Sunday, April 26, 2020

Mark David Hall's Last Final Response

Round one of the great debate between Drs. Mark David Hall and Gregg Frazer is winding down. Dr. Hall writes the following below:


... saying that your “focus” was on “the late eighteenth century” is hardly an actual definition of “founding.”  That could mean the Declaration of Independence (1776).  It could mean the state constitutions before the Articles of Confederation.  It could mean the Articles of Confederation (1783), the beginning of the actual political state.  It could mean the Constitution (1789).  This is especially true when you use the geographical term “America” instead of the political term “United States.”

Just a few days ago I posted on AC: 
In the book's introduction, I consider three possible answers to the question "when was America founded?" and conclude: 
"If one is to understand American history, it is important to have a proper appreciation for the nation’s Christian colonial roots. Few serious scholars deny that the early colonists were committed Christians, whose constitutions, laws, and practices reflected the influence of their faith (especially in New England). But the historical debate becomes far more heated with respect to Christianity’s role in the War of Independence and the establishment of the constitutional order under which our nation still operates. For this reason, in this book, I focus almost exclusively on the late eighteenth century." (XXV) [emphasis added]

 This is a broad definition, but that is because I discuss the formation of America's constitutional order broadly, including at the colonial and state levels, in the Continental, Confederation, and Federal Congresses, and, of course, at the Constitutional Convention.  Any reader, careful or otherwise, will have little doubt as to what my book is about.  He or she may disagree with portions of it, and if someone offers an honest critique I will be thankful for it and, if I believe corrections are warranted, make them.  For all of his 12,000 words, Gregg has encouraged me only to drop the concept of "theistic rationalism" from the paperback edition.  I'll simply discuss "warm" or "soft" deism and leave it at that.

Friday, April 24, 2020

And Frazer's Final Response to Hall

When I say "final," I mean "this round." I'm sure there will be more rounds between Drs. Mark David Hall and Gregg Frazer here at American Creation and elsewhere. With that, Dr. Frazer's comments are below.

This just gets better and better.  Now I haven’t read the book carefully.

Let me get this straight: because I suggested that it took a lot of time and effort to go to an electronic copy of the book, find, cut, and paste portions – pieced together with commentary – that indicates that I haven’t read the book with care.  And that doesn’t take more time than merely identifying a few page numbers with my many inaccuracies?

Persistent/tireless readers of American Creation know that I’ve written more than 12,000 words on this site about Mark’s book – including page numbers and detailed quotes (which we virtually never get from him in defense of or explanation of what is in the book).  Do you want to see my 14 pages of single-spaced notes – or my notes all over the margins?

I was pointing out that I simply asked Mark for PAGE NUMBERS and/or direct quotes demonstrating that my claims in my review were “inaccurate” and he claimed he didn’t have time. I was encouraged that he now apparently had enough time.  The point of the comment was that – however it was done (obviously most of it was copied), IT TOOK A LOT MORE TIME THAN MERELY LISTING A FEW PAGE NUMBERS OR – if you’re going to cut and paste – cutting and pasting A FEW EXAMPLES OF INACCURACIES ON MY PART.

[this is like the guy who criticized me for saying Jefferson took a pair of scissors to the Gospels because he thinks it was done with a razor]

I noticed you did not comment on the fact that someone we both consider to be a “fair and reasonable” reader did not find any inaccuracies in my review.

Now, to substance: you say that if I had read carefully, I would not have missed your definitions of “Christian” and “founding” – but there are no such definitions IN THE BOOK. 

Re defining “Christian”:

1) there is an endnote sending people somewhere else for a definition unless they happen to have those sources memorized. Even if they do, it still is not IN THE BOOK; at that point it’s in their memory. Telling people that rights can be be found in the Constitution is not a definition of rights

2) if they find it, that definition (which is NOT IN THE BOOK) that you direct readers to, is of “orthodox” Christianity – not Christianity. By continual use of qualifying terms such as “orthodox” and “sincere” and “pious” and “evangelical,” you indicate that orthodox Christianity is not the only kind. You obviously believe that there is more than one kind, or else why the descriptor?  Your declaration that John Adams is not an “orthodox” Christian tells us nothing about whether he’s some other kind of Christian – just as he’s not a female human but is another kind of human. If he’s not a human, one would simply say he’s not a human and not specify a certain type. This especially important when you appeal to him for Christian examples later in the book.

3) You revealed in a post on this website that by “orthodox Christian,” you meant simply “Christian” – but you do not say that IN THE BOOK and I was reviewing THE BOOK, not what was in your mind when you wrote it.  How is a reader supposed to know?  By using qualifying words, doesn’t that tell the reader that such adjectives are necessary because there’s another generic version?

4) If you had stipulated IN THE BOOK that by “Christian” you meant “orthodox” Christian, Jon Rowe would not have given quite the glowing review that he gave and certain other people who have participated in this discussion on this site would have been very critical of your overall thesis especially as it applies to the Constitution (at least if your name was Gregg Frazer). They would have reacted differently. They did not find your absent definition either. Like Jefferson in the DOI, you left people to read their own preference into the book – which is good for sales and positive reviews.

