Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Volf's Controversial Comparison

Miroslav Volf is one of the most distinguished and well respected Christian thinkers in the world. I generally like what I've seen from him. I do, however, think his comparison we see below was overly dramatic.
[MV:]I think it is an attempt to assert Islam as a political religion as a unity of religion and government. Now that’s been a way religions have functioned throughout history–from Constantine until recently. America was founded by folks who thought like this.
RNS: America was founded by folks who thought like Islamist extremists?
MV: Like many Islamist extremists, yes. Which is to say, they believed God would bless this new experiment if we integrate our obedience to God’s laws and we ensure that this is indeed a city set on a hill.
[MV:]Think of John Winthrop, his theory of the role of the state and the laws against blasphemies, adulterers, and idolaters.
[MV:] I love America, but its first founders, like Muslim extremists, advocated killing for blasphemy, adultery, idolatry.
I also disagree that the Puritans were the "Founders" of America as opposed to the "Planters."

Sunday, March 29, 2015

How Christianity Invented Human Rights

From Baylor's invaluable Research on Religion podcast series, hosted by Tony Gill of the University of Washington.

What difference does a religious tradition make?  If it is Christianity, Prof. Jim Papandrea of the Garrett-Evangelical Seminary at Northwestern University says it matters a great deal.  Jim returns to our show for the third time (hat trick) and discusses his new book Seven Revolutions: How Christianity Changed the World and Can Change It Again, coauthored with Mike Aquilina.  The general thrust of the book is that Christian theology introduced to the world (at least) seven new ways to envision human society, starting with the individual person and proceeding up through the state.

Jim starts us off by listing the seven great revolutions introduced by Christian thought, including how we look at: the person, the home (and gender roles), work (and the laborer), religion, community, death, and (finally) the state.  He also notes how Christianity promoted a “God of love” that opened the door to an inclusionary religion that shaped all of these critical areas.  

We then look into the fourth revolution — religion — more closely and Jim notes that although based upon a Judaic foundation, Christianity opens the door to proselytizing and including all peoples into one single religion.  This has a major impact on how individuals and neighbors are conceived, and will impact the how early Christians opened the door to new thinking on government.  

We cover the reaction to this new message amongst the Romans of the day, which wasn’t always welcoming.  Persecutions were common, yet Christianity kept growing culminating in its final acceptance under the Edict of Milan (313 CE).  Jim discusses the role that Constantine played in this process and notes that the Edict of Milan, contrary to the notion that it established Christianity as the official church, was really the world’s first document on religious liberty.  

This springboards us into another one of Jim’s seven revolutions regarding the role of the state.  Here we spend some time talking about how Christianity changed the notion of sovereignty by not placing the “person at the top of the governing pyramid” as the ultimate authority, but rather noting that God is a separate authority.  Jim discusses how this translates into the role of citizen sovereignty and how it relates to the foundation of the US government some 230 years ago.  We also take time to cover the revolutions of community (“love thy neighbor”) as well as how Christianity developed the concept of human dignity for all and how this helped change views on labor and family roles, not to mention the topics of euthanasia, abortion, and infanticide (practices common in the Roman Empire).

Our conversation ends with some reflection on Christianity in the “post-Christian" era. 

[Crossposted at newreformclub.com.]

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

So Maybe It Was the Unitarians After All...

Who first gave us religious liberty. And from Transylvania of all European places. From Wiki:
March 18th (1568): The Act of Religious Freedom and Conscience (Edict of Torda) was issued by (Unitarian) Prince John Sigismund of Transylvania, instituting in his principality the path-breaking idea of religious freedom. The Edict of Torda was revolutionary for its time.
Here is a pretty picture of it.

Rarely is the question asked: Is Our Children Actually Learning "Critical Thinking?"

A fascinating problem as limned by Justin P. McBrayer in a recent NYT op-ed:

Why Our Children Don’t Think There Are Moral Facts

George Washington, depicted here taking the oath of office in 1789, was the first president of the United States. Fact, opinion or both?
What would you say if you found out that our public schools were teaching children that it is not true that it’s wrong to kill people for fun or cheat on tests? Would you be surprised?
I was. As a philosopher, I already knew that many college-aged students don’t believe in moral facts. While there are no national surveys quantifying this phenomenon, philosophy professors with whom I have spoken suggest that the overwhelming majority of college freshmen in their classrooms view moral claims as mere opinions that are not true or are true only relative to a culture.

