Sunday, March 27, 2016

Jonathan Mayhew & Song of Solomon

The Song of Solomon is a bit of a controversial book among religious believers. A friend noted to me -- because of my interest in canon studies -- that the Mormons apparently don't believe it was divinely inspired. It's the one book in the KJV that Mormons don't believe. The erotic nature of the book makes it controversial.

David Kupelian, who is not an orthodox Trinitarian Christian, doesn't think much of the book; but didn't say he thought it should be removed. Rather, contra Mark Driscoll's claim, it's one of the least important as opposed to most important books in the canon.

The Protestant-Enlightenment preacher Jonathan Mayhew was accused of a number of things. He wasn't "orthodox" enough for the forces of religious correctness, so he was labeled a "deist" by them. The Song of Solomon features in one of Mayhew's battles with the orthodox. They accused him of wanting to axe it from the canon (and thus demonstrating disrespect for the canon).

I'll quote him below. But if I understand him right, he's say the book "Wisdom" has as much right to belong in the canon as Song of Solomon. And it's not that Song should be out, but rather perhaps Wisdom should be in (both together).

He notes:
But he goes still further; intimating his suspicions that I am a deist, p. 79.—" The Dr.'s reflection upon the Song of Solomon is sufficient to show how easy it is for him to discard the sacred canon of scripture itself: Or perhaps," &c. But he dared not to cite that refleclion, as he calls it. The most that can be fairly and logically inferred from it, is, that I supposed there was near as much reason for admitting the Wisdom as the Song of Solomon into the canon ;—a very harmless supposition, even tho' it should be a mistake; and which does not imply the latter to be admitted without reason.—
 Roman Catholics (and the Eastern Orthodox) of course, hold "Wisdom" to be in their canon. They call them deuterocanonical.  Protestants call them Apocrypha.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Locke on Theological Error, Heresy, and Orthodoxy

by John Locke
Guest Blogger

That the thing may be made clearer by an example, let us suppose two churches — the one of Arminians, the other of Calvinists — residing in the city of Constantinople.

Will anyone say that either of these churches has right to deprive the members of the other of their estates and liberty (as we see practised elsewhere) because of their differing from it in some doctrines and ceremonies, whilst the Turks, in the meanwhile, silently stand by and laugh to see with what inhuman cruelty Christians thus rage against Christians? But if one of these churches hath this power of treating the other ill, I ask which of them it is to whom that power belongs, and by what right? It will be answered, undoubtedly, that it is the orthodox church which has the right of authority over the erroneous or heretical.

This is, in great and specious words, to say just nothing at all. For every church is orthodox to itself; to others, erroneous or heretical. For whatsoever any church believes, it believes to be true and the contrary unto those things it pronounce; to be error. 

[BF mine--Ed.]

So that the controversy between these churches about the truth of their doctrines and the purity of their worship is on both sides equal; nor is there any judge, either at Constantinople or elsewhere upon earth, by whose sentence it can be determined. The decision of that question belongs only to the Supreme judge of all men, to whom also alone belongs the punishment of the erroneous. In the meanwhile, let those men consider how heinously they sin, who, adding injustice, if not to their error, yet certainly to their pride, do rashly and arrogantly take upon them to misuse the servants of another master, who are not at all accountable to them.

Read the whole thing.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

Kramnick on Locke & the Godless Constitution

Isaac Kramnick is one half of the notorious duo from Cornell who wrote "The Godless Constitution." There is a section in there on the English liberal (aka Lockean) case for the concept.

This article from Dr. Kramnick summarizes such understanding.

A taste:
Meanwhile, the leading colonial critic of the drift to rebellion, the Anglican clergyman Jonathan Boucher, preached to his congregants in Virginia and Maryland that they had an obligation as Christians to accept, indeed to “reverence authority,” since “there is no power, but of God; the powers that be are ordained of God.” There was never, he added, a time when “the whole human race is born equal” when “no man is naturally inferior, or, in any respect, subjected to another.” Governments were not the product of voluntary consent, he insisted, but were given by God to men who were then forever subordinate to those superiors God had set to govern them. He ridiculed notions of a “social compact” and of “a right to resistance.” In a 1774 sermon defending the divine right of kings to govern against colonial claims of self-government Boucher singled out the evil source of the misguided views of the rebellious colonists: “Mr. Locke” was the author “of the system now under consideration.” Americans, he hoped, would choose obedience to monarchs as announced in the New Testament’s “Romans 13” over the “right to resistance, for which Mr. Locke contends.”

Boucher was the leading spokesman in the Revolutionary era for the ideals and values of the Christian commonwealth, the long-dominant paradigm of politics in the West, with its roots in the writings of St. Paul, Augustine, Aquinas, Calvin, and the American Puritans like John Winthrop. ...

