Thursday, July 31, 2014

Marblehead Freemasons retrospective

On Thursday, April 8, 2010, I traveled to the “New Perspectives on American Freemasonry and Fraternalism” symposium, which would take place the following day at Lexington, Massachusetts. But before heading to my hotel in Lexington, I chose to visit the Marblehead Museum and Historical Society, where an exhibit of Masonic artifacts owned by Philanthropic Lodge, in celebration of the lodge’s 250th anniversary, was closing that very day.

Timing is everything.

My notes from this very enjoyable couple of hours are long gone, but I present here more than three dozen photographs of the exhibit and from the lodge itself, courtesy of Don Doliber, Philanthropic’s highly knowledgeable and motivated historian, who just happened to have made an unplanned visit to the museum when I arrived.

Don curated this collection of centuries-old artworks and other objects. It had been a long time since I’d seen a museum exhibit of Masonic artifacts, outside of a Masonic facility, this extensive and interesting. (One of these days I’ll have to scan and post the photos I shot at both New Jersey’s exhibit at Boxwood Hall in Elizabeth, and the Livingston Library’s exhibit at Fraunces Tavern Museum in Manhattan, both c. 2001.)

Here is a brief lodge history, found on Philanthropics website:

Philanthropic Lodge was originally chartered as ‘The Marblehead Lodge’ in 1760 by St. John’s Lodge No.1 under the Provincial Grand Lodge of Massachusetts. As this Marblehead Lodge was constituted during the reign of King George III, it was considered an English provincial lodge and all ritual was conducted in accord with English Masonic customs. Thus the Philanthropic Lodge seal bears the initials “F&AM” referring to the “Free and Accepted Masons” traditions of England.

In those early days only 2 degrees were granted to members. Candidates were made Entered Apprentices and Fellow Craftsmen and then were voted members of the lodge. Most of the business was conducted on the 1st Degree. For the first few years, as was the English custom, only the Master was granted the 3rd Degree of Master Mason. Within 18 years the Third Degree was granted to all members.

A 1760 candidate was John Pulling, Jr. (1737-1787), a Marblehead shipmaster, who lived in Boston in 1775. Paul Revere said to John Pulling in April, 1775: “...if the British march by land or sea tonight, hang a lantern aloft in the belfry tower in the North Church Tower, one if by land and two if by sea, I on the opposite shore will be.” … and the rest is history. It is also said that Elbridge Gerry (1744-1814), later 5th Vice President of the United States in 1813, became a member of the Marblehead lodge in 1769.
Its name was changed to “Philanthropic Lodge” in 1797 during the tenure of M.W. Paul Revere, Grand Master of Masons in Massachusetts. The official seal designed sometime after 1798 consists of a 1-inch diameter circle, on the outside of which are the words, “Philanthropic Lodge, F. & A. M., Marblehead, Mass.” Inside the circle is a representation of the Good Samaritan pouring oil and wine into the wounds of a stranger, and above the inside edges of the circle are the words, “This Do Ye.”

The laying of the cornerstone and dedication of the Bunker Hill Monument took place on June 17, 1825 with Grand Lodge Officers and Bro. Marquis de Lafayette present. A delegation from Philanthropic Lodge also attended. Secretary Collyer wrote: “ was contemplated that there was the largest assembly of people that ever met at one time in the United States of America.”

Philanthropic Lodge originally met at the home of Bro. (Commodore) Samuel Tucker on what is now Prospect Street, Marblehead. Since then, the Lodge has met in several places, one believed to be Tucker Street opposite the end of Mason Street. For the last 63 years we have called 62 Pleasant Street, home.

On March 21, 2006, Philanthropic lodge approved its merger with Wayfarers Lodge of Swampscott by a unanimous vote. On October 5, 2006, M.W. Jeffrey Black Hodgdon for Massachusetts conducted the merger ceremony. With that ceremony, 146 Masons from Wayfarers were enrolled in Philanthropic Lodge.

Philanthropic Lodge is the 3rd oldest Masonic Lodge in Massachusetts and the 19th oldest Masonic Lodge in the United States. It currently enjoys one of the largest memberships (546) in Massachusetts.

Enjoy this look back at a remarkable Masonic lodge’s commemoration of its 250th anniversary in 2010.

Don Doliber, historian of Philanthropic Lodge in Marblehead, Massachusetts, strikes a pose with the portrait of Elbridge Gerry, also a lodge member in the late eighteenth century. Don curated the exhibit presented by the Marblehead Museum and Historical Society in the winter and early spring of 2010.

Bro. Edward Fettyplace (1722-1805) was a charter member of the lodge in 1760.  He held various positions in local government during the Revolution, and served as First Lieutenant of the schooner Franklin in 1776. Read more about this ship below.

Captain Joseph Lemon Lee (1785-1819).

Richard Girdler, a sea captain (1761-1847) joined the lodge in 1834. Portrait painted by William Bartoll.

Don's ancestor John Doliber (1768-1829) joined the lodge in 1809. He too was a sea captain,  owner of the vessels Union, Friendship, Two Sisters, and Five Sisters. Artist unknown, but possibly painted in France.