5) I read the book very carefully and didn’t see a definition because it isn’t there – and you still have not shown one IN THE BOOK.  What is the definition – not the location of one?  On what page IN THE BOOK is that definition given?

Re defining “founding”:

1) I was trying to be conciliatory with my “partial correction” comment – trying to meet you halfway on something

2) but saying that your “focus” was on “the late eighteenth century” is hardly an actual definition of “founding.”  That could mean the Declaration of Independence (1776).  It could mean the state constitutions before the Articles of Confederation.  It could mean the Articles of Confederation (1783), the beginning of the actual political state.  It could mean the Constitution (1789).  This is especially true when you use the geographical term “America” instead of the political term “United States.” 

Re my claim that you argue that they were some type of Christian:

1) I’m not referring to the stats of self-identification that you mention. I’m referring to page 17 where you say that “there are good reasons to believe that many of America’s founders were orthodox Christians and there is virtually no evidence to suggest that most (or even many) of them were deists.” Since those are the only two options recognized in the book for founders and no founder is identified as anything other than deist or some kind of Christian, the logical conclusion for a reader who is reading carefully is that you are saying they are Christians.  HERE in this post you say that this claim is dicta, but when it’s said IN THE BOOK (not a court ruling) without any qualification (here’s where qualifying terms are needed), then it is a claim that requires substantiation.

2) Since by your standard endnotes count, on page 19 you say that Carl Richard’s book “helps demonstrate that many founders were orthodox Christians.”  To say it helps demonstrate something indicates that you believe it’s correct. You don’t say “in his mind” they were Christians or “he sees” it that way or even “he claims.”

3) On page 48 you say that “many” were coming to a conclusion “because of … their Christian convictions.”  That means there were many that were Christians, doesn’t it? You don’t merely say that they self-identified as Christians; you say they were Christians. That’s a claim.

4) Speaking of the self-identification stats, I hope you agree with me that self-identification is not particularly reliable.  You mention that Jefferson so identified – but he certainly was not a Christian by the standards of the two creeds you say are the standard.  Likewise John Adams, though you don’t deny that he was a Christian – but you DO deny that he was an orthodox Christian which you say HERE, BUT NOT IN THE BOOK is your standard for any Christian – but you use examples from him later in the book in making your case for Christian influence and …..  These are the confusing tangles that result from a lack of definition.

You say that even if you thought (as if that’s the definitive standard) theistic rationalism was different from deism, “it wouldn’t affect any of [your] book’s arguments.”  In a sense, you are right.  The way the book is written – argument after argument without substantiation – it doesn’t matter whether there is another option besides deism or Christianity – simple unbelief, for example.  Again, what is the point of a chapter proving they weren’t deists, but NOT proving that they were Christians IF a “Christian America” simply means that the founders were influenced by “Christian ideas?”  Deists could have been influenced by Christian ideas, too.  Why is it relevant if not to indicate that since they weren’t deists – and you claim more than once that “many” or “most” of them were Christians – they must have been Christians of some kind.  Another option (say “unbelief”) would require more than simply demonstrating that they weren’t deists.

If there’s no need to support a claim that the founders believed in imago dei with anything more than a quote from a founder that doesn’t mention or have anything to do with imago dei, then there’s no need to account for scholarly, peer reviewed alternatives to the idea that the founders were either deists or some kind of orthodox or unorthodox Christian.

You acknowledge on page 17 that you’re not providing evidence for key claims when you say: “For evidence that the examples of ‘orthodox’ founders listed above were, in fact, orthodox Christians, please refer to the ‘Suggestions for Further Reading’ at the end of this chapter.”

In another really important sense, it does matter whether there’s another option besides deism and Christianity because historians should want to get things right.  Because of that, if you mention theistic rationalism, you have an obligation to do so on its own terms or make it abundantly clear that what you’re saying about it is simply your opinion. Would it be OK for me to categorically state without equivocation in a book that Mark Hall believes that most of the American founders were deists – if that’s my opinion?  We can certainly disagree on matters of opinion, but the FACT is that theistic rationalism is no form of deism – I have it on authority of the one who originated the term.

Theistic rationalism explicitly denies the two fundamental doctrines of deism – including the one you call “critical.” What, exactly, makes it critical if it can be denied and it makes no difference?  Theistic rationalism also does not conform to several other tenets that you identify with deism or most of those identified by other sources, as I explained in another post.  If theistic rationalists did not hold to the beliefs identified as “deism” by the originator of deism, the author of the “bible” of deism, and contemporary observers of deism, why is it appropriate to call it a form of deism?  It doesn’t have a bill, it doesn’t quack, it doesn’t have feathers, and it doesn’t waddle or lay eggs – but it’s an animal, so it’s a form of duck?

You ironically accuse me of not reading your book carefully – did you read mine at all before mischaracterizing the concept it introduces, explains, and demonstrates?

