Sunday, July 28, 2019

Sekulow, et al. on Story's Unitarian Political Theology

Jay Alan Sekulow is currently one of the most important attorneys in nation (he's one of POTUS's key personal attorneys). In 2005, along with Jeremy Tedesco he wrote a law review article which essentially argues Joseph Story's Unitarian political theology drove the decision of Vidal v. Girard's Executors. A taste:
Joseph Story himself defined and defended his Unitarian beliefs in an 1824 letter to Attorney William Williams. In this letter, Story discussed the Unitarian beliefs that he developed:
The Unitarians are universally steadfast, sincere, and earnest Christians. They all believe in the divine mission of Christ, the credibility and authenticity of the Bible, the miracles wrought by our Saviour and his apostles, and the efficacy of his precepts to lead men to salvation. They consider the Scriptures the true rule of faith, and the sure foundation of immortality.
In his letter to Williams, Justice Story also clearly and unequivocally pointed to the primary theological difference between Unitarians and other Christian denominations: "In truth, they principally differ from other Christians in disbelieving the Trinity, for they think Christ was not God, but in Scripture language 'the Son of God.""
William Story later described his father's conversion at Harvard as being inspired, in part, by the beauty of the Cambridge countryside as opposed to the "sterile rocks and moaning sea of Marblehead."' Walking through the "flower-strewn fields, his heart assumed its natural hue of cheerfulness, and he no longer believed in the total depravity of man." Seeing the goodness of God displayed in creation, Story became convinced of divine beneficence. "And from being a Calvinist, he became a Unitarian."

Story's new religion seemingly recognized that no teaching could be heretical. He rejected any notion of bigotry or even proselytism. Instead, he
gladly allowed every one freedom of belief, and claimed only that it should be a genuine conviction and not a mere theologic opinion, considering the true faith of every man to be the necessary exponent of his nature, and honoring a religious life more than a formal creed. He admitted within the pale of salvation Mahommedan and Christian, Catholic and Infidel. He believed that whatever is sincere and honest is recognized of God; - that as the views of any sect are but human opinion, susceptible of error on every side, it behooves all men to be on their guard against arrogance of belief; and that in the sight of God it is not the truth or falsity of our views, but the spirit in which we believe, which alone is of vital consequence.
Keep the above in mind when we hear, as was referenced in the article, that Story believed Christianity was part of the common law. The above is what Christianity meant to Story. Sekulow et al. then demonstrates how Story's personal theology drove his legal opinions.

Saturday, July 20, 2019

Two Founders Fight Over the Location of Their Church

When Pohick Church needed a new building, a contest developed between two prominent Virginians (and two men later to be regarded as Founders of the United States): George Mason and George Washington. Details of their contest (and its outcome: Washington won) are recorded in vestry papers recently transferred to Mount Vernon.

Much has been debated on this blog about whether George Washington was a bona fide Christian, and I’m sure that debate will continue. But one thing is certain: Washington certainly cared about the location of Pohick Church.

Here is The Washington Post article on the transfer....

Hamburger on Liberalism as Armed Doctrine

Check out the podcast from the Law & Liberty siteHere is Hamburger's book.

My brief thoughts:

I don't always agree with Professor Hamburger, but he's always worth reading.

One of the things that strikes me while listening to the podcast is what Hamburger refers to as "theological liberalism" has some meaningful connection with the concept of "primitive Christianity." And that term was invoked quite a bit during America's founding era.

A lot of academics and ordinary folks are under the misconception that 18th Cen. "theological liberalism" must mean something like strict deism. It's actually a much broader concept. The Unitarianism for instance of William Channing (who was an Arian) who Hamburger mentions in the podcast is a more typical theology.

Hamburger then notes much of theological liberalism defined itself in opposition to ecclesiastical authority, with the Roman Catholic Church being arguably the greatest "offender" against which to guard.

However, ecclesiastical, clerical and creedal orthodox Protestantism is also viewed with suspicion. High Church Anglicanism, which is Tory, is probably the 2nd biggest religious threat to the theological liberalism of the American founding.

But other kinds of Protestantism too would qualify. The idea of "primitive Christianity" is that Christianity was pure before an organized, ecclesiastical hierarchy took over and corrupted the faith sometime early on (like in the 4th Century).

