Saturday, March 14, 2015

What American is NOT About



Tom Van Dyke said...

To Calvinism's credit, they quickly lost their taste for this sort of thing.

Presentists tend to forget that the main crime wasn't heresy, that is, a question of individual conscience, but of blasphemy, spreading and propagating false teaching.

This was a danger to the souls of the innocent. The blasphemer carried disease and was a threat to the community.

For the present, I say, first, That Servetus, whom you justify, did maintain, and, by word and writing, dispersed abroad, wicked and most devilish opinions of God, which might not only make his Godhead to be despised, but also called in doubt and question.

jimmiraybob said...

To Calvinism's credit ... the main crime wasn't heresy...

I suspect that the heretics were a bit softer on heresy - heretical thinking at least. You'd think that having gotten tired of getting slaughtered by the Catholics for expressing their truer but nonetheless heretical beliefs, they'd have had a greater affinity for letting others express ideas that were heretical to their own heretical beliefs. Or something.

It's not presentism to see this as whacky. I'd suggest reading Spinoza's Ethics and Tractatus Theologico-Politicus for a contrary view arguing not only the right to freely philosophize but also to freely express one's conscience (and how these were not necessarily contrary to the interests of the state but, indeed, enhanced the security of the state).

As I mentioned in an earlier comment, Nadler's A Book Forged in Hell(1) is an interesting and informative introduction. Of course, most of Jonathan Israel's work dealing with the Enlightenment is also good as is Matthew Stewart's Nature's God(2), which took quite a bit of flack when discussed here before.

1) Steven Nadler, 2011. A Book Forged in Hell; Spinoza's Scandalous Treatise and the Birth of the Secular Age. Princeton University Press. pp 304. @

2) Matthew Stewart, 2014. Nature’s God; the Heretical Origins of the American Republic. Norton, New York. pp. 566. @

jimmiraybob said...

And, if anyone would be interested in Spinoza's reception in England there are a couple of journal articles(1) available at the JSTOR web site that can be accessed and read free by signing up for their BETA book shelf. Of course, many articles are also available for purchase.

1) Rosalie L. Colie*, 1959. Spinoza and the Early English Deists. Journal of the History of Ideas, Vol. 20, No. 1. (January), pp. 23-46.

Rosalie L. Colie*, 1963. Spinoza in England, 1665-1730. Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society, Vol. 107, No.3. (June), pp. 183-219.

*Department of History, Wesleyan University

Tom Van Dyke said...

Yes, Stewart's pumping of Spinoza in the American context deserved the flack it got.

And it's no coincidence that the first great advocates of religious liberty happened to be persecuted religious minorities. Duh. Spinoza was Jewish, and in fact was expelled from his own Jewish community for his heresy!*

Presentists don't seem to get what "community" actually meant in the days before Christianity fractured into a million pieces. Tolerance became a practical necessity. The theology followed.

As we see by the routine intersectarian violence in the Muslim world, which has only a handful of sects, religious tolerance is not a "natural" state of affairs.

As Voltaire noted in the early 1700s, "If there were only one religion in England, there would be danger of tyranny; if there were two, they would cut each other's throats; but there are thirty, and they live happily together in peace."


*Spinoza's Expulsion from the Jewish community

On 27 July 1656, the Talmud Torah congregation of Amsterdam issued a writ of cherem (Hebrew: חרם, a kind of ban, shunning, ostracism, expulsion, or excommunication) against the 23-year-old Spinoza.[42] The following document translates the official record of the censure:[43]