Philip Bessom (1746-1836) joined the lodge in 1797. Soldier, sea captain, Marblehead Selectman, and Representative to the Massachusetts General Court.

Possibly the lodge's warrant. My notes are gone. Perhaps someone from Philanthropic could leave a comment below.

One sees these punch bowls in Masonic collections up and down the East Coast, and elsewhere I'm sure. This one is of Chinese manufacture, mid nineteenth century. Known as Armorial or Societal China, such pieces were commissioned by American and English consumers. Masonic symbols were sent to China for the porcelain artists to copy.

Dr. Elisha Story (1743-1805) joined Philanthropic Lodge in 1778. A participant in the Boston Tea Party, he also stole a British cannon from Boston Common. Joined the Sons of Liberty, served as a doctor to Colonel Little's Essex regiment, and fought as a volunteer at Lexington and Bunker’s Hill. He aided General Washington on his campaigns to Long Island, White Plains, and Trenton. He was a doctor for the rest of his life at the practice he settled in Marblehead. 

Dr. Story's medical kit. It is said he used this during his service in the Revolution.

Elbridge Gerry painted by William Goodwin. From the lodge’s website: 'Elbridge Gerry was born in Marblehead, Massachusetts on July 17, 1744. He studied at Harvard to be a merchant, graduating in 1762. He was elected to the Massachusetts Legislature in 1773 and was selected to attend the Provincial Congress in 1774. He was a member of the Marblehead Lodge of Masons. He signed the Declaration of Independence. He was then appointed to the Continental Congress, where he was engaged in committee work on commercial and naval concerns. He attended the Constitutional Convention in 1798 but was opposed to the new Federal Constitution, refusing to sign it. He was elected to the first two Congresses from Massachusetts and, in 1797, was one of several envoys sent to France. He was elected governor of Massachusetts in 1810 and 1811. He was much criticized for redistricting the state to the advantage of his own party (Democratic-Republican). That incident was the source of the term gerrymandering. In 1812 he was elected Vice President of the United States. He died in office, on November 23, 1814, at the age of 70.'

John Glover (1732-97) joined the lodge in 1760 as a Charter Member. An illustrious military career before and during the Revolution. Google him.

Elisha Story was Philanthropic's fourth Worshipful Master at the time of George Washington's death in 1799.  For thirty days after Washington's death, the brethren wore armbands similar to this one.

Philanthropic Lodge's Master's gavel, fashioned from wood taken from the USS Constitution.

Medallion profile of George Washington, carved as a decoration for Washington's visit to Salem and Marblehead in 1789. Attributed to Samuel MacIntyre.

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Click to enlarge. Masonic apron from the museum's archives.

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Replica of the Masonic apron of Richard Harris, a Charter Member of the lodge, and its second Worshipful Master. The original apron is among the collection of the Scottish Rite Masonic Library and Museum in Lexington.

250th anniversary apron depicts the lodge emblem and the historic square and compasses you'll read about below.

Click to enlarge. Captain James Mugford was not a Freemason. A Marblehead hero of the Revolution, he commanded the Franklin, which captured the HMS Hope.

Samuel Russell Trevett (1751-1832). Served in the British army before the Revolution, fought against Britain in the Revolution, and fought the British again in 1812, when he was captured. He was Philanthropic's third Worshipful Master in 1781. In 1779, he was co-owner of the brig Freemason.

Shot of the museum.

Philanthropic Lodge is located at 62 Pleasant Street, just around the corner from its previous digs, appropriately on Mason Street.

A Masonic temple. Remember those?

If I understand correctly, this flag flew on the USS Constitution during its July 21, 1993 voyage, its first in 116 years.

Masonic apron made of kangaroo skin, given to Bro. Floyd Soule during his trip to Australia in he may be properly attired there.

Past Master apron of W. Chester Damon, who presided over the lodge in 1931-32.

Best I can tell, this is an invitation to a Brother to attend the lodge's St. John's Day festivities, year unknown.

Click to enlarge. A Dudley Masonic Emblem pocket watch. Read more about that here.

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Click to enlarge. There are so many Masonic treasures in the possession of Philanthropic Lodge, including this priceless pair of Great Lights kept at the lodge. The brethren call the set the '1776 Square & Compass.'

On May 17, 1776, the schooner Franklin, commanded by Captain James Mugford, captured the Royal Navy schooner Hope, which wound up providing essential materiel for Gen. George Washington’s forces at Cambridge. Mugford, not a Freemason, was killed in action later that year. The compass, termed a 'divider,' and the square are believed to have been the working tools of the British ship’s navigator. Bro. James Topham, a descendent of Mugford, donated the compass to Philanthropic Lodge in 1858, and then gave the square in 1862. The have been used to make Masons in Philanthropic ever since.


Tuesday, July 29, 2014

NY Times: church clues of early America

A story in Tuesday’s New York Times on archives found in churches.

In Church Attics, Clues to the Private Life of Early America

By Michael Paulson
July 29, 2014

STURBRIDGE, Mass. — Sarah Blanchard was sorry she skipped a worship service. Sarah Wood apologized for denouncing infant baptisms. And as for the Cheneys, Joseph and Abigail? Well, “with shame, humiliation and sorrow,” they acknowledged having had sex before marriage.

