Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Deseret News says It's OK to add a Tag Line

Back on inauguration day, the Salt Lake City Deseret News posted an article by Matthew Brown with the heading,  Obama, like many presidents before him, added 'So help me God' to end of presidential oath

I saw two glitches in the article, so I wrote the author saying, "The statement, 'Every president since [Chester A. Arthur], including Obama, has followed suit,' is way off the mark. The fact is that the 'every president since' remark belongs to FDR. If one does the research, then the results show only a few presidents from Chester A. Arthur to FDR added what is a non-biblical, extra-constitutional religious codicil to their presidential oath. (Hoover is the last president who did not say SHMG.)

I also said, "As for constitutional historian R. B. Bernstein's challenge "to find any presidential speech that doesn't make a lot of mention of God" that's a no-brainer. GW's second inaugural speech makes no mention of the Almighty".

A few edits later, the part about "every president since [Chester Arthur]" was removed, and, as for the Bernstein challenge, this is what appeared:
[T]he oath of office is only one mention of God in a ceremony that has historically included religious participation and references from prayers and music to a president's inaugural address. 
"I challenge you to find any presidential speech that doesn't make a lot of mention of God," constitutional historian R. B. Bernstein told USA Today
Blogger Ray Soller, who has taken a personal interest in sorting out the history of God talk in presidential inaugurations, took up Bernstein's challenge and found Washington's second inaugural address in 1793 is the sole exception, according to an email exchange between Bernstein and Soller, forwarded to the Deseret News.
 I really haven't specialized in sorting out the history of God talk in presidential inaugurations, But, if one wants to followup on this subject,  there is, along with Brad Hart's recent contribution, this 1/22/2013 NPR article, Divine Rhetoric: God In The Inaugural Address, by Scott Neuman that presents its own contribution.. Here's a taste:
Martin J. Medhurst, a professor of rhetoric and communication at Baylor, a private Baptist university in Waco, Texas, says formulations such as "the Almighty" and "Divine Providence" were part of "a common language adopted by the revolutionary generation in part to avoid the kind of divisiveness that more specific formulations might engender." 
In fact, the word "God" doesn't even show up in an inaugural speech until 1821, when James Monroe vowed during his second inaugural to carry out his presidential duties "with a firm reliance on the protection of Almighty God."
[dot - dot -dot] 
What changed? Two things, Duncan and Medhurst agree: the dying out of the revolutionary generation that was so reluctant to invoke a personal god; and a Protestant revival that was gathering steam just as Monroe became president.
Monroe was apparently as astute a politician as any, and his God reference neatly coincided with the Second Great Awakening, an explosion of Baptist and Methodist congregations in the U.S. that was partly a reaction to the distant deism of the Founding Fathers.
Even so, from the 1820s until the late 1850s, as the country moved unstoppably toward civil war, presidents reverted back to the safer territory of Almighty Being and Divine Providence.

Monday, January 28, 2013

God and Presidential Inaugurations

When it comes to pomp and circumstance in the United States, there are few ceremonies that can surpass the one we call the Presidential Inauguration.  The peaceful transfer of power from one executive head to the other is a matter of national pride for most Americans and serves to highlight what is best about American democracy.

In light of President Obama's swearing in last week, I thought it might be fun to review the Inaugural ceremonies (particularly the Inaugural Addresses) of presidents past, and see what sort of similarities and differences might exist.  After all, a president's Inauguration has, traditionally, served as a "coming attractions" of sorts for what a president hopes to achieve.  Studying these ceremonies can help us to understand what each of the 44 American Presidencies held to be most dear.

Right out of the gate, the first thing I noticed when reviewing Presidential Inaugurations is the emphasis that each President placed on God, albeit in different ways.  From Washington to Obama, no Inaugural Address omits invoking some sort of special reference to deity.  But as I stated, the manner in which the particular invocation is made is quite different, and reveals a great deal about the President's (and society's) view of  God and his relationship to the American republic.

From George Washington's first Inaugural Address we see his typical flavor of Providential neutrality, in which his "god talk" could apply to virtually any creed in any era. He stated:
It would be peculiarly improper to omit in this first official act my fervent supplications to that Almighty Being who rules over the universe, who presides in the councils of nations, and whose providential aids can supply every human defect, that His benediction may consecrate to the liberties and happiness of the people of the United States a Government instituted by themselves for these essential purposes, and may enable every instrument employed in its administration to execute with success the functions allotted to his charge. In tendering this homage to the Great Author of every public and private good, I assure myself that it expresses your sentiments not less than my own, nor those of my fellow-citizens at large less than either. No people can be bound to acknowledge and adore the Invisible Hand which conducts the affairs of men more than those of the United States. Every step by which they have advanced to the character of an independent nation seems to have been distinguished by some token of providential agency (my emphasis).
Washington's first successors followed suit in invoking a generic providential figure instead of a specific deity as the divine overseer of the infant American republic.  John Adams petitioned the "Being who is supreme over all, the Patron of Order, the Fountain of Justice, and the Protector in all ages of the world of virtuous liberty" to bless America, while James Madison asked for the blessings of "that Almighty Being whose power regulates the destiny of nations."  Even the Great Thomas Jefferson, who has been erroneously claimed as one of their own by the modern atheists, made reference in his now infamous Inaugural Address ("We are all Republicans, we are all Federalists") when he petitioned the "Infinite Power which rules the destinies of the universe" to "lead our councils to what is best."  And, somewhat surprisingly, even Andrew Jackson, the "President of the People" only went so far as to invoke the blessings of "Providence" and the "Almighty Being" to assist him in his Presidential endeavors.  

