Monday, April 28, 2014

Hear Ye, Hear Ye! It's 225 Years Since April 30th, 1789

Over at American Thinker's 4/27/2014 blog there's a timely article, April 30th, The Lost Holiday, by Craig Seibert. Here's how it starts:
A little-remembered anniversary occurs this April 30 -- the 225th Anniversary of the U.S. Constitution being put into operation.
Many might remember that April 30, 1789 was the day that George Washington took the oath of office and gave his inaugural address. But lest we forget, this very act also marked the launching of the American Constitutional System. 
Continue reading here.

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Rodney Stark's Debunkathon: How the West Won: The Neglected Story of the Triumph of Modernity

Around here, we all love a good debunking of the acceptive narratives, and Rodney Stark takes a whack at the whole megillah.  From Marvin Olasky's review over at WORLD mag:

Baylor professor Rodney Stark’s The Triumph of Christianity was WORLD’s 2012 book of the year. His latest, How the West Won: The Neglected Story of the Triumph of Modernity (ISI, 2014), is equally worth reading for all the myths Stark busts. He consistently shows how decentralization and competition, rather than government domination, form the base for progress. 
Stark was a journalist before entering the academic world, and his clear writing shows it. He skewers classicists who mourn ancient Rome’s downfall, and calls the fall of Rome “the most beneficial event in the rise of Western civilization, precisely because it unleashed so many substantial and progressive changes…Disunity enabled extensive, small-scale social experimentation and unleashed creative competition among hundreds of independent political units.”
In a chapter entitled “The blessings of disunity,” Stark goes on to show that the Dark Ages weren’t dark, the Vikings and the Crusades have gotten a bad rap, the medieval church fought slavery, the Middle Ages witnessed global warming and then global cooling, and the Black Death contributed to the end of serfdom.
And more debunking: Native Americans did not have a reverence for the earth, the European settlement of the Americas was not a brutal act of genocide, Spain following the Age of Exploration never declined because it never truly rose, Islam never had a golden age and was not tolerant, Christianity was not hostile to science, and European nations did not profit from colonialism...

Sounds like fun.  Read on, MacDuff.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Thomas Jefferson was no secularist

Regardless of how high one thinks Jefferson's wall of separation of church and state should be construed, one point that many modern commentators of a secular bent overlook is that Jefferson was consistent to emphasize not just limits on religion's power to use state power but also on limits of the state's power to force people to violate their sincerely formed religious consciences. As he wrote in the Statute of Virginia for Religious Freedom:
Well aware that the opinions and belief of men depend not on their own will, but follow involuntarily the evidence proposed to their minds; that Almighty God hath created the mind free, and manifested his supreme will that free it shall remain by making it altogether insusceptible of restraint; that all attempts to influence it by temporal punishments, or burthens, or by civil incapacitations, tend only to beget habits of hypocrisy and meanness, and are a departure from the plan of the holy author of our religion, who being lord both of body and mind, yet chose not to propagate it by coercions on either, as was in his Almighty power to do, but to extend it by its influence on reason alone[.]
Note here that the justification for this approach to limiting state power over religion and religious controversies is in God's own act of creation of the human mind, and God's will for human beings to be free in matters of religion. In other words, Jefferson's commitment to religious liberty sprang from his own theological beliefs about God's will and how God seeks to execute his purposes in human life. His contention is not secular at all, it is profoundly religious and profoundly theological.  And it parallels his long-standing views on the matters of religious liberty that he set out in his Notes on Virginia, where he writes the famous statement:
The rights of conscience were never submitted, we could not submit. We are answerable for them to our God. The legitimate powers of government extend to such acts only as are injurious to others. But it does me no injury for my neighbour to say there are twenty gods, or no god. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.
Note again the root justification for Jefferson's views here.  Human beings cannot rightly submit their conscience to the state because our consciences do not come from the state nor can the state properly judge out consciences. The judgment of our consciences is left to God, a God that Jefferson claims as his own.

Thomas Jefferson's views on the limits of state power in religion themselves reflect an attempt to use the agencies of the state to promulgate a theological view of the human person and God's purpose in creating that person. His approach is not secular. It is sacred.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Jefferson's "Wall of Separation": Sure, but how high?

Necessary background re the latest foofaraw over Thomas Jefferson and religion, as litigated by Jonathan Rowe, et al., here here here and here.

Arthur Scherr writes:
“Were Jefferson alive, he would probably say, contrary to the claims of the Religious Right and its scholarly adherents, who fecklessly attempt to depict him as a man of devout Christian faith, ‘let the wall of separation stand.’” 
but the question is not whether there's a wall, but how high and far it should go.  As legal scholar and historian Daniel Dreisbach argues, the wall of separation between church and state was never intended--even by Jefferson--to be the absolute barrier between religion and politics that 20th century jurisprudence began to fashion it into:

The Mythical "Wall of Separation": How a Misused Metaphor Changed Church–State Law, Policy, and Discourse

No metaphor in American letters has had a more profound influence on law and policy than Thomas Jefferson's "wall of separation between church and state."

