Saturday, December 29, 2012

John Perry on Vindications of the Reasonableness of Christianity

John Perry from University of Oxford reviews John Locke, Vindications of the Reasonableness of Christianity, Victor Nuovo (ed.), Oxford University Press, 2012.  A taste:
 Rather than a general defense of the Reasonableness, both Vindications are targeted more narrowly at the Presbyterian John Edwards, who had accused Locke of being "all over Socinianized." (As the Reasonableness was published anonymously, Edwards could not at first be sure of its author, though he knew the rumors that it was Locke.) Their disagreement largely revolves around a relatively narrow concern: what to make of Locke's claim that the only necessary belief is that Jesus is the Messiah. (As he had written in Reasonableness, chapter five: "So that all that was to be believed for justification, was no more but this single proposition, that 'Jesus of Nazareth was the Christ, or the Messiah.'") 
According to Edwards, this excludes all sorts of important doctrines, such as the Trinity and the atonement. Locke rejects this, though with a rather scattered shotgun blast. He identifies places that his text had implied something like the atonement; he points out that even those incapable of understanding complex theology can yet be saved and so the absolute doctrinal minimum must be quite low; and he argues that the doctrinal criteria were meant to function as membership criteria. That is, believing Jesus to be the Messiah is what it takes to become a Christian, but not all that a Christian must believe and do, just as a citizenship oath might make me an Englishman but would not be all that I must do to obey English law. 
The problem in wading through all of this is that most of the substance is lost in quibbles about who said what where. Put bluntly, Edwards' and Locke's quarrel is long, boring, and repetitive. (The Second Vindication alone is a grueling 90,000 words; far longer than the Reasonableness  itself. Such tedium was an unfortunate feature of Locke's other rebuttals. The three sequels to the Letter concerning Toleration are equally dull.)

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Some Christmas Season Barton Bashing

What would American Creation be without some obligatory David Barton bashing. The first is from Ed Brayton noting that Barton continues to falsely assert that America's Framers quoted the Bible in the US Constitution. (They didn't even quote the Bible in the Federalist Papers OR, when debating the Constitution's provisions, at the Constitutional Convention. Yes, I know Ben Franklin quoted the Bible there during his failed bid for prayer when they reached an impasse.)

Next is from Chris Rodda on how Barton misrepresents Thomas Jefferson's view of Isaac Newton.

And finally, criticism of Barton for his claim that the 2nd Amendment is "biblical."

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Merry Unitarian Christmas

Numerous articles and blogs have noted the strong case to doubt Christmas' authentically "Christian" origins. Christ probably wasn't born on Dec. 25. The Puritans banned the holiday because it wasn't authentically Christian. And many of its rituals trace to the pagan celebration of the Winter Solstice or Saturnalia.

The modern understanding of Christmas is also significantly influenced by Charles Dickens' classic, "A Christmas Carol."

Charles Dickens, you see, was a Unitarian Christian. And "A Christmas Carol" preaches a decidedly (19th Century) Unitarian message on Christmas. To Unitarians, "Christianity" was all about good works and good will, NOT God's grace through Christ's atonement. And "A Christmas Carol" hardly ever mentions Jesus at all, but is about good works and good will.

Now, orthodox Christians likewise appreciate good works and good will. But that is secondary to God's grace through the shed blood of Jesus Christ -- God the Son Incarnate. And "A Christmas Carol" celebrates this message that the orthodox could consider at best secondary or incidental, not the central theme of the Christian religion.

That said, have a Merry Unitarian Christmas.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Merry Christmas from the Moon

Having survived another presidential election and the end of Mayan history, it's with some relief we wish a Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah to all those here gathered---may we smile today, give thanks, inspire and be inspired in the coming year as were these three great men those 40-odd years ago...


It was on Christmas Eve 1968 that the astronauts of Apollo 8, Frank Borman, Jim Lovell, and Bill Anders, became the first of mankind to see an earthrise from the orbit of the moon, and looking back on us, they spoke these words:


Anders: "We are now approaching lunar sunrise. And, for all the people back on earth, the crew of Apollo 8 have a message that we would like to send to you...

"In the beginning, God created the Heaven and the Earth. And the Earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters. And God said, Let there be light; and there was light. And God saw the light, that it was good; and God divided the light from the darkness."

Lovell: "And God called the light Day, and the darkness He called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day. And God said, Let there be a firmament in the midst of the waters, and let it divide the waters from the waters. And God made the firmament, and divided the waters which were under the firmament from the waters which were above the firmament; and it was so. And God called the firmament Heaven. And the evening and the morning were the second day."

Borman: "And God said, Let the waters under the Heaven be gathered together unto one place, and let the dry land appear; and it was so. And God called the dry land Earth; and the gathering together of the waters He called Seas: and God saw that it was good."

And from the crew of Apollo 8, we close with good night, good luck, a Merry Christmas, and God bless all of you, all of you on the good earth."


It is good. God bless us, every one.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Christmas Cheer Founding-style

My favorite Yuletide Founding factoid is George Washington's contract with his gardener:



"In consideration of these things being well and truly performed on the part of said Philip Bater, the said George Washington doth agree to allow him. . . four dollars at Christmas with which he may be drunk 4 days and 4 nights, two dollars at Easter to effect the same purpose; two dollars also at Whitsuntide, to be drunk two days, a Dram in the morning and a drink of Grog at Dinner or at Noon."


As pointed out elsewhere here at American Creation, Christmas wasn't that big a religious holiday back in the day. But it was twice as important as Easter or Whitsuntide [Pentecost] for getting good and loaded.

Four days drunk and four whole dollars to do it with! Now, that's a verrrrrrry Merry Christmas, and Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night. [Or four of them!]