More than 250 years ago, their confessions of sin were dutifully logged by the minister of the church here, alongside records of baptisms, marriages and deaths, notes about meetings heated and routine, accounts of finances, texts of sermons, and, in some cases, personal accounts of conversion experiences from young adults.

Now, in a regionwide scavenger hunt, a pair of historians is rummaging through New England church basements and attics, file cabinets, safes and even coat closets, searching for these records of early American life. The historians are racing against inexorable church closings, occasional fires, and a more mundane but not uncommon peril: the actual loss of documents, which most often occurs when a church elder dies and no one can remember the whereabouts of historical papers.

“I have seen them be destroyed, lost, covered with mold or just forgotten,” said the Rev. Janet Leighninger, the pastor of the Federated Church of Sturbridge and Fiskdale here. “And as finances get tighter, as they are everywhere, and as congregations shrink, and they are doing that in many places, it becomes a matter of, ‘Do we do the ministry we are called to do, or do we preserve the past?’ ”

The historians — James Fenimore Cooper Jr., a professor of history at Oklahoma State University, and Margaret Bendroth, the executive director of the Congregational Library in Boston — are trying to persuade small town church leaders to turn over their records for digitization and preservation. They are focusing largely on Massachusetts because the record keeping there was especially careful, and on congregational churches, or their successors, because those were the official churches in colonial Massachusetts. “There is no other discrete set of sources that will similarly transport us into colonial America,” said Dr. Cooper, who has been searching for hidden church records for years. Among the treasures he has described: a 1773 application from a slave named Cuffee to join a church in Middleboro.

The records, especially those that are not bound into books, are often in poor shape. In Sturbridge, a church member in 1896 described a set of papers as “much worn and mutilated”; now, more than a century later, those same papers are in a faded yellow envelope marked “extremely poor condition.” The churches themselves, which are Protestant and are called Congregational because each is independent and has the authority to make its own decisions, are endangered as well. There remain 372 in Massachusetts affiliated with the United Church of Christ, the largest congregational denomination, down from 625 in 1932.

The record-retrieval effort is painstaking. Every summer, Dr. Cooper (no relation to the 19th-century author; his grandparents were just admirers) and Dr. Bendroth travel from church to church, trying to persuade ministers and lay leaders to part with treasured documents. In some cases, churches are excited to do so. But for some of the churches, letting go of documents is difficult — the papers, even if brittle and faded, are a form of patrimony, like silver and pewter communion vessels, to be treasured.
One evening this summer, Dr. Cooper visited the Federated Church of Sturbridge and Fiskdale, a congregation that resulted from a merger of several different churches and that is now affiliated with the United Church of Christ, the American Baptist Churches, and the Unitarian Universalist Association. The congregation’s records — at least those representing its congregational past, which began in 1736 — had been retrieved from a safe at a member’s office.

As about a dozen members of a church council sat on folding chairs and tired couches, Dr. Cooper made his pitch. He showed them an iPad photo of a recent church fire in Somers, Conn., as a cautionary tale, and he urged them to make a permanent, but revocable, loan of the records to the Congregational Library, which could store them in a climate-controlled rare book room. After a number of questions about security, access and backup plans, and a brief closed-door debate, the congregation agreed. Ms. Leighninger called the decision a relief and a godsend, because the records would be protected and available to genealogists, historians and anyone else through the library’s digital archive.

Dr. Cooper methodically went through dozens of documents, looking for those published before 1860, and choosing about 25 he deemed of historical significance. There were letters bound with string, accounts of “meetings of the brethren,” lists of “confessions for scandals and offenses,” and ledgers detailing the activities of the Sturbridge Ladies Benevolent Society. He packed them in boxes and loaded them in his red Prius before walking across the street to take pictures of the historic cemetery in the fading light. The next day, in Dudley, Mass., where a congregation was established in 1732, Thompson Boyd, a history teacher who volunteers as the church’s historian, showed Dr. Cooper a page from a Bible translated into Algonquian by John Eliot, who was seeking to convert the local Nipmuc Indians. There were also notes for an 1822 sermon (opening line: “The corruption of mankind is very great”); molten metal from the church’s bell before it was destroyed by fire; and shards of glass from a stained-glass window before it was blown out in a hurricane. The church’s documents had been kept in a narthex cloakroom for years, but were recently moved into a locked fireproof file cabinet.
Mr. Boyd said he would have to discuss with his church’s council whether to allow the transfer of the documents to Boston for safekeeping, noting that from time to time people stop by looking for records of their ancestors, and that they like seeing the original papers.

“I have mixed feelings,” he said. “I still use them. But what if something happens to me?”

A few hours later, Dr. Cooper and Dr. Bendroth visited an evangelical congregation in Hopkinton, Mass. Faith Community Church is the successor of the original Congregational church in town, founded in 1724, and had the original records carefully cataloged, boxed and stored in a locked basement room, alongside an early pastor’s 1740 Queen Anne side chair with a bullet hole in the back.
The documents included a list of excommunicants and notification of a fine levied against a local man who resisted joining the Army during the Revolution, as well as multiple “relations” — letters describing faith journeys. They include one from Benjamin Pond, who described how, despite being raised in a Christian home, he had fallen “into a state of stupidity and wickedness” until, after multiple deaths in his family, including of his child, he had a conversion experience. “That’s the first time that’s been heard in 200 years,” Dr. Bendroth said after reading Mr. Pond’s relation. “I just think that’s really amazing.”

