Saturday, June 24, 2017

Public Discourse: "The Closing of the American Mind Thirty Years Later: A Symposium"

From the Public Discourse here. A taste:
Peter Lawler, one of America’s most insightful critics of popular culture, will treat Part One: Students, which includes some of Bloom’s most controversial arguments on subjects like rock music, the sexual revolution, feminism, and divorce. Michael Platt, author of an influential review of Closing and important essays on both Shakespeare and Nietzsche, will discuss Part Two: Nihilism, American Style. Paul Rahe will analyze Part Three: The University. Rahe, a distinguished intellectual historian, was a student of Bloom’s at Cornell University during the campus protests that Bloom narrates in this section. Those same protests caused Bloom to leave Cornell for the University of Toronto and Rahe to transfer to Yale University. Finally, Jon Fennell, accomplished philosopher of education, the driving force behind the establishment of the Classical Education program at Hillsdale College, and author of another early essay on Bloom and education, will write a summary and critique of the symposium.
This was the last piece Peter Lawler wrote before he died.  Allan Bloom, contra Lawler, did not think that America had an accidentally Thomistic Founding. Rather after Leo Strauss, Bloom thought America's Founding was Lockean (modern). And there was an accidental or esoteric influence that undergirded Locke; but it was a different Thomas. Hobbes not Aquinas.

In the above linked piece, Nathan Schlueter observes the contentiousness of Bloom's many theses. Another taste:
Like a great book, The Closing of the American Mind sparks intense disagreements. Is Bloom’s description of the principles of the American Founding accurate? Does he caricature the flat souls of his students? Do philosophical ideas really have the power he attributes to them? Is his genealogy of ideas accurate? How does he understand the relationship between philosophy and morality? What does nature teach about the moral life? Can the restoration of a Great Books education in the university really be the remedy for the crisis of the West?

Friday, June 23, 2017

More From Kidd on His Book on Franklin's Creed

This one has a video embedded. See here. A taste:
Thomas Kidd, distinguished professor of history and associate director of the Institute for Studies of Religion at Baylor University, has published a major new biography, Benjamin Franklin: The Religious Life of a Founding Father (Yale University Press, 2017).
I sat down with my co-blogger for TGC’s Evangelical History blog and picked his brain on Franklin, his evangelical sister, the type of Christian Deist he was, and whether there was a deathbed conversion. Below the video you’ll find a timestamp map to our half-hour conversation.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

George Washington & Thomas Jefferson Jointly Author Statement ...

Claiming that they don't just worship the same God as Muslims but that both "Adore" the same God. 

I was going to say they both claimed that Christians and Muslims worship and adore the same God, but that might be taken to mean that both Washington and Jefferson were "Christians," which we know, after examining the evidence and arguments for over the decade, is quite contentious.

So our American Creation co-blogger Pastor Tubbs claims the notion that Christians and Muslims don't worship the same God is "basic Christian doctrine." As I told him in the comments, I respect his position and think it's an entirely defensible argument for a traditional Christian believer to make. However, I do question just how "basic" this position is to "Christian doctrine."

There are plenty of traditionally minded small o orthodox Christians who believe Jews, Christians and Muslims worship the same God, just as there are plenty who support Pastor Tubbs' position.

America's key Founders -- the first four Presidents, Ben Franklin and a few others -- however, were firmly in the camp of believing Jews, Christians and Muslims did in fact worship the same God. Others too, unconverted Native Americans, pagan Greco-Romans and Hindus worshipped the same God as Christians.

This has been used as an argument AGAINST the "Christian America" thesis.

The theory of "natural religion" which America's key Founders endorsed held that men of all religions worshipped the same God whose existence could be detected from reason alone. And they strained to find monotheistic God worship in the what we might term polytheistic religions. Traditional Hinduism, Zeus worship was still "worshipping the same one true God" as Christians worship, but with those others, getting the details a bit wrong.

How is that possible? For one, the lines between and among monotheism, polytheism and henotheism aren't so easy to draw. The Bible doesn't speak of "One God" who is clearly distinct from everything else, but rather of a divine family with (arguably) One Chief. A Sky Father. Or Yoo Pater (Jupiter).

If there are, as the orthodox Trinitarians understand, a divine Three who are equally in charge, such has vexed much of the non-orthodox (and those trying to be orthodox) Christian world since the beginning. Worshipping a divine Three, to the Jew, Muslim and unitarian Christian raises the specter of polytheism.