[And don't miss GWash's eggnog recipe, which'll clean out half your liquor cabinet!]

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

First Freedom on PBS

Get the details here.

Frank Pastore, RIP

I was unaware that he was hurt in an accident until today. I express my sincere condolences to the Pastore family. I didn't know much about Pastore. I listened to a few of his shows and read a few of his columns. I did find out that he had a graduate degree (Masters, apparently) in political science from the Claremont Graduate School. One of his fellow students at the time was none other than friend of the site, Dr. Gregg Frazer. You can listen to Frazer discussing his book on Pastore's show here.

Christmas in 1776

By Thomas Kidd here.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Go Onboard the Queen Mary Sunday Night

Go onboard the Queen Mary this Sunday night at 8:15pm (ET) via C-SPAN2 BookTV and watch Jim Bendat talk about  his book, Democracy's Big Day: The Inauguration of Our President, 1789-2013.

One of the more unusual topics Jim will bring up is that the public swearing-in ceremony for President Barack Obama will be on January 21, 2013. It happens that this coming January 20th falls on a Sunday, so "Democracy's Big Day" inauguration will be postponed a day. A private swearing-in ceremony will be held on Sunday. No matter what happens on Sunday, Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts will get a second chance at performing a "do-over" on the next day. 

This unusual circumstance happens every 28 years, which is also known as a dominical cycle. Ordinarily, the 28-year cycle is broken when spilling over into another century, but thanks to the Y2K anomaly the dominical cycle stayed in tact. The first time an Inauguration fell on a Sunday was in 1821 for President Monroe’s second swearing-in.The last time an inauguration fell on a Sunday was on January 20, 1985, which was the occasion for President Ronald Reagan second inauguration.
 


Thursday, December 13, 2012

More on the Natural Law and the Founding



A Natural Law Manifesto

by Hadley Arkes

In launching the Claremont Institute's new Center for Natural Law Jurisprudence we want to proclaim again the case for natural law, and offer a kind of Natural Law Manifesto. We announce here nothing new to the world, much in the way that James Wilson, at the origin of the Constitution, proclaimed that we were not, under this Constitution, inventing new rights.

The object of the Constitution, he said, was "to acquire a new security for the possession or the recovery of those rights" we already possess by nature. The great Blackstone had famously said that, on entering civil society, we give up those unqualified rights we had in the State of Nature, including the liberty of "doing mischief." To which James Wilson asked, in a Talmudic question, "Is it part of natural liberty to do mischief to anyone?" In other words, as Abraham Lincoln and Thomas Aquinas had it, we never had a "right to do a wrong." Even in the state of nature we did not have a right to murder or rape, and therefore as we entered civil society, the laws that barred people from murdering and raping never barred them from anything they ever had a rightful liberty to do. And so, what rights did we give up on entering civil society? The answer given by Wilson and Alexander Hamilton was: none. As Hamilton said in Federalist 84, "Here, in strictness, the people surrender nothing." 

Hence there was something not quite right in the notion of a Bill of Rights reserving to people rights they hadn't surrendered to the state, for that implied that they had indeed surrendered the body of their rights to the state and that they were holding back now a few they hadn't surrendered. The very purpose of the Constitution—the purpose that directed all branches of the government, not merely the courts—was the securing of those "natural rights." One could deny that point, as Hamilton said, only by slipping into the teaching of Thomas Hobbes and supposing that there were no rights before the advent of a government, no morality antecedent to civil society. As Hamilton pointed out, in Hobbes's view morality was all conventional. We could not expect anyone to accept any moral restraints on his conduct, for until there were laws, he could have no assurance that there were moral truths out there that anyone would respect.
Hamilton may be taken as a telling voice here, for indeed the American Founding would not make any sense unless those doctrines of Hobbes were decisively rejected. But that is to say, again, that the founding, and the second Constitution it brought forth, found its telos, its central purpose, in the securing of natural rights, the rights that had to be there even before a government came into place.
_________________

As they say, read the whole thing.


Wednesday, December 12, 2012

By Jove! It Looks Like a Syzygy

If one looks now on this rare date of 12/12/12, one can observe that the Library of Congress, Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies, and the Architect of the Capitol websites for Presidential Inaugurations are now all in alignment in having discarded the George Washington myth that he was the first president to have added "So help me God" to his presidential oath.

In contrast, click here, AOC/LOC, and here, JCCIC, to see what was said back on January 20, 2009.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

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.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Schlueter On Sustainable Liberalism

One of the things I find extremely helpful in this article by Nathan Schlueter in The Public Discourse is its discussion on the various forms of "liberalism." When we speak of "liberalism" it helps to know what exactly it is we are discussing.

A taste:
Social contract liberalism grows out of the Anglo-Enlightenment tradition, and is associated with Hobbes, Locke, and more recently Robert Nozick. It attempts to deduce justified political authority from a set of universal, abstract premises: All men are by nature free and equal and possess inalienable rights, and the consent of the governed therefore is required for political authority to be just. 
[...] 
Classical liberalism grows out of the Scottish Enlightenment tradition, and includes thinkers such as Montesquieu, Adam Smith, David Hume, Francis Hutcheson, and, more recently, F. A. Hayek. Classical liberalism is more sensitive than contract liberalism to the fact that human beings are by nature social, historical, and dependent animals, and it illuminates the ways in which emergent, spontaneous orders are forms of knowledge that cannot be achieved by centralized direction. Classical liberals therefore show how liberty, community, and tradition can be complementary, and how political authority can be justified as a necessary means of solving coordination problems in a given society. 
[...] 
... Although the roots of modern liberalism can be found in the writings of Kant, Hegel, and J. S. Mill, its most influential American expositor is John Rawls. Rawls ingeniously (and, it must be said, not always coherently) combines both contractarian and classical liberalism into a comprehensive philosophical system that is indebted to both forms of liberalism, even as it departs markedly from them. 
There is no need to reiterate the problems with modern liberalism. The point here is to set in relief what is distinctive about natural law liberalism. According to Thomas Jefferson, the Declaration of Independence is not simply a translation of Lockean social contract theory. “All of its authority,” he wrote in a letter to Henry Lee, “rests on the harmonizing sentiments of the day, whether expressed in conversation, in letters, printed essays, or in the elementary books of public right, as Aristotle, Cicero, Locke, Sidney, &c." Locke is there, but so is Aristotle. 
We have here a clue to what is great about American liberalism: It does not rest upon the writings of a single theorist, but draws from the best thought of the western tradition of right, classical, medieval, and modern, in a way that is still genuinely liberal. Elements of both social contract theory and classical liberalism are there, but their foundations rest upon the metaphysical realism and ethical framework of the pre-modern tradition (Aristotle and Cicero).

