Monday, April 30, 2012

Early Americans Recognized Dependence Upon God

According to the Father of the United States of America, the American people at the time of the nation's inception overwhelmingly acknowledged the "Invisible Hand" of God and their dependence upon it. In his First Inaugural Address, delivered 223 years ago today (April 30), the first President of the United States (under the newly ratified U.S. Constitution) spoke these words:

"No people can be bound to acknowledge and adore the Invisible Hand which conducts the affairs of men more than those of the United States. Every step by which they have advanced to the character of an independent nation seems to have been distinguished by some token of providential agency; and in the important revolution just accomplished in the system of their united government the tranquil deliberations and voluntary consent of so many distinct communities from which the event has resulted can not be compared with the means by which most governments have been established without some return of pious gratitude, along with an humble anticipation of the future blessings which the past seem to presage. These reflections, arising out of the present crisis, have forced themselves too strongly on my mind to be suppressed. You will join with me, I trust, in thinking that there are none under the influence of which the proceedings of a new and free government can more auspiciously commence."

Washington, one of history's greatest leaders, chose his words carefully to unite people of various faiths and denominations. I don't believe this was an attempt to push moral or religious relativism, however. Very few of the Founders would've embraced postmodern relativistic nonsense that says one religion is "true for you," while another is "true for me." (Either God is real or God is not. Either Jesus really rose from the dead or he did not. Either Mohammed was a prophet who spoke for Allah - or he was not. While people have many opinions about religion, opinions don't determine ultimate reality). Washington's speech doesn't advocate relativism. Rather, it expands the tent to include many faiths. This was, I believe, the hope of many Founders who saw the violence that unchecked sectarianism could bring in other nations, such as in post-Reformation Europe. Obviously, truth claims would continue in the churches, synagogues, and mosques (and there is nothing wrong with this....truth claims should be tested and evaluated in the marketplace - including the religious marketplace - like all else) and no faith or denomination would be asked to compromise their beliefs or convictions. But Washington's monotheistic call for national homage to God was such that most Americans (be they Muslims, Jews, Baptist, Methodist, Anglican, etc.) could embrace with a clear conscience. 

While there may be debate over which Founders were orthodox Christians (and which were not) or whether the Founders intended some kind of official "Christian nationalism" (as claimed by some activists), the evidence is overwhelming that George Washington's sentiments, as expressed in his First Inaugural (and later his famous Thanksgiving Proclamation and Farewell Address), reflected the overwhelming consensus of the American people at the time as well as the principles and ideals which were enshrined into our nation's heritage. 

John Jay was the most conservative Founding Father

John M. Pafford makes that point in this book review posted over at The Imaginative Conservative: John Jay: Man of Order, Justice, Freedom.  As Pafford points out, Jay's work and contribution to the Founding were substantial, and he deserves far more attention than he usually gets in discussions of the Founding period.  Personally, I would rank Jay alongside Samuel Adams and Fisher Ames as the most overlooked of the Founders.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

David Barton spins the Jefferson Lies on Glenn Beck, Part 2

From Warren Throckmorton here.

Pasley Defends Fea

I'd be remiss if I didn't note this for readers.

The Godless Constitution

We've talked about this book a number of times on my blogs. It's David Barton's bĂȘte noire. It's a good book and both of the scholars who wrote it are the real deal who know and cite the record, in my opinion, better than Barton does.

I don't agree with its thesis completely. But here is what I value in it. What I take from it for my thesis: The political theology of the American Founding represented a loss for the forces of "religious correctness" (a term they use). What the authors then do, which is perhaps a step too far, is bring that battle into today's culture wars and associate the late 18th Cen. forces of religious correctness with today's religious right, and America's Founders with today's secularists. I wouldn't do that. Rather, I'd stick with the more modest thesis that the American Founding and its political theology represented a loss for late 18th Century religious correctness.