It is safe to say that America's first eight presidents (with a possible exception for John Q. Adams who briefly paraphrased Psalms 127 when he stated "except the Lord keep the city the watchman waketh but in vain"), intentionally invoked a warm, generic providence as being the source of America's blessings as opposed to any specifically defined god from any particular creed.  

It wasn't until 1841 and the Inauguration of William Henry Harrison that a president paid homage to a specific god:
I deem the present occasion sufficiently important and solemn to justify me in expressing to my fellow-citizens a profound reverence for the Christian religion and a thorough conviction that sound morals, religious liberty, and a just sense of religious responsibility are essentially connected with all true and lasting happiness (My emphasis). 
But even after this precedent, many subsequent presidents returned to the standard of thanking, "that Divine Being who has watched over and protected our beloved country from its infancy" (James K. Polk) and "Divine" or "Kind Providence" (Zachary Taylor and Franklin Pierce).

A specific reference to Christianity isn't made again until 1861 when the Legendary Abraham Lincoln, while facing what would become America's greatest crisis, proudly declared that "Intelligence, patriotism, Christianity, and a firm reliance on Him who has never yet forsaken this favored land, are still competent to adjust in the best way all our present difficulty."  Lincoln would again reference the Christian God in his Second Inaugural Address, but would do so with less confidence that this God was on their side:
Neither party expected for the war the magnitude or the duration which it has already attained. Neither anticipated that the cause of the conflict might cease with, or even before, the conflict itself should cease. Each looked for an easier triumph, and a result less fundamental and astounding. Both read the same Bible, and pray to the same God; and each invokes his aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God's assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men's faces; but let us judge not, that we be not judged. The prayers of both could not be answered—that of neither has been answered fully.
Lincoln went on to quote several Bible passages including, "Woe unto the world because of offenses! for it must needs be that offenses come; but woe to that man by whom the offense cometh!" (Matthew 18:7) and "the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether" (Psalms 19:9). In so doing, Abraham Lincoln became the first president to make dramatic, substantial and blatant references to the Christian God in his Inaugural Address.  

Those presidents who followed Lincoln would invoke both the general divine providence of Washington, Jefferson, etc. (to include Presidents Grant, Hayes, B. Harrison, Cleveland, T. Roosevelt, Wilson, Taft, Hoover, FDR, L. Johnson and Clinton), while others paid homage to the Christian God of W.H. Harrison and Abraham Lincoln (including Garfield, Harding, Coolidge, Truman, JFK, Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan, G.H. Bush, G.W. Bush and Obama), depending on their own individual feelings and beliefs.  Eisenhower went far enough to lead the nation in prayer as his first act of his presidency:

Regardless of which deity served to be the ultimate source of blessings and providential protection, the fact remains that ALL American presidents have, as a component of their Inaugural "coming attractions" petitioned the heavens as a source for further prosperity and as an object of communal gratitude.  The name of this god has taken on many different shapes and colors (everything from Divine Creator, Almighty Providence, to Jesus Christ himself) but the point is that a god of some kind is beseeched to go before us all, as the avant garde of American society.  This reminds me a great deal of Benjamin Franklin's admonition for a "public religion" as being the glue that would bind the American republic.  In this regard, the American experiment has worked wonders and continues to amaze even to this day.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

"Common Sense," Thomas Paine, and the Bible

by Tom Van Dyke

Perhaps the most amazing thing about Thomas Paine's "Common Sense", the most influential pamphlet of its day, is how much Bible is in it!  Not so much "Enlightenment" as you'd expect. Tom Paine was one of the few actual deists of the Founding era, and when he later revealed how much he disdained the Bible, America turned its back on him.

Without further ado-doo, ladies and gentlemen, let's look at Thomas Paine's "Common Sense" pamphlet--full text here---it's surprisingly short:

HOW CAME THE KING BY A POWER WHICH THE PEOPLE ARE AFRAID TO TRUST, AND ALWAYS OBLIGED TO CHECK? Such a power could not be the gift of a wise people, neither can any power, WHICH NEEDS CHECKING, be from God; yet the provision which the [British] constitution makes [empowering Parliament---TVD] supposes such a power to exist.

Not an argument that John Calvin would have liked, but Paine's clearly addressing in the negative the Divine Right of Kings and Romans 13 ["Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers"]. No argument for the Revolution could be made without addressing this great Biblical theological problem.

In the early ages of the world, according to the scripture chronology there were no kings; the consequence of which was, there were no wars; it is the pride of kings which throws mankind into confusion...Antiquity favours the same remark; for the quiet and rural lives of the first Patriarchs have a snappy something in them, which vanishes when we come to the history of Jewish royalty.

Government by kings was first introduced into the world by the Heathens, from whom the children of Israel copied the custom...

As the exalting one man so greatly above the rest cannot be justified on the equal rights of nature, so neither can it be defended on the authority of scripture; for the will of the Almighty as declared by Gideon, and the prophet Samuel, expressly disapproves of government by Kings...

Monarchy is ranked in scripture as one of the sins of the Jews, for which a curse in reserve is denounced against them. The history of that transaction is worth attending to.

Before Paine attends to that, he makes a Biblical argument for a republic, the sort of thing you only hear from hardcore "Christian Nation" fundamentalists, but Paine doesn't miss a trick:

Near three thousand years passed away, from the Mosaic account of the creation, till the Jews under a national delusion requested a king. Till then their form of government (except in extraordinary cases where the Almighty interposed) was a kind of Republic, administered by a judge and the elders of the tribes. Kings they had none, and it was held sinful to acknowledge any being under that title but the Lord of Hosts.