A misleading distinction between fact and opinion is embedded in the Common Core.
What I didn’t know was where this attitude came from. Given the presence of moral relativism in some academic circles, some people might naturally assume that philosophers themselves are to blame. But they aren’t. There are historical examples of philosophers who endorse a kind of moral relativism, dating back at least to Protagoras who declared that “man is the measure of all things,” and several who deny that there are any moral facts whatsoever. But such creatures are rare. Besides, if students are already showing up to college with this view of morality, it’s very unlikely that it’s the result of what professional philosophers are teaching. So where is the view coming from?
A few weeks ago, I learned that students are exposed to this sort of thinking well before crossing the threshold of higher education. When I went to visit my son’s second grade open house, I found a troubling pair of signs hanging over the bulletin board. They read:
Fact: Something that is true about a subject and can be tested or proven.
Opinion: What someone thinks, feels, or believes.
Hoping that this set of definitions was a one-off mistake, I went home and Googled “fact vs. opinion.” The definitions I found online were substantially the same as the one in my son’s classroom. As it turns out, the Common Core standards used by a majority of K-12 programs in the country require that students be able to “distinguish among fact, opinion, and reasoned judgment in a text.” And the Common Core institute provides a helpful page full of links to definitions, lesson plans and quizzes to ensure that students can tell the difference between facts and opinions.
So what’s wrong with this distinction and how does it undermine the view that there are objective moral facts?
Students are taught that claims are either facts or opinions. They are given quizzes in which they must sort claims into one camp or the other but not both. But if a fact is something that is true and an opinion is something that is believed, then many claims will obviously be both. For example, I asked my son about this distinction after his open house. He confidently explained that facts were things that were true whereas opinions are things that are believed. We then had this conversation:
Me: “I believe that George Washington was the first president. Is that a fact or an opinion?”
Him: “It’s a fact.”
Me: “But I believe it, and you said that what someone believes is an opinion.”
Him: “Yeah, but it’s true.”
Me: “So it’s both a fact and an opinion?”
The blank stare on his face said it all.
As they say, read the whole thing.

[Crossposted at newreformclub.com.]

Saturday, March 14, 2015

What American is NOT About


Friday, March 13, 2015

What I see as the Political-Theological Contribution of the Enlightenment to the American Founding

There has been a "counter-Enlightenment" push that seeks to downplay its importance to the contributions of the American Founding while looking to credit earlier more traditional sources. With this we see a tendency that prefers one's own with focused importance.

That is, a scholar imbibed in the rich intellectual traditions of Judaism might focus on the Hebraic sources, a Baptist on their contributions, the Calvinists on theirs, and Roman Catholics can find "accidental Thomism" from a Protestant people who were by in large, anti-Roman Catholic.

And there certainly is a strong kernel of truth to each critique. The individual ideas that became en vogue by the Enlightenment religionists tended not to be new. For instance, freed from the constraint of the Magisterium and with each believer a priest entitled to interpret scripture for himself, many notable Protestants became Arians. After all, the Bible never specifically uses the term "the Trinity."

Arianism was the dominant theology of the 18th Century enlightened unitarians. But Arianism is old. Quite old indeed.  Even the more radical forms of unitarianism or "Christian-Deism" that for instance, Thomas Jefferson might endorse were found in the early Church. Jefferson didn't cite Marcion much, but their personal theologies were quite similar.

Speaking of Jefferson below is a quotation of his that typified the "Enlightenment" perspective on Christianity:
Were I to be a founder of a new sect, I would call them Apriarians, and after the example of the bee, advise them to extract honey of every sect.

-- Thomas Jefferson to Thomas B. Parker, May 15, 1819.
Lest you think I cite Jefferson as some kind of "outlier," here's a more mainstream orthodox Trinitarian Christian, albeit a universalist, making a similar point:
It would seem as if one of the designs of Providence in permitting the existence of so many Sects of Christians was that each Sect might be a depository of some great truth of the Gospel, and that it might by that means be better preserved. Thus to the Catholics and Moravians he has committed the Godhead of the Saviour, hence they worship and pray to him; to the Episcopal, Presbyterian, and Baptist Church the decrees of God and partial redemption, or the salvation of the first fruits, which they ignorantly suppose to include all who shall be saved. To the Lutherans and Methodists he has committed the doctrine of universal redemption, to the Quakers the Godhead and influences of the Holy Spirit, to the Unitarians, the humanity of our Saviour... Let the different Sects of Christians not only bear with each other, but love each other for this kind display of God's goodness whereby all the truths of their Religion are so protected that none of them can ever become feeble or be lost.
-- Benjamin Rush, "Commonplace Book," August 14, 1811. Corner, Autobiography of Rush, 339-340.
In short, the "enlightened" Protestant Christian used his own "judgment"-- his "reason" or otherwise -- to decide for himself how to interpret the faith, in what doctrines to believe, which parts of the Bible are inspired, which books, in fact, belong in the canon, and what political principles ought be derived from a "proper" understanding of theology.

