Monday, August 30, 2010

Religion and the Founding

It was the first meeting of what would be called the Continental Congress, 1774. Just some guys in a room. Doesn't look very impressive, even in the painting. The Declaration of Independence was two very long years away. But America as we know it today had to start somewhere, and here it started, in "Phyladelphia."

"S. Adams" is John Adams' cousin Samuel. By most accounts Sam Adams was a Calvinist's Calvinist, as pious and orthodox and Protestant as they come.

Letter from John Adams to Abigail Adams

September 16, 1774

[Paper was expensive back then, and they used fewer paragraph breaks. I took the liberty of inserting a few, for readability.---TVD]

Having a Leisure Moment, while the Congress is assembling, I gladly embrace it to write you a Line.

When the Congress first met, Mr. Cushing made a Motion, that it should be opened with Prayer. It was opposed by Mr. Jay of N. York and Mr. Rutledge of South Carolina, because we were so divided in religious Sentiments, some Episcopalians, some Quakers, some Aanabaptists, some Presbyterians and some Congregationalists, so that We could not join in the same Act of Worship.

Mr. S. Adams arose and said he was no Bigot, and could hear a Prayer from a Gentleman of Piety and Virtue, who was at the same Time a Friend to his Country. He was a Stranger in Phyladelphia, but had heard that Mr. Duche (Dushay they pronounce it) deserved that Character, and therefore he moved that Mr. Duche, an episcopal [Anglican, i.e., Church of England---TVD] Clergyman, might be desired, to read Prayers to the Congress, tomorrow Morning.

The Motion was seconded and passed in the Affirmative. Mr. Randolph our President, waited on Mr. Duche, and received for Answer that if his Health would permit, he certainly would. Accordingly next Morning he appeared with his Clerk and in his Pontificallibus, and read several Prayers, in the established Form; and then read the Collect for the seventh day of September, which was the Thirty fifth Psalm. -You must remember this was the next Morning after we heard the horrible Rumour, of the Cannonade of Boston.-I never saw a greater Effect upon an Audience. It seemed as if Heaven had ordained that Psalm to be read on that Morning.

After this Mr. Duche, unexpected to every Body struck out into an extemporary Prayer, which filled the Bosom of every Man present. I must confess I never heard a better Prayer or one, so well pronounced. Episcopalian as he is, Dr. Cooper himself never prayed with such fervour, such Ardor, such Earnestness and Pathos, and in Language so elegant and sublime-for America, for the Congress, for The Province of Massachusetts Bay, and especially the Town of Boston. It has had an excellent Effect upon every Body here.

I must beg you to read that Psalm. If there was any Faith in the sortes Virgilianae, or sortes Homericae, or especially the Sortes biblicae, it would be thought providential.

It will amuse your Friends to read this Letter and the 35th. Psalm to them. Read it to your Father and Mr. Wibirt.

I wonder what our Braintree Churchmen would think of this?-Mr. Duche is one of the most ingenious Men, and best Characters, and greatest orators in the Episcopal order, upon this Continent- Yet a Zealous Friend of Liberty and his Country.

I long to see my dear Family. God bless, preserve and prosper it.


John Adams

Psalm 35:

Plead my cause, O LORD, with them that strive with me:
fight against them that fight against me.

Take hold of shield and buckler,
and stand up for mine help.

Draw out also the spear,
and stop the way against them that persecute me:
say unto my soul, I am thy salvation.
Let them be confounded and put to shame
that seek after my soul:
let them be turned back and brought to confusion
that devise my hurt.

Let them be as chaff before the wind:
and let the angel of the LORD chase them.

Let their way be dark and slippery:
and let the angel of the LORD persecute them.


Let them shout for joy, and be glad,
that favor my righteous cause:
yea, let them say continually,
Let the LORD be magnified,
which hath pleasure in the prosperity of his servant.

And my tongue shall speak of thy righteousness
and of thy praise all the day long.

The rest of Psalm 35 can be found here. You get the idea.

There was some sort of prayer meeting the other day in Washington, DC. Some people didn't like it. So be it. But the one thing in America, 2010 or 1774, is that if you want to pray publicly, you can't be no Bigot. We pray together, or not at all.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Thoughts on Glenn Beck, Mormons, & the Mosque

First check out Ed Brayton commenting on Stephen Prothero's article. The bottom line is Mormons, of all folks, should especially support the religious liberty rights of all. Their experiences in America should make them know better.

Which leads me to Glenn Beck's rally. He noted, it was about "God." And that he happily tithes 10 percent. Knowing how much Beck makes that's many millions of dollars going to the Mormon Church. And at that rally behind Beck was, among others, David Barton. I kept thinking whether Barton and the other evangelicals there really believe Mormons worship the same God they do; the Mormons claim they do; it's the evangelicals who often have a problem with it. See for instance, Barton buddy Brannon Howse's turning away from Beck for that very reason.

Beck extensively quoted from the American Founding. Did he misuse the Founders? Lincoln? Dr. King? It's beyond the scope of my post to answer that question.

However I will address one sense in which I think Beck's rally did authentically capture the spirit of the America's Founding political theology: The idea that Mormons, evangelicals, and others all worship the same God.

Had the Mormons existed during America's Founding, I'm convinced the Founders would have embraced them. At least the first four or so Presidents would have. They embraced the Swedenborgs, who I see as the closest analogy to Mormons. Swedenborgianism is as distant from orthodox Christianity as is Mormonism.

I get flack for stating that the "key Founders" (the first four Presidents, Franklin, G. Morris, Hamilton before his end of life conversion) were all agreed on the political theological basics. Not the finer details. Jefferson's Bible was his own. Adams, Jefferson, and Franklin all three agreed the biblical canon was errant and fallible. But anything beyond that (which biblical passages reflected error, which valid revelation) would be finer details where they disagreed.

So let's clarify: What was the main area that connects all of the "key Founders" in their personal and political theology: The idea that there is a Providence and future state of rewards and punishments. The other doctrinal issues (especially whether Jesus was 2nd Person in the Trinity) where religions differ are superfluous and insignificant.

That's the lowest common denominator of "religion" that all good men believe in. That's why Calvinists, Swedenborgs, Jews and, today, Mormons (perhaps even Muslims; at least the good Muslims who peacefully demean themselves under America's civil law, which I would argue is the overwhelming majority of them) can feel communion with the God who "founded" America.

If you don't believe they all worship the same God -- America's God -- you are being un-American.

Supernatural Rationalism

Another repost to The One Best Way here.

This is a quote from a post by Transient and Permanent which I discuss:

Wright calls attention to a middle way between Deism and Christian enthusiasm which appears to have been widespread. In so doing, he not only points out a common attitude but also draws the Deists and revivalistic evangelicals into sharper focus. The supernatural rationalists shared with the Deists an appreciation of reason and natural religion, while they also shared with the evangelicals a belief in the Christian revelation. For them, natural religion serves as the launching point for the special revelation of Jesus Christ, which not only doesn’t oppose reason, it is confirmed because of its accordance with reason. Christianity for them is rational, not mysterious: even miracles are basically the logical actions that an orderly God would take to intelligently demonstrate his intentions to humanity. One could call it a theology that promotes the reasonableness of the miraculous. Christianity thus functions to guide people in a Newtonian, Lockian universe, discernible through the senses and intelligible to the mind that approaches it empirically. Natural religion sets the stage, and revealed religion becomes the star performer.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Beckwith on D'Souza, Religious Dickering & "Mere Christianity"

There's a long story which I don't feel like recounting. The following passage of Dr. Beckwith's interests me:

There is a sense in which D'Souza is right. Yes, Christians from a variety of traditions can agree on much, and often work together in advancing the common good in a variety of causes both inside and outside their respective communities. And he is indeed correct that Christians, as well as other theists, should make a winsome and intelligent case against the philosophical materialism on which the most pernicious affects of secularism rely. D'Souza has made important contributions to advancing such a case, and even has been wisely circumspect in distancing himself, though respectfully, from those Christians who believe that intelligent design should play an integral role in the project of the Christian philosophy of nature. (My own pilgrimage on this matter may be found on the BioLogos website).