Judge Posner on Amar's New Book

I'm not sure if Judge Posner is right.  But he is a brilliant mind whose work is always worth taking seriously.  And the argument he makes explores the political-theological concerns we study at American Creation.  A taste:
 THE CONSTITUTION of the United States has its passionate votaries—none more so than Akhil Reed Amar of Yale Law School—as does the Bible. But both sets of worshippers face the embarrassment of having to treat an old, and therefore dated, document as authoritative. Neither set’s members are willing to say that because it is old, and therefore dated, it is not authoritative. Some say it is old but not dated; they are the constitutional and Biblical literalists. But most of the worshippers admit, though not always out loud, that their holy book is dated and must therefore be updated (without altering the text) so as to preserve its authority. They use various techniques for updating. One is misinterpretation. Another is loose interpretation, which can be thought a form of realism. Amar, who is merely dismissive of conservative textualists and originalists, is harshly and unfairly critical of realist judges such as Oliver Wendell Holmes and realist professors such as David Strauss, lest he be confused with them.
Amar’s method of updating, which is also the one the Catholic Church applies to the Bible, is supplementation from equally authoritative sources. The Church believes that a Pope receives divine inspirations that enable him to proclaim dogmas that are infallible and thus have equal authority with the Bible. Jesus Christ’s mother does not play a prominent role in the New Testament, but she became a focus of Catholic veneration, and in 1854 the Pope proclaimed the dogma of Mary’s Immaculate Conception (that is, that she had been born without original sin). This and other extra-Biblical Catholic dogmas, such as the Nicene Creed, which proclaimed the consubstantiality of the Son and the Father, form a kind of parallel Bible, equal in authority to the written one, which reached its modern form in the third century C.E. 
This is the line taken by Amar. Alongside the written Constitution is an unwritten constitution. They are consubstantial. The Constitution, like the teachings of the Catholic Church, is a composite of a founding document and a variety of supplementary practices and declarations (many of course in writing also). No matter how wild Amar’s constitutional views may seem, he claims that they are in this two-in-one constitution; that he did not put them there. 
Actually, despite the book’s title, it is not two in one—it is twelve in one. There is not just one unwritten constitution, in Amar’s reckoning; there are eleven of them. There is an “implicit” constitution, a “lived” constitution, a “Warrented” constitution (the reference is to Earl Warren), a “doctrinal” constitution, a “symbolic” constitution, a “feminist” constitution, a “Georgian” constitution (the reference is to George Washington), an “institutional” constitution, a “partisan” constitution (the reference is to political parties, which are not mentioned in the written Constitution), a “conscientious” constitution (which, for example, permits judges and jurors to ignore valid law), and an “unfinished” constitution that Amar is busy finishing. All these unwritten constitutions, in Amar’s view, are authoritative. And miraculously, when correctly interpreted, they all cohere, both with each other and with the written Constitution. The sum of the twelve constitutions is the Constitution.
One is tempted to say that this is preposterous, and leave it at that. But it is an attempt to respond to the felt need of professors of constitutional law, and of judges who rule on constitutional cases (particularly Supreme Court justices), to find, or at least to assert, an objective basis for constitutional decisions. On the eve of the Supreme Court’s decision on the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act—a time of liberal panic—Amar was quoted as saying that if the Court invalidated the act “then yes, it’s disheartening to me, because my life was a fraud. Here I was, in my silly little office, thinking law mattered, and it really didn’t. What mattered was politics, money, party, and party loyalty.” But the constitutional “law” that matters to Amar is not what other lawyers understand law to be. It is a palimpsest of twelve constitutions, only one of which is real.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Jefferson Was a Jerk

And let's not forget the grandaddy of Jefferson punkings, from the October 1996 Atlantic:

In the multiracial American future Jefferson will not be thought of as the Sage of Monticello. His flaws are beyond redemption. The sound you hear is the crashing of a reputation
by Conor Cruise O'Brien

Wiencek: "Meacham Has Fallen Under the Jeffersonian Spell"

John Fea gives us the story here.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Zig Ziglar on Faith and the Founding Fathers

Yesterday, we lost one of the greatest motivational speakers of all time and one of my personal heroes. In this video excerpt from an interview he did a few years back, Zig Ziglar talks about his personal faith and sprinkles in several references to the Founding Fathers (which is what makes this post relevant to our blog). Enjoy! :-)

Sunday, November 25, 2012

The immigrant financiers who helped secure our Republic

That's the topic of this interesting article posted over at The American Conservative: Founding Financiers. As the author Michael Lind points out, the long-term sustainability of the United States was ensured, in no small part, to the work of the first Treasury secretaries -- Alexander Hamilton under George Washington and later Albert Gallitin under Thomas Jefferson. Hamilton worked to create a unified economic system for the young Republic, and Gallitin had the good sense not to capitulate to the ideological fervor of Jefferson who wanted to tear Hamilton's work asunder. Thanks to their combined efforts, the early United States had the stability and economic vitality necessary to begin the work of building the country and expanding its borders. And as Lind points out, both men were immigrants to this country -- men who came here because of the promise of opportunity that the United States offered.

