Thursday, August 30, 2012

Joseph Priestley as a Baseline

Since Thomas Jefferson's religious views are in the news, perhaps we should appreciate Joseph Priestley's theology as a possible baseline for judging Jefferson's.  Jefferson was a self proclaimed "sect" unto himself.  And he was bigheaded. So he disagreed with Priestley on a few things.  As we will see below, Priestley believed in the Resurrection and Jefferson did not.  Yet out of all of the "authorities" out there for whom Jefferson professed respect, Priestley got Jefferson's highest regards.

I observe non-sequiturs regarding Jefferson's writings, particularly the Jefferson Bible.  Let us assume that Jefferson believed in the divine inspiration of what made it into his cut up Bible.  Then what?  I think it proves that he wasn't a strict deist.  

But what was he and what does it prove?  Let me give an example of a non-sequitur I observed Glenn Beck make to David Barton on this.  They were marveling over the fact that Jefferson apparently left in supernatural passages, not consistent with strict deism.  Beck said something along the lines of (and Barton nodded his head), if TJ believed in Jesus' miracles, then he believed in his divinity.

That is a non-sequitur.

Joseph Priestley did not believe in Jesus' divinity, but believed in his miracles, resurrection and the divinity of Jesus mission.  Priestley thought 1. original sin, 2. trinity, 3. incarnation, 4. atonement, and 5. the plenary inspiration of scripture were false "corruptions" of true Christianity ("rational Christianity").  I (mistakenly?) thought Priestley believed in the virgin birth.  Maybe he did at one point.  I thought I read something from Priestley that argued for the compatibility of both the virgin birth AND Jesus 100% human, 0% divine nature.  The logic went something like this: those who argue for a divine Jesus say the virgin birth necessarily means Jesus is divine. No.  That is a non-sequitur.  Why?  Jesus was sent to be a second Adam to correct the first's errors. And the first Adam also was of divine origin but was 100% human, 0% divine.

That is just a paraphrase of what I remember.  I will have to read up on where I got it from and the context.  And that's because when Joseph Priestley proselytized his Socinian rational Christianity to the Jews, he made it quite clear that he disbelieved in the Virgin Birth along with the Trinity, etc.  As he wrote to them [paragraphs added for clarity]:
You expect that your Messiah will be lineally descended from David, and therefore you cannot be reconciled to the idea of Jesus being that Messiah, because Christians say that he had no human father; so that according to your rules of genealogy, he could not be said to be the son of David. But it is no where said that the person who is characterized by the title of Messiah, should be descended from David, but only that prince under whom you are to enjoy. 
However, the history of the miraculous conception of Jesus does not appear to me to be sufficiently authenticated.  The evidence of it is by no means the same with that of his public life, his miracles, his death and resurrection, which are all that the truth of Christianity requires, (and of which there were many witnesses,) and the original Gospel of Matthew, received by your countrymen, did not contain it. 
Your sacred books, as well as ours, being written by men, neither of them can be expected to be, entirely free from mistakes, or exempt from interpolations. Yours, as you must acknowledge, have, in a course of time, suffered in these respects. But it is sufficient for us both, that the great events, on which every thing that is of importance to our religion depends, are true. As to any thing that is not necessarily connected with such events, and therefore is not supported by their evidence, we should think ourselves at liberty to receive or reject it, according to its separate evidence.  
Myself, and many other Christians, are no believers in the miraculous conception of Jesus, but are of opinion, that he was the legitimate son of Joseph, who was of the family of David; and such seems to have been the opinion of the great body of Jewish Christians, who had more opportunity of informing themselves concerning the fact than the Gentiles had. But we are not less firm believers in all the public transactions of the life of Jesus, in his miracles, his death, and his resurrection ; and consequently, in his divine mission. With respect to his supposed miraculous conception, and other articles relating to Christianity, but not essential to it, do you examine and judge for yourselves.
So there you go:  You could disbelieve in 1. original sin, 2. trinity, 3. incarnation, 4. atonement, 5. virgin birth, and 6. the infallibility of the Bible, BUT STILL believe in Jesus' miracles, resurrection, and the divinity of his mission.  That's what Jefferson's theological mentor believed.  Though, as noted, Jefferson did not, like Priestley, believe in Jesus' resurrection.  

Keep these things in mind when interpreting the Jefferson Bible.

Triumph of infidelity Rightly Attended An Electronic Edition

By Rev. Timothy Dwight, here.  It's a satirical poem.  It's the kind of thing that you have to read very carefully to understand.  As far as I understand it, the work attacks not just the "deists" but also the "soft infidels" like Rev. Charles Chauncy whose understanding of reason and revelation led him to deny both the Trinity and eternal damnation.  This is important because "the key Founders" -- without question, Jefferson, J. Adams and Franklin, and probably Washington and Madison -- believed in a theological system that was closest to Chauncy's, not Dwight's, and not that of the "hard deists."  Was it a form of "soft infidelity?"  Or was it a kinder, gentler form of "Christianity"?  I won't judge; I'll just throw the issue out there.

Anyway here is a passage from the poem:

There stood the infidel of modern breed,       
Blest vegetation of infernal seed,       
Alike no Deist, and no Christian, he;       
But from all principle, all virtue, free.       

To him all things the same, as good or evil;       
Jehovah, Jove, the Lama, or the Devil;       
Mohammed's braying, or Isaiah's lays;       
The Indian's powaws, or the Christian's praise.       
With him all natural desires are good; 
His thirst for stews; the Mohawk's thirst for blood:       
Made, not to know, or love, the all beauteous mind;       
Or wing thro' heaven his path to bliss refin'd:       
But his dear self, choice Dagon! to adore;       
To dress, to game, to swear, to drink, to whore; 
To race his steeds; or cheat, when others run;       
Pit tortur'd cocks, and swear 'tis glorious fun:       
His soul not cloath'd with attributes divine;       
But a nice watch-spring to that grand machine,       
That work more nice than Rittenhouse can plan, 
The body; man's chief part; himself, the man;       
Man, that illustrious brute of noblest shape,       
A swine unbristled, and an untail'd ape:       
To couple, eat, and die–his glorious doom–       
The oyster's church-yard, and the capon's tomb.