Then Paine goes on [at great length] to explain that in the Book of Judges, how Gideon refuses the Israelites' offer of their crown after his great military victory [Judges 8, King James Version], replying [all CAPS are Paine's]:

"I will not rule over you, neither shall my son rule over you. THE LORD SHALL RULE OVER YOU." Words need not be more explicit: Gideon doth not decline the honour, but denieth their right to give it; neither doth he compliment them with invented declarations of his thanks, but in the positive style of a prophet charges them with disaffection to their proper Sovereign, the King of Heaven.

and of the First Book of Samuel

"But the thing displeased Samuel when they said, give us a King to judge us; and Samuel prayed unto the Lord, and the Lord said unto Samuel, hearken unto the voice of the people in all that they say unto thee, for they have not rejected thee, but they have rejected me, THAT I SHOULD NOT REIGN OVER THEM."

As well as a VERY long account from 1 Samuel 8 of how the king will take their sons for war and their daughters for servitude, and take a tenth of everything and

"...your fields and your vineyards, and your olive yards, even the best of them, and give them to his servants. And he will take the tenth of your seed, ye shall cry out in that day because of your king which ye shell have chosen, AND THE LORD WILL NOT HEAR YOU IN THAT DAY."

All in all, a convincing argument against monarchy, not only Biblical but reality, a reality that's just dawned on the colonists...

Now we all know that Paine starts to show his anti-Biblical cards in 1794 with the first part of his The Age of Reason, and believes the Bible no more than Aesop's fables. But in 1776, he's not nearly done dealing from the bottom of the deck yet to get Christian America nodding in agreement at his "Common Sense":

If the first king of any country was by election, that likewise establishes a precedent for the next; for to say, that the right of all future generations is taken away, by the act of the first electors, in their choice not only of a king but of a family of kings for ever, hath no parallel in or out of scripture but the doctrine of original sin, which supposes the free will of all men lost in Adam; and from such comparison, and it will admit of no other, hereditary succession can derive no glory. for as in Adam all sinned, and as in the first electors all men obeyed; as in the one all mankind were subjected to Satan, and in the other to sovereignty; as our innocence was lost in the first, and our authority in the last; and as both disable us from re-assuming some former state and privilege, it unanswerably follows that original sin and hereditary succession are parallels. Dishonourable rank! inglorious connection! yet the most subtle sophist cannot produce a juster simile.

Original sin! A doctrine doubted by even the early "unitarians" of the age, a doctrine Ben Franklin felt comfortable enough denying publicly. Surely, Paine would never subscribe to such nonsense! [Or did he?]

No matter, the Founding era did, at least to the degree that they distrusted man's reason as the final arbiter of all truth.

And Paine's citation of the Biblical Adam here is no small thing: it stands directly as a refutation of PATRIARCHA OR THE NATURAL POWER OF KINGS By THE LEARNED SIR ROBERT FILMER, BART. [1680][sic], the best known defense of the British monarchy before the Glorious Revolution of 1688, which traced King James' [yes, that King James] authority back to Adam himself!

What Paine writes of here isn't abstract theologico-political abstract stuff for an elite few---to his audience, the American colonists, the disputes are well known, and what Paine writes is clearly common sense!

As to usurpation, no man will be so hardy as to defend it; and that William the Conqueror was an usurper is a fact not to be contradicted. The plain truth is, that the antiquity of English monarchy will not bear looking into.

OK, this is a cheap argument by Paine going back to 1066, but his audience is already on his side. But the illegitimacy of government by a usurper goes all the way back to Thomas Aquinas in the 1200s! And N.B.---"usurp" is used TWICE in the second paragraph of the Declaration of Independence. Surely no coincidence: the illegitimacy of usurpation had 500 years to imbed itself into Christian thought and the Western mind, contra Romans 13. It was in the theologico-political air they breathed.

For us to understand what Jefferson called the "American mind"---what he claimed he was only setting down on paper in drafting the Declaration---we need to be familiar with the air they breathed. Probably a disappointing fraction of Americans today could even define "usurp," but the American Mind knew well what it meant in 1776, or Jefferson wouldn't have used it twice in the same paragraph, and neither would Paine have gone there.

The first king of England, of the present line (William the Conqueror) was a Frenchman, and half the peers of England are descendants from the same country; wherefore, by the same method of reasoning, England ought to be governed by France.

That's a pretty funny reductio ad absurdum, and definitely kicks Filmer's Patriarcha to the curb. Couldn't resist giving Paine his props as a comedian here.

Well, this next one is Paine's greatest whopper, since no way he believes a word of it. [Does he?] But it does tell us a lot about his audience, which is our primary historical concern:

Even the distance at which the Almighty hath placed England and America is a strong and natural proof that the authority of the one over the other, was never the design of Heaven. The time likewise at which the Continent was discovered, adds weight to the argument, and the manner in which it was peopled, encreases the force of it. The Reformation was preceded by the discovery of America: As if the Almighty graciously meant to open a sanctuary to the persecuted in future years, when home should afford neither friendship nor safety.

I mean, did you get that one? The Almighty is establishing America as a refuge not merely for religious freedom blahblahblah, but as a sanctuary for Protestantism! "Natural proof," at that!

Paine could push buttons, man. He'd have a talk show these days. What network, aw, I'll leave that aside.

