Wednesday, October 31, 2018

St. George Tucker, Religion & the American Founding, Part V

See parts I, II, IIIand IV. This is the fifth and final part of the series and I hope you read my analysis at the end, because I think the post ends with a bang. 

Paragraph breaks added for clarity.
It is indeed only a rational and liberal religion; a religion founded on just notions of the Deity, as a Being who regards equally every sincere worshipper, and by whom all are alike favoured as far as they act up to the light they enjoy: a religion which consists in the imitation of the moral perfections of an Almighty but Benevolent Governor of Nature, who directs for the best, all events, in confidence in the care of his providence, in resignation to his will, and in the faithful discharge of every duty of piety and morality from a regard to his authority, and the apprehension of a future righteous retribution. 
It is only this religion (the inspiring principle of every thing fair and worthy, and joyful, and which, in truth is nothing but the love of God to man, and virtue warming the heart and directing the conduct). It is only this kind of religion that can bless the world, or be an advantage to society. This is the religion that every enlightened friend to mankind will be zealous to support.  
But it is a religion that the powers of the world know little of, and which will always be best promoted by being left free and open. The following passage from the same author, deserves too much attention to be pretermitted:  

"Let no such monster be known there, [in the United States] as human authority in matters of religion. Let every honest and peaceable man, whatever is his faith, be protected there; and find an effectual defence against the attacks of bigotry and intolerance. In the United States may religion flourish! They cannot be very great and happy if it does not. But let it be a better religion than most of those which have been hitherto professed in the world. Let it be a religion which enforces moral obligations; not a religion which relaxes and evades them . . . A tolerant and catholic religion; not a rage for proselytism . . . A religion of peace and charity; not a religion that persecutes curses and damns. In a word, let it be the genuine gospel of peace, lifting above the world, warming the heart with the love of God and his creatures, and sustaining the fortitude of good men, by the assured hope of a future deliverance from death, and an infinite reward in the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Saviour."

This inestimable and imprescriptible right is guaranteed to the citizens of the United States, as such, by the constitution of the United States, which declares, that no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States; and by that amendment to the constitution of the United States, which prohibits congress from making any law respecting the establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;  

[A]nd to the citizens of Virginia by the bill of rights, which declares, "that religion, or the duty which we owe to our Creator, and the manner of discharging it, can be directed only by reason and conviction, not by force or violence, and therefore all men are equally entitled to the free exercise of religion, according to the dictates of conscience: and that it is the mutual duty of all to practice christian forbearance, love, and charity, towards each other."  

And further, by the act for establishing religious freedom, by which it is also declared, "that no man shall be compelled to frequent or support any religious worship, place, or ministry, whatsoever, nor shall be enforced, restrained, molested or burthened in his body or goods, nor shall otherwise suffer on account of his religious opinions or belief; but that all men shall be free to profess, and by argument maintain their opinions in matters of religion, and that the same shall in no wise diminish, enlarge, or affect their civil capacities."
Now for the controversial part, my analysis:

First, Tucker does not argue for what might be termed "strict deism" -- as his deity is too personal and Christianish -- but he does argue for some kind of Enlightenment theology. The term "the Enlightenment" was something that was crafted later by historians and intellectuals; but when one sees terms like "a rational and liberal religion" and "[t]his is the religion that every enlightened friend to mankind will be zealous to support," we are dealing with Enlightenment speak.

Second, if not strict deism, then what? This theology presents itself under the auspices of Christianity, and it quotes a "passage from the same author." That same author is Richard Price and the passage was quoted from Price's "Observations on the Importance of the American Revolution, and the Means of Making it a Benefit to the World [1784]."

That address (which George Washington endorsed) is, at the very least, implicitly unitarian as Price was an Arian.

After arguing for his ideal political theology which also happens to be his personal faith, Tucker then notes that this theology is validated by the US Constitution and the various laws in Virginia. Political theology is more of an informal thing (a spirit if you will) than a formal thing, like an official religious establishment.