But there is a sense in which D'Souza is wrong. Although it is certainly true that the Apostle's Creed and Lewis' Mere Christianity reflect the barest one may believe in order to count as a "Christian," it does not follow that they are the basis by which one may define what counts as a "mere squabble." After all, if, let's say, a Unitarian were to tell D'Souza that he considers himself a Christian but cannot accept either the Creed or Lewis's "mere Christianity," D'Souza would say that the Unitarian is not a Christian based on the Creed/Lewis standard D'Souza embraces. But what if the Unitarian were to respond, "A lot of times, Christians spend a lot of time in intramural type debates and squabbles. Are you a Trinitarian or Unitarian; if you are a Unitarian, what type are: are you a humanist or theist; what position do you take on the resurrection of Christ?" Why is D'Souza's "mere Christianity" not just another position in a different squabble, at least according to the Unitarian?

The "Creed/Lewis" standard is something that evangelicals, Roman Catholics, Anglicans (like Lewis!) and capital O "Orthodox" agree forms a lowest common denominator of "mere Christianity." Anything that falls outside of that LCD (Jehovah's Witnessism, Mormonism, theological unitarianism) is not "Christian." There is a big gulf between that standard and "anything that calls itself Christian is Christian."

The American Founding, in a political theological sense, may be "Christian" according to the later, but not the former. Jefferson, J. Adams and Franklin clearly rejected this kind of "mere Christianity" (most folks don't know Adams rejected "mere Christianity" more clearly than Franklin did) and Washington, Madison, G. Morris, and many others are not provably "mere Christians."

I found the President [James Madison] 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.


That Washington was a professing Christian is evident from his regular attendance in our church; but, Sir, I cannot consider any man as a real Christian who uniformly disregards an ordinance so solemnly enjoined by the divine Author of our holy religion, and considered as a channel of divine grace. This, Sir, is all that I think it proper to state on paper. In a conversation, more latitude being allowed, more light might, perhaps, be thrown upon it. I trust, however, Sir, you will not introduce my name in print.

I am, Sir,
James Abercrombie

Conyers Middleton, Progenitor of Theistic Rationalism

Another repost to The One Best Way here.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Charles J. Reid on Brian Tierney II

In light of my discussion with Jon Rowe about the Bible and rights, here is some more about the origins of the concept of natural rights from the book review The Medieval Origins of the Western Natural Rights Tradition: The Achievement of Brian Tierney by Charles J. Reid:
Tierney begins his study with the canon law of the twelfth century. The twelfth century was a time of "renaissance"-a revolutionary new age that decisively broke away from past practices.' It was also a distinctively "legal" century.  In the late eleventh century, Pope Gregory VII declared the independence of the Church from Henry IV's empire.  Although several decades of struggle and polemicizing followed, the contestants reached a series of compromises in the first decades of the twelfth century that allowed Church and State to coexist uneasily for the next three hundred years.'
The polemicizing that occurred in the late eleventh century, furthermore, was of a uniquely legal nature. By the early twelfth century, after peace was achieved between Church and State, the new universities proved to be the ideal forum for the continued sustenance of the sort of sophisticated legal analysis that had grown out of the struggle between papacy and empire.  Education in both the Roman-law texts of Justinian and the new canon law of the Church became very popular undertakings. Indeed, at the dose of the twelfth century, a developing process of "professionalization" emerged that would establish canonists as "professionals" in a sense easily recognizable by today's legal practitioners.
In the middle of the twelfth century, at the hands of a mysterious figure named Gratian, the canon law received a systematic structure which it would retain until the twentieth century. We can safely say more about Gratian's methods than about his background and training. Adapting his approach from the dialectical reasoning common in the schools of philosophy, and building on the work of predecessors such as Ivo of Chartres, Gratian produced a massive work of synthesis around 1140. Divided into three parts, the Concordia discordantium canonum ("A harmony of conflicting canons")-a name quickly changed to "Decretud'-was intended to reconcile the many inconsistencies that had arisen from a millennium of ecclesiastical legislating and teaching.
Gratian's textbook soon became the foundation for training in the canon law. It quickly attracted its share of commentators, who came to be known as the "decretists" because of their work on the Decretum.  As is the case with any truly great book, the Decretum generated as many questions as answers, and the decretists set about imbibing the wisdom of Gratian's work as well as addressing its shortcomings.
In this context, lawyers and others began to talk about rights in entirely new ways. Tierney elicits a number of examples.  "Gratian himself wrote of the iura libertatis, the rights of liberty," which one cannot lose even when "held in bondage".  But these usages, Tierney cautions, still do not amount to a theory of specifically natural rights.
To be sure that one has discovered a theory of natural ights, Tierney continues, one must traverse a "semantic minefield."  His own concern is with the Latin term ius naturale. While twelfth-century canonists found that this expression had a variety of meanings, Tierney is "concerned mainly with ius as meaning either objective law or subjective right, and with 'natural' as meaning either a primeval state of affairs or an intrinsic permanent characteristic of any being, as when we speak of 'the nature of man."' 
The term ius naturale in the writings of such classical and post classical authors as Cicero or Ulpian meant "natural law" or "natural order," not "natural right." By the seventeenth century, however, the term clearly embraced subjective rights as well. When and under what circumstances, then, did the natural law of Cicero and Ulpian also acquire the meaning of natural rights?
Tierney answers these questions by identifying texts that carried a subjective meaning of ius naturale as early as the first decretist commentaries on Gratian. Gratian himself gave ius naturale an objective definition in the opening words of the Decretum, stating: "'Natural law(/us) is what is contained in the Law and the Gospel by which each is commanded to do to another what he wants done to himself and forbidden to do to another what he does not want done to himself."' Gratian subsequently offered other, competing objective definitions for the term ius naturale, but never attempted to reconcile these with each other or with the meaning he obviously preferred.
Commentators on the Decretum, however, were forced to deal with these inconsistencies, and sought to resolve them by proposing that ius naturale had multiple meanings. In elaborating on these meanings, the canonists introduced a notion of subjective rights into the analysis of ius naturale. Tierney explains:
Gratian himself used the word ius consistently to designate systems of objective law in the opening chapters of the Decretum-e.g. he considered in turn natural law, customary law, civil law, military law, public law as different species of ius, but the canonists who commented on his texts lived in a world where, in everyday discourse,the word ius commonly meant a subjective right. Hence, in their commentaries, they would shift from one meaning to the other, unreflectively it seems, and without seeing any need for explanation, evidently confident that their meaning would be plain to contemporary readers.

Between the 1150s and the 1190s, the decretists worked out a series of definitions of ius naturale as subjective right. Around 1160, the decretist Rufinus proposed a two-part definition for the term that would shape future canonistic thought on the subject, and continues to condition our thought today. lus naturale was, Rufinus began, "'a certain force instilled in every human creature by nature to do good and avoid the opposite.' '  This force, he continued, "'consists in three things, commands, prohibitions, and demonstrations. . . . It cannot be detracted from at all as regards the commands and prohibitions . .. but it can be as regards the demonstrations, which nature not command or forbid but shows to be good."'
Tierney notes that both parts of this definition of ius naturale-"the initial subjective definition of ius and the following tripartite division" into commands, prohibitions, and demonstrations-were subjected to further analysis and refinement.  On the one hand, decretists quickly developed the idea of ius naturale as a natural force of the "human personality."  Indeed, "the greatest of them all, Huguccio, . . . insist[ed] that this was the one primary and proper meaning of the term."
On the other hand, the decretists did not fail to analyze the second part of Rufinus's definition-the idea of ius naturale as an area where nature does not command or forbid. Tiemey finds that a group of English decretists active in the 1180s were especially creative in emphasizing the notion of ius naturale as "'a zone of human autonomy,'" or "'a neutral sphere of personal choice."' The author of the Summa, In nomine, for instance, proposed as a meaning of ius natural.
 "licit and approved, neither commanded nor forbidden by the Lord or by any statute, which is also called fas, as for instance to reclaim one's own or not to reclaim it, to eat something or not to eat it, to put away an unfaithful wife or not to put her away."

Tierney emphasizes that these passages can only refer to a concept of natural rights:
In the texts we have just quoted ius naturale plainly does not mean restrictive law; the term is used to mean what we should call a natural right-to eat what one chooses for instance. The right of nature in these texts is what is permitted by the law of nature.

Thus the canonists fashioned definitions of natural rights congruent with our own understanding. This conclusion is not anachronistic. Tierney has no intention of superimposing a modem conceptual apparatus onto medieval sources. Rather, he argues that twelfth-century lawyers were the first to articulate and acknowledge this basic feature of the Western juristic and philosophic landscape.  The remainder of Tiemey's book explores the ways in which this idea grew and was adapted in the centuries that separate Gratian and Hugo Grotius."