Re your new book:

1) I trust you’ll define “biblical” IN THE BOOK and give evidence that supports that claim.

2) I trust you’ll define “just” IN THE BOOK and give evidence that supports that claim.

3) I trust you’ll present alternate perspectives accurately and engage them on grounds their advocates would recognize.

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

Hall's Last Response to Frazer

For now. 

Mark David Hall has sent along this perhaps, final for now, response to Gregg Frazer. I've greatly enjoyed their recent dialog and am sure there will be more discussion in the future here at American Creation and elsewhere.
"Mark said he didn’t have time to identify particular errors/inaccuracies in my review.  Now, he’s contributed a couple of lengthy, detailed posts that clearly required time and effort.  This latest one was 1,074 words – including detailed citations. " 
Gregg, if you had read Did America Have a Christian Founding? carefully, you would realize that virtually all 1,074 words of my last post are cut and pasted from the chapter 1.  This is the fundamental problem, you haven't read the book with care.   
In the post before that one, I respond to your claim that I do not define "Christian" or "founding."  If you had read the book carefully, you would not have missed these definitions.   
"My 'accusation' is that Mark argues that they were some type of Christian..."  It is true that I state in the introduction that Americans of European descent were 98% Protestant, 2% Roman Catholic, and that there were approximately 2,000 Jews.  With the exception of Jewish citizens, I agree that virtually all Americans would have identified themselves as some type of Christian.  Even Jefferson did so.  But this is a statement of fact, not an argumentand I clearly say that it is an uninteresting fact (see page xxi).   
I later write that there are good reasons to believe that many of America's founders were orthodox Christians.  This is a far more interesting claim, but it is what jurists call dicta.  It is not a claim I argue for in this book.  
Finally, it is true that I see very little light between "warm deism" and "theistic rationalism," but even if I didn't it wouldn't affect any of my book's arguments.   
I could spend time writing more responses, but time is limited.  For the next two weeks, much of my time will be spent grading.  After the semester is over, I'll return to writing the sequel to Did America Have a Christian Founding?  Among the chapters will be one arguing that the War for American Independence was both biblical and just.  I'm sure you will enjoy it.   