And no, Alexander Hamilton never said that "a national debt is a blessing." His actual quote is as follows: "A national debt, if it is not excessive, will be to us a national blessing." You can't honestly lay the current debt-cursed state of American national finance at Hamilton's feet. Hamilton knew the benefits of a modest national debt -- but the out of control borrowing and spending that currently vexes our government is something alien to his thought. In his financing theory as in his politics for the most part, Hamilton was a champion of prudential reasoning.

Cicero's Republic and Christian Arguments for Rebellion against Tyrants

By Greg Forster here.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Too Many Givewaways

Yesterday, "Mormon Tea"-toddler and 2012 presidential candidate, Mitt Romney, blamed his election loss to President Obama, because the President bribed his voters with giveaways. One can only imagine how Governor Romney would have explained his loss if he had tried to oppose 26-year old Lieutenant Colonel George Washington during the 1758 campaign for a seat in the Commonwealth of Virginia House of Burgesses.  

Here's a sample of what biographer Denis Pogue, Vice President for Preservation at George Washington’s Mount Vernon Estate, Museum & Gardens had to say:
It's Election Day in Virginia, an event that back in George Washington's day would have had the ex-president and his supporters seeing double. The reason: Voting day was a reason to binge in Colonial times, and the candidate who served up the most hooch often won.

Washington biographer Dennis Pogue, vice president of preservation at Washington's home of Mount Vernon, reveals that the father of the nation lost his first campaign in 1755 to the House of Burgesses largely because he didn't put on an alcohol-laden circus at the polls. That year, Washington got 40 votes. The winner, who plied voters with beer, whiskey, rum punch, and wine, got 271 votes.

A quick learner, Washington won three years later with the help of alcohol. "What do you know, he was successful and got 331 votes," says Pogue, author of the new book Founding Spirits: George Washington and the Beginnings of the American Whiskey Industry. He spoke about his research Monday night at an event sponsored by the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States and the National Press Club.

Read the full 11/8/2012 USNews Washington Whispers article written by  here.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Richard Beeman on the Founding Fathers

John Fea links here.

Spiritual hunches vs. math: How not to predict the outcome of an election

By Warren Throckmorton here. A taste:
On another note, David Barton compares his partnership with Mormon Glenn Beck to the George Whitefield revivals before the Revolutionary War. Somehow I can’t see Whitefield partnering with the heterodox beliefs which characterize the LDS church.  While he was kind in his criticisms, Whitefield clearly and publicly confronted what  he considered to be error (e.g., this letter to John Wesley).

Friday, November 9, 2012

.@FreeRepublicUSA Begs Queen Elizabeth II To Take Them Back

Here. Queen Elizabeth responds: "Well you should not have violated Romans 13 back then. Serves you right you rebel heretics."

Church Affiliation Colonial and Now -- Sightings (Martin Marty)

Here.  A taste:
So how were things in the good old days? A consensus questioned by a few serious scholars—Patricia Bonomi among them—is that fewer than 20 percent of the colonial citizens were active in churches. Change came after 1776, so that, in one common estimate, church participation jumped from 17 percent to 34 percent between 1776 and 1850. A better past, more illuminating for comparison in present concerns, is between the early 1960s, when participation crested, and today.
I'll have to check the footnotes; but I do seem to remember more than one authority claiming this may be a lowball. The truth usually lies somewhere in between. On the one hand the Christian Nation notion that virtually every American citizen at the time was an orthodox Trinitarian, church active Protestant is bogus. There were plenty of nominal, unchurched men more likely to be in a tavern on a Saturday night than in a Church on Sunday. But the exact numbers? What constituted a statistical majority? Not sure.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Sam Adams on Voting

"Let each citizen remember at the moment he is offering his vote that he is not making a present or a compliment to please an individual - or at least that he ought not so to do; but that he is executing one of the most solemn trusts in human society for which he is accountable to God and his country." -Samuel Adams

Jacob Duché the Swedenborg

I was perusing through Benjamin Rush's Autobiography at the library where I work and this caught me. Christian nationalists like to parade Duché as the heroic patriotic Christian minister of the American Revolution. But they usually leave out the part where this Benedict Arnold of the American Civil Religion switched sides and urged George Washington to surrender to the British. After he was ruined he experimented with Christian mysticism and then eventually settled on Swedenborgianism.

Here is Reverend William White on  Duché's spiritual journey:
A remarkably fine voice and graceful action helped to render him very popular as a preacher. His disposition also was amiable. The greatest infirmity attending him was a tendency to change his religious sentiment. A few years after his ministerial settlement he took to the mysticism of Jacob Behmen and William Law. From this he became detached for a time; and his preaching, which was more zealous than either before or after, seemed to me to border on Calvinism; though, probably, he was not aware of, or designed, it. In this interval my personal intercourse with him began; and hav1ng one day asked of him the loan of Law's works, then much talked of, I received a refusal; the reason given being the danger he had formerly been in from reading these books. He relapsed, however, to the theory of the mystics, and continued in it until the troubles which drove him from his native country. In England he became a convert to the opinions of Baron Swedenborg; and in these he continued until his decease.
Some "orthodox" consider Swedenborgianism not "Christian" because it denies "the Trinity and the Holy Spirit, the vicarious atonement, and reject[s] Acts and the Pauline epistles ...."  Here is another source that views Swedenborgianism as a non-Christian religion.  George Washington, on the other hand, seemed to have no problem with the Swedenborgs.

