Sunday, July 31, 2016

Jefferson's Bible: Jesus and the Second Coming

Who knew?  This was about the last thing most modern people would expect: Thomas Jefferson's razor blade cut out everything except Jesus of Nazareth's philosophical wisdom, right?

But there's Jesus, Bigger Than Life on Judgment Day, with angels in tow and everything:

Courtesy: The Smithsonian's Interactive "Jefferson Bible"

Does this mean that Thomas Jefferson believed that Jesus Christ would come again on Judgment Day, to judge the living and the dead, to separate "the sheep from the goats?" Nobody can know. Thomas Jefferson is dead. And was he a sheep or a goat? He certainly thought he was a sheep, his slaveowning and treatment of his slaves notwithstanding. 

Some believe salvation comes from good works, being "a good person."  Jefferson did.  Others believe we are saved sola fide, by faith alone.   And as the universalists believed then and believe now, God loves both the sheep and the goats anyways.  Who goes to heaven and who goes to hell---if there is a Hell, perhaps it's empty, everyone reconciled to their creator---is above the pay grade of this blog.  Above Jefferson's pay grade too, although as with all things, he was pretty sure he had it all figured out. 

What I like so much about the era of the American Founding is that regardless of what answers we come up with today, they were always asking the right questions way back then. 

It was an era of great confusion, but compared to our own era, it was a time of great clarity.

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Joseph Priestley Explains His Socinianism

I may well have posted this before (I can't remember). Thomas Jefferson loved Joseph Priestley. And John Adams had many positive (and some negative) things to say about him. I think, though, whatever political and personal differences they had, Priestley's creed may have been closer to Adams' than Jefferson's.

Priestley believed Jesus 100% man, not at all divine in his nature. But he also apparently believed in the virgin birth and the resurrection, two things Jefferson rejected. Priestley's Jesus was a "Savior." A second Adam to correct the errors of the first.

From his "Three Tracts":
If you ask who, then, is Jesus Christ, if he be not God; I answer, in the words of Peter, addressed to the Jews, after his resurrection and ascension, that Jesus of Nazareth was a man approved of God by miracles and wonders and signs, which God did by him. Acts ii. 22. If you ask what is meant by man, in this place; I answer, that man, if the word be used with any kind of propriety, must mean the same kind of being with yourselves. I say, moreover, with the author of the epistle to the Hebrews, that it became him by whom are all things, and for whom are all things, to make this great captain of our salvation in all respects, like unto us his brethren, that he might be made perfect through sufferings, Heb. ii. 10. 1J. and that he might have a feeling of all our infirmities, iv. 13. For this, reason it was that our Saviour and deliverer was not made of the nature of an angel, or like any super-angelic being, but was of the seed as Abraham., ii. 16. that is (exclusive of the divinity of the Father, which resided in him, and acted by him) a mere man, as other Jews, and as we ourselves also are.

Christ being made by the immediate hand of God, and not born in the usual course of generation, is no reason for his not being considered as a man. For then Adam must not have been a man. But in the ideas of Paul, both the first and second Adam (as Christ, on this account, is sometimes called) were equally men: By man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead, 1 Cor. xv. 21. And, certainly, in the resurrection of a man, that is, of a person in all respects like ourselves, we have a more lively hope of our own resurrection; that of Christ being both a proof and a pattern of ours. We can, therefore, more firmly believe, that because he livest we who are the same that he was, and who shall undergo the same change by death that he did, shall live also. John xiv. 19.
Priestley doesn't see the virgin birth as a unique sign that points towards a divine nature. He analogizes it to the first Adam's creation. Adam didn't have a virgin birth, because he was not birthed of a woman. Rather both Adam and Jesus were "not born in the usual course of generation" and both were equally 100% human, not divine. Jesus perfected the divine mission of man from which Adam strayed.

Friday, July 29, 2016

Jefferson Bible? Was it the "Miraculous" that's the issue?

Once again Warren Throckmorton is pounding David Barton's understanding of the Jefferson Bible. There were two different efforts of Jefferson. One in 1804, the other around 1820. The 1804 book is not available to read in its entirety. The 1820 version is. That's "the Jefferson Bible" we have.

The dates are important for Barton's thesis, which is this: Apparently Thomas Jefferson was some kind of orthodox Trinitarian Christian until around 1813 when he fell away.

There is a kernel of truth to this flawed thesis: Jefferson starts to offer far more smoking gun quotations on his heterodoxy around 1813. But as Throckmorton and others have demonstrated, there is evidence Jefferson was heterodox before that time period. In fact, I suspect that Jefferson was less orthodox and more deistic until around the early 19th Century when he began familiarizing himself with Joseph Priestley's Socinian "Christianity."

Priestley may have made Jefferson more comfortable with a "Christian" identity. Before that, I think Jefferson may have been closer the deist Bolingbroke, though even he, if you read what he wrote about Jesus, isn't quite the "strict deist"; but he's arguably less Christian than Priestley. Allen Jayne makes an impressive circumstantial case for Bolingbroke's influence on Jefferson. But Priestley and Conyers Middleton (who also cut up a Bible) were explicitly NAMED in Jefferson's post 1813 period (Priestley far more than Middleton).

Jefferson may have never shaken off the influence of Bolingbroke. In fact, arguably, one might conclude the final "unitarian" position Jefferson endorsed was some kind of hybrid between the creeds of Bolingbroke and Priestley.

There were two things Bolingbroke posited that Jefferson late in life believed in that arguably make them less "Christian" than Joseph Priestley. I'm no Priestley expert. I do know Priestley a Socinian, believing Jesus 100% man, not at all divine in His nature, but on a divine mission, taught 1. Original Sin; 2. the Trinity; 3. the Incarnation; 4. Atonement; and 5. the Plenary Inspiration of Scripture were "corruptions" of Christianity.

But Priestley did believe in "special revelation" in a God speaking to man sense. Bolingbroke may have too believed in special revelation of a more limited variety. But I don't think Priestley messed with the canon like Bolingbroke and later Jefferson did.

Firstly, Bolingbroke and later Jefferson (probably under his influence) disbelieved in the divine inspiration of the Book of Revelation, criticizing it in harsh terms. Priestley not only believed in the divine inspiration of that book, but wrote many words trying to interpret its prophesies.

Secondly, Bolingbroke and then again, later Jefferson wrote off everything St. Paul stated as fake and not divinely inspired. I'm going to have to plead ignorance on Priestley's position on St. Paul. But I don't believe Priestley's disbelief in the plenary inspiration of the Bible led him to razor blade everything Paul said as bullshit like Bolingbroke and Jefferson did.

(I documented Bolingbroke's influence here.)