Monday, April 20, 2020

Frazer's Newest Response to Hall

The dialog between Drs. Gregg Frazer and Mark David Hall on America's "Christian" founding continues. (See their books on the matter: Frazer's and Hall's.) Below is the latest response from Frazer:
First, I want to be clear that I am criticizing what Mark wrote and his methodology – not Mark personally.  I have a lot of respect for Mark and we’ve been friends and colleagues for years, which is why this whole thing has been very upsetting to me. I was asked to write a review and owed it to the editor to write an accurate one, especially since the question at hand is so important to so many Christians (the particular audience of the publication).  Mark has been critical of my work in the past, and we remained friends.  
Contrary to Mark’s latest charge, Gregg has never before accused Mark of claiming that many or most of the founders were orthodox Christians (though I will do that here with page numbers).  Do a word search in my review or in these posts and see if I say that. Mark again adds a qualifying adjective; in this case: “orthodox.” Without that adjective he would have no charge.  Another person well-known in Christian circles has also changed what I said in a review in order to be able to make a charge against me.  I assume that, unlike the other guy, Mark did not do it on purpose.  
My “accusation” is that Mark argues that they were some type of Christian – or at least that he recognizes no other possible identification for the founders.  He never says that any of the founders was not a Christian; he says that some were not “sincere” Christians and that some were not “orthodox” Christians or other categories of Christians based on his ubiquitous use of qualifying terms/adjectives before the word “Christian” – as he did again in this post and in his previous post. He dismisses (incorrectly) one of the alternatives to either deism or Christianity (theistic rationalism) and never mentions any other alternative for founders (saying that he mentions the Jewish congregation isn’t relevant to this point because they weren’t founders).  
He does not explicitly state that the founders who weren’t deists were Christians, but: a) he gives no alternate possibility; b) whenever he expresses doubts about individuals, he denies that they were some specific category of Christian which – without any other option – leaves the distinct implication that they were some other type of Christian than “orthodox” or “sincere” or “pious” or “evangelical”; and c) he later uses examples from those about whom he expressed doubts to make his case for Christian influence in the founding.  If using a qualifier is necessary, doesn’t that indicate that the person must be some other type of the thing referenced?   
I fully agree with Mark that: a) almost none of the founders was a deist and b) it is important to show that they were not deists because some scholars – and many average readers – still make the claim or assumption that they were deists or rank secularists.  There is a need for a “they weren’t deists” chapter in a book intending to make a case for a Christian founding.  Mark does a good job of demonstrating that they were not deists.  
HOWEVER: I don’t understand why Mark thinks the “they weren’t deists” chapter is necessary given that he defines “Christian nation” status as simply being that the founders were “influenced by Christian ideas.” Deists could have been influenced by Christian ideas just – as he says: “nominal Christians might be influenced by Christian ideas, just as it is possible for an orthodox Christian to be influenced by non- Christian ideas.”  So, if you’re not arguing that they were Christians, what’s the point of the chapter?  Why does whether or not they were deists matter in pursuit of his claim? If being influenced by “Christian ideas” is all it takes to make the founding “Christian,” then it doesn’t matter what the religious beliefs of the individuals were – only whether they were so influenced.  I think the point of the chapter is to suggest that they must have been some kind of Christian because they weren’t deists and there’s no other option.  There are plenty of indications of that.  
Despite his protests that he does not claim that they were “orthodox Christians,” on pages 17 & 19, for example, Mark in fact suggests that “many” of the founders were “orthodox Christians” and on page 48 he says that “many” of them held “Christian convictions.”  Such a claim requires substantiation – does it not?  On page 17, he says there are “good reasons to believe that many of America’s founders were orthodox Christians.”  Shouldn’t some of those good reasons be given?  He does not even provide any evidence in cases in which it could actually be done, as in the case of Roger Sherman or John Witherspoon.  He sends the reader to other books.  He makes that claim for James Wilson and I, for one, would love to see some evidence for that claim.    
In contrast to Mark, I think that just as evidence is required (and given) to demonstrate that those claimed as non-deists were not in fact deists; evidence is also required (but not given) to demonstrate that those he says or implies were some kind of Christian were, in fact, Christians.  Mark does say multiple times that “many” or “most” of the founders were Christians but never provides any evidence that they believed in any of the fundamental doctrines of Christianity as defined by the American churches of that day. He repeatedly says that there is “virtually no evidence to suggest that most (or even many) of them were deists,” but for all a reader of the book knows, there is virtually no evidence to suggest that they were Christians, either, as none is given.  But there’s no other option in his presentation – so there’s the conundrum. Mark complains that scholars “leave the distinct impression that most founders, and certainly the important ones, were deists.”  Mark does the same thing on the other side, except that at times he actually states that “most” were Christians.  
As for Mark’s claim that my concept of theistic rationalism is “a definition of deism”: Mark told me that it was “his view” of it and in this post he says: “I see very little light between these two” but “in Gregg's mind there is a difference.”  Hmmmm.  a) can we stipulate that the person who originates a term/concept knows what it is better than anyone else?; b) wouldn’t a case like this be the perfect place – a necessary place – for one of Mark’s ubiquitous qualifying terms, such as “in my opinion,” or “as I see it” rather than a blanket statement of his opinion as fact? Unfortunately, there is far too much of that in the book; i.e. opinion/claims stated as fact; c) the difference is not just in Gregg’s mind – it’s on paper in ink.  
As the coiner of the term, I can report that the carefully chosen first word of the term was in part specifically designed to distinguish theistic rationalism from deism.  The definitive multi-volume Oxford English Dictionary that traces the history/etymology of words says that “theism” was used in the 18th century to distinguish a view of God contrasting with “deism”; that’s part of why I chose it.  In my book (which introduces the term/concept), I spend two pages explicitly and carefully explaining the differences between deism and theistic rationalism. Throughout the book, that is repeated and illustrated dozens if not hundreds of times. The definition of deism that I employ is not one from a 2018 commentator, but the definition given by the man credited with (or blamed for) devising deism: Lord Herbert of Cherbury. He is known as “the father of deism.” I also used Elihu Palmer’s Principles of Nature, which was called in 18th-century America the “bible of deism” and I used explanations of it by Christians of that period, such as Jonathan Edwards.  But, even taking the definition Mark uses (from Christopher Grasso), theistic rationalism does not fit within the deist camp.   