So who were the losers? Among them Timothy Dwight, William Linn, John Mitchell Mason, and Jedidiah Morse. The religiously correct were the ones who thought the US Constitution should invoke the Triune God, probable in the form of a covenant as the central anchor of the document. It doesn't do that. Also, it would be helpful if, as Mason wanted (when discussing the Articles of Confederation), America's governing document invoked the "law of the eternal God, as contained in the sacred Scriptures, of the Old and New Testament, the supreme law of the United States,..." It doesn't do that either. So what we are left with is victory for religious liberty and pluralism where the religiously heterodox and heterics like the Swedenborgs, Unitarians, Universalists, etc., have their place at the table right next to the orthodox. That's my thesis.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Maybe We Need A Documentary

See John Fea's post on the matter. It seems to me one thing Christian Nationalist revisionist historians are good at is producing slick videos. Chris Rodda has produced some cool home made videos that debunk them. But I'm not aware of any kind of documentary oriented professionally produced videos/movies done by folks who want to "check" Christian Nationalist history. I know PBS has done some shows that deal with these issues; but I'm not sure if any of them have had a thesis of "checking" Christian Nationalism. Perhaps we should make one. (Though they cost $; we'd have to find a generous donor or donors to finance it.)

Oprah Winfrey: ‘I Am a Christian’

Here. A taste:
Twice during her “Oprah’s Lifeclass: The Tour” broadcast on Monday, Winfrey aligned herself with Christianity. Winfrey started by introducing the show to her Radio City Music Hall audience. The theme: “Spiritual Solutions.” The teacher: New Age guru Deepak Chopra.

“I am not talking about religion. I am a Christian. That is my faith. I'm not asking you to be a Christian. If you want to be one I can show you how. But it is not required. I have respect for all faiths. All faiths. But what I'm talking about is not faith or religion. I'm talking about spirituality,” Winfrey said.

Winfrey said her definition of spirituality is living life with an open heart, through love, and allowing yourself to align with the values of tolerance, acceptance, of harmony, of cooperation and reverence for life. She said she believes there is a divine thread that connects spiritually to something greater than ourselves.

“My favorite Bible verse—because I am Christian—is Acts 17:28. It says, ‘In God I live and move and have my being’,” Winfrey said. “And you want to know why I'm so successful? Because I knew that at 4 years-old … I wouldn't be who I am today without a spiritual consciousness, without spiritual values and ultimately without spiritual love.”

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Osteen: Romney is a Christian

Here.  A taste:
"When I hear Mitt Romney say that he believes that Jesus is the Son of God–that he's the Christ, raised from the dead, that he's his Savior–that's good enough for me," Osteen said in an interview to air on CNN's "The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer." While Osteen described the Mormon faith as "not traditional Christianity," he said he believes Mormons fall under the Christian tent. "Mormonism is a little different, but I still see them as brothers in Christ," the pastor argued.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

What Evangelicals Might Learn from Mormons . . . and Mormons Should Learn from Rob Bell

By Jana Reis here. I think I missed this when it was first published over a year ago. Quote:
Mormons have always believed in a God who refuses to dispatch anyone to an everlasting hell, which is a critique Bell makes again and again of traditional evangelical views. (Bell asks us which is "more terrifying to fathom: the billions who burn forever or the few who escape this fate?") In this way, Mormon universalism is not unlike the universalist views that swept the early American nation in the generation before Joseph Smith. Clearly, Smith imbibed the waters that had also nurtured earlier New England universalists like Charles Chauncy and Benjamin Rush.
Like some of that generation, Mormon theology also embraces the idea that this short human life is not our only chance to make decisions that may affect eternity. After this life, people who never got the chance to hear God's good news, or who rejected God for reasons that made perfect sense at the time, will have the opportunity. And in Mormonism, everyone means everyone, from serial killers to soccer moms. The Mormon God is a god of second, third, and fourth chances . . . unto eternity. That doesn't necessarily mean that punishment for sin does not exist—the 18th-century Universalists entertained the idea of a temporary "hell" that would purge evil and purify a person to dwell with God, and Mormons speak of a comparably short-lived "spirit prison" in which individuals may learn, repent, and eventually cross over into paradise.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

NYT on Gary Lachman

Here. GL is the bassist from Blondie. A taste:
And today Mr. Lachman, 55, who lives in London, is a popular religion writer. His latest book, “Swedenborg: An Introduction to His Life and Ideas” (Tarcher/Penguin), published this month, is about Emanuel Swedenborg, who lived from 1688 to 1772. Mr. Lachman joins a long line of philosophers and writers, including Kant and Baudelaire, intrigued by Swedenborg’s difficult, voluminous corpus, which includes bizarre interpretations of the Bible as well as claims to have traveled among the angels in heaven.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Why You Should Know Emanuel Swedenborg

