Sunday, October 2, 2022

Arnold's Article on James Madison, Anti-Christian Nationalist

This is is very thorough and well argued article from a brilliant young scholar, Gordon Dakota Arnold. He sympathizes with the perspective of more accommodation of traditional, conservative Christianity in public life. The article is a good reminder that America's Founders weren't always on the same page. But we can make observations like James Madison and Thomas Jefferson had a particular vision of church-state relations that was more secular and "separation of church and state" oriented. This has been called the "Virginia view" because Madison and Jefferson were both from Virginia and saw their vision validated in the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom

But there were other perspectives; the "Massachusetts view" was most notably articulated by George Washington and John Adams and permitted more expression of religion in public life and more interplay between church and state. 

But onto Arnold's article. A taste:

Was Madison a Christian?

It is quite likely that the beginning of Madison’s rejection of Christian nationalism is found in a rejection of orthodox Christianity more generally. Like George Washington, Madison was meticulous in his effort to keep his precise religious beliefs private, and he shied away from discussing theology or religious doctrine in all of his private correspondence. Whereas Thomas Jefferson and John Adams left ample evidence in their writings that they rejected the divine origins of orthodox Christianity, Madison’s papers never explicitly denounced doctrines such as the divinity of Jesus Christ or the resurrection.11 And yet, it is a mistake to rely upon arguments from silence as a means of bolstering Madison’s claims to orthodoxy. In 1774, when Madison the youth was studying under the Rev. John Witherspoon and considering a career in ministry, he praised the “advocates of the cause of Christ.”12 But after this, references to Jesus Christ in his private correspondence disappeared and he appeared to approach religion with more indifference. As an adult, Madison is said to have refused to kneel for prayer, and though he sometimes attended an Episcopal Church, he never joined it and never participated in holy communion.13 Friends of Madison, such as the Bishop William Meade, attested to his unbelief,14 and George Ticknor recounted a conversation he had with the President in 1815 wherein he “intimated to me his own regard for Unitarian doctrines.”15

But more disturbing than Madison’s apparent shift away from the evangelical theology of his youth is the sense one gets while reading his corpus that his final position entailed more hostility towards traditional Christianity than has often been acknowledged. As early as 1772, Madison included a striking note in his Commonplace Book, quoting from the Cardinal de Retz: “Nothing is more Subject to Delusion than Piety. All manner of Errors creep and hide themselves under that Veil. Piety takes for sacred all her imaginations of what sort soever.”16 Throughout Madison’s long career, he often returned to this theme about the political dangers of piety and religion. “Religious bondage,” he said to his friend William Bradford, “shackles and debilitates the mind and unfits it for every noble enterprize every expanded prospect” [sic].17 While Madison in one instance referred in passing to Christianity as the “best & purest religion,” it is likely that he, like his friend Thomas Jefferson, primarily praised it with a view towards its ethical precepts—precepts accessible to unaided, natural reason—and emphatically not its doctrinal claims uncovered within divine revelation.18 In fact, Madison thought that doctrinal orthodoxy needed to be eliminated in order to further the cause of progress and enlightenment. In a letter to Thomas Jefferson, Madison complained about “Sectarian Seminaries” in Virginia—almost certainly alluding to Calvinist or Reformed institutions of learning—and their incorporation into the Virginia state charter on the grounds that this would empower churches of “any creed however absurd or contrary to that of a more enlightened age.”19 Doctrines must shift and change with the times, and any attempt to ground the nation in a static doctrine of Christianity is a threat to progress.

 [...]

Madison and the Great Divorce of Christianity and Politics 

Because he believed that religion is essentially a passion that causes rather than discourages faction, Madison also contended that it needed to be pacified for liberty to be preserved. The primary method of solving the political problem of Christianity was to encourage religious diversity and foster disunity. As Madison’s friend, neighbor, and first biographer William Cabell Rives reported, the President was fond of quoting Voltaire’s maxim that “if one religion only were allowed in England, the government would possibly be arbitrary; if there were but two, the people would cut each other’s throats; but, as there are such a multitude, they all live happy and in peace.”30 And Madison himself left no doubt that these were exactly his sentiments. He spoke in Federalist no. 51 of how the “multiplicity of sects” was the only security for the preservation of “religious rights.”31 In a letter to Thomas Jefferson, Madison celebrated the fact that the “mutual hatred” of Virginia’s Christian denominations “has been much inflamed.”32 He added: “I am far from being sorry for it, as a coalition between them could alone endanger our religious rights.”33 Where the Apostle Paul spoke of the need for harmony, unity, and love within the body of Christ, Madison preferred that the church be characterized by disarray, discord, and faction. Only then would Christianity fail to mobilize itself as a political force, and only then would the natural rights of individuals be safe from a majority faction. Madison’s view, too, contrasts with the more Pauline beliefs of George Washington, who celebrated the “harmony and Brotherly Love which characterizes the clergy of different denominations” because it further substantiated his conviction that “Religion and Morality are the essential pillars of civil society.”34 

