Monday, September 30, 2013

Michigan Filmmaker Pushes Christian Nation Nonsense

That's the title to Ed Brayton's story here. A taste:
I’d never heard of Joseph Zabrosky, who grew up in Brighton, Michigan and now lives in nearby Howell, until I saw this article in a local paper. He’s apparently made a film called The Real One Nation Under God, which “uses a fictional storyline to make his argument that the Founding Fathers’ intentions and case law solidify Christianity as the country’s established religion.” And he makes predictably bad arguments in the article:

Thomas Jefferson’s Quran: How Islam Shaped the Founders

That's the title to a book review on The Daily Beast. This is the book. A taste from the review:
Spellberg, associate professor of history and Middle Eastern Studies at the University of Texas at Austin, seeks to understand the role of Islam in the American struggle to protect religious liberty. She asks how Muslims and their religion fit into eighteenth-century Americans’ models of religious freedom. While conceding that many Americans in that era viewed Islam with suspicion, classifying Muslims as dangerous and unworthy of inclusion within the American experiment, she also shows that such leading figures as Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and George Washington spurned exclusionary arguments, arguing that America should be open to Muslim citizens, office-holders, and even presidents. Spellberg’s point is that, contrary to those today who would dismiss Islam and Muslims as essentially and irretrievably alien to the American experiment and its religious mix, key figures in the era of the nation’s founding argued that that American church-state calculus both could and should make room for Islam and for believing Muslims.

Sunday, September 29, 2013

James Madison on UVA & Religion

The way Jefferson's UVA dealt with religion was and is controversial. Here is James Madison to Frederick Beasley on the controversy, dated Decr. 22. 1824.
The peculiarity in the Institution which excited at first most attention & some animadversion, is the omission of a Theological Professorship. The public opinion seems now to have sufficiently yielded to its incompatibility with a State Institution, which necessarily excludes Sectarian preferences. The best provision which occurred, was that of authorizing the Visitors to open the public rooms for religious uses, under impartial regulations (a task that may occasionally involve some difficulties) and admitting the establishment of Theological Seminaries, by the respective Sects, contiguous to the precincts of the University, and within the reach of a familiar intercourse, distinct from the Obligatory pursuits of the Students. The growing Village of Charlottesville also, is not distant more than a mile, and contains already Congregations & Clergymen of the Sects to which the Students will mostly belong.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Institute on the Constitution Misrepresents Study of Founding Era

That's the title to Warren Throckmorton's post here. A taste:
See the differences? Peroutka said Lutz and Hyneman studied the writings of the 55 framers. Not so. Lutz and Hyneman studied the “political writings of Americans published between 1760 and 1805.” Their review was not limited to framers. Furthermore, Peroutka said Lutz and Hyneman read the framers’ letters. Again not so. They specifically indicated that they did not read letters that were private.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Sandefur on Legislature Prayer

Check it out here. A taste:
The reason Jesus asked to be left out of such things, and why James Madison reiterated this when explaining why legislative prayers are unconstitutional, is because they knew that they aren’t about any real devotion or religion, anyway. They’re about showing off one’s credentials to one’s constituents and pacifying voters with professions of faith—and more, of making life uncomfortable for those who aren’t members of the same denomination.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Aristotle, Aquinas, Locke, and the American Founders

Aristotle, Aquinas, Locke, and the American Founders?  Yup.  Such a heavyweight lineup! Let's get to it:

After finishing Thomist philosopher Edward Feser's The Last Superstition: A Refutation of the New Atheism, a friend wrote:

"Feser argues the moderns ruined Aristotelian-Thomistic philosophy by basically assuming, without argument, that we could engage in science and philosophy without a metaphysic, without a telos.  Does this apply to our Founders?  To Lincoln?  We conservatives take refuge that, for all the ravages of 19th and 20th century pseudo philosophy and political theory, our founding at least was pure.  Would Feser agree?  Or would he argue that even our founding was poisoned by the modern zombified anti-Aristotelian-Thomistic conception of a soulless, purposeless man?"  

Since Feser also wrote a philosophical biography of John Locke, yes, I would say so, at least per Jefferson, who is rather soulless. Madison.  Reviewer Irfan Khawaja wrote:

"Two of Feser‘s criticisms stand out for their subversive potential: (1) Locke‘s skepticism about our knowledge of real essences undermines what he has to say in defense of natural rights… (2) The defects in Locke‘s theory of personal identity undermine his justification of private property… These criticisms, and others like them, should force us to think more carefully about the relationship between Locke‘s "Essay Concerning Human Understandingand his political works, and will undoubtedly keep Locke scholars busy for some time.