Today, this figure of speech is accepted by many Americans as a pithy description of the constitutionally prescribed church-state arrangement, and it has become the sacred icon of a strict separationist dogma that champions a secular polity in which religious influences are systematically and coercively stripped from public life.

In our own time, the judiciary has embraced this figurative phrase as a virtual rule of constitutional law and as the organizing theme of church-state jurisprudence, even though the metaphor is nowhere to be found in the U.S. Constitution. In Everson v. Board of Education (1947), the United States Supreme Court was asked to interpret the First Amendment's prohibition on laws "respecting an establishment of religion." "In the words of Jefferson," the justices famously declared, the First Amendment "was intended to erect ‘a wall of separation between church and State'...[that] must be kept high and impregnable. We could not approve the slightest breach."

In the half-century since this landmark ruling, the "wall of separation" has become the locus classicus of the notion that the First Amendment separated religion and the civil state, thereby mandating a strictly secular polity. The trope's continuing influence can be seen in Justice John Paul Stevens's recent warning that our democracy is threatened "[w]henever we remove a brick from the wall that was designed to separate religion and government."

What is the source of this figure of speech, and how has this symbol of strict separation between religion and public life come to dominate church-state law and policy? Of Jefferson's many celebrated pronouncements, this is one of his most misunderstood and misused. I would like to challenge the conventional, secular myth that Thomas Jefferson, or the constitutional architects, erected a high wall between religion and the civil government...

Read on.

Ragosta at the David Library

On April 10, I saw John Ragosta present at the David Library on his book Religious Freedom: Jefferson’s Legacy, America’s Creed. I now have an autographed copy of the book.

This is how I understand Ragosta's thesis: There may have been multiple understandings of church-state relations during the Founding; the states each had their own way of dealing with religious liberty and establishment issues. Further, there has been recent, notable, effort arguing Jefferson and Madison's influence is exaggerated and disproportionate.

Ragosta seeks to explain and reclaim why Jefferson and Madison deserve that rock star influence and it's because, they were, well, rock stars of church-state issues while others weren't. (Note: Ragosta didn't, from what I remember, use the rock star analogy; that's my language.)

This reminds me of Harry Jaffa's notion of interpreting Founding principles through their ideals, not compromises with those ideals. On the ideals of proper church-state relations, who can hold a candle to Jefferson and Madison?

Daniel Dreisbach, a scholar for whom I have profound respect, suggests Jaspar Adams. The problem is, as Ragosta noted, Jaspar Adams was a nobody. He's not even a Salieri to Jefferson and Madison's Mozart. Perhaps Joseph Story (a somebody). But Story wasn't a Founder like Jefferson and Madison were.

While briefly chatting with Dr. Ragosta I mentioned perhaps John Marshall. Ragosta mentioned Marshall, unlike Story, was a Founder and would make for a better candidate than Story. And Marshall, likewise, corresponded with Jaspar Adams and seemed to sympathize with him more than Madison did.

Though, beyond the singular letter to Adams, I'm not aware of much that John Marshall wrote on church-state relations (doesn't mean it's not out there).

When I presented at a conference with, among others, Daniel Dreisbach, we discussed the concept of "key Founders" -- the notion that certain founders not only get but arguably deserve disproportionate influence over others.  Dreisbach suggested that our attention to the first four Presidents, Alexander Hamilton and Ben Franklin (I don't think anyone questions those six are the most well known today) may be a modernistic phenomenon, that other, more forgotten Founders were bigger in the past than they are today. I remember him suggesting John Dickinson as an example.

Well Ragosta, in his book, takes this challenge seriously. Through the use of search engines and data, he tries to argue that Jefferson and Madison were back then, as they are today, rock stars on church-state ideals and remained so for a hundred years after the founding.

If someone was bigger and more worthy of the attention and influence on church-state matters, who?

Fea linking to Kidd on the Scherr Controversy

Here. And here is Thomas Kidd's original.

Ragosta Responds to Scherr

John Ragosta Responds to Arthur Scherr on the controversy here.

A taste:
... Yet, by giving the wrong impression about Jefferson’s deep religiosity and, most especially, overstating Jefferson’s objections, one risks not only confusion but gives those to whom Scherr is addressing his arguments too much ammunition.

Throckmorton: "From Barton to Scherr: Thomas Kidd on Various Visions of Thomas Jefferson"

I've been busy with work; but I wanted to make sure we didn't miss this controversy.