Now, David Barton, in his book, concedes Jefferson post 1813 as unorthodox. AND his book, from what I remember (I didn't read the whole thing) concedes Jefferson's late in life letter dismissing the Book of Revelation as the ravings of a delusional manic. I can't remember if Barton dealt with Jefferson's similar dismissing of Paul's writings.

But if the Jefferson of 1820 who compiled the version of his canon that we have available was, as Barton might concede, willing to dismiss the Book of Revelation and everything St. Paul wrote as fake (in addition to the Trinity and every other doctrine of orthodoxy), why does Barton have a hard time with the notion that Jefferson constructed a "Bible" of his own where he cut out from the canon that which he didn't believe?

Is it the notion that Jefferson cut out "all" of the miracles? I think he cut out most of them. Perhaps not all.

Likewise, believers can dicker over the exact books which belong in the canon (see the debates among Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox and Protestants over the deuterocanonicals) and quibble over passages of verses and chapters, but what kind of "Christianity" dismisses not just the Trinity and every other orthodox doctrine, the Book of Revelation (a hard book, which I understand even Martin Luther doubted) but also everything St. Paul said?

This is the Jefferson of the 1820s who compiled his own Bible around that time period.

Wednesday, July 27, 2016

Newcombe on "Hillary Clinton, Saul Alinsky, Ben Carson and Lucifer"

From Jerry Newcombe at World Net Daily here. I'm writing about this because the author finds a way to connect the piece to his Christian nationalist assertions for which he is known. 

Saul Alinsky was a very interesting and intelligent character whose ideas deserve to be studied and taken seriously. No less than William F. Buckley said Alinsky was "very close to being an organizational genius."

Alinsky was not religious; that is he was either an atheist or agnostic. Yes, indeed he did say:
Lest we forget at least an over-the-shoulder acknowledgment to the very first radical: from all our legends, mythology, and history … the first radical known to man who rebelled against the establishment and did it so effectively that he at least won his own kingdom—Lucifer.
I think he has a point. You don't have to be a devil worshipper to appreciate it. In fact Alinsky said as between the Heaven and Hell in which he didn't believe, he'd choose Hell because that's where the have nots are and he'd like to organize it.

Alinsky's point is more akin to that made by Professor Jennings in Animal House that Satan was the most "intriguing" character in John Milton's "Paradise Lost."

But somehow Jerry Newcombe finds a way to make the following point in his article:
The original Trinity – the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit – is worthy of our worship and fidelity. The vast majority of the Founding Fathers held this view.

For example, when Ben Franklin, John Jay, Henry Laurens and John Adams negotiated the official peace treaty between the United States and Great Britain in 1783 – the Treaty of Paris – it opened this way: “[I]n the name of the most holy and undivided Trinity.”
I think Newcombe shoots too far if he thinks he can speak for the "vast majority" of the Founding Fathers. It's apparent though, from his listed figures, the "key Founders" didn't tend to believe in the Trinity. I usually see Franklin, J. Adams, and Jay credited for the "Treaty of Paris." I know little about Laurens' religious views. I would concede Jay as "orthodox Trinitarian," though even he flirted with the anti-creedalism present in the air that often led to rejection of that doctrine. 

John Adams was a militant anti-Trinitarian. And Ben Franklin, while not so militant, associated himself with the unitarians, called them "honest" and was present at, supported, and lauded the grand opening of the first officially Unitarian Church in England.  And at the very end of his life claimed he "doubted" Jesus' divinity, never studying or taking seriously the issue. 

So we end up with Newcombe's assertion that the "vast majority" of the Founding Fathers believed in the Trinity, but with the cited authoritative figures constituting maybe 50% (2/4) endorsement of the doctrine. 

What about the language cited from the Treaty? Arguably it's because Great Britain, and not America, was the "Christian nation," as it had an officially established Anglican Church that endorsed the Trinity. 

It was language to placate them. 

Maybe. Maybe not. But this is the same argument Christian nationalists use to try to explain away the Treaty of Tripoli which states:
As the government of the United States of America is not in any sense founded on the Christian Religion,-as it has in itself no character of enmity against the laws, religion or tranquility of Musselmen,-and as the said States never have entered into any war or act of hostility against any Mehomitan nation, it is declared by the parties that no pretext arising from religious opinions shall ever produce an interruption of the harmony existing between the two countries.
You can't have it both ways. 

Levinson on the Republican Party Platform & Misunderstanding the Declaration

At Balkinization, law professor Sandy Levinson dissects the Republican Party platform in a critical way. He writes:
I assume that Michael Pence, or for that matter Ted Cruz, has no trouble embracing this part of the Republican Party platform, which clearly subordinates any laws passed by legislatures or any other governmental institution to "the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God."  We could, of course, get into long debates about the difference between the "laws of nature," which could be Aristotelian, and non-dependent on any belief in God, in contrast to subordination to "Nature's God," which sound more in Revelation and divine sovereignty than in Reason.  In any event, we have a clear hierarchy of norms, with Divine commands at the top and everything else beneath.

We might compare the Republican platform, in this respect, to the Constitution of the Islamic Republic of Iran: ...
I think the Christian nationalists who helped write this part of the platform might agree with what Professor Levinson wrote in the first quoted paragraph (not the comparison to Iran). However, the analysis is wrong. As I wrote in the comments section, the term "Nature's God" DOES NOT ground belief in special revelation. That's what the Christian nationalists revisionists argue.

The point Levinson makes on the laws of nature and Aristotle is correct. As the term was used, "nature" defines as discoverable by reason unaided by special revelation. As it were "Nature's God" is God insofar as we can discover and understand Him through our reason unaided by revelation. "Laws of Nature and of Nature's God" is a double invocation of reason.

I think they added God because, as America's Founders understood the natural law, they needed a God of some sort to make it binding in an "ought" sense. The quotation below by John Adams perfectly sums up this point of view.
To him who believes in the Existence and Attributes physical and moral of a God, there can be no obscurity or perplexity in defining the Law of Nature to be his wise benign and all powerful Will, discovered by Reason.

– John Adams to Thomas Boylston Adams, March 19, 1794. Adams Papers (microfilm), reel 377, Library of Congress. Seen in James H. Hutson’s, “The Founders on Religion,” p. 132.

Warren Throckmorton has more on Metaxas & Barton

Here and here. Here is a taste from the first link:
You remember 2012 right? American University prof and author Jay Richards recruited 10 Christian historians to read David Barton’s book on Thomas Jefferson (The Jefferson Lies, the one just recommended by Metaxas) and then read my book with Michael Coulter Getting Jefferson Right which was a response to Barton’s. Richards asked those scholars to render a verdict about the accuracy of the books and our book came out on top. Do you recall that Thomas Nelson heard from critics of Barton’s book and did their own review? Then after the review by the 10 scholars and the publisher, Thomas Nelson announced that it was pulling the book from the shelves due to historical inaccuracies. Remember that historian Thomas Kidd documented all of this for World magazine? All of that happened.
Jay Richards, I don't believe works for American University, but Catholic University. Daniel Dreisbach works for American University.