Saturday, September 24, 2022

Lillback Repeats Phony Quotation

In 2022

Dr. Peter Lillback, President of Westminster Theological Seminary has done some legitimate scholarly work on the history of theology. I've criticized his 1200 page book that purports to show George Washington was an orthodox Trinitarian Christian. Though, let me note the book does have its virtue as a reference for all of Washington's words on matters of religion and government.

I would assume that Lillback is well aware of the "controversy" regarding the phony quotations that the "Christian America" crowd has spread which caused them much egg on their faces. 

But, alas, in 2022, he steps in it.

Now, if you turn to page 16, Patrick Henry, do you remember what he said? The man who said, “Give me liberty or give me death.” He said, “It cannot be emphasized too strongly or too often that this great nation was founded, not by religionists but by Christians, not on religions but on the gospel of Jesus Christ.”

The problem is Henry didn't say the "it cannot be emphasized ..." quotation.  I've been noting this since around 2005. 

I know that the older Patrick Henry backed off from his militant anti-Federalist sentiments; but around the time that the US Constitution was ratified, calling America a "great nation" probably would have made Patrick Henry want to puke. This was a man who objected to the phrase "We the People" in the preamble to the US Constitution because it intimated the US was a single consolidated nation as opposed to a collection of free, sovereign states. He wanted "We the States."

This was back when the United States was commonly referred to in a plural sense, as in "The United States are," as opposed to "The United States is." 

But in any event, Patrick Henry still didn't say it

Saturday, September 10, 2022

Bolingbroke's Deism

I am still around and blogging, just busy with some work/life issues which is why you haven't heard from me in a while. One of the highlights of my Summer (2022) was peer reviewing a book on Deism which should be out shortly.

Here is the bottom line of this book: Most English, American and French "deists" believed in an active personal God, not a cold distant watchmaker. If the term "deist" isn't appropriate for the theology that posits an active personal God, then lots of folks, not just George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and Ben Franklin need a new term; so too do Robespierre and many of the French Revolution's "deists."

Though one thing that DOES tend to distinguish the English and American "deists" from the French is that the English and Americans retained more of their "Christianity." Someone like Bolingbroke, for instance, thought Jesus was on a divine mission, worked miracles and ascended to heaven.
 
But what DIDN'T Bolingbroke believe? Large parts of the Protestant canon. For instance, he thought the Book of Revelation was false in a nutty way and that everything St. Paul wrote was not in fact true revelation.

He also thought much of the Old Testament was not actual divine revelation. For instance, the supposed curses of Noah on Ham and Canaan. Bolingbroke actually wonders whether those parts of the OT were, instead of divine writ, simply the meanderings of Noah in a drunken stupor. (See this link.) 

If there is a better term than "deist" to describe this creed, I'm all ears. But if we call it either "deism" or "Christianity" we need to clearly define the terms to understand what we are dealing with.

Wednesday, July 27, 2022

The American Theory of Rights: Not in the Social Contract, but in the Natural Law

 James Otis might have become the foremost thinker of the Founding, except he was brained by a violent Tory in 1769 and was showing signs of mental problems before that.  But 'twas James Otis who got the intellectual arguments for the American vision of liberty off to a brilliant start in 1764:




"Government is founded not on force, as was the theory of Hobbes; nor on compact, as was the theory of Locke and of the revolution of 1688; nor on property, as was the assertion of Harrington. It springs from the necessities of our nature, and has an everlasting foundation in the unchangeable will of God."
This is the unique American theory of rights as expressed in the Declaration of Independence--the foundation of man's rights is "the laws of nature and of nature's God."

Here the erudite James Otis makes the essential distinction between various "Enlightenment" theories of government and rights [Hobbes and Harrington, yes, even contrary to John Locke!] and the uniquely American vision--our rights come prior to government, we don't negotiate our rights with the government, or with each other:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
Rights are prior to government, then

That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed...



