Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: America a Christian Nation?:

Via Warren Throckmorton.

By Ruth Ann Dailey. Read it here.


Tom Van Dyke said...

I have a feeling that if Ruth Ann Dailey had had more than the 700 words of the usual op-ed, she'd have made her case even better. There are a lot of notes she hits that ring true to me, that's to say, the resonances. She clearly knows a lot about the subject, but doesn't have room to get anywhere near the tall weeds.

As a formal criticism, her bagging on David Barton

And why do some Christians go so far as to distort historical fact to claim this or that deist Founding Father was a devout Christian? Author David Barton, a repeat offender in manipulating religious history, has recently drawn Hollywood star Kirk Cameron into this specious pursuit, in a "documentary" called "Monumental." Grove City College psychology professor Warren Throckmorton has made an invaluable cottage industry out of meticulously debunking, via his blog, Mr. Barton's false claims.

contains no detail or substantiation, and on the whole, Barton's "lies" are really more on the order of exaggerating factoids into arguments.

For example, his claim that Rev. John Rodgers was a "close friend" of Gen. George Washington.


Rodgers was not. An acquaintance at best, of the 1000s of men Gen. Washington fought beside in the American Revolution.

However, Rodgers did indeed request that [Aitken] Bibles be given to the soldiers mustering out of the Continental Army, after the Revolution's victory had been achieved.

So, which is the greater truth or lie, that Rodgers made the request, or that he was a "close friend."

To me, it's a factoid either way, so frankly my dear I don't give a damn.

I liked Ruth Ann Dailey's piece very much. If she knows about the effect of Aquinas-Scholastic thought and Calvinist "resistance theory" on the American Revolution, so much the better. But she detects that the French Revolution was purely the product of the Enlightenment, and what a bloody and disgusting thing it was.

As for Roger Williams, his public life does predate Locke's Letter Concerning Tolerance, an interesting thought. If Locke de-Christianized Williams' tolerance, Samuel Adams re-Christianized it in the Rights of the Colonists [1772]!

jimmiraybob said...

“In short, the principle that today's agnostics and atheists file lawsuits to protect comes to them courtesy, first, of Christian thinkers. Is it too much to ask them to acknowledge this fact?”

One major problem with this statement is how short sighted it is. It betrays a critical lack of knowledge regarding the transmission of knowledge and ideas and a fundamental lack of understanding of western European development following the disappearance of pagan imperial Roman rule and the subsequent rise of Christianity and the Church’s appropriation of the imperial legacy to gain prominence and authority. There is little in the history of “Christindom” or “Christian thinking” prior to the twelfth century to indicate any kind of tolerance for individual conscience. Indeed, up through the Enlightenment and beyond, heretical thinking could lead the careless to the gallows, the bonfire or simply just loss of liberty and status. The Church, pre and post reformation churches, always – always – have sought sole control of men’s thoughts and actions in secular as well as spiritual affairs. When they were powerless to gain sole control they were more than eager to seek temporary alliance with secular rulers, be they emperors, kings, princes or dukes.

By the 11th-12th centuries, Latin Europe, and the scholastics, had stagnated into a Platonic doctrinal funk – of course the conservative ecclesiastical elite wouldn’t have seen it this way – and it wasn’t until older, forgotten and buried Pagan sources of knowledge and ideas started filtering into Europe that some learned men started to take education beyond the strict confines of acceptable church doctrine (i.e., into the realms of heresy). Ideas that came from Helenistic – largely early Greek and Roman – sources, which had been preserved and built upon by Christians and Islamists and presumably men of little to no faith but large intellectual drive and ability.

At any time in the history of Christianity you can find anti-intellectual Christian thinkers and doers that, if they could have kept their fingers in the dikes holding back the human intellect from straying from essential Church doctrine and authority, they certainly would have. Fortunately, the mind – the intellect – could not and can not be bound by force forever. Europe slowly moved from strict doctrinally-compatible regulation of the intellectual enterprise toward an ever greater secular humanistic influence into modernity and greater intellectual freedom. And then, voila – the Enlightenment, during which even Locke et. al. could have lost everything to Christian orthodoxy had he/they not tread ever so lightly at the edges of acceptability.

So, there is no such thing as “Christian thinking” or “Christian thought” solely responsible for the liberty of conscience that we enjoy today, at least some of us. Liberty and true freedom of conscience arose slowly over time and is the sole province of thinkers and the human intellect and the strong desire for fair treatment and justice that has led peoples to rise up against their oppressors since at least the earliest times of humanity. Independent thinkers like Roger Williams, who had to escape Christianity in order to pursue Christianity as he saw it. And, it took the Founders to envision and then codify a right of individual conscience that transcends control by religious or secular authority or doctrine. So, let me acknowledge this fact, we owe an amazing intellectual debt to an awful lot of people over a nearly unfathomable period of time; and some of them were devout and pious Christians.

Tom Van Dyke said...

But Roger Williams' reasons for "separation of church and state" were indeed theological, to keep his version of Christianity "pure." This is the part that we miss in the 21st century, that the true reason for this separation was for the benefit of theology, not government.