Thursday, March 17, 2016

How James Madison rewrote the history of the Constitution (and why it doesn't matter)

Via our friend John Fea at his The Road of Improvement Leads Home blog

A book on the 1787 Constitutional Convention and two books on the way encounters with Native Americans shaped the emerging American nation have won the Bancroft Prize, considered one of the most prestigious honors in the field of American history.
Mary Sarah Bilder, a professor at Boston College Law School, won for “Madison’s Hand: Revisiting the Constitutional Convention”(Harvard University Press), which uses both digital technology and traditional textual analysis to study how James Madison continuously revised his influential notes on the event, thus sharply challenging their claim to be an objective contemporaneous account.

I never trusted Madison anyway, so long after the fact. The story is interesting--Madison never intended to release them until after his death [1836], but when a rival account of the Framing appeared in 1821, Madison set to work to reconcile with it--and now we learn it's heavily edited if not rife with revisionism to make himself look good, and on "the right side of history."

A nice summary of Bilder's work can be found in this WaPo review.

For example, as the slave trade fell further and further into disfavor in the years after the convention, [Madison] added language that made it seem like he had condemned it during the convention itself as “dishonorable to the National character,” words never uttered by him in public before that time, Bilder said in an interview.

Of course, this is all academic for those of us who prefer Constitutional "textualism": I find Madison's overarching advice wise and true--
“As a guide in expounding and applying the provisions of the Constitution, the debates and incidental decisions of the Convention can have no authoritative character. However desirable it be that they should be preserved as a gratification to the laudable curiosity felt by every people to trace the origin and progress of their political Institutions, & as a source perhaps of some lights on the Science of Govt. the legitimate meaning of the Instrument must be derived from the text itself; or if a key is to be sought elsewhere, it must be not in the opinions or intentions of the Body which planned & proposed the Constitution, but in the sense attached to it by the people in their respective State Conventions where it recd. all the authority which it possesses.”
Bold face mine. The Ratifiers are the last word, not the Framers.  The words of the Constitution are no more or less than their "original public meaning."

[crossposted @]

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Marcion: The first "Christian-Deist"?

The Enlightenment theology that drove the American Founding had a number of distinctive attributes: 1. religious liberty, a God who granted an unalienable right of religious conscience; 2. hatred of tyranny, a God who gave people a right to if not revolt or rebel, implacably resist tyrannical rulers; 3. naturalistic rationalism, a God who endowed men with reason to understand "the nature of things" such that these discoveries were "truth" on par with direct revelation; 4. a hatred of creeds, and strong distrust of ecclesiastical authority, leading to embrace of Arianism, Socinianism, unorthodox understandings of the Trinity, and otherwise downplaying the importance of that doctrine; and 5. a focus on God's benevolent nature as a lens through which to understand Him.

One criticism I get when noting these points is that each of the 5 is nothing "new" in that they all predated the Enlightenment in Christendom. I concede such. I think what was novel was the convergence of these 5 during the period historians describe as "the Enlightenment," i.e., when America was founded in the late 18th Century. I don't think you get a religious figure or movement who had all 5 before that.

For instance, for attribute #1. you get Roger Williams and the Quakers, though they didn't speak in the language of "unalienable rights"; for that, turn to John Locke; for # 2. you get the Calvinist resisters (though not John Calvin himself); ditto with the prior point on Locke; #3. you get the Thomists, though America didn't cite Thomas Aquinas, rather they would cite Locke who in turn cited Richard Hooker; but America did cite Aristotle whom Aquinas incorporated into Christendom; #4. you get Arius of Alexandria (256-336 A.D.), the guy against whom the Nicene Creed was written; and #5. it's argued that "benevolence" hardly accurately describes Calvin's God; but many traditional orthodox Christians note not only is their God benevolent, but also point to pre-Enlightenment figures and movements to prove such (I'll leave such examples open to the floor).

But who had all 5 before the Enlightenment? Take, for instance, #2. It's argued the notion of a right to revolt against tyrants (what the Declaration of Independence posits) is from "the Enlightenment." The counter argument is to look to the Calvinist resisters, i.e., Rutherford et al., as the originators. They may have been good on #2, but, as they supported Calvin executing Michael Servetus, they were woefully deficient on #1.

With that, let me focus on #4. Arianism was the form of unitarianism that predominated in both England and New England during the Enlightenment era when America was founded. Jonathan Mayhew and Samuel Clarke were some kind of Arians. Richard Price and James Burgh were distinctly Arians. I can't tell whether John Adams or Ben Franklin were Arians or Socinians. Thomas Jefferson was not an Arian; he rejected that Jesus had any kind of divine nature, though, with Joseph Priestley Jefferson believed in Jesus' divine mission making them both "Socinian."

