Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Early Mormonism on the "Evils" of Wealth (Glenn Beck's Head is About to Explode)

So it has been a long while since I posted anything.  Perhaps this will be a way to ease back into it.


The First Presidency and Council of the Twelve Apostles of the Church of
Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (1875)
THE EXPERIENCE OF MANKIND has shown that the people of communities and nations among whom wealth is the most equally distributed, enjoy the largest degree of liberty, are the least exposed to tyranny and oppression and
suffer the least from luxurious habits which beget vice. Under such a system, carefully maintained there could be no great aggregations of either real or personal property in the hands of a few; especially so while the
laws, forbidding the taking of usury or interest for money or property loaned, continued in force.
ONE OF THE GREAT EVILS with which our own nation is menaced at the present  time is the wonderful growth of wealth in the hands of a comparatively few individuals. The very liberties for which our fathers contended so
steadfastly and courageously, and which they bequeathed to us as a priceless legacy, are endangered by the monstrous power which this accumulation of wealth gives to a few individuals and a few powerful corporations. By its
seductive influence results are accomplished which, were it more equally distributed, would be impossible under our form of government. It threatens to give shape to the legislation, both State, and National, of the entire
country. If this evil should not be checked, and measures not taken to prevent the continued enormous growth of riches among the class already rich, and the painful increase of destitution and want among the poor, the
nation is likely to be overtaken by disaster; for, according to history, such a tendency among nations once powerful was the sure precursor of ruin.
YEARS AGO IT WAS PERCEIVED that we Latter-day Saints were open to the same dangers as those which beset the rest of the world. A condition of affairs existed among us which was favorable to the growth of riches in the hands of a few at the expense of many. A wealthy class was being rapidly formed in our midst whose interests in the course of time, were likely to be diverse from those of the rest of the community. The growth of such a class was dangerous to our union; and, of all people, we stand most in need of union and to have our interests identical. Then it was that the Saints were counseled to enter into co-operation. In the absence of the necessary faith to enter upon a more perfect order revealed by the Lord unto the Church, this was felt to be the best means of drawing us together and making us one.
A UNION OF INTERESTS was sought to be attained. At the time co-operation was entered upon the Latter-day Saints were acting in utter disregard of the principles of self-preservation. They were encouraging the growth of evils
in their own midst which they condemned as the worst features of the systems from which they had been gathered. Large profits were being consecrated in comparatively few hands, instead of being generally distributed among the
people. As a consequence, the community was being rapidly divided into classes, and the hateful and unhappy distinctions which the possession and lack of wealth give rise to, were becoming painfully apparent. When the
proposition to organize Zion's Co-operative Mercantile Institution was broached, it was hoped that the community at large would become stockholders; for if a few individuals only were to own its stock, the
advantages to the community would be limited. The people, therefore, were urged to take shares, and large numbers responded to the appeal. As we have shown, the business proved to be as successful as its most sanguine friends
anticipated. But the distribution of profits among the community was not the only benefit conferred by the organization of co-operation among us.
CO-OPERATION has submitted in silence to a great many attacks. Its friends have been content to let it endure the ordeal. But it is now time to speak. The Latter-day Saints should understand that it is our duty to sustain
co-operation and to do all in our power to make it a success. The local co-operative stores should have the cordial support of the Latter-day Saints. Does not all our history impress upon us the great truth that in
union is strength? Without it, what power would the Latter-day Saints have? But it is not our doctrines alone that we should be united, but in practice and especially in our business affairs.
Your Brethren:
Brigham Young, Daniel H. Wells, Wilford Woodruff, Orson Pratt, Lorenzo Snow,
Franklin D. Richards, Brigham Young Jr., George A. Smith, John taylor, Orson
Hyde, Charles C,. Rich, Erastus Snow, George Q. Cannon, Albert Carrington

Saturday, October 27, 2012

John Fea Explains the Middle Ground...

To a more secular oriented critic.  A taste:
Third, Fischer chides me for juxtaposing "providence" with "deism," as if a deist could not believe in providence.  I think she is correct here. A deist could believe in providence--in fact, most of them did.  As I have been speaking about the book to various audiences, I have realized that my discussion of "providence" as it relates to deism is not nuanced enough.

Yet I am not sure I agree with Fischer's characterization of my argument here.  She seems to think that I am arguing that if a founding father was not a deist, then he must have been a Christian who supported the creation of a uniquely Christian nation.  I think a sort of middle intellectual/religious ground is possible here.  For example, one could be a theist and still reject the core doctrines of traditional Christianity (such as the Trinity, the resurrection, the inspiration of the Bible, etc...).  Gregg Frazer has called this position "theistic rationalism."

