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.
Tuesday, August 30, 2011
Rodda on Franklin, Farting and Afghanistan
John Locke's Christianity
Whether Locke was a "Christians" depends on how that term defines. If it means Jesus was 2nd Person in the Trinity and the Bible is inerrant or infallible, Locke was not provably Christian (and I doubt he was under this definition).
If it means Jesus was Messiah (regardless of whether he was 2nd Person in the Trinity) and the Bible is, in some sense, God speaking to man, then yes, John Locke was a "Christian."
Locke is important because if modern liberal democracy is to have any kind of Christian political theology, it is of the Lockean understanding. I have some controversial and modest ideas on modern liberal democratic political theology. The more controversial thesis is American political theology is "not Christian." The more modest is the notion that the "rational Christian" political theology of the American Founding is not only non-Trinitarian, but non-creedal. The Bible may be, in some sense, God speaking to man, and Jesus the Messiah, but the stuff of creeds (that Jesus is 2nd Person in the Trinity, the eternally begotten Son of the Father, while being God Himself, that "these" are the exact books of the biblical canon) is fluff.
You may think Jesus is the 2nd Person in the Trinity because the Bible says so. And you are entitled to your "opinion." But "rational Christian" political theology consigns that notion to the realm of "opinion" not "knowledge." And "rational Christian" political theology traces to Locke.
Update. Here is Locke's exact quote where he denies Christ's satisfaction for sin:
If you will have the Truth of it, Sir, there is not any such Word in any one of the Epistles, or other Books of the New Testament, in my Bible, as Satisfying or Satisfaction made by our Saviour, and so I could not put it into my Christianity as delivered in the Scripture. If mine be not a true Bible, I desire you to furnish me with one that is more Orthodox; or if the Translators have bid that main Article of the Christian. Religion, they are the Betrayers of Christianity, and Condemners of the Epistles, who did not put it there; and not I, who did not take a Word from thence, which they did not put there. For truly, I am not a Maker of Creeds; nor dare add either to the Scripture, or to the Fundamental Articles of the Christian Religion.
Wednesday, August 24, 2011
Americanism is Getting to David Barton
Brannon Howse: Aired August 23, 2011
Glenn Beck and David Barton are in Israel for the “Restoring Courage” rally. Topic One: Brannon plays an audio of Barton saying Beck is a Christian even though Beck admits he is a Mormon. Topic Two: In Israel, Beck introduces Barton as a Christian that has accepted him and his chosen path of Mormonism. Topic Three: In Israel Beck speaks of the need to know God and see His face. Beck says we are entering the age of miracles of God. What god; the Mormon god? Topic Four: Barton speaks at the rally in Israel and speaks of the God they are worshipping at the event. Would that be the Mormon god or the God of the Bible? The problem is that Barton and Beck both are talking about God but Mormons and Christians do not worship the same God. Barton also speaks about the Jews giving birth to a monotheistic religion which is a bit odd to bring up since his friend Beck is a Mormon and Mormons are polytheistic and believe in millions of gods. ...
Tuesday, August 23, 2011
Washington letter gets annual reading at Touro Synagogue
Monday, August 22, 2011
Sunday, August 21, 2011
James Otis: Abolitionist
Such is the case with one James Otis. I have written about James Otis before in a post explaining his views on the laws of nature and rebellion to authority, but today want to focus on his views regarding race; views which were, in many respects, very ahead of their time.
