Saturday, January 30, 2016

Berean Research on David Barton

See the proper hardcore Protestant evangelical fundamentalist view of David Barton's research and the American Founding here. A taste:
Trinity Broadcasting Network (TBN) announced that David Barton has been given his own TV show which first aired January 8. ...

Well this is interesting.  Glenn Beck will be a guest on the show?  Beck’s a member in good standing of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints.  Um…Mormons reject the Trinity, as in the T in TBN. Do Jan & Sons not know that Mormons contend they’re the true remnant of the Christian church — the one true church?

Since Mormonism denies central doctrines of the faith it’s not Christian by any stretch.  In fact, Mormonism is considered a theological cult or a sect.  Don’t be fooled by the rumor that has been circulating for several years, fueled by David Barton, that Glenn Beck is a Christian and that he’s saved.  If this is true, then why would Beck keep the news from his friends and fans?  Moreover, a truly regenerate Christian would understand that he must cut all ties with the LDS Church and join a church where the true gospel of Christ is preached.

But Glenn Beck hasn’t cut ties with his church.  Instead he promotes Mormonism.
Yes that which believes Mormonism is "not Christian by any stretch" should also see the political theology of the American Founding as "not Christian by any stretch."

Sunday, January 24, 2016

James Pitt on the Christian Deist view of Justification

Dr. Joseph Waligore's article convinced me that the English Christian-Deist James Pitt is the likely source of theological inspiration for Ben Franklin in his dealings with the Samuel Hemphill affair.

In those writings Franklin rejects among others, the orthodox Protestant doctrine of Sola Fide, that men are justified through faith alone. As Franklin wrote:
Faith is recommended as a Means of producing Morality: Our Saviour was a Teacher of Morality or Virtue, and they that were deficient and desired to be taught, ought first to believe in him as an able and faithful Teacher. Thus Faith would be a Means of producing Morality, and Morality of Salvation. But that from such Faith alone Salvation may be expected, appears to me to be neither a Christian Doctrine nor a reasonable one.
Other writings of Franklin indicate he didn't like perhaps Thomas Jefferson did, believe in a "works alone" scheme of justification. But rather, simply Franklin rejected "faith alone." The conclusion is Franklin believed in some mysterious combination of faith and works, or perhaps, faith, grace and works, for salvation.

James Pitt wrote something strikingly similar. From Dr. Waligore's paper:
Pitt agreed that many biblical passages emphasized faith, but he disagreed with the traditional Protestant doctrine that people were justified by faith alone. Instead, Pitt reinterpreted these passages to say that faith was always related to virtue. To Pitt, faith meant “Faith of a moral nature; not a Sett [sic] of speculative Opinions; not Faith absolutely considered in itself; but Faith as it relates to Virtue.” He explained that true faith was a belief that God had ordered the universe so that morally good people would be rewarded in the next life. Pitt thought Christ came to teach this belief, and so he wrote, “This Faith in Jesus Christ, as the Messiah, or Sent of God, is a supernatural Means of believing in God, or acknowledging the Truth of this practical Proposition, That God will finally make Good Men happy.”64
Everything about what Franklin wrote relating to the Hemphill affair saw not just "faith" but "faith in Jesus Christ" as a means as opposed to an end.  Though faith in Jesus was the best means out of all of them.

James Pitt, Christian Deist

One of the English Deists featured in Dr. Joseph Waligore's article is James Pitt. He is noted as a possible influence on Ben Franklin's Christian Deism. Franklin was familiar with and published some of Pitt's work.

Quoting Pitt on the Trinity:
All those Controversies which have been so hotly agitated at the Expence of the Peace, and Blood of the Christian World, about the Person of Jesus Christ, concerning the Trinity, and a Thousand other Things, make us neither wiser nor better. We may embrace one Scheme, or t’other, or neither, as Evidence appears to us, and be equally good Christians, and faithful Subjects of the Kingdom of God.54
This mirrors Franklin's utter indifference towards that doctrine in his end of life letter to Ezra Stiles.

Later in the 19th Century, when such "heresy" could be preached openly in America with less controversy, we see the capital U Unitarians echoing such sentiments (while giving the spiritual credit to Unitarianism).

As James Freeman Clarke put it in 1838:
We are almost born Calvinists, Catholics, Swedenborgians, Universalists; for, as a man's nature is, so are his views of God and man, and thence, of religion; his nature develops, is modified, is changed, born again, and his elements of faith change likewise. If you would fix his faith, then, affect his spirit. And if you believe Unitarianism to be the truth, rest assured that the Catholic, and the Baptist, and the Presbyterian, and the Deist, while they are preaching in a Christian spirit, and aiding to spread that spirit, — are preaching Unitarianism. ...

Waligore: "The Christian Deist Writings of Benjamin Franklin"

For those of you who can access the JSTOR article, the link is here. Dr. Joseph Waligore has done Yeoman's work updating the scholarly record regarding the multiple possible understandings of the term "Deism."

