Friday, August 28, 2015

Swedenborgs' Address to George Washington

I've written many times before on George Washington's classic address to the Swedenborgs where he lets them know whatever rights the federal Constitution grants to "religion" they are equally entitled to such.

But it's worth focusing on their address to him. Religious leaders constantly corresponded with Washington, praising him, seemingly both to try to smell him out and proselytize to him. Washington invariably responded with generic, inclusive head nodding language that affirmed his belief in a monotheistic Providence (as he does here).

They wrote:
An Address from the New Church at Baltimore, To George Washington, Esquire
Sir,
While the Nations of the Earth, and the people of United America especially, have in their various denominations paid their tribute to the respectful deference to the illustrious President thereof, permit, for a Society however small in number, yet sincere they trust, in their attachment to offer up in the dawn of their institution, that mark of dutiful esteem which will become the new associations, to the Chief Magistrate of America.
We presume not, Sir, to enter into a reiterated panegyric of matchless virtues or exalted character, but assuming causes with effects, we are led to believe that you were a chosen vessel for great Salutary purposes, and that both in your actions and in your conduct, you justly stand one of the first disinterested and exemplary men upon earth. Neither in this address can we, was it expected, enter into a detail of the profession of our faith; but we are free to declare that we feel ourselves among the number of those who have occasion to rejoice that the word literally is spiritually fulfilling; that a new and glorious dispensation or fresh manifestation of Divine Love hath commenced in our Land; when as there is but one Lord, so is his name becoming one throughout the earth; & that the power of Light or truth and righteousness is in an eminent Degree, universally prevailing, and even triumphing over the powers of Darkness; when Priestcraft & Kingcraft, those banes of human felicity, are hiding their diminished heads, and equality in State, as well as in Church, proportionally to mind, are considered the true criterion of the majesty of the people. -- Oh! Sir, could we, without being charged with adulation, pour out the fullness of our souls to the enlightened conduct of him who stands chief among the foremost of men, what a volume of truth might we deservedly offer to the name of Washington, on the altar of Liberty uncircumscribed! Allow us, by the first opportunity, to present to your Excellency, among other Tracts, the Compendium of the New Church, signified by the New Jerusalem, as the readiest mean to furnish you with a just idea of the Heavenly Doctrines.
That the Lord Jesus, whom alone we acknowledge as "the true God & eternal Life," will preserve you long to reign in the hearts of the people, and lastly to shine as a gem of the brightest lustre, a Star of the first magnitude of the unfading mansions above, is the fervent aspiration of your faithful citizens and affectionate Brethren. Done in behalf of the members of the Lord's New Church at Baltimore, this 22d Day of January 1793 -- 37.
W.J. Didier
Secy. Protem
While they could not "enter into a detail of the profession of [their] faith," they still did proselytize for their unorthodox understanding of the Christian faith. They were modalists, believing the Father, Son & Holy Spirit were One Person, not Three Persons. While most modalists believe the three names are just three different titles or "modes" of One God, the Swedenborgs believed that One Person was Jesus Christ. (That Jesus wasn't just the "mode" of the Son; He was the "mode" of all three). 

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Julie Ingersoll's New Book

John Fea has the information here. It's noteworthy in that it's being published by Oxford University Press. A taste:
David Barton is also the popularizer of a revisionist history of race in America that has become part of the Tea Party narrative. Drawn in part from the writings of Christian Reconstructionists, that narrative recasts modern-day Republicans as the racially inclusive party, and modern-day Democrats as the racists supportive of slavery and postemancipation racist policies. Barton’s website has included a “Black History” section for some time. Like Barton’s larger revisionist effort to develop and perpetuate the narrative that America is a Christian nation, the “Republicans-are-really-the-party-of-racial-equality” narrative is not entirely fictive. Some historical points Barton makes are true; but he and his biggest promoter, Glenn Beck, manipulate those points, remove all historical context, and add patently false historical claims in order to promote their political agenda. Barton appeared regularly on Beck’s show to disseminate his alternative reading of African American history, carrying with him, as he does, what he claims are original documents and artifacts that he flashes around for credibility.
(Those are Ingersoll's words, not Fea's.)