That's a minor note of correction. The above passage is important. Most of these historians and right leaning and want to challenge the view in law, history and politics that limits the expression of religion in public life.

Barton is making that side look bad and hurting their credibility.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

"Historians Against Trump" vs. Dart-Throwing Monkeys

“The facts are really not at all like fish on the fishmonger’s slab. They are like fish swimming about in a vast and sometimes inaccessible ocean; and what the historian catches will depend partly on chance but mainly on what part of the ocean he chooses to fish in and what tackle he chooses to use – these two factors being of course determined by the kind of fish he wants to catch. By and large, the historian will get the kind of facts he wants.”--E. H. Carr

You may have heard from our friend John Fea about a group of academics calling themselves "Historians Against Trump."  Philosopher Stanley Fish took to The New York Times to question the validity of such an enterprise in an essay called "Professors, Stop Opining About Trump." and I think historian/historiographer E.C. Carr would quite agree.

From the liner notes:

Historiography consists partly of the study of historians and partly of the study of historical method, the study of the study of history. Many eminent historians have turned their hand to it, reflecting on the nature of the work they undertake and its relationship both to the reader and to the past. Carr was a well-known authority on the history of Soviet Russia, with which he was in ideological sympathy. Invited to deliver the 1961 George Macaulay Trevelyan lectures, Carr chose as his theme the question ‘What is History?’ and sought to undermine the idea, then very much current, that historians enjoy a sort of objectivity and authority over the history they study. At one point he pictured the past as a long procession of people and events, twisting and turning so that different ages might look at each other with greater or lesser clarity.

He warned, however, against the idea that the historian was in any sort of commanding position, like a general taking the salute; instead the historian is in the procession with everyone else, commenting on events as they appear from there, with no detachment from them nor, of course, any idea of what events might lie in the future.

In short, historians are entitled to their opinion, but it's not necessarily any better than normal people's. And although some individuals are quite brilliant in forecasting the future, social psychologist Phillip Tetlock's famous study proved that when grouped together [say, as "Historians Against Trump"], experts' predictions were worse than those of dart-throwing monkeys!

In the end, there's really no difference between a consensus and a mob; the wise individual speaks only for himself.

Saturday, July 23, 2016

Beck & Metaxas Made a Huge Mistake

Throwing their hat in with David Barton. And others should learn from their example. This is why I feature the criticisms on my blogs. 

Yet again John Fea and Warren Throckmorton have posts criticizing Eric Metaxas' new book, but this time connecting him to, you guessed it, David Barton. From Fea's:
  1.  Metaxas’s view of Winthrop’s use of the phrase “city on a hill” IS taken out of context.  I encourage you to take David Barton’s advice and read the original source– “A Modell on Christian Charity.”  You should also read Hillsdale College professor David Gamble’s  In Search of the City on a Hill: The Making and Unmaking of an American Myth. And don’t forget the post by Tracy McKenzie, chair of the history department at evangelical Wheaton College. 
  2.  I am sure I have addressed this before, but it needs to be said again.  For years Barton has been telling the ordinary evangelicals who follow him that he is right about American history because he owns a lot of documents.  He claims that he reads the original documents and suggests that professional historians do not.  This is a completely absurd claim.  ALL professional historians read and interpret primary sources.  This is what we do.  Doing history–especially the history of political ideas– has very little to do with whether or not someone one can hold an original document in their hands.  For example, if Barton had a copy of the Declaration of Independence would he be in a better position to interpret the ideas in the document than someone who was merely reading the Declaration of Independence online or in a textbook?  I have never been to Wallbuilders or seen David Barton’s collection of documents, but I am pretty certain that most of the documents he possesses are easily accessible for historians in online and print collections.  Unless one is writing a history about these books, letter, and manuscripts as physical objects or pieces of material culture (which is not how Barton uses the documents–he peddles in ideas), the fact that Barton owns these documents ... does not make his interpretations of history any more right or wrong.
Yes, Barton's point that he "has" the documents is snake oil worse than the Afrocentric claim that Western Civilization "stole" documents and therefore the ideas from Africa, to the exclusion of Africa having those ideas.  As though cultures steal from one another like people steal cars (where the original possessor no longer has the actual object itself and its benefits).

In the modern age, almost any historical document a party physically owns can be viewed in some kind of copy. The same isn't true of antiquity.

While Fea and Throckmorton may be (?) Left leaning, I don't see either of them as hard Left. And another critic, Dr. Gregg Frazer is not a man of the Left in any sense. Likewise a number of other prominent Right leaning Christian intellectuals have criticized Barton.

I am a libertarian and will be voting for Gary Johnson this term. I don't consider myself either a man of the Left or the Right. And this may surprise some folks: I actually like both Glenn Beck and Eric Metaxas. Beck is going to be voting for Gary Johnson just like I am. Beck is not a scholar. He is an entertaining media presence. But when he picks scholars to endorse, he should pick good ones.

Metaxas has more intellectual credibility than Beck. And likewise he should throw his hat in with scholars with more credibility than David Barton. (And arguably, because of his intellectual background, should know better than Beck).

Friday, July 22, 2016

Sandefur: "The Greeks and The Founding Fathers" Part III

Check out Timothy Sandefur's post here. A taste:
Yesterday, I delivered (live) the third and final talk in my three-part series for the Politismos Museum of Greek History on the influence of the Greeks on America's Founding Fathers. If you missed it, hold on--they'll be posting the finished video in a while. But if you'd rather listen to them, you can download all three talks in mp3 format here: ...

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Fea & Throckmorton on Metaxas Blowing Off Criticisms

Check out Drs. John Fea and Warren Throckmorton on Eric Metaxas' disregard for criticisms of his new book. This is a link to the audio-clip of Metaxas. A taste of Metaxas' words:
There are errors in my book and people have written ESSAYS–I’m not even kidding.  People have attacked my book so much. This never happened to me before. They take a sentence that I could just change that sentence and everything would be okay.  They have written ESSAYS about this sentence.  I said something about freedom in our early days, implying that it was universal, which of course it was not (we had a lot of problems with religious freedom) ....

Monday, July 18, 2016

Is Rebellion in America's Blood?