Though not a common citizen, Otis' legacy is often shrouded by the contributions of those that fought in the ranks of the Continental Army during the American Revolution. Otis was not a warrior. He never fought for independence (in fact, Otis was quite reluctant to break from Great Britain). Yet Otis was undoubtedly one of the first influential voices of the American Revolution. Aside from his protests against the British, Otis was also a powerful voice against slavery. Throughout his life, Otis wrote some of the most stirring arguments against "the peculiar institution", most of which were very unpopular in 18th century America. For example, in a 1764 pamphlet Otis wrote:
Does it follow that 'tis right to enslave a man because he is black? Will short curled hair like wool instead of Christian hair, as tis called by those whose hearts are as hard as the nether millstone, help the argument? Can any logical inference in favor of slavery be drawn from a flat nose, a long or a short face? Nothing better can be said in favor of a trade that is the most shocking violation of the law of nature, has a direct tendency to diminish the idea of the inestimable value of liberty, and makes every dealer in it a tyrant, from the director of an African company to the petty chapman in needles and pins on the unhappy coast. It is a clear truth that those who every day barter away other men's liberty will soon care little for their own.John Adams recalled Otis speaking against slavery even earlier, during his argument against the writs of assistance in 1761. Adams recalled the occasion this way:
He asserted that these rights were inherent and inalienable. That they never could be surrendered or alienated but by idiots or madmen and all the acts of idiots and lunatics were void and not obligatory, by all the laws of God and man. Nor were the poor Negroes forgotten. Not a Quaker in Philadelphia or Mr. Jefferson in Virginia ever asserted the rights of Negroes in stronger terms. Young as I was and ignorant as I was, I shuddered at the doctrine he taught...In other words, many of the great "key" founders couldn't speak as brilliantly on the issue of slavery as James Otis...probably because none of them wanted to bother. Keeping Blacks in their place was an easier task than to recognize their God-given rights to "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness."
Remembering Otis as a pioneer for the later abolitionists who would follow in his footsteps should not be forgotten. When dressed in this light, Otis' legacy and contributions become every bit as important as those of the men that fought on the battlefield. Though not considered a "key" founder, I find Otis' views regarding abolition to be pretty much "in key" with the ideology of the American founding.
Thursday, August 18, 2011
Staloff on the notion of a Christian Founding
"Moreover, it is important to point out that a country founded by and for Christians does not a Christian founding make. The “real whig” ideology that inspired the colonial protest movement of the 1760s drew on classical and early modern rather than Christian sources; there is very little scriptural authority for the maxim “no taxation without representation.” Similarly, the doctrines of mixed and balanced government, the separation of powers, and all the other principles of prudential politics association with the Federal Constitution were drawn from the writings of European philosophers rather than biblical prophets or exegetes."
I’ve made a similar point in the past. Now I’ll suggest that perhaps he and I miss the mark in a certain respect. Representation, balanced government, and the like are indeed “prudential politics” as Staloff says (and I recently argued in another comments section). Whereas private rights (life, liberty, and estate) are moral imperatives. They are the political principles that correct government seeks (by prudential means) to achieve.
We should expect that both religious and secular ethical doctrines weigh-in on the purpose of government (unalienable rights) while political science discovers the prudential means to “secure these rights”. Thus, it may be unfair to demand that religion or natural law mandate “checks and balances” or the correct form of “representation.”
I wonder if we can reduce the question “is America’s founding Christian or not” to the question of individual rights: derived from religion or not? Of course, this makes the Lockean liberal principles the foundation of the republic’s founding and not a res publica. Not everyone will agree with me on that. Comments?
Darren Staloff on Deism
Most English deists downplayed the tensions between their rational theology and that of traditional Christianity. Anthony Collins clamed that “freethinking” in religion was not only a natural right but also a biblically enjoined duty. Matthew Tindal, the author of Christianity as Old as the Creation (1730)—the “Bible of Deism”—argued that the religion of nature was recapitulated in Christianity, and the purpose of the Christian revelation was to free men from superstition. Tindal insisted that he was a Christian deist, as did Thomas Chubb who revered Christ as a divine moral teacher but held that reason, not faith, was the final arbiter of religious belief. How seriously to take these claims has been a matter of intense and prolonged debate. Deism was proscribed by law after all; the Toleration Act of 1689 had specifically excluded all forms of anti-trinitarianism as well as Catholicism. Even in an age of increasing toleration, flaunting one’s heterodoxy could be a dangerous affair, driving many authors into esotericism if not outright deception. When Thomas Woolston attacked the scriptural accounts of miracles and the doctrine of the resurrection, he was fined one hundred pounds sterling and sentenced to one year in prison. Certainly, some deists adopted a materialistic determinism that smacked of atheism. Others, like Collins, Bolingbroke, and Chubb, questioned the immortality of the soul. Even more challenging was the propensity to ascribe the supernatural elements of the Christian religion to “priestcraft,” the cunning deceptions of clergymen who gulled their ignorant flocks by throwing the pixie dust of “mystery” in their eyes. The Dudleian lecture, endowed by Paul Dudley in 1750, is the oldest endowed lecture at Harvard University. Dudley specified that the lecture should be given once a year, and that the topics of the lectures should rotate among four themes: natural religion, revealed religion, the Romish church, and the validity of the ordination of ministers. The first lecture was given in 1755, and it continues to the present day.On the other hand, the rational theology of the deists had been an intrinsic part of Christian thought since Thomas Aquinas, and the argument from design was trumpeted from Anglophone Protestant pulpits of most denominations on both sides of the Atlantic. In fact, Harvard instituted a regular series of lectures on natural religion in 1755. Even anti-clericalism had a fine pedigree among dissenting English Protestants since the Reformation. And it is not inconceivable that many deists might have seen themselves as the culmination of the Reformation process, practicing the priesthood of all believers by subjecting all authority, even that of scripture, to the faculty of reason that God had given humanity.