Socinianism was considered a more radical form of theological unitarianism. The Arians believed in Jesus' divine nature. He was, to them, someone, though not God (but rather created by and subordinate to Him), who preexisted all other creation. Arian Jesus as the Son of God, but not God the Son, first born of all creation and higher in power, nature and authority than the highest of angels, was second only to God.

The Socinians, on the other hand, held Jesus was not at all divine in his nature. His nature was 100% human, 0% divine. But rather a uniquely special Messiah on a divine mission. 

Jefferson has been described as a "deist," even though he didn't call himself one. Jefferson's personal definition of "deism" was simply belief in "One God." Jews, Muslims, Unitarians, Trinitarians, among others, were all "deists" according to this broadest understanding of the term. (Though Jefferson, sometimes frustrated while arguing against the doctrine of the Trinity, accused Trinitarians like Calvin of worshipping three gods.)

Jefferson, like the Socininan Unitarian Joseph Priestley and the Deist, Henry St. John, First Viscount Bolingbroke seemed more radical than what prevailed among the unitarians of the Enlightenment era. Bolingbroke, as a "Deist" was not, from what I can tell, a "strict deist" who believed in an absentee landlord God to whom prayers were ineffective and Jesus was a nobody.

Bolingbroke rather seemed some kind of "Christian-Deist." Admittedly, I have much to learn on him. From what I've seen, his and Jefferson's theology reminds me of that from one of the earliest and most important early Church Fathers: Marcion. (85-160 A.D.).

Marcion was important largely because of his efforts in compiling the New Testament canon. But he was one of the first and most notable heretics. He fit Jefferson's broad understanding of "a deist" because he believed in the "One True God." But he also rejected that the attributes the prophets of the Old Testament ascribed to their deity accurately reflected the benevolent nature of Jesus' heavenly Father. Marcion thought the jealous tribal god of the Jews was a different being than Jesus' Father, the One True God. Though the Jews' lower, imperfect deity, somehow found himself in a position of authority to create and have power over at least parts of the material world. (That is what's known as the concept of the Demiurge.)

Jefferson, Bolingbroke and perhaps Ben Franklin held analogous religious views. Though I can't tell whether Bolingbroke, Jefferson and Franklin would endorse Marcion's precise notion of the Demiurge.

(Franklin at one point in his life endorsed the concept of the Demiurge, but believed the subordinate created deity who governed our solar system was worthy of worship because he was more personal and therefore accessible than the Infinite.)

Jefferson viewed the Jews as "deists" because they believed in "One God." He thought Jesus' role was to reform and correct the errors in their deism. Jefferson held the Jews "had presented for the object of their worship, a being of terrific character, cruel, vindictive, capricious and unjust." 

Likewise with Franklin, it's hard to pin him down on the OT. He once said "that the[re are] several Things in the old Testament impossible to be given by divine Inspiration, such as the Approbation ascrib’d to the Angel of the Lord, of that abominably wicked and detestable Action of Jael the Wife of Heber the Kenite. If the rest of the Book were like that, I should rather suppose it given by Inspiration from another Quarter, and renounce the whole."

Jefferson, Franklin and Bolingbroke (if I understand Bolingbroke right) all believed Jesus, regardless of His exact nature was "from God" in some kind of inspired sense. Likewise, I don't know where Marcion stood on the Trinity (I think he predated the formulation of that doctrine). Or, on the question of Jesus' full divinity.

I am not aware of Jefferson or Franklin citing Marcion. Likewise with the English Deists, I'm not aware they cited him; but there is much I don't know there, that for instance Dr. Joseph Waligore could help me with. 

But, as I read what he stood for, Marcion could aptly be described as the first "Christian-Deist." The Christian-Deism of the American Founding that was even more radical than the Arian Unitarianism of that era is traceable to an even older source. To a figure who lived in the first and second centuries and played an instrumental role in formulating the canon of the New Testament.

Marcion and Arius thus were indispensable figures as heretics of the early church. They were the first and most notable of them and laid the path for much to come. The Enlightenment understanding of the dissident theological thought that inspired among others America's key Founders can be traced to them. (Even if Marcion's influence was more "accidental" than named.)

Very old sources indeed.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Kidd on Deism, Franklin, Jefferson and the American Founding

I saw this on my social media newsfeed. Forgive me as I can't remember whether I featured it last year. It's a year old, but is still relevant.

It relates to broad and narrow definitions of Christianity and Deism that were invoked in our last post by Dr. Carl J. Richard.