From the Huffington Post. A taste:
Swedenborg's scientific and engineering achievements make him a kind of "Swedish Da Vinci," but his remarkably prolific life didn't end there. Having sought the "seat of the soul" in the brain's mysterious pineal gland -- a humble organ whose precise function still eludes us -- Swedenborg plunged into a study of the occult sciences. Through the Kabbala, meditation, and a system of erotic exercises, Swedenborg trained himself to enter extended periods of altered consciousness. One result of this is his fascinating Dream Diary, whose analysis of dream symbolism predates Freud and Jung by more than a century. Another was his intimacy with the hypnagogic state, a "half-dream" realm we enter in between sleeping and waking. It was while hovering in this twilit consciousness that Swedenborg had an experience that changed his life. On April 6, 1744, while living in London, Swedenborg was visited by Christ. He had reached a dead end in his scientific work, and Christ told him to abandon it and take on an even greater task: that of discovering the true meaning of scripture. Swedenborg developed a method of reading the Bible symbolically that would have an impact on western consciousness far beyond theology. He developed the notion of "correspondences," the idea that the things of the physical world have a direct link with the spiritual one. Through Baudelaire, Swedenborg's "correspondences" would lead to Symbolism, arguably the most important cultural movement of the 19th century.
It's an interesting article, though a bit strange. Mormonism didn't exist during the American Founding, but this did. And from what I've seen, Swedenborgianism was welcomed at the table of America's Founding political theology with open arms.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Directions For Viewing Smart Phone Pics

Just to make sure everyone can read my iPhone pics of book text pages. Here are the directions: 1. Click pictures. 2. Right click on "view image" if in Firefox, "open image in new window" if in Safari. 3. Click on the microscope with the plus sign. If you do that a BIG, clear pic of the book image shows up, complete with scrolling capabilities. I'm not sure what directions to give for Internet Explorer as I couldn't get it to work like that. Suggestions? [Update: For IE, do not click on the pic. Rather right click on the pic and hit "open link in new window." Then the microscope with the plus sign appears.] Try it with this pic which is a view from the David Library (I know, no text to read, but still a nice pic).

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Charles Page Smith, James Wilson: Founding Father, 1742-1798

I was at the David Library today leafing through various books. The iPhone "works" as a photocopy machine. These are four pages of the above mentioned book that I thought relevant to Wilson's political theology.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012


The first question Andrew Sullivan asks Ross Douthat (who has a new book out on the matter) is if you vote for Mitt Romney will you be voting for a "Christian"?

In the process of the conversation RD analogizes Mormonism to Arianism. He covers a lot of stuff in this interview that we've touched on at American Creation. His thesis is America's current theology though strongly Christian in some sense is also strongly heretical. Arguably it was in the 18th Century, just in a uniquely 18th Century sense. Just substitute Swedenborgianism for Mormonism and Joseph Priestley for Jeremiah Wright. We are the nation we were founded to be: Quite religious, but quite heretical.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Working Books: Did I just invent a concept?

I've done a lot of research on America's Founders and Religion, so much so that folks ask me and I often ask myself whether I will write a book on the subject.

First, I'm a community college professor who teaches overloads every semester. Publishing is NOT part of our job requirements (though it is icing on the cake). We teach 15 credits per semester as our full time load. We do not get release time for publishing. I'm not part of any "mentoring network" connected to peer reviewed journals.

As such, though I have published these past 7 or 8 years, I have not published in those "peer reviewed" journals that tenure track university professors need to in order to get tenure. But, besides vast amounts of self publishing on blogs, I have published in "respectable" places (First Things, both Liberty Magazines, the Cato Institute's Encyclopedia of Libertarianism among other places).

As I progress, I think about what I want to do with all this research. I think about publishing in those journals and doing a book for a respectable publisher. Perhaps I will try.

What about self publishing? Well a blog is self publishing. And I feel I've flourished using the blog format. Why should I care about publishing in the "print" industry that's dying when I'm part of the community that's killing it?

Indeed, see this article by Clay Shirky on the future of "publishing" where he writes:

Publishing is not evolving. Publishing is going away. Because the word “publishing” means a cadre of professionals who are taking on the incredible difficulty and complexity and expense of making something public. That’s not a job anymore. That’s a button. There’s a button that says “publish,” and when you press it, it’s done.

In ye olden times of 1997, it was difficult and expensive to make things public, and it was easy and cheap to keep things private. Privacy was the default setting. We had a class of people called publishers because it took special professional skill to make words and images visible to the public. Now it doesn’t take professional skills. It doesn’t take any skills. It takes a Wordpress install.