After doing much meticulous research, I do not believe George Washington was an orthodox Trinitarian Christian. I do believe he was a theist who believed in an active personal God. And GW greatly supported the institution of "religion" generally (and "Christianity" as a particular of that genus).

Still, I understand, the smoking guns proving that Washington was in the personal religious belief camp of Franklin, Jefferson, and J. Adams aren't there. Washington didn't bitterly reject orthodox Trinitarian doctrine like Jefferson and Adams did or give us as much extant heterodoxy as Franklin.

In all of the over 20,000 pages of Washington's recognized public and private utterances, Jesus Christ is spoken of only one time by name and one other time by example, both in public addresses written by other people (aids and subordinates) but given under Washington's imprimatur (meaning he edited and otherwise approved of the addresses with his signature).

In one of them, GW mentions the "divine author of our blessed religion," which obviously refers to Jesus. That's the closest to a smoking gun that GW was an orthodox Trinitarian Christian. I would argue that such is consistent with Arianism, Socinianism, Mormonism, and many other things that are not orthodox Trinitarian Christianity. 

But still, I would concede that statement strongly resonates with orthodox Christianity.

So if we concede that a public address written by someone who is not George Washington, but rather for him, and that was, after GW's tweaking given under the imprimatur of his signature accounts for at the very least a "joint authoring," let us look at one GW did with Thomas Jefferson.

The letter was written on March 31, 1791. It was addressed to Yazid ibn-Muhammed, the new Emperor of Morocco, whose father had just passed and Washington sent his condolences as he introduced Thomas Barclay as the new American consul.

Here is how Washington closed the letter:
“May that God, whom we both adore, bless your Imperial Majesty with long life, Health and Success, and have you always, great and magnanimous Friend, under his holy keeping.”

Friday, June 9, 2017

Senator Bernie Sanders Disregards U.S. Constitution

Earlier this week, Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) grilled Russell Vought, President Donald Trump's nominee for the position of Deputy Director of the White House Office of Management and Budget, during Mr. Vought's confirmation hearings. Was it over Mr. Vought's economic views? Not really. The most significant grilling was over Mr. Vought's religious views, specifically his views regarding salvation for those outside of the Christian faith.

In early 2016, Mr. Vought's alma mater, Wheaton College, was rocked by controversy when one of its professors said Christians and Muslims worship "the same God." Mr. Vought defended Wheaton's statement of faith and its handling of the situation, saying (in an article for Resurgent magazine) that Muslims have a "deficient theology" and "do not know God because they have rejected Jesus Christ his Son, and they stand condemned." Now this is certainly offensive talk in our postmodernist age of political correctness, but it's hardly surprising.

What Vought said is basic Christian doctrine. Doubt me? Read the New Testament. Let's start with John 3:18, where Jesus tells Nicodemus (and us): "He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God." There's also John 3:16, John 14:6, Romans 10:9-10 and 13, and on and on and on and on. The Bible is certainly offensive to many people. That's why many people have tried to destroy it (unsuccessfully) over the years, but the Bible (and Christianity) have been around for 2000 years. Vought's beliefs are well within the mainstream of Christian thought.

What's most distressing for our purposes, however, is that this line of questioning even came up! Has Senator Sanders not read the Constitution? Who cares what Vought believes regarding heaven, hell, salvation, and the like? It doesn't matter! The only vested interest the government has in someone's religious beliefs are whether those beliefs will drive a person to commit violence (that's actual violence, not the verbal hurt-your-feelings, micro-aggression nonsense so many college campuses are worried about) against their fellow citizens or call for some kind of insurrection against the government. That's it. A person can believe (and express his belief) in God, Allah, or the atheists' favorite "Flying Spaghetti Monster," and it shouldn't be a matter of consideration for the U.S. Senate.

The U.S. Constitution clearly states that "no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States." (Article VI, Section 3). That means it's unconstitutional for a sitting U.S. Senator to consider an executive branch nominee's religious beliefs when deciding whether to consent to that person's nomination. For a senator to do otherwise shows (at best) ignorance of or (at worst) defiance of the Constitution of the United States. It also smells, in this case, of anti-Christian bigotry.