Perhaps Tucker inappropriately reads in his personal preferences to American law. He does seem a partisan advocate of the "Virginia view," which is more secular and "separation of church and state" oriented. This wouldn't be the first time an influential figure from the past has done this. Professor V. Phillip Munoz, a leading expert on originalism and the religion clauses, noted to me (and others in a private group) he thought Joseph Story's "Commentaries on the Constitution" inappropriately read the "Massachusetts view," which is more accommodating of religion and public life, into the US Constitution.

(Yes I know, Tucker's writings predate Story's. But this is how Whigs tended to operate.)

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

St. George Tucker, Religion & the American Founding, Part IV

See parts I, IIand III

Paragraph breaks added for clarity.
The church establishment in England is one of the mildest sort. But even there what a snare has it been to integrity? And what a check to free inquiry? What dispositions favourable to despotism has it fostered? What a turn to pride and narrowness and domination has it given the clerical character?  
What struggles has it produced in its members to accommodate their opinions to the subscriptions and tests which it imposes? What a perversion of learning has it occasioned to defend obsolete creeds and absurdities? What a burthen is it on the consciences of some of its best clergy, who, in consequence of being bound down to a system they do not approve, and having no support except that which they derive from conforming to it, find themselves under the hard necessity of either prevaricating or starving? No one doubts but that the English clergy in general could with more truth declare that they do not, than that they do give their unfeigned assent to all and every thing contained in the thirty-nine articles, and the book of common prayer: and, yet, with a solemn declaration to this purpose, are they obliged to enter upon an office which above all offices requires those who exercise it to be examples of simplicity and sincerity . . . Who can help execrating the cause of such an evil? 
But what I wish most to urge is the tendency of religious establishments to impede the improvement of the world. They are boundaries prescribed by human folly to human investigation; and enclosures, which intercept the light, and confine the exertions of reason. Let any one imagine to himself what effects similar establishments would have in philosophy, navigation, metaphisics, medicine, or mathematics.  
Something like this, took place in logic and philosophy, while the ipse dixit of Aristotle, and the nonsense of the schools, maintained, an authority like that of the creeds of churchmen; and the effect was a longer continuance of the world in the ignorance and barbarity of the dark ages. But civil establishments of religion are more pernicious. So apt are mankind to misrepresent the character of the Deity, and to connect his favour with particular modes of faith, that it must be expected that a religion so settled will be what it has hitherto been . . . a gloomy and cruel superstition, bearing the name of religion. 
It has been long a subject of dispute, which is worse in it's effects on society, such a religion or speculative atheism. For my own part, I could almost give the preference to the latter . . . Atheism is so repugnant to every principle of common sense, that it is not possible it should ever gain much ground, or become very prevalent.  
On the contrary, there is a particular proneness in the human mind to superstition, and nothing is more likely to become prevalent . . . Atheism leaves us to the full influence of most of our natural feelings and social principles; and these are so strong in their operation, that, in general, they are a sufficient guard to the order of society. But superstition counteracts these principles, by holding forth men to one another as objects of divine hatred; and by putting them on harrassing, silenceing, imprissoning and burning one another, in order to do God service . . . Atheism is a sanctuary for vice, by taking away the motives to virtue arising from the will of God, and the fear of future judgment.  
But superstition is more a sanctuary for vice, by teaching men ways of pleasing God, without moral virtue; and by leading them even to compound for wickedness, by ritual services, by bodily penances and mortifications; by adoring shrines, going pilgrimages, saying many prayers, receiving absolution from the priests, exterminating heretics, &c. . . . Atheism destroys the sacredness and obligation of an oath. But is there not also a religion (so called) which does this, by teaching, that there is power which can dispense with the obligation of oaths; that pious frauds are right, and that faith is not to be kept with heretics.
We see here that Tucker has some bitter words of criticism for certain kinds of established Christianity. Roman Catholicism is obviously a target -- probably the biggest offender -- of this "superstitious" Christianity that Tucker apparently sees as worse than atheism.