The form of Deism that arguably prevailed in England, as opposed to the continent, was Christian-Deism. Many of the ideas that drove the American Founding derived from Great Britain. America rebelled against her mother country using ideas that first appeared there. So it shouldn't surprise that the "Deism" of the American Founding, like that of England, would turn out to be more "Christian" than one might have thought.

Many things are great about this article. But my favorite is the American Creation blog gets a footnote. It's footnote 28. From page 7:
All of the Christian deists claimed to be Christian and the vast majority of them claimed they were the only ones advocating the Christianity Jesus taught. A better name for them might be “Jesus-centered deists” because they identified Christianity with Jesus’ moral teachings.28 Calling them “Jesus-centered deists” rather than “Christian deists” has the advantage of sidelining the contentious question about whether they actually were Christians. None of the Christian deists, however, described themselves as “Jesus-centered.” Instead, they all described themselves as “Christian.” Moreover, using the name “Jesus-centered deist” could be taken to imply that they should not be considered “Christian.” It is more historically accurate to refer to them as they referred to themselves, so I will stick with calling them “Christian deists.”

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Brookhiser: "Forrest McDonald, R.I.P."

This is another good one. A taste:
Forrest could be quite perky on smaller matters, too. He was one of the first serious historians to believe that Jefferson probably fathered children by Sally Hemings — although as soon as this became the orthodox view, Forrest became skeptical. As he once said to me, Jefferson was a sexagenarian with migraines when he was supposed to have sired his slave children, and what sense did that make? (Another historian said to me, of Forrest, that he wanted to be as un-PC as possible.) Another Forrest-ism: “The trouble with Franklin is he lies all the time.” That is harsh, but as one studies Franklin, one sees what Forrest meant.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Arnhart: "A Prehistoric Massacre in Africa Suggests that the State of Nature was a State of War"

Check it out here. A taste:
One of the fundamental debates in the history of political philosophy is over whether the state of nature was a state of peace or a state of war.  Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, and Jean-Jacques Rousseau all agree that the first human beings lived as foraging hunter-gatherers, but they disagree about whether this original human condition was generally violent or generally peaceful.  Hobbes claimed that without any government to enforce peace, life among these first human beings must have been an utterly lawless war of all against all.  Locke inferred from reports about hunter-gatherer bands in America that life in a state of nature could be a state of peace, but it could easily become a state of war.  Rousseau thought that the evidence refuted both Hobbes and Locke in suggesting that the first human ancestors were peaceful, and that war did not arise until the invention of agriculture led to a less nomadic and more settled social life.


Now that we have more archaeological and anthropological evidence than was available to Hobbes, Locke, and Rousseau, we are reaching the point where we might settle this debate.  I have argued that the evidence suggests that Hobbes was partly right, Rousseau was mostly wrong, and Locke was mostly right.  Locke was right in seeing that foraging human bands can enforce customary laws of cooperation that secure a peaceful life, but that in the absence of formal governmental rule, feuding often leads to war.

Tillman on McDonald

Forrest McDonald passed. There are many great appreciations on the Internet of him. I will focus on Seth Barrett Tillman's. A taste:
Dear Mr. Tillman:

            I have read your article on Art. I, s. 7, cl. 3 with care and interest. I find it historically absolutely convincing, and if you wish to quote me to that effect when you submit it to a traditional hard bound law review, you have my permission. I don’t think it likely to change the law on the subject, but it should certainly change historical scholarship.
            I note minor typos on pages 59 and 78, and fiercely object to the use of “she” when talking about the president—that is politically correct faddism, having no place in an article this serious—but I observed only two factual errors. . . .
            My congratulations on a well-done bit of scholarship.

Very truly yours,
Forrest McDonald

Monday, January 18, 2016

OUP Blog: "Religious belief, fundamentalism, and intolerance"

By Desmond M. Clarke. Check it out here. A taste:
When Calvin endorsed the execution of Michael Servetus in 1553, he justified his decision by appeal to (1) the certainty of his own religious faith and (2) the obligation of civil authorities to protect the citizens of Geneva from what he classified as heresy. Théodore de Bèze later defended that rationale in a lengthy Treatise in 1560.
When the Jesuit Cardinal Bellarmine subsequently considered how the Catholic Church should treat heretics, he invoked Calvin’s principle; he quoted Bèze to show that the state must support the eradication of heresy and, if necessary, execute those whom the Roman church classified as heretics (i.e. Calvinists!).
The two Christian churches were symmetrically intolerant of each other. They each appealed to the certainty of their own (incompatible) religious beliefs and to a political theory based on their common reading of the Bible. There followed, in France, decades of religious wars, which petered out only with victory for the majority church at the end of the century.
Two centuries later, a biassed Catholic court in Toulouse sentenced an innocent Huguenot shopkeeper, Jean Calas, to torture on the wheel and public execution. He was accused of murdering his son to prevent him becoming a Catholic, although the son had taken his own life. This monstrous miscarriage of justice prompted Voltaire to write A Treatise on Toleration (1763), in which he pleaded with the civil authorities and the Catholic citizens of France to cease persecuting their Christian fellow citizens. For Voltaire, religious persecution was absurd, and it was inconsistent with the Christian command to love God and one’s neighbour.
The logic of intolerance has been remarkably consistent over many centuries, within different churches and cultures. ...