That is Dwight describing the "rational Christianity" of the American Founding, what Gregg Frazer terms "theistic rationalism."

Sunday, August 26, 2012

"Getting Back To The Constitution": The Truth Part 2


In my last post I proposed the idea that we need to shift the frame of discussion in the Christian Nation debate from the one preferred by both extremes in the "Culture Wars" to one that actually has a chance of getting to the truth. This can be done by simply asking the right question:

What role did Christian principles play in helping to shape the founding of America.
This as opposed to the current question that centers around the silly idea of trying to find out which Founders were or were not "Christians". This is silly for two reasons. One is that it misses the entire point of understanding the founding by focusing on the religious views of the founders instead of the origin of the ideas they used to build a nation. The second is that it is an unanswerable question that only muddies the waters.

Simply put, the key to finding the truth about what it means to "get back to the Constitution" is to avoid the extremes of the "Cultures Wars". Furthermore, one has to understand that without an understanding of the Declaration of Independence and inalienable rights it is impossible to even begin to discuss the foundations of the form of government our Founders created to protect them. It is with this in mind I began to present excerpts from the book Defending The Declaration by Gary Amos. A book that hits on the same general theme that David Barton does minus the bad history and extremism.

With that stated, here is another excerpt from Amos where he is explaining that law was at the center of Jefferson's thoughts. This is because he had to make a legal case as to why the colonies had the right to declare independence from the King:

The words laws of nature and of nature's God in the Declaration of Independence may be the most misunderstood words in American legal history. It was a legal phrase for God's law revealed through nature and his moral law revealed in the Bible. Yet many people think that the phrase is un-Christian or even anti-Christian. They think by using he phrase, Jefferson and the founders rejected a Christian approach to law and founded America on an anti-Christian idea. 

Amos goes on to discuss 5 reasons that people give as proof that the phrase "The Laws of Nature and Nature's God" is non-Christian. I will save that for my next post. Here I want to ask people if they think the phrase is Christian or non-Christian and why? "Why" being the key to the question because I am not sure many that are involved in the "Getting Back To The Constitution" movement have ever thought about it...

Saturday, August 25, 2012

John Adams Promotes Rational Christianity

In his letter to Jefferson 29 May 1818.  As he writes:
As Holly is a diamond of a superior water, it would be crushed to powder by mountainous oppression in any other country. Even in this he is a light shining in a dark place. His system is founded in the hopes of mankind, but they delight more in their fears. When will man have juster notions of the universal, eternal cause? Then will rational Christianity prevail. I regret Holly’s misfortune in not finding you, [Editor: Illegible word] [Editor: Illegible word] account, to whom an interview with [Editor: Illegible word] [Editor: Illegible word] [Editor: Illegible word] [Editor: Illegible word] a lasting gratification. 
Waterhouse’s pen, [Editor: Illegible word] [Editor: Illegible word] [Editor: Illegible word] [Editor: Illegible word] [Editor: Illegible word] [Editor: Illegible word] [Editor: Illegible word] [Editor: Illegible word] on with too much fluency. I have not [Editor: Illegible word] [Editor: Illegible word] [Editor: Illegible word] [Editor: Illegible word] [Editor: Illegible word] [Editor: Illegible word] activity, memory, or promptitude and [Editor: Illegible word] [Editor: Illegible word] [Editor: Illegible word] which he ascribes to me. I can [Editor: Illegible word] [Editor: Illegible word] [Editor: Illegible word] of the letters I receive, and those only [Editor: Illegible word] [Editor: Illegible word] [Editor: Illegible word] [Editor: Illegible word] [Editor: Illegible word] [Editor: Illegible word] pen.
I should check my Cappon Ed. to see what those Illegible words are.  I suspect Adams was very drunk and slurring his pen.

Update:  Here is a readable version.

Thomas Jefferson Promotes Rational Christianity

In a very anti-Trinitarian context. It was to Timothy Pickering February 27, 1821. As Jefferson writes:
I thank you for Mr. Channing's discourse, which you have been so kind as to forward me. It is not yet at hand, but is doubtless on its way. I had received it through another channel, and read it with high satisfaction. No one sees with greater pleasure than myself the progress of reason in its advances towards rational Christianity. When we shall have done away the incomprehensible jargon of the Trinitarian arithmetic, that three are one, and one is three; when we shall have knocked down the artificial scaffolding, reared to mask from view the simple structure of Jesus; when, in short, we shall have unlearned everything which has been taught since His day, and got back to the pure and simple doctrines He inculcated, we shall then be truly and worthily His disciples; and my opinion is that if nothing had ever been added to what flowed purely from His lips, the whole world would at this day have been Christian.

Ben Franklin Promotes Rational Christianity

The rational Christians/unitarians of the Founding era seemed of two minds on the Trinity.  They vacillated between thinking the doctrine "unimportant" and a harmful irrationality.  If the Trinity is unimportant, all we need to believe is Jesus is Messiah, then we can get along and worship together (and unitarians and Trinitarians got along in Founding era churches precisely by ignoring the Trinity and focusing on common ground).  But if it's a harmful irrationality, then it must be purged.  Likewise if the Trinity is central to Christianity, then unitarianism must be purged.

With that, when Ben Franklin promoted "rational Christianity" in his 1772 letter to the Arian Richard Price, it was done in the context of promoting unitarianism.  As Franklin wrote:
If he had come to town, and preach'd here sometimes, I fancy Sir John P. would now and then have been one of his hearers; for he likes his theology as well as his philosophy. Sir John has ask'd me if I knew where he could go to hear a preacher of rational Christianity. I told him I knew several of them, but did not know where their churches were in town; out of town, I mention' d yours at Newington, and offer 'd to go with him. He agreed to it, but said we should  first let you know our intention.

Friday, August 24, 2012

Jefferson Mentions Rational Christians and Deists

This is Thomas Jefferson's letter to Dr. Benjamin Rush, Monticello, September 23, 1800 where he notes his views on Christianity would not displease "the rational Christians" and "Deists."
I promised you a letter on Christianity, which I have not forgotten. On the contrary, it is because I have reflected on it, that I find much more time necessary for it than I can at present dispose of. I have a view of the subject which ought to displease neither the rational Christian nor Deists, and would reconcile many to a character they have too hastily rejected.
This reminds me of Locke in the sense that he purportedly wrote his "Reasonableness of Christianity" to convince the "Deists" that "Christianity" (as Locke understood the faith) was rational.