There is a lot here but the thing that jumped out to me was the "zone of autonomy" where God neither commands nor prohibits something.  I also see the "golden rule" is in there.  My question is how does the former tie into the latter?  In other words, how is liberty held in check by the "golden rule"? 

Maybe this is what Jefferson was referring to when he stated, "But it does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods or no God. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg."  But on the other hand, would not the rightness of worshipping the true God be written on men's hearts from creation? I guess it comes down to if positive law allows for people to violate natural law in the name of  liberty. I think that when Jesus asked the hypocrites who was willing to throw the first stone should give us some insight to a possible biblical answer for this. Nonetheless, I think Jon Rowe is hitting on an important theme with his religious freedom posts.  The floor is open for thoughts.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Did The Founding Fathers Believe Slavery Was Morally Wrong?

"The prevailing ideas entertained by [Thomas Jefferson] and most of the leading statesmen at the time of the formation of the old constitution, were that the enslavement of the African was in violation of the laws of nature; that it was wrong in principle, socially, morally, and politically." This was the assessment of the collective mind of America's Founding Fathers, as offered by the vice president of the Confederate States of America, Alexander H. Stephens, in March of 1861 in his famous (or, more properly, infamous) "Cornerstone" speech.

Stephens would go on to say that the Jefferson and the Founders had it all wrong. The races, said Stephens, were not equal, and the new Confederate constitution corrected the Founders of the United States on that point.

I find this critique of America's Founders to be very interesting, considering that modern-day critics are so frequently alleging that the Founders were racist, pro-slavery, and more. Here in Alexander H. Stephens we have an unequivocal white supremacist saying that the foundations of the United States were based on racial equality.

In case you think "racial equality" (in describing the views of Jefferson and the Founders) takes it too far, the fault lies with Stephens (not me). It was Stephens who said that Jefferon's ideals (which indict slavery) "rested upon the assumption of the equality of races" -- an assumption Stephens said was an "error."

For more on this disagreement between Alexander H. Stephens and Thomas Jefferson, I would like to invite you to check out my latest article over at my American Revolution & Founding Era blog...

"Alexander Stephens vs Thomas Jefferson"

As to what the Founders themselves thought of slavery, I would encourage you to check out Vindicating The Founders by Thomas G. West. A great book that addresses the Founders' views on race, gender, and much more.

The Connection Between Heresy and Political Liberty

A strikingly disproportionate number of notable theologians who influenced the American Founding and establishment of political “republicanism” were theological unitarians. These figures, British and American Whigs, were instrumental in arguing on behalf of the American Revolutionary cause and in convincing the populace that political liberty was a God-given “inalienable” right. These theologians also, in large part, shaped the personal religious creed of America’s key Founders.

None other than Mark Noll, the preeminent scholar of America’s religious history has noted “[i]t was only when Christian orthodoxy gave way that republicanism could flourish.” A characteristic feature of Founding era republicanism was the institutional separation of church and state and the recognition of liberty, especially religious liberty, as an inalienable right.

Viewed in historical context, the logical connection between religious heresy and political liberty becomes evident. Church and state were once one in Western Civilization. Protestantism itself was a "dissident" movement and as such, dissident Protestants were subject to terrible mistreatment by the Roman Catholic Church or other dominant Protestant sects. And it was through this experience of mistreatment that dissident Protestants first began to argue for religious and political liberty. The theological unitarians, because they believed in what the orthodox considered soul damning heresies, were the most dissident of the dissidents. Think of John Calvin having Michael Servetus burned at the stake simply for publicly denying the Trinity!

As such unitarian theologians who risked death by publicly proclaiming their secret religious convictions had compelling reasons to argue for the separation of church and state and the establishment of religious and political liberty.

In any event, I hope this serves as a partial answer as to why I think studying religious disputes, heresies, Trinity denial, etc. is relevant to the history of America and American liberty.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Charles J. Reid on Brian Tierney

In light of the ongoing discussion between Jon Rowe and myself on rights and the Bible, I thought it would be a good idea to do some posts about Brian Tierney as we attempt to uncover the medieval contribution to the political thought that helped shape early America. Accordingly, here is the introduction from Charles Reid's book review entitled The Medieval Origins of the Western Natural Rights Tradition: The Achievement of Brian Tierney:

"Brian Tierney has established himself over the course of forty-five years of writing and teaching as one of the world's leading authorities on the history of medieval canon law and political thought. In a series of foundational works, he has offered important new interpretations of the origins of Western constitutionalism, tracing many concepts believed to be modem or early modem innovations to the work oftwelfth-century canon lawyers.' He has spent the past fifteen years exploring the origins of the Western notion of natural rights.2 In his new work, The Idea of Natural Rights,3 Tierney draws on a decade-and-ahalf of research as well as a deep knowledge of Western constitutional history to present a radical reconceptualization of the history of natural rights thought in Western civilization.
Natural rights historians and scholars have expressed numerous opinions concerning the origins of the Western rights tradition. In the Anglo-American world, scholars have commonly viewed the seventeenthcentury as a radical departure from an older tradition that hademphasized the existence of an objectively just order in which individual rights were impossible. 4 On the Continent, by contrast, scholarshave tended to view the fourteenth century as decisive for the formation of individual rights: it was then that William of Ockham, the brilliant English logician, succeeded in dissolving the thirteenth-century synthesis of Thomas Aquinas in an acid bath of nominalistic analysis, reducing Thomas's conception of ordered justice to the competing interests and claims of individuals.5 Both schools of thought tend to view the creation of natural-rights theories as an aberrant development, either harmful to society, or, at best, of dubious benefit.6
Tierney challenges this scholarly consensus in several fundamental ways. His central contention is that theories of natural rights did not emerge as an aberrational feature of Western political and legal thought at some late date, but rather comprised an integral part of Western intellectual life from the birth of universities and the revival of legal studies in the twelfth century.7 He is concerned as well with tracing the lines of transmission and development by which twelfth century legal texts came to shape the philosophical reasoning of the seventeenth century.8
The book is divided into three large parts: "Origins," "Ockham and the Franciscans," and "From Gerson to Grotius."9 In the first part of his book, Tierney begins by examining the important role canon law played in the shaping of rights discourse, and by demonstrating that thirteenth-century scholastic philosophers-near contemporaries of Thomas Aquinas-were quite capable of posing rights-based questions that would stimulate and challenge their successors for generations. 10 In the second part of his book, Tierney then considers the impact the Franciscan poverty controversy had on the development of rights thought." This controversy, Tierney demonstrates, was one of the most important early sources of rights-based discourse. 12 The third part addresses the problems of the fifteenth, sixteenth, and seventeenth centuries: the Great Schism and the conciliar theories to which it gave rise, the great debates that erupted in the sixteenth century over the rights of the native peoples of the Americas, and the rights-based synthesis forged by Hugo Grotius in the early seventeenth century.13
This Review will consider some of Tierney's main arguments about the development of rights, assessing the deep originality of his contributions to each of these periods. It must be stressed that Tierney's book is a vast treasure house of information about rights, and one cannot hope to do justice to the complexity of his thesis in the course of this Review.14 It will, however, be evident that Tierney's book will become the starting point for all future efforts to address the origins of the Western natural rights tradition."

I read the first 70 or so pages of Tierney's book and I learned a lot of new and interesting things.  I was going to start with Gary Amos or David Kopel but since both cite him extensively I thought we would get it straight from the horses mouth.  Or at least a good review of the book to lay out the arguments in a simple way to prepare us to dig into Tierney himself. Then hopefully we can hash through some of the primary sources he uses that can be found on the internet.  All of which I hope gives us a better understanding of some of the lesser known/unknown Christian intellectual roots of our founding.

Post From Dispatches From the Culture Wars on Rights, God, the Bible

Since King of Ireland, my co-blogger at American Creation, and I are discussing the idea of rights/God/the Bible, I thought I'd post parts of post I did when I guest blogged for Ed Brayton's Dispatches From the Culture Wars.


I think the Acton Institute does a credible job arguing a good scholarly case that religion or Christianity is necessary for human rights.


