Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Merry Christmas from the Moon

Fifty years ago today, remembering the important things as these men did, seems longer ago and even farther away with each passing year and to some, even silly. But Merry Christmas to all those here gathered anyway—May we smile today, give thanks, and be inspired in the coming year to perpetuate their silliness...

It was on Christmas Eve 1968 that the astronauts of Apollo 8, Frank Borman, Jim Lovell, and Bill Anders, became the first of mankind to see an earthrise from the orbit of the moon, and looking back on us, they spoke these words:

Anders: "We are now approaching lunar sunrise. And, for all the people back on earth, the crew of Apollo 8 have a message that we would like to send to you...

"In the beginning, God created the Heaven and the Earth. And the Earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. And God said, Let there be light; and there was light. And God saw the light, that it was good; and God divided the light from the darkness."

Lovell: "And God called the light Day, and the darkness He called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day. And God said, Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters. And God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament; and it was so. And God called the firmament Heaven. And the evening and the morning were the second day."

Borman: "And God said, Let the waters under the Heaven be gathered together unto one place, and let the dry land appear; and it was so. And God called the dry land Earth; and the gathering together of the waters He called Seas: and God saw that it was good."

And from the crew of Apollo 8, we close with good night, good luck, a Merry Christmas, and God bless all of you, all of you on the good earth."

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

Who Were the American Unitarians?

Much has been written here about the "unitarians" of the Founding era. John Adams averred he was one, as did Abagail Adams. But were they Christians?

Well, they certainly considered themselves Christians, and protested quite vociferously when accused of not being Christians, usually by competing "orthodox" clergy.

It all came to a head around 1815, when William Ellery Channing---generally regarded then (as now) as exemplary of that era's unitarianism---answered some prevailing charges against unitarianism in

A Letter to the Rev. Samuel C. Thacher on the Aspersions Contained in a Late Number of the Panoplist, on the Ministers of Boston and the Vicinity


Now, perhaps the defining feature of unitarianism was that it didn't believe in the Trinity---as John Adams noted, 1 + 1 + 1 would equal Three, not One. Hence the term "unitarian."

There were other orthodox doctrines rejected, too, namely, as Channing wrote:

"I fear, that the Author of the Lord's prayer will, according to this rule, be driven as a heretick from the very church which he has purchased with his own blood. In that well known prayer I can discover no reference to the "inspiration of the holy scriptures, to the supreme divinity of the Son and Holy Ghost, to the atonement and intercession of Jesus Christ, to the native and total depravity of the unregenerate, and to the reality and necessity of special divine grace to renew and sanctify the souls of men;" and these, let it be remembered, are _five_ out of the _six_ articles which are given by the Reviewer as fundamental articles of a christian's faith."

So that's what they didn't believe. So what did they believe? Channing wrote:

"The word UNITARIANISM, as denoting this opposition to Trinitarianism, undoubtedly expresses the character of a considerable part of the ministers of this town and its vicinity, and the commonwealth...We both agreed in our late conference, that a majority of our brethren believe, that Jesus Christ is more than man, that he existed before the world, that he literally came from heaven to save our race, that he sustains other offices than those of a teacher and witness to the truth, and that he still acts for our benefit, and is our intercessor with the Father. This we agreed to be the prevalent sentiment of our brethren." 

Is that Christian enough? Certainly not to the orthodox clergy and various laymen of the time who stood in opposition to them.

Probably not Christian enough for most Christian theologians of any stripe today, certainly not evangelical or orthodox.

But perhaps Christian enough for the sociologist or the historian. "Unitarian Christian" is my own preference, both descriptively and definitively, at least for our best understanding in this day and age. [Channing and others used "'rational' Christians," but in our day, I'm not sure that's helpful or descriptive enough, although it's certainly a proper term. Channing himself published a popular tract in 1819 called Unitarian Christianity.]

Do read Channing's letter for yourself, as there's more than can be sketched or excerpted here. It offers an excellent window into what is called the Unitarian Controversy today, and clearly outlines the issues and the players, a clarity we need to consider the unitarians properly in the scheme of things.