A passage in Dr. Gregg Frazer's very thoughtful piece arguing that the American Revolution was not a just war brought something to mind. Below is the passage from pages 12-13 of the PDF. Again I added paragraph breaks but did not reproduce Frazer's added emphasis:

The French Revolution's Legacy of Persecution

Though the result of legitimate grievances over the corruption and abuse within the French monarchy and aristocracy, the uprising known as the French Revolution failed to achieve the success of its American predecessor. Instead, it descended into bloodthirsty hatred, chaos, and ultimately dictatorship. It also ushered in a disturbing episode of persecution against people of faith...

Do you agree with Mr. Zmirak's article?

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Frazer on the AR as a Just War with a Focus on Lesser Magistrates

Last year we noted Dr. Gregg Frazer's article in The Journal of Military Ethics on whether the American Revolution was a just war. We didn't get to analyze the article in depth because although it was initially downloadable, it was soon put behind a paywall. It looks like it's now free to the public again (but you never know how these journals and their algorithms will behave).

Even though Frazer argues the American Revolution was not a just war, other points of view are also represented there (so check that out too).

I want to focus on a particular part of Frazer's article. In his book, he discusses at length Romans 13's prohibition on rebellion and John Calvin's writings on lesser magistrates being able to lawfully restrain tyrannical rulers. But he subsequently received criticism that his book did not adequately deal with the Calvinistic line of thought on interposition from figures like Samuel Rutherford's "Lex Rex"  and the anonymous "Vindiciae, contra Tyrannos."

Frazer answers such criticism beginning on page 15 of the PDF. I am going to reproduce a section that starts on page 16: [I added paragraph breaks but didn't reproduce all of the emphasis added.]
Some readers might expect a discussion of appeals to the so-called ‘lesser magistrate’ or ‘interposition’ argument attributed to Calvin; that view says that lesser magistrates are similarly endowed by God with authority, that they may rebel against a higher magistrate (the King), and that the common people may then choose whether to support the higher or the lower magistrate. Such a discussion is not relevant, however, because neither Calvin nor the patriot preachers made such an argument. In my own study of dozens of the patriot sermons between 1750 and 1780, I could not find any that employed this argument (see Frazer 2012:69–106); and James Byrd (2013) makes no reference to it in his comprehensive look at the patriot sermons, either. Calvin himself did not make the ‘lesser magistrate’ argument; it was developed later by some of his disciples and their work had a degree of influence in Reformed circles.

There is not space here to fully demonstrate that Calvin would not have approved of it, but the distinction between Calvin’s statements and the ‘lesser magistrate’ notion can be briefly explained. Calvin does not say anything about ‘lesser’ magistrates in general, but addresses a particular type of magistrate (‘populares’) with legal authority to restrain the higher magistrate. The term ‘populares’ is ‘a term quite different in connotation from “inferior” or “lesser”’ (Skinner 1978: II: 230–234). The emphasis is not on the magistrate’s inferior or lesser position, but on the reason for its existence–its function in the political system. There are lesser magistrates in every political system, but Calvin specifies that his scheme only applies if this particular type of magistrate exists within a given political system. In those circumstances, Calvin urges the special ‘popular’ magistrates to act ‘in accordance with their duty’ to exercise lawful, systemic authority to veto or block executive actions (Institutes, IV: 20: XXXI, in Höpfl 1991: 82).

An American parallel would be the power of Congress to impeach and remove a president. But there is no mention or implication or hint of rebellion or revolution or extra-constitutional action or of people choosing sides between magistrates in Calvin’s scheme. Calvin stresses that ‘the punishment of unbridled tyranny is the Lord’s vengeance’ (Institutes, IV: 20: XXVI in Höpfl 1991: 82, emphasis added), but that the people ‘are not to imagine that it is we ourselves who have been called upon to inflict it’ (Institutes, IV: 20: XXVI in Höpfl 1991 :82). He further admonishes the people that ‘all that has been assigned to us is to obey and suffer’ (Institutes, IV: 20: XXVI in Höpfl 1991: 82).

The notion of suffering is lost in the many interpretations of Calvin that promote rebellion. He actually provides three specific historical examples to try to ensure that his position would not be misunderstood– but to no avail. 2 Calvin did not cite examples of revolutions to overthrow tyrants; he cited offices and officers given legal authority within their regimes to restrain the ‘licentiousness and frenzy of kings’ (Institutes, IV: 20: XXXI, in Höpfl 1991:82–83). Although some scholars and commentators interpret Calvin in such a way as to make him support rebellion or revolution by lesser magistrates, one must add to or change Calvin’s words in order to produce that result.

For those literate in political theory, one place that the ‘lesser magistrate’ argument could be found was in Vindiciae, contra Tyrannos, an anonymous sixteenth-century Huguenot essay. At least one of the Revolutionary leaders, John Adams, read it and called it influential. Vindiciae makes the King the creature of the people, makes the people the proper judge of the King, and presents the lesser magistrate option as a cure for tyranny (O’Donovan & O’Donovan1999: 714–722). Some of the patriots found the arguments of the Vindiciae useful.

The primary theoretical source for preachers and for politicians seeking to justify the Revolution was, of course, John Locke’s Second Treatise of Government. Locke similarly makes the King the creature of the people and makes the people the judge of the King, but his solution to the King’s tyranny was even more attractive and valuable for the American revolutionaries because it allowed them to deny that they were revolutionaries. Locke famously argues that whoever uses force without right violates the social contract and becomes a ‘rebel’ to the community; if the King is a tyrant using unlawful force, he becomes a rebel and the people who seek to depose him are merely defending themselves (Second Treatise of Government, par. 226–243, in Locke 1988: 398–428). This scheme allows one to engage in revolution, but not suffer the label ‘revolutionary’.

The American people were fed Lockean thought and were heavily influenced by it because the patriot ministers preached it from the pulpits (Frazer 2012: 85–106). Jonathan Mayhew was particularly important in converting to the Revolutionary cause congregations raised on Calvin’s and the Bible’s teaching concerning submission and non-resistance. Mayhew (1750) turned the teaching of Romans 13 on its head and made it into an argument for revolution in his ‘Discourse Concerning Unlimited Submission and Non-Resistance to the Higher Powers’. It was invaluable in convincing people raised in Calvinism to support rebellion. This sermon was so influential that it has been described as the ‘morning gun of the Revolution’ (Thornton 1860: 43). John Adams said that if anyone wants to understand ‘the principles and feelings which produced the Revolution, they ought to study ... Dr. Mayhew’s sermon’ (letter to William Tudor, 5 April 1818, in Adams 1856: 301); and he further remarked that it was ‘read by everybody’ (letter to H. Niles, 13 February 1818, in Adams 1856: 288). Subsequent preachers such as Samuel West followed Mayhew’s lead and Locke’s principles infiltrated the populace via the Revolutionary pulpit.