He mentions publishers are needed to, among other things, edit and fact check. Curiously he doesn't mention sorting, signaling, branding, etc. Publishers and colleges both serve this function: A Harvard degree signals something just like getting your book published by Harvard University Press does. It's just as easy to go to my home blog page as it is the Huffington Post or New York Times home page. But if they publish one of my pieces it means my work meets a certain standard. Any idiot can start a blog. Potential readers need a way to sort through the morass.

Links from certain "respected" places also "signal." And if you write enough on a topic, you'll probably come up in search engines.

But I don't want to write "another" self published online book. I'd like to do something novel. And something useful. And non-obvious. Law professors Eugene Volokh and Stephen Carter both have noted good academic writing borrows standards from the patent law (which requires claims be novel, useful, and non-obvious). A book project, it seems to me, could follow this model.

How is this for novelty? The concept of a "working book." It's hard to come up with something new under the sun. I googled those words and found nothing that was apt. Like a "working paper," but a book. A working paper is a work in progress and it's a common model. The concept of a working book is not common. In fact, I may have just invented it. You'll see my "working book" as it's being built. I'll have a website, probably from Wordpress, that will house the book. I don't think I'll open comments there. But I will blog on my progress and have comments at American Creation (and perhaps other places).

I believe American Creation's writers and commenters, as a group, are as good as any academic peer review. (And actual academic peer review people do read, link and comment on our posts.) They certainly are with "fact" checking; and "logic" checking. I will incorporate constructive feedback into the project.

This is a working book, though, perhaps intended never to be finished. Eventually, it'll get to a point where it's a "book" ready for a "real publisher" if they are interested. If not, fine. This project intends to evolve indefinitely. This is not dissimilar to how educational texts constantly revise with new editions.

The book will be informative in a comprehensive way. Even though I plan to research further on this subject matter, I've already uncovered quite a bit. Sometimes, I find something and wonder whether I've found it before and blogged about it. And that's a problem. Blogs serve very useful functions. But they often lack organization. I know mine do. They lack the organization of a book.

And that will be the main useful function of this project: To organize what I've researched all these years into something well organized like a book. An online book. A working book.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Ben Franklin: Unitarians are "Honest"

Last post I presented evidence of Ben Franklin calling Unitarian minister Theophilus Lindsey "honest." Franklin also described Joseph Priestley that way.

As Franklin wrote to to Benjamin Vaughn in 1788:

"Remember me the honest heretic Dr. Priestley. I do not call him honest by way of distinction, for I think all the heretics I have known have been virtuous men. They have the virtue of Fortitude, or they would not venture to own their heresy; and they cannot afford to be deficient in any of the other virtues, as that would give advantage to their many enemies...Do not however mistake me. It is not to my good friend's heresy that I impute his honesty. On the contrary 'tis his honesty that has brought upon him the character of heretic."

Here are primary sources where you can view the quotation in context.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Russell Kirk on the differences between the American and French Revolutions

That's the topic of this post by Darrin Moore over at The Imaginative Conservative.  As Moore explains, Kirk understood that the Americans had a much stronger sense of continuity at the heart of our revolution, rather than the violent and frankly barbarous discontinuity that lay at the heart of the French Revolution.  Well worth a read.

Let's Not Get Lazy on Franklin's Creed

Franklin is one that both the secular left and religious right likely concede as "Deist." Though some on the religious right accurately note Franklin's speech at the Constitutional Convention where he professes theism.

Still, the religious right tends towards the narrative that Franklin and Jefferson were somewhat "Deists," the rest Christian. Franklin actually gives fewer smoking gun quotations of a belief in militant unitarianism than does John Adams. If "right" = Christian and "left" = Deism, Adams was arguably (at least in his personal theology) to the left of Franklin.

Franklin never for instance bitterly and militantly mocked the Trinity and Incarnation as Adams did. Franklin did "doubt" Jesus' divinity in his letter to Ezra Stiles which could be read as a polite way of denying Jesus' divinity to an orthodox gentlemen.

This is the passage in context:

[B]ut I apprehend it has received various corrupting Changes, and I have with most of the present Dissenters in England, some Doubts as to his Divinity.

What I put in bold arguably supports the not just "doubt" but "deny" thesis. Those "dissenters" in England were self described unitarians who denied Jesus' divinity. And "corrupting changes" no doubt refers to Unitarian Joseph Priestley's "Corruptions of Christianity" text which denies Original Sin, Trinity, Incarnation, Atonement, and plenary inspiration of the Bible as false "corruptions" of Christianity.