Yes, Catholicism would be the main target. However it's not ONLY Catholicism; it's also many different kinds of Protestantism as well. Arguably it's all of orthodox creedal Protestantism that offends as well. This is why the theological liberals tended to like the Quakers, even if the liberals were Whigs and disagreed with the Quakers' refusal to take up arms.

Thursday, July 4, 2019

Seaton on God in the Declaration

Law and Liberty has another great one just in time for this July 4 season. It even mentions our friend Dr. Gregg Frazer's work. A taste:
To begin with the obvious: God is present in the Declaration. He is mentioned or referred to four times. He is presented as Creator, Legislator, Provident, and Judge. Men are created equal, Nature is lawful, and both are connected with God and his activity—precisely the activities of creating and legislating. These two features occur at the beginning of the document. The other two show up near the end. As scholarship has shown, the last two references were added to Jefferson’s draft by the Continental Congress. They have the effect of “beefing up” the portrait of the divine. Providence is protective and can be relied upon, the Supreme Judge scrutinizes human activity “the world” over and penetrates to the “intentions” of agents.[2] 
Gregg Frazer has called this theological package “theistic rationalism.” Theistic rationalism is halfway between the clockwork god of deism and the Christian orthodoxy of the day; its lodestar is Reason, not Scripture, creed, or tradition. It is a rationalistic religious faith tailored to classical liberal politics, one held by a number of founders, including. 
There is a good deal in the document to support this characterization. The Declaration’s deity is very much a political animal. His concern, his norms, bear upon men in political community, not in ecclesial communion. Nor is it just any sort of political community he favors, but one that explicitly acknowledges the Creator’s equal endowment of inalienable rights and is properly established to protect them. 
A political animal, the Declaration’s God also favors human liberty. He has created his human creature free and independent, for political and civil freedom. This helps account for the paradox that the signers of the Declaration expressly rely on Providence and the Declaration is a call to strenuous human action, revolutionary action in fact. The reconciliation is found in the fact that revolution is for freedom and independence, the known will of the Creator. God-given and God-willed, freedom must be humanly exercised, defended, and established. In this sense, this is an early form of liberation theology, a sober form, to be sure.

4 Things Every American Should Know About The Fourth of July

It's that time of year again... the Fourth of July. A time for fireworks and celebration. A time we celebrate our independence. For those who wish to take a moment to reflect on what this day is all about, allow me to offer 4 things I wish every American knew about our independence and founding...

1) Delegations representing twelve of the thirteen colonies (New York abstained) actually declared independence on July 2, 1776. 

That was when they approved Virginia delegate Richard Henry Lee's motion:

Resolved, That these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent States, that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain is, and ought to be, totally dissolved.

That it is expedient forthwith to take the most effectual measures for forming foreign Alliances.

That a plan of confederation be prepared and transmitted to the respective Colonies for their consideration and approbation.

Lee's motion had been presented on June 7, 1776 and ultimately approved July 2. Two days later, the Congress approved the Declaration of Independence, which formally announced their separation to the world. 

2) The Founding Fathers were not motivated by self interests any more than anyone else.

A smear against the Founders has taken root in American academia and in popular culture since the early 20th century (thanks to Charles Beard and later fanned by the likes of Howard Zinn) that the Founders pushed for war against Britain and a separation only for their own personal interests. 

The reality is that every human being is, at least to some extent, motivated by self interest. The Founders, very much aware of this, fashioned a system of government that comprised "checks and balances" so that no one individual or no narrow faction would dominate the chair of government and thus exploit the people for their own nefarious ends. 

That said, while the Founders were human beings, the vast majority of them truly believed in the American cause. And many of them made great sacrifices to further that cause. We should be grateful to them today.

3) The original 13-star American flag (aka "Betsy Ross" flag) does not represent racism and oppression. 

Thanks to postmodernism, it's become fashionable and common for readers and observers to interpret texts and symbols through their personal paradigms and assign their own meanings accordingly. The only honest way, however, to ascertain the meaning of a symbol or text is to discern the intent behind that symbol or text. In the case of text, what did the author mean? And in the case of a symbol, what did the artist or designer intend? 

This is not to dismiss the relevance of feelings, nor is it to ignore the fact that later generations and/or other groups (or entities) often hijack texts and symbols - and can do great harm as a result. This only reinforces the need to go back to the source, to return to the basics. 