From Dr. Kidd's piece:
Part of the problem with calling any of the Founders deists is the difficulty of defining deism. What did that term mean in the eighteenth century? Could you be a deist and somehow believe in prayer, as Franklin apparently did, at least as of the Constitutional Convention? (Franklin made a failed motion for the convention to open its sessions in prayer.) Could you be a deist and say with Jefferson, “I am a real Christian”?

Arguments about whether any or all the Founders were deists usually are hamstrung by overly precise definitions of deism. Deists believed in God as the cosmic watchmaker, critics protest, so any sign that a person believed in prayer or Providence automatically disqualifies them. But deism in eighteenth-century Europe and America could mean many different things. Its adherents could range from people who had qualms about Calvinism, to those who criticized the corruptions of the church as “priestcraft,” to more radical deists who espoused beliefs that seem close to atheism.

We should also remember that “deism” and “deists” were terms probably more often used by critics against their opponents, rather than by deists themselves.


Both Franklin and Jefferson wanted to dispense with Christian dogma and recover the true faith, which was a quality of living rather than a set of arcane propositions which (as they saw it) the guardians of orthodoxy defended in order to protect their own power. This is why Franklin gave so much attention to tests of personal virtue, and experimented constantly with charitable projects. Likewise, Jefferson was almost obsessed with the person and teachings of Jesus, but believed that in his teaching and behavior Jesus served as the preeminent example of “human excellence,” and that his followers imposed claims about his divinity and resurrection after the teacher’s death. But neither Jefferson nor Franklin imagined that we could do without this recovered rationalist Christianity – it was the best guide we had to real virtue.

The deists’ closest descendants today are not the “new atheists” who have stirred up so much media chatter in recent years. Their closest descendants are probably liberal mainline Christians who see Jesus as their model but who eschew (or even deny) the particular, exclusive doctrines that have been associated with Christian orthodoxy for millennia. ...

Saturday, March 12, 2016

The Founders and the Bible, by Carl J. Richard

[Editor's Note: Below is a guest post by Dr. Carl J. Richard on the thesis of his new book.]

In sharp contrast to numerous books that focus obsessively on a few founders, implying falsely that their beliefs were typical of their class and generation, my forthcoming book, The Founders and the Bible (Rowman & Littlefield, April 2016), examines the religious beliefs of approximately thirty founders of the United States. What I demonstrate is that while four founders (Thomas Paine, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, and John Adams) possessed biblically unorthodox beliefs concerning the divine origins and authority of Scripture, the divinity of Jesus, and the means of salvation, three (George Washington, James Madison, and James Monroe) wrote so little about these matters that no honest historian can make confident assertions about them, and the other twenty-three were all biblically orthodox. In other words, the ratio of orthodox to unorthodox founders among the thirty leaders examined was nearly six to one.

Furthermore, one of the most important findings of the book is that none of the founders was a deist, at least not if one defines deism in the conventional manner, to refer to the belief in a God who created the universe but does not intervene in it. Even the least orthodox founders believed in an omniscient, omnipotent God much like the deity of the Bible, who not only invested each individual with inalienable rights but also intervened in the affairs of individuals, societies, and nations to enforce those rights, as well as to advance other goods necessary to human happiness. The only difference between the orthodox and unorthodox founders concerning divine intervention was that the latter rejected the idea that God intervened through miracles, asserting instead that He intervened solely through natural causes.

The image of even the least orthodox founders as modern secularists is a false conception that wrenches them from the historical and cultural context in which they lived. The founders were steeped in a culture that revered the Bible as the Word of God. Many were raised by devout parents who named them after biblical figures, and many were closely related to ministers. At least two founders, James Madison and John Adams (who married a preacher’s daughter), seriously considered a career in the ministry before deciding on law, and a third, John Witherspoon, was one of the most prominent clergymen in America. 

Like most children of their day, the founders probably learned to read by means of the Bible, the latter testament of which they then studied in its original Greek language at their grammar schools and colleges. Most attended church services regularly, where they listened to sermons that lasted for hours, addresses that mingled numerous scriptures with classical learning. Many married devout wives. They lived in a society filled with biblical place names and expressions, a society rocked by the Great Awakening, which constituted one of the primary causes of the American Revolution, uniting Americans of different denominations and regions around the same biblical themes, the danger of corruption and the existence of a divine mission, that had motivated the Puritans over a century earlier.

Although a few of the founders rejected important biblical doctrines, they were almost unanimous in asserting the Bible’s central role in promoting the social morality they deemed essential to the survival and success of the new republic. Thus, most not only urged their own children to read Scripture and to attend church services in which it was recited but also worked to disseminate biblical knowledge more broadly. Elias Boudinot, who served as president of the Continental Congress, later established the American Bible Society, which distributed Bibles to the poor. While John Jay, the nation’s first Supreme Court chief justice, served as the organization’s president, Charles Cotesworth Pinckney, a signer of the Constitution and a two-time presidential nominee of the Federalist Party, served as one of its vice-presidents, in which capacity he boldly defied slaveholders’ attacks on the organization for dispensing Bibles to African Americans, a policy for which the slaveholders blamed the Denmark Vesey slave revolt. 