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Two From Robert Tracy McKenzie on the Founders & Religion

"Wheaton University Professor McKenzie is Chairman of the History Department." Here is the first entitled "The Contradictions Of A Secular University: Another Jefferson Legacy." And the second entitled "WERE THE FOUNDING FATHERS CHRISTIAN?" A pull quote from the first:
Jefferson’s approach to moral values differed in the details but was similar at the bottom line. Jefferson’s starting point was what historian Gregg Frazer labels theistic rationalism. Frazer means that Jefferson was willing to concede the existence of God on logical grounds, but reason was always in the driver’s seat when it came to determining his religious beliefs. He rejected as irrational almost all of the fundamental tenets of orthodox Christianity (as outlined in the Apostles’ Creed, for example), was skeptical of the concept of special revelation, and insisted repeatedly that reason was the only reliable guide to virtue.
And the second:
... If we were to imagine a continuum of religious belief, theistic rationalism would fall somewhere between orthodox Christianity (defined by historic confessions such as the Apostles’ or Nicene creeds) and Deism.
The latter is a slippery concept. Deism in the late-eighteenth century was not embodied in a formal denomination. It had no official creed or confession, and I’ve come across a range of definitions of it in my reading. I can’t say that Frazer’s understanding of Deism is the right one, but I do applaud him for offering a precise definition up front. Deism, as Frazer defines it, has two distinguishing characteristics: The first is the belief in an absent God, a Deity who takes no active role in his creation. There is no logical reason to pray to such a God or to expect this watchmaker Creator to intervene in human affairs. The second distinguishing feature, which follows logically from the first, is the rejection of the very possibility of what theologians call “special” (as opposed to “general”) revelation. The God of Deism does not speak to humankind except through the order inherent in the natural world.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

RIP Paul Sigmund

A good man gone. I can't say "too soon" because, at 85, he lived a long life. But he will be missed by many.

I'm embarrassed to say that he passed last April (2014) and I just took note of it.

One of the things I like to do with my free time is attend open to the public lectures at Princeton. Even though I disagree with Robert P. George on social issues, as it relates to the study of the American Founding, religion, history, politics & philosophy (the interdisciplinary I study and blog about) his James Madison Program is the best Princeton offers in this area.

There are other good ones too, for instance the University Center for Human Values. And sometimes the two projects will promote lectures and conferences jointly. But for what interests me, the James Madison Program is the best.

And that's where I first encountered Professor Sigmund. He was, among other things, a top John Locke scholar. When discussing Locke, Sigmund was adamant in his assertion that Locke was, despite protests to the contrary a "Christian."

But that assertion depends on what it means to be a "Christian." When after a conference I asked Prof. Sigmund whether he thought Locke believed in the Arian heresy, his eyes lit up with excitement as he was happy that someone was interested enough in the controversy to even know to ask that question. He said yes, pointing to the scholarship of John Marshall of Johns Hopkins University as confirming the point.

That begs the question, though, what it means to be a "Christian." Dr. Sigmund's answer paralleled Locke's: You don't necessarily have to believe in the Trinity; rather hold that Jesus was Messiah or central to your faith. So Trinitarians, Arians, Socinians, Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses are all "Christians" as it were.

Dr. Sigmund vehemently disagreed with the assertions of Leo Strauss and his followers that Locke was some kind of esoteric Hobbesian atheist. (I don't know as much on Thomas Hobbes as I do Locke, but I don't think even Hobbes was a secret atheist). Locke was an esoteric something, but not, at least not provably an atheist.

Rather, more likely as noted above, Locke was a secret heretic (unitarian) writing in a context when the public promotion of heresy could get one executed (something Locke, thankfully helped deliver us from).