I think though, that, based on what the Bible says in its text and the history of the Christian West, groups like the Acton Institute will at best have a half-full argument. The other side will always have a half-empty critique. It's a "selective" reading of both the Bible and the history of the Christian West that supports notions of God given human rights, liberty and equality. And the most notable expositors of unalienable human rights were men like Thomas Jefferson who, though they believed in a rights granting God rejected every single tenet of orthodox Christianity as Jefferson did in his October 31, 1819 letter to William Short, where he listed by name and rejected the following:

The immaculate conception of Jesus, his deification, the creation of the world by him, his miraculous powers, his resurrection and visible ascension, his corporeal presence in the Eucharist, the Trinity; original sin, atonement, regeneration, election, orders of Hierarchy, &c.

So whatever belief in unalienable rights depends upon, it does not depend upon believing in those things; it is not by virtue of belief in those things that our notions of unalienable human rights derive.

In one of my favorite posts of his, Larry Arnhart explains the "half-empty" critique that skeptics will always be able to raise against traditional Christians who try to argue that the Bible and the orthodox Christian religion are where notions of human rights derive and must rest:

The case of slavery and "universalism" illustrates the problem....[M]any religious traditions have allowed slavery, and the Bible never condemns slavery or calls for its abolition. On the contrary, in the American debate over slavery, Christian defenders of slavery were able to cite specific biblical passages in both the Old Testament and the New Testament supporting slavery. Opponents of slavery had to argue that general doctrines such as the creation of human beings in God's image implicitly denied the justice of slavery. But they could never cite any specific passage of the Bible for their position. Here's a clear case of where the moral teaching of the Bible depends on our coming to it with a prior moral understanding that we then read into the Bible.

Moreover, the "universalism" of the Bible is in doubt. I don't see a universal morality in the Old Testament. Moses ordering the slaughter of the innocent Mideanite women and children, for example, manifests a xenophobia that runs through much of the Old Testament.

Now, of course, the New Testament does seem more inclined to a universal humanitarianism. But the Book of Revelation teaches that at the end of history the saints will destroy the Antichrist and the unbelievers in bloody battle. The bloodiness of this vision has been dramatized throughout the history of Christianity. (See, for example, Tim LaHaye's popular LEFT BEHIND novels.)

....And, of course, there is a continuing controversy over whether the Christian churches in Europe did enough to oppose Hitler. The German Lutheran Church was inclined to interpret the 13th Chapter of Romans as dictating obedience to the authorities. Martin Luther himself was brutal in his expression of anti-Semitism. How would Holloway explain cases like this? Would he say that the true doctrines of biblical religion always require universal love, and therefore any behavior by a biblical believer that violates universal love is based on a misinterpretation of biblical doctrine?

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Soteriology, Political Theory, and the Manegoldian Missing Link of Relevance


A Plea for Clarity as to the Relevance of Asking if George Washington Took Communion or Not, and Other Similar Soteriological Questions About the Founders, In Regards to the Study of the Political Theology that Helped Shape Early America

I responded to Jon Rowe's post about Gregg Frazer and Governor Morris's supposed theistic rationalism with the following comment: 

"What does his behavior have to do with Frazer's dispassionate 10 point theory? This is where his beliefs run into his history. It would have been more credible to leave this out in that it has absolutely nothing to do with Frazer's thesis.
Not that it really matters because you have failed, after repeated requests by Tom, to produce the link between the sotierology and political theology.
Without that link, at best, all you can do is prove some facts from Barton wrong and be a pest to the Religious Right. The more intellectual arguments for Christian Influence on America remain untouched at this blog and elsewhere.
It is a shame because I think when you look back you will find that there was a libertarian stream of thought not that dissimilar to yours. Yes, some kinks were there in regards to freedom of worship at times but overall the more rational branches seem to opposeat least some of the premises of the modern religious right.
The Culture Wars go on..."

Now I can be a little overzealous and come on strong.  I also have a hard time of letting things go when it is time to move on.  I understand that and realize that sometimes people do not respond to my arguments because it would take more time than they have.  Understood.  But I have never heard you state that about Tom who has essentially made the same critique and was the first person to ask you for the link of relevance. First your words italicized then his response:

"The folks I see as NOT being able to claim the political theology of the American Founding are the orthodox Christians, those who believe Jesus was 2nd Person in the Trinity, an Incarnate God.
Clearly an old piece of yours, Jon, since it's now clear you must show a necessary link between Christian political theology and its soteriology, and there is no link. You can believe Jesus is God [Samuel Adams] or not [John Adams], and the political theology comes out the same."

Here is a comment I left on a post of mine recently that I think lays out some of the context and points to the dangers of bringing sotierological assumptions and conclusions into a discussion of the history of political theory:

"The Kopel thing is powerful. It traces the entire story of the development of Scholasticism all the way to the Revolution. Seems Cicerro, Aristotle and Emperor Justian were instrumental. The latter seems to have kicked it all off and the other two gradually became more prominent.
Though he states that Aristotle was probably the most prominent in the end because Aquinas used him and Scholastic education was Catholic Education until the early 20th Century.
This goes through the whole Investiture Controversy and the power that the Holy Roman Emperors had over the Popes. Many people forget that Hitler was trying to establish a Third Reich. Which was the Third rise of the Holy Roman Empire. The first was pre-Investiture and the second was with Charles the grandson of Ferdinand and Isabella.
He also goes into how the thought of Justin, Ciccero, and Aristotle as synthesized with Christian thought became Canon Law and how Canon Law influenced secular law like Common Law.
The Magna Carta was a part of this process.
I think I am going to start with him to outline the arguments and then we can get to the sources, if we can find them, and check him.
Amos overstates his case just like Manegold in reference to the dangers of pagan philosophy. The Greeks and Romans need to be given more credit than most Christians give them as far as political theory.
There is a balance and I think Amos and Manegold miss it. I think Kopel nails it.
At least at first glance that is. I think, despite the fact that he does a better job than most on this issue, Amos's soteriology clouds his political theory as well.
It is just as bad to label Greek thought as exclusively Christian as it is to label Christian or Christian/Greek thought as exclusively Enlightenment.
I think Christianity added some unique things but natural law and the wisdom of the ages did as well.
Amos kind of does the same thing Frazer does (though not near as egregiously) just from the other side in that he mixes Greek soteriology with political theory when one does not have to and labels things as not compatible that are. How Manegoldian of him  :)


Or is it?  Ball is in your court Jon.  Tom(though I hesitate to speak for him) and I have laid out our case.  It is essentially the case of David Kopel. (More from him in the coming months) It seems that Frazer and Amos are in a pissing contest for the heart of modern Evangelical political theory. With all do respect to John Mac Arthur and Peter Lillback,  let's leave that to them and broaden the discussion.  Unless,  that is,  you can find the the Manegoldian Missing Link and give us all a reason as to why this intramural Evangelical matter needs to play such a prominent role in these discussions.  And yes, I am moving the goal posts but only because they urgently need to be moved.

HT to JRB who has hounded me about not minimizing the role of Greek and Roman thought and TVD who warned me about some of the pitfalls inherent in remaining in Mc Arthur/Lillback Land more than a few timesMaybe it is not harder to convince me of things that it would have been for the Pope to have convinced Luther. Though I do not think I have Luther beat by much sometimes.  :) 

Gouverneur Morris, Theistic Rationalist

Another repost from The One Best Way here.

This is from Gregg Frazer on Morris' "kinky" behavior:

There is another factor separating Morris from Christianity, or at least highly inconsistent with Christian faith – Morris’s immoral conduct. As to reputation, when he was nominated to be minister to France, Roger Sherman said of Morris that “with regard to moral character I consider him an irreligious and profane man.” James Monroe said: “Upon the grounds of character he was twice refused as a member of the Treasury Board.” Though he publicly defended his appointment of Morris, George Washington wrote to Morris about his “imprudence of conversation and conduct” and asked him to display “more caution and prudence” and “more circumspection.” A few years later, Monroe referred to Morris as “a man without morality.” Of course, this could have simply been a matter of political partisanship or personality conflict, but, in Morris’s case, the reputation was well-earned. Morris once threatened to kill a man if he spoke disrespectfully of him, and he frequently got “very drunk” while in France. His most conspicuous moral problems concerned women, however.