So how did this impact the relationship among Enlightenment, Christianity, and the American Founding? Everything we "value" about the political-theology of the American Founding (and some things that we don't) probably can be found in bits and pieces during earlier more "traditional" periods. But it didn't all come together until these enlighteners used their reason "to extract honey of every sect" as Jefferson put it, at the exact moment they did. During that period historians term "the Enlightenment."

For instance, the "Calvinist resisters" (though not Calvin himself) might have something to offer like "rebellion against tyrants is obedience to God." Though, they were woefully deficient on religious liberty. Likewise, the Thomists incorporated a theistic grounding for Aristotelian rationalism but likewise were deficient on religious liberty and other matters.

Roger Williams and the Quakers were considered novel and eccentric when they innovated the "Christian" case for religious liberty. (That's where one had to go for this teaching, not the Calvinist resisters or those Protestants who borrowed from the scholastics.) The enlighteners of the 18th Century, using their reason, took from them this principle and combined it with what they saw the best from the other traditions to deliver the liberalism that founded America.

History Professor Caroline Winterer discusses the American Enlightenment

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Whose Enlightenment Was It, Anyway?

Historian Thomas S. Kidd takes aim at the handy but ultimately unhelpful catchall term for all human progress c. 1600-1800 CE, the "Enlightenment," as though John Locke dropped in from Mars one day, to save the Western World from sin and error [and Christianity] pining:
I am skeptical about “The Enlightenment.” It is an ideologically loaded term that implies that much of the western intellectual tradition before The Enlightenment was “dark.” Much of that tradition was, of course, Christian. “The Enlightenment” presupposes an arc of history toward secular democratic scientific liberalism.

I encourage students writing research papers to see if they can talk about intellectual trends in the eighteenth century without using the term “Enlightenment.” If your work is directly engaging the status of “The Enlightenment” as a historical category, fine. But if what you’re really talking about is the rise of humanism, egalitarianism, naturalism, or skepticism, then why not just employ those terms and avoid trotting out “The Enlightenment”?
“The Enlightenment” has taken a beating from many sources in recent decades. Some, like me, point to the term’s ideological and anti-religious baggage. Others, like the eminent historian J.G.A. Pocock, have criticized the term for its unwieldiness and suggested that while there may have been many national “enlightenments” (French, Scottish, etc.) there was not a unitary “Enlightenment.”
Some critics have accepted the “Enlightenment” as a unitary category but lament that its adherents defended imperialism, slavery, anti-feminism, and traditional faith too often for the “Enlightenment” to have actually been enlightened.
One of the most provocative recent writers on the Enlightenment, Jonathan Israel, argues that the traditional study of the Enlightenment has put too much emphasis on a handful of thinkers who were admittedly hierarchy- and tradition-minded. Among these thinkers were Newton, Locke, Voltaire, and David Hume. Israel suggests that to appreciate the real value of the Enlightenment, we need to re-focus on “Radical Enlightenment” thinkers such as the Dutch philosopher Spinoza. In this lesser-known set of radical philosophers, Israel contends that we will find sources of the contemporary notion that improving human life requires emancipating men and women from “autocracy, intolerance, and prejudiced thinking, and establishing a predominantly secular morality” as well as promoting “equality (sexual and racial), democracy, [and] individual liberty.”

I’m not sold on the utility of the term. Here’s how I handled the issue in one passage of my Whitefield biography:
Because of his familiarity with polemics for and against Calvinism, Whitefield knew that it was under assault in the eighteenth century as part of intellectual changes historians often call the “Enlightenment.” (I prefer terms like “liberal” or “humanitarian” thought to describe these new developments, rather than the catch-all term “Enlightenment.” The concept of the Enlightenment, as many have noted, over-simplifies Europe’s intellectual trends of the time. Some Enlightenment figures were friendly toward traditional faith, some not.)
Henry May’s classic book The Enlightenment in America remains the best place to start on the movement’s influence among the Founders. May notes that the pragmatic, common-sense Scottish Enlightenment, with its relative friendliness to Christianity, was the most influential strand of Enlightenment thinking in American history.
For better or worse, the term “The Enlightenment” will likely remain a staple of the history of western civilization for the time being. I imagine that most professors who teach western civ or world history will keep including a day or week to discussing it. But hopefully the criticisms of the term and of its adherents have brought much-needed clarity and circumspection to its use.
[Cross-posted at The New Reform Club.]