Monday, November 5, 2012

The Timeliness of Mitt's Mormonism

From ANN ALTHOUSE: “It’s fascinating — isn’t it? — how little anti-Mormon material has been spread about in this election. The only notable person who seems to be going there is Andrew Sullivan.”

I'd like to think I didn't engage in any anti-Mormonism during this term. Here is an op-ed I wrote about Mitt's Mormonism and I stand by it.

A taste:
Hmm... Mitt Romney, as a Mormon, claims to be a "Christian" and accepts Jesus as the divine, resurrected Savior of mankind. So what is the problem? Space forbids me to detail all of the problems evangelicals have with Mormonism. But, at base, Mormonism denies historic orthodoxy as found in doctrines like the Nicene and Apostles' Creeds; to disbelieve in orthodox Trinitarianism, as it were, is to disbelieve in "Mere Christianity" as CS Lewis termed it. After the late Walter Martin, conservative evangelicals often term non-Trinitarian religionists, like the Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses, and others, as "cults."

Though the term "cults" was not used during the American Founding era to describe non-Trinitarians, the "orthodox" then (especially clergy) did regard these "heretics" as not "Christian."

[...]

Most know that Thomas Jefferson, who served two terms as third President, was not an orthodox Trinitarian Christian. He did, interestingly, think of himself as a "Christian" while denying every single tenet of historic orthodoxy.

Fewer know that John Adams too, failed, and to quote history professor John Fea's masterful new book on the Christian Nation controversy, "fail[ed] miserably" the test for Christian orthodoxy. Adams, who identified as a "unitarian" his entire adult life, bitterly mocked the doctrines of the Trinity, which he termed a "sacerdotal imposture[]," and the Incarnation, which he said "stupified the Christian World."

And it's not as though George Washington and James Madison, respectively, the first and fourth American Presidents, the "father of America" and the "architect of the Constitution," were paragons of Christian orthodoxy. While not as overtly unitarian as the second and third American Presidents, Washington and Madison, from their own words, offer little to demonstrate their belief in Christian orthodoxy.

Indeed, Washington's own orthodox minister, the Reverend James Abercrombie, claimed Washington's systematic avoidance of communion meant he was not a "real Christian" because his actions "disregard[ed] an ordinance so solemnly enjoined by the divine Author of our holy religion, and considered as a channel of divine grace."

And well respected orthodox Episcopalian, William Meade, third Bishop of Virginia, well acquainted with Madison, claimed the fourth President's "political associations with those of infidel principles, of whom there were many in his day, if they did not actually change" his youthful, conventionally religious spirit, "subjected him to the general suspicion of it." (One prominent unitarian contemporary of James Madison, George Ticknor, founder of the Boston Public Library, claims Madison personally professed unitarianism to him during a dinner conversation.)

In all likelihood, the first American President who might pass [the] orthodox test for Christianity was seventh President Andrew Jackson!

The early American Presidents were not perfect, but they well led the newly formed nation. Their example shows little connection between belief in orthodox Trinitarian doctrine and Presidential leadership acumen.

Please keep that in mind when considering how Mitt Romney's Mormonism might impact his qualifications for the American Presidency.
When I was at the CPS Conference last spring a very prominent researcher who sometimes reads American Creation asked why did we discuss Mormonism on a regular basis.  My answer was twofold.  One:  It's current; we may have a Mormon President.  The second answer was, "who holds the baton to the political theology of the American Founding?"  The above mentioned key Founders were the theistic liberals of their day.  The theological liberals of today are Unitarian Universalists and the liberal Christian churches (Obama's and the mainline churches).  Do they hold the baton?  Perhaps.  But I leave it an open question.  Perhaps the heretical conservative sects like the Mormons hold the baton.  Mormonism certainly seems more authentically "American" a creed than orthodox Christianity.  Though, one major difference I observe is Mormonism isn't as rationalistic as the key Founders' creed.  

Under God” Pledge Case to be Reviewed by Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court

That is the title to this article. A taste:
Washington, DC, Oct. 26, 2012) —The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court (SJC) has agreed to hear the appeal from a humanist family challenging a state law that requires daily recitation of the Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag in public schools. The plaintiffs claim daily classroom affirmation that the nation is “under God” violates state constitutional prohibitions against religious discrimination.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Early Mormonism on the "Evils" of Wealth (Glenn Beck's Head is About to Explode)


So it has been a long while since I posted anything.  Perhaps this will be a way to ease back into it.