Feser ends the book… with a provocative chapter on “Locke‘s Contestable Legacy.” One bonus of the discussion is a very interesting (and in my view, correct) application of Locke‘s views to international politics in the post-9/11 world... Feser‘s main point, though, is that taken as a whole, Locke‘s philosophy offers us a package deal of incompatible elements, so that “[t]hose who seek to appropriate Locke‘s legacy today must decide which part of it they value most, for they cannot coherently have it all”... Even if one thinks, as I do, that Feser occasionally lets his Scholastic polemics overshadow his examination of Locke‘s theorizing, he is right to push the reader to some such decision. Whether such a reader will be pushed from Lockeanism to Feser‘s Scholasticism is another matter, but there‘s no question that some pushing is in order, and that Feser‘s Locke does an excellent job at supplying it."

Now, my own studies of religion and the Founding have led me to the strong Calvinistic influence, which runs on a rather parallel track, and non-creedally--call it "Judeo"-Christianity--"Providence" stands in for telos [the ultimate human purpose] quite well, "Providence" being almost universally accepted by the Founding generation, including the "questionably Christian" Ben Franklin and the studiously non-creedal Geo. Washington. 

 "In the beginning of the Contest with G. Britain, when we were sensible of danger we had daily prayer in this room for the divine protection.- Our prayers, Sir, were heard, & they were graciously answered. All of us who were engaged in the struggle must have observed frequent instances of a superintending providence in our favor... 

"I have lived, Sir, a long time, and the longer I live, the more convincing proofs I see of this truth- that God Governs in the affairs of men. And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without his notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without his aid?"---Franklin, call for prayer at the Constitutional Convention 

"[I]t would be peculiarly improper to omit in this first official act my fervent supplications to that Almighty Being who rules over the universe...
No people can be bound to acknowledge and adore the Invisible Hand which conducts the affairs of men more than those of the United States
Every step by which they have advanced to the character of an independent nation seems to have been distinguished by some token of providential agency; and in the important revolution just accomplished in the system of their united government the tranquil deliberations and voluntary consent of so many distinct communities..."--GWash, 1st Inaugural

Still, some historians say that certain clever secular-Enlightenment Founders put a Lockean "poison pill" in the Constitution, which leaves out all mention of God.  The bible for that is Moore and Kramnik's "Our Godless Constitution."

Yay!  However, because Jefferson and Madison's Virginia held a virtual veto over any God-talk [with the assent of the third-place Baptists, sucking hind teat behind the Episcopals and Presbyterians], religion was simply left to the states. Today, few Americans know that the other 12 states kept their religious tests for [statewide] office, and virtually every state constitution mentions God.

True story.  Who knew?

In these discussions, those of the secular bent want to define these United States of America as the Constitution, no more and no less.  And once we agree to play on their home field, they usually win.  Even if you survive the Founding, incorporating the 1st Amendment via the 14th (Torcaso v. Watkins [1961]) means it's Game Over.

But that's not exactly how it all went down, and it's not what still keeps us ticking:

If your rights aren't "endowed" by some higher power, then your "rights" are only whatever you can wrest and wrangle from your government.  And what the Founders knew, and what all men come to realize, is that whatever your government gives, it can also take away...

Monday, September 16, 2013

New Post From Rodda on HuffPo

Check it out here. A taste:
The Jefferson Lies being pulled by Thomas Nelson did not make this book go away any more than it made Barton himself go away. Barton is still selling off the thousands of copies he bought back from Thomas Nelson, and, although his claim that the book has been picked up by Simon & Schuster is certainly just another one of his lies, I have no doubt it will be republished by somebody when the supply of Thomas Nelson leftovers runs out. Therefore, I've continued my debunking of Barton's little masterpiece of historical revisionism.