I'm looking for evidence of Franklin calling himself a unitarian. In this letter to unitarian of the Arian bent Richard Price, Franklin intimates that they both believe in the same "rational Christianity."

And I found this interesting link, Sermon: “Dear Mr. Isaacson, Ben Franklin was Unitarian,” A Sermon by Charles Blustein Ortman, September 19, 2003.

Much of what it reproduces I already know and have blogged about. The sermon tries to connect Franklin to the unitarian label. This is new information about which I hadn't known:

These associations [with unitarian friends] are hardly coincidental. Still they don’t meet the test of placing Benjamin Franklin within a Unitarian congregation. That information can be found though, in the records of Essex Street Chapel in London. Earl Morse Wilbur, renowned Unitarian historian, reports that not only was Franklin in attendance at the first Unitarian service held in England on April 17, 1774, but that he had a long standing friendship with the minister there, Theopholis Lindsey, and that, “he continued to worship here as long as he remained in England.” (Wilbur)

Update: Let's not forget Franklin's classic letter to John Calder where he asserts "the[re are] several Things in the old Testament impossible to be given by divine Inspiration,..."

There he also writes: "By the way how goes on the Unitarian Church in Essex Street? and the honest Minister of it, is he comfortably supported?" I think it's safe to conclude Franklin was self consciously "unitarian."

Update II: The "honest minister" is none other than the Rev. Lindsey.

Friday, April 6, 2012

The Founding Fathers and Abortion in Colonial America

Few issues arouse as much passion as abortion.   This has not always been the case, however.  Following English law, abortion was legal in the American colonies until the time of “quickening” in the fetus, when the baby started to move, usually around the fourth month of pregnancy. Recipes for herbal potions including pennyroyal, savin and other plants capable of “bringing on the menses” were common in home medical guides of the period.

Our founding fathers actually wrote about the subject.  Benjamin Franklin’s views can be inferred from an incident that occurred in 1729 when his former employer, newspaper editor Samuel Keimer of Philadelphia, published an encyclopedia whose very first volume included a detailed article on abortion, including directions for ending an unwanted pregnancy (“immoderate Evacuations, violent Motions, sudden Passions, Frights … violent Purgatives and in the general anything that tends to promote the Menses.”)  Hoping to found his own newspaper to compete with Keimer, Franklin responded in print through the satiric voices of two fictional characters, “Celia Shortface” and “Martha Careful” who expressed mock outrage at Keimer for exposing “the secrets of our sex” which ought to be reserved “for the repository of the learned.”  One of the aggrieved ladies threatened to grab Keimer’s beard and pull it if she spotted him at the tavern!  Neither Franklin nor his prudish protagonists objected to abortion per se, but only to the immodesty of discussing such feminine mysteries in public.

Dr. Benjamin Rush, a well known physician who signed the Declaration of Independence, shared his views of the subject matter-of-factly in his book of Medical Inquiries and Observations (1805).  Discussing blood-letting as a possible treatment to prevent miscarriage during the third month of pregnancy, when he believed there was a special tendency to spontaneous abortion, Rush asked the question, “what is an abortion but a haemoptysis (if I may be allowed the expression) from the uterus?”  A hemoptysis is the clinical term for the expectoration of blood or bloody sputum from the lungs or larynx.  In Rush’s mind, apparently, what we would now call the three-month-old embryo was equivalent medically to what one might cough up when ill with the flu.

Thomas Jefferson put no moral judgment on abortion, either.  In his Notes on the State of Virginia, he observed that for Native American women, who accompanied their men in war and hunting parties, “childbearing becomes extremely inconvenient to them.  It is said, therefore, that they have learnt the practice of procuring abortion by the use of some vegetable, and that it even extends to prevent conception for some time after.”  Jefferson on the whole admired the native people and the Notes were intended in part to counter the views of the French naturalist Buffon, who accused the indigenous inhabitants of the New World of being degenerate and less virile than their European counterparts.  In extenuation, Jefferson cites “voluntary abortion” along with the hazards of the wilderness and famine as obstacles nature has placed in the way of increased multiplication among the natives.  Indian women married to white traders, he observes, produce abundant children and are excellent mothers.  The fact that they practice birth control and when necessary terminate their pregnancies does not lessen his respect for them, but appears to be in his mind simply one of the ingenious ways they have adapted to their challenging environment.

