Thursday, November 26, 2020

The First Amendment Never Separated God and Government

Virginia Governor Thomas Jefferson, 1779.  The First Amendment never separated God and government. It left religion to the states.

In the Founding era the existence of God was seen as a plain fact, not just one theory among many.

Resolved, that it be recommended to the several states to appoint THURSDAY the 9th of December next, to be a day of publick and solemn THANKSGIVING to Almighty God, for his mercies, and of PRAYER, for the continuance of his favour and protection to these United States; to beseech him that he would be graciously pleased to influence our publick Councils, and bless them with wisdom from on high, with unanimity, firmness and success; that he would go forth with our hosts and crown our arms with victory; that he would grant to his church, the plentiful effusions of divine grace, and pour out his holy spirit on all Ministers of the gospel; that he would bless and prosper the means of education, and spread the light of christian knowledge through the remotest corners of the earth; that he would smile upon the labours of his people, and cause the earth to bring forth her fruits in abundance, that we may with gratitude and gladness enjoy them; that he would take into his holy protection, our illustrious ally, give him victory over his enemies, and render him finally great, as the father of his people, and the protector of the rights of mankind; that he would graciously be pleased to turn the hearts of our enemies, and to dispence the blessings of peace to contending nations.

That he would in mercy look down upon us, pardon all our sins, and receive us into his favour; and finally, that he would establish the independance of these United States upon the basis of religion and virtue, and support and protect them in the enjoyment of peace, liberty and safety.”

I do therefore by authority from the General Assembly issue this my proclamation, hereby appointing Thursday the 9th day of December next, a day of publick and solemn thanksgiving and prayer to Almighty God, earnestly recommending to all the good people of this commonwealth, to set apart the said day for those purposes, and to the several Ministers of religion to meet their respective societies thereon, to assist them in their prayers, edify them with their discourses, and generally to perform the sacred duties of their function, proper for the occasion.

Given under my hand and the seal of the commonwealth, at Williamsburg, this 11th day of November, in the year of our Lord, 1779, and in the fourth of the commonwealth.


Text from Virginia Gazette (Dixon & Nicolson), 20 Nov. 1779.

Sunday, November 1, 2020

John Quincy Adams' Unitarianism

I've spent much time researching John Adams' unitarianism, which could be quite militant at times. I've spent less time on his son, John Quincy Adams' creed. I know at one time JQA was a Calvinist/Trinitarian and had some very interesting discussions and debates with his father in their exchange of letters.

However, the younger Adams apparently converted to something like unitarianism as he aged. 

Below is what Koty Arnold has written and compiled:

... The letter where JQ "defends" the Trinity to his father is somewhat lukewarm, though he at that time did appear to adhere to the doctrine. ... [I]n the span of a few years, JQA would conform to the Unitarian liberalism that was then so popular in New England. He wrote in his memoirs about his contempt for orthodox Christianity, especially Calvinism, for its belief in doctrines like the atonement and original sin. The Trinity he dismissed as "unimportant" to the Christian religion, which is really just about earthly moral conduct.
"Solemn nonsense and inconceivable absurdity. This is the impression which I can never remove from my mind when I hear a Calvinistic preacher hammering upon that everlasting anvil of the atonement. "Incredulous odi"--I disbelieve and I hate. It is always to me an admonition of the weakness of the human intellect. That the execution, as a malefactor, of one person, the Creator of all worlds, eighteen hundred years ago, should have redeemed me, born nearly eighteen centuries after his death, from eternal damnation is not only too shocking for my belief, but I ask myself what there can be above the level of the beasts which perish in the animated being that can believe it. A melancholy monument of mental aberration and impotence."
"That man is a vicious, wicked animal is the fundamental doctrine of the Christian religion. That he cannot save himself from eternal punishment is the doctrine of the Catholic churches, and of Calvin. If he cannot save himself, he is not a responsible being; that is the conclusion of justice and a conclusion from which I could not escape if I would. The mission of Christ was to teach all mankind the way to salvation. His death, an ignominious death, was necessary to the universal spread of His doctrine. He died for mankind, as Curtius died for his country, as Codrus died for his people. In this sense I can believe the doctrine of the atonement, and in no other. Christ died as a man, not as God."
"The only Importance of religion to my mind consists in its influence upon conduct; and upon the conduct of mankind the question of Trinity or Unity, or of the single or double personal nature of Christ has or ought to have no bearing whatsoever."
"I told him in substance what I have written to my son George, that I believed the nature of Jesus Christ was superhuman; but whether he was God or only the first of created beings was not clearly revealed to me in the Scriptures."

Read more about Mr. Arnold here.  

Update: As Tom Van Dyke points out, JQA was arguably agnostic on the Trinity during this time.

"I did not prescribe to many of his doctrines, particularly not to the fundamental one of his Unitarian creed. I believe in one God but his nature is incomprehensible to me; and of the question between the Unitarians and the Trinitarians, I have no precise belief, because I have no definite understanding."