The Lords of the ma'amad, having long known of the evil opinions and acts of Baruch de Espinoza, have endeavoured by various means and promises, to turn him from his evil ways. But having failed to make him mend his wicked ways, and, on the contrary, daily receiving more and more serious information about the abominable heresies which he practised and taught and about his monstrous deeds, and having for this numerous trustworthy witnesses who have deposed and born witness to this effect in the presence of the said Espinoza, they became convinced of the truth of the matter; and after all of this has been investigated in the presence of the honourable chachamin, they have decided, with their consent, that the said Espinoza should be excommunicated and expelled from the people of Israel. By the decree of the angels, and by the command of the holy men, we excommunicate, expel, curse and damn Baruch de Espinoza, with the consent of God, Blessed be He, and with the consent of all the Holy Congregation, in front of these holy Scrolls with the six-hundred-and-thirteen precepts which are written therein, with the excommunication with which Joshua banned Jericho, with the curse with which Elisha cursed the boys, and with all the curses which are written in the Book of the Law. Cursed be he by day and cursed be he by night; cursed be he when he lies down, and cursed be he when he rises up; cursed be he when he goes out, and cursed be he when he comes in. The Lord will not spare him; the anger and wrath of the Lord will rage against this man, and bring upon him all the curses which are written in this book, and the Lord will blot out his name from under heaven, and the Lord will separate him to his injury from all the tribes of Israel with all the curses of the covenant, which are written in the Book of the Law. But you who cleave unto the Lord God are all alive this day. We order that no one should communicate with him orally or in writing, or show him any favour, or stay with him under the same roof, or within four ells of him, or read anything composed or written by him.

jimmiraybob said...

"Stewart's pumping of Spinoza in the American context deserved the flack it got."

You say while not having read the book.

As to Spinoza's Harem, or excommunication, that's covered rather extensively in the citations I list above (i.g., A Book Forged in Hell suggests that there were some very unhappy contemporaries).

Spinoza was unaffiliated with either Protestant or Catholic Christianity or with Judaism or the Jewish community. I'm not sure what point you're making and it doesn't impeach his philosophical work or the impact that it had.

Tom Van Dyke said...

"You didn't read [this crappy] book" is not an argument. There are too many bogus books to read.

You want to make the case for Spinoza, make your case for Spinoza, and don't point behind someone else's curtain.

You had your shot.

Related to that, to accept Stewart’s thesis, one must believe that Ethan Allen, Thomas Young, a twentysomething Ben Franklin who never grew up [America’s Peter Pan], and a partially and conveniently quoted Thomas Jefferson were THE key political/historical figures in the establishment of America. Others matter only tangentially.

jimmiraybob said...

An interesting thing happened while looking something up – I came across a couple of articles that would lead one to think that maybe the Reformed weren’t so much the persecuted as the persecutors in the Cat v. Prot wars:

On May 4, 1535, in London, three Carthusian monks and one Bridgettine monk were hanged until partially conscious. Then their bellies were cut open, their intestines wrenched out and tossed on a fire, and their hearts ripped out by hand. The bodies were beheaded and quartered, and the pieces were posted at various locations throughout England. As the executioner slit open his belly, John Houghton, prior of the London Carthusian monastery, said, "O most holy Jesus, have mercy upon me in this hour." This was the punishment for treason in sixteenth-century England. Their crime? Refusal to recognize "the king, our sovereign, to be the supreme head of the Church of England afore the Apostles of Christ's Church."

From Protestant Inquisition: The English Reformation by Catholic historian Dennis Martin @


And, The Protestant Inquisition: "Reformation" Intolerance and Persecution by Catholic writer Dave Armstrong @

If only someone could have thought of a way out of the vicious cycle of Protestant Christians slaughtering Catholic Christians and Catholic Christians murdering Protestant Christians and Protestant and Catholic Christians killing, robbing and ghettoizing the Jews; some kind of universal toleration…some kind of universal egalitarian alternative to take the edge off.

Oh yeah, that Spinoza guy...... No wonder the Catholic Christians and the Protestant Christian and the orthodox Jews all came down so hard on him, bad for bidness.

jimmiraybob said...

Frazer - Again, this was not meant to be a "review" of the book. It was meant to be a red flag for people thinking of spending money on this book and investing several days of their lives (as I did) poring over it.

Wow, several days looking for things to disagree with. Not hardly convincing. I wonder if Gregg ever got around to actually reading it for comprehension?

Well, whatever floats your intellectual boat.

JMS said...

Tom said:
1) “To Calvinism's credit, they quickly lost their taste for this sort of thing.”

Wow – does that make murder OK? Since when did you become such a relativist?

And, certainly the violent practices of Calvin in Geneva were revived by Calvinist magistrates in Salem, MA in 1692.

Tom said:
2) “Presentists tend to forget that the main crime wasn't heresy, that is, a question of individual conscience, but of blasphemy, spreading and propagating false teaching. This was a danger to the souls of the innocent. The blasphemer carried disease and was a threat to the community.”