------------------------------

The First Presidency and Council of the Twelve Apostles of the Church of
Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (1875)
THE EXPERIENCE OF MANKIND has shown that the people of communities and nations among whom wealth is the most equally distributed, enjoy the largest degree of liberty, are the least exposed to tyranny and oppression and
suffer the least from luxurious habits which beget vice. Under such a system, carefully maintained there could be no great aggregations of either real or personal property in the hands of a few; especially so while the
laws, forbidding the taking of usury or interest for money or property loaned, continued in force.
ONE OF THE GREAT EVILS with which our own nation is menaced at the present  time is the wonderful growth of wealth in the hands of a comparatively few individuals. The very liberties for which our fathers contended so
steadfastly and courageously, and which they bequeathed to us as a priceless legacy, are endangered by the monstrous power which this accumulation of wealth gives to a few individuals and a few powerful corporations. By its
seductive influence results are accomplished which, were it more equally distributed, would be impossible under our form of government. It threatens to give shape to the legislation, both State, and National, of the entire
country. If this evil should not be checked, and measures not taken to prevent the continued enormous growth of riches among the class already rich, and the painful increase of destitution and want among the poor, the
nation is likely to be overtaken by disaster; for, according to history, such a tendency among nations once powerful was the sure precursor of ruin.
YEARS AGO IT WAS PERCEIVED that we Latter-day Saints were open to the same dangers as those which beset the rest of the world. A condition of affairs existed among us which was favorable to the growth of riches in the hands of a few at the expense of many. A wealthy class was being rapidly formed in our midst whose interests in the course of time, were likely to be diverse from those of the rest of the community. The growth of such a class was dangerous to our union; and, of all people, we stand most in need of union and to have our interests identical. Then it was that the Saints were counseled to enter into co-operation. In the absence of the necessary faith to enter upon a more perfect order revealed by the Lord unto the Church, this was felt to be the best means of drawing us together and making us one.
A UNION OF INTERESTS was sought to be attained. At the time co-operation was entered upon the Latter-day Saints were acting in utter disregard of the principles of self-preservation. They were encouraging the growth of evils
in their own midst which they condemned as the worst features of the systems from which they had been gathered. Large profits were being consecrated in comparatively few hands, instead of being generally distributed among the
people. As a consequence, the community was being rapidly divided into classes, and the hateful and unhappy distinctions which the possession and lack of wealth give rise to, were becoming painfully apparent. When the
proposition to organize Zion's Co-operative Mercantile Institution was broached, it was hoped that the community at large would become stockholders; for if a few individuals only were to own its stock, the
advantages to the community would be limited. The people, therefore, were urged to take shares, and large numbers responded to the appeal. As we have shown, the business proved to be as successful as its most sanguine friends
anticipated. But the distribution of profits among the community was not the only benefit conferred by the organization of co-operation among us.
CO-OPERATION has submitted in silence to a great many attacks. Its friends have been content to let it endure the ordeal. But it is now time to speak. The Latter-day Saints should understand that it is our duty to sustain
co-operation and to do all in our power to make it a success. The local co-operative stores should have the cordial support of the Latter-day Saints. Does not all our history impress upon us the great truth that in
union is strength? Without it, what power would the Latter-day Saints have? But it is not our doctrines alone that we should be united, but in practice and especially in our business affairs.
Your Brethren:
Brigham Young, Daniel H. Wells, Wilford Woodruff, Orson Pratt, Lorenzo Snow,
Franklin D. Richards, Brigham Young Jr., George A. Smith, John taylor, Orson
Hyde, Charles C,. Rich, Erastus Snow, George Q. Cannon, Albert Carrington
1875

Saturday, October 27, 2012

John Fea Explains the Middle Ground...

To a more secular oriented critic.  A taste:
Third, Fischer chides me for juxtaposing "providence" with "deism," as if a deist could not believe in providence.  I think she is correct here. A deist could believe in providence--in fact, most of them did.  As I have been speaking about the book to various audiences, I have realized that my discussion of "providence" as it relates to deism is not nuanced enough.

Yet I am not sure I agree with Fischer's characterization of my argument here.  She seems to think that I am arguing that if a founding father was not a deist, then he must have been a Christian who supported the creation of a uniquely Christian nation.  I think a sort of middle intellectual/religious ground is possible here.  For example, one could be a theist and still reject the core doctrines of traditional Christianity (such as the Trinity, the resurrection, the inspiration of the Bible, etc...).  Gregg Frazer has called this position "theistic rationalism."

Moreover, Fischer makes a logical mistake here.  She assumes that if a given founding father was a Christian, then he must have also wanted to promote a uniquely Christian nation.  I try to avoid this fallacy in my book, but Fischer wants to suggest that my attempt to paint the founders  as non-deists automatically means that I will answer the question in the title of my book in the affirmative.

David Rittenhouse: Rational Christian-Theistic Rationalist-Unitarian

If you are familiar with Philadelphia, you know Rittenhouse Square is (probably) the most affluent part of town.  It was named after David Rittenhouse, not a "key Founder" but one of the all but forgotten names from America's Founding era.

Rittenhouse was mentioned in Timothy Dwight's Triumph of Infidelity as one of those "infidels" who presented his system under the auspices of "Christianity" but in reality was too man centered/humanistic to qualify as "real Christianity."

But anyway here is a passage from an old book where Rittenhouse's widow describes his creed:
[D]ated August 20th 1797. "'That you were sufficiently authorized to assert what you did respecting Mr. Rittenhouse's religious principles, I now add my testimony to what you have said, for well I know the great truths of religion engaged much of his attention, and indeed were  interwoven with almost every important concern of his life. I do not recollect, if in any of the conversations I have had with you, I informed you, what I now do, that Dr. Price's opinions respecting Christianity were more in unison with his own, than any others of the divines; that Dr. Price's sermons was the last book he requested me to read to him, and that the last morning of his life, he reminded me that I had not finished one of the Doctor's discourses , which I had began the proceeding evening."
The Dr. Price referred to is the Arian heretic, "rational Christian," Richard Price. 

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Roger Sherman and the Creation of the American Republic

Oxford University Press just released Mark David Hall's book on Roger Sherman -- "Roger Sherman and the Creation of the American Republic" -- destined to be a classic on Sherman. I am grateful that Mark thanked me in the acknowledgements.

Look for more on this book in the near future at American Creation.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Ed Brayton Debates Thomas Jefferson's Religion

Here.  This illustrates the damage David Barton does when he tries to salvage some kind of traditional Christianity out of Thomas Jefferson.  Dinesh D’Souza (currently controversial) is mentioned.

Buried in the comments Michael Heath offers a valuable observation on paradigms:
* I reject the notion that theistic rationalists, Christians, and deists are all distinct non-overlapping sets. Instead I find Jefferson easily and obviously fits into all three sets. One merely has to understand the continuum of beliefs in Christianity, the definition of deism starting with the late-19th 18 century – particularly the definition as it relates to the process of deism – not confine the word to one popular conclusion, and the process and conclusions theistic rationalists use.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

The Left's David Barton

Howard Zinn apparently has a new rival and his name is Henry Wiencek. See John Fea here and here.