And some years later, in 1790, James Wilson---one of the few signers of both the Declaration and the Constitution, and a future Supreme Court justice, reminds his audiences [that included President Washington] in his lectures on law of just how the American view of rights differs from the British "contract" view of 1688, the supreme legal theorist William Blackstone and Edmund Burke, and even John Locke and the Magna Carta:


"But even if a part was to be given up, does it follow that all must be surrendered? Man, says Mr. Burke, cannot enjoy the rights of an uncivil and of a civil state together. By an uncivil contradistinguished from a civil state, he must here mean a state of nature: by the rights of this uncivil state, he must mean the rights of nature: and is it possible that natural and civil rights cannot be enjoyed together? Are they really incompatible? Must our rights be removed from the stable foundation of nature, and placed on the precarious and fluctuating basis of human institution? Such seems to be the sentiment of Mr. Burke: and such too seems to have been the sentiment of a much higher authority than Mr. Burke -- Sir William Blackstone. 

...
And must we surrender to government the whole of those absolute rights? But we are to surrender them only -- in trust: -- another brat of dishonest parentage is now attempted to be imposed upon us: but for what purpose? Has government provided for us a superintending court of equity to compel a faithful performance of the trust? If it had; why should we part with the legal title to our rights?"

Here is the fatal flaw of "social contract" theory, the British understanding of rights and government according to Burke and Blackstone and Locke---We barter our natural rights with the government and receive "civil privileges" in return.

Wilson answers his own question, "Must our rights be removed from the stable foundation of nature, and placed on the precarious and fluctuating basis of human institution?"---a "social contract" with government...?

 No!

At first, the stirrings of rebellion among the American colonists came from acts of Parliament abridging their "rights as Englishmen." But in the end, the Americans realized that even their "contractual" rights as Englishmen weren't enough---

 Rights reside in man, not in where a man resides.

This is the American way.

Wednesday, June 15, 2022

When Historians Attack III—Princeton's Kevin M. Kruse Exposed

(One in what we hope is only a very occasional series: When Historians Attack--and misuse their scholarly authority: Part One [Joseph Ellis]; Part Two [Mark Noll]--TVD)


Phillip W. Magness in the libertarian Reason magazine on Princeton—and MSNBC—historian Kevin M. Kruse's own scholarly record.  




Kruse's academic fraud is pretty bad. Read for yourself.

Sugrue: Detroit is a logical site for such a close analysis.

Kruse: Atlanta struck me as a logical site for such an analysis.


It gets even worse:











Dr. Kruse is "Twitter-famous" for taking on ideological opponents like non-historian Dinesh D'Sousa on their questionable assertions but here Kruse himself is


Tuesday, May 31, 2022

Hutson: Up Against the Wall ["of Separation"]

From James H. Hutson, former chief of the manuscript division at the Library of Congress and author of Religion and the Founding of the American Republic, in the Claremont Review of Books:


But even the most objective scholars can not provide jurists with the one, true answer about the 18th-century meaning of the Establishment Clause.


Opinions of the founding generation were scattered all across the spectrum on the question of the assistance government could give religion. Consider the Baptists, the most ardent separationists in the Founding Era. Some Baptists in Massachusetts and Maryland actually favored selective state financial subsidies for churches; others, while disapproving financial support, encouraged the state to print and distribute bibles; Virginia Baptists opposed both measures but were happy to accept public accommodations for church services. Presbyterians were divided over state financial assistance to churches as were political leaders in virtually every state. Statesmen like George Washington changed their mind on the issue. James Madison participated intermittently in public religious acts for 30 years, i.e., in issuing religious proclamations, which in the privacy of retirement he deplored. Jefferson permitted church services to be held in federal office buildings but was accused of hypocrisy for doing so.

Confronted by opinions so diverse and problematic, the best scholarship can be of only limited assistance in supplying the "correct" answer about the framers' precise intentions regarding government assistance to religion—a painful conclusion for a supporter of the "jurisprudence of original intent." Yet, according to a Massachusetts commentator in 1780, the meaning of the term, establishment of religion, was even then "prodigiously obscure." If so, do today's judges not deserve a degree of sympathy as they try to tease out the intentions of the drafters and ratifiers of the First Amendment?

Dreisbach's superb book, and Hamburger's as well, pierce the fog to this extent. They inform us that, if there is no "right" answer about how far the founding generation would have permitted government to go in assisting religion, there is indisputably a wrong one: the radical, unprecedented divorce of church from state that the Court has decreed since 1947.

Thursday, May 19, 2022

Cambridge Article on Ben Franklin and The Reasonableness of Christianity

This very dense article by one Kevin Slack is found here. There are many good things in this article, most of which I've already seen; but it did manage to deliver something I hadn't noticed before and which I haven't seen either from most contemporary scholars of Ben Franklin and religion.

