each Anglican deacon or priest was obliged publicly to swear allegiance to the king, recognizing his authority as head of both church and state in Great Britain. Furthermore, the 1662 Act of Uniformity bound clergy to use the official liturgy of the Church of England whenever they led public worship.18 This provision required the verbatim reading of services in the Book of Common Prayer, which included prayers for the king, for the royal family, and for Parliament. In the service of Holy Communion, for example, the priest was obliged to say the following prayer:Almighty God, whose kingdom is everlasting, and power infinite; Have mercy upon the whole Church; and so rule the heart of thy chosen servant George, our King and Governor, that he (knowing whose Minister he is) may above all Things seek thy honour and glory: And that we, and all his subjects (duly considering whose authority he hath) may faithfully serve, honour, and humbly obey him, . . . through Jesus Christ our Lord. . . . Amen.19
Since Anglican clergy observed these oaths and prayers with great seriousness, they faced a crisis of conscience as soon as the revolt against Great Britain began. During 1775 and 1776, the Continental Congress issued a series of decrees ordering churches to observe specific days of fasting and prayer on behalf of the American cause. Although some loyalist clergy braved the consequences and refused to observe the fast days, most reluctantly held services. When they read the prayer book liturgy with its required prayers for the king, however, disturbances inevitably ensued. On July 4, 1776, when the Declaration of Independence was adopted, the dilemma faced by Anglicans grew even worse. After that date, the actions of Congress, supported by subsequent state laws, made prayers for the king and Parliament acts of treason. Whichever way the clergyman turned, he faced condemnation. Until such time as he was released from obedience to his ordination vows, he would be guilty of betraying his oath to the king if he prayed for the American cause. But if he remained faithful to the traditions of the Church of England, he risked both fines and imprisonment at the hands of American patriots.20
While ordination vows represented the chief reason, several other considerations also compelled Anglican clergy to become loyalists. The men supported by the SPG, for instance, were liable for dismissal by the society if they expressed any hint of disloyalty.21 Another important factor was the unbending respect for political and ecclesiastical authority that was characteristic of Anglicanism. Although some Anglican loyalists sympathized with the grievances of their fellow colonists, they did not think that gaining independence through a violent revolt was at all justifiable.22 Related to this conservative political attitude was a fear that the Revolution was fundamentally a neo-Puritan plot to destroy Anglicanism in the colonies. This concern was especially evident in New England, where British defeat left Anglicans at the mercy of the Congregational religious establishment. In Massachusetts and Connecticut, Anglicans tended to see clear parallels between the American Revolution and the English Civil War, when Puritans had not only executed the king and the archbishop of Canterbury but also outlawed Anglicanism itself.23
Sensing the potential hardship and disruption that lay ahead, some Anglican clergy who opposed independence started leaving the colonies before 1776. This group of emigrants included such prominent clergy as Thomas Bradbury Chandler and Myles Cooper, president of King’s College in New York. On the same day that Paul Revere received his famous signal from the steeple of Christ (Old North) Church in Boston, the rector of the parish, Mather Byles, resigned his position.
As threats intensified, increasing numbers of clergy fled to Britain, to Canada, and to American areas still under British military control, where some (e.g., Samuel Seabury of New York and Jonathan Odell of New Jersey) joined loyalist regiments as chaplains. Most of the Anglican clergy who remained in the colonies after the Declaration of Independence also decided, albeit reluctantly, to suspend services until they could perform them in accordance with the Book of Common Prayer and without interference from the patriot governments. By the summer of 1776, Anglican church doors were closing throughout America. At the end of the year, a missionary informed the SPG leadership that in the four colonies of Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, and Connecticut, the only Anglican churches still open were those in Philadelphia, one or two in rural Pennsylvania, those in British-controlled New York, and two parishes in Connecticut.24
The closing of churches did not mean that Anglican loyalists were left entirely without opportunities for worship. Clergy who did not flee from the colonies continued to minister to their congregations as best they could, using churches or private homes. In other parishes, lay readers, who were not bound by oath to perform prayer book liturgies verbatim, read the services of Morning and Evening Prayer and delivered printed homilies. In addition, at least one church in Massachusetts hired a non-Anglican clergyman to lead worship. A few Anglican clergy, moreover, defiantly continued to hold services. John Beach of Connecticut not only conducted worship throughout the war but also swore that he would continue praying for the king until the rebels cut out his tongue. And Charles Inglis of Trinity Church in New York persisted in reading the royal prayers even when George Washington was in the congregation and when a patriot militia company stood by, observing the service. In addition, those who were willing either to omit or to modify the royal prayers were usually able to read the prayer book liturgy without interference from revolutionaries.... (pgs. 38-40.)
Tuesday, May 18, 2010
"Rational Christianity": A Contribution of Medieval Political Thought
"When the Christian religion, two centuries ago, became unhappily divided into Catholic and Protestant, the people of the north embraced the Protestant, and those of the south adhered still to the Catholic. The reason is plain: the people of the north have, and will for ever have, a spirit of liberty and independence, which the people of the south have not; and therefore a religion which has no visible head is more agreeable to the independence of the climate than that which has one. In the countries themselves where the Protestant religion became established, the revolutions were made pursuant to the several plans of political government. Luther having great princes on his side would never have been able to make them relish an ecclesiastical authority that had no exterior pre-eminence; while Calvin, having to do with people who lived under republican governments, or with obscure citizens in monarchies, might very well avoid establishing dignities and preferments."