Monday, January 11, 2016

Santa Fe, Catholicism, and the Pitfalls of Fundamentalism in America's Founding

A few weeks ago, my wife and I decided to take advantage of an extended weekend by traveling to Santa Fe, New Mexico. In addition to the unbelievably awesome Mexican food, Santa Fe is also home to a number of fascinating historical monuments that predate the founding of the United States by more than a century.

Many Americans are probably unaware of the fact that Santa Fe is the second oldest city in the United States (St. Augustine, Florida is #1). Founded officially in 1607, Santa Fe became a haven for Catholic colonists who were determined to convert the local Pueblo Indians and extend the church's influence to the New World. Early Spanish settlers saw Santa Fe as an important outpost that served as an important launch pad into the rest of the North American continent. A number of relics from this time period still remain even today, to include the oldest church in the United States: La Mision de San Miguel.   Here are just a few pictures from our weekend excursion:

The outside of La Mision de San Miguel, which is the oldest church in the United States.

Inside the church

The altar of the church, which is built directly over a number of older Native American holy sites.  The altar itself and the artwork were built in 1735, since much of the original church was destroyed by Indians during the Pueblo Indian Revolt of 1680.

This bell was the most interesting artifact (IMHO) of all. Casted in 1356, the bell was originally intended to be used in a church under the control of the Moores. Somehow it made its way to Mexico and then later to Santa Fe in the late 17th century.  The bell is more than 100 years older than even Christopher Columbus.

And here is a short video of the church:

Our trip to Santa Fe caused me to think about how different the roles of Catholicism and Protestantism were in shaping the "New World." While Catholic Conquistadors like Cortes were busy conquering and converting in Mexico, men like Martin Luther were posting lists of grievances on church doors and pushing for reform. Spain's long war with the Moores had created a violent and even fundamentalist brand of Catholicism, while the emergence of Gutenberg's printing press was liberally spreading the message of Protestant reform far and wide.

It was the religious plurality of the British colonies in the New World that created a rich and vibrant soil. With Puritans, Anglicans, Quakers, Baptists, Methodists, etc. finding new havens in America in which to grow and nourish their brand of Christianity, America's religious experience evolved to become more like Baskin Robbins than Levi Jeans; 31 flavors instead of one size fits all.  The simple fact that American colonists (at least in the 18th century) now had a choice of religion meant that faith had become a democratic and (dare I say it) a capitalist enterprise.

Catholicism, while flourishing in Mexico, South America and parts of Canada, stood no chance in the British colonies. Though it is true that Maryland, founded by devout Catholic George Calvert, was created to be a refuge for English Catholics, the colony eventually came under Anglican rule in the beginning of the 18th century. What is surprising, however, is the fact that Protestants in Maryland itself accepted their Catholic neighbors, despite the massive anti-Pope sentiment that existed in the British colonies. Clearly America's Protestant diversity was liberal enough for even Catholics to find safe haven. This is no small thing, since the anti-Catholic sentiment of many Founding Fathers is a well known fact.

Why Catholicism did not flourish in the English American colonies is simple: it was far too conservative and allowed no wiggle room for the diversity of faith that was fundamental in American Protestantism.  As historian Mark Noll states in his book The Old Religion in a New World:
The religious situation that results in the United States reverses the pattern of Europe.  The only way for a denomination to become confessionally conservative is for it to become sectarian -- that is, to actively oppose marketplace reasoning; to refuse to abide by the democratic will of the majorities; to insist upon higher authorities than the vox populi; and to privilege ancestral, traditional and hierarchical will over individual choice.
In short, Catholicism fell victim to the same fate that currently infects many fundamentalist faiths today.  Instead of embracing the plurality of faith, fundamentalism doubles down on its rhetoric. It closes its borders, shuts its doors and secludes itself from the world.

Maybe those religions today that are experiencing the exodus of its membership could learn a lesson here and avoid the same fate.

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Alex Knepper on the Founders, Hobbes & Locke