A different window into colonial attitudes toward abortion can be found in Corenlia Hughes Dayton’s “Taking the Trade: Abortion and Gender Relations in an Eighteenth Century New England Village.”  In her 1991 monograph which appeared in the William and Mary Quarterly, Dayton examined a case from 1742 that occurred in the village of Pomfret, Connecticut, where 19-year-old Sarah Grosvenor died in a bungled abortion urged on her by her 27-year-old lover Amasa Sessions.  Magistrates filed charges against both Sessions and the “doctor of physick” who mangled the operation, but Dayton points out the legal complaints were not for performing the abortion as such (which was legal) but for killing the mother.  The whole episode was surrounded with a hush of secrecy, in an era when “fornication” was not only illegal but culturally taboo.  Abortion, in the colonial context, carried a stigma of shame not because it ended the life of a fetus but because it was associated with illicit intercourse—helping to explain the outrage of Franklin’s two characters Celia Shortface and  Martha Careful when their private remedies for ending a pregnancy receive a public airing.
What can we learn from examining attitudes toward abortion in early America?  Perhaps only this, that positions which seem to both the pro-choice and pro-life camps to be eternal and absolute have in fact evolved over time.  An historic perspective should teach us humility if nothing else. 

Thursday, April 5, 2012

William Livingston to John Mason: The Bible is NOT the "Higher Law" of America

I did a double take on the date and the letter when I first read this. Livingston is NOT talking about the US Constitution but the Articles of Confederation. They were written in 1777 but went into effect in 1781. They do mention God but (see the letter below) do NOT reference the Bible as the source of "higher law" in America. John Mason was one of the "religiously correct" of the Founding era who was sorely upset that America's Constitution was "Godless." AND he complained about it.

I don't have the original letter that Mason wrote to Livingston; but the context seems he approves of God being invoked in the Articles, but disapproves that the Bible is not referenced as a source of "Supreme Law" for the United States.

And, as we know, the US Constitution didn't even mention God; Mason (and other members of the "religiously correct") flipped out. And 200 years later gave the authors of "The Godless Constitution" fodder for their book.

Livingston's original letter, reproduced below, may be found here.


"Princeton, 29th May, 1778.

"Dear Sir,

"I am much obliged to you for your kind letter of the 27th instant, and the favourable sentiments you are pleased to entertain concerning the designs of Providence, in raising me to my present station. May it please God to enable me to answer the honourable expectations of the genuine friends of liberty, and especially the pious hopes of the real friends of Zion.

"To have prefaced the confederation with a decent acknowledgment of the superintending Providence of God, and his conspicuous interposition in our behalf, had doubtless been highly becoming a people so peculiarly favoured by Heaven as the Americans have hitherto been. But any article in the confederacy respecting religion was, I suppose, never in contemplation. The States being severally independent as to legislation and government, tho' connected by the federal league for mutual benefit, were presumed to have formed a political constitution to their own liking, and to have made such provision for religion as was most agreeable to the sentiments of their respective citizens ; and to have made the 'law of the eternal God, as contained in the sacred Scriptures, of the Old and New Testament, the supreme law of the United States,' would, I conceive, have laid the foundation of endless altercation and dispute, as the very first question that would have arisen upon that article would be, whether we were bound by the ceremonial as well as the moral law, delivered by Moses to the people of Israel. Should we confine ourselves to the law of God, as contained in the Scriptures of the New Testament (which is undoubtedly obligatory upon all Christians), there would still have been endless disputes about the construction of the of these laws. Shall the meaning be ascertained by every individual for himself, or by public authority? If the first, all human laws respecting the subject are merely nugatory; if the latter, government must assume the detestable power of Henry the Eighth, and enforce their own interpretations with pains and penalties.

"For your second article, I think there could be no occasion in the confederacy, provision having been made to prevent all such claim by the particular constitution of each State, and the Congress, as such, having no right to interfere with the internal police of any branch of the league, farther than is stipulated by the confederation.

"To the effect of part of your third article, that of promoting purity of manners, all legislators and magistrates are bound by a superior obligation to that of any vote or compact of their own; and the inseparable connexion between the morals of the people and the good of society will compel them to pay due attention to external regularity and decorum; but true piety again has never been agreed upon by mankind, and I should not be willing that any human tribunal should settle its definition for me.