Both Benjamin Rush and Samuel Adams urged the continued reading of the Bible in public schools. Rush started a Sunday school movement and founded the Philadelphia Bible Society. George Washington consistently supported the preaching of the gospel to Native Americans, not merely for reasons of national interest, but also for what he sincerely regarded as their own good. Even Thomas Jefferson endorsed adult Bible reading for moral reasons and contributed a large sum to the American Bible Society.

Even the least orthodox founders (with the sole exception of Thomas Paine in his later years) considered the Bible a source of wisdom and valued the lessons they derived from it. They employed biblical references and analogies in private letters as frequently as in public documents because Scripture formed an important part of their stock of knowledge, their way of making sense of the world. Its influence in their society was too pervasive to permit them to ignore or dismiss it, even had they wished to do so. Instead, they grappled with the Bible unceasingly, and while the end result of that lifelong engagement by the unorthodox founders included the discarding of some important doctrines, it also produced a deepening of Scripture’s rhetorical, moral, and spiritual imprint on their minds.

That imprint not only influenced the founders’ self-perceptions but proved crucial to the outcome of national debates. In the colonial period Benjamin Franklin viewed himself as an American Solomon, dispensing practical advice in the form of proverbs as Poor Richard. In 1776, as the leading orator for independence in Congress, John Adams considered himself a latter-day Moses, leading his people from Egyptian-style bondage at the hands of Britain to freedom and independence, although most Americans bestowed that appellation on George Washington. In the same year Thomas Paine succeeded in persuading Americans to declare their independence largely by convincing them that God condemned monarchy in 1 Samuel 8.

As a result of the founders’ unanimous belief in an interventionist God, all except Thomas Paine believed in the efficacy of prayer and therefore frequently called for public and private prayer both in times of crisis and in periods of peace and prosperity. The most famous such appeal was Benjamin Franklin’s emotional speech urging daily prayer at the Constitutional Convention, a plea he based on his personal experience that “God governs in the affairs of men.” In the original manuscript for the speech Franklin underscored the whole sentence once, “God” twice.

The founders considered the United States a new Israel, a nation chosen by God to accomplish a sacred purpose. They believed that the United States was destined by the Almighty to advance the cause of freedom by erecting a model republic that would provide a haven for the world’s oppressed. This belief in a divine mission gave them a sense of identity and purpose and the courage to face the enormous trials of their day. They believed that God led them to victory, against staggering odds, over Great Britain in the Revolutionary War. 

Many of them considered the U.S. Constitution another divine gift, the usually reticent James Madison even going so far as to call it “a miracle” in a private letter to Jefferson. Yet many of the founders also worried that the same intervening God might punish the nation for its greatest violation of the covenant of liberty, its institution of slavery.

The founders considered Christian morality superior to all other ethical systems, past and present, due to its promotion of humility, benevolence, and forgiveness, and considered religion and morality, defined largely in Judeo-Christian terms, vital to the survival and success of any republic. Despite his rejection of portions of the Bible, Thomas Jefferson was particularly emphatic regarding the superiority of Christian ethics, which was why he invested so much time in distilling its essence in his own abbreviated Bible. 

Even Thomas Paine, the sole founder who denied the superiority of Christian morality, defined virtue precisely as Jesus had, as the fulfillment of duty to God and to one’s neighbor, while almost comically refusing to acknowledge the obvious source of this principle. Except for Jefferson and Paine, the founders were adamant that the widespread belief in an omniscient God who rewarded virtue and punished vice was essential to republican government, and even Jefferson conceded that while such a belief might not be essential, it provided a powerful inducement to virtue. Despite their own private doubts regarding certain biblical doctrines, both Benjamin Franklin and John Adams reacted with great fury when anyone assaulted the Bible publicly because they viewed popular belief in it as one of the chief pillars of the republic and dreaded its collapse.

The founders also shared crucial beliefs in the biblical concepts of human equality before God, free will, and the existence of an afterlife that included rewards and punishments. The founders’ belief in spiritual equality derived from the biblical concept of a single creation, a concept that contrasted sharply with contemporary, racist, European theories of separate creations of different human species on various continents. It led the founders to abolish slavery throughout the North and to end the foreign slave trade, though they were unable to end the institution in the South, where it was more deeply entrenched socially and economically. John Witherspoon and William Livingston were instrumental in abolishing slavery in New Jersey, as were Benjamin Rush, Thomas Paine, and Benjamin Franklin in Pennsylvania, and John Jay and Alexander Hamilton in New York. Despite being a slaveholder himself, Jefferson succeeded in persuading Congress to prohibit slavery in the Northwest Territory (the land north of the Ohio River) as a first step towards his goal of ending it nationally. George Washington freed and provided for his own slaves in his will. Many of the founders used scriptural arguments to condemn slavery and denounced all efforts to employ biblical passages in its favor. 