Lockean Rational Christianity

I'm going to revisit this post by Dr. Greg Forster that explains Locke's "rational Christianity." This post which criticizes David Barton also contains an important summary of how Locke viewed Christianity. As Dr. Forster writes:
Locke was (and still is) welcomed as an ally by theological rationalists. The Reasonableness was (and still is) attacked by theological conservatives; Locke wrote his two “vindications” of the Reasonableness in response to the conservative John Edwards, who attacked Locke’s theology as rationalistic in a book entitled Socinianism Unmasked.
... Locke fought hard for the position that people could be saved in Jesus while denying the Incarnation, the Trinity and the Atonement. In Locke’s time that would have been a reference to Socinians and deists. Supporting this “latitudinarian” view of salvation was one of the primary motives of the Reasonableness, and it was on these grounds Edwards and others accused Locke of being a Socinian rationalist. Many interpretations of these facts are possible; Locke was certainly not a deist, and I believe there’s a strong case to be made that the charges of Socinianism and rationalism were overblown and that Locke does not deserve to be called a “forerunner of deism.” However, his influence was crucial to normalizing the presence of deism in Anglican theological discourse and the eventual admission of deists to Anglican membership. ... [I]n our time as in Locke’s time, it’s generally the conservative Christians who attack Locke’s theology and the liberals, rationalists, and secularists who defend it.
Viewing Founding era political theology as Lockean rational Christianity may be an alternative to Dr. Gregg Frazer's "theistic rationalism." Other notable scholars before Frazer used the term "rational Christianity" in this sense, which Frazer rejects because a theological system -- even if it purports to be "Christianity" -- that rejects Jesus as 2nd Person in the Trinity is not "Christianity." That begs the question whether it's fair to limit the definition of "Christianity" to the "orthodox." Though, that is what orthodox theologians -- from St. Athanasias to CS Lewis -- have traditionally done. It may be possible to categorize all 5 key Founders as "rational Christians" under Locke's more generous test for what it means to be "Christian."

New Kidd Article on Barton-Jefferson

Here.  A taste:
Meanwhile, let's look at one of the key points in contention. Most historians prior to Barton described Thomas Jefferson as a life-long religious skeptic, but Barton writes in The Jefferson Lies that there "never was a time when [Jefferson] was anti-Jesus or when he rejected Christianity." Barton states that for much of Jefferson's adult life his faith was "nothing less than orthodox."

The Jefferson Lies commends Daniel Dreisbach, an American University professor, calling him one of the few Jefferson scholars who employs a "sound historical approach," so I asked Dreisbach whether he agreed with Barton. Dreisbach replied that he has a "very hard time" accepting the notion that Jefferson was ever an orthodox Christian, or that Jefferson ever embraced Christianity's "transcendent claims."

Barton told me that he does not necessarily disagree with Dreisbach. The Jefferson Lies states that by 1813, when Jefferson was 70, he had rejected the doctrine of the Trinity. Barton said he mainly wants to emphasize that Jefferson was no atheist or secularist.

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

Akhil Amar's New Article

It's very good.  It actually mentions David Barton (because his controversy is current).  It also stresses something about the attestation clause (In The Year of Our Lord) that I had not, until recently, been aware of.  When confronted with the notion that this is God in the Constitution, I would usually note, it's just the way of customarily stating the date, not a statement of constitutional principle.  But even more, it wasn't even written or ratified by the framers.  As Amar writes:

As it turns out—though this fact has until now not been widely understood—the “our Lord” clause is not part of the official legal Constitution. The official Constitution’s text ends just before these extra words of attestation—extra words that in fact were not ratified by various state conventions in 1787-88.

Monday, August 20, 2012

Cotton Mather Pummels a Trojan Horse

Here's a selection from Magnalia Christi Americana: Or the Ecclesiastical History of New England (1697), by Cotton Mather; Book VII (pages 12 - 13) [paragraph formatting is mine]:

§13. Reader, Be content that the same Chapter which has related the Controversies that have sometimes disturbed the Churches of New-England about Matters, the Lawfulness whereof has been scrupled, should leap over half an Hundred Years to grasp at another of those Controversies, which as late as the Year 1688, was an Occasion of some further Disturbance: The Affinity, rather than the Chronology of the thing inviting us, in this Place to lodge the History of that Controversie

When the Charter of New-England were taken away, the Gouvernour [Sir Edmund Andros], who with a Treasonable and an arbitrary Commission then Tyrannized over the Colonies, at length drove the New-Englanders to imitate the whole English Nation, in a happy Revolution, on the Eighteenth of April, 1689. And in the Declaration of Grievances, which they published [for] this Revolution, Article VII was this: 
To plunge the poor People everywhere into deeper incapacities, there was one very Comprehensive Abuse given to us: Multitudes of pious and sober Men thro' the land scrupled the Mode of swearing on the Book [by touching it], desiring that they might Swear with an uplifted Hand, agreeable to the ancient Custom of the Colony; and tho' we think we can prove, that the Common Law amongst us (as well as in some other places under the English Crown) does not indulge, but even Command and enjoin the Rite of lifting the Hand in Swearing, yet they that bad this doubt were still put by from serving upon any Juries, and many of them were most unaccountably Fined and Imprisoned. This one Grievance is a Trojan Horse, in the Belly of which'tis not easie to recount how many insufferable Vexations have been contained. . . . 
However [despite the many learned protests lodged against the book-oath] it may be the Christians of New-England are the only ones in the World that ever suffered a Formal Persecution, by Fines and Gaols, for bearing their testimony unto Purity of Worship, in that great Point of Worship, an Oath: And perhaps these Christians bear a part in Finishing the Testimony to be born unto the Laws of our Lord Jesus Christ in the World, by patiently suffering this Persecution, while the Quakers, who refused all Swearing at all, did undergo no such Hardships from the Government. 