It has been established that the American leaders at the time the war began (and even after) were, by their own admission, under the authority of Great Britain and were English subjects. Consequently, they were not sovereign authorities, they had a superior, and they were not properly authorized in their charters or anywhere else in British law to declare war. Locke provided a theoretical justification dependent on a fictitious base (state of nature and social contract). If Locke’s theory is correct – and if the British government was in fact tyrannical – then the American people had the right to create a new legislature with authority to use force to defend them. The American Revolution fails the ‘just war’ test by the first standard unless one considers revolutionaries to be legitimate authorities.
My thoughts: Frazer does make an important concession that John Adams, among others, was influenced by "Vindiciae, contra Tyrannos," but still argues -- correctly as far as I can tell -- it was Locke who was much more important.

Elsewhere we have observed there is no connection we are aware of between Locke on the one hand and Samuel Rutherford and the other Calvinist "resisters" on the other. Frazer also points out the sermons with which he is familiar cited Locke and not the Calvinist resisters.

A problem exists in that era in that they didn't tend to credit their sources like academics do today. We know Thomas Jefferson cribbed parts of Locke's 2nd Treatise when writing the Declaration of Independence; but he doesn't cite him.

So one could argue, in the absence of a citation like "as Mr. Locke argues" or "in Lex Rex ...," where the ideas came from is debatable. Daniel Dreisbach noted to me, off the record, Jonathan Mayhew doesn't cite or name his influences in his sermon, so it's debatable where he got the ideas from.

Locke and the Calvinist resisters, though they had similar ideas, still had meaningful differences both conceptually and linguistically. If you hear a preacher talking about "state of nature" and "contract and rights," it's Locke, not the Calvinist resisters. The most famous Presbyterian American Revolutionary was John Witherspoon. And I know that he was influenced by Locke as he used the aforementioned Lockean terms.

Was he influenced by the Calvinist resisters? Where is the evidence? Can we find it here in Dr. Jeffrey Morrison's piece on the man? What about the other Presbyterian and Calvinist preachers in America? Did they cite the Calvinist resisters?

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Eric Metaxas in his own words: "If You Can Keep It"

From The Daily Caller:

“Our constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.” New York Times bestselling author Eric Metaxas recalls these timeless words of John Adams in his new book If You Can Keep It, in order “to urge today’s Americans to remember the ordered liberty at the heart of the American idea.”
Metaxas phoned in to the Matt Lewis & The News podcast this week to discuss the virtues and mores that America has forgotten, and the secret to self-government.

If You Can Keep It implores us to remember the value and fragility of the American system, and the moral virtue that the founders understood as necessary for successful self-government and the preservation of liberty.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Throckmorton: "Eric Metaxas Says His History of Religious Liberty Has Been Misrepresented"

Check it out here. A taste:
I’d like to know how his position has been misrepresented. Please, Mr. Metaxas enlighten us with passages from your book.  John Fea from Messiah College, Tracy McKenzie from Wheaton College and Greg Frazer from The Master’s College all represented you via passages from your book. Here are the passages we relied on.

Fea: "My Review Series on Metaxas’s 'If You Can Keep It': A Wrap-Up"

Check it out here. A taste:
Unfortunately, Metaxas does a very poor job of using American history to answer these questions. He manipulates the past to make it serve his political agenda. His entire argument is based on a weak and faulty intellectual foundation. He searches for continuity between Colonial America and the present that, for the most part, doesn’t exist. “If You Can Keep It” is an example of how not to use the past to make an argument in the present.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Fea: "Review of Eric Metaxas, 'If You Can Keep It: Part 6"

From Dr. Fea here. A taste:
It is worth noting that Metaxas has made the common mistake of taking Winthrop’s words, which were addressed to the inhabitants of one British-American colony, and applying them to the United States writ-large.  Winthrop, of course, was not applying his “city upon a hill” metaphor to the already-existing colonies of Virginia, Plymouth, and the Dutch colony of New Netherland (which became New York thirty-four years later).  Yet these colonies and several others–colonies in which the “city upon a hill” metaphor was not part of their founding ideal–would also be part of the United States of America in 1776.  Metaxas is in good company here.  John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan, both fans of the “city upon a hill” metaphor, also made this mistake. (More on Reagan below).

Monday, July 11, 2016

Fea: "Review of Eric Metaxas, 'If You Can Keep It': Part 5"

From Dr. John Fea here. A taste:
.. The reason why so many historians tread lightly when connecting the evangelicalism of the Great Awakening to the American Revolution is because there is limited concrete evidence that the founding fathers, or the people for that matter, were specifically drawing upon evangelicalism as they articulated their political resistance to England.

Metaxas is basically trying to argue for the evangelical origins of the American Revolution. The New Birth, he suggests, melted away all other forms of identity–ethnic identities, local political identities, religious identities–into a unique and exceptional “American” identity.  He offers a Whig interpretation of the American Revolution on steroids.  It fails to explain the persistence of ethnic identity in the decades following the Revolution.  It fails to explain the states-rights and local orientation of the Articles of Confederation.  It fails to explain denominationalism as it developed in the decades between the Revolution and the Civil War.  And it highly exaggerates the influence of Whitefield, evangelicalism, and the Great Awakening on colonial life.  Metaxas fails to realize that religious belief was not particularly strong at the time of the American Revolution.

Finally, let’s remember that the First Great Awakening was a transatlantic spiritual movement.  Whatever unity among evangelicals that Whitefield helped to create was not unique to the British-American colonies.  Whitefield preached the same gospel message in England, Wales, and Scotland.  The people in the British-American colonies who embraced the New Birth saw themselves as part of a movement that was transatlantic in nature.  In other words, the Great Awakening made the religious and cultural relationship between Great Britain and the American colonies stronger, not weaker.
Yeah it's fairly ridiculous to single Whitefield out and try to credit him as Metaxas does. One thing America was at the time of the Revolution and Founding was diverse in a sectarian sense. The kind of Christianity that Whitefield preached by no means spoke for the viable theologies at that time in America in general and those that drove the Revolution in particular.

It did not predominate. 

Indeed, arguably the direct enemies of Whitefield's theological movement drove the revolutionary sentiment more so than Whitefield's faith did. Revs. Jonathan Mayhew and Charles Chauncy were not orthodox evangelical types. They were proto-unitarian and universalist and quite theologically liberal for their time, which was the era of "classical liberalism."

I'm not in the business of saying who is a "real Christian." I do know that sectarian division often leads to finger pointing of the lines of "I'm a Christian and you are not."

So even conceding that Mayhew and Chauncy are "Christians" as they identified (though with questionable orthodoxy), there was as much difference, if not more so, between their faiths and Whitefield's than as between Billy Graham's and Bishop Fulton Sheen's.