New Dispatches From the Culture Wars & Freethought Blogs
Also check out Chris Rodda's site at Freethought blogs entitled "This Week In Christian Nationlism."
Tuesday, August 16, 2011
More on Loyalism
See also Brian Tubbs' discussion at AC a little while back. And my follow up.
A few things I plan on looking into in the future: Hamilton tries to poison Seabury's well by associating his thoughts with Hobbes' and then cites a number of philosophers -- Grotius, Puffendorf, Locke, Montesquieu, and Burlemaqui -- who believed in "the law of nature" that supposedly contradicted the Farmer's position. Or at least, they contradict Hobbes' supposed atheistic absolutist notions. I haven't seen anything approaching a consensus among natural law philosophers showing they would have taken America's side against the British. I've looked into Aquinas' teachings on when laws and the authorities behind them may be resisted and I've found a very complicated, nuanced positions with lots of twists and turns. Anglicans like the Rev. Seabury accepted the authority of Richard Hooker (the Anglican heir to Aquinas); so it would be interesting to see if Hooker staked an explicit position on the matter.
In The Farmer Refuted, after trying to poison Seabury with Hobbes' well, Hamilton admits that the good Rev. was not, like Hobbes, an atheist. But that begs the question, was Hobbes really an atheist? I think it helps not to necessarily believe anything you've heard others claim about what a philosopher really thought (especially an enemy of the philosopher's teachings) but rather to read the philosopher himself. Hamilton apparently had a habit of wrongly accusing his political enemies of atheism as he did with Jefferson. Locke too was called an atheist. As far as I have seen, Hobbes, Locke, and Rousseau, all three self identified as Christians. All three likewise posited novel, controversial -- "modern" -- theories which might have lead traditional religious and political authorities to balk with, "atheist!", "deist!", or some other term of opprobrium.
I also wonder whether by attempting to poison the Farmer's well with Hobbesean atheism, Hamilton didn't grossly misrepresent what the Farmer wrote or meant by what he wrote. This is the passage with which Hamilton takes issue:
I wish you had explicitly declared to the public your ideas of the natural rights of mankind. Man in a state of nature may be considered as perfectly free from all restraints of law and government: And then the weak must submit to the strong. From such a state, I confess, I have a violent aversion. I think the form of government we lately enjoyed a much more eligible state to live in: And cannot help regretting our having lost it, by the equity, wisdom, and authority of the Congress, who have introduced in the room of it, confusion and violence; where all must submit to the power of a mob.
To which Hamilton replies:
The first thing that presents itself is a wish, that “I had, explicitly, declared to the public my ideas of the natural rights of mankind. Man, in a state of nature (you say), may be considered as perfectly free from all restraint of law and government; and then, the weak must submit to the strong.”
I shall, henceforth, begin to make some allowance for that enmity you have discovered to the natural rights of mankind. For, though ignorance of them, in this enlightened age, cannot be admitted as a sufficient excuse for you, yet it ought, in some measure, to extenuate your guilt. If you will follow my advice, there still may be hopes of your reformation. Apply yourself, without delay, to the study of the law of nature. I would recommend to your perusal, Grotius, Puffendorf, Locke, Montesquieu, and Burlemaqui. I might mention other excellent writers on this subject; but if you attend diligently to these, you will not require any others.