It is ironic that Mark wants to “lump” theistic rationalism in with deism because a very prominent scholar of early American political thought lobbied me to call it a branch of Christianity before looking at the evidence and being persuaded.  The point is that my whole purpose in writing the book was to distinguish what the key American founders believed from both deism and Christianity – to identify the “middle” or “hybrid” belief system that prominent scholars from Henry May to Sydney Ahlstrom to Thomas Pangle (who has embraced my concept) to Sidney Mead to Cushing Strout to McMurray Richey and others described and for which they sought an appropriate name. They were familiar with deism, but recognized this other belief system between (in a sense) deism and Christianity. This belief system embraced elements of Enlightenment rationalism, but also clung to elements of the Christian ethos of the day.  As Strout put it, “they still preserved residual connections with Christianity, even when they attacked specific Christian dogmas and practices.” [By the way, Mark cites Ahlstrom, but, as with several scholars he cites (including Lutz), he applies statements made about the religion of the people – not the leaders – to the leaders.  He does not quote what Ahlstrom says about the religion of the leaders (who are the ones who did the “founding”).]  Mark says: “it is obviously bad social science and bad history to generalize the views of the founders as a whole from the views of a few unrepresentative elites” – one might say the same about taking the views of the general uneducated public and generalizing from them about elite individuals with elite education.  
Was theistic rationalism “a definition of deism?”  You decide.  According to the guy who originated deism, the guy who wrote the “bible” of it, and prominent scholars of it, the two defining features of deism were: 1) the effectual absence and nonintervention of God and 2) denial of any written revelation from God – nature being the only “revelation” of God.  Deism was also characterized by brutal criticism of Christianity and of Jesus (by most). [Palmer’s “bible” called Jesus “immoral,” “criminal,” an “enemy to moral virtue,” and “a murderer in principal.”]  Mark identifies as “critical” the fact that “deists did not think God intervenes in the affairs of men and nations.”  This is critical, but theistic rationalism is a “definition of deism” that holds that God does intervene in the affairs of men and nations? Hmmm. Theistic rationalists did not believe in an absentee God or that He is noninterventionist in human affairs – they believed that God is present and active; they did not believe that there was no written revelation from God – on the contrary, they affirmed some of the Bible as being from God (the parts they thought rational or consistent with their view of God); they denied almost every fundamental doctrine of Christianity, but also affirmed some elements of Christianity and were admirers of Jesus (unlike deists); some of them believed in miracles and some did not.  Theistic rationalists shared some beliefs with deism and they shared some beliefs with Christianity. They were raised in “christendom” and educated in Enlightenment thought.  They did not completely “buy into” either – they did what most Americans do today: they picked and chose what they wanted to believe from both sources based on what seemed reasonable to them.  
In his post, Mark says that he “set up the chapter with a clear definition of deism.  By the definition that he himself set up, theistic rationalism is not any form of deism.  Nor is it deism by the standards of the man who originated it or those who practiced it in 18th-century America.  
Mark notes in his post that I was “quite upset that [he] conflated ‘soft deism’ and ‘theistic rationalism’"; but I was no more upset than he would be if I wrote in a very popular, best-selling book that Mark’s thesis is that all of America’s founders were deists – or, as he has shown, if I said he was no better historian than David Barton (which he seems to think I said, but didn’t).  To borrow Mark’s phrase, no “fair or reasonable reader” would conclude that theistic rationalism is any form of deism after reading my book.  
In an endnote, Marks says: “Theistic rationalism is a phrase coined by Gregg Frazer, and it is more accurate than deism as applied to a handful of America’s founders. Frazer is careful to limit his claims to “key” founders, but even so, he overstates the attraction of this belief system in the founding era.”  He says it applies only to “a handful of America’s founders,” but how does he know?  He, himself, says: “In most cases, the historical record gives us little with which to work. Even if we can determine, say, that a particular founder was a member, a regular attender, and even an officer in a church, it does not necessarily mean that he was a sincere Christian. Perhaps he did these things simply because society expected it of him.”  And: “the lack of records makes it difficult to speak with confidence on this issue with respect to some founders.”  In personal discussion with him, Mark and I have both lamented the profound lack of scholarly work done on the religious beliefs of MOST of the founders.  So, how does he know that only a handful of America’s founders were theistic rationalists?  How does he know I’ve “overstated” it?  Saying it applies to eight people whose work you’ve analyzed in detail and backed up with thousands of primary source endnotes is “overstating”?  But making numerous broad, sweeping claims without any substantiation is OK? Which is “overstating?” Mark says of scholars: “they certainly should not extrapolate from the absence of texts to the conclusion that these founders embraced deism.”  Likewise for Christianity.  Here we’ll be reminded that Mark says he’s not claiming they were Christians, but he says “many” and “most” and he leaves “the distinct impression” that problematic individuals were still Christians of some stripe.  
He is quite right that I limit my claim to those I’ve actually studied – isn’t that the right practice? But maybe “most” of the founders were theistic rationalists – how does he know that’s not true? Should he say if he doesn’t know? I don’t say because I don’t know. But Mark makes a lot of “many,” “not many,” and “most” claims in his book – some of which are patently false.  For example, in the midst of his early argument for Reformed influence, Mark says “there were not many elite Anglicans in America.”  But 36 of the 55 Constitutional Convention delegates were not Reformed and a majority of them (28) were Anglicans/Episcopalians.  
Mark claimed in his first post that any “fair and reasonable” reader would find my review “unfair and inaccurate.”  I won’t comment on “unfair” because that’s a matter of opinion and in the “eye of the beholder.”  But, I presume we all consider Jon Rowe to be a “fair and reasonable” reader – and he gave Mark’s book a positive review on this site, so he’s clearly not biased against it. He can speak for himself, but Jon has told me that he found nothing inaccurate in my review.  
Earlier, Mark said he didn’t have time to identify particular errors/inaccuracies in my review.  Now, he’s contributed a couple of lengthy, detailed posts that clearly required time and effort.  This latest one was 1,074 words – including detailed citations. Since he apparently has more time now, perhaps he could identify some of the many supposed inaccuracies in my original review.