I use the latter two for a particular reason. The sectarian diversity and consequent religious liberty that the American Founders worked hard to establish permitted us to live in an age where Graham and Sheen in their heyday of the 1950s could vie for the role of "America's Popular Preacher" of their age.

Yes, Whitefield was popular. Ben Franklin liked him; they were friends. But when they spoke to one another, they talked like they believed in two different theologies. How to define Franklin's personal creed is debatable. If he can be called a "Christian," his creed was much closer to Mayhew's or Chauncy's than to Whitefield's. Though, Franklin was arguably less identifiably Christian than Mayhew or Chauncy.

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Fea: "Review of Eric Metaxas, 'If You Can Keep It': Part 4"

From Dr. John Fea, here. A taste:
As my students of colonial America are well aware, the so-called “13 Colonies” were very British at the time of the American Revolution.  In fact, much of what the colonists had learned about liberty and freedom stemmed from the fact that they were British subjects. Ironically, it was the British who taught the colonists how to rebel.  The British were the most liberty-loving people in the eighteenth-century world and they were proud of it. Their monarch was held in check by the people through Parliament, making them unlike nearly all other nation-states.  From the perspective of many of the founding fathers, the American Revolution was the correct and consistent application of British liberty to the imperial crisis over taxation.

But in order for Metaxas’s argument about American exceptionalism to work (we will discuss this in a later post), he must make a clear contrast between England and their rebellious colonies. For example, on p.19-20 Metaxas claims, in reference to the United States, that “back in 1776 and in the decades after, this nation was all alone” in embodying the idea of liberty and its “uniqueness at that time can hardly be overstated.”

On p. 9 Metaxas suggests that the role of “the people” in monarchical government would be “nonexistent.”  This may have been the case for France, Russia, or some other eighteenth-century European country, but it was definitely not true for England. Though the colonists portrayed the English government as tyrannical, it is way over-the-top to compare the eighteenth-century English monarchy to a “strongman dictator” like Saddam Hussein (p.18).

Throckmorton's Daily Caller Article on Metaxas' New Book

From the good Dr. Warren Throckmorton here. A taste:
An error which permeates the book is Metaxas’ claim that the Pilgrims and Puritans advocated religious freedom for all. Just one example represents many such statements: He writes, “Since the Pilgrims came to our shores in 1620, religious freedom and religious tolerance have been the single most important principle of American life.” He claims that the principle of religious freedom, so important for most of the founders, was derived from the example of the Pilgrims and Puritans. This is false. 

Quakers and Catholics and other dissenters were banished or imprisoned in Massachusetts during that era. Some were killed for their dissent from orthodoxy. Roger Williams who Metaxas also cites was banished from Massachusetts and founded Rhode Island as an alternative bastion of religious toleration. Despite these facts, Metaxas upholds the Pilgrims and Puritans as worthy of emulation.  

What makes a book like this troubling is that Metaxas writes so well he lulls the reader into complacency. Readers who don’t know their history can’t evaluate what they don’t know. After reading the book, they feel confident but are ill equipped to defend the important principles of liberty. Metaxas has a much higher responsibility to get the facts right and should take responsibility for these errors by publicly correcting them.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Endorsement of Eric Metaxas' Work

My sites are going to be featuring much critical commentary of Eric Metaxas' new book. His work is not entirely without merit. In fact, I think his show Socrates in the City is quite good and something I enthusiastically endorse.

I've embedded below my favorite episode featuring the legendary Dick Cavett.

Fea: "Review of Eric Metaxas, 'If You Can Keep It': Part 3"

Check it out here.
On p. 72, Metaxas praises Roger Williams as a champion of religious liberty.  This is correct.  Indeed, Rhode Island, the colony Williams helped found, was a place where religious freedom flourished.  Yet later in the book, Metaxas sings the praises of the Massachusetts Bay Colony and John Winthrop’s “City on a Hill” as a model of American exceptionalism (more on that in a later post).  In the process, he completely ignores the fact that Williams was thrown out of Massachusetts Bay largely because of religious differences with the government. (So were a bunch of other people, including Anne Hutchinson).  So much for religious freedom. Metaxas can’t have it both ways.

In fact, there were only a few places in British-America where religious freedom “was paramount.”  The colonies of Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and parts of New York celebrated religious freedom.

In New England, the colonies of Massachusetts Bay, Plymouth (before its merger with Massachusetts in 1691), and Connecticut all had state churches in which Congregationalism was the “established” religion.  In some cases, these established churches were “manifestly monstrous and destructive to individual freedom.” Mary Dyer, for example, was one of four Quakers executed for their faith by the champions of John Winthrop’s “City on a Hill.”

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Throckmorton vs. Metaxas: Physician, Heal Thyself

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

The recent publication of pop theologian Eric Metaxas's "If You Can Keep It" has brought out the axes from the usual anti-"Christian Nation"suspects, including psychology teacher Dr. Warren Throckmorton of Grove City College, co-author of a self-published e-book called Getting Jefferson Right, a highly effective takedown of amateur historian David Barton's inept Jefferson Lies, which tried to make TJ some sort of orthodox Christian.


As is the custom of many self-appointed watchdogs and guardians of the truth, although Throckmorton is correct that Metaxas may leave the impression that Ben Franklin's plea for prayer at the Constitutional Convention was adopted, he isn't happy to stop there. He wants the blood of his ideological enemy.

"Clearly, Metaxas wants us to believe that God was involved in the Constitution. If you believe in providence, you believe God is involved with every government (read Augustine). However, in his book, Metaxas flirts with the idea that America has a special relationship with God, in the sense of being a chosen people like Israel was chosen. From If You Can Keep It: 
Why is it too much for us to suppose — as Franklin, Washington, Adams, and so many others did — that the finger of the Almighty might indeed have been involved?"

Why, Doctor Throckmorton? Because on the very next page, Metaxas quotes James Madison: 

"The real wonder (of the success of the Constitutional Convention) is that so many difficulties should have been surmounted, and surmounted with a unanimity almost as unprecedented as it must have been unexpected. It is impossible for any man of candor to reflect on this circumstance without partaking of the astonishment. It is impossible for the man of pious reflection not to perceive in it a finger of that Almighty hand which has been so frequently and signally extended to our relief in the critical stages of the revolution." [Federalist 37] 

In a breathtaking huff and puff of superciliousness, Throckmorton concludes, "May God help us not to create myths and instead tell the whole story,"

Indeed, sir, indeed.  Unfortunately, when the axman seeks out only the weakest trees, he invariably misses the whole forest.