"I am, &c.

"WiL. Livingston."

Rev. Robert A. Sirico on Who is a "Christian"

Rev. Robert A. Sirico, president and co-founder of the Acton Institute (and brother of Paulie Walnuts) defines the term "Christian" here:


Christianity is and always has been a religion that “receives” its faith rather than one that “invents” it. Hence, a basic definition of “Who are the Christians?” begins with an adherence, doctrinally, to the ancient Creeds of the Church, beginning with the Apostles Creed (believed to have been of apostolic origin, the Apostles having in turn received their mandate from Christ Himself) and continuing on to the faith articulated at the Councils of Nicaea, Constantinople, Chalcedon, Orange, Hippo and Quicunque Vult (aka, The Athanasian Creed), all of which were formative for the belief of Christians. The traditions that would agree with this ecumenical Trinitarian confession (most Catholics, Evangelicals, Eastern Orthodox, et al.) have historically recognized that whatever other doctrinal differences may separate them, this is the meaning they share when they use the term “Christian.”

Frazer on the Jefferson Bible and Easter

This note from Gregg Frazer was circa Easter 2009. One of the biggest problems with the self proclaimed "Christian" Thomas Jefferson is he disbelieved the resurrection. Many of the unitarians who, like Jefferson, understood themselves "Christians" did believe in the resurrection (just not of an Incarnate God). Indeed, even Joseph Priestley, Jefferson's guru, believed in the resurrection of Jesus.

A taste:

[A]ny account of the Gospels which cuts out the resurrection guts the core of Christianity. It's not just "another" passage or story which can be left out. Paul put it about as plainly as it could be put: "But if there is no resurrection of the dead, not even Christ has been raised; and IF CHRIST HAS NOT BEEN RAISED, THEN OUR PREACHING IS IN VAIN, YOUR FAITH ALSO IS VAIN. ... IF CHRIST HAS NOT BEEN RAISED, YOUR FAITH IS WORTHLESS; YOU ARE STILL IN YOUR SINS. ... IF WE HAVE HOPED IN CHRIST IN THIS LIFE ONLY, WE ARE OF ALL MEN MOST TO BE PITIED." [I Corinthians 15:13-19]

Jefferson some kind of Christian and "Life and Morals" an honest, soul-searching attempt to find the real Jesus and to understand Christianity? I don't think so.

As a Christian, I understand that my faith stands or falls on the validity of Christ's literal, bodily resurrection. Although I exult in it always, I will celebrate that reality with a special focus this weekend

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Jefferson's "Syllabus", "Philosophy" and "Life & Morals"

Since the topic is timely, let me redirect readers to Dr. Jared Farley's classic post he did at American Creation on the matter(s).

A taste:

Jefferson, in part, created his "Syllabus" as an outline to assist Dr. Priestley's writing of a book Jefferson suggested he undertake.
A second purpose of Jefferson's "Syllabus" and Priestley's book was to help the cause of primitive Christianity in the United States (Remember what is happening in New England at this point between the theologically liberal Unitarians and more orthodox Congregationalists.)
A third purpose of Jefferson's "Syllabus" was to provide some family and friends in his inner circle a better understanding of his version of Christianity.
In similar fashion, Jefferson created his "Philosophy" as a draft to be utilized by Dr. Priestley in his upcoming book comparing the moral philosophy of Jesus with those of the ancient philosophers and Jews. It is unknown if Jefferson found out about Rev. Priestley's death prior to composing his "Philosophy" and if that had any impact concerning the composition of that work, which was finished before and professionally bounded on March 10, 1804.
Jefferson was planning on utilizing Dr. Priestley's "Harmonies" in composing his "Philosophy", so it may not have entirely been Jefferson's original work or a direct statement of his theology. (Again, we don't know if Jefferson's plans changed, or if the text of "Philosophy" changed once Jefferson found out about Priestley's death.)
If Jefferson stuck to his original plans concerning "Philosophy", then that work is a mixture of Jefferson and Priestley's views and not simply Jefferson's. Plus, it was intended to serve as an introduction for Priestley's upcoming book, so it had to be acceptable to the general American reading audience.
If Jefferson stuck to his original plans concerning "Philosophy", then his "Life and Morals" might be a better indicator of his theological views since: 1) He had more time to work on it; 2) He was not writing in conjunction with someone else; 3) He never intended "Life and Morals" to be published under his name or anyone else's, and therefore, could be more honest.