Now the Reasons that moved these Confessors hereunto are easily understood. They were of this old Puritan Principle; that all Religious Worship, not Commanded by God, is Forbidden; and that all Symbolical Ceremonies enjoined on Men in Religious Worship, are made parts of it. More closely; they judged that our Swearing ON the Gospel, is a Swearing BY the Gospel, and therefore Idolatrous. [. . .] The Religious Forms of Addressing to God, we say, are to be appointed by none but God himself: Whereas the Elevation of the Hand, has even for Sacred as well as for Civil Uses; and in an Oath particularly, had such unexceptionable Approbation, that the Faithful of New-England chose it, and chose rather to suffer Affliction, than to use a Rite in the Worship of God, which they suspected sinful.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

"Getting Back to the Constitution": The Truth


In my last post on American Creation I chose to chime in the David Barton controversy that has graced the pages of this blog recently. I did so for the first and, probably, the last time. This is because I believe it is a red herring in the national dialogue about the American Founding and the Constitution. A red-herring the zealots on both extremes of the "Culture Wars" have vomited all over the rest of us for years. This is because the central question at stake is an impossible one to answer. It seems both sides like it that way. It allows them to cherry pick quotes, write books, and serve them up as read meat for their base of rabid supporters. Of whom never bother to question anything the so called experts say on this matter. The absurd question is:

Were the Founding Father's Christians or not?

I propose we trade that impossible to answer question in for a real one. One that might get us closer to the quality of discussion that is needed to educate the masses that are all of a sudden interested in the Founding. This would include the Liberty Movement, Tea Party, and Occupy Wall Street movements and the citizens they represent. A large segment of the population that have woken up to realize that something might well be rotten in Denmark. They are not so sure what it is but each group has begun to look back to the beginning to see where America has gone astray. In other words, the "Culture Wars" have gone main stream.

What is the real question that I think will generate the necessary discussions to help accurately educate people that want to learn the truth? A simple one:

What role did Christian principles play in helping to shape the founding of America?

Non-Christians do not despair this question can be asked another way and still produce productive discussion:

What ideas helped to shape the founding of America and what is the origin of those ideas?

Unlike the "Culture Wars" frame of discussion, these questions are answerable. That is if people are willing to put in the time to study and discuss them. By discussion I do not mean the current one because it is not a discussion. It is two groups of people that hate each other talking past one another. Which is fine but why give the zealots all the spotlight? In fact, if you dig deep into these discussions as I have the past 5 years and get to know all the players a dirty little secret comes out. The large chunk of the zealots on both sides all grew up going to fundamentalist churches.

Once one understands this it becomes clear that the Religious Right is bitter that the militant atheists all left and the militant atheists are bitter about the abuse they feel they suffered. I am not minimizing the pain that anyone has gone through because I was deeply wounded by a zealot church myself, but at some point these people have to get over this. I was able to.

Regardless, I believe that "discussion" is about to go into the trash heap where it belongs because the "Culture Wars" have gone mainstream. Some people are threatened by the term because they think it represents selling out and unneeded compromise. Not at all. Mainstream means the place where reasonable, rational, and open-minded people sit down and actually discuss things in an intelligent manner. As the voice of reasonable people that join the discussion about the American Founding increases the zealots will be drowned out.

How do I know this? Much of this discussion is taking place in the Social Media stream where broadcasting is frowned upon and engagement is preferred. I do this for a living and have been watching zealots of all kinds take a pounding or just simply be tuned out. Almost all of them do not even realize it.

What does all this mean for us at American Creation? One gigantic opportunity is what it means. A opportunity to help shape the national dialogue and try to ensure that the truth comes out. I know that some are out there are jumping up and down shouting for joy that David Barton is finally getting roasted. In doing so, they are just setting themselves up for their day. Nobody wants to listen to a bunch of bitter people hurl hand grenades at each other. I enjoyed it for a while because I was mad at the Christian Church. I even joined the zealots in the quest to destroy the Religious Right. That is until I realized my time is better spent in reasonable discussion with open-mined people. Simply put, all the venom gets real old really fast.

With all that said I leave the second question I posed above to someone else to tackle. As a Christian I feel it is my obligation to promote the first. Not because I am biased but because I want to try to repair what David Barton has destroyed. Mainly because he is a Pastor trying to promote himself as a Historian. I am neither but I know the Bible and History very well.  Enough to know good Theology and History when I see it. With that in mind, I am going to start going through excerpts from the book Defending The Declaration by Gary Amos.

His general thesis is the same as David Barton's which is that the Founding of America was much more heavily influence by Christianity than is commonly taught. He just leaves behind the unanswerable question of what Founders were Christians, bad History, and zealotry behind. In short, it is a balanced and fair representation that the average guy on the street can understand.

Here is a taste of Amos with much more to come:

Law is a key idea in the Declaration of Independence for a very important reason. The Declaration was about being free from England, meaning a war would be fought. Some would call the colonists traitors and rebels and say the revolution was a lawless act. When Jefferson sat down to pen the Declaration , he knew these accusations would come, so his first thought was of law. He wanted the world to know that Americans had a right to be free- a right flowing from the laws of nature and of nature's God. 

Jefferson and Slavery: A Response to David Barton on the Glenn Beck Show, Part One

From Warren Throckmorton here.

New Posts From Rick Green

Defending his boss. Three of them. One, Two, and Three.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Boykin Expands on Barton Lie

From Ed Brayton here.

David Barton Tells Glenn Beck a More Obvious Lie to Refute the Refutation of a Less Obvious Lie

From Chris Rodda here.

David Barton on Glenn Beck TV

It's here. I'm going to try to watch it (not sure if I can get through the whole thing).

No Surprise Here

On who is going to publish Barton's Baboon.

More Barton Links

Here are a bunch of them: First Jason Kerr; second The Daily News; third The Daily Beast, fourth and finally, TMP Muckraker.