That the rise of Protestantism and the ensuing wars necessitated the concept of religious freedom is not controversial: The Treaty of Augsburg [1555] which accommodated Roman Catholicism and Lutheranism, the Peace of Westphalia [1648], which recognized Calvinism and provided for freedom for the minor sects as well.

As tempting as it is to credit such secular developments to the "Enlightenment," they were composed by kings and princes [the latter by Cardinal Richilieu's successor!] as required by political reality.

John Locke's "Letter Concerning Toleration" makes the exquisite theological point that the government can't get a soul into heaven, so it might as well butt out, and argument further Christianized by an approving Samuel Adams in 1772.

The great tug of war over Locke, Christian or secular Enlightenment thinker


is not closed. It's quite clear the uberCalvinist Sam Adams sees Locke as a Christian thinker, and in the American context, it's that John Locke who matters.

"And it is now generally agreed among Christians that this spirit of toleration, in the fullest extent consistent with the being of civil society, is the chief characteristical mark of the Church. Insomuch that Mr. Locke has asserted and proved, beyond the possibility of contradiction on any solid ground, that such toleration ought to be extended to all whose doctrines are not subversive of society."


And as tempting as it is to credit Jefferson and the Virginia Statue for Religious Freedom as a triumph of Enlightenment secularism, again. it's Roger Williams' Baptists who swing the day, outnumbered as they are again by the Anglicans and Presbyterians, and voting for separation for the safety not of the government, but of their church.


Tom Van Dyke said...

Good essay on toleration here [HT: John Fea]


Tom Van Dyke said...

See also

John Locke's exile in Holland.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Dang let's try that link again

John Locke's exile in Holland.

JMS said...

While Ruth Ann Dailey’s thesis is generally correct, her supporting arguments are historically flawed.

First, I like any editorial “shout out” about the thought and importance of Roger Williams to American history and church-state relations. But Williams’ did not derive his views directly from Martin Luther, and Martin Luther was hardly an adherent of “liberty of conscience.” Yes, Luther’s “priesthood of all believers” led in the direction of greater individual religious liberty in 16th century Europe and beyond. But his opposition to the German Peasants’ Revolt (1524-1526) led ultimately to the Peace of Augsburg (1555). It established the doctrine of “cuius region, eius religio”: literally “whose region, his religion.” It meant that whatever prince ruled a certain territory (principality) determined the religious faith (i.e., one true church) of that land for everyone, and was empowered to enforce conformity. Dissenters had two options: comply or leave.

Roger Williams’ ideas about “the ‘wall of separation’ between church and state” and religious freedom for "the most paganish, Jewish, Turkish [Muslim] or antichristian consciences and worships" derived from his interpretation of the Bible, not Luther. Williams believed that “religious liberty was a biblical truth.” His most radical assertion was that “no civil state could claim God’s endorsement.” Writing in the 17th century and reacting in horror to the Protestant versus Catholic slaughter of the Thirty Years War, Williams decried in the title of his most famous book (1644), the “bloody tenet” of religious persecution. Persecution in the name of religious uniformity was contrary to the teachings of Jesus. The parable Williams cited was not, as Dailey claims, “Jesus' ‘render unto Caesar’ teaching.” He used Jesus’ parable of the wheat and tares (weed) from Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43 as the basis of his critique of “Christendom” and the virtues of “soul liberty.”

Second, there is nothing “de-Christianized” about Locke’s ideas, nor is there any evidence that Locke was influenced directly by Williams. While I applaud the resurgence in books and references about Roger Williams, I’m puzzled by the dearth of acknowledgment of William Penn, the other great 17th century Anglo-American “planting father” (to use Frank Lambert’s term). I mention Penn because he probably had an influence Locke’s ideas about “religious toleration.” Locke’s “famous Essay Concerning Toleration” was not penned until 1685. At a time when Locke had only begun to reexamine his Hobbesian political views, Penn had already developed a legal defense for himself and his fellow Quakers and found Pennsylvania as a refuge from the constant threat of imprisonment for conscience sake in England.”

Third, any mention of religious influences (deist, Enlightenment, unitarian) on Thomas Jefferson has to acknowledge the biggest impact from Joseph Priestley (see Steven Johnson’s marvelous book, The Invention of Air).

Fourth and last, in answer to Dailey’s question: “Why do so many ignore their own interest in the Reformation's separation of church and state?” the conventional Western Civ. textbook answer is that you must differentiate between the “magisterial” Reformation (of Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, Thomas Cromwell, etc.) who did not believe in or practice “separation of church and state,” the “radical” Reformation (of the Anabaptists, Baptists, Quakers, Unitarians, etc.) who did (or tried to).

After all, it was the evangelical Baptist preachers Isaac Backus and John Leland who resurrected the ideas of Roger Williams in the 1770s, and then teamed up with the Enlightenment “theistic rationalists” Thomas Jefferson and James Madison that led to the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom (1786), that provided the model to Madison’s First Amendment religion clauses (1791). This is the nexus that, as Dailey notes, “both sides -- today's religious skeptics and over-reaching Christians” should honor and protect.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Well, JRB, it appears you're doing your best to conceal your agreement with me. By your own account, we see "Enlightenment" thought in the form of Jefferson and Madison come quite late to the religious tolerance game, which was the major point here.