Saturday, July 26, 2014

WSJ: "Book Review: 'Nature's God' by Matthew Stewart & 'Independence' by Thomas P. Slaughter"

From the Wall Street Journal here. A taste:
It's not clear, in any case, why Mr. Stewart thinks we are in danger of forgetting radical influences on the founders. Those connections were marvelously documented in "The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution" (1967), Bernard Bailyn's study of Revolutionary-era pamphlets, in which he revealed the influence of England's 18th-century "commonwealth men"—republican reformers in Parliament during the 1720s, especially John Trenchard and Thomas Gordon—on the American Founders. A generation later, Gordon Wood (Mr. Bailyn's student at Harvard) produced "The Radicalism of the American Revolution" (1991), a study of the social and political effects of the Independence.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Frazer: "Problems with Matthew Stewart’s Nature’s God (not in any particular order)"

Note: Dr. Gregg Frazer sends over what is reproduced below:

Problems with Matthew Stewart’s Nature’s God (not in any particular order):

Thesis: “Spinoza is the principle architect of the radical philosophy that achieves its ultimate expression in the American Republic, and Locke is its acceptable face.  So-called Lockean liberalism is really just Spinozistic radicalism adapted to the limitations of the common understanding of things.”

My two favorite lines: a) Locke and Spinoza produce a “deeply atheistic proof of a God.”
b) Consciousness “may be found in animals, plants, and even frying pans and thermostats.”

Stewart argues that people falsely identify many with Christianity and that we should not accept their use of that term uncritically. He then enormously expands the meaning of “deism” (without substantiation or support) and expects the reader to accept his use uncritically. Regarding the examples that he does give to try to show this very broad notion of deism, some were instances of opponents calling someone a “deist” as an epithet – i.e. derogatorily; some were simply references to unitarianism, and some merely denials of orthodox Christianity.  Later, he also takes derogatory charges of “atheist” as proof of someone’s atheism.

This leads to another problem: like the prominent “Christian America” advocates, Stewart assumes (without proving) a false dichotomy: that one was either a Christian or a deist (i.e. that those were the only options).  So Christian America advocates find a quote that “proves” that someone disbelieved a deist tenet and proclaim them a “Christian.” Stewart does the same thing in reverse: if someone is not incontrovertably an orthodox Christian, he proclaims them a “deist.” [of course, there was at least one other option: theistic rationalism]

Stewart makes far too much of the content of individual’s libraries.  One need not agree with every book in one’s library.  I have LOTS of books with which I disagree (including Stewart’s) and others that I have not read.  One must have the books of those with which one disagrees in order to deal with them knowledgably.  Stewart assumes that if a particular person had a certain book in his library he must have agreed with it.  The Christian America people do that, too.

He also makes far too much of notes taken on texts.  His assumption is that if someone copied something from a text or took  notes on it, that the individual was, by that action, showing agreement with the text/passage.  The simplest way to demonstrate the falsehood of this notion is to confess that I took LOTS of notes on Stewart’s book – the margins are filled – but I agreed with very little of it.  If someone using Stewart’s methodology were to pick up my copy of his book, they might conclude that I loved it because I took so many notes.

Related to this, Stewart also makes a specific error made by the guru of the Christian America movement – he acts on the assumption that Jefferson’s Notes on Religion reflect Jefferson’s own opinion rather than merely encyclopedic entries of what others believed.  The fact that Jefferson begins a relevant section with “Locke’s system of Christianity is this” and that most of it is nearly verbatim from Locke does not dissuade Stewart or that guru from attributing it to TJ.

In this same vein, Stewart (like his Christian America counterparts) assumes without demonstrating that students agree with all that their teachers believe/teach.  As a college professor, I only wish that were true. J  This saves them from having to show that someone believed what they attribute to them [which they often did not] – they just have to show that their teacher believed it.

Another annoying tactic that Stewart shares with his counterparts on the other side of the argument is regularly suggesting that first drafts and/or initial discussions tell us more of what someone wanted or thought than their final draft!  He does it re the Declaration and the Bill of Rights.  I confess I’ve never understood this logic when used by the Christian America people and I don’t understand it here: what someone REALLY wants or REALLY means is what they rejected/changed?  Hmmmm.

Stewart suggests throughout that the whole American project was an assault on religion -- particularly orthodox Christianity.  Apparently, the political aspects were more or less a byproduct.  Also, his analysis is all about the Revolution; for Stewart, revolutionary thought is definitive for “the American Republic.”  This, of course, ignores the significant changes that came due to experience in the critical years between 1776 and 1787.

Related to that, to accept Stewart’s thesis, one must believe that Ethan Allen, Thomas Young, a twentysomething Ben Franklin who never grew up [America’s Peter Pan], and a partially and conveniently quoted Thomas Jefferson were THE key political/historical figures in the establishment of America.  Others matter only tangentially.