Half a Loaf

Here's a intriguing piece I came across in a new book, Endowed by Our Creator - The Birth Of Religious Freedom in America (pgs 162-63), by Michael I. Meyerson:
[In a series of written exchanges between Madison and Thomas Jefferson regarding the purposefulness of securing a bill of rights] Jefferson tried to respond to Madison's doubts. First he wrote, there was a third benefit to a bill of rights. Jefferson understood, well ahead of most people, that judicial review might be able to protect minority rights. As he told Madison: "You omit one which has great weight with me, the legal check which it puts into the hands of the judiciary" <TJ to JM, Mar 15, 1789, PTJ 14:14:659> In answer to Madison's concern that they would not be able to obtain the guarantees of rights "in the requisite latitude," Jefferson agreed, but also argued from necessity: "Half a loaf is better than no bread. If we cannot secure all our rights, let us secure what we can." The centuries old battle over the meaning of the first amendment is in many ways a battle how much of that loaf Madison was able to secure.

Question on Jefferson and His Slaves

I sometimes so hyperfocus on the religion issue regarding America's Founders that I miss others. But I won't shooting my mouth off as though I am an expert in those areas only to have someone call out my errors. So someone please correct my understanding if I am wrong. My understanding of Jefferson and freeing his slaves is I think he desired to free his slaves like other founders did, but the problem was his spendthrift nature. He left his estate such debt problems that he ended up not being able to afford to free his slaves.

Is that a fair assessment?

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

The Blaze's New Article on Barton v. Throckmorton

It is surprisingly fair towards Throckmorton. Despite Barton's connection with Glenn Beck, they don't seem to be unquestionably buying what Barton sells.

Fea's Patheos Article on the Barton Affair

Here. It is must read.

NYT on the Barton Debacle

Here. (See if you can spot the NYT's error in the context of citing Gregg Frazer's point.)

Being Even-handed Is Difficult

Here's a 10/26/2011 (slightly edited) email I sent to the authors of The Founding Fathers and the Debate over Religion in Revolutionary America (the text within brackets is mine):

Dear Professor Thomas Kidd,

In your recent book, co-authored with Matthew Harris, you placed the following as part of A History of Documents, page 28:
The Founders included a presidential oath in the Constitution, and while it did not contain any religious language [other than proscribing a religious test oath], many presidents [since Andrew Jackson] have [demonstrably] chosen to swear on a Bible and [only since Chester A. Arthur have many presidents chosen to] add "so help me God" after the oath. Even that is controversial: A lawsuit by atheist activists [namely, Michael Newdow] following President Barack Obama's election in 2008 tried to ban [not] Obama [but Chief Justice Roberts] from using the phrase "so help me God" following the oath, but a federal judge refused the request.

George Washington was the first president to place his hand on the Bible during the presidential oath [Even so, there is no evidence that Washington was responsible for having included a Bible. Alternately, there is evidence to suggest that Chancellor Robert R. Livingston administered the presidential oath in the form of a religious test exactly as mandated by NYS legislation.] He set other "precedents," too. Among them was his comfort with using religious language in official statements and proclamations.  . . .

[In contrast, Washington was, at least, equally as comfortable at his second inauguration, where he did not include a Bible, and did not include a reference to deity in his inaugural speech.]

I hope you can see those items I have placed within square brackets gives the reader another perspective, which leaves me with the question as to just which side of the "debate over religion" you're coming from, especially when I read your 8/4/2011 online Patheos article, Secular Extremism, Evangelicals, and Rick Perry's "Response."

- Ray Soller

Here's Thomas Kidd's prompt response where he says how being even-handed is difficult.
Thank you for your interest in our book! I am sure that Matt and I have our own perspectives on the church-state debates (although I am not sure that they are the same), but we’ve tried in the book to be as even-handed as we can, especially in the choice of documents. Perhaps our approach will not fully please everyone, but on such a contentious issue, doing so is difficult.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Barton, Rodda, and the Truth About Christian America


This is my official return to American Creation as a Contributor after a long absence and one aborted attempt last year to find time to do this. With that stated, my first post is going to be on something I almost never post about on this blog: David Barton. I have avoided writing posts in the past and rarely comment on those that do. This was because there is a real danger in poisoning this blog by bringing in all the supercharged hysteria found in the "Culture Wars". I believe this because this is mainly a History blog and the job of the Historian is to be a dispassionate umpire that calls the balls and strikes as he sees them.

However, I learned one very important thing in being a History teacher over the years. This is that the only reason to really study the past is to understand the present. The reason for this is obvious. We cannot change the past but we can learn from it. So, I think it wise from time to time that we do bring up the present here at American Creation in order to better understand the History we seek to study. With that in mind, I present to you a response I left to Chris Rodda at Free Thought Blogs with my take on the whole David Barton mania in general.

More specifically in regards to his book being pulled, Rick Green's challenge for anyone to find inaccuracies in Barton's work, Chris Rodda's response, and his back to her. All of which has been chronicled in recent posts by Jon Rowe. Here is my response to Ms. Rodda:

I have just re-engaged back with American Creation and have read the posts that Jon is linking here. I left a comment on one of your posts on Facebook under my Brand page “3rdWAVElands” and would love to hear a response. I have a proposal for you:

If you can give me your most simple and undeniable way in which Barton uses bad history I will take to the blog as a Christian and get them to pay attention. I disagree with you at times but find you to be a fair person. But I am going to call it as I see it on both sides if this thing is finally going to be settled.

If that is your goal I think I can help you. They cannot dismiss me the way they did you. I am a Christian and share many of the same theological and political beliefs as they do. I struggle with a great deal of the latter but still can work with them and speak their language. Recently, I have joined a bunch of Facebook Groups with libertarians and Tea Party evangelicals with the goal of trying to get them to unite.

That may sound like a bad thing to you but in fact if the liberty movement can make end roads with the Religious Right a lot of this national stuff will stop. I personally do not believe homosexuality is right according the Bible but it is not worse than me sleeping with married(separated but still married) women the last few years when I got fed up with the church. As far as society goes I am a firm believer that the state should not have a say in marriage at all or it should be hyper-local at best. No way the Federal Government should be involved in marriage. As far as abortion I believe personally that it is morally wrong. This is both philosophically and theologically. But I know their are other issues that the Bible talks about too that get ignored.