The facts are these...

The thirteen stars on the "Betsy Ross" flag represented the thirteen original states -- not racism or slavery or anything of the like.

There are those who will, of course, respond with: "Well, the nation over which the original 13 star flag flew permitted slavery. Therefore...." And they'll make some kind of (what they think is a) "profound" point after that. But this is a non sequitur. It simply doesn't follow that the American flag, reportedly designed by Betsy Ross (though this is disputed), represented slavery because ...well... slavery existed at the time the flag was designed. 

If that's the case, then would this not also be the case for all versions of the American flag up until the Thirteenth Amendment was passed in 1865?  

And why stop there?  

What about the American flag versions that flew over the country when women didn't have the nationally respected right to vote?  Or when Native American tribal nations were mistreated?  Or when segregation took place?  Or... the list goes on.

Do we conclude that the American flag takes on the guilt and shame of all sins committed by Americans or their government?  If so, is there any version of any flag of any nation that is morally fit to fly?  At least by the standards of the social justice orthodoxy that seems to now consume those left of the political center in North America.

The first American flag was (and is) just that: the first flag of the United States of America. 

**See my article "Is The Betsy Ross Flag Racist" over at Medium**

4) The American Revolution was not fought over taxes. 

It’s a myth that the American Revolution was about taxes. That myth is due to the power of the slogan “No Taxation Without Representation” and the emphasis that many of our history textbooks put on the Stamp Act crisis of 1765 and later the Tea Act (which led to the Boston Tea Party), even though these taxes themselves DID NOT LEAD TO WAR. The Stamp Act was ten years before the American Revolution broke out. The Tea Act was two years before the Revolution broke out. While there were (sadly) some riots and (sadly) a few instances of tarring-and-feathering (something that I condemn as did many of the Founders), there was no war. 

The Declaration of Independence lists out twenty-seven (that’s 27) grievances against the British Crown (even though many of those grievances were more due to Parliament than the King). Twenty-seven. And, if I’m not mistaken, taxes was listed as number seventeen.

The Revolutionary War was NOT about taxes — that widespread myth notwithstanding.

The United States of America is not a perfect country. No country is perfect. There is no utopia on earth today and there hasn't been since the Garden of Eden. Rather than bash America, I hope that those concerned with its faults will work constructively to make it better -- rather than simply denounce it while magnifying those faults. 

While there may be a few readers who don't share my sentiments, I wish to say unequivocally that the good in America (and in America's past) far outweighs the bad. Those of us who live in the United States have something worth celebrating - and worth protecting. 

In that spirit, I say..... Happy Independence Day. 

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Den Hartog Reviews Frazer's Latest

Linked is a timely review by Jonathan Den Hartog of Gregg Frazer's latest documenting the loyalists' political theology in the American Revolution. A taste:
Although Samuel Seabury might not be a household name, fans of the musical Hamilton should be able to identify him. In the first act, a foppish clergyman enters to strains of harpsichord music to announce, “My name is Samuel Seabury, and I present free thoughts on the proceedings of the Continental Congress.” Our hero Alexander Hamilton then appears, and delivers a rap over poor Seabury’s objections, symbolizing the triumph of revolutionary ideas over archaic ones.   
The real Samuel Seabury (1729-1796) was an articulate New York Loyalist who wrote pamphlets such as Free Thoughts, on the Proceedings of the Continental Congress. To avoid attacks, Seabury signed them “A Westchester Farmer.” One of Hamilton’s earliest public pieces was an attack on Seabury called The Farmer Refuted. 
Students of American history (whether or not they have been to the musical theater) who want to learn more about Seabury and his Loyalist brethren have a fine new resource. It is Gregg Frazer’s God against the Revolution: The Loyalist Clergy’s Case against the American Revolution. In fact there has been a resurgence of writing about the Loyalists in recent years. Studies by Maya Jasanoff and Ruma Chopra have done much to situate Loyalists in the revolutionary moment. Frazer adds to this literature with a very specific goal: He wants to present, in a clear and logical way, the arguments made by Loyalist clergy. This affects the book’s organization. Chapters develop not chronologically but according to Frazer’s organization of the Loyalists’ arguments. He aims to let these speak for themselves as much as possible.