Morris had numerous illicit affairs with married and unmarried women and, by his own admission, was constantly trying to initate new ones. One of his earliest dalliances may have cost him one of his legs. One account of the loss of the leg, which is reported as fact by most biographers, is that it happened as a result of a cart accident. There is a good chance that this was merely a cover story, however. There is reason to believe that Morris lost his leg jumping from a window to escape a jealous husband. John Jay joked about it in a letter of consolation to Morris and Lord Palmerston testified that Morris told him the whole story at breakfast a decade later. There is also circumstantial evidence surrounding the woman involved which lends credence. Morris denied the story in a letter to Jay, but not very convincingly. If true, the unfortunate event did not dissuade Morris from similar activity in the future. In fact, he used the curiosity afforded by his one-legged status to attract and seduce other women.

Morris’s diary entries during his time in France are filled with sexual escapades. He had an ongoing affair with Madame de Flahaut for more than three years. She and Morris were eventually so “wanton and flagrant” that they engaged in intercourse “in the passage … at the harpsichord … downstairs … the doors are all open,” and in a coach with the coachman staring straight ahead. They became so shameless that they engaged in intercourse inside a convent and even tried to conceive a child while she denied her husband conjugal rights. Morris’s diary contains at least eighteen references to their sexual liaisons, but Morris claimed that they had made love “several hundred” times. In addition to Madame de Flahaut, Morris reported having affairs with Madame Simon, an unnamed “damsel,” Madame de Lita, Madame de Crayen, Miss Matthiesen and her “young sister,” Miss Gehrt, and Mrs. Perez Morton. According to the diary entries, he tried to seduce – or thought of doing so – Madame de Flahaut’s niece, Lady Webster, the “daughter of a Frenchman,” Madame Foucault, the daughter of his landlord, Madame de Nadaillac, Madame de Fontana, and even Dolley Madison! Everyone except Jesus sins, but the extent, duration, and brazenness of Morris’s immoral conduct must call into serious question the idea that he was a Christian. Jesus said that a tree is known by its fruit.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Quote of the day on democracy and the temptation of licenscious

"The known propensity of a democracy is to licentiousness which the ambitious call, and the ignorant believe to be liberty."

- Fisher Ames, (1758-1808), Federalist Party leader, member of Congress, and American founding father.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Brief Reply to Jon Rowe

It his last post Jon Rowe stated:

"My estimable co-blogger King of Ireland has taken issue with my claim (along with Ed Brayton, Gregg Frazer, Robert Kraynak and others) that the Bible nowhere speaks to the concept of unalienable rights, especially an unalienable right to religious and political liberty.

I think the problem between us is one of semantics, that is we need to clarify concepts and premises underlying our claims. There is a certain "literal" interpretation of the Bible which looks at what the text says on its face and cites verses and chapters of scripture as specific proof texts. The specific/literal approach, one many evangelicals are fond of following. In that sense, the Bible does not speak to unalienable rights, political or religious liberty. I've read the parts that supposedly do from cover to cover. It's an open and shut case."

I just want to ask Jon if literalism is the only valid method then where do Frazer and others get the Trinity and Original Sin from?  They are concepts some see in the Bible.  Just like rights based on imago dei. They whine when people do it and come up with interpretations they do not like but do the same themselves.  The only thing that really matters for our purposes is that both approaches are historically Christian.  Augustine was open to Genesis being an allegory for crying out loud.

Now is this being a tar baby? Or is this a valid critique of a weak argument?  So as not to be accused of the former I do not "demand" that you respond unless you want to and think it will add to the discussion. 

*Update- Jon has said that he did not mean this "tar baby" thing personally and I think I understand what he was saying. The problem is that the genie is out of the bottom and some others have taken it to  mean that the argument for rights from the Bible is equlivalent to an absurd argument made only by fools.  Here is my response down in the comments section here. I think we might need some clarification*

*The tar baby discussion continues at Best One Way*

Brief Reply to King of Ireland on the Bible & Rights

My estimable co-blogger King of Ireland has taken issue with my claim (along with Ed Brayton, Gregg Frazer, Robert Kraynak and others) that the Bible nowhere speaks to the concept of unalienable rights, especially an unalienable right to religious and political liberty.

I think the problem between us is one of semantics, that is we need to clarify concepts and premises underlying our claims. There is a certain "literal" interpretation of the Bible which looks at what the text says on its face and cites verses and chapters of scripture as specific prooftexts. The specific/literal approach, one many evangelicals are fond of following. In that sense, the Bible does not speak to unalienable rights, political or religious liberty. I've read the parts that supposedly do from cover to cover. It's an open and shut case. I'm hesitant to argue the issue further with the good King, because he can be, what Gary North has termed a "tar baby" when someone disagrees with him on an issue about which he is passionate.

After reading every single word that he and Gregg Frazer wrote on Romans 13 and rebellion this passage from North's article comes to mind:

Now, he expects you to refute him. No, he demands that you refute him. Can you refute him to his satisfaction? It would have been easier for the Pope to have persuaded Luther that he had it all wrong.

Now, if one takes a DIFFERENT interpretive approach on the Bible, I suppose you can get the concept of unalienable rights to political liberty and otherwise. It's where you take a general principle from the text -- indeed it then helps to supplement that general principle with natural law as discovered by man's reason -- and then draw specific conclusions therefrom.

In King's case it's the general principle that all humans are created in the image of God (Imago Dei) and therefore, possess inherent dignity. Note that general idea says nothing in the specific sense of unalienable rights, a right to worship freely, a right to be free from chattel slavery. But take that principle, throw in a some Aristotelian natural law as discovered by reason as a supplement. Come to your conclusions and then use that as an interpretive premise to overcome all of the many verses and chapters of the Bible which suggest that men in fact do not have a "right" to worship freely and to be free from chattel slavery and viola you have your preferred outcomes.

Me, I'm going to keep on stating the Bible does not teach the concept of unalienable rights, to political or religious liberty. And I think, at the very least, conservative evangelicals should agree with me.

David Kupelian is Not A Christian

A repost to The One Best Way here.

I don't remember if I posted this to AC, but I am going to reproduce the parts which relate to this blog's theme with commentary at the bottom:

I've studied much about religious heretics, most of them prominent Enlightenment figures like John Locke, who faced a similar dilemma: They could be, at worst, executed for their heresy. They thus had to do their best to argue publicly they weren't heretics, while peddling their heretical ideas. Hence lots of beating around the bush, talking in code, stressing common ground with the orthodox, and otherwise trying to argue for compatibility. For instance, in Locke's "The Reasonableness of Christianity" the purpose of which was for Locke to articulate what doctrines are central to Christianity, Locke leaves out original sin and the Trinity! When the orthodox confronted Locke for peddling Socinianism (denial of Trinity, belief that Jesus is 100% human, not God at all) all Locke could say was nothing in his book denies the Trinity. And he was right, by simply not discussing the Trinity he could at once not contradict either his heterodox unitarian views or the orthodox Trinitarian positions of the civil authorities. He focused on common ground. Anyone who, after reading Locke's denial, believes Locke was an orthodox Trinitarian Christian is profoundly naive.

As you see in the post, I note that Kupelian is (or very likely is) a disciple of Roy Masters a non-Trinitarian "Judeo-Christian." The orthodox view Masters, like the Mormons as a leader of a "cult." And again like the Mormons, Masters and his followers are arch-religious conservatives.

The "key Founders" -- the first 4 Presidents -- either bitterly rejected the Trinity and called themselves "unitarians" (Jefferson and J. Adams) or otherwise were not identifiably orthodox Trinitarian (Washington and Madison, who may have been "unitarian by implication" -- one scholar emailed me that term).

For a variety of reasons, everyone wants to claim the Founding, especially its religious heritage. In a strict sense, they were sui generis, that is they believed in such particular things that no one gets them.

But we can make analogies and comparisons. I know Unitarian-Universalists and religiously liberal Christian sects would like to claim the "key Founders." And in a sense they can; the key Founders were liberal Christians of their day and tended to believe in the unitarian and universalist "heresies."

But maybe the conservative heretics, the so called "cults" have good claim to the key Founders as well. After all, like Jefferson, J. Adams and others, Roy Masters and the Mormons reject the Trinity.

The folks I see as NOT being able to claim the political theology of the American Founding are the orthodox Christians, those who believe Jesus was 2nd Person in the Trinity, an Incarnate God.

"An incarnate God!!! An eternal, self-existent, omnipresent omniscient Author of this stupendous Universe, suffering on a Cross!!! My Soul starts with horror, at the Idea, and it has stupified the Christian World. It has been the Source of almost all of the Corruptions of Christianity."

