Sunday, January 26, 2020

Frazer's Defense Continued

Dr. Gregg Frazer emailed me his next installment defending his thesis contra Mark David Hall's.
In Chapter 2, Mark rightfully says that “it is necessary to consider the ideas that influenced the civic leaders who drafted and ratified the document [the Constitution].”  He is also rightfully critical of Matthew Stewart’s silly book claiming that Spinoza was a dominating influence.  
In order to try to support his claim that “the founders drew heavily from Christian ideas when they crafted America’s constitutional order,” he must try to prove that the claim that “the Constitution’s framers were influenced by rationalist, Enlightenment ideas” is “overstated and misleading.”  In order to do that, he must try to discount and diminish John Locke’s influence.  
Re Locke’s influence: his first argument is that Locke’s works were not readily available in America and, particularly, “The Second Treatise was not published in America until 1773 ….” In my review, that’s what I report that he says – so I don’t see how that’s inaccurate.  I add that he argues that despite the fact that the Bible was not printed in English in America until 1782 (that’s a fact; you can look it up), it was all-important.  I note that Elisha Williams based a sermon on the teachings of “the celebrated Mr. Lock” in 1744 – so he was already considered to be “celebrated” by then and that references to Locke are ubiquitous throughout the period.  Those are also facts.  
His second anti-Lockean influence argument is that, despite Locke being cited “with some regularity” in the 1760s and 1770s, Donald Lutz’s study shows that the Bible was “referenced far more often than [Locke’s] works.”  More on Lutz’s report on the Bible’s relative influence on the Constitution later.  In my review, I point out that Mark does not mention that, according to Lutz’s study, there were more Locke citations than to all Reformed thinkers combined and that Locke is mentioned in 19 of the 28 pages of Lutz’s chapter on important influences. Those are facts; I don’t see the inaccuracy.  Whether or not such enumerations are valuable evidence is debatable, but the key points here are: a) Mark presents such counts as valid evidence and b) Mark claims that Reformed thought was dominant.  By Mark’s standards of evidence, Lutz’s work actually shows that Locke is very influential and more influential than all the Reformers.  
Regarding Lutz’s study and the Bible’s relative influence: Mark reports that the study shows that 34% of all citations between 1760 and 1805 are to the Bible, while only 2.9% are to Locke.  There are some significant issues involved in Mark’s convenient reporting.  In this section of the book, which is about influences on the drafting, crafting, and ratification of the Constitution, Mark cites the numbers for the whole 45-years period, but does not mention this clarification by Lutz regarding “the pattern of citations surrounding the debate on the U.S. Constitution.”  Concerning the Constitution, Lutz says: “The Bible’s prominence disappears” and “the Federalists’ inclination to Enlightenment rationalism is most evident here in their failure to consider the Bible relevant.”  And: “The debate surrounding the adoption of the Constitution was fought out mainly in the context of Montesquieu, Blackstone, the English Whigs, and major writers of the Enlightenment.”  Unfortunately, I didn’t have room to present this evidence in the review.  
In the review, I suggest that these types of citation counts are problematic for a number of reasons.  First, merely counting the number of references is not a valid determiner of “influence,” “especially when the bulk of Bible references are simply illustrations, aphorisms, or statements taken out of context to support a concept that the Bible does not teach.”  As I note in the review, Satan quotes the Bible for his own purposes, but that hardly indicates its influence on him.  Second, Lutz explains that “positive and negative citations” are counted without distinction.  So, without evaluating all of them, one cannot simply “lump” them together and call them “influence.”   
I conclude this section of the review by pointing out that “the key for a Christian is not how many times the Bible is referenced, but how it is referenced.”  Rabid and reflexive critics of whatever I say would accuse me of claiming to know what the mysterious and incomprehensible Bible says, but I point out in the review that Mark himself admits that they took passages out of context – including the specific example I give.  I didn’t have word room in the review to include examples from Patriot preachers in which they admitted that they took passages out of context to make their own point that they admitted the Bible was not making.  [You can read those in my book God Against the Revolution]

7 comments:

jimmiraybob said...

First of all I'd like to thank you, Jon, for hosting this ongoing dialogue. Of course, I'd also like to thank Mark and Gregg for sharing.

I saw Mark in Louisville, KY, when he spoke along with Andrew Seidel,author of The Founding Myth - Why Christian Nationalism is Un-American. I have finished Seidel's book and will shortly launch into Mark's.

After this exchange, I don't know how not to include God Against the Revolution on the Books to Read list. I will try to pry open a space on the shelf next to Maya Jasanoff's Liberty's Exiles.

Well done.

Jonathan Rowe said...

My pleasure and thanks for being a faithful reader and commenter.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Gregg Frazer here moves the battleground of his attack on Mark David Hall's book to the making of the Constitution,away from his latest scholarly product, "God Against the Revolution."

Although I believe Frazer has already lost the debate on his own home ground of the revolution on formal grounds--that the private beliefs of a handful of "key Founders" lacked much historical significance beyond making room for such [dis]beliefs--I believe Gregg is on stronger ground here, although again I would question the premise as important.

In short, when it came to drafting the Constitution, religion was left to the states. Because of the theological splintering spawned by the Protestant Reformation, any national consensus on the Christian religion was impossible.

Therefore using the Bible or Calvinist theology as a basis for a [Lockean?] social contract between the states was a non-starter.


[At this point, I must object to a lack of rigor in Dr. Frazer's essay here

Mark does not mention that, according to Lutz’s study, there were more Locke citations than to all Reformed thinkers combined and that Locke is mentioned in 19 of the 28 pages of Lutz’s chapter on important influences.


First, that "Reformed" has a strict meaning in this context, that of Calvinistic political theology. "The Reformers" applies to the entire panoply of Protestant sects, and arguably even the loose cannons without established churches


Second, here Gregg conflates Donald Lutz's statistical analysis of Founding-era textual references with Lutz's more subjective opinions on the influences of the Founders.

How much Locke or Montesquieu or Vittel [!] influenced the Constitution is still a matter of great scholarly debate, and more under the purview of those more versed in political philosophy than Gregg is, or that Hall ever claims to be.

At this point Gregg is engaging in what we here at American Creation used to call "duelling scholars," a fruitless exercise. One can always find a scholar somewhere to agree with you. But this is Argument from Authority, and fortunately for American Creation, we have largely dispensed with it.

We have come to insist on source texts and direct quotes, needless to say in context.


One of the few direct quotes Gregg uses here is

In order to try to support his claim that “the founders drew heavily from Christian ideas when they crafted America’s constitutional order,” he must try to prove that the claim that “the Constitution’s framers were influenced by rationalist, Enlightenment ideas” is “overstated and misleading.” In order to do that, he must try to discount and diminish John Locke’s influence.


and I think his challenge has worth--although I would not put all my chips on Locke in some either/or with the Bible as to the vitiating philosophy of the Constitution.

Perhaps the correct answer is neither. Mr. Frazer should not want to get caught up on the horns of his own dilemma.

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