The primary qualitative sine qua non for an understanding of unitarianism as Christianity is a belief that the Bible is literally the Word of God--even if corrupted over the centuries by churches, churchmen and assorted prophets and scholars, even if well-intentioned. The following excerpt from Channing contains too many ellipses [by a Dr. Jan Garrett] to be taken as a primary source, but it conveys enough of the unitarian view of scripture to serve as a starting point.

1 Thes. v. 21: "Prove all things; hold fast that which is good."

I shall [try to explain] the [methods we use] in interpreting the Scriptures . . . and . . . some of the [teachings] that [they] . . . seem to us clearly to express.
I. We regard the Scriptures as the records of God's . . . revelations to mankind, . . . Whatever [ideas] seem to us to be clearly taught in the Scriptures, we receive without reserve . . . We do not, however, attach equal importance to all the books in this collection.
Our religion . . . lies chiefly in the New Testament. . . . whatever [Jesus . . . ] taught, either during his personal ministry, or by his . . . Apostles, we regard as of divine authority . . . This authority, which we give to the Scriptures, is a reason . . . for studying them with peculiar care, and for inquiring . . . into the principles of interpretation . . . by which their . . . meaning may be [determined] . . .
Our [primary guideline] in interpreting Scripture is this, that the Bible is a book written for [human beings], in [human] language . . . and that its meaning is to be sought in the same [way] as that of other books. . . . God, when he speaks to the human race, [abides by] the established rules of speaking and writing. . . . Now all books, and all conversation, require in the reader or hearer the constant exercise of reason; . . . their . . . [meaning] is only to be obtained by continual comparison and inference. Human language, . . . admits various interpretations; and every word and every sentence must be modified and explained according to the subject which is discussed, according to the purposes, feelings, circumstances, and principles of the writer, and according to the [features] of the language . . . he uses. These are acknowledged principles in the interpretation of human writings . . .

One may protest this contains too much theological leeway to be considered "Christian," but as one unitarian argued in the 19th century, it certainly qualifies as Protestant!

Monday, December 17, 2018

Waligore on Unitarians

Dr. Joseph Waligore is working on a new book that will tackle, among other things, some of the unitarians who influenced the American founding and who otherwise were influential in Great Britain during the times that interest the American Creation blog.

In the comments section he gave us a little taste:
The best known of the liberal Dissenters were the Unitarians, Christians who rejected the doctrine of the Trinity, and often thought Jesus was merely human. Many scholars of American religious history, such as Gregg L. Frazer and Paul Conklin, assert that the religious beliefs of John Adams and Thomas Jefferson mean they were Unitarians. Furthermore these scholars assert these presidents’ mentor was Joseph Priestley, the most important Unitarian theologian. Chapter seven explains in detail how Jefferson and Adams shared the English deists’ emphasis on God’s goodness and total fairness. The scholars who think Priestley was Jefferson and Adams’ mentor also think Priestley shared their emphasis on God’s total goodness. Frazer declares that Priestley stressed God “was, fundamentally, benevolent, . . . [he] rejected biblical accounts of God’s wrath and vengeance.” What Frazer and other scholars do not understand is how much Priestley was situated in the tradition of the liberal Dissenters, and shared their beliefs about the Bible, particularly their belief in the accuracy of the Old Testament. The scholars of American religious history share religion scholar Bruce K. Waltke’s mistaken idea of Priestley’s view of biblical authority. Waltke, in his book on Old Testament theology, claimed Priestley, like French skeptics such as Diderot and Voltaire, had a liberal outlook on the authority of the Bible. According to Waltke, liberals put reason above revelation and so detract from the authority of the Bible by making reason the foundation of theological reflection. For Waltke, this means liberals approach the Bible with the same skepticism they apply to other ancient Near Eastern myths. Waltke asserts liberals consider the Bible stories as the product of human mythopoetic imagination, and so he thought liberals gave no more credence to the Bible’s account of God’s intervention in human affairs than they do to other Near Eastern myths. 
Waltke is claiming that anyone who believes in reason must treat the Bible as a myth. But Priestley shared with other liberal Dissenters a belief that reason supported the authority of the Old Testament. Priestley’s views will be discussed in detail in chapter seven when his views are compared to those of John Adams and Thomas Jefferson’s. Priestley’s beliefs on biblical authority were very similar to those of John Taylor, another prominent liberal Dissenter. Taylor was a minister and scholar who eventually taught at Warrington Academy, the most eminent Dissenter college. In fact, when Taylor died in 1761, Priestley replaced him as professor at the academy.