However, it's an all to common error of the "Christian nationalist" types to think it's only Roman Catholicism. No it's other forms of orthodox Protestant Christianity too. Here Tucker names Anglicanism. Tucker also notes it's not just congregants, but ministers as well in the Anglican church who didn't necessarily believe in official doctrine and dogma.

That's why the rules of evidence by which I operate refuse to concede that merely being formally affiliated (and in some cases the affiliation is informal!) with a particular church means we get to impute said church's doctrines into the particular individual.

This is, for instance, the only way to make George Washington into an "orthodox Christian," by imputing specific Anglican/Episcopalian teachings into his beliefs. Even though GW systematically avoided communion in said church. (Something forbidden by "official" Anglican/Episcopalian doctrine and dogma).

Monday, October 29, 2018

St. George Tucker, Religion & the American Founding, Part III

See parts I and II

Paragraph breaks added for clarity.
In liberty of conscience says the elegant Dr. Price, I include much more than toleration. Jesus Christ has established a perfect equality among his followers. His command is, that they shall assume no jurisdiction over one another, and acknowledge no master besides himself. It is, therefore, presumption in any of them to claim a right to any superiority or pre-eminence over their bretheren. Such a claim is implied, whenever any of them pretend to tolerate the rest.  
Not only all christians, but all men of all religions, ought to be considered by a state as equally entitled to it's protection, as far as they demean themselves honestly and peaceably. Toleration can take place only where there is a civil establishment of a particular mode of religion; that is, where a predominant sect enjoys exclusive advantages, and makes the encouragement of it's own mode of faith and worship a part of the constitution of the state; but at the same time thinks fit to suffer the exercise of other modes of faith and worship.  
Thanks be to God, the new American states are at present strangers to such establishments. In this respect, as well as many others, they have shewn in framing their constitutions, a degree of wisdom and liberality which is above all praise. 
Civil establishments of formularies of faith and worship, are inconsistent with the rights of private judgement. They engender strife . . . they turn religion into a trade . . . they shore up error . . . they produce hypocrisy and prevarication . . . they lay an undue bias on the human mind in its inquiries, and obstruct the progress of truth . . . genuine religion is a concern that lies entirely between God and our own souls.  
It is incapable of receiving any aid from human laws. It is contaminated as soon as worldly motives and sanctions mix their influence with it. Statesmen should countenance it only by exhibiting, in their own example, a conscientious regard to it in those forms which are most agreeable to their own judgments, and by encouraging their fellow citizens in doing the same. They cannot, as public men, give it any other assistance. All, besides, that has been called a public leading in religion, has done it an essential injury, and produced some of the worst consequences.
The "elegant Dr. Price" is the legendary Arian philosopher Richard Price.