There is so strong a similitude between your political principles and those maintained by Mr. Hobbes, that, in judging from them, a person might very easily mistake you for a disciple of his. His opinion was exactly coincident with yours, relative to man in a state of nature. He held, as you do, that he was then perfectly free from all restraint of law and government. Moral obligation, according to him, is derived from the introduction of civil society; and there is no virtue but what is purely artificial, the mere contrivance of politicians for the maintenance of social intercourse. But the reason he ran into this absurd and impious doctrine was, that he disbelieved the existence of an intelligent, superintending principle, who is the governor, and will be the final judge, of the universe.
As you sometimes swear by Him that made you, I conclude your sentiments do not correspond with his in that which is the basis of the doctrine you both agree in; and this makes it impossible to imagine whence this congruity between you arises. To grant that there is a Supreme Intelligence who rules the world and has established laws to regulate the actions of His creatures, and still to assert that man, in a state of nature, may be considered as perfectly free from all restraints of law and government, appears, to a common understanding, altogether irreconcilable.
While it's true that the Farmer's view of the "state of nature" is closer to Hobbes', it in no way follows that this Hobbes like view of the state of nature is predicated on atheism (in which, again, Reverend Seabury did not believe). If anything, Hobbes' harsh view of the state of nature is closer to the traditional Christian doctrine of man's sinful nature. Indeed closer to Calvin's view of man as having a depraved nature. Locke's more cheery view of the state of nature was, if anything more modern and enlightened. And Hamilton recognizes this when he chastises the Farmer for not being up with "this enlightened age."
Did Hamilton Misuse Blackstone?
Blackstone did invoke the natural law. England operated in an Anglican context and that church incorporated the natural law in its teachings. They inherited the natural law from their Roman Catholic roots. Richard Hooker was the preeminent Anglican natural law scholar whose work would have been most authoritative for traditional Anglicans (even John Locke nodded his cap to wise Hooker).
However, Blackstone was an Tory who argued for the doctrine of absolute supremacy of the law of England. Of Parliament's power, he famously noted:
It can, in short, do every thing that is not naturally impossible; and therefore some have not scrupled to call it's power, by a figure rather too bold, the omnipotence of parliament. True it is, that what they do, no authority upon earth can undo.
As Gary North acutely observed: "Blackstone was wrong: beginning eleven years later, the American colonies undid a lot of what Parliament had done."
This thorny dilemma persists today. Scholars disagree on 1. whether natural law exists and should inform the content of positive law; 2. whether the principles of the Declaration of Independence accurately represent traditional natural law, or whether they are something more enlightened and modern; and 3. whether the natural law of the Declaration of Independence is "justiciable."
Time forbids me from discussing all three in this post. But let us focus on 3. Justice Scalia, because he rejects the Declaration of Independence as justiciable in American law has been hammered by Harry Jaffa and his followers for being a "legal positivist." Scalia is a devout Roman Catholic and I've seen him on record, unsurprisingly, claiming to believe in the natural law (which devout Roman Catholics do). Scalia need not answer whether he believes the Declaration of Independence's natural law accords with that recognized by the Church; American courts, according to Scalia, have no business using any conception of the natural law to decide cases and controversies or nullify actions of other branches of government. If natural law is to inform policy issues, that's the legislature's job. (And among conservative Catholic jurists, Scalia is by no means alone in his approach.)
And that's because some legal body must have the final say over how to interpret and implement natural law. Under a Blackstonian framework, it was Parliament. So it could be that 1. Hamilton was just wrong; what Great Britain did, did not violate the natural law and America had no business on natural legal grounds to disobey. OR, 2. even if Hamilton et al. were right, they still had no business disobeying British rule because some legal body has to have the final say over how to implement the natural law into governing law and under Blackstone's conception, again, it was Parliament.
Perhaps this is why Hamilton cites other natural law thinkers who may not have viewed things exactly as Blackstone did. This is not to say I have a problem with America's Founders clever, revisionist use of Blackstone this way. But let's see it for what it is: They took his principles, tweaked them a bit, and applied them to achieve results that Blackstone would neither have expected or approved of. This is Whig history 101.