This article here provides a different narrative. One that at a certain time in my life I would have totally opposed but now tentatively agree with. It is the narrative of a "spirit of liberty" within certain strains in the Catholicism:
"It will suffice for our purpose to consult, in detail, but two Catholic churchmen who stand out as leading lights for all time. The one is representative of medieval learning and thought, the other stood on the threshold of the medieval and modern world. They are St. Thomas Aquinas of the thirteenth century and the Blessed Cardinal Robert Bellarmine of the sixteenth century (1542-1621). The following comparisons, clause for clause, of the American Declaration of Independence and of excerpts from the political principles of these noted ecclesiastics, evidence striking similarity and identity of political principle.
Equality of man
Declaration of Independence: “All men are created equal; they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights.”
Bellarmine: “All men are equal, not in wisdom or grace, but in the essence and nature of mankind” (“De Laicis,” c.7) “There is no reason why among equals one should rule rather than another” (ibid.). “Let rulers remember that they preside over men who are of the same nature as they themselves.” (“De Officus Princ.” c. 22). “Political right is immediately from God and necessarily inherent in the nature of man” (“De Laicis,” c. 6, note 1).
St. Thomas: “Nature made all men equal in liberty, though not in their natural perfections” (II Sent., d. xliv, q. 1, a. 3. ad 1).
The function of government
Declaration of Independence: “To secure these rights governments are instituted among men.”
Bellarmine: “It is impossible for men to live together without someone to care for the common good. Men must be governed by someone lest they be willing to perish” (“De Laicis,” c. 6).
St. Thomas: “To ordain anything for the common good belongs either to the whole people, or to someone who is the viceregent of the whole people” (Summa, la llae, q. 90, a. 3).The source of power
Declaration of Independence: “Governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.”
Bellarmine: “It depends upon the consent of the multitude to constitute over itself a king, consul, or other magistrate. This power is, indeed, from God, but vested in a particular ruler by the counsel and election of men” (“De Laicis, c. 6, notes 4 and 5). “The people themselves immediately and directly hold the political power” (“De Clericis,” c. 7).
St. Thomas: “Therefore the making of a law belongs either to the whole people or to a public personage who has care of the whole people” (Summa, la llae, q. 90, a. 3). “The ruler has power and eminence from the subjects, and, in the event of his despising them, he sometimes loses both his power and position” (“De Erudit. Princ.” Bk. I, c. 6).
The right to change the government
Declaration of Independence: “Whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or abolish it, and to institute a new government...Prudence, indeed, will dictate that governments long established should not be changed for light and transient reasons.”
Bellarmine: “For legitimate reasons the people can change the government to an aristocracy or a democracy or vice versa” (“De Laicis,” c. 6). “The people never transfers its powers to a king so completely but that it reserves to itself the right of receiving back this power” (“Recognitio de Laicis,” c. 6).
St. Thomas: “If any society of people have a right of choosing a king, then the king so established can be deposed by them without injustice, or his power can be curbed, when by tyranny he abuses his regal power” (“De Rege et Regno,” Bk. I, c. 6). "
The author also goes a lot further and makes a bold statement about early Protestant thought:
"Modern democracy is often asserted to be the child of the Reformation. Nothing is farther from the truth. Robert Filmer, private theologian of James I of England, in his theory of Divine right, proclaimed, “The king can do no wrong. The most sacred order of kings is of Divine right.” John Neville Figgis, who seems little inclined to give Catholicism undue credit, makes the following assertions. “Luther based royal authority upon Divine right with practically no reservation” (“Gerson to Grotius,” p. 61). “That to the Reformation was in some sort due the prevalence of the notion of the Divine Right of Kings is generally admitted.” (“Divine Right of Kings,” p. 15). “The Reformation had left upon the statute book an emphatic assertion of unfettered sovereignty vested in the king” (ibid. p. 91). “Luther denied any limitation of political power either by Pope or people, nor can it be said that he showed any sympathy for representative institutions; he upheld the inalienable and Divine authority of kings in order to hew down the Upas tree of Rome.” “There had been elaborated at this time a theory of unlimited jurisdiction of the crown and of non-resistance upon any pretense” (“Cambridge Modern History,” Vol III, p. 739). “Wycliffe would not allow that the king be subject to positive law” (“Divine Right of Kings,” p. 69). Lord Acton wrote: “Lutheran writers constantly condemn the democratic literature that arose in the second age of the Reformation.”...”Calvin judged that the people were unfit to govern themselves, and declared the popular assembly an abuse” (“History of Freedom,” p. 42)."
Thats right, the author is stating that the Reformation brought the concept "divine right" into prominence. The author then goes on to point out an apparent rift with Lutheran writers and literature that "arose in the second age of the Reformation." This would seem to be some of the resistance theory writings we have perused as of late and seems to point to a change in the thought of later Protestants in regards to political theology. In short, it would seem that early Protestants brought into prominence a doctrine that later Protestants felt obliged to destroy.
With all this stated, I would like to explore a different narrative. One that states that the doctrines of sola scriptura and total depravity ignored the value of human reason and resulted in a death to the "spirit of liberty" in certain strains of Reformed Theology. I would also submit it was resurrected by the return of natural law theory in later writings. An interesting book entitled "The Contributions of Medieval Political Thought" seems to give Richard Hooker a whole lot of credit for this resurrection.
All this would seem to point to a renaissance of Scholastic type reasoning in political theory by the time of the founding era as one of the main catalysts to the Revolution not some departure from historically Christian political theology to something new. Thus my preference for the term "rational Christianity" as opposed to "theistic rationalism" to describe this line of political thought. This provides a third narrative to combat the extremes of both David Barton and Dr. Gregg Frazer.