We find religious tolerance arise by political necessity [Protestantism and the subsequent multiplication of sects] and accommodated by Christian thought---Locke's arguments being quite theological upon closer inspection.

[A niggle---Essay Concerning Toleration: penned 1667

Letter Concerning Toleration = c. 1688]

jimmiraybob said...

"Well, JRB, it appears you're doing your best to conceal your agreement with me."


I'm finishing up an emergency plumbing project, spring yard work and taxes. I may be a bit distracted. I'll get back.

jimmiraybob said...

Or were you referring to JMS?

Tom Van Dyke said...

My appy-ologies, JRB. I think of you in my mind's eye as JRB because that's how I respond to you. Yes, I did confuse the two of you.

Your statement

So, there is no such thing as “Christian thinking” or “Christian thought” solely responsible for the liberty of conscience that we enjoy today, at least some of us.

is of course the prevailing secularist assertion, that all good things are owed to anything but "Christian thought."

JMS is halfway away from there, and is certainly correct that the "dissenting" Protestant sectas [Quakers, Baptisist, anabaptists, etc.] need to be figured in as well, although the "magisterial" sects had done quite a bit of reform on their own [see Sam Adams, uberCalvinist, above from his 1772 "Rights of the Colonists"]. See also that in Germany, they stopped slaughtering Anabaptists as they'd done in Luther's time, and Britain had stopped oppressing Quakers with the end of the Glorious Revolution and the passage of the Toleration Act [1689].

JMS said...

Tom - to "niggle" back: the 1689 Toleration Act only permitted freedom of worship for Quakers and other dissenters in England.
Until the English Parliament enacted the Affirmation Act of 1696, Quakers and all dissenters remained second class citizens: they could not vote, hold office, testify in court, serve on a jury or engage in a variety of legal and business transactions.

The Affirmation Act finally allowed them to affirm rather than swear an oath. Again, Madison put the same affirmation proviso in Article VI, Section 3 of the U.S. Constitution.

Also, Samuel Adams – “the last of the Puritans,” can hardly be cited as an exemplar of religious liberty (political liberty - yes!). He supported Article 3 of the Massachusetts constitution which empowered the legislature to continue Congregationalism as the established (tax-supported) church of the state. This is exactly what the Baptist minister (following the principles of Roger Williams) John Leland fought against.

jimmiraybob said...

"...is of course the prevailing secularist assertion..."

You say that like it's a bad thing.

"...that all good things are owed to anything but "Christian thought."

But that is not what I said. What I said was "solely responsible for ... liberty of conscience." Emphasis on "solely."

Tom Van Dyke said...

Yes, I caught "solely," which is used here to diminish Christian thought, not acknowledge its role. Neither did you make your case for the Enlightenment.

Also, Samuel Adams – “the last of the Puritans,” can hardly be cited as an exemplar of religious liberty (political liberty - yes!). He supported Article 3 of the Massachusetts constitution which empowered the legislature to continue Congregationalism as the established (tax-supported) church of the state.

An officially established church is a separate matter from "religious liberty," and its improper to rhetorically link them. Way past the line.

The Kingdom of Norway has had religious liberty for quite awhile now by all accounts, but is only disestablishing now in 2012!


I think we've both made our cases here, so let's leave it, absent any new evidence you wish to present. If I come up with any, I'll pop it in here too.

bpabbott said...

Re: "Yes, I caught "solely," which is used here to diminish Christian thought, not acknowledge its role"

In the sense that the word "solely" makes it clear that Christian thought isn't uniquely responsible, you are correct, it's role is diminished for a 100% monopoly to something less.

Anonymous said...

"...which is used here to diminish Christian thought..."

The use of "solely" was to place things in context. Otherwise, what bpabbott says. If saying that the Church or Christianity did not have an airtight monopoly on and absolute control over men's intellect is diminishment, then so be it. You know what they say about reality and facts.

"Neither did you make your case for the Enlightenment."

I was not making a case for the Enlightenment. I was making reference to the rise in humanism and secularism starting at about the time of the Italian renaissance.

jimmiraybob said...

Anonymous = JRB

jimmiraybob said...

"to diminish Christian thought, not acknowledge its role."

Right. That's why I wrote this:

"So, let me acknowledge this fact, we owe an amazing intellectual debt to an awful lot of people over a nearly unfathomable period of time; and some of them were devout and pious Christians.

I would add that many men of the late Medieval to early modern and up to the Enlightenment and after were inspired by the tenets and doctrine of Christianity. I have never denied this and I have made reference to this before.

Just because I seek balance, as you do, doesn't mean that every time I don't genuflect in the general direction of the Church that I am raining hatred on Christianity. Or any other religions or philosophic traditions by which men (and today, women) are inspired to full intellectual capacity.

Tom Van Dyke said...

I'm just talking the history, and the appropriation of religious tolerance by "secularism," when it's not very much in evidence.

Roger Williams was a creature of Christianity, not the Enlightenment.

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