In fact, I find it laughable that the Religious Right that purports to stand for “Constitutional Values” started a 25 year crusade to stack the Supreme Court as their only goal. This by solely focusing on the Presidential races. In the end, their golden child Roberts may have ended their influence. 25 years and no overturn of Roe v Wade but Roberts did pass Obamacare? This has pissed off the "liberTea" movement, as I think it is best labeled, and they are fighting mad. More and more at the Evangelicals that put Roberts there than even Obama who they hate.

What they miss is that our government was just given the unlimited power to tax for the first time in our history. This was the very thing the founders declared independence over. The whole Declaration of Independence was a response to King George telling them he could tax them anyway he pleased. Thus, relegating them to slaves.

The ignorance of History in the liberTea movement is amazing. Someone recently contacted me about helping them with something political wanting my support(I helped a candidate here in Florida with Social Media and have gotten a lot of connections in doing so) talked to me about the Federalist Papers. I told that person I was wanting to finally get around to reading the Anti-Federalist papers and she had no idea what they were? It is not a bad person but it really shocked me that someone so involved in the "Get Back to the Constitution" movement did not know that.

Sorry for the long comment but I think we both want to see accurate History put out there and for people to make up their own minds. When I get you and Ed Brayton away from your followers and over to American Creation where all the supercharged rhetoric gets eliminated you get to see that you are well meaning people that just want to see the truth come out. I am a product of Ed’s willingness to discuss things with people that are trying to be intellectually honest. I went on his blog to tear him a new ass. I left respecting him and his passion. Same with you.

I was one of the zealots you guys seem to be trying to reach to show them that the Religious Right is in error on some key points. I was never all that fond of them but was still heavily influenced because in that world you get isolated from the “evils of this world” and live in a bubble. A bubble I have found that 99 percent of the world lives in. I have traveled enough and talk with enough people overseas to know that most never question it one bit and are taught from birth to listen to the holy man or guru.

Thank God for me that I was atheist skeptic and had to change my mind to believe in the Bible. A choice some might think absurd but nonetheless a choice based on study, questioning, and soul searching. I also was raised a Socialist by my grandfather the famous labor leader William Winpisinger and have converted to "Old School" Conservatism. This through much study, questioning, and soul searching. Same way he came to be a Socialist. I disagree with much of his politics now but he is still my hero because he believed honestly from the heart and knew why he believed.

My point to you Chris is that we can disagree and still work to see that people are presented all sides and encouraged to choose what they believe is right. This is what "Free Thought" is all about. So let me know your best, simple, and most undeniable case against something Barton wrote and I will put the heat on this guy to answer it. Starting with the Proverb he quoted. This is because if he just dismissed you without merit that makes him the fool.

I can see both sides and just want the truth to come out.

Journalism of the Revolution

Not to distract anyone from the concerns and employments of their lives, but this website could occupy an American Creation reader for some time. Rag Linen is:

...named for the heavy-duty paper on which pre-19th century news was printed, is an online museum of rare and historic newspapers, which serve as the first drafts of history and the critical primary source material for historians, authors and educators. Curator and publisher Todd Andrlik has built one of the most significant and comprehensive private collections of Revolutionary War era newspapers. Glimpses of the newspapers can be found on, but the full archive of American Revolution newspaper coverage will be made public for the first time in the forthcoming book, Reporting the Revolutionary War: Before It Was History, It Was News (Sourcebooks, November 2012).

The site also enjoys an active presence on Facebook, Twitter, and the like.

(It reminds me to finally finish a post on the importance of the printer's trade to the functions of church and state at the time of the Founding, which I hope to wrap up soon.)

Rick Green Addresses Chris Rodda

Green is David Barton's 2nd in command. She finally got his attention here.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

NPR on Thomas Nelson Pulling


Thomas Nelson Pulls the Plug

Read about it here.

Was the American Revolution a Real Revolution?

The American Conservative raises that question by re-publishing this essay by the late Robert Nisbet, a sociologist and one of the leading conservative thinkers of the post World-War II period: Was There An American Revolution? Nisbet covers a lot of ground in this essay, touching on everything from class &  property to religious liberty.  Nisbet's conclusion, contra other conservatives like Russell Kirk and M.E. Bradford, is that the American Revolution was indeed a real revolution, impacting social, cultural and religious aspects of American life, leading to a profound change not only in the formal political institutions of the country but also the underlying spirit of the nation.  As Nisbet concludes:
I would argue, then, that there was indeed an American Revolution in the full sense of the word–a social, moral, and institutional revolution that effected major changes in the character of American society–as well as a war of liberation from England that was political in nature. 
The line from the social revolution of the 1770s to the civil rights revolution of the 1960s is a direct one. It is a line that passes through the Civil War–itself certainly not without revolutionary implication–and through a host of changes in the status of Americans of all races, beliefs, and classes. The United States has indeed undergone a process of almost permanent revolution. I can think of no greater injustice to ourselves, as well as to the makers of revolution in Philadelphia, than to deny that fact and to allow the honored word revolution to be preempted today by spokesmen for societies which, through their congealed despotisms, have made real revolution all but impossible.
The linkage between the revolutionary work of the American founding generation and the civil rights movement of the 1960s is one that was made repeatedly by many in the civil rights movement at the time, perhaps most notably by Martin Luther King, Jr. in The Letter From a Birmingham City Jail

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

NPR on the David Barton Controversy


First Things/Forster on Barton on Locke

Greg Forster takes down David Barton's understanding of Locke. Note Forster is not only a conservative Christian but also, contra Strauss, very sympathetic to the notion that John Locke's ideas are NOT subversive of but rather compatible with traditional Christianity.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Bob Allen on Pastors' Boycott of Barton


Kidd @ World on The David Barton Controversy

By Thomas Kidd here. A taste:
Jay W. Richards, senior fellow at the Discovery Institute, and author with James Robison of Indivisible: Restoring Faith, Family, and Freedom Before It’s Too Late, spoke alongside Barton at Christian conferences as recently as last month. Richards says in recent months he has grown increasingly troubled about Barton’s writings, so he asked 10 conservative Christian professors to assess Barton’s work.