Despite living in a Calvinist nation, they also cited biblical references against predestination and in support of free will, a belief that imbued them with a strong sense of responsibility for the outcome of events. All of the founders, even the least orthodox, expressed a belief in an afterlife characterized by divine rewards and punishments that was clearly based on biblical teaching. This belief provided the founders with priceless consolation for the deaths of their loved ones and motivated them to hazard all for their fellow citizens. Alexander Hamilton’s confidence in the existence of such an afterlife led him to sacrifice his life rather than return Aaron Burr’s gunfire in their famous duel.

The founders’ conception of what they termed divine “Providence” extended to their own personal lives. It comforted them amid misfortunes and motivated them to sacrifice everything for the cause of liberty in a revolution against the greatest power on earth and in the establishment of a sound and durable republic. As the Declaration of Independence noted, “a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence” was the chief source of their willingness to sacrifice their lives and fortunes. Even after Paine wrote a tome attacking the Bible, he continued to assert a strong belief in its most important concept: the existence of an omniscient, omnipotent, benevolent God who intervened on behalf of individuals and nations. 

Indeed, Paine credited his own survival of the French Revolution to divine protection, a claim that flatly contradicted a central tenet of deism. The founders overcame the greatest misfortunes, such as the death of a fiancĂ©e (Charles Carroll) or a small child (John Marshall and John Jay), by interpreting them as God’s way of teaching wisdom, fortitude, compassion, humility, and the futility of a life focused on fleeting earthly pleasures rather than on eternity.

The orthodox majority, joined by the unorthodox John Adams and the generally reticent Washington and Madison, strongly espoused a view of human nature that was fundamentally biblical. This pessimistic conception of human nature encouraged them to oppose British claims to unchecked power during the Revolutionary era and led them to establish elaborate systems of checks and balances in both state and federal constitutions thereafter.

Even the founders’ shared advocacy of religious freedom, variously defined but always including the right to worship freely in the manner of an individual’s own choosing, was based on the Bible’s emphasis on the importance of the individual’s relationship with an omniscient God who cared deeply about His creatures’ inner beliefs. No government had the authority to interpose itself between the individual and his creator, the founders frequently declared. Furthermore, they often noted that both Jesus Himself and His disciples in the early Church never compelled anyone to express any belief but relied solely on the power of the Holy Spirit to attract people to the faith according to their own free will.

In The Founders and the Bible I discuss the educational system, familial influences, church experience, and social conditions that immersed the founders in the Bible, their lifelong engagement with Scripture, their biblically-infused political rhetoric, their powerful belief in a divine Providence that protected them and guided the nation, their belief in the superiority of Christian ethics and in the necessity of religion to republican government, their belief in spiritual equality, free will, and an afterlife, their religious differences, the influence of their biblical conception of human nature on their formulation of state and federal constitutions, and their use of biblical precedent to advance religious freedom. I conclude by summarizing the manner in which the subsequent generation of Americans carried these themes to new heights, in the process transforming American society.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Watching Washington at Federal Hall

Every year, New York Freemasons stage a re-enactment of the first inauguration of George Washington as president of the United States on (or about) the anniversary of the historic occasion in 1789, and the 2016 event has been announced. From the publicity:

George Washington Presidential
Inauguration Re-enactment
Friday, April 29
11 a.m.
Federal Hall
26 Wall Street

Please join us as we commemorate the inauguration of George Washington and the Heroes of 1776—many of whom were Free and Accepted Masons—and to proclaim our heritage.

Magpie file photo
Statue of Washington at Federal Hall.
Two hundred and twenty-seven years ago, on April 30, 1789, George Washington was sworn in as the nation’s first president, and gave the first inaugural address. The American government was based in New York that year.

Congress had met for the first time on March 4, 1789 in the former city hall at the corner of Wall Street and Nassau Street, which a year earlier had been redesigned by Pierre Charles L’Enfant in the Federal architecture style—the first such building design in America—thus the building was renamed Federal Hall.

This event is sponsored by the George Washington Inauguration Reenactment Committee of the Grand Lodge of Free and Accepted Masons of the State of New York.