Almost done here on Mr. Paine's Common Sense---if you've read this far, and I've written this far, let's do the entire thing. Paine's next appeal to the Divine is pretty straightforward:

But where says some is the King of America? I'll tell you Friend, he reigns above, and doth not make havoc of mankind like the Royal Brute of Britain. Yet that we may not appear to be defective even in earthly honors, let a day be solemnly set apart for proclaiming the charter; let it be brought forth placed on the divine law, the word of God; let a crown be placed thereon, by which the world may know, that so far as we approve as monarchy, that in America THE LAW IS KING.

Again, the CAPS are Paine's. He's getting a little imprecise here, either tired or wasted or just trying to finish up. God is King of America, if "reigns above" means what it appears to mean. But THE LAW IS KING, too. And even if the colonists never actually read it, surely they'd heard the title of Samuel Rutherford's 1644 Calvinist tract, Lex, Rex and pretty much got the gist of it from the title. Not only isn't the King the law, but Rutherford's already on to the minimization of the leviathan of government.

Paine's appropriation of THE LAW IS KING likely carried to its audience more than just its rhetorical face value, it brought echoes upon echoes with it: Britain's Civil Wars and the Glorious Revolution, the better part of a century of political strife; the Calvinist theology that powered not only the Scottish Covenenters but the Presbyterians in America whom King George blamed for the revolution itself; the refutation of the Divine Right of Kings, as well as Rutherford's own thoughts on minimalist government itself.

"Lex, Rex" was a powerful term, and well-known; that's probably why Paine put its English translation of it in CAPS, confident his readers knew what he was talking about and its echoes too.

Hey, it's not as though ALL of Paine's arguments are theological. He abandons that tack at the 2/3 mark of "Common Sense," having established the righteousness of the cause, through reason and Bible. He closes with a generic call for liberty, and cites the rest of the world's [Africa and Asia's] rejection of Europe as oppressors and all-around nogoodniks.

In the last third, as a practical matter, Paine argues how and why the American revolution can succeed---and he was wrong about building an American navy, but right that the French would only help us if we split off from Britain and not reconcile with them, thereby weakening them. [And indeed it was the French navy, not an American one, that swung the showdown at Yorktown.]

Paine's "Common Sense" was a pamphlet, not a book, and can be read pretty quickly. The colonists did. And once you tune your ears to their ears, theologically and politically, it's even easier to hear. Everybody agreed, it was just common sense.

Cato on Cato

The Cato Institute was actually named after the figure Cato. Hence it is not, as some wrongly think, C.A.T.O.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Standards For Determining "Christianity" & the Christian Nation Thesis

So I noted recently Bill Fortenberry and Chris Pinto's argument over the Christian Nation thesis. Both (apparently?) share an evangelical-fundamentalist approach to Christianity and use their personal understanding (which they would argue is "God's understanding," strictly derived from the Bible) for determining "Christianity" as it relates to the "Christian Nation" thesis.

Dr. Gregg Frazer likewise shares a similar personal understanding of "Christianity" (which he likewise understands as "God's understanding," etc.).  Yet for the thesis of his book, he uses a late 18th Century American consensus understanding.  It is a 10 point test that forms a lowest common denominator among the Presbyterians, Congregationalists, Lutherans, Baptists, Anglicans and Roman Catholics.  In short, the sects affiliated with the vast majority of the population of late 18th Cen. America.  It is not quite "the Nicene Creed" simpliciter.  But it (as I see it) in some meaningful way resembles the orthodox minimum, "mere Christianity" approach -- an understanding that stretches from St. Athanasius to C.S. Lewis.

There are some differences.  For instance, the capital O Orthodox Church (of the Eastern bent) do not (as far as I understand) accept the doctrine of original sin, which is part of Dr. Frazer's 10 point test.  Yet, they are included in the Nicene minimum.  They aren't included in Dr. Frazer's minimum because (surprise) they had virtually no (or no) presence in late 18th Century America.

Dr. Frazer's personal test for "Christianity" is arguably stricter than his late 18th Century American test.  One has to believe not just Jesus as 2nd Person in the Trinity, but be "born again" and accept "Christ only."  With this, it's still hard to grasp fully how conservative evangelicals view who is or is not a "real Christian" as they themselves disagree.  They split, for instance, on whether Roman Catholics are "real Christians."  (When Pope John Paul II and Mother Teresa were still alive, I once observed Pat Robertson, nicely enough, say both of them were going to Heaven.)

As far as Anglicans are concerned, a good deal of them in the late 18th Century could qualify as "real Christians" according to evangelical standards.  Some not.  Some, like Thomas Jefferson, were deistic or unitarian and didn't accept orthodoxy.  Others, though orthodox, didn't consider themselves "born again" but worshipped the Trinity through the Anglican liturgy (39 Articles and the Book of Common Prayer).

I don't think, for instance, George Washington was an orthodox Trinitarian Christian.  But were he, it was, as my friend Mary V. Thompson of Mt. Vernon argues, through quietly worshipping Anglican liturgy.  In short, even if he were orthodox, George Washington still was not a "born again, evangelical Christian."

I write this because Bill Fortenberry takes issue with Gregg Frazer's test for late 18th Century American Christianity.  Rather, Fortenberry thinks what he understands as God's definition taught from the pages of the Bible alone should prevail.  Yet, even though he believes the Bible teaches the Virgin Birth, Trinity, an orthodox understanding of the atonement, he doesn't accept belief in these as non-negotiables for determining who is a "Christian."   (He explains his position in more detail here in this comment forum.)