Their response was negative. Some examples: Glenn Moots of Northwood University wrote that Barton in The Jefferson Lies is so eager to portray Jefferson as sympathetic to Christianity that he misses or omits obvious signs that Jefferson stood outside “orthodox, creedal, confessional Christianity.” A second professor, Glenn Sunshine of Central Connecticut State University, said that Barton’s characterization of Jefferson’s religious views is “unsupportable.” A third, Gregg Frazer of The Master’s College, evaluated Barton’s video America’s Godly Heritage and found many of its factual claims dubious, such as a statement that “52 of the 55 delegates at the Constitutional Convention were ‘orthodox, evangelical Christians.’” Barton told me he found that number in M.E. Bradford’s A Worthy Company.

Barton has received support from Mike Huckabee, Newt Gingrich, Michele Bachmann, and other political leaders. He questions how many of his new critics have actually read his work, especially The Jefferson Lies. Barton concedes that Jefferson doubted some traditional Christian doctrines, but argues that these doubts did not emerge until the last couple of decades of his life. He says that all of his books, including his latest, are fully documented with footnotes, and that critics who look at the original sources he is using often change their minds.

A full-scale, newly published critique of Barton is coming from Professors Warren Throckmorton and Michael Coulter of Grove City College, a largely conservative Christian school in Pennsylvania. Their book Getting Jefferson Right: Fact Checking Claims about Our Third President (Salem Grove Press), argues that Barton “is guilty of taking statements and actions out of context and simplifying historical circumstances.” For example, they charge that Barton, in explaining why Jefferson did not free his slaves, “seriously misrepresents or misunderstands (or both) the legal environment related to slavery.”

When Calvin and Qutb Went Smashing

By Philip Jenkins here.

David Barton’s Capitol Tour: Did Thomas Jefferson Spend Federal Funds to Evangelize the Kaskaskia Indians?

From Warren Throckmorton here.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

When Did Jefferson Become Anti-Trinitarian

I see Thomas Jefferson's July 25 1788 letter to Derieux as expressing unitarian sentiments, and claiming to have done so his entire adult life. Still, perhaps it isn't a smoking gun of anti-Trinitarianism (as Tom Van Dyke suggests). Yet, I think such smoking guns exist well before David Barton's claim of 1813. For instance, Jefferson's April 21, 1803 (while he was President!) letter to Benjamin Rush where Jefferson discusses his Syllabus. In the letter to Rush, Jefferson states:
To the corruptions of Christianity I am indeed opposed; but not to the genuine precepts of Jesus himself. I am a Christian, in the only sense he wished any one to be; sincerely attached to his doctrines, in preference to all others; ascribing to himself every human excellence; & believing he never claimed any other.
As I read the passage, Jefferson seems clearly to say that Jesus never claimed to be anything other than human. That is anti-Trinitarian. Likewise "Corruptions of Christianity" was termed by Jefferson's mentor, Joseph Priestley who defined those corruptions as Original Sin, Trinity, Incarnation, Atonement, and Plenary Inspiration of the Bible. Immediately after Jefferson sent his Syllabus to Rush, he then sent a copy to Priestley, with a note. Jefferson does tell Priestley there may be "a point or two in which [they] differ." Indeed, Jefferson later explicitly rejected the Virgin birth and Resurrection, both of which Priestley believed. Jefferson says to Priestley his Syllabus "omits" the question of Jesus' divinity. The Syllabus itself claims the issue of Jesus being a member of the Godhead is "foreign" to the view expressed in the Syllabus. The overall context of these communications seems firmly unitarian. Though I see the quotation to Rush that Jesus never claimed anything other than "human excellence" as anti-Trinitarian.

Barton Should Not Be Copied, Only Scorned

Ed Brayton takes on some secular leftist for engaging in errors like David Barton does, but for the other side.

Friday, August 3, 2012

Review of The Roads to Modernity by Gertrude Himmelfarb

Here at American Creation we explore the roots of the American experiment in ordered liberty. Most of the time, our explorations focus on the religious roots of our nation. But when the United States was created as an independent republic, religion was not the sole intellectual force shaping the views of many of the most active Patriots who sought freedom from the British crown. In addition to the various forms of Christianity (including theistic rationalism) that percolated through American life during the Revolutionary and early Republic periods, Enlightenment philosophy also played a large part in shaping public discourse and debate surrounding both American independence and the shape of our republican (with a small-r) institutions once independence was won.

Just as there were multiple Christianities in play at the time of the American founding, so too within the Western world there were multiple Enlightenments, each different in scope and purpose. Historian Gertrude Himmelfarb has detailed the diversity within the Enlightenment project in her book The Roads to Modernity;  The British, French, and American Enlightenments (Knopf: 2005, $25.00 hardback). In this book she presents a study of the similarities and the critical differences between the various national manifestations of Enlightenment philosophy. Far from being a unified movement with a set of consistent ideological points, the Enlightenment was a varied and in many instances contradictory movement that took starkly different forms in the Anglo-American and European continental worlds. Himmelfarb's book is a very clear and cogently written account of just how and why these two schools of Enlightenment thought went off on radically different tangents.

Himmelfarb structures her book around the basic thesis that each of the Enlightenments manifested a drive towards a different aspect of rationalist thinking about the nature of society and the role of government in ensuring the common good. The British Enlightenment, in her view, was based on the very pressing need for social reform within the British Empire in the 18th and 19th centuries. The French Enlightenment emphasized the role of reason as an abstract and ideological concept, leveling institutions within France and in the broader European world in a revolt against tradition, custom and prescription. The American Enlightenment took place within the context of a culture that sought to foster and expand traditional liberties through a politics that was at once both moralist and realist in its understanding of human flourishing. It is the diversity behind each Enlightenment that explains the diversity in paths that each society took into the modern world.

Himmelfarb gives pride of place and treatment to the British Enlightenment, a not surprising approach given that her primary field as a historian is British intellectual history. As she notes in her prologue, she sees the British Enlightenment as setting the stage for the French and American Enlightenments, both of which built on the accomplishments of British thinkers. The key distinctive component of the British Enlightenment, as she explains, is the idea of virtue. Rather than abstract reason, the British Enlightenment focused on instilling virtue, and not just personal virtue but first and foremost social virtue. Reason for the British had an instrumental role, as Himmelfarb explains, serving the propagation of virtue within the population. Once this point is understood, the full panoply of the British Enlightenment can be seen -- and movements and persons often seen as outside of the Enlightenment tradition (such as religious reformer John Wesley & the early Methodists, or Whig statesman and grandfather of modern conservatism Edmund Burke) come into focus as pivotal players in the British Enlightenment project.