Click here to read about Washington and his adding “So help me God” to his oath.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Brayton, Rodda, and Boston

See here. A taste:
I [Ed Brayton] was thrilled to see ... Rob Boston did an interview with ... Chris Rodda ... available online.

[Boston:] Do you believe we’re making any headway ... ? If people are going to believe whatever they want regardless of the facts, why should we even continue?

Rodda: It does get very frustrating, and there have been many times when I’ve asked myself why I even bother ... What stops me from giving up are things like the occasional emails I get from Christian homeschooling parents who happen to stumble upon one of my articles or videos and write to me ... asking me to recommend a reputable history curriculum. So, there are those glimmers of hope. Plus, once you know that something like this is going on, you can’t just ignore it and do nothing, no matter how impossible it might seem to fight it.
 [Brayton:] I agree with this completely. It can be frustrating, just as it’s frustrating to continually see atheists sharing fake quotes and bad history. But I keep at it because it at least serves as a resource for others.

Papers from Jefferson-Adams Symposium

After Tom Van Dyke's post on Jefferson's VA Statute for Religious Liberty, I went looking for additional material on it that might interest readers. I found this article by John Ragosta.

But that in turn led to a finding of a series of papers on Jefferson and J. Adams by very notable scholars. This might make for interesting weekend reading.

Monday, March 7, 2016

The Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom: A Christian Document Passed by Christians

I. Whereas Almighty God hath created the mind free; that all attempts to influence it by temporal punishment or burthens, or by civil incapacitations, tend only to beget habits of hypocrisy and meanness, and are a departure from the plan of the Holy author of our religion, who being Lord both of body and mind, yet chose not to propagate it by coercions on either, as was his Almighty power to do . . 

The irony, of course is delicious: Jefferson's 1786 Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, so often trumpeted as a triumph of secularism, roots religious liberty in natural rights endowed by the Creator, and claims as its authority none other than the "Lord" Jesus Christ, while normatively identifying Virginians themselves as Christians ["the Holy author of our religion"].

Note also that the 'holy author of our religion' is called "Almighty," which would make him divine, in other words, God, not just a mere prophet or moral philosopher. This is no "deist" formulation. Few think Jefferson believed Jesus to be divine, but Virginians as a whole clearly did--which makes all the talk of Jefferson's personal and private beliefs rather a great waste of time and ink.

So much that they took for granted we don't even see.

Sunday, March 6, 2016

Anglicanism & the American Founding

Here is an article from WorldNetDaily (not a bad one by their standards) that discusses, among other things, Anglicanism and the American Founding. It also talks about the Presbyterians. That was the interesting thing about the American Founding; it had a bunch of different sects, some of which predominated and were established at the state level, but none at the national level. As I understand the historical record, the zeitgeist of the national founding as it related to religion was to sympathize with the dissenters. But a sect established in one state, could be a dissenter in another.

The article makes what I see as one glaring error. I won't mention it in this original piece, but you can view the comment I made at the author's blog where I pointed it out.

But here is what the author wrote on Anglicanism:
Our nation’s founding was born of men and women seeking religious freedom from England and its one-size-fits-all Anglican state church. They sought the right to worship with whatever church they wished.

As we know, England and particularly the crown would have none of that. How dare an English colony put anything before the king or be a member of any religion other than Anglican, the British state religion.
Most if not all of the different sects (groups like the Quakers non-withstanding), at least in their official doctrines had a "one-size-fits-all" mentality regarding the proper understanding of the faith. And once they got into power, they, if not imposed it, privileged it. That was the problem. No need to single out and pick on Anglicans as anything special in this regard, other than it was the creed of the mother country from which America rebelled.

(Roman Catholics actually were viewed as the "worst" of the offenders. And the non-Presbyterians tended to think of the Presbyterians -- at least in those places where they were the dominant, established sect -- as almost as bad.)

Interestingly, as I noted to the author, a great deal of "our nation's founders" were themselves Anglicans. If we want statistical data regarding sect affiliation, see here and here. If the numbers crunched in the 2nd link are accurate, 54.7% of America's Founders were Anglicans.

That leads to a fascinating observation: they rebelled against the official political theology of the very church with which they were affiliated.

Patrick Henry, John Jay, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and John Marshall. (There are plenty of other names I could have added; but this group seems representative enough.)

There are only two things these men have in common. No it's not they were all Virginians (John Jay wasn't; the rest were). Or that they were all "Federalists" who supported the Constitution (Patrick Henry was an Anti-Federalists, opposed to the US Constitution. Jefferson was in France. I don't think he was an Anti-Federalist, but he seemed more sympathetic to their concerns than did the partisan Federalists who got the Constitution to pass.)

Rather it was 1. they were all Whigs who rebelled against Great Britain; and 2. they were all Anglicans whose official political theology preached Toryism, the very thing they rebelled against.