He posted this to Facebook.
Becky Chandler posted something to the effect that our Founders, though devoted Lockeans, were not influenced by Hobbes. This is false, because Lockeanism is a variant of Hobbesianism, but this requires a somewhat-lengthy explanation. This is most certainly a 'Straussian' account, but I have yet to see a convincing rebuttal:
Thucydides teaches us in the Melian Dialogue that legalistic justice originates between competitors of approximately equal strength; that when there is inequality between competing forces, there is only domination by the strong and submission on the part of the weak. Greco-Roman politics was defined by a relatively rigid -- though not ironclad -- social hierarchy, held in place by an understanding that certain types of people are by nature fit to rule over others. Democracy came into being in Greece when the myth of the 'great chain of being' became unbelievable -- the ancient parallel to the 'death of God' -- which untethered 'eros' and eventually led to the dissolution of antiquity.
Modern philosophers, starting with Machiavelli, sought to conceive of a new, more stable vision of justice -- one to replace the chain-of-being/hierarchy myth -- based on that which is common to all men. If we can conceive of a new vision and spin a 'rational mythology,' then we can reboot Western civilization, 'liberate it from the barbarians [Christians],' and avoid a repeat of the collapse of antiquity and the tragic thousand-year-reign of Christendom, which 'turned Europe into another appendage of Asia.' Hobbes knew his Thucydides -- as Nietzsche says: to be untimely is to know the Greeks -- and recognized that In order for there to be enduring justice among all people, they must be convinced of their essential equality. Anything else will result in another unstable hierarchy. In Hobbes we find the rational mythology called for (to those who had ears to hear) by Machiavelli -- the roots of materialism, egalitarianism, secularism, and natural rights doctrines, based on what Hobbes insisted was a purely technical account sufficient to cover the sweep of human experience. These planks of the liberal doctrine are designed to neutralize that which makes men distinct from one another -- especially religious belief, but also physical (and yes, even mental) strength, and ancestry. But most of all, what unites us is our common fear of death and our craving for security and safety. If we are all equal, then none of us stands any better chance than anyone else of surviving against the other -- so let's agree to pursue justice together rather than attempt to dominate one another. Hobbes was much-persecuted in his native Britain, though, and had to cloak his brutal attack against Christendom as a defense of monarchy.
When a little more time had passed and attitudes toward the Church continued to soften, Locke came along: Lockeanism is practical, humane Hobbesianism -- *democratic* Hobbesianism. But Hobbes himself knew his face-value doctrine was inhumane -- he simply had no choice but to cater to those in power if he wanted to avoid persecution. Hobbes would have undoubtedly approved of Locke -- and would have fully recognized himself in the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence.

Friday, January 8, 2016

Ratzinger on Scripture without revelation

Here. A taste:
... Revelation cannot be pocketed like a book one carries around. It is a living reality which calls for the living man as the location of its presence. In view of what has been said, we may, therefore, affirm that revelation goes beyond the fact of scripture in two respects: as a reality deriving from God it always extends upwards into God’s action; as a reality which makes itself known to man in faith, it also extends beyond the fact of scripture which serves to mediate it. This non-coincidence of scripture and revelation makes it clear that quite apart from the question whether scripture is the sole material source or not, there can never really, properly speaking, be a sola scriptura in regard to Christianity. ...
I want to say this reminds me of my recent readings on the Quakers. The written word proceeds from the Spirit and is thus secondary to it. The Spirit is a wordless Word.

Though there is an older tradition of something similar that preceded the Quakers. And that's Christian mysticism, which existed in the medieval Roman Catholic Church. Thinkers like Meister Eckhart and closer to today Thomas Merton.

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Heirs to Forgotten Kingdoms & Pythagoras

Former President Bill Clinton recommends Heirs to Forgotten Kingdoms, by Gerard Russell. This from the official site:
Despite its reputation for religious intolerance, the Middle East has long sheltered many distinctive and strange faiths: one regards the Greek prophets as incarnations of God, another reveres Lucifer in the form of a peacock, and yet another believes that their followers are reincarnated beings who have existed in various forms for thousands of years. These religions represent the last vestiges of the magnificent civilizations in ancient history: Persia, Babylon, Egypt in the time of the Pharaohs. Their followers have learned how to survive foreign attacks and the perils of assimilation. But today, with the Middle East in turmoil, they face greater challenges than ever before.
In Heirs to Forgotten Kingdoms, former diplomat Gerard Russell ventures to the distant, nearly impassable regions where these mysterious religions still cling to survival. He lives alongside the Mandaeans and Ezidis of Iraq, the Zoroastrians of Iran, the Copts of Egypt, and others. He learns their histories, participates in their rituals, and comes to understand the threats to their communities. As more and more of their youth flee to the West in search of safety and prosperity, these religions face the dire possibility of extinction.
I haven’t read the book; though it’s on my list. I did watch a speech on the book given by the author which I have embedded.

One of the things that struck me listening to this lectures is Russell’s focus on Pythagoras as a figure who connects the different ancient religions. It struck me because this wasn’t the first time I encountered such notion. I am well familiar with John Adams’ letter to Thomas Jefferson, dated December 25, 1813, where he discusses Pythagoras learning about the Trinity from the Hindus in India and bringing such doctrine into Ancient Greece, hence Western Civilization.

The context of this letter was John Adams criticizing Joseph Priestley, a man for whom Adams had great respect in a love/hate sort of way, to Thomas Jefferson, another Priestley disciple. Adams invoked Priestley’s book “Doctrines of Heathen Philosophers, compared with those of Revelation.” (1804)

Priestley was a freethinking Socinian Unitarian “Christian.” He believed Jesus Messiah, and that God spoke to man through revelation; but he also thought 1. Original Sin, 2. Trinity, 3. Incarnation, 4. Atonement, and 5. Plenary Inspiration of the Bible were “Corruptions of Christianity.” Socinians, if we don’t know, believe Jesus was 100% man, not at all divine in His nature, but on a divine mission. Priestley thought himself a “unitarian” and a “Christian,” not a “Deist.” But his creed wasn’t that different from those of the “Christian-Deists” who preceded him.