Gregg Frazer responded to me in an email which he gave me permission to publish.  Though he did note, time may forbid him from getting "sucked in" to an extended discussion in the comments:
WSForten has clearly not read – or paid attention to – pages 17 and 18 of my book and phrases such as “For the purposes of this study” and “all of the individuals identified as theistic rationalists in this study were affiliated with one or more of these denominations, as were forty-seven of the fifty-five members of the Constitutional Convention” and “the definition is designed to identify who was not a Christian or who would not be considered Christian by any of the denominations” and “These definitions are designed more to identify who was not a deist or Christian than to identify who was.”

WSForten’s beef is with the 18th-century American Christians, not me. He does suffer from the problem ably demonstrated by OFT – taking individual verses out of context. For example, what does it mean to believe that Jesus is the Christ? That carries a lot of meaning and “baggage” (good baggage) with it and any contemporary reader of John’s epistle would know that in a way that an average contemporary American reader (or 17th-century English reader) would not. For example:

WSForten’s notion that for His atoning sacrifice to be satisfactory, Jesus need not be God, but “only” sinless ignores several critical points – especially #7:

1) The sacrifice must be righteous, not merely innocent (Rom. 5:18-19) – righteousness is the result of obedience (Rom. 6:16); mere innocence (not having yet fallen) is not sufficient

2) An infinite/eternal sacrifice was required to affect all men & all time; only an eternal being could make such a sacrifice (Heb. 9:13-14) – i.e. for those both before & after His incarnation

3) Jesus is the heir to glory, so only He could make us fellow heirs/sons (Gal. 3:16, 29; 4:5-7)

4) His unique intercessory position – as the Son, His proper place is at the right hand of the Father (Rom. 8:33-34; Heb. 8:1 [Christ “has taken His seat”]; Heb. 7:25)

5) God’s expression of His great love for us in sacrificing His own Son (John 3:16; I John 4:10)

6) The sacrifice must be voluntary; there is no justice in condemning the innocent without his volition (Rom. 5:6-7; John 10:17-18)

7) The One Who makes a will must die to release the inheritance/promises (Heb. 9:16-17) – Christ’s death satisfied both covenants because He is God and made both covenants (Jer. 31:31-33; Heb. 8:8). 
No single verse contains all that is necessary to be believed in order to be saved. Individual verses make individual points/claims to particular individuals or in particular contexts. Rom. 10:9-10, for example, doesn't mention belief in the Messiah -- it mentions belief in the resurrection and in the lordship of Jesus. Paul says in I Cor. 15:16-17 that faith is worthless without the resurrection. Earlier in I Cor. 15, he lays out the gospel as he preached it and "by which you are saved" (what one must believe) including the atonement ("Christ died for our sins"), the resurrection, and the need for grace. There he does not mention belief in the Messiah. 
Re the idea that any sinless man could be the sacrifice: later I Cor. 15:45-49 explains that the second Adam/sacrifice/Messiah had to be "a life-giving spirit," "from heaven," and "heavenly" by nature -- no mere man who hadn't yet sinned could fulfill that requirement. There is also the matter of original sin and the fact that no mere man COULD be without sin. 
Re WSForten's notion that some things are actions, not beliefs: one can not or will not do some actions unless one believes something. OFT mentions "repentance" -- a persistent theme in the teaching of Jesus and John the Baptist. One cannot take the action of repenting in the biblical sense without believing that one is a sinner and in need of a savior -- these are other necessary beliefs beyond simple belief that Jesus is the Messiah. 
Re the virgin birth: even Locke's standard requires belief in the virgin birth and the deity of the Christ (although he doesn't recognize it). Locke's rule is that you must believe God's Word/promises. This is where knowing the whole concept/meaning behind "Messiah" is important. Part of God's promise concerning the Messiah was that He would be born of a virgin (Isa. 7:14) and that He would be God (Isa. 9:6). You cannot believe in the biblical Messiah -- God's promised One -- without believing in these elements. You can't make up your own concept of a Messiah and then say that you believe in God's concept of a Messiah. 
Re John 20:30-31: as OFT pointed out, John is specifically speaking about the signs that Jesus did and that he reported. In addition, John does NOT say that you ONLY have to believe that Jesus is the Christ. He simply says that he wrote the record he did so that a reader would believe that Jesus is the Messiah AND that He is the Son of God -- i.e. God. In the verses immediately preceding 30-31 (John 20:24-29), for example, Thomas does not believe in the RESURRECTION/that Jesus defeated death -- that is what he comes to believe. He doesn't mention that Jesus is the Messiah -- but he does affirm that Jesus is God! That is the object of his belief. 
One final point: Satan and his demons believe that Jesus is the Messiah -- are they saved/Christians? They know the facts of Who Jesus is (Matt. 8:29; Luke 8:28; James 2:19). Jesus being the Messiah is simply a matter of fact. What requires faith -- saving faith -- is all that goes with that fact. 
Clarification: re #7 in the reasons that Jesus (specifically) and only Jesus had to be the sacrifice, the Greek word translated "covenant" is the word for "will" (as in last will & testament).

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Chris Pinto v. Bill Fortenberry

Chris Pinto and Bill Fortenberry (who sometimes posts in blog comments as "WSForten") both, recently have done a great deal of work examining the "Christian nation" question from the perspective of the hardcore evangelical fundamentalist Christianity in which they both believe.

Pinto rejects the Christian nation thesis; Fortenberry accepts it.

Here is a link to Pinto's documentary on Amazon. Here is Fortenberry's response book.

