Wednesday, July 01, 2015

Cosmic Religions

That's the title of a new post I have at "Ordinary Times."

Here is a taste insofar as it relates to the American Founding & Religion:
But Franklin soon abandoned such strict deism. He desired to worship a more personal God. So his next stop — where he attempted to reconcile Enlightenment with worship of a personal God — was something quite cosmic, indeed proto-Mormon. As he described it in 1728:
When I think thus, I imagine it great Vanity in me to suppose, that the Supremely Perfect, does in the least regard such an inconsiderable Nothing as Man. More especially, since it is impossible for me to have any positive clear Idea of that which is infinite and incomprehensible, I cannot conceive otherwise, than that He, the Infinite Father, expects or requires no Worship or Praise from us, but that he is even INFINITELY ABOVE IT.
….

I CONCEIVE then, that the INFINITE has created many Beings or Gods, vastly superior to Man, who can better conceive his Perfections than we, and return him a more rational and glorious Praise. As among Men, the Praise of the Ignorant or of Children, is not regarded by the ingenious Painter or Architect, who is rather honour’d and pleas’d with the Approbation of Wise men and Artists. .
It may be that these created Gods, are immortal, or it may be that after many Ages, they are changed, and Others supply their Places. .

Howbeit, I conceive that each of these is exceeding wise, and good, and very powerful; and that Each has made for himself, one glorious Sun, attended with a beautiful and admirable System of Planets. .
It is that particular wise and good God, who is the Author and Owner of our System, that I propose for the Object of my Praise and Adoration. .
Note that Franklin, for the rest of his life articulated belief in an active personal God, but never repudiated or retracted the above “cosmic” sentiment. (I’m not sure, however, whether he continued to believe in such.)

Sunday, June 28, 2015

Steven K. Green: "God is not on our side: The religious right’s big lie about the founding of America"

The author has a new piece out at Salon. A taste:
... Ever since the nation’s bicentennial, conservatives have raised claims about America’s Christian heritage in their efforts to gain the moral (and political) high ground in the ongoing culture wars. These arguments take on several forms, from asserting that the Founders relied on a pervasive Calvinist ideology when crafting notions of republicanism to claiming that the Founders were devout Christians and were guided in their actions by divine providence. As evidence, proponents point to public statements and official actions during the founding period—for example, thanksgiving day proclamations—that purportedly demonstrate a reliance on religious principles in the ordering of the nation’s political and legal institutions. A plethora of books have been published that attest to the Founders’ religious piety and to their belief about the role of religion in civil government. Although these books are usually weak on historical scholarship, they project a degree of authority by frequently  “disclosing” previously “unknown” historical data, purposely ignored (allegedly) by professional historians....

Connected to this central theme is a second common claim: that scholars, judges, and the liberal elite have censored America’s Christian past in a conspiracy to install a regime of secularism. Public school textbooks and college history courses generally avoid references to America’s religious heritage, creating the impression in the minds of students that that past did not exist....

... For years, the scholarly historical canon maintained that the Founders relied chiefly on rational Enlightenment norms, not religious ones, when fashioning the nation’s governing principles. Lawyer and historian Leo Pfeffer led the way for the “secularist” interpretation in the 1950 and 1960s, to be followed by scholars such as Leonard Levy, Gordon Wood, Jon Butler, Frank Lambert, Geoffrey Stone, and Isaac Kramnick and R. Lawrence Moore in their popular book, The Godless Constitution. While these scholars acknowledge the importance of religious thought and movements during the revolutionary period, they see a variety of ideological impulses that influenced the founding generation....

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Frazer Responds on Whether American Revolution Was a Just War

In the comments here. He writes:
It is too bad that too many people apparently accessed the article for free and the publisher shut down access. If you could actually read the article, you would see the answers to all -- or at least almost all -- of your questions/criticisms.

I address the Romans 13 issue -- but not in a caricatured fashion as in Mark's hypothetical. Incidentally, my view of Romans 13 is identical to that of Calvin -- though not to that of some CalvinISTS.

I address the so-called "lesser magistrate" issue and I deal specifically and at length with Wilson's argument in "Considerations." A major problem that some have -- including Eric Patterson in his article -- is that they automatically assume that everything that the colonists (inc. Wilson) said was TRUE. If that's the case, then, yes (tautologically), it would be foolish to take another position. But not everything they said was in fact true.

I am not blissfully ignorant of English law. Those who make the argument that the law was the highest authority (or that the Constitution is the highest authority in the US today) are, of course, correct. But what does that mean practically? "The law" (or "the Constitution" -- as we've seen in the last two days) is not self-interpreting. Someone has to interpret and apply the law in order to make the rubber meet the road. The issue is: who has authority to do that?

Those who claim that authority for themselves are antinomian and make themselves the law. In Romans 13, God gave authority to PEOPLE -- to agents of His; in the language of Romans 13: to "ministers of God" and "servants of God." In the Old Testament, to "shepherds" and "anointed" and "My servant." As Calvin rightly says: "even if the punishment of unbridled tyranny is the Lord's vengeance, we are not to imagine that it is we ourselves who have been called upon to inflict it. All that has been assigned to us is to obey and suffer." Calvin also said: "if you go on to infer that only just governments are to be repaid by obedience, your reasoning is stupid."

