Tuesday, March 17, 2015

So Maybe It Was the Unitarians After All...

Who first gave us religious liberty. And from Transylvania of all European places. From Wiki:
March 18th (1568): The Act of Religious Freedom and Conscience (Edict of Torda) was issued by (Unitarian) Prince John Sigismund of Transylvania, instituting in his principality the path-breaking idea of religious freedom. The Edict of Torda was revolutionary for its time.
Here is a pretty picture of it.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

What American is NOT About

"THE EXECUTION OF SERVETUS FOR BLASPHEMY, HERESY, & OBSTINATE ANABAPTISM, DEFENDED." By John Knox here.

Friday, March 13, 2015

What I see as the Political-Theological Contribution of the Enlightenment to the American Founding

There has been a "counter-Enlightenment" push that seeks to downplay its importance to the contributions of the American Founding while looking to credit earlier more traditional sources. With this we see a tendency that prefers one's own with focused importance.

That is, a scholar imbibed in the rich intellectual traditions of Judaism might focus on the Hebraic sources, a Baptist on their contributions, the Calvinists on theirs, and Roman Catholics can find "accidental Thomism" from a Protestant people who were by in large, anti-Roman Catholic.

And there certainly is a strong kernel of truth to each critique. The individual ideas that became en vogue by the Enlightenment religionists tended not to be new. For instance, freed from the constraint of the Magisterium and with each believer a priest entitled to interpret scripture for himself, many notable Protestants became Arians. After all, the Bible never specifically uses the term "the Trinity."

Arianism was the dominant theology of the 18th Century enlightened unitarians. But Arianism is old. Quite old indeed.  Even the more radical forms of unitarianism or "Christian-Deism" that for instance, Thomas Jefferson might endorse were found in the early Church. Jefferson didn't cite Marcion much, but their personal theologies were quite similar.

Speaking of Jefferson below is a quotation of his that typified the "Enlightenment" perspective on Christianity:
Were I to be a founder of a new sect, I would call them Apriarians, and after the example of the bee, advise them to extract honey of every sect.

-- Thomas Jefferson to Thomas B. Parker, May 15, 1819.
Lest you think I cite Jefferson as some kind of "outlier," here's a more mainstream orthodox Trinitarian Christian, albeit a universalist, making a similar point:
It would seem as if one of the designs of Providence in permitting the existence of so many Sects of Christians was that each Sect might be a depository of some great truth of the Gospel, and that it might by that means be better preserved. Thus to the Catholics and Moravians he has committed the Godhead of the Saviour, hence they worship and pray to him; to the Episcopal, Presbyterian, and Baptist Church the decrees of God and partial redemption, or the salvation of the first fruits, which they ignorantly suppose to include all who shall be saved. To the Lutherans and Methodists he has committed the doctrine of universal redemption, to the Quakers the Godhead and influences of the Holy Spirit, to the Unitarians, the humanity of our Saviour... Let the different Sects of Christians not only bear with each other, but love each other for this kind display of God's goodness whereby all the truths of their Religion are so protected that none of them can ever become feeble or be lost.
-- Benjamin Rush, "Commonplace Book," August 14, 1811. Corner, Autobiography of Rush, 339-340.
In short, the "enlightened" Protestant Christian used his own "judgment"-- his "reason" or otherwise -- to decide for himself how to interpret the faith, in what doctrines to believe, which parts of the Bible are inspired, which books, in fact, belong in the canon, and what political principles ought be derived from a "proper" understanding of theology.

So how did this impact the relationship among Enlightenment, Christianity, and the American Founding? Everything we "value" about the political-theology of the American Founding (and some things that we don't) probably can be found in bits and pieces during earlier more "traditional" periods. But it didn't all come together until these enlighteners used their reason "to extract honey of every sect" as Jefferson put it, at the exact moment they did. During that period historians term "the Enlightenment."

For instance, the "Calvinist resisters" (though not Calvin himself) might have something to offer like "rebellion against tyrants is obedience to God." Though, they were woefully deficient on religious liberty. Likewise, the Thomists incorporated a theistic grounding for Aristotelian rationalism but likewise were deficient on religious liberty and other matters.

Roger Williams and the Quakers were considered novel and eccentric when they innovated the "Christian" case for religious liberty. (That's where one had to go for this teaching, not the Calvinist resisters or those Protestants who borrowed from the scholastics.) The enlighteners of the 18th Century, using their reason, took from them this principle and combined it with what they saw the best from the other traditions to deliver the liberalism that founded America.

History Professor Caroline Winterer discusses the American Enlightenment


Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Brayton, Throckmorton, Barton, & the PA Pastors

Get the 411 here. A taste:
Warren Throckmorton, who teaches at Grove City College in Pennsylvania, notes that the Pennsylvania Pastors Network has invited David Barton to speak at a conference in Lancaster. He contacted Sam Rohrer, CEO of the pastors group, to ask why he would invite someone [like David Barton] to speak. ...

Sunday, March 08, 2015

Jeff Schweitzer: "Founding Fathers: We Are Not a Christian Nation"

Check it out here. A taste:
Let us be perfectly clear: We are not now, nor have we ever been, a Christian nation. Our founding fathers explicitly and clearly excluded any reference to "God" or "the Almighty" or any euphemism for a higher power in the Constitution. Not one time is the word "god" mentioned in our founding document. Not one time.

The facts of our history are easy enough to verify. Anybody who ignorantly insists that our nation is founded on Christian ideals need only look at the four most important documents from our early history -- the Declaration of Independence, the Articles of Confederation, the Federalist Papers and the Constitution -- to disprove that ridiculous religious bias. All four documents unambiguously prove our secular origins.

Saturday, March 07, 2015

Peter Manseau: "America is not a 'Christian' nation"

Writing at Fox News of all places. A taste:
No matter how many Christians live here, we are not a Christian nation. For the sake of people of all faiths and of no faith, we should hope we never become one.

Friday, March 06, 2015

Kidd: “'Woven into the fabric of our country'? Islam in Early America"

Check out Thomas Kidd's argument here. A taste:
As I noted in a chapter on Islam which I contributed to Daniel Dreisbach and Mark David Hall’s book Faith and the Founders of the American Republic,

There were actual Muslims living in America during the Founding period, but the vast majority of them were toiling as slaves in the South. Of course, Muslim traders and sailors also passed through American ports on occasion, but most American Muslims were Africans forcibly imported to work on American plantations. The exact number of Muslims, of course, is hard to discern, but historian Michael Gomez has estimated that perhaps 200,000 slaves came from African regions with significant Muslim influences. This does not mean that all of these were Muslims, but it does suggest that hundreds of thousands of slaves may have been at least marginally familiar with Muslim beliefs.

Laura Miller: "The stubborn myth of the Christian country: Why the U.S. has always been 'one nation, under gods'"

The Salon writer reviews a new book. A taste:
As Peter Manseau, author of “One Nation, Under Gods: A New American History,” would have it, nothing has done more damage to the ideal of American religious pluralism than the “stubborn persistence of words spoken more than a century before the United States was a nation at all.” Those words are “a city upon a hill,” preached by the Puritan John Winthrop to his fellow colonists as they prepared to leave their ship at Massachusetts Bay in 1630. Most strenuously invoked by Ronald Reagan, the city on the hill, according to Manseau, has for the past 50 years “dominated presidential rhetoric about the nation’s self-understanding, causing an image borrowed from the Gospels to become a tenet of faith in America’s civil religion.”