Apparently Franklin was involved in a liturgy project with one David Williams. From the article:

As a member of the Thirteen Club, Franklin helped David Williams construct A Liturgy on the Universal Principles of Religion and Morality in 1773–1774.Footnote258 Franklin told Williams that he “never passed a Church, during Public Service, without regretting that he could not join it honestly and cordially,” and he wished to revive a “rational form of devotion,” like that of Shaftesbury's deism, for freethinkers.Footnote259 Church attendance had declined, and there was no alternative to the liturgy of the Book of Common Prayer or Dissenter enthusiasm.Footnote260 He “thought it a reproach to Philosophy that it had not a Liturgy and that it skulked from the public Profession of its Principles,” and he lamented the loss of “that pleasure, which all virtuous minds have in a public acknowledgement of their duties.”Footnote261 A liturgy was needed to preach the general principles of a common creed: “All disputed opinions should be excluded public-worship; and that all honest, pious men, Calvinists, Arians, Socinians, Jews, Turks, and Infidels, might and ought to worship God together in spirit and in truth.”Footnote262 Thus the liturgy invited the many of all faiths to join in a common creed constructed for a select “Party of Virtue.”Footnote263

The bold face is mine and it's an exact quotation from their project.

One reason why this piece of evidence may have flown under the radar of many scholars is that the evidence of Franklin's involvement in the project comes mainly from David Williams and not Franklin. However, I have found one letter of Franklin's to Williams and two letters (one and two) from Williams to Franklin.

The letters discuss their project. But in any event what was quoted above in bold reflects as far as I can tell Ben Franklin's adult opinions on both public (political) and private (personal) theology. And it's fairly close to Jefferson's and J. Adams' and thus explains the generic, "non-disputed" God language of the Declaration of Independence. 

Saturday, April 16, 2022

Hamburger: "Separation of Church and State: A Theologically Liberal, Anti-Catholic, and American Principle"

For some time I have featured the work of Columbia law professor Philip Hamburger's "Separation of Church and State" with critical commentary. I just hope my criticisms are fair. 

The chapter to that book entitled A Theologically Liberal, Anti-Catholic, and American Principle is available online in its entirety so readers can decide for themselves if I'm being fair. I stand by my assessment; Hamburger is a brilliant scholar who meticulously documents the record, but at times weaves an utterly contentious narrative while doing so. 

For instance, the "Anti-Catholic" and "American" principle Hamburger documents is, as I see it, simply Protestant anti-Roman Catholic animus, that has been present since day one of the Reformation. Hamburger seems to argue in the chapter that the "liberals" are to blame for it and somehow got the theologically orthodox, conservative Protestants to go along for the ride in 19th Century America; but I don't think so. The creedally orthodox, Trinitarian Protestants have as much of a history of anti-Roman Catholic animus as the "liberals" in America and Europe since, again, day one of the Reformation.

The "liberals" as Hamburger describes them, and as I have noted before, were either theologically unitarian or doctrinally lax in the anti-creedal, anti-clerical sense. This theologically liberal Protestantism was also arguably key to the political theology of the American Founding. Arguably, it owns a great deal of the "spirit" of the 18th Century American Founding, not just the 19th century which is the focus of Hamburger's chapter. 

I've also featured the work of Dr. Gregg Frazer whose thesis describes the political theology of the American Founding as not "Christianity" or "Deism" but some kind of hybrid which he terms "theistic rationalism." One could argue that this "theistic rationalism" is actually a late 18th century version of "liberal Protestant Christianity" of the unitarian variant. Very similar to the "theologically liberal" American theologians of the 19th Century whom Hamburger tars with "animus." (Note, the 18th Century American Founders who adhered to this theology like John Adams and others also possessed such anti-RC animus.) 

The legendary 19th Century Unitarian figure William Channing features prominently in Hamburger's chapter as a notable expositor of this kind of "theological liberalism." But one need not even be identifiably self consciously theologically unitarian in order to qualify as an adherent to this kind of theological liberalism. Rather, one would need to be a self consciously anti-creedal and anti-clerical Protestant. Certainly, William Livingston and John Dickinson (basically 1/2 Quaker Whigs who didn't care for creeds or clergy) would also qualify in addition to the "key Founders" that Gregg Frazer identifies (the first four American Presidents, Ben Franklin, etc.). As would the Quakers and perhaps some Baptists who also eschewed creeds. Again, lots of important figures and forces of the 18th Century American Founding. 