Monday, August 15, 2011
Alexander Hamilton, William Blackstone and the nature of government
The core of Hamilton's argument in The Farmer Refuted centers around divinely-given natural law as the core of human obligation to one another. This natural law, since it comes from God, is not dependent on human government or human institutions for its validity, but instead stands as judge over human laws and customs. Hamilton cites as his authority for this point not the Bible or any of the classical or scholastic writers who discuss natural law, but rather William Blackstone, the great compiler of the principles of English law. He does this, of course, to ground his point in the firm soil of the English Constitution -- to demonstrate that his point is not some radical notion but rather is part of the traditional approach to law and morality that under girded the British Empire itself. The natural law defends the rights of Americans as much as the rights of Englishmen because, as Hamilton quotes Blackstone, "It is binding over all the globe, in all countries, and at all times."
After his citation of Blackstone, young Hamilton then began to build an argument about the nature of government. Since God creates human beings and sustained them, the rights of human beings are dependent upon God's natural law. Understood by reason, which is itself a gift of the Creator, natural law allows human beings to "discern and pursue such things as were consistent with [their] duty and interest." Critically, natural law gives to each person "an inviolable right to personal liberty and personal safety." In the absence of government, no person has the right "to deprive another of his life, limbs, property, or liberty," or to command another person under obedience. The one exception to this latter point, in Hamilton's view, regards the natural ties of family.
Striking directly at the British claim to be able to govern by right other than consent, Hamilton then applies these principles to the notion of government's origin. "[T]he origin of all civil government, justly established," Hamilton proclaims, "must be a voluntary compact between the rulers and the ruled." In such a compact, the power of government is limited in order to secure the "absolute rights" of the people. No pedigree can substitute for the consent of the governed, "what original title can any man, or set of men, have to govern others, except for their own consent?" To assume such power, "to usurp domination," is to break God's natural law, and thus renders such an assumption invalid. The people have, in Hamilton's words, "no obligation to obedience" in such a situation.
Hamilton concludes this portion of his argument with another quote from Blackstone, book-ending, as it were, his position on the necessity of consent of the governed with the authority of the great expositor of the English legal system.
The principal aim of society is to protect individuals in the enjoyment of those absolute rights which were vested in them by the immutable laws of nature, but which could not be preserved in peace without that mutual assistance and intercourse which is gained by the institution of friendly and social communities. Hence it follows, that the first and primary end of human laws is to maintain and regulate these absolute rights of individuals.With that, Hamilton expressed in detail the fundamental principles about God, natural law and government by consent that would later be used by Jefferson at the beginning of the Declaration of Independence. While Jefferson's formulation of those principles is well-known, Hamilton's earlier, more precise and grounded formulation of those same principles deserves greater appreciation by Americans and all those concerned with human liberty & limited government.
[Cross posted at my own blog, Ordered Liberty.]
Saturday, August 13, 2011
Trenchard & Gordon on Religion
It's debatable whether America knew the "true" (perhaps heterodox) Locke. And Priestley and Price weren't popular among the masses, but rather influenced various elites in important positions of power (they greatly influenced J. Adams, Jefferson, and Franklin).
Thomas Gordon & John Trenchard's works were more popularly read in America. They posited something which most (if not every) of the above mentioned figures endorsed -- an idea of "primitive Christianity," that is Christianity before it got corrupted by clerics and creeds.
Trenchard and Gordon's "test" for what is "Christianity" seems close to John Locke's (who certainly influenced them). There are two elements, one belief in the Bible as God's divinely inspired word and two Jesus as Messiah and son of God. Nothing contained in a creed is necessary. In fact, ecclesiastical authority and official creeds tend to be hated in this kind of Christianity. Roman Catholicism is enemy number one. High church Anglicanism is enemy number two. But again, the notion of creedalism itself is rejected.
Anti-creedalism is something I've discovered quite common among America's Founders. Not just the "key Founders" like the first four Presidents and Ben Franklin, but also figures like Benjamin Rush and John Jay. We might term this kind of Christianity, "freethinking Christianity" that contrasts with the more conservative "creedal Christianity." Where Protestantism meets Enlightenment, the freethinkers wanted to read the Bible for themselves and determine what it meant. The Bible clearly refers to Jesus as Son of the God and Savior of man. But does it clearly teach the Trinity?