Taylor believed the Bible was not the fully inspired Word of God. However, he thought the historical parts of the Bible were written by men fully acquainted with the facts; meaning that he accepted the Old Testament accounts as true historical facts of what actually happened before Jesus was born. Taylor believed in the Garden of Eden, Noah’s Flood, and the destruction of the Tower of Babel. To explain how Moses could have a reliable account of far earlier events without being inspired by God, Taylor pointed to the biblical claim that Hebrew patriarchs lived for many hundreds of years. So while there were 1,656 years from the creation to Noah’s Flood, Taylor believed Methuselah lived with Adam for 243 years and received from him an accurate account of creation and the Fall. Methuselah then passed that knowledge on to Noah who also lived many hundreds of years. Eventually other long-lived patriarchs passed the knowledge to each other until it was given to Moses. Taylor reasoned that three people, Methuselah, Shem, and Jacob “were sufficient to hand down the Knowledge and Worship of the true God, from Adam to the time when the Children of Israel went down into Egypt, that is, through the Space of 2238 Years.” Taylor reasoned God let these patriarchs live so long precisely because there was no other way to accurately pass down this knowledge before the invention of writing. 
With this belief about the reliability of the Old Testament, Taylor believed a race of impious giants once lived on Earth, as well as the whole world was once covered by Noah’s Flood. More pertinently, he also believed God ordered the total extermination of Israel’s neighbors, the Canaanites, cursed whole peoples, and chastised whole nations with plagues, fires, and locusts. The other liberal Dissenters, including the Unitarians, also believed the Old Testament God performed these actions.

Sunday, December 16, 2018

Lester Kinsolving, RIP

Here at American Creation we spend a lot of time examining religious boxes. How do they define and how ought a particular historical figure be placed? Into what box do they fit?

Someone like Lester Kinsolving demonstrates that people often don't fit so neatly into these boxes. Kinsolving, RIP was, politically, a right wing crack pot (sorry Brian, if you get to take a shot at AOC, I get to take a shot at Kinsolving).

He was also an Episcopalian priest and a devoted theological universalist in the tradition of Benjamin Rush, John Murray and Elhanan Winchester.

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Is it Bad that Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Can’t Run for President?

Congresswoman-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) is the rising star of the Democratic Party and the most visible and compelling figure of the American socialist movement. (Hard to believe that it’s now mainstream to put the words “socialism” and “American” in the same sentence). And she’s not yet reached the age of 35. Therefore, according to the Constitution of the United States, she cannot run for President of the United States. Is that a bad thing?

According to Vox, it is. Writing for Vox, Matthew Yglesias says it’s “completely ridiculous” that AOC can’t run for the highest office of the land. See his article at the link below...

The Founders had their reasons for limiting the office of the land to those 35 or older. Not that this matters to many Americans today, particularly those on the left. Yglesias certainly doesn’t care. He dismisses the Founders’ rationale as arbitrary and considers the age requirement as but one part of the “weird lacuna that was handed down to us from the 18th century.” 

There was a time (not that long ago) when America’s Founders were generally respected by both major political parties in the United States and by a majority of Americans whether they identified as conservative or liberal. That time is rapidly passing away. And it’s a shame. 

Saner minds of course prevail at National Review (as compared with Vox). That publication, owing to its conservative leanings, still respects the Founders. And thus Charles C.W. Cooke points out that, before making a change to our Constitution, we should consider bigger issues than the inconvenience such restrictions represent to someone like AOC. You can read Cooke’s brief response to Vox at the link below...

Thankfully, it’s unlikely Vox’s call for constitutional change will result in any short-term change. And that’s a good thing. It’s also, in my mind, a good thing that a socialist airhead like AOC can’t run for President right now, but I digress. 