Below is an interesting passage from page 13 of Hamburger's above linked article.
In addition, some Enlightenment Protestants attempted to reconcile religion and reason by accentuating what could be inferred from reason and by reducing religion to what was reasonable. Associating reason with the purity of their own faith, Protestants condemned Catholicism as not only unfree but also irrational and superstitious-thereby joining earlier Protestants who classed it with the mummery and horrors of paganism.

This completely resonates with the political-theological zeitgeist of the American Founding (or at least notable elements therein like the aforementioned "key Founders," Revs. Jonathan Mayhew, Charles Chauncy, and Brits. Joseph Priestley and Richard Price). But in this chapter, Hamburger apparently tries to tar it as a "bad guy" position by connecting it to animus and eventually the KKK.  

Thursday, March 10, 2022

Cincinnatus Goes Home

March 10, 1797: George and Martha Washington leave the President's House in Philadelphia for a much-anticipated retirement at Mount Vernon.

To celebrate George Washington's retirement from the presidency, Philadelphia displayed a life-size painting showing Washington leaving a sword and helmet—symbols of power—at America's feet as he gestures towards Mount Vernon.

'General Washington's Resignation' (engraving) by Alexander Lawson, John James Barralet. Circa 1799.

Thursday, March 3, 2022

Article by Philip Hamburger on Justice Barrett

Philip Hamburger's book "Separation of Church and State" turns 20 years old in 2022. Hamburger is a brilliant scholar and Ivy League Professor of Law (Columbia), and as such his work is always well worth engaging. 

But over the years that I've engaged with this work in particular, I've noted how, as meticulously researched as the book is, it makes very contentious, even if interesting arguments. In 2020, writing in Newsweek, Hamburger summarizes his book in the context of an op-ed about Justice Amy Barrett's then confirmation hearings. 

I strongly recommend people read the article for a summary of the book and if further interested in the history of legal church/state relations in America, read his book

His book gores certain oxen and vindicates others. If one is a fan of Justice Hugo Black's opinion in Everson v. Board of Education (1947), one's ox is going to be gored. On the other hand, if one is a Roman Catholic seeking a lower or non-existent "wall of separation" complete with a largely accurate history of how certain forces in America have subjected Catholics to animus, the ox vindicated.

What I find very ironic about Hamburger's "narrative," is that while he notes that America's national government forbids an official establishment of religion (or "law respecting an establishment of religion"), he also concedes America did have a kind of "de facto" Protestant Christian establishment.

But -- perhaps this is a message he didn't intend to impart to religiously conservative Protestants who might be sympathetic to his anti-Everson position -- he makes that de facto establishment look very bad in how they used their political power over church-state relations. He basically tars "Protestant Christian America" with animus or bigotry. 

Now, perhaps "Protestant Christian America" is guilty of such bigotry. World history is replete with examples of sectarian mistreatment among social groups taking place within national boundaries in a variety of different contexts. The problem, as I see it in Hamburger's particular claim, is that such simply isn't relevant to how the Establishment Clause ought to operate today or whether the Everson case was rightly decided. 

There were two poles to the theological-political wings of Protestantism in America: the Right wing, who were more traditionally orthodox (either Calvinistic or some other kind of non-Calvinistic, evangelical types) and the Left who were either Unitarian or doctrinally lax. Often it's hard to tell the difference between the two, because they were all "Protestant Christians" and in many cases they may have attended the same churches. Hamburger clearly goes after the "liberals" more so. One chapter to his book is entitled, "A Theologically Liberal, Anti-Catholic, and American Principle." 

But both wings of Protestantism had one thing in common that arguably united them: anti-Roman Catholic animus. According to Hamburger's narrative, it is this Protestant Christian American anti-Roman Catholic animus that motivates calls for "Separation of Church and State." And all of this then becomes connected to the KKK. 

Indeed, Prof. Hamburger reminds us that "Americans United For Separation of Church and State" was previously "Protestants and Others United for the Separation of Church and State" and that the KKK supported all of this. 

Then, the historical villainy that Hamburger so meticulously documents becomes epitomized in a single figure: Justice Hugo Black, author of the Everson opinion. Justice Black was born in Alabama in 1886 and was raised and educated as a Baptist. Somewhere along the way he joins the KKK, has a distinguished political career, ends up on the Supreme Court of the United States and according to his biographer, older, sometimes attended services, with his wife, at the local Unitarian Universalist Church.

On the Court he votes both FOR Brown v. Board of Education (1954) AND Everson. Justice Black's "liberalism" in life and on the Court -- however "Protestant" it was -- was hardly "Klanish." Even though the facts Prof. Hamburger reports are largely accurate; I see this as the weakest part of his book.

As my friend the late Ed Brayton noted, it's poisoning the well or the genetic fallacy.