Sunday, April 19, 2020

Mark David Hall explains the argument of his chapter "The Myth of the Founders' Deism"

Mark David Hall sent me the following, in his continuing dialog with Gregg Frazer about Hall's new book:
It strikes me that readers of America Creation might not think it is interesting to demolish the myth that many or most of the founders were deists because everyone knows they weren't.  That is why I set up the chapter with a clear definition of deism, and then gave many examples of authors who claim many or most of them were deists.   
From chapter one: 
In the eighteenth century, deism referred to an intellectual movement that emphasized the role of reason in discerning religious truth. Deists rejected traditional Christian doctrine such as the incarnation, virgin birth, atonement, resurrection, Trinity, divine inspiration of the Holy Scriptures, and miracles. For present purposes, this last point is critical; unlike most Christians, deists did not think God intervenes in the affairs of men and nations. In Alan Wolfe’s words, they believed that “God set the world in motion and then abstained from human affairs.” In this chapter, I demonstrate that there is virtually no evidence that America’s founders embraced such views. 
In the endnote to the last sentence, I write: "There is no single definition of deism, but the one offered above is widely used. Compare with Christopher Grasso, Skepticism and American Faith: From the Revolution to the Civil War (New York: Oxford University Press, 2018), 26 (“‘Deism’ is usually associated with belief in a noninterventionist Creator, reliance upon what reason can discern in the natural world, and skepticism about miracles, mysticism, the divine inspiration of the scriptures, and the divinity of Christ”).  
Later in the chapter, I consider a definition of deism that allows God to intervene in human affairs, and state that this concept is often called "soft deism" and "theistic rationalism."  Gregg was quite upset that I conflated "soft deism" and "theistic rationalism," but I see very little light between these two.  Nevertheless, if I get to make revisions for the paperback edition, I'll make it clear that at least in Gregg's mind there is a difference.  I then demonstrate that there is very little reason to believe that "most" or "many" of America's founders were "soft deists," although it is a definition that describes well the religious beliefs of a few founders.  
In a debate, Steven Green suggested I was attacking a straw man on this point.  I am not.  Here are examples of authors claiming most or many of America's founders were deists (or something similar):

“The Founding Fathers were at most deists—they believed God created the world, then left it alone to run . . .”
 Gordon Wood, American Heritage Magazine
“the Founding fathers themselves, largely deists in their orientation and sympathy . . .” Edwin Gaustad, A Documentary History of Religion in America  
“The reaction to the Great Awakening provided an American Unitarian boost that made Deism the religion of the educated class by the middle of the eighteenth century. Legal scholar William Lee Miller writes that the chief founders of the nation were all Deists—he lists Washington, Franklin, Adams, Jefferson, Madison, Hamilton, and Paine, though many more leaders of the founding era could be added . . .” Garry Wills, Head and Heart: A History of Christianity in America 
“deistic beliefs played a central role in the framing of the American republic” . . . “[the]
Founding generation viewed religion, and particularly religion’s relation to government, through an Enlightenment lens that was deeply skeptical of orthodox Christianity.” Geoffrey R. Stone, “The World of the Framers: A Christian Nation?”

“the Founding Fathers were. . .  skeptical men of the Enlightenment who questioned each and every received idea they had been taught.” Brooke Allen, Moral Minority 
“The God of the founding fathers was a benevolent deity, not far removed from the God of eighteenth-century Deists or nineteenth century Unitarians . . . They were not, in any traditional sense, Christian.” Mark A. Noll, Nathan O. Hatch, and George M. Marsden, The Search for Christian America 
“America’s Founders were philosophical radicals.” Matthew Stewart, Nature’s God: The Heretical Origins of the American Republic     
[and then in the endnote I add: "See also Hughes, Myths America Lives By, 50 (“most of the American Founders embraced some form of Deism, not historically orthodox Christianity”); Kaye, Thomas Paine and the Promise of America, 108 (“[m]any of the nation’s original Founders subscribed to some version of religious rationalism”); Steven Green, Second Disestablishment, 87 (“Although many of the nation’s elites privately embraced deism, The Age of Reason and other works popularized irreligion among the laboring and working classes”); Steven J. Keillor, This Rebellious House: American History & the Truth of Christianity (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 1996), 85 (“Many of America’s ‘Founding Fathers’ were not Christians in any orthodox sense.”); Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 2006), 38-39 (“No doubt many of [the founders were deists], although it has been argued that the greatest of them might have been atheists.”); C. Gregg Singer, A Theological Interpretation of American History, rev. ed. (Philadelphia: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co., 1981), 24 (“Deism . . . provided that political philosophy which would produce the American Revolution”); Bill PressHow the Republicans Stole Christmas: The Republican Party’s Declared Monopoly on Religion and What Democrats Can Do to Take it Back (New York: Doubleday, 2005), 43 (“[the Founders] did believe in God, but most of them only in the Enlightenment or deist sense of God as ‘watchmaker’—a Supreme Being who created us, then wound us up and let us run on our own.”); Beard and Beard, The Rise of American Civilization, 449 (“When the crisis came, Jefferson, Paine, John Adams, Washington, Franklin, Madison, and many lesser lights were to be reckoned among either Unitarians or Deists.  It was not Cotton Mather’s God to whom the authors of the Declaration of Independence appealed; it was to ‘Nature’s God’”)."    [emphasis added.  If I get to make revisions, I'll add a few recent claims of this nature, including one by the activist Andrew Seidel.] 
Let me emphasize that this chapter is a project of destruction.  I would like to think that I demolished the claim that most or many of America's founders were deists.  But I never say that because they were not deists that they must have been orthodox Christians.  That does not follow, and no matter how many times Gregg accuses me of making this argument I simply don't make it.  But don't take my word for it; read the chapter for yourself and let us know who is right.  