Indeed, this controversy had been covered before Adams wrote his aforementioned letter, and Priestley, his book. (Though Priestley may have explored these issues in earlier writings.) The very orthodox Christian American Founder Elias Boudinat in his 1801 book “The Age of Revelation” (written to counter Thomas Paine’s Deistic “The Age of Reason“) cited a 1794 book by Thomas Maurice. As quoted:
One of the most prominent features in the Indian theology, is the doctrine of a Trinity, which it plainly inculcates; a subject by no means to be passed over in silence; but at the same time connected with the abstrusest speculations of ancient philosophy. It has been repeatedly observed, that the mythologic personages, Brahma, Veeshnu, and Seeva, constitute the grand Hindoo triad of Deity. – That, nearly all the Pagan nations of antiquity, in their various theological systems, acknowledged a kind of Trinity in the Divine Nature, has been the occasion of much needless alarm and unfounded apprehension, especially to those professors of Christianity, whose religious principles rest upon so slender a basis, that they waver with every wind of doctrine. The very circumstances which has given rise to these apprehensions, the universal prevalence of this doctrine in the Gentile kingdoms, is, in my opinion, so far from invalidating the Divine authenticity of it, that it appears to be an irrefragable argument in its favour. It ought to confirm the piety of the wavering Christian, and build up the tottering fabric of his faith.
The doctrine itself bears such striking internal marks of a Divine original, and is so very unlikely to have been the invention of mere human reason, that there is no way of accounting for the general adoption of so singular a belief by most ancient nations, than by supposing what I have, in pretty strong terms, intimated at the commencement of this chapter, to be the genuine fact, that the doctrine was neither the invention of Pythagoras, nor Plato, nor any other philosopher in the ancient world, but a sublime mysterious truth, one of those stupendous arcana of the invisible world, which through the condescending goodness of Divine Providence, was revealed to the ancient patriarchs of the faithful line of Shem, by them propagated to their Hebrew posterity; and through that posterity, during their various migrations and dispersions over the east, diffused through the Gentile nations, among whom they sojourned. I must again take permission to assert it as my solemn belief – a belief founded upon long and elaborate investigation of this important subject, that the Indian, as well as all other triads of Deity, so universally adored throughout the whole Asiatic world, and under every denomination, whether they consist of persons, principles, or attributes deified, are only corruptions of the Christian doctrine of the Trinity.
Maurice’s book was written in part to rebut the “critical religious studies” of Deists like Voltaire (whom he names) that tried to explain away the doctrine of the Trinity. Boudinat following Maurice attempts to defend the doctrine as a divine Truth traceable to the Hebrews that then filtered its way to the Eastern regions and got corrupted by those religions. Adams followed Priestley and the Deists attempting to trace the “false” doctrine of the Trinity to Plato and perhaps before. Before Plato was Pythagoras, who encountered the Hindu Trinity.

In his book, Russell admits that Pythagoras and his followers viewed the concept of Trinity as something divinely true.

Monday, January 4, 2016

Captain Moroni's "Title of Liberty," Jefferson's "Tree of Liberty," and Armed Insurrection

A self-proclaimed "freedom loving" band of insurrectionists grabbed headlines this past weekend by storming the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in eastern Oregon. They are, even at this hour, occupying the federal building in protest of what they call "tyranny over land and its resources."

The group is led by Ammon Bundy, a self-styled patriot and Mormon who has fused both his love of God and country into a means of justifying what he calls "a willingness to kill or be killed for my God and my countrymen." Bundy is also the son of Cliven Bundy, the Nevada rancher who defied federal restrictions on cattle grazing and is more that $1 million dollars delinquent in fees and penalties for having violated such laws.

Ammon Bundy, like his father, is a devout member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons), and like his defiant father has used his religion as a means to justify his actions and to even give them divine sanction.  "The main reason we're here is because we need a place to stand," Bundy stated. "We stand in defense, and when the time is right we will begin to defend the people of Harney County."  During that same interview, at least one follower of Bundy invoked Mormon teachings when he told the reporter, "I am Captain Moroni."

The reference to Captain Moroni is no small or trivial thing. After all, Captain Moroni is, according to Mormon scripture, the man who was "angry with the government, because of their indifference concerning the freedom of their country" (Alma 59:13) and as a result threatened to "take my sword to defend the cause of my country" (Alma 60:28). Permit me just a moment to explain this incredibly important and popular figure from Mormon scripture to those unfamiliar with him:

In the Book of Mormon (one of four books that comprise LDS scripture), the story of Captain Moroni appears roughly half way through the book (in the Book of Alma to be exact). Moroni is made Captain over the armies of the Nephites, a group of God and freedom-loving people who have been involved in repeated conflicts and wars with their distant relatives, the Lamanites, who are determined to wipe them off the face of the earth. Captain Moroni, who assumes command of the Nephite armies at the age of 25, is an exceptional figure to say the least.  As the Book of Mormon itself states:
Yea, verily, verily I say unto you, if all men had been, and were, and ever would be, like unto Moroni, behold, the very powers of hell would have been shaken forever; yea, the devil would never have power over the hearts of the children of men. Behold, he was a man like unto Ammon, the son of Mosiah, yea, and even the other sons of Mosiah, yea, and also Alma and his sons, for they were all men of God (Alma 48:17-18).
To make a long story short, Captain Moroni struggles not only in his battle against the outside threat of the Lamanites, but he also struggles against the government of the Nephite nation itself, which has become corrupt over time. To help combat this evil, Captain Moroni, in his finest hour, stood defiant against the political leaders of his day.  One particular political figure, by the name of Amalickiah, desires to make himself king of the Nephites and to destroy their Christian religion. In response, Captain Moroni becomes a symbol of Christian and patriotic liberty to his people, causing them to reject the evil intentions of Alalickiah.  Again from the Book of Mormon:
7. And there were many in the church who believed in the flattering words of Amalickiah, therefore they dissented even from the church; and thus were the affairs of the people of Nephi exceedingly precarious and dangerous, notwithstanding their great victory which they had had over the Lamanites, and their great rejoicings which they had had because of their deliverance by the hand of the Lord.
8. Thus we see how quick the children of men do forget the Lord their God, yea, how quick to do iniquity, and to be led away by the evil one. 
9. Yea, and we also see the great wickedness one very wicked man can cause to take place among the children of men. 
10. Yea, we see that Amalickiah, because he was a man of cunning device and a man of many flattering words, that he led away the hearts of many people to do wickedly; yea, and to seek to destroy the church of God, and to destroy the foundation of liberty which God had granted unto them, or which blessing God had sent upon the face of the land for the righteous’ sake. 
11. And now it came to pass that when Moroni, who was the chief commander of the armies of the Nephites, had heard of these dissensions, he was angry with Amalickiah.
12. And it came to pass that he rent his coat; and he took a piece thereof, and wrote upon it—In memory of our God, our religion, and freedom, and our peace, our wives, and our children—and he fastened it upon the end of a pole. 
13. And he fastened on his head-plate, and his breastplate, and his shields, and girded on his armor about his loins; and he took the pole, which had on the end thereof his rent coat, (and he called it the title of liberty) and he bowed himself to the earth, and he prayed mightily unto his God for the blessings of liberty to rest upon his brethren, so long as there should a band of Christians remain to possess the land— 
14. For thus were all the true believers of Christ, who belonged to the church of God, called by those who did not belong to the church. 
15. And those who did belong to the church were faithful; yea, all those who were true believers in Christ took upon them, gladly, the name of Christ, or Christians as they were called, because of their belief in Christ who should come. 
16. And therefore, at this time, Moroni prayed that the cause of the Christians, and the freedom of the land might be favored.
And a short LDS Seminary video that depicts these events:

This "Title of Liberty," which serves as a quasi-"Star-Spangled Banner," stirs the hearts of the people to the point of remembering God and rejecting the evil of their day,  In short, Moroni wins.

It shouldn't take a Mormon to see just how easy it would be for a family like the Bundy Clan to make Captain Moroni a symbol of modern conservative Christian pride.  Lesser minds usually twist the words of others to fit their respective perverted agendas,

The Bundy fiasco and their misunderstanding of Mormon scripture has reminded me of others who have done the same with similar declarations, which in their minds, are used to sanction violence and/or insurrection of government.

 In 1787, Thomas Jefferson -- who was then living in France -- wrote a letter to his friend William Smith. In the letter Jefferson wrote the following words, which have, from time to time, been quoted to affirm the right of the people to rebel against one's government:
The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants. It is it's natural manure. 
Simple enough, right? Well, not quite. And while Jefferson's "tree of liberty" quote has become a favorite of many who oppose the direction of government, the quote has an important and often forgotten context.

As mentioned before, Jefferson was still living and working in France in 1787. At the time, Jefferson was deeply concerned about some of the proposals for the new United States Constitution -- particularly the role of the executive branch, which he saw as being far too powerful. In addition, Jefferson believed that the recent rebellion in Massachusetts -- which became known as Shays' Rebellion -- had heightened the fears of the American elite, causing them to throw their weight behind a stronger executive government.

Shays' Rebellion was essentially an armed rebellion against taxes being levied on Massachusetts farmers. It's leader, Daniel Shays -- who had served as a soldier during the American Revolution -- used the legacy of the American Revolution to garner support for his cause. As a result, scores of patriotic Massachusetts men, most of whom were farmers themselves, resurrected the legacy of the "liberty tree" to fight the perceived injustices of the newly created government. As a result, America's governing class -- and yes, it was a class -- believed that a strong centralized government was the only surefire way to ensure America's future security.