No, George Washington did not convert to Catholicism, but he defended the liberty of Catholics in America

A friend of mine recently sent me an e-mail repeating claims that George Washington converted to Catholicism on his deathbed. Here's a standard account of the conversion story so the reader can get an idea of the basic claims about Washington's conversion: George Washington Died a Catholic. A thoughtful and thorough debunking of the idea that Washington converted to Catholicism is posted by Marian T.  Horvat over at Tradition in Action, a Catholic activist website:  Did George Washington Convert to Catholicism? As Horvat recounts, not only are accounts of Washington's alleged conversion suspect, the facts of his life, including his devotion to Masonry, make a formal conversion to the Catholic faith highly suspect.

Horvat's article does a very good job of demonstrating that it is overwhelmingly likely that Washington did not convert to the Catholic faith on his deathbed, but the characterization of some of Washington's religious beliefs is not accurate. Washington believed in a personal God who acted in history through the agency of divine Providence. The Father of Our Country did not believe in a vague, impersonal deity.

While Washington, unfortunately in my view, did not convert to Catholicism (what a great story that would make!), he was a great advocate for the religious liberty of Catholics in the new Republic. As this post over at The American Catholic points out, Washington not only counted Catholics among his personal friends, but sought to protect the rights of Catholics to worship and participate in the life of the new nation: George Washington and Catholics.

Washington may not have become a Catholic, but Catholics in the United States owe him a tremendous debt of gratitude for preserving and defending their freedom to worship freely and live as full citizens of the United States of America.

Related item:  here's a copy of the text of a letter George Washington sent to eminent Catholics in the young American Republic, upon his elevation of the office of the presidency:
While I now receive with much satisfaction your congratulations on my being called, by an unanimous vote, to the first station in my country; I cannot but duly notice your politeness in offering an apology for the unavoidable delay. As that delay has given you an opportunity of realizing, instead of anticipating, the benefits of the general government, you will do me the justice to believe, that your testimony of the increase of the public prosperity, enhances the pleasure which I should otherwise have experienced from your affectionate address.  
I feel that my conduct, in war and in peace, has met with more general approbation than could reasonably have been expected and I find myself disposed to consider that fortunate circumstance, in a great degree, resulting from the able support and extraordinary candour of my fellow-citizens of all denominations.  
The prospect of national prosperity now before us is truly animating, and ought to excite the exertions of all good men to establish and secure the happiness of their country, in the permanent duration of its freedom and independence. America, under the smiles of a Divine Providence, the protection of a good government, and the cultivation of manners, morals, and piety, cannot fail of attaining an uncommon degree of eminence, in literature, commerce, agriculture, improvements at home and respectability abroad.  
As mankind become more liberal they will be more apt to allow that all those who conduct themselves as worthy members of the community are equally entitled to the protection of civil government. I hope ever to see America among the foremost nations in examples of justice and liberality. And I presume that your fellow-citizens will not forget the patriotic part which you took in the accomplishment of their Revolution, and the establishment of their government; or the important assistance which they received from a nation in which the Roman Catholic faith is professed.  
I thank you, gentlemen, for your kind concern for me. While my life and my health shall continue, in whatever situation I may be, it shall be my constant endeavour to justify the favourable sentiments which you are pleased to express of my conduct. And may the members of your society in America, animated alone by the pure spirit of Christianity, and still conducting themselves as the faithful subjects of our free government, enjoy every temporal and spiritual felicity.  
G. Washington

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Two recent Popes on American independence

This post over at The American Catholic provides excerpts from statements by the current pope, Benedict XVI, and his immediate predecessor, Bl. John Paul II, on the American experiment in ordered liberty:  Pope Benedict XVI & John Paul II on America's Founding.  The popes stress the centrality of both freedom and moral order to the American Founding.  Well worth a read to get some insight to the significance that the Vatican places on the creation of the American Republic.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Anti-Catholicism and the American Revolution

Steven Waldman over at has a post on the anti-Catholic sentiments that helped push the country towards independence from Great Britain: How Anti-Catholicism Helped Fuel the American Revolution. There is no question that British tolerance towards the Catholic French of Quebec was one of the motivating factors behind the push for American Independence, as any reading of the petitions of the Continental Congress to the Crown and of the Declaration of Independence reveal. Waldman provides a list of other examples of anti-Catholicism during the Revolutionary period.

Fortunately, due to the character of men like George Washington and the desperate need for the newly-formed United States to receive support from formally Catholic France, the anti-Catholicism of the Revolutionary period gave way to a regime of religious liberty under law that, while imperfect, allowed the Catholic Church to thrive in the new American Republic.

Frazer Responds to Barton

I sent Gregg Frazer David Barton's comments which mention him and Dr. Frazer responds as follows:
Barton says it’s not clear that I “bothered to read” Jefferson’s Lies and that my critique was of a 20-year-old video.  
He does NOT point out that: a) he is still making the same claims as those I critiqued in the “old” video; b) when defending his claims on the radio, he restated the claim – he misstated his own claim while World and even the New York Times got it correct in their articles; and, perhaps most importantly, c) he misses the point that I did not criticize Jefferson’s Lies BECAUSE I had not read it – but he criticized my book on the radio WITHOUT HAVING READ IT!  The fact that I didn’t criticize what I hadn’t read should be an example to him, but somehow it’s a negative.  He feels free to criticize my work without reading it – just lumping it in with others with whom I disagree.