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Brayton, Throckmorton, Barton, & the PA Pastors

Get the 411 here. A taste:
Warren Throckmorton, who teaches at Grove City College in Pennsylvania, notes that the Pennsylvania Pastors Network has invited David Barton to speak at a conference in Lancaster. He contacted Sam Rohrer, CEO of the pastors group, to ask why he would invite someone [like David Barton] to speak. ...

Monday, March 9, 2015

Protestant Scholasticism: The Missing Catholic Link to the American Founding

by Scott McDermott
Guest Blogger

Bound extras indenture
The Massachusetts Body of Liberties, 1641.

The Founding Fathers based the American republic on the concepts of natural law, natural rights, popular sovereignty, corporatism, the moral economy, and the right of resistance to tyranny.  All of these concepts derived from Catholic political thought of the Middle Ages.  But how did the Protestant Founders, anti-Catholic to a man, come by these ideas?  

In my book Charles Carroll of Carrollton: Faithful Revolutionary, I suggested that Carroll, the only Catholic signer of the Declaration of Independence, served as a vector of Catholic political concepts during the American founding.  But Carroll, however influential, was only one man.  And the thesis of Carroll's influence falls afoul of the objection that also thwarts the usual scholarly explanation, that Catholic political ideas came to America mediated and distorted through Enlightenment writings.  But if Enlightened thinkers transmitted these ideas, how did they become embedded in colonial political culture long before the Enlightenment reached these shores?  

My recent research suggests a most unlikely conduit for Catholic political teaching in the American colonies:  Puritans educated in the tradition of Protestant scholasticism.  Although Martin Luther famously rejected scholastic learning, important early Reformers like Theodore Beza and Philipp Melanchthon understood that Protestants would need scholastic tools in order to debate effectively against Catholic apologists.  Thus, Protestant universities and academies retained the seven liberal arts and the “three philosophies” -- metaphysics, natural philosophy, and moral philosophy -- as the bedrock of their undergraduate curricula.  While the theology course changed drastically, theology was a graduate program, and most ministers in the English-speaking world took up their posts possessing only a B.A. degree that rested on the traditional Aristotelian learning of the Middle Ages.  Their formation in political thought, taught under the rubric of moral philosophy, derived from two textbooks, Aristotle's Politics and Nicomachean Ethics, and such commentators on those works as Thomas Aquinas and "The Schoolmen," a tradition known as scholasticism.

The chief bastion of Protestant scholasticism in England was Emmanuel College, Cambridge.  Historian Samuel Eliot Morison has shown that thirty-five former students at Emmanuel migrated to New England between 1630 and 1640.  Of the “Emmanuel 35,” eight spent time living in the village of Ipswich, Massachusetts.  This group of men, who formed the nucleus of what I call the “Ipswich Connection,” included some of the colony's most important political leaders and constituted the main opposition to the policies of Governor John Winthrop.  Simon Bradstreet served as the colony's governor; so did his father-in-law Thomas Dudley.  Emmanuel men Richard Saltonstall and Daniel Denison also became part of Massachusetts' elite ruling class.  But the  linchpin of the Ipswich Connection was Nathaniel Ward, a minister, lawyer, and prolific author who took his B.A. in 1600 and his M.A. in 1603 from Emmanuel.
Nathaniel Ward was the principal author of Massachusetts Bay's first law code, the Body of Liberties of 1641, passed over Winthrop's strenuous objections.  Other members of the Ipswich Connection supported the code enthusiastically.  The Body of Liberties reveals at every turn the scholastic political formation of its Ipswich backers, beginning with its title, which derives from the scholastic doctrine of corporatism, the metaphor of society as a body combined with the belief that political communities have a real and autonomous existence.  Indeed, Ward divided his document into sections devoted to different corporate groups in society, namely freemen, women, children, servants, “Forreiners and Strangers,” the churches, and even domestic animals.