For Jefferson, this was a textbook example of how passions could cloud judgement, creating an atmosphere of panic and fear. As Jefferson states in his letter to William Smith:
Yet where does this anarchy exist? Where did it ever exist, except in the single instance of Massachusetts? And can history produce an instance of rebellion so honourably conducted? I say nothing of it's motives. They were founded in ignorance, not wickedness. God forbid we should ever be 20 years without such a rebellion. The people cannot be all, and always, well informed. The part which is wrong will be discontented in proportion to the importance of the facts they misconceive. If they remain quiet under such misconceptions it is a lethargy, the forerunner of death to the public liberty. We have had 13. states independent 11. years. There has been one rebellion. That comes to one rebellion in a century and a half for each state. What country before ever existed a century and half without a rebellion? And what country can preserve it's liberties if their rulers are not warned from time to time that their people preserve the spirit of resistance? 
Simply put, Jefferson understood Shays' Rebellion to be a common and important component of republican government. Without it, the people could not be effectively represented and the communal "lethargy" would eventually destroy the nation. On the flip side, however, Jefferson also notes that the people are rarely if ever well informed (i.e. the Bundy Clan) and as a result will oftentimes make hasty and stupid decisions (again, i.e. the Bundy Clan). It is this communal ignorance -- Jefferson emphasises ignorance and not wickedness -- that Jefferson believes the government must endeavor to remedy. He continues:
 The remedy is to set them right as to facts, pardon and pacify them. 
The remedy is not suppression or rejection of public discontent, rather persuasion and public discourse.

So would Captain Moroni and Thomas Jefferson support the actions of the Bundy family?   I doubt it, but even if they did I highly doubt that this guy would:

Saturday, January 2, 2016

The Question of Natural Religion and Syncretism Part III

I confess what inspired me to write this series was the Yazidis and their poor plight. As the linked article notes:
Yazidism is an ancient faith, with a rich oral tradition that integrates some Islamic beliefs with elements of Zoroastrianism, the ancient Persian religion, and Mithraism, a mystery religion originating in the Eastern Mediterranean.
This combining of various belief systems, known religiously as syncretism, was what part of what branded them as heretics among Muslims.
This is how the Yazidis deal with the "charge" of "syncretism":
[T]hey have a rich spiritual tradition that they contend is the world’s oldest. They were the first people to be created in the Garden of Eden, which they claim is a large area centered in what is now known as Lalish in Iraq. ... During and after a great flood around 4000 BCE, the Yezidis dispersed to many countries in Africa and Asia, including India, Afghanistan, Armenia, and Morocco. Returning from their adoptive countries around 2000 BCE the Yezidis played an important role in the development of the Assyrian, Babylonian and Jewish civilizations of the Middle East. Ultimately, the Yezidis amalgamated elements of all these civilizations into Yezidism, including certain features of the Zoroastrian religion of Persia and some from Islamic Sufism, which were integrated into the Yezidi culture by the great 11th century reformer and Sufi Master, Sheik Adi.
A central figure to the Yazidi faith is Melek Taus.  The Yazidis are or arguably are monotheistic in that they claim to worship the One True God of the Universe. So who is Melek Taus and what is his relationship to God? As this link explains:
The Yezidis do not believe that the Peacock Angel is the Supreme God. The Supreme God created him as an emanation at the beginning of time. He was brought into manifestation in order to give the invisible, transcendental Supreme God a vehicle with which to create and administer the universe. Tawsi Melek is thus a tangible, denser form of the infinite Supreme God. In order to assist Tawsi Melek in this important role, the Supreme Creator also created six other Great Angels, who were, like the Peacock Angel, emanations of the Supreme God and not separate from him. When recounting the creation of all Seven Great Angels, the Yezidis often summarize the emanation process as follows:

Tawsi Melek was the first to emerge from the Light of God in the form of a seven-rayed rainbow, which is a form he still today continues to manifest within to them (usually as a rainbow around the Sun). But the Yezidis also claim that Tawsi Melek and the six Great Angels are collectively the seven colors of the rainbow. Therefore, the six Great Angels were originally part of Tawsi Melek, the primal rainbow emanation, who bifurcated to become the rainbow’s seven colors, which are collectively the Seven Great Angels. Of the seven colors produced from the primal rainbow, Tawsi Melek became associated with the color blue, because this is the color of the sky and the heavens, which is the source of all colors.

Tawsi Melek was, therefore, both the first form of the Supreme God and one of the Seven Great Angels, which is a cosmic heptad mentioned within many religious traditions. The Jews, Christians, Persian, Egyptians all have their seven angels and creators. ... 
Tawsi Melek almost sounds like the Arian Jesus. The first born of creation from the beginning of time to help create and administer the universe. What does the "beginning of time" mean? Semi-Arians like perhaps Samuel Clarke (if I understand the doctrine right) believe Jesus is not created but eternally derived and subordinated to the Father, the One True God, which Jesus is not, but is in some way uniquely specially connected to.

While I can't speak to the "Seven" of the other religions, I know of Christianity's. The Book of Revelation speaks multiple times of the "the seven spirits of God." In fact, this led one eccentric "Christian" theologian, Monica Dennington to hold God is a Heptagon (as opposed to a Trinity). Indeed it's arguable whether the Yazidis believe 1. God is a Heptagon or 2. whether and how those special seven are separate and derived from the One True God (analogously, the difference between Trinitarianism and Arianism).

Likewise with the Hindu doctrine of the Trinity. The "orthodox" theology of the Hindus, as we have seen, is monotheistic in that it, according to natural theology which drove the American Founding, believes in the One True God of the Universe. According to John Adams, Hindu theology teaches at the beginning of time this One split into Three (similar to the Christian doctrine of the Trinity). Yazidi theology holds something similar, but instead of Three, Seven (and could cite the Christian Bible in support of the Seven).