Fea: "Review of Eric Metaxas, 'If You Can Keep It': Part 2

From Dr. John Fea. Check it out here. A taste:
First, the founders did believe that religious people made good citizens because they knew how to sacrifice their own interests for something greater, namely their god. But the founders did not believe that religion, or particularly Christianity, was the only source of virtue.  Metaxas is wrong when he says that “virtue and morality divorced from religion was unthinkable” to the founders (p.60).  Most of the founders, including John Witherspoon, the evangelical Presbyterian clergyman who was the only minister who signed the Declaration of Independence, believed that virtue could stem from the conscience or the “moral sense.”  Granted, many of them–whether Christian, Deist, or something in-between–believed that the conscience or moral sense was instilled in human beings by God, but they did not believe that a religious experience, the practice of a a specific faith, or the imbibing of particular religious doctrines was necessary to live a virtuous life. 


On p.66. Metaxas states that the “religion” that the founders thought was inseparable to a virtuous republic was not the religion of the “clockmaker God of Deist imagination,” but the religion of the Bible. (He quotes the Massachusetts statesman Daniel Webster on the importance of the Bible in creating citizens). Metaxas implies that “Deism” was not a religion that the founders thought could contribute to a virtuous republic because it did not adhere to the teachings of the Bible. But while Deists did not believe that the Bible was inspired, they did believe that the ethical teachings of the Bible could serve as a guide–one of several–to a virtuous life.  In other words, Deism was certainly one of the so-called “religious” beliefs that the founders believed could contribute to the greater good of the republic.
Three thoughts from me:

1. Yes it's true that America's Founders thought that non-religious people could live the life of virtue necessary to sustain a republic, but thought such people tended to be rare; thus a "religious" citizenry would be preferred to a non-religious one.

2. Yes it's true that when America's Founders invoked "religion" necessary to sustain republics, they didn't necessarily mean "Christianity" of any kind (orthodox, unorthodox, deistic). Rather they believed a generally deistic or theistic minimum of the existence of a divine Providence and future state of rewards and punishments necessary. Hence the generic monotheism of America' Declaration of Independence.

Such could be found in Judaism, Islam, the various sects of "Christianity" (orthodox or not), pagan religions like Hinduism and Greco-Romanism and even non-Christian cold Deism (an absentee landlord God could, theoretically, so perfectly and tightly wind up His natural law clock, embedded in the release of which would reward virtue and punish vice both in this world and beyond).

3. Even though virtually all religions, Christian and non, were "valid" in this sense, Christianity still had the comparative advantage of containing Jesus' explicit moral teachings which were like shortcuts ordinary people who didn't have as George Washington put it, "the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure," to a perfected morality, the only thing about "religion" which civil republics were to be concerned. (Post John Locke government would no longer be in the business of "soulcraft," or caring about which religions could save men's souls.) 

Throckmorton: "Eric Metaxas, You Know the Constitutional Convention Didn’t Have Daily Prayers, Right?"

From Dr. Warren Throckmorton. A taste:
The problem with Metaxas’ narrative is that no formal prayers were offered. He makes it seem like the Convention acted favorably on Franklin’s motion which led to “compromises on all issues struck.” Not so. ...

In short order, two motions hit the floor. Franklin moved for daily prayers with a second by Roger Sherman. Then Edmund Randolph suggested a sermon followed by prayers. Franklin seconded that motion. Neither motion was voted on and the Convention adjourned. In fact, Franklin later noted that “The Convention, except three or four persons, thought Prayers unnecessary.” I am sure many of the founders took God seriously, but this story isn’t a good one to offer as evidence.

If the Convention though prayers unnecessary, then what is Metaxas referring to?

TGC: Frazer on Metaxas' Latest

I missed this when it came out last month. From Dr. Gregg Frazer. A taste:
One of the more egregious historical errors is the claim that the “very first settlers on American shores” came “precisely” to gain religious freedom, along with the equally false claim that “in America the idea of religious freedom was paramount,” and that there was “a complete tolerance of all denominations and religions” from the beginning (34–35).

The first settlers to the American shores (that would become the United States) settled at Jamestown in 1607 and came seeking profits, not prophets. Like many on the Christian Right, Metaxas skips Jamestown altogether. He says: “Since the Pilgrims came to our shores in 1620, religious freedom and religious tolerance have been the single most important principle of American life” (70). The Pilgrims and Puritans did come seeking religious freedom, but only for themselves. They didn’t value or allow religious freedom for others.

In fact, the Rhode Island colony was founded by dissidents forced out of Massachusetts Bay because of religious nonconformity. Far from guaranteeing “complete tolerance,” all the way through the Founding era non-Christian religious groups and some Christian denominations were discriminated against in most of the colonies/states, and even persecuted in some. That persecution was, for example, what motivated James Madison and Thomas Jefferson to push for religious tolerance legislation.

Metaxas seems to make the common error of determining religious belief by denominational affiliation. He declares John Adams to have been “a committed and theologically orthodox Christian” (56). But Adams vehemently rejected the deity of Christ, the atonement, the Trinity, and eternal punishment in hell. Adams said that placing all religion “in grace, and its offspring, faith” is “anti-Christianity.” He believed the best source for “orthodox” theology was the Hindu Shastra, that philosophy was at least equivalent in authority to the Bible, and that pagans who became “virtuous” went to heaven. Adams outrageously said he wouldn’t believe in the Trinity even if God himself told him on Mt. Sinai that it was true.

Having decided that Plymouth was the first colony, Metaxas (like many on the Christian Right) proceeds as if the Pilgrims and Puritans founded America rather than simply Massachusetts (189). It’s worth mentioning that roughly 150 years passed between Plymouth and the founding of the United States. He proceeds as if John Winthrop’s “city on a hill” pronouncement was meant for—and applies to—all of America for all time and not simply to the colony the Puritans were establishing in pursuit of God’s will (234). It’s important to note that seven of the twelve other colonies were not founded for religious reasons. ... Similarly, because he approves of its guarantee of religious freedom, Metaxas claims that the charter of Rhode Island speaks for all of America (72). This is particularly ironic since the Rhode Island colony was founded by castoffs seeking the religious freedom denied them by the Puritans.

TGC: "America as a Christian Nation: A Conversation with Mark Noll and George Marsden"

Check it out from The Gospel Coalition. I've embedded Calvin College's YouTube video below:

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Fea on Metaxas' new "Christian Nation" book.

See John Fea on Eric Metaxas' venture into this territory here. A taste:
Metaxas’s concern for his country is admirable.  If You Can Keep It raises important questions.  What kind of republic did the founders want to create?  What role does history play in the preservation of the American republic today?  How should we understand patriotism in a world that includes a growing number of critics who are disillusioned with some of the directions our country has taken?