As Warren Throckmorton notes, "[w]hile I think Dreisbach could be more vocal in response to Barton, I agree with Kidd that Barton has found no scholarly support for The Jefferson Lies[,]" including Daniel Dreisbach.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Hammer Reviews Spellberg

As Andrew Sullivan informs, "Juliane Hammer reviews Denise A. Spellberg’s Thomas Jefferson’s Qur’an, ..."

From the review:
It is this same sentiment that permeates Denise A. Spellberg’s new book, Thomas Jefferson’s Qur’an: Islam and the Founders. In it, Spellberg offers a meticulously researched and incredibly detailed account not only of how Jefferson came to acquire a copy of the Qur’an in English but also of the broader historical circumstances of his political career and the role of religion in the period of the founding fathers. Spellberg develops a nuanced and insightful analysis of the seemingly contradicting attitudes towards Islam and Muslims displayed by Jefferson and his contemporaries as represented in historical records. The conundrums she sets out to explore are the following: Why did the founding fathers include the theoretical possibility of Muslims not only as citizens of the United States but as federal office holders (including the presidency) in their deliberations on the one hand, while demonstrating decidedly negative views of Islam (and Muslim political adversaries overseas) on the other? ...

Happy 271 to Thomas Jefferson

To celebrate, see from The Humanist here.

A taste:
Thomas Jefferson was editing the Bible, a book regarded by most of his fellow Americans as the word of God. The act was certainly presumptuous, perhaps blasphemous. But Jefferson found the task simple. The worthy parts of the Bible were easily distinguishable from the worthless—“as distinguishable,” he later wrote in a letter to John Adams, “as diamonds in a dunghill.”

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

A Diptych: Theological Graffiti | Article 39

A diptychical study into the seeming prohibition against swearing an oath stemming from Thomas Kidd's 4/8/2014 article,  The Quaker Contribution to Religious Liberty.
Over at T.C. Moore's website, Theological Graffiti, TC has posted an article, Abusing the Bible: Why Jesus Hates Oaths of Office. He opens up by saying:

Presidents since the birth of the United States republic have been sworn into office on a Bible. (Not all presidents but many.) George Washington is said to have kissed the Bible after reciting his oath. Also, many presidents have added to the end of the oath “So help me God.”

Is this the proper usage of the Bible, according to the Bible? What are the implications of this practice? And most importantly, What does Jesus have to say about oaths that his disciples should know so they can follow his Way?

 [Continue reading here

Others, starting with religious leaders among our earliest American colonial settlers, wrote about oaths and the Bible in a similar vein. See here (scroll down to: It was about this time that Penn wrote his Treatise of Oaths).for William Penn, see  here for Cotton Mather, or here for an 1826 remonstrance by a minister of the (New Netherlands) Dutch Reformed Church.

In juxtaposition, we have Article 39 which is taken from  the Thirty-Nine Articles of Religion.  The full codex was first established in 1563 when the Church of England was coping with the controversies surrounding the English Reformation.

After the American Revolution, and some twelve years after the ratification of the United States Constitution, on September 12, 1801,  the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion underwent a much needed revision. The task occurred under the supervision of a General Convention of the  Protestant Episcopal Church in the United States of America. (There was no change to Article 39.)

So now in view of what T.C. Moore’s had to say, let’s examine Sect.XXI - Article XXXIX, Of a ChristianMan's Oath, pages 447-449;  Established Church of England, the Anglican Church,  A manual of the rudiments of theology, Rev. J. B. Smith, London, 1830 .

Article 39 - “As we confess that vain and rash swearing is forbidden Christian men, by our Lord Jesus Christ, and James his Apostle, so we judge that the Christian religion doth not prohibit but that a man may swear when the magistrate requireth, in a cause of faith and charity, so it be done according to the prophet’s teaching, in justice, judgement, and truth.”

Here’s a snippet from the associated exegetical text

There are passages in Scripture sometimes brought forward in objection to this; e.g. Christ’s words “Swear not at all; but let your communication be yea, yea, nay, nay.” St. James says the same. Now the word communication seems to be the key to the matter; and shows that the caution applied to cases of ordinary conversation, and not to judiciary forms. The Jews were much addicted, in our Saviour’s time, to oaths of various sorts, in common discourse, and these passages are directed against that practice. Hence, as profane swearing was forbidden by the third commandment, and yet Moses expressly says, “Thou shalt fear the Lord thy God, and swear by his name;” so all swearing is forbidden to Christian men on ordinary occasions, and is only allowable when necessary, and the magistrate requireth in a cause of faith and charity: and then it is to be performed with a seriousness and awful reverence for God’s majesty upon our minds.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Kidd: "The Quaker Contribution to Religious Liberty"

By Thomas Kidd here. A taste:
Quaker convictions about religious liberty, like Baptists’, emerged from the experience of persecution. ...