For the record, I like Thomas Jefferson a lot, mainly for his ideas and ideals. I recognize the man was flawed and don't believe in whitewashing history. The way I understand Jefferson and slavery: According to his ideals, Jefferson was against slavery. The law did not, as David Barton intimates, prevent Jefferson from freeing his slaves. The bottom line is Jefferson got himself into trouble with his spendthrift ways and THAT'S why he didn't end up freeing his slaves.

[James Wilson, btw, had some serious issues with debt as well.]

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

A Distant God?

Mark David Hall sent this along, a paragraph in his forthcoming book on Roger Sherman:
Some scholars have argued that the use of “distant” words for God or “vague and generic God-language” like “Nature’s God,” “Creator,” and “Providence” in the Declaration is evidence that the founders were deists. However, indisputably orthodox Christians regularly used such appellations. For instance, the Westminster Standards (a classic Reformed confession of faith), both in the original 1647 version and the 1788 American revision, refer to the deity as “the Supreme Judge,” “the great Creator of all things,” “the first cause,” “righteous judge,” “God the Creator,” and “the supreme Law and King of all the world.” They also regularly reference God’s providence and even proclaim that “[t]he light of nature showeth that there is a God.” Similarly, Isaac Watts, the “father of English Hymnody,” referred to the deity as “nature’s God” in a poem about Psalm 148: 10. Jeffry H. Morrison has argued persuasively that the Declaration’s references to “‘divine Providence’ and ‘the Supreme Judge of the World’ would have been quite acceptable to Reformed Americans in 1776, and conjured up images of the ‘distinctly biblical God’ when they heard or read the Declaration.” [i]


[i] See, for instance, Holmes, Faiths of the Founding Fathers, 47, 65; Fea, Was America Founded as a Christian Nation?, 131–133, 136; Lambert, Founding Fathers, 163; Dershowitz, Blasphemy, 11–12; and Green, Second Disestablishment, 31–32, 53–54. Westminster Standards, 1: 10; 5: 1, 2, 6; 19: 5; 23: 1; 1: 1, 7; 5; 21: 5; The Works of the Late Reverend and Learned Isaac Watts (London, 1753), 4: 356; cf. The Windham Herald, April 15, 1797, 4. Such examples could be multiplied almost indefinitely. Jeffry H. Morrison, “Political Theology in the Declaration of Independence,(paper delivered at a conference on the Declaration of Independence, Princeton University, April 5–6, 2002). I am grateful to Daniel L. Dreisbach for pointing me to the language of the Standards.

Monday, October 15, 2012

"Getting Back to the Constitution": The Truth Part 4



In the comments section of my last post in this series Tom Van Dyke implored me to get away from the preliminaries and bring forth the proof behind what Gary Amos asserts concerning the phrase "Laws of Nature and Nature's God" having a long history within historical Christianity. With no further delay here is the first installment:

Did the drafters depart from the Christian tradition of law in the colonies by using the phrase "laws of nature" in the Declaration? Was this something new and different? Some say yes, meaning that the framers consciously rejected a Christian approach to law and government. The claim is historically false. 
For example, in 1764, twelve years before the Declaration of Independence, James Otis, relied on the law of nature in his famous protest against the legality of the Stamp and Sugar Acts. In 1765, Massachusetts declared: "1. Resolved, That there are certain essential rights of the British Constitution and government which are founded in the law of God and nature, and are the common rights of mankind; Therefore, 2. Resolved, That the the inhabitants of this province are unalienably entitled to those essential rights, in common with all men; and that law of society can, consistent with the law of God and nature, divest them of those rights." In 1774, the First Continental Congress cited the "immutable laws of nature" in their "Declarations and Resolves." And in the years leading up to 1776 , the phrase "laws of nature" was frequently used and widely understood by the occasions.

This easily refutes the first of 5 objections that secularists raise when confronted with the idea that the phrase "Laws of nature and nature's God" has a long history of use in Christian thought. The quote from Otis alone disproves the absurd theory that Jefferson invented a new phrase.

Most people that have looked into this at all will concede that point. The real controversy starts when the discussion of whether Jefferson chose this phrase because it was overtly "deistic" or not? The idea being that he sought out to distance America from its Christian past and wanted to use the Declaration of Independence to make a statement about the freedom of religion. An assertion that I find absurd considering that this phrase has a long history in the Judeo-Christian intellectual tradition.

Amos goes on for a few pages proving the long history of the use of the first half of the term "laws of nature" in Christianity going back to the 11th Century. This is another point that most secularists that have actually looked into this topic will concede as well. The controversy is with the second half of the phrase which some believe refers to the Bible. The Bible being the "laws" of nature's God. Which, if true, would be the smoking gun in regards to the Declaration of Independence being a document heavily influenced by Christian Thought.

We will pick up this discussion in the next post where it will be clearly shown that the second half of this phrase is not a "deistic" invention of the 18th Century. I also believe he makes a compelling case that the second half of this phrase not only refers to the Bible leading up to the time of the Revolution but that there is no reason to believe that Jefferson sought out to change that.

For those that want to get a head start look into the writings of Blackstone and Coke. Both of whom had an influence over the thinking of Thomas Jefferson and John Adams. Two of the three members of the drafting committee.

I would love to hear your thoughts about this in the comments section below...

