Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Public Statement on Real Clear Politics: "Freedom to Marry, Freedom to Dissent: Why We Must Have Both"

I am proud to be one of the original 58 signers of this public statement.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

Ragosta at the David Library

On April 10, I saw John Ragosta present at the David Library on his book Religious Freedom: Jefferson’s Legacy, America’s Creed. I now have an autographed copy of the book.

This is how I understand Ragosta's thesis: There may have been multiple understandings of church-state relations during the Founding; the states each had their own way of dealing with religious liberty and establishment issues. Further, there has been recent, notable, effort arguing Jefferson and Madison's influence is exaggerated and disproportionate.

Ragosta seeks to explain and reclaim why Jefferson and Madison deserve that rock star influence and it's because, they were, well, rock stars of church-state issues while others weren't. (Note: Ragosta didn't, from what I remember, use the rock star analogy; that's my language.)

This reminds me of Harry Jaffa's notion of interpreting Founding principles through their ideals, not compromises with those ideals. On the ideals of proper church-state relations, who can hold a candle to Jefferson and Madison?

Daniel Dreisbach, a scholar for whom I have profound respect, suggests Jaspar Adams. The problem is, as Ragosta noted, Jaspar Adams was a nobody. He's not even a Salieri to Jefferson and Madison's Mozart. Perhaps Joseph Story (a somebody). But Story wasn't a Founder like Jefferson and Madison were.

While briefly chatting with Dr. Ragosta I mentioned perhaps John Marshall. Ragosta mentioned Marshall, unlike Story, was a Founder and would make for a better candidate than Story. And Marshall, likewise, corresponded with Jaspar Adams and seemed to sympathize with him more than Madison did.

Though, beyond the singular letter to Adams, I'm not aware of much that John Marshall wrote on church-state relations (doesn't mean it's not out there).

When I presented at a conference with, among others, Daniel Dreisbach, we discussed the concept of "key Founders" -- the notion that certain founders not only get but arguably deserve disproportionate influence over others.  Dreisbach suggested that our attention to the first four Presidents, Alexander Hamilton and Ben Franklin (I don't think anyone questions those six are the most well known today) may be a modernistic phenomenon, that other, more forgotten Founders were bigger in the past than they are today. I remember him suggesting John Dickinson as an example.

Well Ragosta, in his book, takes this challenge seriously. Through the use of search engines and data, he tries to argue that Jefferson and Madison were back then, as they are today, rock stars on church-state ideals and remained so for a hundred years after the founding.

If someone was bigger and more worthy of the attention and influence on church-state matters, who?

Fea linking to Kidd on the Scherr Controversy

Here. And here is Thomas Kidd's original.

Ragosta Responds to Scherr

John Ragosta Responds to Arthur Scherr on the controversy here.

A taste:
... Yet, by giving the wrong impression about Jefferson’s deep religiosity and, most especially, overstating Jefferson’s objections, one risks not only confusion but gives those to whom Scherr is addressing his arguments too much ammunition.

Throckmorton: "From Barton to Scherr: Thomas Kidd on Various Visions of Thomas Jefferson"

I've been busy with work; but I wanted to make sure we didn't miss this controversy.

As Warren Throckmorton notes, "[w]hile I think Dreisbach could be more vocal in response to Barton, I agree with Kidd that Barton has found no scholarly support for The Jefferson Lies[,]" including Daniel Dreisbach.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Hammer Reviews Spellberg

As Andrew Sullivan informs, "Juliane Hammer reviews Denise A. Spellberg’s Thomas Jefferson’s Qur’an, ..."

From the review:
It is this same sentiment that permeates Denise A. Spellberg’s new book, Thomas Jefferson’s Qur’an: Islam and the Founders. In it, Spellberg offers a meticulously researched and incredibly detailed account not only of how Jefferson came to acquire a copy of the Qur’an in English but also of the broader historical circumstances of his political career and the role of religion in the period of the founding fathers. Spellberg develops a nuanced and insightful analysis of the seemingly contradicting attitudes towards Islam and Muslims displayed by Jefferson and his contemporaries as represented in historical records. The conundrums she sets out to explore are the following: Why did the founding fathers include the theoretical possibility of Muslims not only as citizens of the United States but as federal office holders (including the presidency) in their deliberations on the one hand, while demonstrating decidedly negative views of Islam (and Muslim political adversaries overseas) on the other? ...

Happy 271 to Thomas Jefferson

To celebrate, see from The Humanist here.

A taste:
Thomas Jefferson was editing the Bible, a book regarded by most of his fellow Americans as the word of God. The act was certainly presumptuous, perhaps blasphemous. But Jefferson found the task simple. The worthy parts of the Bible were easily distinguishable from the worthless—“as distinguishable,” he later wrote in a letter to John Adams, “as diamonds in a dunghill.”