Sunday, October 28, 2018

St. George Tucker, Religion & the American Founding, Part II

Paragraph breaks added for clarity:
The right of personal opinion is one of those absolute rights which man hath received from the immediate gift of his Creator, but which the policy of all governments, from the first institution of society to the foundation of the American republics, hath endeavoured to restrain, in some mode or other.  
The mind being created free by the author of our nature, in vain have the arts of man endeavoured to shackle it: it may indeed be imprisoned a while by ignorance, or restrained from a due exertion of it's powers by tyranny and oppression; but let the rays of science, or the dawn of freedom, penetrate the dungeon, its faculties are instantly rarified and burst their prison. 
This right of personal opinion, comprehends first, liberty of conscience in all matters relative to religion; and, secondly, liberty of speech and of discussion in all speculative matters, whether religious, philosophical, or political. 
1. Liberty of conscience in matters of religion consists in the absolute and unrestrained exercise of our religious opinions, and duties, in that mode which our own reason and conviction dictate, without the control or intervention of any human power or authority whatsoever.  
This liberty though made a part of our constitution, and interwoven in the nature of man by his Creator; so far as the arts of fraud and terrors of violence have been capable of abridging it, hath been the subject of coercion by human laws in all ages and in all countries as far as the annals of mankind extend.  
The infallibility of the rulers of nations, in matters of religion, hath been a doctrine practically enforced from the earliest periods of history to the present moment among jews, pagans, mahometans, and christians, alike. The altars of Moloch and of Jehovah have been equally stained with the blood of victims, whose conscience did not receive conviction from the polluted doctrines of blood thirsty priests and tyrants. Even in countries where the crucifix, the rack, and the flames have ceased to be the engines of proselitism, civil incapacities have been invariably attached to a dissent from the national religion: the ceasing to persecute by more violent means, has in such nations obtained the name of toleration1
I find interesting the equivalence that Tucker draws among the different religious traditions, finding them all -- from Moloch to Jehovah -- culpable in the bloodstained game of religious persecution.

Saturday, October 27, 2018

St. George Tucker, Religion & the American Founding, Part I

One of the things we, along with many scholars, have done is play up "the key American founders" (the ones on American currency, etc.) perhaps to the exclusion of the 2nd and 3rd tier ones who comprised a statistical majority of their numbers.

This post will feature the writings of St. George Tucker of Virginia, not a key American founder. But a notable statesmen from that era, nonetheless. Perhaps this post will not satisfy those who look for a difference of opinion between the key founders on the one hand, and the lesser founders on the other. And that's because Tucker's views seem to exist somewhere right between Thomas Jefferson's and James Madison's (two key founders).

What I find interesting about this document labeled Blackstone's Commentaries, 1:App. 296--97, 2: App. 3--11 (named such, even though this particular text really has nothing to do with Blackstone's commentaries) is that it alludes to four major pieces of work from that era: 1. The Virginia state bill of rights, 2. the Memorial and Remonstrance; 3. the VA Statute on Religious Freedom, and 4. the US Constitution.

I'm going to publish this work in pieces. Below is the first excerpt, with some paragraph breaks added for clarity:
On the first of these subjects, our state bill of rights contains, what, if prejudice were not incapable of perceiving truth, might be deemed an axiom, concerning the human mind. That "religion, or the duty we owe to our Creator, and the manner of discharging it, can be dictated only by reason and conviction, not by force or violence." In vain, therefore, may the civil magistrate interpose the authority of human laws, to prescribe that belief, or produce that conviction, which human reason rejects: in vain may the secular arm be extended, the rack stretched, and the flames kindled, to realize the tortures denounced against unbelievers by all the various sects of the various denominations of fanatics and enthusiasts throughout the globe. 
The martyr at the stake, glories in his tortures, and proves that human laws may punish, but cannot convince. The pretext of religion, and the pretences of sanctity and humility, have been employed throughout the world, as the most direct means of gaining influence and power. Hence the numberless martyrdoms and massacres which have drenched the whole earth with blood, from the first moment that civil and religious institutions were blended together. 
To separate them by mounds which can never be overleaped, is the only means by which our duty to God, the peace of mankind, and the genuine fruits of charity and fraternal love, can be preserved or properly discharged. This prohibition, therefore, may be regarded as the most powerful cement of the federal government, or rather, the violation of it will prove the most powerful engine of separation. 
Those who prize the union of the states will never think of touching this article with unhallowed hands. The ministry of the unsanctified sons of Aaron scarcely produced a flame more sudden, more violent, or more destructive, than such an attempt would inevitably excite. . . . I forbear to say more, in this place, upon this subject, having treated of it somewhat at large in a succeeding note.
The language pretty strikingly speaks in terms of "separation" of church and state. I'm surprised that the secularists who like to cherry pick Jefferson and Madison haven't quoted from this more. The fact that the date of this document is from 1803 also fits Philip Hamburger's thesis that the Democratic-Republicans didn't speak in terms of "separation of church and state" until the early 19th Century.