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Ben Franklin on the Quakers & Lack of Need For Govt. Support of Religion, Etc.

The relationship of the Quakers & the American Founding is fascinating. On the one hand, one might conclude the Founders had a strong dislike for them because of their refusal to take up arms. But they didn't. Hey, many of the most important Founders were Anglicans whose "sect" officially stood for the very propositions against which they rebelled. Irony abounds in the study of religion and the American Founding.

Why might the Founders feel affection for the Quakers? There was a radically decentralized, highly individualistic, anti-creedal, anti-clerical element of the Quakers that resonated with the Whig Zeitgeist. And for those Founders who believed government didn't need to support "true religion," the Quakers had that too. As Ben Franklin explains:
If Christian Preachers had continued to teach as Christ and his Apostles did, without Salaries, and as the Quakers now do, I imagine Tests would never have existed; for I think they were invented, not so much to secure Religion itself, as the Emoluments of it.
When a Religion is good, I conceive that it will support itself; and, when it cannot support itself, and God does not take care to support, so that its Professors are oblig'd to call for the help of the Civil Power, it is a sign, I apprehend, of its being a bad one.
Note Franklin's letter (October 9, 1780) was to the Arian Richard Price, who because of his Arianism would have flunked those religious tests the two of them complained about. Insofar as I understand the relationship of "Quaker doctrine" to the Trinity, their official doctrine is there is no doctrine.

Quakers of that time tended to believe in the Trinity but had no internal "confession" for it because they had no creeds. If the Spirit instructed the believer the Trinity existed, that was sufficient. If not, that was okay as well.  The individual believer, exercising his privilege as a Priest would decide for himself.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Fea: "The Author's Corner with Steven K. Green"

Check it out here. A taste:
JF: In two sentences, what is the argument of Inventing a Christian America?

SG: I argue that idea of the nation's Christian founding is essentially a national identity myth, constructed by the generations immediately following the constitutional era in an effort to sanctify the founding and give meaning to their hopes and aspirations for the nation's future.  As a result, we need to understand the purposeful origins and limitations of the idea of the nation's Christian origins.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

New Post at "Ordinary Times"

I have a new post at "Ordinary Times" on, basically, what I've been studying and blogging at for some time. A taste:
 Richard Price (in a sermon that George Washington endorsed!) articulates this understanding:
Montesquieu probably was not a Christian. Newton and Locke were not Trinitarians and therefore not Christians according to the commonly received ideas of Christianity. Would the United States, for this reason, deny such men, were they living, all places of trust and power among them?

Sunday, June 07, 2015

Frazer on whether the American Revolution was a "Just War"

Gregg Frazer has a new article out in the Journal of Military Ethics entitled “The American Revolution: Not a Just War.” Dr. Frazer has, if you don't remember, made the case that the American Revolution violated the biblical injunction against revolution contained in Romans 13. Of course, such a claim would spark controversy among American Christians who take a "patriotic" view of history. This article is much deeper in that it explores the American Revolution through the lens of the eight classic criteria for what constitutes a "just war." A taste:
The most famous and fateful example of this pattern concerned the Tea Act and the colonial response to it. After complaints from the colonists, Parliament withdrew most of the Townshend Acts – except for a 1.7 per cent tax on tea. The Tea Act, which gave the British East India Company tariff breaks, actually lowered the cost of tea for Americans despite the remaining tax. The primary target of the Tea Act was Ireland, not the American colonies, but the only subjects who responded violently were the Americans. The so-called Sons of Liberty used threats and violence to prevent Bostonians from making their own choice of whether to buy tea at a cheaper price. Due to their threats, few dared to accept the tea and many ships were turned away without unloading. In Boston, the governor’s sons agreed to take consignment of the tea, but the Sons of Liberty made sure that the dock workers would not unload the cargoes. Without legal authority, they then threatened the ship captains to get them to leave or at least not pay the duty required; but if the duty were not paid, the governor would not allow the ships to leave and customs officials could eventually seize the cargo. The end result would be that the tea would enter Boston’s market and Bostonians would have the choice of buying the cheaper tea. Rather than allow Bostonians that choice, the Sons of Liberty dumped 342 chests of tea into Boston harbor, destroying £8000 to £18,000 worth of tea. In today’s currency, the value of the tea would be $2 – 4 million. The Boston Tea Party was much more than a simple prank (Harvey 2002 : 113).
Benjamin Franklin, America’s friends in Parliament and the American public were shocked by this vandalism, but Boston refused to punish the perpetrators or to pay for the destroyed property. Colonial authorities had previously refused to punish other lesser- known incidents of violence and vandalism, such as the Gaspee incident in which a ship's captain was shot and a law-enforcement ship burned by the Sons of Liberty without consequence. Repeated acts of this kind forced the British to pass tougher laws and take greater control. After the so-called Tea ‘Party’, the British government had to decide between reasserting its authority or losing Massachusetts. As a result, a series of punitive laws called the Coercive Acts (which the colonists called the ‘Intolerable Acts’) were passed. That punishment for lawlessness produced greater cries of ‘tyranny’. Again, one should think of what would happen if such acts were committed today in the US. Would the governing authorities just look the other way or dismiss it as a ‘party’? If punishing acts of violence and vandalism is a normal, reasonable function of government, then the Americans’ just cause claims must be questioned.
That just scratches the surface. Read the whole thing.