Sunday, March 1, 2020

First Thoughts on Mark David Hall's New Book

I am slowly enjoying Mark David Hall's new book, "Did America Have a Christian Founding? Separating Modern Myth from Historical Truth." I think he makes a reasonable case for his position that America had a "Christian" founding. And I think it deserves popular success along with Drs. John Fea's and Gregg Frazer's books on the matter.

But, of course, I have to say something critical. And let me start with one glaring error. His title to Chapter Two is "The United States Does Not Have a Godless Constitution." I would quarrel with the title. America's Constitution technically is Godless. Rather, let's make the case that such fact doesn't necessarily mean America was founded to be a secular utopia or that the ACLU and Americans United For Separation of Church and State have it right.

Indeed, in the first paragraph of the chapter, he concedes the point, but terms it "trivial."

Rather, the glaring error is on page 24. Dr. Hall says the "Deity" was not mentioned in France's Declaration of the Rights of Man. No. All three Declarations of the Rights of Man invoke the Deity in generic terms, just like America's Declaration of Independence does.

There were indeed differences between America's and France's Revolutions. France's was more radical and influenced by the French Enlightenment; America's was more moderate and influenced by the Scotch Anglo Enlightenment. The American Revolution was influenced by the Glorious Revolution. And the French Revolution was influenced by both the Glorious and American Revolutions.

This may seem like a nitpicky point, but I think it's important. The religious conservatives who will sympathize with Dr. Hall's book might wish to portray the American founding as a "Christian" event, but the French as "atheistic." Just as the term "Christian" has multiple potential understandings, so does "atheist." The American founding has been portrayed as "atheistic." Sometimes the term "atheist" means "not orthodox enough." Other times it might refer to some kind of esoteric plan of philosophers.

Both the American AND French revolutions (along with the Glorius) appealed to a Deity and took place in the context of Christendom. All three events are connected in meaningful ways. But that's for another day's post.