Are we going to respect that part of the Constitution or not? Clearly, Senator Sanders is not. And, for that reason, this American is glad he is not our President today.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

MDH on when America became the United States of America

Friend of the blog Mark David Hall of George Fox University weighs in. What annoys me most When Historians Attack is when they exceed the limits of their expertise. In this case, Harvard's Dr. Joyce Chaplin, a history instructor, presumed to lecture Harvard Law grad Sen. Ted Cruz--who as Texas Solicitor General argued [and won] in front of the Supreme Court--on the law.

Dr. Hall's credentials are in Political Science, and as such, straddles the two fields and clarifies:






RIP Peter Augustine Lawler

Lawlerfortwitter

Details here.

I began looking at the American Founding in studying the theory of "rights," which has a grounding in St. Thomas Aquinas and classical natural law theory.  However, it soon became apparent that little of the Founding rhetoric made clear sense without an understanding of its Protestant [anti-Catholic] milieu, particularly Reformed theology, commonly called "Calvinism." Even the quasi-Catholic Anglican church was influenced by Reformed theology, not to mention the sects explicitly so, such as Pilgrims, Puritans, Presbyterians, Congregationalists, and Baptists.

Thus I became a big fan of Peter Lawler's "They Built Better Than They Knew" thesis about the American Founding, that they ended up with an "accidental Thomism" anyway, i.e., classical Aristotle/Aquinas natural law.

As I’ve said many times before, we can see that our Declaration was a statesmanlike legislative compromise between Lockeans and Calvinists, and the result was a kind of accidental Thomism. Something similar can be said about the actual language of the religion clauses of the First Amendment, which point in the direction, contrary to Madison’s theoretical anti-ecclesiasticism, of freedom of the church.


From John B. Kienker in First Things: "In a superb chapter on John Courtney Murray, Lawler defends the American founders' "implicitly Thomistic" liberalism (from which we've strayed), which, despite its debt to Locke, retained a conception of rights firmly grounded in natural law. Following Murray, he credits a Calvinist influence with tempering the founders' own liberal impulses, allowing them to build "better than they knew." He hopes that perhaps our politics may again experience a similarly fruitful tension between today's evangelicals and secularists."


More from Lawler here and here. Requiescat in pace.

[Originally posted at newreformclub.com]

Friday, June 2, 2017

When Historians Attack: Harvard's Dr. Joyce Chaplin

One in an occasional series. Right-wing "pseudo-historians" such as the uncredentialed David Barton are easy pickins for the academic left, but when one of their own hijacks history for their own partisan politics, such guardians of historical accuracy are more easily cowed, if not fooled themselves.

From Jay Cost--not on CNN, of course, or the NY Times where our liberal friends might actually see it, but in the conservative The Weekly Standard:


Twitter has a remarkable power to make well-credentialed people look like fools. Case in point: Joyce Chaplin, who is the James Duncan Phillips Professor of Early American History at Harvard University.

In response to President Donald Trump's withdrawal from the Paris climate accords, Chaplin tweeted





Senator Ted Cruz would have none of this, and responded,

Chaplin, apparently forgetting that discretion is the better part of valor, responded


Chaplin is not just wrong, but embarrassingly wrong. A 17-year-old high school student should know better.

- First, the Treaty of 1783 was not a multinational accord. It was a bilateral agreement between the United States and Great Britain.

- Second, the Treaty was a recognition of the facts on the ground, which were that, after their defeat at Yorktown, the British had no chance of reclaiming their American colonies.

- Third, there was no "international community" in 1783, at least not in any sense that corresponds to what Chaplin suggests. While the Declaration of Independence is solicitous of world opinion, no extra-national entity existed to make such determinations.

- Fourth, insofar as the international community did exist, it was on the side of the United States. France, Spain, and the Netherlands were all lined up against Great Britain in the Revolution.

- Fifth, the Declaration of Independence explicitly lays out the moral logic of the Revolution, relying heavily on early liberal political philosophy, which set out the guidelines for legitimate revolution. It then was at pains to explain why those conditions were met.


- Sixth, Chaplin's logic leads to ridiculous propositions. Did the "international community" sanction the Glorious Revolution of 1688? Of course not. But, per Chaplin's logic, Queen Elizabeth II is not the legitimate monarch of Great Britain, but instead it should be Franz, Duke of Bavaria, who is currently the senior member of the House of Stuart.
Read the whole thing. Crossposted at newreformclub.com