-- John Adams to John Quincy Adams, March 28, 1816.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The Founders Meet Ground Zero

Storms of controversy surround the proposal to build an Islamic cultural center near Ground Zero in New York, while precincts as far away as Murfreesboro, Tennessee and Sheboyan, Kansas, have experienced public opposition to mosques entering their neighborhoods. What would the Founders say?

In an article published shortly after the terror attacks of 2001, historian and head of the Manuscript Division at the Library of Congress, James Hutson, shed light on the situation. His remarks, so different from the heated rhetoric filling today's airwaves, deserve quotation:

"Readers may be surprised to learn that there may have been hundreds, perhaps thousands, of Muslims in the United States in 1776—imported as slaves from areas of Africa where Islam flourished. Although there is no evidence that the Founders were aware of the religious convictions of their bondsmen, it is clear that the Founding Fathers thought about the relationship of Islam to the new nation and were prepared to make a place for it in the republic.

In his seminal Letter on Toleration (1689), John Locke insisted that Muslims and all others who believed in God be tolerated in England. Campaigning for religious freedom in Virginia, Jefferson followed Locke, his idol, in demanding recognition of the religious rights of the "Mahamdan," the Jew and the "pagan." Supporting Jefferson was his old ally, Richard Henry Lee, who had made a motion in Congress on June 7, 1776, that the American colonies declare independence. "True freedom," Lee asserted, "embraces the Mahomitan and the Gentoo (Hindu) as well as the Christian religion."

In his autobiography, Jefferson recounted with satisfaction that in the struggle to pass his landmark Bill for Establishing Religious Freedom (1786), the Virginia legislature "rejected by a great majority" an effort to limit the bill's scope "in proof that they meant to comprehend, within the mantle of its protection, the Jew and the Gentile, the Christian and Mahometan." George Washington suggested a way for Muslims to "obtain proper relief" from a proposed Virginia bill, laying taxes to support Christian worship. On another occasion, the first president declared that he would welcome "Mohometans" to Mount Vernon if they were "good workmen" (see page 96). Officials in Massachusetts were equally insistent that their influential Constitution of 1780 afforded "the most ample liberty of conscience … to Deists, Mahometans, Jews and Christians," a point that Chief Justice Theophilus Parsons resoundingly affirmed in 1810."

Hutson concludes: "The Founders of this nation explicitly included Islam in their vision of the future of the republic. Freedom of religion, as they conceived it, encompassed it. Adherents of the faith were, with some exceptions, regarded as men and women who would make law-abiding, productive citizens. Far from fearing Islam, the Founders would have incorporated it into the fabric of American life."

Would that our leaders today were equally wise and tolerant!

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Slavery, the Bible, and the Constitution

Or: A funny thing happened
on the way to abolition
by Tom Van Dyke

Many Americans, especially the folks whose ancestors were directly affected, are well-aware of Article 1, Section 2 of the Constitution---the nefarious Three-Fifths Compromise, where slave states counted their slaves as a "3/5 of a person" for determining their number of congressmen in the House of Representatives, and number of votes in the Electoral College.

Much less known is Article 1, Section 9, a "poison pill" for slavery in the United States:

The Migration or Importation of such Persons as any of the States now existing shall think proper to admit, shall not be prohibited by the Congress prior to the Year one thousand eight hundred and eight, but a tax or duty may be imposed on such Importation, not exceeding ten dollars for each Person.

In other words, the African slave trade could continue unmolested by Congress, but only for another 20 years. Everybody knew slavery must end someday, just not today.

And indeed, the US Congress had the bill banning the Middle Passage in place by 1807, to take effect the first day constitutionally possible, March 1, 1808, even before Great Britain's own similar and much-praised law went into effect.

Everybody knew that slavery must end someday. Just not today, but this was a start. But although the law was high on symbolism, it was short on teeth.

Let's pop in on an interesting argument from Rev. Frederick Thomas Brown from 1865:
"When, in 1787, the Constitution of the United States was adopted, there was but one opinion in the country on the subject of slavery, viz: that it was iniquitous and unprofitable; unjust to the slave, demoralizing to the master, inimical to free labor, and antagonistic to free institutions. No one thought of defending it, either from the Scriptures or on the ground of political economy. The slave States, especially, were weary of it, and lamented it as a heavy curse."


"With the acquisition of Florida in 1819, the price of slaves ran up to $800 and $1000, and slavery in the Southern States began to be regarded with decided favor; it was clearly profitable, and some Christian men were found who said, but timidly, it could be proved from the Scriptures that it was a divine institution."
The author goes on to say that "As new cotton, sugar and rice fields were opened, slaves increased in value and slavery became more and more profitable..."

So, according to Rev. Brown, it was as slavery became more and more profitable that the "Biblical arguments" went from "timid" to vociferous.

In his Notes on the State of Virginia, Thomas Jefferson famously writes in 1781 that
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 submissions on the other.
and famously continues

"Indeed I tremble for my country when [I] reflect that God is just: that his justice cannot sleep for ever: that considering numbers, nature and natural means only, a revolution of the wheel of fortune, an exchange of situation, is among possible events: that it may become probable by supernatural interference! The Almighty has no attribute which can take side with us in such a contest."

The slaveholding Jefferson makes no attempt to defend it: slavery is unjust and must end, perhaps even by the Hand of God! Someday. Just not today.

But after 80 years of "compromises" and procrastinations, that day of reckoning arrives unquietly in 1861 at Ft. Sumter, and throws the nation---an "almost chosen people"---into ruinous war. In his second inaugural address in 1865, President Lincoln, surveying the wreckage of that great civil war:
"Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God's assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men's faces, but let us judge not, that we be not judged."

Lincoln's being a just bit ironic here, I think, because the way he puts it, it sure does seem strange if not bizarre. But if we are to not judge each other, there is a higher power Who will:
"The prayers of both could not be answered. That of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes. "Woe unto the world because of offenses; for it must needs be that offenses come, but woe to that man by whom the offense cometh." If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offenses which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, He now wills to remove, and that He gives to both North and South this terrible war as the woe due to those by whom the offense came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living God always ascribe to Him?"
Jefferson's "supernatural interference"? After all, "The Almighty has no attribute which can take side with us in such a contest," that is, take the side of the defenders of slavery.
"Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman's two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said "the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether."

That's from Psalm 19:9, written some three thousand years ago. And Lincoln echoes Jefferson here as well: "Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just: that his justice cannot sleep for ever..."

The ill-gotten gains of the South lie in ruins; the blood from the lash paid back by her sons. The divine justice that made Jefferson "tremble" was done.

Perhaps there's some inner Jiminy Cricket in every human being that tells us when we are treating our fellow man justly or unjustly. And it's long been thought that man's reason is corrupt; we can talk ourselves into anything to justify our own actions, let's face it. But how can anyone who believes in the Bible think he can fool God with God's Own Word?

But I suppose Mr. Lincoln had it right in judging not, lest we judged---neither Bible folk nor "rational" people are immune to deluding themselves or trying to delude The Universe. Mr. Lincoln famously closes his address:

"With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations."

That is both wise and "Christian" in its sentiment. Both Jiminy and Jesus would approve. And if there's one thing that Jiminy, Jesus, the Psalmist, Jefferson, Lincoln agreed on, and those Founders---the Framers and Ratifiers who got Article 1 Section 9 into the Constitution---it's that justice does not sleep forever.

Gary Amos, Christian Principles, and the Secularist Straw Man

About 9 months ago, I did a post where I quoted Gary Amos as stating that the Declaration of Independence was a document of interposition. The hope of that post was to generate a discussion about how Christian thought had impacted, or not, the birth of our nation. And a discussion we did have: 9 months worth of parsing the words of Aquinas, Hooker, Locke, Calvin, and others "to death". I think it was a job well done by all.

Nonetheless, I think it is time to move forward with some of Amos's other points about the Declaration and the impact that Christian thought had on our founding. Accordingly, I would like to start with what I would call the general Evangelical argument for Christian America. An argument that I feel has been misrepresented by secularists a great deal in that it seems that many set up a straw man to knock down instead of addressing the actual argument being made. This muddies the waters and makes the quest for truth in regards to the founding and religion an elusive endeavor.