Again, these are all good questions.  Unfortunately, Metaxas does a very poor job of using American history to answer them.  This book is filled with historical errors of both fact and interpretation.  It also has serious theological problems, particularly in the way it conflates American history and the kingdom of God.  Frankly, this book is an intellectual mess.  Metaxas’s entire argument about the current state of the American republic is based on an incredibly weak and faulty historical and theological foundation.  It is an example of how not to use the past to make an argument in the present and serves as yet another example of what historian Mark Noll has described as the “scandal of the evangelical mind.”

Over the course of the next several days I will offer my thoughts on this book here at The Way of Improvement Leads Home.  Stay tuned for additional posts.

Monday, July 4, 2016

Happy Independence Day from American Creation

  Childe Hassam, The Avenue in the Rain, 1917

Song For America on Independence Day

From America's Progressive Rock Band Kansas (all the other 1970s Prog groups were either European, or Rush, Canadian).

This is a very cool tune; though the lyrics are kind of "down with America." Writer Kerry Livgren is now arch-conservative (as are some, though not all members of the band). I doubt he feels the same way now. Though a crunchycon, paleocon, yeoman farmer glorifying type could still get into the sentiment.

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Indy Eve

The Christian Roots of the Founding

As Matt Barber noted in his article at the unabashedly right-wing World News Daily:

“The general principles on which the fathers achieved independence were the general principles of Christianity,” observed John Adams, our second U.S. president. “I will avow that I then believed, and now believe, that those general principles of Christianity are as eternal and immutable as the existence and attributes of God.”

So what were these general principles, and what's so "Christian" about them?  As modern day philosopher Jürgen Habermas [who describes himself as a "functional atheist"] notes:

Egalitarian universalism, from which sprang the ideas of freedom and social solidarity, of an autonomous conduct of life and emancipation, of the individual morality of conscience, human rights and democracy, is the direct heir of the Judaic ethic of justice and the Christian ethic of love. This legacy, substantially unchanged, has been the object of continual critical appropriation and reinterpretation. To this day, there is no alternative to it. And in light of the current challenges of a postnational constellation, we continue to draw on the substance of this heritage. Everything else is just idle postmodern talk.

Unfortunately, many who seek to control our historical narrative today seem unaware of these theological and philosophical underpinnings of the American experiment, that of fundamental equality. The mentions of God in the Declaration are not to be minimized or waved away, for without
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights
the Declaration is merely the political manifesto that today's secular revisionists sometimes make it out to be.

"And can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed their only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are of the gift of God?," asked another Founder.

We seem increasingly determined to find out.

Praying to the Same God during the Revolutionary War

Every July 4th many articles appear attempting to tell us what the Declaration of Independence and American Revolution stood for. Christian nationalist sites will tend to offer explanations that support their thesis. See for instance, this one by Matt Barber which features a lively commentary section.

One of the commenters aptly noted that:
The British believed in the same god and went to the same churches the colonists did. Both sides prayed to the same god with the same prayers and rituals and expected the same god to be on their side. Whether British or colonial born, the burial rituals for the dead - civilian or military - were the same and with the same expectations of heaven for the just. The same can be said of their marriage rituals, as well.
This is true. It foreshadows President Lincoln's observation that the men who fought on opposite sides of the Civil War believed in and prayed to the same God.

The Declaration of Independence is not a Christian document. It's a generically theistic document. It mentions a God of some sort in 4 different places. It doesn't mention Jesus, the Trinity, or quote verses and chapters of scripture for its authority.

Yet the masses in both Great Britain and America at the time accurately are described as "Christian." As the previous article Tom Van Dyke discussed argued, God was invoked in America's DOI for reasons of necessity (I'm not arguing the beliefs were insincere).

Lino Graglia, in a somewhat cynical sense, described the necessity:
What [the Declaration] is, of course, is a document meant to justify revolution -- that is, illegal action. Having no human law to rely on -- being in defiance of authority -- revolutionaries necessarily come to rely on the law of God, who, happily, rarely issues a protest.
Even if we do not concede the unlawfulness of the American Revolution, it's hard to argue with the notion that when you go to war, especially against a greater power, it helps to have or think you have God on your side. It's not that there are no atheists in foxholes. It's that there aren't that many of them.

A Marxist like political movement fueled by sincerely held liberation theology, in my opinion, will be fought at the ground level with more motivation than an atheistic fueled Marxism. (Most perhaps the vast majority of communist soldiers were not atheists regardless of what their governments' official creed posited.)

Christians have fought wars on behalf of Christianity and against other religions. That's not what was going on in the American Revolution (obviously). Christians have also fought sectarian wars against one another. Like the Catholics and Protestants fighting in Ireland. That's not applicable to the American Revolution either.

Great Britain was (and still in a sense is) a more "officially" Christian nation than American in that it had (has) an established Anglican Church. But the American Revolution could hardly be seen as a war against Anglicanism in that, ironically, so many of America's revolutionary figures were themselves Anglicans. George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, Patrick Henry, John Jay and others.

[Perhaps it was a war against a particular kind of Anglicanism: doctrinaire high church Anglicanism which basically taught Toryism as a political theology. But that Church in both Great Britain and America, thanks to its latitudinarianism, contained a great deal of members who didn't believe in such. Otherwise all of those above mentioned revolutionary figures would have fought for the other side.]

Both Great Britain and America had a plurality of Christian sects. GB handled it by privileging Anglicanism but tolerating the others. America handled it at the state level.

Thus, the American Revolution was not about Christianity or religion, one way or the other.

Saturday, July 2, 2016


A recent discussion with historian John Ragosta at the
Page one of the original Constitution of the United States. (U.S. National Archives)

Good piece. Many sources note that the state constitutions included various religious tests when the U.S. Constitution was adopted, but far fewer note that the states uniformly moved in the direction of a clear separation of church and state. This was not to create an empty, godless public square, but to get government out of religion and religion out of government. See Religious Freedom: Jefferson’s Legacy, America’s Creed.
  • but far fewer note that the states uniformly moved in the direction of a clear separation of church and state. This was not to create an empty, godless public square, but to get government out of religion and religion out of government
    But what even fewer note is that the Constitution does not require such strict separation! Contrary to prevailing opinion and current judicial interventions, it was up to the individual states to decide how more or less religious they would be.
    That is the point of reminding folks that religion was left up to the states, something even Jefferson acknowledged.
    “This results not only from the provision that no law shall be made respecting the establishment, or free exercise, of religion, but from that also which reserves to the states the powers not delegated to the U. S. Certainly no power to prescribe any religious exercise, or to assume authority in religious discipline, has been delegated to the general government. It must then rest with the states, as far as it can be in any human authority.”
    –Letter to Rev. Samuel Miller, 1808
    And FTR, Jefferson’s context of “church and state” was sectarianism, that the ruling Congregationalists might mess with Danbury, Connecticut’s Baptists. A long way from the current crisis.