Saturday, September 14, 2013

"Progressives" and the Principles of the Founding

Re the Robert Kraynak lecture Jonathan Rowe links here, Dr. John Fea, eminent historian, author of the universally well-received "Was America Founded as a Christian Nation", friend of this groupblog, professor at Messiah College, and all-around good guy opines:
 "I am not so sure the founders, as products of a world that was very different from our own, should serve as such a definitive guide for so many of the modern problems we face today.  I am always a bit skeptical when someone tries to suggest how the founders would react to 21st- century developments that would have been foreign to their 18th- century world.
 I like his point that both conservatives and progressives appeal to the founders for support."
I don't know if John would be insulted to be identified as a gentleperson of the left, but I do think that this points up the contemporary contradiction of the left---modern progressives alternately 1) disavow the relevance of the Founders and then 2) turn around and claim them.

Modern liberalism is only 100-150 years old, and not atall the same thing as the "classical" liberalism of the Founders.

If we're going to dump the Founding principles, fine--the Constitution permits amending them. But let's start being more honest about what we're doing.  Modern leftism has a weak claim on the Founding, if any, and we need to start telling it like it is, or there's no point in studying our history atall.

Politico on David Barton: What Will Evangelicals Do, Part Two

That's the title to Warren Throckmorton's post here. A taste:
Stephanie Simon told the tale. Although I have some skepticism about Barton’s sunny disposition, he says he is back and better than ever. Evangelical Senator, and probable contender for the GOP presidential nomination, Ted Cruz said he was not in a position to opine on academic disputes. However, there is really no dispute about which to opine. The verdict has been in for some time. Thomas Nelson delivered it just over a year ago. As noted, multitudes of scholars have united to send the same message. Where are the scholars defending The Jefferson Lies, or the claim that Congress printed the first English Bible, or that the Constitution quotes the Bible “verbatim?” We don’t need Mr. Cruz to opine on a dispute, we need him to open his mind to reality. ...

Monday, September 9, 2013

Politico: David Barton’s Political Usefulness Trumps Scholarship For Evangelical Groups

That's the title to Warren Throckmorton's story here. And here is the Politico article. A taste from Politico:
Led by Warren Throckmorton, a professor of psychology at Grove City College, the Christian scholars tore apart the new book, pointing out a bevy of errors and distortion. Several pastors picked up the thread, organizing a boycott of Barton’s publisher, the Christian publishing house Thomas Nelson. The critiques gained so much steam that Barton’s book was voted “the least credible history book in print” in an online poll by the History News Network. 
Barton rejected the barrage of criticism as mean-spirited, politically motivated and just plain wrong. But in August, his publisher withdrew “The Jefferson Lies.” A senior executive explained to NPR that Thomas Nelson couldn’t stand by the book because “basic truths just were not there.” 
It was a stunning repudiation of Barton’s credibility. 
But to his critics’ astonishment, Barton has bounced back. He has retained his popular following and his political appeal — in large part, analysts say, because he brings an air of sober-minded scholarship to the culture wars, framing the modern-day agenda of the religious right as a return to the Founding Fathers’ vision for America. 
“It has been shocking how much resistance there is to critically examining what Barton says,” said Scott Culpepper, an associate professor of history at Dordt College who has critiqued Barton’s scholarship. “I really underestimated the power of the political element in evangelicalism.”

Monday, September 2, 2013

Other Paradigms

Perhaps I should add a little clarity to my last post where I wrote "I think [Dr. Gregg Frazer] provides a very useful analytic paradigm supported by solid research. Though, I admit there are many other potentially valid paradigms." But then, I wrote
But what if such a theist and a rationalist didn't even believe in the Trinity, Incarnation, and Atonement? (The first four Presidents and Ben Franklin!) Then, it seems to me, that they don't deserve the label "Christian" for historical purposes. Those tenets have historically been viewed as more central to the faith.
When I wrote that passage I was speaking within Dr. Frazer's paradigm. If someone disbelieves in the Trinity, Incarnation and Atonement but still thinks of themselves as a "Christian" in some sense, I don't have a problem terming them such with all of the scholarly qualifications.

David L. Holmes and Joseph Waligore term them "Christian-Deists." Gary North who does have a PhD in history from University of California, Riverside terms it small u unitarianism, that is theological unitarianism not denominational Unitarianism. Though we should probably credit more mainstream scholars with that paradigm. Cushing Strout, for instance.