You must be a “presentist,” because you seemed to have forgotten that Calvin's charges against Servetus were false. Calvin accused Servetus of blasphemy for what was mere heresy, which was no crime at all in Geneva, and he (being a lawyer) knew it. Blasphemy means insult of God's goodness (which Servetus was not guilty of), not “propagating false teaching.” And, heresy means error. Calvin master-minded a one-sided, rigged trial that violated Genevan and Justinian legal codes because heresy was no crime under either. Persecution and killing for ideas is contrary to the teachings of Jesus, the apostles and original church doctrine.

By alleging “presentism,” I guess you are invoking the age-old excuse that Calvin was merely a "product of his times." But that is also false because Calvin was alone among early Protestant reformers in claiming that heretics deserved to be killed.

In fact, Calvin was the real “threat to the community.” His actions undermined the hard-won religious tolerance negotiated by Erasmus, and helped set in motion the late 16th and 17th century era of Roman Catholics and Protestants killing political opponents on specious heresy/blasphemy charges.

As Sebastian Castellio (a true champion of the right of every individual to follow his own conscience) noted in his famous defense of Servetus and condemnation of Calvin, “Contra libellum Calvini” (1554): “To kill a man is not to defend a doctrine, but to kill a man. When the Genevans killed Servetus they did not defend a doctrine, they killed a man. The defense of a doctrine is not a matter to be resolved by judges, it is an issue only to be solved by teachers. What has the sword to do with the matter of teaching?”

As for Knox, he was so impressed with Calvin's Geneva, he called it, "the most perfect school of Christ that was ever on earth since the days of the apostles." Even Calvin was embarrassed about Knox’s pamphlet, The First Blast of the Trumpet against the Monstrous Regiment of Women, which caused Queen Elizabeth I to turn away from Geneva. Calvin thought the book had lost him all his English friends and complained about the “thoughtless arrogance” of Knox.

Tom Van Dyke said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Tom Van Dyke said...

Wow – does that make murder OK?

Murder. Uh huh. Obviously you didn't read or understand any of the original Knox document, where he said that they tried to get Servetus to recant.

Any sophisticated modern like yourself would have gone, "OK, sure I recant. Never mind," and you and Calvin's Geneva would both have been relieved to set you on your merry way.

But he didn't and they didn't, so they burned him up.

Not a word I wrote was addressed. If you and your wingman want to hog this blog, why don't you just get a room somewhere else?

Presentism, judging the past by today's standards, is the secret to bad history. You just pleaded guilty. You're not even in the same room as history, dude. reform, or give it up.

They took their theology seriously back then. They'd kill for it, they'd die for it.

You had your shit together once upon a time, Professor.

JMS said...
James - that is not what Professor Fea is saying.

The rule historians try to follow is that we should try to understand - and even empathize (i.e., "walk a mile in their shoes") with people in the past before we "rush to judgment" to praise or condemn them.

Historical empathy is the ability to see and judge the past in its own terms by trying to understand the mentality, frames of reference, beliefs, values, intentions, and actions of historical agents using a variety of historical evidence. Empathy is necessary to comprehend the thought of a historical agent or the ability to view the world as it was seen by the people in the past without imposing today's values on them.

So, I think Professor Fea is advising us to suspend judgment at first, but after careful analysis, everyone is entitled to their own opinion (but, not their own facts).

jimmiraybob said...

" If you and your wingman want to hog this blog, why don't you just get a room somewhere else?"

Ah, I see we've entered the Tom gets cute phase where he reaches his depth and pulls out the knife.

The historically-grounded fact is that it's not just the present that judged the senseless killing as unproductive.

"They took their theology seriously back then. They'd kill for it, they'd die for it. "

Everyone here is keenly aware of this. Everyone then was keenly aware of this. You sound nostalgic.

jimmiraybob said...

"They took their theology seriously back then. They'd kill for it, they'd die for it."

And, since it's the currently running theme, it might be a good time to reflect on why in the west they called it and we still call it the Enlightenment. Just sayin'.

Tom Van Dyke said...