But when moderating the controversy publicly, Dr. Sigmund was scrupulously magnanimous.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Jonathan Den Hartog: "John Adams and 'The Religion of Democracy'"

From JDH here. A taste:
Since Penguin was kind enough to send me a review copy of Amy Kittelstrom's The Religion of Democracy , I thought the book deserved some thoughtful response.  (Note: there is an excerpt from the introduction here.)

[...]

When John Adams does show up, 2/3 of the way through the chapter, he has encountered the rationalism of Jonathan Mayhew and his own minister Lemuel Briant, as well as many advocates of orthodoxy. As he adopts his own religious values--and Adams was always a party of one--he articulates a broad-minded belief that emphasized humane concerns, with respect toward a singular deity. Kittelstrom here tends to emphasize either the diary Adams kept when a young man or his correspondence--most notably with Thomas Jefferson at the end of his life. These broad statements don't fully wrestle with Adams's own view of how religion and society might interact.

This approach runs into several problems for cantankerous, contrarian Adams. One is that his religious commitments are hard to pin down. Gregg Frazer sees him as a "theistic rationalist," which might help Kittelstrom's cause. Still, Adams tended to emphasize different pieces of his belief in different settings--the correspondence with Jefferson does not exhaust Adams on religion. Further, Adams's own beliefs themselves evolved, a point well made in an unpublished paper by Adina Johnson.

Sunday, August 09, 2015

Christians in Nagasaki

On the 70th Anniversary of the bombing of Nagasaki, I learned something about the presence of Christians there. The article obviously has a strong slant (I'm certainly no master of the ethical dilemmas posed by war). But it's well within tradition of Christianity & the "Christian Nation" question. A taste:
In 1945, the US was regarded as the most Christian nation in the world (that is, if you can label as truly Christian a nation whose churches are proponents of eye-for-an-eye retaliation, are supportive of America’s military and economic exploitation of other nations or otherwise fail to sincerely teach or adhere to the ethics of Jesus as taught in the Sermon on the Mount).

Ironically, prior to the bomb exploding nearly directly over the Urakami Cathedral at 11:02 AM, Nagasaki was the most Christian city in Japan, and the massive cathedral was the largest Christian church in the Orient.

[...]

Most Nagasaki Christians did not survive the blast. 6,000 of them died instantly, including all who were at confession that morning. Of the 12,000 church members, 8,500 of them eventually died as a result of the bomb. Many of the others were seriously sickened with a highly lethal entirely new disease: radiation sickness.

Three orders of nuns and a Christian girl’s school nearby disappeared into black smoke or became chunks of charcoal. Tens of thousands of other innocent, non-Christian non-combatants also died instantly, and many more were mortally or incurably wounded. Some of the victim’s progeny are still suffering from the trans-generational malignancies and immune deficiencies caused by the deadly plutonium and other radioactive isotopes produced by the bomb.

And here is one of the most important ironic points of this article: What the Japanese Imperial government could not do in 250 years of persecution (i.e., to destroy Japanese Christianity) American Christians did in mere seconds.

Saturday, August 08, 2015

John Adams on Swedenborg and Wesley

His words were, to put it mildly, unkind.

A taste:
I have just read a sketch of the life of Swedenborg, and a larger work in two huge volumes of Memoirs of John Westley* by Southery, and your kind letter of January 22d came to hand in the nick of time to furnish me with a very rational exclamation, “What a bedlamite is man”! They are histories of Galvanism and Mesmerism thrown into hotch potch they say that these men were honest and sincere, so were the Worshipers of the White Bull in Egypt, and now in Calcutta, so were the Worshipers of Bacchus and Venus, so were the worshipers of St Dominick and St Bernard. Swedenborg and Westley had certainly vast memories and immaginations, and great talents for Lunaticks.
-- To Thomas Jefferson from John Adams, 3 February 1821.