Natural law and natural rights appear in the very first Liberty, which protected life, liberty, and property:

No mans life shall be taken away, no mans honour or good name shall be stayned, no mans person shall be arested, restrayned, banished, dismembred, nor any wayes punished, no man shall be deprived of his wife or his children, no mans goods shall be taken away from him, nor any way indammaged...unlesse it be by vertue or equitie of some expresse law of the Country waranting the same...or in case of the defect of a law in any parteculer case by the word of god.

Numerous other liberties defined due process of law, while Liberties 45 and 46 restricted the use of torture and prohibited “inhumane Barbarous or cruel” punishment.

In keeping with Catholic principles of moral economy, the Liberties banned monopolies, provided for grazing rights on common lands, protected common fishing and fowling rights, and prohibited “any usurie amongst us contrarie to the law of god” (although an 8% penalty was permitted on overdue debts).  The Preamble upheld the principle of popular sovereignty by declaring that “We...ratify them [the Liberties] with our sollemne consent,” while Liberty 98 defined the procedure for ratification by the people.  The Body of Liberties aimed to produce a well-regulated body politic in which arbitrary government (of the sort the Ipswich men believed Winthrop was exercising) would become impossible, not only because the government had to respect the legitimate rights of different orders in society, but because it protected the freemen's privilege of political participation.  The Liberties do not explicitly invoke the right of resistance to tyranny, but the dogged opposition by the Ipswich Connection to Winthrop embodies it.  

For all these reasons, the 1641 Body of Liberties provides a touchstone for those who seek the point when Catholic Scholastic political concepts entered the American body politic. 

Scott McDermott has a Ph.D. in American History from Saint Louis University and is currently an Assistant Professor of History at Tusculum College in Greeneville, Tennessee.

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Jeff Schweitzer: "Founding Fathers: We Are Not a Christian Nation"

Check it out here. A taste:
Let us be perfectly clear: We are not now, nor have we ever been, a Christian nation. Our founding fathers explicitly and clearly excluded any reference to "God" or "the Almighty" or any euphemism for a higher power in the Constitution. Not one time is the word "god" mentioned in our founding document. Not one time.

The facts of our history are easy enough to verify. Anybody who ignorantly insists that our nation is founded on Christian ideals need only look at the four most important documents from our early history -- the Declaration of Independence, the Articles of Confederation, the Federalist Papers and the Constitution -- to disprove that ridiculous religious bias. All four documents unambiguously prove our secular origins.

Saturday, March 7, 2015

Was the American Founding Principled or Merely Self-Serving?

Tom West on the legendary debate between "East Coast" Straussian Harvey Mansfield of Harvard and Harry V. Jaffa of the West Coast Claremont Institute:

Mansfield says, then, that the theory of the American founding is both untrue and harmful. It is untrue because there is no such thing as nonpartisan politics, because human beings are created unequal in important ways. It is harmful because the idea of equality produces ever more radical demands to deny all politically relevant differences among human beings, while it encourages government to intrude ever more aggressively into the private sphere. Jaffa answers that the theory of the founding is true, because human beings really are equal in the sense that no one has the right to rule another without that other’s consent. And the equality idea, Jaffa argues, far from being harmful, is our best ground for the revival and continuation of a decent constitutionalism in the modern world.

Jaffa believes that the theory of the American founding is true because slavery is always evil. No man is born the natural ruler of any other man. Mansfield says that “all men are created equal” is a self-evident half-truth because men are equal in some respects and unequal in others. But no sensible person—and certainly not Jaffa—would dispute that human beings are unequal in many ways. For Jaffa, the meaning of “created equal” is that although many men are better than other men at the tasks of ruling, it is also true that “all men have been endowed . . . with a nonangelic nature.” Everyone being subject to the same selfish passions, no one should be trusted with absolute power. To illustrate this point, Americans in the founding era frequently compared human to divine rule, which they cheerfully admitted was absolute monarchy without the consent of the governed. As the town of Malden, Massachusetts, wrote in 1776, the reason that the rule of God without our consent is acceptable, but that the rule of man without our consent is not, is that God, “being possessed of infinite wisdom, goodness, and rectitude, is alone fit to possess unlimited power.” Even if we admit that there is some tiny number of men who are sufficiently godlike that they could be trusted with absolute power without consent, it still would not establish a politically relevant claim. For, Jaffa writes,
Plato’s Republic is imaginary precisely because, according to Plato himself, philosophers do not wish to rule, and anyone wishing to rule is not a philosopher. Anyone who asserts a right to rule on the basis of his claim to wisdom is accordingly condemned in advance as a charlatan by philosophy itself. . . . Philosopher-kings are not possible, and genuine philosophers will always prefer a regime of equality under the law.

