Friday, February 16, 2024

Observations on Senator Josh Hawley's Christian Nation Piece Part II

See Part I here.

More from Sen. Hawley:
God gave rulers authority to command and coerce, but only insofar as they protected the liberties of the people. God instructed the people, in turn, to obey “the governing authorities” (Romans 13:1), but only insofar as the rulers honored their liberties. Winthrop envisioned a covenant made with God: Only a godly nation would win God’s favor and prosper under his direction of human affairs. But the political covenant was also—and this is crucial—an agreement between the rulers and the ruled. Should the authorities break the terms of God’s delegation of governance and assault the people’s freedoms, then the people had a right to defend themselves, even to rebel.

I emphasized what is in bold. This is an extremely loaded and contentious understanding of Romans 13. Great Britain, against whom America rebelled was every bit as "Christian" and "biblically informed" as America was and their political pulpits didn't understand Romans 13 with these qualifications. Arguably their understanding was the more "fundamentalist" in terms of a "literal" reading of the verse and chapter.

More from Hawley:

It is a small step from covenants to constitutions, and if this rehearsal of the evolution of early modern political thought brings to mind John Locke, it should. Locke learned covenantal theory from the French Calvinists and converted it (sometimes dubiously) to his own use. Thus, whether from the Puritan settlers or from the Calvinist-influenced Locke, covenant has long been in the American bloodstream. ...

There is precisely zero evidence that Locke learned covenantal theory from the French Calvinists. The American Founding had many different currents that flowed into its stream and the "Calvinist resisters" (as I like to call them) were certainly one of them. Locke was a much stronger current and he has nothing to do with them. There is a provable connection between Locke and Hobbes (and the Anglican divine Richard Hooker). 

Locke's teachings complete with the "state of nature/social contract and rights" (what he got from Hobbes) did find their way into the founding era "political sermons." But whether such teachings are in according with traditional Christianity is entirely debatable. 

More from Hawley:

I have attempted only the barest sketch of the Bible’s influence on America’s most enduring ideals. Others have traced the argument in greater detail. Larry Siedentop’s Inventing the Individual: The Origins of Western Liberalism demonstrates the Christian taproot of Western rights. In The Hebrew Republic: Jewish Sources and the Transformation of European Political Thought, Eric Nelson identifies the biblical ground of our political institutions. There is real value in getting this history right, because it tells us what sort of society America has truly been. ...

I'm not familiar with Siedentop's work (though I hope one day to be), but am intimately familiar with Nelson's. Yes it's a work that all interested in this topic should check out. I'm not sure whether Hawley fully understands or accurately represents it in his brief mention. Nelson's thesis does not focus on America but rather prior European (it's in the title of the book!) writers (many of whom indeed did influence America's founders). And he connects their thought to all of the nations (mainly Western) that comprise "modernity." 

Nelson's work focuses on one group of thinkers -- the "republicans" -- in contrast to the "liberals." Madison's excerpt from Federalist 10 that I featured in Part I well represents the "liberal" perspective. And Madison's liberal view is in tension with the "Hebraic republican" view.

The bottom line is this: Madison didn't believe in limits on the accumulation of and the consequent redistribution of wealth. But the Hebraic republicans did. Indeed someone from the "Christian Left" who believe in such would find much ammo for their perspective in Nelson's book. 

Something else notable about the Hebraic republicans featured in Nelson's book is the content of their theology. I'm no theologian, so I'm not one to judge. But for those looking for "sound  theology" you really need to question their hermeneutics and exegesis. In short, they argued that the Old Testament taught "republican" form of government that demanded redistribution of wealth in the form of "agrarian laws." (They thought the way the OT dealt with debt and the Jubilee was an agrarian law.)

The way I see it, the concepts of "republican" government and "agrarian" laws have nothing to do with the Old Testament. But these thinkers (James Harrington of "Oceana" fame is one of the most notable) argued otherwise. I see them as grafting on post-hoc these Greco-Roman principles to the Old Testament.

Also note when the authors of the Federalist Papers discussed the concept of republican government precisely NONE of the Hebraic republican rhetoric was invoked. It was mostly Greco-Roman metaphor (just look that their surnames like Publius). 

A final point of analysis. More from Hawley:

... But the nation’s ideals, social institutions, and habits have all been Christianly shaped. And this is a good thing, maybe especially for Americans who are not Christians. Precisely because of the Christian influence, American society has protected the liberty of all to speak, to worship, to assemble and petition, to share in self-rule.

A little while ago, Hawley stepped in it by spreading a phony quotation attributed to Patrick Henry:

“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. For this very reason, peoples of other faiths have been afforded asylum, prosperity, and freedom of worship here.” 

The actual quotation came from 1956 in a magazine called The Virginian. It was from an article about Patrick Henry. It is good that Hawley doesn't repeat the error in this article. Though I do note that Hawley's sentiment seems influenced by the commentary from The Virginian. (No, it's not plagiarism; I'm just noting the apparent influence.) 

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