To accept his thesis, one must believe that the Revolutionary/Founding writers did not know who their REAL influences were.  They quoted (as Stewart admits in a footnote) men such as Pufendorf, Grotius, Beccaria, Blackstone, Montesquieu, Vattel and others – but the real driving intellectual forces on them were the ancient Greek Epicurus and the early modern Dutch philosopher Baruch Spinoza. More precisely, it was Epicurus channeled by and improved by Spinoza. Stewart wrote an earlier well-received book on Spinoza and sees the modern world through Spinozist eyes – and says we should, too.  There are a number of hyperbolic statements to this effect.

He gives a very poor, deficient, and one-sided account of Franklin’s prayer proposal at the Constitutional Convention.  It fits his argument the way he selectively and creatively reports it, though.

In order to be able to use his favorite adjective – “Locke-Spinoza” – Stewart terribly abuses John Locke to the point that Locke scholars will not recognize him.  He quotes Locke partially (with his own commentary interspersed to make it look like Locke’s), regularly uses ellipses to change the meaning of Lockean statements, and quotes Locke out of context.  These are also all very familiar tactics for Stewart’s Christian America counterparts.  He takes a square Locke and forces him into a round Spinoza.  He does the same regarding Jefferson – Jefferson is forced to conform with Spinoza whether he will or not.  To be fair, Stewart gives a warning/explanation for his distortion of Locke – he explains that he (basically) subscribes to the Straussian notion of “esoteric” interpretation (while disagreeing with what Strauss does with it).  In other words, as Stewart takes it, Locke did not know what he meant or was too cowardly to say what he meant, so Stewart must channel the real Locke and explain what he meant to say or would have said if he had the nerve.  This, presumably, makes it fine to ignore parts of sentences that are inconvenient and places in which Locke’s words are diametrically opposed to what Stewart wants from him.  Often, what Stewart leaves out of a passage or where he cuts it off is more telling than what he quotes.

The same is true with Jefferson, although Stewart actually quotes passages from Jefferson which contradict Stewart’s take and he just moves on.  One of those cases is absolutely critical for Stewart’s whole thesis.  He argues that the first sentence of the Declaration is the key to the whole American enterprise and that they key to that sentence is the idea that God and Nature are synonymous (not related – synonymous).  He says that Jefferson held this view (pretty important since he wrote the sentence) – but quotes from Jefferson on pages 189, 190, and 194 clearly show Jefferson saying the contrary!  Undeterred, Stewart proceeds as if his take is confirmed.

Also re Jefferson: Stewart takes very seriously Jefferson’s statement: “I am an Epicurean” – not so much Jefferson’s statement: “I am a Christian” or his statement: “I am a sect unto myself.”

As noted briefly above, Stewart – like many who desperately want Franklin to be a deist – keeps Franklin at 19 years of age or in his twenties.  Stewart’s Franklin apparently died at 28.  He quotes Franklin’s famous/infamous confession that he became a deist (at age 19), but somehow (like others) misses Franklin’s statement two pages later that he grew out of it.  Stewart is also apparently unaware of Franklin’s essay On the Providence of God in the Government of the World in which he explicitly rejects deism as irrational (at the ripe old age of 24).  Stewart also cites Franklin’s Dissertation on Liberty and Necessity to show Franklin’s agreement with Stewart’s thesis, but Franklin wrote that at age 19 and years later considered it an embarrassment – he burned as many copies as he could find. Stewart says “he never gave reason to think that he [Peter Pan Franklin] ever departed from the convictions acquired as [a] youthful bibliophile” [meaning his twentysomething position].

The book vastly overemphasizes Hobbes’s influence in America.

Stewart seriously mangles the meaning/interpretation of several biblical passages.  At one point, he admits concerning a passage written by the apostle Paul: “the ultimate implications of this intuition about God are dramatically different from anything Paul seems to have contemplated.” Then that should call into serious question your implications/interpretation!

Stewart has his own idiosyncratic notion of the meaning and purpose of the First Amendment.  By his account, it does not – and was not designed to – guarantee religious freedom.

He constantly uses unqualified, universal terms such as “the founders of the American Republic” and “America’s founders” when ascribing ideas – as if they were all of the same mind.  I doubt that  he’s ever heard of Roger Sherman.

His constant condescending, arrogant, and rather snarky jabs at anyone foolish enough to be religious or to believe in God is equal parts annoying and inappropriate in an academic work.  The last chapter is devoted to making fun of religion and those who are superstitious or gullible enough to believe in something beyond Nature.  “Alert” readers or persons are those who share his views.  Conventional religion relies on “make-believe” and “self-deception,” but his preferred philosophers produce “knowledge.”  Philosophical assumption and/or “doctrine” is fact/”truths.”  Those who refuse to bow to the “obvious” superiority of atheism, simply show “the tenacity of their ignorance” and promote “hallucinations of divine agency.”

He argues that deism was not limited to the elite (pg. 37), then proceeds to talk throughout about the difference betweent the views of the elite and those of the common people who were conventionally religious (e.g. pgs. 32, 35, 68, 73, 122, 274, 404-05).