Peter Manseau: "America is not a 'Christian' nation"

Writing at Fox News of all places. A taste:
No matter how many Christians live here, we are not a Christian nation. For the sake of people of all faiths and of no faith, we should hope we never become one.

Friday, March 6, 2015

More from Thomas Kidd on Obama claim Islam was “'Woven into the fabric of our country'"

Islam in Early America

 Check out Thomas Kidd's argument. A bigger taste:

President Obama created controversy in a recent speech when he asserted that “Islam has been woven into the fabric of our country since its founding.” He followed this statement with rather generic statements about Muslim immigrants coming to America and finding economic opportunity and freedom.
But what about the idea that Islam has been “woven into the fabric” of America since the founding? What role did Islam, and Muslims, play in colonial and Revolutionary America? Part of the reason that the president gave few details about Islam and the founding era is that most of Islam’s role at that time was either in negative associations, or in real Muslim slaves.
Neither gives much fodder, I’m afraid, for positive examples that the president might cite.
[T]he typical Muslim appearing in Anglo-American writing during the Revolutionary period was not an African slave; more likely he would have been a Barbary pirate or a Middle Eastern despot. A close look at the uses of Islam in the Founding period and early republic shows reveals a well-established political and literary tradition: citing the similarities between an opponent’s views and the “beliefs” of Islam as a means to discredit one’s adversaries.

Kidd: “'Woven into the fabric of our country'? Islam in Early America"

Check out Thomas Kidd's argument here. A taste:
As I noted in a chapter on Islam which I contributed to Daniel Dreisbach and Mark David Hall’s book Faith and the Founders of the American Republic,

There were actual Muslims living in America during the Founding period, but the vast majority of them were toiling as slaves in the South. Of course, Muslim traders and sailors also passed through American ports on occasion, but most American Muslims were Africans forcibly imported to work on American plantations. The exact number of Muslims, of course, is hard to discern, but historian Michael Gomez has estimated that perhaps 200,000 slaves came from African regions with significant Muslim influences. This does not mean that all of these were Muslims, but it does suggest that hundreds of thousands of slaves may have been at least marginally familiar with Muslim beliefs.

Laura Miller: "The stubborn myth of the Christian country: Why the U.S. has always been 'one nation, under gods'"

The Salon writer reviews a new book. A taste:
As Peter Manseau, author of “One Nation, Under Gods: A New American History,” would have it, nothing has done more damage to the ideal of American religious pluralism than the “stubborn persistence of words spoken more than a century before the United States was a nation at all.” Those words are “a city upon a hill,” preached by the Puritan John Winthrop to his fellow colonists as they prepared to leave their ship at Massachusetts Bay in 1630. Most strenuously invoked by Ronald Reagan, the city on the hill, according to Manseau, has for the past 50 years “dominated presidential rhetoric about the nation’s self-understanding, causing an image borrowed from the Gospels to become a tenet of faith in America’s civil religion.”

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Am I Not a Woman and a Sister?

Via friend-of-the-blog John Fea's blog The Way of Improvement Leads Home, an image from the new Digital Archive of Massachusetts Anti-Slavery and Anti-Segregation Petitions:

I'm no presentist, but I can't understand how any father or mother or brother or sister or son or daughter could remain immune to such propaganda. [Propaganda wasn't always a bad word, you know.]

It must have been hard.

Tuesday, March 3, 2015

The Bible, Romans 13 and the American Revolution

There were [and still are!] those who believe the American Revolution disobeyed the Word of God, which reads

Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God.---Epistle to the Romans, 13:1

America could hardly be a "Christian nation" founded upon such an unBiblical act!

However, in this 1818 letter looking back on the Revolution, John Adams describes the colonists' theological justification for the war: They didn't fire King George, he quit.