The biggest concern is that the plain reading of the Constitution and the wisdom of the Founders used to carry more weight than is the case today. As our nation values the Founders less, our nation itself diminishes in value. I hope we recognize that before it’s too late. 

Saturday, December 8, 2018

Frazer on Locke v. Reformed Resisters as a Source

Gregg Frazer who has a new book out has been graciously participating in the comments at American Creation. I found this comment the most illuminating on a dispute that we have been engaged in for probably over a decade now.
"The facts" are that beginning with Elisha Williams in 1744, American preachers cited "the celebrated Lock," and Locke as "the noble Assertor of the Liberties of humane Nature." Peter Whitney cited "the great Mr. Locke" for his ideas; Samuel West (in his sermon that is second to that of Mayhew in terms of influence) identified "Mr. Locke" as the source of his ideas. Samuel Cooper said that the "principles and arguments" he was using were "grounded" in "the immortal writings" of Locke. John Tucker had an extensive quote from "Lock on civil Government" in the crucial part of his best-known sermon. 
[C]an [anyone] identify a single Patriot sermon that cites Calvin or Beza or "justifications of political resistance found within Reformed Protestantism." [A]s always, I'm open to such evidence. In Donald Lutz's acclaimed study of the influences on American Revolutionary thought, there is not a single Reformer in the list, but Locke is 3rd in terms of citations. Dreisbach's chapter on the Revolutionary sermons spends 18 pages on the 16th & 17th century Reformed guys and then 6 pages on actual American preachers -- almost exclusively Mayhew. He includes no citations by Patriot preachers of any of the Reformers he had introduced as the fundamental influences. Dreisbach is, of course, right that Mayhew does not cite Locke AND that he doesn't cite the Reformed guys either.  
So, whose arguments/principles are reflected in Mayhew's sermon? 
Mayhew's entire argument fits and flows perfectly from Lockean presuppositions and principles, but it includes elements completely foreign to the Reformers. Most notable of these is emphasis on a state of nature -- an idea anathema to Reformers who believed in the biblical record of the beginning of man and society as recorded in Genesis. 
Mayhew -- and the other Patriot preachers -- did not speak of "covenants" as did Knox et al, but rather of "contracts." They did not speak of "lesser magistrates" or of "interposition" or any of Beza's creative notions. Their arguments went right down the line of Lockean thought -- which is why Tucker seamlessly included extensive quotes from Locke in the middle of his sermon. Additionally, for his part, Calvin explicitly rejected any notion of rebellion -- as did Luther. So two of the most important and prominent voices of the Reformation were not even available to those who might have wanted to make Reformed arguments.  
Again, as I note in my first book ..., this is a primary reason that Mayhew's sermon was so influential. Those raised in Reformed churches and taught by Calvin to be subject to authority -- even tyrannical authority -- found in Mayhew a plausible excuse to rebel against an authority they found inconvenient or disagreeable. Mayhew's sermon was groundbreaking because it was new to those people -- not because it rehashed what they had already been taught. 
I think it's true that reformed resistance under law may well have softened up the congregants in America, making them more amenable to the arguments of Locke. But when we examine the sermons, it's Locke and not Rutherford et al. And, in a nuanced sense, Locke teaches something different from Beza et al. The difference between resistance under law and revolution.

Parts of the Declaration of Independence speak in the language of resistance under law; these are the parts where the Patriots made the claim that what Great Britain was doing violated British law. Other parts of the Declaration are revolutionary; those are the Lockean parts.

This is somewhat complicated. Locke was cited in sermons. These sermons understandably also cited the Bible. In Lutz's above mentioned study, Locke was cited during the period of time when the Bible was constantly being cited (the revolutionary period, the DOI). The later period when the Constitution was being framed and ratified, Lutz notes the biblical references dry up and it was more Enlightenment and other sources.

Yet I've also seen it argued (I think from Robert Kraynak) that references to Locke also start to dry up during the period of the Constitution's framing and ratifying. That those Enlightenment sources are non-Lockean. More Montesquieu than Locke.