He argues without substantiation re the Great Awakening: “the revival, while pretending to unite the nation, in reality unified it only in the belief that there are aliens in our midst.” 

He criticizes “enthusiasts” for making personal, sensory judgments, but approves of so-called “deists” making them – ostensibly because he approves of the judgments.

Like certain groups today, he attempts to stifle alternate views and studies with which he would disagree: “The new Christian nationalists [which, in his example, includes Mark David Hall, Daniel Dreisbach, et al and yours truly] represent a powerful force within American history, but their success consists chiefly in creating the illusion of a debate where in substance there is none.  … scholars tout their ‘even-handedness’ by giving equal credence to every ‘narrative’ of the history, however fatuous.  A version of this false equivalence can be found in [Hall, Dreisbach, & Morrison’s] The Forgotten Founders on Religion and Public Life.”  Those who do not know should be aware that there are no chapters from the “Christian America”/David Barton extreme in this book – they are all written by established scholars in the field from places such as Stanford, George Mason, American University, James Madison Univ., Notre Dame, Univ. of Texas, etc.  But because they do not subscribe to Stewart’s “everyone was an atheist deist” view, their views are “fatuous” and unworthy of inclusion in discussion!

Stewart may have included his own marching orders on page 333: “Like revolutionaries throughout history, Young and his gang understood that in order to change the future it is necessary first to change the past.”  That appears to be Stewart’s real project.

NPR: "Founders Claimed A Subversive Right To 'Nature's God'"

Check it out here.  A taste:
RATH: So can you tell us - back in 1776, what did nature's God refer to? 
STEWART: So nature's God is one - a deity that operates entirely through laws - natural laws - that are explicable. And we have to approach this god through the study of nature and also evidence and experience. So it's a dramatically different kind of deity from that you find in most revealed religions. 
RATH: Not the God of Moses who literally gave the law, you know, from on high - revealed in that way. 
STEWART: No, that's right. And it also turns out to have a very different genealogy, if I may say so. Nature's God really descends from an ancient Greek tradition that was passed along to the early modern philosophers. And these were quite radical thinkers who were really challenging the ways of thinking of their time and the established religion. Many of them ran into trouble, but it was from them that America's revolutionary philosophers picked up their ideas and, in particular, the idea of nature's God.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Boston Globe: "‘Nature’s God’ by Matthew Stewart"

Here. A taste: 
The book is a pleasure to read, its often surprising conclusions supported by elegant prose and more than 1,000 footnotes. Stewart’s erudite analysis confidently rebuts the creeping campaign of Christian nationalism to “ ‘take back’ the nation and make it what it never in fact was.” The next time someone like Jerry Falwell asserts that the United States is “a Christian nation,” he’ll have to answer to “Nature’s God.’’  
The United States, Stewart writes, was in fact founded by a “club of radical philosophers and their fellow travelers” who were known as deists in their day and today would be called “humanists, atheists, pantheists, freethinkers, [or] Universalists.” “America’s revolutionary deism remains an uncomfortable and underreported topic,” writes Stewart, and in his view the Revolutionary leaders — famous men like Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin, as well as “Forgotten Founding Fathers” such as Thomas Young, one of the organizers of the Boston Tea Party — are themselves partly to blame, since for the most part they veiled their religious unorthodoxy for fear of condemnation.

Franklin, for example, urged his friend Ezra Stiles not to “expose me to Criticism and censure” by making his deistic beliefs known. George Washington, who refused to kneel in church or to take communion, simply declined to answer when asked by clerics whether he believed in the Lord Jesus Christ. “[T]he old fox was too cunning for them,” his friend and fellow freethinker Jefferson noted approvingly.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Rothbard: "Coercing Morality in Puritan Massachusetts"

By Murray Rothbard here (and newly reproduced here). The whole thing is worth a read. I'm going to reproduce below an interesting quotation discussed in the article from Puritan theologian Rev. Nathaniel Ward’s "The Simple Cobbler of Aggawam in America" (1647).
God does nowhere in His word tolerate Christian States to give toleration to such adversaries of His truth, if they have power in their hands to suppress them … He that willingly assents to toleration of varieties of religion … his conscience will tell him he is either an atheist or a heretic or a hypocrite, or at best captive to some lust. Poly-piety is the greatest impiety in the world.… To authorize an untruth by a toleration of State is to build a sconce against the walls of heaven, to batter God out of His chair.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Lillback v. Boston on Washington's Faith

Peter Lillback takes on Rob Boston on George Washington's faith.

I don't know a whole lot about this dialog, but I wonder if Lillback's paper, which is reproduced on Wallbuilders, was an exclusive to that site. Perhaps merely associating with David Barton's Wallbuilders is enough to damage one's credibility ... or not. (Just a thought.)

Ultimately, I agree with Lillback that the record demonstrates Washington a man of prayer. According to the theory, 1. Washington was a theist; 2. Since the God of theism intervenes in the affairs of man; 3. Praying is a rational activity.

The record does not prove, however, that Washington was a "Christian" according to Lillback's standards. Indeed, as American Creation's Brad Hart has shown, according to Lillback's own evidence, Washington never prays, either publicly or privately, in exclusively Christian language (i.e., in "Jesus' name").