Moreover, Fischer makes a logical mistake here.  She assumes that if a given founding father was a Christian, then he must have also wanted to promote a uniquely Christian nation.  I try to avoid this fallacy in my book, but Fischer wants to suggest that my attempt to paint the founders  as non-deists automatically means that I will answer the question in the title of my book in the affirmative.

David Rittenhouse: Rational Christian-Theistic Rationalist-Unitarian

If you are familiar with Philadelphia, you know Rittenhouse Square is (probably) the most affluent part of town.  It was named after David Rittenhouse, not a "key Founder" but one of the all but forgotten names from America's Founding era.

Rittenhouse was mentioned in Timothy Dwight's Triumph of Infidelity as one of those "infidels" who presented his system under the auspices of "Christianity" but in reality was too man centered/humanistic to qualify as "real Christianity."

But anyway here is a passage from an old book where Rittenhouse's widow describes his creed:
[D]ated August 20th 1797. "'That you were sufficiently authorized to assert what you did respecting Mr. Rittenhouse's religious principles, I now add my testimony to what you have said, for well I know the great truths of religion engaged much of his attention, and indeed were  interwoven with almost every important concern of his life. I do not recollect, if in any of the conversations I have had with you, I informed you, what I now do, that Dr. Price's opinions respecting Christianity were more in unison with his own, than any others of the divines; that Dr. Price's sermons was the last book he requested me to read to him, and that the last morning of his life, he reminded me that I had not finished one of the Doctor's discourses , which I had began the proceeding evening."
The Dr. Price referred to is the Arian heretic, "rational Christian," Richard Price. 

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Roger Sherman and the Creation of the American Republic

Oxford University Press just released Mark David Hall's book on Roger Sherman -- "Roger Sherman and the Creation of the American Republic" -- destined to be a classic on Sherman. I am grateful that Mark thanked me in the acknowledgements.

Look for more on this book in the near future at American Creation.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Ed Brayton Debates Thomas Jefferson's Religion

Here.  This illustrates the damage David Barton does when he tries to salvage some kind of traditional Christianity out of Thomas Jefferson.  Dinesh D’Souza (currently controversial) is mentioned.

Buried in the comments Michael Heath offers a valuable observation on paradigms:
* I reject the notion that theistic rationalists, Christians, and deists are all distinct non-overlapping sets. Instead I find Jefferson easily and obviously fits into all three sets. One merely has to understand the continuum of beliefs in Christianity, the definition of deism starting with the late-19th 18 century – particularly the definition as it relates to the process of deism – not confine the word to one popular conclusion, and the process and conclusions theistic rationalists use.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

The Left's David Barton

Howard Zinn apparently has a new rival and his name is Henry Wiencek. See John Fea here and here.

For the record, I like Thomas Jefferson a lot, mainly for his ideas and ideals. I recognize the man was flawed and don't believe in whitewashing history. The way I understand Jefferson and slavery: According to his ideals, Jefferson was against slavery. The law did not, as David Barton intimates, prevent Jefferson from freeing his slaves. The bottom line is Jefferson got himself into trouble with his spendthrift ways and THAT'S why he didn't end up freeing his slaves.

[James Wilson, btw, had some serious issues with debt as well.]

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

A Distant God?

Mark David Hall sent this along, a paragraph in his forthcoming book on Roger Sherman:
Some scholars have argued that the use of “distant” words for God or “vague and generic God-language” like “Nature’s God,” “Creator,” and “Providence” in the Declaration is evidence that the founders were deists. However, indisputably orthodox Christians regularly used such appellations. For instance, the Westminster Standards (a classic Reformed confession of faith), both in the original 1647 version and the 1788 American revision, refer to the deity as “the Supreme Judge,” “the great Creator of all things,” “the first cause,” “righteous judge,” “God the Creator,” and “the supreme Law and King of all the world.” They also regularly reference God’s providence and even proclaim that “[t]he light of nature showeth that there is a God.” Similarly, Isaac Watts, the “father of English Hymnody,” referred to the deity as “nature’s God” in a poem about Psalm 148: 10. Jeffry H. Morrison has argued persuasively that the Declaration’s references to “‘divine Providence’ and ‘the Supreme Judge of the World’ would have been quite acceptable to Reformed Americans in 1776, and conjured up images of the ‘distinctly biblical God’ when they heard or read the Declaration.” [i]

[i] See, for instance, Holmes, Faiths of the Founding Fathers, 47, 65; Fea, Was America Founded as a Christian Nation?, 131–133, 136; Lambert, Founding Fathers, 163; Dershowitz, Blasphemy, 11–12; and Green, Second Disestablishment, 31–32, 53–54. Westminster Standards, 1: 10; 5: 1, 2, 6; 19: 5; 23: 1; 1: 1, 7; 5; 21: 5; The Works of the Late Reverend and Learned Isaac Watts (London, 1753), 4: 356; cf. The Windham Herald, April 15, 1797, 4. Such examples could be multiplied almost indefinitely. Jeffry H. Morrison, “Political Theology in the Declaration of Independence,(paper delivered at a conference on the Declaration of Independence, Princeton University, April 5–6, 2002). I am grateful to Daniel L. Dreisbach for pointing me to the language of the Standards.