Point/Counterpoint with David Barton at World Magazine

Warren Throckmorton informs us here. Drs. Throckmorton and Coulter's argument is here. Barton's argument is here.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Inauguration, GW and SHMG

As careful readers of American Creation know, Ray Soller has done Yeoman's work correcting the record on GW & SHMG. Here are two articles -- one by Nina Totenberg, and the other by Cathy Lynn Grossman -- that make note of the corrected record.

Bishop John Carroll's prayer for the Church, the United States, and our civil authorities

Since it is Inauguration Day, I thought I would repost this prayer, composed by the first Catholic bishop of the United States John Carroll (1735-1815). After Carroll composed the prayer, it was recited in all Catholic parishes and chapels in the diocese of Baltimore (which originally covered the entire United States).
We pray, Thee O Almighty and Eternal God! Who through Jesus Christ hast revealed Thy glory to all nations, to preserve the works of Thy mercy, that Thy Church, being spread through the whole world, may continue with unchanging faith in the confession of Thy Name.  
We pray Thee, who alone art good and holy, to endow with heavenly knowledge, sincere zeal, and sanctity of life, our chief bishop, Pope Benedict, the Vicar of Our Lord Jesus Christ, in the government of his Church; our own bishop, Charles, all other bishops, prelates, and pastors of the Church; and especially those who are appointed to exercise amongst us the functions of the holy ministry, and conduct Thy people into the ways of salvation.  
We pray Thee O God of might, wisdom, and justice! Through whom authority is rightly administered, laws are enacted, and judgment decreed, assist with Thy Holy Spirit of counsel and fortitude the President of these United States, that his administration may be conducted in righteousness, and be eminently useful to Thy people over whom he presides; by encouraging due respect for virtue and religion; by a faithful execution of the laws in justice and mercy; and by restraining vice and immorality. Let the light of Thy divine wisdom direct the deliberations of Congress, and shine forth in all the proceedings and laws framed for our rule and government, so that they may tend to the preservation of peace, the promotion of national happiness, the increase of industry, sobriety, and useful knowledge; and may perpetuate to us the blessing of equal liberty.

We pray for his excellency, the governor of this state, for the members of the assembly, for all judges, magistrates, and other officers who are appointed to guard our political welfare, that they may be enabled, by Thy powerful protection, to discharge the duties of their respective stations with honesty and ability. We recommend likewise, to Thy unbounded mercy, all our brethren and fellow citizens throughout the United States, that they may be blessed in the knowledge and sanctified in the observance of Thy most holy law; that they may be preserved in union, and in that peace which the world cannot give; and after enjoying the blessings of this life, be admitted to those which are eternal.

Finally, we pray to Thee, O Lord of mercy, to remember the souls of Thy servants departed who are gone before us with the sign of faith and repose in the sleep of peace; the souls of our parents, relatives, and friends; of those who, when living, were members of this congregation, and particularly of such as are lately deceased; of all benefactors who, by their donations or legacies to this Church, witnessed their zeal for the decency of divine worship and proved their claim to our grateful and charitable remembrance. To these, O Lord, and to all that rest in Christ, grant, we beseech Thee, a place of refreshment, light, and everlasting peace, through the same Jesus Christ, Our Lord and Savior. Amen. 
 –Prayer for the Nation and the Civil Authorities, 14 August 1791.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

A short overview of the Carroll family of Maryland, America's Catholic founders

Here's a link to the Catholic Education Resource Center's nice little overview of the three most prominent members of the Carroll family of Maryland who were active in the founding of the country -- Charles Carroll and his cousins, the brothers Daniel and John Carroll.  Both Charles and Daniel were important political actors in during the Revolution and in the early Republic.  John would choose an ecclesiastical vocation and would eventually become the first Catholic bishop in the United States.

The article includes a very helpful reminder to those of us interested in the Founding Period -- namely that in all of our interest in the "top-tier" Founders, the work of American liberty was the product of the work of many hands.

George Will on religion and the American founding

The noted columnist (and Ph.D. in political science) recently gave an address in St. Louis on the topic of religion and the founding. Titled Religion and Politics in the First Modern Nation, video of Will's speech may be found here. The prepared text of Will's address can be found here. A response to Will's arguments by Conrad Black, including a robust defense of Woodrow Wilson against Will's attack, has been posted over at National Review Online.

Review of Mel Bradford's Original Intentions: On the Making and Ratification of the United States Constitution

The Imaginative Conservative posts a review, originally published in 1995, of Bradford's book on the creation of our national charter:  Invoking the Patrimony: Original Intentions: On the Making and Ratification of the United States Constitution. The review, written by Madison scholar Kevin R. Guzman, provides a solid overview of the book, something of a classic among paleo-conservative discussions of the origins of the Constitution. While Bradford was neither a professionally trained historian or constitutional scholar, his background as an English professor and literary scholar provided him with ample tools to mine the historical sources that informed his take on the creation of the Constitution.  As Guzman explains quite well, Bradford's book is well worth a read, not as the only word in exploring the history of the creation of our Constitution, but as a useful study informed by an approach to scholarship that is often discounted by the fads and prejudices afflicting much of modern academia.

Related item: my own take on Bradford's book may be found here.

Monday, January 14, 2013

‘Sunday Morning on CBS’

Courtesy Mo Rocca/Twitter
I know readers of American Creation will appreciate the chance to see the very copy of the King James Bible used in the first presidential inauguration of George Washington in 1789. Word comes from Piers Vaughan, Master of St. John’s Masonic Lodge in New York City, of the taping today of a segment on the George Washington Inaugural Bible that will be broadcast Sunday, January 20 on CBS between 9 and 10 a.m.