And of course, there was that classic note that my friend and noted attorney and Unitarian Universalist Eric Alan Isaacson sent me cautioning me to be more generous in my understanding of who gets to be a "Christian." As he wrote:
Hi Jonathan, I’m troubled by those who insist that only people who believe in one way can be “true Christians.” If Mormons consider themselves followers of Jesus, that’s good enough for me to regard them as Christians. If Trinitarian Evangelicals regard themselves as followers of Jesus, I’ll consider them Christians too — even though, so far as I can tell, Jesus never claimed to be God. 
If someone like John Adams and Thomas Jefferson and the Rev. Dr. Joseph Priestley honored Jesus and endeavored to follow his teachings, they should not be denied the name “Christian” merely because others who claim that name have embraced any number of extra-biblical doctrines.
Mr. Isaacson then went on to discuss the classic case of Hale v. Everett, which we've discussed before but should revisit and examine in more detail.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Fortenberry Keeps Pulling Me Back In On Frazer

I've done a great deal of work discussing, analyzing and promoting Dr. Gregg Frazer's work on the American Founding over the past few years. I think he provides a very useful analytic paradigm supported by solid research. Though, I admit there are many other potentially valid paradigms. His book, I understand, sold quite successfully. So I thought my work was largely done and I could move on to other matters.

But Mr. Bill Fortenberry insists on dragging me back in. See the comments here.

At issue is Dr. Frazer's 10 point test for determining who is a Christian according to late 18th Century American historical purposes and how that contrasts with the points in which the theistic rationalists believed. In particular the "Christian" notion that all of the Bible is inspired, "inerrant" if you will v. the theistic rationalist notion that the biblical canon was fit for man's reason to scrutinize and determine which parts were valid, which were error.

Fortenberry concludes, absurdly to me, and indeed using a "reductio ad absurdum" mechanism that Dr. Frazer's method proves himself (and all other self identified Bible believing Christians) to be a "theistic rationalist."

Note, even though I by in large agree with Dr. Frazer's work, I don't agree with everything about it. I respect it as an authority while understanding that all earthly authorities are fallible and have potential problems. No one is perfect.

One area in which Frazer could have been clearer is which of the 10 elements are more central to the understanding of "Christianity" than the others. Though, his book was less than 300 pages and aimed to be both scholarly and accessible. Such demand for more explication, taken to its absurd extreme, could result in an unreadable book over 1000 pages.

I think Frazer is on strongest ground, historically, insofar as his test matches with the Nicene minimum understanding of "Christianity" that has a long accepted tradition that stretches from St. Athanasius to C.S. Lewis.

But Frazer's test isn't quite the same; it's more refined. For instance, the doctrine of Original Sin is one of those points. But (as far as I understand them) the capital O Orthodox Church doesn't believe in that doctrine. Yet they aren't part of Frazer's 10 point lowest common denominator test because (surprise) they didn't have much if any presence in late 18th Cen. America.

But still, an interesting question might be which, if any one of those ten points could an individual disbelieve in and lose or retain the label "Christian."

The problem with this question is that, ultimately, it's unanswerable on this side of cosmic reality. But because I, as above noted, see Frazer's strongest historical case as that which accords with the Nicene minimum understanding, I see the doctrines which that tradition clearly explicates as more important.

So if a particular person believed in 9 of the 10 points but rejected Original Sin (like the Eastern Orthodox) I'd be hard pressed to say that person isn't a "Christian." Or someone like Benjamin Rush who disbelieved in eternal damnation while still believing in the Trinity, Incarnation, and Atonement, I still see him a "Christian" -- a Christian universalist.

Or what if someone believed, as Fortenberry accuses Frazer, that man's reason determines which parts of the Bible are valid revelation and, as it were, the canon is "fit" to be edited. I dispute that such accurately categorizes Dr. Frazer. But even if it did, if that person still believes in the Trinity, Incarnation, and Atonement, I'd be hard pressed to say that person is not a "Christian." However, just as Benjamin Rush, because he rejected eternal damnation, is a "Christian-universalist," such a person would be accurately categorized as a "Christian rationalist."

But what if such a theist and a rationalist didn't even believe in the Trinity, Incarnation, and Atonement? (The first four Presidents and Ben Franklin!) Then, it seems to me, that they don't deserve the label "Christian" for historical purposes. Those tenets have historically been viewed as more central to the faith.

Thus, the term "theistic rationalist" would distinguish them from the "Christian rationalists" -- the latter believers in the Trinity, Incarnation, and Atonement who, with the former, thought man's reason could test for valid revelation and edit from the Bible that which doesn't pass "reason's" smell test.