February 13, 1818
The American Revolution was not a common event. Its effects and consequences have already been awful over a great part of the globe. And when and where are they to cease?
But what do we mean by the American Revolution? Do we mean the American War? The Revolution was effected before the War commenced. The Revolution was in the minds and hearts of the people, a change in their religious sentiments of their duties and obligations.
While the king, and all in authority under him, were believed to govern in justice and mercy according to the laws and constitution derived to them from the God of nature, and transmitted to them by their ancestors, they thought themselves bound to pray for the king and queen and all the royal family, and all in authority under them, as ministers ordained of God for their good. But when they saw those powers renouncing all the principles of authority, and bent upon the destruction of all the securities of their lives, liberties, and properties, they thought it their duty to pray for the Continental Congress and all the thirteen state congresses, etc.
There might be, and there were, others who thought less about religion and conscience, but had certain habitual sentiments of allegiance and loyalty derived from their education; but believing allegiance and protection to be reciprocal, when protection was withdrawn, they thought allegiance was dissolved.
Indeed the Declaration of Independence reads:
2) "He [King George III] has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us."
And so the colonists--in harmony with Romans 13--transferred their allegiance to the duly constituted authorities, those of their state governments, and of the Continental Congress. Parliament was not their constituted government—the colonists did not and could not vote for or against them.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

The REAL Reasons Conservatives Are So MAD About AP US History

Via the Daily Caller, the other side of the story few have heard:
The sentiment, to say the least, is that critics of APUSH simply want history classes to be right-wing patriotic propaganda, devoid of anything negative and promoting a saccharine image of the country’s history.
The truth is, as usual, somewhat more nuanced.
APUSH critics aren’t demanding that American history be whitewashed, or that classes reflect conservative political ideology. In fact, for the most part, they’re just asking for the return of the old APUSH course framework and test, which existed until this year before being displaced by a brand new framework.
That framework, they argued, was more balanced, more rigorous, and less prescriptive in how individual material should be covered.
Jane Robbins, a senior fellow with the American Principles Project and one of the most vocal critics of the new APUSH test, spoke with The Daily Caller News Foundation to clarify the flaws that she sees at the heart of the new exam.
The problem, Robbins says, isn’t that the new APUSH covers slavery, Japanese internment, or any other bad aspects of American history. The previous APUSH exam covered the same things, and raised no major objections. Rather, she said, the core problem is one of overall tone and how subject matter is framed.
That is, American history primarily through the lens of oppressed minorities.
“[The narrative is] there are a couple of bright spots, but generally our history is one long depressing story of identity groups in conflict,” Robbins said. ”Everything shall be looked at through gender, class, race.”
The previous AP framework, which few have complained about, also gave time to identity group issues. Courses were expected to cover 12 themes such as “economic transformations” and “war and diplomacy.” One such theme was “American diversity,” which intended for students to learn about the ”roles of race, class, ethnicity, and gender in the history of the United States.”
In contrast, the new APUSH covers only seven core themes. While one of those themes is explicitly on “identity,” issues of race, gender, and class pop up in the other six as well. This focus, Robbins argues, encourages a narrative of American history that leads to a heavy focus on group conflict and resulting oppression, while de-emphasizing more positive parts of history.
“It’s all forces of history,” she said. “Nothing on what we see as the great things of our history.”
The emphasis on identity, she said, also reflects a subtle leftward tilt in the standards that did not exist before.
Like the man said, read the whole thing.
John Stuart Mill

“He who knows only his own side of the case knows little of that. His reasons may be good, and no one may have been able to refute them. But if he is equally unable to refute the reasons on the opposite side, if he does not so much as know what they are, he has no ground for preferring either opinion...Nor is it enough that he should hear the opinions of adversaries from his own teachers, presented as they state them, and accompanied by what they offer as refutations. He must be able to hear them from persons who actually believe them...he must know them in their most plausible and persuasive form.”—JS Mill

Guest Post By JMS

On the recent AP US History controversy. The author's name is John Shaw, a college history teacher from the western side of the United States. 


Since its 2014 release, there has been a lot of wailing and gnashing of teeth over the revised AP U.S. History "framework." At their  summer meeting in August, the Republican National Committee passed a resolution, branding the curriculum “a radically revisionist view of American history that emphasizes negative aspects of our nation’s history while omitting or minimizing positive aspects.” Similar complaints and attempts to prevent its implementation at the state level have arisen in Texas, Georgia, Colorado (that generated significant student and parent pushback in Jefferson County), North and South Carolina.

I’m guessing you have heard about the latest AP U.S. History brouhaha (Rod Dreher provides a fair overview), this time in Oklahoma. Representative Dan Fisher proposed defunding AP U.S. History because it fails to teach “American exceptionalism.” But this complaint is a misreading of the AP history “framework,” and as in Colorado, students, parents and teachers are pushing back, at least because they earned a million dollars’ worth of college credits last year via AP history classes. This has led Fisher to shelve a committee-approved defunding bill for now. Too many detractors like Fisher mischaracterize the new AP approach to history. It is not a curriculum, it does not mandate any list of groups, individuals, dates, documents or historical details, and it does not “teach” any particular political position or interpretation of U.S. history. It is each AP history teacher’s responsibility to select the relevant historical artifacts that explore the key concepts and develop historical thinking skills.