Monday, October 15, 2012

"Getting Back to the Constitution": The Truth Part 4

In the comments section of my last post in this series Tom Van Dyke implored me to get away from the preliminaries and bring forth the proof behind what Gary Amos asserts concerning the phrase "Laws of Nature and Nature's God" having a long history within historical Christianity. With no further delay here is the first installment:

Did the drafters depart from the Christian tradition of law in the colonies by using the phrase "laws of nature" in the Declaration? Was this something new and different? Some say yes, meaning that the framers consciously rejected a Christian approach to law and government. The claim is historically false. 
For example, in 1764, twelve years before the Declaration of Independence, James Otis, relied on the law of nature in his famous protest against the legality of the Stamp and Sugar Acts. In 1765, Massachusetts declared: "1. Resolved, That there are certain essential rights of the British Constitution and government which are founded in the law of God and nature, and are the common rights of mankind; Therefore, 2. Resolved, That the the inhabitants of this province are unalienably entitled to those essential rights, in common with all men; and that law of society can, consistent with the law of God and nature, divest them of those rights." In 1774, the First Continental Congress cited the "immutable laws of nature" in their "Declarations and Resolves." And in the years leading up to 1776 , the phrase "laws of nature" was frequently used and widely understood by the occasions.

This easily refutes the first of 5 objections that secularists raise when confronted with the idea that the phrase "Laws of nature and nature's God" has a long history of use in Christian thought. The quote from Otis alone disproves the absurd theory that Jefferson invented a new phrase.

Most people that have looked into this at all will concede that point. The real controversy starts when the discussion of whether Jefferson chose this phrase because it was overtly "deistic" or not? The idea being that he sought out to distance America from its Christian past and wanted to use the Declaration of Independence to make a statement about the freedom of religion. An assertion that I find absurd considering that this phrase has a long history in the Judeo-Christian intellectual tradition.

Amos goes on for a few pages proving the long history of the use of the first half of the term "laws of nature" in Christianity going back to the 11th Century. This is another point that most secularists that have actually looked into this topic will concede as well. The controversy is with the second half of the phrase which some believe refers to the Bible. The Bible being the "laws" of nature's God. Which, if true, would be the smoking gun in regards to the Declaration of Independence being a document heavily influenced by Christian Thought.

We will pick up this discussion in the next post where it will be clearly shown that the second half of this phrase is not a "deistic" invention of the 18th Century. I also believe he makes a compelling case that the second half of this phrase not only refers to the Bible leading up to the time of the Revolution but that there is no reason to believe that Jefferson sought out to change that.

For those that want to get a head start look into the writings of Blackstone and Coke. Both of whom had an influence over the thinking of Thomas Jefferson and John Adams. Two of the three members of the drafting committee.

I would love to hear your thoughts about this in the comments section below...

Sunday, October 14, 2012

A Liberal Mormon

Two years ago, over at A Liberal MormonDerek Staffanson posted a blog, Separation of Church and State III: Making a State Incognizant of Religion. Here's a taste of what Staffanson characterizes as an "ideal situation":
Government Oaths. Government has no place declaring in whose name government oaths should be sworn. Whether oaths of office or in court, those swearing people in should not include "so help you/me God" in the recitation. Individuals swearing those oaths are certainly well within their rights of expression to add personal invocations to the higher power of their choice, should they so chose. But making that invocation part of the administration of the oath is inappropriate institutionalization of religious belief on the part of the state.
The two preceding blogs are Separation of Church and State: A Founding Principle, and Separation of Church and State II: Necessary for the Protection of Both. Here's a snippet from Part II that cites Joseph Smith, which is accepted as Mormon scripture (Kirtland, Ohio, 17 August 1835, Doctrine & Covenants 134:4-5, 9):
We believe that religion is instituted of God; and that men are amenable to him, and to him only, for the exercise of it, unless their religious opinions prompt them to infringe upon the rights and liberties of others; but we do not believe that human law has a right to interfere in prescribing rules of worship to bind the consciences of men, nor dictate forms for public or private devotion; that the civil magistrate should restrain crime, but never control conscience; should punish guilt, but never suppress the freedom of the soul.
We believe that all men are bound to sustain and uphold the respective governments in which they reside, while protected in their inherent and inalienable rights by the laws of such governments; and that sedition and rebellion are unbecoming every citizen thus protected, and should be punished accordingly; and that all governments have a right to enact such laws as in their own judgments are best calculated to secure the public interest; at the same time, however, holding sacred the freedom of conscience. (emphasis added)
[dot - dot - dot]
We do not believe it just to mingle religious influence with civil government, whereby one religious society is fostered and another proscribed in its spiritual privileges, and the individual rights of its members, as citizens, denied.
Note: Joseeph Smith (age 29) wrote this before the oppression imposed by the state of Missourri and in Illinois with the assasination of Joseph Smith, and later, imposed by the federal government during the Mormon resettlement in the Great Salt Lake Rocky Mountain Basin.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Another review of Gregg Frazer's "The Religious Beliefs of America's Founders"