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Kidd: "The Quaker Contribution to Religious Liberty"

By Thomas Kidd here. A taste:
Quaker convictions about religious liberty, like Baptists’, emerged from the experience of persecution. ...

Sunday, April 06, 2014

Brayton: "AHA Files Contempt Motion in Prayer Case" & Observations on J. Adams' Heterodox Theology

Read about it here.

I'm of two minds: On the one hand, I'm no fan of federal judges dictating prayers. On the other, I'm also not a fan of local government agencies dictating them either. A local government bureaucrat has no power to intentionally overrule a federal judge. Federal judges can enforce injunctions at the point of a gun. Were I the judge, this is how I would resolve it: I'd use my equitable powers to send in an official to pray a generic monotheistic, inclusive prayer that would cancel out the exclusivist Jesus language. And I'd have them come back a few times a year as long as the local bureaucrat insisted on Jesus only language.

Perhaps they could quote something from the "key Founders" that, unlike the George Washington spurious prayer, was actually uttered by them. Perhaps something from John Adams' letters written in 1813 like below.
Where is to be found theology more orthodox, or philosophy more profound, than in the introduction to the Shasta? "God is one, creator of all, universal sphere, without beginning, without end. God governs all the creation by a general providence, resulting from his eternal designs. Search not the essence and the nature of the Eternal, who is one; your research will be vain and presumptuous. It is enough, that, day by day and night by night, you adore his power, his wisdom, and his goodness, in his works. The Eternal willed, in the fulness of time, to communicate of his essence and of his splendor, to beings capable of perceiving it. They as yet existed not. The Eternal willed, and they were. He created Birma, Vitsnow, and Sib." These doctrines, sublime, if ever there were any sublime, Pythagoras learned in India, and taught them to Zaleucus and his other disciples.
Bill Fortenberry, friend of American Creation, may chime in and argue Adams' thoughts are somehow consistent with evangelical, biblical Christianity as he did here.

Adams at times (here, certainly) can be difficult to understand and Mr. Fortenberry's analysis did help me better understand the context, somewhat. When the militant unitarian Adams uses the term "orthodox" as he refers to a religion, he may mean 1. trinitarianism and cognate doctrines, something in which he did not believe (hence here the term "orthodox" would be something at least somewhat pejorative); or 2. something religiously good, something in which a unitarian like himself could endorse (hence the term "orthodox" would be something positive).

It's apparent from the context that Adams sees Hindu dogma to be equivalent to orthodox Trinitarian Christianity. He sees truth and error, positive and negative, in both. Adams, like the Hindus and Trinitarians believed that:
God is one, creator of all, universal sphere, without beginning, without end. God governs all the creation by a general providence, resulting from his eternal designs. Search not the essence and the nature of the Eternal, who is one; your research will be vain and presumptuous.
This is the part of the Shastra Adams believed to contain "philosophy ... profound."

But then:
The Eternal willed, in the fulness of time, to communicate of his essence and of his splendor, to beings capable of perceiving it. They as yet existed not. The Eternal willed, and they were. He created Birma, Vitsnow, and Sib." These doctrines, sublime, if ever there were any sublime, Pythagoras learned in India, and taught them to Zaleucus and his other disciples.
The notion of the eternal God being One, somehow becoming Three but still being One is what Adams thought "theology ... orthodox," something Adams rejected.

Whatever disagreements Adams had with fellow militant unitarian Joseph Priestley (and such disagreements were more political than theological) Adams endorsed Priestley's notion that the corrupt "orthodox" doctrine of the Trinity traces to Plato. Though Adams thought he could "one up" Priestley for failing to note Plato cribbed the Trinity from Pythagoras (aka the triangle guy).

So which part of Adams' musings make it into the government dictated prayer?

Saturday, April 05, 2014

Article on Official Using GW's Phony Prayers

From the Baltimore Sun. A taste:
She said that she would be using the words of George Washington as she prayed, quoting, “I beseech thee, for the sake of him in whom thou art well pleased, the Lord Jesus Christ, to admit me to render thee deserved thanks and praises for thy manifold mercies extended toward me.” 
The text of the prayer matches that of one ascribed to Washington in a 1919 book, but William M. Ferraro an associate editor of the first president’s papers at the University of Virginia, said there is no evidence the words are his.
Be sure to read on and check for what Thomas Kidd has to say in the article.

Monday, March 31, 2014

The Humanist: "George Washington Never Wrote That Jesus Prayer"

Here. A taste:
But even if the prayer delivered by Commissioner Frazier had been genuine, perhaps thereby having some patriotic or historical significance, it wouldn’t have changed the legal picture. A continuous habit of delivering specifically Christian prayers at government meetings creates a hostile environment for non-Christian citizens, be they believers in other religions or nonbelievers.