Friday, April 17, 2020

Hall Reponds To Frazer

Mark David Hall has responded to Gregg Frazer's latest comment on Hall's new book.
Gregg writes "[Mark] never defines what 'Christian' is and never defines what 'founding' is." 
From Did America Have a Christian Founding?:
"By 'orthodox' [Christianity] I mean that they adhered to fundamental Christian doctrines as articulated in the Apostles’ or Nicene Creeds" (164). 
In the book's introduction, I consider three possible answers to the question "when was America founded?" and conclude: 
"If one is to understand American history, it is important to have a proper appreciation for the nation’s Christian colonial roots. Few serious scholars deny that the early colonists were committed Christians, whose constitutions, laws, and practices reflected the influence of their faith (especially in New England). But the historical debate becomes far more heated with respect to Christianity’s role in the War of Independence and the establishment of the constitutional order under which our nation still operates. For this reason, in this book, I focus almost exclusively on the late eighteenth century." (XXV) 
Finally, and once again, the whole point of the chapter "The Myth of the Founders' Deism" is to demolish the common claim that most or many of the founders were deists. Attacking these claims does not require me to prove that they hold any other religious views, and certainly not that they are orthodox Christians. Similarly, I might attack the claim that Barack Obama is a Muslim without having to make any claim regarding his actual faith. This is a simple matter of logic.

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

Frazer's Newest Reponse To My Review

Gregg Frazer emails me a response to my review of Mark David Hall's new book.
How can you conclude: “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” when he never defines what “Christian” is and never defines what “founding” is???  For what, exactlydoes he make a reasonable case?  Is it that various people with their own idiosyncratic notions of the word “Christian” can believe that at some point in history there was some kind of ostensibly religious influence on the geographical area known as “America”?  So what?  What is the significance of this claim – and who couldn’t have said this without offering any “evidence” at all?  What makes this a “nifty” book?  You, yourself, speculate and struggle with various possible meanings in your review – should that be the case if a book is well-written, “a reasonable case,” “nifty” and a valuable contribution to the subject?  
In his comment, Mr. Van Dyke points out two of several potential meanings for “founding” and notes that the one Mark is ostensibly claiming doesn’t apply at all to the Constitution – but Mark’s overall point (given the last 2/3 of the book) is TO apply it to the Constitution.  Most of the book is about how the Constitution has been improperly interpreted and applied and is based on the idea that there was a Christian founding of itThis is why what he means by “founding” and “Christian” really matters and cannot be glossed over.  What you mean by “Christian” also matters because his primary audience is people who have a particular perspective on what that means and he, like Barton, speaks to them in their terminology while apparently NOT meaning what they do – so it is misleading at best, and deceptive at worst.   
Note that in Mark’s “comment,” his response regarding Washington is again simply that he wasn’t a deist!  Again he posits the false dichotomy of deist or Christian – but again uses the qualifier “orthodox” to allow Washington to still be a Christian (whatever that is) of some sort.  I, of course, also argue that he wasn’t a deist – that’s not hard to show – but that doesn’t necessarily mean that he was a “Christian” of any sort unless you posit the false dichotomy.  It would require some evidence that shows him to be some sort of Christian – though that’s impossible to do if you don’t have a definition of “Christian.”  
[By the way, in your email to me, you say that Washington was not a “strict deist” – how was he a deist in any way?  He denied both of the fundamental beliefs of deism: absentee God and no written revelation from God (along with the corollary that Mark emphasizes: criticism of Christianity).  Why say he wasn’t a “strict” deist instead of just saying he wasn’t a deist?  What evidence is there of any deism on his part?]   
If being a good or virtuous person makes Washington a “Christian” – if that’s the definition – then it’s meaningless from a religious perspective.  Many Jews would be “Christians” and so would many Muslims and many Buddists and many who have no religious beliefs whatsoever.  So what meaning does it have?  This is why what he means by “Christian” really matters and cannot be glossed over.  
Re Jasper Adams: it’s worth noting that he sent his book to Madison and asked for an endorsement of his thesis (that America was founded on Christian principles), but Madison refused to do so.
More discussion to come. And also check out the discussion in the comments here.

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

More Comprehensive Review of Mark David Hall's New Book

So I have finished Mark David Hall's new book entitled "Did America Have a Christian Founding? Separating Modern Myth from Historical Truth." Here are some thoughts. I stand by my original impression where I wrote:
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 here are also some issues I have with the analysis. I largely agree with Dr. Gregg Frazer's comments about the "Lutz et al." study. In short, the Lutz study has been purported to show the Bible's dominant relative influence on the American founding. Dr. Hall plays up this theme. But if you scratch beneath the surface, there is more to the story.