That contention is one of the many analytical points where I think Hamburger gets it wrong. Whatever exact words they used, what Jefferson and Madison argued for in Virginia in the 1780s I think aptly could be termed "separation of church and state," even if they didn't use those exact words, but used others like "non-cognizance."

Rather, Tucker's view well represents what some scholars have termed the "Virginia view" (not the only one the American founders held on religious establishment issues). And the "Virginia" view, even in the 1780s, is one of "separation."

Friday, October 26, 2018

Old Article in First Things

The Internet is a strange place. In case you missed it, there has been a lot of growth in the online world over the past 20 years or so. There has also been a lot of opportunity with that growth. Much of it missed. If I only had bought Amazon when it first went public.

When I started blogging -- and I don't think I've ever done anything that big in the blogsphere (or really tried) -- it surprised me how some folks ended up taking note of me and throwing some work my way, that I never really sought out.

In the 13 plus years that I've been working full time at my job, I've always worked "overloads" which is the way my job describes overtime. I really don't have the time or interest to seek out publication in peer reviewed places. But I would argue, there is nothing about that process that makes the output superior to what I do other than perhaps having an editor who strengthens my writing.

I have a handful of very close readers who would call out any unprofessional errors within the week if not the day.

First Things was one of those places that asked me to write a "briefly noted" review, without my solicitation. You can now read it as it appears in the magazine.

The review was of James H. Hutson's "The Founders on Religion, A Book of Quotations."

Princeton University Press ended up putting my name on the back of the book.

No really.

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

The Profit Motive Keeps Our Union Together -- So Say Alexander Hamilton and Jay Cost

If you think our society's nosedive in civility and the increase in political and identitarian tribalism will lead to civil war... Take heart. It won't happen. That's the message of Jay Cost, writing for National Review. His prognosis is based on none other than Alexander Hamilton, who of course graces our $10 bill and was the subject of a spectacularly popular play in recent years.

In Federalist No. 12, Hamilton wrote that "[t]he prosperity of commerce" is, and will increasingly become, "the primary object of our political cares." He explained that the "interests" of the working citizenry are "intimately blended and interwoven." And this reality, claims Hamilton via and according to Cost, will insure American society today endures the turbulent, polarized affairs in which we find ourselves. 

To read Cost's full article, I direct you to National Review's site below...

It should be noted that the Founders also had much to say about religion and morality being important to preserving the glue which binds us together. See Washington's Farewell Address (which incidentally Hamilton had a hand in writing). But even if Cost is correct in his emphasis on economics, the glue only works so long as Americans embrace the system given to us by our Founders, namely free market economics. If the nation turns away from capitalism and more toward socialism, we may find Cost's hopeful optimism misplaced. 

Monday, October 1, 2018

Fea: The Author’s Corner with Gregg Frazer

It looks like our friend Dr. Gregg Frazer has a new book out entitled God against the Revolution: The Loyalist Clergy’s Case against the American Revolution (University Press of Kansas, 2018). John Fea has the details here. A taste:
JF: What led you to write God Against the Revolution?  
GF: My primary research interest is religion and the American Founding. I became re-acquainted with the sermons of Loyalist minister Jonathan Boucher while doing research on American Revolution-era sermons for my first book, The Religious Beliefs of America’s Founders. I have always been impressed with Boucher’s biblical argument and with his rational challenges to John Locke’s theories. Having analyzed the basic arguments and assumptions of the Patriot preachers in my first book, I became intrigued with the idea of examining the arguments of the Loyalist clergymen and, as they were the primary spokesmen of Loyalism, the political thought of the Loyalists in general. Irrespective of the title, the book covers all of the Loyalist arguments.
I can't wait to read it and hopefully we will have much more discussion about this book.