The program, aptly titled Sunday Morning, sent correspondent Mo Rocca and a crew to Masonic Hall, the headquarters of the Grand Lodge of New York, where the priceless historical artifact was displayed on the altar of the Grand Lodge Room.

The bible is owned by St. John’s Lodge No. 1, several of whose brethren were on hand to explain this singular VSL’s amazing history, like Piers and Conor Moran.

Click here for a little more info on this bible.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Jesus's Second Coming In the Jefferson Bible

Who knew?  This was about the last thing most modern people would expect: Thomas Jefferson's razor blade cut out everything except Jesus of Nazareth's philosophical wisdom, right?

But there's Jesus, Bigger Than Life on Judgment Day, with angels in tow and everything:

Courtesy: The Smithsonian's Interactive "Jefferson Bible"

Does this mean that Thomas Jefferson believed that Jesus Christ would come again on Judgment Day, to judge the living and the dead, to separate "the sheep from the goats?" Nobody can know. Thomas Jefferson is dead. And was he a sheep or a goat?

Some believe salvation comes from good works, being "a good person."  Jefferson did.  Others believe we are saved sola fide, by faith alone.   And as the universalists believed then and believe now, God loves both the sheeps and the goats anyways.

Who goes to heaven and who goes to hell---if there is a Hell, perhaps it's empty, everyone reconciled to their creator---is above the pay grade of this blog.  Above Jefferson's pay grade too.  Me, I don't think much of TJ the man, and if he were in charge of the Second Coming instead of Jesus, well, I'd rather take my chances with Jesus. Thomas Jefferson as my judge wouldn't think much of me either.

What I like so much about the era of the American Founding is that regardless of what answers we come up with today, they were always asking the right questions way back then.

It was an era of great confusion, but compared to our own era, it was a time of great clarity.

Monday, January 7, 2013

A short review of Thomas K. McGraw's new book The Founders and Finance

A good review by Michael S. Greve over at the Liberty Law blog:  The Founders' Finance, and Ours.  Greve makes some timely observations about the role of immigrants in creating our country. As George Will once observed, the country we live in is a monument to Alexander Hamilton. Greve's review of McGraw's book provides strong support for Will's point.

5 Reasons George Washington Was Either Lucky or a Wizard

By W. Stinnett here.

Thursday, January 3, 2013

Benjamin Rush on Thomas Jefferson's Faith

Rush, who was privy to Jefferson's secrets, thought Jefferson believed in Jesus' divine mission, thus giving the impression that Jefferson was a Socinian.  Elsewhere Jefferson made clear that he believed Jesus was 100% man, not divine at all.  The question then becomes did Jefferson believe Jesus of Nazareth, the man, on a divine mission.  Rush seems to think so.

Rush also says Jefferson believed in the resurrection. While Jefferson didn't believe in Jesus' past resurrection, he did believe in an afterlife where people would be judged and got their future state of rewards and punishments.  After Priestley, Jefferson was a materialist and didn't believe in an afterlife without a resurrection.

Below is a photoshot from Rush's autobiography speaking on Jefferson's faith.

More From Rodda on Barton's Publisher

Chris Rodda explains more about David Barton's book as it is currently being sold on Amazon.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

James Burgh Explains His Arianism

James Burgh, a British Whig who greatly influenced America's Founders, explained his unitarianism of the Arian variety in Crito, Volume I, here.  A taste [I have added paragraph breaks for clarity]:
.... The orthodox, who think they believe the Messiah to be God, can have no doubt of SATAN's being brought into existence by him. The Socinians, who hold the Messiah to have had no existence till he was born, cannot allow the fact, of Satan's owing either existence, or any material advantage, to the Messiah. The Unitarians can conceive of the Messiah's having been, sano senso*, the maker of this world, and likewise of the angelic orders, both those who have stood and who have fallen.

But neither do all unitarians understand in the same manner the Messiah's making worlds and their inhabitants.  It is certain, that all existence is derived from the one Supreme, to whom existence is natural, and necessary, himself the Fountain of being.  Therefore, whenever the power of making, or creating is ascribed to any subordinate being, it is manifest, the meaning cannot be, the giving of existence. 
It is to be supposed, that none, but Himself, has the power of causing that to be, which does not naturally exist.  And nothing exist naturally, but the supreme, indivisible, unequalled, and all perfect Monad. 
The Scripture writers, having never subscribed the Athanasian creed, though a good sort of clergymen, in their little way, do everywhere represent our illustrious Deliverer as subordinate to the Almighty, whom they style his God and Father.  With submission to our church's "authority[] in matters of faith", I beg leave to propose to the reader's consideration, whether He, whose God the Father[] the Almighty is, can be properly said to be the Almighty; whether the Almighty has a God and Father; or whether the Son of God is the Father of the Son of God. 
If not, then it is easy enough to understand, that the creating, or making of the grand Enemy may signify nothing more, than that the Messiah was he, who originally introduced the whole species of angels, not into existence, but into that advantageous state and contrition, which enabled them to become, in process of time, angels.

Now, it does not, as far as I can perceive, necessarily follow from the Messiah's having been, in the sense here explained, the Maker of Satan (and I own I cannot conceive of his having been so in any higher sense) ....
*Rowe:  I had to transcribe this term.  I'm not sure what it means.

So Burgh apparently believed in a kind of Arianism where Jesus is the firstborn of all creation, higher in power than the highest archangel, but lower than God.  As to the rest, I understand it as Burgh asserting that God the Father (not Jesus) causes all clay to come into existence; but Christ was given a great deal of authority to shape that clay into finished works.