The study also shows the profound influence of John Locke and Enlightenment rationalism on the American founding.

So what's going on here? This analysis can be difficult.  It's indisputable that different ideologies -- including 1. the Bible/Protestant Christianity, 2. English common law, 3. Whig ideology, 4. Ancient Greco-Romanism, and 5. Enlightenment rationalism -- had some kind of meaningful impact on the ideology of the American founding.

Respected scholars of varying perspectives would not dispute this, but rather tend to argue over which vision prevailed in the synthesis. The problem is further compounded by the fact that we disagree over which box to put a particular important thinker or prevailing celebrated notion like the natural right to religious liberty. Certain key thinkers like John Locke, who posited these celebrated prevailing notions, arguably fit into more than one box.

I don't think, indeed, that you can downplay the influence of Locke or Montesquieu, who are generally regarded as part of the moderate Enlightenment. True, Locke was arguably more influential during the period of America's revolution against Great Britain and war for independence (where citations to the Bible were also very important, in political sermons that oft-were synthesized with Lockean understandings of state of nature/social contract and rights. These Lockean ideas affected how properly to understand the Bible's Romans 13. This was the key text in the Bible that arguably stood in the way of a right to rebel against tyrannical government).

Locke was less influential during the framing of the US Constitution. However, that doesn't mean the Bible took over. To the contrary, from the Lutz study, when it came to the writing of the US Constitution:
“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.”
I think it's important here to note that just as there are many variations of "Christianity," so too are there of "Enlightenment." The more moderate Scotch Anglo Enlightenment was key to the America's founding thought. The French Revolution was influenced by the American Revolution and many of the same ideological principles, but went further in a radical direction with Enlightenment thinkers like Rousseau who wasn't influential in America. 


I think Dr. Hall also gets James Madison only 1/2 right. Hall cites among other things Madison's Federalist 55 on human nature:
As there is a degree of depravity in mankind which requires a certain degree of circumspection and distrust, so also there are other qualities in human nature which justify a certain portion of esteem and confidence.
This does illustrate that the James Madison, writing as Publius, who defended the US Constitution rejected the more radical Enlightenment notion of the "perfectibility of man." But contrary to Hall's assertion it does not make Madison's sentiment into the T of John Calvin's TULIP. T standing for "Total Depravity." Rather, it seems Madison thought man's nature somewhat or partially depraved.

But I also note that not all "orthodox Christians" of the founding era or today are Calvinists. Every letter of Calvin's TULIP is disputed by orthodox Protestants back then and today. Though Hall claims the "Christianity" of America's founding as not only "orthodox" but also "reformed." This perhaps is a bridge too far. I write more on this below.

Hall's discussion of George Washington is relevant here too. Just as the definition of "deism" is disputed (and noted in Hall's nifty book) so too is "Christianity." Hall's thesis is that Christianity influenced the American founding in a very meaningful way and I don't dispute this; but I think a lot of it depends on the definition of "Christianity."

The more narrow the definition according to "orthodox" standards, the less "Christian" the American founding appears to be. George Washington, for instance, has been claimed as "Christian" (and other things). In some broader latitudinarian sense; he clearly was. If to be a virtuous person means you are a Christian, then I think Washington would clearly pass this test.

Like many scholars, I doubt Washington believed in Christian orthodoxy, and not all of the quotations that are offered to support Washington's "Christianity" necessarily mean that he was orthodox. John Marshall, who Hall cites as follows, noted Washington was a "sincere believer in the Christian faith, and a truly devout man."

It's not clear what Marshall meant by "Christianity." Marshall himself, for most of his life, was a unitarian in the Anglican-Episcopalian Church, who, like Washington avoided communion in that church. Likewise, Jared Sparks has notably defended Washington's "Christianity." But Sparks too was unitarian.

Marshall and Unitarian Joseph Story defended the "Christian" foundations of the United States to one Jaspar Adams in 1833, which Hall cites in his book, "Christianity and religion are identified. It would be strange, indeed, if with such a people, our institutions did not presuppose Christianity." (Quoting Marshall.)

I stress the unitarianism of these figures because you have to wonder what the "Christianity" whose foundation they were defending meant, whether it described George Washington's creed or the entire nation. If it means Jesus' profound moral teachings, and the wisdom contained in the Bible, then the argument for Christianity's influence on the American founding appears quite strong. If on the other hand, it meant the orthodox standards contained in creeds of the Churches, it's a harder sell.

As I noted above I think Hall perhaps boxes himself in by asserting the Christianity of the American founding as chiefly "reformed." It's true that most of the population of the time can be connected to a church with an orthodox creed that is in some way part of the "reformed" tradition. But by the middle of the 18th century Congregational Churches who fit that description had notable unitarian preachers.

The "Christianity" of the American founding was diverse and the political theology was latitudinarian and non-sectarian. I think it's a probable truth that the majority of the American population then were "orthodox Christians" but I wouldn't push it much further.