This one written by Gary Scott Smith and posted over at the always worth reading blog The Imaginative Conservative: Founders' Faith: None of the Above.  Smith's review is quite positive. Meanwhile, I am almost finished with the book and will be posting my own review of Frazer's work in the future here at this blog.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Throckmorton on Barton's Use of Adams' "General Principles of Christianity" Quote

See Warren Throckmorton's remarks here. This was in a letter from John Adams to Thomas Jefferson in 1813. This was John Adams at his most heterodox. Out of context, the quotation sounds like something that supports the Christian Nation thesis. Understood in context, however, Adams doesn't refer to what Barton et al. understand as "biblical Christianity," but rather some other very heterodox theological system, what Gregg Frazer has termed "theistic rationalism." It's a system that unites the "orthodox" with Universalists, Unitarians (Arians, Socinians, Priestleyans) and even "Deists and Atheists, and Protestants 'qui ne croyent rien.'" (That means "Protestants who believe in nothing.")

Thomas Kidd on Gregg Frazer's Book

A very fair review. Here.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Another Thomas Kidd Review of David Aikman’s One Nation Without God?

This is especially good as it discusses the phony Patrick Henry quotation I've seen endlessly repeated.  A taste:

Patrick Henry once said, "It cannot be emphasized too strongly or too often that this great nation was founded, not by religionists, but by Christians; not on religions, but on the gospel of Jesus Christ!" Or at least many evangelicals believe Henry said that. It is actually a line from a 1956 magazine article commenting on Henry's faith, but popular Christian writers subsequently attributed the quote to Henry himself. The misquote stuck. Even though countless websites have debunked it, this bogus statement still routinely appears everywhere from Twitter to Facebook to books on America's founding, including presidential aspirant Newt Gingrich's A Nation Like No Other. And Gingrich has a Ph.D. in history! 
The eager reception of spurious quotes about our Christian origins is telling. It illustrates the fact that religion's role in the founding is among the most controversial historical debates in America today. Into that debate enters David Aikman's One Nation Without God? The Battle for Christianity in an Age of Unbelief (Baker). ...

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Patrick Deneen Misunderstands Allan Bloom

That's the title of my piece at my personal blog.  I post parts of it here because the Straussians have somewhat influenced my studies of the American Founding and religion (though, I consider myself far more cautious than they are in the conclusions they draw regarding secret teachings).  A taste:

[The West Coast Straussians] defend the timeless truths of the natural rights of the Declaration of Independence in an almost fanatical sense and claim to believe in the objective truth of natural rights.  Though, they would note, the "right" kinds of traditions and religion are compatible with DOI's essences.  And it's all compatible with social conservatism.  Bloom and the East Coast Straussians understood a fanatical natural rights ideology leads to social liberalism.  So they sought a balance between the claims of natural rights and the claims of religion, tradition and culture.  They understood that reason and revelation were at base in conflict (and as secret atheists and nihilists didn't believe in the objective claims of either).  But they did NOT see "liberal" citizens as to be liberated from their "prejudices" by a fanatical natural rights ideology.  Rather, they wanted these "gentlemen" to believe devoutly in the basics of their religions' claims to revealed truths AND, as good Americans, in the natural rights of the Declaration of Independence without, I think, truly appreciating the tension between the Truth claims of reason and of revelation.  "Christianity" and "natural rights" are in conflict.  But the "gentlemen" in the military who thought of themselves as "good Christians" and "good Americans" need not really appreciate the two things as incompatible.  After Nietzsche, they believed tension, chaos, conflict, irony could be liberating and value creating and sustaining forces.  They also believed war gave man his utmost meaning.  Hence, you had folks who secretly didn't believe in the objective truths of natural rights/liberal democracy supporting going to war to defend those noble fictions.  I don't want to seem too cynical about them.  The Straussians really do believe liberal democracy and its natural rights claims led to a better life for the masses than illiberal systems.  After Churchill, they thought those who defend liberal democracy need not flatter it.

David Aikman’s One Nation Without God?

Thomas Kidd reviews here.

"The Bucknellian" on John Fea's Book

John Fea details.  The original is here.  My older middle brother graduated from Bucknell.  I know one thing about that school:  It is EXPENSIVE.


This is a very critical piece by Wayne Everett Orgar.