The Peace of Westphalia was 1648. How does the Enlightenment get so much credit for what happened before it?

jimmiraybob said...

"...get so much credit for what happened before it?"

Some questions come to mind:

1) What was the enlightenment?

2) Where was the Enlightenment?

3) When was the Enlightenment?

4) Who were the Enlighteners?

5) Is the Enlightenment over?

6) When did the Renaissance end?

One trend that I've noticed over the years of reading is that when it comes to the transmission, reception, synthesis, and retransmission of ideas, it's turtles all the way down...or, all the way back.

It helps sometimes to sit back and reflect on the fact that historians create the temporal periods.

Jonathan Israel, for one, traces the package of ideas that he identifies as representative of the "Radical Enlightenment" back to the mid to late 17th century and to the Dutch Low Countries.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Asked and answered.

"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."

jimmiraybob said...

And much of that tradition is also grounded in pagan philosophy and political theory.

Well, the church worked hard to keep the wraps on the educational system which largely meant having to work within the neo-Aristotelian and neo-Platonic Scholastic framework. Starting at around Descartes, that all began to change radically which meant sweeping and fundamental changes in thinking, in science, in social and political approaches. You would probably find the one/two substance metaphysical debates interesting.

Thinkers championing the new philosophy did indeed think that the they were emerging from the dark to the light. It was a sea change in Western history.

A couple of passages from Israel from a book that I believe Jon has highlighted in the past(1):

Beyond a certain level there were and could be only two Enlightenments – moderate (two-substance) Enlightenment, on the one hand, postulating a balance between reason and tradition and broadly supporting the status quo, and, on the other, Radical (one substance) Enlightenment conflating body and mind into one, reducing God and nature to the same thing, excluding all miracles and spirits separate from bodies, and invoking reason as the sole guide in human life, jettisoning tradition. There was a closely allied variant to the latter, also part of the Radical Enlightenment, in the shape of philosophical Unitarianism, a variant almost as relentless in proclaiming reason as the sole guide, rejecting tradition as a source of authority and denouncing the existing order more or less in toto. The essence of the Radical Enlightenment both in its atheist and Christian Unitarian modes was that “reason and law founded on reason,’ as the point was expressed by Nicolas-Antoine Boulanger (1722-1759) in a classic text of radical philosophical literature,“ should be the only sovereign over morals.


However, classifying Radical Enlightenment as “Spinizistic” does not mean that all believing Christians, Jews, and Muslims were excluded from participating in the radical tradition. In his clandestinely published Tractatus Theologico-Political of 1670, Spinoza holds that all the main churches had betrayed true Christianity by perverting it with humanly concocted “mysteries,” dogmas, and ecclesiastical authority, though Christ’s moral teaching remains the highest ethics and the purest tradition of moral teaching. He claimed that “disputes and schisms have ceaselessly disturbed the church ever since Apostolic times, and will surely never cease to trouble it, until religion is firmly separated from philosophical theories and reduced to the extremely few, very simple dogmas that Christ taught his own.” These boiled down, according to Spinoza, to the principles of justice based on equality, and charity.”

1) Jonathan Israel, 2010. A Revolution of the Mind: Radical Enlightenment and the Intellectual Origins of Modern Democracy. Princeton, New Jersey. pp. 19-22.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Ah, the dueling scholars game again. Ho-hum.

""Egalitarian universalism, from which sprang the ideas of freedom and social solidarity, of an autonomous conduct of life and emancipation, of the individual morality of conscience, human rights and democracy, is the direct heir of the Judaic ethic of justice and the Christian ethic of love.

This legacy, substantially unchanged, has been the object of continual critical appropriation and reinterpretation. To this day, there is no alternative to it. And in light of the current challenges of a postnational constellation, we continue to draw on the substance of this heritage. Everything else is just idle postmodern talk."
---Jürgen Habermas, A Conversation About God and the World" in Habermas's book "Time of Transitions" (Polity Press, 2006)

Naum said...

Calvin’s God demanded nothing less than human sacrifice.

Calvin ordered the Church elders to visit every household and compile dossiers on people’s beliefs, practices, and private lives. Children were encouraged to spy on their parents. Everyone was ordered to attend services. No one was allowed to come late.