Again, natural religion is ecumenical. It posits man's reason unassisted by special revelation can determine the existence of one overruling Providence and a future state of rewards and punishments. And, as it were, that all world religions, following reason, believe in such.  Beyond that, the different world religions differ on the details, such as how the True One God becomes Three or Seven or how and whether the divine intermediaries beyond the One relate to the One in Their nature(s) and essence(s).

Friday, January 1, 2016

The Question of Natural Religion and Syncretism Part II

A subtitle to this post could be "divine creative intermediaries."

The One True God of the Universe is a creator. But that doesn't mean He is the only creator. I remember, at Princeton, listening to one of the most distinguished natural law scholars discussing the concept of Imago Dei. Among other things he noted the fact that humans are creative creatures reflects God's image as a creator.

Likewise with the word "divine." That word is used quite a bit in sacred scripture and one reading could mean "God." But that isn't the only necessary meaning. Angels also have some kind of divine nature, even though they are not God. Arians believe Jesus is "divine," but also created by and subordinate to God the Father, The One True God. And though Socinians don't believe Jesus is divine in His nature, they believe Him on a divine mission. Hence, they too might describe Him as divine in that sense.

George Washington, who devoutly believed in Providence gives, as I read the record, no evidence he believed Jesus 2nd Person in the Trinity and put his faith in Jesus' finished work on the cross. Only two times in Washington's voluminous recorded words Jesus is ever mentioned by name or example. And they were in public addresses, written by others, though signed in Washington's hand. In the 1783 Circular to the States, one of the two, Washington characterizes Jesus as "the Divine Author of our blessed Religion" without mentioning His name.

So, as noted above, Arians believe Jesus is divine, but not fully God, rather the Son, created by and subordinate to the Father. But the Son is still the first born of creation, higher than the highest archangel. Almost like a super-angelic being. That begs the question on the "divine" nature of God v. the "divine" nature of angels. The word "substance" enters the picture in the metaphysical discourse. I concede I don't fully understand the details (where we get into angels dancing on the head of a pin territory). But I've seen some Arian arguments that suggest Jesus, though created and subordinate to the Father still has a divine nature that is of substance the same as or more similar to that of The One True God, than that of the angels.

The British Whig Arian James Burgh, who greatly influenced America's Founders, stressed Jesus as a creator, indeed, arguably the creator of this world. As he wrote in Crito, Volume I:
The Unitarians can conceive of the Messiah's having been ... the maker of this world, and likewise of the angelic orders, both those who have stood and who have fallen.

But neither do all unitarians understand in the same manner the Messiah's making worlds and their inhabitants.  It is certain, that all existence is derived from the one Supreme, to whom existence is natural, and necessary, himself the Fountain of being.  Therefore, whenever the power of making, or creating is ascribed to any subordinate being, it is manifest, the meaning cannot be, the giving of existence.
As I understand, Burgh argues the Supreme causes all that exists to exist. To use the analogy to clay, God would be the cause of the clay. But Christ was given a great deal of authority to exercise his creative power shaping that clay into finished works.

If Jesus is not fully God, a controversy ensues as to whether He ought to be worshipped. Though they differ, the consensus among them is yes, Jesus is entitled to worship as a divine intermediary to the Father.

Ben Franklin likewise for a brief time in his life flirted with the notion of worshipping a more personal divine intermediary.  As he wrote in 1728:
I believe there is one Supreme most perfect Being, Author and Father of the Gods themselves.

For I believe that Man is not the most perfect Being but One, rather that as there are many Degrees of Beings his Inferiors, so there are many Degrees of Beings superior to him.

...  I imagine it great Vanity in me to suppose, that the Supremely Perfect, does in the least regard such an inconsiderable Nothing as Man. ... I cannot conceive otherwise, than that He, the Infinite Father, expects or requires no Worship or Praise from us, but that he is even INFINITELY ABOVE IT.

But since there is in all Men something like a natural Principle which enclines them to DEVOTION or the Worship of some unseen Power;


Therefore I think it seems required of me, and my Duty, as a Man, to pay Divine Regards to SOMETHING.

I CONCEIVE then, that the INFINITE has created many Beings or Gods, vastly superior to Man, who can better conceive his Perfections than we, and return him a more rational and glorious Praise. As among Men, the Praise of the Ignorant or of Children, is not regarded by the ingenious Painter or Architect, who is rather honour'd and pleas'd with the Approbation of Wise men and Artists.


Howbeit, I conceive that each of these is exceeding wise, and good, and very powerful; and that Each has made for himself, one glorious Sun, attended with a beautiful and admirable System of Planets.

It is that particular wise and good God, who is the Author and Owner of our System, that I propose for the Object of my Praise and Adoration.
I am not the first to observe that these sentiments are "proto-Mormon."  We see henotheism. And Franklin's personal created God could be Jehovah. Mormonism, like Arianism, is not orthodox. But both arguably believe the God of Abraham and His Son Jesus are divine and should be worshipped.