The best Lillback can offer is Washington, unlike fellow Anglican Thomas Jefferson, agreed to be a Godfather where he'd have to go through high church Anglican rituals that required the Godfather to recite orthodox language. (But elsewhere Lillback claims Washington rejected high church Anglicanism, which is the same thing as stating you reject official Anglican doctrine while simultaneously remaining a member of the club.)

Jefferson was obsessively compulsively anti-Trinitarian; Washington didn't appear to be. In what exists of Washington's extant words -- tens of thousands of pages of them, loaded with God talk -- explicit thoughts on the doctrine of the Trinity and cognate orthodox doctrine, are entirely absent.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Volokh: "'In a country professing Christianity, … I find my religion and myself attacked'"

Eugene Volokh reproduces a firsthand account from early American artist John Trumbull in 1793 where one of Jefferson's invited guests -- a senator from Virginia, and therefore one of the hundreds of unknown "Founders" -- articulated something very close to strict deism (indeed, something way stricter than what Jefferson himself apparently believed) or perhaps atheism.

From 1793:
Thinking this a fair opportunity for evading further conversation on this subject, I turned to Mr. Jefferson and said, “Sir, this is a strange situation in which I find myself; in a country professing Christianity, and at a table with Christians, as I supposed, I find my religion and myself attacked with severe and almost irresistible wit and raillery, and not a person to aid me in my defense, but my friend Mr. Franks, who is himself a Jew.” For a moment, this attempt to parry the discussion appeared to have some effect; but Giles soon returned to the attack, with renewed virulence, and burst out with — “It is all a miserable delusion and priestcraft; I do not believe one word of all they say about a future state of existence, and retribution for actions done here. I do not believe one word of a Supreme Being who takes cognizance of the paltry affairs of this world, and to whom we are responsible for what we do.”

Monday, July 14, 2014

David Stokes Contrasts the American and French Revolutions

Columnist David R. Stokes contrasts the American and French Revolutions in an opinion piece for The writer of this excellent article is a Wall Street Journal bestselling author, ordained minister, commentator, and broadcaster based in Northern Virginia. He's also a personal friend and my former pastor. Follow the link below to the article...

...and let us know what you think in the comments section.


Saturday, July 12, 2014

John Fea Stands Up Against Latest David Barton Sliming

To his great and good credit, friend-of-the-blog Dr. John Fea of Messiah College [and author of Was America Founded As a Christian Nation?: A Historical Introduction BUY! BUY!] sets the left-wing jackal pack straight on their favorite whipping boy's latest careen into the PC ditch:

What David Barton Really Said About Women and Voting

Everyone seems to be ripping on David Barton today. They are claiming that he said that women's suffrage is somehow bad for the country.  Here are some of the headlines:
"David Barton: Allowing women to vote "hurts the entire culture and society."
"Barton: Denying Women's Suffrage Protects the Family"
"David Barton: Women Weren't Allowed to Vote in Order to Preserve the Family."


Most people who read this blog know that I have been very critical of Barton.  In fact, I could probably write something critical about David Barton every day on this blog and see my readership double.
Barton, of course, represents the Christian Right, but as this most recent incident shows, the Left is not immune from this kind of cherry picking and manipulation of evidence to promote their own political agenda.

Perhaps all of those historians (yes, some legitimate historians have jumped on the bandwagon) and pundits should listen to the entire Wallbuilders Live episode before hitting social media to skewer Barton for saying that women's suffrage was a bad thing.  If you listen to the entire context of this discussion of women's suffrage, you will notice several things:

1.  Nowhere in this episode does Barton say the 19th amendment was a bad thing or that women voting is a bad thing.  Listen for yourself.  Some might say he is implying this.  If someone wants to make this argument, it is a stretch.

2.  The clip I posted above has been edited.  The part of the discussion in which Barton and Green seem to suggest that women's suffrage is a positive development in American life has been cut out.

Etc.  Like the man says, read the whole thing.  Kudos, John.  Every man deserves a fair trial.  Then we can hang him.

Joseph Blast: "A Founding Father Profit Sharing Fix for Inequality"

From The Daily Beast here. A taste:
In fact, while Adams drafted the new Massachusetts Constitution, some of his political colleagues considered changing the name of that state to Oceana, the fictional commonwealth of political philosopher James Harrington, where wide property ownership helped secure political liberty. Like all the Founders, Adams wanted property rights protected and he wanted everyone to be a property holder. 
Land was the main form of capital at this time, and the Founders’ preferred idea of spreading capital ownership through land was expressed in repeated far-reaching governmental actions. Washington asked Jefferson to draft a liberal approach to the sale of public lands to citizens which commenced, albeit with some complications. They moved against the institution of primogeniture, a key plank of European feudalism,...
Admittedly, I'm less well read on the Founders & economic policy than I am on the Founders & religion; but I see two strains of competing thought on the former: 1. The more individualistic "liberal" laissez faire notion that accepts applying equally a set of rules to individuals with differing talents results in vastly different outcomes, and that's okay as long as the same set of rules applies to all; and 2. The more collectivistic "republican" notion that demands some kind of redistribution or indeed, wealth based "affirmative action" to undo some of the unfairness of the history of aristocracy. Abolishing primogeniture was a first step ....