The freethinking Christians say no. Indeed, I realize a lot of Sola Scriptura Protestants claim they get the Trinity from the Bible alone. However, if you research church history and experience, you'll see, almost without exception these churches likewise embrace orthodox creeds like the Athanasian, Nicene, Apostles, because they realize freethinkers reading the Bible for themselves will NOT necessarily conclude that it clearly teaches the Trinity. Therefore those creeds are necessary just to make clear THIS is how we interpret the Bible.
Trenchard and Gordon are exhibit A.
As they wrote Wednesday, April 6. 1720:
But whilst [the clergy] were thus carrying on their Project for Dominion, they found it necessary to throw out a Barrel to the Whale, and keep the People’s Minds busied, and their Passions afloat, with Metaphysical Subtilties and Distinctions, of no Use to true Religion and Morality, though very conducive to their own ambitious tyrannical Designs.
I would gladly know, from these Reverend Venders of Trifles, Whether it would have been worth the Thousandth Part of the Combustion which has been made, or the Blood which has been spilt, only to have settled a few Speculations, if they could have been settled? Pray where is the essential Difference between Transubstantiation, Consubstantiation, and the RealPresence? What the Consequence, whether a Child be baptized by one sort of Priests, or by another? Or of what Use to Mankind are the abstruse Questions about Predestination, Free-Will, or Free-Grace? What is the Difference, as to the Duties or Ordinances of Christianity, if they be administred under the Direction of a single Person, a Bench of Bishops, or a Lower House of Convocation, or none of them all, so they be piously administred? Or whether the chimerical Line of Succession be broken, or ever had a Being?
Since ’tis agreed amongst all our present Sects of Christians, that the Saviour of the World is the Son of God, descended from Heaven to teach Virtue and Goodness to Men, and to die for our Redemption; how are we concerned in the Scholastic Notions of the Trinity? Will the Scripture be more regarded, or the Precepts of it be better observed, if the Three Persons are believed to be Three Divine distinct Spirits and Minds, who are so many real subsisting Persons? Whether the Son and Holy-Ghost are Omnipotent of themselves, or are subordinate, and dependent on the Father? Or, if they are independent, whether their Union consist in a mutual Consciousness of one another’s Thoughts and Designs, or in any thing else? Whether they are Three Attributes of God, viz. Goodness, Wisdom and Power? Or Three internal Acts, viz. Creation, Redemption and Sanctification? Or Two internal Acts of the One subsisting Person of the Father; that is to say, the Father understanding and willing himself and his own Perfections? Or Three internal Relations, namely, the Divine Substance and Godhead confidered as Unbegotten, Begotten, and Proceeding? Or Three Names of God ascribed to him in Holy Scripture, as he is Father of all Things, as he did inhabit in an extraordinary Manner in the Man Jesus Christ, and as he effected every thing by his Spirit, or his Energy and Power? Or lastly, Whether the Three Persons are only Three Beings, but what sort of Beings we neither know, nor ought to pretend to know? which I take to be the Trinity of the Mob, as well as of some other wiser Heads.
As far as I can remember, these are the important Questions which have set Mankind together by the Ears, for so many Ages; and it seems are yet thought of Consequence enough to create new Feuds, and mortal Dudgeon, amongst all our Sects of Ecclesiastics. But why must we of the Laity quarrel about them too? What have Beaux and Belles, old Women, Coblers, and Milk-Maids, to do with Homo-ousios, Consubstantiality, Personality, HypostaticalUnion, Infinite Satisfaction, &c.? none of which hard Words, or any like them, are to be found in Scripture; and therefore, I think, we may even return them to Rome, that being the Place from whence they came, and be contented to be good Christians without them.
Something else we see here is the notion that orthodox Trinitarianism itself, or at minimum many of doctrines which exist in orthodox creeds and confessions, becomes associated with Roman Catholic fabrication.
Is it because they are not Trinitarians?
I've followed the "Mormons are not Christians, but they call themselves Christians" issue and related it back to America's Founding, for some time. (If you have to believe in the Trinity to be a Christian, our 2nd and 3rd Presidents militantly rejected that doctrine, even though they called themselves Christians, and the evidence that the first and fourth Presidents were Trinitarians sorely lacks.)
So as Mitt Romney again throws his hat in the Presidential race, this theme will occur here again.