But, relevant to American Creation, Mr. Fisher is a “pastor” and member of an organization called, the Black Robe Regiment, whose website states that, “although we are not affiliated with David Barton or the Wall Builders organization, David serves as an inspiration and Wall Builders is a great resource of historical knowledge.” They claim, “the church and God himself has been under assault, marginalized, and diminished by the progressives and secularists,” and attack the “false wall of separation of church and state” resulting from a “growing tide of special interest groups indoctrinating our youth at the exclusion of the Christian perspective.”

But the inclusion of more or alternate viewpoints does not necessarily exclude other perspectives, Christian or otherwise. Should claims about “a divinely inspired US Constitution” be accepted at face value? Any study of U.S. history that utilizes the “historical thinking” skills the AP U.S. history framework seeks to develop, will result in divergent conclusions, which strikes me as a very positive learning outcome. Mr. Fisher reminds me of some students who complain that there was no single “right” answer, but that is precisely the point. It does not mean that “everything is relative,” or that “history is just an unending argument. Historical reasoning does not lead to a simple True/False dichotomy, but prompts weighing claims and lining up arguments based on all of the available evidence (i.e., not “cherry-picking”). If conflicting interpretations result in creative tension, so much the better, or at least better than history shaped to fit an ideological agenda.

As noted by the American Historical Association, Historians and history teachers know that the honest, nonpartisan study of history will turn up episodes that are inspirational and episodes that are deeply troubling. Studying history challenges anyone’s beliefs, whatever their political commitments may be. This makes it even more important that history teachers know they are free to emphasize independent thinking, cooperative inquiry, evidence, and open discussion. The AP U.S. History Framework is a positive step in this direction for all teachers of history.”

I’m sure there is room for improvement in the new 142-page AP U.S. History “framework.” In fact they have created a U.S. History Curriculum Framework Public Comment Form. But all of the critics I’ve encountered (except Professor Joseph Kett) are guilty of exactly what AP History is trying to forestall: selective use of evidence to support pre-conceived notions and ignoring evidence that does not support their particular cause or partisan bias.

And, in case anyone wants to tar me with the broad brush of being a “liberal academic,” please note that I abhor Obama’s “Race to the Top” as much as Bush’s “No Child Left Behind.” They promote a “test and punish” agenda (of students and teachers) that is inimical to the type of education AP History strives for: to “draw out or unfold the powers of the mind.” The emphasis of history teaching should be inculcating habits of historical thinking so students become lifelong learners and engaged citizens.

Gitlin: "Why ‘The Enlightenment Project’ Is Necessary and Unending"

The whole thing is worth a careful read. A taste:
Subsequent philosophers and historians have made plain that the Enlightenment was not, and is not, a monolith. It was not even a proposition. Rather, it was a force-field of often conflicting arguments (Peter Gay), and it came in two main flavors, “moderate” and “radical” (Jonathan Israel). But what these variants of Enlightenment share is a commitment to reason—not as a cure-all or a final curriculum but as a means to know the world and, in the process, increase human well-being. This is not to say that a religious person is intrinsically unenlightened. It is to say that religious belief is not the way to ascertain, for example, the paths of the planets or the value of measles shots. It is also to say, whatever climate-change-denying cranks and perpetual-motion machine designers may think, that science does not produce graven tablets for eternal truths. It rightly revises ideas previously held firmly, even by scientists themselves. It’s not an end-point; it’s a journey.

... None of the attempts to build Enlightenment into the political world were without grave flaws. The American Constitution accepted the abomination of slavery, while the French abolished it on their territory, as did the Haitians, whose Constitution of 1801 fell rather far short of democracy by installing Toussaint Louverture as governor general for Life. So it goes in the Age of Enlightenment. ...
I think George Washington, who I see as a man of the moderate Enlightenment, had some of these folks in mind when he referred to "minds of peculiar structure" who didn't need conventional religion in order to behave morally. But some of those minds were really freakin' "peculiar." 
It is also true that Newton was a devout Christian who found secret messages hidden in the Bible and that the great mathematician Kurt Gödel was obsessed with the fear that he would be poisoned if he ate any food not cooked by his wife—so much so that, when she was hospitalized, he starved himself to death.