And as Eric Nelson has shown the Bible, particularly the Hebraic writings, offers more for an egalitarian redistributionist republicanism than did Greco-Roman republicanism, whose teachings eschewed economic redistribution.

As I teach my students, the dialog in Western Civilization on individualism v. collectivism traces back to the very beginning and runs the entire length. Marx didn't invent it.

Indeed, I think we forget the origins of the term "utopia." It was the Christian Thomas More who coined the term while defining the concept. In More's Utopia, both wealth and poverty were abolished, which looks something like Marx's economic "equality according to need." Marx was More stripped of his Christianity. It was Marx's atheistic dictated utopia that was novel, not his notion of economic leveling. (Atheists weren't appreciated in More's Utopia.)

(But Leo Strauss would probably see More as a secret esoteric atheist anyway.)

Friday, July 11, 2014

Right Wing Watch: "Bob Barr Challenges Barry Loudermilk To Disavow David Barton's Endorsement"

I know it's a bit off topic. But I thought I'd post it because it represents one of the odder moments in David Barton history I've yet seen. Check it out here.

Kirkus: "NATURE'S GOD The Heretical Origins of the American Republic"

Here. A taste:
Stewart gives the simplistic “common religious consciousness” and much presumed wisdom a fair hearing, then demolishes them utterly, though not dismissing what is useful in faith. By closely analyzing the writings of Jefferson, Young, Franklin, Paine et al., he quashes the delusion that America was established as a “Christian” nation.

New Republic: "The Dangerous Lies We Tell About America's Founding"

Here. A taste:
To conclude that America is a “Christian nation,” as numerous Christian conservatives insist, underestimates both the radicalness of the ideas on which the republic was founded and, more crucially, the source of our continuing national strength. That power, according to Stewart, is the ability of liberalism to effect progress—however slowly—through ideas like equality, freedom, and popular sovereignty. 
Stewart, best known for his philosophical history of Leibniz and Spinoza, The Courtier and the Heretic, gives deism the gift of serious historical roots. He traces this strain of radical philosophy from Epicurus, via Lucretius, to Hobbes, Spinoza, Locke, and through to the ideas of Jefferson, as evidenced in the Declaration of Independence.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Fea: "Boston 1775 Covers Three New Books on the American Revolution"

Here John Fea tells us about three great post from Boston 1775, my favorite one of which is found here. A quotation from that one:
[Matthew] Stewart is clearly arguing against claims of our modern religious right that the U.S. of A. was founded on and for Christian beliefs—almost always the beliefs of the people making those claims. As Stewart points out, people of a particular faith tend to assume that when historical figures they admire mention “God,” that means the same God they themselves believe in. But even when people of the past specifically allude to Christianity or Jesus, they may not share the same understanding of those terms and ideas as their modern readers. 
That can cut in all directions. “Presbyterian“ was often used as a general derogatory term by eighteenth-century non-Presbyterians. John Adams’s understanding of “Unitarianism” doesn’t map directly onto the modern Unitarian-Universalist creed. And so on.

Den Hartog: "Religion and the Founding, 2014 edition"

Jonathan Den Hartog on the book in which he participated along with some other familiar names here. The book is here. A taste:
In the introduction, the editors speak of their desire to "expand the conversation" about how to understand multiple religious beliefs acting in multiple ways during the founding era (6). On one hand, this means moving beyond the simple binaries of Christian orthodoxy/Deistic secularism that often get presented as the only options for understanding the founding. On the other, they strongly argue that religion for the founders cannot be understood simply through the lens of  "the Big 6": Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Madison, Hamilton, and Franklin. Rather, many other founders who also played important roles--and the groups in which they were enmeshed--need to be considered. To advance this two-fold strategy, the essays in the volume are divided in half, with the first eight essays examining how religion interacted in multiple ways with the political culture of the founding and with the last five examining other important founders whose religious commitments shed light on the complexity of religion in the founding.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

Two Reviews of "Nature's God The Heretical Origins of the American Republic"

A book by Matthew Stewart. Here is a more friendly review by the LA Times; and here is a more hostile review by Robert Tracy McKenzie.

From the later:
Apart from the hyperbole, what precisely is new about Stewart's reading of the founding? It's not his assertion that the religious views of the most prominent Founders were unorthodox. With apologies to David Barton, there is little evidence that the leading Founders were devout Christians who based their political philosophy primarily on Scripture. Whether we label them "deists" or "theistic rationalists" or "Enlightenment Christians," no historically sound argument can transform them into card-carrying evangelicals. Nor is Stewart being innovative in claiming that the Founders drew extensively from Enlightenment sources in thinking about the proper structure and function of government. Scholars of the Revolution almost unanimously agree with this, and that includes Christian historians who take religion's role with great seriousness. 
But the predominant view within the academy would complicate each of these conclusions. Scholars typically argue that the leading Founders were unorthodox, but not irreligious. Yes, they found much of value in Enlightenment philosophy, but they gravitated toward the Enlightenment's more moderate expressions, especially Scottish "Common Sense" writings that could be reconciled with Christianity. ...
Update: Here is a Q&A from the Boston Globe.