So with this group we end up with Jefferson who bitterly rejected every single doctrine of orthodoxy; Marshall who was an adult unitarian until he apparently converted to something more orthodox on his deathbed; Henry and Jay who apparently settled into something more traditionally orthodox; and Washington and Madison whose words indicate they believed in a generally theistic ecumenicism, but didn't take an official position on any of the orthodox doctrines that Jefferson so bitterly rejected.

So even with the more apparently orthodox Founders (Jay and Henry), that they were members of a church whose official doctrines they stood against caused issues for their Christianity. As I noted in my past post, "[d]uring the Founding era the 'religiously correct' orthodox forces would write off those who didn't make the cut as 'deists.'" And indeed, Patrick Henry was so accused. (A charge he vehemently denied while affirming both his Whig and Christian identity.)

Likewise with John Jay. I think he was an orthodox Trinitarian Christian. But he wasn't a "by the book" Anglican on this matter either. If he were, he would have simply lauded how St. Athanasius (one of the heroes of "by the book" Anglicanism) handled the matter of the Trinity and that would have been that. But he didn't.

Final thought on this notion of a "one-size-fits-all" mentality of the faith. Back in mother England, before and around the time of America's Founding, many "dissenters" in the Anglican (and other churches) engaged in the same kind of "freethinking" on doctrinal matters (including but not limited to disregard of the Trinity) as noted above.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

George Marsden on the Modern State of "Christian America"

Throckmorton has the details here. Bottom line -- and it's point I've made for years -- fundamentalists and evangelicals who are sympathetic to the "Christian America" view of history have strict standards for what it means to be a "real Christian." Certainly not self professing "Christians" like President Obama qualify. (They argue over whether traditional Roman Catholics qualify.)

Well most of the notable Founding Fathers probably wouldn't qualify as "real Christians" either, accordingly no matter how much these forces want to claim them.

If they aren't "real Christians" then what were they? During the Founding era the "religiously correct" orthodox forces would write off those who didn't make the cut as "deists." That's one way that "the founders were deists" meme started.

Friday, March 4, 2016

Back to the Culture Wars

PBS website:

Like the other Founding Fathers, Jefferson was considered a Deist, subscribing to a liberal religious strand that values reason over revelation and rejects traditional Christian doctrines, including the Virgin Birth, original sin and the resurrection of Jesus.

Actually, the other Founding Fathers are NOT considered deists, as John Fea of Messiah College explains here.

"The founding fathers were deists."
I have probably heard this statement affirmed just as much as I have heard claims that the founders were Christians. It is one of the many pieces of ammunition used by the opponents of the idea that the United States was founded as a Christian nation. If the founders were indeed deists, the argument goes, they could not have founded a uniquely Christian republic.
In actuality, there were a lot more founders who were Christians than deists. And of those founders who did not identify with the doctrines of historic Christianity, few could be called deists.
So it goes.  Unfortunately, those who minimize our religious heritage are in control of quangos like PBS, and of course the lion's share of academia, and for the large part control the general public perception of history. Thus amateurs such as David Barton arise in response, whose most trivial of errors and inconsistencies are hunted down with the persistence of Javert.

For those at home without scorecards, that's the gist of it.

Throckmorton on Barton's use of Primary Sources

See here. A taste:
However, that is not what Monticello library documents. Monticello researched the following quote attributed to Jefferson:
Quotation: “Sir, no nation has ever yet existed or been governed without religion. Nor can be. The Christian religion is the best religion that has been given to man, and I as chief magistrate of this nation am bound to give it the sanction of my example.”
Monticello consulted the existing body of Jefferson’s writings and other papers where his statements are recorded. The first recorded instance of this quote is in 1857 in the papers of Allen. Monticello’s assessed the quote as “questionable.”
Comments:  This quotation appeared in a handwritten manuscript by the Reverend Ethan Allen (1796-1879). The story was related to Allen by a Mr. Ingle, who claimed to have been told a story that Jefferson was walking to church services one Sunday, “…with his large red prayer book under his arm when a friend querying him after their mutual good morning said which way are you walking Mr. Jefferson.  To which he replied to Church Sir.  You going to church Mr. J. You do not believe a word in it.  Sir said Mr. J.  No nation has ever yet existed or been governed without religion.  Nor can be.  The Christian religion is the best religion that has been given to man and I as chief Magistrate of this nation am bound to give it the sanction of my example. Good morning Sir.”2
The story comes to us third-hand, and has not been confirmed by any references in Jefferson’s papers or any other known sources.  Its authenticity is questionable.
So after claiming the scholarly high ground as someone who uses primary sources, Barton used a questionable quote which comes to us third-hand.