All that being stated, I give the floor to Gary Amos to lay out the argument for a Christian America in order to expose the straw man, un-muddy the waters, and bring into the light what Christian America emphatically does not mean despite protestations to the contrary:

"Now for the surprise: Hardly anyone in the colonies fit this description.{that of a Deist} No one who played a key role in the writing of the Declaration or approving it thought this way in 1776, not even Thomas Jefferson.
The "clockmaker God" idea about deism and the founding fathers was invented by teachers in the 1890's and later years to explain the religious ideas of the colonies. A small handful of the French and English philosophers in the mid-1700's had believed this way. Sloppy interpreters of American history too took that obscure European view and pasted it to the history of the American Revolution. As a device to explain the general view of the founders fathers, it is all wet.
For example, John Adams has been called a deist. He helped write the Declaration of Independence and was a key player in the American Revolution. Adams once wrote in his diary that a nation that took the Bible for its law book would be the best of nations. On another occasion he wrote: "The great and almighty author of nature; who at first established the rules which regulate the world, can as easily suspend those laws whenever his providence sees sufficient reason for such suspension. This can be no objection, then, to the miracles of Jesus Christ." Adams sometimes strongly criticized those who had used organized religion as a way to control people politically. But he was far from critical about the principles of Christianity. He thought Christian principles were the heart an the soul of the effort for nationhood and independence:
Who composed that Army of fine young fellows that was then before my Eyes? There were among them, Roman Catholics, English Episcopalians, Scotch and American Presbyterians, Methodists, Moravians, Anabaptists, German Lutherans, German Calvinists, Universalists, Arians... Deists and Atheists... Never the less all educated in the general principles of Christianity: and the general principles of English and American liberty... The general principles, on which the Fathers achieved independence, we... the general principles of Christianity.

But did not John Adams, as president, sign the Tripoli Treaty (1797) that said that the government of the United States was not in any sense founded on the Christian religion? Yes he did. But what did he mean? He meant simply that "the Christian religion" as a formal institution was not a part of the American government in the same way that the religious structures of Islam are a part of Islamic governments. From many things that Adams and his contemporaries wrote it is clear that they did not use the word religion to exclude Christian ideas or principles as some do today. True, the founders did not make institutional religion part of the government. But they never thought of excluding Christian principles.
Another example is Thomas Jefferson. He doubted the deity of Christ and the inerracy of scripture. He even railed against the abuses of organized religion, but not against Christian principles. He believed that the moral principles found in the four gospels should be the guide of every man's life. As President, Jefferson read from a collection of these principles nightly. Because he took Christian principles seriously, he was extremely troubled by the immoral practice of slavery, saying: "I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just; that his justice cannot sleep forever.... The almighty has no attribute which can side with us."
Jefferson is a notable example of how a man can be influenced by Biblical ideas and Christian principles even though he never confessed Jesus Christ as Lord in the evangelical sense.  Like most of the founders, he was very supportive of Christian principles, even going so far as to call Jesus of Nazareth "our savior" but he could never bring himself to accept the Christ of Christianity: God in the Flesh.
Must a political leader confess Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior to be able to at all accept and act on Biblical principles for government?  Many people seem to think so.  We are told that since Jefferson denied the deity of Christ, he could not have accepted any other truly Biblical ideas.  Every legal and political idea he had must, therefore, have been non-Christian. 
This sort of thinking breaks a number of rules of logic and is out of step with the Bible itself.  It is not remarkable for us to assume that Christians can easily be influenced by non-Christian ideas, but somehow non-Christians cannot be influenced by Christian ideas?  The point is, even if Jefferson had confessed Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, some would still trace his legal and political ideas to deism.  A "born again" Jefferson would not automatically mean that the Declaration contained Christian ideas.
Another more subtle claim lies just beneath the surface of such thinking. If the Declaration can only contain Biblical and Christian ideas as long as Jefferson and others confessed Christ in an evangelical way, then a Christian view of government excludes un-believers.  To have a Christian nation would require all leaders to believe in eternal redemption before they could have the slightest grasp of God's plan for civil justice.  Only Christians would be competant to do anything where civil government is concerned.
Ultimately the church would have to be merged with the state, and Christians would be in charge of the state. Rather than seeing that a government is "Biblical" or "Christian" if its laws and structures agree with what God has said about civil justice and social order, a "Christian" nation would be one where "confessing Christ" becomes the test by which a person's political and legal ideas are approved.  Such a state would be primarily concerned with salvation rather than justice. It would confuse God's redemptive plan with his creation plan." --Defending the Declaration pp. 9-11

There is a lot here but I think his main point that one does not have to be an Evangelical to see the merits of Christian politial ideas is key.  This destroys the straw man that Christian America means a nation run by Evangelical Christians. It most certainly does not mean a return to living under Mosaic law as some think.  It simply means establishing a nation based on the Christian idea of justice as a part of God's "creation plan".  Does anyone deny that this was the goal of most of the founders whether they were Evangelical or not?

Jared Sparks on British Unitarians

Another repost at The One Best Way here.

A taste from Sparks:

And Locke must still be considered a Unitarian, till he can be proved a Trinitarian ; a task, which it is not likely you will soon undertake. At all events, he had no faith in the assemblage of articles, which you denominate the essence of christianity, and without believing which, you say, no one can be called a Christian. His whole treatise on the Reasonableness of Christianity bears witness to this truth. For the leading object of that work is to show, that “the Gospel was written to induce men into a belief of this proposition, ‘that Jesus of Nazareth was the Messiah,’ which if they believed, they should have life.”* He says nothing about total depravity, the atonement, the “sanctifying spirit of an Almighty Surety,” nor any of your peculiar doctrines. Yet who has done more to elucidate the sacred Scriptures, or to prove the consistency and reasonableness of the religion of Jesus? Your rule, however, will take from him the Christian name.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Plato's Noble Lie?

In accord with the discussion about Leo Strauss and Platos's Noble Lie in the comments section of my last post, I thought I would produce this quote by Thomas Jefferson:

"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 of the gift of God? That they are not to be violated but with His wrath?"

My question is did Jefferson really believe that rights came from God or was he only concerned that the people believed this "myth" to preserve an ordered society?

The George Washington/Ashbel Green Affair

Another repost at The One Best Way here.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Robert P. Hunt on Leo Strauss III

In honor of Phil and Eli, here is one last excerpt from Robert P. Hunt's essay Christianity, Leo Strauss, and the Ancient/Modern Distinction:

"Strauss’s concern about the practical political dangers caused by (the Christian) adherence to immutable first principles of natural law arises precisely because Strauss (and, one could argue, many of those who adopt a Straussian reading of intellectual history) believes that “the guiding theme of political philosophy is the regime rather than the laws.” The fundamental questions of political life become “regime questions.” In his analysis of Plato’s Laws in What is Political Philosophy?, Strauss provides the following definition of “regime”:
Regime is the order, the form, which gives society its character.Regime is therefore a specific manner of life. Regime is the form of life as living together, the manner of living of society and in society, since this manner depends decisively on the predominance of human beings of a certain type, on the manifest domination of society by human beings of a certain type. Regime means that whole, which we today are in the habit of viewing primarily in a fragmentized form: regime means simultaneously the form of life of a society, its style of life its moral taste, form of society, form of state, form of government, spirit of laws. We may try to articulate the simple and unitary thought, that expresses itself in the term politeia, as follows: life is an activity which is directed towards such a goal as can be pursued only by society; but in order to pursue a specific goal, as its comprehensive goal, society must be organized, ordered, constructed, constituted in a manner which is in accordance with that goal; this, however, means that the authoritative human beings must be akin to that goal.14
In short, “classical political philosophy”—that form of political philosophy which Strauss most admires—“is guided by the question of the best regime.” And the best regime itself is, in principle, concerned with the comprehensive ordering of society consistent with its collective telos.15
To argue that Strauss wants merely to return to the classical model of politeia as the self-sufficient and comprehensive form of human association is to miss the point here. For example, Strauss would undoubtedly find the modern liberal regime’s commitment to religious liberty to be an improvement upon the classical view of society. Yet in his very adoption of the classical idea of “regime,” he seems to endorse at the political level what John Courtney Murray described as “a single, homogenous structure, within which the political power stood forth as the representative of society in its religious and in its political aspects.”16 Strauss’s very embrace of the question of what constitutes “the best regime” and his philosophical assumption of a conflict between reason and revelation cannot permit him—or anyone, for that matter, who commits himself to classical regime questions in the same manner as Strauss—to appreciate the extent to which a revelation—inspired worldview renders such classical regime questions largely irrelevant.
John Courtney Murray has cogently argued that Christianity has “freed man from nature by teaching him that he has an immortal soul, which is related to matter but not immersed in or enslaved to its laws. . . . It has taught him his uniqueness, his own individual worth, the dignity of his own person, the equality of all men, the unity of the human race.”17 For the committed Christian, this conception of man’s personal spiritual dignity does not sit atop the classical conception of man as a rational animal. Rather, it transforms that conception with the light of its radiance into something other than “Platonic,” “Aristotelian,” or “Kantian” Christianity. In freeing man from nature, it has rendered the most fundamental of classical regime questions largely irrelevant since no “regime” short of the Kingdom of God in its fullness can satisfy man’s thirst for heaven. In fact, the very effort to answer such a question (i.e. “What is the best regime?”) in anything resembling political terms (either “ancient” or “modern”) might be indicative of the fact that one has applied categories of political analysis more characteristic of a resident of the earthly city.
Strauss’s discomfort with any premature reconciliation of the possible truths made known through reason itself and the truths known through promulgation of the Divine Law forces him to “distinguish” political philosophy from political theology. “By political theology we understand political teachings which are based on divine revelation. Political philosophy is limited to what is accessible to the unassisted human mind.” Moreover, “political philosophy rests on the premise that the political association—one’s country or one’s nation—is the most comprehensive or the most authoritative association.” 18
Why one should base one’s political philosophy on any such premise Strauss does not answer fully, but it does provide insight into his distinction between “ancients” and “moderns.” Ancient political philosophers defined “the best regime” as one in which moral virtue was promoted and the hierarchy of natures within human nature itself was given its due; modern political philosophers lowered man’s sights and grounded “the best regime” in man’s passions, self-interest, and some conception of human equality. In other words, the fundamental shift in political philosophy for Strauss is a shift in what characterizes the best regime. For Strauss, to begin from the revelation-inspired premise that any effort to define the most comprehensive or authoritative association in political terms is itself impious is to be untrue to the goals of political philosophy, whether ancient or modern.
Christian political philosophers need not accept Strauss’s charge precisely because, unlike Strauss, they do not assume that reason and revelation are in conflict with each other. Rather, they begin from a contrary premise, laid out eloquently by Etienne Gilson:

If we admit, as we really should, that the miracles, the prophecies, the marvelous effects of the Christian religion sufficiently prove the truth of revealed religion, then we must admit that there can be no contradiction between faith and reason. . . . When a master instructs his disciple, his own knowledge must include whatever he would introduce into the soul of his disciple. Now our natural knowledge of principles comes from God, since He is author of our nature. These principles themselves are also contained in the wisdom of God. Whence it follows that whatever is contrary to these principles is contrary to the divine wisdom and, consequently, cannot come from God. There must necessarily be agreement between a reason coming from God and a revelation coming from God. Let us say, then, that faith teaches truths which seem contrary to reason; let us not say that it teaches propositions contrary to reason. . . . Let us rest assured that apparent incompatibility between faith and reason is similarly reconciled in the infinitewisdom of God.19
Gilson’s account of the reasonable basis for assuming a fundamental compatibility between faith and reason reflects the view of St. Thomas Aquinas, whose main point, as Gilson notes, was “not to safeguard the autonomy of philosophy as a purely rational knowledge; rather, it was to explain how natural philosophy can enter into theology without destroying its unity.”20 By seeing the Divine as “infinite wisdom,” St. Thomas—as well as those Christian philosophers who follow in his footsteps—renders such an explanation less problematic. By construing the Divine primarily as supreme lawgiver, Strauss actually seems to adopt a more voluntaristic view of revelation-inspired norms, thus making his desire to protect the autonomy of philosophy against the incursions of political theology more understandable. At the same time, however, it leads the careful reader to wonder precisely whata purely autonomous natural (as opposed to political) philosophy—as Strauss understands that term—can tell us about the nature of things.
The Christian philosopher begins with an assumption that the universe is intelligible, Strauss with the assumption that “philosophy is essentially not possession of the truth, but quest for the truth. The distinctive trait of the philosopher is that ‘he knows that he knows nothing,’ and that his insight into our ignorance concerning the most important things induces him to strive with all his power for knowledge.”21 Whether a purely autonomous natural philosophy can take us anywhere beyond the acknowledgement that there are important questions to be asked is a question that Strauss leaves unanswered."

There is, once again, a lot to unpack here.  Nonetheless, the part that jumped out to me was that "Christian" and "Non-Christian" philosophers come to what both would see as ageless questions with two different sets of assumptions.  The former assumes that the universe is intelligible and the latter that "he knows that he knows nothing."  The question, for our purposes, is which approach the founders took?  Unless I am missing something, I think almost all of them came to the table with the same assumptions as the former group.

George Washington's Navy

In late 1775, as the fires of revolution and war were becoming hotter with each passing day, General George Washington commissioned two small schooners (named "Lynch" and "Franklin"), to patrol in and around Boston Harbor. Their mission: to harass the British whenever possible. Obviously this was no small task, being that the British had sent over 200 fully equipped warships to America. Obviously 2 small boats weren't going to present any major threat to the mighty British navy!

Yet despite this obvious disadvantage, Washington insisted on creating and maintaining this puny armada. The small "fleet" of ships, which eventually grew to include four additional boats, were officially commissioned by General Washington as the first "armed Vessels" of the "United Colonies of North America." In essence, this small fleet of ships became America's first Navy.

Washington himself financed the six-ship fleet out of his own pocket. Knowing that this small rabble of a Navy could never stand up to the mighty arm of the British, Washington requested that a unique banner be flown by each of these six ships. At the General's request, his navy adopted a "white flag, with a green pine tree, and the inscription, 'An Appeal to Heaven.'" In addition, Washington ordered that all crewmen of these ships be dressed in a green and white uniform.

Interestingly enough, this fleet lasted throughout the duration of the Revolutionary War, carrying out a diverse number of assignments and playing a number of different roles in the process. In addition, the "Washington Navy" became a symbol of pride for those who favored the revolution. The "Appeal To Heaven" served as a powerful rallying cry that embodied the sentiments of many who supported the "cause of liberty." In a very real sense, "An Appeal to Heaven" was every bit as important to the rhetoric of the American Revolution as was, "No taxation without representation" or "Don't Tread on Me." No wonder why Washington chose to use it for his navy!

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

The Most Religious State in America is...

So this post may not relate directly to our blog's theme but I still think it's worth posting.

Historian Paul Harvey of the Religion in American History blog (and my former grad school professor) has posted the results of a very interesting Gallup Survey on the importance that each state's citizens place on religion in their daily lives. The survey was actually very simple. Respondents were asked one fundamental question: "Is Religion an important part of your daily life?" The results are quite interesting. Here are the top 10 states that responded favorably to the question:
Mississippi: 85%
Alabama: 82%
South Carolina: 80%
Tennessee: 79%
Louisiana: 78%
Arkansas: 78%
Georgia: 76%
North Carolina: 76%
Oklahoma: 75%
Kentucky: 74%
Texas: 74%
What's fascinating about this study, as Dr. Harvey points out, is that the median score is quite high: at 65%. From the Gallup Poll:
And, although there is a wide range in the self-reported importance of religion, from a high of 85% for residents of Mississippi to a low of 42% for residents of Vermont, the distribution of religiosity by state takes the shape of a bell-shaped curve, clustered around the overall nationwide mean of 65%. Twenty-three of the 50 states and District of Columbia are in the range of 60% to 70% saying religion is important.
In addition, it's important to note how geography comes into play. Obviously the majority of the high ranking states lie in the south, as is illustrated in the following map from this same Gallup poll:

And here is a more detailed map (from a much earlier study not related to this Gallup poll) that breaks down where certain denominations are strongest:

One can't help but wonder how important of a role the social and cultural factors of a particular region play in determining the religion of a particular geographic area. Take for example this map of the United States prior to the Civil War:

And it doesn't look like a whole lot has changed. Even our voting trends are dramatically impacted by geography. This 2008 electoral map provides at least some insight into how geography can shape our views:

So what are we to make of this? That probably depends on who you ask. In my opinion, this Gallup poll (and the other studies/maps mentioned) prove that religion is still a very intimate, localized, and highly influential factor for most Americans. It can (and does) define our politics, our biases and our future. But most of all, I believe it shows just how diverse we are, and perhaps that is our greatest strength of all.

Or our greatest weakness as well?