Sunday, October 14, 2012

A Liberal Mormon

Two years ago, over at A Liberal MormonDerek Staffanson posted a blog, Separation of Church and State III: Making a State Incognizant of Religion. Here's a taste of what Staffanson characterizes as an "ideal situation":
Government Oaths. Government has no place declaring in whose name government oaths should be sworn. Whether oaths of office or in court, those swearing people in should not include "so help you/me God" in the recitation. Individuals swearing those oaths are certainly well within their rights of expression to add personal invocations to the higher power of their choice, should they so chose. But making that invocation part of the administration of the oath is inappropriate institutionalization of religious belief on the part of the state.
The two preceding blogs are Separation of Church and State: A Founding Principle, and Separation of Church and State II: Necessary for the Protection of Both. Here's a snippet from Part II that cites Joseph Smith, which is accepted as Mormon scripture (Kirtland, Ohio, 17 August 1835, Doctrine & Covenants 134:4-5, 9):
We believe that religion is instituted of God; and that men are amenable to him, and to him only, for the exercise of it, unless their religious opinions prompt them to infringe upon the rights and liberties of others; but we do not believe that human law has a right to interfere in prescribing rules of worship to bind the consciences of men, nor dictate forms for public or private devotion; that the civil magistrate should restrain crime, but never control conscience; should punish guilt, but never suppress the freedom of the soul.
We believe that all men are bound to sustain and uphold the respective governments in which they reside, while protected in their inherent and inalienable rights by the laws of such governments; and that sedition and rebellion are unbecoming every citizen thus protected, and should be punished accordingly; and that all governments have a right to enact such laws as in their own judgments are best calculated to secure the public interest; at the same time, however, holding sacred the freedom of conscience. (emphasis added)
[dot - dot - dot]
We do not believe it just to mingle religious influence with civil government, whereby one religious society is fostered and another proscribed in its spiritual privileges, and the individual rights of its members, as citizens, denied.
Note: Joseeph Smith (age 29) wrote this before the oppression imposed by the state of Missourri and in Illinois with the assasination of Joseph Smith, and later, imposed by the federal government during the Mormon resettlement in the Great Salt Lake Rocky Mountain Basin.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Another review of Gregg Frazer's "The Religious Beliefs of America's Founders"

This one written by Gary Scott Smith and posted over at the always worth reading blog The Imaginative Conservative: Founders' Faith: None of the Above.  Smith's review is quite positive. Meanwhile, I am almost finished with the book and will be posting my own review of Frazer's work in the future here at this blog.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Throckmorton on Barton's Use of Adams' "General Principles of Christianity" Quote

See Warren Throckmorton's remarks here. This was in a letter from John Adams to Thomas Jefferson in 1813. This was John Adams at his most heterodox. Out of context, the quotation sounds like something that supports the Christian Nation thesis. Understood in context, however, Adams doesn't refer to what Barton et al. understand as "biblical Christianity," but rather some other very heterodox theological system, what Gregg Frazer has termed "theistic rationalism." It's a system that unites the "orthodox" with Universalists, Unitarians (Arians, Socinians, Priestleyans) and even "Deists and Atheists, and Protestants 'qui ne croyent rien.'" (That means "Protestants who believe in nothing.")

Thomas Kidd on Gregg Frazer's Book

A very fair review. Here.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Another Thomas Kidd Review of David Aikman’s One Nation Without God?

This is especially good as it discusses the phony Patrick Henry quotation I've seen endlessly repeated.  A taste:

Patrick Henry once 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!" Or at least many evangelicals believe Henry said that. It is actually a line from a 1956 magazine article commenting on Henry's faith, but popular Christian writers subsequently attributed the quote to Henry himself. The misquote stuck. Even though countless websites have debunked it, this bogus statement still routinely appears everywhere from Twitter to Facebook to books on America's founding, including presidential aspirant Newt Gingrich's A Nation Like No Other. And Gingrich has a Ph.D. in history! 
The eager reception of spurious quotes about our Christian origins is telling. It illustrates the fact that religion's role in the founding is among the most controversial historical debates in America today. Into that debate enters David Aikman's One Nation Without God? The Battle for Christianity in an Age of Unbelief (Baker). ...

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Patrick Deneen Misunderstands Allan Bloom

That's the title of my piece at my personal blog.  I post parts of it here because the Straussians have somewhat influenced my studies of the American Founding and religion (though, I consider myself far more cautious than they are in the conclusions they draw regarding secret teachings).  A taste:

[The West Coast Straussians] defend the timeless truths of the natural rights of the Declaration of Independence in an almost fanatical sense and claim to believe in the objective truth of natural rights.  Though, they would note, the "right" kinds of traditions and religion are compatible with DOI's essences.  And it's all compatible with social conservatism.  Bloom and the East Coast Straussians understood a fanatical natural rights ideology leads to social liberalism.  So they sought a balance between the claims of natural rights and the claims of religion, tradition and culture.  They understood that reason and revelation were at base in conflict (and as secret atheists and nihilists didn't believe in the objective claims of either).  But they did NOT see "liberal" citizens as to be liberated from their "prejudices" by a fanatical natural rights ideology.  Rather, they wanted these "gentlemen" to believe devoutly in the basics of their religions' claims to revealed truths AND, as good Americans, in the natural rights of the Declaration of Independence without, I think, truly appreciating the tension between the Truth claims of reason and of revelation.  "Christianity" and "natural rights" are in conflict.  But the "gentlemen" in the military who thought of themselves as "good Christians" and "good Americans" need not really appreciate the two things as incompatible.  After Nietzsche, they believed tension, chaos, conflict, irony could be liberating and value creating and sustaining forces.  They also believed war gave man his utmost meaning.  Hence, you had folks who secretly didn't believe in the objective truths of natural rights/liberal democracy supporting going to war to defend those noble fictions.  I don't want to seem too cynical about them.  The Straussians really do believe liberal democracy and its natural rights claims led to a better life for the masses than illiberal systems.  After Churchill, they thought those who defend liberal democracy need not flatter it.