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Brayton: "AHA Files Contempt Motion in Prayer Case" & Observations on J. Adams' Heterodox Theology

Read about it here.

I'm of two minds: On the one hand, I'm no fan of federal judges dictating prayers. On the other, I'm also not a fan of local government agencies dictating them either. A local government bureaucrat has no power to intentionally overrule a federal judge. Federal judges can enforce injunctions at the point of a gun. Were I the judge, this is how I would resolve it: I'd use my equitable powers to send in an official to pray a generic monotheistic, inclusive prayer that would cancel out the exclusivist Jesus language. And I'd have them come back a few times a year as long as the local bureaucrat insisted on Jesus only language.

Perhaps they could quote something from the "key Founders" that, unlike the George Washington spurious prayer, was actually uttered by them. Perhaps something from John Adams' letters written in 1813 like below.
Where is to be found theology more orthodox, or philosophy more profound, than in the introduction to the Shasta? "God is one, creator of all, universal sphere, without beginning, without end. God governs all the creation by a general providence, resulting from his eternal designs. Search not the essence and the nature of the Eternal, who is one; your research will be vain and presumptuous. It is enough, that, day by day and night by night, you adore his power, his wisdom, and his goodness, in his works. The Eternal willed, in the fulness of time, to communicate of his essence and of his splendor, to beings capable of perceiving it. They as yet existed not. The Eternal willed, and they were. He created Birma, Vitsnow, and Sib." These doctrines, sublime, if ever there were any sublime, Pythagoras learned in India, and taught them to Zaleucus and his other disciples.
Bill Fortenberry, friend of American Creation, may chime in and argue Adams' thoughts are somehow consistent with evangelical, biblical Christianity as he did here.

Adams at times (here, certainly) can be difficult to understand and Mr. Fortenberry's analysis did help me better understand the context, somewhat. When the militant unitarian Adams uses the term "orthodox" as he refers to a religion, he may mean 1. trinitarianism and cognate doctrines, something in which he did not believe (hence here the term "orthodox" would be something at least somewhat pejorative); or 2. something religiously good, something in which a unitarian like himself could endorse (hence the term "orthodox" would be something positive).

It's apparent from the context that Adams sees Hindu dogma to be equivalent to orthodox Trinitarian Christianity. He sees truth and error, positive and negative, in both. Adams, like the Hindus and Trinitarians believed that:
God is one, creator of all, universal sphere, without beginning, without end. God governs all the creation by a general providence, resulting from his eternal designs. Search not the essence and the nature of the Eternal, who is one; your research will be vain and presumptuous.
This is the part of the Shastra Adams believed to contain "philosophy ... profound."

But then:
The Eternal willed, in the fulness of time, to communicate of his essence and of his splendor, to beings capable of perceiving it. They as yet existed not. The Eternal willed, and they were. He created Birma, Vitsnow, and Sib." These doctrines, sublime, if ever there were any sublime, Pythagoras learned in India, and taught them to Zaleucus and his other disciples.
The notion of the eternal God being One, somehow becoming Three but still being One is what Adams thought "theology ... orthodox," something Adams rejected.

Whatever disagreements Adams had with fellow militant unitarian Joseph Priestley (and such disagreements were more political than theological) Adams endorsed Priestley's notion that the corrupt "orthodox" doctrine of the Trinity traces to Plato. Though Adams thought he could "one up" Priestley for failing to note Plato cribbed the Trinity from Pythagoras (aka the triangle guy).

So which part of Adams' musings make it into the government dictated prayer?

Saturday, April 5, 2014

Article on Official Using GW's Phony Prayers

From the Baltimore Sun. A taste:
She said that she would be using the words of George Washington as she prayed, quoting, “I beseech thee, for the sake of him in whom thou art well pleased, the Lord Jesus Christ, to admit me to render thee deserved thanks and praises for thy manifold mercies extended toward me.” 
The text of the prayer matches that of one ascribed to Washington in a 1919 book, but William M. Ferraro an associate editor of the first president’s papers at the University of Virginia, said there is no evidence the words are his.
Be sure to read on and check for what Thomas Kidd has to say in the article.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

You'd Think It's April Fools Day

Holy Moly, Wingman!  It's the Battle of the Billboards. 

On one side of this billboard skirmish, the Restore Military Religious Freedom Coalition has posted a billboard, near an entrance to the U.S. Air Force Academy, supporting the religious freedom of Academy cadets.  See 3/26/2014 announcement here.

Image source: Restore Military Religious Freedom

Literally, on the other side of this skirmish, the Military Religious Freedom has issued a 3/27/2013 press release announcing their billboard rebuttal. See here.

Chad Groening, a Restore Religious Freedom Coalition advocate, issued his 4/1/2014 over-the-top returning salvo here.