This time it's a hard core Roman Catholic, as opposed to a conservative evangelical who normally makes this claim, of the problem with a Mormon who claims to be Christian running for President:
"Note that I’m not in principle opposed to voting for polytheists. I could see, for example, voting for a pro-life Hindu over a pro-abortion monotheist. But a Hindu does not claim to be a Christian and thus does not risk confusing people about the core doctrine of Christianity the way Mormonism does,"...
Friday, August 12, 2011
Krauthammer & Me: The American Constitution Works
"Of all the endlessly repeated conventional wisdom in today’s Washington, the most lazy, stupid, and ubiquitous is that our politics is broken. On the contrary. Our political system is working well (I make no such claims for our economy), indeed, precisely as designed — profound changes in popular will translated into law that alters the nation’s political direction.
The process has been messy, loud, disputatious, and often rancorous. So what? In the end, the system works. Exhibit A is Wisconsin. Exhibit B is Washington itself."
I often read prescriptions for "reforming" the federal structure framed by James Madison, et al., usually tending more toward popular democracy and/or the parliamentary system.
Yet our House of Representatives, with its 2-year terms, already incorporates the best feature of parliamentary democracy, government responsiveness and accountability to popular sentiment.
But, as states with term limits have learned, a revolving door of wave-riders and dilettantes is no way to run a government. Enter the Senate:
Madison in the Federalist Papers, #62, learning from the great republics of Carthage, Sparta and Rome [explained in #63] that "The necessity of a senate is not less indicated by the propensity of all single and numerous assemblies to yield to the impulse of sudden and violent passions."
Hoo, boy, did Mr. Madison get that one right. A parliamentary system would have swept a Tea Party government into power in 2010. The Senate, and its slow turnover with 6-year terms per Madison was the only thing that held it in check, since a parliamentary system would also have swept in a Chief Executive with zero inclination to exercise his veto on anything they legislated.
Opponents of "gridlock" ought to thank their stars just about now.
To federalism---the sharing of power with the states: Up in Wisconsin we are witnessing the results of states as "the laboratories of democracy.” New governor Scott Walker arguably moved too fast along Tea Party lines versus the public unions. However, his Democrat opponents---in a state that Barack Obama carried @ 56%---used Wisconsin's recall laws to put Walker's impetuousness to the electoral test, but failed to refudiate him. Something's going on in Wisconsin that the people like, or don't hate enough to halt it.
Further, in 2006 then-Gov. Mitt Romney responded the will of the Massachusettsean people to "do something" about rising healthcare costs. Hence Romneycare, which either failed or worked depending on who you ask. [Note to self: insert links here. Self: Oh, let 'em google it for themselves. Most and the best of yr gentle readers are already up on it anyway. These are smart people. And the rest don't care about facts anyway.]
Regardless, it was entirely proper for any governor of Massachusetts [the only state that voted for George McGovern in 1972] to be responsive to the will of its people, which was to seek a government solution. Hey, by some, many or most accounts, it works all over the Western World. Worth a try.
I do think the republic as planned over 200 years ago works---a combination of brilliance and sure, of luck. Our House has its thumb on the pulse of popular sentiment and new developments, a Senate to chill them down, and the states to give innovations a dry run on the smaller scale.
In that chokingly hot summer statehouse of Pennsylvania in 1787, with the doors and windows closed so no one outside could hear, Mr. Madison & The Framers done OK.
Next up: The Electoral College. Heh heh.
Thursday, August 11, 2011
"Rational Christianity": A Contribution of Medieval Political Thought (via 3rdWAVElands)
Monday, August 8, 2011
Intratextualism and "Religion" During the American Founding
Here is a comment I left:
I’ve studied the “religion” at the time of the framing in detail from the perspective of “political theology,” and the issue certainly applies.
The First Amendment says
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;
And Art. VI Cl. 3 of the unamended Constitution says
no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.
So we’ve got “religion” and “religious” as in “religious test.” It probably would be proper to define "religion" as having the same meaning in both clauses, but as a matter of logic we MUST define “religion” in the EC and FEC as having the same meaning because the term is used only once and “thereof” in the FEC relates back to “religion” in the EC. It’s like a Siamese twin that shares the same heart.