Fornication (sexual relations before marriage) was punishable by exile or drowning. Adultery—death; blasphemy—death; idolatry—death; sodomy—death; bestiality—death; heresy—death; witchcraft—death. Abortion was not an issue since any single woman discovered to be pregnant was summarily drowned. Torture was routinely employed to extract confessions. Catholicism was declared a heresy. Anyone caught with a rosary or an image of the Virgin was hauled before a court of the elders. Fourteen women were accused of consorting with the devil and bringing the plague to Geneva. All of them were convicted and burned at the stake. Calvin’s own stepson and his daughter-in-law were convicted of adultery in separate incidents. All four miscreants involved were executed.

Can anyone read this and not believe John Calvin to be a odious monster, on the same draconian level (but a lesser, regional scale than a national or world extent) of a Hitler, Pol Pot, Stalin, etc.? How could followers of Jesus see these acts as being the way of the Gospel? What kind of madness was the civilized world embroiled in? Because there was a lot of fellow believer blood shed in tumultuous period as Catholics and Protestants slaughtered each other, and Protestants butchered other Protestants they deemed wrong or heretical.

But we shall always find it hard to love the man who darkened the human soul with the most absurd and blasphemous conception of God in all the long and honored history of nonsense. ~Will Durant

Tom Van Dyke said...

Presentism. Zzzzz.

Hitler, Godwin's Law.

Covering all the cliches of bad history here.

Oh and, plagiarism, see the bottom of p. 334.

Nice going, Jon. You sure know hope to get them out of the woodwork.

jimmiraybob said...

The Bishop van Dyke is busy defending the realm today.

However, I wasn't trying to play dueling anything. The two exerts that I presented: 1) helped to define the concept of moderate and radical Enlightenment, and 2) helped to show that Enlightenment wasn't just a secular vs. religious contest.

But, as usual, the Bishop is in a feisty and fighting mood and chooses battle over substance. Should the Bishop be over at Old Life telling them how wrong their religion is?

Tom Van Dyke said...

I'm flattered you're stalking me again.

Weren't you just dissing the Calvinists and now you're using them as a cudgel against me? Don't be such a Tellarite.

And as a matter of fact, I stood up for them in the very first comment of this misbegotten thread. So much for your ad hom.

As for the "radical" Enlightenment ala Spinoza, there's no dispute it existed. The question is how much it affected the American Founding--if at all. The case has not been made, and barely attempted.

Please come back when you have a point.

jimmiraybob said...

I'm flattered you're stalking me again.

I'm sure you are. Although, I can't help that you keep popping up in too many of the same places that I visit.

You may be mixing me up with another commenter - I just posted a couple of sites by Catholic writers who were dissing the protestants. You missed the irony.

The case has not been made, and barely attempted.

What you mean is that you won't acknowledge that a case has been made. Your epistemic bunker walls are sturdy mi amigo. Really though, make an attempt. I've given many citations to good work to select from.

You didn't even give me props for selecting a J. Israel excerpt that highlights the religious involvement - even in the radical mode. I thought that you'd like this. Oh well.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Make your own case. We don't do dueling scholars here. Well, you do; we don't.

And yes, when you gang up with your little pals and go ad hom, you do all blend together. Man up or get lost.

jimmiraybob said...

Using academic citations's the academic approach.

And yes, when you gang up with your little pals...

This is so chuckle worthy and it actually brought a smile to my face.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Your harping on Spinoza has nothing to do with the subject of Calvinism, and your resort to personal attacks is an admission of defeat.

Chuckle away, but don't think people don't notice.

Naum said...

I didn't claim to be the original author of all that text - I lifted it from an article here, and the cite formatting didn't transfer over.

But you're just hand waving -- "presentism, Godwin's law, etc.".

And the charge of presentism is baseless because I can offer forth many examples, from that age and earlier, of *real* Jesus gospel-like modeling -- St. Francis, Dirk Willems, the early Christians (pre-Constantine age), etc.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Everybody's used to left-wingers behaving disrespectfully. This time, with the Hitler card and the plagiarism, you disrespected yourself.

Naum said...

You are a piece of work.

Them partisan goggles are screwed on so tight, it's warped your mind.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Keep digging, Mr. Ad Hom.