Throckmorton on Barton on the Jefferson Bible


A taste:

In TJLs, Barton claims that Jefferson did not remove all of the supernatural and miraculous aspects of the Gospels. He claims this was not Jefferson’s intent. Despite the fact that Jefferson said on several occasions that such an extraction was his intent, Barton makes this claim based on passages he says Jefferson included. Most of the passages Barton offers as proof are verses about the afterlife. Truly, Jefferson did believe in an afterlife with rewards and punishments as appropriate. Jefferson did not believe in the atonement of Jesus but rather that good works in this life were necessary for a happy afterlife. In that sense, there is a supernatural element in Jefferson’s extraction. However, Barton includes as evidence of miracles, three miracles from Matthew 9 which are not in either the 1804 or 1820 version. ...

Monday, April 2, 2012

Sullivan, Jefferson & Cafeteria Christianity

Andrew Sullivan writes on what Jesus and Christianity mean to him at Newsweek.

A taste:

If you go to the second floor of the National Museum of American History in Washington, D.C., you’ll find a small room containing an 18th-century Bible whose pages are full of holes. They are carefully razor-cut empty spaces, so this was not an act of vandalism. It was, rather, a project begun by Thomas Jefferson when he was a mere 27 years old. Painstakingly removing those passages he thought reflected the actual teachings of Jesus of Nazareth, Jefferson literally cut and pasted them into a slimmer, different New Testament, and left behind the remnants (all on display until July 15). What did he edit out? He told us: “We must reduce our volume to the simple evangelists, select, even from them, the very words only of Jesus.” He removed what he felt were the “misconceptions” of Jesus’ followers, “expressing unintelligibly for others what they had not understood themselves.” And it wasn’t hard for him. He described the difference between the real Jesus and the evangelists’ embellishments as “diamonds” in a “dunghill,” glittering as “the most sublime and benevolent code of morals which has ever been offered to man.” Yes, he was calling vast parts of the Bible religious manure.

When we think of Jefferson as the great architect of the separation of church and state, this, perhaps, was what he meant by “church”: the purest, simplest, apolitical Christianity, purged of the agendas of those who had sought to use Jesus to advance their own power decades and centuries after Jesus’ death. If Jefferson’s greatest political legacy was the Declaration of Independence, this pure, precious moral teaching was his religious legacy. “I am a real Christian,” Jefferson insisted against the fundamentalists and clerics of his time. “That is to say, a disciple of the doctrines of Jesus.”

What were those doctrines? Not the supernatural claims that, fused with politics and power, gave successive generations wars, inquisitions, pogroms, reformations, and counterreformations. Jesus’ doctrines were the practical commandments, the truly radical ideas that immediately leap out in the simple stories he told and which he exemplified in everything he did. Not simply love one another, but love your enemy and forgive those who harm you; give up all material wealth; love the ineffable Being behind all things, and know that this Being is actually your truest Father, in whose image you were made. Above all: give up power over others, because power, if it is to be effective, ultimately requires the threat of violence, and violence is incompatible with the total acceptance and love of all other human beings that is at the sacred heart of Jesus’ teaching. That’s why, in his final apolitical act, Jesus never defended his innocence at trial, never resisted his crucifixion, and even turned to those nailing his hands to the wood on the cross and forgave them, and loved them.

Politicized Faith

Whether or not you believe, as I do, in Jesus’ divinity and resurrection—and in the importance of celebrating both on Easter Sunday—Jefferson’s point is crucially important. Because it was Jesus’ point. What does it matter how strictly you proclaim your belief in various doctrines if you do not live as these doctrines demand? What is politics if not a dangerous temptation toward controlling others rather than reforming oneself? If we return to what Jesus actually asked us to do and to be—rather than the unknowable intricacies of what we believe he was—he actually emerges more powerfully and more purely.

Sullivan, in a sense, is more Christian than Jefferson. Sullivan believes in Jesus' divinity and resurrection and Jefferson didn't.

The essay is valuable, I think, in that it shows how Jefferson has inspired modern cafeteria Christianity. That's what TJ did -- picked and chose by cutting and pasting from the Bible what he found "rational" and discarded what he didn't like about the faith.

Very big headed of him. Just who did he think he was?

Hmmm. Now I sound like Andrew Sullivan's critics.

Starting to Debunk David Barton’s New Book “The Jefferson Lies”

From Chris Rodda here.