The reason I say this is, perhaps because they misunderstand a quotation of Joseph Story, some Christian Nationalists have argued either 1. “Religion” in the First Amendment meant “Christianity” only (this claim is wrong but at least it avoids the problem of logical construction where “religion” in the EC and FEC are given two different meanings) OR 2. Whereas Free Exercise was meant to apply universally the EC somehow only protected or privileged “Christianity.” This claim is wrong as a matter of simple logic. If one can prove “religion” had a particular free exercise clause meaning, it automatically applies to the establishment clause and vice versa. (And yes, there is a great deal of evidence that the Founders meant what they said: “religion” means “religion” not “Christianity”).
Saturday, August 6, 2011
Rick Perry's Christian America
Of course, it was overtly and annoyingly Christian to some and many people, Perry invoking Jesus Christ and Christian theology and all that, but it's not without precedent. In fact, President Obama did so just this year, asserting the Resurrection as historical fact [!]:
“I wanted to host this [event] for a simple reason,” announced the president to a White House stocked with some of America’s most prominent Christian leaders. “During this season, we are reminded that there is something about the resurrection. Something about the resurrection of our savior Jesus Christ that puts everything else in perspective.”
Well. Not exactly what a Jew or Muslim was dying to hear.
Everybody knows that during the Founding era, presidents didn't talk like that. They preferred more generic terms for America's "civil religion," which might be safely described as "Providential monotheism." There's one God, not many gods, and He looks down on us and occasionally sees His way fit to gently guide history for the better:
"[I]t would be peculiarly improper to omit in this first official act my fervent supplications to that Almighty Being who rules over the universe, who presides in the councils of nations, and whose providential aids can supply every human defect...In tendering this homage to the Great Author of every public and private good, I assure myself that it expresses your sentiments not less than my own, nor those of my fellow-citizens at large less than either. No people can be bound to acknowledge and adore the Invisible Hand which conducts the affairs of men more than those of the United States."---George Washington, First Inaugural Address
To the Founders, God was a reality, not a theory. When Washington presumed to speak for "my fellow-citizens at large," this raised no controversy. But America's Deity to which he gave thanks was "the Almighty Being," "the Great Author," with an "Invisible Hand." Not Jesus the Christ, with all the doctrine that accompanies him.
And so, the irony is that here in the 21st century, while religion, religious conscience and Christianity itself are punked in various courtrooms as being inherently irrational, presidents and maybe-presidents are becoming more explicit in articulating Christian doctrine than the Founders ever found proper, even back when there were few Jews and even fewer Muslims thereabouts. [Let alone out-of-the-closet atheists---Ben Franklin said you could live to an old age in America without ever meeting one!]
For every push, there is a shove: you play Wack-a-Mole on God, he pops up somewhere else. Back when God was considered a reality, the details were largely left open. But now that God is legally only one theory among many---and an inherently irrational one at that, reduced to a "ceremonial deism" that not one Founder accepted, not even Tom Paine---it's really no surprise that a Rick Perry or even a citizen-of-the-world like Barack Obama feels obliged to show his cards to an electorate that wonders what the hell is going on.
NB: None of this is to say God even exists. We are all modern gentlemen, afterall, and gentlemen do not discuss such things. We are speaking of history, American history, of man and his questions and answers about God, not God Himself.
Although I meself have found that the name of God is on the lips of every drunk. But I admit haven't met them all yet. And Tom Paine, a true deist who rejected the Christian scriptures, even went to Revolutionary France and lectured against atheism. You could look it up. Even Tom Paine's deism wasn't just "ceremonial," and neither is America's.
Friday, August 5, 2011
Accusations of Deism
I've noted Founding Father William Livingston as a less than well known figure who fit this description. And indeed, he was so accused. As Livingston himself wrote:
It is well known that some have represented me as an Atheist, others as a Deist, and a third sort as a Presbyterian. My creed will show that none have exactly hit it. For all which reasons, I shall cheerfully lay before you the articles of my faith. * * *
Livingston then humorously details his "creed" which is really an anti-creed, rejecting, among other things, the concept of creedalism itself, orthodoxy, ecclesiastical authority, and (of course) sectarianism. All in the name of the Bible and "Christianity," of course.