Himmelfarb explores the role of reformist religion in the British Enlightenment in great detail, noting how both traditional religion in Britain and new movements like the Methodists both worked to try to reinforce the virtues of compassion and fellow-feeling, of charity and sentiment. This emphasis on the key role of social virtue in the British Enlightenment was not limited to churchmen -- David Hume and Adam Smith both believed in a sentimental moral sense that united all human beings, a moral sense that was not necessarily irrational but which was independent of reason as well. Himmelfarb goes into great detail explaining how the emphasis on moral sense and virtue played out in the works of Burke and other reformers within the British system. For anyone interested in understanding the vital role that religion played in 18th century British society, her chapter on Methodism is alone worth the price of the book.

The portions of the book that discuss the French and American Enlightenments are considerably shorter and lack the punch and vitality of the larger section of the book dealing with the British Enlightenment. This is unfortunate, because Himmelfarb's analysis of the French Enlightenment tends to follow a more conventional narrative than her truly enlightening (pun intended) discussion of the British Enlightenment. Unlike the British, who viewed moral sentiment and social virtue as forces independent of reason, the French fell into the trap of assigning to abstract reason the blade-edge of an ideology of revolution and violence. Chop, chop fell traditional institutions, moral intuitions and ultimately human heads.

Himmelfarb's discussion of the American Enlightenment focuses on its distinctive quality:  a focus on political liberty that built off of, rather than opposed, the religious values and institutions of colonial and early republican America. As she observes, "[t]he abiding strength and influence of religion was such that even those who were not themselves believers respected not only the religious beliefs of others but the idea of religion itself." While the Americans worked to prevent a national established church after independence, the government was supportive of voluntary religious expression and action. Church and state might be separate, but such separation "did not signify the separation of church and society." In fact, as Himmelfarb observes, religion was strengthened within society because it did not have to rely on direct and overt government support. Throughout American colonial and early republican history, religion was linked to freedom, and as such thrived in the environment of the American Enlightenment, with its emphasis on ordered liberty. Far from being an enemy of Enlightenment values like science and reason, religion in America was webbed through with the Enlightenment, from Cotton Mather through the advent of American learned societies under John Adams and Benjamin Franklin.

The picture of the Enlightenment in America is far from perfect, as Himmelfarb takes pains to point out. While religion and the Enlightenment were closely connected, there was little embrace within America as a whole for people on the margins of society, notably the poor, Indians and African-Americans. The poor were often seen as purposefully indolent, lazy louts in a nation were land was for the taking on the frontier just beyond the boundaries of the settlements furthest west. Indians, as Himmelfarb details, were thought little better than savages, fit only to be educated for assimilation. Founders like John Jay raised their voices against the treatment of native Americans by settlers, warning that the whites were on their way to a far deeper savagery than that found in the native American communities. Such warnings largely went unheeded.

As with the Indians, America also wrestled with the problem of its enslaved African-American population. As with the Indians, both economic and social interests mixed with racism to complicate the relationship between the dominant population and the marginalized slaves.  White supremacy polluted efforts to move towards emancipation, and concerns about the economic ramifications of emancipation kept many abolitionists quiet. When the Quakers brought forth a petition calling on Congress to move towards the abolition of slavery, the only major Founder to publicly support the effort was an aging and ailing Benjamin Franklin. Even as ardent an abolitionist as Alexander Hamilton did not move forward because of concerns about how such a proposal would impact the finances of the young American Republic. James Madison refused to support it because he was, as Himmelfarb delicately puts it, "ambivalent about slavery itself."

Most surprising of all when it comes to slavery is Jefferson -- the man who next to Franklin often is seen as the paragon of the American Enlightenment. Jefferson, the man who wrote so eloquently about the natural rights of man to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, was steadfastly opposed to any plan for immediate emancipation, favoring instead a plan for the ethnic cleansing of American-Americans from the United States.  Jefferson called for colonies of freed slaves to be established far from the United States, because the two races, white and black, could never in Jefferson's view be able to co-exist with each other in social peace. Madison was such an enthusiast for this plan that he called not only for this plan to be applied to slaves of African ancestry, but all blacks in the United States. Even freemen were to be expelled from the land of their birth. Himmelfarb provides a brief discussion regarding how this contradiction in the American Enlightenment, of freedom for some but not all, would only be resolved through Lincoln's work during the Civil War.

Himmelfarb's book is an insightful and detailed look at the three Enlightenments that took place within western civilization in the 18th and early 19th centuries. As she notes in her epilogue to the book, the British, French and American Enlightenments are still with us -- that much of our political, legal and social cultures are still shaped by the fundamental values and priorities and weaknesses of each of the different Enlightenments. While other ideas are present in our public lives, modernity itself was brought about by the three Enlightenments and their effects. As she writes at the very end of her book, "We are, in fact, still floundering in the verities and fallacies, the assumptions and convictions, about human nature, society, and the polity that exercised the British moral philosophers, the French philosophes, and the American Founders." Indeed we are. Indeed we are.

"Founders Famous and Forgotten"

That's the title of this post by Daniel L. Driesbach, posted over at The Imaginative Conservative. Driesbach provides an insightful overview of why we think some founders are important, why others fall by the wayside of popular imagination, and why some of the less-known founders are still critically important for understanding our constitutional and political order.  Driesbach concludes his essay with this word of warning -- something anyone interested in the American Founding should keep constantly before his or her eyes:
The near exclusive focus on a select few virtually deified famous founders impoverishes our understanding of the American founding. It also departs from the canons of good scholarship. The demands of honest scholarship require scholars to give attention to the thoughts, words, and deeds of not only a few selected demigods but also an expansive company of men and women who contributed to the founding of the American republic.
Our nation was not built only by those we consider, in light of our own prejudices and perspectives, "great men."  To understand our nation, we need to broaden the scope of the people we consider worthy of study.

Ed Brayton on the Fake Quotes that Live On

Here. Ed and I have been doing this for over 8 years and these fake quotes still persist.